If you've been around a while, you know the deal. Once a year, I participate in National Novel Writing Month, taking a novel from idea to finished first draft within the month. Doing it my way, there's a twist: I post my first draft publicly here, a chapter at a time. It's a rough draft, full of flaws, but it's a fun way of inviting the world to ride shotgun with me.
This year, I almost didn't do it. But after having finished a NaNo novel for several years, it just felt like tradition. I would have been sad to skip it.
So let me introduce you to the Last Girls, publishing November second until, well, whenever it finishes. A chapter a day, remember.
When a camping trip with friends turns to a bloodbath, Kelly must face her worst fears- as well as those of the other Last Girls.
Thanks for coming on this trip with me! I hope you have as much fun with the Last Girls as I'm gonna!
“We have a right to be here,” Mikaela said, planting her foot on the cobbles of the commons.
“No,” the officer said, putting his hands on his gun belt, “you have a right to be a quarter mile south, in the designated free speech area.” Police, some from the campus, others from Bellingham, were advancing in a wall on the students.
“Maybe you aren't familiar with the Constitution, but this entire country is a free speech area,” she said back. “Penning us in a secluded area defeats the point. The whole purpose of this demonstration is showing solidarity, that we, in large numbers, refuse to allow this kind of treatment of transhumans to stand.”
“And I'm telling you, if you don't stand in the designated area, I'll have to resort to tactics designed to render you there safely, ensuring your complete compliance as I do.”
“Then you'll do it on the evening news,” Demi said, raising her phone, prepared to record.
“Stop it!” Mayumi yelped, stepping between them. “This doesn't need to escalate.” Her voice was delicate, even though she was nearly yelling to be heard over the crowd, even just by those around her.
“I've been polite,” he said, reaching for his nightstick. In one motion he pulled it from a loop, and whipped it towards Mikaela. She flinched, but the blow never came. She opened her eyes and saw Mayumi bleeding from the head, on the ground. She must have stepped in the way of the night stick.
“That was a mistake,” Demi said, electricity arcing between her fingertips, as her eyes began to glow.
“Wait,” Mikaela said, grabbing her shoulder. “He's not worth forgetting why we're here.”
“Yeah,” Demi said, and unballed her fist.
Mikaela ran to where Mayumi fell. Drake was already kneeling beside her, and Iago and Peter were standing by. “Mayumi, are you oh-” The back of Mayumi's fist came at Mikaela faster than she could react, and carried her off her feet, sprawling onto the cobble stones.
“Kae,” Demi said, reaching out for her.
“Stay down,” the officer yelled, pulling his pepper spray from his belt and aiming it at Mayumi. She stood up, and a stream of erupted from the device, cascading off Mayumi's face. Droplets splashed off, and hit Mikaela's face, and caused her eyes to water, but Mayumi refused to stop moving towards him.
The officer backed away as Mayumi marched towards him. He fumbled with the gun at his belt, but she was on him in an instant. She lifted him up by the belt, then thrust him into the air, so that the entirety of him cleared her head. Then she caught him by the ankle, and cracked him like a whip onto the ground. The skin on his face ruptured like an overripe pimple, spattering blood across the stones.
“May,” Mikaela said weakly, but the other girl simply roared, before running across the commons. The violence had been swift and brutal enough that the entirety of the protest had stopped, and stared. Mayumi disappeared through a corridor between buildings.
“He's still alive,” Drake said, from a crouch over the fallen policeman. “But I don't think he's in any shape to teleport to the hospital.”
“Call Cris,” Demi told Peter.
“What makes you think I've got his number,” he said, trying to feign innocence.
“Because he gives it to you at least once a week- and at a minimum you get off on the attention.”
“And if we can get him patched up before the ambulance shows up, it's that much more likely we can keep Mayumi from an attempted murder charge.”
“Provided we want to,” he said, then sighed peevishly. “I'm not entirely certain some kind of incarceration isn't better for her.” Demi and Mikaela both glared at him. “Fine,” he said, and dialed his phone. “Cris? Can you come to the school? There's kind of an emergency. No, this kind of emergency very definitely requires pants.”
“I know the tassles feel silly,” Linc said, “but there's a point to them.”
“I thought we were sparring,” Ben said, trying to get his touch football belt to lay properly around his large waist.
“We are. But I want you think of this like football, not because it's a game, but because I think the structure will help you focus. One of the things that people new to soldiering tend to do is forget that half of a fight is defensive; they want to charge in, guns blazing. And you need to keep both aspects in mind if you want to get out of a firefight alive.
“To that end, the girls are going to start out on offense. They'll each take their shot at the same time, and boys, you dodge or defend. You get hit, you lose a flag. Lose two, and you're out. Hit each other, don't try to hurt each other.”
“I can handle any minor wounds,” Cris said.
“I don't think you should have told them that on their turn,” Ben said.
“Do you want us to coordinate?” Rox asked.
“No plan. Just go.”
“Sonya?” Mira asked, turning in her direction. “Can I borrow one of your bombs?”
“I prefer boomlets,” she said, forming one in her hand, “if only because it's less likely to get me put on a no-fly list.”
Mira crouched, clutching the explosive tightly to her chest. “Oh, crap,” Sonya said, as she realized what she was doing with it. The boomlet exploded in a cloud of smoke. Mira rose out of it.
“Thanks. That'll give me a little more oomph.”
“Oh, crap,” Ben said. Mira came running right at him. He held out his hands, and shook the ground. She had enough momentum she barely faltered. He turned his palms up to her, and the force vibrating out of them rippled her skin, but she kept coming, and tackled him to the ground.
“Valiant attempt,” Linc said, as Mira ripped one of the flags off Ben's belt.
“Yeah, she kind of unmanned me.”
“This feels kind of like shooting fish in a barrel,” Sonya said, creating enough boomlets to fill each hand. She started flinging them with abandon. Ben used vibrations to knock the balls of energy away, and Rui turned to a gas, so they fell harmlessly through him.
“Mommy,” Cristobal said as they landed all around him and started to explode.
In the confusion, Rox ran at Rui. He phased again, into a gas, but she leapt at him, anyway, falling into the dirt behind him. “Nice try,” he said confidently. She dropped one of his flags into the snow.
“Looks like all of you didn't phase uniformly,” she said.
Irene opened her mouth and screamed. The scream was small and tinny, but piercing and all-encompassing. It made Ben wince, but only about the level of nails on a chalk board.
“Ah,” Ben said, then looked to Linc.
“Well, she kind of hurt our ears. But I'm going to say no points for that.”
“Part of the point of this experiment is to find our weaknesses, not to shame us for them, but so we can work on them, or where necessary, compensate. That's three hits and a miss. Gentlemen, what have you got?”
Rui turned to plasma, and floated. Ben held out his hands and started the earth shaking. “I have never felt less adequate in my life,” Cris said, standing between them.
Mira and Sonya had to put out their arms to balance due to the tremor; in defiance, Rox stood on one leg, with the other balanced against it. Ben glanced at Linc. “This is a fart in a stiff wind, Tso,” he said, “you'll have to crank it up if you want some flags.”
He started to shake violently, and in concert so did the ground. Sonya tripped, knocking into Mira, and they both hit the ground. “Points,” Linc said. Rox was still standing.
Rui swooped down towards Rox, flinging pockets of burning plasma at her. She began to flip backwards, narrowly missing each as they fizzled in the snow. “She's rubber in a glue factory,” he said, when she landed with her arms in the air and a grin on her face.
Cris tackled Irene to the ground. “Sorry,” he said. “Though you did nearly deafen me.” He helped her stand.
“Not bad, all involved,” Linc said. “Not great, but you held your own. Ladies. Payback?”
“Hell, yeah,” Rox said.
“I think we may have over-corrected,” Cris said.
“Just try not to get hit,” Ben said.
“Oh captain, my captain,” Cris said, with a little salute.
“I believe that was sarcastic,” Rui said.
“I changed my mind. Both of you get hit, as hard as you can.”
“Sure thing, boss,” he said, still floating over the field.
“Can I get a boost?” Mira asked.
Rox laced her fingers and turned towards Mira as she ran. Mira jumped onto Rox's hand, and Rox lifted at the same time.
“Crap,” Rui said, as she smacked into him in the air. Mira spun, so he landed on top of her as he extinguished. “I didn't think anyone would be crazy enough to grab me on fire.”
“It's okay,” Mira said. “I converted the energy. Feel like I could run a marathon.”
“Or leap ten feet into the air again?” he asked.
“Maybe that's just the thrill of victory,” she said, and pulled out his other flag.
Rui held his thumb up to Ben. “All going according to plan!”
“Smartass,” Ben said. “Get behind me, Cris.”
Ben and Cris started backing slowly down the field. “Three of them left, and you have two flags.”
“I didn't realize this match came with a free arithmetic lesson.”
“Ladies, take this wise ass down a peg for me.”
“Sonya, crop dust him,” Rox said, and darted towards Ben. “You won't hit me!” she yelled, without looking back.
“This is going to get bad,” Ben said.
“I don't know,” Cris said. “I feel oddly safe right now.”
“That's because you're hiding behind me,” he yelled, vibrating boomlets away from them.
Roxy intentionally stepped on one of the bombs as she ran, and it exploded beneath her, launching her at Ben. She rolled beneath his legs. “Oh crap, Cris!” he yelped.
“Might want to worry about yourself, there, big guy,” Rox said, yanking his flag.
“Son of a damnable airborne-” Irene dodged past him. “Cris!”
She speared Cris in the stomach. “It's a good thing you've got healing powers,” Linc said. “And you're out. Fellas, that was not a terribly impressive outing. But what I'm going to do for you is this. Sudden death. They got to go first, so you get a chance to return fire. This is for all of the marble.”
“We can't numerically eliminate all of them,” Ben said.
“No, but they missed two flags. You manage to land two out of three hits and we'll call it a tie- or at least enough of a tie that I won't mock you for it.”
“We can do that, maybe,” Cris said.
“It's your endless enthusiasm that makes me glad you're on our team,” Ben said.
“Psst,” Rui said, “I think he was being sarcastic.”
