Stay On The Blue Grass by Ronald K. Myers

EXTRACT FOR
Stay On The Blue Grass

(Ronald K. Myers)


CHAPTER 1

It was a rare day. The sky was clear. Usually a dirty-orange dome of filth hovered over Blue Town.
Here, the town’s hero, Sergeant John McQueen, stood high on a plastic podium. Before him a sea of puffy-faced people were giving him a big sendoff. He was getting ready to go after his five-hundredth infected Dinky. And he wouldn’t be using a squirt gun. Squirt guns had been outlawed.
Throughout the crowd, Humpty-Dumpty-shaped people with faces like pigs, joined hands and shouted out cheers of encouragement; but living in one of the few remaining livable places on earth and a fear of the green grass virus, forced these well-wishers to stay in the confinement of the sterile blue grass. McQueen’s speech could not be watched on TV. Debris from satellite wars had clogged broadcast signals.
Each time McQueen waved to the pink-faced people, phony smiles beamed up at him; and even though hope radiated from their swine-like eyes, in their hearts they wanted to know when the danger would end. They wanted to know when they would be free to venture off the blue grass. But until they were freed, they chose to be entertained.
Having been partially brainwashed, McQueen didn’t know if he was providing productive or destructive entertainment. If he couldn’t capture the escaped Dinky, he would have to do something he had never done before. He would have to shoot a Dinky.
Years ago, an electronic magnetic pulse wiped out all computers, cell phones, and devices that ran on magnetic strips or disks. Now, some of the old technology of the twentieth century was slowly being revived. If the broadcast signals could be tuned in on one of the ancient, picture-tube TVs, these bored, pudgy people of Blue Town would spend an exciting evening stuffing food into their mouths and watching their hero kill on TV.
McQueen looked beyond the crowd. The green virus-infected land outside the boundaries of the safe blue grass was deserted. Warrior guards marched within the confines of the blue grass; and even though it wasn’t necessary, they waved their arms in the empty air and shouted, “Stay away! Stay on the blue grass!”
The people of Blue Town usually didn’t go near the orange warning signs; but this day, a few chub-faced rebellious youth became brave. They moved toward the dangerous green grass. But their bravery didn’t last. Like all the other pig people, they didn’t want to mutate. If they touched the green grass or non-approved water they would mutate and shrink to little, big-eyed, floppy-eared Dinkies. Then, they would be forced to live out the rest of their days working in the green, virus-filled, agricultural fields.
One by one, the young pig people waddled away from the green danger and crammed their ballooned bodies into the mumbling huddle of other pig people waiting on the parade field of blue grass.
In the distance, gray loudspeakers, on tall steel poles, screeched and clicked. All heads turned toward the sound. The sergeant of the guard’s voice blared into the sun-filled day: “Stay on the blue grass!”
Holding his opened palm up, Sergeant John McQueen reached skyward. He held a salute to a higher being and posed to be photographed for a propaganda poster. Throughout the crowd, the pig people nodded their pink heads and grunted with approval. Just before the camera snapped, Corporal Burke pushed against McQueen and stuck his ugly face into the picture. In the mirror reflection of the camera lens, McQueen could see what would be the finished picture. In it, Burke’s face was unshaven; and he was forcing his ugly cheese-face smile. Even though he wore an extra tight fitting uniform, it was wrinkled. And his corporal stripes were dull and old; they announced the shame of not being promoted in years. His appearance broadcasted laziness. Next to McQueen’s perfect military appearance, Burke stood out like an imbecilic leech.
The spindly cameraman placed his hand on the tripod and looked up from behind the camera. “Corporal Burke,” he said, and waved the back of his hand in a sweeping motion. “Sergeant McQueen is the hero today. Step down please.”
With an expression of a man who had just been caught with his fly down, Burke touched his receding chin and blew air out of his thin-lipped mouth. With bitter reluctance, he stepped down off the podium.
Sergeant McQueen stood alone and watched himself in the camera monitor. He was dressed in his white warrior uniform. Various colors of medals lined the left side of his chest. His coal-black hair hung smooth and sleek down his straight back. When he lowered his arm, his three gold sergeant stripes shimmered in the silver sun; and his jet-black eyes leveled a lingering gaze at the people in the crowd.
The cameraman snapped the picture and mechanically folded the tripod. Then without emotion, he slung it over his skinny shoulder and walked away.
Corporal Burke jumped back up onto the podium and announced, “Augur, the hero of the mutant Dinkies, has been spotted.”
A reporter with a gray beard yelled out from the crowd. “How can that be? Augur is a myth.”
Burke shook his head. “Augur is no myth. He’s an escaped Dinky. He’s been infected with a new strain of virus. He’s wanted dead or alive. If Sergeant McQueen can catch him, he’ll capture the all-time record.”
Waving his hand and bobbing his red-haired head like a scarlet beacon, a little freckled-faced kid in the crowd yelled up at Burke. “Corporal Burke, I thought you had the all-time record.”
Burke assumed a posture of superiority and looked toward the little kid, but he did not make eye contact. “No son,” he said as if he were trying to convince the crowd. “I told you, ‘I hope to have the record some day.’”
The kid put his hand over his mouth and his eyes narrowed with suspicion. Burke turned his back to the kid and pointed to Sergeant John McQueen. “If you reporters will step forward.” He motioned with his hand. “Sergeant McQueen will answer your questions.”
As the reporters waded through the crowd, Burke leaned over and whispered in McQueen’s ear, “Why should the corporation give you the right to reproduce?”
“It’s the law,” McQueen said. “If you capture five hundred Dinkies you will have earned that right, too.”
“If you catch the Dinky,” Burke said, and his lips curled into a self-important smile. “Why don’t you use some of those reward money credits and buy something to bulk up that puny body of yours?”
“I like my body the way it is,” McQueen said, and tensed for the reporter’s onslaught. Highly excited, the news reporters pushed and shoved their way up the four little steel steps and rushed up to stand on the plastic podium. McQueen reached out to shake their healthy left hands, but they didn’t acknowledge his friendly gesture. They lifted their right hands and pointed their camera-implanted cam-fingers at his face. The questions flowed.
“Sergeant McQueen, how are you going to do it this time?”
“If you capture Augur alive, will you ask him where all the Dinkies are going?”
“What if he throws virus water on you?”
“What will you do if he hits you with a piece of wood?”
“Augur is the champion of the Dinkies. Will you have to kill him?”
McQueen turned and smiled at the cam-finger pointing reporters. “I’m a warrior for the Chief Earth Officer. Until advances in science make it possible for us to go off the blue grass, I will continue to take orders from him.”
A reporter, with only one middle finger on his hand, pointed his cam-finger in front of McQueen’s face. “Did Chief Earth Officer Nelson order you to pursue your five-hundredth Dinky if it runs off the blue grass?”
McQueen didn’t answer.
Another reporter, with a full set of fingers, pointed his little cam-finger at him. “The world knows you were exposed to the wood-virus when you were a boy. Will that virus affect you in the future?
“I’m not a prophet, McQueen said. “Don’t ask me about things that haven’t happened yet.” He looked down. Even though charged particles striking the earth’s magnetic field played havoc with the all communications signals, a reporter standing next to the podium was trying to get a picture on one of the few working TV monitors. For a brief second, the dark screen fluttered and came in clear. A side view of McQueen appeared. Under his smooth-fitting uniform, the symmetric muscles on his strong arms moved with the sinuous grace of a dancer and then the screen blinked black.
Another reporter, with a two-fingered hand, flashed his cam-finger at McQueen. “Why do you call it a chase when it is a battle against the virus?”
McQueen didn’t answer.
Another reporter’s voice rang out. “How much longer do we have to stay on the blue grass?”
McQueen smiled a big white-toothed smile in the reporter’s direction. “After I capture my five-hundredth Dinky, all your questions will be answered.”
The reporters swarmed around him; and reading pre-prepared reports, they talked into their cam-fingers.
Corporal Burke wormed his way through the reporters and stood at the front of the podium. When he raised his hand, all heads in the crowd turned toward him. “Escaped virus-carrying Dinkies are still a danger to the world.” He raised his clinched fist above his head. “They must be shot with the antidote.”
Waves of murmurs flowed from the crowd. Burke made a T sign with his hands. With enough menace in his voice to make the people comply, he yelled out, “Time out!”
Quiet cloaked the crowd and he continued. “Sergeant McQueen has done his job before. He will do it again. Let him pass and get on with it.”
McQueen looked at the route he would have to take to get to the OvalCar. A hoard of pig people bunched together and blocked his way. He whispered to Burke. “That’s a lot of people to wade through.”
Burke nudged McQueen’s elbow. “They’re not people. They’re pigs.”
Even though the pig people had the characteristics of pigs, deep in his heart, McQueen knew they were human beings with fragile feelings. The more Burke disrespected them, the more McQueen didn’t like it. He flashed a disapproving look in Burk’s direction and stepped off the podium. A wall of well-wishers surrounded him. Somewhere behind him, a voice called out. “Sergeant McQueen!”
McQueen looked back over his shoulder and watched through the open space below the elbow of a reporter’s lifted arm. The little freckled-faced kid’s red head was bobbing through the crowd and getting close.
The crowd was too bunched up for the kid to get to McQueen. After a brief struggle with an extra-large fat lady with a butt that stuck out so far that it looked like a shelf, the kid turned and ran up to Burke. Burke acted as if the kid wasn’t there, but the kid persisted. When Burke finally looked down, the kid presented him a piece of plastic paper. “Can I have your autograph, sir?”
