Science Fiction Short Story "Accountable" Part I
Grappling with Short Fiction
I've been writing nonfiction for many years, first in archaeology, and then in other fields. One thing I always wanted to try my hand at was fiction. I'd grown up with science fiction, so that seemed a natural place to start. People tell you to write about what you know, so I combined the two. Old "E.C." here never went anywhere, but I'm personally fond of him and his antics. My most successful ficiton to date has been my children's book, Michael and the New Baby. About my short stories, however, one kind editor took a moment and let me in on a little secret. The story I sent him was a terrific novel outline but too much for a simple short story. So, while I figured short fiction was the place to start becasue it was ... short ... it seems novels might be part of my future somewhere down the road, but I just don't seem to have the knack for writing short. What do you think?
I had the opportunity to interview the editor of several science fiction magazines a few years ago. He said the secret to learning to write compelling short fiction was to read plenty of it, particularly the fiction that didn't get published. He said you learned a lot from that. So, here's my contribution to all you ambitious, budding fiction writers out there. Here's "Accountable" by J.S. Brooks, in two parts.
Accountable: Part I
August 24, 2026
Mark Jeffries, founder of the fledgling biotech company New Horizons, strode across the vast stage to the center stage podium. Jeffries stood silently at center stage until he was sure all eyes were upon him. Projecting an assurance he did not truly feel, painfully aware that his future hinged on this moment, Jeffries said, “Ladies and gentlemen, today your faith in New Horizons pays off. Meet the future of peacekeeping.”
Jeffries swept his arm toward stage left. All eyes followed the gesture. A collective gasp rang out around the room as a massive figure stepped from the shadows.
As the impossibly powerful man moved forward tentatively, eyeing the crowd, Jeffries crowed, “This is the result of your investments over the years since we first discovered the frozen Neanderthal child in that high mountain pass. This is the first Neanderthal Human hybrid. He has all the power and instinct for action of his Neanderthal ancestors, plus the reasoning capacity and communication skills of a modern man. Of course,” Jeffries added with a chuckle, “we’ve genetically altered our boy to be intensely loyal to us, his master…, um, rather the human’s he serves and protects.”
Nervous laughter filled the auditorium. An ex-Marine, as physically fit a specimen of unadulterated humanity as anyone could ask for, now joined the hybrid on the stage and a demonstration followed, revealing some of the abilities of this new species. The body armor and weaponry for the new peacekeeper, which he hefted as if it weighed nothing, could not be lifted easily by the Marine. In every physical event, the big boned, olive skinned hybrid was faster. In the final act, with both men sweating profusely, each was given the opportunity to attempt to subdue the other. The ex-Marine failed miserably, the Neanderthal Human hybrid pinned the angry one-time soldier in less than two seconds and recited his rights in a oddly soft, almost whispering voice that was incongruous with his mass and brooding facial features, souvenirs of his half Neanderthal past. It was truly impressive. “Remember,” Jeffries interjected, “the average hybrid woman will be able to deck the most powerful defensive lineman we have with a single blow. Terrorists won’t stand a chance!”
This was followed by a question and answer session for both the proud founder and his progeny, aptly named Adam as he was indeed a new man. A small, cross looking man provided the final question.
“Mr. Jeffries, we all invested in this project. We believe in it. But the average man on the street has not. Why should he accept Adam here? Why won’t he be scared of your creation?”
Jeffries responded smoothly with an almost predatory grin, “Hey, everybody loves Superman, right? Well, here he is in the flesh.”
From somewhere in the crowd, another voice piped up, “You mean Adam can fly too?”
Looking startled and a bit concerned, the towering giant asked, “You have men that can fly?”
The meeting broke up in laughter.
Jeffries personal assistant approached him after everyone had left. “That seemed to have gone very well, sir. But that question remains. Why should the world accept this new species? After all, as a race we don’t handle strangers very well.”
Jeffries replied with a sneer.
