Monthly Archives: November 2016

Scene 295 – Accessimus ad Infernos

ACCESSIMUS AD INFEROS

JEFFERIES

“Hey there, Curtis,” a lupe said as I passed by. He was manning a stall on the street, selling raw meat. “You want some doggies? They’re fresh!”

I managed a smile. “Not today, Ahmik.” I held up my bag of groceries. “Already got enough for dinner.”

Ahmik smiled, showing his sharp wolf teeth. He wasn’t a full anthro, just the teeth and the ears. Probably an improved sense of smell, too. “Another time, then. You make sure to tell that girl of yours to stop by, you hear?”

I smiled again and nodded before hurrying on.

I still wasn’t used to this place. We had been here almost a week—six days, to be exact. But the fact that there were monsters milling about on every street still made my head spin. Even now, I had to force my way through a small crowd of lupes and leos. This wasn’t any specific culture’s territory, so the clans mixed here. There had been a shooting earlier today, but no one seemed to care now.

I coughed into my hand, then looked at it. Blood. Well, at least I wouldn’t have to worry about this crazy city for much longer. My body, flash-cloned and stuffed full of chemicals, was dying. I only had a week or two left.

I hurried along the street. It didn’t take long to find the apartment building. I slipped inside, nodded to the desk attendant, and ran up the stairs to our stolen apartment. I knocked on the door.

It opened, revealing Corporal Horn on the other side. “Jefferies? What—”

I shoved past her and stumbled into the kitchen, where I spit up into the sink. The white porcelain was stained red with blood. I spit a few more times, but nothing so large as the first one. I stood there a few minutes, breathing hard.

“Jefferies,” Horn said. “What the hell?

I took a deep breath. “I didn’t want to spit up blood in the street. Too many strong noses.”

“I—well, that’s a good point, but why are you spitting up blood in the first place?”

“Because he’s dying.” We both turned to see Lieutenant Backstrom step out of the bedroom. She had turned it into a command center. She was the only member of the squad who I had shared my… condition with. “I’d guess about a week.”

“Maybe two,” I said, my voice hoarse. “If I’m lucky.”

“We haven’t had much luck.” She pulled the shades back and looked out the window. “Of course if you had a power, it would be something that would let you survive. Healing, or maybe self-shapeshifting.”

“No luck there,” Horn said. “Everyone says the same thing: They don’t know how to spread the powers without the screamers or the Composer.”

Backstrom nodded. “I have Kine out looking again. As long as everyone else has powers and we don’t, we’re at a major disadvantage. She’s actually searching out the fey. It’s a long shot, but it’s all we have.”

We had learned a lot in six days. About the true extent of the toy maker, the cultures, and some recent events. We were still missing a lot, though. No one dared log into the internet. Even the most basic functions required signing into ‘Fundie,’ a sort of city-wide browser service. Necessarius would be able to track us through that, we were sure.

So much we didn’t know were things that the people of the city found so obvious that there was no need to explain them. I had been able to determine that Zero Forge was the city’s first foundry, but nothing more. Apparently it was located near the ruins of Eden, and I had no idea what that was. Horn had discovered the existence of the fey when she overheard some fels. They had been wondering why they weren’t doing Hunts anymore, but that was all we knew. Hall had been able to tease out a bit more information about their recent activity, but not much. We didn’t know anything about what they had been like before their ‘reformatting.’

And of course, there was always Necessarius. We had been told that they were a large street gang led by some fool with delusions of grandeur. Nothing to worry about. The army would cut them down to size.

Turns out the ‘sarians had their own army. Theirs was bigger.

“Any word from command?” I asked, changing the subject.

Backstrom gave me a look, but didn’t force the issue. “No. They don’t know we’re here, and we have no way of contacting them. And I still can’t tap into anything outside the city. We don’t know what they’re saying about the war.”

“They can’t have given up,” Horn said.

“That’s what Butler is saying,” I said, as I washed out the sink. “They’re sending ambassadors to New York tomorrow morning.”

Both women frowned at me.

“Why didn’t you mention this earlier?” Backstrom said.

“I just found out an hour ago,” I said. “Heard it from that pine girl who works at the grocery. And then we got distracted talking about me…” They were still glaring. I forced myself to stand up straight, and saluted. “Apologies, sir. Won’t happen again.”

“Good.” She looked thoughtful. “The pine girl. She’s just a grocer, right?”

