Fear, Guilt, Anxiety

What do you want?

The bacteria were dying. They knew it and they hated it. Bacteria had to live to be bacteria. They were being brutalized by the fatness of the air and sought refuge in the living. But the living were packed full of other bacteria. These bacteria were unhappy with the newcomers. There was not enough to go around, and the bacteria that lived in the living began to flee. Then the living became the dead, and the bacteria panicked. They could not live in the dead.

They settled down to the task of fixing the dead, to try to make them live again.

Priscilla Locke sat on the couch, gripping the armrest, dragging her fingers up along the rough stitching, watching the news on low volume. A bomb had gone off in China. It was a dirty bomb, and it was being carried by the wind, and it was fast.

Was it the Vietnamese or the Qing? No clear answers. Only thing on the news was video of Haikou, where the sky was red and there was red mist, like a stylized vision of hell. Buildings were on fire, and people were on the street, running in all directions. Some stopped running, dropping and flailing wildly. Some people stopped moving altogether, only to start moving again.

Priss acknowledged it. She knew it was terrible, and might involve the Foundation at some point. She could feign concern and sadness, but she couldn't bring herself to feel anything for them, not truly.

"To be fair, I wouldn't feel anything if it hit Australia." She mumbled out loud to herself. It sounded less convincing than she wanted. Someone will help them, she figured. Even the United States gave humanitarian aid to nations they considered genetically inferior.

She was still bothered, head cocked slightly, frozen, staring at the television without comprehending the images. Normally when some calamity struck somewhere in the world, she felt safe, confident that it could be fixed and people could be helped. She didn't feel that way anymore, and she couldn't understand why. Like a wound that wouldn't coagulate.

They were half a world apart, completely unrelated, yet she couldn't help connecting the disaster in China with Key Biscayne and her sister. There was no justification to it; this was a now-international crisis. Her sister was just a local criminal. A wannabe terrorist. But then there were similar protests and riots happening elsewhere, pre-dating her sister's "turn". And the core of the conflict was the refugees. Refugees from southeast Asia, where the dirty bomb had just gone off.

"Maybe it's connected. Or maybe Rhie's just an opportunist psychopath." She still couldn't imagine her sister being violent. She snorted and grinned, "Violent? Her?" Rhiannon had been troublesome in school, but never to a degree of getting people killed or qualifying as a domestic terrorist.

"She doesn't matter anymore. Neither do I." She muted the television and leaned back in her couch. She was starting to think seriously about planning ahead, for the "after".

"You know, I'm not the one always starting shit." Rhiannon was grinning, eyes wide and giddy.

"Yes you are," Priss retorted flatly.

Rhiannon seemed to be dancing in front of the broken chair, shifting from foot to foot, nimbly avoiding the shards of glass, leaning her face right up to Priss, wanting her to strike out, "Think about it."

Priss seemed ready to give in, putting her hand on Rhie's face. She could feel the girl's face tense in anticipation. Instead Priss gently shoved her back.

"Remember Charlie?"

Priss stared down at her, as she rushed back into position, wanting to be struck again.

"Little Chuckie Locke. Charlie Lockey. Charlie Prissy Pants. Is that where you took your name from?"

"What are you doing? It's like you want me to just, fucking… beat you down." Priss felt a sudden rise of anger.

"Did Charlie Prissy Pants want to strike out? Take that word back? What kind of a name is 'Priss' anyway? That's the only thing I can make of it."

Priss exhaled and shook her head. "That doesn't get me angry anymore."

"You're easy, Prissy. That's been your biggest problem." Rhiannon didn't let up, though she'd given up hope of getting her sister to hit her, "Remember when you almost broke my jaw? I'd barely gotten out a word and you already knew."

"I thought you did it to hurt me. I didn't realize until later that's the only way you know how to express yourself safely."

"Nuh uh," Rhiannon said with a smile, unflinching and unwavering.

"Our childhood sucked and you had to be strong for us both, and that meant becoming hard. You became a bully as a preemptive measure."

