The year was 2035 A.D., and craft beer no longer existed. Breweries had either closed, divested, or been destroyed, as city by city, county by county, state by state, Neoprobes had won the war for God, family, and decency.
They had also helped The Bureau restore law and order. After an amnesty period, during which alcohol, tobacco, and firearms were rounded up, global vice divisions of their militant arm, One Clean World, had assisted The Bureau in reducing lawless elements to a smattering of renegades.
Brewers and bootleggers had been particularly difficult to eradicate. So many people enjoyed fermented beverages, that re education camps had been necessary. God's will had been done, however, and as the third millennium dawned, the earth was free of purveyors of the wares of sin.
Avery "Wort" McEwan pushed the button on the control panel of his trackmobile, signaling his intention to exit the autobahn. A flashing light requested the proper code and he pressed the amputated finger against the panel. Before pocketing the finger, he glanced at it. Although it had given him access to any public trackmobile he wanted, it was starting to decay; the prints would only hold up a few more days. Even now he risked the chance that Bureau agents would find the fingerless body and enter a red alert on the identity.
Wort guided the trackmobile onto a free lane and slowed automatically. Bureau agents watched the free lanes closely and he couldnít risk being stopped. He turned right, then spotted Heaven's Horizon, a tall, rose-colored building that towered above all others. As he neared the building, he spotted a giant neon lighted billboard, flashing its message. "Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." I Peter.
The billboard made him think of Elizabeth. He looked forward to seeing her more after each meeting. There was no war in his soul—she provided him with a release for all his pent up anger and passion.
They'd met at a free house, and although they hadn't exchanged more than a few words, both had sensed the attraction. Without even agreeing, they had begun a highly charged, clandestine romance. She, too, emptied her soul into their trysts.
He found a space near the outside of the building and parked, leaving the trackmobile running. Wort felt tense. Elizabeth hadn't shown up last week, and had only called to tell him where to meet. As a handmaid for the sector's high priest, she was closely guarded, but that was the first time they hadn't managed to see each other since first meeting.
As soon as he saw her, Wort knew something was wrong. He held a finger to his lips, motioning to one of the capsules. They entered and he pushed the Ascend button, using the finger to close the door. Elizabeth was too distraught to notice.
"He asked me to submit to a uterine scan!" she said, once the capsule door had shut. "He did it to humiliate me, but now he knows!"
"They detected your semen!"
"Didn't you scrub?" Wort asked, alarmed.
"I must have done it carelessly."
"What did you tell him?"
"I said I must have touched something in the park, then touched myself," Elizabeth replied, reddening.
"Did he believe you?"
"He said he didn't. He took me to the park and made me show them exactly where I walked and what I touched."
Wort said nothing, just stared at the bloody horizon dropping steadily as the capsule rose. He had never told Elizabeth about himself and it was times like this when keeping silent grew unbearable. He musn't say a thing, he reminded himself. He would only endanger her.
"I can't go on!" Elizabeth said suddenly.
Wort touched her, breaking the Code of Conduct without thinking.
"What are they going to do?" Wort asked.
"He said he hasn't decided," she replied.
"We can't let them separate us," he said. "I need you." She was all that kept him from letting loose and getting flamed. At a public caning yesterday, he'd made a cynical comment about the effectiveness of the punishment to a nearby stranger, who had begun to track him. Wort had doused the man and taken his identity, but they were everywhere.
The incident had played into his hands, Wort thought, touching the dead agent's finger, but he could just as easily have been seized. Most Bureau agents logged in before beginning a track, and once they'd done that, escape was nearly impossible. Canute, The Bureau's central database, made sure of that.
He stepped in front of the control panel and stopped the capsule, overriding the alarm signal with the finger. He turned to Elizabeth. "Get me a job at the mansion," he said.
Elizabeth looked at him, frightened.
"There must be work I can do," he said."Maintenance, landscaping, anything. Use your influence."
"But they know about you!" she whispered. "They identified your semen!"
"They don't have a match," Wort replied. It was one of the things that tipped them off to his family. His father had refused to bring his children in for tests or provide samples, and The Bureau had grown suspicious. The bastards had flamed his family. He wrenched himself back to the present. "What do they plan to do about you?"
"I don't know," Elizabeth said. "They tried to follow me, but I lost their tracker. I have to return now. Theyíre suspicious."