“As far as I can tell.”

“Then that means the average person on the street knows about this.” She picked up the remote from the couch and tossed it to Horn. “Check the news. See if you can find someone talking. That Cassan girl usually seems to have her finger on the pulse.”

Horn nodded and turned on the tv, flipping through channels. She didn’t sit down. I had a feeling she thought it would somehow be shirking her duty if she sat down.

I turned back to the kitchen and started loading food into the fridge. I had a hard time buying things, since the others insisted on only eating what they could recognize. I would agree—the most common meat here was rat, after all—but since I was dying anyway, it felt like a waste of time.

“Found something,” Horn called, over the sound of people arguing on the tv. I continued with my work. She was talking to Backstrom anyway.

“What is it?”

“Confirmation. They’re expected to be at a meeting tomorrow in New York at 1000. Let’s see… no word on who is going.”

“Then what is it they’re yelling about?”

“The fey and the dragons are both sending ambassadors. The other cultures are all unhappy about it for some reason.”

I closed the fridge and walked back over to the women. I ignored the tv. It was just a couple talking heads yelling at each other. We still didn’t have enough context to understand.

“No clue on why?” I asked.

“If it was just the fey, I’d say it’s because no one likes them,” Horn said, half to herself. “But with the dragons thrown in, I’m not sure. I thought people liked them.”

The talking heads were yelling about how the dragons hadn’t ‘earned the right.’ The fey seemed to have been dismissed as obviously unfit, and thus not even worth arguing about. Understandable, considering that from what we had heard, the fey were completely insane. As in, as likely to smile at you as to gut you.

There was a knock on the door, and I walked over to look through the peep hole. It was Private Hall. I could see Private Brown just behind him.

I opened the door. “I thought you two weren’t due back until tonight.”

“Got our hands on some juicy info,” Hall said. “Wanted to bring it back right away.”

Backstrom frowned at them. “And it required both of you?”

Hall shrugged. “No phones. Didn’t want either of us getting lost out there with no way back.”

I rolled my eyes. The pair treated the city like it was some jungle forgotten by man, and refused to leave the building alone. In fairness, the city was dangerous, but their paranoia was interfering with their work.

“What is it?” Backstrom said tiredly.

“A boatload of scientists arrived in the city,” Brown said. “Not secretly, but definitely quiet. Not sure if it’s official or anything, but they’re headed for one of the lupe Moonhomes. I heard someone mention Ithaeur.”

“That’s one of the lupe castes,” I said. “The scientists.”

“These scientists are from America?” Backstrom asked.

Hall nodded. “Near as we can figure. Nothing official, just some guys from some tech company. But they’re getting escorted through the city, no trouble with the locals. Someone knew they were coming.”

“Domina is having dealings with the mainland,” I said. “Besides the ambassadors.”

“It’s the only thing that makes sense,” Backstrom said, as she paced to and fro. “Or maybe it’s not the city as a whole. They’d go straight to the ‘sarians if that were the case. The lupes must have cut a deal.”

“I don’t see how,” Hall said. “They weren’t keen on taking prisoners.”

“Obviously they changed their minds,” I said.

Hall looked like he was going to snark back, but Backstrom stepped between us before he had a chance. “Enough. Hall, you two wrote down everything you saw, correct? Number of scientists, times, so on?”

Hall looked offended. “Of course.”

“Good. We’ll add it to the file. Otherwise, there’s not much to do. We are not raiding one of the Moonhomes to hunt for some stupid kids who want to play in a sandbox filled with broken glass.”

I shivered. The lieutenant sometimes had a way with metaphors.

“The powers are still our number one priority,” she continued. “I’m beginning to think it might be worth making an account on Fundie after all. This would be so much easier if we could just check the internet.”

“It’s too dangerous,” Horn said. She was still watching the news, not even looking at us.

I shrugged. “It can’t be too dangerous. This city still has criminals that Necessarius hasn’t stamped out. That means they can’t be using it as a Big Brother thing. Besides, it’s not like we’ll be looking up anything dangerous. I doubt checking a few history sites will get us put on any watchlists.”

Backstrom sighed. “This would be so much easier if any of us knew shit about computers.” She nodded. “All right. We’ll make an account of Fundie. False name and everything, of course. Nothing too obviously fake. Go with… Jake Bernstein.”

“Sounds good,” I said. I grabbed one of the laptops from the couch.

