You, Priss Locke, are not responsible for your sister or her actions.
Priscilla Locke waited all night for her sister to return. The next morning, she found Rhiannon's cell phone in the bathroom; it had been restored to factory default settings. The SIM card was missing.
A week passed. More protests started. The city looked to the County for help, and the County blinked. What could they do? They were already overwhelmed by the flood of refugees coming from land and sea. So the city cracked down the only way they knew how; repression. Curfews, at first. Then restrictions on public gatherings. Protests had to take place downtown, where the police could easily contain them, and the worst they could do was briefly disrupt rush hour traffic. Priss kept waiting.
Another week passed. The Key Biscayne massacre, as it was being called, was national news, and igniting a political firestorm. No sign of Rhiannon Locke.
"Sheeeeeeeeit," Aurianne Sharpe responded as Priss told her what had happened that night, "This is what was keeping you up?"
Priss sat in her apartment, slouched on the sofa and watching Sharpe mash spoonfuls of ice cream into a waffle cone. The company was a welcome relief from the loneliness and the worrying. And the silence. She hadn't realized how alien the apartment felt without her sister bouncing around. She felt like a visitor in her own home.
"I didn't think it was safe to talk about."
"What happened on the Causeway was exactly the kind of mad, slimy shit that comes about when politicians pandering to the lowest common denominator aren't paid enough to care about doing anything properly," Sharpe pointed at Priss with her ice cream cone, "Fat fucking chance that a scrawny little girl like her would make that situation any worse."
"Then where is she?"
Sharpe dropped onto the couch alongside her, mashing the ice cream on her own lips for a moment before answering, "Probably dead in an alley somewhere."
Priss glance sidelong at her; Sharpe's eyes had widened as soon as the words left her cream-coated lips.
"I'm… I'm sorry! I have no idea what got into me."
"Don't be," Priss grumbled, "That's exactly what I would have said if it weren't for… how she acted that night."
Sharpe shrugged, "She got lucky," She started flattening the ice cream down into the cone, "S'not like it's a secret I enjoy anything sweet."
"What should I do?"
"Report her as a missing person. Ask around for her. Check out her usual haunts, her friends. It's been two weeks; the longer you wait…"
Priss lowered her head, clasping her hands behind her bed, "Friends. Haunts. Last known associates." She hadn't even thought of that. Mostly she'd been worried about Rhiannon's safety if she actually said anything to the police.
As she thought over the idea, she realized she had no idea what Rhiannon had been doing every day when she wasn't at home. She didn't know who she was seeing, where she was meeting for group therapy, if she was even getting therapy. The only friends of Rhiannon's that Priss remembered had been from high school. All of them had moved out of state. Aside from her former job, as far as Priss knew, Rhiannon had no real roots in the community. As far as anyone knew, Rhiannon Locke didn't exist.
Another two weeks passed. Work slowed; Priss found herself coming home earlier each day, with more time to endure the deafening silence of Rhiannon's absence.
Jaime Marlowe stared across her desk at Locke, lips fixed in that coy smirk that so annoyed her, like she took pleasure delivering bad news.
"It's about your sister."
Locke's expression didn't change.
"I felt you should know before it hit the news. This is going to come crashing down — on you in particular — and I want you to be ready when it does."
She dropped a manila folder onto the desk at Priss. Priss tilted it on the edge of the desk and opened it. Notes, memoranda, photocopied police reports. Photos of people, crowds on the Causeway.
Shots of Rhiannon Locke. Shots of Rhiannon Locke laughing and smiling. Shots of her at the scene of a small protest somewhere, with a stalled car nearby, windshield cracked and back window coated in blood. Shots of her on the Causeway, carrying a backpack. Shots of her later in the day, without it.
The notes all involved Rhiannon in some way. Police reports involved arrests made of self-described 'cultists' who all described Rhiannon as the leader of their 'pack'. They always used the same moniker for her; "Subhuman Mongrel". A group of them were arrested, caught before they could commit some vaguely described "act of terror" on a water treatment plant in Westchester.
"This is a cult," one of the suspects had said in one of the transcripts, "the way Jesus Christ and his Disciples were a cult. We come to bring the good news."
More notes, from government agencies, Miami police, Miami Beach police, even from the Foundation. A long string of "suspicious persons", "suspicious gatherings", and "unconfirmed terroristic rumblings". All pointed in some way to Rhiannon Locke.
