Nearly two months after his kidnapping, Snyder sat at his workstation with his sister Lenore’s e-diary open before him. It had been months since Lenore had mentioned him. Her youngest brother off in the military didn’t matter. Of course, she didn’t think much of him, none of them did.
Snyder grimaced. Aside from Cerulean, none of his seven siblings had ever given him a chance, but now he knew them better, whether they wanted him to or not, between Lenore and Charice’s diaries, and the e-mail accounts of all his siblings. Well, except the sister on the most wanted list for going into the family business.
Ironic. Most of the six siblings between him and Cerulean showed Mama Borden and Substitute Daddy’s efforts to instill good breeding and manners. Damian and The Babe, the youngest two excluding him, were into stuff that would make Mama cry and Substitute Daddy box them into next Tuesday if Snyder was a tattle tale. But most would be thought good Baptists.
But for all their supposed Christian love, they couldn’t stand him. Six siblings that didn’t relate to him as a father-and all six refused to even acknowledge he was their brother. He was no less a Borden than they, but had committed the unpardonable sin: being born the wrong skin color.
“Well excuse me for being born!”
A female techie two cubes over shot a bemused look at him. Snyder returned to the screen. Still, Cerulean cared, in his own way. Didn’t mention him by name-a good thing, Cerulean persisted in calling him Anny-but did send e-mails to hundreds, asking for prayer and praying for their requests. So many of Cerulean’s requests were for him.
Substitute Daddy actually cares about me, and how do I reward him? I hack his e-mail.
Snyder shut down his workstation and headed out. In the cool night air, he stared around the concrete desert. Boise sometimes had Christmases like this, but near Vegas, his sources cheerily informed him no snow was the unfailing status quo.
He walked along the path to mess. The buildings were joined, but he needed to breathe air that hadn’t been dispensed by a machine. He hated shoveling snow, but one day of the year, it needed to be there. It almost always was at grandma’s place in Kuna, a few miles west of Boise.
He entered the mess hall and got in line. When it was his turn, the server dropped on his tray a scoop of lumpy meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, and a brownie that had a reputation for tasting like the cook thought burning was part of the recipe. This place made InstaFood appealing.
Snyder sat at a corner table. Alone on Christmas. Par for the course since Grandma died. He ate the potatoes out of loyalty to his home state’s chief crop, about half the meat, and a couple green beans. He stared at what remained, an unappetizing array of mystery meat, green beans, and rock hard chocolate.
He picked up his tray, strode to the industrial-sized dish generator, and dumped his tray down the chute. The machine’s window made for cheap entertainment as it broke down his offering, separated the particles, turned the garbage into electricity, and recycled the rest to make new dishes. Most nights it beat whatever was on holovision, but that wasn’t hard.
Snyder headed out the door and across the walk to a plaza that led to his quarters. In the center of the plaza, security cameras surrounded Emperor Herald’s statue. Even on an Imperial Army Intelligence post, the statue wasn’t safe from vandals or from the spittle Snyder would love to hurl at Earth’s supreme ruler. Hitler and Stalin would surely be envious.
Beside the Emperor, a pedestal stood vacant. America’s previous Steward must’ve stood there. Ivan Dimitrov had been a big enough egotist for it. That a new one wasn’t commissioned spoke highly of Donovan.
Who cares what McGraw thinks? The country’s best hopes for the future lay with that twenty-two-year-old crown prince.
Snyder stared at Ivan’s vacant pedestal and whispered under his breath, “Death to traitors and tyrants.”
Snyder walked on to his residence hall. He ran his hand across the scanner. The door opened and he walked across black linoleum to his room. He used his Ekeys to open the door and lock it again behind him.
The holowindow displayed the same old non-Christmasy desert. “Computer. Display window Christmas one.”
The desert morphed into the beauty of the Kuna countryside blanketed with snow. Snyder strained. In the distance, he could see his old dog, Ralph. The scene had been on a holodisk Mama had found in a safe deposit box that Grandma had left for him.
Snyder stared at the scene. He’d always used it to avoid the snowless view from his window in Boise, and now here. He’d never noticed the sound option.
Ralph barked. It’d been years since he’d heard Ralph. After killing his grandmother, her daughter had donated Ralph to science.
“Quiet down, Ralph,” said a ghostly voice. Grandma.
Snyder sat on his bed.
The voice continued. “Anny, sorry about that. I hope it doesn’t mess up the video. I thought I’d do this. You’re over at Azura’s right now.”
His grandmother always called Mama Borden by her first name.
Grandma said, “You get older and you want to have memories. Right now, this probably seems stupid, but I thought you might want to remember a winter in Kuna. When you get older, you want to remember the strangest things sometimes.”
