Newts

Hellraiser

KEVIN J. ANDERSON is the author of nearly 100 novels, 47 of which have appeared on national or international bestseller lists; he has over 20 million books in print in thirty languages. He has won or been nominated for the Nebula Award, Bram Stoker Award, the SFX Reader's Choice Award, and New York Times Notable Book. By any measure, he is one of the most popular writers currently working in the genre.

His novel ENEMIES & ALLIES chronicles the first meeting of Batman and Superman in the 1950s during the Cold War. Also for HarperCollins/DC, Anderson wrote LAST DAYS OF KRYPTON, chronicling the end of Superman’s planet.

Anderson has coauthored eleven books in the DUNE saga with Brian Herbert, including the forthcoming WINDS OF DUNE. Herbert and Anderson are co-producers on a major new film of DUNE from Paramount.
Anderson's popular epic SF series, "The Saga of Seven Suns," is his most ambitious work; all seven volumes were just released in paperback. He is currently at work on a sweeping fantasy trilogy, “Terra Incognita,” about sailing ships, sea monsters, and the crusades. The first novel, THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, was released in June.

As an innovative companion project to “Terra Incognita,” Anderson cowrote (with wife Rebecca Moesta) the lyrics for an ambitious rock CD based on EDGE OF THE WORLD. Performed by the new supergroup Roswell Six for ProgRock Records, the CD is a groundbreaking project featuring performances by rock legends from Dream Theater, Asia, Saga, Kansas, Rocket Scientists, Shadow Gallery, and others.

He has written numerous STAR WARS projects, including the Jedi Academy trilogy, Darksaber, the Young Jedi Knights series (with Moesta), and Tales of the Jedi comics from Dark Horse. Fans might also know him from his X-FILES novels or Dean Koontz’s FRANKENSTEIN: PRODIGAL SON. He has published comics from DC, Marvel, IDW, Wildstorm, Topps, and Dark Horse.

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During what should have been the ring colony’s Independence Day celebration, the mood in the family habitat was somber. Rex Hollings stared through the viewing window toward the pastel clouds of Saturn. Thanks to the mellowing influence of his implant, he wore a placid smile, aware of and yet immune to the misery and dread all around him. The others were incapable of being so stable in a time of crisis.

Rex admired the planet’s gentle beauty. The majestic ring arced up and caught sunlight, glittering with a spray of rocks where the tightly knit group of Worthies had built habitation modules, storage depots, greenhouse domes. All those artificial structures should have formed the backbone of a carefully engineered society. A magnificent colony. Standing alone, Rex considered the grand aspirations of visionary Ardet Hollings, who had founded the Worthies.

Now there were three empty seats at the dinner table. All families had suffered similar losses in the recent space battle.

As the emotional currents moved around him, Rex imagined himself as a rock in a fast-flowing stream, as in the library images he liked to view. Images of natural beauty were the only parts of Earth that Ardet had allowed them to see, claiming that everything else was too corrupt. He found the lovely landscape scenes very soothing, the rushing waters, the crashing ocean waves, the silvery waterfalls. Rex had never visited Earth, and he never would, especially not now.

Though he could not personally experience extreme moods, he still recognized the agitation from his mother and his two sisters-in-law. It was like learning a foreign language. Even little Max was affected by the tension; the boy clung fussily to his Uncle Rex, who was two years younger than his father. Rex picked up his unsettled nephew, whispering soft words that soothed him. Max stopped crying, giggled once, then played with his uncle’s hair. They both looked out the window. “See the planet? Isn’t it pretty?” As a first-born, Max would never be subjected to the implant, or the operation. If Rex hadn’t been so calm, he might have envied the little boy.

Mother emerged from the kitchen unit, forcing a bright smile. She looked wrung-out and pale, overworked, overwhelmed, but not willing to surrender any ground to Fate. She would keep doing what she must, regardless of the circumstances. As the wife of Ardet Hollings, she had always been an excellent example for other Worthy women to emulate, filling her role, doing her tasks, never overstepping the boundaries. Rex thought she was perfect. Even knowing the terrible things that had happened to the colony, and what they could expect from the Earth military forces, her job was to manage their home and keep the family unit intact. Mother would die before she gave up any of those tasks, no matter what outside threat might be coming their way.

“Today is our special day, so we have a feast. Twenty-one years ago today Ardet led us away from Earth and brought us here to form our model society.” She said the phrases she had memorized. Her husband had written the original Independence Day speech, and the words had become canon. “We came here to find peace, despite the hardships we knew we would have to face and without interference from outsiders.”

