Shady Palms Apartments had seen much better times. The complex was located near the star port right smack in the middle of the approach to the busiest runway. The few remaining palm trees looked wilted and diseased. There were many more stumps than trees as a testament to the harsh New Hope Climate. Some of Pearl’s clients had once lived at Shady Palms. The apartments were cheap, close to the strip bars, and a death trap. It hadn’t taken much effort on Pearl’s part to get them to move, but for some reason, Sara Reid wouldn’t budge.
The apartments were boxes, a living room and small kitchen with bedroom, bathroom, & closet to one side. Each apartment had one door and one window. If anyone ever decided to break in, your only hope was to be bigger, faster, and better armed than the person breaking in. If a fire ever broke out, your only hope was that the only exit wasn’t engulfed in flames. The complex wasn’t gated, so that meant anyone had access to the grounds at any time.
Mr. Jones had actually gotten a party member from Carston’s Station in a nearby star system to contact Sara Reid and vouch for Pearl’s security team. Pearl had been born and raised on Carson’s station and wondered if Mr. Jones knew that or if it was just a coincidence. Sara had no problem accepting Pearl as a recent convert to the cause and seemed delighted to have the chance to proselytize Vivian and Denise. She was an attractive petite young woman. She had no self defense skills at all and had never fired a gun. She had told Pearl that all true revolutions should be bloodless. Which confirmed to Pearl that Sara had spent way too much time at university.
“So what will you do tomorrow while I’m at work, comrade Pearl?” Sara asked.
“I’m going to work with you.” Pearl replied. Pearl still wasn’t used to being called “comrade” and even found it a bit silly to think that continuously using the word would instill a sense of equality.
“How can you do that, comrade? They don’t allow visitors at the plant.”
“They don’t and they do, Sara. Every company keeps out visitors for reasons of safety, workplace distraction, and corporate spying. But, they do accommodate potential investors and family members.”
“Yes, comrade Sara, family members. Your visiting aunt will accompany you to work to insure that it is a safe place for her niece.”
Pearl’s phone beeped. “Pearl?” It was Vivian from her position in the parking lot. “We got a visitor, Pearl.”
Sara froze, eyes wide with terror. Pearl scooped up her phone and drew a pistol. “What have we got, Viv?” Pearl responded in a calm quiet voice hoping that the calmness of her voice would keep Sara from panicking.
“Male, medium build heading straight for you. Want me to bring in Denise?” Denise was patrolling the other side of the complex.
“No, but let her know what’s going down and to stay alert.”
They heard his footsteps as he approached the door. Pearl motioned the still wide-eyed Sara to get down. She put down her phone and drew her other pistol and flicked the safeties off. With eighteen rounds, Pearl figured she could put down anything that came through the door, except maybe a Grath.
The stranger slipped something into the lock and began trying to unlock the door. After a few seconds of jiggling the lock, he began to knock on the door. “Sara, honey, is something wrong with the door? I can’t get it to open.”
“Ian!” Sara shouted. “Please don’t shoot! It’s Ian.” Sara had jumped off of the floor and run to the door. When she got to the door, she looked pleadingly at Pearl. “Please, it’s Ian.” Pearl nodded and lowered her guns. Sara unlocked the door and flung it open.
Sara threw herself into Ian’s arms and began to sob. “What’s the matter sweetheart? Did you change lock or som…” Ian stopped in mid-sentence when he noticed Pearl standing in the room with two drawn pistols. Pearl flipped the safeties on and holstered both guns. She hoped Ian realized that a changed lock had just saved his life.
“Oh, Ian, I’ve missed you so much.” crooned Sara. “So much has happened since you’ve been gone.”
“Is everything alright here? Pearl?” said a voice coming from behind Ian. Ian turned and saw Vivian standing there with a leveled AK-3147 pointing straight at him. Ian recognized the assault rifle, a venerable design beloved by colonists and planetary militia throughout the galaxy.
“Sara, would you mind tell me what is going on?” asked Ian. Sara took him by the hand and led him into the apartment. “Ian, this is comrade Pearl Lemay, party security specialist.”
“Yes, you remember comrade Party Director Peter Thompson from Carston’s Station? He has received information that my mission to the workers of New Hope is threatened by the corporate establishment. So he sent comrade Pearl to protect me.”
“And this is…?”
“This is comrade Vivian, well I hope we can call her comrade. She’s a capitalist who owns a salon and assists comrade Pearl. Pearl, Vivian, this is Ian, my fiancee.”
Vivian’s mouth dropped open. Pearl closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. Now Pearl knew why she couldn’t get Sara to move. Sara wanted Ian to be able to find her. “Sara, why didn’t you tell us about Ian?” Pearl asked.
