University of California, Riverside

Eaton Science Fiction Conference

Intron Mozambique, by Sebastian Shepard

Sebastain Shepard

Sebastian Shepard was born in San Francisco and attended the University of California, Berkeley. He graduated in December 2010 but his degree has not arrived in the mail. Whenever he comes across a word he does not know, he writes it in a journal that now has 237 definitions, but at least one word has been entered twice, making him question the efficacy of the model. The repeat word is "epigone," which he now remembers to mean: "a follower or imitator, especially of an inferior quality."
"Intron Mozambique" won the second prize (ex aequo) in the competition.

Intron Mozambique 


The man trotted lightly among the cooked bodies and looked east, ignoring the stench. The company was moving the cadavers from the high ground where the huts stood down to the beach where they would be burned. Or, more burned than they already were.
The sun was setting behind him over the green canopies that would darken and meld imperceptibly with the dusky sky as time dragged on. Captain Marlie van Aameer could see the beginnings of the glow of the Maputo conurbation, which would soon be the only evidence that somewhere, reactors still churned out enough kilowatts to power a sprawl. To the west and even further south the currently unnamed conurbation that was once called Johannesburg-Pretoria dimmed a tiny patch of the sky, nothing more. 41 million souls and hardly anything to show for it, thought Marlie to himself.
Meanwhile the evidence of the day’s work had been accounted and double checked. Lieutenant Hornbull reported: 451 useable blood samples. “Are you positive, Lieutenant?”
“Yes, Captain.”
“Thank you, son.”
“Yes, Hornbull?”
“That’s quite a count for less than an hours work, sir.”
“I know, Hornbull.”
“We only got 59 from the previous days, sir.”
Marlie didn’t say anything and looked to the stars dimming to the south of him and then those brightening in the north. Hornbull continued, “We could be out of here in 3 days if we keep this up. Whaddya think? Sir?”

