Chapter 1: Word Wars

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 419
Comments: 1

Mikus Harold Markus slicked his moist palms over his tuxedo pants and drew his shoulders back. He cupped his breath to test for that tell-tale sour, but the odor was lost in cheap aftershave wafting from his neck. He noted irritably that his pant cuffs dragged; Joanne had tailored the scratch-made suit but the alterations weren’t finished. He looked at the tips of his shoes and could count his teeth in the shine. So far so good
He’d just walked down the gentle rise of Cathedral Hill and stopped before the overhead glidewalk. From here he could just make out the half-mile high spires of Opal City over the residential complex, which consisted of blocks and spheres that held mostly single family and bachelor residents. The only thing that broke up the monotony of the gray and cream-colored geometric hovels were the imported elms and spruce trees that had been meticulously planted along the plasticine surface roads. There were very few shops and privately owned businesses in the Green sector – up-city was reserved for the collision and clutter of commerce. The sun had just dawned in the east, and the birds started whistling tunes. Puffy clouds walked in a windy sky. The air was sweet and day was making promises it looked like it would keep.  Mikus felt entirely pleased about the start of a new day.
He pumped his legs up the ramp, silently assessing his suit and wondering if he looked 20th century. Joanne had insisted that it was common for “gentlemen” to adorn themselves in such a fashion; however, he suspected it was her feeble attempt at capturing some semblance of the past. What was the meaning of flared cuffs and a fluffy blouse? To blow one’s nose on them out of convenience? And the tie around his neck -- it felt like an animal tether.
This was a prime interview, the second most important evaluation to date, succeeding his vocational placement at the San Temecula Girl’s College.  This is the proper attire for a first impression, he reminded himself again, even if it is a slice out of the past.
As Mikus neared the top of the ramp he checked his identifier bracelet (also known as the ‘wrist snitch’), just as a reminder.  He was nobody, lost in a sea of humanity without the federally mandated bauble. The bracelet held everything in data storage, from his criminal history to his credit allotment. He had to do nothing more than shove the bracelet pin into one of the many thousands of receptacles located in the city to make a transaction. As a primary source of his identity, he wouldn’t be Mikus Harold Markus, Citizen Patriot of the United Western Enterprise without it. As he anxiously checked his navigator, he wondered if Joanne was already on her way to rendezvous with him. 
Mikus stopped just short of the glidewalk and observed the conveyor speed and pedestrian traffic. Somehow the gate had been left open and a green boarding light welcomed him to enter. A few standing riders, gripping the handrails, nodded to him as they glided by – some offered salutations, and a few sneered -- for they had come up from the south, the “upper poverty” class. Mikus was low middle income from the Green and wondered why they felt such a yawning chasm between his social standing and theirs. Browns and Blues didn’t care much for the Greens. Mikus lived in a chopper-gun-shot foam geodome just like seventy percent of the populace. 
Watching the glidewalk speed near his feet, he decided he wouldn’t stop the conveyor via the hand post dial. The other Citizen Patriots had schedules to meet. He would time his leap onto the walk and catch himself along with all the rest of the flowing traffic. That would show that he was considerate, not to mention agile enough to perform the maneuver. It wasn’t his fault that the timer gate was open and showing green. Normally a rider would have to wait for a five-minute red light interval before the tram stopped to allow boarding.
Mikus inched forward to judge the jump speed. A passing face said, “Hoy, Citizen Patriot! Grand day!”
Mikus looked up. “Yes, it’s the grandest day.” 
“It’s against the law to walk a red,” warned another.
Mikus hesitated and stuck his foot out, his shoe toe testing the speed of the conveyor tram with a scraping hiss. He looked up feeling embarrassed, smiling wanly, trying to show he was a good sport but not afraid of public transportation.
“It’s against the law!” someone warned again.
“Hoy, my darling…it’s…me!”
Mikus heard the familiar voice pass by.He looked up and caught a glimpse of his girl-mate flowing down the glidewalk. It was Joanne, and so stunning and impeccably dressed in that gorgeous…