“Well... my 'Thanks' was facetious, anyway.”
“Get behind me,” Mira said. “I can absorb and redirect whatever they throw at me.”
“And if I'm in the way, they'll miss,” Rox said.
“They got a point,” Cris said. “So throw me over them.”
“What?” Ben asked.
“Like a football.”
“Okay,” he said, and took hold of Cris' arm and hip and tossed him.
“The hell?” Rox asked as he flew overhead.
“Got him,” Sonya yelled, tossing a fistful of boomlets at him. They exploded in a cascade of sparks, little flashes of pain before they were gone. Cris groped blindly as the air exploded around him, but managed to brush a wisp of hair off Irene's forehead before crashing violently into the ground.
“That was a hail Mary,” Ben said with a grin. “Cause he's religious, and I chucked him like a football.”
“More incoming,” Rox said, trying to push past Mira to intercept, only for Ben to crash against Mira, knocking the larger woman into her path. Rui flew by. Sonya was still flat-footed from counter-attacking Cris, enough that she couldn't get out of the way. Rui's fireballs crashed against her foot before fizzling, but not before she launched another boomlet, this one larger, detonating in his stomach. His momentum carried him into her legs, and they both went tumbling.
“Point,” he said weakly from beneath her.
“It all comes down to those two,” Linc said.
Mira and Ben were still grappling. He had size on her, but every moment he channeled his strength he was feeding more and more of it to her. Mira pushed him, and it looked like he'd fall over. But he teetered back from his heels, and lunged. His moment carried the both of them back, with Mira landing on her back. And that was the moment he realized his error. She was in complete control, and had wanted his momentum moving in that direction. She caught him stomach-first on her feet, and rolled him back, using that momentum to throw him nearly as far as he launched Cris.
“Crap,” he said, skidding as he landed.
“What I do appreciate is you were willing to sacrifice your bodies to make the play,” Linc said. “Sometimes, that's the only way through.”
“I chose poorly,” Chris said from the ground. “Ah, it's definitely broken.”
“Well, fix it.”
“Can't,” he said, wincing on the ground. “One, it's compound, and two, I can't concentrate enough to knit it back together.”
“You wouldn't want to heal it as is anyway,” Linc said, kneeling. He put his hands on the bone jabbing through Cris' skin. “The first part's easy.” He shoved the bone down.
“That's worse,” Cris said, whimpering.
“Not yet it isn't,” Linc said. He put his foot in Cris' stomach and pulled on the leg to straighten it.
“Christ!” Cris yelped.
“Don't pass out,” Linc said. “You're liable to bleed out in this field, and then I have to start the whole damned day over. Now breathe, and get it done.”
“Fuck,” Cris said, as his hands began to glow. His face crinkled in pain, and he started to fall. A man caught him that he'd never seen before.
“Let me help you,” he said. “Now focus, on the sound of my voice. You can feel warmth in your leg, heat, it hurts, but it's a good hurt, like a spa after a run.” The light from Cris' hands became blinding, so he closed his eyes. When he managed to reopen them, the skin over the broken bone had sealed.
“Now the bone,” the man said. Cris squeezed his fingers into the flesh of his leg, and cried out in agony, as the heat seared into him. He fell back into the snow, gasping for air. “You all right?”
Cris put out his hand. “Help me up, so I can put some weight on it to see.” Linc pulled him to his feet. “It didn't buckle out from underneath me,” he said. “Which is good enough. Also, not to sound ungrateful, but who the hell are you?”
“I'm not sure how many of you have met Rafael,” Linc said, “or Mr. Munoz, if you have any of his classes.”
“I teach English as a second language, particularly with a focus towards teaching and tutoring.”
“Too bad you didn't show earlier; you might have helped balance our teams.”
“Or unbalanced them,” he said with a smile, adjusting his glasses.
“He served with me in southeast Asia,” Linc said. “I've trusted him with my life many times, and if there's ever anything you can't bring to me, for whatever reason, his is a good an ear to bend as you're likely to find.”
“But what the hell did you do to me?” Cris asked.
“What you were trying to do. My gift is... complementary. I help others. I helped you heal the leg. That's all.”
“That was a good spar, people,” Linc said. “You'll sleep like puppies tonight, and you've earned it.”
“I was thinking about going to the protest, instead,” Rox said.
Linc sighed heavily. “I know that's what you'd like to do, and I can't blame you for that. But Kean set a curfew for every minor on campus. I fought him, but he's in charge. And none of us can afford to openly defy him- not right now. So I think you should do like he asked. Signal boost, make sure the protest makes as big of a social media impact as it can. And keep yourselves safe.”
“I'm glad everyone could make it today. I wouldn't have blamed anybody if they stayed home, or-”
“I didn't realize staying home was an option,” Drake said, and disappeared. He reappeared beside Mikaeala an instant later. “Kidding.”
“If that's all of the interruptions-”
“Wait,” Ben said, “I, I thought I had one. But it was just gas.”
“Tso,” Rox said sternly.
“I know she sounds mad, but she loves it. Well, not, like, the smell so much as the dance.”
“I will cork you, Tso. And you're a big boy, so I'd need a big cork. Say, one of those trees over there.”
Ben turned in the direction Linc was looking, and said trees dwarfed even the tallest of the school's buildings. “I honestly wasn't sure which end he meant to cork, but with one of those I think he'd be corking both, anyway.”
“You'd be spit-roasted,” Sonya said.
“Mmm, spit-roasting,” Cristobal said.
“Focus,” Linc said. “I know humor can be helpful in dealing with trauma, and what happened yesterday was some scary stuff. That's why I want to step things up. I think everybody here already has at least a basic grasp of using- or not using, as the case may be- their abilities in a controlled, safe way. But I want us to try going on the offensive. I need a volunteer.”
The group exchanged a tense glance. “Look, I'm your opponent, a lowly human for the purposes of this exercise. And I won't be using force back. If I 'tag' you, which is to say, make any contact whatsoever, I win, you lose. Takers?”
“How do we win?” Drake asked.
“Hit me with your powers.”
Drake teleported behind him. “What if that requires touching you?” he asked.
“I'm not sure how this harms me,” Linc said. Then disappeared with Drake. They reappeared an instant later about a foot in the air, and fell to the ground in a pile. Demi ran to them and helped them up.
“How far up were we?” Linc asked, trying to catch his breath.
“Few hundred feet. Couldn't stay long, or the acceleration-”
“Would have made it too dangerous to land at all. Point Drake.”
“Next volunteer?” Linc asked.
Rox and Mikaela shared a glance, and Rox ran at him. Linc spun, pulling a pistol from his waistband and aiming it over her shoulder. She stopped, just far enough away that she couldn't touch him. “You're dead,” he said.
“You didn't say anything about a gun.”
“I cheated. They will, too. It isn't loaded; and it's pointed over your shoulder, into the dirt behind you as a backstop, if I was somehow wrong about that. I want to get you all a little time on our range. Some of you have powers with offensive capability. But most would benefit from also have training and ability with firearms. I know that all of you probably have your own feelings about guns, and I'm all for the regulation of a militia, but that's what we need to be: a well-regulated militia. Sorry about the gotcha,” he said, and put the pistol back in his waistband. “Next."
“I don't know how I feel about this,” Mikaela said.
“I can take it. And if I can't, so long as you don't murder me, I can reset my day and make sure I don't get seriously injured.”
“No. Fighting fire with fire. This is a civil rights movement, not an insurgency.”
“I'm not suggesting we abandon peaceful demonstration, just acknowledging that we can't trust that the other side will hold to our principals.”
“And what about them?” she asked, nodding in the direction of Rox and her friends. “They're children.”
“They're minors. But if a war broke out in Eastern Europe, they'd be drafted into it as soon as they reached adulthood. And I'm saying it makes sense to prepare them for war, now. Sometimes preparation is the best prevention. I can't imagine how many wars the US prevented just by carrying its big stick. Refusing to take up the sword doesn't mean a world without warfare- just that you're ill-prepared to fight when war comes to your doorstep.”
“Spoken like a true warrior.”
“I am damned proud of my service.”
“And everything you did in its execution?” His eyes flicked unconsciously to Mayumi.
“And would you be, if you didn't have the power of the do-over?”
“I don't know. War's hell. Over there, they'd pay kids to set IEDs, or lob grenades at soldiers, or even into crowds. Anything you think is sacred, even the life of a child, is something that will be used to hurt people.”
“So you're saying that to beat monsters, we have to become them?”
“No. Because even where you may, on occasion, have to adopt tactics you hate, you don't do it for glory, or power, or even respect. You do it to help those who couldn't help themselves, you try to preserve human life and human dignity.”
“And you think we need paramilitary tactics and training to deal with rednecks, or even the cops?”
“But we aren't just talking about hillbillies, or even SWAT. Some transhumans will fight for our government, others will rally under other banners.”
“Terrorists?” Ben asked.
“I've heard of one, already. Worked with the real IRA a dozen years ago. They caught him a half dozen times, no explosives on him, now residue, nothing to convict with. Then they caught him on tape. He was the explosive. He's rotting in an Irish prison, though who knows if they'll ever be able to make any of it stick. The world is a dangerous place. I think all of you need to be trained up to handle it. Then we spread it, like outreach, to the rest of the campus.”
“Even to minors?” Mikaela asked. “What happened to Keen?”
“On this, we don't see eye to eye.”
“I don't, either. And I'm not going to stand by and let it happen.”
Mikaela walked away. Drake and Demi peeled off with her. Mayumi glanced back at Linc, then jogged to catch up.
“We're with you,” Rox said. “Let's get started.”
“When you asked if I'd take you to Seattle, I kind of thought we were going shopping,” Ben said.
“And kind of hoped we were just taking you to a hotel for a special birthday surprise?” Mira asked with a grin.
“It's not, but I wouldn't have corrected you.”
“Your boyfriend's kind of a perv,” Rox said.
“Hey!” Mira objected.
“Whoa,” Ben said, putting up his hands.
“Boyfriend is a little...”
“Question,” Rox began, turning to Ben, “are you trying to see other girls naked?”
