Die Pridengard Chapter 2: March to the Match
In case you missed Chapter One, you can read it here
“MITCH SAYS NO! MITCH SAYS NO! MITCH SAYS NO!”
Jackie looks around her. The setting is both familiar and not. Recognizably The Bailey, but it’s wrong. Not big enough. Static benches. No flamethrowers. No holo-capos. And then the field. Artificial. Flat. With the referee running among the players instead of hovering above them.
“MITCH SAYS NO! MITCH SAYS NO! MITCH SAYS NO!”
Jackie woke up on her couch, a stylish mid-21st-century section from West End Elm. Dara, her wife, was standing over her, still in uniform.
Jackie shook her head, to signal confusion rather than to answer. She took stock of the room, processing where she was. While most of her life was decked in orange and blue, her home was decidedly not. Behind the couch were floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the river. The couch sat on a Jackson Pollock-inspired area rug, speckled black markings over an off-white backdrop. The slits where the overhead holoprojector was hidden in the ceiling, visible only when she and Dara wanted to binge the latest period drama – most recently, they had been obsessed with “The Crown,” a romance set in an early 2000s dentist’s office that had been widely praised for its realistic portrayal of the barbaric practices of the time.
She looked to her chest, where her hand still clutched her grandfather’s open journal.
“When did you get back?”
“Just now,” Dara responded. “Long shift. Hard shift.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Dara turned away from Jackie to start unbuttoning her uniform. Jackie’s glance moved from the CPCPD logo on Dara’s back – Cincinnati PC Police Department – to Dara’s left hand as it let down her hair. She was wearing her ring that day – a good sign.
“I had to pick up a kid today on a first-degree ableism, sexism, and no-growth. Seventeen years old, and looking at a full cancellation.”
Jackie nodded, sympathetically. “I’m sorry, that’s tough.”
Dara started to unbutton her cuffs. “The thing is, the kid never had a chance. His parents send him to a private school, a religious one. Do you know what they teach at those places?”
“I can’t imagine.” Jackie stood up to approach Dara, to comfort her.
Dara shook her head and backed away. She started to speak but stopped herself. She looked at the blanket and pillow on the couch behind Jackie and sighed.
“You know, you can sleep on the bed when I’m working nights, if that’s more comfortable.”
Then Jackie, shaking her head, said, “No. You need your space, and I don’t want to confuse… things… confuse Kenny… Until, you know, one way or the other.”
Their son Kenny, 3, was with Dara’s parents. He’d started to ask questions about why his moms weren’t sleeping in the same room anymore, so they thought it was best if he had some time away. Even though it had become easier to become a biological parent – especially after it was discovered that same-sex couples could, in fact, reproduce naturally – parenting itself still hadn’t gotten easier.
“And then you’re still gone this weekend?”
“Not a great time to pick up and leave.”
“You know I don’t have a choice.”
Dara scoffed. “Yeah, you have a soccer game to watch.”
Jackie bristled. She’d been trying to act delicately with Dara, but she still needed to make clear that some things will not change.
“Dara, how many times do we have to run through this? I’m a supporter, not a fan. Supporters sing. We chant. We march. We drum. But we don’t watch the game – I’ve never watched the game. We are the game.”
“WE’VE GOT MORE WINNING TO DO!”
Jackie awoke with a jolt. (EDITOR’S NOTE: What?! Two dream sequences in one chapter?! That’s some “Inception” shit!) Calliope “Ope” Buttigieg was still sleeping, leaning on Jackie’s shoulder. Jackie shook her.
“Whu- what?” Calliope blinked her eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry, Jackie. I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you.”
“It’s fine, Ope. Just… never mind.”
Jackie knew Ope was loyal, and she’d never failed her. But sometimes, she’d catch Ope with a certain kind of look on her face, or holding a hug too long, or writing “Jackie” on her hand and kissing it, and Jackie would wonder if there was something else going on.
They were sharing the seaplane with Jeong Chang-Min (affectionally nicknamed “Change”), Jackie’s other lieutenant, and the full executive committee: Vice President Brenner Standish, Club Secretary Khaleesi Jenkins, and Member-at-Large Pat Brennan III (no relation). In addition, an assorted group of carefully selected SG members had made the trip to Emerald City with them.
Jackie looked to the group. “Everyone set up?”
In near unison, the group rubbed two fingers across their forearms toward their palms. A map appeared in front of each of them.
“I’m sending you the march route now,” Jackie said. “Sorry about the enhanced security, but you know how it is here.”