"We're going to protect you," Marlowe went on, "But I've no doubt the Department of WestCiv is going to have people coming to talk to you soon enough. Do not lie to them; tell them everything you know about your sister and what she's done."
"I don't know anything about her," Priss said with a bewildered smile, feeling her eyes get hot and wet, "I don't know who her friends are, where she goes at night, where she goes during the day. Nothing."
"Good," Marlowe blew past Priss's warbling tone without a hint of sympathy, "Just keep your head down. And for God's sake, if the WestCivvies do come to talk to you, do not try to contact Rhiannon Locke afterwards. That's like… just begging to get yourself disappeared."
Priss shrugged, tears welling in her eyes, and smiling again, "She's got no cell phone on her. I wouldn't even begin to know how to contact her." She looked down at the envelope, then closed it, and rose from her chair, "Thanks," She muttered to Marlowe.
"Just go, clean yourself up," Marlowe responded, seemingly more concerned with Priss getting snot and tears on her desk.
Priss stepped out and went straight to the bathroom. She locked herself into a stall, set the toilet seat down, and broke down sobbing. She'd failed. The only thing ever asked of her by her mother was to make sure Rhiannon stayed safe, and she'd failed.
She decided to head home early. As far as anyone who asked was concerned, she was afraid for her life. When her car didn't start, she numbly got out, and began to walk home. The world stood as it always had. Chaos and anarchy were nonexistent. Everything was quiet for her as she drifted through the long strip of houses and businesses separating the school from southwest 7th street, one of the major thoroughfares that separated the rich "southwest" from the poorer "northwest".
She looked up, and saw a mural on the side of a fast food restaurant. Police officers were depicted, skinny and shriveled, wearing body armor and army helmets. A man sat in a car, hands up in surrender. In bright green was sprayed "PUT YOUR HANDS UP GET OUT OF THE CAR" over them, with smaller words in red rimming the center of action. She drifted past without reading the rest.
As she crossed a short road, a man suddenly jumped down from a tree in front of her. He was black, thin, looked as if he hadn't eaten in days. He was smiling wildly, hands out at his sides and spread open, as if she were an officer, telling him to keep them where she could see them.
"Have you heard?"
She shrugged helplessly, "Yeah, I've heard." She wasn't in the mood to humor him.
He pressed his index and middle finger to the bridge of his nose. She kept staring. Then he backed away with a frown.
"Nothing's ever gonna be the same now. Change is comin', you hear? You tell 'em that, you tell 'em 'No more blood', no more bodies. You tell those men of the times that the times are a-changin'. It's a revolution comin', you hear?"
He sounded like a teenager. It wasn't even noon. Normally she would've yelled at him, told him to get back to school and stop being stupid. She just shrugged now, and mumbled, "Okay."
He turned and started to run. She kept moving, crossing 7th street, past the storage center, and onto 8th street.
Traffic ground to a halt. The lanes were pinched off, as police cruisers parked in the street, with a small crowd of angry people flocked around the front of Domino Park. She didn't want to look, but she couldn't avoid it, like a tumor lodged in a throat, forcing all food, drink, and air to go through it, or go nowhere.
There was broken glass on the sidewalk, and an old woman with blood on her face was yelling in Spanish at a younger woman. The woman was being held back by two officers. A group of older men were trying to restrain about thirty other people from surrounding the officers. No one was holding the old woman back. She kept shouting, gesticulating with a cane, looking as if she would use it as a weapon. At least one man in the crowd was wearing the distinctive beret of a WestCiv militiaman. He was shouting at least two or three racial slurs a minute.
She kept moving, leaving the main road and walking down into the quiet residential side roads of Little Havana. The shouting and cars honking faded, and she could keep walking in peace. Alone with her thoughts.
Just a few blocks from home, that loneliness was interrupted by a man in an ill-fitting shirt and camouflage vest, beret marking him a WestCiv militiaman. He moved up alongside her. A pistol was strapped to his hip.
"Howdy, miss. Lovely day, ain't it? You doin' alright?"
"Reckon you heard what's been going on lately. Don't mean to impose upon you none, but it can be quite dangerous roaming around these parts without some kind of armed escort."
Her eyes drifted towards his gun.
"Not meanin' to offend you or… aggrandize myself." He stretched the pronunciation of the word as if it were brand new for him.
"I just live a few blocks away, I'll be fine," She said.
