White Flower Revolution
Streets on New Hollywood are different without protectors. They're louder, for one- nobody likes to talk with an armed guard three steps away. In the days before, people shuffled along crowded intersections with their eyes down. It wasn't a crime to talk, but then, the protectors never needed you to be a criminal.
"To Preserve Society," that was their slogan. They were created during the worst of the New Beijing riots, generations ago, when bombs were set under Oligarch's vehicles and blood was spilled by drunken rioters. A beautiful young Oligarch was murdered back then, one Ai Zhang, and the media plastered her photograph everywhere. Protectors were meant to be the solution; a policing organization willing to force down dissenters. Kill them, if you have to. Ensure it could never happen again.
Yun is watching the city from the rooftops, like a character in a superhero story. Only he feels less like a character in an supehero story and more like some sad guy sitting on a roof. Oh well. He's taken to coming up here to think; most of his teachers had always said he could hardly think at all, but he's found the thin, atmospheric air clears his head wonderfully. Even today, when he can sense a storm brewing in the sky.
He's been trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle for- count 'em- one, two, three hours now. So many times he's wanted to give up, throw it off the roof and watch it soar into the horizon, but something keeps pressing him to keep trying. Maybe he'd never solved a puzzle in his life, but somehow, this feels like the time and place to do it. It's free up here.
Not like down on the streets.
He looks over the edge, craning his neck, and watches a crowd of thousands marching through. It looks like the whole city is marching along. They step in unison, shaking the ground, making his eardrums tremble even from far off. Some of them are sprinkling white flowers onto the pavement- a symbol of democracy on New Hollywood. They used to lay those at the graves of people killed by protectors.
How many people has Yun buried? Eta-Theta wasn't his first kill. Or his second, or his fifth. But it was part of the job- they expected you to do it. "To Preserve Society." And then grieving loved ones left white flowers on their graves.
In these rare, free moments, Yun has thought a lot about that. And he's decided that a normal person couldn't have done it. Does that make him abnormal? Maybe, but he wasn't born that way. He was born stupid, sure, or so his grades told him. And he was born big- bigger than most people, and stronger than is fair. But it was the ECU indoctrination that made him a murderer.
Now, the murderer hears something. Another rhythm, not quite as organized as the pro-democracy crowd, but louder, brasher and... well, more familiar. He knows that beat.
When he cranes his neck over another part of the rooftop, he spots another crowd, but this one isn't carrying any white flowers. They have golden flags raised over their heads, and some have weapons at their hips. They step out of unison, fight with each other, shout, and carry speakers that blast chaotic music all through the streets.
Yun's comrades. Ex-protectors. On a march of their own, it looks like. He'd heard something about it from his old buddy. Apparently, a lot of the other protectors were mad about being laid off by the government, and intended to "do something" about it. Nobody knew what that something could be, though, so it basically amounted to roaming through the streets and calling it a protest.
He'd declined to join. But those men down there didn't, and judging from their trajectory, it looks like they're heading on a crash course straight for the White Flower protesters. He knows what'll happen when they meet: it's what you call a blood bath.
Yun takes another breath of that electrified, ozone-heavy air, and sighs. He pushes the half-finished, never-to-be-completed puzzle to the side. He heads for the elevator. He presses "first floor."
When the door opens, he almost wishes it hadn't.
The elevator was slower than Yun had anticipated, and the crowds much faster. He steps out of his apartment building right into the midst of a war about to happen. On the right side of Echo Avenue, the wide street Yun lives on, are the White Flowers, sprinkling the ground with petals like girls at a wedding, and chanting pro-democracy, anti-Oligarch rhymes. A few flecks of brown robe hint at the Mixtists among them.
Advancing on his other side are the ex-protectors. They need little description, except that the predominate color is gold, and the predominate attitude is "break stuff." Without their uniforms, it's amazing how much they seem like common thugs. (Is that who they've always been?)
The two crowds are about to meet. Yun stands in the middle of them both, and up in the sky above, deep gray clouds promise a downpour.
"Hey, Flower, Flowers, come over here!" one protector calls, spotting the protestors on the other side. Another says "Hey, y'all the ones that cost us our jobs!" At that, boos and jeers break out across the line. Someone starts laughing manically: "Nobody to keep 'em safe now! Shouldn't have got rid of us!"
An empty liquor bottle flies over Yun's head, and breaks apart at the feet of a young man with messy hair. He looks back at the man who threw it, raising his fist into the air as answer- half the White Flower crowd joins him. The other half seem to start looking around quickly for avenues of escape, but there aren't many.
"Oh, oh, whatchya gonna do?" More laughter. More fists thrown into the air. They draw closer- slowly, testing the waters- they eye each other, curse each other, hands go to hips to grasp for clubs, swords, knives. With a deep, sinking feeling in his gut, Yun spots out a few guns in the throng.
He watches himself step out into the middle of it.
He doesn't even know what he's doing; why is he here? What, is he gonna stop a riot on his own? But something inside Yun, the same thing that came to life that day in the desert with Eta, won't let him do otherwise. That cyborg told him "And try living as best you can. Because one day, I will find you again, and I will make good on my promise."