“Not trying per se; not objecting, though, if you were offering.”
“And that?” Rox asked, turning towards Mira so she knew the question was directed at her. “Are you okay with that?”
“That depends...” Mira said coyly. “Were you offering? Because I might be down.”
“I forgot you're a perv, too. So I guess then your girlfriend is also a perv. So that sort of works.”
“I... don't know about girlfriend,” Ben said. “But she is a total perv. And it's great.”
Mira glared at him a moment. “Salvaged,” she said, softening her glower, “but only just.”
“But now we can officially have angry make-up sex.”
“That is maybe my third favorite kind.”
“You two seriously need to knock it off,” Rox said.
“She's just upset because she only has one kind of favorite sex: the kind she gets to have with another person. And even then I'm not entirely certain it isn't hypothetical.”
“But,” Ben started, “if any of that is true, maybe, to be sensitive, we should knock it off.”
“You're still angling for a threesome, aren't you?” Mira asked suspiciously.
“Not angling,” he said. “Open to it. But I can be both shamelessly horny and conspicuously concerned for the well-being of my friends.”
“You're definitely shameless,” Rox said.
“But don't let my banter fool you. I'm not thrilled you waited until we were in Seattle traffic to tell me why we're here.”
“That's because we knew you'd say 'No.'”
“That's actually worse.”
Mira frowned at Roxy. “What my friend means is we knew that you would take some convincing, and wanted to be able to do it without hindering the time-sensitivity of what we're doing.”
He sighed. “Okay, I am actually a little pissed, but acknowledging that this is both dangerous and probably stupid, I'm glad I'm here to be able to help.”
“Because we're helpless little girls who need a man to protect us?” Rox asked.
“Wow, when the mood is over with you it's over,” Ben said. “But no. I know the two of you can handle yourselves. But the great thing about bringing a giant Indian dude is basically nobody fucks with me, and by extension you. The downside being that everyone calls me 'Chief' and thinks a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest reference is anything but dated.”
“Also, Indian?” Mira asked.
“Yeah, well, 'Native American' is clunky. Better, in common usage, sure. But 'Indian' is kind of our 'N' word, you know, we can say it if we like it. Plus, in that context, it got across the rest of my meaning. The kinds of pricks who are more likely to give two young women crap are also more likely to give me a wide berth, lest I scalp them. You know, cause they're sexist and racist.”
“Well, I'm happy to have the back-up,” Rox said, “my 'I' word.”
“I'm going to regret this discussion, aren't I?”
“Don't you regret most conversations you have with women?”
“Those that don't lead directly to sex, yes. So do we have a specific destination? Because Seattle's a pretty big haystack if we're going needle-diving. Because it's kind of worrying that you're leading me into a police precinct.”
“Mahmoud was able to find the name of the detective assigned to Elijah's case. He works cyber crime. Alec Moody.”
“Then why are we here?”
“Because he was our friend,” Rox said, her voice trembling. “And because... I know I need to be here.”
“This is one of those tingling intuition things, isn't it?” he asked.
“I hate those,” he said.
“Me, too. But not as much as I hate what happens when I ignore them.”
Rox led them to the desk at the front of the lobby. “We're here to see Detective Moody,” she said.
The desk sergeant held up one finger, and turned so she could see the landline handset at his ear. “Yup,” he said, hung up, and jotted something down. “Moody?” he asked. “Look, there ain't no reward,” he said, pronouncing the last half of the word like 'yard' before chortling to himself. “But if you still got a tip, I can call up.”
“We'll wait,” she said.
He glared at her a moment, then rolled his eyes and sighed. He picked up the receiver like it was made of solid lead, and with each number he pressed he chewed his gum a little harder and looked back at her, as if he was hoping she'd give up halfway through.
“Alec? Three kids to see you. Didn't say. Don't seem like lookyloos, no way they're press. Okay,” he said with a shrug, and hung up. “He'll see you. See those stairs?” He pointed to his right, to a set of stairs receding into the wall. “Up those,” he said, with the same cadence he would have said 'up yours,' then went back to writing notes on something she couldn't see past the frosted glass surrounding him.
An aging, overweight man in a rumpled suit with thinning brown hair met them one floor up. “I'm Detective Moody,” he said, “you're here for me? Cybercrimes?”
“Yeah,” Rox said.
“Come on. I'll get you a seat or two.” He led them to a desk that matched him in every way, scattered, rumpled papers, and the wood paneling rubbing thin and showing the composite material underneath, with the corners showing the real age of the desk. He fell into a chair behind it, and gestured to a pair of chairs on the other side of it. “Somebody may have to stand, since as you can see, chairs ain't exactly in ready supply.”
At the prompting, Rox looked around the room. His desk with its two chairs seemed luxurious. Most chairs were stacked high with files, where there even were extras.
“I got a big lap,” Ben offered.
“Shotgun,” Mira said.
“Just keep it PG,” Moody said, “vice is just down the way.”
Rox took the chair opposite Moody, while Ben and Mira stacked on top of the other chair.
“You're here about the Givens boy?” the detective asked.
“We knew him. Not well, but he went to an orientation up at Baundslow College.”
“In Bellingham? Figures. We knew the kid was transhuman. His posts laid that out pretty clear.”
“May I ask, what exactly happened?”
“He was having an argument online. Defending transhumans, as well as his decision to register. He was taking crap from both sides. But one particular prick was given better than all the rest combined- threats-wise. At the end he all but declared his intentions to 'hurt' Givens, right before he doxxed him- that is, uh, posted his home address and full name online.
“Minutes later, Seattle police got a phone call. Number looked legit, had a local area code, requested help, and said a young man matching Givens' description had forced his way into an apartment and was holding the family hostage at gunpoint, and that other unidentified gunmen were on the scene. We sent SWAT.
“You knew him, so you knew he was different. I got a daughter just like him, but, uh, not so functional. You know, sometimes you can forget, until you take her out of her routine, out of her comfort zone, and then it's like she's that same little girl throwing tantrums for reasons her mom and I just couldn't understand. You put a kid like Elijah into that situation, with cops screaming at him and pointing guns... it's going to go bad. Son of a bitch all but pulled the trigger.
“And I got nothing to go on. A solid citizen screen-capped the chat, that's why we know what happened, but he torched his posts, his history, the screen name. I think I can connect it to a kid in New Mexico, got an IP and everything. But doxxing, while threatening as hell, ain't technically illegal. And the shit the kid said stood just this side of constituting something the local police will move on. And the number used for the SWATting turned out to be cloned; if he were in the state I could probably get him on an accessory charge, but there's no way they extradite him on something like that- and the DA wouldn't run with that ball, anyhow.
“I'd ask if anybody had a reason to hurt him, but it'd be like asking after the motive behind a single death in a driveby- by design the violence is random and anonymous. I don't think there's anything you can do, and I'm sorry, using you as a sounding board for my misery. But this one... I'd carve the skin off one arm to fix this one, to put the world right. The FBI's best computer people are sniffing for traces, but they're 'not optimistic,' which is nerd code for, sure, we'll look for this needle, it's your haystack.”
“What if,” Rox started, pausing for effect, “not saying we can, just asking if, we could burn off some of that hay, make their search a little easier?”
He bit his lip. “This the kind of conversation I never had?”
“Might be better for all involved that way,” Rox said.
“They're good,” he said. “So nothing fabricated, nothing they couldn't have eventually found through diligence.”
“Let me make a phone call.”
“Sure, I, uh, think I need to get some coffee.”
Rox took out her phone and dialed Mahmoud. “Are you near a computer?” she asked.
“That's like asking a fish if it stays near water,” he said. “What do you need?”
“The boy killed last night-”
“He was a friend. His killer covered his tracks. But I suspect not so well that you can't pick up his scent. We need a trail, from what he did, to the killing, or at least as close as it gets.”
“Yeah, he's already been doxxed online. Yep. Got his IP and everything, so let's see where you got to... it looks like I can reconstruct enough of his activity to at least give you a direct line to his posts. Hmm.”
“I was following in his footsteps, trying to figure out how he obtained the information for the doxx. Elijah's family are unlisted- at least in the usual, legal directories. That's good,” Mahmoud said. “It means he broke the law getting it. Wait. Oh, holy shit. He didn't just break the law- he put his balls in the tiger's mouth.”
“What does that mean?”
“The information he got for Elijah- he stole it out of the Justice Department's servers- from his registration.”
“They're going to drop the entire Encyclopedia Britannica on the vile little shit. But there's something else. His record didn't stop at the DoJ. His file was forwarded to an NSA facility up in Ellensburg. They all were. And judging by the traffic going there, I bet that's where the new transhuman tracking program is based out of.”
“They're giving those shitheads the registration information?”
“Looks that way, though without breaching their system I can't tell you anything other than what the traffic implies.”
“No. That's enough. At least for now. We've got to focus on Elijah's killer, first.”
“He's a pretty crappy misogynist, racist, bigot, too, in case you didn't already hate him enough. And the scum he runs with are worse; they were patting him on the back this morning, and I get the distinct impression this isn't new territory for them.”
“But is there a way to flag this trail for the FBI to find?”
“Yes,” Mahmoud said. “It's done.”
“Same way we had this conversation; I'm bouncing the information around. In the case of getting them on his trail, I made a half-assed attempt to break into the FBI's cybersecurity servers, and made sure the trail would lead back to Hammish- that's his last name. The trail will lead to him, but look like he broke back into the DoJ to clean up his tracks.”
“ Elijah was one of us- and they killed him for that. I'm just glad you didn't ask me to hurt Hammish, because I don't know if I could have said 'No,' as much as I know I should. I'll see you back in Bellingham.”
“Bye,” she said, and hung up her phone.
“We're good?” Ben asked.
“Yeah. We should get out of here.” Rox didn't say anything else until they were back on the street. “They used his registration to doxx him,” she said.
“Registration killed him,” Mira said quietly, her eyes moistening.
“No. It wasn't registration that killed him. It was entitled bigots who believe they so deserve to be top of the heap that falsely calling the police to get somebody killed seems like a righteous act. And it was a police state, and cops that carried out the murder, so violently certain in their course that they gunned down an unarmed, nonviolent 14 year without provocation. But make no mistake, it wasn't the rule of law that killed him. It was a bigot on the other end of an internet connection.”
