"I'm not a racist, Rhie. I just recognize the world we live in and I adapt accordingly."
The school officials gathered around the scene had masks on for the smell. Priss thought that a bit much. She wasn't accustomed to dealing with corpses, but this one had an almost pleasant smell compared to some of the other horrors to smell when living in a big city.
"The door was locked?" Agent Sharpe asked again.
"Locked," The school official repeated, giving a quick look as Priscilla Locke, as if he were so clever.
Priss knelt down, cracking her knuckles through her latex glove, and dragging a finger across the mush of gore that was nearly flattened down. The body looked as if it had been roasting in the hot sun for years, long past the point of identification. She looked up, and breathed in deep the stench of the room. Rot, and dryness and mothballs.
"Anything special, Locke?" Sharpe asked.
Priss glared up at the woman. She shrugged, and looked to the school officials, "If you'll excuse us, please."
The group — the school principal and the faculty members who'd discovered the body — shuffled out of the room. The background noise of the school's plumbing system would drown out their conversation.
"Well?" Sharpe asked softly, crouching down to Priss's level.
"It's not dry," She mashed her finger down on the spot she'd first touched. It gave way, but didn't crumble, like greasy ground beef.
"It's Florida, Agent Locke. Of course it's not dry."
Priss sneered, and pointed up. Sharpe looked. "Smell."
Sharpe shrugged, "Smells like death."
"Smells like death down here. Stand up and smell. What it doesn't smell like is mold or mildew."
"Because it smells like death," Sharpe put in.
"You've never lived in a condo by the beach. If it were humid in here, you'd be able to smell the mold and mildew. Like… mud and piss and stale tobacco. It can smell like decomposition, but then someone would've noticed it a long time ago."
Sharpe picked up on what Priss meant then, "So if this corpse had been here the whole time, it would have dried out, or else people would have smelled it way before just two days ago. I don't know, how is that enough to justify bringing the Foundation in?"
Locke nodded to the device nearby. A stout little device, with wires streaming out of a teapot-like spout. The wires appeared cleanly severed at the end. Dust coated the near side of it, with the imprint of a hand shaped against it. A strip of paper was taped onto the side, with writing on it.
"I still don't see why this warrants our attention."
Priss sat back, resting her arms over her knees as she carefully examined the room, "Janitor said he checked this room a few weeks ago looking for a missing student and it was empty."
"The janitor thought they checked this room. That's not proof enough. The door was wedged shut, we almost had to bust it down."
"Regardless, what we have here is a corpse that has been here far longer than a year or two. We have clear evidence that this room, while not abandoned, has been opened up a few times in the past year or two. Meaning that up until two days ago, this corpse was not in this room."
"Did they ever find that missing kid?"
"Yeah, he was in the auditorium," Priss took out a notepad and started writing notes, "Someone told him about old fallout shelters beneath the school and he started looking for secret entrances around the school."
"Doesn't seem unlikely that someone could hide a body in here. That janitor looked a little Hispanic-y… you know how those types are…"
"No," Priss finished writing, and got up to her feet, "I don't." She knocked on the door, waiting for the school officials to open it up. She noticed they still had their masks on as they came back in.
"Could you smell it out there?" She asked.
The principal nodded, averting his gaze from the mass of meat on the floor, "In the room upstairs, especially. It was the smell that got our attention. We thought it was rats in the ventilation system, but shutting off the air only made the smell worse. We tracked it down here."
Locke didn't bother giving Sharpe a smug glance, the woman was already looking glumly resigned to the upcoming paperwork.
"Alright. Thank you for your time. If you'll please step outside and meet with Dr. Horner above. Just a quick examination, just in case."
The group nodded, and started to trudge out of the small room, heading up the stairs outside. Sharpe pursed her lips, resisting the urge to prod the body with her foot, "You think they caught something from the body?"
"You know that's not what Horner does."
"Mmm… what class do you think they'll get? I was always partial to Class-B's. One hell of a hangover without the hangover."
