Chapter Twenty-Four: Suffragettes and Reporters for Jackson!
Nr New Orleans, North American Union (TimeLine B)
Sharon Green didn’t know who had called the small town that had sprung up near New Orleans Springfield. Admiral Jackson hadn’t been happy at the name, but it had caught on with everyone in the small town – and the members of the Washington’s crew who had stayed ashore. The entire place was a legal nightmare; whose writ really ran in Springfield?
She shook her head as she walked down the road, heading to the meeting room. The entire town had been built around the factories that had been devoted to building technology and medical items from the original timeline, as well as printing and distributing information about the original timeline. She knew that Sally Woods, assisted by Professor Colin Barrington-Smythe, had been working on producing a guide to the original timeline, one that avoided the politically charged issues.
She smiled; she had warned Sally that it wouldn’t work – and it hadn’t. Historians across the North American Union – who rated Washington as the idiot who lost the Revolution – had been delighted with the information, using it to produce thousands of new theories as to why the Revolution had been lost in their timeline. The original conclusion, that Washington had been to blame, had been shown to be…slightly misplaced.
“Morning, Miss Green,” a policeman said. The blue-clad officer had been imported from New Orleans, a man who had the clear authority of the North American Union. Springfield was already becoming crowded; thousands of people were coming, just to see some of the advanced technology – and to work on it. She knew that Admiral Jackson had been annoyed about it – but now that labourers were needed, he had reluctantly agreed to allow her to try to recruit some people.
“Morning,” she said, noting that the officer was unarmed. She’d been informed that the only places in the United Empire where policemen were armed regularly were Quebec and Ireland, where there were ongoing semi-insurgencies; ‘semi’ because of the Empire’s willingness to crush overt opposition.
“The trash were demonstrating today,” the policeman said, waving towards one of the only two buildings in Springfield that flew an American flag. The American Independence Party, having learned of the future, had seen the crew of the Washington as six thousand voters on a plate, despite Jackson’s orders for the crew to stay out of politics.
“I see,” she said. It would be years before there was a television station outside Springfield, let alone the Internet, but it would not take that many years – once the war was over. She’d gone back to producing a newsletter almost on her own…and had discovered that it was published across the North American Union – and beyond. “What did they want this time?”
The policeman shrugged, but then, little was necessary. She’d interviewed the leader of the American Independence Party (Springfield) and hadn’t been impressed; ‘trash’ was a mild name for people who gave white trash a bad name. They looked at the sheer power of the United States of America – super-ships like the Washington, hints of atomic weapons and space travel – and never saw the darker side.
She smiled suddenly. She expected that the American Independence Party would lose even more votes once the popular impression of the United States, like something out of Blade Runner, penetrated the entire North American Union. Shootings, drugs, endless immigration from Mexico, constant confrontations between the two political parties…
“I read your essay in the last paper,” the policeman said, as a car drove past. Cars were rarer in the North American Union than she’d expected, a result of the well-developed railway system than any lack of the capability to produce them. “It was very interesting and quite well argued.”
“Thank you,” Sharon said, trying to remember exactly what she’d written. “Was that the one on the need for free contraception?”
“Indeed,” the policeman said. Sharon smiled; the tendency to break into political debates at any moment wasn’t native to either the original Britain or America. “I confess, however, won’t it lead to more…premarital affairs than we are…comfortable with?”
Sharon paused to consider. The policeman didn’t sound to be intolerant, but the essay had caused one hell of a debate in the letter columns. “The affairs exist anyway,” she said, and the policeman nodded. “This way…they won’t have any…consequences that will force people into a marriage neither of them will enjoy.”
“Perhaps,” the policeman said. This world might be more peaceful, but it had its downside; most women believed that their husband was the master of the house – or their father, if they were unmarried. He held up a hand. “Slow down, sir,” he called.
Sharon smiled and made her escape. One thing that Springfield had quickly developed, just like its namesake, was a culture where everyone knew everyone. The inflow of newcomers, generally speaking, were well-behaved, but not all of them were used to the laws emplaced by the Mayor – Admiral Jackson wearing one of his hats. Smoking and speeding were only two examples; restrictions on whorehouses were a third example.
