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The Orange Turn
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-258-3
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Science Fiction
eBook Length: 299 Pages
Published: September 2015

From inside the flap

The tinny tinkle of bicycle bells lets everyone know they are on their way. Chief Earth Officer John McQueen waits under a canopy of pink cherry blossoms. Nestled behind the blue spruce tree branches, the little Dinky, Tommy, sits on a branch gazing out through an opening. With golden grins on their exquisitely charming faces, the delicate girls gracefully pedal close. Powdery blue shorts show off their long slender legs. At their necks, little gold necklaces with tiny twinkling blue stones accent full breasts and frame fabulous faces. Silken hair flows nearly to their shoulders and forms the rest of the frame for their sunny eloquence. These beautiful works of art are the famous Blue Bottomed Girls.

McQueen doesn’t want this pleasing beauty to vanish, but human weakness and obsessive commitments have caused the pig people to become the real enemy. For seventeen years, McQueen has kept the pig people on the blue grass. If the rat-tailed Pigmies continue their work and the Orangeville experiment succeeds, the pig people will have a sample of what the world should be. They will be able to stand in the rain without being afraid of being mutated. But there is a portly problem. Chubby-faced scabs with illegal squirt guns have allowed the Dinkies’ delicate charade to erode. Believing there is an international intelligence that prohibits any holocaust from happening, the pig people are going off the blue grass. Self-indulgent wheelbarrow people, stuffing food into bloated stomachs are idolized. If McQueen’s journey to Orangeville for the incredible orange turn fails, the wheelbarrow people’s stomachs may explode, and the real Blue Bottomed Girls may never ride again.

The Orange Turn (Excerpt)


CHAPTER 1

The earth shifted.

Puffy-faced pig people swayed sideways.

From the safety of his corporation-protected home, Chief Earth Officer John McQueen peered out the window. Although the shifting of the earth was a common thing, the neat uniformed guards had not walked past for over an hour. They had no reason to be late, but beyond the field of an ocean of blue grass, whirling wisps of white smoke swirled through shafts of dirty-orange beams of sunlight.

Something wasn't right.

Behind McQueen, the sound of the double doors to the library swished open. He didn't turn around. With his hand, he motioned for his bodyguard.

"Judd," he said, "come here. Look at that smoke. It's too clean to be coming from a steam car, burning coal."

Judd didn't come to the window.

Flames flitted around the borders of the blue grass, and a billowing cloud of thick white smoke mushroomed into the sky.

McQueen raised his voice. "Judd, come over here. Tell me what's burning."

An unfamiliar voice answered. "I'm not Judd. The Dinkies are burning wood virus."

McQueen turned. Standing in front of him, an unfamiliar, portly man stared into space.

"Whoever you are," McQueen said, "you must know there is no such thing as wood virus."

The man's face wreathed into a smile. "I know that, Chief Earth Officer." He flashed McQueen a secret wink. "We know the pig people don't know that, and we know it reinforces their fear of the fake wood virus."

This strange man gave McQueen an uneasy feeling. The intruder did not seem to have the assurance of a person used to command. As McQueen's eyes traveled down the man's body, for all to see and for all to fear, another sign of the man's ineptitude came into view. Holstered on his hip, was an illegal squirt gun.

McQueen gestured to the gun. "I hope that isn't loaded."

"It sure is." The man took out the squirt gun and sprayed water into his mouth. "When I'm thirsty it comes in handy."

McQueen flared up angrily. "That's just great," he said with sarcasm in his voice. "When a pig person sees you drinking unfiltered water, they'll do it, too."

"So what if they do?" The man made a feeble placatory gesture. "We'll just shoot them with the antidote. They'll die."

McQueen felt his cheeks grow tight with fury. "Warriors are not supposed to shoot a pig person when it's not necessary." He watched the man for a discernible reaction. Seeing none, he threw his hand in the air. "Sure, the pig people of Blue Town have to be constantly convinced to stay on the blue grass, but they're not to be sacrificed because a warrior is careless."

Puzzlement filled the man's face, and McQueen couldn't understand why. The antidote supposedly used to cure people, who had been exposed to the mutating water, wood, and green-grass virus, always killed the recipient. Although the poison antidote kept the threat of the viruses alive, he found it hard to believe this man had such a low value of other people's lives; and that was something McQueen didn't need or want. And, in addition to being his bodyguard, Judd was McQueen's friend. McQueen wanted Judd back.