“The world has no choice, Simons. These guys are already here and, unlike my poor ancestors, they’re way too strong for any mob to lynch! Besides, when I offer their services to the world’s governments, they’ll be falling all over themselves to get hybrid peacekeepers. Who can resist a force that can subdue a stadium riot without breaking a sweat? It’s the ultimate deterrent. Besides, we do have a bad habit of not being able to handle strangers well. I’m counting on it. We puny humans will be so busy banding together, us versus them, that we won’t have time to attack each other. By this time next year, Simons, in 2027, we will enter a new age of peace, courtesy of New Horizons. And that will make us all very rich!”
August 24, 2346
“Alright, remember, separate and subdue only. Stun guns and tranquilizers all the way. No matter how ugly it gets, keep those hand cannons locked down. I don’t need to tell you people what will happen if the city dome’s breached. Never met man or clan that could go native and breathe Mars Natural. Everybody have your map of Sojourner City up?” the High Strike Clan’s Chief asked as his suppression force, family clan all, left the Peacekeeper’s air lock and headed into the troubled outpost.
Even without the city grid map provided by the ocular implant in his right eye, the Chief would have had no trouble locating the disturbance. Screams led the way.
“Another standard street fight,” his wife grumbled as they approached.
Human combatants swarmed the street, punching, gouging, and kicking each other. Some were down, apparently unconscious or dead.
“Humans!” sneered another.
“Can that! We serve and protect.” The Clan Chief said, although without feeling. Quietly, he added, “Divide and conquer.”
The peacekeepers formed up at once. The Chief’s wife gave his hand a quick squeeze and blew him a kiss, sweet promise of happiness to come, then took her position. They moved forward in lockstep.
“Hold line!” the Chief snapped as they started to move down the wide center boulevard toward the rioting mob.
“Let ‘em get a good look at us,” he added to cover his growing unease.
Something was wrong but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Worrying like an old woman, he thought, trying to shake the nagging doubt. Brushing both thought and doubt aside, he instead succumbed to his natural instinct for action.
“Move in,” roared the Chief and his forces advanced in long, ground eating strides. In seconds they were among the combatants, using their shields to divide the brawling men and women. They plunged forward with surprising ease, as people locked in mortal combat suddenly broke apart and melted away.
As they reached the center of the crowd, the Chief belatedly realized what was wrong. There was no blood. There were no twisted limbs or twitching bodies. In fact, as he looked down the wedge on either side he saw that no one had to step over any of the fallen. As they moved forward, the downed bodies disappeared.
“Ambush! Stun ‘em all!” he roared.
The sound of the mob changed, raised to a fever pitch. People spilled out of buildings on either side of the boulevard. Those in front of his forces melted back into a growing ring. In seconds, the peacekeepers were surrounded. Worse, the people who came out of the buildings were wearing uniforms of the radical human group Clean Line, sworn to eliminate the Neanderthal Human hybrids at any cost. And they carried heavy weapons, weapons with armor piercing rounds no doubt.
His troops fired, humans fell around them stunned and twitching. They concentrated on their rear, trying to open a gap and escape back to the lock. Clean Line opened fire. It all went to hell. The Chief saw his men and women begin to fall.
When his wife fell, the red haze of bloodlust tinged the Chief’s vision and long suppressed hate flowed. Screaming, his hand cannon roared. Humans fell. Attacking humans. Humans dropping weapons. Fleeing humans. They all fell. When the haze lifted, real carnage filled the boulevard. Ten smoking hand cannons lay at his feet. His fallen troops, his extended family, all lay dead about him as well. The Chief howled his horror and rage. The red haze fell again. He moved out!
August 24, 2347
Ezekiel Cenotaph woke with a gasp, his head jerking up from his desk, hand reaching for a weapon dropped long ago—always a bad sign.
The dream forced his mind back to the attack, his escape, to memories he was loath to relive. Grief stricken, he’d left Mars on the transport that had brought his forces down from their orbital outpost. He had not returned to the outpost, however. In his failed attempt to defend his troops, he had broken many laws and was now a criminal who could be shot on sight. So, he’d taken the transport, disabled its transponders and ID markers, and proceeded on a slow, looping course, heading for Earth. Like all Clan Chiefs, he’d had his escape plan. There were too many ways to break the law as a Chief, too few ways to seek justice when accused. So, he sent his coded story through military back channels to the Clan Council. Learning the appalling truth of what happened, they absolved him as humans never would, placed him among the roll of the dead at the ambush, and agreed to aid him in any way they could while he went into hiding.
