The house hadn't been wrecked. That at least was a blessing. She hadn't known Rhiannon to be a peaceful drunk, and it had been two days since Priss had punched her out. She'd left the lights on before leaving; they were out now, so either Rhie had finally come back home, or she was about to meet someone with brand new second-hand electronic appliances in hand.
Rhiannon was seated backwards on a chair in the living room, hair half-covering her face, the only light being from the television.
"Hey Prissy. How're the hormones treating you? Not so good, it seems."
Priss set aside her coat, and stepped up to her sister. The way she twisted her back as she leaned her head up towards her made her want to slap the rest of her teeth out.
"Go on. Make sure to buy me some shiny new ones. Porcelain is fine, I'm not fancy."
"Why don't you just talk to me instead of acting like a freak? This is all for attention, isn't it. Why can you never just sit down and fucking tell people what's going on and let them help you instead of having these freak-outs and expecting us to guess afterwards what the fuck happened?"
"Prissy, you swung first. I was trying to introduce you to some friends."
"And I apologize for that —"
"I don't accept your apology."
" — But this isn't about me, Rhiannon." Priss leaned in closer, close enough to smell the lingering scent of liquor wafting through the gap where her front teeth had been, "Your boss says some racist things, so you have an existential crisis and drink all day?"
She simply shrugged, "I'm making new friends. You only have Annie-poo. I bet she has a crush on you, but she doesn't know, does she?"
"I have a friend I know and love and can depend on in any situation. When was the last time you had a friend who would even let you pass out drunk on their couch and make sure you didn't end up robbed or raped or," Priss lost it, and flung her notepad at the nearby floor lamp, knocking it over. "You don't have friends, you have people you drink with!"
Rhiannon rose sluggishly, turning the chair, and sitting properly, scooting close to one of the couches so Priss could sit across from her, "I'm ready to talk, then."
Priss clenched her jaw, and sat. Rhiannon always liked going to great lengths to pester, harass, disrupt, and disturb others, and there was never a "too far" with her.
"I don't belong here, Prissy," she said flatly, then elaborated, "In this world. I can't handle the bullshit. The racism, the 'white pride', the ultra-nationalism, the constant hostilities. Living in a country where every day is a paranoid delusion, 'the Qing are makin' gains in Asia, it's gonna be world war three!', 'the Africans are unitin', they're gonna come for our lands, world war three!', 'Europe's gettin' uppity, world war three!'"
"It's better now than it's ever been in human history. Less war, less violence, even less racism."
Rhiannon shook her head. "No it's not. It can't be right. Just because there's less violence doesn't mean the world's gettin' better. When was the last time income inequality was this high, with all signs pointing to it getting higher? When was the last time billions of people started willingly laying down and accepting the end of their democracy in the name of religion?"
Priss crossed her arms and leaned back on the couch, "I could probably name quite a few instances."
"You know women in Turkey and Syria used to wear bikinis to the beach not too long ago? Before the Ottomans fell and got replaced by those Islamist faggots?"
"That's their problem. They'll get over it at their own pace."
"You know, Prissy, it's not healthy sitting and stewing in filth because you're too much of a pussy to stir shit up and risk people getting hurt for something better. Someone wise once said, 'A just war is preferable to an unjust peace'."
"What does that even mean?"
Rhiannon rose again, extending a hand out to her sister, "I want to change the world for the better. Will you help me, Priscilla Locke?"
She glared at Rhiannon, not buying this apparent sincerity, "When are you getting another job?"
Rhiannon stepped aside, letting her hand gently brush along Priss's legs before moving to the door, "I'll see you on the other side, Prissy."
Shi Mingxia watched as the little woman bowed, and scurried over to the console to input the visitor's name. She had such little feet, a relic from the previous century. So uncivilized, yet people still marveled at it as a sign of wealth. The fact that the woman was working now behind a desk belied the sense in the practice of footbinding in a time when wealth was so fleeting.
"You are Manchu, yes?" The woman asked in a wispy little voice.
Mingxia looked down at her own broad feet. Manchu hadn't ever practiced footbinding, "How did you know?"
"Your accent," the woman smiled, and guided her over to the elevator. She waved as the doors closed, leaving Shi Mingxia alone.
She stood almost two meters tall, and built like a supermodel. No one in her family could believe she wasn't secretly Jinyiwei or a porn star. Nope, I'm just a lab assistant, she'd tell them. That only made them joke more about her.
