In Matt's city, the law enforcement known as the Upholders are particularly corrupt. They bring people up on the most minor of infractions. But one day Matt meets Shannon, an Upholder who is not like the others, who dreams of bringing honor and kindness back to the uniform. Despite all the reasons he should avoid Shannon, Matt finds himself instead getting closer and closer.
Readjusting the strap of his shoulder bag, Matt reached out to accept his caramel macchiato from the android-operated café kiosk. The machine spat out his card, and the android gave a little wave and wished him a good day in its synthesized voice.
He ducked out of line and weaved through the queues to either side of him as people waited at additional kiosks. Neon lights flashed on the tiled ground, turning the crowd surreal. It was morning, but there was always little sunlight above the cities. Electrics and neon kept the atmosphere joyful enough. Clean lines of steel and concrete crisscrossed the field of view and the ever-present tang of fuel permeated the air. In the distance, the chugging of the city’s air filters could be heard, giving the inhabitants precious oxygen that could no longer be found in nature.
Matt replaced the ear bud he had taken out to buy his coffee and plunged into the milling crowd and toward the set of lifts that would take him to his job in 3D graphic design. With the advent of holograms, there was a demand for eye-catching constructs that could be appreciated on all sides like the sculptures of old. In his bag, he carried his slate, as well as his painter attachment in case he needed to make adjustments.
He finagled his way past a particularly dense knot of people surrounding a freckled young woman standing atop a construction cube, shouting vehemently about something. Unlike the occasional conspiracy theorists one came across, holding aloft signs of doom, this woman was not carried away by emotion. She kept her speech free of anger, and had all the more listeners for it. Matt paid her no further attention but kept to his route before the Upholders showed up.
Ten minutes later, the clear tube of his lift disgorged him in his employer’s front lobby. It was tastefully decorated—all curved glass and wooden paneling. The air was scented with lemon to stimulate the mind. He made a beeline to his half-cubicle. His one permitted item of personalization, a printed statuette of two forms entwined, stood to the left of his main screen. He sat in his chair and got to work.
The day went by swiftly enough; he collaborated on a project with three other designers and attended two meetings about typeface and palette. The monitors had all been outfitted with no-strain light filters, so they could work longer. It was business as usual, except that one of his projects was a new ad that called for a “sensual tone”, and Matt wasn’t sure if he could get the feeling right. He ended up sketching in abstract women’s curves and calling it a day. He made a few minor updates to his portfolio and packed his slate and painter away.
Matt started home—exhausted, though not in body. Constantly striving to self-improve could take it out of a person. He rolled his neck a few times and popped his back as soon as he entered the lift. On street-level again, he dug his mobile out of the front pocket of his bag and hit shuffle. The familiar beats and resonances of his music soothed him, put him in the frame of mind that he could handle anything. He walked to the beat, making his daily trek go faster.
His high spirits faded as soon as he came within view of his apartment building, however. A pair of Upholders in their government-issued uniforms of navy and white were harassing a citizen for some minor infraction or another. Their helmets, which covered everything but the mouth and jaw, made them even more intimidating.
Matt hesitated several meters away, his stomach turning cold. When the Upholders were around, it was best to keep one’s head lowered and do whatever they said, in the least threatening manner possible. He drifted to the side, waiting for the altercation to end. From the sounds of things, it seemed that the citizen had stored personal items in a locker not marked for public use. They—the person had a non-binary look, with unisex clothes and hair flipped up impressively—must not have been respectful enough to the officers’ taste, because now the Upholders were acting more aggressive, crowding the citizen and placing their hands on the holsters of their paralyzers. Protests from decades ago had had the effect of making the officers’ weapons nonlethal, but it could still sting like a bitch, and was humiliating to boot. Matt turned away, knowing that if he intervened it would just make things worse and put himself in danger.
Just then, a third Upholder appeared. Unlike the other two, this one moved with less swagger but with a sort of benign confidence. “Roberts, Gardner. What seems to be the problem here?” Matt glanced over to see the interloper casually place himself at a third point between his colleagues and the citizen.
“This guy was giving us trouble,” said one of the Upholders, jabbing a finger. “Storing junk where the city needs access.”
“I’m sorry,” the civilian said quickly, more alarmed now that there were three officers. “I’ll be more careful next time.”
“Well, that sounds good enough to me,” the third Upholder proclaimed. He clapped the other two on the back. They stiffened. “Tell you what,” he continued, “there’s some gang activity in progress down at First and Tungsten. I could really use the assistance.” There was an expectant pause.
Grudgingly, and with last dirty looks at the citizen, the two Upholders made to leave. Matt continued to hover where he was, two doors down from his apartment block.
As soon as the pair was outside of earshot, the Upholder turned a disarming smile toward the civilian. “I’m sorry about that. You go about your day.”
The civilian twitched their lips up and said with feeling, “Thank you.” They hurried off.
Before Matt could look away, the Upholder glanced over and caught him staring. Matt winced.
“Do you need help?” the officer asked chivalrously.
“No,” Matt said, walking closer. “Just heading to my apartment.” He gestured vaguely toward the entrance.
The Upholder nodded and started to walk away. Matt gathered his courage and blurted, “Wait. That was… really nice, what you did.”
The Upholder turned back, and Matt couldn’t tell whether he was surprised. Quickly, he tried to backtrack. “I mean, I know we’re supposed to follow what the Upholders say, but uh… A little courtesy goes a long way, right?” He laughed awkwardly.
Shit, now he’d done it. The city-appointed officers were hardly friendly, but one didn’t just go around saying that. Matt braced himself for the man’s demeanor to change and for him to haul Matt in for bad-mouthing the law.
After what felt like an eternity, the Upholder chuckled. “Well, I do my best.”
For the first time, Matt let himself examine an Upholder. His fitted uniform was crisply white, contrasting with his olive-toned complexion, with angular accents and the city’s seal in navy blue. The entire garment was lined with carbon fiber. A silver badge gleamed on his breast. At his waist was his paralyzer and a pair of magnetic handcuffs. All Upholders wore state-of-the-art boots that increased running speed and reduced the ache of wear.
Matt looked up just in time to notice the Upholder seemingly giving him a once-over in return. Confused, Matt stared back at him. Hopefully the Upholder wasn’t suddenly finding his build and features similar to that of a known criminal.
But the officer smiled again. “If you don’t require anything, have a good day.” He touched his helmet in salute—incongruously, Matt thought—and strode away.
Matt watched him go for a moment, this strange Upholder that seemed to care about the people, before continuing to his apartment building.