Mikus lost his footing and twisted awkwardly, falling forward. He caught himself but the fringe of his baggy cuff sucked down into the service crack between the frame and the moving conveyor. There came a wrenching tear followed by a tug of such force that Mikus flailed backward and hit the ramp landing. His pants and shorts were shorn from his body with one stark yank and sped down the glidewalk flapping like little flags. 
Mikus got to his feet and threw himself on the conveyer tram with a thud-smack, making swimming motions, groping for the guardrail. He felt a strong hand reach down to assist him, just as he was getting to his knees and flashing his naked buttocks to the rear pedestrian traffic.
“Mama, look at that man,” said a small female waif, who might have been nine-years-old and on her way to a fashionable children’s school in the uptown Red or Yellow.
“Ho, my God.”
“Will somebody help that Citizen Patriot up, please?”
“I wouldn’t go near the druggard.”
Mikus staggered to his feet and felt a supportive arm around his shoulder. He looked down and saw his genitals dangling in the slight breeze. The man attached to the arm around him gazed at him concernedly. He was an older man dressed in a grey smock that had Transit Authority stenciled across the left breast.
“What’s got into you, lad? Are you fit?”
“I’m really indebted to you…uh….” Mikus trembled and looked around.“I’m very sorry, ladies and gentlemen. I shouldn’t have attempted that.”
A few adolescents stared blankly at him. One small girl covered her eyes and burst into tears.
“I seemed to have misjudged my footing,” Mikus explained awkwardly. “Well, puzzle that!” His attempt at off-handed levity found unsympathetic ears.
The Transit Authority driver broke out a wiper and dabbed Mikus’s chin, which had just started to bleed. Both his knees were braised.
“Yes, puzzle that,” said the driver who looked a little more disgusted with Mikus than he had a few seconds prior. He removed the bloody wiper and stuffed it in his pants pocket. 
“You know,” began the transit driver, “it wouldn’t be a bad idea to use your topcoat as a shield. Nasty step. All you had to do was wait for a green. We were going at a pretty good clip, and I’ll wager the tram cams caught your little stunt. You know the Slugs will use any excuse to lay into us.”
Mikus knotted his jacket around his waist, tying the arm sleeves off. Now he had a skirt. 
“I can’t thank you enough,” said Mikus with a sharp intake of breath. “Yes, I did cross a red. The tragedy is that my girl-mate made this suit and it’s a one-of-a-kind antique design. She just passed by a moment ago.”
“It’s a pity you lost some of your clothing gear. That was a nice pair of lowers that went flying down the walk. A real old-style suit. What a shame. Bound for up-city?”
“Yes, at least I was. I’m not too sure now. It’s a very important appointment. It all depends on a first impression. I’m going up to Orange and try to negotiate a large purchase. I don’t suppose…” Mikus strained his gaze up the glidewalk for any sign of his pants. He caught sight of Joanne, a distant blur, fighting her way towards him, shouldering gawking riders to the side. He suddenly realized that his bio contacts had been knocked from his eyes. Everything looked like washed out fuzz.
The driver shook his head ruefully. “I think your pants are gone to the gears and mesh, Citizen. And it looks like you have some explaining to do. Might that be your lady love on her way here?”
Mikus forced a smile and brushed back a heavy locket of hair that had tumbled over his forehead like a wave. Sweat burst from his forehead, the early morning sun heating up his already red neck and cheeks. A gaggle of riders pressed against him, eager to overhear his conversation. Some of them kept their distance, cupping their remarks. Others were plainly filled with shock and revulsion.
There you are!” Joanne fought with tight steps in the gown, gripping the handrail for support. She’d fashioned her own custom, black satin evening gown, and wore a pair of white needle-stem boots that brought her up to a statuesque six-feet. Her rusty-colored hair was coiled in a triple scoop – the latest rage. He had reservations about the amount of material she’d used in her creation. She had an acre of flesh showing, and one could hide a plate in her cleavage. Perhaps she had tried to save on fabric costs?Her credit bracelet looked like royal jewelry on her wrist. But when she caught up with him, those hazel eyes were fixed and dagger-like, set upon a face that was a palate of thunderclouds and lightening strikes.
