The Orange Turn by Ronald K. Myers

EXTRACT FOR
The Orange Turn

(Ronald K. Myers)


CHAPTER 1

The earth shifted.
Puffy-faced pig people swayed sideways.
From the safety of his corporation-protected home, Chief Earth Officer John McQueen peered out the window. Although the shifting of the earth was a common thing, the neat uniformed guards had not walked past for over an hour. They had no reason to be late, but beyond the field of an ocean of blue grass, whirling wisps of white smoke swirled through shafts of dirty-orange beams of sunlight.
Something wasn’t right.
Behind McQueen, the sound of the double doors to the library swished open. He didn’t turn around. With his hand, he motioned for his bodyguard.
“Judd,” he said, “come here. Look at that smoke. It’s too clean to be coming from a steam car, burning coal.”
Judd didn’t come to the window.
Flames flitted around the borders of the blue grass, and a billowing cloud of thick white smoke mushroomed into the sky.
McQueen raised his voice. “Judd, come over here. Tell me what’s burning.”
An unfamiliar voice answered. “I’m not Judd. The Dinkies are burning wood virus.”
McQueen turned. Standing in front of him, an unfamiliar, portly man stared into space.
“Whoever you are,” McQueen said, “you must know there is no such thing as wood virus.”
The man’s face wreathed into a smile. “I know that, Chief Earth Officer.” He flashed McQueen a secret wink. “We know the pig people don’t know that, and we know it reinforces their fear of the fake wood virus.”
This strange man gave McQueen an uneasy feeling. The intruder did not seem to have the assurance of a person used to command. As McQueen’s eyes traveled down the man’s body, for all to see and for all to fear, another sign of the man’s ineptitude came into view. Holstered on his hip, was an illegal squirt gun.
McQueen gestured to the gun. “I hope that isn’t loaded.”
“It sure is.” The man took out the squirt gun and sprayed water into his mouth. “When I’m thirsty it comes in handy.”
McQueen flared up angrily. “That’s just great,” he said with sarcasm in his voice. “When a pig person sees you drinking unfiltered water, they’ll do it, too.”
“So what if they do?” The man made a feeble placatory gesture. “We’ll just shoot them with the antidote. They’ll die.”
McQueen felt his cheeks grow tight with fury. “Warriors are not supposed to shoot a pig person when it’s not necessary.” He watched the man for a discernible reaction. Seeing none, he threw his hand in the air. “Sure, the pig people of Blue Town have to be constantly convinced to stay on the blue grass, but they’re not to be sacrificed because a warrior is careless.”
Puzzlement filled the man’s face, and McQueen couldn’t understand why. The antidote supposedly used to cure people, who had been exposed to the mutating water, wood, and green-grass virus, always killed the recipient. Although the poison antidote kept the threat of the viruses alive, he found it hard to believe this man had such a low value of other people’s lives; and that was something McQueen didn’t need or want. And, in addition to being his bodyguard, Judd was McQueen’s friend. McQueen wanted Judd back.
Looking for his bodyguard, McQueen turned his head right then left. “Where’s Judd?”
As if he had just remembered something important, the intruder snapped to attention. “Chief Earth Officer, Captain Sproat reporting for duty.” His face lit up with excited delight. “I am your new bodyguard.”
McQueen remembered the name, Sproat, but it didn’t seem to fit the lard-like body that was standing at attention and holding his quivering hand to his forehead. His salute was not a crisp military salute a regular warrior would display. It was a sloppy gesture at best. Sproat’s uniform, although the uniform of a warrior, it did not cover a healthy body. Except where his stomach puffed out and strained against the buttons of his shirt, the uniform looked like it had been slept in. A tube of loose fat sagged down like an overflowing bowl of dough and covered the man’s belt buckle.
McQueen would take speed, quickness, and stamina over bulging muscles any day; and for a warrior, this man was a sickening sight. As a foreboding feeling entered McQueen’s chest, he remembered Sproat was a name that had come up in evaluation reports. Sproat was a man hungry for advancement and the power that came with it, but his performance scores and physical tests were always far below average. McQueen had always voted to have him stay at the lowest rank possible; but the regular warriors had been on strike for over two years; and even though the Friends of the Earth Corporation had no one else to promote, McQueen was sure they wouldn’t have sent such a failure to be the bodyguard of the Chief Earth Officer.
Still holding the salute, Sproat’s eyes traveled around the room and fixed on an orange wall safe. “I’m here to get Judd’s key.” He gestured to the safe. “I was tole it is in an orange safe, and that you would show me how to open it.”
Years ago, the key to the orange turn had been locked in the orange safe, but the key was too valuable to be left in a wall safe. Although many people believed the key was still in the safe, years ago, McQueen had taken the key out and hidden it in a secret place. Suspecting Judd was playing a joke on him, McQueen decided to play along.
“Sure,” he said with mock cooperation. “I’ll show you how to open it.”
Sproat dropped his salute, stepped to the safe, and stared at its combination lock. “What do I do first?”
McQueen almost laughed out loud but held it in. “Okay, turn the dial three times to the left and stop at nine. Sproat turned the dial and looked to McQueen. McQueen rolled his hand in encouragement. “Do it again. You turned it too fast.”
This time, Sproat turned the dial slowly. “Okay, what’s next?”
McQueen turned from Sproat and searched for Judd. He could be peeking around a corner. He wasn’t. But McQueen was sure Judd would come out of hiding and burst out laughing. He turned back to Sproat. “Tap the dial once, stop at seven, turn around three times, and hop on one foot.”
Sproat did what McQueen told him to do, spun around in bewilderment, and looked to McQueen for more instructions.
McQueen couldn’t believe anyone could be this ignorant. The man had to be acting. It had to be a joke. “Okay, wink three times, take a deep breath, and hold it.”
Again, Sproat did as he was told.
McQueen reached over and opened the unlocked safe.
Expelling air, Sproat leaned forward and peeked into the safe.
It was empty.
His face filled with disappointment. “Where’s the key?”
Ignoring Sproat, McQueen yelled over his shoulder, “Okay, Judd, you can come out now.”
Judd didn’t come out of hiding. McQueen turned toward Sproat so he could give him the benefit of his full attention. “Are you part of a joke Judd is playing on me?”
Portly Sproat lifted his chubby hand to his sweating forehead and held a quivering salute. “No, Chief Earth Officer, I’m no joke. Your regular bodyguard was caught going off the blue grass. I have replaced him.”
Judd would never have been caught going off the blue grass, and the key to the orange turn wasn’t a key to be given to just anyone. Sproat was lying. If he wasn’t acting, he should have never been a warrior. He should have been recycled. With extensive training and a lot of luck, this man might qualify for a job as a dish washer or a rickshaw cleaner. He was anything but a warrior. Sproat was no bodyguard. He had to be one of the pig people who had crossed the picket lines. He was a replacement warrior. Not caring for the good of all, this man wrapped himself in ignorance. This man was a scab.
McQueen didn’t want to, but he returned Sproat’s salute. “I’m sorry, Captain Sproat.” Not wanting to look at him, he turned away, but Sproat’s reflection remained in the window. “Scabs do not qualify for the bodyguard position.”
Sproat’s flabby face flushed with anger. Although it was military courteously to drop the salute once a superior officer returned it, he didn’t drop his salute. He opened his mouth to say something but closed it.
In the reflection, McQueen glared at him. Right away, he noticed Sproat did not have the brash, clamorous arrogance of newly assumed authority other people had.
“Captain Sproat,” McQueen said, “why wasn’t I informed of such a change in my protection?”
Still holding the salute, Sproat’s jaw muscles clenched under the fat on his face. With his twisted hand above his sweating forehead, he just stood there. After thirty seconds, his mouth moved. “Chief Earth Officer, McQueen, the Friends of the Earth Corporation felt it was in your best interest to have a new bodyguard as soon as possible.”
McQueen continued to look out the window. Under a sky infusing with dirty-gray pallor, the ocean of blue grass in his private seven-acre back yard waved in the gentle wind. In the distance, at the edge of the orange warning signs, a line of dirty dumpy men, wearing crumpled, brown uniforms, walked through the tall blue grass, mashing it down with their fat feet.
In the reflection in the glass, McQueen watched behind his back. Sproat finally dropped his salute. “Is there something wrong, Chief Earth Officer?”
McQueen pointed to the men tramping down the grass. “What happened to security? The sentry has not passed by in over an hour. No one is permitted to walk on the blue grass of the Chief Earth Officer’s residence. What are those men doing?”
Sproat bent forward and stretched his double-chinned neck to look out the window. “It’s a training exercise,” he said with his voice rising to a mouse-like pitch. “That patrol must have taken the wrong path.”
Trying to clear the sight of the ugly men from his mind, McQueen jerked his head toward Sproat. “They look like the lard patrol. Is that the best we have?”
Sproat stuttered, but managed to speak. “Chief Earth Officer, since the warriors went on strike, they’re the only men we can get.”
McQueen raised his voice to a pitch of authority. “They are not doing their job!”
“But, Chief Earth Officer,” Sproat objected. “I don’t think a little bent over blue grass will hurt anybody.” As if suddenly afraid, he shuddered. “Besides, bent over grass makes it easier to spot those rat-tailed Pygmies.”
McQueen swung around and jerked his finger at Sproat. “The rat-tailed Pigmies did not ruin the land. The pig people did. In its slow recovering state, the land can only support a small population of the Pygmy race. Being ancestors of the ancient rain forest, the Pigmies can come and go without harming the feeble growths. They weave their small bodies amongst the plants without disturbing the growing cycles.”
Sproat held up his hands and backed away. “I don’t care what you say. Those Pigmies have big buck teeth that have poisonous venom. They should all be given the antidote.”
The rat-tailed Pigmies rarely talked to anyone. When perturbed, their tails would come up in a threatening S posture. This threatening gesture had frightened many pig people away from the Orangeville experiment, and had kept them on the blue grass. When the Pigmies had talked to McQueen they were very intelligent and preferred to stay away from the ignorance of the pig people.
“Just because you’re afraid of the Pigmies,” McQueen said, “it is no reason to kill them.”
Sproat’s scared expression faded.
McQueen held out his arm toward an array of books in a vast opened plastic cabinet. “I don’t have time to be opening and closing doors every time I need a book. You should know that the blue grass must be kept high enough to keep the pig people from seeing these books.”
Sproat tilted his chubby head with a questioning slant. “What’s the matter with letting them see a few books?”
McQueen shook his head in disbelief and slammed one of the plastic doors on the cabinet. It covered half of the books.
“Unlike the plastic pamphlets the pig people use,” he said, “these books are made of paper. Paper is made from wood. If the pig people see the paper books, they’ll know the wood virus is fake.”