Previously known as Port Galt, the Democratic People’s Republic of the Puget Sound, Greater Greater Portland (for only a day), and Seattle, Emerald City was one of the most hostile environments for opposing supporters. The Emerald City Supporter-Investors – a group of private equity funds, venture capitalists, tech executives, and trustafarians that owned the Emerald City Angels – walled off much of the city conveniently just before the region flooded, displacing the water throughout the unprotected areas. They did this with little protest, as no one was in any position to stop them. It was barely two weeks after privatizing the moon that they unveiled their “slingshot” – a massive device capable of shooting weighted Tesla cars at high speeds at any city in the world. The country known at the time as the United States of America was defenseless, as its entire Space Force was suffering from clogged arteries after the Pentagon awarded its exclusive food vendor contract to Chick fil-A.
Once secure behind their walls, Emerald City’s founding fathers began to build their utopia, expelling more and more people each year. Before long the waters surrounding Em City were populated by the FreeGen – freelance coders, graphic designers, gig economy workers, and social media managers left to rove the waters picking up whatever crumbs are fed them through Em City’s “Serfr” application.
Jackie then reached to the screen in front of her and swiped to the left. The others on the plane did the same. The “Serfr” home screen appeared.
“Don’t forget to enable notifications,” she said.
The plane touched down and Jackie opened the door. She hopped out onto an airboat, driven by their host, Captain Jean-Francis Drake-Lafitte. Ope and Change joined her, while the rest of the officers boarded boats driven by the other members of their advance team.
“It is no problem,” Jean-Francis responded, in a French accent. “After what you did for me, I am, how you say, forever indebted.”
Jackie nodded. She remembered. Everyone on the trip remembered. It was the most epic story of her life, a moment of unparalleled daring that there was no need to describe in further detail.
Jackie’s boat, piloted by Jean-Francis, led the way, flanked by those carrying Brenner and Khaleesi. As they rode, Jackie’s map floated in front of her face, a red dot tracking their progress along the march route. A handful of additional boats joined them, advance parties already enjoying island-pubs along the way.
Suddenly, Jackie’s map disappeared. In front of her – and simultaneously, in front of everyone in her group – the Serfr app opened. Just three words, in all capital letters: FIGHT, AND WIN.
Jackie turned behind her, trying to make her voice heard by the entire group: “Independent contractors! Protect your scarves!”
Behind, in front, and all around them, dozens of boats appeared. The FreeGen, having received their orders, were upon them.
“Protect Ya Neck” by Wu-Tang Clan began to play, from an undefinable location.
Jean-Francis put the boat into ludicrous mode and barreled ahead. The officers and executive committee kept up, but Jackie could see behind her some of the other members being overwhelmed. Their airboats were boarded, they were pinned to the floor, and their scarves were taken, leaving them helpless.
Jackie and the main core of airboats continued at high speed along the march route, keeping space between them and most of their pursuers but not quite losing them. Ope and Change were able to fight off those who had caught up. Jackie looked to Brenner’s boat, then Khaleesi’s, then PBIII’s, and saw that each of them was struggling, but so far successfully. Other than those lost at the initial ambush, the group was making it.
But they were far from safe. Jean-Francis made the final turn toward the stadium and they found themselves confronted by a wall of freelancers. Jean-Francis backed up, but the route behind them was also blocked.
“They must have been given the march route,” Jean-Francis said Frenchily, driving the boat in a circle to avoid leaving a blind spot.
“No, that’s impossible,” Jackie responded, but she wasn’t so sure. She looked at Brenner and Khaleesi, at Ope and Change, at PBIII, wondering who it could have been. “No time to worry about that now. Take that path!”
Jean-Francis followed orders, taking the open lane identified by Jackie, even though none of them had charted it and they did not know where it led. As he turned, their boat was blindsided.
A group of five gig workers leaped aboard. Their eyes wide, frantic, desperate; their hands grasping wildly at the scarves worn by Jackie and her crew. While fighting them off, Jackie made eye contact with Brenner, who drove past without stopping. Jackie then drew her own conclusions about how they were caught.
A FreeGen had managed to get on top of Jackie, pinning her chest with his foot, one hand on her scarf. Jackie struggled helplessly, on the verge of accepting her fate. But then another scarf swung around the neck of the gig worker on top of her and he was yanked back.
PBIII had come to help. He pulled his scarf off the FreeGen’s throat and kicked him into the water. At the same time, PBIII’s crew helped Ope, Change, and Jean-Francis finish off their own opponents. Jean-Francis then grabbed the wheel and raced down the path after Brenner’s boat.
Jackie pulled up her map. They needed to figure out a way back to the stadium and they needed to lose their pursuers. She scrolled through the lanes until she thought she saw something. She enhanced the image, and then enhanced it again. It was exactly what she thought it was. She quickly sent the location to Jean-Francis.
