The North American Union
Mary smoothed down the fabric of her dark green skirt, checking herself in the mirror. She pulled out her tube of red lipstick and carefully tried to put it on. She really hated the way it made her look, like a clown. She couldn't do it right. Her mouth always looked too big and like a cartoon character. She took out a tissue and tried to wipe away the spots where she messed up, but that made it look worse. She threw the lipstick on the floor in frustration.
Her roommate, Dominique, stood in the door.
"I just can't do it right," Mary said. "It looks good on you. On me it looks stupid."
"Here," Dominique came over and picked up the lipstick. "Put your lips out like this." She pushed her lips out in a pouty kiss face.
Mary imitated her and Dominique smoothed the red tube over in gentle strokes. Dominique was Haitian, and she was singing something in French Creole. Sometimes Mary understood it. Dominique tried to teach her when no one else was listening. They were only supposed to speak Spanish or English, the official national languages.
"There now," Dominique said, putting the cap back on. "Go like this." She pressed her lips together, making a popping sound. Mary did the same and they both giggled at how it looked. Mary looked at herself in the mirror. That was better, but she still looked ridiculous. The South Region President liked the ladies of her Guard to be feminine and the men masculine. And for both to look intimidating, too. A delicate balance for the women, an almost impossible image to achieve. Who could be scared of a clown?
"You ready?" Dominique asked.
They walked downstairs and out of the dormitory to the SRP's rooms. Mary liked how people moved out of their way when they were coming. It made her feel important and respected. She'd had a desperate need for both her entire life. She was usually self-conscious of her height in high heels, but when people looked at them in awe and admiration, she stood tall, holding her head up. She loved it.
There were citizens outside the fence watching for the SRP's departure. People holding up their phones to capture it waved and shouted at them.
"God bless you ladies!"
"God bless the Guard!"
Mary and Dominique smiled and gave them a nod. They weren't supposed to wave or really acknowledge them at all, but this kind of attention always went to Mary's head. When they got there, the male guards scanned the metal disks in their throats to let them in. Mary and Dominique stood in the back of the room in silence and at attention.
The SRP was surrounded by people. One woman was sliding the medallion over her shoulders and clasping the heavy thing in the back. It looked like something 16th century noblemen wore, pure gold, and etched with the symbols of the South Region. Another was putting on her makeup. Another was twisting up her white-blonde hair with bobby pins. It always took the SRP a while to get ready. Mary had never seen her in person, but she'd seen her on television during her first campaign. She'd gone out in front of all those people and the cameras without any cosmetics at all and before all of her skin treatments. She looked hideous. Burns and scars all over her and no eyelashes. They'd fallen out after having her eyes sewn shut for weeks.
She told the people of the South Region that the Old Republic had done this to her. She wanted to show them what they were capable of, and they would do it to all of them, too. She would fight to keep the South stable, and immediately and mercilessly punish any Old Republican that defied the Union. Public sympathy for her was almost universal. The video of her speech had nearly a billion views. She'd won by a landslide.
"Five minutes, ma'am!" Someone shouted from the hall.
"Where are they from?" She asked one of her aides standing by her as she slid black gloves over her fingers.
"They're Sudanese. One is from Nairobi, I think."
The SRP looked in the mirror to check herself one last time, then froze when she saw Mary in the reflection.
"Scully?" She said.
Surprised, Mary straightened her back and flicked her eyes forward. "Yes, ma'am!"
The SRP turned around to look at her and it was hard for Mary not to look directly back. Her eyes were icy blue. Glowing almost. She looked from Mary's badge to her face. "Your name is Scully?"
"Yes, ma'am," Mary replied. Everyone was looking at her now. She could feel her cheeks flushing.
The SRP looked at her carefully for a few seconds. It felt like an eternity. The whole room quiet and staring at them. The SRP turned away slowly, then put on her wide-brimmed hat and dark glasses. She wore them to keep the sun off her skin. It was extra-sensitive from all the surgeries.
"Alright," she said. "Let's go."