“I don’t think any of the pig people will get this close.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I have heard from various sources that pig people never go near your field.”
“You’ve heard?” McQueen questioned. “A warrior cannot rely on isolated statements, connect them, and make preconceived judgments. A warrior must be ready for anything and everything. He must see and confirm things for himself.”
“I think you’re overreacting, chief.”
The man hadn’t known McQueen for more than a few minutes. There was no way he could be considered a friend and call McQueen, chief. McQueen slammed the other cabinet door and raised his voice. “Chief? I don’t think you realize who’s in charge here. All replacement warriors must show respect and keep up the virus farce.”
Cowering, Sproat stiffened and stood at rigid attention. “I’m sorry, Chief Earth Officer, McQueen.”
McQueen lowered his voice a notch. “Anything you do, no matter how trivial you may think it is, it may be the one thing that compromises the secret of the blue grass.”
Now, Sproat’s voice was high pitched and squeaky. “I know that, Chief Earth Officer.”
Puzzled by the high pitch of Sproat’s voice, McQueen wanted to ask him about it, but instead, he said, “I’ve heard the pig people are going off the blue grass. Are they?”
As if overheated, Sproat tugged at the tight collar of his baggy uniform. “Only a few people have ventured off,” he squeaked out. “They are still afraid of the green grass and the water virus.”
“They better be,” McQueen said. “If they find out it isn’t real, they’ll be taking baths in the rivers and lakes.”
“I don’t think it will ever go that far.”
“It may have gone too far already. In the last month, the sales of dry washing clay and bottled water have decreased thirty percent.”
“Maybe the people are not washing as much.”
“They might not wash as much, but they would never cut down on the amount of water they drink.”
“Nothing like that has happened.”
McQueen didn’t believe him. “What’s the matter with you?”
As if he were in a hurry to leave, Sproat stepped back and didn’t answer.
McQueen studied the scab bodyguard. “What do you mean nothing like that has happened? I just told you the sales of bottled water had decrease thirty percent. If it continues to drop, due to the fact that people are no longer afraid of unfiltered water, the planet’s natural resources will be greatly stressed. The social order will be shaken.”
Sproat moved uneasy. “We have taken care of everything.”
McQueen took a hard look at Sproat. “You better be sure. You can’t let those pig people get close to the water. They’ll poison it.”
A disarming smile formed on Sproat’s lips. “The canals seem to be clean and unpolluted.”
McQueen wanted to believe him, but Sproat was smiling like an unemployed liar auditioning for work. He wasn’t taking his job seriously. It was a warrior’s job to protect the earth. Canals dug to divert the world’s dwindling water supply to the river above Niagara Falls was a failed attempt to keep the hydro power plants running, but the canals did provide a nursery for vanishing aquatic life. To maintain the Friends of the Earth’s master plan of keeping the earth on a recovery path, the canals had to remain free of all pollution.
“What do you mean the canals seem to be clean and unpolluted?” McQueen asked. “Those canals are the lifeblood of what is left of our forest and plant life. If they fail, the lands around the rivers and canals will dry up. Dumping chemical-laced crack water down holes thousands of meters deep has greatly depleted the water available every place the gas companies have drilled. With temperatures hot enough to melt plastic, we don’t need any more dry lakes and plains taking over the earth.”
Sproat didn’t answer. As if he didn’t care about his job, he lazily shrugged. What was worse, was that he seemed to be hiding something. McQueen wanted to know what it was. He jerked his finger at Sproat. “What is the real reason you are here?”
The fat under Sproat’s jaw twitched, but he kept his mouth shut.
McQueen smacked the palm of his own hand with his fist. “I have given the Friends of the Earth Corporation more than long enough to settle the warrior strike. I’ve had it with scabs like you.”
Sproat cringed but a grin betrayed his true feelings. “Without the approval of the corporation, you can’t do anything about it.”
McQueen felt distrust and hate for the man. “Oh, but I can, Captain Sproat. You seem to forget: I am the Chief Earth Officer. I can use my emergency powers.”
Sproat reached up and placed his hand on McQueen’s shoulder. It was forbidden for a warrior to touch a superior officer. McQueen snapped his head to the side and glared at the hand.
Sproat’s lips curled into a sorry smile. He jerked his hand back. “Chief Earth Officer, McQueen,” he said with his voice squeaking. “You have no need to worry. My men will provide you with the same quality of security your warriors have done for seventeen years. Your wife and son have nothing to fear.”
McQueen raised his hand and shook his finger in front of Sproat’s face. “If the secret of the virus has been let out and the pig people are going off the blue grass, we’ll all have something to fear.”
“Yes, Chief Earth Officer,” Sproat said, and now his voice was very high, like someone was choking him.
McQueen dropped his hand and turned away. “You should have someone look at that throat.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my throat,” Sproat said with a strained, but lower voice. “I just talk that way sometimes.”
“I’d still have it checked.”
Sproat put his chubby hand to his forehead and attempted to salute. “Is that an order, Chief Earth Officer?”
McQueen abruptly turned toward Sproat. “It’s your throat. Do what you want.”
Sproat dropped his hand and lowered his voice. “Yes, Chief Earth Officer.”
Studying Sproat’s dark eyes for a hint of what he trying to conceal, McQueen found nothing but ignorance. Maybe he could trick him into telling him what he was hiding. He crossed the room, sat in a plush leather armchair, and motioned for Sproat to come near.
Sproat strolled over and looked down at McQueen.
McQueen looked up at Sproat. “Captain Sproat,” he said with exaggerated compassion. “The warriors have been on strike for over two years. Should I continue to let them strike and bring the men who just trespassed onto the blue grass before the board?”
Sproat’s face relaxed. As if he knew something McQueen didn’t know, he became extra calm. “There is no need to bother the board with a simple mistake. This afternoon, when you take your son for a walk, I’ll have my men correct the situation.”
“I would appreciate that,” McQueen said; but every time he had taken his son outside, someone rummaged through his office; and the slob standing in front of him looked like just the sort of person who would do something like that. If it was him, and he was taking care of the scabs in the field, who had tramped down the blue grass, he wouldn’t have time to sneak in. If his office wasn’t disturbed today, then McQueen would have a pretty good idea the person rummaging through his office wasn’t Sproat.
Sproat smiled a cocky smile and held a salute. “If you need me, Chief Earth Officer, just call.”
McQueen placed his hands on the armrests of the armchair and pushed himself to a standing position. “I’ll do just that.”
Sproat dropped his salute, turned on his heavy heel, and hastened to the door. After he opened the door, he stepped out and intentionally slammed it. Two paintings of McQueen’s father’s farm, that his Dinky friend, Tommy, had painted, vibrated on the wall.
As McQueen crossed the room, his wife, Danielle, walked into the library. Her neat professional appearance always brightened a room. To others, she seemed unemotional. But McQueen knew she was always calm in a crisis. Now, something behind her intense brown eyes signaled she was disturbed.
She turned her cute body toward him. “John, that man didn’t have to close the door so forcefully. I have a bad feeling about him.”
Adjusting the paintings on the wall, McQueen nodded. “Me, too. In addition to slamming doors, when his voice rises, he sounds like he’s lying.”
“If he is, you’ll have to prove it.”
McQueen adjusted the painting or his father’s farm, just a tad. It was level. He turned toward Danielle. “How can I prove anyone is lying when everyone on the board outvotes me?”
“I’m not sure,’ Danielle said. “But if Sproat’s charging people to let them go off the blue grass, he’s going to be a wealthy man.”
McQueen felt a bad feeling crawling up his back. He shivered and shook it off. “I have never seen a bodyguard or a warrior as unhealthy as Sproat.”
“It’s not your fault, John.” Danielle flashed him a sweet smile and touched his arm. “They forced him on you.”
McQueen felt his face flush with shame. “I have become a Chief Earth Officer in name only.” He placed his hand on the door of the book cabinet. “I’m going to look up the best way to use my emergency powers.”
Danielle held up one finger. “Remember, without the old warriors, you have no power.”
McQueen didn’t want to admit it, but she was right. “If I can find the old warriors,” he said with determination. “I don’t care what the price is. I’m going to hire them back. The old warriors will have no trouble keeping those pig people off the green lands.”
Danielle turned her head to one side. Like a satin waterfall, her long black hair flowed over her perfect breasts.
McQueen didn’t want to talk anymore, but Danielle continued. “Sproat couldn’t have attained the rank of captain without some sense of duty.”
“If he has any sense of duty, he doesn’t show it.”
“Maybe he just needs a little more time.”
Peering through the window, McQueen studied the tramped down blue grass. “When the regular warriors were on duty, Blue Town ran itself. Fear of the virus controlled the pig people. If Sproat can’t control his own eating habits, how can he control Blue Town?”
Danielle flashed him a shy smile. “You could be suspicious for nothing.”
In thought, McQueen rubbed his forehead. “I haven’t seen Tommy in a long while. I should go to the Grotto, pay him a visit. If anything’s going on, he’ll know all about it.”
“Don’t let anyone see you going off the blue grass. It would be a bad example for the pig people to see a Chief Earth Officer who is not afraid of the virus. And it will be worse if they see you talking to a Dinky.”
“I thought after seventeen years the people would learn to live with the earth and be ready to learn about the fake virus.”
“It would be nice,” Danielle said and placed her arm around his waist. “But the people and the earth are just not ready for it. They still act like pigs.”
“Maybe someday they’ll advance and learn how to care for the real world.”
“Maybe our son will be fortunate enough to live in a town without blue grass.”
McQueen slid his arm around Danielle.
She turned and embraced him. “When it happens, he’ll be ready. You’ve trained him since he was a baby.”
McQueen looked into her eyes.
As she spoke, the dreamy look of peace and happiness intensified. “I love your symmetric muscles,” she said. “She ran her hand down his arms. “I love your strong arms, but most of all, I love how you move. You have the sinuous grace of a dancer.”
McQueen felt his face reddened. “You mean you wouldn’t rather be with a Humpty Dumpty shaped pig person?”
“Don’t be silly, John.”
“How about a Dinky?”
“Tommy’s cute and he’s okay for laughs, but he’s too little.” She flashed McQueen a beautiful and mischievous smile. “But he would make a good pet.”
McQueen smiled a faint smile. Although Tommy had a sharp mind, he and his mutant friends were about half the height of other people, and their big floppy ears and round adorable eyes caused their faces to look comic. McQueen was going to remind Danielle that Tommy was just as intelligent as or more intelligent than most people; but not wanting to spoil the moment, he let it pass.
“Now that you’ve decided to stay with me,” McQueen said, “what would you like to do?”
Danielle placed her finger to her lips and gave him a coy smile. “I would love to walk with you in the freedom of the green forest. We could listen to the sparkling springs, swim in the green lakes, and spend a few precious moments in the real world.”