Burke took the plastic paper and signed it. “Here!” He pushed it into the kid’s chest. “You little son of a bitch.”
For a moment the kid’s eyes filled with tears, but in a flash, the despair in his freckled-face fill with hate. He gave Burke a dirty look and threw the paper on the ground. McQueen wanted to go over and comfort the kid, but the crowd parted and he walked toward the waiting vehicle.
In the center of the crowd, a lumpish lady waved a red hat in the air and shrieked, “Don’t let them hit you with the virus-water. You’ll turn into a Dinky.”
A man’s voice from the right side of the crowd rang out. “Be careful. We don’t need another dead mutant like your father.”
McQueen cast a mean glare to where the remark had come from. All advice stopped.
So what if he happened to get exposed to the water-virus, he had been exposed before and it had not affected him. The antidote they gave his father didn’t work and he died. He was okay before they touched him. But it may have been because the water-virus has different strengths.
A reporter, with reddish-brown hair falling over his eyes, blocked McQueen’s path. When McQueen was close, the reporter lifted his hand and stuck his cam-finger in front of McQueen’s face. “Is he right?” he asked; and with his other hand, he pushed his hair from his green eyes. “Were you exposed?”
McQueen talked into the reporter’s single cam-finger. “I’ve never been exposed to—” he said, but stopped.
He turned away from the cam-finger and continued toward the waiting OvalCar. The last time he had talked to that reporter he had had two fingers. Apparently, the reporter had gotten another one chopped off for reporting facts.
In the past, when McQueen didn’t know the answers to the reporter’s questions he had not answered. He wondered why he was trying to do it now. His father had said, “Don’t be like those chopped-off-fingered reporters that make up questions about things that haven’t happened yet. They’re trained to report what the Chief Earth Officer wants. If they don’t report what he wants, they get a finger chopped off until they do.”
McQueen felt as if he had been running a long race, and he was about to cross the finish line, a winner. All he had to do was catch just one more Dinky. Then he would have the right to move onto an estate protected on all sides with fields of beautiful blue grass. Then he wouldn’t have to live in the acrid blue grass of the common pig people and answer any of those reporter’s stupid questions. But until that happened, he would have to play their little games.
He turned back to the cam-fingered reporter. “If I answered questions about something that hasn’t happened yet, I would be foolish.”
The reporter’s reddish-brown hair fell over his eyes, again. Pushing it out of his eyes, he revealed a flash of anger. “But the people deserve answers.”
While he held back his feelings, McQueen’s intolerance oozed into his heart. “Until those things happen,” he said and smiled faintly. “Those kinds of questions don’t need answers.”
The reporter persisted. McQueen quit talking, turned his back to him, and made his way to the waiting egg-shaped OvalCar. When he stopped at the edge of the blue street, he turned to the crowd and lifted his arm in salute. As the people cheered, a woman driver dressed in a black uniform that clung to her shapely body flipped up the silver-glass of the OvalCar’s door and held it open. McQueen stepped in and leaned back into the body-forming seat. The driver strapped him in and flipped a switch on the dashboard. The seat molded to the contours of his back and the LED in the dashboard flashed. The old scratchy computer voice stated, “Warrior safe to transport.” The driver placed her hands on the steering wheel and sat back in the driver’s seat. McQueen felt the skinny plastic wheels beneath the OvalCar spin for an instant. When they caught on the blue asphalt, the OvalCar lurched forward on its way to where the Dinky had been spotted.
Driving down the road, the driver looked in the rearview mirror. McQueen maintained eye contact for only a brief moment, but it was long enough that he felt messages of mutual interest.
Smiling, the driver said, “I don’t know if I’ll be permitted to drive you around when they proclaim you a prince of peace.”
McQueen studied the driver’s reflection in the mirror. When she turned, her long black hair flowed over her perfect breasts like a satin waterfall. Something seemed familiar about her, but he couldn’t figure out what it was. “I don’t remember you driving me before,” he said. “What’s your name?”
The driver tilted her cute head to one side and talked back over her shoulder. “Danielle,” she said. “May I ask you what you will do when the Friends of the Earth Corporation give you your own house?”
Even though he was only a few hours away from the good life, McQueen had suppress the thought of a new virus-free life for so long that he was afraid if he dwelled on it too long the Friends of The Earth Corporation would up the Dinky count to six hundred or more. “I haven’t thought of it much,” he said and shrugged. “Maybe I’ll raise a family.”
Danielle smiled a warm motherly smile. “That would be nice. You and your family could live inside the safety of the blue grass.”
“It is a beautiful dream. But until I actually catch the Dinky, I don’t like to think about it.”
A small tree branch with green leaves sat alongside the blue road. A brief look of agitation formed on Danielle’s brow. She gracefully turned the wheel. The splash of green foliage whizzed past the side window. Her look of agitation softened. “Is it true that you will be the first warrior granted the right to reproduce?”
As the sight of the threatening virus-laden tree branch vanished in the rearview mirror, McQueen answered. “Yes, and I’ll have to choose a mate.”
Danielle’s face glowed like a flickering flame about to flare. “Do you have anyone in mind?”
He studied her face and her long black hair. She was beautiful, but a nervous heartbeat thumped in his chest. “No,” he said, and swallowed. “But I’ll be looking.”
At the side of the road, the OvalCar wheels crunched on fine blue gravel. Danielle’s cheery face turned toward McQueen. “We’re here,” she purred, and stopped the car.
McQueen stepped out of the OvalCar and looked across a safe, blue grass meadow. Uncut green grass framed it, and orange signs, on metal sticks, stood out like neon lights.
CAUTION, they read, STAY ON THE BLUE GRASS. WOOD AND WATER VIRUS BEYOND THIS POINT, DINKY MUTATION EMINET.
McQueen looked between two orange signs. The targeted Dinky stood there and didn’t move. He was a little more than a meter high with a little pudgy belly, but his short legs looked powerful.
If the Dinky ran off into the green forest, McQueen couldn’t chase him into the woods. Wood-virus would fall off the tree branches and onto his head. If he chased the Dinky into the tall wet grass, the water-virus would wrap around his legs and infect them. He would be condemned to the life of a mutant Dinky. He wanted to capture this Dinky alive; but if he stepped off the blue grass, McQueen would have to shoot him. The antidote-bullets were supposed to stun and cure Dinkies with an advanced stage of mutation, but every Dinky he had seen shot had died.
McQueen walked into the meadow. Unlike Blue Town’s air that was rampant with pig people’s obnoxious odors, this air was fresh and clean. It made him feel good. He stopped and watched the little Dinky. Like a happy drunk, it was jumping up and down, and waving its little hands at McQueen.
Even though it was his sworn duty, McQueen didn’t understand why he should have to shoot this little Dinky. Even though they were small, they were a valuable energy source. The corporation preferred that they be taken alive, but when they escaped, it frowned upon warriors who failed to shoot them.
Walking toward McQueen, the little Dinky stuck his thumbs in his stumpy ears and waved his fingers. “Come on, you big dummy,” he yelled, and ran toward an orange warning sign.
McQueen smiled inwardly. He had never had to shoot one yet. But the way this little guy was running, he didn’t look like was infected with anything. For a five-hundredth capture, he looked too easy. In a few minutes, McQueen would have him in his hands. If the signals got through, he would be on TV tonight. The Chief Earth Officer would be placing the Medal of Honor around his neck. With the big credit bonus that went with it, McQueen would be able to buy enough water to take a real shower. He wouldn’t have to use dry clay to bathe his body. If he was awarded enough money credits, he would buy his own OvalCar, complete with a paid driver. Then, he would scout around and find the perfect reproduction mate.
Fifty meters away, the captain of the warriors stood at the side of the road and talked into an amplified wrist bullhorn. His orders raced across the blue meadow and barked into McQueen’s ears. “Sergeant McQueen! Check your weapon.”
McQueen clicked the antidote-bullet-clip into his sidearm, returned it to his holster, and snapped to attention. “Sir, weapon ready to fire.”
Looking at McQueen and pointing to the little Dinky, the captain walked ten meters onto the safe blue grass and yelled, “Warrior, complete your obligation.”
McQueen stretched out his arm and held his palm toward the sky. “For the good of the corporation,” he said, and walked to the edge of the blue grass.
The little Dinky stopped running and leaned his back against the post of an orange warning sign. McQueen walked toward him. But the Dinky didn’t seem to care. He crossed his legs as if he were waiting for an OvalBus and stared at McQueen. Twenty meters from him, McQueen stopped walking. With his two pointer fingers together, he waved them up and down and gave the universal signal for the Dinky to bow down and wait to be inspected, searched, or captured. If the Dinky failed to obey the signal, any warrior had the right to shoot him.
The little Dinky bowed his head and waited.
Although McQueen was still disappointed that he didn’t have to chase the Dinky, he continued walking. The capture wasn’t going to look very good on TV tonight. But a capture was a capture.
When he was ten meters away, the little Dinky’s floppy hat fell off his little round head and landed on the grass.
“Dinky,” McQueen barked, “pick up your cover.”
The little Dinky uncrossed his legs, bent over, and stepped toward his hat. Just as it was at the tips of his fingers, he kicked it with his little leather-shoed-foot. The hat skidded across the grass. The little Dinky stood up and grinned at McQueen.
McQueen stepped closer and repeated, “Dinky, pick up your cover.”
Again, the Dinky bent over and kicked his hat just before the tips of his fingers touched it.
