Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 777, June 29, 2014

Over a fairly long lifetime, so far, I
have come to the sobering realization
that all that leftists, communists,
socialists, Democrats can do ... all
they ever think about is killing.

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"Ares" Chapter One: Julie Segovia
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

"One thing you can always be sure of, Desmondo," said Conchita, "people will rise—or fall—to meet your expectations of them."
Conchita and Desmondo In the Land of Wimpersnits and Oogies

Julie waited in the dark at the top of the stairs, surprised her heart wasn't pounding harder. In minutes she was going to do something that couldn't be undone—something that needed doing, nonetheless. She'd always avoided doing what couldn't be undone, whenever it was possible.

It hadn't been easy, breaking the hallway plasma bulb inside its titanium cage and bulletproof polymer cylinder, but Julie had lived in spaces like this all of her life, little more than storage units for faceless masses whose only function in society was to keep voting the same morons, lunatics, and criminals, and their vile offspring, into office, while breeding even more faceless masses to vote for the next generation of morons, lunatics, and criminals. This was Julie's turf, and she had been determined. Half the plasma bulbs in this structure were already broken in the same way, almost certainly for similar reasons.

No part of this would be easy. The individual she waited for was fifty-five years old, knew every dirty trick there was, weighed two and a half times what she did, was a foot taller, and had a longer reach. Julie was seventeen, five feet four standing on her toes, and only weighed a hundred pounds. In this undertaking, she needed to have every advantage she could muster. It had to be done right the first time.

Julie considered herself fortunate that the elevators in this part of the building—grandly called an "arcology" by politicians, but in reality a hundred-story concrete tenement—hadn't worked, almost from the first day its inmates had been swept off the streets and forced to move in. The President of East America and his hundred-car entourage were paying an official visit to Newark, and it wouldn't do at all for him—or for the 3DTV cameras of six networks—to be forced to look at the hordes of ragged, hungry, desperate people who normally occupied the streets as his highly photographed convoy drove through.

She looked at the long row of battered steel doors she had just passed by. People made their own worlds behind these doors, inside these apartments. They had to. Outside, it smelled of urine, feces, and vomit, with an unmistakeable overtone of alcohol and narcotics. It smelled of rats, as well, an aroma that seemed downright homely and wholesome, compared to the acrid tang that cockroaches leave in the air.

There had been a government program, shortly before Julie was born. Microscopic machines, designed to reproduce themselves and kill rats and cockroaches, had been created by scientists and engineers employed by the state and funded by the federal government. When the first batch—meant for rats—was released, given what government projects are, they left the rats alone, and killed every cat in the city.

The cockroach half of the program had been shut down immediately, and everybody associated with it shipped off to the South Jersey labor farms. Nobody ever asked what had happened to the people in the rat program.

Julie took a deep, calming breath. Four flights of steep concrete steps ought to slow him down, even if he weren't an overweight, beer-gutted, middle-aged former mafiya enforcer, enjoying his retirement by running a string of girls he'd been given as a gift—like a gold watch—for his many years of ruthless, brutal service to the local dons.

Millicente had been one of those girls.

Julie tried to remain focused on the task at hand, but her mind kept drifting back to the sight of her big sister lying like a smashed doll in the crowded, noisy indigent ward at Garden State Memorial, smiling up, still trying to be the wise, calm, brave older sibling, although she couldn't speak above a whisper and there wasn't a long bone in her body Kalmakov hadn't broken, along with half a dozen ribs, her sternum, jaw, skull, even her pelvis where he'd stomped her as she lay helpless and unconscious on the floor of the flat now at Julie's back.

Millicente wasn't even certain what she'd done to anger him. She told Julie that it might have something to do with the fact that, at the advanced age of twenty-six, she was more than a little past her prime, and therefore expected to perform services—and to service individuals—in ways that hadn't been required of her when she was younger and prettier. Her internal injuries might kill her yet, they'd said. At least that kept her safe from harvesters operating here under the noses—and possibly with the permission—of the Garden State administration.