“If the Orangeville experiment works, we will have a sample of what the world should be like. We’ll even be able to stand in the rain without being afraid someone will see us.”
“Maybe if you took a few people to Orangeville, they would realize why they must stay on the blue grass.”
“The Pygmies have permitted a few people to visit, but they only wanted to take from the recovering land. The Pigmies have told me that before we can even think about letting pig people live on the farms and in the forests around Blue Town, it will be twenty years.”
“I didn’t know it would take that long.”
“Long ago it wouldn’t have taken so long, but even though honesty lies in the heart of every person on earth, it has been buried by corruption and greed.” McQueen waved his hand and gestured toward the blue grass outside the window. “If the people are going off the blue grass, this section of the planet may not recover at all.” Feeling a pang of extreme discomfort, he continued. “If they find out there is no virus, eventually they’ll find Orangeville. The bad part is that if they get that far and they break the dam, the water in the canals will overflow and wash away the new plants and aquatic life.”
“But what about Niagara Falls?” Danielle said, and her forehead lined with concentration. “The water is still deep there.”
“After we opened the gates and tried to get the generators operating, the canals went down a good meter. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but more than ever the canals need water for plant and tree growth. If they don’t get water and we get another heat wave like the one that melted the blue asphalt, the canals will become like the rest of the planet.”
“You mean they’ll dry up?”
“Many rivers and lakes have already dried up from global boiling and dumping crack water down into deep holes. Even though the cracking companies claimed the dumping was completely safe and had no effect on any environment, in every case, the loss of water caused droughts; and then the drying winds came.”
For a moment, a sullen look appeared on Daniel’s face. “I can’t believe those cracking people are too ignorant to understand the mechanics of rainfall.”
“To top it off,” McQueen said with a rising hint of frustration, “heat lightning started fires that lasted for months.” He paused and tried to get the horrible history out of his mind. “And it doesn’t end. The dry winds still stir up red hot dust and smother the land.”
“That scares me,” Danielle said and shuddered. “If it keeps happening, the earth will never recover.”
“Then, our only hope will be the Orange Turn.”
“But we don’t know who the other person is, and for all we know, that person may already be dead.”
“Dead or alive, when, and if, the time comes, we’ll just have to find him or her.” He squinted one eye. “Are you sure you’re not the other person?”
A sour look formed on Danielle’s face. “I don’t even want to think about that.”
Turning toward the window, McQueen changed the subject. “There’s a full moon tonight. If there’s electricity, the TV signals might get through?”
“I sure miss those clear digital signals. Those pictures weren’t grainy and didn’t have a tiny sound.”
“After the super nova, the virus, or whatever it was, wiped out all the computers and digital screens, we were lucky the museums had few old TVs. we could put into service.”
“I wanted to watch the wheelbarrow people at the buffet.”
“It’s a shame entertainment has dropped to such a level.” He let out a muffled spasm of amusement. “Have one of their stomach’s exploded?”
I don’t know. Since you left for the tour of the water plants, I have only been able to get ghost images, and most of the time it’s a blizzard of snow.”
“That’s strange,” McQueen said. “Just before I left, I could get a relatively clear picture. Although it rolled and flicked, it was almost clear. I even had limited use of the phones.”
Suggestively, Danielle ran her finger down McQueen’s neck and unbuttoned the top button on his shirt. “More debris in the atmosphere always stops the signals.”
McQueen didn’t acknowledge her sexual signals. “If the people are sneaking off the blue grass they are polluting the atmosphere again.”
Danielle turned her head with a playful flick. “Maybe Sproat and his scabs are getting drunk on the job.” She pulled away from him and swayed her sensual body. Making soft, feminine sounds that arouse his senses, she walked backwards, her teasing dark eyes enticing him to follow.
He watched her midnight-black hair glisten, and an impulse to pull her close surged in his chest. “Maybe we should talk about this later.”
She reached out with both hands to draw him close.
As a wave of hot sensual energy whispered through his body, he took one step toward her.
Boom! The double doors to the room banged open. Sproat and twenty of his men rushed into the room and stood with their antidote guns drawn.
“McQueen!” Sproat shouted. “You are under arrest.”
The lard-bellied man on Sproat’s left pulled the lever on his gun and chambered an antidote bullet. “Arrest hell,” he screamed, and jerked the gun at McQueen. “We’re going to rip your little love nest apart.”
Danielle jumped in front of McQueen.
The lard-bellied man fired the gun.
The antidote bullet sank into her chest.
She fell to the floor.
Sproat’s nineteen other men took aim. McQueen ran through the library and out into the hall. Then he circled around and slunk behind Sproat’s men. In the short time Danielle had been laying on the floor, her clothes had been torn from her body and turned inside out. They were looking for the orange turn key. McQueen wanted to pick her up and run. When he bent over to lift her from the floor, one of Sproat’s men rushed toward him. The man had a horrible face. It was distorted, evil, brutal, and inhuman. McQueen wanted to at least lure that thing away from Danielle. He backed away.
Six of Sproat’s men grabbed him and fastened restraint bands around his hands and feet. Sproat stepped in front of him. “Sorry for the earlier charade.”
McQueen broke free and bolted toward the door.
The men grabbed him and slammed him against the wall.
The picture of his father’s farm crashed to the floor.
Struggling and staring at the broken glass and the sliced picture, he stopped trying to escape.
Sproat placed his heavy foot on the broken glass and ground it into the picture. Smiling, he wagged his finger at McQueen. “No tricks, McQueen.”
As if cowering in fright, McQueen relaxed and drew back. The men loosened their grips. He reared up and jerked toward Sproat. The men re-gripped and held him tight.
Sproat pointed to the orange safe. “You thought it was funny making me do stupid circus tricks to open that safe. Now it’s your turn to do circus tricks. You’re going to do what we tell you to do, and you’re going to do it for a long time.”
McQueen kicked his feet and wiggled his body. “Let me loose you stinking scabs. When I don’t make my monthly address the pig people will wonder what happened to me.”
“No problem.” As if it were a footstool, Sproat placed his glass impregnated boot on Danielle’s lifeless head and motioned to his men. “Search him.”
His men patted McQueen’s body. One put his hand in McQueen’s pocket and pulled out a knife. “No key, only this.”
For a moment, Sproat studied the knife, then waved his hand down. “He won’t need that.”
“Take anything you want,” McQueen said and struggled against his restraints. “I’m not going to speak.”
Sproat arrogantly leaned back. “You’ll speak every month, and you’ll give us the key. If you don’t, your son will suffer the same consequences as your wife.”
McQueen struggled against the restraining grasps of his captors. “When my bodyguard finds out what you’ve done, you’ll all be recycled.”
Sproat lifted his boot from Danielle’s head. “Oh, your buddy, Judd.” He laughed. “Tell him yourself. He’s right outside.” He motioned toward the window.
Outside, a steam car, billowing alarming volumes of white-gray smoke into the air, chugged over the tall blue grass and stopped in front of the window. The driver of the car turned and pointed to the two potbellied guards in dirty-brown uniforms standing on the steam car platform. Like hunters with a trophy kill, the guards held up Judd. His blue-faced, lifeless body’s lower extremities had been browned by exposure to something hot, and his clothing had been torn to shreds.

The Orange Turn by Ronald K. Myers

EXTRACT FOR
The Orange Turn

(Ronald K. Myers)


CHAPTER 1

The earth shifted.
Puffy-faced pig people swayed sideways.
From the safety of his corporation-protected home, Chief Earth Officer John McQueen peered out the window. Although the shifting of the earth was a common thing, the neat uniformed guards had not walked past for over an hour. They had no reason to be late, but beyond the field of an ocean of blue grass, whirling wisps of white smoke swirled through shafts of dirty-orange beams of sunlight.
Something wasn’t right.
Behind McQueen, the sound of the double doors to the library swished open. He didn’t turn around. With his hand, he motioned for his bodyguard.
“Judd,” he said, “come here. Look at that smoke. It’s too clean to be coming from a steam car, burning coal.”
Judd didn’t come to the window.
Flames flitted around the borders of the blue grass, and a billowing cloud of thick white smoke mushroomed into the sky.
McQueen raised his voice. “Judd, come over here. Tell me what’s burning.”
An unfamiliar voice answered. “I’m not Judd. The Dinkies are burning wood virus.”
McQueen turned. Standing in front of him, an unfamiliar, portly man stared into space.
“Whoever you are,” McQueen said, “you must know there is no such thing as wood virus.”
The man’s face wreathed into a smile. “I know that, Chief Earth Officer.” He flashed McQueen a secret wink. “We know the pig people don’t know that, and we know it reinforces their fear of the fake wood virus.”
This strange man gave McQueen an uneasy feeling. The intruder did not seem to have the assurance of a person used to command. As McQueen’s eyes traveled down the man’s body, for all to see and for all to fear, another sign of the man’s ineptitude came into view. Holstered on his hip, was an illegal squirt gun.
McQueen gestured to the gun. “I hope that isn’t loaded.”
“It sure is.” The man took out the squirt gun and sprayed water into his mouth. “When I’m thirsty it comes in handy.”
McQueen flared up angrily. “That’s just great,” he said with sarcasm in his voice. “When a pig person sees you drinking unfiltered water, they’ll do it, too.”
“So what if they do?” The man made a feeble placatory gesture. “We’ll just shoot them with the antidote. They’ll die.”
McQueen felt his cheeks grow tight with fury. “Warriors are not supposed to shoot a pig person when it’s not necessary.” He watched the man for a discernible reaction. Seeing none, he threw his hand in the air. “Sure, the pig people of Blue Town have to be constantly convinced to stay on the blue grass, but they’re not to be sacrificed because a warrior is careless.”
Puzzlement filled the man’s face, and McQueen couldn’t understand why. The antidote supposedly used to cure people, who had been exposed to the mutating water, wood, and green-grass virus, always killed the recipient. Although the poison antidote kept the threat of the viruses alive, he found it hard to believe this man had such a low value of other people’s lives; and that was something McQueen didn’t need or want. And, in addition to being his bodyguard, Judd was McQueen’s friend. McQueen wanted Judd back.
Looking for his bodyguard, McQueen turned his head right then left. “Where’s Judd?”
As if he had just remembered something important, the intruder snapped to attention. “Chief Earth Officer, Captain Sproat reporting for duty.” His face lit up with excited delight. “I am your new bodyguard.”
McQueen remembered the name, Sproat, but it didn’t seem to fit the lard-like body that was standing at attention and holding his quivering hand to his forehead. His salute was not a crisp military salute a regular warrior would display. It was a sloppy gesture at best. Sproat’s uniform, although the uniform of a warrior, it did not cover a healthy body. Except where his stomach puffed out and strained against the buttons of his shirt, the uniform looked like it had been slept in. A tube of loose fat sagged down like an overflowing bowl of dough and covered the man’s belt buckle.