“And do it at the coffee shop down the street,” she added. “I don’t want them tracing it straight to us.”

Now it was my turn to sigh. “Okay, fine. I’ll be back in an hour or so.” I walked over to the door and opened it.

On the other side, just about to knock, was Corporal Kine.

“Private,” she said curtly. “Where are you going?”

I stepped aside to let her in. “Lieutenant Backstrom agreed that Fundie would be worth the risk after all. I just have to log on somewhere away from here.”

Kine frowned at me, then stepped inside and addressed the lieutenant. I closed the door behind her. “Sir, I don’t think that will be necessary. Or rather, I believe we need all hands on deck for this next part.”

Backstrom nodded. “Report.”

Kine stood there, back as straight as an arrow. “Sir. As instructed, I searched the city for members of the fey culture. I began my search in the sewers, where I was told that they often made their lairs.”

“Get to the point, Kerry,” Horn said. “Did you find the fey or not?”

Kine didn’t so much as glance at Horn. “I did. I encountered a man who introduced himself as Gealach Tapaidh. He called himself the Prince of Day’s Southern Autumn. The fey hierarchy seems a little more confused than that of the kemos, but I gather that he is approximately equivalent to a lupe or fel Hunter. He agreed to set up a meeting with his Lady.”

“The Ladies are the fey themselves, correct?” Backstrom asked.

Kine nodded. “Correct. I have received multiple confusing pieces of information regarding them, so it is difficult to say what is true. Some people have said that they resurrect on death, but they were quite clear that this was before the powers. There also used to be more of them, apparently, but they didn’t recruit at the time.” She shook her head. “I am sorry I cannot be more helpful.”

“Better than what the rest of us have got,” Hall muttered.

“When and where is this meeting to take place?” Backstrom asked, ignoring Hall.

“Tomorrow, near where I found him,” Kine said.

Backstrom sighed. “In the sewers.”

“In the sewers,” Kine confirmed, no inflection in her voice. She might as well have been mentioning that the sky was overcast today.

“Hardly the worst thing we’ve had to do for our country. I’ll go down there with you, Kine, and everyone else will wait here just in case it’s a trap. I doubt we’ll find anything super important, but I think it’s our best shot—”

“Stop,” I said with a frown.

She raised an eyebrow at me. “What?”

“Do you hear that?”

Everyone stopped, and just listened for a moment. I wasn’t even sure they breathed.

For a moment, there was nothing. Just the normal humming of the building’s air conditioning. The background noise of the tv turned very, distant gunfire and car horns from the streets…

And then, just when I thought I had imagined it, I heard a creak from outside the door.

All six of us dove to the ground with the reflexes of lifetime soldiers.

A split second later, the door exploded inward.

Behind the Scenes (scene 295)

Felt a little unsure of whether or not I should split this in two, but I ultimately decided to go with it. Flows better with a mini-cliffhanger.

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Scene 293 – Salis

SALIS

AKANE

“Hey, Red,” Lori said as she leaned against the pier, water streaming out of her hair. She adjusted her daygoggles. They were flat and sleek like swimmer’s goggles, even though she never wore them underwater. “You have fun?”

I sat down on the wet concrete, leaning my back against one of the barbecues. “It’s a war, Lori. It wasn’t fun.”

She grinned with shark teeth. “You were stuck indoors, weren’t you?”

I grinned back ruefully. “I spent most of the time organizing the kensei. I barely got to fight at all.” I had been looking forward to fighting on of those echoes, but I hadn’t had the chance.

“At least you got a new sword.”

I rolled my eyes. “This is Flynn’s. I keep putting off getting a new one.” The old one had sentimental value, so I felt bad for replacing it. It was like what happened with my father’s sword all over again. I still had the pieces of that sword in a box under my bed.

Lori brightened up. “Ooh, I keep hearing about this Flynn. Why didn’t you bring him with you?”

“Now he’s looking after the kensei. It’s mostly just keeping them from partying too hard, really.” I shrugged. “They’re still just a bunch of kids, and they won a war. They’re enjoying themselves.”

Lori frowned and floated away from the pier for a moment. “Why’d you rush over here?”

“I heard you got a bit too close to a boat explosion.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, that. Just got my head rattled, no big deal.”

“Weren’t you the one who told me you’d just be acting as a scout?”

She floated closer again. “You know how these things go. There was a boat that needed killing, and we needed some shifters to get on the deck.” She grinned. “Those marines were so funny. They never saw it coming.”