Joanne Lee Arnold stabbed a finger at him, her credit bracelet tingling like tiny bells.“Mikus Harold Markus. What in the United Western Enterprise has happened to…?” She looked down. Part of him peeked out from the slit in the makeshift jacket skirt. She gingerly tucked him in, readjusting the coat. 
She sighed. “I thought that was you. In fact, I knew it was you. Why didn’t you dial down the tram or wait for a green?”
“We’ve already been through that, sweetheart.” Mikus blew a jittery sigh. “Joanne, I can’t go like this. We’ve got to…I’ve got to go back and at least—“
“What, and void the appointment?” she asked. “I don’t think so. You’ve been waiting for three years. Your credits are banked. Your record is clean at the present, unless you haven’t told me something.And this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Unless you want to take your chances in the Lottery? You qualified for the appointment. You have to go.”
The glidewalk hummed at a steady seven miles per hour. Up-city grew taller and shinier by the minute.  Some of the outlaying district buildings shone with flashes of color.
Joanne pressed him once again. He was gazing off into the distance, suddenly realizing she was waiting for an answer. 
“I know it’s important but—“
“There are no buts, ifs, or I don’t knows,” she scolded.
“I wonder how much time we have. Maybe we can stop off at a bargain shop?”
“It would be a missed opportunity,” said the driver gravely.
They both turned on the driver and said, “Please stay out of it.”
Joanne assumed a stiff posture. “Do you want to be stuck with public transportation all of your life? We have half the population confined to that deplorable condition right now. It’s not going to get any better. A blessing is waiting for you up-city, Mikus. This has nothing to do with me. I want this for you. I don’t care what happens to me; I can wait. I just want to be happy for you. Oh…” Joanne palmed her temples, looking like she was on the verge of tears. She is taking this much too hard, he thought.
It was true enough. He’d just received his private vehicle license from the Board of Transportation after having proved his driving proficiency. If the purchase went through there would be no more glidewalks, transit sleds, or bullet buses. He would be a sanctioned vehicle operator, able to dash up and down any expressway or grid, free to choose any heartfelt destination. He could come and go when he saw fit.
When he reached for her he poked her in the eye. “Arhg!” 
“I’m sorry, dear,” he consoled. “Please forgive me; I can’t see.  I lost my contacts when I impacted with the glidewalk. I’m afraid my vision is off.Jo, I want this too, believe me!” 
Mikus watched her massage the stricken eye. He knew she felt deeply hurt. She was unselfish that way and rarely voiced such strong sentiment unless it was paramount to an underlying issue of importance. Nevertheless, it also made him a little uncomfortable that she had assumed the roll of his moral and common sense watchdog. 
The tram shuddered and slowed to a stop. Mikus looked over the rail and tried to focus on a line of figures marching up an on-ramp. At first he assumed it was a public safety patrol--cops, they used to call them. When he saw that the uniforms were black and not dark brown, he knew it was much worse.
They were Inspectors from the National Communications Commission. Slugs.
There were eight of them and they looked ready to squabble. The first one up the ramp stepped onto the tram with a thud. The figure was Kevlar-encased from ankles to neck and wore captain’s bars. A bonnet and crash shield covered the neck and face. He slapped a red baton against his thigh in a staccato rhythm.The other Inspectors poured from behind to wedge themselves into the pedestrian crowd. One of them was a handler who had a giant Newfound tethered to his wrist. The dog’s giant face darted from side to side, looking for something to bite.
From behind the face shield of the captain, a husky female voice pierced the veil of silence. “What in Opal City is going on here?”
As was common with their ilk (bust one while asking the questions), a baton swooped into Mikus’s upturned face landing on his forehead with an audible pop. Someone on the tram shrieked, which only incensed the other Inspectors, who began to swipe their batons at random body parts. A baby screeched, Mikus unaware there was an infant in the crowd.He could hear Joanne’s voice. “How dare you! What is this about? You have no right.” Her protests were wrong on all counts; they always dared; everyone knew what it was about and they had every right.
The captain giantess sidestepped and cracked Joanne in the shins. Mikus put his hands up but they were batted away.Several other blows hit solid bone targets, and out of the corner of a bleary eye Mikus watched the old Transit driver get shoved over the rail to fall 15 feet to the street tarmac into oncoming vehicle traffic.