McQueen would take speed, quickness, and stamina over bulging muscles any day; and for a warrior, this man was a sickening sight. As a foreboding feeling entered McQueen’s chest, he remembered Sproat was a name that had come up in evaluation reports. Sproat was a man hungry for advancement and the power that came with it, but his performance scores and physical tests were always far below average. McQueen had always voted to have him stay at the lowest rank possible; but the regular warriors had been on strike for over two years; and even though the Friends of the Earth Corporation had no one else to promote, McQueen was sure they wouldn’t have sent such a failure to be the bodyguard of the Chief Earth Officer.
Still holding the salute, Sproat’s eyes traveled around the room and fixed on an orange wall safe. “I’m here to get Judd’s key.” He gestured to the safe. “I was tole it is in an orange safe, and that you would show me how to open it.”
Years ago, the key to the orange turn had been locked in the orange safe, but the key was too valuable to be left in a wall safe. Although many people believed the key was still in the safe, years ago, McQueen had taken the key out and hidden it in a secret place. Suspecting Judd was playing a joke on him, McQueen decided to play along.
“Sure,” he said with mock cooperation. “I’ll show you how to open it.”
Sproat dropped his salute, stepped to the safe, and stared at its combination lock. “What do I do first?”
McQueen almost laughed out loud but held it in. “Okay, turn the dial three times to the left and stop at nine. Sproat turned the dial and looked to McQueen. McQueen rolled his hand in encouragement. “Do it again. You turned it too fast.”
This time, Sproat turned the dial slowly. “Okay, what’s next?”
McQueen turned from Sproat and searched for Judd. He could be peeking around a corner. He wasn’t. But McQueen was sure Judd would come out of hiding and burst out laughing. He turned back to Sproat. “Tap the dial once, stop at seven, turn around three times, and hop on one foot.”
Sproat did what McQueen told him to do, spun around in bewilderment, and looked to McQueen for more instructions.
McQueen couldn’t believe anyone could be this ignorant. The man had to be acting. It had to be a joke. “Okay, wink three times, take a deep breath, and hold it.”
Again, Sproat did as he was told.
McQueen reached over and opened the unlocked safe.
Expelling air, Sproat leaned forward and peeked into the safe.
It was empty.
His face filled with disappointment. “Where’s the key?”
Ignoring Sproat, McQueen yelled over his shoulder, “Okay, Judd, you can come out now.”
Judd didn’t come out of hiding. McQueen turned toward Sproat so he could give him the benefit of his full attention. “Are you part of a joke Judd is playing on me?”
Portly Sproat lifted his chubby hand to his sweating forehead and held a quivering salute. “No, Chief Earth Officer, I’m no joke. Your regular bodyguard was caught going off the blue grass. I have replaced him.”
Judd would never have been caught going off the blue grass, and the key to the orange turn wasn’t a key to be given to just anyone. Sproat was lying. If he wasn’t acting, he should have never been a warrior. He should have been recycled. With extensive training and a lot of luck, this man might qualify for a job as a dish washer or a rickshaw cleaner. He was anything but a warrior. Sproat was no bodyguard. He had to be one of the pig people who had crossed the picket lines. He was a replacement warrior. Not caring for the good of all, this man wrapped himself in ignorance. This man was a scab.
McQueen didn’t want to, but he returned Sproat’s salute. “I’m sorry, Captain Sproat.” Not wanting to look at him, he turned away, but Sproat’s reflection remained in the window. “Scabs do not qualify for the bodyguard position.”
Sproat’s flabby face flushed with anger. Although it was military courteously to drop the salute once a superior officer returned it, he didn’t drop his salute. He opened his mouth to say something but closed it.
In the reflection, McQueen glared at him. Right away, he noticed Sproat did not have the brash, clamorous arrogance of newly assumed authority other people had.
“Captain Sproat,” McQueen said, “why wasn’t I informed of such a change in my protection?”
Still holding the salute, Sproat’s jaw muscles clenched under the fat on his face. With his twisted hand above his sweating forehead, he just stood there. After thirty seconds, his mouth moved. “Chief Earth Officer, McQueen, the Friends of the Earth Corporation felt it was in your best interest to have a new bodyguard as soon as possible.”
McQueen continued to look out the window. Under a sky infusing with dirty-gray pallor, the ocean of blue grass in his private seven-acre back yard waved in the gentle wind. In the distance, at the edge of the orange warning signs, a line of dirty dumpy men, wearing crumpled, brown uniforms, walked through the tall blue grass, mashing it down with their fat feet.
In the reflection in the glass, McQueen watched behind his back. Sproat finally dropped his salute. “Is there something wrong, Chief Earth Officer?”
McQueen pointed to the men tramping down the grass. “What happened to security? The sentry has not passed by in over an hour. No one is permitted to walk on the blue grass of the Chief Earth Officer’s residence. What are those men doing?”
Sproat bent forward and stretched his double-chinned neck to look out the window. “It’s a training exercise,” he said with his voice rising to a mouse-like pitch. “That patrol must have taken the wrong path.”
Trying to clear the sight of the ugly men from his mind, McQueen jerked his head toward Sproat. “They look like the lard patrol. Is that the best we have?”
Sproat stuttered, but managed to speak. “Chief Earth Officer, since the warriors went on strike, they’re the only men we can get.”
McQueen raised his voice to a pitch of authority. “They are not doing their job!”
“But, Chief Earth Officer,” Sproat objected. “I don’t think a little bent over blue grass will hurt anybody.” As if suddenly afraid, he shuddered. “Besides, bent over grass makes it easier to spot those rat-tailed Pygmies.”
McQueen swung around and jerked his finger at Sproat. “The rat-tailed Pigmies did not ruin the land. The pig people did. In its slow recovering state, the land can only support a small population of the Pygmy race. Being ancestors of the ancient rain forest, the Pigmies can come and go without harming the feeble growths. They weave their small bodies amongst the plants without disturbing the growing cycles.”
Sproat held up his hands and backed away. “I don’t care what you say. Those Pigmies have big buck teeth that have poisonous venom. They should all be given the antidote.”
The rat-tailed Pigmies rarely talked to anyone. When perturbed, their tails would come up in a threatening S posture. This threatening gesture had frightened many pig people away from the Orangeville experiment, and had kept them on the blue grass. When the Pigmies had talked to McQueen they were very intelligent and preferred to stay away from the ignorance of the pig people.
“Just because you’re afraid of the Pigmies,” McQueen said, “it is no reason to kill them.”
Sproat’s scared expression faded.
McQueen held out his arm toward an array of books in a vast opened plastic cabinet. “I don’t have time to be opening and closing doors every time I need a book. You should know that the blue grass must be kept high enough to keep the pig people from seeing these books.”
Sproat tilted his chubby head with a questioning slant. “What’s the matter with letting them see a few books?”
McQueen shook his head in disbelief and slammed one of the plastic doors on the cabinet. It covered half of the books.
“Unlike the plastic pamphlets the pig people use,” he said, “these books are made of paper. Paper is made from wood. If the pig people see the paper books, they’ll know the wood virus is fake.”
“I don’t think any of the pig people will get this close.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I have heard from various sources that pig people never go near your field.”
“You’ve heard?” McQueen questioned. “A warrior cannot rely on isolated statements, connect them, and make preconceived judgments. A warrior must be ready for anything and everything. He must see and confirm things for himself.”
“I think you’re overreacting, chief.”
The man hadn’t known McQueen for more than a few minutes. There was no way he could be considered a friend and call McQueen, chief. McQueen slammed the other cabinet door and raised his voice. “Chief? I don’t think you realize who’s in charge here. All replacement warriors must show respect and keep up the virus farce.”
Cowering, Sproat stiffened and stood at rigid attention. “I’m sorry, Chief Earth Officer, McQueen.”
McQueen lowered his voice a notch. “Anything you do, no matter how trivial you may think it is, it may be the one thing that compromises the secret of the blue grass.”
Now, Sproat’s voice was high pitched and squeaky. “I know that, Chief Earth Officer.”
Puzzled by the high pitch of Sproat’s voice, McQueen wanted to ask him about it, but instead, he said, “I’ve heard the pig people are going off the blue grass. Are they?”
As if overheated, Sproat tugged at the tight collar of his baggy uniform. “Only a few people have ventured off,” he squeaked out. “They are still afraid of the green grass and the water virus.”
“They better be,” McQueen said. “If they find out it isn’t real, they’ll be taking baths in the rivers and lakes.”
“I don’t think it will ever go that far.”
“It may have gone too far already. In the last month, the sales of dry washing clay and bottled water have decreased thirty percent.”
“Maybe the people are not washing as much.”
“They might not wash as much, but they would never cut down on the amount of water they drink.”
“Nothing like that has happened.”
McQueen didn’t believe him. “What’s the matter with you?”
As if he were in a hurry to leave, Sproat stepped back and didn’t answer.
McQueen studied the scab bodyguard. “What do you mean nothing like that has happened? I just told you the sales of bottled water had decrease thirty percent. If it continues to drop, due to the fact that people are no longer afraid of unfiltered water, the planet’s natural resources will be greatly stressed. The social order will be shaken.”
Sproat moved uneasy. “We have taken care of everything.”
McQueen took a hard look at Sproat. “You better be sure. You can’t let those pig people get close to the water. They’ll poison it.”
A disarming smile formed on Sproat’s lips. “The canals seem to be clean and unpolluted.”
McQueen wanted to believe him, but Sproat was smiling like an unemployed liar auditioning for work. He wasn’t taking his job seriously. It was a warrior’s job to protect the earth. Canals dug to divert the world’s dwindling water supply to the river above Niagara Falls was a failed attempt to keep the hydro power plants running, but the canals did provide a nursery for vanishing aquatic life. To maintain the Friends of the Earth’s master plan of keeping the earth on a recovery path, the canals had to remain free of all pollution.
“What do you mean the canals seem to be clean and unpolluted?” McQueen asked. “Those canals are the lifeblood of what is left of our forest and plant life. If they fail, the lands around the rivers and canals will dry up. Dumping chemical-laced crack water down holes thousands of meters deep has greatly depleted the water available every place the gas companies have drilled. With temperatures hot enough to melt plastic, we don’t need any more dry lakes and plains taking over the earth.”
Sproat didn’t answer. As if he didn’t care about his job, he lazily shrugged. What was worse, was that he seemed to be hiding something. McQueen wanted to know what it was. He jerked his finger at Sproat. “What is the real reason you are here?”
The fat under Sproat’s jaw twitched, but he kept his mouth shut.
McQueen smacked the palm of his own hand with his fist. “I have given the Friends of the Earth Corporation more than long enough to settle the warrior strike. I’ve had it with scabs like you.”