"In Little Havana?" He quirked a brow at her, looking away with a brief expression of ugly, naked aggression, before turning back to her, "The den of the beast?"
She stared numbly. Ninety percent of the neighborhood was Cuban-American or some manner of Hispanic ethnicity. Every week since Key Biscayne, there was a meeting at the church. Neighborhood watch did a better job keeping the community safe than local police, due to them being stretched thin dealing with far more neighborhoods than just one. At least she hoped that was why.
A distant crack broke the silence. Then a series of them followed, back in the direction of 8th street. The WestCivvie gave a sleazy, victorious smile, and started moving towards the fire, "Take care of yourself, ma'am."
She nodded numbly, and kept moving.
There was finally a change in the news cycle. Priss got to hear her last name on the lips of every reporter, local and national, from DuMont Network News to FOX, CNBC, and America Today. At least now there was no doubt; Rhiannon Locke did indeed exist.
Priss couldn't stand the sluggish influx of information. Watching reporters speak for twelve hours straight about a BREAKING NEWS tidbit already hours old by the time they'd started. Refreshing online newsfeeds, seeing the same headlines top each list, slightly re-worded but essentially the same. She gave up and kept her head down. Once a week, she decided she would check up on it.
A month passed. By now, the whole world knew about Rhiannon Locke's former job. They knew about the boss screaming 'subhuman mongrel' at a shy young employee. They ate up any bit of information given by her "official representatives", carefully edited for TV and played for all. Talking heads of all stripe made fortunes yelling at each other for the cameras.
Every week, a video would be released by Rhiannon Locke, of her sitting on a couch, talking. Just talking. Everything Rhiannon said, Priss had heard before. It was as if she'd been using Priss as her sounding board for her speeches. She even heard some of Umber's words re-packaged for Rhiannon's own purpose. She was a madwoman, roaring and screaming, laughing and crying and gesticulating wildly. She could whisper to the camera and make herself perfectly understood. She told stories, all of which Priss recognized as being events from their past, in such a dramatic fashion as to make them seem wildly unreal. All of it managed to neatly fit right back in with her overall message: racial equality, gender equality, a break-down of the "nation-state" in favor of the "world-state". A new vision of an America that did not, and seemingly could not exist.
Civil rights leaders condemned her as a terrorist, usurping their peaceful cause for chaos and anarchy. One talking head on DuMont even suggested she was a West Civ "plant", acting to discredit and demonize the minority rights movement. All the while "Cultists" sprayed graffiti, spread leaflets, and infiltrated protests to turn them violent.
Just a few more weeks, Priss figured, and all it would take for Rhiannon to set the county on fire would be a gentle push. Then… what?
From : 11311OULH@.com
To : moc.liamtoh|rekcoL_P#moc.liamtoh|rekcoL_P
Subject : None
I know what's been on your mind the past couple of days. I'm not going to say anything about her. I'm not afraid of what the Department of WestCiv might think, or try to spin my words into something to justify taking me down. She did what she did and I'm not going to dignify her by talking about her or what she may or may not do now.
I'm only going to say this: You, Priss Locke, are not responsible for your sister or her actions. She is an adult, and so are you. Her choices in life are her own, and she'll suffer the consequences herself. You are not responsible for saving her from herself.
And don't let the fact that she has the same last name as you be a crutch for you to go down with her. Blood doesn't mean you have to protect her from everything and everyone. Blood means SHE shouldn't do this kind of shit and then expect her family to take the fall for her.
There was a guy in my regiment back during the Turkish occupation. Luis Greaves, immigrant from Guatemala, lived in New Orleans. Had a sister named Anita-Flora or something Anita. You probably know the type; magnet for trouble, runs through guys like new pairs of shoes.
So every once in a while, Louie Greaves gets a letter from mom and dad: his sister's in trouble, she's gotten suspended from school, she's stealing money from them, she's staying out late and coming home early morning smelling like booze. So Louie sends them money, tells them 'Don't worry, everything's going to be okay', gives them advice on what to do, etcetera.
Then the hammer falls: she's been arrested. Turns out she's whoring herself while still stealing from mom and dad. Everyone but Louie suspects drugs. All that money Louie's sent, he can't afford to bail her out her out. So he finally took our advice and took some time to head back home to straighten things out.