Rex intoned the benediction along with his two sisters-in-law, “Peace despite hardship.” He handed the now-happy toddler back to Ann, tapping Max on the nose and making him giggle one last time before the meal.

Mother brought out platters of fresh vegetables grown in the greenhouse domes. At the end of his shift that day, Rex had brought home the best from the harvest, far more than they really needed to eat. There were ears of bright yellow corn, bowls of green beans, leafy salads dressed with spicy herbed sauces. Tofumeat added extra protein.

With all greenhouse systems perfectly functional, at last, the productivity in the domes was enough to feed a population beyond even Ardet’s greatest dreams -- and now that so many colonists had died, there was extra food for the table. Silver linings. Rex smiled at the thought. He served himself sliced tomatoes so red they made the eyes ache.

“There isn’t much reason to celebrate,” grumbled Ann as she took her seat next to one of the empty spots. When Max fussed, she set the toddler on her knee and absently shushed him. Rex offered to take the boy, but Ann shook her head.

Mother would not let anything derail her purpose. “It is still our Independence Day. We have always celebrated it, and we’ll do so again this year. Our men would want it that way.”

“Who knows what will happen next year?” Rex said, meaning to be optimistic. He let events flow toward him and accepted whatever came. He, like so many others of his generation, was kept on an even keel, cooperative, causing no trouble. Ardet had wanted it that way.

Instead, his comment stung the others there. Rex could see expressions fall and felt their turbulent anxiety: grief for lost husbands, fear of the inevitable end of their way of life, anger at the enemy that had robbed the Worthies of their future. No matter how brave their deaths had been while standing against the invaders, the men were still dead.

“I’m . . . sorry for what I said. It was insensitive.”

“That’s all right, Rex. You can’t help it,” Mother said.

Dark-eyed Jen, the widow of his brother Ian, took a seat across from Rex, moving as if in a daze. She had full lips, a lush figure, and a once-sparkling personality that had made her an extremely desirable mate. Ian had been the envy of many Worthies when she’d accepted his proposal of marriage, and Ardet himself had blessed the union. Rex had been very pleased for both of them, hoping they would have many children . . . but there hadn’t been time. He could sense Jen’s sorrow at that now, the suffocating weight of lost opportunities.

It all flowed past him. He was a rock in a stream. That was as much as the implant, and his altered body, allowed him to be.

Since Rex was the only “man” there, Mother asked him to say a brief prayer for Lee and Ian, as well as their father and all of the fallen heroes. Rex mouthed the memorized words in his thin, piping voice. Then they all joined in an uninspired but adequate recitation of Ardet’s traditional Independence Day benediction. When he finished speaking, everyone murmured, “As Ardet said.”

Giving him a shy smile, Jen served Rex one of the ears of corn, took a smaller one for herself, then passed the plate down to where Ann was struggling with Max while scooping up some beans. Ann had a round face and curly brown hair. When her husband was still alive, she had kept herself beautiful for him, but in the months since Lee had fallen, she’d had little opportunity to do so, especially with caring for Max.

Rex knew that Ann struggled to be strong, to follow Mother’s example; Worthy women were groomed to be exceptionally competent in their well-defined areas of responsibility, and to rely on the men to fulfill their own duties. But not even Ardet, with his grand dreams and detailed societal models, had envisioned the possibility of an entire stratum vanishing practically overnight.

Ann asked, “How soon do you suppose the DPs will be here?” She spoke as if it were casual mealtime conversation, though Rex could hear the tension, like brittle glass in her voice.

“I’ll have no such talk at the table.” Mother passed the salad bowl around again and urged them to eat. “This isn’t the time for it.”

“I’m afraid,” Jen said in a small voice, looking directly at Rex. He glanced away, knowing what she wanted from him but unable to give it. He felt so sorry for her.

The Democratic Progressives had dispatched a retaliatory force to crush them, and everyone knew it was only a matter of time. The Worthies had already sacrificed all their fighting men against the first small exploratory force that had come to Saturn. Ardet, Lee, Ian, and the other men in the Worthy settlement had defeated the enemy that day, but at incredible cost to themselves. The remaining colonists would have no chance when Earth’s reinforcements arrived at Saturn. For months now, Rex had felt the uneasy panic wafting among the colony survivors like the wind from a laboring air recycler.

But he remained calm. All newts remained calm. Ardet had thought it for the best.