*   *   *

The restaurant submerged after sunset, affording the customers a view of Table Mountain and all of Cape Town. Behind and around the mountain dozens of cooling towers stood like miniature idols. The mountain grew tall and dark above them until the water subsumed the ship entirely and light chatter started up among the diners. The cabin lights that had been dimmed to romanticize the twilight brightened to a level suitable for pre-dinner drinks. The waiters appeared through doors on opposite sides of the dining room and began taking orders graciously and efficiently.
Captain Marlie van Aameer continued to look through the glass ceiling at the lightness from the surface now receding and imagined how the animals would feel living in a place that could never be illuminated. Even a nuclear powered sub-restaurant might be some comfort to those tiny souls moving through this great black ocean. He lowered his gaze back to the suited man across the table who now placed an order for the fourth most expensive wine on the menu, a 2098 Pinotage from Stellenbosch.
“So, Captain van Aameer, I must insist on your silence regarding this dinner and the contents of the conversation.”
“Rest assured, what is said here will remain with me.”
“I thank you, but today we can’t even be sure of men with your reputation. So you will understand if I don’t fully introduce myself, or who I represent? I don’t want to offend, but that’s the way it must be.”
The man, a white, spoke like no South African Marlie had heard before, but he still added words like meneer and jol into his sentences. It’s possible he had been raised and schooled abroad; he certainly dressed that way. When the two men exchanged information – a middle finger pressed to and screened by their wrist individiChips – Captain van Aameer was shocked. His personal had never come up blank after a screening. He didn’t even think it was possible, but there it was. Or there nothing was. No d.o.b., no name, no affiliations.
“What should I call you then?”
“Mr. Ford is fine.”
“Well, Mr. Ford. You have to tell me what I can do for you and why.”
“You and your team have a reputation for excellence, although your record says you haven’t been active for quite some time.”
“Not since they formation of S.A.E.U.”
“You were on the winning side in that fight?”
“Did you switch over?”
“You’d be surprised how easily people switch sides at the end of wars.”
“I didn’t. I was S.A.E.U. in all the former republics. So were my men.”
“That makes your last mission…”
“2087. We were part of the team that killed Commander Machel.”
“So your file says. Congratulations. You helped end everything.”
“Thank you.” Marlie looked around for the waiter and their wine.
“Your file also says your great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was involved in the killing of Samora Machel. Did you know that?”
“No. Who is Samora Machel?”
“President of the former Mozambique. A little known piece of S.A.E.U. history. The South Africans denied everything until people stopped caring and the S.A.E.U. became inescapable. But I thought you’d find it interesting. Not many people can kill someone related to someone their great-great-and-so-on-grandfather killed.”
The waiter appeared and put Mr. Ford through the elaborate ritual of tasting, approval and pouring. Before he left the waiter informed them to get ready for a spectacle in five minutes. Marlie watched silently. Mr. Ford raised his glass and toasted their brief but fruitful future in business together. “But first,” he added, “there’s a little taste of the show.” He sipped his wine and motioned Marlie to look out of the enormous windows. The submarine dived deeper, over one thousand meters deep into blackness administered by Two Oceans Holding Company. Outside the two men could see nothing. The conversations died down as the waiters personally informed each table to observe through the massive glass walls.
Finally nuclear powered lights shone out into the black, lighting up very little. The diners were disappointed; they had hoped the entire ocean could be lit and revealed for them to see. Despite the poor lighting they were aware of massive shapes moving beyond the lights’ purview. All around them it grew brighter; other submarines outside shone their lights for the benefit of the diners.
And then one them said, “a whale.” At almost the same time another, seated on the opposite side of the room, said, “a squid.” Marlie swung his head towards the latter and saw a red thing angrily try and avoid the brightness. The squid glared balefully at the diners as the ocean grew brighter. Marlie saw the whale. It spotted the squid and rushed forward through the water towards the smaller cephalopod. The squid was quicker and darted out of the way, lashing out with its suction capped tentacles. The leviathan turned and opened its jaw to reveal shiny teeth.
“Naturally they’re not real, all grown by Two Oceans, but impressive nonetheless, no?”
The squid and the whale circled one another, occasionally lashing in but to no ultimate effect. Finally the squid saw a dark opening where the nuclear subs failed to shine and he took it. He darted into the blackness and left the whale circling the restaurant, puny in comparison, glaring malevolently. Marlie was disappointed. He had expected a kill.
Without any resolution the lights of the submarines outside flickered out and the beasts, unseen by the diners, bore their massive souls out in opposite directions into the endless darkness of a planetary ocean.
Marlie had never seen these animals before and did not believe they still existed naturally. He suspected that Two Oceans had copyrighted their genetic code. He didn’t mind; the show was excellent.
Mr. Ford resumed his proposition almost immediately after the appetizers arrived. The waiters served elegantly and discretely, anticipating needs without eavesdropping or even appearing to watch them. “Now, Captain van Aameen. Let me be up front with the conditions.”
“Asides from not knowing your name.”
“That’s one of them. You won’t know who I represent either.”
“I’ve done a little work like this before.”
“I know. That’s why you were the first choice. But let me continue. If you accept the terms, I can give you a small briefing here – nothing too detailed but that’s the way it has to be.”
“Go ahead.”
