Sunset MacClaine followed the bright orange arrow that only she could see to the top of the hill. At the crest she braked to a halt, balancing her pannier-heavy bike with one foot on the curb. The GPS guide blinked in frustrated standby.
In front of her stretched a city of mud. The residents called it Anasazi-35, in honor of the ancient pueblo peoples of Aztlán, and in honor of the interstate highway that formed the community's roof. This village within a city stretched two blocks, filling in the underpass between Sixth Street and Eighth Street. Back when everyone had an automobile, it had been a parking lot. But then the squatters took over, tearing up the asphalt and mining the sterile Texas caliche for building clay.
She coasted down to the gardens that grew between the rain-sheltering overpass and the frontage road. Walking her bike along the winding path, Sunset admired the plots of maize, beans, squash, and tomatillos. A work team of residents and noobs looked up from shoveling humanure into solar hotboxes, their workshare counters freezing in their slow upwards tick.
Sunset let them ID her and there were whispers and messaging within the group. None had a strong enough social link to warrant more than a nod. A friend-of-a-colleague holding a bucket of leaves and shit went so far as to wave at Sunset with her free hand. Word of her arrival would spread ahead of her. They would know that Sunset had been at the convocation in Madison. They would know that a ranger had come to see them.
There was just enough space between the buildings for her and her bicycle to pass side by side. To her left loomed a square-ended house of adobe brick, the smeared mud plaster chipped from two winters of weathering. To her right was a workshop built in the cob-style, its curvilinear wall molded to fit around the irregular panes of broken glass that made up its windows. As she stepped into the mud city, the temperature dropped, like walking into a cave, the punishing Texas heat mitigated by tons of hand-sculpted earth.
When she got to the dim passage that ran beneath I-35's center lanes, she followed her orange arrow to the right. The village echoed as a freight truck rattled overhead, the first traffic Sunset had heard since she arrived.
A man clothed only in dreadlocks and a thong passed her, pedaling a bike with an elongated cargo crate between the pedals and the front forks. His sinewy arms steered from apehanger handlebars. As he passed the community center, he picked a yellow sweater from the crate with his toes and tossed it through the entrance. At Eighth Street he jumped the curb onto the city owned roadway, made a sharp left turn between a hydrogen-cell taxi and a tandem recumbent and was gone from sight.
The orange arrow stopped at the northernmost corner of Anasazi-35, at a cottage built into the wedge of space between the sloping embankment and the bottom of the bridge. In the public space it displayed a neon image with the phrase "Property is theft," with "theft" scribbled out with a spray-paint graphic and replaced with the grafitti-style addendum, "a data field," linking to the current occupant's spime designer profile. One had to dig a little deeper to discover that Jerry was also a member of the local legal collective. A mutual friend had recommended Jerry as a man of principles.
Sunset stepped over the Texas-turnaround lane that curled beneath the highway like an armpit, and before she could knock on the door, she received the message to enter.
"Could you leave your bike outside?" he asked when she poked her head through his front door which was made from several sheets of plywood with hubcaps as decoration. "There's not much room in here, and it's not like anyone around here will mess with it."
After Sunset had leaned her bike against the plastered wall, she went back inside and offered her hand. "Sunset MacClaine. I just came down from Madison. Sorry we didn't get a chance to meet there."
"Well, you can only meet so many hundreds of people a day at a Spokescouncil convocation." He grinned at her, a sincere expression despite an undercurrent of shyness and distraction. "I'm Jerry. I took the train back, but I guess you took a slower route?"
"Yes. The bike. You know, ranger code and all that."
"Of course. The ranger thing." He grinned again with the same disarming nervousness. "Do you mind if I finish this thing I'm doing? Have to make a living you know."
"Not at all. Carry on, Jerry."
"Thanks. Would you care for a seat?"
Seats, ledges, and shelves protruded from the walls, molded from the same cob material. Sunset threw herself onto a bench, slouching luxuriously and spreading her decoratively scarred arms along the back. The place smelled of the junk mail Jerry burned in the clay kitchen stove. She kicked out legs sore from half a megameter of pedaling. "Do you know why I'm here?"
"I don't suppose it's because of the writ?"
"Nevermind. So I guess this is something else for me to worry about." Jerry bustled about the small room that made up his workshop, living room, and kitchen. Sunset admired his broad and callused hands as he broke up a plastic casing and fed it into the hopper of a 3-D printer.
"This is about Red."
"Oh. It's about the harassment accusation." Jerry dug around in a bucket of electronic parts for an RFID/GPS/microcontroller IC, set it in the plastics printer, and started the printing.
