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Returning Excerpt No. 6

US Border Security HQ, 2045

Colonel John Baring, United States Border Security Force, was having a problem with the fence systems. A few years back, a president had started to build a literal wall along the Mexican border. Baring had been in high school then, but even as a high school student it was obvious to him that the man was a nut. All you had to do was look at a topographical map—something Boy Scouts knew how to do—to see that the job wasn’t practical.

There was a lot of crappy terrain along the Mexican border. There was also a shitload of water on either end of it and, anyway, most illegal immigrants back then came in legally and just never left when their visas expired.

In the end, about the time Baring was a rookie, sanity had prevailed and the wall became a fence. The original was eighteen feet high, made of reinforced chain link with razor wire at the top, and extended six feet into the ground anywhere the ground was soft enough to dig. If it was solid rock, obviously, that couldn’t be done, so the bottom edge was simply secured to the rock with thick steel strapping and bolts set a foot deep in the rock.

Every mile, there was an opening, carefully monitored with closed circuit television cameras, intended to allow animals to cross the border. Baring doubted that anyone back then had really cared about migrating jaguars, but it earned the politicians points with the animal rights people, and helped mitigate the fallout when they were simultaneously gutting the endangered species act to make things more convenient for their corporate sponsors.

There were junior agents who did nothing but monitor the border cameras. If they saw a human being trying to come through, a remotely-piloted drone was dispatched to herd the intruder back to where he came from. If he wouldn’t cooperate, the drones were armed.

In a spirit of fairness, the same system was installed along the Canadian border. Mostly, it worked out okay, though there were some problems with towns that straddled the border up in Maine.

The single fence system had worked for a few years. Then two more fences were added, on the American side, installed twenty and forty yards from the original. These were simpler, six strands of electrified barbed wire on metal posts. The sort of thing you’d install around a pasture, but with less space between the strands.

Now they were working on the final touch. Every fifty yards along both borders, round concrete supports were being installed. A dome-shaped turret was fitted to the top of each support, designed to operate autonomously. Each dome held a six-barrelled minigun, firing 5.56-millimetre ammunition, the same rounds fired by the American military’s standard issue Selwin rifle.

The turrets used a combination of infrared, visual, and sonic sensors for targeting. If something was detected coming through the border fences, the turret would rotate to cover the target. Speaker systems would issue orders to halt in appropriate languages, English and Spanish along the Mexican border, English and French on the Canadian. If the target stopped, further orders would be given to turn around and go back. If the target complied, that would be the end of it.

If the target didn’t stop, or started to come further into US territory instead of going back, a six-round burst would be fired, aimed to strike the ground about ten yards in front of the target. If that didn’t turn him back, the turret went on automatic and directed a three-second burst into the target.

Baring thought that was a little excessive, to be honest. In three seconds the minigun would fire between 100 and 130 rounds. It depended upon how quickly the motor spun up, how well lubricated the system was, and whether any rounds misfired. Baring thought a half-second burst should be sufficient. That would put about fifteen rounds into the target. More than enough to do the job, and a lot less mess to clean up.

But they were having a problem with the recognition system. It was targeting anything warm blooded, which meant they were killing a lot more animals than people. The system was supposed to be able to recognise animals and let them go. Illegal entry was punishable by death for people, but not for critters. Your average deer, peccary, mountain lion, wolf, or coyote, couldn’t understand English, or any other language, and wasn’t likely to be a criminal rapist, murderer, or drug smuggler anyway.

That just wasn’t right, Baring felt. Obviously, no one cared if they killed some criminal trying to sneak into the country. That was standard policy within two miles of the border. Past that limit, they’d just arrest them and send them back where they came from.

It was less of a problem these days, in any case. Not that many Mexicans were trying to sneak into the United States. There was more of a future for them if they stayed home. A limited number of agricultural workers were allowed in every year. Once chipped, it was relatively easy to keep track of them, and they were sent back home at the end of the season.

True, the choice of warning languages sometimes proved problematic. Warning them to stop in English and Spanish didn’t always help that much if the illegal only spoke Mandarin, but the warning burst was understandable in any language. Regardless, there was no good reason to be killing animal while trying to keep criminals out of the country. Baring didn’t care that much about a few dead Mexicans, but it bothered the hell out of him to kill some innocent deer.

Thoroughly flayed by the miniguns, there wasn’t even the potential side benefit of some fresh venison.

There had been some requests that the system be adjusted so that it would intentionally shoot any coyotes encountered east of the Mississippi, where they were an invasive species causing problems for the native wildlife. They tried, but no one could figure out a way for the system to tell the difference between one canid and another, and the last thing they wanted was for it to start shooting foxes and domestic dogs. The citizenry would tolerate killing illegal immigrants, but if you started shooting their pets you could end up with an armed uprising.

It was a software issue, he was sure. And it would have to be addressed. People were going to start getting upset if they found out the border defences were shooting fucking Bambi instead of criminals.

Once that was taken care of, Baring could get back to chasing down drug smugglers. They were more of a problem anyway. Smuggling was mostly a problem along the northern border now. The old Mexican cartels had been put out of business after the government reclassified most Schedule I drugs as legal and allowed them to be sold in any pharmacy. Prices dropped, quality was regulated—which eliminated 90% of the overdose issues—and there was now tax revenue to be had from the sales. A few addicts still died, but not as many as before, and making the drugs legal seemed to reduce the demand. Like anything else, once drugs were no longer forbidden, they didn’t seem as tempting.

True, it wasn’t as lucrative for the politicians as it had been when most drugs were illegal. Ethical pharmaceutical manufacturers made campaign contributions, but weren’t nearly as ready to offer the sort of unreported, personal contributions the cartels had employed to make sure their product stayed illegal and overpriced.

Most of the smuggling these days was birth control pills, condoms, diaphragms, and other anti-pregnancy aids. The Department of Public Morality closely regulated access to birth control, making sure it was only used for medical purposes. His own wife had problems with irregular periods, so she was allowed a prescription. A lot of women did, provided they could find the right doctor, and a pharmacy that would fill the prescription. That was up to the pharmacist, and the Catholic ones were known to turn away anyone seeking birth control.

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