“You don’t know who we are because the nature of your mission could compromise my employers’ interests. As you might imagine, the nature of your mission could compromise quite a bit more for you. After completion, you will be given two forms of compensation. The first will be monetary – up to three million Neutral South Central Europe credits depending on your work, payable to a bank account that I’m sure you already have at a bank of your choice in N.S.C.E. The second will be citizenship to the nation of Neutral South Central Europe, and transport to one of the airports in the Bern-Thune metropolitan area.”
The reward was ample, not exceedingly generous apart from the mysterious ability to grant N.S.C.E. citizenship, a notoriously difficult region to belong to, even with persistent and generous bribery. It was difficult to calculate how much citizenship was worth. It was hard to calculate how much getting out of Africa was worth. More than he’d been able to save up in his life, he knew that much.
“Are they any more conditions?”
“A few, particular to the assignment.”
“Let’s hear them.”
“No atomic guns. No atomics of any kind. No radio transmissions. No use of satellites, even personal ones.”
Marlie almost laughed but Mr. Ford looked serious.
“What should we use? Our hands? Or is this a peacekeeping mission?”
“No, Captain van Aameer. But the nature of the mission is relatively simple. If you have any opponents, they will not be equipped to deal with experienced soldiers armed in exo-suits wielding Thor guns.”
“Thor guns? Do I look like a cattle farmer?” Marlie wasn’t sure how many cattle farmers actually used Thor guns, or even how many cattle farmers were left on the planet, but he knew the weapons’ origins and the insult about them.
“Your record shows you pioneered the use of Thor guns when fighting in the tunnel complexes in Karachi became too compact for small scale atomics.”
“We were desperate to end it.”
“That’s not the point. We’ve gone off topic here. What I want to tell you is that you’ll be facing minimal opposition, if any, from soldiers armed with accoutrements of the previous century. If that. One report suggests Kalashnikovs from two centuries past are still in use.”
“Where are you trying to send me?”
“Captain van Aameer, I need you to agree before I can give you some details.”
“Tell me. How likely is resistance?”
“Depending on your method, either nonexistent or very likely but futile.”
“And casualties for my men?”
“Verging on impossible.”
“Then why the payoff in citizenships?”
“Added incentive to be discrete. That’s not something everyone can do. But a unit like yours, with your experience. That’s why.”
“Can it be done by twenty soldiers, armed as you imagine?”
“Easily, in less than a week.”
“Mr. Ford, you can begin.”
“Good. We require you to travel to Northern Mozambique, a long zone protected by the GCN as a “preserve of authentic human dignity”, in their lush phraseology. Thus the discretion required by your team,” added Mr. Ford, arching an eyebrow and cocking his head at Marlie.
“There, your team is to collect at least two thousand samples of DNA from the locals who still live there. We would prefer the DNA to be in liquid form, preferably blood. We will give you the vials. Each vial of undamaged DNA is worth one thousand N.S.C.E. credits for you and your team.”
“That’s all.”
“In plain terms, yes.”
“Why do you need the military?”
“We can’t just send in civilians to a protected zone and conduct our work there. It’s not strictly legal.”
“But why do we need weapons?”
“That’s your decision, Captain van Aameer. How you choose to extract the DNA is also your decision. But I don’t think drawing blood samples from a population where you don’t speak the language, where we’re not sure of how they’ll react to being blooded, well, I don’t know how easy that would all be.”
Marlie paused and thought about this.
“What do they speak?”
“It’s been several isolated generations so we can’t be sure. But we think an archaic form of Portuguese, mixed with an archaic form of Swahili and probably two or more other languages from the area. Possibly some Tsonga, one that the Old New South Africa used to recognize as an official language.”
Marlie paused again. He realized what Mr. Ford had meant.
“You think we’ll have to kill them for their DNA?”
“I didn’t say that. But I want you to be aware that below 2000 useable samples will be considered a failure and no payment of any kind will be offered.”
“I assume you can’t tell me why you need DNA?”
“You’re partially correct. I can tell you the people in Northern Mozambique are some of the few humans left that practice sexual reproduction. As such they have more valuable DNA than yours and mine, which is entirely functional and contains no useless sections. When we were grown, all of our DNA grew with us. For these people…it’s a different story. We don’t expect you to understand. In truth, very few people I work for, or in the world, for that mater, do understand. We just want you to obey.”
“Will I be given any more briefing?”
“If you accept, we will provide you with slightly more detail, but I’ve sketched out enough for you to begin preparations.”
“Yes, you have.”
“So, Captain van Aameer?”
Marlie could not fathom why the DNA of anyone would be particularly useful. The genome was entirely coded and companies specialized in growing humans to specific qualities as selected by their parents. Most parents chose to enhance their own best qualities, choose even prettier green eyes than those of the mother and use them to set off the father’s roman features. They imagined themselves, each better than the last generation did. Very few parents chose for their children to be substantially different than themselves. Two Asian parents and a black baby? It would be a mark of self-loathing.
“I think my team can work for you, Mr. Ford.”
They both shook hands, but this time Mr. Ford placed his ring finger on Marlie’s individiChips. Mr. Ford gave him a significant look.
“It’s on my personal?”
“Yes. All the information is there for you.”
Abruptly Mr. Ford brought out a small metal box. Inside were translucent pills with liquid inside. He offered one to Marlie, adding, “The light show is next.”
“Will there be any side effects?”
“None but the primary ones. It’ll be finished before the main course arrives.”
The waiters appeared and removed their plates. If they were concerned by Mr. Ford’s pills they did not show it. Marlie took one and turned again to the expanse of the windows.
The bioluminescence glowed alien colors, greens and blues shimmering like elements seen through a filter. Marlie found it hard to imagine that there was flesh and tissue and DNA behind those unearthly glows. The pill took over and the glows began to trail faintly and eventually they took up his entire field of vision. He was ecstatic, lying back, watching the glow pulse before him, wondering what life was like somewhere else.