Rhiannon didn't stop. "Can you still get hard down there, Prissy pants?" Her pale cheeks flushed even before she'd finished. She had gone too far again, and hurt her sister again.

"I have to leave, Rhie."

Rhiannon kept bouncing from foot to foot. "No you don't. Stay here with me. Work doesn't need you."

Priss was already at the door. Rhiannon rushed over to hug her before she could go.

"See you tonight." Priss half-heartedly returned the hug, then drifted away.

"Bye, Charlie."

She couldn't remember when that particular moment happened. She remembered every word, every bounce from foot to foot Rhiannon had took, and every awkward second that trailed Rhiannon's clumsy comeback. She hadn't even realized what Rhie had meant until after she was out the door. And then she'd staggered down the steps, snorting with laughter. The look on her face afterwards had left her confused, but the more she replayed the encounter, the more Priss realized Rhiannon felt genuinely hurt by what she'd said. And now Priss felt genuinely hurt that she hadn't brought it up again. The more she replayed it, the more she felt convinced that Rhiannon was fixated on it as well, reliving it and reliving the moment of cold shock as she lashed out at her sister with an ugly transphobic joke, an unexpected slip after having teased and toyed with her for years joking about the hormones.

Priss looked up and realized no time had passed. The news was still on the China story, and it frustrated her. She occasionally felt a need to convince herself she wasn't a racist like everyone else; she felt sympathy for people regardless of where they were and who they were. The problem was just… distance. She wanted to hear about some horrible calamity happening in Miami, where she could at least step out the door and offer some help, to pretend to be able to do something about it. A bio-weapon holocaust happening six thousand miles away on the complete other side of the world might as well be happening six thousand years in the past.

"Then consider yourself a fuckin' time traveler," Rhiannon snarled, slumping against the armrest.

Priss looked over and saw no one. After a few seconds she began to wonder if she had even heard that or thought it out loud. She groaned and got up off the couch, turned on her phone, hoping it was the start of some mental illness. She felt lucky to be in a line of work where a freak incident like that being the result of burgeoning schizophrenia was the best case scenario.

Jaime Marlowe wasn't let in to the big meetings, when the work of the Foundation started to spill out into the real world. 'Real world,' she thought, face blank, as if we somehow aren't real.

The difference now was that it was her project that had spilled out into the real world. Now she was the inept research head who would be the subject of notations and addenda, rather than the author of them.

"She's just average," Dr. C had said, not realizing she could hear him through the no-longer-white drywall of that sad little office years ago. "Painfully, painfully, painfully, painfully average."

She remembered it exactly. The exact tone and inflection. The exact number of times he'd used the word "painfully". It should have been a moment to test her, for her to face down the criticism and rise above it. Instead she'd gone on being average. Someone who had inexplicable outbursts not severe enough to be detrimental to their career, while putting out reports not interesting enough and research not intense enough to merit much more than average. The only thing resembling a spark of interest when people looked over her work was the novelty of her being a woman.

The door to the board room opened and Dr. Kohn stepped out, breathing in the cooler air out in the hall, and glancing sidelong at Marlowe, slumped against the wall mid-way between a crouch and a curled up ball.

"You want to add anything to them?"

She frowned, "I want to know what was discussed."

He shook his head, and leaned against the door, just as it opened again, nudging him aside for someone in a suit to slip out and walk purposefully down the hall. Kohn looked back down at her, "Mostly beyond your security clearance, but that's all going to be temporary. I can fill you in on the majors, so long as you keep it quiet for a day or two."

"Is there another Anabasis?"

"We still don't know. The Qing have no idea, and they've been surprisingly open with us in the past few days since it started. Some elements seem to think the Jinyiwei know about an Anabasis-type thing, but the Jinyiwei have pretty much opened up their entire office to us. It's a lot worse than we think."

"Where do we fit in?"

"We have the only other specimen of this bacteria. Here, in this building. This is us. As far as the Qing are concerned, this is us."

Marlowe grunted softly, sliding her butt up against the wall to get back up to her feet. "But you said the Jinny-way- Jinyi… They're giving us all their documents and stuff, right?"