Looking for his bodyguard, McQueen turned his head right then left. "Where's Judd?"

As if he had just remembered something important, the intruder snapped to attention. "Chief Earth Officer, Captain Sproat reporting for duty." His face lit up with excited delight. "I am your new bodyguard."

McQueen remembered the name, Sproat, but it didn't seem to fit the lard-like body that was standing at attention and holding his quivering hand to his forehead. His salute was not a crisp military salute a regular warrior would display. It was a sloppy gesture at best. Sproat's uniform, although the uniform of a warrior, it did not cover a healthy body. Except where his stomach puffed out and strained against the buttons of his shirt, the uniform looked like it had been slept in. A tube of loose fat sagged down like an overflowing bowl of dough and covered the man's belt buckle.

McQueen would take speed, quickness, and stamina over bulging muscles any day; and for a warrior, this man was a sickening sight. As a foreboding feeling entered McQueen's chest, he remembered Sproat was a name that had come up in evaluation reports. Sproat was a man hungry for advancement and the power that came with it, but his performance scores and physical tests were always far below average. McQueen had always voted to have him stay at the lowest rank possible; but the regular warriors had been on strike for over two years; and even though the Friends of the Earth Corporation had no one else to promote, McQueen was sure they wouldn't have sent such a failure to be the bodyguard of the Chief Earth Officer.

Still holding the salute, Sproat's eyes traveled around the room and fixed on an orange wall safe. "I'm here to get Judd's key." He gestured to the safe. "I was told it is in an orange safe, and that you would show me how to open it."

Years ago, the key to the orange turn had been locked in the orange safe, but the key was too valuable to be left in a wall safe. Although many people believed the key was still in the safe, years ago, McQueen had taken the key out and hidden it in a secret place. Suspecting Judd was playing a joke on him, McQueen decided to play along.

"Sure," he said with mock cooperation. "I'll show you how to open it."

Sproat dropped his salute, stepped to the safe, and stared at its combination lock. "What do I do first?"

McQueen almost laughed out loud but held it in. "Okay, turn the dial three times to the left and stop at nine. Sproat turned the dial and looked to McQueen. McQueen rolled his hand in encouragement. "Do it again. You turned it too fast."

This time, Sproat turned the dial slowly. "Okay, what's next?"

McQueen turned from Sproat and searched for Judd. He could be peeking around a corner. He wasn't. But McQueen was sure Judd would come out of hiding and burst out laughing. He turned back to Sproat. "Tap the dial once, stop at seven, turn around three times, and hop on one foot."

Sproat did what McQueen told him to do, spun around in bewilderment, and looked to McQueen for more instructions.

McQueen couldn't believe anyone could be this ignorant. The man had to be acting. It had to be a joke. "Okay, wink three times, take a deep breath, and hold it."

Again, Sproat did as he was told.

McQueen reached over and opened the unlocked safe.

Expelling air, Sproat leaned forward and peeked into the safe.

It was empty.

His face filled with disappointment. "Where's the key?"

Ignoring Sproat, McQueen yelled over his shoulder, "Okay, Judd, you can come out now."

Judd didn't come out of hiding. McQueen turned toward Sproat so he could give him the benefit of his full attention. "Are you part of a joke Judd is playing on me?"

Portly Sproat lifted his chubby hand to his sweating forehead and held a quivering salute. "No, Chief Earth Officer, I'm no joke. Your regular bodyguard was caught going off the blue grass. I have replaced him."

Judd would never have been caught going off the blue grass, and the key to the orange turn wasn't a key to be given to just anyone. Sproat was lying. If he wasn't acting, he should have never been a warrior. He should have been recycled. With extensive training and a lot of luck, this man might qualify for a job as a dish washer or a rickshaw cleaner. He was anything but a warrior. Sproat was no bodyguard. He had to be one of the pig people who had crossed the picket lines. He was a replacement warrior. Not caring for the good of all, this man wrapped himself in ignorance. This man was a scab.

McQueen didn't want to, but he returned Sproat's salute. "I'm sorry, Captain Sproat." Not wanting to look at him, he turned away, but Sproat's reflection remained in the window. "Scabs do not qualify for the bodyguard position."

Sproat's flabby face flushed with anger. Although it was military courteously to drop the salute once a superior officer returned it, he didn't drop his salute. He opened his mouth to say something but closed it.

