They were aiming into the crowd now, utter insanity written in their faces
Priss came home late, and found saw her sister wide awake, dressed in one of Priss's bathrobes. She was smirking fiendishly at her. Priss gave her a big smile in return.
She didn't stop smirking, "You're home early. 9 hours early. Hormone thing?"
Priss sauntered over to her, and tilted Rhiannon's face upwards, "There's nothing you could possibly say that would make me angry."
"Did you hear what happened yesterday morning?"
"Just a mile or so from here. Protests outside an INS office. Police shot someone dead. Now there's more protests downtown."
Priss stared down at her. She was still smirking. Was this some kind of test, or was she trying to provoke her still?
"They're moving refugees into Key Biscayne. The hotels will be flooded with them. Lots of money involved there. Why are they moving them there? It's a dead end. Or has the great yellow tide risen so high that the rats are being pushed up the wall? Next stop's the ocean, baby girl."
Priss shrugged, "You say it like I'm involved somehow."
Rhiannon shrugged, mimicking Priss's action, "Your bosses have got on suits and ties, clean, smooth-shaven faces. Did you know shaving is a sin in the eyes of God, right there in the same Bible that condemns poor Annie to Hell forever as a sinner?"
"My bosses have suits and ties, the politicians have suits and ties, is this the rant you're going on?"
"Men In Black with your amnesty memory eraser drugs… how do I know your people aren't involved? Where will all the refugees go? There's always a demand for fresh corpses at the SPC, ain't there? 'Class-D' you call them. 'D' for 'Dumbass gonna get yer asses killed'."
"I have…" Priss began patiently, seating herself on the armrest of the couch beside her, "just as much of a problem with using D-Class as you do. I do what I can to keep them safe. I don't ever let any D-Class do something I would not do myself, and I never take their deaths lightly."
"I'm sure they appreciate you for that, the dead ones and all."
Priss smiled, "You're not gonna rile me up, Rhie," She leaned in and kissed her head, "I'm gonna take some time off work soon, and we can finally get a full handle on everything that's happened thus far."
Rhiannon leaned her head back, resting on the couch, "I'm going to a planned protest at Key Biscayne tomorrow night. I want to know if you will be there."
Priss shook her head, "That's nowhere near anyplace I'll be. There's nothing I can say to convince to stay home, is there?"
Rhiannon glared at her, "Just don't go. You don't belong there."
Shi Mingxia was forced awake by a violent series of coughs that ended up filling her oxygen mask with blood. She was choking on it when they pulled it off of her, and started cleaning her. She could see it all through a dark red haze, one which only got worse each time she blinked. She opened her mouth to cry out, only to have a tube pushed down into her throat. She vomited over it, but it kept going down, sucking out blood and phlegm to clear her esophagus.
She woke up again, hours later. She hoped it was hours; she didn't want to believe she'd been out for only a minute, and go right back to coughing up blood. Someone was by her bed, face hardly perceptible through the glare of reflected light on the hazmat suit the person wore. The man in the suit smiled, and held up a hand mirror for her to see. She grinned in turn.
She was drenched in sweat, nude and uncovered, blood trickling slowly from her eyes and nose and mouth. The tube was still lodged in her throat, while two new ones up her nose helped her breathe. She looked like a murder victim. She realized she wasn't going to survive this one.
"Look on the bright side," The man, her handler Wu Xiangdong said, "You'll be remembered as a hero."
"Hero?" She gagged on the tube, and started to wretch again. The man pulled the tube out, and she gasped for breath. Her airways felt clear, but she could quickly feel mucous clotting deep in her throat, with a warm splash that likely indicated blood. She turned her head slowly to one side, noting a blood pack connecting to her arm. She was losing it almost as fast as it was being pumped back into her.
"You warned us the lab was breached as we were en route to check on you. The disease could've spread."
"How heroic! And all before I could put my pants back on."
"They tried to dress you, but you started to scream. You were burning up and your skin started to bleed."
Shi Mingxia leaned her head back, the blood pooling in her throat too thick now to let her speak clearly. She opened her mouth, waggling her tongue, and Wu began to re-insert the tube down her throat.
"You're the last survivor of this thing. I know the hospital will do everything it can to help you, but…" He chuckled morbidly, "We can't have you using all the donated blood in Guangdong."
