Monday, October 15, 2012

"Bitch" an editorial by H.A. Larson

This is a first in a series of feminist editorials that I am writing called:  “Breaking the Stereotype:  How Women and Men define their own, and each other’s, Gender Roles in Society.”  My goal is to shatter preconceived notions of what gender roles are, how language is used as a barrier to equality, and how people perpetuate negative stereotypes, whether they are male or female.  What does it mean to be a feminist?  How do gender roles play out in culture and society at large?  Do women really have equal choices and options?  How do we achieve equal rights for everyone regardless of race, gender, or sexual preference?  These are just a few of the topics I will cover in this series, and I hope that it will enlighten those who read it.  Be forewarned that there will be language and subject matter from time to time that will be offensive to some.  I cannot be responsible for that; I just intend to be upfront and informational.  Take it as you will.


“What’s up bitches?”  “Look at those bitches!”  “If people think I’m a bitch now, just wait until they see this!”  “Yeah, I’m a bitch.  So fucking what?”  Do any of these phrases, or ones similar in nature, sound familiar?  They should.  In this day of instant access to countless people via mass media and the internet, these sentences comprise common language.  I see and hear these words more times a day than I can count, more often than not, and all of them have something in common; the term bitch.  
There are songs, bands, so-called feminist websites, and various other things that are devoted to the word.  I’ve seen it used as a noun (She’s a bitch), a verb (No need to bitch about it), and an adjective (I stubbed my toe on that bitch dresser).  I’ve seen and heard plenty of quotes that use, in some form, the word bitch.  “Shit’s only as real as the bitches who told you,” et al.

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines bitch as:

“1: the female of the dog or some other carnivorous mammals
2   a: a lewd or immoral woman
     b: a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman —sometimes used as a generalized term      of abuse
3: something that is extremely difficult, objectionable, or unpleasant
4: complaint”

Other dictionaries define bitch in pretty much the same manner, so as we can see, bitch is used a derogatory term.  I don’t imagine, or pretend, that that fact is new to anyone, including myself.  I have used the term myself to refer to a boss, a girl I knew, or any other woman who was generally being unpleasant.  I would say that many people have used it in exactly the same way.  That’s not the problem as far as I’m concerned.  The problem I do have with using the word bitch is when it’s used as a positive term, or a self-definition.  A word that I use strictly as an insult is not one that I would use to describe myself or my friends.
I know there’s a new type of feminism (although I beg to differ on using feminism as a label for this type of mind-set but I will save that topic for another editorial) that seeks to ‘take back’ words and terms that are pejorative or derogatory.  Bitch is one of those words, as is cunt, whore, and a score of others.  I hate this type of thinking.  If I ‘took back’ the “N” word…do you think it would be appropriate?  I can’t even type that word let alone take it back without being considered racist, yet I can use the “B” word to define myself?  I cringe at the self-loathing that this word, and other words of this nature, connote and refuse to accept this as neither normal nor acceptable.  
Bitch is a negative word that has no place in feminist vernacular.  No one should be proud to be a bitch.  You are not a bitch because you have opinions, you just have straightforward opinions.  You are not a bitch because you demand equality; you see humanity on a level playing field.  You are not a bitch because you have PMS; your hormones are fucking with your brain chemistry.  You’re not a bitch because you’re a man who dates a strong woman.  You’re not a bitch because you’re a man who’s not into sports.  Stop referring to yourself as bitches or letting people refer to you as bitches; you’re just normal people with normal lives and normal thoughts.  If you’re a man who refers to women as bitches, as a general term, you’re being misogynistic; and if you’re a man who refers to other men as bitches, shut up.  You just sound like childish morons.  Bitch is not a word that needs to be “reclaimed”.  
If one is really, truly interested in gender equality than why don’t they stand up to gender injustice?  Why don’t they advocate the equality of humans and fight for everyone’s rights to be treated thusly?  Why don’t they rally a battle cry against discriminations of sexual preference, gender, or race?  These are the things that really need to be reclaimed, not words like bitch.
To truly be treated as an equal, one must first act like an equal.  I’m not a bitch, are you?

