like the deepest orgasm couldn't achieve, nor the sweetest liqueur
Priss watched as the Anabasis came on, sending that familiar streak of cool air through the room, and the man-shaped mass was brought back into being. It had been a man once; what came back looked like something's attempt to put back together what had exploded into pieces of meat. A man-shaped, man-sized, fully clothed hamburger.
"Something stripped him," Edgars muttered through his gas mask, prodding at the mass with a long pole so as not to put his hands on it, "Look. All the buttons are done up. And the camera's missing. The shoes, too."
"Saw it coming," Priss said smarmily, "No reason to be using D-Class. Machines. A mannequin with a tape recorder. Anything. We can't communicate with them once they've crossed over, so why bother with a living person?"
"We use 'em or we lose 'em," Another technician said, "And it's better for them if they get to stay with us than returning to prison. You see how those places are lately?"
"No," Priss said, again blandly, watching as the man-shaped hamburger started to wetly slouch, "I haven't."
"Filling up with illegals. I hear it's worse in Hawaii and California, but since they're starting to get overcrowded, they're sending Chinese refugees all the way over here. Not just in the prisons, but the immigration people, too."
"Why do we even need D-Class anyway?" Priss glared at the group. Four 'technicians', two junior researchers, and her, an agent. Normal personnel outnumbered all the D-Class on-site. Priss figured there was no reason they couldn't use animals first, then some volunteers when it got safe.
"You'd rather go in?" The technician — Sandy — said.
"Yeah, I would," Priss jumped slightly as the slouching corpse abruptly keeled over, head smashing wetly into the floor, "These kind of prisoners have nothing to gain and nothing to lose. Nothing stops them from lying their way to freedom."
"Getting caught does," Edgars retorted. He abruptly jerked, "Easy, baby," He patted the Anabasis, and began to fan some of the anomalously cool air towards its heated surface.
"You just reminded me," Priss butted in, "Whatever became of the reports? The hallucinations?"
Sandy shrugged, "Probably something brought in by Ana. We quarantined the school and flushed it for any airborne pathogens or something. Haven't had any recurrences since."
"Is that what they said?" Priss mused. The measures the Foundation took to prevent just that sort of thing made that statement suspect. The fact that both Sharpe and her had seen and touched the same thing also made the idea of it being a pathogen or a hallucinogen suspect, "Where's the full report?"
"Not done yet. Marlowe's more focused on her."
Priss turned, and found her gaze drawn immediately to the Anabasis. It hadn't moved, hadn't changed in any way. It was an inanimate object, and only reached up to her knees. Yet it had drawn her attention first. She suddenly realized everyone had been referring to the device as if it were a living being.
"It's not alive, you know," She glared at Sandy in particular.
Edgars gave her a queer look, "Yeah, we know. Were you having doubts?"
"You keep calling it 'she' and 'her' and 'baby'…"
Edgars shrugged, "Like ship captains call their boats? Like guys call their cars? So what?"
She turned and left.
For the first time in a month, Priscilla Locke came home to a normal, tidy house, her sister fully dressed and not drunk or entertaining strangers and gossiping behind her back. For once, she was actually cleaning, and had on her prosthetic teeth.
"Hey, Prissy… How're the hormones treating you?"
She couldn't hope for too much change in her all at once.
"You know that's not funny, nor an appropriate greeting at all."
Rhiannon shrugged, "Just making sure you remember who you are. Who you were. Everything. I'm talking to people, like you wanted."
"Therapy?" Priss was hopeful, though this wouldn't be the first time Rhie had decided that 'getting help' meant using other people's money to buy 'them' liquor.
"Group sessions. We talk. It helps," Rhiannon looked like she was telling the truth. She even kept eye contact longer than Priss, "I was just waiting for you to come back home. I'll be out late. You can look after yourself?"
Priss nodded, unslinging her bag onto the table, watching as Rhiannon went out the door without a snarky word or an odd smirk over her shoulder.
Before the Second World War, the building had been a Jewish Temple. That was until the "Hep Scare" when the flood of anti-Semitic migrants from northern states to South Florida just so happened to coincide with the elections that brought in a West-Civ majority in the state senate. Then it became a charity, with much of its former owners still holding the deed to the location. Then it was abandoned during the riots of 1970. Then it was briefly used as a detention center for protestors just ten years before. Then it was abandoned again.