"The Jinyiwei don't believe we were responsible for the bomb, or whatever it was spread the bacteria. The fact that they do is what makes some of the Emperor's court think that they're hiding an Anabasis of their own."

"This is all Locke's fault. Somehow. How did they even tie the bacteria with our experiments?"

Kohn stepped back from the door as it opened again, letting another well-dressed individual out with a terse expression and stiff gait. "Spies? No one knows. Maybe they're just bluffing. Maybe they just heard about the Anabasis leak, put two and two together, and decided we were pissing them off the most."

"Why us? What do they know about the Foundation's work?"

"That's why you weren't in the meeting."

Priscilla Locke intentionally kept herself oblivious as to how everyone in the neighborhood was responding. Her usual walk to and from the school had been uneventful up until Key Biscayne. Then people started to freak out more easily, and more often around her, it seemed.

A girl was smiling at her as she exited the school, 6:30 in the afternoon, long past the end of classes and past the point where aftercare would have kept her. She was wearing a pale blue jacket too big for her. Locke recognized it as Rhiannon's. She was probably giving away everything she had, again.

"Did you hear?" The girl yelled to her as she walked swiftly past.

Locke turned to her, walking backwards. "I don't care." She said simply, then went back on her way.

An elderly man looked at her as she crossed the street over to him. He had a hand on his belt, the thumb idly rubbing along the rim betraying the slightest bit of frail white skin beside a leather strap that could only be a holster. She didn't see anything else, and kept away from him. As she passed, he gave an unusually giddy chuckle.

A block further on, a tall, muscular black man stepped out in front of her. He was bare-chested, tattooed, hair in short dreadlocks, glaring down at her.

"You scared of me, white girl? You afraid?"

She sighed and tilted her head up to meet his gaze. She should have been afraid; her entire upbringing in this society had taught her to fear him. He was almost unreal, a figure come to life from a WestCiv pamphlet. Somehow, that put her at ease. "No. What do you want?"

He cocked his head slightly, taking a step back and holding his hands out at his sides, "I want to be saved. You think I don't know? Ain't enough room for all of us. It's gonna be a sick, shameful display when it comes."

Priss pressed her lips tightly and sighed, exasperated at being held up by someone who probably knew who she was, probably associated with her cult leader sister, and had been sent by her to harass her on her way home. She sighed and furrowed her brow at him, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"That's fine. Just remember when it comes."

"Who the fuck even are you? Did my sister send you to harass me? What are you all planning to do?"

"Who's your sister?"

"Rhiannon Locke."

The man lowered his arms, and looked down at his feet. He shook his head and glanced back up at her, "Naw. Never heard of her." He smiled at her, and stepped aside, holding a hand up, "Take care of yourself. You the only one who can, now."

She wanted to keep engaging him. She recognized his style; the way he spoke and the way he moved. He was lying about not knowing Rhiannon Locke. She wanted to explode, rage at him, demand to see her sister, demand that she stop, demand that everyone just stop and behave. Just be normal.

Much more than that, she wanted to go home. So she left and continued on.

The veil of secrecy behind the meeting Jaime Marlowe wasn't allowed in lasted four full days. Then she was brought in to the conference room. Eight people sat around two instructors' desks pushed together, with a slightly shorter table behind it with an overhead projector displaying on a nearby whiteboard. She recognized two of the people in the room, Dr. Kohn and Dr. Alton. The others all had the look of administrators about them. She sat behind the projector and to the left, until Kohn motioned for her to sit closer, across from him.

"You know why you're here."

"Yes," Marlowe said flatly, unsure what else to say.

"The bacteria is moving south and east. Australia is most likely the next significant target. The Qing aren't doing anything about it; they remain convinced we were somehow involved, and that the Jinyiwei are holding back on an Anabasis of their own."

"This means," said one of the other people at the table, a tall, overweight man with a close cropped beard, "If the Jinyiwei are legit and they don't have an Anabasis, and more people die, the Qing will drop them. And right now, they're the only thing linking us to the court."