Someone grabbed Mikus by the hair and swung him around; he could see his own terrified reflection in the face shield as it loomed close.
“Are you ready for order, Citizen?” asked the menace.
Mikus eyed the upraised baton and said, “I haven’t been disorderly, Inspector. I assure you there will be no resistance. Please refrain from harming my girl-mate.” He immediately wished he hadn’t spoken.
The Captain Inspector snatched a fistful of Joanne’s hair and, shaking her violently said, “You mean this one? I don’t think you are in any position to demand favors.” She looked around the crowd. “None of you are. You will remain where you stand until this patrol has assessed the disturbance.  Any hostile move or attempt to flee interrogation will be met with deadly force. Am I understood?”
Some pedestrians cried pitifully. Others nodded in obedience. Mikus could see Joanne’s face twisted in contortion and he wanted desperately to go to her, but doing so would only provoke further serious injury or even death. A few voices moaned in submission, evidence that people were under arm locks and chokeholds.
Mikus was first to offer some peaceful doctrine hoping that all would hear it, especially Joanne, who was apt to be outspoken over the calmest of situations. This was not a calm assemblage. Eight hundred pounds of armored flesh separated him from the love of his life.
“We fully submit,” said Mikus. “You’ll have no trouble from us.” It was the least he could do. After all, the incident was certainly his fault and had been monitored from the tram cams. He felt horrible that so many citizens should come to harm by his account. He had to make it right somehow.
The Captain let loose of Joanne.  “Assume it!”
Everyone dutifully put their hands over their heads. The Inspectors went through their pockets, packages and personally belongings. Each suspect was asked the same question over and over again as hands groped, digging for items and examining surfaces.
“Initials, letters, sentences, words?” An Inspector wanted to know.
“No Inspector, Patriot.”
“Books, pamphlets?”
“Never, Inspector Patriot.”
“I’ll bet I can find a paragraph on a real piece of paper.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it!” replied a shrill male voice.
The Captain turned her attention on Mikus, giving him head to toe scrutiny. She looked at his waist. “What’s this?” She yanked his coat away from his lower half, went through the pockets, lining; she shook it and threw it over the guardrail. She ripped open his silk shirt, and her gloved hands swiped over his body. He kicked his shoes loose so they could be similarly examined. Someone tousled his hair and probed between his legs with a gloved hand. 
Go ahead and do your worst, he thought. He’d been through the procedure dozens of times before and there was never an end or reason to it. They kept the populace in check through physical intimidation. Most of it amounted to shoving and slapping. This time was somehow different -- the speed at which they moved, their body postures and the extent of the injuries inflicted -- it was personal.
Mikus could see Joanne through some massive shoulders that were in constant motion. He caught a glimpse of her standing proudly, a determined look on her face, a trickle of sweat running down her cheek. A large Inspector had singled her out. “Who started this?” He wanted to know. “Do you have the Word? Want to read us something?”
“No.” Joanne held her composure.
“Are you sure? We’ll get to the bottom of this if it takes thirty minutes, and I’m sure you don’t want to ride out a full thirty minutes with us. Everyone show them and I mean your credit bracelets. You there! I can’t see it. Get it up.  I still can’t see it. How old is that child? She better have her ident ring if she’s too young for a bracelet. I swear if I find a reader in this group it’ll go bad for all of you, so somebody better ‘fess up and point them out. No tolerance for traitors – you know the law.”
The speech droned on. Accusations were hurled back and forth.Three citizens even denied a belligerent query that was meant for somebody else. It seemed endless.
It wasn’t long before one of the fatter Inspectors waved his baton around in the air and proclaimed, “Okay, looks like we’re going to start at the beginning again. For the last time, who started this ruckus?” 
That made a lot of sense. They were going to start over for the last time, and who was causing the ruckus? 
Mikus spoke up. “If it’s any consolation, I started this confusion. I walked a red onto the tram. My pants got—“
“And you’ll just clap your yapper shut, “said the tall female captain grabbing his jaw and twisting it so that his lips bloated.
