Feran Wolfpaw stole a private moment to peer into the queerly bright sky above the crowds. The deep blue seemed to flash and flare with an energy all its own as it sometimes appears to do between stray late storms on a hot August day.
“Is Allaria coming?” he asked the tiger/human hybrid Recombinant standing beside him.
The tigress hesitated. Her tail twitched. “No. She’s in Recomax.”
Feran continued to watch the sky to let the disturbing news settle. Another storm was collecting in the north. He tried to piece together how long it had been since he and Allaria split and why the time had slipped away so easily. Allaria loved storms. He wondered if she could see enough sky out her tiny window in solitary to know when there were storms outside. He wondered if she cared, shivering on the concrete cot of the cell, her fur falling out in clumps from the chemical used to kill every hair follicle on the bodies of Recomax life-sentence mammalian inmates. It wasn’t necessary, but it was done anyway to break their wills. They were also not provided any clothing or blankets, just some straw. “Recomax,” the warden was fond of explaining every time he was featured in a news spot, “isn’t for humans.” If Allaria hadn’t been broken to the point of lunacy yet, she soon would be, and then it wouldn’t be long before she found a guaranteed way out. Life sentences were short in Recomax.
Feran swallowed a lump in his throat and looked down the protest line. He frowned. Several demonstrators held “Reco Pride” signs. He told organizers to discourage those — they were too like old 21st century protest signs. Feran didn’t disparage civil rights movements of the past, but the Recombinant Equality Movement was something different. It needed to have its own identity. Opponents of the REM were quick to remind people that the movements of the past were about human differences and that the REM was about non-humans. They claimed the past precedents didn’t apply.
Others disagreed with him. “Any means necessary,” they told him, and proved it with terror tactics employed against friend and foe alike. Feran was no model of morality, but terrorizing innocent people didn’t sit right with him. Recombinants weren’t going to keep their human rights by behaving like animals. Even if, as he often said himself, cruelty were a uniquely human trait, to be viewed as human they would have to be even more humane and more civilized than the pure humans. Fearfulness might look like respect to some, but it is not the same thing at all. A fear-filled enemy, once regrouped, is a stronger foe than ever, willing even for martyrdom.
Feran, standing on the top of the Supreme Court steps at the edge of the Protest Zone, watched the people passing by below. Most tried to ignore the protestors, but a crowd of pure human stock had gradually been gathering in the Plaza to stare, and their expressions were not friendly. Tensions were winding tighter. The heat wasn’t helping.
Occasionally someone on the demonstration line would get up a little courage or ire and shout a slogan, then the rest would join in. Feran raised a paw every time and halfheartedly added his voice, but it wasn’t like the old days. His heart wasn’t into it like it used to be. Too many collarings.
“We’re people, too!” someone shouted. The line lit up with voices. Feran raised a paw-fist. “Persons! Persons!” he chanted along with the others into the thick, muggy air.
Eventually enthusiasm waned and the shouting faded and broke apart on the torid stillness into the fervent, unintelligible chatter of countless independent conversations. Feran went quiet before the others. Something on the breezeless atmosphere made his hackles bristle. An instinct born of experience gave him an uncanny prescience of trouble on the horizon. The hide on his snout wrinkled in a grimace. A black car slid slowly to a stop at the East Capitol intersection and turned onto First Street. Yellow lettering along the side flashed “Recombinant Control” in the hot sun as it leisurely crawled toward them.
“Go back to the zoo, beasts!” Feran’s attention snapped quickly to a husky 20-something in jeans and an old white t-shirt. The man glanced at the car and then his arm went back and he hurled something. It hit a canid on the front line in the head and he fell backward. Several of his fellow protestors nearby either dodged his fall or caught him. Feran didn’t care: he knew what was going down. Thunder rumbled and a grayness entered the air. Feran leaped down two steps toward the center of the line. He whirled on the step to face the protestors, ears forward, tail rigid, paws out in front of him.
“No!” he shouted. Too late. The tension in the air erupted in a ranting rage of fury. The protest line wavered from end to end, its energy building, straining in vain to restrain itself behind the Protest Zone cordon. The courthouse, with the sun sinking behind it and 12 justices inside deciding if Recombinants were really “persons” under law, loomed darkly, dwarfing the steps and the protestors. Feran felt it like a faithless David before a Goliath. Faithless. He’d become almost too cynical to care enough to fight anymore. The sky grew grim. Lightening flashed in the black clouds behind him.
“No rights for non-humans!” someone behind him shouted.
“Stop!” Feran shouted above the rising din. “This is just what they–” He saw a peculiar flash on the bared fangs in dozens of Recombinant muzzles. It spread and washed out the world in a gauzy curtain of white, and voices grew faint — all except his, which he realized was screaming — and then the protest line bulged and broke and paws, some shod and some bare, pelted all around him. He became aware of pain throbbing in the back of his skull and his head began to ache. The storm rolled in, the wind howling, and the blue sky and all Feran’s world went dark.
When he woke, he was on the floor of a paddy wagon, hedged in by furred feet of other protestors sitting along the walls. He tried to raise his head and winced. He put a paw up to feel his skull where it had been struck and found a hasp and a chain at his neck. Collared. He looked down his body where the chain passed under it and followed the dull, gray links to a collar identical to his around the neck of the tigress. She glared — not at him, but to say they’d been had.
“Yeah,” he said. “I know.”
Roughly 24 hours later, Feran and the tigress walked out of the police station. When he stepped out on the sidewalk, Feran Wolfpaw, duly registered 3rd generation Homo Sapiens/Canis Lupus genetic hybrid, began a new life in the USA, nation of his birth, a “person” no longer.
END PART 1