Posted on January 15, 2016
Even though I’ve completed serializing the first episode here on First Friday Free Fiction, I’m still behind in putting together posts so I’m going to continue right on doing it until I catch up.
What follows is Chapter 2 of Episode 2: Street. If you haven’t read all of the chapters from Episode 1: Hive, you need to go here and do that now or you’ll be totally confused. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
I’m going to stop serializing when I’m done putting Episode 2 up. If you want to read the whole story, go here and roll me some gold to buy the books.
As usual, all of this is my intellectual property so don’t reproduce this without attribution.
Text Copyright © 2015 Jake MacMillan
All Rights Reserved
1. Paul followed her gaze up to the mustard and charcoal stained quilt that hovered six stories overhead. “What?”
“No, yeah, it makes total sense,” Izumi said, smiling and nodding as she figured it out. “A strapper like you has been eating three squares his whole life. You got no chip. Your clothes look like you fell through a clothes line on the way down. You’re a temper, ain’t’cha?” She leaned in close and put her hands on his chest again. “What did you do to get sent down? Did you kill somebody? Steal a bunch of money? Wipe off on the curtains after?”
Paul didn’t understand the specifics of what she was asking him but it was plain she wanted to know where he came from and he was fairly sure if he told her the truth she would instantly abandon him. Seeing as how she was the only person who had done anything to help him from the moment he had stepped into this harsh and hostile world outside the hive, he decided that discretion was his best option at the moment. “I prefer not to talk about it.”
Her smile only broadened. “Mystery man. Nice. Me likey.” She dragged her fingernails lightly across his chest as she was pulling away and then worked her way back to being serious. “The problem is, if you don’t have a chip, you can’t pay for things. You can’t pay the Presley Punks to get into the station. You can’t pay whoever is guarding the ticket booth inside the station and you can’t buy a ticket from the ticket booth.” She regarded him with a sly look and said, “So… why you got to get to Baltimore so bad, new friend Paul?”
The first thing Paul could think of just leapt out of his head. “Business.”
“I’ll bet business. Big business,” she said, eyeing him like a cut of beef in a butcher shop window. “A temper who gets himself all kicked out of heaven would be smart to arrange some ‘business’ before he comes down to Earth.”
“You brought that girl from Baltimore,” he said.
“I did. I did do that.”
“You’re probably going back to Baltimore now.”
She shook her head. “I operate out of the Richmond heart. Got a Slim-Jim all my own. With a separate bathroom and a whole window.” She looked away, acting coy. “I guess I’ll just head on back now. Take my winnings. Kick my feet up. Wait for some business to come my way.”
“I could pay you,” Paul said. “But only once we get there.”
“After you do your business. Your Baltimore business.” She nodded. “How much?”
“How much do you want?”
“I got 500 for the breeder,” she said. The way she lifted her chin, defying him to challenge her, indicated to Paul that she was lying. Or exaggerating.
“I’m not a pregnant girl,” he said. “How about 250?”
“That’s how tempers get so rich,” she said, as if learning the truth of it for the first time. “They even lowball the person saving their worthless lives. A grand.”
At this point, Paul was so shaken by what he had seen in the world outside the hive, he would have given her all the money he was due from Blaylock just to not have to be alone out there anymore, but he had to remind himself that, in the end, he would have to lay out most of his windfall to get himself and Mary out of the country. “Five-hundred it is,” he said and extended his hand.
She hesitated for a moment, regarding his hand as something suspect. “You do what I tell you to, all the time, without any kind of push. Okay?”
“You are the boss.”
She slapped her hand into his and shook it once before letting go. “Okay, so, I got to come up with a plan. We’ll need to put up for the night, someplace safe and out of the way.”
“Night? How could you even tell it’s night? The sky never changes.”
She was serious now. “Oh, you’ll know when it gets dark and the last thing you want is to be out on the street when that happens. Those Presley Punks? They’ll be all tucked in their clubhouse when that happens. The Warriors and the Rabbits, too.”
