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Red Impulse: Extopia by Donna Gregory
Red Impulse: Extopia by Donna Gregory
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RED IMPULSE: EXTOPIA
1.26.99-part one

  

Notes: Gabriel is the creation of my good friend K. Brinkman, who generously lets me borrow her characters on a regular basis.

 

To the winners go the history books.

They called it the "the day of the phoenix" - the day the devestating war with Galactor ended... the day that shining bird of hope circled the globe and opened people's hearts to each other. It was the day the remainder of the Galactor forces signed the "Pax Phoenicia" with the UN...paving the way for a future of bright hope and promise. In a world that had been thrown into chaos.. The promise of order and peace was too tempting to pass aside.

Two generations later, the 22nd century dawned on a faberge egg of utopian society..brilliant and glittering on the outside, it's inner nature well hidden. No disease, no hunger, no inequality to plague mankind anymore, thanks to the UN and it's children, the ISO and the International Eugenics Council, using the insight granted by the phoenix and the advanced Galactor technologies turned over to them.

After it made it's circuit around the globe, the phoenix took up residence in the sky above the earth, the spirits of it's five young Heroes, guardian angels for a new world order.

And when I say Heroes.. With a capital "H".. It's in the sense of Achilles.. Or Krishna.. Or Cu Chulain. Heroes in the legendary, Bullfinches' Mythology, Disneycom Megaflix sense.

It's the only type of hero a perfect world will allow. In a world where violence is being systematically bred out of humanity like turkeys are bred with big thighs, thanks to the IEC, the police officer and the soldier are quaint relics.. In a world where disease is a shuddering footnote of the pre-Pax Dark Ages, the doctor and the nurse are looked at with the same regard as the mideaval leech. In a world of superior breeding, everyone can be a Michael Jordan or Mark McGwire.

And you know what?

It's all a big

steaming

pile of birdshit.

*************

Tosh looked down at the blue-inked pen that had finally stopped moving almost of it's own accord on the pebbled white surface of the pad of recycled, tree-free paper sitting on the featureless white lacquer finish of his desk. He stared at the words for a while, then crumpled up the paper and ate it. It tasted like packing foam.

Not that Tosh was entirely certain of what packing foam tasted like, either. But it tasted like what he *imagined* packing foam would taste like. He made a mental note to actually try some the next time he got a "care package" in the mail.

He'd been having these literary episodes since the semester began a month ago, and was seriously beginning to wonder if he shouldn't have his head examined by the university's medpsych. After all, economics major or no, he was just at the presitgious New Jork University for the sports... he wasn't supposed to be thinking. He didn't enjoy the process that much anyways. It always reminded him of the gaps IN his thinking. He fidgeted with his ID card, the plastic edges worn smooth by their constant handling. The holographic image on it contained a litany of information that he knew by heart now, stored behind the visual of his face.

Toshi Washio. (Yes, *that* Washio, he would find himself explaining at the beginning of every new class during introductions. The picture staring back at him bore the same wide, clear blue eyes that had been his grandfather's hallmark, but framed by a cardinal's wealth of red hair rather than dark) Age 19. Sophmore, NJU. Blood Type: A, 175 cm, 75 kg. Hair: Red Eyes: Blue Parents: Shiro and Akiko Washio (deceased) Family Contact: Makoto Washio (cousin), New Utoland City

It was those last few lines that were the worst. He didn't remember Shiro or Akiko. The imagecard in his wallet of the handsome dark-haired man, and his lovely red-headed wife might have well as *come* with the wallet. He'd woken up in the hospital a year and a half ago, the kindly medic explaining to him in overly hushed tones as to how sorry they all were.. How he was the only survivor of the tragic, tragic accident that had robbed the world of one of the sons of the legendary Eagle.