McQueen stepped closer and yelled at the Dinky. “Dinky, you know the laws. No aspect of a Dinky’s time is to be left to chance or left to its own discretion.”
The Dinky picked up his hat and pushed it down onto his big head until the tops of his big ears bent downward. Then, he lifted his head and looked directly into McQueen’s face.
“Dinky, you—” McQueen shrieked, but stopped in mid-sentence. Suddenly, he recognized the little Dinky. It was Tommy, the mutant Dinky he had known on his father’s farm. They had practically grown up together. McQueen smiled. Tommy was deliberately trying to make him laugh. But he couldn’t laugh. He was on function status. And laughing or not, McQueen still had to catch the Dinky. Pleadingly, he whispered, “Tommy, let me catch you.”
Tommy smiled a mischievous smile. “Sorry, Johnny.” He wagged his little round head around in a wobbly circle. “You have shoot me.”
McQueen reached for his weapon. “Come on, Tommy, quit fooling around. They’ll only question you.”
“Doze days over.”
McQueen wrinkled his brow in puzzlement. “Tommy, you know how to talk. Why are you using that broken mutant language?”
Tommy turned his back to McQueen. “You no catch-a me when I go on green water-virus grass.”
“Don’t do it, Tommy. I’ll have to shoot.”
“Maybe I see you at water house.” Tommy took off running.
The voice of the captain boomed across the blue grass. “Sergeant McQueen, complete your obligation.”
McQueen ran after his little Dinky friend and chased him along the edge of the virus-free blue grass. Tommy hopped into the green grass and stopped. He put his hands on his hips and tapped his little foot. McQueen stopped in his blue tracks and looked down. A meter away from the toes of his warrior boots, the silvery virus-filled liquid clung onto the green grass.
McQueen knew if he touched the water-virus he would have to be decontaminated. He would have only a short time to be given the antidote, and it didn’t always work. There was always the chance that the virus would kill him or cause him to mutate into a Dinky.
He looked back over his shoulder. A line of OvalCars drove to the edge of the road and stopped. Reporters jumped out and raised their arms. Being careful to stand on the safe blue gravel, they aimed their cam-fingers toward him.
McQueen looked back at Tommy. Tommy ran across the green grass, jumped into the tall green weeds, and ducked under a low tree branch. He went out of sight for a moment then popped back up and hopped over a small stream of flowing water. On the other side of the stream, he turned and motioned for McQueen to follow.
McQueen didn’t move.
Tommy just stood there, waiting.
The captain’s voice boomed again. “Sergeant McQueen! You are on function status. Complete your obligation.”
McQueen lifted his weapon and took aim. Like he had done when they were boys, Tommy made those crazy faces. He rolled his big, round, black-dotted eyes, and stuck out his little pink tongue. McQueen pulled on the weapon’s trigger, but an uncontrollable burst of laughter erupted from his lips. The gun jerked. Whap! It fired. The antidote slug went wide and missed Tommy’s head by a centimeter. Tommy stuck out this pink tongue again, then turned and disappeared into the thick green bushes beyond the tall trees.
The captain rushed up to McQueen. “Stand at attention, Warrior.”
McQueen replaced his sidearm to his holster and stood at attention. The captain stood in front of him. With the tip of his nose next to McQueen’s, he yelled loud enough for the reporters to hear. “Sergeant McQueen! What are you trying to do? Entice other soul-less Dinkies to escape and spread a new virus?”
McQueen stiffened to a stone state. “No, sir.”
Blasting bad breath into his face, the captain kept his nose next to McQueen’s. “Do you know that warriors do not keep escaped Dinkies under control they will spread a new virus that will mutate all the people of the world?”
McQueen looked straightforward. “Yes, sir.” He did not move a muscle, twitch an eyelash, take a shallow breath of air, or create any movement that would give the captain a reason to reprimand him more.
Even though the air in the meadow was fresh and clean, as he yelled, the captain’s rotten breath intensified. “Warrior do you know it is your obligation to marshal the collective energy of the Dinkies and keep an ordered social universe?”
This captain made McQueen want to throw up. He tried not to breathe. The captain was an idiot. He acted like his ignorance came from his upbringing. His parents were probably idiots, too. McQueen figured he might be able to impress the captain with a little knowledge.
“Yes, sir!” he said. “I understand that if the Dinkies are permitted to roam free it will cause a steady deterioration of our delicate ecological system. Then we would have an inevitable and steady deterioration of our system. And also suffer the loss of usable energy. Blue Town’s strength and well-being depends on usable energy. If we lose it, our standard of living will be lost. We cannot let that happen, sir!”
The captain stepped back and shook his electrified crop in McQueen’s face. As if he were going to strike McQueen in the face, he lifted it. McQueen tensed for the pain, but the captain smiled with satisfaction and slammed the black crop into the palm of his black-leather-gloved hand. “Warrior McQueen, recite your orders.”
McQueen took a much-needed breath of good air and looked straightforward. He talked like a machine. “Sir, the work of every Dinky is fully planned by the Chief Earth Officer. Each day, every Dinky receives complete written instructions. These instructions describe every detail of the task the Dinky is to accomplish, as well as the means to be used in doing the work.”
The captain turned to one side and methodically pounded his palm with the electric crop stick. “Warrior, continue.”
McQueen breathed a little easier. “The written instructions of the task specify not only what is to be done, but how it is to be done and the exact time allowed for doing it.”
The captain turned his back to McQueen. “Warrior, you have complete knowledge of your obligation. No aspect of a Dinky’s time is to be left to chance or to be left to a Dinky’s discretion.”
McQueen wanted to say, “He’s not just a Dinky, he’s my friend.” But he could not argue with any superior officer. He stood tall and clinched his teeth until his jaw hurt.
The captain turned and thrust his finger at McQueen’s stone face. “You have failed to perform your obligation. Do you know the procedure you must now follow?”
“Yes, sir. I must return to the barracks and report my failure to the Chief Earth Officer. At my request, the Chief Earth Officer may grant me twenty-one hours to correct the situation.”
The captain turned his back to McQueen. “Warrior Dismissed.”
Sergeant John McQueen saluted the back of the captain’s head and did a perfect about-face. As he walked toward the waiting OvalCar, the captain cussed under his breath. McQueen’s ears perked up and he listened. “Decorated warrior my ass, he’s a decorated joke.”

Stay On The Blue Grass by Ronald K. Myers

EXTRACT FOR
Stay On The Blue Grass

(Ronald K. Myers)


CHAPTER 1

It was a rare day. The sky was clear. Usually a dirty-orange dome of filth hovered over Blue Town.
Here, the town’s hero, Sergeant John McQueen, stood high on a plastic podium. Before him a sea of puffy-faced people were giving him a big sendoff. He was getting ready to go after his five-hundredth infected Dinky. And he wouldn’t be using a squirt gun. Squirt guns had been outlawed.
Throughout the crowd, Humpty-Dumpty-shaped people with faces like pigs, joined hands and shouted out cheers of encouragement; but living in one of the few remaining livable places on earth and a fear of the green grass virus, forced these well-wishers to stay in the confinement of the sterile blue grass. McQueen’s speech could not be watched on TV. Debris from satellite wars had clogged broadcast signals.
Each time McQueen waved to the pink-faced people, phony smiles beamed up at him; and even though hope radiated from their swine-like eyes, in their hearts they wanted to know when the danger would end. They wanted to know when they would be free to venture off the blue grass. But until they were freed, they chose to be entertained.
Having been partially brainwashed, McQueen didn’t know if he was providing productive or destructive entertainment. If he couldn’t capture the escaped Dinky, he would have to do something he had never done before. He would have to shoot a Dinky.
Years ago, an electronic magnetic pulse wiped out all computers, cell phones, and devices that ran on magnetic strips or disks. Now, some of the old technology of the twentieth century was slowly being revived. If the broadcast signals could be tuned in on one of the ancient, picture-tube TVs, these bored, pudgy people of Blue Town would spend an exciting evening stuffing food into their mouths and watching their hero kill on TV.
McQueen looked beyond the crowd. The green virus-infected land outside the boundaries of the safe blue grass was deserted. Warrior guards marched within the confines of the blue grass; and even though it wasn’t necessary, they waved their arms in the empty air and shouted, “Stay away! Stay on the blue grass!”
The people of Blue Town usually didn’t go near the orange warning signs; but this day, a few chub-faced rebellious youth became brave. They moved toward the dangerous green grass. But their bravery didn’t last. Like all the other pig people, they didn’t want to mutate. If they touched the green grass or non-approved water they would mutate and shrink to little, big-eyed, floppy-eared Dinkies. Then, they would be forced to live out the rest of their days working in the green, virus-filled, agricultural fields.
One by one, the young pig people waddled away from the green danger and crammed their ballooned bodies into the mumbling huddle of other pig people waiting on the parade field of blue grass.
In the distance, gray loudspeakers, on tall steel poles, screeched and clicked. All heads turned toward the sound. The sergeant of the guard’s voice blared into the sun-filled day: “Stay on the blue grass!”
Holding his opened palm up, Sergeant John McQueen reached skyward. He held a salute to a higher being and posed to be photographed for a propaganda poster. Throughout the crowd, the pig people nodded their pink heads and grunted with approval. Just before the camera snapped, Corporal Burke pushed against McQueen and stuck his ugly face into the picture. In the mirror reflection of the camera lens, McQueen could see what would be the finished picture. In it, Burke’s face was unshaven; and he was forcing his ugly cheese-face smile. Even though he wore an extra tight fitting uniform, it was wrinkled. And his corporal stripes were dull and old; they announced the shame of not being promoted in years. His appearance broadcasted laziness. Next to McQueen’s perfect military appearance, Burke stood out like an imbecilic leech.