“Why?” Paul asked. Looking around, the street was still thrumming with the mindless shuffling activity of worker bees and the boyees whose job it was to hassle them for money. Cars jostled for position in the coughing logjam of slowly moving traffic that was only now beginning to thin out so progress could be made. Buses floated down to the platforms and skated overhead so close to the smog bank that the passengers on top wore full-on gas masks to survive the ride.
She pulled a gun from inside the bulky vest she wore and showed it to him. “Know why I always know exactly how many rounds I got left?”
He shook his head. He didn’t know what a ‘round’ was.
“So I make sure to save the last one for myself in case I get caught outside after dark.”
“Okay,” Paul said, “so we need a place to stay.”
“Yeah, I got you covered, bwana.” The gun disappeared inside her vest. “But we got to hurry.”
“How can you even tell what time it is?” he asked, falling in behind her as she started up the alley, headed back to the street.
She raised her left arm to show the men’s wristwatch that dangled loosely there like a bracelet. “Also, if you find yourself alone… it’s too late. Keep an eye on the crowds. When they start thinning, you need to start disappearing.”
Now that she mentioned it, the lines for the air-buses did seem more sparse. There were definitely more people disembarking than those waiting to board. And it might have been his imagination but the zombies on the sidewalk seemed to have picked up the pace a bit. And when he checked again, the derelicts passed out in the gutters were gone.
“I’m in good physical shape,” he said. “I can run if we need to.”
She laughed under her breath and said, “Just stick with me, bwana. I know what I’m doing.”
2. She led him up the block until they reached a pair of double doors under a lighted sign that said, “Brothers In Christ Homeless Shelter.” The doors were open but guarded by two very large men who didn’t appear to have missed any meals in recent history. They were dressed in black leather coats, black jeans and cowboy boots. They never turned their heads but their eyes, hidden behind wraparound sunglasses, constantly flicked left and right like scanning robot sensors.
As they approached, Izumi suddenly turned and sucker punched Paul in the stomach, sending the air from his lungs in a single, violent whoosh. He groaned and bent over, afraid he was about to get a close up view of his breakfast. Izumi wrapped her arm around his shoulders like a caring older sister and guided him to the doors of the shelter.
“Please, can you help us? My brother is sick.” She looked up at the unmoving bodyguards with actual tears in her eyes and said, “It’s not swag, I promise. He’s really sick. Please help us.”
One of the guards brought his hand up to the side of his face for a moment and then dropped it again. Shortly after that, a man came running out of the building. He was a tall man made shorter by rounded shoulders. His gray hair ran away from his forehead in thick waves. He wore a black shirt, complete with preacher’s collar, tucked into his jeans. Once he spotted them, he ran over and put a hand on Paul’s back. “Is it swag?” he asked Izumi. “I have to know if I’m going to treat him.”
“No,” she said, urgently shaking her head, looking for all the world like an honestly bereft sister about to lose her brother. “We were diving and… I told him… I said nothing with mayo… but he was so hungry.”
The man smiled and patted Paul on the back. “He’ll be fine. It’s just a minor case of food poisoning. He just needs a safe place to let his body work out its issues.”
“Can we stay here?” she pleaded. “We would do anything.”
“Of course, my child,” the man said. “I’m Pastor Lane, by the way. I run this joint. Let’s just get the two of you inside.” He looked around nervously and added, “It’s getting late.”
Paul had since recovered most of his air but was smart enough to realize he should continue to pretend to be sick. Izumi’s punch had been a play to get them space for the night in a shelter that probably wouldn’t admit anyone not in dire straits. He remained bent over and even added a few moans that sounded very much like they could turn to retches at any moment.
Pastor Lane led them through the doors into the interior of the shelter. One of those places that appeared to be bigger on the inside, it was like a warehouse divided into living stalls by flimsy cubicle partitions acquired from failed businesses. For doors, they draped a blanket across the opening.
