|T O P I C R E V I E W
||Posted - 01/10/2007 : 09:57:44
Mark Salow's Darwin's Orphans. Mr. Salow has written a well paced SF thriller that highlights societal change and the consequences of near-future technologies. Below you can read the Prologue and first chapter of Darwin's Orphans:
Bobby Joe Peak dodged a lethal bullet but Francisco Ruiz wasn’t so lucky. Bobby
Joe was president so he was the big target and he took a flesh wound to the shoulder.
However, Francisco started “the movement” and he took one in the heart—
his loss was huge.
When the gunfire was heard, people reacted in different ways. Some of them
screamed and dove to the ground covering their heads. Others ran in different
directions with no apparently meaningful destinations. The result was turmoil: a
big man on the ground in the fetal position tripped up a frantic woman trying to
run away from where she thought shots were coming. She landed face first on the
pavement losing a tooth as her gaping, screaming mouth slammed hard. People
ran into each other as in a scene from the Keystone Cops—only there was nothing
comical about their fear. Somebody was shooting and the president was
The secret service immediately picked out the rifles in a neighborhood window
and converged on the building. Both gunmen emerged from it and, realizing
that they were surrounded, pulled out pistols and pointed them at the agents.
With staccato cracks they were each filled with over 20 slugs. It was no mystery as
to who these guys were. The movement had always faced the same opposition.
Francisco called them “Darwin’s Orphans”—the people that never evolved
beyond their savage instincts that they carried in their DNA from the Neanderthals.
So, after leaving a crowd of people in a public square shocked by their heinous
act, two of the Orphans were dead after secret service agents gunned them down
and Francisco was a martyr. Bobby Joe, still laying wounded under the body of
a secret service agent that covered him for protection, peeredthrough the crook of
his arm to see Francisco Ruiz laying dead in the dignitary’s box with weeping
admirers all around him.
Francisco was an amazing visionary and it took many unique twists of fate for
Bobby Joe, First Lady Talia and him to come together. Their combined capabilities,
energies and drives allowed for great changes in the human condition. Their
story is one of how life’s timing is unique and how many events need to unfold at
just the right moment for meaningful friendships and romances to occur. The
violent backdrop of this pivotal event was a small part of their story and their
nemeses shared the same unique timing characteristics to converge together to
create a menacing force.
It was differing views that made this incident take place. On a parallel timeline,
two different worldviews were polarizing and this created a rift in the populace.
Francisco Ruiz attributed this to evolutionary variances. Mother Nature’s
work was changing some people faster than others. Darwin’s Orphans sought
change just like Francisco but it was to a world that kept a somber appreciation
for the status quo. Their story is also a series of uniquely timed occurrences.
For years it was good business keeping the Orphans thriving. Throughout the
20th century and into the 21st, huge corporations made handsome livings from
the blood weapons industries. But Francisco Ruiz figured out a way to shut them
down. This became his life mission during college. He used to challenge his professors:
“Why did so many people get the message of Mahatma Gandhi—that
non-violent methods can solve huge social problems—yet the people still followed
leaders who chose guns as their method of action?”
This question became his quest.
The answer he found in the historical pattern
of every big social change or revolution. Whether dark like Nazi Germany or
light like Gandhi’s enlightenment, a message needed to be constructed that
would cause change and the people would need to desire it. Francisco made this
happen and Darwin’s Orphans didn’t like being the outcasts. The realization that
they were unpopular for their violent tendencies made them desperate.
Media in the year 2031 was pervasive making any hot topic a constant barrage
of audio-visual communications. It was a persistent reminder and it fueled the
angst of the Orphans. On the day of Francisco’s death, his passing was made into
a sort of motion wallpaper with sounds of horror echoing in the background.
This entire assassination attempt was captured and broadcast from many
angles on ultravid screens. Reporters wore ocular devices that were attached at
their temples that ran constantly and continually fed the network. Zooming in
required a quick turn of a hand control. The rally, of course, was populated with
many reporters who watched the shootings from the crowd. The sound would
have been muffled except for those clever reporters who caught on quickly and
pointed a directional microphone cranked up in the direction of the action.
