One Fourth of July for Anthem (Lore)
“Be still, my beating heart,” I muttered irritably to myself as I flew towards the park. I’d been called in by someone or other in the city hierarchy to deal with the ‘implacable menace’ of a group of protestors. The person had failed to give me a name, but I decided to check it out anyway; from the sound of it, you’d think there was a full-blown riot in swing. As I got closer, I saw that there was no such thing happening. But there were some fireworks.
They were pretty standard fare. Nothing commercial grade, like they use in the big shows, but about as large as you could get from a stand. Cardboard mortars sent up shells that burst into flowers of light, crackling and roaring and glittering with all sorts of colors. Although, given the occasion, there was a predominance of red, white, and blue – it was the fourth of July, after all. The trajectories of the shells were straightforward, and as such things go, the shells went through them at a lazy pace that made avoiding them simple for an experienced flyer.
The crowd sending them up was made of members of Anarchy Red, a group of rebels without a cause. They tended to make loud noises and break things whenever they got restless. The rest of the time they tended to be just another bunch of disillusioned youth. No shortage of those, these days.
“There you are!” exclaimed a boring, pasty guy in a suit. I turned to look at him. I’d never seen him before, and I knew most of the city government in one way or another. “You simply must stop these people! They keep working themselves up; any second now they’re going to be using those fireworks for non-recreational purposes, I just know it!”
I glanced over at the assembled… the assembly, and then back at the little functionary who’d called me. “Excuse me, sir? I can’t arrest people for crimes they haven’t committed, and are not in the process of committing.” But you should know that, I thought to myself. I sometimes ran into people like this, though. Busybodies. People who just had to be doing something about something. I’d deflected them before. “However, sir, if you’d be so good as to give me your name, I can put in a word to have some people keep an eye on--”
“Oh, no no, no time!” He blustered, and while I’d seen better, he was pretty good at blustering. “Just go and talk to them! You’ll see they’re up to no good, I’m sure!”
Pausing, I considered this. By now it was clear he was up to something; he wouldn’t even give me his name, which set off warning bells. Most functionaries of this guy’s apparent stripe would love to have their name get in the papers, especially mentioned in the same breath as getting ‘Anthem, patriotic defender of Titan City’ to do something for them. For people like him it’s the ultimate ‘see-how-important-I-am’ trophy. But he was clamming up, and I knew he’d have ways to deflect anything I asked him, so with a sigh I turned and walked towards the mob of anarchists with fireworks. Maybe they would be more reasonable.
I looked out at them as I walked towards them. The members of the crowd were of all colors and classes, from all walks of life, with no real defining trait uniting them, other than that they wanted freedom – even if they didn’t know what freedom was. They were, to a one, defiant and headstrong, lost and confused, but proud in their action, aimless though it was.
They were America, in a lot of ways.
That sobering thought in mind, I walked up to their leader. I recognized Jason Redman, the leader (in a very loose sense) of Anarchy Red, a physically unimposing man who was charismatic enough that sometimes you could almost believe he knew what he was doing.
“Hello, Jason,” I said with an irritated sigh that I’d hoped to conceal better than I did.
“Hello, Anthem,” he responded. I’d personally arrested him five times – after that I figure I’m on a first name basis with a person. Jason didn’t feel the same way, probably because to him, I was less useful as a person than I was as a symbol of The Man, with a title instead of a name. “Here to arrest us? All of us? You really think you can do that?”
Well, yeah, I probably could. The crowd was roaring and egging him on, now, but they knew better than to pick a fight with me – partially because if they did, then I’d have cause to fight back and then, yes, probably arrest them all. But they didn’t want a fight with me, and I didn’t want to drag them all into the precinct house and ruin the day of the police officers on duty, least of all today.
“Hoping it doesn’t come to that,” I answered him honestly. “Really, all I think is—"
“ALL YOU THINK IS that you’re comin’ here to keep us down! We are assembling peacefully – to celebrate our nation!” That drew whoops and laughter from the crowd. Like most groups calling themselves anarchists, they weren’t really fond of their homeland – although I think this bunch tended to acknowledge that at least they could get away with things here. At about this point I started to think I knew where this was going, and decided I was going to let them play it out.