After the meal, his belly full, Rex helped out in the kitchen unit, cleaning dishes, recycling scraps. Though Worthy men did not do such work, newts were allowed to perform some duties traditionally reserved for women. Besides, Rex had designed or refined some of the household recycling systems himself, and he knew how to keep them functioning at peak efficiency.

Jen offered to help him while Ann and Mother played with Max in the main living area. One of Ardet’s old recorded speeches played on the screen; crowds of exuberant new colonists cheered, giddy with their recent separation from Earth and assured of a bright future if only they followed the rigid Worthy plan.

Jen stood uncomfortably close to Rex in the cramped kitchen unit. He used a squeegee to scrape food into a compost-recycler and stored the serving plates in the sanitizer, which used water reclaimed from the abundant ice in Saturn’s rings. For a while, she made light conversation, though he could hear a deep and desperate huskiness to her voice, a longing and a need. After a long pause, Jen said in a very low whisper, “Rex, I ache every time I see you. Do you know how much you remind me of Ian? You look so much like him.”

“I am his brother. We’ve always looked a lot alike.”

She slipped her arms around his waist. “Face me.”

He felt awkward, interrupted in his work, but he dutifully turned. He looked at Jen’s oval face, her delicate chin. Both of his brothers’ wives were beautiful women, yet Rex felt no desire for his sisters-in-law. Still, he loved them deeply. Jen must have seen it on his face. He stroked her hair, trying to calm her, as he had done with Max.

Growing bolder, she pressed her soft breasts against his chest, then tilted her face. She kissed him, at first tentatively, then ferociously. Her lips were moist and pleasant, warm, wanting more than he was capable of giving. “I miss him so much, Rex. I’m so lonely.”

“We’re all lonely.” He gently extricated himself, patted her on the shoulder, as a brother would, and reminded her of what she already knew. “I’m not entirely like Ian. I’m missing some of my parts.”

Though he had not intended to upset her in any way, he experienced her reaction like whitecaps crashing against a sea cliff. Another library image from Earth . . . Rebuffed, Jen backed to the door of the kitchen unit. He could not experience the same reactions, with all the highs and lows of passion clipped from him, but he very much wanted to understand. “I’m sorry,” he said automatically, hoping it would defuse the tension simmering in her. “Don’t be angry.”

Dark hair swirled around her as she tossed her head and looked at him with a flicker of . . . disgust? “How can you keep us safe from the DPs? They’re coming! You know what they’re like. They’ll destroy us all.”

Rex blinked at her, struggling to quell the situation. Yes, he had heard Ardet’s speeches on the evils of Earth, the manic greed and violence of the Democratic Progressives. Rex, born here in the new colony, had never experienced Earth except through his father’s harsh descriptions, but he believed the stories of a lawless society in which no member knew his or her place. After great struggle and persecution, the Worthies had broken away from that, coming far enough out here into unclaimed territory that they could achieve their potential, following Ardet’s social map. Rex was part of that; they all were.

“We all have our tasks, Jen. I’m a newt. You know that being a fighter -- or a lover -- is not one of my duties.” He offered a comforting smile. “I can do many things, Jen, just not what you’re looking for right now.” Rex squared his shoulders, as he had seen his brothers do. “But if we don’t stay the course in our darkest hour, then we dishonor Ardet. He gave us our instructions. If we cast them aside now, then we are no better than the people from Earth.”

It was an intellectual argument, the kind Rex was best at, and he could see that it did not convince Jen’s heart. After she left him in a swirl of anger and fear, he went back to finish the kitchen chores by himself.

#

The handful of intact Worthy men insisted they would go down fighting for their principles, their way of life. Rex was physically, and chemically, prevented from feeling the same passionate resolve, but he could admire their determination, their bravery, their refusal to give up. He was sure Ardet Hollings would have been proud.

Shortly after their independence day, Rex and a dozen newts were removed from their daily assignments and sent out into the space rubble field with Commander Joseph Heron. Heron was old, scarred, and impatient, one of only twenty-three male survivors of the initial battle against the Democratic Progressives. Listening to him rail against Fate, Rex wondered if Heron had spent the last several months wishing that he too had died in the conflict. But if he had, who would defend the Worthies against the decadent and despicable DPs?

From the time he was child, Rex had been trained how to suit up and how to perform outside functions. He was perfectly capable of performing tasks out in hard vacuum, as were his fellow newts. They were well-educated, even-tempered workers who remained unruffled in a crisis. They would complete their tasks as required, no matter how anxious and uptight Commander Heron and his desperate soldiers might be.

