Stardust Stories, Chapter 3

 

Like Jackals…

“Catch the feeling, it’s going around.
Yeah the streets are jamming,
the clock is ticking down.
Feel the chills, on your skin
the fight’s about to begin.”

The Fights About To Begin – Hinder

The official designation of the LH-93R is the Beholder, but to the average citizen of the Theocracy, its merely called a “ghetto bird”.

The Capitol, Vicksburg, employed, at last count, over two hundred thousand of the drones. Before the autonomy software development of 2027, that would have required at least as many human pilots, but not anymore. Since Spring of 2028, the ghetto birds flew on their own.

The software was all housed in a massive complex stationed outside Jackson Mississippi, the central command element for the Morality and Public Propriety Ministry.

The drones were merely the tendrils of the cyber mind that observed the human population. Minister Graham controlled the public face of the PP but the cyber mind ran the actual surveillance aspect. Key phrases as well as cranial/facial anthropometry were stored in the cyber mind and when a citizen spoke key words or phrases, or matched the facial features of a known “terrorist” were picked up, they could be tracked or terminated as required. That fact was kept from the public, who were under the impression that it was all under human oversight.

Armed ghetto birds flew slightly higher than the unarmed observers. The citizens might catch a glimpse of the highly visible observers, but they were unaware of the armed drones above.

After a powerful storm the pollution would be thin enough to see the drones, but on those days, they simply flew higher. If anyone was discovered discussing them, they were collected by a “friendly” PP patrol, for a “friendly discussion” on the moral priority of ignoring them. After all, “if you are not doing anything wrong, what do you have to fear?”

Originally the Theocratic Confederacy had extremely lax gun laws. “God, Guns, Greed” was their motto, but after a few threats of civil unrest, gun possession was legislated a class 1 felony, punished by immediate execution. This was a problem for Allison. The PP had access to any weapon they felt was required for the mission. Allison was a morality offender, a class 3 felony. Gays, perverts, atheists, and any religious follower other than State Approved Christianity, which truthfully was as close to true Christianity as radical Islam is to the commonly practiced variety, were routinely hunted down and used for the Patriot Games. More dangerous offenders like smugglers or actual rebels were terminated quickly.

Allison needed something to defend herself. Already she had eluded the PP by changing her hair and using makeup to camouflage her facial features. Lipstick made her mouth seem larger, she used eye liner to make her eyes seem larger. Eye shadow exaggerated her nose shading to make it appear wider. While none of that would look normal, or be effective up close, it was good enough to prevent the ghetto birds from recognizing her in a quick scan.

Still, she travelled at dusk and dawn when the light and shadows were constantly shifting and changing. It allowed her to get all the way from NOLA up to Charleston, but she had also left a definite trail. Stolen food, clothing, even transaction key fobs were tracked by the PP. It led them along a fairly direct path right to her.

The typical PP agent had all the advantages. Armor, night vision, surveillance drones, wireless communication, and weaponry gave them a one hundred percent apprehension reputation. The truth however, was somewhat closer to seventy eight percent. A few, resourceful ones to be sure, escaped the Confederacy. But the Church required the books to reflect that nobody escaped justice. If the people ever got the idea that the Church was not in absolute control, they might lose control.

Thus was created the Patriot Games. Created to control the population, they were mandatory viewing, but the PP didn’t need to use much force to convince the average citizen to watch the games.

All children between the ages of 10 and 14 were forced to watch the Games during their Faith and Reflection period at school. By the time the girls were at the age of marriage, and the boys were of age to begin militia training, they were fully aware of what would happen to them should they become offenders. Fear, instituted early in age, kept them in line.

Allison knew what awaited her if caught, and she knew, fight to the death being apprehended, or fight to the death in the Games, it made no difference. So she was perfectly ready to use a gun, if she could find one and figure out how to use it. Women, by law, were not allowed to handle guns. Nor could they vote or decide their medical treatment. That was decreed by the Church in the 2023 Status of Female Citizens Act. After the age of 14, a girl was at the discretion of her parents as to who she would be married to. Allison had been married to a man forty six years her senior, but he died after just three months, leaving her to survive as best as she could. She found ways. She became an accomplished thief.

However, once she crossed into the DMZ and into the Frontier, she would have nothing to help her. No gun to hunt, no skills or survival equipment, not even a destination or map to get there. Canada was somewhere North, but Theocracy Education forbade any discussion of it. To Allison, it was just some mythical castle in a far away land. But wherever it was, whatever it was, she knew that it was her only chance at a future.

Meanwhile, the Mars Expedition Ship was being loaded and a course set to rendezvous with the alien ship. The BSA was confidant that the FTL drive would work. Ironically enough, the PRC Intelligence Ministry also was fairly confidant the theoretical drive could work, but they were far from building one. Stealing a ship, however, was not beyond their means. However, that would require help from the Kremlin. That was the part that Chen had yet to figure out.

In the orbit of Saturn’s moon Tethys, Cassini was gleaning more information about the alien ship…

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