There had been another coup, but that didn’t matter to Alba. All Governmentalists were alike; so what if they exchanged one secretary for another? The anarchist papers were cheering over the shift, but Alba knew better. If the “coup” had reached the newspapers, it was little more than a PR stunt. Alba wasn’t a cynic. She was just a realist, and in the City, it amounted to the same thing.
In college, Alba had been a rebel, but it wasn’t until she left the school system that she discovered how the world really worked. In her last year she’d become enamored of a journalist, a vibrant, sexy woman named Medina. Medina had convinced her to take a year off, to explore the slums that Alba had never seen. Medina was writing a story, a daring exposÃ© of the darker life, and Alba was caught up in the thrill.
They traveled together for three months, hitching rides on the back rail of subway cars and thumbing lifts from off-duty taxis. Alba had never seen the lives of the poor, the wage slavery sycophants who believed every word of the Governmentalist propaganda and spent their precious hours of freedom reading tabloids about the lives of the rich and influential.
It was in one of a long line of cheap hotel rooms, when Medina was sated and sleeping in their broken-springed bed, when Alba picked up the digitizer to read Medina’s half-written report by the light of the neon signs outside.
“Dee. Dee, what is this?” Alba reached out and shook Medina’s shoulder, sharply recalling her to the waking world. The dark-eyed woman blinked sleepily.
“It’s my report. You should know that. I only work on it every night. Come back to bed,” Medina breathed, tugging lightly on Alba’s arm.
“Your reportâ€¦ this can’t be your report.” Alba ignored the touch, her eyes still fixed on the digitizer. “There’s nothing in here about the things we did or the people we saw. This is allâ€¦ Dee, this reads like Governmentalist propaganda!”
Medina sat up and tapped one of the buttons on the digitizer. A new document came up, this one filled with names and addresses and detailed notes on the disaffected people they’d visited.
“That part’s already been sent to the recording bureau,” Medina explained with a secretive, playful smile. She chuckled and moved closer to Alba, slipping an arm around the younger woman’s slim waist. “I had no idea you were such an idealist.”
“What are you talking about?” Alba pushed Medina away. “I’m no patriot. Are you telling me you sent all this away to the government? Do you have any idea what they’re going to do with this information? Weren’t you listening to the people we met?”
“They’ll take care of it,” Medina said soothingly.
“Take care of it! You mean they’ll arrest them for dissension! Dee, these people spoke to us in confidence. You’re a journalist. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
Medina stared at Alba for a moment, then looked down and shook her head, smirking. “You’re so naÃ¯ve.” She leaned back, stretching like a cat. “Journalism doesn’t exist in the City. It’s impossible, even if someone was foolish enough to try. Even the anti-government newsletters are screened.” She gazed out the window, a look of proprietary fondness in her eyes. “I don’t do this because I’m some sort of idealist or rebel. I’d be fired in less than a day. I do it to keep myself fedâ€”and maybe get a few thrills in the process.” She looked back at Alba and grinned wickedly. “That’s how you play the game.”
“You’re turning people in to die.” Alba’s voice was flat, and she wasn’t smiling. Medina sighed.
“Is that any different from what the anarchists do? I’m letting the government know when someone’s working against the state. What they do with that knowledge isn’t my problem. Anarchists kill people with their own handsâ€”innocent people, government clerks and flunkies who’ve never touched a gun in their livesâ€”and they call it ‘liberating their souls for freedom.’ If anything’s wrong about our City, that’s it.”
Alba didn’t answer, and eventually Medina sighed and rolled over, falling back asleep. Alba read the entire report, all the data collected, all the names. Then she reformatted the drive. She gathered her clothes, stuffed her things into her worn duffel bag, and picked up the digitizer again. In a new document, she typed the words, THIS IS HOW I PLAY THE GAME.
Six months later, when she was the leader of her own rebel cell, Medina was the first soul Alba liberated in the fight for freedom.