In a world that is a science experiment gone horrifyingly wrong, scientist Audrey Novak awakes from a centuries-long sleep to discover that her work has been used to create an appalling world. Aided by commoners, bots, and another refugee from 20th century America, Audrey takes on the power elites on Earth and on the Moon in a novel that is equal parts adventure, science gone haywire, and rollicking humor. ?
Let’s begin our story with Orlon Pledger, shall we? It’s his fault that you’re stuck with me as a narrator. Braedon Pledger, Orlon’s father, answered the bell when the visitor had arrived.
The visitor was dressed simply in a charcoal gray tunic, black jodhpurs, and glossy black boots. He was clearly a True Canadian, a well-bred Gentry, a Level 2 class. “Is Master Orlon
Pledger home?” the white gentleman asked.
“I’ll fetch him, sir,” Braedon replied. He did not invite the man into his humble home, so the gentleman stood on the front stoop shuffling nervously about, certain that a dark complected commoner would stab him to death. A bee buzzed round his head and landed on his shoulder. The gentleman did not brush it off. It was an artificial creation, a spybot sent to make certain that the gentleman discharged the duty bestowed upon him properly.
The heir to the Duke of Ontario was, at that moment, sitting comfortably inside a barge tied up on the Cuyahoga River, watching the gentleman as he twitched around in this commoner neighborhood, filled with naturally conceived people who were, he was certain, plotting his doom. CBC News made a habit of hyping up any crime committed in a commoner neighborhood so that everyone was convinced that commoners were naturally violent. Even commoners bought into this.
For their part, the commoners were staring out their windows at the gentleman from their
modest homes, wondering what a white man was doing making a call on the local blacksmith during the supper hour.
Orlon was in his room, the door open, flopped across his feather mattress, reading a musty old book of poetry illustrated by Buzz Pepper, an artist from the 20th century.
The pages practically crumbled as Orlon flipped carefully through them. Books were a rarity, and frowned upon by all classes of Canadians. Orlon peered over the top of the book and brightened, “Was the door for me?” He clutched the book to his chest as if the person at the door might want to steal it.
“Yeah,” Braedon said, leaning against the door jamb. “And no, it is not Miss Alice. It is a gentleman.”
“A gentleman, Pop? I don’t understand.”
“You best go talk to him. It’s not good to keep a gentleman waiting, especially a True Canadian gentleman. I know the accent well enough from when your mother and me lived there.”
Orlon slipped a torn piece of paper into the book to hold his place. Pepper’s illustrations were drawn in the closing days of his life. He’d been a soldier in the Gulf War in the 1990’s and had been exposed to chemicals and radiation, causing him to develop glioblastoma multiforme, an incurable brain tumor, at age 36. Pepper, in the years following his death, was thought of as one of the greatest artists of that period. A lot of his fame came from the way he died, from the suffering-porn industry of the 21 st century.
Pepper had been mistaken by the Canadians as the second man on the Moon—Buzz Aldrin—even though several of Buzz’s artworks, including a massive frieze depicting soldiers stepping off a plane in Saudi Arabia, hung in the Imperial Gallery of Art in Toronto.
He was also widely thought of as a Canadian. It was an easy enough mistake to make after history was nearly erased by that series of calamities known collectively as “The Great Collapse.”
“You’re gonna go blind reading that stuff,” Braedon said as Orlon slipped past him and walked down the hall to the front parlor.
“I know, Pop,” Orlon replied. Orlon jerked open the door revealing the gentleman standing there. The gentleman, as he had been instructed to, bowed deeply before the young apprentice blacksmith. “I represent His Lordship, Studholme Prescott, heir to the Duke of Ontario, colonel of light infantry, commanding His Majesty’s Royal Rifle Corps, currently on assignment to put down the rebellion in the Unquiet Zone. Please excuse the liberty of my intrusion. His lordship wishes to know if you are well.”
“Should I bow?” Orlon asked his father, who had strode up behind him.
