"Your one o’clock is already here, Mr. Jackson."
Marcus nodded at the intercom while brushing crumbs from his lap. "Five minutes."
He straightened his neat red tie using his silver Toastmasters pencil holder as a mirror. Lunch remains went into the trash, the trash into his private bathroom. While there, he indulged in a quick brush with a disposable toothbrush, though he admitted to himself halfway through that part of this was just putting off the inevitable. Nobody wanted a government inquisition. And anytime you had a "council" send representatives, it would be an inquisition. He grimaced at himself and turned off the light before closing the door.
Settling himself in his chair, he buzzed Teresa back. "Send them in."
A moment later, his door swung open, a very young face peering through. "Mr. Jackson?"
"Come in!" Marcus said heartily, rising from his desk in a show of welcome. "You are Mr. Smith?" He walked over, giving his signature well-practiced handshake. His huge dark hand neatly enveloped Smith’s smaller, limp hand.
"We’re from the Racial Relations Council? Health and Human Services?" The slight young man stepped in hesitantly, followed by a tiny Hispanic woman in a sensible black suit and an older black man wearing a pristine white lab coat. Marcus held his smile, though his forehead wrinkled a bit in confusion. What, he wondered, was up with the entourage?
"I understand you needed to talk to me about racial compliance. As you have no doubt seen for yourself, our hiring patterns are–"
Smith waved him off. "We have your records, sir. Blue Screen International has done a stellar job of racio-sexual/gender/ethno balancing."
"I see." Marcus glanced at the entourage. "I’m afraid I don’t understand what this is about."
Mr. Smith motioned at the chairs near Marcus’s desk. "May I?"
"Oh, please, won’t you all have a seat?"
"Thank you." Smith sat and opened his briefcase to remove a file, sliding on a pair of fussy-looking reading glasses. His companions remained standing, one on each side behind his chair.
"Let’s just get to business, shall we? I’m sure we’re both busy. I have a few questions for you, sir."
Marcus sat down behind his desk, frowning at the standing agents. "Okay."
"You’re Mr. Marcus Jackson, of 1411 Heavenly Meadow Drive in Rockport, Massachusetts."
"Yes."
"And your wife is Mrs. Leticia Jackson, born in Biloxi, Mississippi. You yourself were born in Harlem?"
"My parents worked hard to get me out of Harlem," Marcus said almost reflexively. The semi-autonomous Harlem, effectively a gang state, had a very bad name these days. Mom had worked three jobs, Dad another two, to help Marcus go to a private school, then get into a good college. He’d bought them a house only last year, trying to repay what could never be repaid. He remembered there had been some HUD issue over that, something about destabilizing the youth by moving out older anchor citizens.
"I see, sir," said Smith. He flipped a page over in the file, running a finger down it. "Your current income places you in the upper middle class tax bracket, very nearly the upper class."
"I’ve been blessed."
He nodded. "You are a registered gun owner."
Marcus frowned. "Yes."
"You have three children, ages ten, thirteen, and seventeen."
"I keep the guns locked up. My oldest has had extensive firearms training, too, just in case."
"Yes, we have that in our records. Do you have a normal relationship with your wife, sir?"
"I’m sorry?"
"Perhaps I’m not being clear. Do you have a normal sexual relationship? Do you engage in relations together regularly, no desire for alternative partners of either sex."
"I don’t see why I have to answer that." Marcus saw the small Hispanic woman behind Smith put her hand on something hidden away in her coat. "But yes." Damned intrusive busybodies.
"You listen to classical music? Not hip-hop, soul, blues or rap?"
"What difference–yes. Yes, I do." And some jazz, he thought, but Smith continued down what was clearly an official list.
"You read business magazines and books almost exclusively."
"I’m a businessman."
"Just answer the question."
"It wasn’t really a question." At Smith’s look, he sighed. "Yes."
"Thank you." He cleared his throat. "According to this, you prefer German food to soul food. You refused affirmative action when it was offered to you. You can’t sing at all and dance poorly. You have never been particularly athletic. You tip well at restaurants."
Marcus interrupted. "Hard work deserves reward."
Smith peered over his reading glasses. "Of course. These are just questions, sir."
"They are not. They are statements, they are increasingly rude, and I would like to know just what this is all about."
Smith smiled a clearly practiced toothy smile. "Why, it’s about your happiness, sir, and the comfort of those around you."
"What?"
"We’ve received a complaint. You don’t seem to be black, sir."
Marcus half-stood, pausing when he saw the sudden slight movement of the Hispanic’s hand. Smith, appearing not to notice, went on. "You have no Negro dialect unless you want to have one. You are articulate and bright and clean, a nice-looking guy if I may say so." Smith looked coy when he said that, winking flirtatiously. "In fact, other than the color of your skin, you are a typical white person."
"What?" Marcus said again.
