Short Story: The Race by Zoey Howell-Brown {Speculative Fiction}

My department had “no idea” of the plan at hand to exterminate us all and re-create A “new America”. The date this will go into effect states April 24, 2034, which is two weeks from today. This office space always had this dreary feeling to it, but today it’s intensified to the next phase of ill content. The beige colored walls confine me, leaving a canvas for my 5’4  shadow. The clear reflection from the cubicle fiberglass looks back at me, as I sit there paralyzed by the contents of this document. I feel sick to my stomach, after discovering this. I ran to the bathroom and regurgitated the last of my Jollof rice. The beaming fluorescent lights from the ceiling shine on my exhausted body , leaning on the cold and thankfully clean toilet seat, waiting for the homeostasis to consume my body again.

This experience, to a place where my empathetic intuitions are trapped between a physical and emotional realm. Eyi ni idahun ara mi si ibalokanjẹ? I guess today, it chose to collide and this is my response to trauma. My mind nor my stomach could fathom. I stared at the reddish-orange fermented acid, reflecting on what I had to experience to be an “American”. My mother and I immigrated from Lagos State as a young child with promises of a better life. We straighten our hair , wear western clothes and change our names to fit into this experiment they call a country, just to be another entity deemed worthy of erasure. Wọn yoo ko ri mi fun ẹni ti Mo wa, ṣugbọn ohun ti Mo jẹ!

As I sit here, as the only black woman in my department at the Pentagon, my co-existence has settled in after years of repressed anger I kept hidden for the sake of my livelihood. I knew scrolling around on the private server didn’t serve much purpose for me, but there’s a reason for everything, intentional or unintentional. Besides my yearn for truth, there was something that brought me to this, out of all the people in this office. Finally, I can use my skills to save lives instead of slaving away at a desk for eight hours in the name of cyber security. “Hey Zizi! whatcha doing?” as Milo frightens me behind my chair.

“Working? Isn’t that why we’re here?” as I laugh nervously. Milo is a piece of work sometimes. This is the same man who asks me for advice on how to cater to his black husband, as if I’m supposed to know? Yet, he always leaned on me as a friend, since we both carry the weight of being second-generation immigrant children, completing basic in the same unit and ironically enough working in the same department.  

“Wanna go for a smoke break?” he asks. “Sure, I need a drag”

We step outside on this warm April day, and I space out into the pentagon memorial. The faded benches illuminate the space and spread light over this dreary place, despite the overgrown trees next to every grave. The benches are engraved with the names of both civilians and employees alike who knew someone at the very least, who risked their lives to have their positions. If only they lived to know the America they died for, compared to now.“You okay? You’re spacing out.”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” 

“You don’t seem fine…I saw you run to the bathroom not too long ago…”

“I’m fine! Just got a little sick, that’s all.”

“Hmm. If you came over for dinner, that wouldn’t happen. Greek food never makes you sick.” as he lowers his glasses at me, showing the tan lines from his frames. I will admit, he’s a decent cook. I know the plan will affect him. He would never forgive me if I didn’t tell him. I wouldn’t forgive myself. I took one last hit of the cigarette we shared and continued the shift.

The remaining hours fly by as I constantly think about this document and my experiences growing up in America. I will never forget my first experiences of being in this country. The recollections of Des Moines, Iowa always come back to haunt me. I can remember it was just yesterday, when I saw that cross burned in front of our yard and the spray- painted exclamation “GO BACK TO AFRICA” on the 1995 Honda Odyssey my mother bought with her first paycheck. The harassment I would receive at school crushed the self worth I had to get up and keep going. I always won the fights I would get into with the white girls that antagonized me on a daily basis. Only to accept my truth of being the antithesis of the American woman. I fought for my existence then, and from what it looks like I’ll still have to now. 

What would otherwise be considered a typical Tuesday comes to an end. I log off this dusty computer, leave my cubicle, grab my belongings and prepare to go home. Hiding my knowledge about the plan, would go against who I am; a person who believes in the greater virtues of humanity. Especially if I have the control to help the people who will suffer, I do whatever it takes; even if this means losing my life for others to live on their own. “Hey Milo, can we talk for a second?”