*   *   *

None of the men had ever used a vehicle powered by petroleum before, although the team understood the rules: no radio, no satellite, no bio-wipes, no atomics – nothing that could alter the DNA or leaves traces for the UCN to discover. Their exo-suits were too heavy to wear on the boats, so they had to bring in a second one to transport the minimal equipment they were allowed to bring. Nothing but exo-suits and Thor guns, really.
As the team arrived in a pontoon boat, they could see two fishermen paddling out. The black men’s bodies were thin and small compared to those of the mercenaries. Their parents had wanted them to be strong and tall, broad shouldered and imposing, and so they were grown that way. The fishermen waved and called out, “Bom dia!” The mercenaries were the first whites they had ever seen, although there were many stories of such ghosts, especially from the oldest generation. And there were still rumors of whites still cached away somewhere in “nosso Moçambique.”
After a slight nod from Marlie, a few members of the team waved back.
“Cut that O’Malley.”
“You ever see people row a boat against waves like these? Give ‘em some credit, for fucks sake. Look at ‘em, they’re tiny.”
The team landed and donned their exo-suits as soon as they helped beach the second pontoon boat. Marlie sent out four teams of three to halfheartedly secure the area. Even before  the area was granted protected status, only the reefs around Morrungulo had been well mapped, leading Marlie to believe the area was and still would be lightly populated.
Two hours later the men returned with reports to confirm this: thanks to the small reactors within their exo-suits, the teams had covered an area of 45 square kilometers each, with estimates of population to boot.
Marlie was pleased. He pulled out the weathered map, scrawled with some slogan in archaic Portuguese about FRELIMO, whatever the hell that was.
“Well done, men. Point out here the most populated areas and then take 30 minutes off. Then report to de Jong for instructions.”

*   *   *

The fishermen were the first to have their blood drawn. They returned with their catch in the early afternoon and found the same white men they saw in the morning looking busy on the beach. When they came in they tried to sell them fish, but the whites weren’t interested in the fruit of the sea, and besides, they had no mets or gold or diamonds or anything in which to pay. It took about forty minutes of conversation, and eventually Sergeant Hawkins had to be used as an example. They consented. Marlie supervised but didn’t say anything.
The black proffered his arm but was unsure. He looked to the man on the hill, who nodded and then the white jabbed the hypo into a long, thin bulge.
“Just like that, meneer. It’s all easy and will be over just now.”
“Why do you talk to him like that? The kaffir can’t understand a word you’re saying.”
“Haven’t you ever seen old vids, like a century old, ja? They talk to their animals in them all the time.”
The two men laughed and the black laughed along with them. His friend saw that no harm was done and extended his arm next.
“Easy as that, boss. We can have these samples out in a week if we can just find a village.” The administrator plunged the hypo again, drawing out the red stuff.