“Comrade, certainly you know the party’s position on the entanglements of relationships to agents spreading the revolution to the workers?”
“I take it they are a no-no.” said Vivian.
“A romantic relationship while on duty is seriously frowned upon by the party. And… and I didn’t want a party member like comrade Pearl be disappointed with me.”
Vivian stifled a giggle, while Pearl shook her head. Ian was going to be a problem. “What would he do when they handed Sara over to her parents?” Pearl thought. She then wondered if Mr. Jones knew about Ian and if he did, why didn’t he let her know?
The alarm on Pearl’s phone went off at four. She called Denise inside the apartment. “Helloooo, comrade boss!” chirped Denise when she answered the phone. Pearl didn’t know how much longer she could take being a neo-Marxist, but the “comrade” crap was beginning to wear on her. “Knock it off, Denise.” She heard giggling on the other end. “I’m going to run home and take a shower, so you’ll be alone for a while. How’s the lovebirds?” asked Pearl.
“They’re sound asleep in the nest.” replied Denise.
“Well, stay alert until I get back.”
“Ok, Pearl, bye.”
Pearl put on her helmet and brought the Shadow Reaper to life. She figured she had about four hours before she had to be back to accompany Sara to work. She was tired and had a long day ahead of her.
Pearl felt energized after her shower. On the way back to Shady Palms, she even stopped and got a cup of coffee and an egg roll from a 24-hour Wok. She had a couple of stim-strips in her pocket, but hoped that she wouldn’t need to use them. It was getting harder for her to stay up for days at a time and she hoped she could get some needed sleep at the end of the day.
She pulled into the Shady Arms parking lot just as a shuttle passed overhead with a deafening roar. Pearl could feel the ground vibrate and vehicle alarms went off throughout the neighborhood. Pearl watched the ship as it got smaller in the sky. She sighed. There was a time when she really wanted to get off of New Hope. Destination didn’t matter, she just wanted off of the planet. Now, years later, it didn’t matter, but a part of her still wanted to leave behind all of the pain and sorrow she had accumulated in New Hope City.
Denise let Pearl into the apartment. Ian was putting away breakfast. “Oh, Pearl, he made the most delicious pancakes.” cooed Denise. “He’s just marvelous. Did you know Ian is a junior officer aboard a starship? He’s studying for his astro-navigation license and wants to become a pilot. Can you imagine?”
“That’s fine, Denise, where’s Sara?”
“She’s in the bedroom… no, here she is.” said Denise as Sara appeared in the bedroom door. “I’m sorry about going on and on. I forget that you hate men.”
“Denise, that’s no one’s business. Stay focused on our mission.” said Pearl. She hoped she sounded stern. Denise tended to babble when she was tired. “As soon as we leave, get some sleep, Ok?”
“Yes, comrade… err, Aunt Pearl.”
“That’s right, Sara, no more “comrade”. I’m just Auntie Pearl in town for a nice visit.”
Sara’s car wasn’t much bigger than Pearl’s motorcycle. It only sat two people side by side and had a storage compartment behind the seats. The car was completely electric but did have a small fuel cell in case the power was ever completely drained. There seemed to be thousands of commuter cars just like this one all over New Hope City, which made sense since there was only one city on the entire planet with no need for long haul transport.
They had only gone a few blocks when Sara said “I’m so sorry, Pearl, about Ian. I should have told you about him.”
“I understand, Sara, but now that he is here, we can find a more secure place for you to stay. You don’t have to live in squalor to serve the party. The individual is just as important as the collective.” Pearl felt a little smug at getting to use the word “collective” to maintain her front as a party member.
“So you don’t hate Ian?”
“Hate Ian? Why would I hate Ian?”
“Comrade Denise said that you hate men. She told me the story about how you rose against your male oppressor and beat him with his own weapon.”
“What the… what are you talking about?”
“The story about how you got your name, ‘Pearl’. A man would not pay you your wages and you took his pearl handled gun away from him to obtain justice.”
“Sweetheart, you have it all wrong. And you don’t have to dance around with nice words. Back then I was a hooker wallowing in self pity and booze. No, that poor fool just made the mistake of telling me that he wasn’t going to pay me after he had gotten undressed. Something snapped me back to life, I picked up his gun off of the table and beat him senseless with it. I kept the gun and eventually bought another one to match it. Maybe I do hate men. I certainly don’t trust them much.”
“But why hate men?” Sara asked. “Women can be just as untrustworthy. I knew several girls at university that were very good at stabbing people in the back.”
“That’s true, Sara. I’m tired and I wouldn’t normally tell anyone this, but since you are in love with Ian, think of it as a cautionary tale. I was young, in love, and married. He worked for a corporation that shipped goods through Carston’s Station where I lived. He was dedicated to the corporation and rose quickly in its ranks. He even got me a job with them. The corporation transferred us to New Hope at his request. We had a condo in uptown, not far from the beach. I don’t think he changed, I think he dropped his mask and began to reveal the type of person he was all along. He grew tired of our marriage and he grew tire of me. I was unhappy and began drinking a lot.
Then one evening he drugged me. I nearly died from the overdose. By the time I regained my sanity, all that I owned was a hospital gown. He had divorced me, had me committed, and left the planet with everything I had worth living for. There was only one doctor who went out on a limb and got me out of the madhouse. No one would hire me. The corporation I had worked for denied that I had ever existed. Like most girls thrown out into the streets, I got by turning tricks until that day I picked up that pistol and decided I wasn’t going to roll over and die.”
“That’s horrible, comrade Pearl… er, Pearl.” Sara stammered. “Why did he do those awful things to you?”
“He was cruel all along. I was just too much in love at first to see it, which is the point of this story. The street preacher was right when he said ‘Love isn’t blind, brothers and sisters. It’s deaf, dumb and stupid.’ Just make sure you are never stupid when it comes to your relationship with Ian or any man.”
Value Jeans Inc. was a typical nondescript block of a building constructed of metal and cinder block. The front of the building had a brick veneer, a sure sign of where the offices were located. Sara took Pearl into the office of the plant manager, a Mr. Williamson. She introduced Pearl as her aunt visiting from Carston’s Station. He welcomed Pearl and said that if she was going to stay she would have to remain in the break room as the factory floor would be too dangerous both to visitors and employees if the visitor were to get in the way. He graciously showed Pearl the managers’ offices and the offices of the clerical and accounting staff. He opened the door leading to the factory and held it open for Pearl like a true gentleman. As Pearl stepped through the doorway, alarms went off.
“I’m sorry Ms. Lemay, but I’m afraid we’ll need to examine your handbag.” said Mr. Williamson. Pearl noticed two men in body armor moving toward them.
“Oh, silly me. I do have a gun in my purse. I carry it with me whenever I travel and I forgot to leave it at Sara’s apartment.” said Pearl. Mr. Williamson had an expression of abject terror. “Here is my purse, do you have a safe place to keep it?”
Mr. Williamson took Pearl’s handbag and replaced his look of terror with a forced smile. “Certainly, Ms. Lemay, there are some lockers in the human resources office. Follow me and we’ll secure this for you. You say you travel with your gun? How do you get by starport security?”
“I have a permit for Carston’s Station and whenever I reach a destination, there is usually a fee and requirement to register the gun on that world. However, the security here on New Hope didn’t seem to care. They didn’t search anybody.”
“That does sound typical of our world.” replied Mr. Williamson. He took Pearl back to the office area and placed the gun and a switchblade knife he also found in Pearl’s bag into a small locker. He locked it with a padlock and handed the key to Pearl. “Shall we try again?” he asked.
This time Pearl made it through the doorway without setting off any alarms. The morning shift had already started with machinery clanking and roaring. He led Pearl into the break room showed her the coffee pot and then excused himself. As soon as he left the room, Pearl adjusted the holster of her little Huffert needler. Its all-plastic construction had made it through undetected. She also had a very sharp ceramic knife hidden in her left boot.
The break room was nice and spacious. One wall had a sink, refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, and lots of cabinet space. The opposite wall had lockers and the ever present company bulletin board. The other wall had doors to the restrooms and showers. The last wall had large picture windows overlooking the factory floor. As its name implied, the main product of Value Jean was jeans. The rugged garment continued to be a favorite across the galaxy. Denim had changed however. On some worlds cotton was very expensive or impossible to grow. An algae had been found on Sirrus Beta, which produced a fiber as a digestive by-product that had all of the qualities and strength of cotton. There was a huge tank and pipe system with “CAUTION – GENETIC MATERIAL” signs every three or four meters. Pearl assumed that contained the fiber producing algae. At one end of the factory, fibers were spun into thread which was fed into dying vats. The dyed thread was fed into machines that wove the familiar denim twill cloth. The cloth was treated and then fed onto huge rollers. Another part of the factory had the machinery for cutting and sewing the cloth into garments. They had templates to make jeans of all sizes and styles, and, in addition, could also make denim skirts and jackets.
There was one large room that attracted Pearl’s attention. It had a double door with “Restricted” painted on both doors and in front of the double door stood a guard in full body armor. It was an odd color for body armor. The plates were a powder blue or sky blue and the fabric, a dark gray. It had corporate security written all over it and it seemed out of place in a run down sweat shop factory.
The morning proved to be uneventful. Pearl drank enough coffee to get that acid feeling in her stomach. She had read all of the bulletins on the bulletin board to where she could recite most of them from memory. The buzzer finally rang for lunch and the machines on the factory floor quickly grew silent. There was a catering truck out by the loading dock. Sara purchased a sandwich while Pearl opted for a bowl of ramen. Value Jean employed about fifty factory workers. The break room had tables and chairs for twenty-four. Some workers left the premises for lunch. Some ate on the loading dock. There was a good crowd in the break room.
As the lunch break drew to a close, Sara went to her locker and came back with a stack of flyers. “Would you like to help me pass out flyers, comrade Aunt Pearl?” Sara asked.
“Flyers?” Pearl asked.
“Yes!” replied Sara with great enthusiasm. “Flyers to tell the workers about how the party can bring fairness and justice to their lives. How we should all unite as one. Revolutionize our society.”
“Revolution? These flyers will start a revolution?”
“Oh no, comrade. After the flyers come the pamphlets and after the pamphlets, they will want to read the books. And then the mind is opened and revolution occurs in the soul.”
“Flyers, pamphlets, books? I don’t think you know much about revolutions, Sara.”
“What do you mean, comrade Pearl? All true revolutions occur in the heart and soul. That’s why it’s imperative that I pass these out before the break is over.” And with that Sara bounded from table to table cheerfully handing out the flyers. After circulating through the break room, Sara headed toward the loading dock. Pearl watched her charge through the break room window. She felt a little sorry for Sara. Sara had spent so much of her life in academia and books that revolutions were merely the triumph of ideologies. Pearl seemed to remember from her education was that most revolutions occurred at the end of a gun barrel.
The workers were beginning to file out of the break room when Sara reached the guard in front of the double door of the restricted area. “Would you like a flyer, comrade guard?” asked Sara. No answer. “Comrade guard, you are a worker just like the rest of us. Fair wages and better life is for everyone not just the privileged few. It is not right that the privileged one percent enjoy ninety-nine percent of the wealth while the ninety-nine percent fight over one percent.”
“Buzz off, sister.” the guard hissed in a low whisper. At that moment the worst of all things happened. The double door opened and a tall red-haired man stepped out. And as he stepped out, Sara stepped into the open doorway and loudly said “Comrade workers the time has come to….” Before she could finish her sentence someone shouted “Grab that girl, she’s not supposed to be in here.”
Both the red-haired man and the guard whirled around. The surprised guard didn’t seem to know what to do. The red-haired man grabbed Sara by the wrist causing her to drop the flyers. “Oww,” shouted Sara, “That hurts, let go of me.” Her shout got Pearl’s attention, but Pearl was still in the break room behind the crowd of workers returning to work. Sara was struggling and kicked the red-haired man. The kick caused him to relax his grip and Sara broke free. But the guard, seeing Sara break loose, hit Sara with his gun. Sara screamed with pain.
An older man witnessing the struggle shouted “Hey, they can’t do that. Let’s go help that girl.” Someone else shouted “Yeah, she’s one of us.” With that the workers began running to Sara’s aid. The red-haired man regained his balance and grabbed Sara’s arm again and twisted it behind her back. Sara instinctively reached up to claw the man’s face, but he grabbed her other wrist and now had both arms pinned behind Sara’s back. “Help, help me!” shouted Sara, “Please, oh please let me go, I didn’t do anything.” The red-hair man snarled “Too bad, girlie.”
By then the first of the factory workers had reached the restricted doorway. The red-haired man shouted “We need help out here.” Two more guards came through the doorway. They drew their stun batons and a loud hum could be heard when they flicked them on. A worker hit one of the guards hard enough that he dropped his baton. Another worker picked it up and began swinging it wildly. The first guard had wrestled free and fired his pistol into the air. The shot caused a brief pause, but rather than stopping the mob, it only made them more angry.
With the fired shot, Pearl drew her needler. The guard’s body armor made the flechettes fired by the gun harmless unless she could get closer. The red-haired man was laughing and kicking at the workers while shaking Sara like a rag doll. A guard was wrestled down to the floor along with several workers. The red-haired man disappeared through the doorway with Sara. Pearl worked her way through the scrum and had gotten close for a shot. She raised the needler.
“Halt. This is the police.” boomed a voice from a loud speaker. “Everyone stop immediately, you are all under arrest.” Pearl looked behind her to see several police officers storming through the factory. She turned back around in time to see the last of the guards slip through the restricted doors. She dropped the needler and kicked it across the floor.
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