He used the “Chemical College” injections he’d purchased on the black market and gave himself a quick PhD in archaeological investigations—a dangerous field much to his liking. He used the ship’s medic to alter his facial features, making him appear human enough walk among them.
While he considered it personally revolting, the new look reminded him of his new resolve. He would defy the blood lust he had discovered lurking within himself. Never again would he raise a weapon in anger! He shuddered every time he looked in the mirror now. It was his penance. He gave himself a new name, Ezekiel Cenotaph.
Using the false work records that came with the learning program, he took a job as Professor of Archaeology at Indiana University. His specialty was early 21st century historical archaeology, a specialized field no one else wanted. Nobody was willing to brave the awful chemical stew staining the soil of those sites, pollutants so toxic no insurance would cover anyone working such dangerous earth.
Cenotaph hoped his new career would answer burning questions about his origins. The android teachers of his childhood told him that his was a failed and flawed race that had fallen victim to its passions. As the story went, his people once populated Earth’s moon, a verdant world-let filled with life. There his race had evolved and prospered … until they destroyed their world in a global war of unthinkable violence. Humans had discovered the last survivors barely alive in half destroyed bunkers deep within the now dead moon. Humans saved them and channeled their intense passions into useful works as peacekeepers.
Nobody really believed it. But they had no chance to disprove the claim and deep down they all felt guilty, in spite of themselves. Cenotaph, the newly minted archaeologist, was determined to find out what really happened. Archaeology gave him a way to view the past free of human interpretation. It was a fortunate choice. As luck would have it, archaeology led him to his maker. His childhood teachers had lied.
“Hey, Cave Man, wake up!” Phoenix Bridges called cheerfully to him from the library when she heard him moving. “You’re lovely wife has good news.”
“Gawd,” Cenotaph groaned, “sometimes you make me regret you ever took my class.”
“Shame,” she replied. “We outlaws have to stick together.”
“Awright, evil clone, you’ve got my attention. What’s the good news?” Cenotaph asked as he entered the room, rubbing his eyes. Like Cenotaph, Bridges had escaped the law and started a new life in hiding. She was the fourth generation of a line of clones intended to house the mind of an actress who should have been dead in the late twenty-first century. But, after growing up independent with foster parents managing a large farm in central Indiana, she found she couldn’t stand the idea of a new mind subsuming her own—living all but the last year or so of her life as a bystander to the ancient diva. So, once the process had begun, the old crone’s memories were installed first, and everyone relaxed (sure she was going to accept the actress entirely), she faked her death – it’s hard to tell human from animal parts once they’ve been through an automated combine, especially when you throw in clothing for good measures. Carrying the actress’s memories of multiple lifetimes but none of the rest of her—the controlling parts of her – the terrified clone fled. She took up a new identity as Phoenix Bridges, altered her appearance (although hints of the beautiful starlet of old still showed through), and in time came to Indiana University. She just happened to take Cenotaph’s archaeology class. And the rest, as they say, is history.
“Your robot diggers have found the … cenotaph,” she answered with eyebrows arched.
She snickered. He groaned.
As they suited up, him in personal body armor, another souvenir of his Peacekeeper days, and she in an environmental suit, he asked her, “Go over the site with me one more time as you understand it. What are we up against?”
“You’re digging droids have confirmed what the papers of the day were reporting. Beneath the vault, once the central crypt is pushed aside, is a short passageway leading down to a single chamber. Within that chamber is a single cryogenic crypt filled with our ‘beloved’ mutual creator, Mr. Mark Jeffries.”