Sproat cringed but a grin betrayed his true feelings. “Without the approval of the corporation, you can’t do anything about it.”
McQueen felt distrust and hate for the man. “Oh, but I can, Captain Sproat. You seem to forget: I am the Chief Earth Officer. I can use my emergency powers.”
Sproat reached up and placed his hand on McQueen’s shoulder. It was forbidden for a warrior to touch a superior officer. McQueen snapped his head to the side and glared at the hand.
Sproat’s lips curled into a sorry smile. He jerked his hand back. “Chief Earth Officer, McQueen,” he said with his voice squeaking. “You have no need to worry. My men will provide you with the same quality of security your warriors have done for seventeen years. Your wife and son have nothing to fear.”
McQueen raised his hand and shook his finger in front of Sproat’s face. “If the secret of the virus has been let out and the pig people are going off the blue grass, we’ll all have something to fear.”
“Yes, Chief Earth Officer,” Sproat said, and now his voice was very high, like someone was choking him.
McQueen dropped his hand and turned away. “You should have someone look at that throat.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my throat,” Sproat said with a strained, but lower voice. “I just talk that way sometimes.”
“I’d still have it checked.”
Sproat put his chubby hand to his forehead and attempted to salute. “Is that an order, Chief Earth Officer?”
McQueen abruptly turned toward Sproat. “It’s your throat. Do what you want.”
Sproat dropped his hand and lowered his voice. “Yes, Chief Earth Officer.”
Studying Sproat’s dark eyes for a hint of what he trying to conceal, McQueen found nothing but ignorance. Maybe he could trick him into telling him what he was hiding. He crossed the room, sat in a plush leather armchair, and motioned for Sproat to come near.
Sproat strolled over and looked down at McQueen.
McQueen looked up at Sproat. “Captain Sproat,” he said with exaggerated compassion. “The warriors have been on strike for over two years. Should I continue to let them strike and bring the men who just trespassed onto the blue grass before the board?”
Sproat’s face relaxed. As if he knew something McQueen didn’t know, he became extra calm. “There is no need to bother the board with a simple mistake. This afternoon, when you take your son for a walk, I’ll have my men correct the situation.”
“I would appreciate that,” McQueen said; but every time he had taken his son outside, someone rummaged through his office; and the slob standing in front of him looked like just the sort of person who would do something like that. If it was him, and he was taking care of the scabs in the field, who had tramped down the blue grass, he wouldn’t have time to sneak in. If his office wasn’t disturbed today, then McQueen would have a pretty good idea the person rummaging through his office wasn’t Sproat.
Sproat smiled a cocky smile and held a salute. “If you need me, Chief Earth Officer, just call.”
McQueen placed his hands on the armrests of the armchair and pushed himself to a standing position. “I’ll do just that.”
Sproat dropped his salute, turned on his heavy heel, and hastened to the door. After he opened the door, he stepped out and intentionally slammed it. Two paintings of McQueen’s father’s farm, that his Dinky friend, Tommy, had painted, vibrated on the wall.
As McQueen crossed the room, his wife, Danielle, walked into the library. Her neat professional appearance always brightened a room. To others, she seemed unemotional. But McQueen knew she was always calm in a crisis. Now, something behind her intense brown eyes signaled she was disturbed.
She turned her cute body toward him. “John, that man didn’t have to close the door so forcefully. I have a bad feeling about him.”
Adjusting the paintings on the wall, McQueen nodded. “Me, too. In addition to slamming doors, when his voice rises, he sounds like he’s lying.”
“If he is, you’ll have to prove it.”
McQueen adjusted the painting or his father’s farm, just a tad. It was level. He turned toward Danielle. “How can I prove anyone is lying when everyone on the board outvotes me?”
“I’m not sure,’ Danielle said. “But if Sproat’s charging people to let them go off the blue grass, he’s going to be a wealthy man.”
McQueen felt a bad feeling crawling up his back. He shivered and shook it off. “I have never seen a bodyguard or a warrior as unhealthy as Sproat.”
“It’s not your fault, John.” Danielle flashed him a sweet smile and touched his arm. “They forced him on you.”
McQueen felt his face flush with shame. “I have become a Chief Earth Officer in name only.” He placed his hand on the door of the book cabinet. “I’m going to look up the best way to use my emergency powers.”
Danielle held up one finger. “Remember, without the old warriors, you have no power.”
McQueen didn’t want to admit it, but she was right. “If I can find the old warriors,” he said with determination. “I don’t care what the price is. I’m going to hire them back. The old warriors will have no trouble keeping those pig people off the green lands.”
Danielle turned her head to one side. Like a satin waterfall, her long black hair flowed over her perfect breasts.
McQueen didn’t want to talk anymore, but Danielle continued. “Sproat couldn’t have attained the rank of captain without some sense of duty.”
“If he has any sense of duty, he doesn’t show it.”
“Maybe he just needs a little more time.”
Peering through the window, McQueen studied the tramped down blue grass. “When the regular warriors were on duty, Blue Town ran itself. Fear of the virus controlled the pig people. If Sproat can’t control his own eating habits, how can he control Blue Town?”
Danielle flashed him a shy smile. “You could be suspicious for nothing.”
In thought, McQueen rubbed his forehead. “I haven’t seen Tommy in a long while. I should go to the Grotto, pay him a visit. If anything’s going on, he’ll know all about it.”
“Don’t let anyone see you going off the blue grass. It would be a bad example for the pig people to see a Chief Earth Officer who is not afraid of the virus. And it will be worse if they see you talking to a Dinky.”
“I thought after seventeen years the people would learn to live with the earth and be ready to learn about the fake virus.”
“It would be nice,” Danielle said and placed her arm around his waist. “But the people and the earth are just not ready for it. They still act like pigs.”
“Maybe someday they’ll advance and learn how to care for the real world.”
“Maybe our son will be fortunate enough to live in a town without blue grass.”
McQueen slid his arm around Danielle.
She turned and embraced him. “When it happens, he’ll be ready. You’ve trained him since he was a baby.”
McQueen looked into her eyes.
As she spoke, the dreamy look of peace and happiness intensified. “I love your symmetric muscles,” she said. “She ran her hand down his arms. “I love your strong arms, but most of all, I love how you move. You have the sinuous grace of a dancer.”
McQueen felt his face reddened. “You mean you wouldn’t rather be with a Humpty Dumpty shaped pig person?”
“Don’t be silly, John.”
“How about a Dinky?”
“Tommy’s cute and he’s okay for laughs, but he’s too little.” She flashed McQueen a beautiful and mischievous smile. “But he would make a good pet.”
McQueen smiled a faint smile. Although Tommy had a sharp mind, he and his mutant friends were about half the height of other people, and their big floppy ears and round adorable eyes caused their faces to look comic. McQueen was going to remind Danielle that Tommy was just as intelligent as or more intelligent than most people; but not wanting to spoil the moment, he let it pass.
“Now that you’ve decided to stay with me,” McQueen said, “what would you like to do?”
Danielle placed her finger to her lips and gave him a coy smile. “I would love to walk with you in the freedom of the green forest. We could listen to the sparkling springs, swim in the green lakes, and spend a few precious moments in the real world.”
“If the Orangeville experiment works, we will have a sample of what the world should be like. We’ll even be able to stand in the rain without being afraid someone will see us.”
“Maybe if you took a few people to Orangeville, they would realize why they must stay on the blue grass.”
“The Pygmies have permitted a few people to visit, but they only wanted to take from the recovering land. The Pigmies have told me that before we can even think about letting pig people live on the farms and in the forests around Blue Town, it will be twenty years.”
“I didn’t know it would take that long.”
“Long ago it wouldn’t have taken so long, but even though honesty lies in the heart of every person on earth, it has been buried by corruption and greed.” McQueen waved his hand and gestured toward the blue grass outside the window. “If the people are going off the blue grass, this section of the planet may not recover at all.” Feeling a pang of extreme discomfort, he continued. “If they find out there is no virus, eventually they’ll find Orangeville. The bad part is that if they get that far and they break the dam, the water in the canals will overflow and wash away the new plants and aquatic life.”
“But what about Niagara Falls?” Danielle said, and her forehead lined with concentration. “The water is still deep there.”
“After we opened the gates and tried to get the generators operating, the canals went down a good meter. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but more than ever the canals need water for plant and tree growth. If they don’t get water and we get another heat wave like the one that melted the blue asphalt, the canals will become like the rest of the planet.”
“You mean they’ll dry up?”
“Many rivers and lakes have already dried up from global boiling and dumping crack water down into deep holes. Even though the cracking companies claimed the dumping was completely safe and had no effect on any environment, in every case, the loss of water caused droughts; and then the drying winds came.”
For a moment, a sullen look appeared on Daniel’s face. “I can’t believe those cracking people are too ignorant to understand the mechanics of rainfall.”
“To top it off,” McQueen said with a rising hint of frustration, “heat lightning started fires that lasted for months.” He paused and tried to get the horrible history out of his mind. “And it doesn’t end. The dry winds still stir up red hot dust and smother the land.”
“That scares me,” Danielle said and shuddered. “If it keeps happening, the earth will never recover.”
“Then, our only hope will be the Orange Turn.”
“But we don’t know who the other person is, and for all we know, that person may already be dead.”
“Dead or alive, when, and if, the time comes, we’ll just have to find him or her.” He squinted one eye. “Are you sure you’re not the other person?”
A sour look formed on Danielle’s face. “I don’t even want to think about that.”
Turning toward the window, McQueen changed the subject. “There’s a full moon tonight. If there’s electricity, the TV signals might get through?”
“I sure miss those clear digital signals. Those pictures weren’t grainy and didn’t have a tiny sound.”
“After the super nova, the virus, or whatever it was, wiped out all the computers and digital screens, we were lucky the museums had few old TVs. we could put into service.”
“I wanted to watch the wheelbarrow people at the buffet.”
“It’s a shame entertainment has dropped to such a level.” He let out a muffled spasm of amusement. “Have one of their stomach’s exploded?”
I don’t know. Since you left for the tour of the water plants, I have only been able to get ghost images, and most of the time it’s a blizzard of snow.”
“That’s strange,” McQueen said. “Just before I left, I could get a relatively clear picture. Although it rolled and flicked, it was almost clear. I even had limited use of the phones.”
Suggestively, Danielle ran her finger down McQueen’s neck and unbuttoned the top button on his shirt. “More debris in the atmosphere always stops the signals.”
McQueen didn’t acknowledge her sexual signals. “If the people are sneaking off the blue grass they are polluting the atmosphere again.”
Danielle turned her head with a playful flick. “Maybe Sproat and his scabs are getting drunk on the job.” She pulled away from him and swayed her sensual body. Making soft, feminine sounds that arouse his senses, she walked backwards, her teasing dark eyes enticing him to follow.
