by Thomas R. Mazanec
© Thomas R. Mazanec -- all rights reserved
Note: This story can be viewed in either one of two ways. Either you can look at it as a mid-21st Century "projection" of the Blind Pig universe, which will become an "alternate timeline" when the universe creators extend the stories into this time frame, or as a near-future story written in the "current" Blind Pig universe.
Richard climbed the slope and approached the glimmer of light he had seen. The day was heavily overcast and anyone sensible would not be out hiking on a day when rain was so likely, but he had been planning for months to make this camping trip and was not about to let a little water in the sky interfere with it. He reached the approximate location and came upon an area of thick vines and low shrubs. Further exploration gave no results, and Richard was just about to give up when he caught another glimpse of light. This time he carefully closed in on it and came upon a hole draped with the ivy. He opened the leafy curtain and stepped into a cave. Someways down the passage was a rather faded glowb, at least one half-life past its prime. Such glowbs were occasionally to be found in dumps and such, as their slowly dimming light made them less utile than buying a new one, but this was the first time one had lead him to a discovery as interesting as this. Why would anyone go through the trouble of leaving an old glowb in a place like this?
Richard was not a stupid or ignorant man. However, he was a very stubborn one. Exploring a cave is something that one should not do without extensive preparation and at least three companions. Yet that is precisely what Richard did. Floyd Collins, one of the greatest spelunkers in American history, explored dozens of caves by himself, after all. Of course, his last cave became his tomb. But as mentioned, Richard was a very stubborn man.
The flashlight and the shine of the glowb showed three passageways branching off the little grotto. Richard followed the leftmost one, coming upon a few pathetic stalactites and not even one stalagmite. He was ready to turn around and go back when he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. He turned off his flashlight and waited for his eyes to adjust to the dark. Sure enough, it was another gleam of light. He turned the flashlight back on and followed the corridor to where it made a rightward turn into a large cavern, in which there were perhaps a dozen glowbs in various stages of fading. There were also scores of permbooks, those hardcopy books with the plastic-paper composite pages that were the last gasp of old fashioned books before they went completely on-line.
Richard looked through the books. They were an eclectic little library, with the best sources in each of virtually any topic one could pick. He was so absorbed in the permbooks that he did not realize that he was not alone until he heard the voice. "Enjoying our little library?" The voice had an odd "tinge" to it. For a moment he could not place it. Then he remembered the electronic sound of the voders SCABs who could not speak had implanted, in the days before the Human party won control of the government and euthanized such SCABs who were too handicapped for the camps. Richard turned around and looked. There were two SCABs there, one a tall meerkat and the other a hefty ratel. Both held lastols pointed right at him, and two red dots danced on his chest, right about where his heart would be.
"We're not percenting, both these babies have full charges." One at a time, the SCABs turned their lastols around and showed the bright green LED charge indicator, an almost painfully bright "9" clearly visible in the half lighted gloom. "Sorry about the poor lighting, we can't exactly connect to the grid or hop down to the store to buy new glowbs, you know."
The SCABs motioned Richard toward one of the other passages leaving the reading room, and directed him along the path. Just as it seemed that they were about to enter pure blackness, another patch of milkiness appeared before him and gradually grew into another glowb lighted area. "Here he is, Gobo." Out of the void of an opening in the wall came yet another SCAB, this one a mongoose. "Rikki-tikki-tavi, I presume?" Richard drily commented.
"He was a herpestes type mongoose. They think they're so special because the Egyptians worshipped them and because Kipling used one of them. I'm helogale, a dwarf mongoose, and much superior. Good things come in small packages, you know. Welcome to Fraggle Rock."
"What the heck is going on here? What is this place? What are you doing here running around free?"
"Fraggle Rock is a haven I founded for SCABs like us, when it became obvious what the Human Party administration intended to do to us. I find this far preferable to "quarantine", much less "mercy killing". Here we can live at least some kind of life, even if not the one we had as norms."
"What are you going to do to me? You're planning to kill and eat me, aren't you? That's what you animal SCABs do, isn't it?"
"No, we have nanocopias for food. Just put in some organic matter, leaves, wood, even some of the minerals around here, and out comes nutritious food. Of course, it doesn't taste like food...they never did get that part right. Doesn't taste like much of anything, but it's better than starving or taking the risk of going out to hunt, gather or steal food. We also can use the nanocopias to produce medicines. The glowbs will last for a few more years, but then we will have some problems with light...cross that bridge then. It's not a very good way of life, but it beats the alternative."
"And you've been living like this since President Powell took over? For the last six years without being caught?"
"We are careful to scavenge matter for the nanocopias only at night in the most isolated places. There is an underground stream to drink from and to carry off wastes. We can't be found by infrared this far below the surface. In fact, we're rather puzzled how you managed to find Fraggle Rock."
"I saw a bit of light coming from the hillside and it led me to the cave opening."
"We'll have to move the glowb so that doesn't happen again, of course. But now...well, look, we really can't just let you go. You are going to have to stay with us for...well, for a while. And I really can't trust that we can guard you forever. But I have a possible solution."
"And what would that be?" Richard asked warily.
"I've developed a drug that causes even people immune to SCABS to develop the condition. If I gave it to you, you would become a SCAB yourself, and then could certainly be trusted not to turn us, and therefore yourself, over to the authorities. Of course, I can't predict what you would become, but I can predict that otherwise I would have to turn you into a corpse. WHAT IS YOUR CHOICE?"
Richard thought fast, with the lastols pointed only inches away from him. There would be a chance that he would become a gendermorph, or a chronomorph, or have some change that could otherwise be hidden. It was a chance he decided to take. "Give me the drug, then."
Gobo handed a capsule to Richard, and he swallowed it on the spot. Richard sat down on a convenient outcrop and waited. "How long does it take?" he asked.
"Only a few minutes to begin. You will feel an odd sensation in your chest when it starts. We really don't have that bad a life, when you come right down to it. No worries about taxes or the boss, a small but excellent library, a few computers we ration out use for, when we can power the batteries in the sunlight. We've developed games and forms of music appropriate to our circumstances. I would rather live on the outside, I admit, but things could be worse. Our ancestors were cavemen for millennia, so I guess we can put up with it."
The odd sensation began in Richard's chest. After a few seconds, it grew into a squeezing pressure, then flared into stabbing pain. Richard found himself unable to breathe. He staggered upright and then collapsed. He saw a hazy tunnel close up in front of him as he blacked out.
"Too bad I don't really have such a drug." Gobo sighed, looking at Richard's body. "But the poison will duplicate a heart attack, rather than suspicious lastol burns. Take him outside and deposit him for the searchers to find. And be sure to move that glowb further back from the entrance. It was a tough decision, but I just couldn't take the chance."
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