I smiled too. “I cut a bullet in half today. The poor idiot actually dropped his gun.”

She laughed, a high-pitched, almost dolphin-like sound. “See? Like that!” She settled down, still smiling. “You need to come visit more. When’s the last time we really talked like this? When you and Derek helped with that murder?”

“No…” I thought about it. “We have to have talked since then, right?”

“Definitely not since the Composer started playing around,” she said. “Sometime before my last birthday, I think.”

I nodded. “Yeah, sorry I couldn’t make that.”

She waved her webbed hand. “Don’t worry about it. We went hunting for a leviathan. Not something that’s safe for a surfacer, with or without those diving fancy pods of yours.”

“How are things with the fey?” I asked. Talk of leviathans reminded me of them. “After their reformatting and all that.”

She shrugged. “Same as ever. They’re still making monsters, but they’re also making nicer deals. They got a couple recruits from us, but not many. They set a couple leviathans on the Rahabs, though. Saved Timaeus from a pretty big attack.”

I made a face. “I’m still having trouble with ‘fey’ and ‘helping people’ in the same thought.”

“Yeah, it’s kinda been like that down here, too. The Atlanteans are making a stink—again. They think Butler should keep them under control.”

I rolled my eyes. “How is he supposed to do that?”

“They are officially a culture now. He has ways of controlling them.”

Guiding them,” I said. “Tax breaks and so on. But you know how the fey are. They laugh off that kind of stuff. It’s not like he can slap them with retribution just for talking to you guys.”

“Hey.” She pointed at me with a claw. “Don’t lump the Dagonites in with the Atlanteans. We’re fine with it. Salt and spear, they’re giving us some fun new toys that are proving helpful.” She shook her head. “But the fey always get their due. It’s fair, and people don’t like fair.”

I frowned. “Of course they like fair! The whole point of deals and democracy and so on is to make things more fair.”

Lori gave me a pitying look like I was some kind of simpleton. “No one wants things to be fair. They want things to be unfair in their favor. Can you really tell me that you don’t fight with every advantage you can scrounge up?”

I remained silent. I had never been shy about fighting hard and dirty. Codes of honor were for people who knew they’d win.

“But the fey keep things fair,” Lori said. “You can’t trick them or intimidate them. And now that they’re a culture, they’ve got Necessarius behind them. You break a fey deal, and they won’t bother sending a horde of monsters. They’ll request retribution, and they’ll usually get it.”

I rubbed my forehead. “Yeah, I’ve been hearing a lot about that recently. One of my kensei got in trouble for killing a homunculus. I had to pay a few thousand dollars for that stupid clone body.”

“What did you do with the kensei?” Lori asked, leaning forward eagerly.

“Took his sword for a week.” I smiled. “I was tempted to make him do some volunteer work for the fey, but that would have been cruel and unusual.”

Lori laughed again. “I’ve missed this. Just talking. I gave you that phone for a reason.”

I shrugged. “Been busy with the Composer and now these new powers. I’m sure you’re busy down below, too. I heard they were working on widening the South Downward Run. You involved in that at all?”

She groaned. “No. Well, yes, but only in the bad ways. The mud from the construction keeps drifting down with the current, covering everyone downstream. I wake up in the morning, and my cubby is completely blocked off.” She shook her head. “I only have one door, it’s not like I can just go around the back!”

An idea struck me. “Why don’t you live up here for a week or two? Just while they’re doing the construction.”

She shook her head. “My shifting only lasts a few minutes. It would never work.”

“That’s not what I mean. A wheelchair should be enough, and there are plenty of saltwater pools in NHQ.”

“Aren’t you still at the dorms?”

“Technically, but I’m never there any more. Barely anyone is going to school, and I just have too much to do at NHQ. Besides, with Ling gone, I don’t want to be there too much. I still feel bad.” I rapped my fingers on the concrete for a moment. “I should finish moving my stuff soon.”

Lori grinned. “Is this all an elaborate ploy to get me to help you move? Because I’m probably literally the worst person to ask.”

I chuckled. “No, no, I’d wait until after you left. More than anything, you’re giving me a chance to procrastinate—”

There was a rush of air behind me. I turned, hand on Flynn’s sword, to see a dozen men and women, mostly baseline. They were setting up umbrellas and starting the barbecues. As far as I could tell, every single one of them had a beer in their hands.

