This is harder than I thought! Missing deadlines already. This may go into once a week, or Tuesday/Saturday. We’ll have to see.
Shelby offered back a lopsided smile, twisting her lip upwards. “You’re one of Rae’s aren’t you?” she asked. Before he could respond she turned away, back towards Mar. “Rae likes them dark and beefy. She blinked her doe eyes and he comes down to sniff around.”
Shelby turned back towards Daoud. “Deep black eyes, wavy hair like a middle-eastern sheik, nice features. Egyptian, I’m guessing.”
“Palestinian,” he answered. That usually took the wind out of people’s sails.
Mar wrinkled up her face. “Ooh, I’m sorry. Did you have family there?”
Daoud turned his complete and absolute attention entirely away from Shelby, towards blonde Mar. “A lot of cousins, uncles and aunts. My father tried running a rescue convoy, but…”
The truth was that his great-grandparents had come to California so long ago they barely remembered any of their relatives. His father had spent his teenage years surfing, rather than trying to rescue his doomed countrymen. And when the real war started in the Pacific his father was just a bit too old to volunteer.
But the story had opened up female possibilities in the past. He softly moistened his lips with his tongue as if he was about to say something. Mar reflexively matched his lip-wetting.
“Hey there, everyone! Can we make a bit of a circle?”
Rae’s voice broke a soulful stare that was starting.
Daoud turned towards Rae and standing, flipped the chair again so he was sitting next to Mar. “Do you mind?” he asked, softly.
“Please,” she whispered.
Shelby glared one last dagger at him before she turned her chair too.
“For nearly a generation we’ve been wasting our lives in a stupid, un-winnable war,” Rae began, turning to catch everyone’s eyes individually. She momentarily locked onto Daoud’s, and once again he felt a little thrill go through him. Her eyes shifted to Mar’s then Shelby’s, and on around.
“The tundra is thawing, the world is drowning, the deserts and growing—and we waste our money building weapons. Nations are starving, malaria kills millions, our brothers and sisters are dying on the front lines—and the only reason we keep killing each other is to avenge those who died when this war started.”
She tapped her fingers together and a holographic display lit up the center of the space. A graph formed. “Here’s what we’ve been spending on the war for the past thirty years, against how much of our GDP is spent on looking after Americans.”
There were murmurs of disgust throughout the group.
Daoud loved the sound of Rae’s voice, but was how distracted by how good her ass looked her tight pants. His eyes made a voyage around the circle, checking to see who was paired up, which girls had the best breasts hidden under their shirts, and who he would do given the chance.
By his estimation Mar was probably the third hottest girl there, Rae number two, and a Latina chick with glasses was totally on fire.
He also noticed a black guy with a tower of hair and tight cotton shirt keeping one eye on Rae, and another on the group surrounding her. He met Daoud’s eye for a moment, assessed him, and moved on. Daoud knew he looked good, but this guy was the alpha-male. And the way he kept glancing at Rae—they were somehow linked. Boyfriend, body guard, political officer—whatever he was they were attached somehow. He would assume boyfriend for now.
Rae was talking about the Chinese Democratic Ruling Coalition, talking about who amongst them might also be looking for a way out. But the guy was ignoring her words, and weighing everyone there. Daoud watched the boyfriend weighing everyone. the boyfriend spent time watching Shelby’s body language, then settled on a thin man, about post-graduate age.
The postgrad was tapping his dipIn card with his index finger, giving the impression of being absorbed with the speech, but he kept glancing back over everyone’s head to the entrance.
Daoud leaned towards Mar who tilted herself towards him. He cupped her ear.
“I just remembered something very important, and so should you,” he whispered. “Let’s get out of here.”
She looked at him quizzically.
He gathered his legs under himself. Now he mouthed, and stood. He mumbled a half-apology to the circle and made his way towards the stairs.
Mar swung up behind him. Daoud looked back and saw her touch Shelby’s arm, indicating she was leaving. She tried making a grab for her friend, but Shelby shook her off, looking disgusted.
“What are you doing?” Mar asked as they stepped quickly along the sidewalks away from the club.
He tried to lead her towards the thickest tule rushes growing in front of the neighborhood houses. “Something’s wrong. I know usually it’s not a big deal talking politics, but—there’s something weird in the vibe.”
Black airboats splashed from three directions along the canals towards the club. Their massive fans blew up spray, and they ducked behind the reeds to keep from getting wet. Their sides wore the logo of the Greater Campus security patrol.
“Oh crap! Shelby!” Mar screeched. She ran her finger up her wrist trying to find her friend’s number on her phone watch.