-H.A. Larson, 10/2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Technology, Gaming, and the Future By Overwatch404

Technology, Gaming, and the Future
By Overwatch404

   When I was growing up, games were a novelty, and there was a relatively small selection. Chess or Checkers? Trouble or Yahtzee? Rummy or Poker? Technology has changed this situation. Where before, the specialty board-game niche was confined to hidden shops and foreign countries, the web and international shipping has made an impossibly large library available. This development has been dwarfed though by the growth of digital gaming, starting with the infamous “Pong” and morphing into the explosion of Web gaming, with apps of all types on demand. But the games don’t even end there.
   Games are creeping into every facet of our lives. Fantasy sports are games built on games. Foursqaure isn’t simply a game, it’s a game built on your physical location. That games are changing how we spend some of our time (worker productivity drops due to fantasy football season is now regularly documented and deplored by the bean counters) is not questioned on a superficial level. But are they capable of actually changing every facet of our behavior? If so, is this a good or a bad thing?
   Some readers might object to the idea that games could change us so dynamically and dramatically, and possibly dismiss the question out of hand. But I challenge you to seriously think about this. For the adamant player of Foursquare, how does it change his or her travel patterns? Where they spend their time? Why would someone care that they spent more time at the bookstore or the mall than someone else? But this might seem harmless enough, and most players probably do not seriously alter their normal routine for this. But what if game were designed to alter our routines?
   People are generally accomplishment and recognition driven. Recognition and accomplishments can take many forms. For years, games have offered a variety of accomplishments to players for completing various tasks, bonus tasks, etc. Game consoles now often keep track not only of game specific accomplishments, but your combined totals. Shooter games track kills, deaths, accuracy, and a multitude of other stats that people use to rank themselves against each other. What if games began to be designed to turn things about our daily lives into accomplishment and recognition “carrot” approach to behavior alteration? Instead of merely liking Starbucks FaceBook page, every time you visited a Starbucks and posted about the visit on your Facebook page, you got a “Starbucks Point”. What if these points fed a rankings system that was posted publicly? What if leaders received rewards and other recognition? What if governments and businesses began to create and integrate similar games that covered every facet of life? Would you even realize your life was slowly being altered in the “chase for points” and the status and rewards that came along with “high scores”?
   Just as concerning as the potential life altering capabilities of games designed to do so, is the extreme level of tracking and filing that would be required to much such an all-encompassing and pervasive system to work well. After all, what’s the point of a game that can’t accurately reflect scoring? Privacy concerns are turned on their collective heads. Instead of fighting against intrusions, people might be demanding more thorough surveillance and tracking so that not a single point-worthy action, thought, or expression is missed. After all, they are trying to “win”!
   If you haven’t guess by now, I think that this possibility of the life alterations and surveillance required by and for such games is disturbing. Placing people into an invisible boxes and pulling their subconscious levers for desired outcomes is no different than the way mice are treated in research laboratories across the globe. An opposing view though is that this would be a softer way to guide society into behaving “better”, carrot versus the stick. My contention with this point is that “better” is quite subjective.  This view automatically assumes the superiority and benevolence of the game designers, an assumption which I cannot share.
   Obviously the other divergence, although not as wide, is privacy concerns. Many people, even the more technologically and socially receptive, claim to be concerned about privacy and information security. But how many of these make these claims while posting every tidbit of their day on social media outlets?  Devil’s advocates are quick to point out that if people volunteer their information, it’s not actually a violation of privacy. But when does the slippery slope take effect, where if the majority is openly volunteering everything, the minority that chooses not to is soon forced to “join society”? “Smart appliances” are already becoming more pervasive. I am not concerned about the possibility that my fridge, stove, and coffee maker may communicate and help me manage my food more effectively, or  that I might be able live more efficiently with constant feedback from the things around me. These are the obvious benefits, the “carrot”. But who can gain access to this information? How could it be used? Even with the most stringent guarantees of privacy controls and encryption, you are never truly safe from a “data invasion”. The skyrocketing rates of identity theft, credit card number theft, etc. should be proof enough of this. What about when thieves can’t just steal your social security number or credit card digits, but could actually steal the chronicles of your entire life? Will living outside of the “panopticon” become a new black market? Stolen minutes in surveillance free rooms, with the fear that policy enforcers could bust it up at any moment like a Prohibition era speak-easy?
   These questions concern me and I believe they should be of concern to everyone. An old adage is “do not look a gift horse in the mouth”, but the rapid advancement of technology past any possible ethical conversation about its use should be on the minds of everyone involved and affected. How do you want your future to look? Are you concerned about “Living in the Pupil of 1,000 Eyes” (Death – 1,000 Eyes), or will any of us even notice as we chase the carrots of points and digital status?
 Editor's note:  This editorial ties in well with Schell Games CEO and Creative Director Jesse Schell's lecture "Visions of the Gamepocalypse".  (View the full lecture here:  As a game producer, Mr. Schell of course sees a future in which the entirety of human life is tracked for the sake of gaming as a bright one.  However, I would assume that most of us would see this one as intrusive and creepy, to say the least. - J. Frederick

A good summary of Mr. Schell's thesis can be viewed in this much shorter YouTube clip:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Confused populace in Nebraska favor one war, oppose another

"WASHINGTON — Nebraskans are eager for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan, but that doesn't mean they've turned into a bunch of peaceniks.