“No, Jason, that’s not—“
“After all, dissent is the highest form of patriotism, isn’t it?” Redman was starting to get into his groove, so to speak. “But these days, dissent isn’t allowed! These days they’ll take you to court, or put you in a box on campus! These days you can’t dissent ‘cuz you might hurt someone’s feelings!” The crowd mumbled loudly in general agreement. “Well, I say our nation is overdue for a rude awakening, and you can’t do that without being rude! So screw their feelings!”
The crowd cheered. I motioned for him to go on.
“We’re fresh out of college with a mountain of debt, a mandate to pay it off, and no job prospects! Or we’re in college, realizing that we’re on a collision course with bankruptcy! We’re havin’ ta pay through the nose for health insurance an’ getting’ fined if we don’t! We’re in a never-endin’ war in some part of the Middle East or another – hell, how can I keep track when it’s a new one every year? People are getting arrested for dumb, made-up bull—“
“—And in all that, we’re supposed to drop everything an’ stop to worry about our free speech hurting someone’s FEELINGS?!?” As if to punctuate his speech, another firecracker went off overhead, low bass thoomp rolling over us as the embers crackled low in the sky.
I took the opportunity to interrupt before he got going again. “The fireworks, Jason. Do you have a permit for the fireworks.”
He blinked at me. “Wait, that’s it?”
I nodded. “Sure. You’re right; none of what you’re doing here is illegal, except for the fireworks – if you don’t have a permit. While I’m sure Mr. Plausible Deniability over there would love to have me bring you guys in on some fanciful made-up charges from the magical land of lousy jurisprudence, we both know that’s crap, right?”
Redman squinted skeptically at me, apparently unsure of what to do when The Man was in his corner. After a bit of thought, he held up a hand. “One second.” He went back to talk to someone with a backpack full of flyers and other papers, before coming back with something official.
They had a permit. It was kind of amazing that they’d gone through the process of getting a fireworks permit for the Fourth – it’s not exactly easy, especially for a group of radicals far enough out that people sometimes argue they deserve the label ‘terrorist’, and are only rebuked because they’re so small-time, nobody in the media can really take them seriously. But they’d done it; everything was in order.
I laughed. The look on their leader’s face told me he’d done it all for this – a chance to scream like a madman in the face of authority and get away with it. That was fine by me.
“Alright then,” I said. “Enjoy your festivities then, citizens, and careful not to set anything on fire.” A whoop and cheer went up amongst the crowd – I’d just made their day, really, maybe their year. Troublemakers one and all, but they’re not making trouble today.
Of course, not everyone saw it that way.
“What are you doing?” demanded the functionary. “What are you DOING? How can you possibly just leave them like that? Those damn hooligans are—“
“—In full compliance with the laws and ordinances of the city, and well within their constitutional rights of free speech, free assembly and free association. I don’t care for all of what they’re saying, sir, but I’m not taking away their right to say it, and I’m not letting anyone else do so, either. That means you, sir. Right now it’s just a misunderstanding, but if you push the matter, you will be clearly abusing your authority, and I will have no recourse but to bring in Commissioner Zheng – who I have on speed dial, mind you – to inquire into your doings. He will not enjoy being taken away from time with his family to deal with someone trying to fill up jail space for no reason other than that some guy who won’t give his name doesn’t like what someone else is saying. Quite honestly, neither do I. Are we clear, sir?”
He glowered at me, trembling slightly. I didn’t care. I’ve seen his type before, and I knew he’d get his one day – he wouldn’t be able to help it. After a moment of counting in his head, he managed a relatively calm “Crystal.”
“I’m glad to hear that, sir. Now, I don’t suppose you would give me your name, so that I can make sure you get the reward you deserve for your civil service today?”
His glare intensified. I was impressed – it was a really good glare. After making sure I could properly appreciate his glaring, he curtly said “Good day, Anthem,” with a tone of voice telling me that by ‘good day’ he really meant ‘go die in a fire’.
“That didn’t last long,” quipped Particle. Forget his famous supertech, the man was a real wizard with a grill. “They all run off when you showed up?”
“Nah. False alarm. There was no crime.”
“Curious,” added Cambion. “So, who was it that called you across town for a non-crime?”
“He wouldn’t say. Not much I could do under the circumstances; not giving his name wasn’t a crime, either. I think he might be a problem, though.”
“Can it wait until after burgers?”
“Absolutely. Fireworks, too. Who wants to deal with bureaucratic nonsense on a day like this?”
Written by - William 'Robin' Strickland
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