It was the last thing Wort wanted to hear. He had gone two weeks without Elizabeth. He had to have her.
"I feel the same," she whispered, reaching out and pulling him to her. They held each other tightly. "You were so good last time. I was so relaxed, I misapplied the scrubber."
Wort almost smiled, feeling a curious sense of pride at the dangerous situation they'd gotten into. "It was so good it should be banned," he said.
"It is," she replied. "I keep it buried deep inside, only let it out when I'm alone."
He lifted her face. "I have cigarettes," he whispered. Caution dissolved and he kissed her.
The capsule self-activated and rose to the top floor as the two clung to each other. The door opened. A family of four stood outside, waiting to board. When they saw Wort and Elizabeth in such a close embrace, they shrunk back in horror. The wife let out a stifled shriek, and moved to protect her children.
Wort hit the Close button and before the alarm could activate, pulled the finger out of his pocket and placed it on the panel. As the door slid closed, he hit the Descend button.
"Where did you get that?" Elizabeth whispered.
"I cut it off one of the bastards yesterday," Wort said, anger overwhelming caution.
Silence accompanied the capsule down. The precariousness of their situation had intruded like a vice raid, breaking the spell. Wort said nothing more, not wanting to risk a conversation that might end with Elizabeth saying she couldn't see him again. Thoughts of running crossed his mind and he considered bringing the idea up to her. She must be horrified to know he was a Violent Offender. He pulled a number out of his pocket and showed it to her. "Next week. You can reach me here if anything changes. We'll meet at Christian Park."
"I want to see you tonight," she said.
Wort hid his surprise by stuffing the paper into his mouth and chewing it up. "Where?" he finally asked.
She leaned close to him and bit his ear. "Semen park."
Wort smiled, then pulled a piece of foil from his shirt pocket. ìThere are five, hand-rolled,î he said, handing her the cigarettes.
She carefully put them under her blouse, then composed herself.
The door opened. "I want a job," Wort said.
"I love you," she whispered, and disappeared.
Leaving the building, Wort spotted a Bureau agent—Gristapo, the underground called them. He headed in the opposite direction of the car, fighting the images of Chico Seco that immediately appeared in his mind. The Gristapo had carried out the operation with the zeal of a thousand Neoprobes. They had sent their entire California division to the operation, using urban squatter eviction tanks to batter down the brewery walls.
Chico Seco had happened on the 100 year anniversary of the first Prohibition. Sierra Nevada had defied the regime, becoming a symbol of resistance they couldn't ignore, and they moved quickly. A private citizen had videotaped the assault and although the obeisant media had refused to broadcast it, copies of the tape had circled the globe.
As always, the assault brought back the memories of Wort's family. They had also been flamed, during Operation Clean Streets. Wort was too young to remember exactly what had happened, but his uncle had told him the story a thousand times. Something had gone wrong when they questioned his father, a craft brewer, and they had flamed the house. His father had died inside, surrounded by the glaring lights of vice squad cars. He had refused to leave the basement, standing among smashed bottles of pale ales, pilsners, and lambics. The Bureau had even located his father's stash and some porn magazines, which they had paraded before the public at
his family's trial.
Wort had been listed as having died in the fire. As with all raids, they had flamed the house at 363, ethanol's autoignition temperature, and the intense heat had incinerated any traces of bodies. After the public trial, they had sent his family to re education camps, then on to celestial colonies.
That was sixteen years ago and Wort had grown strong since then, and sly. His uncle had taught him how to avoid the Gristapo, and how to properly douse them. Wort had joined a cell of the resistance, the Gueuzers, who kept track of the ancient art while working to overthrow the regime.
He had chosen the mission to reach and destroy Canute. Without it, The Bureau couldn't track people with such devastating efficiency. Even if he couldn't destroy the database, he could disable Canute's monitoring, or communications system.
After circling the building, Wort saw a clear path to the stolen auto. He thought about Elizabeth again. Who was she? What had she done before the Cleansing? One moment she was fearful, the next, bold. He couldn't let himself think suspiciously, but whatever her motives, she had involved herself.
If he was lucky, she might provide him access to the sector's high priest, maybe even Canute. The thought reminded Wort that he had made arrangements to seek a weapon. He glanced at his watch. It was almost time to see The Juggler.
By Bill Metzger
Copyright 1994, Southwest Brewing News