Otherwise, it was a combination of crowd noise, screams, cracks and Bobby Joe’s
troubled reaction over the loudspeakers.
Back in broadcast news control rooms, the program directors picked up on it
and immediately sent out a Special Bulletin. Other non-news programs also got
the alert and flashed offers to viewers to switch over to the bulletin. So, across the
United States and in many other countries, the news spread about the foiled
assassination attempt on Bobby Joe.
Screens were everywhere in this age of ubiquitous communications. After the
melding of personal communication screens and broadcast systems together, they
were then merged with the networked wireless system that enabled everyone to
personally control screens wherever they went.
Biometric fingerprint scanners were small strips that were placed alongside
every screen. All a person needed to do was swipe their finger over them and the
system would pull up their voice pattern. This would allow them to instruct it to
go to a certain channel, call up their personal messages or place a call. Ear buds
that everyone carried managed sound. They were popped in the ear and picked
up the person’s voice transferring signals back and forth via signatures that coincided
with the person’s ID. If many people wanted to watch a common public
screen and pick up the sound, the first person who scanned would need to select
master to maintain control of the screen and others would be guest to the broadcast.
With this system, whether a person carried a mini-screen, viewed their larger
home unit or walked through an office building hallway they could always get
media. It was everywhere. Train cars, airplanes, automobiles and personal transporters
all had them. Thankfully, intelligent crash-avoidance radar was implemented
in cars to keep the growing number of crashes down due to inattentive
driving. Initially, the screens in cars were almost banned due to the amount of
crashes that were attributed to them.
Public and private buildings everywhere featured screens universally. A few
exceptions were inside theaters and cinemas, hospital surgery rooms, bathroom
stalls and a number of other places where they just weren’t appropriate. Otherwise,
people could personally tune in and get news, entertainment or place video
calls wherever they were. This made every hot news story immediately available
and commentators jumped to be the first to provide colorful accounts of the
The first lady was giving a speech when the assassination attempt happened.
She was at the Center for Elimination of Sexual Discrimination. This organization
still had its work cut out for it: you could make the popularity of killing
a thing of the past but it was hard to squelch male machismo. Some men still
thought it was all about themselves, their buddies and “credentials be damned.”
So, the women of America still needed Talia and the strong voice in her. But on
this day, Talia’s strength was tested and it was too much for her to bear.
She was giving her speech, “…so, now the new game of cat and mouse in sexual
discrimination is manipulating the process. Everyone knows the rules are there
to protect people from cronyism or personal preference influencing hiring decisions.
However, some employers are still finding ways to hire the kind of person
they want and not the best person for the job. Taking it to a different level, some
are still hiring fairly but still play games in the workplace. They make sexually
biased comments that don’t fit the rules of ‘inappropriate’ yet they still damage
the women they’re targeting. These very issues need to be addressed to create a
truly non-discriminate workplace. And we have yet another side of this that needs
to be addressed on the home front. But that’s a really complicated matter that
will have to wait for another time.”
Out in the hallway, a security guard was watching an ultravid screen. The special
bulletin popped onto it about the shooting. Not waiting for the details and
not knowing the outcome, the foolish guard impetuously rushed into the conference
room and blurted: “The president’s been shot!”
Talia went white. The press all turned and dialed into their control rooms.
Everyone buzzed around in confusion. Back up on stage, Talia turned to her
assistant in shock. “What happened? What happened?!” she yelled as she walked
over to see her assistant’s personal screen. The details informed her that Bobby
Joe was all right and she smiled briefly in relief. Moments later, she learned that
Francisco was dead. She was stunned a second time, just staring at the screen’s
images of Francisco taking a shot, falling down and laying crumpled on the floor.
The camera moved close up to his dead, still-open eyes and remained there for a
macabre effect. This frustrated Talia and she began to cry. “Turn that off!” she
demanded as the overtly brutal shot stayed constantly on the dead eyes of Francisco.