He watched her midnight-black hair glisten, and an impulse to pull her close surged in his chest. “Maybe we should talk about this later.”
She reached out with both hands to draw him close.
As a wave of hot sensual energy whispered through his body, he took one step toward her.
Boom! The double doors to the room banged open. Sproat and twenty of his men rushed into the room and stood with their antidote guns drawn.
“McQueen!” Sproat shouted. “You are under arrest.”
The lard-bellied man on Sproat’s left pulled the lever on his gun and chambered an antidote bullet. “Arrest hell,” he screamed, and jerked the gun at McQueen. “We’re going to rip your little love nest apart.”
Danielle jumped in front of McQueen.
The lard-bellied man fired the gun.
The antidote bullet sank into her chest.
She fell to the floor.
Sproat’s nineteen other men took aim. McQueen ran through the library and out into the hall. Then he circled around and slunk behind Sproat’s men. In the short time Danielle had been laying on the floor, her clothes had been torn from her body and turned inside out. They were looking for the orange turn key. McQueen wanted to pick her up and run. When he bent over to lift her from the floor, one of Sproat’s men rushed toward him. The man had a horrible face. It was distorted, evil, brutal, and inhuman. McQueen wanted to at least lure that thing away from Danielle. He backed away.
Six of Sproat’s men grabbed him and fastened restraint bands around his hands and feet. Sproat stepped in front of him. “Sorry for the earlier charade.”
McQueen broke free and bolted toward the door.
The men grabbed him and slammed him against the wall.
The picture of his father’s farm crashed to the floor.
Struggling and staring at the broken glass and the sliced picture, he stopped trying to escape.
Sproat placed his heavy foot on the broken glass and ground it into the picture. Smiling, he wagged his finger at McQueen. “No tricks, McQueen.”
As if cowering in fright, McQueen relaxed and drew back. The men loosened their grips. He reared up and jerked toward Sproat. The men re-gripped and held him tight.
Sproat pointed to the orange safe. “You thought it was funny making me do stupid circus tricks to open that safe. Now it’s your turn to do circus tricks. You’re going to do what we tell you to do, and you’re going to do it for a long time.”
McQueen kicked his feet and wiggled his body. “Let me loose you stinking scabs. When I don’t make my monthly address the pig people will wonder what happened to me.”
“No problem.” As if it were a footstool, Sproat placed his glass impregnated boot on Danielle’s lifeless head and motioned to his men. “Search him.”
His men patted McQueen’s body. One put his hand in McQueen’s pocket and pulled out a knife. “No key, only this.”
For a moment, Sproat studied the knife, then waved his hand down. “He won’t need that.”
“Take anything you want,” McQueen said and struggled against his restraints. “I’m not going to speak.”
Sproat arrogantly leaned back. “You’ll speak every month, and you’ll give us the key. If you don’t, your son will suffer the same consequences as your wife.”
McQueen struggled against the restraining grasps of his captors. “When my bodyguard finds out what you’ve done, you’ll all be recycled.”
Sproat lifted his boot from Danielle’s head. “Oh, your buddy, Judd.” He laughed. “Tell him yourself. He’s right outside.” He motioned toward the window.
Outside, a steam car, billowing alarming volumes of white-gray smoke into the air, chugged over the tall blue grass and stopped in front of the window. The driver of the car turned and pointed to the two potbellied guards in dirty-brown uniforms standing on the steam car platform. Like hunters with a trophy kill, the guards held up Judd. His blue-faced, lifeless body’s lower extremities had been browned by exposure to something hot, and his clothing had been torn to shreds.

EXTRACT FOR
The Orange Turn

(Ronald K. Myers)


CHAPTER 1

The earth shifted.
Puffy-faced pig people swayed sideways.
From the safety of his corporation-protected home, Chief Earth Officer John McQueen peered out the window. Although the shifting of the earth was a common thing, the neat uniformed guards had not walked past for over an hour. They had no reason to be late, but beyond the field of an ocean of blue grass, whirling wisps of white smoke swirled through shafts of dirty-orange beams of sunlight.
Something wasn’t right.
Behind McQueen, the sound of the double doors to the library swished open. He didn’t turn around. With his hand, he motioned for his bodyguard.
“Judd,” he said, “come here. Look at that smoke. It’s too clean to be coming from a steam car, burning coal.”
Judd didn’t come to the window.
Flames flitted around the borders of the blue grass, and a billowing cloud of thick white smoke mushroomed into the sky.
McQueen raised his voice. “Judd, come over here. Tell me what’s burning.”
An unfamiliar voice answered. “I’m not Judd. The Dinkies are burning wood virus.”
McQueen turned. Standing in front of him, an unfamiliar, portly man stared into space.
“Whoever you are,” McQueen said, “you must know there is no such thing as wood virus.”
The man’s face wreathed into a smile. “I know that, Chief Earth Officer.” He flashed McQueen a secret wink. “We know the pig people don’t know that, and we know it reinforces their fear of the fake wood virus.”
This strange man gave McQueen an uneasy feeling. The intruder did not seem to have the assurance of a person used to command. As McQueen’s eyes traveled down the man’s body, for all to see and for all to fear, another sign of the man’s ineptitude came into view. Holstered on his hip, was an illegal squirt gun.
McQueen gestured to the gun. “I hope that isn’t loaded.”
“It sure is.” The man took out the squirt gun and sprayed water into his mouth. “When I’m thirsty it comes in handy.”
McQueen flared up angrily. “That’s just great,” he said with sarcasm in his voice. “When a pig person sees you drinking unfiltered water, they’ll do it, too.”
“So what if they do?” The man made a feeble placatory gesture. “We’ll just shoot them with the antidote. They’ll die.”
McQueen felt his cheeks grow tight with fury. “Warriors are not supposed to shoot a pig person when it’s not necessary.” He watched the man for a discernible reaction. Seeing none, he threw his hand in the air. “Sure, the pig people of Blue Town have to be constantly convinced to stay on the blue grass, but they’re not to be sacrificed because a warrior is careless.”
Puzzlement filled the man’s face, and McQueen couldn’t understand why. The antidote supposedly used to cure people, who had been exposed to the mutating water, wood, and green-grass virus, always killed the recipient. Although the poison antidote kept the threat of the viruses alive, he found it hard to believe this man had such a low value of other people’s lives; and that was something McQueen didn’t need or want. And, in addition to being his bodyguard, Judd was McQueen’s friend. McQueen wanted Judd back.
Looking for his bodyguard, McQueen turned his head right then left. “Where’s Judd?”
As if he had just remembered something important, the intruder snapped to attention. “Chief Earth Officer, Captain Sproat reporting for duty.” His face lit up with excited delight. “I am your new bodyguard.”
McQueen remembered the name, Sproat, but it didn’t seem to fit the lard-like body that was standing at attention and holding his quivering hand to his forehead. His salute was not a crisp military salute a regular warrior would display. It was a sloppy gesture at best. Sproat’s uniform, although the uniform of a warrior, it did not cover a healthy body. Except where his stomach puffed out and strained against the buttons of his shirt, the uniform looked like it had been slept in. A tube of loose fat sagged down like an overflowing bowl of dough and covered the man’s belt buckle.
McQueen would take speed, quickness, and stamina over bulging muscles any day; and for a warrior, this man was a sickening sight. As a foreboding feeling entered McQueen’s chest, he remembered Sproat was a name that had come up in evaluation reports. Sproat was a man hungry for advancement and the power that came with it, but his performance scores and physical tests were always far below average. McQueen had always voted to have him stay at the lowest rank possible; but the regular warriors had been on strike for over two years; and even though the Friends of the Earth Corporation had no one else to promote, McQueen was sure they wouldn’t have sent such a failure to be the bodyguard of the Chief Earth Officer.
Still holding the salute, Sproat’s eyes traveled around the room and fixed on an orange wall safe. “I’m here to get Judd’s key.” He gestured to the safe. “I was tole it is in an orange safe, and that you would show me how to open it.”
Years ago, the key to the orange turn had been locked in the orange safe, but the key was too valuable to be left in a wall safe. Although many people believed the key was still in the safe, years ago, McQueen had taken the key out and hidden it in a secret place. Suspecting Judd was playing a joke on him, McQueen decided to play along.
“Sure,” he said with mock cooperation. “I’ll show you how to open it.”
Sproat dropped his salute, stepped to the safe, and stared at its combination lock. “What do I do first?”
McQueen almost laughed out loud but held it in. “Okay, turn the dial three times to the left and stop at nine. Sproat turned the dial and looked to McQueen. McQueen rolled his hand in encouragement. “Do it again. You turned it too fast.”
This time, Sproat turned the dial slowly. “Okay, what’s next?”
McQueen turned from Sproat and searched for Judd. He could be peeking around a corner. He wasn’t. But McQueen was sure Judd would come out of hiding and burst out laughing. He turned back to Sproat. “Tap the dial once, stop at seven, turn around three times, and hop on one foot.”
Sproat did what McQueen told him to do, spun around in bewilderment, and looked to McQueen for more instructions.
McQueen couldn’t believe anyone could be this ignorant. The man had to be acting. It had to be a joke. “Okay, wink three times, take a deep breath, and hold it.”
Again, Sproat did as he was told.
McQueen reached over and opened the unlocked safe.
Expelling air, Sproat leaned forward and peeked into the safe.
It was empty.
His face filled with disappointment. “Where’s the key?”
Ignoring Sproat, McQueen yelled over his shoulder, “Okay, Judd, you can come out now.”
Judd didn’t come out of hiding. McQueen turned toward Sproat so he could give him the benefit of his full attention. “Are you part of a joke Judd is playing on me?”
Portly Sproat lifted his chubby hand to his sweating forehead and held a quivering salute. “No, Chief Earth Officer, I’m no joke. Your regular bodyguard was caught going off the blue grass. I have replaced him.”
Judd would never have been caught going off the blue grass, and the key to the orange turn wasn’t a key to be given to just anyone. Sproat was lying. If he wasn’t acting, he should have never been a warrior. He should have been recycled. With extensive training and a lot of luck, this man might qualify for a job as a dish washer or a rickshaw cleaner. He was anything but a warrior. Sproat was no bodyguard. He had to be one of the pig people who had crossed the picket lines. He was a replacement warrior. Not caring for the good of all, this man wrapped himself in ignorance. This man was a scab.
McQueen didn’t want to, but he returned Sproat’s salute. “I’m sorry, Captain Sproat.” Not wanting to look at him, he turned away, but Sproat’s reflection remained in the window. “Scabs do not qualify for the bodyguard position.”