So when the opportunity came up, she joined the Jinyiwei.
The doors slid open, and she stepped out, bowing politely to Mr. Hung as he approached. He extended a hand out to her, and led her down the hall, into the meeting room.
This was her second time meeting the group, and they had already started treating her like family. Even the fact that she was a woman seemed to have no bearing on how they seemed to respect her.
I'm just a lab assistant.
They entered a dimly lit room, with decorative Qing-style banners coating the windows, and a plush carpet covering the floor. The four men were kneeling around a heavily robed woman, her face covered, leaving only her nose and upper lip exposed. The woman motioned for Shi Mingxia to come and sit. She took a seat before the woman.
"You are the lab assistant?" The woman's voice was dry and harsh.
She nodded, then realized the woman's face was covered. The woman nevertheless went on.
"To Dr. Sienowicz?"
"Dr. Sienowicz passed away last week."
"I had heard, my lady."
The lady gave a hiss, like air escaping a pipe. "'My Lady'… You don't even know who I am."
"You are aware he was doing work on a bacterial substance collected from the dead in Laos?"
"Have you observed the bacterial substance personally?"
"Unusual, is it not? Describe it to me as if I were a child."
Shi Mingxia quirked a brow at the woman, not sure if the woman would see her making the gesture. The woman's tone indicated she already knew what it was. Presumably she meant for the men around her to know as well.
"The bacterium is unusually receptive to foreign environments. It thrives whether exposed to extreme heat or cold. And it appears mutates in highly suspect ways."
She shrugged. "I don't know how to explain simply…"
"It listens. Does it not?"
"That is one way of putting it." At the woman's silence, she elaborated. "While discussing an unrelated bacterium with Dr. Sienowicz, I was observing the bacterium in question. I mentioned the rigidity of its nucleotides, making it very fragile and unlikely to adapt if exposed to a similar sequence from a synthetic sequence. As I spoke, the bacterium in question began to mutate. Its nucleotides began to break down and re-structure themselves. In short, it began to change itself exactly as I spoke, as if mistakenly believing I was speaking of the bacterium itself."
Sharpe easily saw the humor in Priss's situation. "Just lay off, man."
Priss glared at her.
Sharpe winced. "Sorry. I mean it, though… technically it was you who threw the first punch."
Priss grit her teeth, trying to move past into the building — the newly designated Site-804. Sharpe easily slipped in front of her.
"Has she robbed anyone? Stolen anything? Killed anyone? Broken any laws? Done anything that might get you in trouble? Associate with potential lawbreakers?"
Sharpe again swept in front of her, arms spread. "Babe."
Priss snorted, and tried to cover a smile. "No."
"Babe. Let sleepin' dawgs lah."
"She's going to get worse —"
"Let sleepin' dawgs lah."
Priss burst out laughing, unable to hold back, "You don't even sound like him."
"I got the accent good, though. Still can't believe the cunt got re-elected. Fraud for sure."
The school doors were open. Inside was murmuring, as if a small crowed were gathered just beyond view of the front door.
"Speaking of cunts…" Sharpe lunged up the steps and went inside, her imposing frame making it easy. Priss followed after her.
The interior hadn't changed, but now dust coated the walls. Schoolbooks were stacked on the front desk, and the computer was gone. Sharpe was well ahead of her, peering in to one of the classrooms facing the front. She waved Priss over to peer inside. The room was stacked with desiccated corpses wrapped in plastic, looking like hoary carpets placed in storage. Few of them were dressed, all of them looked badly decomposed and much too dry to have been laying about in a south Florida school for too long.
"Well shit," Sharpe remarked, eyes darting among the corpses. She cautiously stepped in, reaching out with one hand to see if she could touch them, if they were real. The noise of disturbed plastic being brushed by her fingers confirmed that.
"Burial ground," Priss started piecing it together, "There must've been one nearby, in some universe or another. Anabasis brought it in. Really shitty way of storing corpses, though."
That seemed to calm Sharpe. She even grinned, pulling aside the plastic over one corpse to look in its face, "Look at this one. Cheekbones on her. Speaking of cunts, this one reminds me of Dr. Marlowe." She pried more of the plastic off, then stopped suddenly.
"What the fuck is wrong with you? Why are you even touching them?"
