Chapter 3: Borton
“How’d he fit through the door?” Borton heard a patron whisper as he walked through the atrium of the library. He turned, and made eye-contact with the young lady who spoke the insult to her friend. It didn’t faze her to realize the statement had been heard. There wasn’t much of an effect on Borton either. A little out of breath from his hike, Borton couldn’t respond even if he wanted to. A smile never left his face.
The trek to the library was not far for Borton, who only lived a couple of blocks away. But it was enough for him to count it as his exercise regimen for the day. Walking was now his only form of transportation anyway. An allo wouldn’t be able to hold his weight, let alone a bike or a horse. But that wouldn’t stop him from keeping up with the latest news stories, and the library was the only way to do it. Ancestors used to receive newspapers on their doorsteps, back when paper was superfluous. After the shift to electronic records and the destruction of most paper during the SHF Era, this was no longer the case. Nowadays, whatever leftover paper products were hardly utilized but by the rich and the powerful. Otherwise, the news didn’t come to you, you went to find it.
Sitting at the news station in the middle of the news room, Borton’s belly stuck out so far his arms could hardly reach the computer’s keyboard. Laughter softly erupted behind him, and he didn’t need to turn to know who was finding humor in his inconvenience. Although Borton knew he was a heavyset fellow, it made him twitch every time someone made light of his size. Peering at their reflection in the screen, Borton reminded himself why he preferred coming to the library while the majority of people were in the middle of their work day. There were at least thirty people in this small building, and it was calmer in this moment than it would be all day.
“Hello, Mr. Bakala.”
Once again, Borton did not need to turn around, only this time he did. “Hello, Jaxine.”
Jaxine was one of the few people besides his wife and children who treated Borton with more than just civility. Most people hardly acknowledged his existence, but Jaxine was kind enough after all the years of visits to greet him whenever he came to the library.
Considering Jaxine’s situation, it was a bit of a surprise how she maintained such a blissful demeanor. Borton finally learned about Jaxine last year. Her assignment therapy was miscarried, but not in the more common sense. Most people who had an assignment miscarriage would actually only have a partial miscarriage. In that case, the assignment took, and the person could live as a male or female, but with the burden of sterility. A full miscarriage, on the other hand, meant the assignment was a failure, and the individual would have to live as an epicene for the rest of their lives. In both cases, the burden was grueling to bear.
Typically, an epicene would be viewed with derision, since they couldn’t have children. With laws requiring everyone to have children with relatively little delay, not only were they outcasts because they were exempt from the law, but also because they could not contribute to the important task of repopulation. It would be impossible to blend in with the rest of the population, considering everyone had a tattoo on their neck delineating their sex. An epicene, like Jaxine, would have a tattoo of a circle by itself. Males and females had their respective additions to the tattoo after their therapy completed. A person who finished their therapy and still only had a circle tattoo would struggle indefinitely. The common life of an epicene, or eppy, was to marry another of their own kind and take a low-level service job. The more they blended into the background, the less discrimination they received.
Rarely would someone in this situation be as cordial as Jaxine. She took it upon herself to request everyone refer to her as female, like she originally declared, even renaming herself Jaxine instead of Jaxin when she was given the option. Every once in a while, Borton would hear a patron refer to Jaxine as “ne” or “nem,” and she would politely ask them to adjust their speech.
The two of them had enough in common to become friends, being at the receiving end of jokes and all.
“We missed you yesterday,” Jaxine said with a grin.
“Yes, sorry,” Borton said as he clicked the screen to the news, a little surprised she knew his schedule. He came in often, but not every day. The two of them knew each other, but not well enough to know when to expect to see each other, at least not to his knowledge. “I usually would have, but my wife was able to take yesterday and today off from work, so we stayed in all day yesterday, and even today we’ll be off the grid while we’re at home.”
The phrase “off the grid” was so strange to Borton he wondered why he used it. He knew it had something to do with how electricity was provided to the world in the past, but that hadn’t been the case for centuries now.
“So, Toni doesn’t know either? Doesn’t she work for Robin Libera?”
Jaxine must have been one of those people with an eidetic memory. Borton couldn’t remember telling her his wife’s name, let alone what she did for a living. He took a deep breath to disguise his gasp and said, “Yeah, why?”
“I—I’ll just let you check out the news. I have to get some work done anyways, so I probably shouldn’t explain the whole thing.”
If it wasn’t awkward before, it was awkward now. There was something odd about how Jaxine reacted. “See you,” Jaxine said as she sped away.
Nervous now, Borton went to the list of news stories on the computer to scroll for anything interesting. The six dermal piercings along his forearm clicked and clacked as he moved the mouse. It didn’t take long for him to find what Jaxine was talking about. The screen automatically increased the size of the font based on the importance or popularity of the story. This was meant to make it easier for patrons to search and stay up to date with current issues. The biggest news stories appeared in the biggest font, and today there was one that might as well have taken up the entire screen.
GURU MACAAB’S ASSASSINATION SPAWNS ELECTION
“Shit,” Borton felt a pop in his neck when he jerked his head back. He clicked the headline and absorbed all the information.
After reading only half the article, Borton closed down the computer. He thanked Jaxine on the way out, but the two of them knew he needed to hurry. Even as he moved, the entire story hadn’t completely sunk in.
From what Borton gathered, three days ago one of the longest-tenured gurus in the authoritative division was brutally murdered. The assassination was attributed to The Fire Men, a terrorist group who rarely made an appearance but made their presence known whenever they did. Two details were evidence the heinous act was performed by them: the building was burned to the ground, and the guru’s body was splayed out in the street, surrounded by a ring of unlit firewood. The unlit firewood represented the terrorist group stating they were not finished. They were never finished, only went into hiding until the next terrorist act. The most fearful characteristic of the group was that their motives were left untold. Everyone assumed they had reasons for what they did, but nobody ever knew for sure.
