“Now is the time to pray Fatima, we are going down,” and then in a more formal voice, “sorry to report sir, our engine has shut down, some sort of mechanical failure. We are in a shallow dive and expect to land in a few minutes. I do not expect to be able to return in this aircraft.” Major Lars Hengel, Caliphate commando spoke on the cabin transmitter after giving his call sign and asking to speak to the Base Commander.
“Cannot be helped Major we had to use a captured Federation plane for this long-distance mission into their territory, and that old plane was all we could find. Destroy your craft on landing, especially all communication equipment – and major, your mission must still go ahead. I am looking at your location on my monitor, you are not very far from your intended destination in what we still think of as Mexico. Good luck Lars, we will try to get you out. I will now connect you to our Emir and spiritual leader for him to speak to your passenger.”
After a few minutes of static and hushed background voices, a new solemn voice came onto the line, “I want to speak to the martyr Fatima.”
“I am here Father,” whispered Fatima.
“Our hopes and prayers go with you my daughter. Your bravery is a legend to our young people in the Caliphate. You will forever enjoy bliss in the company of all the martyrs; Khoda Hafez (go with God) my brave warrior, you will never be forgotten.”
Lars spoke his next command to the control module, “Self-destruct all electronics upon landing.”
The video screen replied, “This is a terminating command, please confirm.”
Lars turned to Fatima. “All this way to deliver a message? Don’t they trust our radio transmitters?”
“You must know the Federation intercept every electronic signal, and there is no cypher they cannot break. My message is not in writing or data code – it is here,” and she tapped her forehead. “But you knew the message must be delivered in person when you volunteered for this mission, so why now do you question our orders?”
“I joined the Europa Commando to see some action – not to be a delivery boy.”
“You volunteered because you thirst for glory, and wanted to escape the discipline of regular military service. I know you, but have no fear, this is a mission with plenty of danger and good prospects of promotion – if you live.”
Major Lars gripped Fatima’s hand as the computer controls intoned a countdown, “Four seconds to cancel self-destruct; three seconds to cancel self-destruct.”
Lars looked down at the featureless desert and moved the controls slightly to aim at a straight ribbon of road that ran across the sand. He tightened the restraining straps on his seat module, and helped Fatima with her straps, “We will land on the road – I wouldn’t want to bruise your tender arse with a bumpy landing.”
On the ground a watcher looked skyward as the plane glided down towards him. He scratched the scar on his groin where once his penis and testicles had hung, and looked more closely at the plane. It did not look familiar. It was not a reconnaissance patrol from the Guarda police, and more importantly it was coming dangerously close. He threw down his compactor – his road repair tool, and lay flat on the ground.
The forced landing, when it came was unspectacular; no flames or explosions, just a few external parts stripped away during the sliding careening landing. The plane pushed a mound of sand in front of it and ground to a stop some two hundred yards from the watcher on the ground.
Lars moved to help Fatima remove her safety constraints and saw a thin metal strip from the instrument panel, protruding from her chest, like a lance of old.
Her lap was soaked in blood and a thin stream trickled from her mouth; she waved away his efforts to stem the blood, and gestured for him to come closer. He put his ear close to her mouth and heard her final words, “Find Garcia, and bring her home.” With the pink foam of her blood wet upon his ear he swore to complete his mission. Fatima then breathed her last.
The road repair worker had watched the landing and scrambled up to run to the wreckage in hopes of finding something to steal, but instead was amazed to find a living person – and a very strange one. He pulled a groggy Lars onto the sand and watched as the figure slowly rose and looked about him.
Lars wore a military style tunic decorated with decorations that represented all that he had done with his life — three campaign ribbons, two wounded stripes, and on his shoulders the crossed swords of a major in the Janissary regiment. His white trousers were tucked into calf-length boots, and his turban was surmounted by a small metal dome – a sartorial conceit that harkened back to the Turkish origins of his regiment.
Lars spoke using a simplified vocabulary, recognized in many parts of the world as a second language, but his accent was barely recognizable, and he spoke with a deep masculine voice rarely heard in this land. “Who are you, and what are you doing here,” he asked?
“I am LDT897 a slave of the Federation,” the man replied in the contralto voice of the gelded, “and if you are a foreigner you’d better leave fast for a Guarda Patrol will surely be here soon to capture you.”
“Give me a hand with my companion, she deserves a decent burial.” But Fatima was firmly pinned into her module by the metal strip, she sat apparently at rest. Lars had seen death in many forms and felt only a passing regret at yet another parting. He pulled her head scarf down to hide her face – she would have wished to preserve her modesty, and he collected his minicomp, a bag of food and drink, and his weapons.