Scouts had already combed the space battlefield for any wreckage they could salvage, but Heron insisted on trying again and again. The vagaries of gravity in the rings churned up new discoveries, like repressed emotions coming to the surface. Rex was sure nothing remained to be found, but the commander had nothing to cling to but dogged optimism. Rex was surprised, and pleased, when the searches paid off: Far from where anyone expected gravity and momentum to have carried it, they discovered a nearly intact DC ship.

Leaving Heron in charge was yet another example of Ardet’s great wisdom: No newt would have bothered to keep searching.

“This is our greatest break yet, men,” the commander said over the suit intercom as their shuttle approached. Heron allowed only a small touch of irony when he said “men.” His voice held an edge, as if anger could inspire the newts to greater dedication, but the implants continued to keep them controlled, calm. It was the most reasonable way to get a tough job done. After the Worthies’ early years of near-starvation, Ardet had based much of his plan on that basic idea. . . .

Heron named the wreck Flying Dutchman after an old Earth ghost story. The Dutchman’s hull had been breached in several places, venting its atmosphere and killing the small crew. When their shuttle circled the derelict, Rex studied the configuration, making mental notes about what needed to be repaired. Decades ago, when leaving their tainted planet behind, Ardet’s followers had purchased brute-force commercial vessels to haul people and equipment on a one-way trip to Saturn. This DC exploratory ship was faster, its lines sleeker, its potential greater than anything the colonists had used.

When the shuttle docked against the Dutchman’s cold hull, Heron addressed his men and the newts. “Inside this wreck, there may be energy weapons, explosive projectiles, something we can use. It’s my aim to get this vessel up and running. Then we’ll have five ships, and we can make a good accounting of ourselves when the DPs come.”

“Can we even understand the systems, sir?” Rex asked. “This technology far surpasses what we’re used to.”

The older commander turned to him. Behind the reflected glimmer on the curved faceplate, Rex could see his frown. “Just because you don’t have any balls, doesn’t mean you don’t have any brains. I’m counting on you to figure this out, Rex. It’s the only way we can survive.”

Rex didn’t think they would survive in any case, but he made no further comment. The other newts waited to receive instructions.

After they broke into the Dutchman, the salvagers separated into teams and methodically moved from deck to deck. They discovered the iron-hard bodies of six DC soldiers, expressions frozen as if surprised that a tiny group of isolationists had fought so bitterly against their impressive ship. Two of Heron’s men let out defiant cries of triumph; the others were queasy and silent. The newts were put on corpse detail, gathering and ejecting the dead soldiers. They didn’t mind.

On the bridge, Commander Heron and his men studied the dead ship’s systems. Rex stepped up to the engine controls and navigation modules, and peered down to read the labels on each station. He knew how to fix familiar systems -- recyclers, irrigators, and lighting -- but these looked different.

“Don’t just stand there and make this place crowded,” Heron said. “Not much time left!” The other newts spread out and began to make repairs.

With so many unknown factors, the Worthies had no way of determining exactly when the retaliatory ships would arrive. After receiving distress signals from the battle in the rings six months ago, Earth should have taken at least a month to gather a new fleet, which would take five or more months in transit. But if the DC military had modified their engines, improved their speed or fuel efficiency, they could fly to Saturn more swiftly than expected.

By any calculation, the DPs could be here any day.

Rex used a circuit mapper and command-train isolator to check the station panels, one row after another. He documented which modules were functional and which needed to be routed around or replaced. Even if the Dutchman were completely repaired, though, the new DC ships were bound to be far superior.

That first engagement had been unintentional, at least on Earth’s part. The Democratic Progressives had sent an exploratory force through the solar system, mapping resources, choosing possible locations for new colonies and outposts.

“It’s what so-called ‘progressives’ do,” Ardet had said in a speech to every member of the Worthy colony. “They spread, and exploit, and take what they want. We cannot let them steal our homes! We dare not let them disrupt our grand experiment. We must prove the strength of our principles.” His voice grew deeper and more powerful; it had been so stirring that Rex found himself moved in spite of the implant. “The DPs are barbarians -- they will pillage, and rape, and destroy everything we hold dear!”

The Worthy men had howled, the women had cringed, and the newts had listened carefully. The men gathered every possible ship, cobbled together anything that could be used as a weapon, then set an ambush in the rings to protect their way of life.

