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Daily Science Fiction :: Race Cards by Matt Mikalatos
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Race Cards

Matt Mikalatos is the author of seven books, the most recent of which is a superhero novel called Capeville: The Death of the Black Vulture. Learn more at capeville.net.
Sam snapped a thick card onto the chipped-paint surface of the picnic table, between himself and Hailey. Sam studied the glossy back, the multi-colored swirl of the Race Cards logo. A thin gold line ran along the bottom. The nano-bot interface.
"Where did you get that?" Hailey asked.
"My dad got it on a business trip. Japan, I think. Or maybe Korea, I don't know."
"Isn't that game illegal in the States?"
Sam shrugged. "The epidermal mods have a three-hour max. You can activate it and be white for your interview this afternoon if you want."
That made Hailey grin, and she reached over and squeezed Sam's hand. "Oh, that would be funny. But it hasn't been tested for safety, right?"
"It's safe," Sam said.
"So you go first," Hailey said. "Show me how it works."
Now Sam hesitated. "My mom told me not to mess around with it."
Hailey snorted. "Because you're white. Besides, your mom would never come to this park."
"I snagged this from my dad for your interview because you asked me to."
"I was joking, Sam. I get the job or I don't. It would be weird if I was white at the interview and black when I showed up the next day. Besides, what if it gives me a bloody nose or something."
"Fine. I'll do it first." Sam touched the gold line with his finger. A cold jolt radiated through his body. He couldn't move for a few seconds. He shook his finger, then sucked on it. "That stings."
Sam's skin had darkened to a deep, earthy brown.
"Looking good," Hailey said, laughing.
Sam pushed the card across. "Now you can use it for your interview."
Hailey looked him up and down. "Nah, I think they'll figure it out."
"What? You think people can tell I'm not black?" He held up his hands. "Looks pretty convincing."
"I'm not sure," Hailey said. "You could ask some lady in the park what time it is, see how she reacts."
"Ha," Sam said. "If she doesn't mention it, then you try it, too. Deal?"
"Deal. You don't look quite right, though. Your hair is all wrong."
"I'll put my hoodie on."
"You ain't ready for a hoodie," Hailey said. She rummaged through his backpack and pulled out his baseball cap, dropping it on his head. She looked over her shoulder, into the park. "Now we find a nice lady for you to talk to."
"There's a cop down by the pond," Sam said.
"Hell no," Hailey said. "You've been black all of ten seconds. Take it slow, brother."
"If you don't break the law you have nothing to worry about."
Hailey laughed again, like he didn't know what he was talking about. He liked hanging with her, but she could get under your skin. "How about that lady there with the jogging stroller?"
A blonde woman in spandex shorts and a t-shirt was stretching against a park bench. "Okay," Sam said.
"Don't walk up too fast," Hailey said. "Don't put your hood up. Speak respectfully."
"Chill, Hailey. How hard can this be?"
Sam adjusted the cap on his head and walked over to the lady. He stopped a short distance away and said, "Excuse me, ma'am, can you tell me the time?"
She looked up, a smile on her face. A smile that froze, or maybe fell a centimeter when she saw him. Maybe it was his imagination. He stepped back, giving her more space. She looked at her phone. "Four," she said, then jogged away
He looked back at Hailey, who had fallen over in the grass laughing and pointing. "You have a lot to learn!" Hailey called.
"Says you." He knew Hailey would say the lady acted that way because she thought he was black, but come on, it could be any number of things. Maybe the lady was jumpy. Maybe it was because he was a teenager. Maybe she needed to get home all of a sudden.
He decided to go talk to the cop. That should shut Hailey up.
The cop was on the south end of the park, near the pond. Sam looked back at Hailey, who had stood up, a look of concern on her face. God, she was a worrier.
He put his hands in his pockets and walked up behind the cop. Twenty feet away now.
The officer looked across the pond, talking into his shoulder radio. He said something about a suspect, roger that, then rearranged his belt. The gun, the mace, the handcuffs all shifted as he tightened the belt.
Hailey was shouting something. Sam turned back toward her. "Take your hands out of your pockets," she was shouting.
He faced the officer, still walking toward him. Take his hands out of his pockets? Why would that possibly matter?
The officer turned, catching sight of Sam. His hand dropped, almost casually, to the butt of his pistol.
Sam froze, hands in his pocket.
The officer said something, and Hailey shouted, both of them giving instructions, but he couldn't make sense of it, the sound of his own blood washing it all to white noise. But it was all going to be fine, right? He hadn't done anything wrong.
He yanked his hands out of his pockets, fast, and stepped forward.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, February 20th, 2017


I was having dinner with two good friends, one of whom is Asian-American and the other African-American. I was laughing pretty hard because they were explaining how they had both been in gangs growing up, but neither had realized it because "it was just the guys from my neighborhood," and "it was my Korean youth group." I walked home that night still shaking my head and laughing. Then I started thinking about my own group of friends growing up: how we had fought kids from the next neighborhood over, had stuck together no matter what, and how we had been "juvenile delinquents", at least a bit, especially when it came to playing with fire. I realized the only thing that made me label that something other than a gang was that most of my friends at the time were white. It was a pretty startling insight. Imagine what it would be like if we had Race Cards... I'm guessing there would be a string of insights for all of us. In the meantime, the best thing we can do is get to know one another and listen to each other's stories.

This is meant to be a "Lady or the Tiger" story... how it ends is left to the reader to decide. The reader's context, experience, and opinions dictate what happens after the final word. I hope the ending you write is worth a few minutes of reflection.

- Matt Mikalatos

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