The lights were on at night. Nobody stopped people from coming inside. It was a peaceful mix of junkies and their dealers, prostitutes and their eager clients, and even the infirm and homeless being tended to by people of some means. But everyone who touched their fingers — index and middle only — to the bridge of their nose always got a reply from the squatters who seemed to guard the stairwell heading down to the cellar. The scene down there was like a vision of hell.
In one corner was a teeming mass of nude bodies, different sizes and colors, the occasional figure prying itself from the mass, drenched in sweat and other fluids, sometimes followed by a fresh figure slipping in their place. Some more conventional couples stuck to themselves, not willing to share their experience, but vain enough to want an audience. Elsewhere, people drank, smoked, snorted, ingested all manner of hallucinogens and mind-altering drugs. Others read from books — the Qur'an, the Bhagavad Gita, the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, Thucydides, Xenophon, Confucius, Lao Tzu… Everything and anything that might've been considered "suspicious" to an ordinary citizen and loyal member of the West-Civ party.
At the far end of the room was a single couch, with a light directly above, and a microphone leaning to accommodate some speaker reclining comfortably on the couch. Rhiannon Locke wished she could say she went straight for the speaker's post the first time she came in here, but in the years since she'd first discovered this den of sweat and smoke and liquor and piss, she'd found herself many months at a time in each corner of the room, sampling everything she could.
Now, seated at the speaker's couch, she felt elevated like the deepest orgasm couldn't achieve, nor the sweetest liqueur or the most potent drug. This must be power, she thought.
"You're all my family now, do you realize that?" She warbled softly into the microphone. She could never tell if it was even connected; she never heard its reverb, or the tinny echo of her own voice bouncing off the far room. It was always hard to hear for her.
"A family looks out for its members. We fight and bleed as one. We yell and criticize each other, but the moment someone not in our family tries to step in, we shout as one 'STOP!'… Only we as a family can call one another out on our flaws.
"What brings us here, together, as family is exactly what disconnects us from the world around us. You and I, man of the times and gal in tow, we tried to fit in, to try to show the world that we belong here.
"And they said no. And more than just saying 'No', they did 'No'. Conditions were ripe for a brave new world — a revolution! For boys and girls to live free and equal, all types and all skin tones.
"But all we got were no's. 'No'. 'But wait,' some say, 'what about that time they tried to make a change? The time they said 'fuck it all' and let us all live together for a time? It was a lie. A lie, and all the more revolting for being so timely.
"They kept you in a cage, then asked 'why are you in a cage? get out of the cage' they said, while you were locked in a cage. You flailed and flustered and begged for help, and they said 'Look here, now, at this little whelp; unfit to be our equal, just as I said' then they opened the cage and made you bow your head.
"I know this is history for you all. Ancient, old, in the past. The struggle is now, the change to come will be ours and it will not start from a cage with a lock on the door. I tell you this now because there's war eruptin' far from our shore. The Great Qing Empire has re-invaded southeast Asia. 'The fuck does this have to do with us?' some of you ask. Well, if I must explain…
"People from there are coming over here, living in fear of their end drawing near. And the first to leave any conflict area are always the men of the times and their wives of means. 'Means' means 'white', or in this context, 'white enough'.
"Wasn't too long ago we called them 'Chinaman', no matter if they were from Malaysia, Indonesia, Dai Viet, or Nippon. 'Ching Chong Chinaman', we cackled at them. 'Ching Chong Chinaman'. Now we throw open our doors and beg them to come to us. But only the white ones! That won't stop the others from taggin' along, though.
"So our pretty white country favors the light-skinned, and they take them along into their refugee centers and immigration services. You ever been to the local immigrant station down yonder Southwest 17th street? Some people pitch tents on the lawns, that's how long and tedious that process is. What do you think will happen when white, upright Asian refugees start cloggin' up the services far out west? They'll start moving the brown, low-down Hispanics from Bumfucktown, Guatemala further and further east.
"And guess what; this is Miami. We're the end of the line. Everything rolls downhill, and they'll keep shovelin' what they consider to be their 'shit' until it piles up on us. Lovely people, Central Americans. Where will they keep them all, the local government?"