The desperate conditions didn’t surprise Paul – he had learned about the redleg way of life in the hive – but the people he saw in the cubicles did shock him. From his father’s ranting and bloviating, he had expected to see young men in the bloom of health lying around doing drugs and just generally giving the finger to the whole idea of a work ethic. Those boys were there, of course, but mostly the occupants of these sad, hastily constructed lives were women and children. Their dirty faces stared out at him from blank expressions made slack by hunger and hopelessness. He smiled at one little girl and she instantly ducked back inside her cubicle, closing the blanket as quickly she could.
When they got to the cubicle that was to be theirs for the night, he lay down on a flimsy cot and covered his eyes with his arm. Izumi surprised him by immediately climbing onto the cot with him and curling up against his back. The pastor stood over them for a moment, as if not sure what to do, and then reached down and patted Paul on the shoulder, saying, “You’ll be fine. If you need anything, my office is at the top of the stairs. Any time day or night. Don’t hesitate.” He remained there for a moment, worrying over some detail, and then left them without saying anything else.
Her arms wrapped around Paul’s chest, Izumi leaned in and whispered in his ear so low it was practically a telepathic conversation. “Look up and to your left, just above the top of the cubicle.”
He turned his head slightly and let his eyes slide in the direction she had told him. There was a small camera there pointed down at the cot. The red record light was on.
She whispered, “We stay together. If they separate us, we’re dead.”
He reached up and threaded his fingers through hers. “What’s going on?” he whispered.
“I’ll explain in a minute,” she said. “When the red light is off.”
3. Pastor Lane returned an hour later and poked his head into their cubicle. “How are we feeling? Can I offer you something to eat or drink?”
Just as Izumi had instructed him, Paul shook his head slowly and said, “Sick.”
“I understand,” the pastor said. “How about you, young lady?”
She tightened her grip around Paul’s torso and said, “I don’t feel so good, neither. I think I need to sleep a little bit.”
“Okay, well, we’re getting ready to button up for the night but don’t worry. The doors are strong and we have everything we need in here to last us until dawn.” He smiled at them and retreated, letting the blanket fall closed over the opening.
They heard the steel doors rumble closed followed by the sound of heavy metal bars clanging into place. The big cowboy boots of one of the guards strolled by, thudding heavily on the concrete. Paul watched them under the edge of the blanket door as they passed. Then he looked up and saw the camera’s red light was dark. “What is going on?” he whispered.
Izumi leaned over so her mouth was next to his ear and said in a voice that was practically a sigh, “This isn’t a shelter. They make it look like one but it’s a whore house for joy boys. You should know about this. Tempers like you shop for what they want by looking at the video feeds. When they pick someone out, that ‘pastor’ guy comes around to fetch you. He offers you food or water or clean clothes or whatever but once you go in the back you never come out until they’re done with you. Don’t worry. If we stick together and don’t leave this cot and keep pretending to be sick, we should make it till morning.”
“And if they come for us anyway?” he asked.
“That’s when Bertha starts negotiating.”
She tapped the bottom of the cot with the gun in her free hand. “Bertha, meet new friend Paul. New friend Paul, Bertha.”
Frankly terrified of what would happen to him if he got dragged into the back of the shelter, he shook his head and asked, “Why did you even bring us here?”
As if to answer him, sounds began to drift through the walls from the night street outside. It started with hooting. Crazy shouts and howls. One voice, then a dozen, then a hundred. It sounded like a pack of coyotes alternately fighting over a kill and howling at the moon. Then someone banged on the doors. Boom. Boom. Boom. Followed by unintelligible speech mixed with high pitched giggles.
Then someone out in the street started screaming in terror or in pain. Probably both. And whatever wolves had been knocking to get in, fled to join the fun. The screeching, bawling and begging went on for fifteen minutes until all that remained were the war whoops and victory yelps of whatever monsters congregated out there.
Izumi closed her eyes and tightened her grip around his chest. Paul could feel her breath on his neck. Her breasts pressed against his back, their skin separated by nothing more than their shirts. His mind wandered back to when the Green Lady had tried to seduce him in the game. That same fire burned in him now. It was an overwhelming need to do something that was unclear and undefined and yet seemed extremely urgent. Whatever it was, he knew that anything that had that kind of power over him was a wrong thing.