She shook her head slowly, the motion causing her to wretch again as the tube down her throat moved. She couldn't lift an arm, and so simply pointed, up at the television. He turned it on, and switched it to the news, "Don't worry. Everything's going to be okay."
Key Biscayne was off-limits to protestors that day. The mob instead flocked to the strip of land where the Rickenbacker Causeway connected Key Biscayne and Virginia Key to the mainland. Soon they were swarming onto the Causeway itself, flooding the pedestrian pathways, and starting to spread on to the beach, the marina, and the Old Causeway. Rhiannon Locke wasn't sure why she'd expected nothing but shouting and demonstrating all day; it made sense to her that people would treat it like a day out. People were fishing around the Causeway supports, and on the Old Causeway running low and parallel to it. Others were on the beaches. There were even people out in boats, honking incessantly at beachgoers.
Everyone who was involved had a single rallying cry, "Put your hands up, get out of the car!" They'd taken the words of the officers during the initial incident and used it as a password, as a chant, one that took on a steadily more sing-song quality the more they chanted. The incessant repetition was broken up with a "response", in the form of the victim's reply, "Fuck you, pig!" They'd repeat it three or four times, then go back to the first.
It was a party atmosphere despite that. People were drinking, music was playing, food and drink were being sold by vendors. The ones who spoke only Spanish were the most popular for the mob, but tended to get the least business. The chaos never reached the point of violence. Every time someone seemed close to that point, they were taken away by others, dressed just as casually as them. Rhiannon locked eyes with one of them. They touched their index and middle finger to the bridge of their nose. She returned the gesture.
It was still daylight. Everyone was having fun. There was no sign of police or trucks. Rhiannon wasn't concerned. There was a well-known local militia with a "base" just across the Causeway back in Miami. They'd threatened to shut down the protests if they obstructed traffic when the trucks came. The police hadn't commented on that. Rhiannon smiled. Sweeter than the sweetest liqueur…
Priscilla Locke noticed the great shift in tone that day at work. The technicians weren't talking as much. Sharpe wasn't there. A man she'd never seen before — not an agent, but dressed casually, and calling himself just "Brennan" — was being sent up with the Anabasis. Making it even worse, Dr. Marlowe was there to give her a stern talking-to, in that cool-headed tone she loved to use when condescending to others.
"I get your way of thinking, Agent Locke," Marlowe said quietly, standing over Priss inside Room 119, Dr. Marlowe's temporary office, "Really, I do. Who better than a fully trained agent to put in unknown territory first?"
"Then why am I being censured?" She asked flatly.
"You don't understand," Marlowe smiled, sucking the warmth from the room faster than Anabasis could, "It's a matter of policy and procedure; by your own admission you nearly got killed, and for a period of almost ten hours you could not be fully accounted for. Given that we have test subjects to do just what you did, and the technicians' guarantee that they had found a safe spot to pull them out, this is unacceptable."
"You said you agreed with me that D-Class are untrained, unreliable, and overall untrustworthy."
"I did not say I agreed with you, I said I understood your way of thinking," Again that smile, "I am fully capable of entertaining and comprehending an idea without accepting it.
Priss sneered, "Because you're so fucking brilliant, aren't you?"
Marlowe kept that smile up, unflinching, "Another issue I've been meaning to address. Your attitude."
"You keep talking down to me —"
"As of late, your attitude has been, quite frankly, utterly atrocious —"
"Because you keep treating all of us like shit just because you —"
"Priss," Marlowe leaned forward over her desk, no longer smiling, "Stop."
Priss squirmed in her seat.
"By all rights, I should take you off this project. But I won't, because I made the decision to investigate this item when it first came to our attention, and if I took you off now, that would mean I made a terrible mistake in judgment in letting you be the first agent on-site."
Priss stared at her incredulously.
"As it stands, we can't afford to lose an agent of your experience on this project, especially given that the regional overseer doesn't even want you to stay on the project after we secured the item. I had to fight to keep you on board, and you're starting to making me question my decision to do so."
A long moment passed between them, before Priss opened her mouth to further bury herself, "It's all about you, basically?"
"Yes, Locke," Marlowe replied, the slightest catch in her voice betraying her anger, "It's all about me. And if you persist in trying to make me look bad, I'm going to make sure you're always assigned to me in the future, and then I'm going to make your career a living hell. You're going to beg to be thrown into danger like a common fucking D-Class. Do you understand?"