The spindly cameraman placed his hand on the tripod and looked up from behind the camera. “Corporal Burke,” he said, and waved the back of his hand in a sweeping motion. “Sergeant McQueen is the hero today. Step down please.”
With an expression of a man who had just been caught with his fly down, Burke touched his receding chin and blew air out of his thin-lipped mouth. With bitter reluctance, he stepped down off the podium.
Sergeant McQueen stood alone and watched himself in the camera monitor. He was dressed in his white warrior uniform. Various colors of medals lined the left side of his chest. His coal-black hair hung smooth and sleek down his straight back. When he lowered his arm, his three gold sergeant stripes shimmered in the silver sun; and his jet-black eyes leveled a lingering gaze at the people in the crowd.
The cameraman snapped the picture and mechanically folded the tripod. Then without emotion, he slung it over his skinny shoulder and walked away.
Corporal Burke jumped back up onto the podium and announced, “Augur, the hero of the mutant Dinkies, has been spotted.”
A reporter with a gray beard yelled out from the crowd. “How can that be? Augur is a myth.”
Burke shook his head. “Augur is no myth. He’s an escaped Dinky. He’s been infected with a new strain of virus. He’s wanted dead or alive. If Sergeant McQueen can catch him, he’ll capture the all-time record.”
Waving his hand and bobbing his red-haired head like a scarlet beacon, a little freckled-faced kid in the crowd yelled up at Burke. “Corporal Burke, I thought you had the all-time record.”
Burke assumed a posture of superiority and looked toward the little kid, but he did not make eye contact. “No son,” he said as if he were trying to convince the crowd. “I told you, ‘I hope to have the record some day.’”
The kid put his hand over his mouth and his eyes narrowed with suspicion. Burke turned his back to the kid and pointed to Sergeant John McQueen. “If you reporters will step forward.” He motioned with his hand. “Sergeant McQueen will answer your questions.”
As the reporters waded through the crowd, Burke leaned over and whispered in McQueen’s ear, “Why should the corporation give you the right to reproduce?”
“It’s the law,” McQueen said. “If you capture five hundred Dinkies you will have earned that right, too.”
“If you catch the Dinky,” Burke said, and his lips curled into a self-important smile. “Why don’t you use some of those reward money credits and buy something to bulk up that puny body of yours?”
“I like my body the way it is,” McQueen said, and tensed for the reporter’s onslaught. Highly excited, the news reporters pushed and shoved their way up the four little steel steps and rushed up to stand on the plastic podium. McQueen reached out to shake their healthy left hands, but they didn’t acknowledge his friendly gesture. They lifted their right hands and pointed their camera-implanted cam-fingers at his face. The questions flowed.
“Sergeant McQueen, how are you going to do it this time?”
“If you capture Augur alive, will you ask him where all the Dinkies are going?”
“What if he throws virus water on you?”
“What will you do if he hits you with a piece of wood?”
“Augur is the champion of the Dinkies. Will you have to kill him?”
McQueen turned and smiled at the cam-finger pointing reporters. “I’m a warrior for the Chief Earth Officer. Until advances in science make it possible for us to go off the blue grass, I will continue to take orders from him.”
A reporter, with only one middle finger on his hand, pointed his cam-finger in front of McQueen’s face. “Did Chief Earth Officer Nelson order you to pursue your five-hundredth Dinky if it runs off the blue grass?”
McQueen didn’t answer.
Another reporter, with a full set of fingers, pointed his little cam-finger at him. “The world knows you were exposed to the wood-virus when you were a boy. Will that virus affect you in the future?
“I’m not a prophet, McQueen said. “Don’t ask me about things that haven’t happened yet.” He looked down. Even though charged particles striking the earth’s magnetic field played havoc with the all communications signals, a reporter standing next to the podium was trying to get a picture on one of the few working TV monitors. For a brief second, the dark screen fluttered and came in clear. A side view of McQueen appeared. Under his smooth-fitting uniform, the symmetric muscles on his strong arms moved with the sinuous grace of a dancer and then the screen blinked black.
Another reporter, with a two-fingered hand, flashed his cam-finger at McQueen. “Why do you call it a chase when it is a battle against the virus?”
McQueen didn’t answer.
Another reporter’s voice rang out. “How much longer do we have to stay on the blue grass?”
McQueen smiled a big white-toothed smile in the reporter’s direction. “After I capture my five-hundredth Dinky, all your questions will be answered.”
The reporters swarmed around him; and reading pre-prepared reports, they talked into their cam-fingers.
Corporal Burke wormed his way through the reporters and stood at the front of the podium. When he raised his hand, all heads in the crowd turned toward him. “Escaped virus-carrying Dinkies are still a danger to the world.” He raised his clinched fist above his head. “They must be shot with the antidote.”
Waves of murmurs flowed from the crowd. Burke made a T sign with his hands. With enough menace in his voice to make the people comply, he yelled out, “Time out!”
Quiet cloaked the crowd and he continued. “Sergeant McQueen has done his job before. He will do it again. Let him pass and get on with it.”
McQueen looked at the route he would have to take to get to the OvalCar. A hoard of pig people bunched together and blocked his way. He whispered to Burke. “That’s a lot of people to wade through.”
Burke nudged McQueen’s elbow. “They’re not people. They’re pigs.”
Even though the pig people had the characteristics of pigs, deep in his heart, McQueen knew they were human beings with fragile feelings. The more Burke disrespected them, the more McQueen didn’t like it. He flashed a disapproving look in Burk’s direction and stepped off the podium. A wall of well-wishers surrounded him. Somewhere behind him, a voice called out. “Sergeant McQueen!”
McQueen looked back over his shoulder and watched through the open space below the elbow of a reporter’s lifted arm. The little freckled-faced kid’s red head was bobbing through the crowd and getting close.
The crowd was too bunched up for the kid to get to McQueen. After a brief struggle with an extra-large fat lady with a butt that stuck out so far that it looked like a shelf, the kid turned and ran up to Burke. Burke acted as if the kid wasn’t there, but the kid persisted. When Burke finally looked down, the kid presented him a piece of plastic paper. “Can I have your autograph, sir?”
Burke took the plastic paper and signed it. “Here!” He pushed it into the kid’s chest. “You little son of a bitch.”
For a moment the kid’s eyes filled with tears, but in a flash, the despair in his freckled-face fill with hate. He gave Burke a dirty look and threw the paper on the ground. McQueen wanted to go over and comfort the kid, but the crowd parted and he walked toward the waiting vehicle.
In the center of the crowd, a lumpish lady waved a red hat in the air and shrieked, “Don’t let them hit you with the virus-water. You’ll turn into a Dinky.”
A man’s voice from the right side of the crowd rang out. “Be careful. We don’t need another dead mutant like your father.”
McQueen cast a mean glare to where the remark had come from. All advice stopped.
So what if he happened to get exposed to the water-virus, he had been exposed before and it had not affected him. The antidote they gave his father didn’t work and he died. He was okay before they touched him. But it may have been because the water-virus has different strengths.
A reporter, with reddish-brown hair falling over his eyes, blocked McQueen’s path. When McQueen was close, the reporter lifted his hand and stuck his cam-finger in front of McQueen’s face. “Is he right?” he asked; and with his other hand, he pushed his hair from his green eyes. “Were you exposed?”
McQueen talked into the reporter’s single cam-finger. “I’ve never been exposed to—” he said, but stopped.
He turned away from the cam-finger and continued toward the waiting OvalCar. The last time he had talked to that reporter he had had two fingers. Apparently, the reporter had gotten another one chopped off for reporting facts.
In the past, when McQueen didn’t know the answers to the reporter’s questions he had not answered. He wondered why he was trying to do it now. His father had said, “Don’t be like those chopped-off-fingered reporters that make up questions about things that haven’t happened yet. They’re trained to report what the Chief Earth Officer wants. If they don’t report what he wants, they get a finger chopped off until they do.”
McQueen felt as if he had been running a long race, and he was about to cross the finish line, a winner. All he had to do was catch just one more Dinky. Then he would have the right to move onto an estate protected on all sides with fields of beautiful blue grass. Then he wouldn’t have to live in the acrid blue grass of the common pig people and answer any of those reporter’s stupid questions. But until that happened, he would have to play their little games.
He turned back to the cam-fingered reporter. “If I answered questions about something that hasn’t happened yet, I would be foolish.”
The reporter’s reddish-brown hair fell over his eyes, again. Pushing it out of his eyes, he revealed a flash of anger. “But the people deserve answers.”
While he held back his feelings, McQueen’s intolerance oozed into his heart. “Until those things happen,” he said and smiled faintly. “Those kinds of questions don’t need answers.”
The reporter persisted. McQueen quit talking, turned his back to him, and made his way to the waiting egg-shaped OvalCar. When he stopped at the edge of the blue street, he turned to the crowd and lifted his arm in salute. As the people cheered, a woman driver dressed in a black uniform that clung to her shapely body flipped up the silver-glass of the OvalCar’s door and held it open. McQueen stepped in and leaned back into the body-forming seat. The driver strapped him in and flipped a switch on the dashboard. The seat molded to the contours of his back and the LED in the dashboard flashed. The old scratchy computer voice stated, “Warrior safe to transport.” The driver placed her hands on the steering wheel and sat back in the driver’s seat. McQueen felt the skinny plastic wheels beneath the OvalCar spin for an instant. When they caught on the blue asphalt, the OvalCar lurched forward on its way to where the Dinky had been spotted.