The amnesia was common, the meds had assured him. It was only human nature to blot out tragedy. They gave him family pictures, momentos salvaged from his home not a single one of which made an emotional impact. Neither did a meeting with his cousin (the by-now hereditary and largely ceremonial Gatchaman), which was largely calculated as an ISO photo-op. Because of who he was, of who his cousin was, the ISO had eventually packed him up and sent him off to the college of his choice. A magnanimous and personal gesture for an organization entrusted with the technological well-being of an entire planet.

So here he was in a dorm room in New Jork - his half of the room spartan compared to his roommate's colorful posters and basic lack of housekeeping talent. Tosh sighed and leaned back in the plastic and metal chair, rubbing his eyes. The door to the room opened with a shushing sound, like it was trying to get the person coming through to be quiet. "Hey, joq-boy. Trying to figure out how to make fire by rubbing two sticks together?" Ferdinand quipped. He was a swarthy, skinny, flouncy, ferret of a fine arts major, constantly complaining of how art today was no more than mid-20th century Soviet public sculpture - hardly worth the grand and noble title of "Art" (art being always said as though it had a capital "A".. Tosh was never short of amazed at Ferdy's ability to do this)

In response, he shook his head, immediately feeling cro-magnon at the pasty chaw of writing paper still in his mouth. "Nrthin'.. Hmwrk.." he choked out, scrambling for the room's tiny fridge and a bottle of herbal-enriched WonderPop to try and wash it down.

Ferdy watched him with the same amusement he'd watch the ape house at the zoo. "You are so old skool it's not even news, hermano." He lost interest in Tosh with that, rooting through his clothes for ones that bore no visible difference from the stark black ones he had on at the moment. "There's going to be some poetry slam down at the JavaShaq, duskish or so. You gonna drag your knuckles over there and watch yours truly bring the house down?"

Tosh shook his head in-between coughing gulps of the green, fizzing liquid. "Mel..dinner.." he was able to get out after the last of the paper was washed down. "{Gack}..Mel wanted to go to the movies..she's crazy for Petra Sorenson's flix then we were..{choke}..gonna hit Hayashiland."

Ferdy patted him amiably on the back. "See you there, then, Throg." Before vanishing into the bathroom to rehearse for his poetry reading. The scat-patter of Ferdy's beatnik verse came in staccato bursts through the door.

"Birdboys wear-the symbol of freedom-but it's red

redblooded redfaced misplaced-hobnail rattattat on the sidewalks

cats-on a hot tin roof-searching for truth

but you ain't gonna find it-in this eggshell town

down downtown

where the words flow like-water

and the word travels fast

Faster than they fly.."

Ferdy's words were lost in the burble of toothpaste, and Tosh frowned, turning his attention to the shiny red label of the WonderPop bottle.

The symbol of freedom.

**************

The streets around NJU teemed with life no matter what the hour. Shoppers and touristas mingling with the soyburger street vendors and souvenir sellers jostlings with the students.

Mel was waiting for him in front of Ramsey House, tapping her foot and pointing significantly at her chrono when she saw the glimpse of red hair coming towards her. "All I can say is at least you're consistently late, Toshi Washio." She rested her hands on her hips, the late spring breeze tugging at her hair - each strand coated to produce a peacock's-tail iridescence. "You know we're going to miss the flix at this rate."

Tosh gave her an innocent smile. He couldn't much stand the blond Huntworlan actress and her grating singing voice. Couldn't much stand musicals in general. And that was pretty much all you got in your choice of flix. "Well..we could always just hang around Hayashiland..Ferdy said he'd cruise by after his poetry contest"

Mel rolled her eyes dramatically. "All you do there is eat and run up a tab. I swear I've never met anyone so bad with gelt as you!" But she took his arm anyways. "And that little creep Ferdy and his poetry. He says some pretty stupid stuff about the government..."

Tosh shrugged as they walked, passing the patrolling Public Safety Enforcers in their beaked helmets, the stylized red bird logos on their body armor. The past few decades, they'd been an increasing symbol of the UN government's pledge to world order, a comforting reminder that the UN would never allow something like the Galactor war to ever disrupt the peace and security of the world again.

