Lorfeltez suddenly realized that she had stopped speaking and that everyone had stopped listening, or even jeering. The Maintainers had arrived. They filed through the crowd like a swarm of insects, freely pushing and shoving with all the authority that their office granted them, elbowing several people, and pushing a few out the doorways.
Part of the crowd began disappearing, as if the weight of the entering officers forced them outside. However, many of them failed to move away in time, and the Maintainers freely grabbed at their collars or even punched at them, before finding the sources of the disruption.
A female Maintainer yanked the holo-projectors away, knocking them to the floor, then used the handle of her rifle to destroy them, sending hot metal parts and wires everywhere. One of the wires gashed a woman’s arm, sending out a small spurt of blood. Before even noticing her, the Maintainers quickly managed to handcuff all five men, even while the crowd continued to shift madly about, trying to escape. But then one of the Maintainers assisted the injured woman, holding his hand over the cut on her arm while obviously calling a healer with the transmitter in his ear.
Dr. Lorfeltez saw an elderly red woman in the audience, frail to the point that she had obviously lived beyond the virus’s benefits. One of the Maintainers waved his laser rifle around to scare away the remnants of the controversial gathering; he held the rifle at the center, his hand near the button.
It frightened Lorfeltez to see the Maintainer’s barrel sometimes pointing directly at the old woman. At least the other citizens could move quickly from his senseless demonstration of power, even if some of them ran in too many different directions for everyone to escape. As he swung it around again, the handle struck the old woman on the forehead, knocking her to the floor.
Surely that Maintainer sees what he’s doing, Lorfeltez thought. Just as some members of the crowd almost trampled the old woman, the handsome stranger pulled her up and helped her escape.
Lorfeltez had wanted to intervene as well, but another Maintainer stood beside her, aiming a laser pistol at her. The Maintainer was an extremely tall black woman, but barely more than a teenager, with hair shooting out from her headband, reminding Lorfeltez of a docle flower, one of the few remaining flowers on Valchondria’s overly industrialized landscape. The absence of stripes on her uniform revealed her as a trainee, but she carried herself like a Top Maintainer.
“Dr. Lorfeltez,” she said, her voice brimming with Maintainer superiority, and her unusual height adding to that superiority. Lorfeltez had always hated being short, especially at times like this. The Maintainer continued: “I find you in conflict with the glory of Valchondria. To protect our children and our society, I hereby refrain you from public mobility. Any verbalization on your part will be considered heavy hazard. Do you recognize my guidance?”
Her dark brown eyes studied Lorfeltez. The self-confidence was real, but Lorfeltez could see that this Maintainer didn’t actually want to arrest her or stop her from voicing her concerns. Something existed between them: a sort of sisterhood, if such a thing could exist for two young women in a world with no siblings below the age of forty.
But it was her job, her genetic destiny as someone with a Maintainer-quality genetic structure. That genetic structure reasserted itself. “I ask again, Dr. Lorfeltez: do you recognize my guidance?”
“I recognize it.” Lorfeltez clasped her hands together behind her back, her slender fingers grasping each other. It was the proper motion of surrender, and she imagined one of her own hands as that of her mother or her father, reaching out to comfort her in this moment of crisis.
But they wouldn’t be holding her hand anymore. They had warned her to avoid the rally. “Think of your career,” her mother had said. Her father had said much worse: “Stay away from disruptive elements. If you don’t distance yourself from them, we’ll have no choice but to distance ourselves from you. Be maintained, if you want to be a part of this family.”