Sproat’s flabby face flushed with anger. Although it was military courteously to drop the salute once a superior officer returned it, he didn’t drop his salute. He opened his mouth to say something but closed it.
In the reflection, McQueen glared at him. Right away, he noticed Sproat did not have the brash, clamorous arrogance of newly assumed authority other people had.
“Captain Sproat,” McQueen said, “why wasn’t I informed of such a change in my protection?”
Still holding the salute, Sproat’s jaw muscles clenched under the fat on his face. With his twisted hand above his sweating forehead, he just stood there. After thirty seconds, his mouth moved. “Chief Earth Officer, McQueen, the Friends of the Earth Corporation felt it was in your best interest to have a new bodyguard as soon as possible.”
McQueen continued to look out the window. Under a sky infusing with dirty-gray pallor, the ocean of blue grass in his private seven-acre back yard waved in the gentle wind. In the distance, at the edge of the orange warning signs, a line of dirty dumpy men, wearing crumpled, brown uniforms, walked through the tall blue grass, mashing it down with their fat feet.
In the reflection in the glass, McQueen watched behind his back. Sproat finally dropped his salute. “Is there something wrong, Chief Earth Officer?”
McQueen pointed to the men tramping down the grass. “What happened to security? The sentry has not passed by in over an hour. No one is permitted to walk on the blue grass of the Chief Earth Officer’s residence. What are those men doing?”
Sproat bent forward and stretched his double-chinned neck to look out the window. “It’s a training exercise,” he said with his voice rising to a mouse-like pitch. “That patrol must have taken the wrong path.”
Trying to clear the sight of the ugly men from his mind, McQueen jerked his head toward Sproat. “They look like the lard patrol. Is that the best we have?”
Sproat stuttered, but managed to speak. “Chief Earth Officer, since the warriors went on strike, they’re the only men we can get.”
McQueen raised his voice to a pitch of authority. “They are not doing their job!”
“But, Chief Earth Officer,” Sproat objected. “I don’t think a little bent over blue grass will hurt anybody.” As if suddenly afraid, he shuddered. “Besides, bent over grass makes it easier to spot those rat-tailed Pygmies.”
McQueen swung around and jerked his finger at Sproat. “The rat-tailed Pigmies did not ruin the land. The pig people did. In its slow recovering state, the land can only support a small population of the Pygmy race. Being ancestors of the ancient rain forest, the Pigmies can come and go without harming the feeble growths. They weave their small bodies amongst the plants without disturbing the growing cycles.”
Sproat held up his hands and backed away. “I don’t care what you say. Those Pigmies have big buck teeth that have poisonous venom. They should all be given the antidote.”
The rat-tailed Pigmies rarely talked to anyone. When perturbed, their tails would come up in a threatening S posture. This threatening gesture had frightened many pig people away from the Orangeville experiment, and had kept them on the blue grass. When the Pigmies had talked to McQueen they were very intelligent and preferred to stay away from the ignorance of the pig people.
“Just because you’re afraid of the Pigmies,” McQueen said, “it is no reason to kill them.”
Sproat’s scared expression faded.
McQueen held out his arm toward an array of books in a vast opened plastic cabinet. “I don’t have time to be opening and closing doors every time I need a book. You should know that the blue grass must be kept high enough to keep the pig people from seeing these books.”
Sproat tilted his chubby head with a questioning slant. “What’s the matter with letting them see a few books?”
McQueen shook his head in disbelief and slammed one of the plastic doors on the cabinet. It covered half of the books.
“Unlike the plastic pamphlets the pig people use,” he said, “these books are made of paper. Paper is made from wood. If the pig people see the paper books, they’ll know the wood virus is fake.”
“I don’t think any of the pig people will get this close.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I have heard from various sources that pig people never go near your field.”
“You’ve heard?” McQueen questioned. “A warrior cannot rely on isolated statements, connect them, and make preconceived judgments. A warrior must be ready for anything and everything. He must see and confirm things for himself.”
“I think you’re overreacting, chief.”
The man hadn’t known McQueen for more than a few minutes. There was no way he could be considered a friend and call McQueen, chief. McQueen slammed the other cabinet door and raised his voice. “Chief? I don’t think you realize who’s in charge here. All replacement warriors must show respect and keep up the virus farce.”
Cowering, Sproat stiffened and stood at rigid attention. “I’m sorry, Chief Earth Officer, McQueen.”
McQueen lowered his voice a notch. “Anything you do, no matter how trivial you may think it is, it may be the one thing that compromises the secret of the blue grass.”
Now, Sproat’s voice was high pitched and squeaky. “I know that, Chief Earth Officer.”
Puzzled by the high pitch of Sproat’s voice, McQueen wanted to ask him about it, but instead, he said, “I’ve heard the pig people are going off the blue grass. Are they?”
As if overheated, Sproat tugged at the tight collar of his baggy uniform. “Only a few people have ventured off,” he squeaked out. “They are still afraid of the green grass and the water virus.”
“They better be,” McQueen said. “If they find out it isn’t real, they’ll be taking baths in the rivers and lakes.”
“I don’t think it will ever go that far.”
“It may have gone too far already. In the last month, the sales of dry washing clay and bottled water have decreased thirty percent.”
“Maybe the people are not washing as much.”
“They might not wash as much, but they would never cut down on the amount of water they drink.”
“Nothing like that has happened.”
McQueen didn’t believe him. “What’s the matter with you?”
As if he were in a hurry to leave, Sproat stepped back and didn’t answer.
McQueen studied the scab bodyguard. “What do you mean nothing like that has happened? I just told you the sales of bottled water had decrease thirty percent. If it continues to drop, due to the fact that people are no longer afraid of unfiltered water, the planet’s natural resources will be greatly stressed. The social order will be shaken.”
Sproat moved uneasy. “We have taken care of everything.”
McQueen took a hard look at Sproat. “You better be sure. You can’t let those pig people get close to the water. They’ll poison it.”
A disarming smile formed on Sproat’s lips. “The canals seem to be clean and unpolluted.”
McQueen wanted to believe him, but Sproat was smiling like an unemployed liar auditioning for work. He wasn’t taking his job seriously. It was a warrior’s job to protect the earth. Canals dug to divert the world’s dwindling water supply to the river above Niagara Falls was a failed attempt to keep the hydro power plants running, but the canals did provide a nursery for vanishing aquatic life. To maintain the Friends of the Earth’s master plan of keeping the earth on a recovery path, the canals had to remain free of all pollution.
“What do you mean the canals seem to be clean and unpolluted?” McQueen asked. “Those canals are the lifeblood of what is left of our forest and plant life. If they fail, the lands around the rivers and canals will dry up. Dumping chemical-laced crack water down holes thousands of meters deep has greatly depleted the water available every place the gas companies have drilled. With temperatures hot enough to melt plastic, we don’t need any more dry lakes and plains taking over the earth.”
Sproat didn’t answer. As if he didn’t care about his job, he lazily shrugged. What was worse, was that he seemed to be hiding something. McQueen wanted to know what it was. He jerked his finger at Sproat. “What is the real reason you are here?”
The fat under Sproat’s jaw twitched, but he kept his mouth shut.
McQueen smacked the palm of his own hand with his fist. “I have given the Friends of the Earth Corporation more than long enough to settle the warrior strike. I’ve had it with scabs like you.”
Sproat cringed but a grin betrayed his true feelings. “Without the approval of the corporation, you can’t do anything about it.”
McQueen felt distrust and hate for the man. “Oh, but I can, Captain Sproat. You seem to forget: I am the Chief Earth Officer. I can use my emergency powers.”
Sproat reached up and placed his hand on McQueen’s shoulder. It was forbidden for a warrior to touch a superior officer. McQueen snapped his head to the side and glared at the hand.
Sproat’s lips curled into a sorry smile. He jerked his hand back. “Chief Earth Officer, McQueen,” he said with his voice squeaking. “You have no need to worry. My men will provide you with the same quality of security your warriors have done for seventeen years. Your wife and son have nothing to fear.”
McQueen raised his hand and shook his finger in front of Sproat’s face. “If the secret of the virus has been let out and the pig people are going off the blue grass, we’ll all have something to fear.”
“Yes, Chief Earth Officer,” Sproat said, and now his voice was very high, like someone was choking him.
McQueen dropped his hand and turned away. “You should have someone look at that throat.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my throat,” Sproat said with a strained, but lower voice. “I just talk that way sometimes.”
“I’d still have it checked.”
Sproat put his chubby hand to his forehead and attempted to salute. “Is that an order, Chief Earth Officer?”
McQueen abruptly turned toward Sproat. “It’s your throat. Do what you want.”
Sproat dropped his hand and lowered his voice. “Yes, Chief Earth Officer.”
Studying Sproat’s dark eyes for a hint of what he trying to conceal, McQueen found nothing but ignorance. Maybe he could trick him into telling him what he was hiding. He crossed the room, sat in a plush leather armchair, and motioned for Sproat to come near.
Sproat strolled over and looked down at McQueen.
McQueen looked up at Sproat. “Captain Sproat,” he said with exaggerated compassion. “The warriors have been on strike for over two years. Should I continue to let them strike and bring the men who just trespassed onto the blue grass before the board?”
Sproat’s face relaxed. As if he knew something McQueen didn’t know, he became extra calm. “There is no need to bother the board with a simple mistake. This afternoon, when you take your son for a walk, I’ll have my men correct the situation.”
“I would appreciate that,” McQueen said; but every time he had taken his son outside, someone rummaged through his office; and the slob standing in front of him looked like just the sort of person who would do something like that. If it was him, and he was taking care of the scabs in the field, who had tramped down the blue grass, he wouldn’t have time to sneak in. If his office wasn’t disturbed today, then McQueen would have a pretty good idea the person rummaging through his office wasn’t Sproat.
Sproat smiled a cocky smile and held a salute. “If you need me, Chief Earth Officer, just call.”
McQueen placed his hands on the armrests of the armchair and pushed himself to a standing position. “I’ll do just that.”
Sproat dropped his salute, turned on his heavy heel, and hastened to the door. After he opened the door, he stepped out and intentionally slammed it. Two paintings of McQueen’s father’s farm, that his Dinky friend, Tommy, had painted, vibrated on the wall.
As McQueen crossed the room, his wife, Danielle, walked into the library. Her neat professional appearance always brightened a room. To others, she seemed unemotional. But McQueen knew she was always calm in a crisis. Now, something behind her intense brown eyes signaled she was disturbed.
She turned her cute body toward him. “John, that man didn’t have to close the door so forcefully. I have a bad feeling about him.”
Adjusting the paintings on the wall, McQueen nodded. “Me, too. In addition to slamming doors, when his voice rises, he sounds like he’s lying.”
“If he is, you’ll have to prove it.”