Sharpe tugged the corpse up a bit. It was still dressed, the clothes looking just as decrepit as the body. A warped plastic nametag was attached to it. The remaining portion read 'Dr. Jaime'.
"Dr. Jaime Marlowe, you think?" Sharpe glanced up at Priss.
Priss sneered, and knelt down, rubbing the plastic tag. None of the rest was legible, but it looked similar to a Foundation-issue identification tag. "Like I said. Alternate universe landfill."
"Not a burial ground anymore?"
Priss led the way out, down to the basement where the Anabasis itself was being stored. Despite her strong front and assurance that the corpse pile was part of the Anabasis testing, she had been sufficiently rattled by the suddenness of it. Given the nature of Foundation business, enough doubt needled at her to make her steps stiff and rushed as she burst into the room holding the Anabasis. Seeing Dr. Marlowe seated near it, behind a computer, was a relief.
"Oh hi, Jaime," Sharpe said to her. Marlowe glanced back at her placidly, cold eyes conveying just enough malice to indicate her distaste.
"Just in case we're not being set up for a really tasteless prank, you know about the mess of corpses upstairs being stashed in a classroom?"
Marlowe continued to stare blankly at her.
"Oh for fuck's sake."
Marlowe got up without a word, brushing past the two as she went outside. Sharpe and Locke followed after her. The building seemed to have changed — it was no longer caked in dust. The computer was back at the front desk. Sharpe guided Marlowe to the classroom. It was empty, filled with desks and chairs.
"You say you saw corpses?" Marlowe asked in a firm tone.
Priss responded, "Loads of them. Dried out, brown and gray. Each of them rolled in plastic. One of them…" She glanced at Dr. Marlowe, noticing her cheekbones then, "One of them was you. Had your nametag, I think."
Out in the hall, Sharpe's voice echoed, "Ey! Who the fuck are you?"
The women rushed outside, seeing Sharpe lunging at a small man carting a garbage bin, thickly bearded and bald on top, looking terrified at the tall woman approaching her.
"Who the fuck are you?" Sharpe repeated.
"I work here!" he cried out.
"Sharpe!" Marlowe called in a crisp tone, "Get back here."
Sharpe obeyed, but kept her mouth going, "I've never seen that guy here before — he did something, I fucking bet it. He must be some kind of… anomalous boogin' trying to fuck with us in some way or another."
Marlowe needed only a stern glare to shut the taller woman up. Once she was quiet, Marlowe went on in a soft voice, "If this is what happens when you two skip work for a day, I'm having you two re-assigned. Sharpe, you do not go off screaming at people like that. You're supposed to be a Foundation agent, not a child."
Sharpe squirmed uncomfortably, then Marlowe turned on Locke. "Write down everything you saw and give me the report as soon as possible. Do not discuss this with anyone else on-site until everyone else's stories are corroborated."
"Meaning other people have seen this, too?"
"I'm not at liberty to discuss this," Marlowe responded, shutting down any attempt at follow-up. She shifted a bit, "Now go. Ana's waiting on me…"
Rhiannon squatted on the little futon in the center of the room. Everyone had equal voice here; respect kept others quiet while people spoke. She was the center of attention for as long as their patience would allow. It meant she had to entertain if she wanted her message to get through.
"Let me tell you a story about a man of the times…
"This story begins in a little household in Oklahoma, where two girls were raised in a little house by two little minds and little in the way of any purpose in life. Daddy was the son of a veteran, mommy was a nothing-nobody from someplace in Asia. 'All-white' she said, 'military brat born on a military base' which was just fine with daddy, so long as his pure white wife kept bein' all sexy-fine.
"Is it wrong for a man of the times to fall in line with what's considered 'good' and 'right'? Anyone thinking about the blacks or the Asians as potential friends was a 'degenerate'. So what if little baby boy came out with eyes just a bit too slender for his own good? Is it wrong for a man of the times to fall in line with what's considered 'good' and 'right' when his pure white wife turned out to be not quite all white? She was bein' all sexy-fine, but that little baby boy was venom by his mere presence.