*   *   *

The next day the team moved out at dawn. They left the petroleum powered boats on the beach. “Worthless anyway,” affirmed Hawkins when Marlie announced his decision. Following the advice of the scouts, they arrived at the nearest community of over 300 people just before seven.
Unlike the fishermen, the people in the village were reticent. They went into their homes and waited for a sign from higher authorities. By seven fifteen the men ceased knocking on doors and waited in what seemed like the central part of the village. The mercenaries guffawed at the Coca-Cola ads, identical to those plastered onto half-kilometer long billboards and occupying flags on the moon and bottom of the sea back in the real world.
They heard an unfamiliar but recent noise – the sound of a motor running. The dust flurried into the air, eventually settling over everything. A petroleum charged vehicle with an enclosed front and an open back drove up to the unit. Three men sat in the back; all had century old Kalashnikovs. They got out and the driver stayed in the cab.
Bom dia.” The speaker was older than the two men.
“Boom deeya.”
The original speaker waited for the whites to make the next move. Marlie spoke after a protracted silence. “We want to draw blood samples from you. And the people in this village.” None of the blacks spoke. Marlie repeated himself, slowing down the words, trying to make his South African accent conform more to New Standard English. Then he tried Afrikaans.
The blacks talked among themselves. Not a word sounded like New Standard Portuguese and then exo-suited men thought it was mostly an unruly hodgepodge of African dialects they were hearing. Marlie wearied.
“Hawkins get yourself up here for a fucking example.”
“Sir, with all do respect, I was the example yesterday and…”
“You’re gonna be the example until we get our samples from these kaffirs and that’s the way it’s gonna be. Now get your arm up here.”
“Yes, sir.” The whites set up the elaborate display and the blacks looked on. The Mozambicans looked on smugly but with interest. The mercenaries were holding tiny needles and ornate rods, but they would be nothing compared to the Kalashnikovs. Four or five men with Kalashnikovs could hold off dozens of such men with enough ammunition.
They drew from Hawkins. De Jong held a hypo in his hand, motioning at the blacks to come and be sampled. They had been willing to see another man injure himself for his comrades, but to personally do that for strangers was another matter altogether. They weren’t to be a spectacle for these ghosts.
Marlie made Hawkins hold out his arm again, took another sample and placed the sealed vial in a reinforced suitcase. Then he pointed the needle in the direction of the blacks. By this time the people who had fled indoors had returned and were beginning to form a circle around the strange group – on one half the armed blacks and on the other the whites wearing bizarre armor.
The crowd urged Hawkins to draw more blood from his arm. They wanted to see the red stuff flow again, flow on tap and out into the tiny 100ml vials. Marlie refused to draw more blood. He held up the old vial again and again, shouting in English and sometimes in Afrikaans at the Mozambicans. They spoke nothing but Portuguese and the whites didn’t make any effort to speak that. They didn’t have any ability to speak it and Modern Standard Portuguese was nothing like it.
Hawkins understood very slowly what was going on in the area. The crowd grew more and never called out uniformly but wanted his blood. It was clear to Hawkins and he was afraid and angry at them for wanting his blood so. The white refused and eventually many of the blacks grew bored and went home. Some came far from the outside lands of the town and wouldn’t leave until they saw the strangely dressed ghost men do something impressive. Several of them brought Kalashnikovs but none fired the weapons.
Some stayed; those with things to do or the need to keep up the appearance of work watched impatiently and left after circling the whites. Marlie and his men spent the entire day in the dusty square. They admired the view of the crystalline water and the green tops of trees that undulated verdant and throbbed with life.
The most common spectator was a bullying toddler who dragged his mother to look at the strangers. He looked into their clear pale eyes and pressed his fingers into their skin, delighted when he removed the digit and his ghostly fingerprint briefly whitened their skin further. Whenever children came Hawkins was made to be an example again.
Some cried when the blood came out and others delighted enough to have their own drawn. A few even forced their mothers to do this. By the end of the day they had acquired 32 samples.