He was not a close friend of Fatima, the differences in their age and backgrounds ensured that, but he respected her courage, and they had fought together in the border wars; she was a trusted companion. Still he was trained not to dwell on personal losses so he turned on his minicomp and entered a command to view a map of the area – just featureless desert with this single road going north to the city of Desert Wells. He studied the self-confessed slave who seemed to be here alone doing road maintenance. He was undecided whether to kill him as a potential witness of his arrival, or to spare him for his local knowledge of this enemy territory.
“I’m not going to call you by a number; no man should have such indignity imposed on him. I will call you Krash because we met at this crash site. You can call me Lars. Now, what is the best way to avoid being found by a patrol?”
Krash was anxious to please, he wore a perpetual slack open mouthed smile and bobbed his head when spoken to. His cringing stance was learned at an early age as a form of self-preservation.
“You will only stay alive sir if helped by the Resistors, they are partisans but operate far from here.”
“Then I will wait to be rescued by my people, they have my location.” At which he sat on the sand in a patch of shade from the wreck of his plane, and took a swig from his canteen. “What is your story Krash, how did you end up on road maintenance?”
“I was produced in the Indian Wells Birthing Unit, and luckily was selected to be kept alive to become a slave.”
“Yes, it is a place that manufactures babies.”
Lars laughed, “We have that but we call them holiday camps – but you said lucky to be a slave?”
“Yes, only ten percent of male babies are allowed to live so they will always be a small powerless minority in society.”
Lars asked quietly, “And the other ninety percent, what happens to them?”
“The berthing machines can determine the sex of an embryo and how healthy it is, and they destroy the unwanted.”
“But you have not always been a slave, what about your childhood?”
“Up to age seven I went to school and lived in a barracks under the care of officers of the Protection Service. We were taught obedience to authority, good work ethics, basic reading and writing skills, history of the Women’s Movement, and to worship the Supreme Goddess.”
“And after age seven?”
“We were assigned to a career based on the recommendations of our teachers. I showed no particular aptitudes, so the Building and Highway Commission agreed to take me.”
“You say ‘career’ so can you get promoted to better work?”
“No, the chip in my arm has all my history, usually it will show my predicted ending date when I will no longer be useful. I hope it is some way off.” Krash rose hurriedly, “They will be here before sundown to collect me and check my work. I must complete a quarter mile stretch before they come.”
Lars put his broad hand on Krash’s shoulder and pushed him down, “Calm down, you have an excuse today, and I have more questions. What other careers are open to men, and what do you mean by ‘end of use date?’
“Some of us get selected to work in the fields or in the kitchens, while the big lads usually end up as field laborers or in the mines. All of us are gelded before we are seven except of course for the breeders, they work in the Breeding Units.”
Krash stiffened and tried to rise up again, “Do you hear that? They are here.” He gestured to the cloudless sky. “They do a circuit or two to check for hostiles before landing.”
Krash stood up, “Get up Mr. Lars please, stand to attention, hands to your sides, look at the ground – do not make eye contact, and don’t speak unless addressed. Oh, shit – these are Security Service Protectors not Guarda Police. Get rid of your uniform, I don’t want to be seen with a hostile, we’ll both be shot.”
Lars bundled his weapons and uniform, scooped a shallow hole some twenty feet from the roadway and covered the hole with sand. He now stood naked and even more conspicuous with his intact genitalia. Krash stripped off his own work shirt and threw it to Lars.
Lars had nowhere to hide his personal written notes, which for privacy reasons he preferred to electronic notes entered into his minicomp – which could be viewed by his base station. The notes included a short letter to his parents which had been weeks in the writing, but with the merest hesitation he tore them into tiny fragments, held them aloft and let the wind pluck them from his fist and carry them far into the desert.
The patrol plane landed near them, the canopy was raised, and two figures stepped out. The plane looked to be a more modern version of Lar’s plane, but the two figures seemed to Lars to be from some futuristic world. They both wore plastic armor shaped to fit their female bodies and carried raypistols at their hips. The older person wore a golden helmet and the other wore bronze. Their distinctive helmets, used only by the Protection Service, had ear protectors shaped like wings — and each uniform sported a gorget, a curved disk on a chain around their neck — their badge of office.