Her secret service team came to her side, and she asked them to take her to
Bobby Joe. They cleared the way, called to the airship, and whisked her away.
She hated leaving the women that counted on her but she needed to be by his
side. She apologized to them as she left. Considering the event she had just
endured, they reassured her that there was certainly nothing for which to apologize.
As Talia was en route, Bobby Joe was taken to the military hospital for treatment.
They had to be sure that the bullet wasn’t poisonous and that his health was fine
in every way. The secret service kept a vigilant watch and the reporters at
bay as he was examined. He was going to be fine but his shoulder would sting for
Some key advisors were with him and considered how to retaliate for the
attempt on him. Bobby Joe pondered this point. There was nothing to do right
away. Obviously, Henry Drury was behind this. He led the Defenders. This
name was short for Defenders of Natural Freedoms, or DNF, which was the
same bunch that Francisco Ruiz considered the centerpiece of Darwin’s Orphans.
They believed that it wasn’t natural for the entire world to take a non-violence
stand. To them, the urge to kill and to protect oneself from killing was still a very
natural instinct and hence, a natural freedom. So, they diametrically opposed the
movement’s central theme and were a constant threat.
Bobby Joe knew there was no action to immediately take. Wiping out the
scourge of the Defenders would require more planning. It was time to lie low,
recharge, make the Defenders wonder where he was, what he was doing and then
hit them. He explained these strategic steps to his advisors and asked them to get
some ideas going.
Talia then arrived and rushed into Bobby Joe’s arms. “Thank god you’re OK.
For a minute I thought you were dead and I was in shock. Then I heard about
what happened to Francisco…it’s so sad.”
“Yeah, he meant a lot to all of us. We won’t forget what he’s done and we’ll
finish what he’s started,” Bobby Joe said. They both sat in silence with respect for
Francisco and held each other for a long time. After a while, more advisors and
agents stepped into the room. It was time for them to get moving.
“What are we going to do now?” Talia asked.
“I’ve been thinking about that. We need to lie low and blow off some steam
while we’re waiting for everything to cool down. There are these private slopes
that usually have great skiing this time of year and we’ve hardly skied all winter.
So, that’s what we should do,” he suggested. She agreed and he made the arrangements
to keep out of sight at a secret resort nestled in the Rocky Mountains.
They flew on Air Force One in the night to the transfer spot in Montana
where they jumped aboard the helicopter. It was much quieter than many older
helicopters that still existed since it was powered by peroxide—not the hydrogen
peroxide that might cleanse a skin abrasion, just plain peroxide. Scientists had
learned that when it’s in a tank and hits the air it expands mightily giving off a
nice blast with plenty of force. So, it was piped down to the end of copter rotors
with precision timing eliminating the need for a heavy, loud, powerful motor to
do the work. Prototypes of this model of helicopter had been around for about
50 years but hadn’t been produced due to safety concerns, peroxide availability
and other factors. At this point in time, however, it was the standard and this particular
helicopter was already loaded with skis and gear before Bobby Joe and
Talia jumped aboard it.
Talia was a born skier. She grew up not far from their transfer spot and had
skied since she was a kid. Bobby Joe had taken up the sport later in life and
always aspired to be as good as his wife. Many times they’d be on the slopes, he’d
feel like his skills were really coming together and that he was getting as good as
her. It was then that she’d take him into some of the untrammeled snow where
they’d make first tracks. This required a lot more skill and she reminded Bobby
Joe that he still had much more to learn. She’d be schussing happily through pristine
glades and Bobby Joe would lose control and tumble into the powder. He’d
get up looking like a marshmallow man, pause so she could have a laugh, brush
himself off and try again to master the conditions.
Activities like skiing were one of ways that Talia and Bobby Joe stayed close.