Driving down the road, the driver looked in the rearview mirror. McQueen maintained eye contact for only a brief moment, but it was long enough that he felt messages of mutual interest.
Smiling, the driver said, “I don’t know if I’ll be permitted to drive you around when they proclaim you a prince of peace.”
McQueen studied the driver’s reflection in the mirror. When she turned, her long black hair flowed over her perfect breasts like a satin waterfall. Something seemed familiar about her, but he couldn’t figure out what it was. “I don’t remember you driving me before,” he said. “What’s your name?”
The driver tilted her cute head to one side and talked back over her shoulder. “Danielle,” she said. “May I ask you what you will do when the Friends of the Earth Corporation give you your own house?”
Even though he was only a few hours away from the good life, McQueen had suppress the thought of a new virus-free life for so long that he was afraid if he dwelled on it too long the Friends of The Earth Corporation would up the Dinky count to six hundred or more. “I haven’t thought of it much,” he said and shrugged. “Maybe I’ll raise a family.”
Danielle smiled a warm motherly smile. “That would be nice. You and your family could live inside the safety of the blue grass.”
“It is a beautiful dream. But until I actually catch the Dinky, I don’t like to think about it.”
A small tree branch with green leaves sat alongside the blue road. A brief look of agitation formed on Danielle’s brow. She gracefully turned the wheel. The splash of green foliage whizzed past the side window. Her look of agitation softened. “Is it true that you will be the first warrior granted the right to reproduce?”
As the sight of the threatening virus-laden tree branch vanished in the rearview mirror, McQueen answered. “Yes, and I’ll have to choose a mate.”
Danielle’s face glowed like a flickering flame about to flare. “Do you have anyone in mind?”
He studied her face and her long black hair. She was beautiful, but a nervous heartbeat thumped in his chest. “No,” he said, and swallowed. “But I’ll be looking.”
At the side of the road, the OvalCar wheels crunched on fine blue gravel. Danielle’s cheery face turned toward McQueen. “We’re here,” she purred, and stopped the car.
McQueen stepped out of the OvalCar and looked across a safe, blue grass meadow. Uncut green grass framed it, and orange signs, on metal sticks, stood out like neon lights.
CAUTION, they read, STAY ON THE BLUE GRASS. WOOD AND WATER VIRUS BEYOND THIS POINT, DINKY MUTATION EMINET.
McQueen looked between two orange signs. The targeted Dinky stood there and didn’t move. He was a little more than a meter high with a little pudgy belly, but his short legs looked powerful.
If the Dinky ran off into the green forest, McQueen couldn’t chase him into the woods. Wood-virus would fall off the tree branches and onto his head. If he chased the Dinky into the tall wet grass, the water-virus would wrap around his legs and infect them. He would be condemned to the life of a mutant Dinky. He wanted to capture this Dinky alive; but if he stepped off the blue grass, McQueen would have to shoot him. The antidote-bullets were supposed to stun and cure Dinkies with an advanced stage of mutation, but every Dinky he had seen shot had died.
McQueen walked into the meadow. Unlike Blue Town’s air that was rampant with pig people’s obnoxious odors, this air was fresh and clean. It made him feel good. He stopped and watched the little Dinky. Like a happy drunk, it was jumping up and down, and waving its little hands at McQueen.
Even though it was his sworn duty, McQueen didn’t understand why he should have to shoot this little Dinky. Even though they were small, they were a valuable energy source. The corporation preferred that they be taken alive, but when they escaped, it frowned upon warriors who failed to shoot them.
Walking toward McQueen, the little Dinky stuck his thumbs in his stumpy ears and waved his fingers. “Come on, you big dummy,” he yelled, and ran toward an orange warning sign.
McQueen smiled inwardly. He had never had to shoot one yet. But the way this little guy was running, he didn’t look like was infected with anything. For a five-hundredth capture, he looked too easy. In a few minutes, McQueen would have him in his hands. If the signals got through, he would be on TV tonight. The Chief Earth Officer would be placing the Medal of Honor around his neck. With the big credit bonus that went with it, McQueen would be able to buy enough water to take a real shower. He wouldn’t have to use dry clay to bathe his body. If he was awarded enough money credits, he would buy his own OvalCar, complete with a paid driver. Then, he would scout around and find the perfect reproduction mate.
Fifty meters away, the captain of the warriors stood at the side of the road and talked into an amplified wrist bullhorn. His orders raced across the blue meadow and barked into McQueen’s ears. “Sergeant McQueen! Check your weapon.”
McQueen clicked the antidote-bullet-clip into his sidearm, returned it to his holster, and snapped to attention. “Sir, weapon ready to fire.”
Looking at McQueen and pointing to the little Dinky, the captain walked ten meters onto the safe blue grass and yelled, “Warrior, complete your obligation.”
McQueen stretched out his arm and held his palm toward the sky. “For the good of the corporation,” he said, and walked to the edge of the blue grass.
The little Dinky stopped running and leaned his back against the post of an orange warning sign. McQueen walked toward him. But the Dinky didn’t seem to care. He crossed his legs as if he were waiting for an OvalBus and stared at McQueen. Twenty meters from him, McQueen stopped walking. With his two pointer fingers together, he waved them up and down and gave the universal signal for the Dinky to bow down and wait to be inspected, searched, or captured. If the Dinky failed to obey the signal, any warrior had the right to shoot him.
The little Dinky bowed his head and waited.
Although McQueen was still disappointed that he didn’t have to chase the Dinky, he continued walking. The capture wasn’t going to look very good on TV tonight. But a capture was a capture.
When he was ten meters away, the little Dinky’s floppy hat fell off his little round head and landed on the grass.
“Dinky,” McQueen barked, “pick up your cover.”
The little Dinky uncrossed his legs, bent over, and stepped toward his hat. Just as it was at the tips of his fingers, he kicked it with his little leather-shoed-foot. The hat skidded across the grass. The little Dinky stood up and grinned at McQueen.
McQueen stepped closer and repeated, “Dinky, pick up your cover.”
Again, the Dinky bent over and kicked his hat just before the tips of his fingers touched it.
McQueen stepped closer and yelled at the Dinky. “Dinky, you know the laws. No aspect of a Dinky’s time is to be left to chance or left to its own discretion.”
The Dinky picked up his hat and pushed it down onto his big head until the tops of his big ears bent downward. Then, he lifted his head and looked directly into McQueen’s face.
“Dinky, you—” McQueen shrieked, but stopped in mid-sentence. Suddenly, he recognized the little Dinky. It was Tommy, the mutant Dinky he had known on his father’s farm. They had practically grown up together. McQueen smiled. Tommy was deliberately trying to make him laugh. But he couldn’t laugh. He was on function status. And laughing or not, McQueen still had to catch the Dinky. Pleadingly, he whispered, “Tommy, let me catch you.”
Tommy smiled a mischievous smile. “Sorry, Johnny.” He wagged his little round head around in a wobbly circle. “You have shoot me.”
McQueen reached for his weapon. “Come on, Tommy, quit fooling around. They’ll only question you.”
“Doze days over.”
McQueen wrinkled his brow in puzzlement. “Tommy, you know how to talk. Why are you using that broken mutant language?”
Tommy turned his back to McQueen. “You no catch-a me when I go on green water-virus grass.”
“Don’t do it, Tommy. I’ll have to shoot.”
“Maybe I see you at water house.” Tommy took off running.
The voice of the captain boomed across the blue grass. “Sergeant McQueen, complete your obligation.”
McQueen ran after his little Dinky friend and chased him along the edge of the virus-free blue grass. Tommy hopped into the green grass and stopped. He put his hands on his hips and tapped his little foot. McQueen stopped in his blue tracks and looked down. A meter away from the toes of his warrior boots, the silvery virus-filled liquid clung onto the green grass.
McQueen knew if he touched the water-virus he would have to be decontaminated. He would have only a short time to be given the antidote, and it didn’t always work. There was always the chance that the virus would kill him or cause him to mutate into a Dinky.
He looked back over his shoulder. A line of OvalCars drove to the edge of the road and stopped. Reporters jumped out and raised their arms. Being careful to stand on the safe blue gravel, they aimed their cam-fingers toward him.
McQueen looked back at Tommy. Tommy ran across the green grass, jumped into the tall green weeds, and ducked under a low tree branch. He went out of sight for a moment then popped back up and hopped over a small stream of flowing water. On the other side of the stream, he turned and motioned for McQueen to follow.
McQueen didn’t move.
Tommy just stood there, waiting.
The captain’s voice boomed again. “Sergeant McQueen! You are on function status. Complete your obligation.”
McQueen lifted his weapon and took aim. Like he had done when they were boys, Tommy made those crazy faces. He rolled his big, round, black-dotted eyes, and stuck out his little pink tongue. McQueen pulled on the weapon’s trigger, but an uncontrollable burst of laughter erupted from his lips. The gun jerked. Whap! It fired. The antidote slug went wide and missed Tommy’s head by a centimeter. Tommy stuck out this pink tongue again, then turned and disappeared into the thick green bushes beyond the tall trees.
The captain rushed up to McQueen. “Stand at attention, Warrior.”