One of the enforcers nodded at the young couple, a tip of the helmet, before going to harass a vendor about his license.

It wasn't until they reached the neon-lit din of Hayashiland...the popular franchise spot that was part disco, part multiethnic cuisine restaurant, and part entertainment center... that Tosh realized he'd been walking with his shoulders so tight and squared, he could have used them to level Ferdy's "leaning tower of vids". He sighed and Mel nodded, sensing the tension. "You have got to learn to relax around the birdboys, luv. You look like you're going to snap around them..." she patted his arm, finding them a table.

It wasn't until a tray of chili anpan, two pitchers of brewz, and a lot of gelt wasted on games later, that Mel muzzily wondered aloud where the hell Ferret Ferdy was.

A controlled stagger took them to a conspicuously closed JavaShaq, a reflective strip across the door. "Things musta gotten out of hand. Crazy artsy people." Mel made a snorty, vaguely drunken laugh. "C'mon. Ease up there cowgirl.." Tosh poked her in the arm. "Public drunkeness is a fined offence.." He was feeling pleasantly numb, but not numb enough to feel a total lack of concern. "Th' ranch is that way.. Time to stable up the ponies.."

Mel stared at him, suppressing another laugh, before they were able to find their way back to the campus.

***************

Morning came and fluttered through the blinds in Tosh's room on delicate little fairy wings before dropping an anvil on his throbbing, cotton-stuffed brain, and chittering psychotically back out.

"Oh... ghod..." He clutched his head, wondering if his legendary forefather ever faced mornings like this. The animated rabbit clock that Mel had bought him was jumping around, flailing a carrot at him "getupgetupgetup ya big dumb cromag! You gotta be in class in half an hour!" He shot the rabbit a virulent stare and staggered through the immaculately clean dorm room to the empty bathroom.

Slowly, then, he leaned back out the bathroom door, and looked around the room through narrowed eyes. All his belongings were here.. So theoretically this was the correct room. But...

Not only was Ferdy not here. Neither was his stuff. None of it.

Gone.

Like he'd never been here.

He stared at the empty half of the room until the rabbit started to yell at him again.

**********

He'd stop at the housing office on the way back from his 8:45 chemistry lab (part of his minimum UN education requirements) he promised himself. Find out what the hell happened to his roommate.

He was running past the milling throng of student bodies into the Nambu Memorial Science Building, toothbrush still hanging out of his mouth when his forward direction of motion was suddenly altered with a serious loss of momentum.

In other words, he ran into someone. Hard.

Notepad and text skidded across the polished floor as Tosh choked out his toothbrush onto the shirtfront of the person he was laying on top of.

Grey eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses (a fashionable affectation.. Vision defects were so easily corrected) glared at him. "Are you going to puke a hairball up on me while you're at it?" Handsome and pale-haired, the young man had the overly serious air of someone rapidly approaching graduation.

Tosh began to work up a reply when his voice left him.. He had the most peculiar feeling..

Drowning in the air, a newborn's lungs

full of polyamniotic gel stinking of the sea

grey eyes and steady hands balancing those

first unfamiliar steps

Do you hear voices now?

Not just "push the bad lady off the train platform"

voices in your head

But joan of arc quality voices

saying "society is eating itself from the inside out"oroborous

that fabrege egg of mirrors and smoke is just filled with decay

and the people need a hero.

...Tosh scrambled off the older student with an unintelligble sound, gathering his things, rushing to class without looking back at the grey eyes following him.

***********

"Essential Modern Chemistry" was the most basic, old skool, cromagnon science class at NJU, reserved for students who only needed the most elementary of tech classes to fulfill their major requirements, and Tosh, like his fellows, managed it fairly well.

Begoggled and begloved, he sat across from Mel, the tabletop monitor showing the professor explaining the day's experiment with polymer chains.