Before he’d been diagnosed with a degenerative and eventually deadly disease, Jeffries’ firm New Horizons had gone on to successfully create both a human cloning process and a mind recorder that was guaranteed to extract every iota of what made humans human and transfer it intact into a clone. To avoid conflict with certain groups, New Horizons also developed fast growth clones, bodies that arrived developed to the age of 18 in tanks in months. However, clones raised from birth by foster families made better hosts for fully developed minds and ethical arguments were swept aside when people realized there was a realistic opportunity to extend lives indefinitely. As fate would have it, Jeffries’ disease made a transfer impossible and all his efforts switched to cryogenic technologies. Mark Jeffries had no intention of “going quietly into that good night.”
“What about security?” Cenotaph asked as he holstered his weapons.
“None detected. Don’t expect any, really. After all, Jeffries wants to be found and revived. An ego like that believes he’ll be greeted with a flourish of trumpets and hero’s laurels. We’re likely to encounter more resistance from bats.” Bridges replied.
“Won’t Jeffries be in for a nasty surprise?”
“Just don’t kill him if you can bring him around.”
Before either put on their helmets, she kissed him and asked, “You know, we’re in a unique position. This time our arms are definitely long enough to box with God!”
Cenotaph didn’t even ask. Saddled with that old crone’s memories, Phoenix was full of odd trivia and obscure quotes.
The archaeology site they spoke of was in Crown Hill, the massive urban cemetery of the former city of Indianapolis. Almost every major metropolis had slowly died over the course of the twenty-first century, replaced by vast oceans of scattered communities linked to virtual job sites via home offices. People took their various talents from one job to the next, often in multiple fields, without ever leaving their creature comforts behind. Being deemed dangerous places full of environmentally hazardous materials and far too easily targeted by terrorists, the abandoned cities had been sealed beneath massive domes. The dome exteriors had been landscaped and dotted with suburban estates and parklands.
Parking within the cavernous maintenance port, Cenotaph and Bridges opened the access lock. Once through, they stood on a catwalk near the dome’s crown with the entire city sprawled below them in the gloom. Bulbs scattered here and there cast dim light, mostly upon key support structures, including several one-time apartment and office towers that had been cut off around the fifty-story mark and turned into pylons. The city spread beneath them like a congregation of ghosts.
“Where’s our ride?” Phoenix asked, looking over to where the maintenance dirigible was supposed to be floating alongside the catwalk.
“There’s no scheduled work listed for today. In fact, the Dome Commission told me I’d have the place to myself for at least a year.” Ezekiel responded, checking his wrist computer. “No emergency work listed here either. Damn!”
Cenotaph tried to contact his robotic excavators. All archaeologists were required to use armored mech-diggers for the initial discovery phase. Archaeology sites were simply too hazardous to send in a living crew first. Dig into a pocket of caustic gas or roving liquid waste and a man could find himself fleshless up to the elbows in seconds, despite protective body armor. And Cenotaph’s mechs were specially programmed. They knew his goals, the site parameters, and his writing style. The mech crew chief actually composed and transmitted the initial site reports to the appropriate committees, freeing Ezekiel up for more constructive work. Of course, in this case the crew chief was instructed to leave out any details concerning their final goal. Cenotaph did not want to draw any unwanted attention to himself or his work. Not yet.
“No response from the site.” Cenotaph snarled.
“There are no access stairs at this level. It’ll take a while to get to the lock at the dome’s base.” Bridges observed.
Glancing left and right, Cenotaph came to a decision. “Hang on,” was all he said as he reached out and gathered Bridges tightly to himself with one arm. With a roar, Cenotaph vaulted the catwalk rail, leaping into the void.
[So ends Part 1. Is it a cliffhanger if the main character jumps?]
Comments 3 comments
Another Story from the Author
More by this Author
Captain Kirk and his die cast shuttle craft! From a late 1960s television series canceled after three measly seasons, Star Trek has grown over the decades to include eleven full length feature films (counting...
If sinusitis just won't let you go, your problem may not be all in your head ... as you'll soon see.
This short article was inspired by a brief discussion with a pastor I know and the arrival of the tract below. God prods us in innovative ways (but that's another story). The pastor stated he'd received a challenge from...