She passed the small church, one designed for the Protestant crew, and waved at the worshippers. Keeping the Sabbath was important here; Sundays were always days of rest. Even soldiers had a break on the Sabbath, unless they were on the front, and even the French honoured the Sabbath. Both sides tended to have informal truces during those days.
Sharon sniggered. During the war on terror, protesters had protested against fighting on holy days – although only the enemies holy days. In this weird world, the truces were honoured by both sides…although warfare was…more civilised here. Truces were honoured, both sides took care of prisoners…it was almost paradise compared to the brutal fighting of the war on terror.
She reached her destination, a long flat building that had been purchased by an organisation that was officially frowned upon, especially during wartime. It was unmarked; not even a plaque, but she knew where she was. It had been established at her request, after all. She stepped up to the door and rang the bell.
The door was opened by a middle-aged woman with long red tresses of hair and a generous blossom, despite wearing a dress designed to downplay her assets. Her dress was simple and gloomy, designed to divert attention from her, but her handshake was firm.
“Sharon,” she said, her voice flat. She couldn’t speak properly; she couldn’t shout in anger or whisper. Sharon wasn’t sure why, but she suspected throat damage. “I’m Elspeth Grange.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Sharon said, keeping her voice warm. “I assume that you had no trouble when you came here?”
“None at all,” Elspeth said. “The nine of us came, as you requested, and we are here to hear your words.”
She stepped aside, allowing Sharon to enter. The small building had been erected quickly, with little thought to decoration, a deliberate attempt to emulate a male-only building. The suffragettes wanted male privileges; some of them were jailed for their more spectacular attempts to promote their cause.
Sharon smiled. All they really needed were some ideas on how to proceed…and some funding. She was happy to supply both.”
“Sharon Green, please meet Constance, Abigail, Rose, Syeda, Marion, Heather, Katrina and Dawn,” Elspeth said. “Between us, we are the leaders of the American Suffragette movement.”
Sharon took her time to study them. Two of them were black; Marion and Katrina. Syeda seemed to be East Indian. Dawn, apparently, was a Red Indian; the term ‘Native American’ had never caught on in this timeline.
“The People” – she spoke it as if it were a name – “are really harsh on their women,” Elspeth said, answering the unspoken question. Dawn smiled sadly; Sharon could make out the signs of beatings in the distant past on her face. “Some of them resent their position, and take it out on their womenfolk.”
“I see,” Sharon said. She’d researched the status of black and Indian women, but she’d heard very little about the Native Americans. “Why?”
Elspeth shrugged. “The conquest simply overran most of them,” she said. “Some of them became…red apples, which is a term for an Indian who adopts white ways because he is red on the outside and white on the inside, others died trying to hold back the inevitable. Those who survived formed the People; one vast tribe of the survivors, and live on a reservation near California. They hate any contact with us…and we’ve been beaten for going there.”
Sharon shrugged. “And Indian women?” She asked, meaning Indians from India. “What about them?”
Syeda spoke with a perfect American accent, the strange cross between the American accent she knew and a British accent. “We are considered second-class citizens here and in India,” she said. “Our fathers dislike us having the freedoms of men; they resent us and arrange our weddings for us.”
“The Indian Parliament was never happy about having to educate the Indian women,” Elspeth said. Sharon listened; this was something that had not appeared in the books she’d studied. “An educated woman, the men claimed, was an expensive women, but the Raj had its way. Even with an education, the women have few opportunities.” Elspeth sighed. “Who would hire a woman who might have to leave with a pregnancy at any time?”
Sharon allowed herself a moment to consider. “One thing you can have, now, is the opportunity to control your own bodies,” she said. “We have contraceptive pills, contraceptive implants and even condoms.”
Constance laughed. “Men don’t bother to buy condoms and women are rarely allowed to buy them unescorted,” she said. “It’s a rare man who will forsake the pleasure of unprotected sex just to avoid…inconveniencing his wife.”