"Do I look like I care?" She didn't look up from her notes, starting to take note of the clothing the body wore — or what remained of it, "Look at its clothes."
Sharpe looked back down at the body, "What clothes?"
She pointed, and Sharpe knelt down, carefully tugging at a strip of fabric near what had been a person's shoulder. It was blue, and brightly patterned. The threads were still connected to a longer strip going down its arm, and ending in a wide opening.
"Looks like a robe. Not seeing any buttons." She knelt down closer, peering beneath its neck, "Can't see any tag, but I'm not gonna touch it to find out. What do you think?"
Priss shrugged, "Could be nothing. Fabric looks like it was nice. Patterns might be Oriental. Principal mentioned the clothes looked Chinese."
"Could be a Hawaiian shirt."
"I'm operating under the assumption that this person was not a Florida native. Probably not even a US native."
"Probably not an Earth native, even?" Sharpe stood up, "Come on, I'm tired of guessing. Call it in."
Priss looked to the body, then over to the device, "And that thing?"
"I don't know, I can't read it. Fucking ancient Sanskrit or something."
"It's Greek, you fool. Says 'Anabasis'." Priss tried to decipher the rest of the letters. She could read ancient Greek, but couldn't understand it.
"She's too ugly a thing for a pretty name like that," Sharpe snorted, and turned towards the door, "What numbers are free? In case its somehow involved?"
"You're jumping the gun here. We don't know anything about it. It might just be a tank of gas."
"If it does turn up something, use '1856' for it."
Sharpe smiled, "I like that number. Plus, it's the year the Qing beat the Limeys out of Canton."
Priss shook her head absently, "I don't get why you're so obsessed with China."
"The Great Qing Empire is our top political enemy, Priss. It is good to know everything about your enemy."
Priscilla stepped out of the room, ignoring her as she headed upstairs.
Priss held her notepad up over her head, shading herself from the sun as she stepped out of the school and to her car parked nearby. Foundation vehicles and local police swarmed the area, and school had been cancelled for the week due to the discovery of the body. Out of nowhere, Rhiannon appeared, walking up to Priss before she could get away.
"Hey Hey HEY Prissy-baby! You going back to school?"
"It's work, you idiot."
Rhiannon pouted, looking over at the police vehicles nearby, "It's hard to tell sometimes. Shadowy men in black-types don't like flaunting their shit out in public. What's going on that brings you here?"
"Work," Priss repeated, "you idiot."
That made Rhiannon smile. Her lips looked dry, and her teeth weren't reflecting in the sunlight, "Talk ugly to me, baby sister, you know how much I love it."
Priss stepped closer, and noticed how Rhie slid back subtly, making it look like her usual saunters and sways. Priss winced, "You've been drinking. Rhiannon, it's not even 10 in the morning."
Rhiannon pouted again, standing up straight and lifting an arm up, bringing it in and touching her nose with two fingers, as if taking a field sobriety test, "I swear, baby sister, I have not been drinking this day. This day. This day." She winked.
Priss grabbed her arm, and started for her car again, "I'm driving you home. How'd you end up sleeping at the bar?"
Rhiannon didn't resist, but moved jerkily, "I resent that, Prissy-baby; the bar closed at 5 AM, I didn't sleep at all."
Priss thrust her into the passenger seat, and slipped into the driver's seat, setting her notepad aside. Rhiannon grabbed it before she could react.
"Rhiannon, that's classified."
"Fuck off," She thumbed through it, holding the pages upright between thumb and index finger, knowing how much Priss hated that. If she tried to snatch it away, the page would likely tear, "'Chinaman', you still use 'chinaman'?"
"That's what the principal said, based on its clothes."
Rhie kept thumbing through, skipping all the technical stuff, until she came upon a page taken up by a sketch of the device. "Anna Basis. Pretty name for such an ugly little girl."
"It's not a girl," Priss watched as Rhiannon gripped the notepad with one hand, letting the page fall free, then reached out to snatch it away. "It's an inanimate object."