Daoud grabbed her hand and walked her away. “If we stay, the most we’ll see is them getting arrested. Walk with me. Hold my hand.” The neighborhood away from the bay quickly turned residential, and they made their way quickly through it.
On a day like today it would have been easy to pretend nothing bad existed. But Eric, Lord of Testosterone, immortal (being not-quite twenty), and heir to the Tuille fortune, had need to always look danger in the face and stare her down. “I’ve been going over the Nasorolevu Gambit again,” he announced as the sat in the Mexican restaurant, their burritos before them. Mario’s had been serving student for over 100 years, and some of the artwork looked that old, but the food was good. The interior was kept dark to save on energy and keep the heat down. Warm air whirled through the fan blades, offering the pretense of coolness.
"Again?" Daoud snorted. Nasorolevu was one of the mountaintops that survived the rising waves in one of those drowned South-Pacific islands nobody really cared about.
"Again!" Eric cared. The Combined US Army had taken a shellacking there from the Aussies and their Chinese masters. He gathered up plastic tumblers, salsa squeeze bottles, and forks from the other tables, then began laying them out.
“Aussie 7th fleet,” he placed some salt shakers on the worn wood table; “Chinese 12th Submarines,” forks; “New Zealand missile barges,” a few of pepper shakers.
“West US forces,” he placed some tumblers right side up on some spread napkins, “And East,” tumblers upside down.
“The Aussies are coming in by sail, reserving their gasoline for tight maneuvers. “Slow, but loaded with troops. The Chinese have our people locked on the beach, except for a few of our hang-glider troops. Our entire New Caledonia invasion force. They can’t do much.”
Daoud pointed to the salsa bottles. “Who are these guys?”
“Nobody, I don’t need those.”
“Cool.” Daoud picked one up and squeezed green tomatillo sauce on his burrito.
“We’re basically locked in place until the Kiwi barges take out our batteries, and the Aussies come in and kick our asses.” Eric looked around for another item to represent some mystery element. He was forced to use the squeeze bottle, holding it over the table. “This is—don’t say salsa, you’ll sound stupid—The Teswell-Google 2 Astronomical telescope. Largest stiffened mylar reflective mirror at the time. At that time, under contract to— Guess who?”
“The way you’re leading me around, I’ll say the Greater Berkeley University.”
He made a rough bowl with his spread fingers. “Giant mirror, kilometers on a side. Turn it towards the stars, you have scientific knowledge for all mankind. Turn it a bit, point that sunlight towards the Earth, focus into a tight beam…”
“Oh come on, you mean you could focus it into death laser? What about atmospheric spreading? Cloud cover?”
Eric placed the salsa back on the table, scattering the Australians. “I did the calculations. Hot enough to ignite the Australian sails. The Kiwi missile barges used even cheaper plastic.”
The waitress, another college student walked up to their table with the tab, a plastic readout with a number pad for students to divvy up their payments. “Are you boys done playing games, or is it checkers next?”
Eric tried to swipe the tab from her, but Daoud got his hands on it first. “I can get my own,” Daoud insisted.
“Dude, when this hits, I can get a commission anywhere. This is the training problem in the uncrackable category. You’re on the long plan, and I’ll be able to request my assistants.”
Daoud tapped the tab with his amount from his official dipIn card. He’d ordered steak to keep up with Eric, and that burrito would cost him at least another day in the service. “I appreciate it, I do. But I want to do this myself. I feel I’m taking advantage already.”
Eric swung his fist out and hit Daoud on his beefy shoulder. “We’re friends. Friends do for each other. I don’t want anyone else watching my back. Let me get some things now and again.”
“I don’t want money standing in our way, buddy. It’s best we pretend it isn’t there.”
They got back to campus before Daoud’s next class, Applied Rhetorics. He sat in the old lecture hall, canted in a bowl with another 150 students. The place smelled like industrial deodorants and had been used here for the last century.
AR 250 was required for pre-law, and he had to get his grades up if he was going to get into Hastings.
He hadn’t thought about college until he was a junior in high-school, then panicked when his parents started emailing him career outlines. The campus was just over the hill from Concord, so he could make the long bicycle trip home on the holidays.
Since the only way he could afford a college was on the long plan. Take as many courses needed to graduate, rack up your books and meals on your dipIn card, get your final bill, then march into the cashier’s office and declare bankruptcy. Your file was then turned over to the campus Armed Force recruiter who would already know you and your case. If you went to a good school, like Berkeley, you would have met with your case officer ahead of time, gone over your career plan and possible military jobs, and he or she would have made class recommendations.