Sharon reconsidered rapidly. She’d allowed herself to forget that the inhabitants of Timeline B were hardly stupid, just less advanced than them. “Then that’s a good cause for the first major protests,” she said. “Women have the vote here, don’t they?”
“Of course,” Elspeth said. “This isn’t France, or Russia, you know.”
Sharon had heard enough about Russia to want to avoid hearing more. Women were chattel there, along with a goodly percentage of the menfolk. “Then you have to vote tactically,” she said. “Voting is secret, right?” They nodded. “The trick is to form a union of women; one that will deliver a body of votes to whichever politician – hell, can women stand for election?”
“Yes, but who would vote for a woman?” Elspeth asked bitterly. Sharon saw years of struggle in her slight frame. “Whatever rights we have by law…”
“Every woman?” Sharon asked dryly. “Hell, with some work you could appeal to the men as well.”
Elspeth waved a hand at her dress. “Or perhaps not,” she said. “You do have ways of getting information out, don’t you?”
Sharon nodded, then hesitated. “The newsletter is the only thing I have at the moment,” she admitted. “In a few years, we’ll have a basic Internet, but that will take time. Even building one of the first computers is a delicate task.”
Elspeth didn’t look downhearted. “Then you can use your newsletter as one source of information,” she said. “We have women who will stand…if they can pay the thousand pounds that has to be put into the electoral system.”
Sharon scowled. The system made a certain kind of sense; very few people earned less than several thousand pounds in a year – and living costs were lower than in the United States. If a person put up one thousand pounds – and the catch was that it had to be earned by them personally, rather than inherited or given to them as a gift – it proved that they were sincere. If someone earned money, they were considered reliable by someone.
She could stand; hardly any of the suffragettes could, unless…
“There is a possibility for getting them the money,” she said, and smiled. “As you may have read, there is going to be a major expansion of Springfield, covering areas such as advanced electronics and information management, as well as areas I’m not allowed to talk about at the moment. They are, in fact, interested in recruiting people to work in the factories, such as yourselves.”
Elspeth’s mouth dropped open. “They would be interested in taking unmarried women?” She asked. Sharon, who suspected that ‘unmarried’ meant ‘divorced,’ said nothing. The divorce laws were weighted on the side of the men anyway. “Can women do the work?”
Sharon nodded. Admiral Jackson had assured her that it was possible. “The work is delicate,” she said. “Men would be…too brutal, too inclined to move quickly. Have you ever seen a man try to sew?”
The chuckles that greeted that comment proved that she had guessed right. She’d known a few men who could actually do little repairs on their own – and remembered the joke about ‘what every lonely man needs’ – but in this universe she suspected that sewing would be considered woman’s work.
“Yes, unmarried women are welcome,” she said. “For the moment, there will be barracks for people until they move into a flat, seeing that the flats are being built at the moment. When you work for one of us, you will be considered equal to the men. That included, by the way, little sympathy for the monthly monster.” She smiled at their expressions. “There will be opportunity to move upwards, although we’re not sure where to yet, but it will allow you to build up money.”
Elspeth smiled. “I think that I might be interested,” she said. “What about protection?”
“The police will provide protection,” Sharon said, honestly shocked. “You are attacked by men?”
Elspeth cast an unreadable look at Dawn. “The People’s…medicine men have been known to declare suffragettes witches,” she said. “The only cure is for them to be brutally taken by the menfolk there.”
Just because someone gets the shitty end of the stick doesn’t mean that they’re the good guys, Sharon remembered. These…Native Americans hadn’t ever had the benefits of casinos and guilt-trips. “Don’t they have policemen there?” She asked. “Someone who can stop them?”
“The policemen are the ones doing it, by and large,” Elspeth said bitterly. Sharon shuddered. “How do we pressure the politicians into banning that – and enforcing it?”
Sharon scowled. “Rape isn’t a banned offence?”
“Not there,” Dawn said. “The North American Union simply doesn’t care what happens to the People, or to their men, or to their women. The men just drink and drink and drink and then they beat their women.”