McQueen adjusted the painting or his father’s farm, just a tad. It was level. He turned toward Danielle. “How can I prove anyone is lying when everyone on the board outvotes me?”
“I’m not sure,’ Danielle said. “But if Sproat’s charging people to let them go off the blue grass, he’s going to be a wealthy man.”
McQueen felt a bad feeling crawling up his back. He shivered and shook it off. “I have never seen a bodyguard or a warrior as unhealthy as Sproat.”
“It’s not your fault, John.” Danielle flashed him a sweet smile and touched his arm. “They forced him on you.”
McQueen felt his face flush with shame. “I have become a Chief Earth Officer in name only.” He placed his hand on the door of the book cabinet. “I’m going to look up the best way to use my emergency powers.”
Danielle held up one finger. “Remember, without the old warriors, you have no power.”
McQueen didn’t want to admit it, but she was right. “If I can find the old warriors,” he said with determination. “I don’t care what the price is. I’m going to hire them back. The old warriors will have no trouble keeping those pig people off the green lands.”
Danielle turned her head to one side. Like a satin waterfall, her long black hair flowed over her perfect breasts.
McQueen didn’t want to talk anymore, but Danielle continued. “Sproat couldn’t have attained the rank of captain without some sense of duty.”
“If he has any sense of duty, he doesn’t show it.”
“Maybe he just needs a little more time.”
Peering through the window, McQueen studied the tramped down blue grass. “When the regular warriors were on duty, Blue Town ran itself. Fear of the virus controlled the pig people. If Sproat can’t control his own eating habits, how can he control Blue Town?”
Danielle flashed him a shy smile. “You could be suspicious for nothing.”
In thought, McQueen rubbed his forehead. “I haven’t seen Tommy in a long while. I should go to the Grotto, pay him a visit. If anything’s going on, he’ll know all about it.”
“Don’t let anyone see you going off the blue grass. It would be a bad example for the pig people to see a Chief Earth Officer who is not afraid of the virus. And it will be worse if they see you talking to a Dinky.”
“I thought after seventeen years the people would learn to live with the earth and be ready to learn about the fake virus.”
“It would be nice,” Danielle said and placed her arm around his waist. “But the people and the earth are just not ready for it. They still act like pigs.”
“Maybe someday they’ll advance and learn how to care for the real world.”
“Maybe our son will be fortunate enough to live in a town without blue grass.”
McQueen slid his arm around Danielle.
She turned and embraced him. “When it happens, he’ll be ready. You’ve trained him since he was a baby.”
McQueen looked into her eyes.
As she spoke, the dreamy look of peace and happiness intensified. “I love your symmetric muscles,” she said. “She ran her hand down his arms. “I love your strong arms, but most of all, I love how you move. You have the sinuous grace of a dancer.”
McQueen felt his face reddened. “You mean you wouldn’t rather be with a Humpty Dumpty shaped pig person?”
“Don’t be silly, John.”
“How about a Dinky?”
“Tommy’s cute and he’s okay for laughs, but he’s too little.” She flashed McQueen a beautiful and mischievous smile. “But he would make a good pet.”
McQueen smiled a faint smile. Although Tommy had a sharp mind, he and his mutant friends were about half the height of other people, and their big floppy ears and round adorable eyes caused their faces to look comic. McQueen was going to remind Danielle that Tommy was just as intelligent as or more intelligent than most people; but not wanting to spoil the moment, he let it pass.
“Now that you’ve decided to stay with me,” McQueen said, “what would you like to do?”
Danielle placed her finger to her lips and gave him a coy smile. “I would love to walk with you in the freedom of the green forest. We could listen to the sparkling springs, swim in the green lakes, and spend a few precious moments in the real world.”
“If the Orangeville experiment works, we will have a sample of what the world should be like. We’ll even be able to stand in the rain without being afraid someone will see us.”
“Maybe if you took a few people to Orangeville, they would realize why they must stay on the blue grass.”
“The Pygmies have permitted a few people to visit, but they only wanted to take from the recovering land. The Pigmies have told me that before we can even think about letting pig people live on the farms and in the forests around Blue Town, it will be twenty years.”
“I didn’t know it would take that long.”
“Long ago it wouldn’t have taken so long, but even though honesty lies in the heart of every person on earth, it has been buried by corruption and greed.” McQueen waved his hand and gestured toward the blue grass outside the window. “If the people are going off the blue grass, this section of the planet may not recover at all.” Feeling a pang of extreme discomfort, he continued. “If they find out there is no virus, eventually they’ll find Orangeville. The bad part is that if they get that far and they break the dam, the water in the canals will overflow and wash away the new plants and aquatic life.”
“But what about Niagara Falls?” Danielle said, and her forehead lined with concentration. “The water is still deep there.”
“After we opened the gates and tried to get the generators operating, the canals went down a good meter. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but more than ever the canals need water for plant and tree growth. If they don’t get water and we get another heat wave like the one that melted the blue asphalt, the canals will become like the rest of the planet.”
“You mean they’ll dry up?”
“Many rivers and lakes have already dried up from global boiling and dumping crack water down into deep holes. Even though the cracking companies claimed the dumping was completely safe and had no effect on any environment, in every case, the loss of water caused droughts; and then the drying winds came.”
For a moment, a sullen look appeared on Daniel’s face. “I can’t believe those cracking people are too ignorant to understand the mechanics of rainfall.”
“To top it off,” McQueen said with a rising hint of frustration, “heat lightning started fires that lasted for months.” He paused and tried to get the horrible history out of his mind. “And it doesn’t end. The dry winds still stir up red hot dust and smother the land.”
“That scares me,” Danielle said and shuddered. “If it keeps happening, the earth will never recover.”
“Then, our only hope will be the Orange Turn.”
“But we don’t know who the other person is, and for all we know, that person may already be dead.”
“Dead or alive, when, and if, the time comes, we’ll just have to find him or her.” He squinted one eye. “Are you sure you’re not the other person?”
A sour look formed on Danielle’s face. “I don’t even want to think about that.”
Turning toward the window, McQueen changed the subject. “There’s a full moon tonight. If there’s electricity, the TV signals might get through?”
“I sure miss those clear digital signals. Those pictures weren’t grainy and didn’t have a tiny sound.”
“After the super nova, the virus, or whatever it was, wiped out all the computers and digital screens, we were lucky the museums had few old TVs. we could put into service.”
“I wanted to watch the wheelbarrow people at the buffet.”
“It’s a shame entertainment has dropped to such a level.” He let out a muffled spasm of amusement. “Have one of their stomach’s exploded?”
I don’t know. Since you left for the tour of the water plants, I have only been able to get ghost images, and most of the time it’s a blizzard of snow.”
“That’s strange,” McQueen said. “Just before I left, I could get a relatively clear picture. Although it rolled and flicked, it was almost clear. I even had limited use of the phones.”
Suggestively, Danielle ran her finger down McQueen’s neck and unbuttoned the top button on his shirt. “More debris in the atmosphere always stops the signals.”
McQueen didn’t acknowledge her sexual signals. “If the people are sneaking off the blue grass they are polluting the atmosphere again.”
Danielle turned her head with a playful flick. “Maybe Sproat and his scabs are getting drunk on the job.” She pulled away from him and swayed her sensual body. Making soft, feminine sounds that arouse his senses, she walked backwards, her teasing dark eyes enticing him to follow.
He watched her midnight-black hair glisten, and an impulse to pull her close surged in his chest. “Maybe we should talk about this later.”
She reached out with both hands to draw him close.
As a wave of hot sensual energy whispered through his body, he took one step toward her.
Boom! The double doors to the room banged open. Sproat and twenty of his men rushed into the room and stood with their antidote guns drawn.
“McQueen!” Sproat shouted. “You are under arrest.”
The lard-bellied man on Sproat’s left pulled the lever on his gun and chambered an antidote bullet. “Arrest hell,” he screamed, and jerked the gun at McQueen. “We’re going to rip your little love nest apart.”
Danielle jumped in front of McQueen.
The lard-bellied man fired the gun.
The antidote bullet sank into her chest.
She fell to the floor.
Sproat’s nineteen other men took aim. McQueen ran through the library and out into the hall. Then he circled around and slunk behind Sproat’s men. In the short time Danielle had been laying on the floor, her clothes had been torn from her body and turned inside out. They were looking for the orange turn key. McQueen wanted to pick her up and run. When he bent over to lift her from the floor, one of Sproat’s men rushed toward him. The man had a horrible face. It was distorted, evil, brutal, and inhuman. McQueen wanted to at least lure that thing away from Danielle. He backed away.
Six of Sproat’s men grabbed him and fastened restraint bands around his hands and feet. Sproat stepped in front of him. “Sorry for the earlier charade.”
McQueen broke free and bolted toward the door.
The men grabbed him and slammed him against the wall.
The picture of his father’s farm crashed to the floor.
Struggling and staring at the broken glass and the sliced picture, he stopped trying to escape.
Sproat placed his heavy foot on the broken glass and ground it into the picture. Smiling, he wagged his finger at McQueen. “No tricks, McQueen.”
As if cowering in fright, McQueen relaxed and drew back. The men loosened their grips. He reared up and jerked toward Sproat. The men re-gripped and held him tight.
Sproat pointed to the orange safe. “You thought it was funny making me do stupid circus tricks to open that safe. Now it’s your turn to do circus tricks. You’re going to do what we tell you to do, and you’re going to do it for a long time.”
McQueen kicked his feet and wiggled his body. “Let me loose you stinking scabs. When I don’t make my monthly address the pig people will wonder what happened to me.”
“No problem.” As if it were a footstool, Sproat placed his glass impregnated boot on Danielle’s lifeless head and motioned to his men. “Search him.”
His men patted McQueen’s body. One put his hand in McQueen’s pocket and pulled out a knife. “No key, only this.”
For a moment, Sproat studied the knife, then waved his hand down. “He won’t need that.”
“Take anything you want,” McQueen said and struggled against his restraints. “I’m not going to speak.”
Sproat arrogantly leaned back. “You’ll speak every month, and you’ll give us the key. If you don’t, your son will suffer the same consequences as your wife.”
McQueen struggled against the restraining grasps of his captors. “When my bodyguard finds out what you’ve done, you’ll all be recycled.”
Sproat lifted his boot from Danielle’s head. “Oh, your buddy, Judd.” He laughed. “Tell him yourself. He’s right outside.” He motioned toward the window.
Outside, a steam car, billowing alarming volumes of white-gray smoke into the air, chugged over the tall blue grass and stopped in front of the window. The driver of the car turned and pointed to the two potbellied guards in dirty-brown uniforms standing on the steam car platform. Like hunters with a trophy kill, the guards held up Judd. His blue-faced, lifeless body’s lower extremities had been browned by exposure to something hot, and his clothing had been torn to shreds.