“But they used the registration to hurt him.”
Rox frowned. “He said it was like gun control. Criminals are always going to use the law against those who follow it.”
“I don't know if I like that parallel,” Ben said. “I grew up on the reservation. My uncle was sheriff before my brother, but sometimes he'd end up on the other side of the reservation overnight. I remember getting taught to shoot a gun as soon as I was old enough to hold one. Because there are people who drive onto the reservation to commit their crimes; rape got pretty common, for a while, because it's tough for the tribes to prosecute.
“But registration is not restriction. The one could, theoretically, lead to the other, but that's like saying electing anyone with antisemitic tendencies invariably leads to the Holocaust. And just about everybody used to be pretty wildly antisemitic, yet only one Holocaust, not one a generation. And a Diaspora, if you want to get technical. And I can tell you, growing up in a city, near gun crime, we have a different perspective from someone who lived in a relatively remote, small town, who didn't have cops a few minutes away at all times, and might need a weapon to protect themselves.
“I don't think it was the choice to put his fellow man's fear above his safety that killed him, it was people willing to exploit the good of people better than them.”
“But would you register?” Ben asked.
“It's a personal choice. One I think everyone should be able to make.”
“Then why not treat guns the same?”
“Because gun ownership doesn't carry the same stigmas. You wouldn't be targeted online solely for being outspoken about gun ownership.”
“No,” he said, “you wouldn't.”
“And you're right. This damages peoples' trust. It shows that registering can lead to harm and violence. But we can't bow down to extremists. Because whether they know it or not, if they shut down the peaceful options, there's only violence ahead. And I don't think I like their odds if that happens.”
“But there will be girls there?” Iago asked.
“There will be representatives of the fairer sex, yes, but I kind of think they'll be preoccupied by the bigotry and injustice.”
“So feminists, then?” he asked wryly.
“In all seriousness, I'm not trying to hound. I'm just trying to get out of my bubble, a little. I realized I've been 90% of my time cloistered with Drake, Pete and Cris. I'm on a long, lonely path towards just looking at one of them and saying, 'eh.'”
“That's not what makes people gay.”
“I know. I'm not talking about being gay. I'm talking about giving up, and just deciding to dry-hump whatever's nearby. If I were a bear, I'd be molesting a pine tree. And Drake's too fast- plus, despite the fact I've never actually seen him talk to a girl, present company excluded, I see a lot of them leaving his room the next morning. For a while my working theory was that it was like a reverse Narnia situation, that fantasy folk were fleeing out of his closet. But a fair few of them have walked around the apartment without pants, so I can safely say not a one of them was a fawn.”
“Every single one of them was foin.”
“Drake, we talked about this. What are the house rules?”
“No masturbating in the living room?”
“Okay, but rather than go through them from funniest to least funny, what's the pertinent one?”
“I'm not allowed to say 'foin,' especially not in the pursuit of a pun. In exchange for you not wearing those sweatpants outside of your room anymore.”
“Sweatpants?” Mikaela asked. “Do I even?”
“You didn't, but I'm telling you anyway,” Drake said. “He's got these sweatpants that I'm fairly certain must me older than he is. They cling so much, and they're fraying enough, that it's like he's wearing nothing but saran wrap. I still can't eat sausages; I even swore off hot dogs, for a while.”
“It can't be that bad.”
“If you want to know for sure, he can show them to you- but only in his room.”
“The point being that I need to get out more,” Iago said. “Not necessarily to creep on women, but just to move among them again, you know, reacclimate.”
“You realize there are women literally everywhere you could go on campus.”
“Yeah. But I think that's the problem. I don't go much. Mostly to Pete's. And classes. Then back here.”
“Okay. There will be women. Happy?”
“Actually I'm feeling kind of self-conscious about the whole thing now, to tell you the truth.”
“Philosophically I'm there, but this...” he started to turn up the volume on the TV, “gives me pause.”
It was the news, showing stock footage of a policecar with its lights flashing behind and anchor talking. “...fourteen year old Elijah Givens was killed when police kicked in his door. Authorities have now confirmed that the death was related to an online argument the boy became embroiled in concerning the transhuman protest downtown.”
“God,” Mikaela said, and dropped down on the couch beside Drake. “I met that kid,” she said.
“Really?” Iago asked.
“Yeah. He was previewing the campus my first day.”
“That's why I'm hesitating,” Drake said. “This isn't just us waving our polidicks around in the frigid air. There's repercussions, knock-on effects, and unintended consequences.”
“But that's exactly why we have to go through with this protest,” Mikaela said. “Because the reasonable response to protests- or worse, arguments about a protest- can't be murdering a 14 year old boy. And we can't let it be police violence and oppression, either. The more violent the cops get, the louder our protest has to get.”
“That's starting to get awfully close to 'turning the other cheek,'” Drake said, “and I'm way too atheist to be comfortable with that.”
“The conflict already started.” Mikaela said.
“We didn't start it but we tried to... fight it doesn't really work in a nonconfrontational context, does it?”
“There's going to be a confrontation; that can't be helped. But we either make peace or we make war, there is no third way.”
“And either way, the other side's going to be fighting like we want their extinction. Okay. But I may kick the first person who tells me to give peace a chance.”
“Welcome back to the land of the living,” Linc said. He handed her a steaming cup of coffee. “Noticed you stirring, so I microwaved it. That's probably the third time, so hopefully it doesn't taste too gamey.”
“How long did I sleep?” Roxy asked.
“Quite a while. We all had a late night, but you... apparently had an even more exciting night than the rest of us.”
She frowned, then noticed the gun she'd taken from her attacker the night before sitting on his desk..
“It's a service weapon. Same kind carried by the Bellingham Police.”
Rox suddenly felt like she couldn't breathe.
“I put out some feelers, friend I had who used to be military police, now works corrections in the state. Apparently it was reported stolen a week ago.”
“You believe that?” she asked.
“Not for a second. Service weapons don't just go missing, not even off of 'volunteer' officers. You think you got a good look at the man who chased you?”
“No. It was dark. And I only ever saw him in a dark alley in the rain, and then only for a fraction of a second.”
“That was what it sounded like last night. You were barely coherent when Mayumi let you in.” He looked away. She could tell there was something else.
“What else did you find?”
He closed his eyes. “I guess you've got as much of a right to know as anybody.” He picked up the phone she took along with the gun, then thumbed through some menus, to a picture. It was Rox. “Recognize it?” he asked.
It was taken earlier the previous night. On the rooftop of the black prison in Seattle. The only people on that roof with them were cops. “Jesus,” she said.
“I think you've got the wrong guy with a messianic complex. Goddamned Kean. I knew it wasn't wise to bring you and Mikaela. It's one thing for the cops to threaten or even try to hurt one of us. But that wasn't your fight.”
“It is, though,” she said. “They beat the shit out of Mahmoud, and had no compunction against executing me in an alleyway for sympathizing with him. It's my fight exactly because they want to wipe out people like me.”
“But you're kids, in our charge. Untrained, undisciplined. If you're saying we should be preparing you for war- but also how to avoid it, I agree, one hundred percent. But until then, we have a duty to keep you out of harm's way, not put you directly in the line of fire.”
Rox's phone started to vibrate. She looked at the screen, saw it was Mira, and answered. “Where are you?” she asked.
“You did what?” she asked. “No. Nevermind. That'll keep. This won't. Is he there, with you?”
“Put me on speaker.” She hit a button and the phone beeped loudly.
“He can hear you.”
“Elijah, that boy we showed around last week. Somebody SWATted him.”
“SWATed?” Roxy asked.
“Called the police, told them he was involved in a hostage situation, talked it up enough they sent SWAT to kick in his door. He was surfing on his phone, and the cops thought it was a gun and-”
“Is he okay?” Rox asked.
“They killed him.”
“God,” Linc said.
“I just talked to him last night,” Rox said. “He'd talked himself into registering.”
“Do they know who?” Linc asked.
“It seemed like it was related to social media. He got into an argument, about registration. Then the next thing... I feel sick. Like we didn't do enough, when he was here, with us.”
“Hey,” Linc said, “this isn't on you- either of you. You did your best to orient him to the campus. But it wasn't your responsibility to scotch-guard him against any and all possible dangers, either. Look, tonight's starting to sound like it'll be even more volatile than any of us thought. You should come to the meet this afternoon. I think I'm going to try and turn it into an all-nighter, get movies, popcorn, pizza, have a stay-in.”
“Yeah,” Mira said, “I'll be there.”
“I'm not sure,” Rox said. “I might have someplace I've got to be.”
“She was scared,” Mayumi said softly.
“I can't even imagine Roxy scared,” Mikaela said, opening the door into the Saunders Sciences building.
“She had a gun. I don't think it was hers.”
“But she wasn't hurt?”
“At least there's that.” She led the way up a flight of stairs, then turned right down a hall. She led Mayumi past several open labs, then into one marked 209.
“Hey, Pete,” she said.
“Mikaela, I'm glad you stopped by,” Pete said, walking out of an aisle between two lab tables to greet them.
“Really?” she asked.
“Well, the experiment is not going terribly well,” Demi said.
“There is that,” Pete said. “You've met Demi. My other assistant,”
“I thought we agreed on 'partner,' at least for you and Cris,” Demi said with a grin.
“Is Cristobal.” A slighter man waved from the end of the table.
“And this is Mayumi, who's part of an exchange program. So what are you up to?”
“Failing,” Peter said.
“Could you maybe ask for an extension?”
“Not the assignment. My hypothesis.” She frowned. “I wanted to prove intelligent design. Seems simple enough, really. If there's a guiding principle behind design, it would be towards life, and living. We took a bacteria from the human gut. We're depriving it of its usual food, and instead raising them in environments that usually have either a neutral or even lightly antibiotic effect. The bacteria that survive become better acclimated to these new environments and food sources; that's fine, evolutionary observation tells that.