In the reflection, McQueen glared at him. Right away, he noticed Sproat did not have the brash, clamorous arrogance of newly assumed authority other people had.

"Captain Sproat," McQueen said, "why wasn't I informed of such a change in my protection?"

Still holding the salute, Sproat's jaw muscles clenched under the fat on his face. With his twisted hand above his sweating forehead, he just stood there. After thirty seconds, his mouth moved. "Chief Earth Officer, McQueen, the Friends of the Earth Corporation felt it was in your best interest to have a new bodyguard as soon as possible."

McQueen continued to look out the window. Under a sky infusing with dirty-gray pallor, the ocean of blue grass in his private seven-acre back yard waved in the gentle wind. In the distance, at the edge of the orange warning signs, a line of dirty dumpy men, wearing crumpled, brown uniforms, walked through the tall blue grass, mashing it down with their fat feet.

In the reflection in the glass, McQueen watched behind his back. Sproat finally dropped his salute. "Is there something wrong, Chief Earth Officer?"

McQueen pointed to the men tramping down the grass. "What happened to security? The sentry has not passed by in over an hour. No one is permitted to walk on the blue grass of the Chief Earth Officer's residence. What are those men doing?"

Sproat bent forward and stretched his double-chinned neck to look out the window. "It's a training exercise," he said with his voice rising to a mouse-like pitch. "That patrol must have taken the wrong path."

Trying to clear the sight of the ugly men from his mind, McQueen jerked his head toward Sproat. "They look like the lard patrol. Is that the best we have?"

Sproat stuttered, but managed to speak. "Chief Earth Officer, since the warriors went on strike, they're the only men we can get."

McQueen raised his voice to a pitch of authority. "They are not doing their job!"

"But, Chief Earth Officer," Sproat objected. "I don't think a little bent over blue grass will hurt anybody." As if suddenly afraid, he shuddered. "Besides, bent over grass makes it easier to spot those rat-tailed Pygmies."

McQueen swung around and jerked his finger at Sproat. "The rat-tailed Pigmies did not ruin the land. The pig people did. In its slow recovering state, the land can only support a small population of the Pygmy race. Being ancestors of the ancient rain forest, the Pigmies can come and go without harming the feeble growths. They weave their small bodies amongst the plants without disturbing the growing cycles."

Sproat held up his hands and backed away. "I don't care what you say. Those Pigmies have big buck teeth that have poisonous venom. They should all be given the antidote."

The rat-tailed Pigmies rarely talked to anyone. When perturbed, their tails would come up in a threatening S posture. This threatening gesture had frightened many pig people away from the Orangeville experiment, and had kept them on the blue grass. When the Pigmies had talked to McQueen they were very intelligent and preferred to stay away from the ignorance of the pig people.

"Just because you're afraid of the Pigmies," McQueen said, "it is no reason to kill them."

Sproat's scared expression faded.

McQueen held out his arm toward an array of books in a vast opened plastic cabinet. "I don't have time to be opening and closing doors every time I need a book. You should know that the blue grass must be kept high enough to keep the pig people from seeing these books."

Sproat tilted his chubby head with a questioning slant. "What's the matter with letting them see a few books?"

McQueen shook his head in disbelief and slammed one of the plastic doors on the cabinet. It covered half of the books.

"Unlike the plastic pamphlets the pig people use," he said, "these books are made of paper. Paper is made from wood. If the pig people see the paper books, they'll know the wood virus is fake."

"I don't think any of the pig people will get this close."

"What makes you say that?"

"I have heard from various sources that pig people never go near your field."

"You've heard?" McQueen questioned. "A warrior can not rely on isolated statements, connect them, and make preconceived judgments. A warrior must be ready for anything and everything. He must see and confirm things for himself."

"I think you're over reacting, chief."

The man hadn't known McQueen for more than a few minutes. There was no way he could be considered a friend and call McQueen, chief. McQueen slammed the other cabinet door and raised his voice. "Chief? I don't think you realize who's in charge here. All replacement warriors must show respect and keep up the virus farce."

Cowering, Sproat stiffened and stood at rigid attention. "I'm sorry, Chief Earth Officer, McQueen."

McQueen lowered his voice a notch. "Anything you do, no matter how trivial you may think it is, it may be the one thing that compromises the secret of the blue grass."

Now, Sproat's voice was high pitched and squeaky. "I know that, Chief Earth Officer."