"It's rape, not harrassment, and it's not an accusation. He admitted it. He agreed to the punishment; leaving the Community of Peoples. You're going to help me re-instate his sentence."
"He's got friends here. He's a hard worker. Where else is he supposed to go?" Jerry put on a filthy pair of old oven mitts, and pulled the finished product from the printer. The plastic was banana yellow and bore a forest of links to the Austin Yellowspime Project. He blew on it, handling the hot plastic gently to keep it from bending. It looked like a blobjecty nautilus shell.
"That's the whole point of exile, Jerry. Not being with your friends. Red did one of the worst things a human being can do. He needs to suffer the consequences."
Jerry put a couple of metal parts onto his blobject, opened it along the long axis and popped in a roll of cellophane tape. "Aha! Finished! Tell me, Sunset, how often do you need tape?"
"You're changing the subject."
"Yes. I'm trying to impress you. How often? When was the last time you used packing tape?"
"It doesn't happen very often. Maybe once a year. Whenever I need to close up a cardboard box."
"And when you do, you have to buy an entire roll of cellophane tape. And by the time you need it again, you've probably lost it or forgotten where it is? Right?"
"Yep. That sounds about right." Sunset couldn't help smiling at Jerry's infectious enthusiasm.
"Well, madam, what if I were to tell you that you didn't have to buy the entire roll of tape, that you could pay only for what you used?" Jerry held up the yellowspime, grinning. "This device I have here will charge you, automatically of course, for each centimeter of dispensed tape (plus a modest delivery fee), so you don't have to worry about all that tedious tape shopping ever again!"
Sunset smirked. "Oh, yeah? How much am I going to save?"
"I'm still tinkering with the rates. Not quite sure what the market will bear. Some guys in Baltimore printed out the beta version and they got people to pay almost half as much as a full roll would cost. The exchange rate for the local currency isn't that great against the dollar these days, but this much," Jerry held his hands at shoulder width, "will cost you about six 'dillos platos. Or about forty-five minutes of tradeable labor."
"Sounds like a deal, Jerry. It's your design I take it?"
"Yep. I get five percent royalties. It's a living." He opened a window and tossed the tape dispenser onto the curb. "So. You're here for Red. How do you want me to help?"
Sunset crossed her legs and rolled a ganja cigarette. "I need a special meeting called. The community needs to throw Red out. I've been authorized by the Spokescouncil to wield their collective reputation feedback against everyone here if necessary."
Jerry slouched next to her, propping his heels on his workbench. "You don't have to worry about a special meeting, there's already one scheduled for tonight. I just put you on the agenda, by the way. But I don't think it's going to be a high priority item."
Sunset licked the gummy flap of the paper and lit the roach with a battered zippo adorned with a pewter skull. "I'm serious about censuring everyone here."
"I know you are. But that doesn't mean they'll react well to ultimatums from the Spokescouncil. Not now. Tonight's meeting's about the writ." He accepted the passed ganja, and as he toked up, he passed Sunset a link.
When Sunset opened the video compiled by the local Indy Media chapter, she understood why a ranger had caused such a stir. It was ironic that Austin's squatter village sat in the shadow of the copshop, a towering brick monument to law enforcement. When the cops delivered the writ of eviction, they only had to walk out their front door.
"You have twenty-four hours to clear out." A girl, no older than twenty, with freckles burned deep across her nose, took the paper from a detective with a thick cop mustache and crisp Stetson hat. Behind him stood a pair of street cops, bulky in their paramilitary armor and steroid sneers. They stood in a patch of solar ovens. A few feet away lay a Segway scooter hacked out with a roto-tiller blade. The cop turned away, shouting one last comment in a Texas drawl that sounded like a bandsaw cutting through hogsheads, "Mayor Cochran is gone. This ain't no freak town no more."
After a moment, Sunset realized that Jerry was talking to her. "I was at the Miami-Two Global-Fed conference. Mainly legal street team stuff. Two of our legal observers were killed, you know. One by the microwave weapons they were using, she was old and couldn't get out of the street before it cooked her, and one was beaten to death by Federal cops."
Jerry took another puff, then passed the ganja back to her before continuing. "I saw a lot of the rangers that week. Fighting the cops left and right. It's odd to see a ranger all diplomatic. I thought y'all just did street tactics."
Sunset raised an eyebrow. "We protect the meek from the powerful. A society that can't do that is nothing more than a mob." Sunset drew herself to her feet. "At any rate, I biked all the way from Paris today, so I need to set myself up with a jar of peanut butter and a pound of spaghetti. See you tonight?"
"Yep. You're last on the agenda, but I'll still be there."