I just caught him before he unlocked his car. “Sure what’s up?” 

We walk back towards the memorial and find a seat on one of the benches.

“Okay. I don’t believe the office knows this but please promise me you won’t tell them I told you this?”

Milo, confused by my question “…what? Aziza, you know you can trust me.”

“Are you sure?” I responded “Umm…” Milo looks around for anyone around us eavesdropping, “what’s going on?” he whispers as confirmation that the coast is clear.

“… I happened to unlock this encrypted file.”

“…Okay. What encrypted file?” as he asked with uncertainty.

“The file contained a document that will be an executive order soon and will put everyone in danger.”

“What do you mean ‘everyone’?”

“U.S. civilians! Including us! I urge you and you to leave the city for a while if you can. They are targeting queer married couples”

“…Aziza, you stopped me from getting into my car… for this?” He sarcastically puts his hand on my shoulder lightly and lowers his glasses again. “I thought we had this talk about conspiracy theories you read on the internet and trying to ‘find truth’ in them.”

“Why don’t you believe me?! Think about what you’ve been through as a child from Greece. Confused as to why they treated you that way? So many Americans have this hate in their hearts, it only makes sense based-”

“But Aziza it doesn’t.” as he cuts me off. “Yeah, we have the same background, but my experiences never compared to yours. I’m very sorry for what happened to you in your childhood, but our parents made opportunities here and so did we. This is one of the only countries in the world that queer people can exist peacefully. The government works for people who are willing to work with it and make them change!”

“But, Milo hear me ou-” 

“I have to go, Aziza.” as he walks to his car. “Oh yeah, you might want to take a break from the deep web? You’re driving yourself mad!”

 Milo dragged his feet, using the inkling of tolerance and heart, with tears rolling down his dull blue eyes the next day at work. He only vented to me today. He didn’t want to out himself since I was the only one who’s known him the longest at the Office. The FBI arrested his husband and sent him to a “reversal camp” in Newport News, VA. Milo mentioned to me before his fear of being open to the office. He was hired under the impression that he was a straight man and his husband was his “childhood friend”. However, his husband was openly gay at his job, and as soon as an agent noticed his wedding photos with Milo at his job, they arrested him. This was part of the extermination plan. Reversal camps are implemented to “reverse the illness” in citizens. The plan was supposed to be implemented two weeks after yesterday! And now I don’t have time to wait. I have to work fast, since the FBI may come to our  office very soon to take people, including Milo to reversal camps. I go to a different cubicle during my lunch break. I know Sameen from data entry never logs off her computer during lunch, so I won’t be tracked too easily. 

It is so hard to move here quietly! The heels I’m wearing clash with the sound of marble floors walking through these hallways with the brightest of white fluorescent lighting reflecting on my brown face. I’m drawing attention, but not as much attention as crossing through the data center to get to the cubicle, outside of my department. Luckily, my security clearance is high (and wasn’t questioned this time). And I made it! I had 10 minutes to get back to my cubicle on my lunch break. I logged on the private server, unlocked the encrypted file for the document, and saved the file on a burn drive. Made it back to my seat just before everyone in the office gets back from break. O ṣeun ọlọrun!

After I get off at 5:00pm, I drive on 695 to Carroll County. I knew the libraries in that particular county are underfunded, which means the computers there are outdated. These computers are particularly difficult to track unusual activity, which also buys me time to find a plan to protect myself. I enter the dimly lit and relatively small library, log on as a first time guest on a computer. These people are looking at me like I’m from the moon. I overheard one woman whispering to the person next to her “why is she typing so fast?” I really need to make this quick before I draw too much attention again. Why is their only option of a server Microsoft Edge? This is worse than I thought. These poor children… I hack into the private server and anonymously post the document on a website specifically for government documents. I destroyed the drive and never looked back. 

I knew it would not take long for the government to find out who leaked this document to the general public. But burning all proof of those allegations would definitely keep them away long enough for me to find an escape plan of my own. Me? Stay here? No, no, no  Mo ti sọ ti nibi gun to!

 

Zoey Howell-Brown is a visual artist, textile designer and fiction writer from Baltimore, Maryland.

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