He closed his eyes and began to silently pray. Not for guidance – it was his father’s way to pretend that God answered prayers as if they were phone calls – but prayer relaxed him and soothed him and served to focus his mind on the things he truly needed to concentrate on.
He dozed in shallow stretches all night, mostly awakened by some fresh disturbance outside, but once, about one in the morning, he gradually became aware of a commotion inside the shelter. It began as a hushed conversation with Pastor Lane saying to someone, “How about some soup for that empty belly?” He was speaking down to someone, a child most likely. “No, c’mon, some soup will help that tummy of yours feel better.”
Then he heard a woman weeping into her hands, trying to muffle the sound of her cries.
“I don’t want to,” came a boy’s small voice. He sounded twelve at most.
“You’re not hungry?” Pastor Lane asked, exhibiting the limitless patience one would expect of a benevolent father figure. The boy must have nodded at this point because Lane said, “Well, c’mon to the back and get something to eat.”
This went on for a few more minutes until someone, probably not the pastor, lost patience. At that point, Paul heard the sound of the cowboy boots grinding across the concrete floor. A quick, decisive struggle followed and then the boy screamed, “No! Mommy! No! No! I don’t want to! Mommy!” He repeated variations on this theme until his voice sounded far away. Then a door slammed and he couldn’t be heard anymore.
As they were carrying the boy to the back, Paul had involuntarily begun to get to his feet, but Izumi held him tightly and said, “No. You can’t do anything for him.”
“We can’t let this…”
“We can’t do anything to stop it,” she whispered. “Weren’t you listening? The mother didn’t even argue.” She was quiet for a moment and then said, “Sometimes they have to sacrifice one to save the others.”
“Is that what you tell yourself?” He was consumed by the flowering of a potent rage that bloomed inside him with great force and speed. It was a thing he found all too familiar. It seemed to him like he had spent his whole life balling his fists in silence, promising himself that if he ever had the chance, he would act to correct at least one wrong in the world. But he was beginning to wonder if that day would ever come or if the world was too big a machine and too well-oiled for anyone to ever make anything right again.
“Yes, that’s what I tell myself,” Izumi said in his ear. “What was she thinking anyway? Bringing kids into this world? So stupid.” She held him tight and pressed the side of her face against his. She was so quiet about it, he only knew she was crying when he felt the wetness on his cheek.
“I’m going to draw blood someday,” he said, mostly to himself, the sharp edges of fury clattering in his voice like a rain of knives. “And when I start, I’m not going to stop until I’m done.”
“Good,” she whispered.
4. In the morning, Izumi ran out of their cubicle with a panicked look on her face and found Pastor Lane doing a headcount. She grabbed him by the arm, eyes wide, and said, “My brother has a fever but it’s not the flu. He doesn’t have the flu.”
“A fever?” the pastor said looking around nervously at his flock – or was he worried about danger to his stock? He produced a surgical mask from his pocket and put it over his face. “Masks! Masks! Masks! Everyone in masks.” Then he walked right past her, headed for the cubicle she shared with her brother.
When his back was turned, she waved at Paul to exit the cubicle he had been hiding in, the one with the terrified little girl from the night before, the one with the dirty face who had been too shy to talk to him. Izumi grabbed his hand and led him through the doors and out into the street where they became instantly invisible as they mixed in with the zombie traffic before the pastor could alert his guards. The little girl waved at them as they passed into the yellow/gray facsimile of daylight and said, “Bye bye.”
“You sure won her over in a hurry,” Izumi said as they made their way up the street. “How’d you manage that?”
Paul turned to her and performed the detachable thumb trick that had been mystifying children since the time when bison were painted on cave walls. “Magic.”
“Cheap trick,” she said, smiling up at him. “Okay, so would you like to cog our strat?”
“Cog,” Paul said. “The first boyee that talked to me said he couldn’t cog my jolly. What does that mean?”