McQueen replaced his sidearm to his holster and stood at attention. The captain stood in front of him. With the tip of his nose next to McQueen’s, he yelled loud enough for the reporters to hear. “Sergeant McQueen! What are you trying to do? Entice other soul-less Dinkies to escape and spread a new virus?”
McQueen stiffened to a stone state. “No, sir.”
Blasting bad breath into his face, the captain kept his nose next to McQueen’s. “Do you know that warriors do not keep escaped Dinkies under control they will spread a new virus that will mutate all the people of the world?”
McQueen looked straightforward. “Yes, sir.” He did not move a muscle, twitch an eyelash, take a shallow breath of air, or create any movement that would give the captain a reason to reprimand him more.
Even though the air in the meadow was fresh and clean, as he yelled, the captain’s rotten breath intensified. “Warrior do you know it is your obligation to marshal the collective energy of the Dinkies and keep an ordered social universe?”
This captain made McQueen want to throw up. He tried not to breathe. The captain was an idiot. He acted like his ignorance came from his upbringing. His parents were probably idiots, too. McQueen figured he might be able to impress the captain with a little knowledge.
“Yes, sir!” he said. “I understand that if the Dinkies are permitted to roam free it will cause a steady deterioration of our delicate ecological system. Then we would have an inevitable and steady deterioration of our system. And also suffer the loss of usable energy. Blue Town’s strength and well-being depends on usable energy. If we lose it, our standard of living will be lost. We cannot let that happen, sir!”
The captain stepped back and shook his electrified crop in McQueen’s face. As if he were going to strike McQueen in the face, he lifted it. McQueen tensed for the pain, but the captain smiled with satisfaction and slammed the black crop into the palm of his black-leather-gloved hand. “Warrior McQueen, recite your orders.”
McQueen took a much-needed breath of good air and looked straightforward. He talked like a machine. “Sir, the work of every Dinky is fully planned by the Chief Earth Officer. Each day, every Dinky receives complete written instructions. These instructions describe every detail of the task the Dinky is to accomplish, as well as the means to be used in doing the work.”
The captain turned to one side and methodically pounded his palm with the electric crop stick. “Warrior, continue.”
McQueen breathed a little easier. “The written instructions of the task specify not only what is to be done, but how it is to be done and the exact time allowed for doing it.”
The captain turned his back to McQueen. “Warrior, you have complete knowledge of your obligation. No aspect of a Dinky’s time is to be left to chance or to be left to a Dinky’s discretion.”
McQueen wanted to say, “He’s not just a Dinky, he’s my friend.” But he could not argue with any superior officer. He stood tall and clinched his teeth until his jaw hurt.
The captain turned and thrust his finger at McQueen’s stone face. “You have failed to perform your obligation. Do you know the procedure you must now follow?”
“Yes, sir. I must return to the barracks and report my failure to the Chief Earth Officer. At my request, the Chief Earth Officer may grant me twenty-one hours to correct the situation.”
The captain turned his back to McQueen. “Warrior Dismissed.”
Sergeant John McQueen saluted the back of the captain’s head and did a perfect about-face. As he walked toward the waiting OvalCar, the captain cussed under his breath. McQueen’s ears perked up and he listened. “Decorated warrior my ass, he’s a decorated joke.”

EXTRACT FOR
Stay On The Blue Grass

(Ronald K. Myers)


CHAPTER 1

It was a rare day. The sky was clear. Usually a dirty-orange dome of filth hovered over Blue Town.
Here, the town’s hero, Sergeant John McQueen, stood high on a plastic podium. Before him a sea of puffy-faced people were giving him a big sendoff. He was getting ready to go after his five-hundredth infected Dinky. And he wouldn’t be using a squirt gun. Squirt guns had been outlawed.
Throughout the crowd, Humpty-Dumpty-shaped people with faces like pigs, joined hands and shouted out cheers of encouragement; but living in one of the few remaining livable places on earth and a fear of the green grass virus, forced these well-wishers to stay in the confinement of the sterile blue grass. McQueen’s speech could not be watched on TV. Debris from satellite wars had clogged broadcast signals.
Each time McQueen waved to the pink-faced people, phony smiles beamed up at him; and even though hope radiated from their swine-like eyes, in their hearts they wanted to know when the danger would end. They wanted to know when they would be free to venture off the blue grass. But until they were freed, they chose to be entertained.
Having been partially brainwashed, McQueen didn’t know if he was providing productive or destructive entertainment. If he couldn’t capture the escaped Dinky, he would have to do something he had never done before. He would have to shoot a Dinky.
Years ago, an electronic magnetic pulse wiped out all computers, cell phones, and devices that ran on magnetic strips or disks. Now, some of the old technology of the twentieth century was slowly being revived. If the broadcast signals could be tuned in on one of the ancient, picture-tube TVs, these bored, pudgy people of Blue Town would spend an exciting evening stuffing food into their mouths and watching their hero kill on TV.
McQueen looked beyond the crowd. The green virus-infected land outside the boundaries of the safe blue grass was deserted. Warrior guards marched within the confines of the blue grass; and even though it wasn’t necessary, they waved their arms in the empty air and shouted, “Stay away! Stay on the blue grass!”
The people of Blue Town usually didn’t go near the orange warning signs; but this day, a few chub-faced rebellious youth became brave. They moved toward the dangerous green grass. But their bravery didn’t last. Like all the other pig people, they didn’t want to mutate. If they touched the green grass or non-approved water they would mutate and shrink to little, big-eyed, floppy-eared Dinkies. Then, they would be forced to live out the rest of their days working in the green, virus-filled, agricultural fields.
One by one, the young pig people waddled away from the green danger and crammed their ballooned bodies into the mumbling huddle of other pig people waiting on the parade field of blue grass.
In the distance, gray loudspeakers, on tall steel poles, screeched and clicked. All heads turned toward the sound. The sergeant of the guard’s voice blared into the sun-filled day: “Stay on the blue grass!”
Holding his opened palm up, Sergeant John McQueen reached skyward. He held a salute to a higher being and posed to be photographed for a propaganda poster. Throughout the crowd, the pig people nodded their pink heads and grunted with approval. Just before the camera snapped, Corporal Burke pushed against McQueen and stuck his ugly face into the picture. In the mirror reflection of the camera lens, McQueen could see what would be the finished picture. In it, Burke’s face was unshaven; and he was forcing his ugly cheese-face smile. Even though he wore an extra tight fitting uniform, it was wrinkled. And his corporal stripes were dull and old; they announced the shame of not being promoted in years. His appearance broadcasted laziness. Next to McQueen’s perfect military appearance, Burke stood out like an imbecilic leech.
The spindly cameraman placed his hand on the tripod and looked up from behind the camera. “Corporal Burke,” he said, and waved the back of his hand in a sweeping motion. “Sergeant McQueen is the hero today. Step down please.”
With an expression of a man who had just been caught with his fly down, Burke touched his receding chin and blew air out of his thin-lipped mouth. With bitter reluctance, he stepped down off the podium.
Sergeant McQueen stood alone and watched himself in the camera monitor. He was dressed in his white warrior uniform. Various colors of medals lined the left side of his chest. His coal-black hair hung smooth and sleek down his straight back. When he lowered his arm, his three gold sergeant stripes shimmered in the silver sun; and his jet-black eyes leveled a lingering gaze at the people in the crowd.
The cameraman snapped the picture and mechanically folded the tripod. Then without emotion, he slung it over his skinny shoulder and walked away.
Corporal Burke jumped back up onto the podium and announced, “Augur, the hero of the mutant Dinkies, has been spotted.”
A reporter with a gray beard yelled out from the crowd. “How can that be? Augur is a myth.”
Burke shook his head. “Augur is no myth. He’s an escaped Dinky. He’s been infected with a new strain of virus. He’s wanted dead or alive. If Sergeant McQueen can catch him, he’ll capture the all-time record.”
Waving his hand and bobbing his red-haired head like a scarlet beacon, a little freckled-faced kid in the crowd yelled up at Burke. “Corporal Burke, I thought you had the all-time record.”
Burke assumed a posture of superiority and looked toward the little kid, but he did not make eye contact. “No son,” he said as if he were trying to convince the crowd. “I told you, ‘I hope to have the record some day.’”
The kid put his hand over his mouth and his eyes narrowed with suspicion. Burke turned his back to the kid and pointed to Sergeant John McQueen. “If you reporters will step forward.” He motioned with his hand. “Sergeant McQueen will answer your questions.”
As the reporters waded through the crowd, Burke leaned over and whispered in McQueen’s ear, “Why should the corporation give you the right to reproduce?”
“It’s the law,” McQueen said. “If you capture five hundred Dinkies you will have earned that right, too.”
“If you catch the Dinky,” Burke said, and his lips curled into a self-important smile. “Why don’t you use some of those reward money credits and buy something to bulk up that puny body of yours?”
“I like my body the way it is,” McQueen said, and tensed for the reporter’s onslaught. Highly excited, the news reporters pushed and shoved their way up the four little steel steps and rushed up to stand on the plastic podium. McQueen reached out to shake their healthy left hands, but they didn’t acknowledge his friendly gesture. They lifted their right hands and pointed their camera-implanted cam-fingers at his face. The questions flowed.
“Sergeant McQueen, how are you going to do it this time?”
“If you capture Augur alive, will you ask him where all the Dinkies are going?”
“What if he throws virus water on you?”
“What will you do if he hits you with a piece of wood?”