“Eternally helpless,” Sharon commented. “Many of them could come here, you know; the people here don’t discriminate.”
Elspeth smiled. “The People prefer to wallow in their own misery,” she said. Dawn nodded. “It’s so much easier if there is someone else to blame for your problems.”
Sharon refocused the conversation with ruthless determination. “If you can deliver the female vote,” she said, “you can vote for the MP who supports female issues. Say contraception; form a League of Women Voters.” She smiled. “America’s third to last line of defence.”
Elspeth, she was starting to realise, was a canny politician under her appearance. “A league that advises women to vote – and who to vote for,” she said. “It might work.”
“No,” Sharon said. “You must not dictate which way they must vote, but you must encourage them to vote and often, in each of the elections. Encourage the candidates to speak at meetings, force them to decide where they stand on female issues, and act to punish them if they change their minds after being elected.”
“A non-political political organisation,” Constance murmured.
“It won’t be able to operate within the People’s reservation,” Dawn said, sadly. “I had to leave there in a hurry, and they won’t want to see me back again.”
Sharon smiled as she stood up. “Thank you for hearing me,” she said. “Will you continue to meet here?”
“Of course,” Elspeth said. “Feel free to point some other women in this direction.”
Sharon nodded as they shook hands. “Many of the women from the Washington will be more than willing to help out,” she said. “The last thing they want is a marriage with a guy from the dark ages.”
It was darker than she had expected when she stepped out; the meeting had gone on longer than she’d expected. Sharon stood outside and wondered where to go; she didn’t have any pressing engagements or appointments at all. On impulse, she decided to go visit the café, such as it was, and get some dinner.
“Hey, Miss Green,” a voice said, as she entered the café. George Gilbert, a former soldier before transferring to the Marines, waved cheerfully at her. “Join me for dinner?”
“Why not?” Sharon asked. Gilbert wasn’t a bad man at all; she’d interviewed him before they’d been transported to the strange new universe. “Why not indeed?”
“I can’t think of a good reason,” Gilbert said. Unlike many men from her world, he could keep his eyes off her chest for minutes at a time. “What are you having?”
Sharon paused to consider. “Beef burger, I think,” she said. Burgers didn’t seem to have caught on in Timeline B; they’d been introduced by a former chef from the Washington. “You?”
“Pizza,” Gilbert said, waving to the waiter and passing on the order. “What have you been doing?”
Sharon grinned at him. “I’ve been sowing the seeds for rebellion,” she said. “You?”
Gilbert laughed. “Training and training and training,” he said. “You know; these people really are a bunch of pussies.”
Sharon smelt a story. “No,” she said. “Carry on.”
She gave him her best wide-eyed innocent look. It didn’t fool him, judging from the snort he let out. “They don’t have any fighting skills like we do,” he said. “They seem to have let their army fade away during the long time of peace. Their Marines are nothing like as capable as the 1st Marine Division back home; their task is limited to taking and holding beaches and ports.”
The food arrived and they spent a few moments contentedly munching. The burger was almost perfect. “I think that they have enjoyed their peace too long,” Sharon said finally, nibbling a chip. Chips too had been alien to the new world. “What about you?”
“If you want peace, prepare for war,” Gilbert said. His pizza vanished, slice by slice, into his mouth; Sharon watched with some amusement. “They didn’t start preparing fast enough.” He smiled. “Of course, the same could be said of us.”
Sharon nodded, finishing her meal. The cup of coffee wasn’t what it would have been back home, but it was drinkable. Now that she was sated, other feelings arose within her and she eyed Gilbert speculatively. If the Marine was aware of her silent examination, he showed no sign, allowing her to consider the best angle of attack.
Bingo! “What are you doing this evening?” She asked, keeping her voice casual. “I’ve been looking to visit the disco.”
Gilbert smiled at her. The new disco had been set up by a former DJ from the Washington, much to the delight of the younger teenagers and the horror of their parents. “I could do with some dancing,” he said seriously. “What kind did you have in mind?”