Authors: Rod Walker
Tags: #Science Fiction, #SF, #YA, #libertarian, #Military
Mutiny in Space
This book or parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without prior written permission of the publisher, except as provided by Finnish copyright law.
Copyright © 2016 by Rod Walker
All rights reserved
Editor: Vox Day
In retrospect, I set the stage for the disaster because I couldn’t stop mouthing off to my big brother.
A little background might be in order.
My name is Nikolai Rovio, and I’m from the New Chicago colony on the coreward side of the Thousand Worlds. My mom is a sociologist at the University of New Chicago, and my father was a refugee from Novorossiya III.
Actually, that’s not quite true.
The truth is that my father was a commissar of the Social Party on Novorossiya III, and before the planetary government was overthrown there, my father saw the writing on the wall and managed to get off-planet before the rest of the commissars and the government bureaucrats got themselves lined up against the wall and shot for their various crimes.
Mom always said my dad was pretty smart.
New Chicago had a lot of Social Party sympathizers, especially at the university, and Mom was one of them. So when my dad showed up, they got married, and a year later my brother Sergei came along, followed two years later by me. My father was a well-known Social agitator, and one day he went a little too far, because the police showed up to arrest him at a secret Party meeting. One of his activist colleagues decided to set a bomb-trap to welcome them, but unfortunately for Dad, his colleague botched the job, and accidentally blew up my father, himself, and the other members of their cell without even managing to scratch a single cop.
In retrospect, I suppose my dad may not have been all that smart after all.
Mom didn’t seem to miss him too much, because one of my earliest memories is watching my mom’s newest boyfriend sitting on our couch, swearing and chain-smoking while he worked on his thesis. Mom had a lot of boyfriends and I hated all of them. They were either university intellectuals, which meant they never shut up about how the hyperspace revolution and mankind’s expansion into the Thousand Worlds had rendered both capitalism and religion obsolete, or they were Party soldiers, which meant they had lots of tattoos, smoked non-stop, and devoted themselves to their search for the eternal buzz, either electronic or pharmaceutical.
Come to think of it, I’m not all that fond of my mom, either.
So with my dad blown to bits by his idiot friends, I had precisely two male influences in my life who didn’t either lecture me or ignore me. One was my older brother Sergei. I thought the Party was stupid, but Sergei didn’t. Maybe he wanted to impress my mom, or maybe he admired her Party boyfriends, or maybe he wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps. He joined the Social Youth and became a teenage Party radical, which for most kids would have been rebellion. In my family, though, that just made him a momma’s boy. Of course, being a card-carrying radical, he got into a lot of trouble, and I usually got into it with him, because, let’s face it, raising Cain is a lot of fun if you’re sufficiently young and stupid.
My other male influence was my uncle.
Mom didn’t like him, but I liked Uncle Corbin a lot. Corbin and my dad had had a strange brotherly relationship where they hated each other, but always looked out for each other anyhow. Uncle Corbin left Novorossiya III long before my father, and had made his way to New Chicago, which I think was why my dad came here when he was running from the reactionaries. Corbin became a starship mechanic, worked for an outfit called Starways Hauling Company, and was the opposite of my brother and my mom’s boyfriends. He was sober, hard-working, church-going, and as far as I could tell, almost entirely humorless.
He was kind of a riot, though, if you’d get him going on the subject of my dad or the Socials. He could deliver a heated lecture that would be the envy of any University radical, except for the content.
I spent a lot of time with him. Looking back, I think he was probably worried about me, and sort of took me under his wing. He would spend two months on a Starways Hauling Company freighter, and then a month on New Chicago, working in the company’s repair depot. When he was dirtside, he turned me into a sort of apprentice, and let me follow him around as he did maintenance on Starways’s hyperdrive-capable freighters. I learned a lot from him, things like how to weld properly, how to strip down and rebuild a life-support system, how to check the core of a hypermatter reactor.
Useless things, as far as my Mom and brother were concerned.
“Double-check everything,” he told me, again and again. He was a tall, gaunt man, with a thin slash of a mouth, and a fierce expression he always wore when he was concentrating on his work. “In space, these are the machines that keep us alive. They keep us alive, but only if we treat them right.” He often tapped a wrench against his palm as he gave instruction. “Nothing in this universe is free. Absolutely
must be paid for. The machines keep us alive in space, but they take their payment in work and maintenance.”
I didn’t understand that at the time, but later I came to realize that it was the exact opposite of what Sergei, my mom, and the Social Party had taught me. My mom didn’t like Corbin, which isn’t surprising now, but I don’t think she was brave enough to stand up to him and confront him directly.
“You have got to stop hanging around Corbin and those Starways people,” said Sergei around the time of my twelfth birthday. “Lazar says they are part of the systematic oppression of the colony populations.” Lazar was Mom’s latest boyfriend, and was pursuing a doctorate in ecoplanetary justice. Sergei liked him. I didn’t. “Lazar says that mankind finally has the technological base to support a classless society, and that companies like Starways are an anachronism.”
I didn’t actually know what most of those words meant, but I knew I didn’t like it when Sergei made fun of starship engineering.