It was typical for Rhiannon to be out drinking all night, managing to slither back home unnoticed well past midnight. It was always up to Priss to get her up in time for work. That Rhiannon hadn't even come home the night before concerned Priss the most. As they came home, Rhiannon carelessly tossed her shirt aside, lazily dropping onto the couch half-naked. Priss noticed a new set of tattoos on her hips, stylized figures wielding spears caught in an explosion of incoherent colors and designs.
"You were fired," Priss groaned.
Rhiannon glared at her, "I was not fired. I quit willingly."
"What happened this time?" Last time Rhiannon had 'quit' had been to pre-emptively avoid being fired for stealing office supplies and trying to blame it on the custodial staff.
"You remember that speech President Shithole gave last year while on campaign?"
"'We don't support subhuman mongrels'?"
"'We don't trade with or support subhuman mongrels'" Rhiannon needlessly corrected. She put her fingers to her nose, pinching it upright like the president's nose did, Then she let go and looked over at Priss, "My boss was chewing out an intern. At some point, he called her a 'subhuman mongrel' and fired her."
"What'd she do?"
Rhiannon lunged at her, leaning off the arm of the couch as if to strike her sister. Then she shrugged, and shook her head, whispering, "Nothing. Something. What difference does it make?" Then she spoke out loud, "The girl was crying. I saw her pass by. She was whiter than me, Prissy. What does that make me, Prissy?"
Priss stared at her for a while, before responding, "You serious? You want me to…?"
"What does that make me, Priscilla Locke?"
"You know skin color doesn't matter a damn. It's all… genetic and ethnic stuff these days. As much white as you are, that's how much of a citizen you are. It's why mulattoes get half a vote, third of a vote, etcetera, no matter if they're darker than a full-blood."
Rhiannon shook her head, "I'm tired, Prissy-baby. I am so, very tired." She flopped onto the couch, covering her face, "The racism… the institutionalized racism. The categorizing and subdividing of people into blocs and sub-blocs and 'special interest groups', like having a white poppa and a white momma is a 'special interest' you can pick up or drop when it suits you. Why are you a racist, Priscilla Locke?"
Priss rolled her eyes, "I'm not a racist, Rhie. I just recognize the world we live in and I adapt accordingly."
"You shouldn't haaaaave to, Prissy-bitch."
"Well I do. Why the sudden ethics lecture?"
"You don't get it, Prissy."
Priss snatched up Rhiannon's shirt from where she'd left it, and tossed it over Rhiannon's face, "No, I don't get it. You quit your job because your boss lost his temper at an intern. You're gonna have a whole lot of fun in the real world, Rhie."
"Not his fault… he's just a man of the times, where racism is the norm."
"When has it ever not been the norm?"
Priss sneered at Rhiannon's silence, then went to the bathroom to wash her face and hands. When she got out, Rhiannon had re-dressed and was on Priss's laptop.
"Columber still pesters you with three or four long-winded e-mails a week?"
Priss's lip curled slightly and she slowly approached her sister, "Yes, Colonel Umber does. You should read the stories he has to tell. He's just like you — a cynic and a freeloading liberal. Bitches about institutionalized racism as much as he can without getting into trouble. You could learn subtlety from him, too."
"He's another man of the times. A good man. And a coward. The good coward who whines about the bad men running this broken world, then goes to work the next morning working for those same men."
"Because there's absolutely nothing wrong or flawed with you, is there."
Rhiannon slowly turned to face her sister, "My flaw is I care too much. About people other than me and my precious white fucking race."
"What are you doing to help them, then? Up until yesterday, you were going to work every morning for the same 'bad men running this broken world.'"
That finally shut her up. For a long time, it seemed. Rhiannon casually closed all the browsers, shut down the computer, and got up from her seat. She pulled her sister into a hug, "Thank you, Priscilla."
"You could at least volunteer for some charitable foundation or something."
Rhiannon let her go, and drifted past her, heading for the door, "Thank you, Priscilla" she said again in a wistful tone.