Sorry it’s not Wednesday – going forward look for new bits added on Wednesdays. The in-laws were in town so I didn’t get much time to write. I am going with a bit of cyberpunk influence as suggested by Eddie. I need a title, so if you have anything clever let me know.
They said after the Pak-Ind Exchange that the region would glow for a thousand years. In reality the fires burned and mostly died out and the Freeholds rose from the ashes as pretenders to an ancient legacy of greatness. The other nations of the world do their best to ignore the princes, pretenders, maharajas and maharanis who claim dominion. No one goes there if they have a choice which explains why Stuss found himself in Lamayuru.It was said that a demon lived in the lake of Lamayuru and a monastery was built there after the lake was drained and the demon vanquished. During the Exchange the valley was fairly well protected from the blasts by the surrounding mountains. Of course, the ash fell for weeks after, poisoning most of the fruit trees which once dotted the region. There was a single apple tree which seemed to thrive on the ash. The apples grew red and fat and it was said that a single apple would make the eater immune to the ravages of radiation.
Stuss’s current employer was that magical combination of rich and foolish. He wanted a bushel of the apples.
“This is such a bullshit job” Stuss mumbled to himself. At least he didn’t have too much to worry about from the radiation. As long as there were no immediate EMPs the background radiation wouldn’t affect him. The poor bastard he was imping couldn’t say the same.
His guide, a scarred Sikh named Jasbir, turned to look him. He said something in Punjabi and it took Stuss a second to access the the language and realize Jasbir was calling a break. The monastery was still a couple of hours away. He hoped Jasbir wouldn’t notice the pause. The monastery was a holy place, forbidden to outsiders.
Stuss answered back “sure, this place is as good as any”. He avoided looking at Jasbir as he spoke. The guide was in his mid 20s with a thick black beard that had been twisted and greased flat. His turban was a deep blue but the white dust of the road made it look more like denim. He also had a huge weeping sore where there should have been a nose and every time Stuss looked at him all he could see was that cancerous wound.
Jasbir just stopped the Jeep in the middle of the road. It had been hours since they had seen any other traffic – or life of any sort.
Stuss got out and stretched his arms. The motion caught his eye and he looked at his arms. They were skinny and dark brown and covered with tiny sores from the radiation. He felt a bit nauseous at the sight and panicked for a moment that the imped wouldn’t survive the journey. Which meant Stuss wouldn’t survive. He couldn’t help but remember watching Houke die.
Houke had been the best of them throughout the entire process. Stuss remembered that 3 am wake-up call when he was taken out of his MI unit and told of his selection for a new assignment effective immediately.
“Outside now, Stuss. Your shit will follow you.”
Stuss was still groggy with sleep but he could tell that the sergeant wasn’t happy.
He was standing there, shivering in his underwear when the black civilian car pulled up. The whole situation was surreal. Stuss climbed into the back of the car, his thighs squeaking against the leather. The driver didn’t turn around and when Stuss tried to ask a question he just turned up the China-pop to earsplitting levels.
He knew now that the whole situation was the final test – to find out how well he could handle being thrown into a completely bizarre situation and get his bearings. He was quick enough to end up in the Cortical Suppression and Impression program. When he was dropped off outside of the drab grey building which was to be his home for the next year he saw nearly a hundred other CorSup hopefuls. It was surrounded with tall fences and signs warning of the authorization of deadly force. There was a single four part gate that looked more like one of the locks of a canal and two armed and indifferent guards.
Most of the hopefuls had gathered together into small groups. Houke was sitting on the curb by himself smoking one of those bitter herb cigs he somehow always had. He was in his underwear, same as almost everyone, but he didn’t seem the least bit curious or out of sorts. He may as well have been sitting in his room for all it bothered him.
Stuss watched him nurse the cig for a while before walking over to him.
“No, I don’t have another so don’t even ask” his voice was lighter than the words he was saying.
Stuss sat down next to him. “What do you think this is about?”
“Don’t know, don’t care. Yesterday I could throw a rock and hit the Caliphate, assuming I was dumb enough to leave cover. You can bet your ass I am a whole lot more happy today.”
That was the only time Stuss ever heard Houke talk about his life before CorSup.
They sat in silence until a harsh buzzing from the gates drew their attention. A man in a black suit was leaving the compound flanked by uniformed guards.
“You will form into two groups. Females on my left, males on my right.” The man’s voice was soft but clear.
“Where are we?” one of the hopefuls asked.
“You are dismissed from the program.” The man in the black motioned and one of the guards split off and hit the speaker with the butt of his weapon, knocking him to the ground. He followed up with another brutal stroke the back of his head. He collapsed in a heap. Stuss hoped he was just unconscious but with hindsight he knew that he were they would have put a bullet in his brain after the hopefuls were filed into the compound. In those early days, at least, they still pretended the program was voluntary.