Three weeks later we get the news; Luis Greaves was killed in a shootout on the streets of downtown NOLA. His body wasn't found for a week. His balls had been cut off and stuffed in his mouth. Apparently he'd confronted his sister's "pimp" and gotten in his face about her. The pimp didn't take kindly to him and threatened to ship her off to Mexico or something. Louie lost it, then he lost his life.
Few weeks later when I get back, guess who I see out on the streets in a low-cut top and high-riding skirt; Anita-Flora Greaves. Still out on the streets. Still hooking. Still with the same guy that killed her brother. She didn't give a fuck. People like her simply don't. It's not worth ruining your life to save her from herself.
Please make sure you take care of YOURSELF. No offense to your mother, but right now you're the only good Locke left.
From the Office of Ret. Lt. Col. Umber
The Banners weren't given enough time to set up camp each night. They broke out their cots and rested in the dirt and mud, with the cubes for cover. Every hour or so, the whine of jet engines was heard, as Qing jets streaked past, providing aerial reconnaissance. They almost never dropped bombs.
"Hey Sergeant Sheng," Cpl. Steve Chin called out.
Sheng rose to his feet, flashlight out in the dark, making himself an easy target for anyone who might've been looking his way with a gun, "Who's speaking?"
Sheng always seemed to make a point of never taking the enemy seriously. Every chance he got, he'd get up to his feet, popping out of cover. When it was quiet, he'd talk loudly, give out boisterous laughs, even call out to hidden units nearby. When it was dark, he had an obnoxiously bright LED flashlight he'd shine in a soldier's face. He didn't care; he didn't take the Dai Viet insurgents seriously.
"Don't we have like… tanks and artilleries and bombers?" Chin called out in turn, trying to keep his voice lower than Sheng's.
"Yes!" Sheng called out, "Yes we do! But we can't use them here."
"Because the Emperor wants the land unblemished and intact?"
"Why do you ask me these things if you already know the fucking answer?" Sheng's flashlight waved around wildly, then shut off, "We aren't at war with the land, only her people. We have to save her from herself."
Why? Chin almost thought about asking that. Then the world suddenly brightened. Flares were being shot into the sky.
"Not ours," Sheng called out before anyone could ask. A cascade of pops and cracks followed, incessant. Four minutes passed before they streamed off into silence.
"We—" Sheng began, then was cut off as the gunfire resumed. Now Chin could feel impacts on his cube, nudging him again and again with each hit.
"Well, up and at them," Sheng resumed, "Stay put until I say so."
The gunfire kept coming, on and off, for nearly an hour. Chin nodded off, the gentle thumps on the cube soothing on his sore back. When he woke up, it was still coming.
"What are we even doing?" A soldier next to him shouted against the din. It abruptly died down, allowing Sheng to fill the void.
"Eh? Don't you pay attention to briefs? Too late to hurt us now, anyway; we're flanking them. Two Banners stretching out south and west, pushing them against the river. We come in from the East."
A crooked crescent advancing on the thick pocket of insurgents. They'd detonated all the subterranean tunnels they'd found, then let the insurgents run rampant around a huge area, while the strings of cubes herded them all together, then started enclosing them and pushing them towards the river. It might not have worked so smoothly if the insurgents had had rockets and mortars left.
Chin suddenly tensed up. Did they have rockets and mortars left? Then he relaxed, remembering the force of irregulars the army had sent in to "absorb" the insurgents' mortar and rocket fire. Irregulars… ex-cons, foreign auxiliaries, mercenaries, conscripts, peasants. Vietnamese peasants taken from their villages for supporting the insurgents. Then fired upon by the insurgents, thinking them to be Qing Regulars.
No big deal, Chin relaxed and nodded off again.
When he came to again, it was dusk. Sheng had come closer, and was looking down in his lap, face blank. Chin didn't say anything. Suddenly Sheng burst up, peering over the top of the cubes. His radio came alive with a fast voice, barely comprehensible. Sheng whirled, started shouting, "The hammer's coming down! Avanti! Let's go!"
The whole line surged forward, leaping over the gray cubes and charging into the dense foliage. Gunfire was heard, but not directed at them. They passed trenches, shovels, picks, knapsacks and empty cans and containers. Still no people. They slowed to a walk. The gunfire didn't let up.
"Wait, stop!" Sheng called out. Just then, bullets flew past, and a swarm of men came charging at them. Visibility through the vegetation was poor; the insurgents suddenly appeared. Men on both sides dropped from point-blank fire. The rest slammed into one another, turning the fight into a melee.