They bivouacked on the beach and in the morning the same fisherman passed with the same “Bom dia” and went out into the Indian Ocean on their miniscule boat. Light reflected on faraway water. Their exo-suits meant they could reach every village in less than an hour simply by bundling along dirt roads at 70 kilometers per hour, enhanced, naturally, by a small reactor built into the suit. Sometimes they would crash right through the jungle, snapping tree limbs off their bodies but feeling nothing beneath the molecularly reinforced carbon armor.
In the next village the same thing passed: an arrival, fear, the leaders, assessment, curiosity, banality. They collected even fewer samples than the previous day. Marlie seethed at the bivouac site and delegated all responsibility for the evening to de Jong while he planned alone.
The third village was indistinguishable from the first two. When the leader arrived on his petroleum vehicle and began shouting violently in his Afro-Portuguese the men were taken aback. It was the first resistance they had encountered. The men all had the Thor guns out and the blacks responded by loading and aiming the Kalashnikovs. De Jong preformed the example on Hawkins to defuse the situation. The people of the village gathered in great number. The rest of the company formed a circle and faced out, staring into an unfamiliar wall of black faces with shining eyes and teeth.
De Jong took the blood sample in its vial and handed it to the leader, a small man holding a pistol and machete. The leader slid his sword into his belt and took the blood. The white walked back to the circle and took his place in it, holding the Thor gun out. Marlie ordered them to fully suit up; they did, completely covering their bodies in the armor. They looked like refrigerators holding clubs. The guns hummed beneath the Portuguese chatter. The leader waved his pistol in the air and pointed it at the whites.
Bom!” he shouted.
The faces around the circle laughed.
“Alright,” said Marlie. He and Hawkins had the same idea. They shot their guns. It was enough of an order. The rest of the unit did the same, less than a second later. The leader was hit twice and soared back, dead and smelling of burnt flesh, into a wall of his own people.
The Thor guns, when running the highest voltage, could incapacitate a man at a distance of up to 20 meters. Although very short range compared to atomics, they nonetheless were more efficient, at such a distance, than all other small weapons. Bio-wipes and atomics were still the preferred method of clearing a given territory, but for individual work the Thor’s voltage could eliminate five enemy combatants with one charge.
Causes of death varied but most often were pervasive and deep burns to the dermis and heart failure. The voltage disrupted the beat and most people died, effectively, when they hit the ground. Victims were completely unable to strike back once struck by a discharge.
The effect was immediate on the Mozambicans. Everyone within 20 meters of the circle turned away from their death and writhed on the ground, dying even as more of their compatriots were slaughtered. The circle broke on the order of Marlie van Aameer and the unit went through the town that fled before them.
Some of the Mozambicans attempted to return fire with the small arm Kalashnikovs but the rounds couldn’t break through the exo-suits. These men were found immediately and dispatched. They had no chance to run; the exo-suited mercenaries bound up on the resisting blacks in a few strides and directed a sole charge into their hearts. The force blew them back at least ten meters and they were charred beyond humanity when they fell.
Two mercenaries chose to herd the fleeing Mozambicans between buildings, one appearing in front of them and laughing as the mob turned to run only into his partner standing opposite with a Thor gun. They cooked the crowed in waves of electric torrents after the game grew dull.
Foremost among the killers was Hawkins, taking enhanced leaps into crowds of the helpless, not even bothering to exterminate them with his Thor gun, instead using his encased fists as some kind of huge clubs. He swapt out lives to the left and right, not smiling as he crushed the skulls of them Mozambicans with his massive carbon gloves.
Marlie and de Jong conducted a house-to-house raid. Marlie would kick in the door and de Jong would fry the room without looking to see what was inside. They cooked cats and babies, a chicken and a bedridden grandmother.
In total it took 36 minutes to kill 487 people. They spent the next four hours sticking hypos into the corpses and taking samples. 36 couldn’t be used because Hawkins had caused far too much bleeding in smashing them about. Those who had been murdered with Thor guns were entirely useable. Once their blood cooled, the sample was perfect.
After collecting, the unit took the bodies to the beach to burn. The fishermen returned on their boat and were added to the pile in brief fashion.

