Thursday, May 17, 2018

5/17/18

Stealing Wings
Chapter 1, Sneak Peek

By E.S. Wynn


Date: 4th April, 2293
Location: Outskirts of the town of Zaitsev, Calav Beta, Arctostaphylos System (HD 12661)



Saint Von Mitternacht, patron saint of the genetically modified.

I'm five. Old enough to understand some things, not old enough to understand others. Old enough to understand that I am different. Old enough to understand that I have to keep it a secret. Not old enough to understand why.

Grandma keeps a rough carving of Saint Von Mitternacht on an end table near the silver disc that projects our television onto the wall. When the jasmine blooms, she places the flowers at the little statue's feet. When the oranges are in season, she places strips of peel there in offering. When we have visitors, she hides the carving behind a chair and throws a towel over it to hide it. We aren't any color of Catholic, but I suppose its human to cling to whatever hope for redemption, for divine guidance and protection you can, and we do.

It's human– though at age five, I wonder if I really am that. Am I human, as grandma says, or am I something else? Something less?

I haven't seen my mother since I was a toddler. Memories of her, of her face come in hazy shades, in tired smiles and frames of my tiny fists balled up in her grease-stained overalls. At five, I'm still young enough to watch the window that looks out over the parched, weed-spotted yard and the pavecrete road beyond, to wonder when she's coming back, wonder if this time will be the time I spot her walking in, her beaten red toolbox in one hand, the other brushing through the brown and wiry tufts of her rough-cut hair. It'll be a few more years before I give up, before grandma tells me the truth I already suspect. My mother is gone, lost, and she's not coming back.

Ellen Eisenherz. My mother. Signed all her early letters E.E. even though she and my father never married. She was registered with the Department of Licensing for Genetic Constructs as Ellen Meyers, was fitted with a subdermal licensing chip and worked any contract job for reactor techs that came along. Tagged and papered like all good citizens of the Commonwealth unlucky enough to carry the crossover-proof gene-tags that are the legacy of a time when corporations could splice together and brew up batches of “perfect” people, program them, own them, make legal slaves of them. The family story is that we have an ancestor who'd been born in a gene-vat, a prototype for the K-series of bodyguards and soldiers who had been genetically engineered by a twenty-second century megacorp called ChromaToZone. When faster-than-light travel finally opened the stars to humanity, this ancestor, along with many others like her, escaped Earth and made her way to the frontier. K-1, she was called, and if she took another name for herself, I don't know what it might have been. All I know is that she rode in steerage on a colony ship bound for the furthest planet from the core that she could find. Couldn't tell you much more than that. No one in the family could.

With the exception of the twin great uncles who fought and died during the Centauri Uprising of 2245, my tagged family has stuck mostly to the rim of the Commonwealth, followed the frontier even as it was pushed further and further out from Earth. My father was pure human, unlicensed, unpapered, a mutt of chance and nature, free to do as he pleased– and that's exactly what he did. In her innocence and naivete, my mother never stopped loving him, held her own hope that he'd return someday, but my grandmother knew better. Dad abandoned my mother three days after he found out that she was pregnant, and no one has seen or heard from him since. No letters, no vids or calls. Nothing, and I've never bothered to try to look him up on the network. All I know about him at age five is that he was a pilot, dark-haired and wild, that the last time anyone saw him, he'd contracted to fly a jaunt on a freighter full of cattle bound for a colony at the other end of Commonwealth space. I doubt he knew how my mother died, how the ship she was contracted to run three months with as an assistant tech ran hot on a jaunt through the Vaulcouleur system and the rest of the crew locked her in the reactor room and let her die because she was "just a GMO," or a "Moe," for short, using the racial slur that's flown too free among Commonwealth normals since the Centauri Uprising. Radiation in the core cooked her until she was just a stain on the floor, but she saved the whole crew before she died, put the reactor assembly into a rotating on/off diagnostic cycle that slowed the ship but got everyone else home. Instead of honoring her, being thankful of her sacrifice, I heard later that her crewmates cursed her for the two extra weeks in transit her last-minute field fix cost them.