As Sunset went outside and straddled her bike, the guy with the dreadlocks and thong cruised past. He picked up the tape dispenser with his toes and dropped it in the cargo crate without slowing.
The entire population of Anasazi-35 showed up for the meeting. This wouldn't be one of those meetings where ten people came to consensus on the labor value of shoveling shit after three hours of heated argument. The crowd spilled out of the community center and into the little pedestrian mall. The pigeons that roosted in the concrete bridge girders fluttered and cooed, mirroring the agitation of the humans.
Sunset's attention was elsewhere, but she kept one ear open to the meeting's media stream. A remote collective member with a solid reputation rating and a lot of sweat equity credits was telespeaking from Edinburough. "The developers want to re-route the interstate through MoPac and put up some high-end condos along the corridor. It's the same political process as always: The council holds public meetings, listens to what everyone has to say, hears all sides of the argument, nods sagely, and then does what the developers tell them to."
A murmur of dry laughter circled through the crowd.
"We filed a motion to block the writ, but without Mayor Cochran-"
Jerry tapped Sunset on the shoulder. "You get enough to eat?"
"I'm all carbed up." Sunset smiled. "Have you added a legal opinion to all this?"
"Nope. Legal activists are too cynical, we see the system as more of a weapon than a tool. I do a series of trainings called 'The Law, and What It Can Do To You.'"
"Wow. I've only had the usual KYR trainings. Never talk to cops, never consent to a search, etcetera."
"That's good. If nobody ever talks to a cop again, I'll consider my work done."
A new speaker took the floor, a middle-aged woman wearing a coarse hempweave smock. "Maybe we should just let them have this spot? There's other places we could build a new city. There's space under the highway up near Hancock center. Or down by Ben White and Lamar."
The moderator had to scream to get the meeting back to order.
"You want to go for a walk?" Jerry asked. "There's really only one decision we can make, but it's still going to take an hour or two for everyone to have their say."
"Sure. I wouldn't mind a little tour of this place."
They walked to the westside gardens of Anasazi-35, where chicken pens and graywater settling ponds clustered under the moontower shadow of the copshop. They walked side by side along the paths, and Sunset linked her arm in his.
"Let's go look at the cows. Sunset, I don't think you should leave here without saying 'hi' to Clarice and Bridget."
"I would never dream of snubbing Clarice and Bridget."
Clarice and Bridget were a pair of mini Jerseys. They stood about as tall as Sunset's waist in a pen made of shipping pallets. Clarice ate at a trough filled with kitchen waste and corrugated cardboard, while Bridget ambled up to her visitors with a bovine curiosity. Both cows had pendulous Jane Mansfield-esque udders.
"Looks like in all the excitement nobody's milked them yet. Would you like to give me a hand?"
Sunset knit her eyebrows into a skeptical W. "Actually, I'll sit this one out if you don't mind. I know I don't smell like it, but I'm really more of a city girl than a farm girl."
"No, really, they like it. You should give it a shot."
"That's all right, thanks. You've got a weird idea of a first date, Jerry."
Jerry laughed as he stepped into the pen. He slapped Bridget on the rump and set up the stool and bucket. "I was hoping that's what this was."
"It was all that spime talk earlier. It's enough to put any girl in the mood."
"Just a sec. I'm next on the stack." Jerry cleared his throat as Sunset streamed a media feed to everyone inside. He kept one hand on Bridget's back leg to keep her from kicking the bucket over as he talked. "I would like to make a motion. Tomorrow, when they come to evict us, we should resist with CD tactics. Anyone who doesn't wish to get arrested should evacuate to the Rhizome complex or the old parking ramps."
"Is there a second?" The moderator asked in an impartial monotone and nodded at the positive response. "Then we'll close out the stack and discuss the motion."
Jerry had extracted two gallons of milk from Clarice and Bridget before the collective unanimously approved the motion; with a friendly amendment to form a breakaway committee to determine civil disobedience tactics.
The agenda item was closed and the next opened by the time Sunset arrived inside the community center. She spotted Red surrounded by a knot of his supporters, all of them male. The moderator read the agenda item and Sunset heard the crowd hush both times the word "rape" was read aloud.
Sunset had the floor first, and she made her case to Anasazi-35 exactly as she had to Jerry. She looked the collective in the eyes, one by one, making the animal connection only possibly through direct physical proximity. "Two weeks ago, at the convocation of Peoples in Madison, we all seceded from the United States government. When we broke from them, we also broke from the services they provide. One of those services was institutionalized justice. You can say what you like about the government's justice system, but in its absence we have to make our own. I've come all this way to demand justice from you."