The giant canine cadet strained against his leash, barking and lunging at terrified Citizen Patriots. Its jaws clapped an eyelash away from Mikus’s face.
An Inspector looming over Joanne snaked his hands down the front of her top, but the fabric was too tight so he yanked down the front of her gown with a shearing rip. Now exposed, her breasts wobbled forth gleaming in the early morning sun. 
Mikus could only close his eyes and bite his lip, knowing that they were going to degrade her down to her last painted toenail. Not only that, Joanne had made that gown from scratch fabric on an antique sewing machine. There could have been nothing that would have infuriated her more.
There came more shredding sounds and orders bellowed. A small trebly voice at the rear of the crowd said, “But it’s only my ring…you’re hurting me, you Brutus! It was a gift passed down to me from four generations.”
“Yeah? And what’s this little scribble mark on the inside of it? You say it’s nothing? Is that what you muttered? I’d say it was scribed with initials. Your initials.” 
The small voice tried to explain it was a defect, a scratch in the metal. It was not to be heard. She was throat-cuffed and led down the ramp. A moment later she was thrown into a transport wagon. A titanium door slammed after her.
Joanne Arnold was still being poked and prodded. Her skirt was hiked up; hands invaded her. Mikus was just at the point where he began hissing through his teeth when a foul odor caught his senses. It was urine. Someone had soiled themselves.
He heard a male rider verbally protesting, and he knew ruefully what awaited him for such an outburst. When Mikus turned slightly, he saw a man standing upright taking repeated baton swings without going down. The attackee was smiling, hands to his sides and looking straight ahead unwavering until, finally, the pounding addled him and he keeled over to land heavily on the tram deck. There, his blood began to river from his head and jaw to merge with a puddle of urine. A woman who crouched nearby wretched onto the feet of the prone body. Someone else fainted.And through it all, a baby wailed plaintively.
Mikus looked away. Dear God, if there was one, how much more disgusting and visceral could it get? How much more could they tear out of us until they’d taken so much there would be nothing left? How much more senseless would this have to become before someone, or anything could stop it?
Just a half mile away, he could see the blurred spires and chrome glass of Opal City. It looked so clean and spotless, but he realized just how full of Federal corporation slop and crime it harbored. How he hated these Slugs and everything they stood for. Now they had taken things too far, with outright malice. They were nothing more than murderers.
A large gloved hand gave Mikus a powerful shove and he went toppling to the deck.
“This interrogation is terminated,” said the statuesque, slightly winded captain. “You are ordered to proceed with life’s affairs and carry on. If there is any one of you that feels an amendment of the Civil Justice Authority has been compromised, step forward and let it be known.” 
Nary a peep, sans some sniffling and moaning. 
“Very well. The rest of you have been found in order. What do we read?”
“We read color,” came the chorus. A cough and a gag.
“Then all is good. Proceed with your affairs.”
The Inspectors gathered the belongings that had fallen from their uniforms and marched down the ramp, looking back occasionally. Some removed their bonnets and wiped their faces and necks. A few hitched up their padded amour pants and readjusted their vests. The attack dog was given treats for good behavior.
Mikus sat on the deck with his legs splayed. The glidewalk riders began to disperse, slowly at first, then with more haste. A few began a dead run back the way they had come from the south. Mothers looked to their children for injuries.
The tram hadn’t re-started and Mikus wondered why those people were dashing off in the wrong direction, when their intended destination must have been north into the city. Would home be the safer place to be now? Maybe they were afraid of a second attack.
He crawled to the prone man who’d been badly beaten, found a torn piece of cloth and fashioned a wrap-around turban bandage on the injured head.  Since the tram cams had seen the whole thing, an emergency vehicle would be dispatched to help the stricken. Hopefully.
For a long while there was silence. Only the passing traffic underneath the tram could be heard; tires were singing. Somewhere a bird chirped. 
A raspy, labored breath escaped the injured man; it was almost a wheeze.
