From the author: Brad’s father is perfecting a secret mind-control ray on behalf of the government. Too bad it only works from orbit, and Brad’s whole family has been banished to space until Brad’s father can get it to work.
Many years ago, when I was nine years old, I enslaved a hundred thousand people.
"Oops," I said, staring at the red button I had just pushed.
"Braaaaad!" my sister yelled. "I'm tell-ing!"
Tracy was out of the other seat like a shot. I followed her and readied a frantic stream of excuses.
"Dad!" Tracy said, tearing out of the tech room. "Brad messed with the Delta-wave modulator!"
"Did not!" I said as we reached a hallway. "It was like that when I found it!"
"He touched a button!"
"My elbow hit it on accident!"
Tracy ran to the rear of the ship. I tried to keep up. "I saw him lean on it!" she insisted as we passed through an open hatchway. "He leaned on it on purpose!"
Tracy darted into the ship's engine room, so I did too. "Dad!" A prostrate figure under the engine coils shifted its legs. "Brad enslaved a hundred thousand pee-puhl!"
"I didn't mean it!" I shouted. "I didn't know the security codes were off and I was just messing around and my elbow hit the 'Implement' button on accident and I didn't mean it!"
Our father began the tedious wiggle out from underneath the coils. I expected to hear a resigned grumble, but he was silent. Either that or I simply couldn't hear anything over the wailing of my elder sister.
"He did too! He was saying, 'What if the Delta-wave modulator was like this while the subliminal message time interval was like this and the—'"
"Did not did not did not!"
"—Micrograms of Mind-o-Mush™ per cubic meter were like this and I cut the weblines to isolate them like this and—"
Our father finally made it out from under the coils. He pulled off his clingskin mask, the breathing tubes popping away from his nose and hissing compressed oxygen until he turned off the tank at his belt. He lay on the floor, breathing deeply and sweating.
"I didn't mean it," I said, but my voice fell to a mutter at the end of my sentence. I was eyeing my father. His breathing was deep and slow, as if he were still getting used to the absence of clingskin. "Dad?"
He opened his brown eyes and gazed up at me with an expression I'd never seen him give me before. "Bradley. Is this true?"
"I didn't mean it," I mumbled.
"But did you really...?"
"A hundred thousand," said Tracy. The smugness in her voice was wavering with uncertainty. "The monitor in the tech room said so."
My father sat up. He looked back and forth between us, then finally settled his gaze on me. It wasn't like him to be so quietly attentive. "Brad," he said. "Even after Washington let me design the system and set everything up on Earth, I couldn't find the right combination of factors. I've tried for years to implement a successful mind control enslavement. And you just...?"
"Fiddled with it?" he whispered.
"Uh-huh," I said, and added, "I really didn't know the security codes were off."
And then my father suddenly pulled me into a hug. His arms and chest felt slick and warm from the clingskin he hadn't removed. "Brad..."
I stared over his shoulder at Tracy. She stood in the doorway, irritated. "You mean he's not in trouble? Even though you told us never ever to touch anything in the tech room?"
"Tracy," said Dad. He sounded shaken. "Tracy, it doesn't matter. We did what Washington said was impossible, but my project really works and we..." My father took a breath. "We can go home."
Tracy forgot her irritation. Her eyes widened. "Really? Back to Earth?"
Our father nodded. "I just have to contact the right people in Washington. Then a shuttle will dock with us, someone will check the ship's logs to verify this, and... we can go."
My father and sister were quiet. My own silence was due to a different emotion entirely.
"Uh, Dad," I said. "Did you say 'Washington'? Like, 'the Pentagon, the people you work for, in Washington, D.C.'?"
He pulled away from me and hastily wiped his eyes. "Of course. What other Washington do I ever talk about?"
I thought about the monitor in the tech room, the one that said the people netted by the mind control numbered one hundred thousand. I also thought about that part of the monitor Tracy hadn't noticed—the part that said where those hundred thousand people were located, geographically.
"Um," I said.
"The Pentagon is kinda, sorta, um, they can't take your radio message right now."
My father's eyebrows drew together in confusion. "And how would you know?"
"They can't," I repeated, "take your message." I brightened. "Or maybe they can. I bet they'd do anything you wanted, now, actually."
My father stared at me.
"I mean, it said the enslavement was successful," I added.
Dad's eyes slowly lit with realization. "Oh Jesus."
"...Dad?" Tracy asked.
He took a deep breath, then tried a grin. It was unstable, but it held. "Well then," he said. "Let's go home right now."
"But they can't get your message."
The grin became steadier. "Does it matter?"
Tracy and I looked at each other.
"I don't think Washington will be telling us what to do anymore," said my father.
This story originally appeared in The Fifth Di....
From a mechanical forest that constructs itself to the streets of Kyoto 8,000 years hence, the sometimes whimsical, sometimes cutting short fiction of KJ Kabza has been dubbed “Delightful” (Locus Online) and “Very clever, indeed” (SFRevu). Collecting all of his work published before May 2011 (plus 5 new stories, notes on the stories, and an interview by Julia Rios), IN PIECES offers glimpses into other worlds—some not unlike your own.
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