She paused. This was hardly her first group meeting, but Sunset generally solved her problems with escrima sticks. "I realize your reluctance to condemn someone who is one of you, someone who has done something terrible to a woman you've never met. This isn't an easy decision. This is the sort of thing that can tear a collective apart. But it is the only decision a civilized community can make."
Red himself didn't speak; he was too deep within the ganja. He sat in his rusted folding chair, vague black eyes staring at the floor, his fingers playing absently with his tangled, red beard. One of his dudes, one of his friends at Anasazi-35 who had taken him in and sheltered him, stood up in his place.
His name was Dustin. His fists clenched to either side of a tattered T-shirt that had not been washed in a month. "Listen. Red said he's sorry. He's been in treatment and counseling. He's been driven out of his home and his reputation is in shit. My reputation is in shit because he sleeps on my floor. It was one hour with an ex-girlfriend. How much longer does he have to pay for his mistake? I mean he doesn't even drink anymore. He's a good worker and we need good people right now we can count on. I mean, what is this Nazi ranger shit? I thought we seceded so we wouldn't have fascists in our face all the time."
"Would you care to respond to that?" the moderator asked Sunset, looking a little sleepy in his effort to keep a neutral tone.
Sunset spoke through clenched teeth. "He's here, despite his agreement. He needs to be among the weaklings, where he won't ever meet anyone the victim knows, or anyone who knows someone who knows the victim."
The room stank with a collective unwillingness to deal with an unpleasant issue. After several moments of silence, a woman stood up who Sunset recognized as Anasazi-35's official Spoke at the Spokescouncil. "I would like to make a motion," the woman began. "Considering that this collective might not even exist tomorrow, we should table this item until the next regularly scheduled meeting." People fell over themselves to second the motion.
"That's all the more reason to finish this now!" Sunset shouted, not caring if she was out of order.
"I don't think this is a productive issue right now," the Spoke replied in a condescending tone of voice that made Sunset want to hit her.
There was hardly a discussion over the motion, just relief and a successful super-majority vote. As Sunset stormed out of the meeting, she caught a glimpse of Red sharing high-fives with his dudes.
"Hey, where are you going?" Jerry caught up with her at her bike.
"I'm going to punch through one of these mud buildings of yours, Jerry. And when I'm much less angry I'm going to give tactical advice to the breakaway committee."
"Geez, you're bossy."
"This is a consensual anarchy. Somebody has to be." Sunset fought to control her heart rate. "I've half a mind to censure everyone here."
"They've got a lot to worry about. And it's not like they turned you down exactly."
"No, not exactly." Sunset narrowed her eyes at him. "I noticed you voted against tabling."
"Yeah. A bunch of us did. Because you're right. Exactly right." Jerry took her fist in his callused hands. "Listen. You don't have to punch out any houses to work out your stress. There's other ways."
Sunset laughed and relaxed her hand into his. "And I suppose I don't actually have to be at the tactical meeting. Not in person certainly."
They made love in his sleeping loft. It was hollowed out of the cob like a nest. You could sit up in it, if you were careful not to hit your head on the bridge girders. Their pleasure echoed with the infrequent rumblings of semis.
When they were finished, laying in the cushions and staring at the concrete above their heads, Jerry spoke, "I've been here since the beginning. I've got a lot of sweat equity put into this place. That duck pond out front? I made that. And they're going to take it away. Because they can. We're going to go the way of Christiania."
Sunset reached for her cargo pants and pulled them on. "You know what secession means, right? It means war with the weaklings."
"Sure. But that's metaphorical, right? Colonizing their empty spaces, subverting their memes, out-competing their economic systems? I mean, my little fab-lab downstairs fills the needs of as many consumers as a small factory in Taiwan."
"It's not a war if nobody gets hurt." She rubbed her eyes. "I'm getting sleepy. I have to go."
"You can stay here."
"Ranger code. Never sleep under a roof. Never own more than you can carry, etcetera, etcetera. At least those are the rules I'm allowed to tell you."
"It's not exactly a roof." He gestured with the joint. "It's just like camping under a bridge. But with walls."
"No bending the rules now. I'll see you in the morning."
"You going to sit on the line with us?"
"I'll be where I have to be."
She left him in his cottage of mud and straw, biking west to find a secluded niche in a greenbelt. Every direction she looked, high-rise condos of weaklings blocked the sky. In luxury and comfort, the weaklings burned the last dregs of the world’s resources, supporting the only lifestyle they could imagine, and Sunset felt pity for them.