The DC exploratory force had come to Saturn with escort ships and scientific vessels, intending to use the plentiful ice in the rings to replenish their fuel and water supplies. Rex had studied the records of their arrival, and (as far as he could tell) the DPs had taken no aggressive action; it seemed possible that they hadn’t even known about the tiny hidden colony. But fiery-eyed Ardet called it an incursion, a criminal trespass by plunderers. After overcoming birth pains and terrible difficulties, the colony had begun to thrive, exactly according to the design. They wanted nothing to do with the people of Earth.

The DC scientists and pilots were astonished when the Worthy men attacked. Though the DC exploratory fleet was not a military force, they had fought back, killing most of the young men and Ardet Hollings himself before being destroyed themselves.

“Nothing here we can’t fix,” Commander Heron said, rapping on the arm of the captain’s chair. “We can get the Dutchman flying again!” He looked around the bridge as if expecting the newts to cheer, but they continued their tasks with silent efficiency. He turned to Rex. “ You. You’re Ardet’s own son. Doesn’t anything get you riled up?”

Rex shrugged in his bulky suit. “That’s not possible, sir.” He reset a panel and was gratified to see that all systems were now functional. “But I do my job to the best of my abilities. Is there something inadequate about my performance?”

Discouraged, the commander let out a long sigh that was audible across the helmet radio. “We won’t be able to last five minutes against the forces from Earth.”

#

Back at his familiar work in the greenhouse domes, comfortable with the routine despite the imminent arrival of the DPs, Rex was glad to be doing something worthwhile. “There is no more glorious work than providing food for our people,” Ardet had said to all greenhouse workers. And since Rex also worked on the illumination and irrigation systems, he felt he was doing even more than his part. It gave him a warm satisfaction to know he fit in so well.

Overhead, bright stars and outlying ring fragments moved like fireflies. Some of the women harvesting produce looked up nervously, as if expecting them to be braking jets from Earth ships; Rex saw only lovely lights as bright as diamonds.

He hummed a tuneless song to relax himself, though the implant did most of the job. Crews of newts and women picked ripe vegetables and fruits, never letting anything go to waste. The recycled air smelled fresh, moist, mulchy. Overhead lamps poured out warm, buttery light to nourish the plants. Coming around the gauzy limb of Saturn, the sun also rose, adding its distant light and life. Bees transported from Earth buzzed around the flowers, sexless drones doing their work for the betterment of the hive.

Two years ago, encouraged by his father, Rex had improved the hydroponic trays and then the nutrient-delivery irrigators in the planted rows. Now he drew a deep breath and sighed as he looked out at the colorful patterns of growth, all the shades of green. Each species was planted in the proper order for optimal food production, everything in its place, everything productive. Ardet Hollings had been such a genius.

Rex ruffled his fingers through the velvety leaves of enhanced strawberries. Ripe and red, they would make a sweet dessert; perhaps Mother would serve some tonight. She had been more extravagant with her cooking in the past few weeks, as if to reassure everyone that nothing was wrong.

As he moved the leaves aside, Rex spotted a darting lizard. The original colonists had brought no large animals with them from Earth, but along with the bees they had released numerous small animals such as birds, shrews, and tiny lizards. The birds and rodents had died; only the lizards had survived, and thrived, finding an entire ecological niche for themselves.

Rex tried to catch it, but he wasn’t quick enough. The lizard vanished among the strawberry plants, showing only a flicker of a tail that was a different color -- obviously broken off and then regrown. Lizards had that amazing regenerative ability. Rex went back to his work picking the berries.

In the beginning, Worthies had planted only the fastest growing and highest-energy-density foods, then used reprocessing chemistry to break down even the waste vegetation into edible mass. They’d had nothing else to eat. Because of Ardet’s innovative survival measures, that crisis had passed when Rex was just a child, and now the Worthies had the luxury and the inclination to plant decorative flowers and ornamental shrubs from stored genetic samples.

This place had become a home instead of just a subsistence colony. But it wouldn’t last.

In their fourth year away from Earth, one of the three primary greenhouses had failed; a piece of rogue stony debris thrown from an impact in the rings had sailed at high velocity into the armored dome, shattering several panes and hemorrhaging atmosphere. Most of the air was gone, the temperature plunged, the greenhouse sent into an unstable wobble. Seven people died, and all the plants perished -- one third of the crops to feed the settlement. Adding to the disaster, a blight had swept through the corn crop in one of the other greenhouses, decimating that harvest as well.