Everyone stood at attention, and saluted, marching alongside her out of the building into the sweltering heat. It was still nearly one hundred degrees and the sun was already starting to set. As soon as the people saw her, there was a roar of cheers and shouting. She was well-liked. She might as well be since the South was the hardest region to manage. Hurricanes slammed into the islands year round, swamps harbored illness-spreading insects, and miles of desert coughed up nothing but dust to the west. It was an ecological nightmare.
And then there were the snakes.
Oh, the snakes.
People in decades past had let their pet pythons loose in the Everglades. The pythons had since multiplied, breeding along the Gulf Coast, getting larger, invading homes, killing pets and children.
"Are Alex and Walter there already?" She shouted over the noise of the helicopters, six of them set up and ready to go.
"Yes, ma'am," her aide shouted back. "Chained and ready."
Alex and Walter were alligators. Genetically altered alligators created specifically to devour all the snakes. They stood almost as tall as horses, their jaws enlarged and thickened with bone mass and teeth. No snake on earth could squeeze them to death. The SRP oversaw the project personally. It was one of many reasons she continued to remain in office, and no one dared run against her.
Mary followed the SRP into the main helicopter with Dominique behind her. They sat in the back section, the SRP in the middle, squeezed between two male Guards. As they ascended, Mary looked down at all the people, waving and cheering. There usually wasn't this many people, but this event was special. They were meeting with representatives from the African Union and it was the last meeting of the decade. Next year there would probably be more crowds as they ushered in a new decade.
They were flying to the Center, which wasn't far from the South Region capital. The Center was built upon the point where the four regions intersected. Mary could see it coming into view. She'd never been inside it before.
There was a wall built around it, encasing it in a giant oval. Mary read in one of her classes how people of this country once wanted a wall. In a different place, and for far different reasons, but they had their wall now. Mary looked down to see nothing but brown. Sandy, uninhabitable brown. But as soon as they crossed over the wall, everything was green. Lush greenery everywhere, and tall glassy buildings with the letters NAU centered in a diamond shape at the top of each one. She watched the reflection of the helicopters in the glass, hovering like misshapen dragonflies. The words SOUTH REGION on the sides rippled over windows as they moved along.
Mary's teeth were chattering and she wasn't sure if it was from the unstable ride or from nerves. She had only seen these events on TV, and this was her first time there in person. She could see the stadium now, set up in the center of the Center. It used to be a football stadium, but the Center planners had expanded it, making it bigger and adding more seating.
"The North is entering now, ma'am," one of the men beside the SRP said. He opened up the live video feed on his tablet to show her. Mary looked over their shoulders to see.
North was Burns. His Guard wore blue, and he was dressed from head to toe in white. A white suite, white tie, and white shoes. There was a fleet of Arctic wolves flanking him on both sides, their white fur matching him. Mary could see they were already panting, not at all used to this climate. In the background she could see some attendants filling up buckets of ice water and preparing an air conditioned tent for them.
"East," the male Guard announced.
Mary looked away. She wasn't really interested in the East. That was Avenham. His guard wore black, and he came in with bears that had been drugged to counteract any aggression.
She waited until they said West was entering, then leaned forward to watch, along with Dominique and all the other women in the helicopter.
West was Leonard Hosteen, a Navajo. He was the third native president and out of the current four, he was the youngest, only in this early 30s.
And he was handsome.
Very, very handsome.
He was dressed in traditional Navajo clothing, his medallion draped over his shoulders and swaying against his chest, creating a strange mix of colonizer/colonized attire. His Guard wore red and every single one of them had their faces and arms painted like his. The contrast against their uniforms was startling. Hosteen rode in on the back of a red horse accompanied by four pumas. They were probably drugged as well, or that horse wouldn't be there.
He smiled a bright smile, and waved to all the gushing women, but especially to the indigenous people. The West was becoming a haven for all the native people of the Union. The Inuit, Ojibway, and Cherokee had already left their homelands to relocate to the West. Burns and Avenham were not able to handle them.
Mary and Dominique watched, then exchanged a glance. He was just so incredibly attractive. It most certainly factored into his re-election. Mary snapped back to attention when the helicopters began their descent, going over what she needed to do. When they landed, Mary went to get the flag from the Guards who were already there. That was her task: to carry the South Region flag in front of the procession. She was starting to get nervous. Everyone was watching and she wanted to do it right. There would be people watching on TV. Probably her mother and grandmother, and maybe even her half-siblings. She didn't care at all if her father was watching.