"So we’re here as a courtesy. We would be happy to provide you with our new free government service, Racial Reassignment Treatment. One quick little prick–" he chuckled, "–and your insides match your outsides. It’s tragic that pseudo-African-American people like Clarence Thomas and Condoleezza Rice did not have this option. It would have made their lives so much easier. If President Bill Clinton had had it available, he could have been our nation’s first black president on the outside as well as on the inside." He slid the papers back into the file after ticking a box. "Mr. Okeke here will be happy to put you in compliance. You’ll feel like you have terrible flu for a moment, but five minutes later, you’ll be a white man. So much easier, I assure you."
"I’m afraid I don’t understand."
"Really?" Smith frowned. "Your records cite a genius IQ."
"They’re accurate," snapped Marcus. "All of it is accurate. I don’t understand why this is necessary. Or how it is possible."
"Sir, this is for the comfort of the people around you. It’s not right to see a brown-skinned man behaving like a white man, nor is it fair to your dark-skinned brethren. It confuses people. We are merely correcting an error nature made, blessings be to Gaia."
Marcus reached for the phone. "I’m calling my lawyer. I want the three of you out of my office within thirty seconds."
Smith chuckled genially. "You are welcome to do so, sir, but I must tell you that every day you remain out of compliance with the Code administered by the Racial Relations Council, you will be assessed a twenty thousand dollar fine."
"That’s ridiculous. You can’t do that. I have my rights."
"Under the revised Fifth Amendment, sir, you waived your rights when you started answering my questions."
"Your questions that are not questions, you mean? Get out."
Smith sighed. "Miss Hernandez, this man is noncompliant. Please put him in compliance."
Marcus stood up. Hernandez moved her hand, and suddenly there were two sharp pains in his chest. Electrodes. His muscles locked. He could not breathe or move. His legs collapsed beneath him, and he slumped back into the chair.
"You people, always making this so hard. This is for your own good, don’t you understand that? Speakerphone. Dial warrants."
Ringing, then a tinny voice. "Judges Are Us, your always-there warrant service! Twenty-four-seven access to your most needed law enforcement paperwork. We have a special today on novelty red tape, four rolls to the box! This is Judge Tim. May I ask what sort of warrant you need?"
"Racial compliance. Should already be in your database–Case QDS Jackson 4035."
"Right here! I see your agency has a purchase order on file…shall I fax this after I sign it, sir?"
"One moment." Marcus could not move his eyes or focus, but he could see Smith reaching for a business card on his desk. "617-342-5555."
"Let me sign this–okay! On its way, sir! And thank you for using Judges Are Us–" Smith hung up, then leaned down to peer into Marcus’s eyes.
"I am sorry about the tasing. We really don’t like to do that. But while you’re listening, I may as well orient you to a few things. Because you were non-racially compliant, it is probable that your children are not properly adjusted to their correct ethnicity. We’ll have to put your family under surveillance, and I’ve taken the liberty of assigning personal racial counselors to each of your children to ensure they develop appropriate racial orientations. Agents Tiffany Bradley, Blake Scheisskopf, and Melody Kennedy will call this afternoon to make an appointment. I recommend you comply, or we will have to get the Department for Child Safety involved as well.
"Your wife may be uncomfortable married to a white man–she is in perfect racial compliance herself, you see, except that she IS married–and she will be notified that she may have an annulment if she wishes. After all, she didn’t sign up for the stresses of an interracial marriage. Not that there’s anything wrong with interracial marriage, of course." He glanced up. "Ah, please, come in."
"This came in just now marked urgent–Mr. Jackson! Is he okay?"
Marcus caught the flash of a badge as Smith pulled it from his pocket. "He was noncompliant, ma’am. Everything is fine now. Please, this is official government business."
"But–"
A woman’s voice, heavily accented, said, "Senora, you do not want to say further. Your boss, he is in compliance now."
Silence for a moment, then Teresa answered, "Yes. Of course. If you need anything." The door closed quietly.
Smith walked back over. "Yes, this all appears to be in order. Mr. Okeke, if you please."
The dark-skinned man in the lab coat leaned over Marcus. "Race traitor," he whispered. "Oreo. Uncle Tom." Simultaneously, he leaned in to loosen the tie and collar of Marcus’s shirt, sliding it down to expose one shoulder. Alcohol from the prep pad left a cold spot as it evaporated. As Smith watched with a half-smile, Marcus felt a prick, then the cold foreign sensation of an injection. Okeke placed a bandage over the tiny wound.
Smith nodded in satisfaction. "That’s it. Now wasn’t that easy? The transformation will take a day or two to finalize, and the more unpleasant sensations will be over with in just a few minutes." Marcus shivered, cold already. "We’ll just be out of your way now, sir."
"Oh, and one more thing. I’ve taken the liberty of notifying the Office of Occupational Racial Compliance that your company is now plus one white executive, minus one black executive. You are no longer in racial balance. I would recommend you address this problem immediately. I’ve taken the liberty of leaving a list of suggestions for some new black executives on your desk–no pressure, of course, but I thought I might save you a little trouble."
He bent to tuck a business card into Marcus’s shirt pocket, fingers lingering a little. "If you need anything, please give me a call. Good day, sir, and thank you for your compliance."