“No,” Braedon said. “He is a Gentryman.” Gentry were Level 2 class, genetically modified into effective middle-managers, their built-in flaw an insatiable taste for the acquisition of shiny baubles. “Let him say his peace and then beat feet.” He placed his hand on Orlon’s shoulder protectively.
Orlon was dressed in fireproof coveralls despite the heat of the mid-afternoon. If there hadn’t been another row of houses across the street, man and boy would have been looking at Lake Erie, glistening like a jewel before them, gooey with hundreds of years’ worth of pollutants. Instead, they saw Mrs. Marbury, their across-the- street neighbor, standing on her front stoop staring openmouthed at them and their visitor.
“Your father,” the gentleman said, “your biological father, wishes an audience with you
tomorrow. You will stand where I stand now at precisely half past noon. A carriage will arrive. You will step into it. You will then be transported to your father’s location.”
“My boy will not be having an audience with that rapist,” Braedon said. “Lord or no.”
“It is his choice. His father wishes to see him on his sixteenth birthday.”
“That was last week,” Braedon said.
“Enough! Get off my stoop, you proper gentleman of Canada! Go away and leave us be! We’re not on the dole, and we owe you nothing!”
“Typical Fussy sentiment,” the gentleman muttered darkly. He turned to Orlon again. “The order stands, young Master Pledger.” He bowed again, backed away, stepped off the stoop and a black carriage, an opaque black box with no discernible wheels, whisked silently up to the curb. A door manifested itself in its side, the gentleman stepped in, the door disappeared, replaced by seamless black boxiness, and off it glided.
“Fussy” is how True Canadians referred to subjects of the crown residing in the lower provinces, in the Former United States. Hardly anyone there even blinked at the term
“Fussy” by that time. After two centuries of Canadian rule, it failed to be an insult any longer. The only people in the lower provinces who ever referred to themselves as “Americans” were white people living off the grid in the Rocky Mountain Province, a.k.a. “the Unquiet Zone.” They also called themselves “the Sons of Liberty”—a term they picked up from a popularly shared video created by the Walt Disney Company, Johnny Tremain, which they mistook for a documentary.
The bee buzzed into the homestead and sat atop the fake gilt frame surrounding a painting of “St. George Slaying the Dragon” hanging on the parlor wall next to the 48- inch TV set, the only electronic device in the home other than the two LED storm lamps that the man and the boy carried around with them at night. The TV and lamps were powered by solar panels bolted to the roof, which juiced up strung-together batteries filled with genetically modified algae stashed in the attic. The TV picked up three channels: CBC One, CBC Sports and CBC News.
Orlon and Braedon were both well-acquainted with the antics of Colonel Prescott from CBC News. A typical broadcast from the Unquiet Zone featured the 30-ish lord standing in a field, resplendent in a red tunic weighted down with medals, a riding crop under his armpit, his head held high, blonde hair flowing off his scalp, business in the front and party in the rear whipping round in the mountain breeze, his emerald eyes gleaming with psychotic glee, declaring that he had these white supremacist scum on the run and that the rule of law would be the order of the day, surely.
Orlon recalled Braedon’s reaction, time and again, as one of bitter contempt toward the
Colonel. He’d assumed that it was merely his father’s (and nearly every commoners’) general contempt for the aristocracy. But it became clearer that evening when the two of them sat in the parlor together watching the PKK fights on CBC Sports.
“That man is your mother’s rapist,” Braedon said during the break between rounds.
“Know that before you go rubbing elbows with that… lord.”
The colonel watched Orlon’s worried reaction through the eyes of the bee with a measure of sadistic satisfaction.
“Sheppard’s characters pretend not to be funny, to not be emotional, to not need each other, when of course, they are and they do. There’s a clarity to the chaos, the restraint, the vulnerability Sheppard creates, something so human and essential you can’t help but turn the page.”
“…You have a good time seeing someone have a bad time. It’s fun…”
“The author grips you from the beginning, I couldn’t have put it down if I wanted.”
John L. Sheppard wrote the novels After the Jump, No Brass, No Ammo and Small Town Punk.