They were a rare first couple that didn’t have any children. Although they were
capable of having them earlier in their relationship, they decided not to in order
to focus on the causes they pursued. Talia had considered having a child many
times and she and Bobby Joe almost started into the process when they went
together to Africa for one of Bobby Joe’s concerts. This was in the early years of
the movement. In a world of plenty, there were still countless starving people in
many areas and a large number of homeless children. This was a reminder to
them both that there were still far more people on the globe than there needed to
be and this experience taught them that they could help feed and support these
people that so sorely needed it. So, at that time they made a pact to help set
things right, focus their energy on supporting other people needing their help
and not have their own children.
This aspect did come into play during the political campaign era. People
sometimes quizzed them as to why they didn’t have any children. At a certain
point, this question had become quite tiring. However, when Talia explained the
strife and homeless children she saw in Africa, it touched nearly everyone that
heard about it. Her passion to help eliminate, or at least reduce, the amount of
poverty in the world caught fire and new efforts cropped up to assist these needy
There were some people who were still bothered by their lack of family. Bastions
existed for every cause and concern including family values. The more moderate
of these groups respected Talia and Bobby Joe’s desires and thought that
their goals were to be applauded and ceased questioning them. Others would
never be swayed but Talia’s viewpoints on the subject would still draw in many of
the people that had once disagreed with her. “I respect my parents, friends and
anyone else who has taken on the challenge of raising a child,” she explained at
one political rally. “It’s a big job and doing it well takes concentration and dedication.
But what if every woman that was able to had a child this year? It would
be a population explosion that would devastate the globe. So, you have to consider
‘what am I capable of accomplishing and how important is it?’ Being an
active part of society and solving problems is just as important as adding to its
numbers. I started solving problems with Bobby Joe and we decided that a child,
in our case, would have distracted our focus. So, we elected not to let down the
many people that rely on us and stayed focused. Over the years, we have not had
a child and at this point cannot. However, we are extremely proud of the ‘children’
that we have helped raise on this earth.”
Talia had gone through menopause so there would be no offspring. But they
had many people to care for—only some of them hated what they stood for and
were out to get them. These antagonists were the preoccupation of the security
advisors at the ski lodge. As they sat by the fireplace, the advisors and agents that
were on hand continued to suggest ways to retaliate against the Defenders. Bobby
Joe considered this and he shared his approach with them. “There is no sense in
hauling in a bunch of the Defenders and grilling them for information. If you
want to kill the snake, you cut off its head. We need Henry Drury and we need to
expose his dark side to end his revolt.”
This was a challenge, not a solution. “If Francisco was still alive, he’d have
ideas for solving this Defenders problem,” Bobby Joe thought. As the advisors
and agents all wandered off to bed, he and Talia cuddled by the fireplace watching
the flames move around. It was mesmerizing watching them. Just as some
flames were fading along the side of one log, gravity would shift the fuel around
and new flames would emerge in a different spot. As he watched the playful licks
of the fire, he was thinking about how lucky he was to be there with the warm
crush of Talia’s body next to him. Talia was thinking the same thing about
Bobby Joe as she dozed off to sleep.
The next morning, they had breakfast and went skiing. The secret service was
already in position. They had planned their protection the night before but the
odds were actually very long that anyone knew where they were. This would have
required a mole in their security network and that was very unlikely. The resort’s
private lift had three long varied runs to choose from and plenty of chutes
through the trees as optional terrain. So, coverage was a challenge with the limited
staff but they pulled together an observation plan that worked.
As they skied, Bobby Joe thought more about Francisco and how he could
give him an appropriate ceremony to celebrate his life. Related to this: how could
he bring justice to what was done to him? To Bobby Joe, the answer to this question
was to finish his work and eradicate the last major threat to peace as it stood
that day. This meant to eliminate the Defenders.
On the slopes, Talia was skiing up ahead of Bobby Joe, as usual, and she
pointed off to the left into some trees where there were lots of bumps on the hillside.
Bobby Joe nodded in agreement and followed her over to survey a fall line.