Chin was untouched, and looked around in a panic. Everyone was dirty, wet, indistinguishable from one another. Men were biting one another, most going for the fingers pressed in front of their faces. Others wrestled over dropped rifles. Every so often a gun would go off point blank. A man with an enormous beard lunged at Chin, flailing wildly at his face. Chin brought his elbow up to smash him in the face. The man barely seemed to stagger, and slipped past Chin. Before Chin could recover, the man had brought his hands around and started to press them into Chin's throat. The man dropped, with Chin on top of him, as another insurgent with a clean-shaven face stood up over him, bellowing incoherently as he raised his AK up, aiming to smash Cpl. Chin's face in with the stock.
Chin winced, and the man jerked violently, blood quickly pooling in his shirt. The edge of a blade burst out from his chest, thrust in with such violence as to drag several vertebrae out with it. A wet piece of bone fell onto Chin's neck. He would've squealed if he could breathe. The man's body fell, and Private Qianlong looked down at Chin. He examined him, then carefully drew a smaller knife, waited, then stabbed the man strangling Cpl. Chin. He continued to stab until he was satisfied. Then he reached behind him, pulling up on the dead man's beard and cutting it off. He tucked the beard into a pocket before helping Chin up.
Gunfire was still going off up ahead. "Let's go!" Sheng continued to shout, "Avanti!" They broke into a run again. They ran into stragglers along the way, putting them down quickly as they came.
There was a break in the trees, and Chin could see a mound of wood, rocks, and metal, atop which men knelt behind sandbags, stacks of wood or concrete blocks. They had been facing away from Chin and the group, and were now turned and aiming directly at them. Chin barely managed a shout before they opened fire. Several rounds knocked him back onto his ass, flattening against his armor and crushing his chest. He gasped for air, unable to move or look around.
The sky above was open. The moon was still out, and he could see some stars. Smoke lingered in places, but he could still see them. A black bird high above was lazily diving downward, its wings folded in. Chin tried to smile, the motion sending sudden stabs of pain through his jaw. He could feel his molars throbbing. One of them had cracked solidly in half. He tongued at it, trying to get the broken piece out. It was still lodged in his gums.
"Eeeeeghhh…" He grunted, and started to wheeze with pained laughter. It wasn't a bird, he realized. It was a bomb. Then it exploded, and the world went red.
Shi Mingxia was trying to focus on the news. Something breaking had happened. The newscasters were talking fast. Images of what might have been an explosion. Then red. It was too blurry for her to make out exactly what it was that was red. It had to be important, because she could hear people chattering loudly in the halls, some gasping, others screaming and sobbing.
She chewed on the tube lodged down her throat, to keep her gag reflex from making her wretch and dislodging it again. The men standing above her were unfamiliar except for Wu.
"What else do you know about the bacterium?" One of them was asking, a man with one brown eye and one gray.
She grinned, and shrugged, <You've asked me this twice now> She typed on a laptop placed near her right hand, in English. The man was speaking English, and didn't look Chinese, <Can you be more specific>
"When did you first identify it? Where did it come from?"
She shrugged again, easier than always reaching for the distant apostrophe with her trembling pinky.
<What difference does it make It is contained>
"It was contained. There was an incident on the front lines; a bomb went off. It was loaded with bacteria, infected thousands of our troops. We believe someone supplied the insurgents with it, engineering it to be easily dispersed by air. We've interrogated some captured insurgents and we've got a few leads, but their stories contradict. We need anything, anything, you may be able to give us."
She grinned again, chest heaving slightly. Engineered? She had been operating under that assumption before. Hadn't she already discounted that idea just before the outbreak that got her quarantined?
Her head started to throb again, and she felt blood oozing down her throat. A sharp pain ran down along her skin, and she looked down, seeing blood oozing from her nipples as well, and from her navel. She lay her head back and closed her eyes. The men were talking now, fast and loud.
"No, no, no," she whispered over the tube in her mouth. This was beyond anyone's ability to engineer. This was something unique and anomalous. Someone should've called somebody to deal with it earlier, not her. She was just a lab assistant.
She looked off to her side, at the window. Was it red outside, or was blood starting to cover her eyes. She squeezed her eyes shut to clear the blood, but the bed started to move before she could look again.
Not my problem. The pain was gone. Shi Mingxia closed her eyes and passed away.