Jean-Francis turned back to her. “Are you sure?”
“I’m damn sure,” Jackie responded.
Jean-Francis took a sharp right toward a small island. The FreeGen followed. Jean-Francis stopped at the island and turned to face their pursuers. The FreeGen slowed, curious. The lead boat charged; Jean-Francis waited. A the last possible second, he hit the thruster and shot out of the way. The FreeGen boat crashed into the island and its crew tumbled out. As they collected themselves, their eyes turned to the building: A microbrewery.
“I… P… A…,” one muttered.
The rest soon joined in.
“I… P… A… I… P… A…”
Then all of the FreeGen boats converged on the brewery. They docked their boats and stumbled toward the building where tasting flights, juicy IPAs, and Brettanomyces awaited them.
The path now clear, Jackie and the rest of Die Pridengard made their way to the stadium without further interruption.
The Emerald City Angels defeated Cincinnati FC that night 2-1.
The rest of the trip, things were icy between Brenner and Jackie. When they arrived at the stadium, Ope immediately tackled Brenner to the ground and started to make some strong accusations. After Change and PBIII pulled Ope away, Brenner explained that he felt it wouldn’t have done any good to have both the president and vice president taken down, that he knew one of the other boats would help Jackie out, and that he thought it was more important that he stay at the lead of what remained of the march. While Jackie wouldn’t have called his logic exactly “sound,” he had left himself at least enough deniability to prevent Jackie from taking further action.
After they returned to Cincinnati, Jackie asked Khaleesi to go up to the Beer Hall with her, under the pretense of needing some help checking on their prisoner. Khaleesi agreed, but wondered aloud – loud enough for all assembled to hear, including Brenner – why Jackie wouldn’t have asked Ope or Change.
Jackie started talking as soon as they were clear.
“Khal, what was your read on that whole thing?”
“What whole thing?” Khaleesi knew exactly what thing, but she wanted to hear Jackie commit to it.
“You saw it go down. Ope thinks that Brenner left us behind, hoping we’d get taken down.”
“Oh, Ope thinks that?”
“Yes,” Jackie said, “Ope thinks that.”
Khaleesi didn’t respond, so Jackie continued.
“And then there’s the matter of how they got our march route.”
“Yes. There is the matter of that.”
Khaleesi was silent for a moment, and Jackie let the silence linger, trying to force Khaleesi to speak. She did not do so until they were in the Beer Hall, standing in front of the glass case displaying the SG’s history.
“Jackie, sometimes I forget that you do not know much about your grandfather.”
Jackie had neglected to mention the journal.
“He certainly loved the SG,” Khaleesi continued, “and he was instrumental in its beginning. But Brenner’s family was equally important. Without the Standish family’s financial backing, we never would have gotten off the ground. The Standish family put the SG first – they gave everything that was asked of them, and they never demanded control. I often wondered if your grandfather would have done the same. He was a great leader, and I admired him, but Prentiss Foster took orders from no one. For better and worse.
“Now, shall we check on our guest?”
Khaleesi started to walk toward the back room and Jackie followed. In the room, the man was handcuffed to his cot, sleeping. He must have heard them enter, as he stirred awake and sat up. Jackie started to speak, but the man interrupted.
“Did you find it?”
“Find what?” Khaleesi chimed in, looking at Jackie.
After they had interrogated the man the first time about “the book,” he didn’t give the location away. Jackie only knew what to look for when she saw the man’s tattoo, which matched the symbol on the box. She had noticed the symbol on the box when they were moving their things into the Beer Hall because she had seen it in only one other place – tattooed on her grandfather’s chest, in an old photograph of her family at the beach.
When the man noticed Khaleesi, he fell silent. So Jackie continued in on him.
“Tell me about the book.”
He shook his head. Jackie motioned for Khaleesi to leave, and she did. Once they were alone, Jackie pulled up a chair, just out of the man’s reach, and sat down. She spoke softly.
“Please. Tell me about the book. Why is it so important?”
“Because it shouldn’t be.”
“Shouldn’t be what?”
“Shouldn’t.” The man shook his head. It takes a toll on a person to be tied up, interrogated, for days on end, even with plenty of food and water and a clean bed. But Jackie pressed him.
“What shouldn’t the book be?”
Suddenly, the man convulsed, shaking the cot. His hand was straining so hard against the handcuffs that he drew blood. Jackie rushed to him, cradling his head. He grabbed her shoulders.
“You have to save them!”
“Save who?” Jackie asked.
“You have to … save … the … Crew!”
The man fell back, dead.
To Be Continued?