Aphelion Issue 257, Volume 24
December 2020 / January 2021
 
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The Scarlet Character

by Richard Tornello


There she sat surrounded by empty seats, alone in the onboarding section. And I, like a voyeur, watched her safely from the distance. I knew no one in his or her right mind would approach her, dare to say 'hello', 'good morning', or any normal greeting.

Others in the spaceport were bunched up in overcrowded onboarding sections. The difference was obvious. They were friendly, talking easily to strangers, telling stories, eating, chasing loose children and doing things that come naturally to travelers. And as usual, I noticed some were a bit nervous, as if they might be new to space flight.

“Look,” I said to my partner. “She?” I almost spat the words as I pointed to her. “She is never approached. No child is ever let near her. In fact you can see she’s sitting in that whole section by herself. No one made her do that. There was no law. It was the red Chinese characters Kang ti 抗体 embroidered on her vest that the planet knows by heart and we all avoid.”

We were all afraid of her. Even the hypersonic jet taking us to the low orbiting shuttlecraft where we all would disembark for our respective deep space voyages had a special separate compartment always reserved for the likes of her and her kind. She was not to be approached, not touched, searched or in any way communicated with except by designated cleared personnel. And, as I was informed, those employees were all volunteers or prisoners who would be granted freedom if they could stay alive for a period of employment. That’s what I heard anyway.

I continued, “I consider her a sinner and this is Gods way of punishing her, her family and those like her. All should be condemned for ten generations.” But I had to laugh at that. “Who would consent to marry them? She will never have children. They will all die out soon enough. I’m sure of it,” I stated.

My partner nodded in agreement and touched my hand. He had heard it all before but seeing this one up close, almost in my face was too much and I had to speak.

“We should have been allowed to kill them all. But being humane, we didn’t. However we didn’t want to be reminded of what they were, a plague upon humanity, and a carrier. We exiled them to a G2 orbital world of their own,” I stated. “It makes me sick.”

“She and her type are the disease carriers. The experts and professionals claimed they were cured and not dangerous. But CX9 killer virus cropped up all the time after time killing and maiming millions with no cure. By all the time I mean annually. And while we died, she and her type lived,” I said as my partner looked at me, holding my hand and squeezing it harder it in sympathy.

"But no more, oh no. We all breathed a sigh of relief as each one was caught, ordered to wear the red Kang ti characters and shipped out."

I smiled with the knowledge of the One I held in my heart and said more calmly, “Once the planet is rid of her type, God will bless us all with a normal existence. Sure we get sick, and have normal diseases, and the seasonal flu. And sure a few hundred thousand might perish worldwide. But that’s life."

“And no matter how much we were informed by the experts, the epidemiologists, the scientists, and politicians that we really needed them, we made sure that anyone supporting them would never be elected again and sent to die along with them.” And I pointed to her sitting there.

She looked up at me and smiled.

I stated a bit louder still pointing, “It’s claimed they have immunity. They have antibodies? And we need them to help stop this annual plague that comes from them? Who is going to believe such nonsense? If we can’t kill them, we should brand their foreheads with a big scarlet A. That little embroidered patch they must wear is too small and can be hidden inside a coat. Do what I suggest and they could never return nor hide among us. What do you think of that?” I asked smugly. I knew he would smile and keep reading his magazine.

It was in Chinese. I never learned Chinese except for that stupid kang ti character. English is the God given language of the people of Earth. Everybody understood it even though it had been said that throughout the solar system Chinese was the real lingua franca. What bullshit. That branded A would have been a better idea.

The call for our flight was being announced.

We stood up and my partner kissed me on the cheek and squeezed my hand tightly. I knew he hated these hypersonic jumps. I looked at him and smiled. I understood.

He looked at me and said in a quiet and somewhat oddly controlled voice, “I love you, and in a way, I always will. You have no idea what you’re saying. I’ve been with you now for over three years and we have planned for this trip to the moon palace. But now after all you have just said, the manner and tone of your tirade, you must know.” And from his inside jacket pocket he pasted a little scarlet Kang ti on his lapel. He grabbed his bags and strode over to where she was sitting. From what I could guess and his manner, asked if she minded if he sat there, pointing to the seat right next to her.


2019 Richard Tornello

Rick always had an interest in writing, art, science and history. He studied at The Art Students League in NYC and picked up a degree in History and Asian Studies from Rutgers University.

He began writing short stories and poems about 12 years ago and has published 3 children’s books and illustrated one book of poems. He also translated the poetry for a Chinese-American poet.

Rick has been published in Aphelion-webzine.com, Orion’s Arm.com, Short-Humour.org.uk and a few stories in the anthology Flash of Aphelion and a new one in Rogue Planet Press, "Fantastacal Savannahas and Jungles" anthology

He is a business owner and a technical/engineering recruiter for working in the Washington DC metro area.

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