*   *   *

In three days after the third village the unit took their 2000th sample. By the end of the fourth day they surpassed 2600. Hawkins wanted to complete up to 3000 for maximum reward; de Jong thought it better to leave. Captain van Aameer wasn’t certain. Lieutenant Horbull reported the scouting results of the evening. There were no settlements in the vicinity with populations over 400. There were six over 100. He also reported a strangely fortified settlement, buildings made entirely of concrete, just beyond the purview of the kill zone. Marlie looked at the pile of bodies that was currently being burned further by some of the mercenaries.
Hawkins and some of the other men had started wearing necklaces made of the ears of the blacks they killed. He twiddled with it now as he spoke.
“Look meneer, we aren’t getting paid enough for this mission not to collect the 3000. We can’t steal anything from this shit country. Or do you want a fucking real coconut tree? What will that bring you in N.S.C.E.? A fucking curio price. I want those credits.” Hawkins was explaining their situation to Hornbull.
Marlie announced his decision. “Hornbull, tomorrow you will lead raids, pre-dawn, against the remaining villages. Collect samples as quickly as possible. Do it even while you’re still fighting if you have to. Lieutenant de Jong and I, along with two others will investigate the settlement for possible resources. We will join you at this location at 1430 hours.”
Hawkins objected, “16 men to collect the remaining 400 samples? That’s quick work, sir.”
“And if there’s a pile of bullion or diamonds at the compound guarded by ten kaffirs fucked up on whatever they still have here, dagga or whatever you smoke, it won’t matter if we don’t hit 3000. Don’t ever be insubordinate with me, Hawkins.”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“Lieutenant de Jong, select two men to join us.”

*   *   *

At the compound they saw the last family of whites in Mozambique. They were old Afrikaaners who moved after 1994 with a huge clan into the real heart of the country to escape “the shame of being ruled by the kaffirs.”
There were 23 of them now, in four generations of one large family. The oldest hale man spoke. The Boer fingered a huge old gun but held no real fear. The mercenaries were white underneath their strange suits.
Marlie saw immediately there was nothing to take from these people. The youngest looked quasi-deformed. He would never grow to be a man, and Marlie suspected his parents were too closely related. It happened in such isolation, he guessed.
The family was too thin. They hadn’t brought anything worth taking. Their heirlooms were probably relics of a racist past that the New New South Africa had long since forgotten or cared about. Race didn’t matter when you could grow a child any color, any gender, any way you wanted. Marlie knew these people had nothing in common with him.
The hale older man gave an introductory speech. “You are the first whites that anyone in my family has seen in over a century. We’ve worked this land, kept the kaffirs away, we’ve made it something. This South Africa was given to us by God, after Blood River, it was ours. We’d lost all hope. But now I can see that God has preserved the white race. There are no mongrels among you. I welcome you into our home. Pray, tell us, meneer, what has happened to our ancestral home? It’s our right to return. What of the Karoo?”
Marlie cut him off. His Afrikaans was sharp and modern; this man’s was drawling and infuriated him. “Well, meneer, I don’t know what to say.” They whole family looked at him. He saw pale eyes on sunned faces. “A lot has changed. It’s not even the New South Africa anymore. That’s now called the Old New South Africa.” The family crowed closer. Captain van Aameer looked to his men.

*   *   *

Back on the beach, Hawkins had collected the 3000th sample and beyond. The pontoon raft had been loaded with vials of blood and the rest of the men celebrated. The four men approached in the massive, bounding leaps of the exo-suited. Marlie tossed him something wrapped in a shirt. “What is this, Captain?”
“For your collection.”
Hawkins unrolled the t-shirt and out fell 46 ears, some old, some young, some tiny and not yet fully formed. All were white.
“A little contrast for your current necklace, don’t you think?”
“Yes, sir! Thank you, sir.”
“Load up everything. We leave here at sunset.”
The mercenaries lolled about after the boats had been loaded and watched the sun go down over the green canopy. Captain van Aameer settled on his haunches and watched them. He already missed life in Cape Town, but knew it would be over there, too.
He wondered what life would be like in Neutral South Central Europe. He imagined the welfare state, still in existence due to a populace that baffled the social critics and continued to work hard in spite of their socialist paradise surroundings. It was nothing compared to the era of late capitalism, but for his own transcapitalist era it was just fine. He imagined life in the mountains, maybe from a place a little like where his European ancestors came from half a millennium ago. He yearned to go back there.

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