Joanne, with a slight limp, made her way over to Mikus and knelt on one knee.
Her eye makeup was smudged across her cheeks and temples. She used one hand to hold up her torn gown against her bosom. One of her shins had a nasty welt that was just beginning to color. 
She smoothed a delicate hand over her mate’s ruffled hair. “You shouldn’t have said anything. They might have arrested you, or even put your lights out for good. Did you hear that remark about ‘routine’ and if we felt compromised? I didn’t think they were going to stop. And, oh, I wanted so badly to swing on that cunch. And just look what they did to my ball gown. I spent two months on it!”
“It was bad this time,” he said. “That’s the worst one I’ve ever seen. Jo, for what it’s worth, I didn’t—“
“You don’t have to come to this maiden’s defense. You know what the Civil Justice Authority says about an interrogation: mouth shut, take a defensive posture, and weather it out. But, I admit, I’ve never seen a female captain before. She had to be a head taller and eighty pounds heavier than me.” She ran a hand gently over her shin and grimaced.
“I noticed. I’ve never seen her before. I’ve just recently seen more captains on the line, leading squads. But a female leading a squad, it fits.”
“How so?”
“Females are inherently more vicious than their counterparts. They don’t have a tendency to fight fair. No mercy; know what I mean? There used to be a saying…hell hasn’t…a fury like a woman scorched.”
“Scorned. So what do you think it means?”
A frail, older man drug himself along the guardrail. “I’m going home,” he said disgustedly and spit over the rail. “And not the real one. That was a deliberate attack!”
Mikus knew what he meant. He wanted to die and go to the great home -- the real rest home. He knew the Slugs often singled out the elderly for the worst abuse. The old might remember.
Mikus sighed. “I think it means that they’re losing control. Crime’s never been higher; more to the point, the opposition is escalating.” He reached under his rear and fingered an object. When he saw what it was, he immediately palmed it. It was the metallic gold emblem of an eagle, its periphery encrusted with tiny diamonds. An Inspector’s badge. Joanne had caught a glimpse of it before it was obscured underhand.
“If you ask me, they’re the cause of all the crime,” she said and looked up suspiciously at a nearby tram cam and made a head gesture. He understood. The everlasting eye in the sky could have caught site of him ditching the badge.
They both rose to their feet and gently pulled the injured man off the glidewalk and onto the boarding ramp. The tram suddenly lurched to life. They jumped back on just in time and tried to arrange their shredded clothing. A few minutes later, they were swiftly gliding toward Opal City again. The glidewalk was empty, apart from a few riders at the extreme ends.
Joanne reached under her dress and pulled something down, stepping out of it. She thrust it at him, telling him put it on. He reluctantly pulled the small flimsy skirt up to his waist. Gazing down he said, “What’s this?” She told him it was an antique slip, and he remembered he’d seen one in a shop display somewhere. No one had to tell him that this was not the proper attire for a gentleman. When he raised his eyes he met her gaze.
Together they looked like broken porcelain statues that had been glued together by a clumsy six-year-old. Welts, bruises and blood. He couldn’t see her that well, with his eyes devoid of his prescription bio contacts, but he saw enough to know that he loved her beyond all reason and pain, even if her hair looked like it had exploded.
She sucked her breath sharply. “If we miss this appointment, they’ve won. I can make it if you can.” 
“I’ve just called my mind to heel,” Mikus coughed. “We’re going to make that appointment and I don’t care what they think. We don’t have time to change, so they’re just going have to take us or leave us. And at this point, I really don’t care what happens.”
“I’m with you, Citizen Patriot, Mikus Harold Markus. If they pink-slip us they’ll be missing out on a couple of prime time personas. And by the way…” She threw him a sideways glance. “What are you going to do with that badge? That’s going to land us in big trouble. They’ll be able to trace it.”
“Right now I just wish I had some place to put it in case they shake us down again. It’s only coded for entry; it’s not chipped for satellite. And the way I see it, we earned it. I’m keeping it out of spite.”
Shadows from the tallest high-scrapers began to fall over them as the glass towers of Opal City began to loom like forest giants. Other glidewalks and streets converged in a network of webs, threading their way up-city. Public and private vehicles sped in a bustling cacophony below them. Some drone flies buzzed overhead watching the traffic and pedestrians for outbreaks of trouble and driving infractions.