“For our hypothesis to work, the bacteria would have to evolve in such a way that it incorporates these new conditions without losing their ability to thrive in normal conditions. Because these are artificial conditions; you won't find them in nature, or even outside of a lab. Intelligent design says that they should evolve the ability to survive both in the artificial environment and be able to survive when placed back in natural conditions. Otherwise, they've evolved themselves into extinction, which is what every batch has done thus far.”
“So?” Mikaela asked. “Why does it have to be an all or nothing proposition?”
“Because intelligent design is an all or nothing idea. You can't claim that there's a plan to everything, except for the parts that seem random and unexplainable. There either is intelligent design, or there isn't. I'm proof- all of us in this room are proof- of evolution. Hell, I'm evolving, even now. When I came to school, I entered a biology program thinking I was smart enough to disprove evolutionary science. I was dumber then. And I don't just mean academically. I started taking IQ tests, when I noticed it. But I'm getting quantifiably smarter. And the smarter I get, the more I believe in evolution, and the less I can even pretend to believe in intelligent design.”
“I find his lack of faith disturbing,” Cristobal said from across the room. “I mean, excuse to do my best Vader voice aside, I actually do think he's put too much faith into this. I don't know if I believe in intelligent design, but that doesn't mean I don't believe in God. Of course, I've also made my peace with a God that could make me gay in a homophobic church. Just because God set up all of the dominos doesn't mean he had to guide how each fell into place.”
“I'm not here for the philosophical,” Pete glared at Demi and she rolled her eyes before continuing, “or religious debates. I'm here because Pete is seriously as smart as he thinks he is, and as obnoxious as that is, it's a chance to work with somebody brilliant. Plus he's fun, and he and Cris have this whole 'will they won't they' thing, which is adorable.”
“We won't,” Pete said.
“Yeah, but that's what you used to say about evolution, so...”
Pete flipped her off.
“I'm here because there's going to be a protest on campus over the transhuman spying program. Kean's organizing it through the student council and the school's social media. But I feel responsible for at least helping put the idea together. So I wanted to ask people I know personally to come.”
“Count me in,” Cris said.
“How old are you?” Mikaela asked.
“Seventeen,” he said. “Why?”
“Because there's a good chance there's going to be violence. So we're encouraging minors to stay home and signal boost on social media.”
“It's one thing to ask an adult to put themselves in harm's way for a cause. But it's not right to do it with a kid, no matter how mature.”
“You didn't ask. I volunteered.”
“Think I'll pass,” Peter said. “I get hassled enough for my sexuality, without adding outed transhuman or upstart to my public persona.”
“Plus he's going to be here, obsessing over his lab results,” Demi said, “which is the real reason he won't go. But only one of us is necessary to sit on this experiment- though our preliminary results make me expect nothing's ever going to hatch. So you can count me in. Drake coming?”
“I'm heading to his place next, see if he and Santiago want to come.”
“I texted him. He didn't deign to reply. So he'll show, if a pretty girl asks him.”
“You meant another pretty girl, right?”
“Aw,” Mikaela said. “Thanks for that.”
“No problem. And I'll see you there.”
“Thanks, for coming with me,” Mahmoud said from inside the quiet car. “After the day I've had, I think I would have been a quivering puddle by now without you.”
“It's no big deal,” Rox said noncommittally.
“Don't minimize. That's why it's been good having you here. Because you haven't treated me like a kid, like these are kid problems and the adults have better, more important, more adult things to deal with, when all I've wanted to do is shut down. I think I did, for most of the day. I, I got insanely close to admitting what I brought to school was a bomb.”
“But it wasn't.”
“But it's hard to remember that. When you've had hours of someone yelling at you, promising it will all go away, that you can leave just as soon as you admit to something you didn't do. Interrogation is a form of torture- especially at a black prison. I couldn't call my parents, and any time I asked for a lawyer they'd tell me something about working to get me a phone call. When I could feel each one of them had a cell phone in their pockets, that there were dozens of working landlines in the place.”
“It's bullshit,” Rox said.
“I know. That's why I wanted you to ride with me. Because even though you didn't say anything, I could tell you were thinking it.” He sighed hotly. “I mean, they're not wrong, to want to protect us. But what they don't understand, what I don't think adults ever really understand, is that they can't protect us. The ignorance and fear and even violence, it's such an indelible part of this world. What happened to me, what happened in Newtown. We don't grow up in a vacuum, away from the impacts of their decisions. They can't shield us from these things- not without changing the world. And for whatever reason, that just seems like too much of a hassle to most of them.”
“We could crash their protest,” Rox said.
“Maybe. It might just mean a premature cancellation of the protest- which sets us all back. I'm skeptical that a protest accomplishes anything. What did Black Lives Matter accomplish, other than deeper retrenchment and additional racial tension? Not that I'm saying they were wrong. But the 'other side' in this is a group who want to 'conserve' their way of life. It's a group that wants to keep things the way they are, who like to be able to casually use racial slurs or deny gays even the dignity of buying the wedding cake they want, just because that's the way it's always been, it's the way they're comfortable. When you ask them to stop hurting people, their reaction is pretend they're the ones being oppressed. To them, protest is an act of violence; not the kind that will make them think, but the kind that will get someone killed when they retaliate.”
“What's our recourse, then?”
“I don't know. Wait for the next plague to wipe out the oldest, most virulent bigots?”
“And that it comes before they push us into an all-out race war.”
“Breed war,” Mahmoud corrected.
“Unless it all fractures along out-group lines. What if it wasn't just transhumans, but also Latinos, people with African and Asian ancestry, LGBTQs, basically everyone, demanding acceptance and dignity together.”
“It'd be great,” he said, “if it doesn't come at the other end of a gun.”
“This is your spot,” the driver said as the car pulled up to the curb.
“I'm really glad I got to meet you,” Rox said, and hugged him.
“Don't say teary-eyed goodbyes yet,” Mahmoud said. “I get the feeling I'll be sticking around.”
He slid out of the car, and Rox followed.
“Wait,” the driver said. “I'm supposed to drive you home.”
“Yeah,” she said, “well, you can't. I'm walking. I need the air. But thanks for the offer.”
The hotel still had lights on, but the rest of the city, with the exception of plentiful street lamps, was dark. The wind made the night less bearable, but at least she was still bundled from the game. It seemed like days had passed since then.
She took out her phone, to distract herself from the chill. She missed a text from Elijah, and her heart started thumping quickly. He was in Seattle. She dialed him, and each second had to fight harder to keep from believing he'd been hurt.
“Hey, Rox,” he said, picking up. “I'm glad you called. Everything that's happening here.”
“I know,” she said. “I just left Seattle.”
“They canceled school, like it was a snow day. It was insane. The air outside our apartment was choked in smoke for most of the day.”
“So you weren't outside, in the protest?”
“My mom wouldn't let me. But I kept up on it with the local news, and the radio, and did what I could to spread the word on social media.”
“Today's been such a disaster,” she said, and realized it wasn't just the cold slowing her down.
“I know,” he said. “People are angrier and more scared than they've ever been.”
“So they blame us?”
“Some do. A lot. I guess it's kind of harder to parse, when there's so much conflict swirling around. But it feels like a lot of people here are looking at it through the lens of the World Trade Organization 'riot.' People still remember the police gassing and arresting crowds of bystanders- not even protesters, just people going about their daily lives. But nationally, it's ugly.
“Cox spent most of the day stirring up anti-transhuman sentiment. They keep repeating how the 'protests' were just a smokescreen, an excuse to finally cut loose on a world that doesn't give us our due. To show everyone how powerful we are, to make them afraid of us for a reason.
“It's weird, because every transhuman I know just wants to be left alone, to live out their lives in obscurity and play video games, listen to music, date awkwardly. They think we want to rule them by fear, because it's the only thing they could think to do with power.
“In a funny way, though not the way they'd expect, it forces my hand. Thinking about it, what I realized is registration's a lot like gun control. I think every gun owner ought to go through classes to get a license, and that their guns should all be registered with the government. At the same time it maybe makes me see some nuance in that argument I hadn't before- it's different when it's your name on one of the government's lists; of course, there isn't anyone in Congress advocating we round up gun owners and put them in internment camps they way some want to do with us. But the principal remains the same. The only way we get past this fear is to stop being scared of each other. We trust, or we prepare for war. And there's already been too much hurt. Even if that's the way the wind is blowing, it can't be the way I go.”
“Aren't you scared?”
“Terrified. But I try to put myself in someone else's shoes, you know, a guy who's probably my neighbor who spent the day in fear, huddled around his children to protect them from someone like me he's convinced was going to kick in his door to hurt them. If exposing myself, if making myself vulnerable is the only way to make him feel safe, maybe it's worth it. I hope so, anyway.”
“I'm really not sure.”
“Me, neither. But I think that's just the fear talking. And if we keep letting it rule us, there isn't any chance for peace.”
“You shouldn't,” Rox said. “I can't explain it, but sometimes I get this tingling sensation.”
“I don't know that I know you well enough for the puberty talk,” Elijah said.
“Don't be a jerk. My ability, most of the time it functions automatically, I don't concentrate or think about the outcomes I want, they just happen. But every once in a while I get this intuition that something is going to go badly unless I intervene. I don't always understand how I should intervene, but right now, it feels like something bad will happen if you go through with this.”
“Something bad will happen if we survive the night. Something bad will happen because life is a series of bad things happening, interspersed with better things happening. But we can't live our life based on what bad may come, but the good we want to last beyond us.”
“Please,” she said, on the verge of tears.
“I can't. I know what might happen. But I also know what happens when good people do nothing. But thank you. For talking to me. For caring. I know this won't be the last time we talk, but thank you, for trying to talk me out of it.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I should go. It's late.”
“Sure. You have a good night, Rox. And take care of yourself.”
She wanted to throw her phone as she hung up, but she forced herself to gently slide it back into her pocket. She had been wandering blind, not paying attention to where she was gone. But her ability must have kicked in, because she'd actually discovered a quicker way back to her parent's.
That was the moment she heard a boot splash into a puddle behind her.
It was late enough there weren't other people on the streets. She hadn't seen anyone on her entire walk, which had been just as well, since she wouldn't have wanted anyone to hear how close she came to breaking down.
