Revolution (Monday, 2011 September 5)

September 5, 2011

We worked fast over the next week, while we were still together for Medical Week. We submitted to the tests and to the samples with the normal amount of distaste, but our real work was elsewhere. For once we pored over the Mission literature, indulged the bureaucratically-designed manuals on Behavioral Change Techniques and Memetic Design. We were in a hurry — Jamie and I agreed that the coming election in a few months would be our best target. We wanted Zhenae to want a change badly enough to vote it into office. But if that didn’t work?

We were going to start a revolution.

"Where’d you come up with this idea, Jamie?"

"I think it was the first time I was peeing in a latrine, flashlight in my teeth, while Zhenae pups climbed all over the walls trying to figure out the intricacies of my biology."

The idea was brilliant in its simplicity. Item one, Zhen was stuck in some kind of stasis. Item two, the tendency of Creation was towards progress. Item three, we were tired of being stuck on this useless planet. So when Jamie had one more painful discussion with her boyfriend back home, that had sparked something in her — and now we meant to spark it planetwide. If that meant hard work, well, that was fine; that’s why we had come in the first place. We were no strangers to hard work. It was Thursday, after all — somehow it was always Thursday on Zhen.

We passed the week developing materials to encourage civic action. The hardest part was the virality. It wasn’t enough to just convince one Zhenae to vote differently. Even if we convinced everyone we knew, it would never be enough. We needed to convince them to speak out, to convince their friends too. It was tricky to capture existing Zhenae sentiment — "things need to change" — and turn that into the message we wanted — "and I need to change them". You can’t press too much when you’re bending memes — they can press back, and then things get ugly.

And of course you don’t want to destroy indigenous economies of freedom-fighters and civil unrest. And the literature we were working off of was terrible. Sometimes I knew more on the subject than the nebulous Mission authors.

So it was hard work. I expected that. What I didn’t expect was Morgan.

The door banged in and I looked up, half afraid that we’d been discovered already. Jamie was at a bookshelf, looking over her shoulder back at where the bang had come from, where Morgan stood in shade, and behind her, sunlight, and behind that, a thick wall to keep the riff-raff out. I started but I regained my composure quickly — vanilla again by the time Morgan was sitting at my table, looking over my notes. I wanted to say something tetchy, but I knew better, so much better.

"Hi Morgan," I said. "Something the matter?"

"You’re up to something," she said. Blue eyes locked on mine. "You and Jamie.. something’s different. You’re taking Medical seriously. You haven’t been at the bar or in the House or anything. What’s going on?"

I’d have told her, of course, but for Jamie, who was really on the hook here — her idea. So I looked past Morgan at her, ignored Morgan’s stare.

"We’re blowing this popsicle stand." Morgan turned in her chair to face Jamie. "See, civil unrest can cause the Mission to withdraw. You heard about the D-Range, right? All we need is a little bit of rioting. That could happen at the upcoming elections. And if it doesn’t, well, maybe we can help ’em out a little bit. Then we can go home." Best case scenario. I’d settle for a planet-wide spirit of civic pride and optimism, but if we hit the jackpot, we’d go home.

"I’m in." Morgan turned back to me, but she was looking at my notebooks. "These are good ideas but you need broader support. I can translate this stuff into the Swollen Language and get it around the Outer Islands. For the election to even be contested, you need those votes." Then she leaned back and looked at me, with Jamie behind her also studying me.

"Can we trust her?" I said, sounding plaintive and hating it. It was a stupid question, because Jamie probably trusted her already. Could I trust her?

"I want to go home too," she said. "Face-facts-forward, Sandiego. Anything else is sentiment. I don’t have time for sentiment." We were Missionaries. That meant we were practically family. There was only one reason I couldn’t trust her — because she’d hurt me, personally. But that was already months ago.

"The Outer Islands would be a big help," said Jamie. Which meant: this is still my ship, and I think we should do it, but I’m leaving this up to your fragile emotional state. I slapped my forehead a few times. I didn’t shatter. Vanilla, I told myself. No problem.

"Fine." I spun my notebooks to face her. "I’m done with Medical tomorrow, so I’m leaving Saturday. Here’s what I’ve got. You want to start translating now or should I beam you a copy?"

"Beam me a copy," she said, as her eyes ran across my slogans and demographic projections. "But I’ll start translating now. You go to the bar. People will start to notice."

"Notice what?"

"You’re sober. That makes us uneasy. So cut it out."

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