“He didn’t get your affiliation. Your jolly. Your flag.” She slapped her bicep and pulled up her tee shirt sleeve to expose a tattoo of a ghost face soldier. “Your billboard. He didn’t know which mob you crewed with because you didn’t post a bill on your board.”
“Okay,” Paul said, “I would like to cog your strat now.” He shook his head, “That’s sounds kind of dirty.”
“That’s because you have a dirty mind, boyee,” she said, grabbing his arm and pulling in close for a kiss on the cheek. “And if you’re lucky, your sexy godmother might just make all those dirty thoughts come true.”
He looked down at her, took in her smile, energetic and buoyant the way it was, and the happy look in her eyes, and was thoroughly confused. He knew what she was talking about, obviously she wanted to tempt him into having sex with her, but he didn’t understand her attitude. She wasn’t sultry or sinister. She was just happy. It was not a look that fit his image of what a seductress should be.
“Okay,” she said, getting back to work. “If we’re lucky, the middle part of the trip will be straight up boring. The beginning and the end will be a little more entertaining.”
“Trucks don’t carry cargo in the hearts. They pick up stuff at warehouses in the suburbs and deliver it to other warehouses in other suburbs. I can get us on a truck that will take us from Silver Spring most of the way to Baltimore but we need to get to Silver Spring from here in order to get to the truck and when we get out in Violetville we have to figure out how to get to Baker Street in Baltimore heart.”
Remembering Blaylock’s advice, Paul said, “Why don’t we just take the Red Line?”
She snorted. “Because you have to pay tribute three times on the Red Line and those guys are not stable. You give them the money and they might still eat your genitals. The only people who ride the Red Line go heavy and rich and in a crowd. We don’t have that many guns or that much scratch so we travel above ground for the long haul.”
Paul shrugged. She seemed to know what she was talking about. “So let’s do it.”
“Wow, ignorance really is bliss,” Izumi said. “I like that in a man.”
“Uh huh. What’s the first step?”
“We take the Red Line to Silver Spring.”
Paul slitted his eyes at her. “You just said the Red Line…”
“For long hauls, yes. It gets used local, though. I can get us past the Presley Punks, but I don’t know who’s running the collection plate inside the station anymore. It used to be your old gang, the G’Ways, but they’re all dead now.”
“What does it matter who we bribe to let us buy a ticket? Let’s just bribe them and buy a ticket.”
“It shouldn’t matter,” she said, “but it can actually matter a lot depending on the situation. Some crews are more crazy than others. It’s like with the Rabbits, they’re basically politicians. They want treaties and whatnot. The Warriors are just businessmen. They know why they do what they do: geld. But there are crews that have other motivations…”
“Like the Jim Crow Clan,” she said. “They don’t like people of color.”
“People who aren’t white.”
“We’re white,” Paul said.
“I am, sort of, but my eyes… I’m… sometimes I can look a little too Asian for that kind of bobble-head,” she said. “I’m not saying that’s who’s down there. It’s just that the G’Ways used to run these stations until they struggled with the Jim Crows and they all got killed to death.”
“I get it,” Paul said. “If it’s not the Jim Crow Clan down there then it’s something worse because they would have killed the Jim Crow Clan in more struggles.”
She seemed to deflate right in front of him, then she punched him in the arm. “Why did you have to say that? I wasn’t thinking that. I was just wondering who might be down there.” She bit her lip and looked around. “Maybe we shouldn’t take the Metro.”
“We could just take an air-bus,” Paul offered.
“If we were both affiliated.”
“They’re too local,” she said. “The Warrior Line only serves the DC heart and only about half of that. We could try the Rabbits but we’d have to kill the ticket taker to get aboard and they might take that personal when we tried to get off in Silver Spring.”
“They might?” Paul said.
Izumi shrugged. “Sometimes it’s business, sometimes it’s personal. You never know with urchins until after.” She grabbed her chin with her hand and tried to think. “Expenses are extra.”