"...rada, my teaching assistant this semester, is going to look in on you mooks.." the professor was saying, snapping Tosh back to awareness. Mel rolled her eyes. "Joqs. Earth to Tosh. You in there?" He nodded, glancing back at the monitor. "Yeah, just a little hungover.." he offered, smiling.

"That might explain why you left your toothbrush in the hallway" Toshi froze at the same voice that had questioned his ability to generate hairballs, and slowly.. Slowly turned to meet the grey eyes with their amused smirk.

"Oh, ghod. I'm doomed"

********

"Ok everyone. I want computer models of one of the polymers we discussed today, and a short paper on it's practical applications. Class dismissed. Except for toothbrush boy."

Mel snickered and waved goodbye, as Tosh watched his classmates file out under the watchful gaze of the TA. Before long it was just them, and the gentle background hum of the lab equipment. Gabriel. That was his name. Gabriel Karada. He was a grad student and sci-dep TA this semester. Gabriel sat on the edge of a table, folding his arms. "Ok, other than the fact that you horked Crest all over my shirt this morning, you seemed ... more than a little distracted in class. That's not really acceptable mister.. :he glanced at the register onscreen: Washio?"

Toshi fidgeted with the safety goggles. It was true. He'd screwed up his and Mel's assignment royally today. Mainly because he'd been watching Karada.

He couldn't shake the feeling that he knew him.... the first time since waking up at St. Lucien General, he felt like he *knew* someone. He saw Karada nodding and realized with an embarrassed start that he'd said it out loud.

"So you're wondering if we knew eachother before your... your accident?" He asked in a perfectly neutral voice, and Tosh felt as though the young man were trying to dissect him just by looking at him.

"Silly, I know. I'm sorry. "bout this morning.. And everything. My roommate's.. Gone.. I gotta go check with housing.. I'm sorry. A lot on my mind.." He shrugged, watching the TA's face grow interested.

"Your.. Roommate?" Toshi nodded, immediately becoming wary. "..... yeah. He's gone. Like.. Everything.. Gone."

"He was at the JavaShaq last night, right?" Karada leaned forward. "All closed up now by the Public Safety Enforcers. Places like that are hotbeds of anti-UN sentiment."

Birdboys wear-the symbol of freedom-but it's red

Tosh blinked. "What.. Are you saying.. His stupid poem.. He got.." he flailed "taken away by the Enforcers or something?" He was incredulous, but Karada simply pushed his glasses up his nose. "I'm not saying.. Anything." That infuriatingly neutral voice again, emphasized by a shrug. "Go check with housing. They'll tell you he had a family emergency and transferred to be closer to home." With that, Karada gathered his notepad and his text. "Maybe we'll talk later, Mr. Washio."

Tosh watched him leave, dumbstruck for a few moments, before following out. To be sure, the housing office told him exactly what the TA said they would, which Tosh took with a nod and a smile for the helpful receptionist. The smile hid the growing

concern gnawing at him. It overshadowed everything else, a fact that was duly noted by his coach.

"WASHIO! Get off the field till you're thinking again!"

So he did. He was lost in thought and rising steam in the showers when a voice startled him. "I hate to say I told you so..."

Tosh turned to face Karada, leaning against a locker. "...but.."

"But you were right. How..?" Tosh paused, looking down, then turning around again, his back to Karada. "How did you know?"

"Because that's what they always say when a student disappears." The response came softly, sending a chill through Tosh's damp skin. ".....you make it sound like it happens all the time."

"...it does." Karada noted blandly. "After all, the university is the traditional petri dish of dissent." Tosh turned off the water, and stood staring at the white-tile wall. "Why are you telling me this?"

There was a momentary chuckle. "I'm not telling you anything." Tosh could feel the grey eyes boring into his back. "If you want me to tell you something, I'll see you at history park tonight."

When Tosh turned around to question him, Karada was gone.

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