The cops shut down her data feeds right before they hit her. A roid-raged cop stepped out of an unmarked van, and before she could swerve, he swung a four-foot riot baton machined from impact-grade Appalachian hickory, the same wood used for baseball bats and bokken. He aimed for her head, but she jerked reflexively and the blow came across her shoulders. Bike and body tumbled together, a pinwheel of limbs and spokes. The left gearshift caught at her armpit and tore a gash to below her navel. Her face hit the pavement and skidded, peeling off skin at cheekbone and chin. The crash left her stunned and sprawled in the street. Sunset could hardly twitch her fingers, and her collarbone felt broken.
"Don't move!" The cop yelled in his big cop voice, flipping her over on her back. "I said, don't move!" His fist broke her nose. "Hold still! Don't move!" He punched her again, knocking out her front teeth. Sunset felt them pop off in her mouth like pieces of rock candy. "Don't move! You're under arrest!" She stopped paying attention to the beating. In the unlikely event that someone investigated the incident, he would be able to point to the video and explain how her twitching represented a deadly drug-induced frenzy.
They didn't even bother to stripcuff her as they pawed formally through her panniers. They just left her to drool blood onto the cement. Then the cops kicked the sum total of her possessions onto the curb and dragged her through the revolving doors of the copshop, past the desk sergeant, through steel doors with tiny, bulletproof windows, and into lockup.
After several hours of lying on the floor of her cell, Sunset marshalled the strength to stand up. She spat blood and tooth fragments into the stainless steel toilet/sink assembly. As she crawled onto the sleeping ledge, she favored her right arm which had swollen to complete immobility. The institutional blanket provided by the APD did not warm her in the staph-inhibiting AC chill.
She guessed it was mid-morning when they came for her. A cop as wide as a horse grabbed her by the arm and hauled her to the elevators. At the fifth floor the doors opened. He shoved her out with a hand between her shoulderblades and twinkled his fingers at her as the doors closed in front of him.
The elevator lobby had four bus station plastic chairs and a receptionist with impervious Dallas hair. She gave Sunset a smile as big and as fake as Texas itself. "You can go right in. You're expected. Thursdays are counterclockwise."
The woman gestured at a pair of double doors. Sunset pushed them open with the arm that didn't have a broken clavicle. A four-laned track filled the entire fifth floor beyond. Detectives with unbuttoned collars and loosened ties paced on floor pads made from millions of shredded McDonalds Big Mac cartons. A woman cop passed Sunset on the outside lane, muttering from the depths of a personal data space. Another two plainclothes passed from left to right, conferencing on the subject of home invasions in charlie sector. None of the dozens of cops were even remotely fat, nor did they have cellulose or varicose veins. They had taken a major evolutionary step from their desk-bound ancestors, returning to a work style that echoed the physicality of the African savannahs.
The cops didn't slow or stop, they just circled on and on like sharks.
The detective that Sunset remembered from the writ video came around the bend and signaled her. When he was close enough to be heard over the office buzz and acoustic paneling, he called to her in a voice that sounded like Lubbock and four generations of military service. "Take off your shoes and come walk with me."
Sunset's fingers were swollen and stiff, so the detective had made a lap and swung around again by the time her combat boots joined the regimentally arrayed Tony Lamas placed by the door. He finished a phone call as she matched pace.
"Hello, Ms. MacClaine. I'm Detective Marroquin. No, you don't have to say anything, ma'am. I know about you people and your 'Know Your Rights' trainings. 'Nothing good can come of talking to a cop.' Have I got that right?"
They walked past a window, but it was facing the wrong direction to see Anasazi-35.
"Looks like you got a little messed up there, miss. Why don't we stop by my desk and we'll have a look at that? Sorry about the rough treatment," he said without sounding very sorry. "Once I heard that we had an actual ranger in Austin, I just had to bring you in for a little talk. You have no idea how much people talk about you rangers around here. Don't worry. You're not under arrest. I just thought we should compare notes. Do a little liaison. Ah. Here we are. Just set yourself on this stool here."
Marroquin's desk hung from the wall, bearing more resemblance to the bar counter at an Irish pub than a writing desk. It was built for work performed while standing. The tall stools were hard and backless to discourage frequent use. The desk held not a single scrap of paper. Sunset's eyes fell on the only object in view, a framed picture of Marroquin with a couple of children.
"Those are my daughters," he explained, unfolding a wetnap towelette. "Their names are Trinity and Neches. It's an old picture. They're both off at school in College Station right now." Marroquin began dabbing at the crusted blood on Sunset's face and neck. "We're bulldozing mudtown today. I know your friends have some sort of political theater planned, but it's only going to get people arrested. We have overwhelming force and we have the legal right. How's that? Is that better? You look better without all the crust. You should get yourself a real job so you can get those teeth repaired. You could be a beautiful girl with a little dental insurance."