Priss nodded, and got up to leave.
Priss went to check on Aurianne Sharpe later in the day. She hadn't shown up for work, and hadn't returned any of Priss's calls or texts. She went to her small apartment in Brickell, where Aurianne met her in a t-shirt and bike shorts, her face looking red and eyes scratchy. She looked up and down Priscilla Locke's figure, dressed in black suit and tie.
"You couldn't even skip work for me?" Sharpe shuddered slightly as she spoke.
"I— you weren't at work," Priss shifted uncomfortably.
"You texted me that night. You said you were sorry, and wanted to come over and apologize in person."
"You didn't respond…"
"You never came," Sharpe went on, leaning against the door, "Then you called me this morning, didn't leave a message."
"I got stuck in traffic and figured you'd be there, so…"
"Then you come over now, without calling or texting or asking me ahead of time."
"What the fuck is your problem, Anne?" Priss blurt out, feeling her cheeks redden as soon as she did. Maybe Marlowe was right about her attitude problem. Marlowe's never right.
Aurianne Sharpe smirked, and backed away, "Jee whiz, Priss, calm down. I'm just fucking with you. Come on inside."
Priss blushed and stepped inside, "Sorry. I got chewed out by Marlowe today for that outburst."
"What'd she say?" Sharpe asked as she moved over to her kitchen, fetching some drinks.
"That I have an attitude problem, and if I keep screaming at people, she's gonna ride my ass the rest of my career. Also that she isn't re-assigning me because it'll make her look bad."
"I think she likes you, is all," Sharpe returned with a bottle of sangria and two glasses, handing one off to Locke as they sat on her couch, in front of the TV. A West Civ militia captain was being interviewed by local news.
"It's not like I wouldn't mind being ridden by her if she weren't such a genuinely awful person."
"I don't think she's an awful person. Just… maybe a little self-obsessed."
Priss sipped from her glass, and sighed, "At some point something new will happen, and then they'll bring in someone more qualified, or else just put this thing in storage and let us move on to something with less time-space dickery."
Sharpe didn't respond. Priss glanced back at the television, not sure what to say now. She drank again, and gazed down into her cup. For several minutes, neither of them said anything. Priss kept her eyes fixed on the television, not noticing as Sharpe scooted closer to her.
She glanced sidelong, and noticed Sharpe had leaned in closer. She could smell the taller woman's sweat, and the faint scent of a cherry body wash. She turned her head, and Aurianne Sharpe's lips clumsily pressed against hers in a deep, shy kiss. Priss started to quiver. Hadn't Rhiannon warned her about this before? She suddenly felt very stupid for being surprised at this.
Aurianne slowly broke off the kiss, her eyes wide. Priss stared back, dumbfounded. After a long moment, Aurianne Sharpe turned away, sitting upright and wiping at her eyes, "I'm sorry."
Priss shifted uncomfortably, the sangria suddenly not sitting well in her stomach, "Annie, I know what you are and such, I don't mean to… I mean, I've known you as long as I can remember. It's just… you're like a big sister to me. I don't see you in that way."
Aurianne dropped her head into her hands, her shoulders starting to twitch, "I'm sorry."
Priss reached out, awkwardly patting Aurianne's head, "I should… I should go. I'll see you tomorrow, Annie."
The sun went down and there was no sign of the trucks. The size of the crowd didn't diminish; more began to appear, as the heat of the day abated, and most of the boats started shining light onto the water. People were swimming around the Rickenbacker Causeway, near the beach on Virginia Key, where the Old Causeway turned walking path extended out to the bay. Every so often, they would chant "Fuck you, pig!" in response to the smaller group clustered around the walkway or the Causeway itself, who chanted "Put your hands up, get out of the car!" down to them. It was infectious; the more she chanted it, the less it meant to them, and the more passion they put into it.
Some demonstrators had signs which had nothing to do with the protest. Cars were honking at them. Some women were taking their tops off. Others in the crowd got to them and took them aside. Everything the crowd did had to be beyond reproach. Any hint of illegality of any kind and the cops would crack down on them with immense prejudice.
Rhiannon leaned on the metal railing on the walkway, a fishing rod clenched between her legs, as she plucked at the line like the string of a harp. A man beside her was throwing road flares and flashlights into the water. How he'd gotten ahold of them, she didn't know.