On the relatively new colony, their survival had already been hanging by a thread. Most of their preserved supplies were already gone. Devastated by the loss, the Worthies watched their perfectly planned future crumble. Though workers scrambled to build another greenhouse dome and create subsidiary growing areas, they faced the very real prospect of dying -- or returning, beaten, to repressive Earth.

Ardet rallied them. ”Return is never an option! We have fought too hard to establish a perfect society. I have provided the road map. Do we dare take our children back to that hellhole? How could we betray them in such a way?” He had lifted his young son Rex for all his followers to see. Now, when Rex watched the tapes and studied his father’s words, he was glad that in his small way he had helped Ardet make his point. “We have given our citizens their places, defined their roles, offered them security instead of cultural pandemonium. Men and women fill the niches for which they were bred, without the confusion of too much freedom and too many pressures.” It was a famous speech that all students were required to memorize. In the recording, the people were bleak, gaunt and hollow-eyed -- with fear, as much as from hunger.

After the greenhouse failure, knowing they would barely have enough to eat for the next few years, Ardet had assessed the big picture and repainted his grand social landscape. “As Worthies, we must watch ourselves. We did not ask for an easy life, nor will we ever have one. Our population must always be carefully controlled. We will grow, and we will triumph, but out here we must do it in a properly planned fashion. This is not Earth.”

“Peace, despite hardship,” the crowd had mumbled.

“Thus, for the time being, we must stabilize our population. We must shore up our society, keep our roles intact, keep our people happy. We cannot have strife, nor can we have uncontrolled breeding. Thus, as a gesture to strengthen all of us in our resolve, we must make sure that no more than two children in each family will reproduce.”

This announcement had been met with dismay, since Worthies had, until now, been encouraged to have large families in order to increase their numbers. The people muttered. “Most of us already have more children than that, Ardet. Do you . . . want us to kill them?” someone asked from the audience. Watching that interchange over and over, Rex was sure that the questioner would have done it, if Ardet had asked.

Their leader shook his head and gave a broad, paternal smile. “Of course not. We love our children. They are the building blocks of our great society. But, we must use them with great care, to a noble purpose.” Ardet had looked at them all with his intense visionary glare. “While I am confident we have the strength to survive, this crisis is only an example of our possible tribulations. By our own design, we are in a new situation here at Saturn. We came to escape the anarchy and gluttony of Earth, and to do that we must change ourselves . . . and that is a good thing, though it will be hard.

“For this generation, we must take interim measures. Difficult measures, but vital ones. After the first two children, our extra sons and daughters will remain important parts of our perfect society, but they will also make the sacrifice so that we can remain strong and stable.” He had looked at them all. Rex still felt a chill when he recalled the historical tapes. “They must be neutered.”

As an educated adult, when Rex considered the details of the solution, he didn’t think the mathematics worked out. Neutering the additional children had not decreased the number of mouths to feed. But, as became clear later, that had only been the first part of Ardet’s brilliant plan. Using the greenhouse accident as a springboard, he had led his people past another watershed, pushed his new society to an entirely new level.

Because he was their leader, because his followers would do anything he asked, they had not argued. To show his sincerity, Ardet had won their hearts by offering up his own young son as the first to be castrated. Rex was told again and again what a great thing he was doing, though being only four years old at the time he had understood nothing about what was really being taken from him.

After a large group of children was neutered and properly raised -- girls as well as boys -- Ardet had quietly revealed his deeper motivation to create an entire layer of society without aggression, without destructive competitiveness. Newts were cooperative and friendly, productive, and completely reliable, if not ambitious; the boys being the most prominently changed. The castration itself was not sufficient for Ardet’s purpose, though. With carefully metered implants, the newts remained on an even emotional footing, causing no trouble. Each family was allowed two viable children, and the rest became a new caste, the strong and stable foundation for a great Worthy civilization. Rex had listened to the rationales over and over. He thought it was breathtaking. . . .

Now, as Rex and the newts continued their work in the greenhouse, the women reacted to a signal piped in over the dissemination channel. The words were spoken in a crisp voice with just a tinge of fear. “An outpost on the fringe of the outer ring has picked up radio chatter, and long-distance sensors have just discovered the Earth military force on its way. The Democratic Progressives will arrive at the rings of Saturn within a week, two at the most.”

Hearing this, Rex missed his brothers more than ever. He had never understood them, but he loved them nevertheless. In their youth, Lee and Ian had fought and wrestled with each other, so full of life. Fairly bursting with energy, they had always exhausted their little brother. They had tried to include Rex in their roughhousing play, but even as a boy he had never enjoyed it -- due more to the implant than the actual neutering. What if he had been more like them?