Marroquin cracked his back and stretched his left quad runner-style. "Okay, let's get moving again. People are looking. Come on, that's good, little lady. You're not all that roughed up. I bet you've had worse. You're pretty tough, ain't ya? I suppose you have to be -- all of you people -- living in dirt and eating trash all the time. I don't know what you're trying to pull with that lifestyle of yours. You're like possums. Living on junk and roadkill."
Marroquin nodded at a detective who lapped them with hands pinching at invisible spreadsheet cells.
"Now, about your friends downstairs. Things are starting to heat up down there and you'll be wanting to join them. I just want you to know, that if we see any of that ranger kung fu bullshit out of you, there's going to be a lot more of you hippies looking like you're looking right now. And not all of them are going to be getting out of lockup. Do you get me? Stay out of this."
As they approached the exit, he shoved her off the track. "You know where the elevator is. Get going, Ms. MacClaine."
At the front desk they gave her a paper bag filled with her possessions. She stepped outside, reveling in the feel of connection as her network interfaces booted up, but Sunset didn't have to check a media feed to see what was going on, she could see and hear it firsthand. Nearly every collective member sat in front of their clay village, their arms locked in the dragon, a device of PVC sleeves and chains that made it virtually impossible to cut two people apart without cutting through flesh. They chanted slogans older than the Community of Peoples at an earsplitting volume.
Supporters lined the streets behind the police barricade, waving signs that said "Keep Austin Weird" or flashing images and video. Most of the sympathizers lived in the tent cities of the state parking ramps. Many had labor credits that put them well on their way to provisional membership in Anasazi-35.
The sidewalk on Sunset's side of the frontage road was black with cops. They stood in small groups, joking and striking macho poses. They knew the script for this scenario. When the time came, they would apply pain to the protesters, and then the protesters would voluntarily unlock the chains inside their sleeves of PVC. The protesters always lost these confrontations. But just in case, the cops had called in the irregulars, a crew of security guards, civilians, and off-duty bouncers with homemade riot gear and baseball bats. The irregulars had a pen off to one side that stank of spilled beer.
Parked at the corner of Seventh Street, in plain view of Anasazi-35, there hulked an APC with a huge microwave dish on its roof -- colloquially named the "deep-shit fryer."
Sunset noticed that a number of professional journalists had flocked to the eviction, in the hopes of getting footage of some exciting violence. A few had live docublogs, and she briefly sampled their rapturous praise of the fancy new luxury condominiums that would soon be built on this site, just as soon as the proper authorities cleared out the squatters.
Sunset shot off a message to the street tactics breakaway committee, then squared her shoulders and walked across the frontage road. A tension filled the air that she would have recognized anywhere. Two tribes of monkeys screaming at each other across a jungle clearing would have recognized it; the manifest sensation of authority and resistance.
Jerry had taken a spot in the exact center of the dragon, his right arm sharing a PVC pipe with the bike courier, but Sunset avoided him. She stepped over the arms of two people she recognized from last night's meeting. They waved to her in greeting, but it only came across as a muted tapping inside the plastic tube. She rubbed one of them on the head with her good hand. "Keep up the good work, I'll be right back."
At the street medics station, a gangly trannie girl set Sunset up with bandages, iodine, and a sling for her right arm. She put epoxy on the pulpy stumps of Sunset's teeth, and recommended her to a dental clinic in Buda that had a good reputation exchange rate.
Someone had dragged her bike into Anasazi-35 early that morning, so Sunset sicked the orange arrow on it. She followed the guide through the pedestrian mall, the thick adobe muffling the standoff outside, but she kept one eye on the Indy Media feed, its perspective shifting between dozens of video observers.
It looked like Detective Marroquin had made it down to street level. His buzzsaw drawl boomed through a megaphone, giving everyone their Official Warning.
The orange arrow stopped at her bike, which lay at the foot of an external stairway for a second-story loft. The wheels had been bent by repeated shovel blows, the spokes snapped in half and sticking at odd angles. The contents of the panniers were scattered.
Sunset reached into the hidden pocket of the front left pannier and pulled out a heavy black cylinder. The door at the top of the stairs broadcast a tag in black chancery font that said "Dustin and Red's Love Hole." Sunset ran up the stairs two at a time.
Indy Media got a good telephoto closeup of Marroquin as he gave the second Official Warning, his bristly mustache tickling the end of the bullhorn.
The loft was barely six feet tall, the bottom of Interstate 35 almost brushing the top of Sunset's dreadlocks. With the butt of the black cylinder, she rapped at the hobbit-sized door.