Rhiannon looked around. The orgy seemed unaffected, but everyone else showed at least passing interest in what she was saying. The readers and lecturers had stopped and were listening. More than enough people were quietly hanging on to her every word.
"Remember where we all started off: locked in a cage."
It'd begun before she'd first learned about it. Rhiannon knew this. She didn't want people to have to wait to see it unfold; she wanted her words to strike like a revelation, and the next day everyone would look up and suddenly see what was happening right outside their front doors.
The INS office on SW 17th street was nestled right in the middle of a sprawl of residential housing, upper-middle class and lower-middle class largely mingled together, just a few miles from the luxurious Coral Gables neighborhoods. Buildings around the office had long since been demolished and remained vacant lots. No one saw refugees squatting on their front lawns. But they had to look if they ventured past their blocks.
A few dozen people from Southeast Asia were now being brought in by local government convoys. The line already waiting was told to move back, and let the Asians in first. At least 50 or 60 newcomers from Dai Viet and Laos were being put ahead of them. Most of them were well-dressed, if frightened and tired, carrying bags with them.
Rhiannon wasn't naïve enough to believe racism was a one-way road. Some of the refugees already in line saw these newcomers as intruders, given undeserved special privileges and recognized the injustice of this. Most simply saw "Chinamen" and got angry.
Rhiannon sat in the vacant lot, nestled on a branch of an overgrown low-hanging tree, able to take in the entire sight. A select few of the Hispanic refugees refused to move. Police started to approach them. The refugees held their hands up, and started moving around. Not away, but just… around. Some moving in circles, just to prevent the police from taking them by the shoulder and forcibly moving them along. They would have to use force on them. The police just weren't ready for this.
It was earlier than usual for the INS station to open. Rhiannon knew this. That's why she had told the group at the Temple to spread it around town that the station would be open this early. It was just about 6:45 AM. More refugees began to move in to stand in line, and saw the absurd sight of men and women with their arms up, screaming protests as they ran in circles, the cops grabbing some and looking hesitant to tackle the others. This was the sort of scene they'd seen in Texas, Arizona, California. Not all the way down in Miami, Florida.
7:20 AM, the protestors got tired, and simply moved out to stand in the street. Someone had brought signs, mostly scribbled in Spanish, the message not quite clear overall; some read 'Chinese go home', others read 'Cubans were here first!', an assortment of others protesting the favoritism of light-skinned Asian refugees over the darker-skinned South and Central Americans. Rhiannon grinned as she recognized at least two of the signs in her handwriting.
Less than thirty people were gathered in the streets. By 8:15, it had grown to sixty, mostly in the form of bystanders, nearby residents watching, and the very beginning of local news media on the scene. Traffic was starting to thicken as people drove to work. The protestors were starting to hold up traffic. Shouting matches began between residents and protestors. Cars that stopped too long got dirty hands pounding on the fronts, as if their message were clear enough through the rage-fueled din of angry men and women shouting and stomping around.
That got police moving, as they started grabbing and rough-handling people. Screams and shouts intensified. A car screeched to a halt, hitting a protestor with enough force to knock them onto their knees, screaming. He got right back up to his feet, not so much as a limp as officers pulled him away from the car. The man in the car rolled down his window, started yelling. In rage? Confusion? Panic? She wasn't sure if anyone close by could tell. It was just noise; more noise in the dissonant orchestra of rebellion. The confusion was too much. An officer drew his gun. Amongst the din, Rhiannon heard, "Put your hands up, get out of the car!" Another officer repeated it, then another.
She had no idea who the man was. He was bald, had a goatee, was wearing a tanktop. Could've been Cuban, could've been Honduran, could've been a white boy from Orlando. Whatever got into him, he shouted, loud enough for Rhiannon to hear, "Fuck you, pig!" and hit the gas.
Gunshots ran out, and the car jerked to a halt after moving backwards several feet. People screamed in terror and started to disperse. The car's windows became clouded with cracks and blood. The man had panicked, and hit the gas in reverse, but there was no way the cops could've known he wasn't intending on blowing through them. Now the cops were panicking. Rhiannon knew it was horrifying, tears welled in her eyes, and her guts churned in revulsion. It was a tragic event. An accident, even. Then she laughed, feeling elevated like the deepest orgasm couldn't achieve, nor the sweetest liqueur or the most potent drug.