But the same intuition that led her to plead with Elijah now told her she needed to get home, quickly. She started with a few wider steps before launching into a run. She thought she could hear boots splashing through the puddles behind her, coming just as quickly as she was running, but she'd ran often enough in the rain to know that the echoes of it played tricks.
She darted down an alley she'd used as a shortcut before. Normally the gate was open, but normally, she was passing that way during daytime. The fence was shut, and she was caught flat-footed. That was how she knew that the splashes at the entrance weren't her own noises thrown back at her.
She started to turn back, when she was knocked to her knee.
She felt a gun barrel pressed against the back of her head, then heard the slide of an automatic pulled backward, chambering a round, then the clack of the trigger. But the hammer didn't fall. The gun was jammed.
She put her foot against the brick wall to her left, leapt off it and used her momentum to kick her pursuer in the face. He dropped both his gun and his phone. She grabbed the gun, and reached into her pocket for her own phone. Then she heard more boots splashing in her direction. She looked at the gun, and wasn't sure if it was going to work, and didn't want to have to test it. So she scooped up his phone and climbed over the fence, and disappeared into the rain.
Mikaela glanced at the seat across from her. Between the whirring engine of the helicopter, and their conspiratorial tones, she couldn't tell what Mahmoud and Rox were talking about, but that at least meant that they hadn't heard their discussion, either. She was glad he was having better luck with the younger girl than she had.
That thought made her frown, and she turned back towards Keen and Linc, who were sitting in the front of the helicopter, and facing forward. “Did you bring girls hoping we'd be nurturing?” she asked.
“I brought you because you were the right women for the job,” Kean said with a smile. “Gender was not a factor in that selection,” he glanced at Mahmoud, grinning widely at Rox. “Though I'd say it hasn't hurt, either.”
Mikaela turned just enough to see what he saw. But she got caught on the sight of Mahmoud's injuries, the swelling, the cuts, and the bruises. “It's still so much bullshit,” she said.
“I know,” Kean said, “just, please, for Mahmoud's sake...”
“I think she's right,” Linc said.
“I didn't say she wasn't, just that the boy's been through enough. The last thing he needs is to feel like he's the catalyst for yet another protest.”
“So you aren't going to try to stop it?”
“Of course not. I don't know if it will help. But being the transhuman Mecca endows us with certain responsibilities. If we don't speak up about injustices perpetuated upon our own, then it gives a stamp of tacit approval. What I would say is we should be diligent, more than duly. If possible, we should have police marching with us, in solidarity, rather than standing against us in riot gear.”
“Don't you think it should be up to him?” Roxy asked. “Whether or not he's kept out of people protesting his treatment?”
Mikaela's eyes narrowed; Rox's ability must have helped her and Mahmoud hear them, after all. “No,” Mikaela said. “Because if we were to ask, that would be putting pressure on him to join us. There's a necessarily coercive element to asking.”
“Yeah, well, then you should have spoken more quietly, because we could hear you over here. So he knows.”
“And unintentional coercion to the side, I want to be there,” he said. “Not just because this happened to me. But because it could happen to anyone. In my case, it was a 'bomb' I brought to school. But what about the next kid, one who the authorities decide is the bomb. Just because that kid might have control over their abilities won't stop police or administrators from being afraid of them. You fight ignorance with knowledge. And you can't do that by sitting quietly in the corner and waiting for people who are afraid of you and what you represent to acknowledge your humanity.”
“I agree, with all of that,” Mikaela said. “And I'd say you're wise beyond your years. But I still don't like the idea of exposing you, or any of the 'children' to harm this way. This isn't the 60s anymore. When people protested the second gulf war in Portland, they were pepper-sprayed and beaten. In liberal-ass Portland. And there was no public outcry. Instead, people were just happy not to have their commute further impacted. Violence is almost a given, here. And I don't think we can, responsibly, put either of you in that harm's way.”
“It isn't up to you,” Rox said.
“In a manner of speaking,” Kean began, “it is. I'll be granting permission for an assemblage on the campus- to those 18 and older. She's right. We can't ask minors, regardless of their maturity, to stand against all but assured police resistance. And I suspect the first thing Bellingham's police will do is request assistance from Seattle. It will turn bloody. In a way, it needs to, on a campus, where the students are not the aggressors, but the police are.
“But that is not to say that our minor students don't have a place in our protest. While numbers at a rally are crucial, what will decide whether or not the protest gains traction is virality. In Seattle, Police took down cell coverage just before the 'riot' broke out. Phones were broken or confiscated by the dozens, and I've heard reliably that the police have requested that Seattle data uploads be restricted during the coming days. Sympathetic video will not come out about Seattle until the news has moved on from the story, which will be cemented as one of transhuman violence against human authorities.
“Our younger students can counter that. They can spread the message through social media. And students like Mahmoud can keep the police from being able to shut down our phone grid, our internet or our power. They can ensure that our message, one of solidarity and hope, can perpetuate above the noise of violence, brutality, and fascism.”
“You said I was 'your kind,'” Mahmoud said, trying to keep up as they walked through the labyrinthine corridors. “Like black? Muslim? Transhuman?”
Mikaela smiled. “The trifecta,” she said.
“So you're all?” he said, gesturing to all three of them.
“And we'd like you to come back to Bellingham with us,” Kean said.
“That's... sudden,” Mahmoud replied.
“It is. I discussed it with your parents, before coming here. Unfortunately, the circumstances of your detention and arrest will make you a lightning rod. Those looking for a cause to rally around- and a symbol for those looking for someone to hate. I can't protect you from all of that. But at my school, I can guarantee that you will be surrounded by those who can understand what you're going through- at least as well as any of us can.”
“Would only be an hour away. I've made arrangements, for a scholarship, including bussing once a month to visit them.”
“Would I have to decide now?”
“No. But the conditions of your release did dictate you not be released within the city tonight. Your parents are already waiting in Bellingham, with a hotel room. I'd like you to tour the campus, see if, perhaps, it might interest you.”
“But I haven't graduated yet.”
“You would technically be enrolled in the satellite high school, along with Miss Molina.”
“Hey,” Rox said. The pushed their way out onto the roof. Rain was pounding down, and they walked to the helicopter.
“We good to take off?” Kean asked.
“This is a light misting in Washington,” Linc said with a grin.
“Then get us the hell into the sky.”
“You got it.” Linc started the chopper, and lifted off of the roof.
Kean heaved a sigh of relief. “Now that we're out of the lion's den, Mahmoud, I'd like to formally introduce you to Rox Molina, who's about your age. And our pilot is Lincoln Martens, formerly of the U.S. Army, and now the head of our counseling department.”
“Rox. That's a cool name,” Mahmoud said.
“Yeah. My parents named me Roxy; I think they didn't want it obvious that I was Mexican, but 'Molina' doesn't exactly scream white European. And I might be light-skinned, but I think people can tell, anyway.”
“I don't know that I would have guessed. But really, anyone lighter than me I don't make any assumptions about.”
“So you really built a fission reactor?”
“It was just a science fair project,” he said, pantomiming the size of the device.
“So you built a miniature reactor? That's even cooler.”
“Yeah, I'm not so sure,” he said, touching his swollen face.
“I know getting stomped wasn't cool. But what you did was- so cool simple-minded cops felt threatened by it. Which makes it cooler.”
“I guess. I just wanted to make something cool.”
“You did. How the hell does that feel?”
“It hurts,” he said.
“No-” She nodded to the smoke still billowing from the city as they overflew. “That.”
“It's fucked up. I shouldn't have been arrested. Shouldn't have been disappeared to a secret prison where I wasn't even booked. People shouldn't have had to protest any of that, and there shouldn't have been violence.”
“No. There was a different part of the protest. You hear about the NSA tracking program?”
“All I've heard all day was variations of the question, 'Why did you build a bomb?'”
“In response to your arrest, a hacker released records of an NSA transhuman tracking program. I think that pushed the protesters. And probably the police, too, made everyone feel violated.”
“Huh,” he said.
“I guess I, I sort of knew about it, already. Not in so many words. But I knew my data was being collected. At least, it was, until last month. I didn't know what it was being used for, so I rerouted it. Took myself off the grid, so to speak.”
“You can do that?”
“It's the other side of my ability. I'm a technopath. I can 'talk' to electronics, and understand when they talk back. And in a limited sense, I can kind of ask them to function differently. Within parameters. The electrical pathways are all still the same; it's like how a telepath can't rewire a human brain, or make someone do something they don't know how to, but they can ask for something that person could already theoretically do.”
“But you can shield yourself from surveillance. That's really cool.”
“Actually,” he adjusted the glasses on his face, “right now I'm shielding all of us.”
“The NSA have gone a little crazy over it, too. I don't think they like that you were able to spring me. So they're trying to track the helicopter, and tap your phones. And the longer they can't, the more desperate the attempts to get any kind of information. They stopped trying to get camera or audio. Now they're just trying to triangulate with cell towers. I keep routing them to the President's cell phone. I think she and her husband are doing... things. She's going to be unhappy with them come the morning.”
“Ew, and I don't think I've ever been jealous of somebody else's ability before. It's kind of funny. I think your power should completely frighten public officials, but not for any of the reasons they arrested you. But because you could totally spy on them back.”
Mikaela tensed as she went through the metal detector. She went through everything on her person, wondering what might set it off, and whether or not that would set off the cop.
“See, nothing to worry about,” the uniformed officer said, handing her the dish with her keys in it. “I'm going to have to pat you down, so if you'll put your feet in those circles on the ground, there.”
Mikaela looked down, and positioned her feet in the circles. Her muscles were tense, and the entire facility felt like a place out of her father's worst nightmares, but she was standing in the middle of it, despite the fact that the cops didn't want her there.
The woman paused. “It's okay,” she said softly. “I worked TSA, before here, and I recognize fear when I see it. I ain't going to bite you. And you're not going to hurt me, right? You're just here to see the boy. And I just got to make sure you aren't smuggling anything in. We ain't antagonists; nobody here wants anybody to get hurt.” She sighed. “Cops can lose sight of that fact. It ain't us versus the public, or we're already lost. We work for the public, with them, to make communities safe. When we do that, when we remember that, and more important remember to show the community that, that's when police get to be the good guys, when we get that respect so many cops think they're due. You okay for me to start?”