In fact, nearly two-thirds of the state is ready to bomb Iran to stop that country from developing a nuclear weapon, according to The World-Herald Poll."

That was the beginning of a front page article today in the Omaha World Herald entitled Nebraskans are tired of Afghan war but would support attacking Iran if necessary.  The article shows the disturbing blind patriotism which has afflicted our nation since the George W. Bush administration.  This is hardly a surprise in one of the most staunchly republican states in the union, though a CBS News poll from May 2012 shows a small majority of Americans nationwide favor attacking the oil rich Middle Eastern nation.  Clearly the populace must be further educated about the dangerous and suicidal nature of American foreign policy.  Even in the pro-preemptive attack white paper, Weighing the Costs and Benefits of Military Action Against Iran, the authors admit "All this said, a unilateral attack by the United States would still come under heavy international criticism. And the potential for costly retaliation by Iran—direct and indirect—would not be significantly reduced under circumstances of greater certainty about whether Iran is actually building a bomb."  We at Unofficial Version magazine implore our readers to support the anti-war effort more now than ever to avoid this inevitably disastrous war.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Saparmurat Niyazov Files #1

J. Frederick's alter ego Saparmurat Niyazov has just updated content on his Tumblr blog.  Click here to view some interesting documents and make the oligarchs a little more uneasy.

Friday, September 14, 2012

"The New Civil War" an Editorial by H.L.F.

The New Civil War
By Heather Larson-Frederick

There is a War in this country.  It's a war waged by right-wing, conservative groups & people against women and the poor.  Every time I turn around, there's a new story about someone, usually a man but not limited to just men (see Ann Coulter, et al), who has some outlandish opinion about how a woman's body works & what like-minded individuals, such as themselves, can do to regulate said body.  Who in this country didn't hear Senator Todd Akin's cringe-worthy words about how "legitimate" rape rarely leads to pregnancy because a woman's body has a way of "shutting that stuff down"?  Really Mr. Akin?  How does that work exactly, and what the hell is a "legitimate rape"?  What constitutes an "illegitimate rape"?  I personally do not see any legitimacy in rape.  None.  

Back in March of this year, Georgia Senator Terry England compared women to cows & pigs, and helped push a bill that would require women to carry still-born babies to term.  What?!  Yes.  Here:  This event, and other similar ones, led the women senators of that state to walk out in protest against the War on Women.  They actually staged a demonstration against the male Republican majority. 

Then there's Ann Coulter, and I quote:  “I think all real females are right-wingers and I can tell you that based on experience — and my bodyguard will back me up on this — all pretty girls are right-wingers. Some of my male fans have hair to their derriere and tattoos up and down their arms; some of my antagonists seem like perfectly attractive, preppy young men. Girls — a pretty girl walking toward your table, you know she is a fan. … The reason unattractive — I suppose — the reason liberal women are liberal is because they have to date liberal men and as we’ve seen from Bill Clinton and Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Anthony Weiner, we’ve seen how liberal men treat women. I’d be angry too.  … I’ll take 69 cents on the dollar [referring to the wage gap between men and women] or whatever current feminist myth is about how much we make, just to have to never have to pay for dinner. That seems like a fair deal to me.”  Really Ann?  Is that why the majority of men you date are Democrats?  Or how about the fact that some of your favorite bands include The Grateful Dead and The Dave Matthews Band?  They're about as liberal as you get as far as bands go.  Is she aware of this fact, or that they’re big into smoking weed?  I guess she can set her personal beliefs aside when it’s convenient for her.

As a feminist, Ann Coulter really gets under my skin.   How can a supposedly intelligent, sophisticated woman believe the garbage she spouts about other women?  I do have doubts as to her intelligence, as evidenced by juvenile comments she has made.  A few years back, on live television, she stated that Jews needed to be 'perfected' by becoming Christians.  A few years after that she stated that moderate Democrats believe that they shouldn't teach children 'fisting' in school until they are at least 12, maybe 11.  If you don't know what fisting is, look it up.  At any rate, that last comment was directed at same-sex marriage.  If you equate fisting with same-sex marriage you obviously haven't watched enough porn.  Maybe I'm wrong in my assumption that Ann Coulter isn't as smart as she seems...she might just be carefully crafting her empire with these idiotic comments.  But what that empire is is just as mysterious to me as Ancient Aliens.

The War on the Poor is also alive and well in this country.  How many comments have I seen by people about how poor people are just lazy, need to get jobs, and quit doing drugs.  Those are all prejudicial statements that assume if you are poor, you are a horrible person.  These kinds of comments not only demean the economically-challenged in this country, but also wrap this socio-economic group into false stereotypes.  It's like saying that all black people eat fried chicken and watermelon.  It's just as offensive and untrue. 