Joanne leaned close and with a husky voice said, “Well I know where I can put that thing.”
Mikus blinked. “Joanne, you wouldn’t!”
“Not there, you silly druggard. I’ll pin it on my string panties.”
* * *
Captain Olivia Halch stepped out of the transport wagon in front of city hall, which housed the large branch office of the National Communications Commission. She spoke to the driver before the door slid closed. “Drop these inmates off in the rear and get back to the Green zip. Hustle something up. Use some real shock and awe.”
“What if nothing’s happening?” asked the driver.
“Then start something, you hapless idiot.  Monitor the glidewalks. Look for crowds.” She turned around and headed up the old-time marble steps. Pulling her bonnet and face shield loose, she shook out a thick mane of silver-gray hair. Twenty-seven years of law enforcement had taken its toll physically and emotionally. It was still the best vocation to be in for one who had only another three years before retirement. Special privileges and optimum credit allotment drew a lot of inductees into the various enforcement agencies, but the Communications Commission had the real power and authority.
Just before she reached the top riser, Olivia stopped and patted herself down, feeling for unbuckled vest straps or anything missing from her utility belt. That’s when she noticed it. There was a small grommet hole just above her impact vest on the left side reserved for her coded badge. It was missing. It hadn’t been torn off. It had become unhooked somehow. Maybe she hadn’t clicked the fastener in the lock position. It was a moot point now.
“That was real clumsy,” she said to herself. It was a violation her chief wouldn’t appreciate if he found out about it -- combined with a major credit deduct and a demotion. “Lieutenant Olivia Halch” had a tiresome ring to it that brought back many bad memories. An Inspector often lost equipment in the field, but never a badge.
Reaching back into her hip pack, she pulled out a thin rain poncho and threw it over her left shoulder, obscuring the upper part of her chest. She entered the building and passed by the front desk hurriedly; the desk sergeant did not look up or check the screen to acknowledge a coded badge passing through. The sergeant was too busy flirting with a young corporeal, whom he was supposed to be indoctrinating. Normally he would pay dearly for the lax security, but now it was a welcome distraction.
She passed down several corridors until arriving at a lift, and took it to the basement. She keyed in her identity pin that admitted her into the Property Room. A lone technician sat leaning over a workbench busily fabricating specialized equipment. He looked up and threw her a snappy breast salute. “Good day, sir. Is there anything I can…?”
She gave him one of those captain looks. “Get out to the loading dock. We’ve got a riot out there with an inmate transfer.”
“But I was told to—“
“I’m telling you now.”
The tech grabbed some riot gear and sped from the room. 
She retrieved a blank badge from the safe and set it up on the laser inscriber. She cut her ident number onto the new badge and pinned it to her vest, then erased the sequence in the machine so no trace of a duplicate could be found.Now she had a coded badge. The other one, her original, was still unaccounted for. There was no global positioning satellite tracking code for the original badge; it couldn’t be triangulated. Her agency wouldn’t be aware of a lost coded badge within the facility. Neither would Chief Remy. That was consolation, but not much. She had to know what happened to it. Where next? Surveillance.
She took the lift to the first floor and went straight to the Surveillance room and keyed herself inside. There were twenty spotters inside seated before a bank of screens, watching vehicle and foot traffic, recording interrogation raids, and monitoring suspicious behavior throughout the city proper. She found an empty seat and, entering the tram cam time and coordinates, found a digital recording of her last assignment. It was the recent glidewalk brawl.
A spotter to her right acknowledged her presence. “Things are getting hot out there,” he said. “Six fatalities just this morning.”
“And it’s going to get a lot hotter,” said Olivia, running the short film from the beginning in slow motion, then stop, then freeze-frame modes. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for; something would have to jump out at her. There were so many uniforms in the way it was difficult to see the civilians, let alone their facial features, and that was the only way to identify them through the database. Even her back was to the tram cam, and it was the only view near enough to show a close-up of the action.