Mikaela nodded her head slowly.
“Okay. You tell me if you need me to stop, or slow down. That's the other thing I think cops forget. This ain't routine for everybody. We may do this forty hours a week, but for Jane Q. Public, this can be some scary shit.” She gently patted her way up one leg, then the next. Then she patted Mikaela's sides, and her arms. “You're clear. He's in his own holding cell. I'll take you in to see him.”
The officer beckoned, and Mikaela followed her outside of her circles. It was only a few doors down, before she stopped and opened a door with her keys. “I know he's just a kid, and so are you; I don't expect trouble. But procedure says I stand here, outside the door. I ain't going to listen, but if you yell for me, that I'll hear, even through the door. There's also a button, on the wall, that will make noise out here, if you need to get out for any reason.”
“Okay,” Mikaela said. “Thanks.”
“We serve and protect,” she said. “I'm just doing what's in the job description.”
She opened the door, and Mikaela stepped inside. The room was lit by a single bulb, just enough illumination that she could see Mahmoud's bruised and swollen face. It was worse than it had been in the videos, either because the swelling hadn't happened yet, or because they kept hitting him.
“Jesus,” Mikaela said.
“Mohammad,” he said, “though it's an easy mistake to make.”
Mikaela smiled. “I can't believe they left you like this.”
“I know. No wiFi, no TV.” He smiled, then realized she wasn't smiling anymore. “Sorry. I've been in here a while; deadpanning helps.”
“Whatever helps you cope,” she said. “Excuse me.” She pushed the button on the wall, and the door opened immediately.
“Everything all right?” the officer asked.
“I want ice, and bandages. Painkillers, if you've got them.”
“Okay. I'll see what I can come up with.”
“And is there any reason to keep him cuffed?”
She frowned. “Not that I can see. I'll bring keys back with me.” The officer shut the door again, and locked it.
“So, not that I'm complaining, because any friendly face is better, but who are you?”
“My name's Mikaela.”
“That name's pretty. And so are you.”
She smiled. “You're saying that because you've taken too many blows to the head.”
“And because I want to avoid more.” The door opened, and the officer came back in. She handed Mikaela a small box of supplies, then walked over to Mohammad.
“Hands out,” she said. He held out his wrists, and she used a key to open his cuffs, then took them with her. “Play nice,” she said, before leaving again.
Mahmoud rubbed his wrists. “You never realize how much those things chafe until you spend hours in them. Thanks. I don't know why I didn't think to ask to have them taken off.”
“I don't know that they would have listened.” Mikaela poured some rubbing alcohol onto a cue tip. “This will sting.”
“It already does,” he said. She jabbed it into a cut above his eye. “Ow, ow, ow!”
“So you built a bomb?” she asked, and blew on the cut to dry the alcohol off it.
He sighed hotly. “It wasn't a bomb. It was a fission reactor. There's some similarity, but not much. I mean, my physics teacher knew it wasn't a bomb. But then the principal...”
“Sorry,” she said. “I didn't mean to open up a wound.”
“Not your fault. I went to school this morning thinking I'd impress my teacher. And she was very impressed. Not enough to hug me, or anything, but...”
“Are you telling me you're hot for teacher?” Mikaela asked with a grin.
“You haven't seen this teacher,” he said.
“That's true. And I've definitely had hots for many a teacher- so I'm not judging.”
“But all I wanted was to show off. I didn't think... I mean, I understand fission isn't a toy. But it's also not something to be afraid of. I mean, if you could mass produce my generator, it could revolutionize the way that people interact with the power grid.”
“And they kicked your ass for it. Here.” She handed him the ice pack. “Hold this, wherever it hurts most.” He pushed it over the split in his forehead. “How much do you know, about what happened out there?”
“What do you mean?”
“People protested your arrest. And there was a riot.”
“Here,” she said, and gave him a couple of pills, and a disposable cup of water.
He took them, then handed her the cup. “You're not just playing good cop, are you?”
“I'm not a cop,” she said. “I'm not sure what I'm doing here, honestly, but I'm definitely not a cop. And fuck them, for doing this to you.”
“Don't thank me. This isn't okay. Even if you weren't 'my kind.' People shouldn't do this kind of thing- especially not those we trust to keep us safe.”
“That's not always a popular opinion,” the Dean said, as the cell door opened. “Least of all in a place like this.”
“And that's the problem,” she said defiantly. “Cops ought to be the ones most incensed by this kind of violence, because not only is preventing violence part of their mandate, but it erodes public trust even in good police.”
“I agree. And that's why we're taking Mr. Mohammad away from here.”
“Really?” he asked, rising. “I'm free?”
“After a manner of speaking,” he said.
Roxy had never flown in a helicopter before. Watching cities fly past beneath as the sun began to set was an entirely new experience.
She still wasn't sure how to feel about Mikaela. Something about her rubbed Rox the wrong way, but especially now, on the same mission together, it was hard not to feel a shared purpose with the other girl.
“I'm sorry,” she said quietly, and Mikaela perked up. “I know I've been kind of a bitch. I think... I like being the go-to person, and it seems like you've been stepping on my toes a lot, lately. But that really doesn't excuse it, either. And I'd rather bury the hatchet here, than keep sniping.”
“Yeah,” Mikaela said. “And I'm sorry, too. I was so wrapped up in being new, I never really stopped to ask what me coming here meant for those who were already here. And if I'm honest...”
“No, you should definitely lie to me,” Rox deadpanned.
She smiled. “It sucks that you've got so much of your shit together. I'm four years older than you, or thereabouts. And we're both in practically the same boat. It's definitely intimidating, knowing that someone who can't even drink yet is basically my equal.”
“Or vote,” Rox said.
“You enjoy twisting the knife, don't you?”
“Immensely.” she said with a grin.
“It's there,” Kean said from the front of the chopper.
“You sure?” Linc asked. “Because it's a thoroughly nondescript warehouse in a sea of thoroughly nondescript warehouses. Of particular note, most nondescript warehouses aren't reinforced for helicopter landings.”
“It's the correct building, and yes, they have reinforced the roof for transports such as ours. Useful for completing the disappearance of a prisoner.”
“And they know we're coming?”
“Yes. They won't be welcoming us with open arms, but they also want be welcoming us with firearms, either.”
“You really know how to set a guy's mind at ease,” Linc said, and started their descent. The wind buffeted their helicopter as it neared the roof, which shook as it touched down. Immediately, men with assault rifles and riot gear ran towards them.
“I thought you said they wouldn't be welcoming us with firearms,” Linc said.
“I said they wouldn't be firing them, not that they wouldn't be wearing them. It's a show of force- an attempt at intimidation.”
“I don't like bullies.”
“I'm aware. And that's why you'll be staying with the helicopter. I wouldn't put it past them to tamper with it, for one. And for another, it removes you from a temptation to start swinging. Ladies? We're needed inside.”
Rox and Mikaela followed Kean out of the helicopter. An overzealous officer pointed his rifle at them as they passed. Kean melted him with a glare. “They're students, not terrorists. Show a modicum of restraint.”
They passed through a set of doors. Inside, it looked like any other office building, completely nondescript on the inside as well as on the out. But that made a degree of sense. It wasn't likely the city was going to allocate a large budget for redecorating their black prison sites.
“They let us in,” Mikaela said breathlessly.
“Yes. I find things tend to fall into place around Miss Molina,” he said, and smiled at Rox.
A man with short, dirty blond hair and a disheveled suit and tie was waiting for them on the other side. “Dr. Kean,” he said curtly, “if you'll follow me.”
“Yes. I was hoping to send one of the students I brought with me to meet with Mohammad. Simply to try to calm him down. The boy has been through quite a lot.”
“Sure. They'll have to go through the metal detectors, and a pat down.”
“Of course. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that your officers are twitchy.”
“No one's supposed to know about this facility, let alone land a helicopter on top of it.”
“And you don't think the very existence of such a facility flies in the face of the public's trust? Shouldn't it be the rest of us made twitchy by this development?”
“Hey, I think we all get to act twitchy on this one.”
“Yes, but your men were pointing automatic weapons in the faces of college students. That's the problem with treating our kind as something monstrous. Those foolish enough to believe the propaganda will treat us as you would monsters.”
“I'll give them a talking to.”
“I appreciate the gesture. But it's a futile one. It's the fear that's been mongered into the boy that's at issue, not that he acted on it.”
“Yeah, well, I don't control the evening news, though god knows I wish I did.”
“While it's true enough that no one of us can control things, it does not absolve us of our place in the machine, or the evil that machine does.”
“These are the holding cells.” Their guide stopped in front of an officer in a blue uniform. “One of the girls is going to go in to see Mohammad. Put her through the usual screening.” She nodded her head.
“Mikaela, if you would,” Kean said. Mikaela's eyes became wide. She had assumed Rox was here to visit him, since she was closer to the boy's age, and had more experience dealing with orienting new students. He sensed her hesitation. “It's why I asked you along. You're still new, still have that wide-eyed view of our world. Mahmoud has been through quite the ordeal, already. You're a friendly face, who understands what it's like to be thrust quite abruptly into a new world. And I need Roxy myself, at the moment. We may need all the luck we can get. Just listen,” he said finally. “I have every faith in you.”
Dean Kean was waiting outside for them, adjusting his tie. He smiled at Mikaela. “I'm sorry to have used go-betweens. While your phones are indeed on record, I find it unnerves people if I call them completely out of the blue. And I knew you were with Lincoln.”
“Your little game. Security flagged it the moment the fireworks started. Normally I would have put an end to it, but I trust Lincoln to keep the grounds intact. Mostly.”
“And I do,” Linc said. “Mostly.”
“Except for that incident the semester before last. We had to resod a goodly portion of the north field.”
“Teaching kids to control their abilities isn't an exact science. Sometimes you end up with a lot of chaos before you find control.”