Puzzled by the high pitch of Sproat's voice, McQueen wanted to ask him about it, but instead, he said, "I've heard the pig people are going off the blue grass. Are they?"

As if overheated, Sproat tugged at the tight collar of his baggy uniform. "Only a few people have ventured off," he squeaked out. "They are still afraid of the green grass and the water virus."

"They better be," McQueen said. "If they find out it isn't real, they'll be taking baths in the rivers and lakes."

"I don't think it will ever go that far."

"It may have gone too far already. In the last month, the sales of dry washing clay and bottled water have decreased thirty percent."

"Maybe the people are not washing as much."

"They might not wash as much, but they would never cut down on the amount of water they drink."

"Nothing like that has happened."

McQueen didn't believe him. "What's the matter with you?"

As if he were in a hurry to leave, Sproat stepped back and didn't answer.

McQueen studied the scab bodyguard. "What do you mean nothing like that has happened? I just told you the sales of bottled water had decrease thirty percent. If it continues to drop, due to the fact that people are no longer afraid of unfiltered water, the planet's natural resources will be greatly stressed. The social order will be shaken."

Sproat moved uneasy. "We have taken care of everything."

McQueen took a hard look at Sproat. "You better be sure. You can't let those pig people get close to the water. They'll poison it."

A disarming smile formed on Sproat's lips. "The canals seem to be clean and unpolluted."

McQueen wanted to believe him, but Sproat was smiling like an unemployed liar auditioning for work. He wasn't taking his job seriously. It was a warrior's job to protect the earth. Canals dug to divert the world's dwindling water supply to the river above Niagara Falls was a failed attempt to keep the hydro power plants running, but the canals did provide a nursery for vanishing aquatic life. To maintain the Friends of the Earth's master plan of keeping the earth on a recovery path, the canals had to remain free of all pollution.

"What do you mean the canals seem to be clean and unpolluted?" McQueen asked. "Those canals are the lifeblood of what is left of our forest and plant life. If they fail, the lands around the rivers and canals will dry up. Dumping chemical-laced crack water down holes thousands of meters deep has greatly depleted the water available every place the gas companies have drilled. With temperatures hot enough to melt plastic, we don't need any more dry lakes and plains taking over the earth."

Sproat didn't answer. As if he didn't care about his job, he lazily shrugged. What was worse, was that he seemed to be hiding something. McQueen wanted to know what it was. He jerked his finger at Sproat. "What is the real reason you are here?"

The fat under Sproat's jaw twitched, but he kept his mouth shut.

McQueen smacked the palm of his own hand with his fist. "I have given the Friends of the Earth Corporation more than long enough to settle the warrior strike. I've had it with scabs like you."

Sproat cringed but a grin betrayed his true feelings. "Without the approval of the corporation, you can't do anything about it."

McQueen felt distrust and hate for the man. "Oh, but I can, Captain Sproat. You seem to forget: I am the Chief Earth Officer. I can use my emergency powers."

Sproat reached up and placed his hand on McQueen's shoulder. It was forbidden for a warrior to touch a superior officer. McQueen snapped his head to the side and glared at the hand.

Sproat's lips curled into a sorry smile. He jerked his hand back. "Chief Earth Officer, McQueen," he said with his voice squeaking. "You have no need to worry. My men will provide you with the same quality of security your warriors have done for seventeen years. Your wife and son have nothing to fear."

McQueen raised his hand and shook his finger in front of Sproat's face. "If the secret of the virus has been let out and the pig people are going off the blue grass, we'll all have something to fear."

"Yes, Chief Earth Officer," Sproat said, and now his voice was very high, like someone was choking him.

McQueen dropped his hand and turned away. "You should have someone look at that throat."

"There's nothing wrong with my throat," Sproat said with a strained, but lower voice. "I just talk that way sometimes."

"I'd still have it checked."

Sproat put his chubby hand to his forehead and attempted to salute. "Is that an order, Chief Earth Officer?"

McQueen abruptly turned toward Sproat. "It's your throat. Do what you want."

Sproat dropped his hand and lowered his voice. "Yes, Chief Earth Officer."

Studying Sproat's dark eyes for a hint of what he trying to conceal, McQueen found noting but ignorance. Maybe he could trick him into telling him what he was hiding. He crossed the room, sat in a plush leather armchair, and motioned for Sproat to come near.

Sproat strolled over and looked down at McQueen.