“My fee is five hundred geld but expenses are extra.”
“Expenses like what?” Paul asked.
“Oh, okay. That makes sense.”
She turned back to the place where the Presley Punks were guarding the Metro entrance. “The thing is, once you’re down there, you’re sort of… down there. Boxed in. Fighting your way out can get messy.”
Paul was tired of considering options. He just wanted to go. He wanted to put this place and the memories of all the awful things he had seen behind him. “If we pay the bribes and buy the ticket and we don’t kill anybody, how much trouble can we get in?”
“Yeah, you’re right,” she said, though she didn’t sound convinced. She actually sounded more like she knew exactly what kind of trouble they could get in just by minding their own business. “Let’s do it.”
5. They waited until a line of regular customers formed at the Presley Punks’ impromptu toll station before joining the queue, figuring that they wouldn’t look so out of place if they were safely buried in a crowd of dead eyed commuters. While they waited, Izumi removed a med kit from inside her fatigue vest and created a bandage, complete with dab of red antibiotic gel in the middle, to wrap around Paul’s hand. When she was done, it looked like he had had clumsy surgery performed on his right palm.
“Bad chip,” she said, returning his hand to him. “Had to be removed.”
“Ah, okay,” he said.
Paul was coming to understand that the last thing you wanted to do out here in the world was cause people to take note of you. Garnering undue attention got you forced into sex slavery by a fake pastor or beaten and robbed by one of a dozen boyee bands. He had to wonder what would have happened to him had he not run into Izumi. Then it occurred to him that God might have sent Izumi to him as a blessing. And if that were the case then he could assume he also had God’s blessings on his attempt to save his sister from the hive. This thought lifted his spirits for the first time since he had entered the dirty, despicable world outside the hive.
Edging forward in sliding half steps, it took ten minutes to reach the front of the line. The Presley taking “donations” was a dark skinned Latino urchin with pockmarks on his face from the ravages of cystic acne and the yellow eyes of someone with a barely functioning liver. He looked Izumi up and down with a naked leer and then held out his hand for the toll.
Izumi shook it once, twice, three times but he didn’t let go at the end of the transaction. Instead, he pulled her up to her tiptoes and leaned down like he was going to kiss her. “You got nice tits, Rita.”
“Gee, thanks,” she said, pressing the tip of an oversized hunting knife to the soft skin under his jaw. “You got a nice tongue. How about I take it with me so I never forget our special time together?”
He grimaced and let her go. It seemed to Paul that the Presley wasn’t so much upset that she had pulled a knife on him, he had enjoyed that part of it, as much as he was that she hadn’t reciprocated his amorous advances. This made Paul wonder if attempted rape being met with a sharp blade was normal courtship behavior for redlegs.
The Presley nodded for her to go through, but she pointed at Paul and lifted his bandaged hand and said, “I’m paying for him, too.”
The Presley smiled and went through the ritual again to extract the second payment, ending up with the tip of her knife pressed against the underside of his jaw again. “Just thought I’d give you a second chance to get lucky.”
“Appreciated,” Izumi said as they slowly separated from each other.
The Presley Punks parted to let them pass and they soon found themselves at the top of the bank of massive escalators – frozen by broken motors in the act of ascending and descending for decades, maybe centuries – inching along with the other commuters as they headed down to the underground platform and whatever waited down there.
The rate of progress didn’t improve any, of course, because at the bottom of the escalators was another gang of extortionist urchins extracting geld from anyone who wanted into the station. As they moved down one step at a time, Izumi kept leaning left and right and standing on her tiptoes to get a look at who was in charge at the bottom of the escalators.
“I can hold you up,” Paul said. He was pretty sure of it. Thanks to the daily exercise regimen in the hive, he had excellent upper body strength and lung power that wouldn’t quit.
“Okay, do it.” She turned away from him and held her arms out to the sides.
He put his hands on her hips and lifted her straight up in the air. She was above the heads of the people in front of them for a few seconds before he lost his grip and she slid straight down. His hands slid up her body, beneath her camo vest, until he was basically cupping her breasts.