Australian mining heiress Gina Rinehart was recently quoted as saying this:  "If you're jealous of those with more money, don't just sit there and complain," she said in a magazine piece . "Do something to make more money yourself -- spend less time drinking or smoking and socializing, and more time working." (L.A. Times, David Lazarus, 8/30/12)  Keep in mind that this woman was born wealthy and has never ever known what it's like to be poor.  How can she possibly have any idea what it's like to be poor?  Maybe she should spend some time in Africa, where the majority of people are poor....and NOT lazy.  Here:

There's also the conservative mindset concerning healthcare and the poor.   If you are poor, why should those who aren’t poor pay for your healthcare?  The idea is that poor people should get jobs or buy some cheap insurance policy?  What about those people who have jobs but do not have employer provided insurance?  Poor people are poor because they don’t make a lot of money.  How are they supposed to pay for insurance when they can barely pay for necessities.  It doesn’t make sense, especially when it appears that wealthier citizens have no concern for the poor or what happens to them.  In essence, those with aforementioned prejudices, believe that poor people are not only less-than-human and inferior, but also deserve to die.  Have they really thought about who is going to serve their McDonald’s food,  wash their dishes at a fancy restaurant, pave their worn-out roads, haul away their garbage, and the like?  Are they going to do it themselves?  Are their not-poor friends going to do these less-than-desirable societal jobs?

A hot-button subject right now is poor women and healthcare, which encompasses both Wars.  If you are poor and do not want children, or need feminine cares you are screwed.  Likewise if you aren’t necessarily poor but want birth control coverage through your insurance, or other feminine cares, you are also screwed.  Conservative, right-wing folks want to force these people to have babies that are either unwanted, unable to be afforded, or both.  However, if you have these babies and can’t afford them and need state assistance to help care for them, you are poor, lazy, crack whores who just sit around popping out babies so they can live off government largesse.  It’s a lose-lose situation.  If you want to get birth control through your insurance at work, if you are lucky enough to have it, it is assumed that you are just a nasty whore who needs to pay for that out of pocket.  That is a terrible mind-set to have against another person because you are shoving your beliefs and ideals down another’s throat.  You can’t just pick and choose what kind of coverage to give to others.  Why?  Because it’s prejudicial, unequal, and who’s to say down the road that other coverage will also be deemed immoral (or whatever excuse is given) and done away with.  I cannot imagine any parent who has a child with cancer having to try to come up with radiation therapy out-of-pocket because their employer might be a Jehovah’s Witness (for example) and believes in divine intervention.  Let that sink in for a minute.

Look at what Sandra Fluke went through for this speech:  
Her statements about birth control were centered on a friend of hers who needed birth control to prevent cysts from growing on her ovaries.  It was assumed that said friend was lying about why she needed the birth control in the first place and was denied.  She had to have her ovary removed later because she couldn’t get the prescription she needed and now faces early-onset menopause.  It seems grossly inappropriate, among other things, to deny coverage to anyone for any kind of medicine simply based on a moral objection to it.  Her medical condition (which she provided proof for) could have been easily alleviated under normal circumstances.

So yes folks.  There is a War on the Poor, a War on Women, and most assuredly, a War on Poor Women.  Why do other people want to regulate women’s bodies and hate poor people?  I don’t know.  I don’t think it’s jealousy.  I do think it has a lot to do with prejudice and poor judgment.  This country was set up for its citizens to have free will but it sure seems like we’re moving backwards as of late.  It seems ridiculous in this day and age of civilized, privileged people that we still have such a large group of populace whose beliefs seem so uncivilized.  Isn’t it the duty of any country, especially one such as ours, to protect and help the poor and disenfranchised?  After all, this country was built on the backs of these exact same people.  Unless you live in a country whose only citizens are wealthy, which is unrealistic, that’s the way it should be.  As citizens of a freewill nation that was hard fought and won for by our foremothers and fathers, we need to fight back against these kinds of injustices before our rights become extinct.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Childhood Never Ends, episode 3: "Interrogation"

3: Interrogation

Gavin tried his best to contain his anxiety. Before him stood a pair of federal police, and they looked him up in down, judging him before Gavin had a chance to make his statement (or so it seemed to him). “Maybe I'm just being paranoid,” Gavin thought to himself, hoping to calm the very real sense of dread and fear that gripped him like an immense, crushing hand. They greeted him with a cold and intimidating stare. One was tall and muscular with angular features. The other was physically unexceptional, but had the unsettling demeanor of an obedient goon. Gavin thought it looked like that they were anxious for an excuse to bind him, capture him, and throw him in a holding cell where they would torture him to death. Again, Gavin tried to calm himself and counter his negative thoughts, though he knew deep down that this sort of thing happened all the time. He lost a good friend and coworker early on in his career as an information architect that way.
When Gavin began his work in information architecture in his mid 20's at the Trans-Atlantic Department of Media headquarters in Washington, he quickly made friends with a man named Fabio, who was born and raised in Spain, went to university at Cambridge, and like all information architects, began his career at the Washington headquarters. They shared interests in playing tennis, watching rugby, 20th century rock music, and drinking German lager. One day while waiting on the subway platform, a security squad rushed the two friends. Gavin was pinned and handcuffed, and while he lay face down on the ground with the wind still knocked out of him, he saw about a half dozen police, outfitted just like the security squad who had just killed the disruptive woman on the train he was currently on, viciously beat Fabio. Blood poured from his nose, his shattered arm flopped uselessly about as it was torn behind his back. He was thrown to the ground like a rag doll, and then a few of the officers kicked him in the ribs and groin. He was pulled up to his feet by his hair, and then tossed into the back of a motorized cart like a sack of potatoes. Gavin was released and never given an explanation for the incident, and it troubled him deeply. About a week later, he saw Fabio's face on the news, where he was described as a terrorist and had apparently been executed. Gavin never suspected Fabio to be one of those savages, bent on destroying western civilization in the name of their god, but as everyone was taught, one never knows. The terrorists “walk among us, undetected”, and citizens should remain forever vigilant. There was no need to fear, however, as the Federal government had the investigative resources to weed out the terrorist savages and would always find and kill them without hesitation, for the good of society. That was the first time Gavin questioned the judgment of the government, and no matter how mush he tried to put such a ridiculous notion out of his mind, it always remained, like a deep scar on his conscience. Fabio would have been the last person in the world to be connected with terrorism, Gavin thought.
“Mr. Huntsman,” began the lower ranking officer, “Please state your point of origin.”
“Chicago” Gavin answered.
The higher ranking officer nudged his comrade aside. “Pardon my interruption Lieutenant Steinberg.”
“Not a problem, Sgt. Colby.” replied Lt. Steinberg.
“Mr. Huntsman,” continued Colby, “I see here in your file that you were an associate of a Fabio Rodriguez. Do you remember him?”
Gavin's anxiety tighted it's grip, nearly stopping his heart. He kept the straightest face possible and answered: “Hmmm, I'm not sure. I don't think so.”
“It says here that you worked with him at the Department of Media in Washington.” remarked Colby.
“Oh, oh yeah! That guy. Yeah, I remember now. He just stopped coming to work, and next thing I know I see on the news that he was a terrorist. Well, it's a good thing they got him, huh?”
“Right. So you didn't associate with him outside of work?”
“No, not really. He met up with the rest of us guys from the office for a beer after work once in a while, but that was about it.”
“And he never discussed his political or religious beliefs with you?”
“No, never. Besides, if he ever brought it up, I would have told him that I wasn't interested. I could care less about those things, I'm more interested in football and going to the movies.” Gavin forced the most sincere chuckle he could muster.
“Right. So you're a football fan? What's you're team?”
Gavin sighed inwardly. His ruse had worked. “I'm a Steelers man” Gavin answered.
“Ah, you're old school!” Colby's mood had considerably brightened. “I'm a big fan of the London Knights myself.”
“Probably the best of the expansion teams.” added Gavin.
“You bet!” replied Colby. “Alright Mr. Huntsman, back to business. Lieutenant, please continue.” Lt. Steinberg continued with a relatively routine line of questions, including of course the highly personal matters of how many people Gavin was having sex with and what drugs he has ingested. Everything was routine until the final question.
“Alright, Mr. Huntsman, before I release you, I have one final question.”
“Go ahead,” replied Gavin.
“What was your relationship with Ms. Wheeler?”
“Excuse me?” Gavin was confused. The name seemed familiar, but he could not remember where he had heard it before, though he was sure he had heard it recently.
“Ms. Wheeler?” repeated Steinberg. “You know, the woman who had just been neutralized by the security squad for disruption?”
“Her? The screaming woman?” Gavin was dumbfounded.
“Yes sir. Your name was tagged in her file.”
“I... I... I don't know.” Gavin's stomach began churning. Terror began to slither its icy tendrils up his spine, right through his torso and into his heart. Wild thoughts of what was coming next began to flood his mind. Did they think he was a terrorist? Were they going to arrest him? Make him disappear?
“It says here that she consulted you on a project at the D.o.M. Office in Chicago where you currently work.” Steinberg stared at Gavin, with a single eyebrow raised, awaiting his explanation.
“Hmmm, the last time I worked with a consultant was last September. It was a project dealing with a Patriot Day commemoration” Gavin raised his eyes to meet Lt. Steinberg, at this point unable to hide the worry from his face. Steinberg nodded, as if to imply that Gavin should continue. “Uh, I remember working with a woman from the Freedom Project Foundation. She insisted that I call her by her first name, so I don't remember her last.”
“What was her first name?”
“Ms. Wheeler's first name was Deborah, Mr. Huntsman.”
“But Deborah was younger” countered Gavin. They could not have been the same woman, he thought.
“Was she brunette, with green eyes, about five feet, six inches in height, approximately 130 pounds?”
“Yeah, I guess she was. But that woman looked old, she was... just not right. And the way she screamed... Deborah didn't sound like that.”
“A lot can change in nine months, Mr. Huntsman. Drug abuse, exposure to chemical agents, injuries, they can all change someone's appearance. But you are sure you did not speak with her the whole time you were on the train?”
“Did she approach you?”
Lt. Steinberg stared skeptically at Gavin for what seemed like an eternity. Gavin's heart pounded in his chest, as he expected the security squad to swoop in and arrest him at any moment. Steinberg finally reached into his breast pocket and extracted a plastic card with a hologram and a dot matrix code bar upon it. “My card, Mr. Huntsman. You can use it to contact me instantly, should you remember anything.”
Gavin slowly took the card, bewildered.
“You are free to go” said the lieutenant. He motioned towards the exit door on the bullet train. Gavin walked out in a fog of confusion.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Childhood Never Ends, episode 2: "Swift Action"

2: Swift Action

Chaos ensued when the woman on the transcontinental line from Chicago to Denver began screaming. The bullet train was near its destination in Denver, and Gavin was ripped from his trance-like boredom as the well dressed, though haggard looking woman leaped up and began howling hysterically. She was middle aged, with stringy and unkempt black hair. Harsh lines cut through her forehead and jutted from the corners of her mouth and eyes like thorns on a rosebush. Dark bags hung under her wild eyes and she looked like she hadn't slept in over a week. Tension vibrated throughout her entire body like ripples in a pool of water whose calm had been broken by the drop of a pebble. Presently, she was shouting a barely coherent diatribe, and making all of her co-passengers varying degrees of uncomfortable, annoyed, and terrified.
“Don't make me disappear!” she cried in the shrill voice of the insane. “You can't take away my existence! I won't do it! No more! NOOOOOOO!!!!!”
What followed was truly shocking and the woman's behavior paled in comparison. “Ms. Wheeler, please return to your seat and stop disrupting this passenger transport. You have 5 seconds to comply,” boomed an authoritative sounding synthesized male voice over the train's loudspeakers. She screamed in frustration at the warning, began to dart her wild green eyes about randomly, and twisted her torso, desperately looking for path of escape.
The response that followed was swift, brutal, and took place only three seconds after the audible warning. A door at the rear of the passenger cabin burst open, and into the aisle sprinted about a dozen police in full riot gear, carrying fully automatic machine guns and a wide array of “less than lethal” weapons. The officer at the head of the squad pointed what looked like a child's toy ray gun at Ms. Wheeler, and Gavin recognized the device as a stun gun. The news networks often showed footage of police using these devices on criminals, and they were incredibly effective. In fact, Gavin remembered seeing a documentary where one of these stun guns stopped a charging bull in its tracks, but the beast awoke unharmed moments later. Gavin was about to learn that the so-called documentary he had watched was less than accurate.
“Lay face down on the ground! NOW!” shouted the officer at the head of the strike squad, his voice muffled by his gas mask. The woman was given maybe two seconds to comply, and the officer fired his stun gun. A bright blue arc of electricity arced from the tip of his stun gun and struck Ms. Wheeler directly in the center of her chest. The arc of electricity crackled like a bolt of lightning, and the woman violently arched her back and flailed her arms about wildly. She then hit the floor, convulsing. Her wild eyes rolled back into her head, and foam began to seep out of the corner of her mouth. The stench of ozone, burnt fabric, and charred flesh filled the passenger cabin. The women and children on the train broke into a cacophony of screaming, whimpering, and sobbing. Most men stayed silent, except for a few patriotic individuals who cheered on the police squad. “Let her have it!” one man grunted, displaying his machismo.
An officer in a chrome silver helmet emblazoned with the black and gold emblem of the T.A.F. stepped forward. Though he was clad in carbon fiber body armor, black and gray combat fatigues, and an insect-like gas mask (with bulbous portholes for the eyes and a pair of air filters by the mouth which resembled a menacing pair of mandibles) like all the other officers, his helmet insignia and the word “COMMANDER” embroidered on his flak jacket signified that he was the squad leader. “Medic!” he ordered. “Check this suspect's vitals.”
Another officer rushed forward, clad in identical body armor, fatigues, and gas mask, except his entire garb was colored a sterile, blinding shade of white. The ancient Hippocratic symbol of the intertwined snakes was prominently displayed on his flak jacket, along with the word “MEDIC”, as if to beat the obvious into one's memory. He quickly holstered his firearm, and drew out a device which resembled a 20th century era cattle prod, with a large LED display screen. He jabbed the probe into the woman's neck. “She has a pulse... barely. No brain activity is registering, sir.” reported the medic.
“Euthanize her,” ordered the commander, in an oddly matter-of-fact tone. Three more officers stepped forward, two of them wrapping a translucent plastic cowl around the woman's head. The third extracted a sleeve from the hood, and rolled it over his gun barrel like a sheath. There was a “PINK!” sound from the silenced weapon, like that of a hail stone hitting a tin roof, and a burst of blood covered the inside of the bag, faintly visible through the semi-clear plastic. Through the hood it looked a sickly grayish-red, like the color of faded paint on a park bench. Ms. Wheeler fell limp, and was, if nothing else put out of the misery of her madness. Two more officers stepped forward with a gurney and, with the help of the previous pair of police who had cowled the woman's head, lifted her body upon it. The legs were extended and the squad exited quickly and quietly through the door at the front of the passenger car. Almost simultaneously, six more people swiftly entered the cabin, two of them in police uniforms, complete with peaked caps, black slacks, shirts, and ties. Their chests were adorned with medals, badges, and patches. The other four were various professional looking people, one gaunt middle-aged bald man with horn-rimmed eye glasses, a lab coat, and doctor's scrubs; a woman in her late twenties or early thirties with a bun in her hair, a charcoal-colored pencil dress, and a stern look; another older gentleman in a three piece suit with gray hair and a beard, who eerily resembled Sigmund Freud; and a non-threatening looking young woman, with wiry curls, a rounded face, and a form fitting yet conservative floral printed dress. A gentle smile crossed her lips, and her eyes looked moist with sympathy.
Immediately the team began to go to work. The pair of the police officers stepped to the front of the train car, and the taller and more muscular looking one announced: “Please, everyone remain calm. The situation is under control. Officer Steinberg and I will be taking statements from all of you, and we can assure your safety thanks to the Peace Keeping Unit. We will not be releasing any information to you at this point, or answering any of your questions until the investigation is complete. My name is Sergeant Colby, at your service.”
“We have a team of health professionals here to assist you, thanks in advance to all of you for your cooperation,” added Officer Steinberg.
The train rolled to a halt at the Denver station, and a pleasant sounding female voice informed the passengers that they had arrived at their destination, and instructed them to remove their safety belts. “At this point,” explained Sgt. Colby, “I will ask each of you who do not require medical and/or psychological aide to please line up single file in front of us so that we may record your statements. I apologize for any inconvenience.”
“Great,” Gavin thought to himself, “I'm never getting off this train.”
Gavin looked around the train car, and saw the young woman with curly hair embracing and cooing a young girl no older than eight, whose body heaved with great sobs. She freed one of her hands and gently stroked the cheek of the girl's mother, reassuring her. The mother grasped a baby in her arms, who oblivious to the weight of the situation, stared blankly about the passenger cabin. The man who was a dead ringer for Freud crouched down next to a frail elderly gentleman, his wrinkled face wracked with confusion. The two of them conversed in muted tones. The man in medical garb used a stethoscope and examined a distraught old woman, her fat face flushed red, and her massive bosom heaving as she hyperventilated from terror. He told her to calm herself, in a tone of mock sympathy. The other young woman with the bun in her hair was closely observing everyone in the train car marking notes on her tablet computer.
Obediently, most of the other passengers began to line up in front of Sgt. Coby and Officer Steinberg. Both of the policemen had hand held computers like the young lady with the bun in her hair, and began interviewing the passengers one by one, taking notes as they asked questions. Gavin stood in the middle of the line, crossing his arms across his thin torso. Gavin was 35 years old, and blended well into a crowd. He was a pretty typical American1, about six feet tall, with pale skin, short brown hair, and blue eyes. He was clad in the casual fashion of the day, a pair of slim fitting khaki pants and a crew necked t-shirt made out of synthetic material that changed color from a deep navy blue to a sea foam green, depending on the lighting. The train car was brightly lit, so his shirt had changed to a muted tone of forest green. Gavin's only real distinguishing physical feature was that he had unusually large feet and hands for his height. He was slightly ashamed of this, and received merciless ridicule because of it from elementary school all the way to university. He had roomed with a basketball player at the University of Pittsburgh, where he had received his bachelor's in informational architecture, who towered over him and most other students at six feet ten inches, and wore a size 15 shoe. Gavin's old roommate, teasing him about the size of his feet, challenged him to try on his shoes, which nearly fit him. The ribbing that ensued was almost intolerable, but at least Gavin could look back now and laugh about it.