Six Guards went to take hold of the reins of Alex and Walter. Someone had banded their mouths shut so they wouldn't bite anyone. They could snap Avenham's bears right in half. When they were ready, Alex and Walter lurched forward, leading them all into the stadium, nearly dragging along the three men each it took to hold onto them. There were commentators and media watching from all over the world via drones and satellites. Mary could see them up in the sky swirling around the stadium. They always commented on how the SRP chose to come in with reptiles rather than mammals like her counterparts, as if that was supposed to mean something.
Mary saw light first as they entered, blinding blue-white light as the powerful bulbs from atop the stadium shone down on them. She could see a marquee with NOW ENTERING: SOUTH REGION AND PRESIDENT MARITA COVARRUBIAS circling around the top. She thought the deep throbbing in her chest was from the drums, basses and snares accompanied by a fanfare of brass instruments. But it was all the people stomping up and down on the risers in excitement. It felt like they might start an earthquake.
She heard an announcement from somewhere as they came to a stop, "All stand for President Covarrubias!"
Mary turned sideways, still holding onto the flag, as the SRP saluted the crowd, then went up on the stage. Mary saw the representatives from Africa across from them in a glass room, likely bullet proof, even though concealed-carry was banned in the Center. The African Union had recently taken Morocco and Egypt and they were headed for Yemen, and towards certain war with the Arabic Union. That's why they were here, for NAU support.
Mary stood as still as she could as they went through all the formalities. As strong as she was, the waving fabric was already starting to get heavy and her arms were aching. Every time the flag waved to one side in the breeze, she could see Hosteen, sitting there with the rest of the four. One of his pumas was laying at his feet, calm and heavily sedated. At least she had a nice view.
All of this was really for show anyway. All the decisions had been made weeks before behind closed doors, but that wasn't as exciting. And besides, they would do this again at the beginning of next year with representatives of the Arabic Union.
Avenham's voice came over the speakers now as he addressed the crowd. One of his bears had stood up on its hind legs, cocking its head to the side, looking at the wolves, howling in their tent. When the flag rippled to the side again, Mary watched Hosteen. He had been keeping his eyes forward, but he turned his head towards her, looking right at her. Mary's heart pounded and the flag moved back to cover him again. Why was he looking at her? Or maybe he was looking past her at something else? It moved away again, and he was still looking, staring right at her, into her eyes. Mary felt her hands start to sweat inside her gloves. She tightened them around the pole so she wouldn't drop it. What should she do? Should she smile and nod? Should she acknowledge him at all? No, no, she had to keep looking straight ahead.
The whole event lasted about an hour. South was the last in so they were the first out. Mary turned away from Hosteen, bewildered, and marched out with the SRP. She thought she could still feel his eyes on her as she exited the stadium. Behind her, Mary could hear some of the other female Guards talking.
"I think he was looking at me!"
"No he wasn't."
"Yes he was! I swear!"
"I think he was looking at Mary."
Mary smiled to herself as she boarded the helicopter. She didn't hear the conversation between the SRP and her aide as they rode back. She didn't hear Dominique's comments on how awesome that was and how well they did this time. She was much too consumed with her own thoughts: he was looking at her. That actually happened. Other people saw it. But after a while, her smile faded as she remembered who she was: the bastard daughter of half-siblings and the granddaughter of traitors. Anyone looking at her in that way would surely avert their eyes once they knew that about her. She was – what was it Eve, her half-sister, had said to her? An abomination. That was it. She didn't know what that word meant at the time. It sounded mean and insulting. She knew what it meant now.
When they got back, Mary and Dominique went back to their rooms to change into their casual clothing. They were off duty for the rest of the evening. But as soon as they shut the door and began talking excitedly, there was a knock. Dominique opened it to see Lieutenant Skinner standing there. He looked over Dominique's head at Mary.
"The SRP wants to see you," he said.
"Me?" She asked, her heart starting to pound again.
"Yes. Right now. Let's go."