“Make that seven,” said the Spotter, watching his screen, viewing a local disturbance.
“How would you like it to be number eight?” Olivia Halch shot him a hot stare. The Spotter pulled his chair up closer to the screen and frowned. “Sorry, Cap’n Halch.”
From what she could see there didn’t appear to be anyone grabbing at her vest, much less touching her person. She ran the recording over and over again and still saw nothing. In the last segment of the film, when they were retreating down the on-ramp, she could see that her badge was not attached. She let the film progress further into the aftermath and noticed something. The brown-haired man in a sitting position, face away from the cam view, pulled something from underneath him. Awhile later he stood up, and with the help of a tall redhead, carried an injured man to the on-ramp. She zoomed in and used the freeze-frame. Try as she might, Olivia Halch couldn’t get a close-up facial ident on the man – the angles were wrong. She keyed in the next tram cam 500 yards to the north toward the city. The couple was nowhere to be seen on the glidewalk. It meant they’d disembarked before reaching it. She called up the street cams near the first exit and they were blank – inoperable.  Mud on the lenses! She keyed it back to the original location again. There was something about that redheaded female…
When Olivia brought the woman’s face into view, it was only a three-quarter profile, but it was enough for a facial ident. Somehow Olivia knew the woman meant something to that man. Didn’t she hear the designation “girl-mate?”
She ran the facial ident of the woman and her complete profile -- surely the woman was in the master database. A minute later, the screen filled with a complete profile. Success! Joanne Lee Arnold, seamstress, Green zip. Now if there was a connection with the man… Examining her files further, she found no marriage status, no vehicle, and no public employment. The woman’s medical history was clean except for two evacuations and a miss-birth, and those incidents were over twenty years old. Even if she had a current mate, that certification was not traceable, thanks to the Privacy Act enacted by the Civil Justice Authority – she’d need a verifiable arrest warrant to obtain that information. For what reason? Olivia’s lost badge? That wouldn’t go over good.
Olivia had to find something on Joanne Lee Arnold if she was going to go after her right now. She checked the recent credit transactions of the woman and found the last one made over a week ago – nothing more current.There was no way to locate her immediately. There would be a wait until the credit was used again. Since the last place Joanne Arnold was seen was headed up-city on the glide walk, it meant she might not be home for a while. It didn’t matter. If Arnold used her credit, she could be instantly traced. If she didn’t use it, Olivia had her address, and if she had to, she’d give Arnold thirty minutes of bone cracking until she gave up the identity of the badge thief.
Captain Olivia Halch pushed away from the surveillance table and looked scornfully at the occupants in the room. “Somebody get maintenance to the Orange zip, 42nd sector, and clean up the street cams. Those teenonsters are at it again!”

Submitted: December 23, 2009

© Copyright 2022 Chris Stevenson. All rights reserved.


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Hi Chris,

I don't want you to think this is blind reciprocation. I really enjoyed reading it.

From a writing standpoint, it is superlative. The imagery was evocative without being trite, a real challenge (for me, at least.) I loved the dialogue and the somewhat genteel nature of Mikus.

From a story standpoint, I definitely felt anger at the brutality and indignities the protagonists endured, almost hoping for "suddenly Mikus whipped out a BFG-9000 and blew them away."

I do also like the concept of the written word being the contraband of this world.

Top-notch, will definitely read the next chapter.


Fri, December 25th, 2009 4:04am


Thanks, John. Word Wars suffers from first book syndrome, in that it does stretch suspension of disbelief in some ways. But it was a labor of love, akin to Farenheit 451, a book I loved by Ray Bradbury. And I do like the idea of them reading only the color bar language, and searching for the last man on earth that can read.

Happy Holidays,


Thu, December 24th, 2009 9:02pm

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