As he finished filling his container with strawberries, Rex looked up through the transparent dome. He thought about Jen, desperate for him to be something he wasn’t, then felt sorry for Ann and her little boy. For their sakes, he tried to imagine himself in a Worthy soldier’s uniform. What if it came down to that?

Would he grab a projectile repeater rifle and stand at the habitat doorway with Mother, Ann, and Jen behind him? Snarling, would he point the hot barrel of the weapon toward oncoming DC invaders, scream like a madman and blast away one enemy after another? Maybe he would use the weapon as a club if he ran out of ammunition. He would bare his teeth. He would claw at them with his hands. The women would treat Rex as a hero, a savior. Then he would hop aboard the Flying Dutchman and streak off into space, using the ship’s weapons to destroy more of the DC attackers. He would make them pay dearly. . . .

Rex wiped away the faint sweat that had broken out on his forehead, shaking his head at the strange ideas. The implant struggled to banish the thoughts as fast as they came into his head. None of it felt like something he could do, something he should do. Rex was a newt, with his specific role to play -- just like every Worthy. Ardet would have been gravely disappointed to learn his son had even entertained such fantasies. It was not at all what the great leader had designed newts to do. They served another purpose.

Rex emptied his container of strawberries, then went to pick soybeans. Even after the women had rushed off, he and four newt companions stood together chatting. Their conversation didn’t touch on the approaching Democratic Progressives. Rex was confident that everything would work out for the best.

#

The family huddled together in the living quarters for their final hours. Rex held a squirming Max as he stood at the window, but even his uncle’s attentions could not calm the boy against the palpable storm of panic. Rex felt the boy’s misery and held him close, but they could not help each other.

Intellectually, he knew their dire straits, though the implant worked overtime to keep him quiet and anchored. Now he needed it more than ever. With a glance at the pale, wide-eyed faces of his mother, of Ann and Jen, Rex wondered if they envied him his calm.

With Max clinging to him, he pondered what it might have been like if he’d had a child of his own. If things had been different, would he have felt the longing to reproduce, the endless ticking of a biological clock?

Rex kissed the toddler’s cheek, then looked toward the upswept rings, where he could see the glimmers of inbound DC ships. Some families were using telescopes to watch the defensive measures Commander Heron was struggling to implement. Rex saw all he needed to see with his own eyes.

Each weapons launch, each explosion, was a tiny spark. The Earth forces had come with more than a hundred fully armed military vessels, more than enough to overwhelm any resistance the Worthies could mount. Even so, Heron had taken the Flying Dutchman into battle; the other intact men had a few ships, little more than tiny cargo shuttles loaded with explosives. They faced off against the DPs in a brave but hopeless last stand. Fifteen newts had been recruited to man some of the defensive posts, but the Worthies did not have enough weapons for them. Rex wondered if his neutered comrades were experiencing any fear in their extreme circumstances. Was this what Ardet would have wanted them to do?

As they approached, the DC ships issued numerous warnings -- they sounded like pleas -- for the Worthies to stand down. From listening to the battle chatter, it seemed to Rex that the enemy fired only after Commander Heron had launched his weapons. Once the battle began, however, the DPs quickly obliterated the resistance.

The Earth ships were visible now as distinct blips closing in on the isolated colony. There seemed to be as many hospital ships as armed military vessels. Decoys? With their superior forces, why would the DPs expect so many casualties? And if they meant to slaughter the Worthies, why bother with medical aid?

“We do not intend to harm you,” said a strangely accented but gentle-sounding voice over the dissemination channel. A female voice, in command. That startling fact alone demonstrated to Rex how different these invaders were.

“They’re lying,” Ann growled. Now she tried to take Max, but the boy clung to his uncle. Rex soothed him, and Ann withdrew to her terrified pacing.

As the DPs passed the outer supply depot, it exploded, booby-trapped with proximity bombs. Flying shrapnel tore open one of the Earth battleships. Rex knew that the depot had been manned by two newts assigned there by Commander Heron.

Tears streaked Jen’s lovely face. “That one was for Ian,” she whispered, her voice cold and bitter.

Mother sat grimly in her favorite chair. “At least the damned Capitalists won’t be able to take our supplies.”

“Cease your resistance!” The female commander’s voice sounded sterner now. “We cannot allow you to threaten peaceful ships. After you are disarmed, you will be given an opportunity to explain yourselves and air any grievances in world courts. But we must protect ourselves.”