She said one word, “beautiful,” and skied down onto the cascade of snowy
bumps. As she did, Bobby Joe watched for a while before he tackled it. As he
watched her lovely fluid form work her way deftly down the hill, the sounds of
her cutting through the snow flushed out a blackbird that was nesting in a snowy
“That’s it!” he thought, “I’ll flush them out.” He followed her down the slope
in a much sloppier fashion and caught up with her at the bottom. “Hey, I’ve got
an idea. I’ve got to get with the team right now, sorry.”
“Hey,” she said mocking his hey, “with a mountain like this, I certainly don’t
need you around. Knock yourself out.” Bobby Joe always enjoyed her mountain
sayings. When the teenage kids came up to a resort in large numbers and were
extremely rude, as teenage kids can sometimes be, they would drive her crazy in
the lift lines cutting in front of her and running over her skis. They’d notice but
never apologize. On such days, when they tried her patience she’d say: “The key
to enjoying this day on the hill is to watch the kids. Whatever direction they’re
heading, we’ll go the other direction.” He liked the fact that she was so serious
about skiing. They both agreed that if you’re going to do something at all you
might as well try to do it well.
When he got back to the lodge, he shared his plan on getting back at the
Defenders and flushing out Henry Drury: he would use Francisco’s eulogy as a
chance to bring more unity to the movement as well as agitate the Defenders. He
admitted that this could start them attacking but at least they could get their
adversary out in the open where they could compete with them. The Defenders
had become a really adept shadowy group with many years of experienced leadership.
No one was sure where their operation was centered on any given day and
they oftentimes met in the woods where the public would never see them. There
the ultravid cameras would never accidentally capture their image in the background
of a news story or on someone’s vid-call.
It was critical that Bobby Joe leave immediately. His belief was that by having
the funeral very soon and thus putting Francisco in a glowing light would help
take away the press coverage that was now so focused on the assassination
attempt. Broadcasting a new message soon and making a statement for the cause
could distract the press from the shooting and turn the event into the making of a
statesman. Even though they failed to kill Bobby Joe, the Defenders still wanted
attention and Bobby Joe didn’t want to give them that pleasure. In the course of
stealing their limelight, Bobby Joe wanted to sing a song for Francisco. It would
need to be something very memorable that would keep the moment alive for
years to come and he and the band needed to put together one of their greatest
tunes. He thought that this last aspect of his plan could really help flush out the
As he readied to leave the lodge, Talia returned from her day on the slopes.
She noticed all of his bags were being carried out the door by the service men.
“So, it looks like you’re going right away,” she said.
“Yes, the plan is to nip this whole thing in the bud. The sooner the better, as
soon as possible, you get the picture,” he said. She understood of course. There
had been many events that required his immediate attention so she was well prepared
for these situations. Also, when Bobby Joe started to rapidly produce
redundant phrases, she knew he was distracted. “Talia, you should stay here for a
while and stay out of sight. As it is, I may be returning but I’ll be cloistered away
working on my plan. I’ve got a song to compose and an program to put
“I think I can handle a few more days of this snow, Bobby Joe,” she said. “The
powder is, like, totally tubular.” The lilt in her voice on this last comment was
reminiscent of a teenage girl from San Fernando in the 1980’s and she jerked her
head around so her ponytail flipped in the air.
Bobby Joe smiled wide. The specific routine she just did reminded him of the
early years when they first met. He loved it when she lightened him up and made
him laugh. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy the snow. They’ll probably have to pry those ski
poles out of your hands to get you out of here,” he said as he pulled her into a
close embrace. They had a long kiss and stared at each other for a minute before
he headed out to board the airship.
On board, the advisors and agents all approached him as they readied for takeoff.
Bobby Joe requested five minutes of time alone and sat at the window looking
back at the cabin. There was Talia, standing on the porch watching the
helicopter take off. She waved as it started lifting away and Bobby Joe waved
back. He kept his eye on her as she became a little spec far below. He sat silently
thinking about Talia as the clouds started to obscure his view.
If you enjoyed Chapter One of Darwin's Orphans, you can buy Mr. Salow's book at: