It was a rare day. The sky was clear. Usually a dirty-orange dome of filth hovered over Blue Town.
Here, the town's hero, Sergeant John McQueen, stood high on a plastic podium. Before him a sea of puffy-faced people were giving him a big sendoff. He was getting ready to go after his five-hundredth infected Dinky. And he wouldn't be using a squirt gun. Squirt guns had been outlawed.
Throughout the crowd, Humpty-Dumpty-shaped people with faces like pigs, joined hands and shouted out cheers of encouragement; but living in one of the few remaining livable places on earth and a fear of the green grass virus, forced these well-wishers to stay in the confinement of the sterile blue grass. McQueen's speech could not be watched on TV. Debris from satellite wars had clogged broadcast signals.
Each time McQueen waved to the pink-faced people, phony smiles beamed up at him; and even though hope radiates from their swine-like eyes, in their hearts they wanted to know when the danger would end. They wanted to know when they would be free to venture off the blue grass. But until they were freed, they chose to be entertained.
Having been partially brainwashed, McQueen didn't know if he was providing productive or destructive entertainment. If he couldn't capture the escaped Dinky, he would have to do something he had never done before. He would have to shoot a Dinky.
Years ago, an electronic magnetic pulse wiped out all computers, cell phones, and devices that ran on magnetic strips or disks. Now, some of the old technology of the twentieth century was slowly being revived. If the broadcast signals could be tuned in on one of the ancient, picture-tube TVs, these bored, pudgy people of Blue Town would spend an exciting evening stuffing food into their mouths and watching their hero kill on TV.
McQueen looked beyond the crowd. The green virus-infected land outside the boundaries of the safe blue grass was deserted. Warrior guards marched within the confines of the blue grass; and even though it wasn't necessary, they waved their arms in the empty air and shouted, "Stay away! Stay on the blue grass!"
The people of Blue Town usually didn't go near the orange warning signs; but this day, a few chub-faced rebellious youth became brave. They moved toward the dangerous green grass. But their bravery didn't last. Like all the other pig people, they didn't want to mutate. If they touched the green grass or non-approved water they would mutate and shrink to little, big-eyed, floppy-eared Dinkies. Then, they would be forced to live out the rest of their days working in the green, virus-filled, agricultural fields.
One by one, the young pig people waddled away from the green danger and crammed their ballooned bodies into the mumbling huddle of other pig people waiting on the parade field of blue grass.
In the distance, gray loudspeakers, on tall steel poles, screeched and clicked. As if it were a conditioned response, all heads turned toward the sound. The sergeant of the guard's voice blared into the sun-filled day: "Stay on the blue grass!"
Holding his opened palm up, Sergeant John McQueen reached skyward. He held a salute to a higher being and posed to be photographed for a propaganda poster. Throughout the crowd, the pig people nodded their pink heads and grunted with approval. Just before the camera snapped, Corporal Burke pushed against McQueen and stuck his ugly face into the picture. In the mirror reflection of the camera lens, McQueen could see what would be the finished picture. In it, Burke's face was unshaven; and he was forcing his ugly cheese-face smile. Even though he wore an extra tight fitting uniform, it was wrinkled. And his corporal stripes were dull and old; they announced the shame of not being promoted in years. His appearance broadcasted laziness. Next to McQueen's perfect military appearance, Burke stood out like an imbecilic leech.
The spindly cameraman placed his hand on the tripod and looked up from behind the camera. "Corporal Burke," he said, and waved the back of his hand in a sweeping motion. "Sergeant McQueen is the hero today. Step down please."
With an expression of a man who had just been caught with his fly down, Burke touched his receding chin and blew air out of his thin-lipped mouth. With bitter reluctance, he stepped down off the podium.
Sergeant McQueen stood alone and watched himself in the camera monitor. He was dressed in his white warrior uniform. Various colors of medals lined the left side of his chest. His coal-black hair hung smooth and sleek down his straight back. When he lowered his arm, his three gold sergeant stripes shimmered in the silver sun; and his jet-black eyes leveled a lingering gaze at the people in the crowd.
The cameraman snapped the picture and mechanically folded the tripod. Then without emotion, he slung it over his skinny shoulder and walked away.
Corporal Burke jumped back up onto the podium and announced, "Augur, the hero of the mutant Dinkies, has been spotted."
A reporter with a gray beard yelled out from the crowd. "How can that be? Augur is a myth."
Burke shook his head. "Augur is no myth. He's an escaped Dinky. He's been infected with a new strain of virus. He's wanted dead or alive. If Sergeant McQueen can catch him, he'll capture the all time record."
Waving his hand and bobbing his red-haired head like a scarlet beacon, a little freckled-faced kid in the crowd yelled up at Burke. "Corporal Burke, I thought you had the all time record."
Burke assumed a posture of superiority and looked toward the little kid, but he did not make eye contact. "No son," he said as if he were trying to convince the crowd. "I told you, 'I hope to have the record some day.'"
The kid put his hand over his mouth and his eyes narrowed with suspicion. Burke turned his back to the kid and pointed to Sergeant John McQueen. "If you reporters will step forward." He motioned with his hand. "Sergeant McQueen will answer your questions."
As the reporters waded through the crowd, Burke leaned over and whispered in McQueen's ear, "Why should the corporation give you the right to reproduce?"
"It's the law," McQueen said. "If you capture five hundred Dinkies you will have earned that right, too."
"If you catch the Dinky," Burke said, and his lips curled into a self-important smile. "Why don't you use some of those reward money credits and buy something to bulk up that puny body of yours?"
"I like my body the way it is," McQueen said, and tensed for the reporter's onslaught. Highly excited, the news reporters pushed and shoved their way up the four little steel steps and rushed up to stand on the plastic podium. McQueen reached out to shake their healthy left hands, but they didn't acknowledge his friendly gesture. They lifted their right hands and pointed their camera-implanted cam-fingers at his face. The questions flowed.
"Sergeant McQueen, how are you going to do it this time?"
"If you capture Augur alive, will you ask him where all the Dinkies are going?"
"What if he throws virus water on you?"
"What will you do if he hits you with a piece of wood?"
"Augur is the champion of the Dinkies. Will you have to kill him?"
McQueen turned and smiled at the cam-finger pointing reporters. "I'm a warrior for the Chief Earth Officer. Until advances in science make it possible for us to go off the blue grass, I will continue to take orders from him."
A reporter, with only one middle finger on his hand, pointed his cam-finger in front of McQueen's face. "Did Chief Earth Officer Nelson order you to pursue your five-hundredth Dinky if it runs off the blue grass?"
McQueen didn't answer.
Another reporter, with a full set of fingers, pointed his little cam-finger at him. "The world knows you were exposed to the wood-virus when you were a boy. Will that virus affect you in the future?
"I'm not a prophet, McQueen said. "Don't ask me about things that haven't happened yet." He looked down. Even though charged particles striking the earth's magnetic field played havoc with the all communications signals, a reporter standing next to the podium was trying to get a picture on one of the few working TV monitors. For a brief second, the dark screen fluttered and came in clear. A side view of McQueen appeared. Under his smooth-fitting uniform, the symmetric muscles on his strong arms moved with the sinuous grace of a dancer and then the screen blinked black.
Another reporter, with a two-fingered hand, flashed his cam-finger at McQueen. "Why do you call it a chase when it is a battle against the virus?"
McQueen didn't answer.
Another reporter's voice rang out. "How much longer do we have to stay on the blue grass?"
McQueen smiled a big white-toothed smile in the reporter's direction. "After I capture my five-hundredth Dinky, all your questions will be answered."
The reporters swarmed around him; and reading pre-prepared reports, they talked into their cam-fingers.
Corporal Burke wormed his way through the reporters and stood at the front of the podium. When he raised his hand, all heads in the crowd turned toward him. "Escaped virus-carrying Dinkies are still a danger to the world." He raised his clinched fist above his head. "They must be shot with the antidote."
Waves of murmurs flowed from the crowd. Burke made a T sign with his hands. With enough menace in his voice to make the people comply, he yelled out, "Time out!"
Quiet cloaked the crowd and he continued. "Sergeant McQueen has done his job before. He will do it again. Let him pass and get on with it."
McQueen looked at the route he would have to take to get to the OvalCar. A hoard of pig people bunched together and blocked his way. He whispered to Burke. "That's a lot of people to wade through."
Burke nudged McQueen's elbow. "They're not people. They're pigs."
Even though the pig people had the characteristics of pigs, deep in his heart, McQueen knew they were human beings with fragile feelings. The more Burke disrespected them, the more McQueen didn't like it. He flashed a disapproving look in Burk's direction and stepped off the podium. A wall of well-wishers surrounded him. Somewhere behind him, a voice called out. "Sergeant McQueen!"
McQueen looked back over his shoulder and watched through the open space below the elbow of a reporter's lifted arm. The little freckled-faced kid's red head was bobbing through the crowd and getting close.
The crowd was too bunched up for the kid to get to McQueen. After a brief struggle with an extra large fat lady with a butt that stuck out so far that it looked like a shelf, the kid turned and ran up to Burke. Burke acted as if the kid wasn't there, but the kid persisted. When Burke finally looked down, the kid presented him a piece of plastic paper. "Can I have your autograph, sir?"
Burke took the plastic paper and signed it. "Here!" He pushed it into the kid's chest. "You little son of a bitch."
For a moment the kid's eyes filled with tears, but in a flash, the despair in his freckled-face fill with hate. He gave Burke a dirty look and threw the paper on the ground. McQueen wanted to go over and comfort the kid, but the crowd parted and he walked toward the waiting vehicle.
In the center of the crowd, a lumpish lady waved a red hat in the air and shrieked, "Don't let them hit you with the virus-water. You'll turn into a Dinky."
A man's voice from the right side of the crowd rang out. "Be careful. We don't need another dead mutant like your father."
McQueen cast a mean glare to where the remark had come from. All advice stopped.
So what if he happened to get exposed to the water-virus, he had been exposed before and it had not affect him. The antidote they gave his father didn't work and he died. He was okay before they touched him. But it may have been because the water-virus has different strengths.
A reporter, with reddish-brown hair falling over his eyes, blocked McQueen's path. When McQueen was close, the reporter lifted his hand and stuck his cam-finger in front of McQueen's face. "Is he right?" he asked; and with his other hand, he pushed his hair from his green eyes. "Were you exposed?"
McQueen talked into the reporter's single cam-finger. "I've never been exposed to-" he said, but stopped.