"Go the fuck away!" came the reply.
Sunset pushed on the door with her foot until the twine that locked it snapped and it swung open.
The riot cops formed into a line, their impact grade clubs held at a paradeground angle across their chests.
Sunset stepped into a hovel that smelled of rotting food and cans of urine. Unsplit stems of bamboo formed a slightly bumpy and slippery floor. Sunset wrinkled her nose.
"Aw, Jesus. It's the fucking fascist." Red and his supporters from the meeting sprawled on a futon mattress with horrid black stains like the skin of a Holstein. The four of them held mason jars filled with engine-grade ethanol diluted with horchata.
Marroquin gave the dragon their third and final Official Warning.
"What the fuck do you want, bitch?" Like before, Red sat in a mute stupor and let Dustin do the talking for him.
"By the authority of the crime victim and the Provisional Breakaway Committee on Justice and Restitution, I am here to administer the discretionary secondary punishment."
All the dudes except for Red got to their feet, crowding around Sunset with puffed-out chests, their chins lifted. "What are you going to do? Give us negative feedback? We don't have any reputation to smear! I practically have to give blowjobs just to get a bowl of rice around here!"
Whether at an official order or on his own volition, an irregular burst from the pen. He ran down the line of the dragon, whooping and hollering in a Dallas Cowboys helmet. In each hand he held a potato-sized can of pepper spray. The two streams of burning fluid sprayed in face after face. The chanting turned to screams of pain and terror.
With one quick shake of her arm, Sunset extended the telescoping baton to its full length.
Dustin went down first, clutching his bloodied scalp. The other two dudes reached for Sunset, trying to pin her with their heavier bodies, but she dropped, sweeping the legs out from under one and cracking the baton hard against the kneecaps of the other.
The irregular hosed Jerry with the pepper spray, and Jerry could do nothing about it, not even turn his face away from the chemical assault.
Lefthanded, Sunset cracked the heavy tip of her baton against heads and kidneys. Dustin and his friends slumped to the bamboo, their feet twitching like decapitated chickens.
The irregular in the football helmet raised both hands above his head and rebel yelled his victory to the crowd.
Sunset stepped over the fallen dudes. Red sat on his knees, tears streaming into his straggly beard.
The irregular touchdown danced his way across a milpa of mustard greens.
"I'm so sorry. I'm really just so sorry. Please don't. I...I was a different person then. I just went a little crazy-"
Sunset raised the tactical baton to her shoulder. Red covered his head with hairy forearms.
A battalion of riot cops marched in formation through the milpas, advancing on the screaming, red-faced People.
Sunset drove her knee into Red's chin. As he toppled backward, she dropped her foot and kicked it into the gaping V of his crotch.
The ranking sergeant pulled out his Taser and pressed the contact studs against Jerry's pepperspray-soaked neck.
Red writhed in a fetal position, while she stitched bruises into his flesh and stomped on his ribs.
In a cop-voice that was as calm as it was condescending, the sergeant ordered Jerry to unlock his chains.
Sunset stomped until Red barely whimpered.
Jerry's eyes had swollen closed, and he showed no sign that he had heard the warning.
Sunset wiped the sweat from her face with her baton hand. "The People forgive you, Red." She blessed the battered dudes with a neutral rating and stepped out of the loft.
APD used a water-based pepperspray, but the civilian irregular had an alcohol-based brand. So it came as a surprise when the 20,000 volt spark of the drive-stun prods ignited the fluid. The flames wicked up Jerry's head. The inferno, first blue, turned red as his hair caught fire. The flames roared through the PVC tubes like a chimney, lighting one Person after another.
Sunset stumbled on the steps, her eyes filled with Jerry's agony.
It took the cops unforgivable seconds to react. By then, everyone who still could had unlocked themselves from the dragon and were pounding the flames out on those still trapped. Jerry's face had blackened like charcoal.
The cops began arresting anyone who hadn't scattered, both the wounded and those attending to the wounded. Jerry and his neighbors had lost consciousness, still trapped in the dragon, so the cops milled about, openly speculating on how to get them all into handcuffs.
Sunset headed for the Eighth Street side of the village and Jerry's cottage as the Anasazi-35 forum discussed the response to the immolation. Inside Jerry's workshop she loaded the plastics printer and the metal lathe with a set of Design Commons schematics, altering the proportions to fit a can of WD-40 she found on the bench and her zippo. By the time the three piping-hot pieces of plastic popped out of the printer, several Anasazi-35 collectivists were in line behind her, cradling recyclable plastic stock to feed into the hopper. Sunset gave them a nod, fitting the pieces together and grabbing the lathe products on her way out the door.