"Hey," She said to him. He looked at her in confusion.
"Light," He said, "So you can see the fishies!"
"You're scaring them away," She replied.
He looked at her again, as if he didn't understand. Based on the bra he wore on top of a blazer, she doubted he understood much about the world. She smiled, and leaned in to kiss him on the cheek, handing him the fishing rod, and making her way back to the shore.
She heard low rumbling. The din of noise started to grow. People were cheering, others were booing. The trucks had arrived. The crowd couldn't decide whether to cheer for the refugees, in support of their plight, or boo the men who were taking them to their presumably final destination.
By the time Rhiannon got up to the top of the Causeway, the crowds had swarmed onto the road and were blocking the trucks. Rhiannon shivered and smiled; police were there, but most of the men carrying guns wore camouflage vests and hats and most had some manner of tacky American flag scarves, shirts, shoes, pants, even one woman with red and white straps poking up from her pants. Rhiannon smiled wider; they looked terrified. She wondered if they expected the police to provide more support. She wondered how many actually didn't expect to be there, thinking the crowds would disperse on their own, or at the first sight of shotguns and assault rifles.
Rhiannon was terrible with numbers. She figured the crowd numbered at least two hundred on the Causeway itself… maybe up to two thousand, including those on the beach and in the water. The crowd was frenzied; they'd been preparing for this all day. They'd been screaming and chanting as if practicing for a concert. Now their target audience was here. There were exactly ten police officers, and twenty-seven militia members.
Like the deepest orgasm couldn't achieve. Tears filled her eyes. A few people she recognized came up to her, all wearing heavy backpacks. She touched her index and middle finger to the bridge of her nose. They returned the gesture.
"Everything's fine," She grinned, "Everything's fine like Alpine wine."
An hour passed. People on the beach had moved into the parking lot, closer to the Causeway. The stalled trucks shut off their engines. This drew a great cheer from the crowd, thinking they'd won. They didn't let up, continuing to scream and rage and chant at the militia. The other side of the Causeway was relatively clear; the protestors didn't mind anyone leaving Key Biscayne. A concrete divide prevented the trucks from using the other lane to bypass the crowd.
The trucks opened up, and tired, worn, haggard-looking people began to emerge from them, carrying bags and children. Some were handcuffed. Some were crying. The crowd spontaneously burst into applause and cheering at the sight of them. Then officers and militants started to move them over to the other lane, using riot shields and batons to pre-emptively keep the protestors from blocking off the lane. The refugees began to move, being herded onto the empty lane and down towards the marina, across the road from the beach.
Everywhere one looked, a personal story could be told. An old man with receding hair wearing a dirty white guayabera had his arms draped over the shoulders of two younger men, who helped him move along, while a young boy walked several feet ahead. One woman was sobbing, carrying her tired daughter in her arms, looking just as exhausted as her child. A young man walked hand in hand with a young woman, their faces averted from the crowd. An elderly woman held the hands of two children, while another pushed a stroller with a squealing baby in it.
The most potent drug… Rhiannon shuddered, and ran a hand through her hair, gasping lightly at the sudden rush that went through her. Militia members were looking tense, as the crowd slowly swarmed across the lane, chanting louder now, some screaming directly in the faces of militia. They screamed back, with varying levels of coherency.
"Put your hands up, get out of the car!
"Put your hands up, get out of the car!
A group of protestors broke through the line, causing brief havoc as disheveled refugee and dirty protestor became indistinguishable. The scuffle ended as female refugees and children began to scream. The protestors backed off, but a gap had emerged in the line. A single child stood in the open, sobbing. A militia member, couldn't have been older than Rhiannon, was being yelled at by an older man with a mustache and beret. He then turned to yell at the child. The child — a little girl — was bawling uncontrollably, waddling off in the direction of an older woman being restrained by another militia member. A fiery streak arced from the crowd, smashing directly into the face of an officer, setting him ablaze and shredding his clothes with hot broken glass.
"Fuck you, pigs!"
Rhiannon shuddered again, grasping herself and biting on her knuckles. Tears flowed down her cheeks. It was all so beautiful. It was art.