"This is politics," Marlowe said, blinking at them. When they didn't react, she went on, "We don't deal in… the research staff here doesn't deal in politics."

"How blessed you've been," one of the other men said, slouching in his seat and not quite looking at Marlowe. "To be so coddled and sheltered from reality that politics is a distant sideshow you can just avoid when it's unpleasant to you, and not your every day life."

The others looked uncomfortable, but no one said anything. Marlowe furrowed her brow and reclined back in her seat a bit. "What do we do?"

"Right now, everything is very uneasy, so we don't want to start a panic with any drastic action right away," Kohn responded, hands uncomfortably moving between his lap and the table, with nothing to occupy them. "For now, just stay on top of events as much as possible. Start clearing out used rooms and lock down the bacteria samples tightly. No one should in the same room with them without you present. Also, Locke."

She didn't move, but felt what ever force was keeping her calm and steady give way under a rush of pure exhaustion. Everything always seemed to be tied to Locke. It didn't matter that it was illogical to blame her; Marlowe blamed her.

"MDPD have a warrant for Rhiannon Locke's arrest, and they're definitely going to look into questioning Agent Locke. For the time being, we're letting them question her under our supervision, but we need her in order to get ahold of Rhiannon Locke. Normally it'd be easier to let the police do their thing before we come in, but the amount of coverage this is liable to get would only make it harder for us."

"So… Stalk Locke and take her sister into custody, if practicable?"

Kohn looked as if he was going to elaborate, shrugging slightly and sighing as he again moved his fingers along the surface of the table, leaving them in his lap. "Yes."

The walls of the conference room were thin enough that Locke could hear every word of their conversation, sitting up against the opposing wall outside in the hall. By now they'd moved on from her, but she couldn't bring herself to move. She wished she could tell her sister… something. She didn't want to be held responsible for her being taken in by the Foundation. But she also didn't want to help her escape justice.

All Locke wanted to do was sit comfortably on the floor.

The bacteria were traumatized by the results of their efforts. The living were not quite living. The more the bacteria tried to fix them, the more the living fought them. The air was too fat, and getting fatter the more the bacteria drifted. Hot air was pushing them one way, and the bacteria, terrified by the increasing heat, pushed back the other way.

More of the bacteria joined them, and in the confusion, the flood began to break apart. Some were too frightened to move, and let the fat air push them where it was hotter. A few forced themselves on across the endless ocean, left to wonder what to do next.

Priss had been home for four hours now, and hadn't moved from the couch. She'd set her laptop down beside her and turned it on, but hadn't even looked at it the entire time. Her eyes were slowly dragged to the screen, where her instant messenger window was open. All her lethargy faded as she saw Rhiannon was online. She took the laptop and messaged her.

(01:22:15) P_Locke: Hey.

She waited, then stiffened as the window showed she was typing something. After a long moment, nothing came.

(01:23:01) P_Locke: I know you're there, I saw you about to type something

This time she got a response. She knew immediately it was her sister.

(01:23:55) subhuman-mongrel: u try to see. u pride yorself on your perception. but you cant claim blindness any longer

Priss squeezed her eyes and grunted softly. She started to wonder if it even was her sister. Of course, it was Rhiannon Locke behind the other screen, but whoever was behind Rhiannon Locke seemed not to know themselves.

(01:25:00) P_Locke: You can't drop the "charismatic cult leader" act for your own sister, even?

(01:25:11) subhuman-mongrel: what act?

Priss scoffed, and started to type more angrily, well aware the Foundation might be monitoring, and no longer caring.

(01:26:40) P_Locke: Rhiannon, this is different from Key Biscayne, -I- might get in trouble.

(01:27:02) subhuman-mongrel: you think i didn't forsee this and plan accordingly?