“Augur is the champion of the Dinkies. Will you have to kill him?”
McQueen turned and smiled at the cam-finger pointing reporters. “I’m a warrior for the Chief Earth Officer. Until advances in science make it possible for us to go off the blue grass, I will continue to take orders from him.”
A reporter, with only one middle finger on his hand, pointed his cam-finger in front of McQueen’s face. “Did Chief Earth Officer Nelson order you to pursue your five-hundredth Dinky if it runs off the blue grass?”
McQueen didn’t answer.
Another reporter, with a full set of fingers, pointed his little cam-finger at him. “The world knows you were exposed to the wood-virus when you were a boy. Will that virus affect you in the future?
“I’m not a prophet, McQueen said. “Don’t ask me about things that haven’t happened yet.” He looked down. Even though charged particles striking the earth’s magnetic field played havoc with the all communications signals, a reporter standing next to the podium was trying to get a picture on one of the few working TV monitors. For a brief second, the dark screen fluttered and came in clear. A side view of McQueen appeared. Under his smooth-fitting uniform, the symmetric muscles on his strong arms moved with the sinuous grace of a dancer and then the screen blinked black.
Another reporter, with a two-fingered hand, flashed his cam-finger at McQueen. “Why do you call it a chase when it is a battle against the virus?”
McQueen didn’t answer.
Another reporter’s voice rang out. “How much longer do we have to stay on the blue grass?”
McQueen smiled a big white-toothed smile in the reporter’s direction. “After I capture my five-hundredth Dinky, all your questions will be answered.”
The reporters swarmed around him; and reading pre-prepared reports, they talked into their cam-fingers.
Corporal Burke wormed his way through the reporters and stood at the front of the podium. When he raised his hand, all heads in the crowd turned toward him. “Escaped virus-carrying Dinkies are still a danger to the world.” He raised his clinched fist above his head. “They must be shot with the antidote.”
Waves of murmurs flowed from the crowd. Burke made a T sign with his hands. With enough menace in his voice to make the people comply, he yelled out, “Time out!”
Quiet cloaked the crowd and he continued. “Sergeant McQueen has done his job before. He will do it again. Let him pass and get on with it.”
McQueen looked at the route he would have to take to get to the OvalCar. A hoard of pig people bunched together and blocked his way. He whispered to Burke. “That’s a lot of people to wade through.”
Burke nudged McQueen’s elbow. “They’re not people. They’re pigs.”
Even though the pig people had the characteristics of pigs, deep in his heart, McQueen knew they were human beings with fragile feelings. The more Burke disrespected them, the more McQueen didn’t like it. He flashed a disapproving look in Burk’s direction and stepped off the podium. A wall of well-wishers surrounded him. Somewhere behind him, a voice called out. “Sergeant McQueen!”
McQueen looked back over his shoulder and watched through the open space below the elbow of a reporter’s lifted arm. The little freckled-faced kid’s red head was bobbing through the crowd and getting close.
The crowd was too bunched up for the kid to get to McQueen. After a brief struggle with an extra-large fat lady with a butt that stuck out so far that it looked like a shelf, the kid turned and ran up to Burke. Burke acted as if the kid wasn’t there, but the kid persisted. When Burke finally looked down, the kid presented him a piece of plastic paper. “Can I have your autograph, sir?”
Burke took the plastic paper and signed it. “Here!” He pushed it into the kid’s chest. “You little son of a bitch.”
For a moment the kid’s eyes filled with tears, but in a flash, the despair in his freckled-face fill with hate. He gave Burke a dirty look and threw the paper on the ground. McQueen wanted to go over and comfort the kid, but the crowd parted and he walked toward the waiting vehicle.
In the center of the crowd, a lumpish lady waved a red hat in the air and shrieked, “Don’t let them hit you with the virus-water. You’ll turn into a Dinky.”
A man’s voice from the right side of the crowd rang out. “Be careful. We don’t need another dead mutant like your father.”
McQueen cast a mean glare to where the remark had come from. All advice stopped.
So what if he happened to get exposed to the water-virus, he had been exposed before and it had not affected him. The antidote they gave his father didn’t work and he died. He was okay before they touched him. But it may have been because the water-virus has different strengths.
A reporter, with reddish-brown hair falling over his eyes, blocked McQueen’s path. When McQueen was close, the reporter lifted his hand and stuck his cam-finger in front of McQueen’s face. “Is he right?” he asked; and with his other hand, he pushed his hair from his green eyes. “Were you exposed?”
McQueen talked into the reporter’s single cam-finger. “I’ve never been exposed to—” he said, but stopped.
He turned away from the cam-finger and continued toward the waiting OvalCar. The last time he had talked to that reporter he had had two fingers. Apparently, the reporter had gotten another one chopped off for reporting facts.
In the past, when McQueen didn’t know the answers to the reporter’s questions he had not answered. He wondered why he was trying to do it now. His father had said, “Don’t be like those chopped-off-fingered reporters that make up questions about things that haven’t happened yet. They’re trained to report what the Chief Earth Officer wants. If they don’t report what he wants, they get a finger chopped off until they do.”
McQueen felt as if he had been running a long race, and he was about to cross the finish line, a winner. All he had to do was catch just one more Dinky. Then he would have the right to move onto an estate protected on all sides with fields of beautiful blue grass. Then he wouldn’t have to live in the acrid blue grass of the common pig people and answer any of those reporter’s stupid questions. But until that happened, he would have to play their little games.
He turned back to the cam-fingered reporter. “If I answered questions about something that hasn’t happened yet, I would be foolish.”
The reporter’s reddish-brown hair fell over his eyes, again. Pushing it out of his eyes, he revealed a flash of anger. “But the people deserve answers.”
While he held back his feelings, McQueen’s intolerance oozed into his heart. “Until those things happen,” he said and smiled faintly. “Those kinds of questions don’t need answers.”
The reporter persisted. McQueen quit talking, turned his back to him, and made his way to the waiting egg-shaped OvalCar. When he stopped at the edge of the blue street, he turned to the crowd and lifted his arm in salute. As the people cheered, a woman driver dressed in a black uniform that clung to her shapely body flipped up the silver-glass of the OvalCar’s door and held it open. McQueen stepped in and leaned back into the body-forming seat. The driver strapped him in and flipped a switch on the dashboard. The seat molded to the contours of his back and the LED in the dashboard flashed. The old scratchy computer voice stated, “Warrior safe to transport.” The driver placed her hands on the steering wheel and sat back in the driver’s seat. McQueen felt the skinny plastic wheels beneath the OvalCar spin for an instant. When they caught on the blue asphalt, the OvalCar lurched forward on its way to where the Dinky had been spotted.
Driving down the road, the driver looked in the rearview mirror. McQueen maintained eye contact for only a brief moment, but it was long enough that he felt messages of mutual interest.
Smiling, the driver said, “I don’t know if I’ll be permitted to drive you around when they proclaim you a prince of peace.”
McQueen studied the driver’s reflection in the mirror. When she turned, her long black hair flowed over her perfect breasts like a satin waterfall. Something seemed familiar about her, but he couldn’t figure out what it was. “I don’t remember you driving me before,” he said. “What’s your name?”
The driver tilted her cute head to one side and talked back over her shoulder. “Danielle,” she said. “May I ask you what you will do when the Friends of the Earth Corporation give you your own house?”
Even though he was only a few hours away from the good life, McQueen had suppress the thought of a new virus-free life for so long that he was afraid if he dwelled on it too long the Friends of The Earth Corporation would up the Dinky count to six hundred or more. “I haven’t thought of it much,” he said and shrugged. “Maybe I’ll raise a family.”
Danielle smiled a warm motherly smile. “That would be nice. You and your family could live inside the safety of the blue grass.”
“It is a beautiful dream. But until I actually catch the Dinky, I don’t like to think about it.”
A small tree branch with green leaves sat alongside the blue road. A brief look of agitation formed on Danielle’s brow. She gracefully turned the wheel. The splash of green foliage whizzed past the side window. Her look of agitation softened. “Is it true that you will be the first warrior granted the right to reproduce?”
As the sight of the threatening virus-laden tree branch vanished in the rearview mirror, McQueen answered. “Yes, and I’ll have to choose a mate.”
Danielle’s face glowed like a flickering flame about to flare. “Do you have anyone in mind?”
He studied her face and her long black hair. She was beautiful, but a nervous heartbeat thumped in his chest. “No,” he said, and swallowed. “But I’ll be looking.”
At the side of the road, the OvalCar wheels crunched on fine blue gravel. Danielle’s cheery face turned toward McQueen. “We’re here,” she purred, and stopped the car.
McQueen stepped out of the OvalCar and looked across a safe, blue grass meadow. Uncut green grass framed it, and orange signs, on metal sticks, stood out like neon lights.
CAUTION, they read, STAY ON THE BLUE GRASS. WOOD AND WATER VIRUS BEYOND THIS POINT, DINKY MUTATION EMINET.
McQueen looked between two orange signs. The targeted Dinky stood there and didn’t move. He was a little more than a meter high with a little pudgy belly, but his short legs looked powerful.
If the Dinky ran off into the green forest, McQueen couldn’t chase him into the woods. Wood-virus would fall off the tree branches and onto his head. If he chased the Dinky into the tall wet grass, the water-virus would wrap around his legs and infect them. He would be condemned to the life of a mutant Dinky. He wanted to capture this Dinky alive; but if he stepped off the blue grass, McQueen would have to shoot him. The antidote-bullets were supposed to stun and cure Dinkies with an advanced stage of mutation, but every Dinky he had seen shot had died.