She elbowed him hard in the gut and then wriggled out of his grasp and turned on him, eyes flashing. “That was cheap.”
“That was an accident.”
“It was a cheap accident.”
“Noted,” he said. “Maybe if you sit on my shoulders?”
She assessed this idea with a skepticism that Paul found confusing. She had been throwing herself at him just moments ago and yet was now treating his every move as if he were trying to cop a feel.
“Okay,” she said. “You get one more strike.”
Paul remembered the very sharp tip of her hunting knife pressing against the underside of the Presley’s jaw and had to cogitate for a moment to make sure he wasn’t about to insult her again. “I get on my knees. You climb on my shoulders. I stand up. You should be able to see over the crowd then.”
They moved one step forward, one more step closer to the bottom, still with no idea what waited for them. He knelt, she climbed aboard, he stood up. She said, “Oh, shit. These guys. Yeah, that makes sense, I guess.”
He knelt to let her dismount. “What did you see?”
“Nation Men,” she said. “That makes a lot of sense in a crazy kind of way.”
“Who are they?”
“Hard guys in bowties who really don’t like white people,” she said. “They’re, like, the all-time super villains of the Jim Crow Clan. Or, I guess, they’re each other’s super villains. Whatever, they never miss a chance to struggle.”
Thinking it over, Paul said, “I’m white so I’m in trouble but you…”
“Have blue eyes,” she said pointing at the offending orbs. “They hate anyone with blue eyes. They call us blue eyed devils.”
The spiritual math of this didn’t add up for Paul. “You’re not white enough for the Jim Crow Clan and you’re not non-white enough for the Nation Men?”
“Now you get it,” she said, putting her hands on his chest again. She liked to do that for some reason. It was her default position when she wanted to make a point. “And don’t even get me started on the Kung Fu Crew.”
“Not Asian enough?”
“Bingo,” she said. “But look around us. Who is any one thing enough to please these fucking purists?”
Paul took a moment to really look at the slack faced commuters standing around them. There was no white skin there, just varying shades of brown. The noses ran the gamut from African to Nordic but no one appeared to be fully of any one race. He was the odd man out here because the hive had been created exclusively for Caucasians. They replenished their ranks from within like a fraternity no one could pledge. But out here on the street, the world appeared to be made up of various mixes of races. The Latino Presley with the bad skin had had Asian aspects to his eyes while his nose and lips appeared to be more African in heritage. Apart from the purists like the Nation Men and the Jim Crow Clan, people on the street seemed to be making their families on the basis of something other than the characteristics of race.
“The Rabbits,” Paul said. “What’s their… uh… skin color alignment?”
“They don’t have one,” Izumi said. “If you can survive the jump-in and you think creating treaties is the way to take over the world, you can be a Rabbit.”
Paul closed one eye and thought about it for a moment. “So where do the purists come from?”
“Usually from outside the heart,” she said. “The suburbs in some places are still heavily restricted. When we get down to the platform, take a look at the suits on the Nation Men. No patching, no bad stitches, no cheap cloth. They come from PGC, very upscale for under the clouds, and all black. The Jim Crow Clan come from Mechanicsville outside the Richmond heart. Pure white gated communities. Look, these guys aren’t boyee bands. They’re not even urchins. They’re religious insurgents. The Warriors and the Rabbits? They just want to make a buck and get some respect so they can get laid. The Nation Men and the Jim Crows? They got big plans to take over the world. If they get it in their heads you’re a problem, they can’t be bribed out of erasing you. It’s like God tells them to do it and you can’t shout down God’s voice.”
How well Paul knew that particular sentiment. “So what’s going to happen when we get to the bottom of the stairs?”
“Most likely, nothing. We’ll pay our tribute and go get in the line to buy our tickets,” she said. “None of these people are black enough for the Nation to recruit. They’re just collecting their tithes and waiting for something to happen. As long as we’re careful, we won’t be that thing that happens.”
Paul nodded. “Okay.”