“Lazar’s a tool,” I said. “He claims to spend all his time working on his thesis, but I’ve seen him playing games on his computer when he’s supposed to be researching and writing. If he wasn’t mooching off Mom, he’d be sleeping on a couch in somebody dormitory on campus.”
I felt a contempt for Lazar and most of Mom’s friends that I couldn’t quite articulate, and as I grew older, I realized it was because they didn’t know how to do anything I considered useful. Corbin could rebuild an air filter, reprogram a computer, balance an ion thruster, and calibrate a hypermatter injector. Lazar couldn’t even figure out how to get the viruses off his computer when he played the one thing we had in common,
. If Lazar hadn’t been hanging out with my mom, I have no idea how he would have made ends meet.
“Lazar’s a brilliant intellectual,” said Sergei, offended. “It’s not his fault the University is too stupid to recognize his potential. He’s working on a way to revolutionize our society!”
“You sound like him,” I said, and I launched into my best impression of Lazar. “Once I get my doctorate, things will change. I’ll get a chair in the department, and we’ll throw those reactionary old fossils out on their ears. We’ll…”
Sergei burst out laughing. “Watch it, little brother.”
I returned to my impression of Lazar. “Or you’ve been systematically oppressed by generations of capitalistic…”
Sergei laughed again. “You’re ridiculous.” He glanced at his phone. “Come on. Let’s go out and see if we can find some fun!”
I grinned back at him. Sergei liked to vandalize mailboxes and set fire to dumpsters. He claimed that it was an act of revolutionary awareness, that he was trying to shock the upper classes into waking up from their materialistic stupor. I suspect Sergei was just a bit of a pyro, and I have to admit that setting dumpsters on fire was a lot of fun. Sergei also tried to pick up girls, which annoyed me at first, but as I got older I came to appreciate his example.
We got arrested maybe a half-dozen times. Every single time, Mom and some of her friends at the University raised a horrendous stink and we got off without any consequences. Mom approved of what Sergei was doing; she even said he was a good influence on me.
Corbin did not.
“This is foolish, Nikolai,” he said when he learned of our latest misadventure.
I shrugged. “We were just having a little fun.”
“Was it just a little fun?” said Corbin, his thin mouth tight with disapproval. “Sooner or later, you’re going to get into some kind of trouble that your mother and her friends will not be able to fix. What then? You won’t be able to get a job on New Chicago, and you’ll have to run with Social Party just to eat.” He sighed. “And you’ll end up like your father if you’re not careful.”
A wave of anger rolled through me, followed by a feeling of deep shame. I’d never admired my father the way Sergei did, and to be honest, had reached the conclusion that he must have been something of an idiot. If I was in any danger of becoming like him….
“I’ll be more careful,” I said at last.
Corbin sighed again. “I’d rather you behave yourself, but if you can’t be good, then be careful. That’s what they used to say. Really, though, you’d do better to just be good. Look, Nikolai. You’re a smart kid, but you’re growing up fast and in a couple of years you’re going to have to decide what kind of life you will lead.”
“What do you mean?”
“New Chicago is a mess,” said Corbin, “and the Social Party types… I’ll be blunt with you. They’re bad. They’re bad people, and they’re more dangerous than you think. They don’t care about who they kill and they don’t care what lies they tell.” A shadow passed over his gaunt face. “I left Novorossiya III when I wasn’t much older than you because I saw the truth about them. The starvation, the secret police, the labor camps, the informants… they would like to build all of that here. And they will, in the unlikely event they are successful.”
“My mom would never do anything like that!”
“No,” Corbin admitted. “She wouldn’t. She would go along with it right up until they put her in the camps or the secret police shot her. She’d never see it coming.” He rubbed his face. “Ah, well. You can either learn this from an old man or you can learn it the hard way.”
“You’re not that old,” I said. He wasn’t even forty yet.
“I’ve seen a lot,” said Corbin. “Maybe too much. But please, be careful, Nikolai. Whatever you do, don’t trust anyone from the Social Party.”
“I won’t,” I said. “I mean, I’ll be careful and I won’t trust anyone from the Socials. I don’t think Sergei means it. He just likes to have fun. He doesn’t care about all the political stuff.”
“Maybe not,” said Corbin. “I hope you’re right. Well, enough of that. I’ve got a dozen ion thrusters to calibrate, and you’re going to help me with them. Your mother and your brother may not have taught you anything useful, but there is no way I’ll let you grow up without having anything to fall back on.”
Corbin managed to keep me out of trouble for the next four years. I did better in school, since I had decided I wanted to be a starship mechanic like him. Whenever he was back on New Chicago, I worked with him, helping him as he taught me about starships and interstellar flight. When he was off-world, I would spend more time with Sergei, though I was careful not to let things go too far.
Then, after I turned sixteen, my little world exploded. Literally.
Sergei hit his eighteenth birthday a few weeks before that, which meant he was legally an adult. Being an adult, he could vote, and he promptly joined the Social Party. Without any warning, for no apparent reason, he suddenly seemed to get a lot angrier. I think he wanted to impress all his new friends, since he started spending a lot more time around Mom’s crowd. He didn’t want to spend as much time with me anymore, and when we went out and got wild, he always wanted to target businesses like restaurants or small shops, and I usually found out later that the owners had gotten on the Socials’ bad side for one reason or another.