In the last episode, Wort and Elizabeth had escaped Earth, then been discovered hiding in an A-B Celestial Services trade ship.
The hearing room was set up differently than anything Wort had seen on Earth. Unlike courtrooms that faced a huge dais and judge, the room held a single round table and several chairs. On the table in front of each chair, monitors and keyboards allowed participants to access the ship’s memory banks.
Representatives of the two ships and a member of the Exiles worked quietly at the computers. In front of the empty seat next to Wort, a monitor had been swiveled so that the rest of the parties could see Earth’s representativeJoshua’s face. Wort wondered where Elizabeth had been taken. Joshua was the first to speak. “As a special request from the Exiles, we have agreed to hold this hearing under Universal negotiating procedures.”
Wort sensed something distinctly different in Joshua, obvious even through a monitor. He was subdued, as if drugged. The high priest listed the allegations against Wort: murder of a Bureau agent, kidnapping of an adult and her child, blasphemy against the church, terrorism, and conspiracy in the crime of the milennium, “The Easter Killings”. The last charge led to looks of surprise and concern from the other hearing participants.
“Furthermore, we have learned that Avery McEwan planned to visit Job, a major violation of the separation clause.”
“I wanted to...” Wort began, but the others held up their hands for quiet.
“All documents necessary to substantiate these charges can be accessed in Ship Catalogue 4.24.35#3. Code 28, established to cleanse mankind of the seeds of Cain, requires that the accused be shipped to Stellar Camp 10.5.7, and slain,” finished Joshua in the same monotone.
Wort leapt to his feet, and grabbed the monitor. As Joshua’s face registered surprise, he tore it from the pedestal and threw it to the floor. The crash echoed in his head as he fell to his knees, semi conscious, and blacked out.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Wort woke when she entered the room. “Who are you?”
“My name is Jude. Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied,” the woman said.
He sat up and glanced around at what looked like a medical ward. “Where am I?”
“I have been thinking the same question,” responded the woman. “Or more succinctly, why you are here. I had thought you were the one sent to decontaminate our supply of glintz, but I am told you must see your mother.”
The statement hit Wort hard and he lay back. That was why he was here! He was where he wanted to be! Something else tore at the edges of his thoughts—something urgent—but he couldn’t recall it. “Where is my mother?” he asked.
Jude pointed to a wall, which was hidden by a curtain. “You shall see her soon. However, it will benefit you to listen a while.”
Wort’s eyes were caught by a sign above the curtain. It read:
“For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” -
Another just below it read:
Your labor is not in vain for the Lord -
Corinthians 15: 58
Wort sat up again and immediately felt dizzy. He wrote the feeling off to the ship’s high speed maneuvering.
“I have been instructed by Lord Joshua to educate you about the planet Job,” Jude said.
“Joshua be damned,” Wort said, using the harsh language purposefully. The woman did not respond, but looked at him warily. In the short time Wort had spoken with Jude, he found her to be remarkably different than women on earth. She portrayed an extreme confidence in her words, reminding him of someone he’d known long ago. Again, memories struggled to gain supremacy of his thoughts, but failed. His mother, that’s who it was! Jude reminded him of his mother! Behind the Roman-style toga she wore, Wort could see that Jude was well built. Her forearms and calves revealed hardened muscle.
As if reading his mind, Jude looked at him and said, “You’re probably wondering how we survive and reproduce without men. Many wonder that.” Wort didn’t respond and she continued. “Our research center has always been at the forefront of the efforts to populate the colonies. Several years ago, we successfully induced non copulative conception.”
She waited for Wort to respond. “Where did you obtain the sperm?” he asked.
“We didn’t have to,” she said, triumphantly. “We discovered that women have the capability of producing sperm. This was long kept secret by researchers, because it would relegate the male gender useless—harmful, even—to the survival of our species. Yet because Job’s environment is so unchanging, it is really a better way to reproduce.
“Of course, there are no male offspring, but as a matter of fact, we live better without them,” Jude said, warming to the topic. “Our society is more peaceful, better managed, and more humane. Given initial counseling for those who haven’t yet vanquished the instinct for male companionship, we have a self mortality rate of less than ten percent. Job is a planet where women can live in communion with each other.
“And Our Lord,” she added as an afterthought.
“The regime wouldn’t allow this,” Wort said.
“To the contrary, Job is an essential testing ground for A-B’s and the regime’s patented life forms,” Jude replied. “We are also the primary source of glintz for this solar system. “Our colony is invaluable, a working beguinage.”
“A beguinage?” Wort said.
Jude looked at him in near horror, then quickly regained control of herself. “I was told that you were an infidel,” she said, almost to herself. “Verily verily, long ago, when the Catholic church sent its men to fight in Holy wars against the infidels, many died. This left many widows, who were prohibited from remarrying. After much entreaty, their Pope ordered communities set up for the widows, called beguinages. The regime has ordered the same be done for the widows of Job.”
“Where is my family?” Wort asked.
“Both your mother and sister live on Job,” Jude said.
“And my brothers?” Wort asked.
“They were slain, a decision your mother made in choosing to live here,” said Jude.
“I don’t believe you,” Wort said.
“None of the women here have living male relatives,” Jude replied. “That is why I am puzzled by you. But Joshua has said, ‘of some, have compassion.’”
