This week's prompt from Flash Fiction Friday was about taboos, those things that may be forbidden or sacred based on religious beliefs or morals. I went with the forbidden, investigating a couple of issues in the news lately.
Limit was 1500 words, and genre. My sci-fi story came in at 1323 words.
“Sorry ma'am, but you're going to have to uncover your face.”
Dick stepped back and waited. Didn't these people understand? If they wanted to be allowed to enter, then they had to act like us. No matter where they were from.
“What seems to be the problem here?” It was his boss. His second week manning a gate and she still kept sneaking up behind him. “Dick, I'll take this. Has she been scanned in? Yes, here it is.” Mary handed the documents back. “Ma'am, my apologies. This underling is new, and is still being trained. Welcome to Earth.”
Dick scowled as the woman—or whatever it was—swept past him.
Mary turned back to him. “Dick, was this not covered sufficiently in the training? Do you need to spend more time with the simulator?”
“No ma'am. I'm good. Just worried about security.” Not true, but for now he could suck it up.
The simulator had run its little scenes, and stuffed his head full of rules and regulations, including the face-covering guidelines, and why some races felt the bare face was taboo. Some religions saw it just as modesty, or to prevent the temptation of others of their species. Some races saw a bare face as a challenge to battle. For one race, it was even invisible, the face and body just a dimensional shift, carefully covered from head to toe.
Like he cared. He'd managed to fake the right responses in training, but as far as he was concerned it was all crap. Security could talk all they wanted about embedded chips and phased loop scanners, but these creatures should all be forced to unmask. Or just stay home, and leave Earth for humans.
He was still upset after work, as he shared a drink with his friend. “Billy Bob, it ain't right. If these things want to come here and try to steal our jobs they need to at least act like us.”
“I hear ya buddy,” said Billy Bob. “Shape up, or ship out. Come on—let's get another pitcher. And some shots.”
“Not too much,” said Dick. “That bitch has me on the early shift tomorrow.”
“No problem buddy, I've a doctor friend that can get you a note. Take all the sick days you want.”
Billy Bob's friend lived up to his reputation, and more. Not only did he sell Dick a note excusing away one hell of a hangover, he also got him certified as having come down with xenophobia. His letter certified that forcing Dick to face all those weird aliens was stressing him out. Armed with that, the union then made sure that the government, and his boss, would 'accommodate' his soecial needs. Same job, same pay. He still had to process those weirdos, but Mary had to make sure he only got the normal looking ones.
Now when Dick met up with his friend, it was to brag, not complain. “Let me tell you,” he said. “That broad is running scared now. I still get my job, but no stress. Your doctor friend was the best money I ever spent.”
“Ya, ya,” said Billy Bob. He lowered his voice. “Look, keep it quiet, okay? Never know who's listening, especially here in the bar.”
Dick really didn't care who was listening. He knew he was safe. The same day that Mary had caved in, he'd been online, in his Friends of the Earth chat group, telling them all how he'd scammed the government. And reassuring them of his real reasons.
“I tried the security angle,” he'd said, “but that didn't work. Actually, I just don't like them. We all know they're not real people, just a bunch of bugs and squids. And some of the other front line agents feel the same, I think. I've been talking it up. I think if we get enough of us protesting this, things will change.”
Dick's euphoria lasted exactly a week, until Mary called him into her office. She was not alone. Sitting in a row, next to her desk, were his union representative, Billy Bob's doctor, and someone from security.
“You've been saying some pretty damning things lately,” Mary said. “I've got tapes of your chat group rantings, emails to your friends, calls to your very cooperative doctor.”
“You can't touch that stuff,” said Dick. “You need a warrant.”
“Not when you do it all from work,” she said. “Using government systems.”
Dick turned to his union representative. “Dan? Tell her she can't do this.”
“Sorry, she can. Your fake illness is over. It's clear you're just trying to scam us. You just don't like aliens.”
“So just don't send me any,” he said. “It's worked so far.”
Mary shook her head. “No. We need to move you. I've talked to your rep, Dan, and he's okayed your new job.”
They were smiling at him now. Mary was positively beaming.
“I've a new position for you,” she said. “Carefully supervised to ensure you do it with respect. You'll be doing cavity searches of any suspicious applicants. For all races.”
“Crap,” he said.
His new job was even worse than he'd imagined. He'd never guessed there would be so many variations in orifices and fluids and smells. So many races out there. Some were familiar, having visited earth centuries earlier. Like the angels, who apparantly used to drop by at the most unexpected times. Unfortunately, none of those goody-goodies were criminals. Lots of Minotaurs were though, as were the Harpies. His stomach turned with the memory of the last search he'd had to do. His friends had abandoned him now too, both online and in real life. He showered and scrubbed until his skin was raw, but Billy Bob still said he smelled.
In desperation Dick turned to his church. He didn't go that often, but he assumed that they would both listen and sympathize.
“The Lord sends trials to all of us,” said the Reverend Swaggart. “This is the cross you have to bear. I will pray you're given the strength to continue for as long as it takes.”
“As long as it takes?” said Dick. “Why can't the Lord help me. Here I am trying to keep his people pure for him, against all those godless abominations. Give me a sign and you'll see me here every Sunday. With money for the collection plate.”
The Reverend sat back in his chair. “Well, there may be a way. The Lord has talked about those with deformities on their faces, the defiled, such as you mention. In Leviticus it is said that they must wear torn clothes, cover their face, and cry out 'Unclean!' So we could argue that these creatures you seek to bar offend your religious beliefs, that they are all unclean, so you can't deal with them. I'm sure we could find other places where the Lord supports you. I'd be glad to intercede on your behalf.”
The Reverend was true to his word. Within a day Dick had discarded his rubber gloves and was back at his counter, processing only normal people. Mary was furious, but helpless. He'd finally outsmarted her.
The next time she dropped by his station, he couldn't help but gloat. “Mary, admit it,” he said. “I'm set for life. You can't fight religion.”
She'd just nodded and pointed to the door. “Your next client. Have a nice life.” With that she turned and walked away, whistling.
To his surprise, the next client was one of them. Bipedal, human size, covered in robes, with a veil over its face. He squinted at the ID screen. “You're what race? Gordon? Stupid name.” He leaned forward and grabbed the corner of the veil. “Whatever. Show yourself, freak.”
His last memory was of a grotesquely ugly face, surrounded by a tangled nest of hair, that writhed and hissed at him.