They strode across to the wrecked plane and studied it with some amusement, but paid respectful attention to the dead body of Fatima. Gold helmet photographed the body and the interior of the craft with her minicomp, searched the body and the cabin, then drew her weapon and fired into the wreck. The blue ray made a buzzing sound; the focus point of the ray began to smolder and melt, then burst into a flame that within minutes turned the plane into a twisted sooty sculpture.
Gold helmet gestured for Krash to go to the junior officer who had removed her bronze-colored helmet and was relaxing nearby. He scrambled to obey and dropped to his knees at her feet. At her gesture he extended his arm, and the Protection Officer scanned it with her minicomp and read it aloud to her senior commander. “Photo image confirms this slave’s identity as LDT897; aged forty one, birthed and programed at Indian Wells, career — road maintenance, projected useful life…”
Gold helmet interrupted, “No need for him to hear that. Now read the other fellow, he must know something about this antique plane.” Lars had no intention of kneeling to a woman, so he remained standing, but had the discretion to continue staring at the ground. Gold helmet strode up to him, “I am Major Idra of the Protection Service and have little patience with insolent slaves,” at which she slapped him hard across the face with her metallic gloved hand – it opened a wide gash. Lars smiled grimly. No more bowed head he vowed, he would be ready next time.
She must have enjoyed giving slaps because she did it again, but this time Lars caught her wrist, twisted it to cause her to spin around with her back to him. He drew her weapon from its holster and trained it on the junior officer.
“Drop your weapon and kick it away.”
The astonished junior officer obeyed in stunned silence. Frightened by this act of rebellion Krash swung his compactor at the back of Lar’s head and suddenly the world darkened for Lars and he dropped to the ground. When light returned to his world the scene had changed. He now had a headache that pulsed in painful rhythm with his heartbeat, and Major Idra was talking to two new arrivals dressed in dark blue coveralls standing by their Guarda aircushion car. Lars moved to stand up and found his hands were bound by plastic handcuffs.
Krash stood nearby still holding the compactor he had used to fell Lars. “Sorry Lars but when I saw the Guarda arriving I panicked.” He helped Lars up and attempted to pull down his shirt to cover his nakedness. “What would you have done if I had not bopped you on the head?”
“I would have killed them both.”
“Then I saved you from a painful death later when they caught you, for there is no escape.”
“Perhaps I would have raped the younger one when she was my prisoner, then it would have been worth it.”
“And me, would you have killed me to?”
“Yes, I should have done it earlier.”
The senior Guarda, an Inspector, noticed the two men talking, at which Krash scurried away carrying his road compactor tool.
The Protectors and Guarda Officers walked over to Lars and stared intently; only Idra has seen a male penis before. “Has he escaped from a birthing unit,” asked the younger of the two new arrivals?
“Permission to speak,” asked Krash? Major Idra gestured to continue, still somewhat grateful for his saving her from the ignominy of being overpowered by a male slave. “He doesn’t have an ID Chip because he is a barbarian from the Outlands of the far north, so he is not familiar with our ways.”
Idra turned to her junior officer. “Take off your uniform and perform calisthenics.” The young Protector stripped without hesitation and put her clothes next to her bronze helmet on the sand. Nudity had no significance in this land of women, but it struck Lars like a blow. She was a foot shorter than Lars with hair as black as a raven’s wing, her statuesque body was graced with nipples that pointed proudly skyward, a waist slim enough to encircle in Lars’ two battle-hardened hands, a flat stomach above a hairless pudenda, and a torso that twisted supplely as she performed her exercise drill.
Lars was mesmerized, his male member rose in a sixty degree salute to her womanhood. Major Idra smirked, “I learned how uncastrated males respond to our bodies while I was on protection duties at a Birthing Unit. This one passes the test and is prime meat, he will do yeomen service at the Desert Wells B.U. Thank you Lieutenant Zeeta, you can get back in uniform now.”
The senior Guarda officer wore the three stars of an inspector on the shoulder tag of her uniform, and resented Idra’s air of superiority. Just because the Protection Service reported at a federal level unlike the Guarda which was commanded by a regional governor – did not in her opinion reflect their personal worth.
She snapped, “Thanks for the demonstration Major Idra it was most illuminating, but we are working people in the Guarda and must get this slave back to his barracks. We need to leave now.”
“A favor please, Inspector. I need to go directly to our Base, can you take the barbarian with you in your aircar? Lieutenant Zeeta will accompany him and be responsible for his safe delivery to Birthing Unit 27 tomorrow”
At the Guarda aircar, the Inspector stopped Lieutenant Zeeta from entering their forward cabin. “You go back in the hold with the barbarian, you should be able to guarantee his security from there.”