“I wasn't blaming you, Lincoln,” Kean soothed.
They arrived at the Chase Administrative Center. “Administration?” Rox asked.
“My chopper's on the roof here.” He led them through the Chase lobby, and to an elevator. He opened it with a key, and pushed the button for the roof. He had to use his key again to get the elevator moving.
“So why are we choppering, then?” Mikaela asked once the doors were closed. “I mean, I'm flattered we're going, I just don't know where, or why.”
“Seattle,” Kean said. “Though the specific of the 'where' is very much tied into the why. We're going to where they're holding Mohammed.”
“I might have assumed that much, but that's maybe a third of the answer.”
“I suppose it is. Mahmoud has been taken by the police; I dare say it's likely you heard at least that much. The supposed riots in Seattle? They were in part a protest of the NSA's dealings. But the majority of the rally was designed to advocate for his release, a detail that has somehow managed not to be reported by the media. You see, he hasn't been processed, isn't accessible to a lawyer, or his parents. He's been disappeared, to a police black site.”
“A black site?” Rox asked.
“I suppose you two are a bit young to remember them. Black sites, unofficial prisons, came to some degree of notoriety during the height of the ill-conceived War on Terror. They were run by the CIA, who housed prisoners at them to be intimidated and tortured.”
“It was a black eye,” Linc said, “on our country, and particularly, on the fighting men and women who made most of those captures in the first place. We lost a lot of standing in the world, thanks to that crap.”
“Right,” Kean said, as the elevator doors opened. “Check that she's fueled, and take care of pre-flight.” Linc nodded and started to jog towards the helicopter. Kean turned right, towards the lip of the building that overlooked the commons. “It was one thing, housing 'undesirables' in little miniature Guantanamos abroad. But it's a far more pernicious thing to hold a minor who is also a U.S. Citizen at such a location on American soil. The police deny even having him, but I have sources that inform me otherwise.”
“That covers a lot of the what,” Mikaela said. “But it still doesn't tell me why you need us.”
“You each have your role to play,” Kean said.
“Are we mounting a rescue?” Rox asked.
“Nothing so... dramatic,” Kean said. “It's a visitation. And I can be quite... persuasive.”
Mikaela looked out at the quiet of the commons. It was uncharacteristically quiet. Word had traveled fast. “People were afraid of us before, but now...”
Kean nodded gravely. “I have it on good authority the 'riots' were manufactured. Undercover officers providing the necessary spark to carry tension over into confrontation. Clearly, they couldn't allow the story to become about how the police kidnapped a child from school after beating him. So they turned the story into one about how inherently violent a population they already have a history of oppressing can be. Nice, tidy, and thoroughly awful.”
“We're all set,” Linc said.
“Ladies,” Kean said, turning with a sweep of his hand. “I promised you a helicopter ride.”
A television anchor stared into the camera, and licked her lips before beginning. “Early reports confirm that the leak of the NSA spying program was a response to the arrest earlier today of 14 year old Mahmoud Mohammad.” They flashed video clearly taken on a cell of a scrawny Middle Eastern boy being led away in handcuffs, blood still trickling from his nose. “The bloodied boy was led from his school in handcuffs after bringing a thermonuclear device to the school's science fair. The 'perp walk' following the arrest was caught on video by several students using their personal phones.
“Police have thus far been unable to explain why force was necessary to restrain Mohammad, who weighs less than 120 pounds, and by all accounts cooperated fully with the police, and did not resist when they took him into custody. A police spokesman said he, 'Must have resisted arrest.'
“Local officials, as well as a spokesperson for the Department of Energy are still uncertain how the boy came to possess fissile material enough to build such a device. Police have been reluctant to rule out a terrorist connection.”
“That's insane,” Mikaela said.
“That's a heap of insane things,” Demi said.
“What does it mean?” Sonya asked, trembling.
“Right now,” Linc said, “it means you all need to be careful. This is the kind of thing that gets people riled up. Keep your heads down, try and stay in groups. In fact, if you want, you could all use my Netflix, order a pizza, and stay in here.” His phone started to ring. “Crap. Got to take this. But discuss, figure out your options.”
“Drake?” Mikaela asked.
“He had me at pizza.”
“I've been held worse places under the threat of violence.”
“What about you?” Drake asked her.
“There's no way in hell I'm going back to my apartment. So I'm either crashing here or your place.”
“And we've only just gotten the scent of your sleep-toots out of the couch. So yeah, we'll stay here.”
“Sleep toots?” Mayumi asked.
“I made the mistake of spending too much time with Drake. He eats pizza for two and a half meals a day. It'd make anybody gassy.”
Ben was having trouble listening to what Rox was talking about, because he was close enough to Mikaela's group that their voices were blending together. But he had heard them talking about being gassy, and he'd been holding something terrible in since they came inside. A peaceful grin spread across his lips.
Rox smelled it first. “Goddamnit, Tso,” she said.
“Sorry,” he said. “I overheard them talking about having gas, and...”
“Sympathy gas is both not a thing, and definitely not a special ability.”
“It feels special.”
Cris smiled at him.
“Don't encourage him,” Rox said.
“I'm all for staying,” Mira said, and also smiled at Ben, “and dibs on the chair.”
“Oh, man,” Cris said, crinkling his nose. “You two are going to share the chair, aren't you?”
“Why the thought had never crossed my mind,” Mira said, batting her eyelids innocently, “but now that you mention it...”
Rox looked to Cris, and raised her eyebrows. “Yeah. Not the first time I've been on lock-down. Guatemala is super Catholic, and even as a little tyke I wasn't the most masculine kid. So whenever there was a hate crime anywhere near our home, my mom would lock me up like I was Anne Frank. So this will be like old times, only I'd kind of pity the idiot bigot who stumbled onto this campus.”
“'Rene?” Rox asked.
“If you're staying, I'm staying,” she said, unaware that she was staring at Ben when she did.
“Sonya? That just leaves you.”
“So long as somebody's willing to huddle with me for some warmth, I'm good.”
“I'm sure there'll be plenty of body heat to go around.”
“Kae, Rox,” Linc said from the quieter half of the room.
They both walked towards where Linc and Anita were standing. They exchanged a look, and Mikaela gave a little nod. “We're staying,” Rox said.
“Think we'll stay, too,” Mikaela said. “And Kae?”
“I heard Demi call you that, and I like it. I had an aunt named Kay.”
“And I remind you of her?”
“Not in the slightest. She was an old lady who collected way too many creepy dolls. And she married a man who looked like Orville Redenbacher.”
“That does sound hot.”
“You'd be surprised; Ernie worked that bow tie. But it's also not why I called both of you over. That was the boss.”
“God?” Mikaela asked.
“Worse. The Dean. Ms. Fessuns' going to stay here with the rest of the students, as much to make sure this doesn't turn into a kegger. But he wants to fly you to to Seattle.”
“If he wanted us, why did he call you?”
“He wants me to do the flying.”
“I'm sure it would be less dramatic if you just told us what was going on,” Linc said.
“And I'm sure it wouldn't suffice,” Anita said, switching on the television in his office.
The students crowded inside, around them in a half moon. She flicked through a few channels, before finding a Seattle news station, showing footage of smoke rising up out of the city from a traffic helicopter.
“For those of you just joining us,” a woman narrated from the studio, “there is smoke rising from the middle of downtown Seattle. A transhuman protest today turned violent when confronted by police in riot gear. Transhumans and transhuman sympathizers were protesting the NSA's transhuman tracking program, which was outed earlier today by a transhuman hacker.
“The program is similar in scope and dimension to the kinds of intelligence gathering revealed by infamous leaker Edward Snowden. However, this program is targeted specifically at those exhibiting extrahuman capabilities, regardless of their immigration status. It's important to note that this program is separate to the Transhuman Registration Act passed by Congress and administered by the Department of Justice, though presumably both programs interact.”
Anita changed channels to Cox News. Four pundits were seated around a table. “These animals set fire to downtown Seattle,” an overweight man in a suit bloviated. “We aren't talking a drum circle jerk passing legalized pot around. These aren't people; human beings don't act like this.”
They cut to a video of a man's hand transforming into a claw and extending, and tearing a riot shield away from a policeman with it. Then a second clip played, fire erupting out of a woman's mouth and engulfing another cop's shield and helmet.
“They don't want law and order,” a woman with a scowl said as they cut back from the video. “They want to rule, by fear and coercion. If we don't do something to stop this, I think we're witnessing humanity's last days.”
“Is anybody else hungry?” Drake asked. Mikaela turned and blinked at him. “What? That kind of high-quality xenophobia makes me hungry. Or all of the physical activity.”
“We aren't foreigners,” Ben said.
“Xenophobia also covers anything 'strange,' not just foreigners. Linguistics major. Trust me on this one. And if it isn't white, Anglo and particularly Saxon, these protestants want nothing to do with it.”
“What about her?” Irene asked, pointing to the scowling woman, who was a shade darker than Rox and was likely Latina.
“She's light enough that for all they know it's just a dark foundation. Or their bigotry has evolved to a point where it's not the color of your skin, but whether or not you're a big enough xenophobe to hang.”
“There's still some leftover pizza on my desk,” Linc said.
“Cool,” Drake said, and followed his nose away.
“Though how anyone could eat at a time like this, I don't know.”
“You got a microwave? Cause that's how I'd prefer to eat it.”
“I think he meant emotionally,” Mikaela said.
“I'm a stress eater,” he said, opening the box.
“And you eat when you're calm. And once while you were sleeping.”
“I was on some heavy painkillers,” he said. “The Ambien haze is real. And I fell asleep eating pizza. But I was still hungry, so I dreamed I was still eating- and I was, apparently.”
“Sure,” Ben said, “who hasn't done that?”
“Ahem,” Cris said. “Am I the only one still preoccupied with the race war on the television?”
“Not a race war,” Drake said around a bite of room temperature pizza. “We aren't a different race- just a different breed.”
“The breed war, then,” Cris said.
“I think most of us are in shock,” Rox said, and put a hand on Cris' shoulder.
“How'd this happen?” Irene asked from the back.
“I'll show you,” Anita said, and flicked to another channel.