“Then stay away!” Jen shouted. Her once-luxuriant dark brown hair was stringy; her eyes grew red as she kept crying. Rex was sure his brother would still have found her beautiful.

When the ships surrounded the habitation complex, there were no more flashes, no more desperate attempts to block them. The crackling accented voice continued, “Please stand down. We do not wish to hurt anyone else. We will not harm you. You have our word.”

Jen moaned from the other side of the room. “They’re going to kill us all! They’ll drag us back to Earth and make us their slaves.” Ardet had painted that picture many times, convinced his followers what monsters the DPs were. Rex couldn’t let himself believe that his father might have distorted the truth, exaggerated the threat.

Little Max continued to squirm, and Rex set him down. “It’s already over.”

Ann glared at him. “Don’t you even care? Don’t you realize what they’ll do to us?”

Reaching an impossible decision, Mother disappeared into the sleeping quarters, then returned holding a heavy pulse rifle. Both Ann and Jen saw the weapon and cringed. Even Rex could barely cope with his surprise.

Ardet Hollings had wanted a peaceful society. He had reconfigured the human structure to guarantee there would be no conflict, only order and productivity. By using his followers as human building materials, by creating the unshakeable and diligent newts to be the backbone of a strong and satisfying life, he had intended to make such weapons unnecessary. The pulse rifle had no purpose other than to shed blood.

“Mother, we can’t do that! It is forbidden,” Ann said, though her voice held a rough hunger. Rex could see the raw conflict in her mind.

“The men are our defenders,” Jen said.

“All our men are dead,” Mother said. “We have no choice. We have to defend ourselves.” She lifted the weapon, and it was obvious she already knew how to use it. Rex wondered where she had gotten the practice, why she had ever considered it necessary. “Unless Rex will do it.”

She held the pulse rifle forward, and Rex found that he was unable to move. “I can’t. I’m a newt. Our father made it so --“

“Do you believe in Ardet’s teachings? Do you truly trust his words?”

He shied away from the weapon, shaking his head. “The implant, the operation -- our father forced me not to be a man. How can you demand it of me now?”

“Because times demand it.” Mother’s eyes were sharp and hard. “You know what you have to do.” She placed the rifle in his hands. It felt heavy and cold. He stared at the firing controls.

The DC ships clustered around the colony domes and locked themselves down. Rex’s family members all jumped upon hearing a loud thump as the invaders forced open the access airlocks. “They’re coming!” Ann said.

Rex stood with the rifle like a dead weight in his arms. Yes, he did believe what Ardet had told them. He had listened to all the speeches, enough to memorize most of them. He knew what the Worthies stood for. He accepted everything Ardet had claimed, though the actions of the DC invaders were not what he had expected.

The implant helped him to consider his thoughts, to see them objectively, without the disturbing backwaters and eddies of unruly emotions. He had no testosterone-induced distractions, no aggression, no wild mating drive. In this impossible situation, only the newts among the Worthies could remain solid and true to Ardet’s principles.

Yes, he believed. He knew what his father would have wanted of him. Ardet had made it plain in his teachings, in his speeches, and in his actions. How else could Rex accept what had been done to him?

Mother looked at her only remaining son, her face full of emptiness. Jen and Ann stared at him, perhaps seeing echoes of his brothers.

The female DC spokesman broadcast another message. “You will not be harmed. You will be taken care of. If some of you wish to come back to Earth, we will arrange safe passage.”

“Don’t believe them,” Jen cried. “They’re barbarians.”

Heavy footsteps came down the halls. Rex stood like a rock in a fast-moving stream, feeling the weight of great events all around him. He was a Worthy, a vital component of Ardet’s vision. He had his role, he was a newt. He believed in what they stood for.

The pulse rifle in his hands was armed. The DPs were coming closer.

He set the weapon aside. Behind him, someone moaned in fear or disappointment. Mother, perhaps?

If he truly believed in his father’s plan, then he had to accept what he was -- and what he was supposed to do.

Newts were made to be teachers, listeners, faithful workers, a stable class without violent tendencies. If Ardet had wanted his son and all those like him to be heroes, he would never have cut them off at the . . . knees. Rex didn’t need the implant to tell him that this was for the best.

As the DC consolidation parties moved toward the family habitat, Rex faced them. He experienced no despair or panic, neither elation nor fear. Just an unending sense of calm . . .

© Kevin J. Anderson, 2009

© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.