"The poor baby boy. No—the poor man of the times. The little baby boy gets to rest forevermore; the man of the times has a little skeleton to hide. But with his pure white wife bein' all sexy-fine, how could the man of the times tear his pretty white life asunder because of a little white lie? So instead out popped two little girlies, redheaded and white. The ultimate guarantee of purity for a man of the times. Surely that poor little baby boy had been a fluke; maybe his pure white wife, bein' all sexy-fine, had had a man a little lower down on the rungs of the food chain.
"Beginning again, the man of the times and his pure white wife built a happy little home for their two little girlies, redheaded and white, atop a poor little grave to be forgotten forevermore. The man of the times and his pure white wife made sure their two little girlies, redheaded and white, grew up knowing their place in the world. It was a man's world, yes, but so long as you were white, even a little girlie could become leader of the whole white world.
"Of course, as long as she was white.
"The man of the time crossed over the line when the poor little baby boy's poor little grave came to light. Buried under locke and key, the man of the time forgot his crime and moved his little family to a new home, leaving his past behind to be dug up by the next man looking to carve out a piece of the Earth for a bit of aquatic luxury for his own little household.
"End result, the man of the time sees the truth of his time—children are children, no matter how non-white. A despicable crime, for which the man of the time would never see the light of day again. No matter how pure and white his intentions, the blood he shed would spell his end.
"The pure white wife and the two little girlies now face some shit ahead. For it turns out the world they live in may not be so loving as the man of the time; they may not fit. But the man of the time parted ways with his little family with a precious gift—a little white lie. A little white lie which tarnished the pure white wife but left the two little girlies still redheaded and white.
"Game gets played and the new truth is set in stone, better than the old; these two little girlies are innocent of their parents' crime. Off to daddy's daddy they go, where one little girly learns what's what with the world, and the other little girly has old soldier grandpappy's stories to keep her eyes shut and her mind sweet and white.
"Is that it? You might be asking. What little family hasn't had a problem or two, lost a man of the time or a pure white wife, or seen the little girlies go through rough times until they get to thrive in adulthood? The kiddies at school had eyes sharper than the law, they saw subhuman mongrels, no matter how redheaded and white the two little girlies could be. They kicked and bit them, beat them and whipped them.
"Over time, the two little girlies started drifting apart. The kicks got harder, the torment went past the freckled-white skin, and no legal games could change the fact that no matter how bright the eyes, fiery the Lockes, or numerous the freckles, the two little girlies just weren't white enough. One of the two little girlies fell in line, falling hard for a North Georgia boy and renouncing her own blood. The other little girlie stood fast and firm, as the torture escalated. Pins in her seat, animal carcasses in her bags, pain and abuse and humiliation! How much lower can you degrade a person? they asked. Much, much lower, they reached. You would simply not believe.
"Now the story became too much for one of the little girlies. Whom among us wouldn't tell a story such as this—a little white lie to hide their shame? The two little girlies weren't white, 'One drop is all it takes', said the President on the campaign. One drop of non-white blood, a subhuman mongrel makes. The little girly sees and hears it all, and knows that 'Us vs. Them' actually means 'Them vs. Us.'
"'No more!' the other little girly says to her sister! "Shut up and leave me alone!" She won't listen. She's ready to become a pure white wife, bein' sexy-fine like her momma with a fine man of the times from North Georgia. The split occurs, and the little girlies, redheaded and white, part ways in life. The white one went off to follow the old soldier grandpappy's dreams, and now hides behind the little white lie. Another brick in the wall.
"'Fine and dandy.' the mongrel one says. 'Go forth and be happy, become one with society, dearest Priss, you and your precious North Georgia boy,'
"Oh, what's that? The great white horde cannot forgive, and the great white horde will not abide! "We tolerate you in our pure white society because you look white, but now you're going too far." You need to pay the price and obey the law!
"The price is your womanhood, Dearest Prissy. Your love would never bear fruit. But The North Georgia boy… he couldn't stand what you'd done! He refused to be with you! And off he went, to find someone more precious to bear him fruit. You cried for weeks, you didn't want to live anymore, little Prissy, and I was there for you, to save you from yourself. I knew then what the value of our little white lies really were.
"Horrors… That's what I saw when I opened my eyes. Look to the lands beyond our borders and see the heaps of subhuman mongrel bodies used to prop us up; United States of Western Civilization! Greatest in the world!
"'No more little white lies,' no more falling in line, no more being a woman of the time. Right and wrong are not majority rule. The truth has power of its own, but the voice of the people is what it needs to truly thrive."