1304 words (5 minute read)

June 12, 2769 (excerpt)

As Claude dug through his closet for a fresh uniform (his little brother had “accidentally” dumped a bowlful of savoury sauce on his pants), Jason browsed through the books in his friend’s room. Mixed in with the graphic novels and works of popular fiction were a few more questionable titles, such as “The Squelcher Fallacy” and “Shielding the Truth: Are We Really in Danger?”. Though these books questioned the basic beliefs behind the Flasher system, they were actually required reading for all trainees; one had to learn the opposing viewpoint before one could be convinced of its incorrectness.

On a shelf next to Claude’s bed were a pile of art books. Jason grabbed the one on top, a collection of paintings and sketches called I Dreamt of Trees. He flipped through it quickly, then went back to the title page.

I Dreamt of Trees: A Speculative Vision of Plant Life on Earth

Paintings and Sketches by Michelle Bantam

Foreword by Terrence Gordman-Liev

The page had been signed by the artist, complete with a tiny sketch of what she imagined a pine tree might have looked like. Beneath the signature was a hand-written message from Jason.

To Claude: I hope you enjoy this beautifully bound collection of homo erotic artwork. Just don’t get too carried away, because I’m not getting you another one once the pages start sticking together.

Happy Birthday!

Jay

Jason smiled. “Hey, Claude,” he said, bouncing the book on his knee, “I heard this bitch has some paintings on display at a gallery on the other side of the Core. Wanna go with me Sunday and check it out?”

Stripping off his stained trousers, Claude paused, then shook his head. “Nah, can’t. My mom’s taking me out for some mother-son time. Dinner and a movie kind of thing.”

“Is that so?” Jason replied, frowning slightly, “Well how about Monday then?”

Claude tossed his pants into the laundry hamper and pulled a clean pair from the closet. “Uh, yeah, well … I don’t know. I’ll have to see what’s going on.”

Jay’s frown deepened. “What? You’re going to see some paintings is what’s going on.” He shook his head and grimaced. “Whatever. I don’t want to hang around a bunch of faggotty art-types anyway.”

Claude sighed. “Look, I’m sorry. I’ll see, OK?”

“Yeah, whatever.” Jay grabbed a pen from Claude’s desk and scrawled an erect penis next to the artist’s signature. He was adding cartoon semen when Claude snatched the book from his lap.

“What the fuck are you doing, you prick?” he said, glaring at his friend.

“What?” Jason said, feigning injury, “I thought you liked art.”

Claude shook his head in disgust. “Look,” he said, placing the book out of Jay’s reach, “Just don’t touch anything, OK? That goes for both of you.”

“What’d I do?” Isaac exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air.

“Whatever. Just leave my stuff alone.”

“Whatever.”

Claude shook his head, then began poking moodily through his sock drawer. He liked Jason well enough, despite his usually unpleasant nature. Truth was, neither of them had many real friends, and putting up with each other’s differences was generally better than being alone. Claude figured it was just some kind of insecurity that caused Jason to lash out like he did. Case in point, Jay had once confided in him that most people only wanted to hang around with him because he was a big shot Flasher cadet, and otherwise didn’t give a shit about him. Claude couldn’t bring himself to believe that he fell into that category; he was a Flasher cadet himself, for crying out loud. Yet he had to admit that being seen with Jason did make him feel validated as a Flasher-in-training. Still, a person who would buy you a gift one day and deface it another … Claude sometimes wondered why he bothered even speaking to the guy.

After a while Isaac wandered over to Claude’s desk and peered at his collection of Booster Cubes. “Hey Claude,” he said, picking one up and turning it over in his hand, “you’re getting pretty good at faking these things. This one almost looks real.”

“What looks real?” he said, still frowning into his dresser drawer, “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“What he’s talking about,” Jason interjected as he leaped onto Claude’s bed, stretching out with his hands behind his head, “is that a useless little faggot like you with half an inch of shrivelled pecker couldn’t possibly procreate, fertility drugs or no fertility drugs.”

“All right, enough! Just shut the fuck up!” Claude said, grabbing a pair of socks and stomping over to his desk, “And you!” He barked, snatching the cube away from Isaac, “I said don’t fucking touch!”

“Whoa, whoa, little buddy!” Isaac replied, stepping back with his hands in the air, “I got it. No touchy the blocky. No problem.” Isaac stepped carefully around his friend as Claude collected his trophies and placed them carefully into a drawer.

“Why do you keep hiding those, anyway?” Jason asked as Isaac took a seat on the end of the bed, “Some people might start to think you’re a little low on the old Flasher pride.”

Claude pushed the cubes tightly together, then moved the whole group over to the back corner of the drawer. “I got all the pride I need,” he grumbled.

Like most children on the McAdam, Claude had been caught up in the Flasher hype from an early age. The thought of one day being zapped up to an alien ship and fighting for a just cause filled him with an electric kind of excitement. He recalled his fascination at seeing his first Booster Cube. The awards, the Privilege Suites, the “added bonuses” had all seemed fairly abstract to his young mind; these things were just decoration, fun in the way that a hidden prize in a box of candy was fun. As he grew older, however, his understanding of the world, and the Flasher agenda, had begun to change; the abuse of young women, the killing—and even worse, displaying—of tiny, unborn children … these things which he had once seen as exciting symbols of the Flasher war had more recently become a source of shame and inner turmoil.

“I guess I’m just not a big show-off,” he mumbled, carefully placing a magazine over the cubes, “so just drop it.”

“What do you mean, ‘show off’?” Jay persisted, “Why wouldn’t you want people to see these? A memento of time well spent in the Privilege Suites!” When Claude didn’t reply, Jay sat up and looked at Isaac, a mischievous smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Don’t you want to give Little Sis a preview of days to come?”

Claude’s face abruptly twisted with rage as he spun around to face Jason, “Fuck you, man!” he cried, spit flying from his lips, “You stay away from her, you hear me, you sick fuck!” Jason and Isaac looked at each other, stunned. Jason chuckled quietly.

“Hey Isaac,” he said, “You think I hit a nerve?”

Claude balled his fists, “I mean it, Jason! I’m not fucking around!”

“All right, all right, relax,” Jay said, getting up to place an appeasing hand on his friend’s shoulder, “I was just joshing. Skanky little cunt sisters are off limits,” He turned towards Isaac, smiling, “Isn’t that right, Isaac?”

Isaac glared fiercely. “Ok man,” he said quietly, “You should probably shut up right about now.” Claude glanced at him, grateful to have someone on his side for once.

“C’mon, guys!” Jay said, grinning, “Lighten up! We’re supposed to be having a good time here!” Far from mollified, Claude glared, while Isaac shifted from one foot to another, refusing to make eye contact. “Fine then!” Jay exclaimed brightly, “Let’s go get drunk!”

Next Chapter: June 13, 2769 (excerpt #1)