Snyder stood and opened his guitar case. He pulled out the guitar and began to play the “First Noel.” It was Grandma’s favorite song. The instrumental version still echoed through shopping malls throughout America, but most people had long forgotten the meaning of the words.
As he played the song, he closed his eyes and was transported back to the big house in Kuna. A wreath hung on the door and a simple row of “holiday” lights hung along the house’s trim. That last few years, Grandma “let” Snyder do it.
Inside was another story. To step into Teresa Snyder’s home was to step into Christmas. From advent until January 6th, the house smelled of Christmas. Lights hung across the fireplace. A crèche-manger scene to protestants-sat in the living room in front of the Christmas tree. The Holowindows beamed images of the Christ child and the Virgin Mary. The soft melodies of Christmas Carols filled the house like incense.
Christmas plates and cups were used at the table along with red and green table cloths and napkins. When he came home from school, the aroma of baking cookies would greet him. Guests filled the house two to three nights every week.
Their faces passed by: old friends and poor families from miles around. The house was filled with dancing and laughter. After a while, everyone would gather around an old television and watch a classical Christmas movie. The ancient films were 2D. Some were even black and white.
Young Snyder sat on the couch. “Why can’t we see these movies anywhere else?”
“Not many have them,” Grandma said. “After the fall of the Roman Empire, monks preserved God’s Word and the great works of Western Culture from the barbarians. They preserved the great works of past ages. Against the barbarians of the Empire, we’re doing the same thing. And Anny, I want you to remember.”
Snyder stopped playing his guitar for a second before resuming. “No problem there, Grandma.” He remembered every scene of The Nativity, It’s a Wonderful Life, and six versions of A Christmas Carol.
She’d been a heck of a teacher. She taught him about Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and dozens of other stories most had forgotten. The monks had a monastery to store the great works in. Grandma had him.
But there was that last day, the Monday in January just after Christmas.
Grandma handed Snyder a coat. “Hurry, you’ll be late for the bus.”
Snyder put the jacket on. “Hey, I’m not a baby, I can handle it.” He dashed to the door.
“Hold it right there, young man. You can’t leave without giving your grandma a hug.”
“Oh come on, I’m fourteen. I’m too old for that.” He ran out.
He never saw Grandma again.
Snyder wiped the tears from his eyes. Why wouldn’t this go away?
He glanced up, stared at Cutler, and hastily wiped his eyes. “Sarge, how’d you get in? I locked the door.”
Cutler smiled. “I have special access.”
That figures. “Could you not tell everybody that I was sitting in here playing the guitar and, you know . . . .”
“Nothing to be ashamed of.” Cutler sat at the desk. “I have a mission for you.”
“What’s the head of QA want with a lowly techie?”
“This isn’t official business.”
“How unofficial is it?”
“We could all hang.”
Snyder strummed the guitar a moment. Always figured Sarge was a double agent. “Who are you working for?”
“You’re better off not knowing.”
“I’m better off not hanging. And what would I be hanging for?”
“Rescuing children from a male brothel masquerading as a bartending school.”
Slaves like my brother. “How many?”
Snyder laughed. This had to be a joke or something. “Sarge, I never took you for the type to hit the hooch on Christmas.”
“Trust me. If you had tasted the wine I’ve tasted, you would never willingly touch the offerings here.”
Snyder stood. “Sarge, I can’t. I’ve got an underprivileged youth to help.”
“Me, that’s who.”
Cutler regarded him coolly. “That’s not what your grandmother taught you.”
“What do you know about her?”
“You’d be surprised. Where I’m from, Teresa Snyder has quite a name. She raised you better. If it wasn’t for her and Azura, you could have ended up in such a place.”
“Grandma was a double agent, too? It figures. I only come from the best.” Snyder paced. “Look, my own brother is a slave somewhere. They ripped us apart, left me in the freezer to rot, and now my identical twin is freakin’ four years older than me! It’s not that I don’t care. No one cares more than me. It’s that I can’t.”
“Let me spell it out. Right now, there are 1.2 billion non-persons and products of conception on earth. Eight hundred million non-persons. A hundred thousand are killed every day. Millions are raped, beaten, and tortured because of idiotic laws that give our mothers the ‘right’ to chose whether or not we have even the most basic human rights.” Snyder grabbed Cutler by the arm. “The mind can’t deal with a tragedy this size. What am I supposed to do?”
Cutler looked Snyder in the eye. “The best you can.”
Snyder sighed. “Well, heck, didn’t have anything planned for the rest of my life. Gonna get hanged anyway; least I can do is earn it.”
“Don’t worry, you won’t get hanged. We’ll get you out.”
Snyder laughed. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”
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