In front of Gavin was a young woman – a girl, really – who was at most 20 years old. Like most young people in his day's society, she was clad in the attire of one of many outrageous fashion trends. She was wearing a pair of thigh high vinyl high-heeled boots, colored an obnoxious shade of neon green. A pair of matching briefs covered her pelvis, and a comically small lavender jacket covered in long spikes of rubber barely covered the top of her torso. Her hair was teased high in the air, bleached white with random rainbow hued streaks. Her makeup made her look like a week-old corpse, and she was oblivious to the world around her, enraptured by her network connected sunglasses. From behind the lenses, one could see her empty eyes darting about, watching videos, looking at images. She murmured into the microphone on her earpiece as she chatted online with people she considered friends, though she had never met them in person.
“Unbelievable!” groaned the man behind Gavin. He did his best to ignore him, but the man needed to vent upon someone, and unfortunately for Gavin, the man decided it would be him. “I'm supposed to be at a meeting a Lincoln Park in an hour and now I'll never make it. Can you believe that lady!” Gavin turned slightly to acknowledge the man, who was a stout man about the same age as him. He was dressed in a cheap business suit and his auburn hair was encrusted with an excessive amount of styling gel. A pencil thin mustache and a pair of rimless eyeglasses completed his repugnant appearance. The line moved forward ever so slightly and Gavin felt relief as he looked forward and saw only the girl in front of him and a dark skinned man in a dashiki ahead of the girl as his only obstacles between him and getting off this horrible train.
The dark skinned man spoke politely to the police men, who nodded as they took his statement, jotting notes down on their tablet computers with a metal stylus. The officers nodded towards the exit, satisfied with the man's account, and motioned for the girl to move forward. Wrapped up in her online world, she did not initially respond. Sergeant Colby ordered her to step forward once again in an exasperated tone. “Ma'am, I'll need you to remove your netglasses and come give us a statement – now.” Ever vigilant, Officer Steinberg hovered his hand over his side arm.
Oh em gee!” she sighed. “Kay, sup?” Gavin wanted to cringe at her spurious slang. The woman shuffled toward the officers, acting as a child might when forced to go to bed. She removed her “netglasses” and as her black painted lips pouted, she placed her hands on her hips.
Officer Steinberg began asking her a battery of questions. He began: “Where was your point of origin?”
The girl responded, “Minneapolis.”
“This train only travels from Chicago to Denver.”
“I mean I took the Minneapolis to Miami train and transferred onto this one in Chicago.”
“OK, please keep your answers simple from now on”, ordered Steinberg, who looked momentarily at his tablet computer, “Miss Tsoukolis”. There was no longer any need to check identification in this day in age, with RF chip implants, retinal scanners everywhere, and facial recognition cameras prevalent. Steinberg continued: “Are you currently menstruating?”
She looked slightly uncomfortable. Everyone knew the probing nature of these police interrogations, but no one got completely used to the highly personal nature of the questions. “No.” she answered.
“Have you eaten any shellfish in the past 24 hours?”
“Um, yes. I had shrimp for din-”
Steinberg cut her off. “Simple answers please!” he quipped.
The girl looked at the floor, remorseful. “Sorry.”
“That's fine. Let's continue. How many sexual partners do you currently have?”
She gulped. “Three.”
“What are their genders?”
“Two males, one female.”
“Have you taken any recreational drugs in the past 36 hours?”
“How long ago?”
“Um... about 18 hours ago, I guess?”
“Well, was it 18 hours ago or not?”
“I'm pretty sure...”
“Good enough. What were the names of Chancellor Golan's parents?”
“Ari and Sara.”
“What is today's date?”
“May 17th.”
“Did you notice anything unusual boarding the train?”
“Um... no.”
“And during the ride?”
“Well, no, nothing. Not until that woman…“
“I'm getting to that. Did you speak to the woman at all during your ride?”
“Did you notice any odd behavior from her before security entered the passenger cabin?”
“Well, when she started to scream, I did.”
Officer Steinberg tapped the screen of his tablet a few times, looked up at the girl, and said “You're free to go Miss Tsoukolis.” A noticeable look of relief passed her face, and she quickly strode out the door onto the platform. Steinberg then looked at Gavin and said, “You're next Mr. Huntsman. Please step forward.”
Gavin could not help but feel a twinge of fear crawl up his spine. It was very normal to fear police in the T.A.F. for one slip of the tongue could make things turn ugly very quickly. Gavin took a deep breath and stepped forward for his interrogation.

1All citizens of the Trans-Atlantic Federation continue to identify themselves by their “nation” of origin, although the T.A.F. is ruled by one central government.