Circus by Kaas Baichtal

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Dirty and without pride he is, tattered and clownlike as a dancing dog. Lol they call him, or Lolo or Lo or even Lowell. Or sometimes just "boy", though he has been Sime for years. He wears an ingratiating smile on his face and in his nager, and holds his hands together as if begging for scraps, which he is. In a way.

"Boy!" the foreman bellows. "Take them five-year-olds down to the lower pasture and set them to pickin' poisonweed. And don't you come back until it's all been done - boss is wanting the horses turned out there overnight."

And Lol (or Lolo, or Lowe, or Lo) hops to obey, crouched servile and grinning, his tentacles waving in supplication.

In the heat of Nivet's high summer, the five-year-olds are lackadaisical and stupid, and he chivvies them along with slaps and malicious little shoves, sending sly glances over his shoulder to be sure of the foreman's location.

There are no cartwheels or handstands now. Not here, where no one can zlin. Alone with the pre-Gens, Lol the misfit is cruel, hardened, and adult.

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That night the circus rolls into town, ornate wooden wagons covered with scrollwork and painted like butterflies, hauled by oxen slow and thick as the dust they kick up. They pass along the length of Main Street, stealthy as can be during the four wee hours when the citizens are asleep, all clopping hooves and squeaking wood and leather, shadowy save for the nagers of those within.

There will be jugglers and dancers and acrobats and performers of aerial feats.

There will be strongmen and stunt riders and fire breathers.

And there will be freaks.

Freaks like none ever seen.

Freaks that zlin more real than real itself.

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The Farm-bred are drugged for all their short lives. It's meant to keep them docile and safe. Nobody cares if their Pen kill has holes in his brain. They aren't supposed to become Sime, of course, and it's never pretty when they do.

When Lol shakes his head like there's something caught in his ear, or goes into a frenzy of slapping himself as if he has flies on the back of his neck, the other Farmworkers laugh.

When he wakes up drooling, face in the dust, not knowing how he got there, they make jokes. He makes a joke of it himself, pretending to search for his own head under the feed troughs and amongst the grasses along the fences. It keeps them laughing a just little bit longer.

The law says he is only indentured for as long as it takes him to pay off what it had cost to raise him. But for Lowell Lol Lo Oll, there is little chance of that ever happening.

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Mid-morning, the sun tips over the mountains and smites the desert with a glaring heat. On any other day the town would be a blight, the double-row of weathered buildings incongruous as a pimple against the foothills and the sage-dotted landscape. Now, with the lurid colors of the circus tent sprouted overnight beside it, the town is reduced to background.

Criers careen down Main Street on fantastic spotted ponies, turning somersaults and shouting to one and all:

Come, see the Phoenix, the Gen with the nager of fire, that dies and is reborn again each and every month.

Come! Zlin the Gen With Two Nagers, and the Weregen that turns into a Sime.

Come one and all and see the Siamese Twins, Sime and Gen sisters joined with one body and nager. You must zlin to believe!

Come. Witness for yourself a real, live, Giant Killer Gen!

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"We should sell Lil' Lol to the circus," says one of the Farmworkers, tobacco juice jetting sharply from the edge of his teeth. "Bet he'd fetch a good price, what with his dancin' and playin' about and all."

"Ha," says the foreman. "The Missus will never have it. He's her pet, he is."

"No such thing as a pet Sime," says a third man, and they fall silent.

None of them would have let a drugged pre-Gen from the breeding pens change over to be Sime. It was too cruel. Better to have slit its throat at the first sign of changeover, then invent some tale about barbed wire and an accident.

And yet the Missus will have her way. If she wants to waste twelve Gens a year on a cripple, it is none of their place to do anything about it.

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By noon, a brisk business has been established outside of one particular wagon set aside from the others. See the Pervert, reads the sign, and for twenty-five of the smallest coins anyone can go in and zlin a Sime man kiss and embrace a female Gen.

Rumor has it that for 100 coins, a man can buy a chance to try it out himself, but it is only a rumor, scandalous and exciting. Women become outraged when they learn their husbands have been by the wagon to have a peek.

Clumps of folks stand looking at the big tent, speculating as to the night's show.

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Another of the three-year-olds has died, this one of more than just bruises. Poison, is the conclusion, after the body has been examined.

But how did the little one get its hands on poison? The boss and the Missus inquire of blank, sullen faces and closed nagers, finding no answers among the Farmworkers. The boss fines everyone twenty coins, and still there are no answers. No one wants to point a finger, nobody wants to even look at or think about the culprit, because whoever does it will have the Missus as an enemy. Nobody can afford that.

All of their wages are reduced until such a time as the three-year-old is paid for.

The ambient is ugly, looking for revenge and not daring to take it.

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Come one, come all.

See the Giant Killer Gen.

He's a Prime Kill, zlin? But don't get too close... this one is deadly.

Look at his thighs, like tree trunks. Can you outrun him?

Look at his arms, bigger around than your legs. Do you think you are the strongest?

Look at his beard, full and bristling. No cowering Pen Gen ever lived long enough to grow such a pelt!

Look at his eyes, fearless and fierce, staring you straight on without ever flinching.

Zlin the stoutness of his heart, his boldness and courage. This Gen has never feared. He never will. He has no need for fear.

Beware.

This Gen has killed every Sime that has ever tried to touch him.

And if you get too close, you might be the next.

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The Farmworkers are given the late-afternoon off to go to the show.

Afterward, outside, they exclaim at what they've seen.

A hundred yards off, Lol scowls and kicks a rock, ignored.

The circus has provided them with all the entertainment they need, and even if they did see him they would snarl instead of laughing. Because of their lost wages.