If he's already a dead man, what does he have to lose? With a hoarse voice, hands spread out to either side of him, Yun shouts "Stop!" The crowds almost seems to hesitate: being directly in-between them, everyone can see and hear him. Does he have their attention?
"Stop!" he says again into the crowds. Yun is not an eloquent speaker. Right now, he's just a desperate one. "Don't do this, don't. It'll just be..." what'll it be? "Just more bodies in the ground. Just more dead people. Stop, everyone, stop. Walk away. Go home."
For a moment, everyone is silent. Maybe this guy is right. Even some of the protectors glance down at their feet and seem almost ashamed. But then just as Yun dares to think he's succeeded, a gun goes off.
Bang! Nobody sees who shot it. But the man hit is a protector, and it's a perfect shot- a hole is in his neck. Blood spurts from his throat onto the ground, splattering through his golden t-shirt on the way, and the sound he makes is truly awful. A sputtering, desperate choke. He thrashes around, grabs at his comrades for support, falls to the ground- his eyes go wide as he realizes what's happening- and it's all too late.
As the White Flowers pull back in shock and fear, a protector shouts "Kill 'em, boys! Vengeance!" The golden crowd surges forward with a ferocious, angered roar, and the Flowers aren't fast enough to escape.
The rain starts to fall. Yun doesn't know what to do. But on instinct, or maybe loyalty, he runs along behind the protectors. They dart through neon-lit alleyways and dodge under exposed wiring, stepping over curbs made of a wild mix of concrete and metal. They jump down stairs and dart past open doorways.
They're chasing a White Flower; Yun doesn't know which. He only figures it out as they finally corner him in an pitch-dark alley, where some busted old screen still bathes everything a blue light. The falling rain reflects it, bounces it around, giving the whole scene a dream-like aura.
"Found you, Flower, Flower," taunts one of the other protectors, and Yun realizes what they've been chasing. It's just a kid. Maybe fifteen, maybe sixteen. Messy hair. Is that the one who raised a fist? Too young to be involved in all this. Why do kids always want to go to protests? He looks afraid.
"Boys," Yun says quietly, to the other two men, "he's just a kid. Maybe we should back off, huh?"
But when they look back at him, he knows in his heart that they won't listen. The light of this alleyway makes their gold bandanas look like a sickly green-yellow, and makes their faces seem strange and demonic. When they smile, their teeth glow. "Come on, Officer Yun," the younger one grins, "I heard about you. You've done worse." Without waiting for Yun to answer back, they both reach down to grab the kid by his throat.
There's one real benefit to the holo-indoctrination protector's go through. Although it drives them nearly to insanity, by running through combat scenarios again and again and again, it also hones their reflexes. In his time, Yun must have participated in tens of thousands of fictional fights. After even a few hundred, everything is muscle-memory. By your second or third thousandth, it's faster and deeper than instinct. Lighting-quick.
It's funny: for all the ECU's emphasis on 'maintaining humanity,' to watch the way a seasoned protector moves, anyone would think they're genetically modified.
So, perhaps the other two protectors shouldn't have been so surprised, when Yun attacked them from behind and threw them to the ground. Or when he moved quicker than either of them (being less experienced protectors) could keep up with, or when he knocked them unconscious with a swift kick each. But the messy-haired kid was certainly surprised.
"What... what happens now?" he just barely chokes out. He's still not sure if this man is a friend or a foe.
"Now, kid," Yun answers, "you go home. Do you know the way?"
He didn't, but Yun led him out. He grew up on these neon streets, and knew every little nook and curve and cranny. They stumbled back onto the main walkway after just a minute or two, each leaning a little on the other for support. (Running for your life and beating men unconscious are both a little tiring.) An older man in a brown robe intercepts them then, and the young man seems to recognize him.
"Hey, uh, Yan or, or whatever your name was," the kid says, "I think I'm good from here. I know this guy."
Yun relieves him into the custody of the 'guy,' who is obviously a Mixtist. Yun has his own thoughts on the 'Mixies,' encouraging protests like this one, getting youth involved in it. But he bites his tongue. There's been enough fighting tonight.
"You know, I'm glad this happened," the kid says, before leaving. "I mean, I'm not glad glad. But the news will talk about this. The more they talk about us, the more people might stop to listen." He smiles weakly. "Thanks, man."
On his way back home, Yun walks through the downpour, spotting drenched white flowers clogging up gutters, noticing flecks of blood mingling with the water. He has no idea how many died tonight. Tomorrow, he will hear that his fellow ex-protectors killed twenty-four White Flower protestors in revenge for the one shot. This will spark retaliation around the globe, bringing anti-protector and anti-Oligarch sentiment to an all-time high. Within a week, the revolution will grow to encompass all of New Hollywood.
But tonight, he doesn't know any of that. He only knows the blood still on his boots, and the rain soaking him down to the skin. He stands in it, alone, and lets it wash over him.