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The Steady State

Shannon Fay is a Clarion West graduate and 2013 winner of the James White Award. She can be found online at ayearonsaturn.com and on Twitter @shannonlfay. She has released Clever Bits, a collection of some of her published short fiction.

"So, how does a nice girl like you become a faceless jackboot?" The prisoner managed to look comfortable despite her handcuffs. Her name was Kori Melsung. She was a high level Disruptor, I was a low-level Steady. The two of us were sitting in the back of the armored automated transport unit, shuttling along the mega-pass towards Kori's execution.
It wasn't protocol to talk to prisoners but I couldn't help myself.
"Oh, well one day I saw an ad in the personals looking for people who like long walks on the beach and world domination soooo..." I shrugged. "Here I am."
It wasn't my first time answering the question. When people found out I was a Steady they'd do a double-take: "But Mabel! You're the most obvious dyke on the block! How can you work for the State, especially after Bill-C03 passed?" I noticed that these same folks never offered to pay my rent, and that their mothers weren't suffering from fast-acting MS. Being a Steady was one of the few jobs that offered health care for dependents. Plus, it was easy: you did two weeks of training, suited up in riot gear, and then kept the peace by any means possible.
I signed a five-year contract. Mom died about a year and a half in.
Kori laughed at my joke. For someone about to die she was in a good mood. "You're funny. Hey, take off that helmet. I bet you're cute, too."
"If you're trying to induce Lima syndrome, it's not going to work."
"Ohhh, Funny, smart, and--I'm just guessing here but I've got a good sense for these things--cute. Triple threat."
What Kori didn't realize was that we had in fact met before. It had been a month ago, just after Mom's funeral. I had worked up the courage to slink into the city's one remaining gay bar and was sipping my porter when Kori sidled up to me.
"I haven't seen you before." She had slightly crooked teeth. I liked that. It gave her smile an edge. "New in town?"
"No," I said. "Just new to the scene."
"Well, welcome, new girl," she said. "I'm Kori."
She reached out and traced the anchor tattoo on my forearm.
"Nice tat," she said. "You know, sailors used to get tattoos to mark important voyages. The anchor signified that they had crossed the Atlantic." She looked at me, big eyes and askew smile. "So, new girl, how far have you traveled? Have you crossed the Atlantic?"
She was leaning in so close I could feel her body heat.
"Uh, no. I've never even been on a plane." She smirked and I might have been able to salvage things if I hadn't kept talking. "The tattoos are a family tradition. Men get the tattoo of a ship's wheel while the women get anchor tattoos."
She drew her hand back. "Oh."
"But that's neat about the sailors," I said. "I hadn't heard about that before. I only got mine because--" Because everyone in my family was either in jail or dead and I needed some way to hold on to them.
"Because you come from a family where the men are the steering wheel and the women are anchors." Kori was already scanning the bar. "How sweet and heteronormative."
"Um, do you have any tattoos?" I meant for it to sound flirty but instead it came out an earnest question.
She grinned. "Yeah, but sorry, new girl, I don't show them to just anyone." She downed her drink. "Call me when you're a little more well-traveled." She put down her glass and walked off.
That night in the bar I had been a nervous wreck. Now, here, in the back of the armored unit, suited up, face masked, gun in hand, agent of the State, only now did I feel at ease enough to flirt with a girl. A girl who technically was a prisoner in my care. Yeah, it wasn't a good look.
Just as I resolved to stay quiet the unit flipped over on to its side. My ears ached as metal scrapped along concrete.
We slowed to a stop. Kori scrambled over me and threw her shoulder against the door. With every hit the whole unit wobbled, as if we weren't on solid ground.
"Kori, no!"
But it was too late: the door gave way and her momentum carried her out, over the side of the mega-pass. She fell towards the water below.
I leapt forward and grabbed the chain of her handcuffs. She yelped in pain as the jolt went through her arms and shoulders. She swung in the air, the water below looking as hard as concrete. The unit was sitting precariously on the mega-pass, the front half still on the road while the ass end hung out over the side. It didn't help that Kori and I were hanging off the back, making it tilt upwards and slide slowly over the edge.
My arm burned from holding the chain. If I dropped her I could maybe scramble to safety. I could live at Kori's expense. But I knew it would eat me alive if I ever did that to anyone, let alone someone I'd talked and laughed and flirted with. So I held tight.
My shirtsleeve had ridden up enough to reveal my anchor tattoo. Kori's look of terror monetarily became one of confusion when she spotted it.
Hands grabbed my shoulders and pulled both me and Kori up onto the road.
Before I could kiss the ground there was a gun in my face. A whole Disruptor cell was standing around us. It had been their truck that had rammed the unit. No wonder Kori had been so cocky. She must have known the cavalry was coming.
"I'll give you a choice, Steady," the leader said to me. She was an old woman with a lined face. "Either I shoot or you jump in the water."
"No, don't!" Kori stepped in front of me. "Leave her alone. She saved my life."
The old woman rolled her eyes but lowered the gun. "Fine."
Kori gave me a sad smile and an ironic salute. "Thanks, Mabel. Sorry I was a dick to you before." She jumped into the Disruptor's truck and they were gone.
Naturally, the State was pretty embarrassed by the whole jailbreak episode. Before I had even filed my report, I was arrested as a covert Disruptor. It didn't matter how much I protested. It didn't matter that I had been a model employee for over a year. The only purpose I served now was to act as a scapegoat for the whole mess.
"The fact is, heads are going to roll over this," my State appointed lawyer told me, "and I'm sorry kid, but you've got one roly-poly head."
So then it was me in the automated unit, my own silent Steady to guard me as I was transported to my execution.
"Don't worry," I said to the Steady. "I'm sure the Disruptors won't try and pull the same trick twice."
The Steady reached up to take off her helmet.
"Got that right," Kori said as she tossed the helmet aside. I couldn't help what happened next--I moved to her side of the unit and tried to hug her.
"Whoa, new girl!" she said, pushing me back. "Calm down."
"How did you--"?
"I swapped in for your guard and we hacked the unit's AI," Kori undid my handcuffs. "It's taking us to a safe house."
"But why?"
"Helping people screwed over by the State is what we do," she replied. "Don't worry. We'll get you out to some neutral islandform."
"No." I took her hand. "I want to fight. I want to stay with you." I wanted to take on her battles and travel new waters. I wanted to cross that metaphorical Atlantic with her.
Kori looked at me. "Are you sure?"
I nodded. I had seen firsthand how the State treated both its enemies and the people sworn to serve it. Keeping order wasn't the same as keeping the peace.
"Let's take it down together."
Kori grinned, that sharp, askew smile that made my heart pound.
"Okay," she said. "Let's do it."
This time when I leaned in towards her she met me halfway. We kissed as the unit sped along the mega-pass.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, June 1st, 2018

Author Comments

I wanted to write a meet-cute rom-com crossed with a sci-fi dystopia. I also just really like writing scenes of people flirting.

- Shannon Fay
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