But at the age of five, I still idealize my mother. She's very much alive in my mind, her brilliant blue eyes crinkling at the edges with stress, with exhaustion, with the weight of always being less important than everyone else around her. I think of her when grandma calls me Ellie, and I'm proud that my mother's name lives on as my middle name, my nickname. My young mind wants to be like her, sees the strength, the skill she put into every turn of a wrench, every spot-soldered and wire-wound frontier engine fix that saved a crew and got them all home to their families. In my mind, she's always been a hero, misguided, too passive perhaps, but a hero still. An inspiration, as much as a warning against weakness.

I'm five, and on April 4th, 2293, one month and six days before my sixth birthday, I watch my sixty-seven year old grandmother hobble into our home and bolt the door with shaky hands. She's mud-splashed and bruised, but since my grandfather died, there's rarely been a day that she goes into town when she isn't. Today is different, though. I catch the stagger in her walk, the way she winces as she crosses to the bedroom, pushes the one shell of birdshot she has into her centuries-old, break-action hunting shotgun. There's a rumble on the road, and I run to the window to see if it might be mom. Instead, two men in faded shirts stamped with the logo of the Commonwealth Navy throw open the doors of a sagging, rusted hovertruck. One of them has a baseball bat, yells my grandmother's name.

"Nemea! Fucking clone-spawn bitch!"

"Ellie!" Grandma hisses. She's standing at the door to the bedroom with the shotgun in her hands. There's no fear in her eyes, only fire, only iron. Looking back, I know now that she must have been terrified, that she knew she was stuck between the rage of two racist drunks and the law that would put her in jail for even owning a firearm. "Hide!" She whispers, gesturing toward the bed. Obedient, scared, I nod, dart into the darkness and fold myself up in the dusty clothes and boxes wedged under the mattress.

The men come. They beat on the door. They break windows and hammer on the walls. They stomp around the back garden, leave boot tracks all through the fertile mud. I listen, and while my Grandma Nemea stands silent, wary, the two men shout hate at the house. My grandmother and I stay out of sight, but I never see her set down the shotgun. Even after the men have left, even as the hovertruck rumbles away on struggling, keening suspensor coils, she carries it with her around the house. She holds it while I help her clean the mud and spit off her synthwool cloak. She holds it while she draws water for a stew of vegetables from our garden and meat from the colony market in town. It keeps her company, sits in her lap while we eat, and only at night, when we curl up together in the modest bed we share does she set it beside the nightstand, breathe a heavy sigh.

It's a scene I see too often growing up. At five, it's the first time I've seen grandma followed home, the first time I've seen her hard-eyed and waiting with her shotgun in her hands, but it won't be the last time. I can't say how many times I lived through scenes like that, how many times we had to patch the sheet plastic that became the norm for our windows because we couldn't afford to replace the glass.

She was tough, my grandmother. She fought as hard as she could, in the ways that she could, but she also knew how fragile our life together was, how easily she could find herself locked up, dead or worse. In the eyes of the law, she was the lowest class of citizen. Marked like a dog, licensed and papered.

But I wasn't, back then. My birth certificate says that I am the child of a previous relationship of my father's. According to the records, I was adopted by way of a marriage that no one bothered to file paperwork on. We were poor because my grandma wanted me to have a future, because she bribed every doctor who tested my blood, who screened my genes for disease markers and corporate tags. In the eyes of the law, I was fully human, but she had to buy that status every step of the way. In the eyes of the law, I was a person, pure and unadulterated by the tampering of man. That was her legacy. That was what allowed me the freedom to fight, to make a difference in all of the ways that I have in the decades since.



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E.S. Wynn is the author of over 70 books.

Stealing Wings: A Novel of the Cygnus War is available in print and digital formats through Thunderune Publishing.


From the back cover:
One of my ancestors was a science experiment. She was cutting edge technology a century and a half ago, but then the world fell apart and she ran away. She ran away, and every child in her line who carries the same genes has had to pay for it in all the years since.


I am one of those children. I have genetically modified ancestry. I can't legally own a gun, can't serve in the military and can't be licensed to fly a starship.


But I do anyway. I do, because so far, no one knows about the GMO in my family tree.


My name is Tessa Ellen Eisenherz. This is my story. This is how I learned to fly. This is how I got involved in The Cygnus War.


This is me, stealing my wings.


Get your copy here: http://www.thunderune.com/2017/09/stealing-wings.html



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