She sat with her back against a wall made from pieces of stacked urbanite with the rebar still sticking out. Without poking her head over the wall, she could watch the movements of the weakling authorities as they pushed stripcuffed collectivists into city buses or loaded burn victims onto stretchers.
Silently, her compatriots joined her behind the wall. There was an old man with a greasy ponytail, a baby-dyke with buzzed hair and tanktop, a twenty-something with metrosexual velvet pants, and a short woman wearing the toolbelt of a construction contractor.
The Anasazi-35 forum, in conjunction with guidelines established by the Spokescouncil, came to a decision.
Sunset opened her zippo with the pewter skull, struck the flame, and fit it where a flintlock would go. The WD-40 worked like a short shoulder stock. She ratcheted the pump, loading the first metal dart into the chamber. On the side of the plastic gun were etched the words: Austin Yellowspime Project.
The paramedics pronounced Jerry dead. As one, the People rose from behind the wall and opened fire.
A hail of darts blanketed the cops, piercing the soft points at neck and thigh and armpit. A dozen firing positions pinned the cops down with no cover. They dropped their useless batons and ran.
Sunset picked her targets with ruthless utility. Every squeeze of the trigger sprayed droplets of WD-40 into the plastic ignition chamber and opened the aerosoled liquid to the zippo. The expanding fireball propelled the finned darts through a rifled slot. A Kevlar collar protected the fleeing cops from neckshots, so Sunset aimed for the backs of their knees, the razor-sharp darts cutting their tendons like marionette strings. Sunset spotted the irregular in the Cowboys helmet and took no little pleasure in shooting him through the eye.
People with slings and ceramic crocks pelted the cops with ethanol incendiaries, turning the retreat into a rout. A small strike team, displaying a coordination born of hundreds of simulations, captured the deep-shit fryer and turned its dish on the copshop front doors.
At a signal from Sunset, her squad moved out from cover to execute the wounded cops at point-blank range with weapons that had not existed ten minutes before. She found Detective Marroquin on the sidewalk, blood soaking into his nice Stetson. He tried to point his gun at her, but she fired a pair of darts into his arm that shredded muscle and sent the 9mm skidding into the copshop lawn.
"I have to say, Ms. MacClaine, I wasn't expecting this from y'all. Quite the surprise, hitting back like that. Y'all will never win, not against the U.S. Government. We have the overwhelming force. Still not talking to the cops, miss? Well, nobody's ever won against the U.S. Don't you look at me like that. Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan didn't win. We fucked them up good. No way they can say they won against us. For fucks sake! Say something!"
She put a dart into each carotid and left him.
Sunset supervised the barricading of the copshop doors. The cops knocked out some windows and attempted suppression fire, but the deep-shit fryer kept the front face of the building clear. The rest was brick and nearly windowless. A consultant in New Zealand helped them find the building intake ducts, and a chemist in South Africa showed them how to make mustard gas from materials at hand.
They could only fumigate the building for ten minutes before Sunset gave the order to head to ground. An Army convoy from Ft. Hood was already on its way for the counterattack. The People of Anasazi-35 scattered, heading for the squatters camps and green spaces, leaving their community behind them and taking with no more than they could carry.
The secret addendum to the Spokescouncil's declaration of independence filtered out through all the channels of the world. It had all the motley construction of any consensus written prose, but it had power nonetheless. The statement spread across dingy alleyways in New York City. It dripped from water faucets in Wyoming. It roared across the girders of the Golden Gate Bridge. The sky itself blazed with the words.
We, the Community of Peoples, as a free and sovereign national unit built under the principles of freedom, moral equity, and post-industrial anti-consumerist sustainability, recognize no authority other than our consensus-building decision making. We will regard any unilateral moves by archaic institutions against the freedom of our people or the product of our labors as an act of war. For that reason we solemnly declare war against the weakling government of the United States of America, its military, and any and all paramilitary and law-enforcement organizations in its employ. Long live the People.
All around her, Sunset could see data streams cutting out, the entire world of information going dark, and new clandestine connections lacing through the shadows. Every minute she received dozens of pings and handshake requests from resistance cells scattered throughout North America and the world.
Sunset stopped just long enough to extract her remaining RFID tags and crush them under the heel of her combat boot. As she hiked into the urban wilderness of the Waller Creek greenbelt, and from there the many hidyholes of the Colorado River, she dropped into stealth mode and began to arrange rendezvouses and target priorities for the guerrilla fighters in her jurisdiction.
She smiled with ruined teeth. The shooting war had begun.