The title of the article also referenced the election. Borton did not need to read into it to understand his role. Robin Libera, considered to be the future of the Umzali government, had recently won the election to be a representative of Fenicia within the authoritative division. Representative Libera becoming a guru was not expected to happen for at least another two years. This assassination changed everything. Borton’s wife, Toni, would play a huge role in his campaign, as she was Libera’s primary advisor.
Borton felt guilty as he marched down the road toward his house. He had asked Toni to stay at home for the last two days during downtime at work. Robin was comfortably seated in a position of mediocre influence. Recent events gave him a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, although it was in the worst circumstances.
The timeline ran through Borton’s head as he tried to think of how angry Toni’s boss would be. It took one day for a wingmail pigeon to travel with a message. If the murder occurred in the early morning two days ago, word would have reached their area of town yesterday afternoon. Which meant it had been less than a day since Robin found out. He may have been trying to reach Toni by radio last night, but if she didn’t respond to his call at night it would not be a serious issue. However, with her radio still turned off during the morning, as Borton had requested, Robin might have grown angry by now.
Approaching his house, Borton imagined what he would say to his wife when he walked in:
Honey, you’re going to want to sit down for this. I was at the library and read an article that Guru Macaab was assassinated two days ago, and the spot for a new guru just opened up. I’m so sorry, but you need to turn on your radio in case Robin’s trying to reach you. Or find a way to get to the office as soon as possible. I’ll take care of the kids when they get back from your sister’s place. You have other things you need to take care of. Hurry!
One last deep breath as he pulled on the door, and Borton prepared for the treachery of the conversation.
“Toni? Where are you? I have something to tell you, it’s important.” Borton called out to the four-bedroom house. There was no answer, but Borton did not need to hear anything to know she was home. The scent of baked goods filled the house and Borton immediately felt the hunger pangs. He began his trek to the kitchen, but he was stopped at the doorway.
Toni was waiting for him, wearing nothing but the thick oven mitts to protect her hands from the heat of the baking pan. The brownies, matching the color of Toni’s skin, released steam in front of her dark, slender body. Her large teeth biting her lower lip through her smile, she giggled when she sensed the pull she had on her husband.
Borton stood in awe of his beautiful wife as she stood in front of him in the nude. Chills went down his spine as he scanned her from head to toe to breasts to head again. He could not tell which instinct was stronger, the hunger in his belly, or the other impulse occurring between his legs.
“Hey Borton,” Toni said. “What do you have to tell me?”
Everything that had gone through Borton’s mind before he came through the door had escaped his mind.
Toni stared, seemingly losing patience. “Well?” she asked.
Borton observed his wife’s body once more before speaking. After coming to a decision, he smiled and said, “Nothing, it can wait.”
A coughing fit woke Borton an hour later. This was a regular occurrence, but didn’t make it any less painful. The coughing was more like choking, and it took a few seconds before he could placate himself. He rolled to his left and saw Toni was already awake and staring back at him.
“You okay, baby?”
The question was also a reoccurring event, even though his typical response was a fib. “Yes.”
“Okay,” Toni said with a closed-mouth smile. She snuggled under the covers and watched as Borton spun and sat on the edge of the bed.
Turning to the dresser next to him, Borton saw the pan the brownies were cooked in. There was only a small portion left, small enough to fit in his hand. Did we really go through all that? Borton asked himself. He was consumed with the taste of chocolate in his mouth and the scent of sweat and other bodily fluids. But it didn’t stop him from finishing off what was left of the brownies. Licking his fingers, they tasted equally as delectable as when they were fresh. Borton patted his belly when he finished and rose from the bed.
One more look at his wife, and Borton could see the reason why Toni had the rhyming nickname “Chocola-Bakala” amongst her childhood friends. Like a sweet dessert for the eyes, she was gorgeous, with lengthy eyelashes and breasts that never succumbed to gravity. Beyond that, she was a delight in every sense of the word. Her smile was brighter than the sun coming through the window, and was contagious. Borton beamed and said, “We’re going to need to clean the sheets.”
“We will,” Toni said, although she didn’t appear to have any intention of leaving the bed.
Borton chuckled, and searched for something to wear as pants. He found some underwear and decided it would do a better job covering himself up than his stomach would, although not much better.
There was a noise coming from the common area of the house capturing both Borton and Toni’s attention. A second noise let them know it was a knock of someone visiting their house. Borton made his way to the door, unashamed to be seen in such a lack of clothing.
A man stood outside the door when Borton opened up. The man spoke immediately, but was temporarily distracted by Borton’s appearance. “Hello, oh…hello sir. Are you Toni Bakala?”
“No,” Borton said, “she’s my wife.”
“Oh,” the man said, “Well I’m from the office of Robin Libera. I have urgent news for Toni, is she home?”
“Yeah, I’m here,” Borton heard from behind him. He spun to see Toni was already completely dressed. He had no idea how she was able to change so quickly.
“Toni,” the man said, “I’ve been ordered to bring you to Robin’s office immediately. He’s been trying to reach you ever since Guru Macaab’s death, and was desperate enough to send me with a second horse to bring you right away.”
Toni came closer, upset and confused. “Guru Macaab is dead?” She oscillated her head between the man and Borton, her expression changing each time. She was clearly piecing together what Borton was going to tell her when he strolled in. Borton had no option in this moment but to imitate the impression of a sad dog and hope she didn’t slap him in front of company.“I can explain on the way,” the man said. “Do you know how to ride a horse? Good. Come with me.”