Daoud met with Lieutenant Mike Summerville every year for the past three years, and the two of them had been talking about Navy legal. Mostly cutting orders and dealing with regulations. Boring executive officer stuff. But if his grades were good enough for Hastings, maybe a position in writing legislation or the JAG office. He had his hopes.
THe idea of being Eric’s personal assistant was kind of… shameful. Eric had places to be, a person to become.
Daoud wasn’t sure he wanted the hassle. Find someone he could get along with for the next several years, have some fun. Rae’s face flashed across his mind’s eye quickly, until he noticed the blonde two rows down.
His hand reached towards the hidden inner pocket of his shorts, and he touched his private, illegal dipIn card.
Harlan Ellison used to writie in the windows of bookshops and post the first draft pages on the window. They Might Be Giants have a dial-a-song line where they put up their first thoughts. I’ve never been a quick writer, spending much of my time researching as I go along, editing and re-editing until anything hits the light of day. Until today.
Here is the first part of my story “Gated,” chosen by contest winner Kelsey Hair of Berkeley. the original write up, on April 27, 2012 was: It becomes customary for poor students to renege on their multi-million-dollar college loans and take the felony conviction and mandatory 10 year sentence. Most go into the military. But a few take the prison route to serve time with relatives. In time the students become teachers of the other inmates, and the two groups work together to change America back into a democracy.
This would have been posted a little sooner, except I damaged my computer while testing a USB hub I was wiring into a platypus. True story, Anyway, the computer is better, and this is slightly more edited. So, away we go with “Gated.” © Tony Jonick, 2012
Daoud leaned against Sather gate, watching the girls walking on and off campus. The gate’s green bronze was cool on his skin as the spring sun heated the air. It was early March, still cool enough in the year for everyone to show skin, and he could feel the air thrumming with need and desire. The need to be seen, the desire to be desired. He flexed nonchalantly, trying to catch any passing smile that lingered.
He wasn’t seriously on the hunt, though. Mostly enjoying the view until Eric joined him for lunch. He thought he’d tasted ripeness in high school, but these gals seemed ready to drop from the trees.
"Does that ever work?" a voice asked, piping and sweet.
"What?" He turned, confused, then got his bearings.
A girl, half-Asian eyes, about a meter-point75. Her mouth was half in a sneer, but her eyes were laughing.
One thing Daoud had learned early was when in doubt, maintain eye contact and smile knowingly. Then hold it just a little longer than seems right. “Does what work?”
"Leaning around, rolling your shoulders like you’ve got a back spasm."
He chuckled. “You’d be surprised.”
Her eyes lost some of their laughter. He was approaching the line of being a douche, and they both knew it.
"Sorry, just waiting for my friend to get out of ROTC. It’s just such a gorgeous day, y’know?"
The light came back in to her face. “Yeah, that’s for sure. Enjoy ‘em while we can. You on the long plan?”
“‘I ain’t no Senator’s son,’” he quoted from the classic song.
"Some of us are meeting off-campus to talk about the true cost of war in the Pacific," she explained. "I’d love it if you could be there."
This was her line, and they both knew it.
Daoud pulled out his private dipIn, the one he could wipe at a moment’s notice, with a little fry tab if necessary. She pulled hers out too—obviously her non-public one, too—and tapped his. They made a tiny steel-marble-on-glass chime as they swapped information.
"Address, and time," she piped.
Eric arrived, blonde-red hair and a touch of coffee in his cream skin that indicated some of his great-grandparents past owned one of his other great-grandparents past. In the current euphemism, a long line of southern gentlemen must have “had their way” with a long line of increasingly light-skinned women. Eric was tall, in crisp ROTC khakis, striped down the pants, short-sleeved shirt open to let out heat.
"See you tonight?" she asked flirtatiously. It was low blow, but amused Daoud. He couldn’t admit to not meeting a pretty girl with another dude nearby.
"You know it! See you—“
"Rae, right!" He waved as she walked away.
"I can’t leave you alone for a minute!" Eric laughed.
Daoud smiled and pushed his shoulders off the gate, and they set off for lunch.
Though The Greater Berkeley University of West America nominally only ran South to the end of the block, they were safely enclosed all the way down Telegraph for another Km or so until they hit the razor-wire fence that marked the campus patrol jurisdiction. The gate into Oakland was only lightly monitored as there was a huge freehold buffer between the campus and Merritt River.
It was on the other side of the river where things got dicey. At least until you hit the gates and guard towers of the Old Oak prison. The area on both sides of the fortified gates were relatively quiet under the eyes of the guards. But things became exponentially worse the farther into the prison you got. The tales that came out of there were so horrible that any intelligent person had no choice but to pretend the prison didn’t even exist.