by T. Gene Davis
Jackson looked up from a cat video at the sound of flopping sandals on the floor he’d just cleaned. His expressionless middle-aged face bore the slightest frown. Was she management? She looked more like a tongue depressor escaped from a gardening expo than a supervisor. However, he didn’t know all the ship’s managers, so he placed his device in his pocket discretely. He picked up his mop from the floor and examined her progress. She left a trail of echoing “THOP” sounds across the hall’s tiled expanse.
The tongue depressor marched to the wall-length observation window overlooking the planet—the next victim of commerce and progress. She thopped the length and width of the deserted hall. Her dingy white tank top, and knee-length off-white shorts nearly met up with her dirt-stained knee-high socks. She stood out against the clean soothing blue tiles and walls.
After examining nearly every table, booth and corner of the hall, she thopped over to him.
“I’m Cadence.” She held out her hand. She smelled like a couch left out in the rain.
Jackson decided she wasn’t management. He put his hands in his practical blue work-pants pockets, and stared at her oversized floppy hat. It may have been white once.
She took back her extended hand. “Where’s the free speech section?”
Jackson scraped his front teeth with his tongue, and nodded toward the back of the hall. She thopped off in that general direction.
Having found the reserved free speech zone, she paced off the area. Three distinct thops by three more distinct thops. She marched back to him.
“It’s not big enough. I’ve asked hundreds of people to come to this protest.” Her hat looked like it might flop off onto the floor he’d just mopped. “We have to have more room to protest.”
Jackson shrugged and lifted his mop as if to say free speech was above his pay-grade.
“They’re about to wipe out another world, live on the net, and you’re only concerned with mopping?”
Jackson thought about blinking.
“They’re self-aware beings, like us.” She glared at his expressionless face. “Like some of us.”
Cadence waited for a response that never came. She left, muttering about finding a supervisor.
The audience (expected to be standing room only) began filtering in. They positioned themselves next to the ionized view window, careful not to touch it for fear of electric discharges. They sat at tables, and purchased cheese fries and corndogs from booths.
Protesters showed up, too. Three protestors—Cadence and young man and equally young woman that clung to each other. They filtered back to the free speech zone with their glowing blinking neon colored signs.The only uncrowded section of the deck existed in the lines of the free speech zone with its three protesters.
A hand rested on Jackson’s shoulder. He pivoted around his mop, positioning himself to look into the eyes of a supervisor.
“Have you seen the protestors?” The supervisor asked.
Jackson rolled his eyes slightly.
“I know,” the supervisor agreed. “I need you to kind of keep an eye of them. Let security know if they get out of hand.”
Jackson nodded, and worked his way toward the free speech section.
As he drew closer, shouting erupted from the free speech zone. Muffled shouts of, “What do you mean you don’t have the money?” and, “I’m not here for my health!” drifted over the general roar of the spectators. A couple of enforcement officers made there way into the free speech zone, before Jackson had reached it. They led Cadence away with a firm grip on her arms. The young couple protesting with her ripped up their signs, throwing them on the floor, and disappeared into the crowds to buy some of their own cheese fries.
Jackson stepped into the now deserted free speech zone. He picked up the shattered signs, depositing them in the rubbish chute. He mopped the floor until it shined. It was nice here in the free speech zone. No one pushed past him. Everyone veered around it’s edges. Jackson let his mop drop to the ground, and pulled out his device. He continued watching the cat video that Cadence had interrupted earlier.
T. Gene Davis writes, “I was trying to make a statement about free speech as valued in modern society. Entire professions spring up around manipulating public sentiment. Many of the protesters seen on TV are paid and have no idea what facts exist around the causes they protest for or against. People get busy with jobs and cat videos. Sometimes society as a whole seems to have abandoned the principles of free speech and critically informed thought.”