McQueen walked into the meadow. Unlike Blue Town’s air that was rampant with pig people’s obnoxious odors, this air was fresh and clean. It made him feel good. He stopped and watched the little Dinky. Like a happy drunk, it was jumping up and down, and waving its little hands at McQueen.
Even though it was his sworn duty, McQueen didn’t understand why he should have to shoot this little Dinky. Even though they were small, they were a valuable energy source. The corporation preferred that they be taken alive, but when they escaped, it frowned upon warriors who failed to shoot them.
Walking toward McQueen, the little Dinky stuck his thumbs in his stumpy ears and waved his fingers. “Come on, you big dummy,” he yelled, and ran toward an orange warning sign.
McQueen smiled inwardly. He had never had to shoot one yet. But the way this little guy was running, he didn’t look like was infected with anything. For a five-hundredth capture, he looked too easy. In a few minutes, McQueen would have him in his hands. If the signals got through, he would be on TV tonight. The Chief Earth Officer would be placing the Medal of Honor around his neck. With the big credit bonus that went with it, McQueen would be able to buy enough water to take a real shower. He wouldn’t have to use dry clay to bathe his body. If he was awarded enough money credits, he would buy his own OvalCar, complete with a paid driver. Then, he would scout around and find the perfect reproduction mate.
Fifty meters away, the captain of the warriors stood at the side of the road and talked into an amplified wrist bullhorn. His orders raced across the blue meadow and barked into McQueen’s ears. “Sergeant McQueen! Check your weapon.”
McQueen clicked the antidote-bullet-clip into his sidearm, returned it to his holster, and snapped to attention. “Sir, weapon ready to fire.”
Looking at McQueen and pointing to the little Dinky, the captain walked ten meters onto the safe blue grass and yelled, “Warrior, complete your obligation.”
McQueen stretched out his arm and held his palm toward the sky. “For the good of the corporation,” he said, and walked to the edge of the blue grass.
The little Dinky stopped running and leaned his back against the post of an orange warning sign. McQueen walked toward him. But the Dinky didn’t seem to care. He crossed his legs as if he were waiting for an OvalBus and stared at McQueen. Twenty meters from him, McQueen stopped walking. With his two pointer fingers together, he waved them up and down and gave the universal signal for the Dinky to bow down and wait to be inspected, searched, or captured. If the Dinky failed to obey the signal, any warrior had the right to shoot him.
The little Dinky bowed his head and waited.
Although McQueen was still disappointed that he didn’t have to chase the Dinky, he continued walking. The capture wasn’t going to look very good on TV tonight. But a capture was a capture.
When he was ten meters away, the little Dinky’s floppy hat fell off his little round head and landed on the grass.
“Dinky,” McQueen barked, “pick up your cover.”
The little Dinky uncrossed his legs, bent over, and stepped toward his hat. Just as it was at the tips of his fingers, he kicked it with his little leather-shoed-foot. The hat skidded across the grass. The little Dinky stood up and grinned at McQueen.
McQueen stepped closer and repeated, “Dinky, pick up your cover.”
Again, the Dinky bent over and kicked his hat just before the tips of his fingers touched it.
McQueen stepped closer and yelled at the Dinky. “Dinky, you know the laws. No aspect of a Dinky’s time is to be left to chance or left to its own discretion.”
The Dinky picked up his hat and pushed it down onto his big head until the tops of his big ears bent downward. Then, he lifted his head and looked directly into McQueen’s face.
“Dinky, you—” McQueen shrieked, but stopped in mid-sentence. Suddenly, he recognized the little Dinky. It was Tommy, the mutant Dinky he had known on his father’s farm. They had practically grown up together. McQueen smiled. Tommy was deliberately trying to make him laugh. But he couldn’t laugh. He was on function status. And laughing or not, McQueen still had to catch the Dinky. Pleadingly, he whispered, “Tommy, let me catch you.”
Tommy smiled a mischievous smile. “Sorry, Johnny.” He wagged his little round head around in a wobbly circle. “You have shoot me.”
McQueen reached for his weapon. “Come on, Tommy, quit fooling around. They’ll only question you.”
“Doze days over.”
McQueen wrinkled his brow in puzzlement. “Tommy, you know how to talk. Why are you using that broken mutant language?”
Tommy turned his back to McQueen. “You no catch-a me when I go on green water-virus grass.”
“Don’t do it, Tommy. I’ll have to shoot.”
“Maybe I see you at water house.” Tommy took off running.
The voice of the captain boomed across the blue grass. “Sergeant McQueen, complete your obligation.”
McQueen ran after his little Dinky friend and chased him along the edge of the virus-free blue grass. Tommy hopped into the green grass and stopped. He put his hands on his hips and tapped his little foot. McQueen stopped in his blue tracks and looked down. A meter away from the toes of his warrior boots, the silvery virus-filled liquid clung onto the green grass.
McQueen knew if he touched the water-virus he would have to be decontaminated. He would have only a short time to be given the antidote, and it didn’t always work. There was always the chance that the virus would kill him or cause him to mutate into a Dinky.
He looked back over his shoulder. A line of OvalCars drove to the edge of the road and stopped. Reporters jumped out and raised their arms. Being careful to stand on the safe blue gravel, they aimed their cam-fingers toward him.
McQueen looked back at Tommy. Tommy ran across the green grass, jumped into the tall green weeds, and ducked under a low tree branch. He went out of sight for a moment then popped back up and hopped over a small stream of flowing water. On the other side of the stream, he turned and motioned for McQueen to follow.
McQueen didn’t move.
Tommy just stood there, waiting.
The captain’s voice boomed again. “Sergeant McQueen! You are on function status. Complete your obligation.”
McQueen lifted his weapon and took aim. Like he had done when they were boys, Tommy made those crazy faces. He rolled his big, round, black-dotted eyes, and stuck out his little pink tongue. McQueen pulled on the weapon’s trigger, but an uncontrollable burst of laughter erupted from his lips. The gun jerked. Whap! It fired. The antidote slug went wide and missed Tommy’s head by a centimeter. Tommy stuck out this pink tongue again, then turned and disappeared into the thick green bushes beyond the tall trees.
The captain rushed up to McQueen. “Stand at attention, Warrior.”
McQueen replaced his sidearm to his holster and stood at attention. The captain stood in front of him. With the tip of his nose next to McQueen’s, he yelled loud enough for the reporters to hear. “Sergeant McQueen! What are you trying to do? Entice other soul-less Dinkies to escape and spread a new virus?”
McQueen stiffened to a stone state. “No, sir.”
Blasting bad breath into his face, the captain kept his nose next to McQueen’s. “Do you know that warriors do not keep escaped Dinkies under control they will spread a new virus that will mutate all the people of the world?”
McQueen looked straightforward. “Yes, sir.” He did not move a muscle, twitch an eyelash, take a shallow breath of air, or create any movement that would give the captain a reason to reprimand him more.
Even though the air in the meadow was fresh and clean, as he yelled, the captain’s rotten breath intensified. “Warrior do you know it is your obligation to marshal the collective energy of the Dinkies and keep an ordered social universe?”
This captain made McQueen want to throw up. He tried not to breathe. The captain was an idiot. He acted like his ignorance came from his upbringing. His parents were probably idiots, too. McQueen figured he might be able to impress the captain with a little knowledge.
“Yes, sir!” he said. “I understand that if the Dinkies are permitted to roam free it will cause a steady deterioration of our delicate ecological system. Then we would have an inevitable and steady deterioration of our system. And also suffer the loss of usable energy. Blue Town’s strength and well-being depends on usable energy. If we lose it, our standard of living will be lost. We cannot let that happen, sir!”
The captain stepped back and shook his electrified crop in McQueen’s face. As if he were going to strike McQueen in the face, he lifted it. McQueen tensed for the pain, but the captain smiled with satisfaction and slammed the black crop into the palm of his black-leather-gloved hand. “Warrior McQueen, recite your orders.”
McQueen took a much-needed breath of good air and looked straightforward. He talked like a machine. “Sir, the work of every Dinky is fully planned by the Chief Earth Officer. Each day, every Dinky receives complete written instructions. These instructions describe every detail of the task the Dinky is to accomplish, as well as the means to be used in doing the work.”
The captain turned to one side and methodically pounded his palm with the electric crop stick. “Warrior, continue.”
McQueen breathed a little easier. “The written instructions of the task specify not only what is to be done, but how it is to be done and the exact time allowed for doing it.”
The captain turned his back to McQueen. “Warrior, you have complete knowledge of your obligation. No aspect of a Dinky’s time is to be left to chance or to be left to a Dinky’s discretion.”
McQueen wanted to say, “He’s not just a Dinky, he’s my friend.” But he could not argue with any superior officer. He stood tall and clinched his teeth until his jaw hurt.
The captain turned and thrust his finger at McQueen’s stone face. “You have failed to perform your obligation. Do you know the procedure you must now follow?”
“Yes, sir. I must return to the barracks and report my failure to the Chief Earth Officer. At my request, the Chief Earth Officer may grant me twenty-one hours to correct the situation.”
The captain turned his back to McQueen. “Warrior Dismissed.”
Sergeant John McQueen saluted the back of the captain’s head and did a perfect about-face. As he walked toward the waiting OvalCar, the captain cussed under his breath. McQueen’s ears perked up and he listened. “Decorated warrior my ass, he’s a decorated joke.”