(01:28:11) P_Locke: I know you don't give a shit, but think about me— you get yourself proscribed, the Foundation will start asking me questions and trying to use me to get to you

(01:30:05) subhuman-mongrel: theyre coming to get meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!111eleventyone11!! Ho ho hoooooo! Men In Black with their amnesty memory erasers- who am i? ur who we say u are now

Priss winced, feeling her throat tighten. It was like a caricature of her sister, all wackiness and no substance. She was starting to regret even trying.

(01:33:12) P_Locke: I said they'd come after ME. They're not like you think, not like the feds, but if they know what I told you, I won't be able to contact you for a while.

Minutes passed, and Priss grit angrily on the inside of her lower lip. Not even a series of ellipses indicating Rhiannon was typing something.

(01:37:01) P_Locke: Are you listening to me you prick?

More time passed. Priss slumped back against the couch, staring emptily.

(01:40:26) subhuman-mongrel: speekin of which, how'r the hormones treating you, Prissy?

Priss flashed back again to that encounter, the one she couldn't pinpoint in time, but could remember every little detail in full. Can you still get hard down there, Prissy pants? Priss smiled, tears starting to well in her eyes. She hadn't ever gone over it with her afterwards. It still wracked her with guilt. Rhiannon hadn't made another penis-related quip until now, and she knew her too well to suspect she was being deliberately hurtful.

(01:41:00) P_Locke: I hate you

(01:41:17) subhuman-mongrel: <3<3<3

(01:41:22) subhuman-mongrel: ok fine

(01:41:25) subhuman-mongrel: srs talk
(01:42:00) subhuman-mongrel: I'm keepin it quiet. happy?

It was too late for that, Priss thought. Anabasis was public now, even if hardly anyone knew anything other than the word itself.

(01:42:14) P_Locke: That's not enough

(01:42:33) subhuman-mongrel: no amnesty drugs, baby sister. I know wut I know and I know I ain't gonna un-know what I know

(01:43:07) P_Locke: What do you know?

(01:45:50) subhuman-mongrel: I know that a small child was at Key Biscayne. she couldn't have been older than 4 or 5. the west civvies had guns on her because she wouldn't stop followin momma cuffed and chained up. the mongrels were foamin', and some dirty white boy with a cleanshaven face—a SIN in the eyes of GOD —wasn't ready to be in the shit. TRIGGER DISCIPLINE dont they teach that in th army?

(01:46:13) P_Locke: They were West-Civ local militia, not the army. And your cult drew first blood.

(01:48:44) subhuman-mongrel: the dirty white boys didnt even wait for her body to drop before they started to open fire on the rest of the mongrels. they didn't even bother to stop when their magazine subscriptions ran low. Did u honestly think the mongrels would squeal and say uncle? Remember when u taught me how to make a molotov, you dirty jeckel?

Priss groaned. Rhiannon surely knew the Foundation would be monitoring her by now. She was intentionally trying to provoke them.

(01:49:14) P_Locke: You shouldn't have said that just now.

(01:49:59) subhuman-mongrel: No free speech for the race traitor? freedom is only free for the WHITE MAN. you shoulda stuck with them, Prissy, theyd keep you as one of their own. Instead u choose to be a "phony". You know the laawwwwww Prissy; nothing stops them from killin you. Everyone knows you're a fake.

(01:51:48) P_Locke: I told you already, the Foundation isn't like that. And you haven't answered me.

(01:52:10) subhuman-mongrel: Anna Basset?

(01:52:15) P_Locke: Yes.

(01:55:11) subhuman-mongrel: I know Anal Bassist is apposed to go up. UP. UP in space. Up in time. I know Anal Bassist is a fffffffffraud. u oughtn't have shown me those pics, Prissy

Now Priss began to panic. She hadn't even realized it when she did it. She gave her digital camera to Rhiannon, and it had all the pictures she'd taken, from its discovery through its first few experiments. She hadn't even said anything when Rhiannon borrowed it a second time. If Rhiannon had seen those pictures, and the Foundation questioned her, Priscilla Locke was flat out fucked.

She decided to ignore it, try to draw attention away from the statement.

(01:56:20) P_Locke: What do you mean a fraud?

(01:57:10) subhuman-mongrel: You know. U no. Ewe neaux.