“Bullshit,” Wort said.
Jude looked at him, puzzled. “What means that?”
“It means I don’t believe you,” Wort replied angrily. “Joshua has no compassion.”
“Woe unto them!” Jude replied, speaking loudly, “for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.”
Wort waited quietly, gaining control of his anger. Once Jude realized he wasn’t going to respond, she said, “Joshua sent word that you were a danger, a member of The Gang. He warned me that this would be a severe trial. But I am protected by The Almighty.” She crossed herself.
The comment puzzled Wort until he realized she was referring to the gang who had committed the Easter Killings. One bright Easter morning years ago, a family of four on their way to church had been accosted by four gang members. They brutally tortured the entire family, raping the young girl and using broken beer bottles to savage and dismember them all. Eluding capture, the gang spread body parts across the country, wrapped in the family’s bloodied Sunday clothes. The murderers had never been captured, but photographs splattered across newspaper and television trumpeted the entire grisly tragedy.
The horror had given the regime the support it needed for passage of the 28th Amendment, which enabled local communities to determine their own standards, enforcement procedures and sentencing. Attempts to explain the Easter Killings by pointing to the Great Economic Collapse and the ensuing misery had been swept aside, as communities across the country took back their streets from the lawless. Peace and order had come swiftly, along with absolute control for the regime.
“I was never a part of any gang,” Wort said. “I am a Gueuzer.”
“The evidence presented was beyond doubt,” Jude said.
“The tapes of the Easter Killings are virtual, not real,” Wort replied.
“Oh no, you’re mistaken,” Jude said.
“I was ten years old when that happened!” Wort snapped. “Would you like to do a bio on me, to prove my age to you ‘beyond doubt’?” he added.
“That won’t be necessary,” she replied, but Wort saw signs of doubt flicker across her face.
“If it proves that you are taking orders from liars, I think it’s necessary,” he pressed her. “In fact, I’m still trying to figure why Joshua allowed you to speak with me alone. He demands total control.”
Jude hesitated, then walked to the curtain. “We have agreed to allow you to see your mother,” she said. “She did not consent to this.”
Wort stood up and began to pace the room, unsettled. The curtain opened. Behind what looked like a huge screen, an old woman sat in a room, surrounded by attendants. A loud wailing pierced his ears as the picture took shape. “Mother!” Wort said, frozen. The woman continued to wail. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
Jude looked confused. “Women often have difficulties when they first decide to live without males,” she said, “but I am puzzled by her behavior. She should not be experiencing this grief.”
“I am her son,” Wort said, tears beginning to well in his eyes. “I must touch her.”
“That cannot be allowed,” Jude replied. She looked quickly at him, then down at her feet. Such emotion from a killer puzzled her black & white conception of him. Her self assurance began to melt away. “Male presence is prohibited. With counseling, she will be okay.”
“I don’t believe this screen,” Wort said. “This is a virtual image.”
“This is not a virtual image,” Jude replied. “Your mother is behind that glass wall.”
It was Wort’s turn to face confusion. He walked to the wall and banged his fist against it. “A glass wall this thick on a trade ship? Impossible!”
“We are not on a ship,” Jude said, looking at him in bewilderment. “We are on Job.”
The news turned Wort cold. “Where is the ship?”
“It is circling, waiting for a decontaminated supply of glintz,” Jude said, still puzzled.
“We need to leave,” Wort said, turning quickly. “Joshua is going to destroy this colony.” Jude looked at him, puzzled. “He will destroy us!” Wort repeated.
“We are far too important,” she replied.
“You don’t know Joshua,” Wort said. “Trust me, I have fought him my entire life, on Earth. We need to get off this planet before they destroy it.” Again, he saw flashes of doubt crease Jude’s face.
“You are a prisoner here,” she replied. “This is not possible.”
“Then what is planned for me?” Wort asked. “I cannot stay on Job.”
“We are waiting for further orders,” Jude said, uneasily.
“You won’t get any,” Wort said. “Think! Your colony has rendered males like Joshua useless. What need does he have for you?”
“We produce great quantities of glintz,” Jude replied, as if making up an excuse.
“You have a contaminated glintz supply, which means you’re nearing the end of the vein.” Jude didn’t reply. “Have you ever heard of Centigrade 363?” Jude didn’t respond, and he continued. “It’s the autoignition temperature for ethanol. All tracker ships are armed with a solar reinforcer that once the ship is positioned near the sun, can direct a 363° beam of heat toward whatever needs to be flamed. They plan to destroy us!”
Jude looked at Wort for a long time. He looked at his mother, who was being guided out of the room again. He thought about trying to overpower Jude and escape, but knew he’d need her help. Without waiting for an answer, he continued. “Follow the tracker’s path. If it begins to near your solar source that means only one thing. Then we must act.”
“I cannot do this,” she said.
“We’re on the same side,” Wort pleaded.
“I must speak to the Exiles,” Jude finally said. The revelation told Wort that he was making headway with her.
“The problem with you and the Exiles is that you work from a position of honesty,” he said. “The regime sees that as a weakness.” Again, Jude hesitated. Wort continued. “Reincorporate us into the trade ship. Then we can decide from a position of safety, of strength!” At these last words Jude looked sharply at Wort, her eyes afire.
By Bill Metzger
Copyright 1994, Southwest Brewing News