Monday, May 11, 2015
Inoculated by Scott Michael Decker
Release date: May 1, 2015
Subgenre: Space opera, science fiction farce
Orphaned on a muddy planet and reared by giant paramecia, Lydia observes with inoculated indifference as the nearby Gaean Empire crowns its new, ugly Empress. Suddenly, her life goes haywire. Pursued across the galaxy, she tries to discover why her fellow Homo sapiens have taken such a sudden dislike to her, and why her adoptive Paramecia are going to such lengths to protect her.
Lydia Procopio frowned at the line ahead of her.
A couple hundred people in a queue snaked away from the Imperial Infection Control kiosk at the Helios spaceport, all of them awaiting clearance.
"What's the holdup?" she asked the person in front of her.
A rough-faced old man, his back bent from years of labor, gave her a look up and down. "Where you been livin', some backwater bayou? Outbreaks on Pyrgos Five and Cygnus Twenty, both planets under quarantine." He shook his head at her. "Ought to surf the holonet more often."
She blinked blankly at him and snorted. "Brain rot," she said. Anxious already to get Xsirh out of custody, she was tempted to raise a stink just to get past the line. She was certainly going to file multiple complaints about the rough, unwarranted treatment they'd received. "Where are you coming from?"
"Neither of those places, thank the stars."
She estimated how long she'd be standing in line, saw immediately she'd have to postpone her appointment with the CEO of Titanide Aquafoods. And who knew how long it'd take to get Xsirh released. Or if. She didn't have a lot of faith in human bureaucracy.
"Lydia." She extended her hand to the half-bent old fart in front of her.
"Nick," he said, shaking. "Short for Nikephoros. Pleased."
"Mutual," she replied. "What do you do here?"
"What else on a soupy planet like this? I fish—run a trawler for Titanide. Not much else to do either."
Lydia saw a bureaucrat making his way through the line, asking quick questions of each person he passed. "Titanide? I'm here to see Orrin."
"Runs a tight ship, he does. What's he gonna do with a pretty one like you?"
Lydia blushed and snorted. "Strictly business."
The bureaucrat pulled a man aside and led him over to an arch, where a glowing biodetector sat, its bulk twice the man's height. The man walked under the arch, alarms sounded, the arch flashed red, and a squad of armed soldiers appeared from nowhere.
"But I've been inoculated!" the man said, his voice quailing with fear.
They hauled him away.
"What'll they do with him?" Lydia asked.
"Sterilize him," Nick told her with a shrug.
"Will he be able to reproduce after that?"
"Depends on whether or not it kills him."
Lydia stared after the squad, the man in their midst struggling. "How long has it been like this?"
"Happens whenever there's an outbreak. And those quarantines may not be enough." Nick shook his head.
Lydia had read up a little on immunology and disease prevention. Her father Dorian had been a Professor of Xenobiology before he died in the shipwreck, and among his effects had been some preliminary research. The fact that they were screening people after they made planetfall seemed to her to border on incompetence.
The bureaucrat was back at it, asking people questions, passing most of them by.
"What do you suppose he's asking?"
"Whether they've been to Pyrgos Five or Cygnus Twenty in the past year."
Lydia frowned, having been to both planets multiple times on business. Pyrgos Five manufactured shipping containers, and Cygnus Twenty supplied packaging. "What's it like to fish on Theogony?"
"Terrible! Didinium are all over the place. They get in your boots, they get in the nets, they clog up the exhaust pipes, they swim up inside the sewers, and worst of all, they get mixed in with the catch. You ever see a didinium? Those slugs can grow to the size of your head."
Lydia grinned and nodded. "On Kziznvxrz, they're ferocious little beasts." In their early evolution on Xsirh's home planet, the Kziznvxrfn and Didinium had fought for preeminence across a million years, each devouring the other relentlessly, and only in the last five hundred thousand had the Kziznvxrfn waded onto dry land from the planet's primordial soup as the dominant species. And the Kziznvxrfn had never lost their liking for didinium, despite its being nearly extinct. "They're considered a delicacy. If you can catch them."
"A delicacy? They taste awful! Who in their right minds would think they're a delicacy?"
Lydia shrugged at him. "I have relatives with some pretty strange tastes."
The bureaucrat approached the old man. "Any travel to Pyrgos Five or Cygnus Twenty in the past year?"
Nick shook his head. "No, Sir, never been either place."
The head moved slightly in Lydia's direction, the bureaucrat's eyes remaining fixed to his palmcom. "Any travel to Pyrgos Five or Cygnus Twenty in the past year?"
"Several times to both," she said.
Nick instantly stepped back, as did several people around them.
"I've been inoculated," she told them all, "if that's any help." Lydia already knew nothing she could say would sway a bureaucrat, always gumming things up like didinium in the fishing nets.
"Inoculation didn't help five hundred million people on Cygnus Twenty," the bureaucrat said. "I'll have to ask you to come with me, miss. What's your name?" The bureaucrat gestured toward the glowing biodetector.
"Lydia Procopio." She followed him to the arch. Blue lights twinkled around its insides, the hum of its motors faintly audible. It soared over her, dwarfing her slight form.
"On my signal, just walk slowly through, Ms. Procopio. Don't make any sudden moves." The lights began to blink. The hum went up two octaves. "Go ahead, please."
She stepped slowly through the machine. When she reached the far side without setting off the alarms, Lydia turned to the bureaucrat. "I told you I've been inoculated."
Scott Michael Decker, MSW, is an author by avocation and a social worker by trade. He is the author of twenty-plus novels in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, dabbling among the sub-genres of space opera, biopunk, spy-fi, and sword and sorcery. His biggest fantasy is wishing he were published. Asked about the MSW after his name, the author is adamant it stands for Masters in Social Work, and not "Municipal Solid Waste," which he spreads pretty thick as well. His favorite quote goes, "Scott is a social work novelist, who never had time for a life" (apologies to Billy Joel). He lives and dreams happily with his wife near Sacramento, California.