Lol turns one last, desultory cartwheel, then slinks off between the wagons.

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Come!

Zlin the twins, one Sime, one Gen.

They don't zlin like sisters. They don't zlin like they're really joined.

But would a Gen hold a Sime's hand by choice? Would a Gen inhabit the clothing of a Sime, when alert and undrugged and free to bolt or fight?

See how cunningly their dress is sewn. For two bodies, instead of one.

See their hands, and the tentacles wrapped around.

Now zlin -- when they join hands and mouths, their nagers become one!

Zlin, all!

Zlin the miracle. Surely only twins could zlin so alike, with one producing selyn exactly as the other uses it, like a mirror and its reflection.

Zlin!

They are one.

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That night, in the dark beyond the cluster of wagons, Lowell or Lol or Lolo twists straw into balls and juggles them while dancing from foot to foot.

There is no one to see.

Everyone he'd recognize has gone back to the Genfarm.

The circus tent comes down, first the rear post and then the front, like a cow elk being pulled down by wolves.

The balls arc higher, higher, in twos and fours.

A flash of selyn beckons, a trick of obstruction and chance reflection among the business of the troupe's preparations to leave. Lol forgets the balls and lurches forward in hunting-mode, switched over as quick as a cat that has seen the shadow of a mouse.

Grass rains down on grass behind him.

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Come, zlin the Gen with no nager.

A child, you say? Nay! See the hair under the arms, dark and thick. See the hair on the chest, under the chin. This is no child, but a young Gen.

Zlin!

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The nager belongs to a mature Gen, seasoned and powerful and fully capable of realizing exactly what death is. Capable of knowing not only fear, but also sorrow, regret, longing, hope, and disappointment.

A Prime Kill, something Lol will never have no matter how much protection is given him by the Missus.

Something none of the Farmworkers will ever have.

An animal jealousy rises in him as he sees, inside of his simple and uncomprehending mind, the plumed and sequined ladies that had flocked around the Giant Killer Gen during the performance. The Gen had escaped and seized one of them, muscular arms folding around her sleek semi-naked belly and hoisting her right up off the ground. The Gen-tamer had brought him under control, but Lol's eyes still strobe, hours later, with images of broad, meaty forearms and the raw sexual helplessness of the feathered and glittering victim squirming in their grasp.

Sees the Gen strut, masculine and victorious even in chains. His fists raise and he roars at the audience, and they shriek in response, fear and excitement and lust for the kill all commingled into one.

Lol flashes forward between the wagons, their bulk masking his target's nager for the critical instants that fan his intil far beyond his limited capacity to resist.

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Behold the Phoenix.

The Gen that dies, then is reborn, then dies again.

Zlin its nager... full and ready for the kill, yes? And here to demonstrate, our Gen-tamer, Nelyr. Come, Nelyr! Sate your need tonight before this audience.

What? What's that you say, among the crowd? Surely you're not shocked that you will be witnessing a true, live, kill tonight?

For all who are squeamish, leave you now before you zlin any more!

But for the rest, come! Zlin for yourself an entertainment forbidden anywhere but here. Zlin as Nelyr seizes his kill by the arms and wrenches it close. Zlin as -- but ah, it is done.

There. There... zlin now. Has the Phoenix died? Yes, pick up the body, Nelyr. Display it... just like that. Yes.

What's that you say? The crowd. Nelyr, they say they zlin some life. Put the body down again... on its feet. Just like that.

Yes!

The amazing Phoenix is alive! It zlins as a barely Established child, but it lives and stands on its own!

The opportunity to zlin the Phoenix can be had after the show for a mere 15 coins per each, in the red and orange wagon.

But don't zlin too closely -- Nelyr looks like he might want to kill it again next month! Ha-ha.

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In those last instants, Lole or Lowell or Low or 'Lo performs as a Sime is truly meant to perform - not grovelling, but aloft like a bird. The world is filled with screeching alarm all around and there is a solid Gen nager like a guiding light directly in front of his hands.

His hands are outstretched not in entreaty, but in seizure of his prey.

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In the morning, the circus is gone.

Left behind are a wide circle of trampled dust and flattened brush, and the stiff and contorted corpse of Lol the Misfit.

Groups of townsfolk come by to zlin it, and finally the Sheriff, who pronounces him dead of selyn system trauma.

A rider is sent out to the Genfarm and some of the Farmworkers are sent back to retrieve the body.

The boss looks at the body and shakes his head. He has a Prime Kill every month and it makes him different, somehow. Far beyond the Farmworkers in matters of zlinning and thought and even the ability to feel certain emotions.

The workers try to zlin, to suss out his opinion of it all, but they don't have a hope.

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Two weeks later, a pre-Gen almost changes over and two of the workers drown it in a water trough, the death shielded from the big house by the bulk of the main barns.

An accident, of course.

The Farmworkers take their pay cut in silence, glancing slit-eyed at the Missus, their nagers an inscrutable blend of sullen and defiant.

The sun is rising, and the foreman divides the crew. The eight-to-twelve year olds are to be taken out to the high fields to glean wheat from yesterday's cutting. Health inspections and cough prevention doses for the middle ages will begin today, and take several days to complete. The littlest ones, and their dams, are due for a scrubbing and will be taken down to the dust bowl for that purpose. An extra man is detailed to release in turn the gates that will let water sluice out the concrete trenches where the creatures defecate in the Pens.

As the workers disperse, a gust of desert wind kicks up a bit of dust, sends a tumbleweed scurrying in a little circle in the corner of the yard.

It cavorts and capers, bouncing and tumbling, then gets stuck on the wire of the fence and flops there as if aping a getaway attempt.

One of the men sees it, and it makes him smile.

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