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Richard R. Becker

Olivia loved protests. She liked holding banners best of all. This time it was bright yellow and asked the most poignant question of her generation. "Which Side Are You On?"


She knew which side she was on and which side most onlookers were on, especially those in gas-starved cars who frowned when they had to turn around and take a detour. She sneered at them between bouts of laughter and hurling insults. It made her giddy with power — disrupting their busy lives and business-as-usual attitudes to make a point. There was nothing anyone could do about it either. The police were there to protect the protesters more than any pedestrians or occasional science denier.


She smiled at the scope of it. All over the world, thousands of people had left their schools and workplaces to share a statement. One news station had talked about millions of people. It was encouraging to hear, even if her group only consisted of only a few dozen.


"The planet's on fire," they chanted together. "Put the fire out."


With time to kill since most of her classes were canceled, Olivia texted her boyfriend Charlie to meet up for a matinee. She decided with all the clatter of the protest marching on, nobody would miss her.


When the time was right, she ducked into a corner Starbucks to order a pumpkin spice latte. Then she texted Charlie where to meet, telling him how to avoid the areas they had disrupted the most. It was annoying. She would have to walk another two blocks.


Back outside, she stopped for a moment to take in the new scene. There were spectators with cell phones gathered up along the police tape, all trying to catch a shot of some students handcuffing themselves across an intersection. They were strung light pole to light pole, a human chain.


She rolled her eyes at their "Rebel For Life" sign and held the latte to her noise, warding away the smell. The air was thick with the proximity of the crowd, a combination of sweat and sweet-smelling vape.


Two blocks later and another fifteen minutes, she caught sight of her boyfriend's familiar Nissan Frontier. She waved at him and dropped the remains of her latte, "Olivia" still carved out in black Sharpie on the side, as she ran over.


They had planned to see the movie "Hustlers." And why not? Saving the planet was hard work.



Rebels is a short story that was written early in the genesis of 50 States and indirectly part of the collection despite being omitted from the book. It takes place in Washington D.C., 2019.

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