A stream of blood flew out of the girl's chest from a neat round hole in her blouse. Rhiannon clutched herself tightly and started to wail. The crack of the militiaman's gun barely had time to reverberate before more guns joined in the symphony of murder. They were aiming into the crowd now, utter insanity written in their faces, dealing death in obscene, sloppy spurts.
Music. The crowd played notes in return. Militiamen dropped. Refugees dropped. Molotov cocktails streaked overhead. The Causeway caught fire. Most of the crowd began to run, some leaping off the Causeway and into the bay. Rhiannon Locke recognized most of those who stood their ground, guns drawn, Molotovs being lit, and wounded being dragged to the parking lot. Rhiannon reached into her own backpack, and pulled out a bottle of sangria.
It was past midnight when Priss stepped out of the bar, and gazed up at the sky. The Metro Rail blocked her view of everything but a sliver of the moon. Garbage bags were piled on the sidewalk beside her, one of the bags torn open and pouring onto the street. She sighed, and turned away from the garbage. She heard sirens again. She'd lost count an hour ago of how many there'd been.
"Hey Prissy-bitch!" A voice called behind her. She looked over her shoulder. Rhiannon came running down from the Metro station, coming to a stop by the garbage bags, and dropping onto them with a giggle. Then she bounced back up, and sauntered drunkenly towards her, "Hey. Hey. Hey Prissy."
"Why are you out… here…?" Priss smelled brine on her sister. The closer she got, the stronger it got. Then she smelled liquor.
"Serious talk time, Prissy," She was barely able to stand, slouching over and bracing herself on her knees, "You're going to hear a lot of things about me soon. I want you to know ahead of time, every single thing they say is an absolute stinking fact."
"What did you do?" She heard sirens again. That couldn't possibly be related, could it?
"I did something that I won't tell you, because it's just not as impactful when I tell it. The point is… do you love me, Prissy?"
Priss took a deep breath, "What did you do…?"
"I'm going to assume 'Yes'. I'm going away for a while, Prissy. You won't see me for a bit. Don't worry, I'll instant messy you often. We can set up meetings until this all…" She made a popping sound with her mouth, "…blows over."
Priss was too tired to fight with her for information, "Okay. If you need bail money, just ask, I'll… Just call me in the morning when you're sober."
Rhiannon pursed her lips suddenly, arching a brow at Priss, "Did you see Annie today?"
"Yeah, I did. I went to her house."
"Nothing… we drank a little, talked."
Rhiannon smiled, "What did you drink?"
"What difference does it make?"
"I always figured Annie for a finer winer and diner. And a real sweet girl. Did you drink something sweet?"
"Yeah, we did. What difference does it make?"
Rhiannon smiled again, and gave a choked out sob. She then wrapped her arms around her sister, and pulled her in to a deep, wet kiss. Her tongue pushed into Priss's mouth, slobbering on her tongue. Priss could taste a liquor-tinged sweetness on her tongue. Priss drove her knee into Rhiannon's gut, shoving her away.
Rhiannon turned and skipped away, laughing wildly. Priss sighed and turned around, walking along the end of the block. She thought about what Rhiannon had said… Hopefully she'd end up passed out back home.
Priss glanced up to see two police officers approaching her. They demanded to see her ID, and asked where she'd been around 7 o'clock that night.
"I… I was drinking with a friend," She muttered as she fished for her driver's license.
"Who is this friend?" One officer asked.
"Her name's Aurianne Sharpe."
"Where's she live?"
"What difference does that make?" She furrowed her brow. They glared at her intensely. She started reciting Sharpe's address. Suddenly her foot slipped on the curb, and she stumbled, flopping onto the side of the street. The officers helped her up.
"Ma'am, have you been drinking?"
"Uhh…" She looked up at him, eyes unfocused, her head still spinning from the fall, "It's… I have."
She didn't notice just how flustered the officers were. One turned away, muttering something, as the other pulled out a pad and started scribbling a ticket, "Ma'am, please get yourself home as soon as possible. Do you need a cab?"
She blinked at them. She hadn't even taken out her license yet. She shrugged, making herself sway a bit, "I can make it I just live… a few blocks that way," She pointed in one direction, then the other. One of them grabbed her hand forcefully, and pressed the ticket into it, "Oh thanks! I'll read this in the tomorrow. Thanks so much officers."
More sirens, and then a police cruiser flew by. What did you do, Rhiannon Locke?