(01:57:44) P_Locke: Assume that I don't.

(01:58:07) subhuman-mongrel: u want on record just how badly u fucked up

(01:58:15) subhuman-mongrel: fine

Then Rhiannon sent pictures. Multiple pictures. All of them from the digital camera, which meant she had not only seen them, but uploaded them to her own computer and kept them. Priss sobbed and pressed her trembling fingers down on the spacebar, not letting up until the CPU started beeping obnoxiously. She was absolutely fucked. The only thing she could do was try to contain it.

(01:59:40) subhuman-mongrel: I saw those pics and I read those experiments. Uou saw the numbers. 1, 2, 5, 7, 80, 6200. killo-meters, you said. Killo-meters, you believed. Am I wrong?

(02:00:03) P_Locke: It is. The tests showed that.

(02:01:32) subhuman-mongrel: test 1 encompassed a third of the room. test 2 encompassed the whole room. I kno Killy-meeders ain't as big as imperial Miles, but that's not even fuckin close, do u see?

(02:02:02) P_Locke: What

(02:04:11) subhuman-mongrel: Oh no, little girly, was that pterodacted and sponged? I kno the men in black love X-sponging the truth. Have u so badly failed math, baby girl?

Priss clenched her jaw, well aware that there was no containing this. The staff had discussed using Anabasis as a worst case scenario; evacuating as many people as possible to another universe or dimension, whichever one was most habitable for them. The range of the device was supposed to be massive, up to six thousand two hundred square kilometers, enough to save millions.

It was obvious in the experiments that wasn't the case. They'd chalked it up to damage to the device, or interference from some source or another. That was still the consensus among the research staff; find a means to repair or resupply Anabasis with power, and get it to reach 6,200 kilometers.

What they didn't know was there was nothing wrong with Anabasis. The numbers on the knobs, if they had ever meant something, were meaningless now. Anabasis's maximum reach fell just short of the school faculty parking lot.

(02:05:32) P_Locke: No

(02:06:00) subhuman-mongrel: then you are just as guilty. Speak your crime, Prissy. confess your sin

This act was exhausting her. She pounded away at the keys, more frustrated than angry.

(02:07:41) P_Locke: You act like we did it intentionally. It's not ours, Rhie—we found it like that, and we can't just "fix it" like a fucking cable box. this is above and beyond anything we can understand. We can't afford to lose it now.

(02:08:50) subhuman-mongrel: Fly, little birds, fly away. Leave us to ur mess, cowards

(02:10:10) P_Locke: You expect us to just tell everyone? "Sorry, if you don't live here, you're fucked"?

(02:11:30) subhuman-mongrel: They would eat you by your own light

(02:12:02) subhuman-mongrel: But who cares. youll be safe, the Omg 5ives will be safe, every man in black who matters will be safe.

(02:13:40) subhuman-mongrel: how many Anabasioi are there, Prissy?

That caught her rather unexpected, but she responded quickly and confidently.

(02:14:00) P_Locke: One

(02:14:43) subhuman-mongrel: You're lying to me Prissy and if you lie to me I will block you and then you will be forced to pick up the fucking phone and actually talk to me.

(02:15:02) subhuman-mongrel: How Many Anabasis machines are there in your custody, in the world, Priscilla Locke?

How much did she know? Did she have eyes and ears in the school? Was she still lingering around, questioning personnel? Maybe some of the kids were overhearing snippets from that godawful conference room with its paper-thin walls and reporting it around, not fully understanding what they were hearing.

Or maybe Rhiannon herself knew about others, and was testing her. Priscilla had no way of knowing either way.

(02:16:10) P_Locke: One

She recognized right away what happened; Rhiannon blocked her. She tried to type in more, but the messenger wouldn't allow it. Priss just knew that was the last thing she would ever say to her sister. She just knew Rhiannon would never be picked up if she didn't want to.

She sighed and sat back on the couch, suddenly keenly aware of what the man on the street had cryptically said to her.

Take care of yourself. You the only one who can, now.

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