Julie heard the man well before she saw him. She'd met him twice, at Millicente's place when she was visiting and he'd tried to recruit her into his business. The first time had been two years ago, when she was fifteen. She could picture him now, huffing up the stairs, pausing now and again to let his heart slow. He was a huge man, with dark hair in oily curls and an enormous moustache, born of Balkan refugees who'd pushed the Italians and Haitiians and everybody else out of the market and taken over in the first few months they were here. He'd been big before he'd grown fat and had gigantic hands, each the size of both of hers.

Every now and again he'd used Millicente himself, when she was younger, and he never finished with her until she was sobbing and bloodied. Julie wondered how she'd stood it all these years, then she realized all over again that it had been for her—Julie's—sake, so that her younger sister wouldn't have to do the same things to survive. So that she could spend a few hours at the library every week, learning what she could about the world beyond Newark, New Jersey.

Beyond the borders of East America.

And here he was at last, pausing on the landing below, exactly as she'd expected, breathing raggedly. It was pretty funny, she thought, that even the reketry couldn't get the elevators running in these places. It served too many interests to have people forced to use the stairs, or stay penned up and out of the way in what had become their kennels.

She stepped back into the shadows she'd created so arduously, and waited for her prey to come to her, slowly climbing one treacherous, crumbling step at a time. The steel strips originally used to line the edges of the steps had long since been torn away and ground into crude knives, pry-bars, and other useful implements. For the arkies' weary tenants, it made coming home each night a lot like climbing a mountain path. She'd always thought Millicente lucky only to live on the ninth floor.

The instant he put a foot on the landing, she stepped out in front of him. Without wasting a word or an instant, she pushed his wall of a chest hard, with the heels of both hands. He reeked of garlic, vodka, and tobacco smoke. Making an animal noise, he began to pitch over backward, snatching at her wrists. She squirmed free and somehow her right hand ended up on the grip of a large pistol he carried in a shoulder holster under his left armpit. For an adrenaline-attenuated moment they were frozen in space and time, his weight and momentum momentarily checked by the shoulder harness. Then the weapon slipped free of its holster and he tumbled backward, over and over, down the stairs.

Julie ran down after him. He'd settled on his back in a corner with his head propped against the wall at an odd angle, as if he were sitting up in bed, reading. He looked up at her as she stood over him, tried to grab at her ankle, but he was slow and feeble. She stepped back.

She'd expected him to be dead, or paralyzed.

Glancing at the weapon in her hand—it was a heavy CZ plasma burner, chrome-plated like a mirror, with checkered, reddish grips of some exotic hardwood—she raised it and centered the sights on his chest.

"I hope you can hear me, you son of a bitch. This is for my sister Millicente." Meeting the man's eyes, which had suddenly widened with a realization that he was about to die, she pressed the trigger. A fireball leapt from the weapon. In an instant, she could see through a fist-sized hole in his chest to the scorched concrete floor beneath him.

She knelt, wiped the burner on the tail of his expensive silk jacket, and, using the coattail, laid it in his right hand. His coat had swept back, and she could see his billfold in an inside pocket. Using the same care that she had with the burner, she examined its contents.

He had over eighteen thousand dollars in illegal West American currency.

She decided to keep the money, if only for Millicente's sake, for the decent care that it could buy her in that snakepit of a hospital. There was no East American currency, as such. The government wanted an electronic record of every transaction. So people who desired privacy, or anonymity, used West American money. One of her best-paying jobs was to mule the stuff all over Newark to consumers from distributors. It was unlawful, in theory, but worked all the same. You could even pay fines and taxes with it—you were encouraged to—and it traded one lone West American gold certificate to over a thousand East-A e-bucks.

The next person who came along would take the money if she didn't. She should probably take the plasma burner, too, but that was carrying social responsibility too far for Julie just now. She'd never killed anyone before. She pulled out the thick roll and threw the billfold back.

She'd be long gone by morning, anyway.

Mr. Smith is back at work on the next novel in the "Ngu Family Saga".

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