One of them noticed me and waved drunkenly. “Hey, it’s cool if we party here, right?”

“Uh, sure,” I said. “Where’d you come from?”

“Teleporters!” he said. “It’s awesome! We were in North Middle thirty seconds ago!”

I smiled. “Have fun.”

“Will do!” He raised his beer. “Ad victoriam!”

“AD VICTORIAM!” the others all cheered.

I smiled again as they all laughed, and turned back to Lori as the music started playing. “You want to talk about this somewhere quieter? Maybe over there, on the Ring next to those shipping crates?”

She chuckled. “A fish laying out on the concrete on a hot day? No thanks.”

I raised an eyebrow.

I can call myself a fish,” she said. “Anyone else does it, them’s fightin’ words.”

I patted her on the forehead. “See you around, Lori. Make sure to tell me if you need a place to stay after all.”

“I’m too stubborn for that.” She smirked. “Give me a day or two. A couple more mornings breaking my own door down might change my mind.”

I rose, smiling. “See you around, Lori.”

“You too, Akane.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 293)

Lori was the first Dagonite character I came up with, so I wanted to give her more scenes. Not too much, just a reminder that she’s still there.

Scene 292 – Reneo

RENEO

DEREK

We opened our eyes.

Seventy-two pairs of eyes surveyed the room. We looked over the Necessarians, who were holding their guns a bit too close. Dozens of them, far too many to fight. Too many of our bodies were weak and needed to be protected, and we did not know what powers the Necessarians had.

The only course of action was obvious.

I fell forward, like a puppet with its strings cut. I had to take great gasping breaths of air as I trembled on the floor on my hands and knees. I heard someone throw up, but I was too focused on keeping my own stomach under control to look.

“Derek?” Laura slid down in front of me. “Hey, it’s me. You okay? How are you feeling?”

I groaned. “Like my brain got stretched out to cover seventy-two people at once.”

She lifted up my chin, forcing me to look at her. Her hair was damp with sweat, and her eyes lined from lack of sleep. She had been running herself ragged. She probably hadn’t gotten a single moment’s rest since the American ships first launched.

She was still beautiful.

How had it taken so long for me to notice? I was going to wring Elizabeth’s neck if I ever saw her again.

Laura held up three fingers. “How many—”

“Three.” I sighed. “Now two. And three, but a different three.” I grabbed her hand before she could continue, and forced a smile on my face. “I’m fine. I think I just need rest.” I heard more retching from behind me. “And maybe some crackers.”

Laura pulled me to my feet carefully, keeping an eye on me to make sure I wasn’t dizzy. “What do you remember from the hive?”

I shook my head. “Not much. Bits and pieces, but I don’t think my brain is equipped to handle the memories. The fact that we’re not all blown up makes me think that it worked, though.” I grimaced as my stomach rebelled again. “…crackers?”

“Over here.” She led me out of the room, down a side hallway I didn’t recognize. It was different than the one we had come in from.

“How did the battle go?” I asked. I checked my phone. “Is it really the same day?”

She nodded. “We held them off long enough for Butler to arrange a cease-fire. The American president seems like a coward, so it wasn’t that hard. He didn’t want more deaths on his conscience.”

“How many?”

“Not important right now.”

“Laura—”

Derek.” She gave me a hard glare. “The war is over, the American forces in retreat, and the cultures are tending to their dead. We can worry about everything else later. You’ve already done more than enough today. You literally saved the entire city—you can worry about philosophically saving it later.”

I grumbled, but we had found the vending machines, and Laura was collecting a few bags of crackers from it. We didn’t have to pay, of course. This was NHQ, and MC controlled the vending machines. She kept track of debts and payments and so on for everyone.

Laura opened a bag of crackers and handed it to me. Once I started eating, she started talking, knowing I wouldn’t be able to answer. “People died, yes. That’s what happens in Domina City. But the casualties were minimal, and most of the damage was limited to property. Right now, pretty much everyone is partying, and the city is safe.”

I swallowed a mouthful quickly. “What do you mean, pretty much everyone?”

She sighed. “Derek…”

“Laura.”

She touched her necklace, then let it go and rolled her eyes. “Fine. The outer city was hit, but central was completely untouched. They couldn’t even hear the gunfire. They barely stopped fighting each other during the war, and now things are worse since all the ‘sarians and hellions are partying.”

“Asmodeus.” The central city was his primary hunting ground.

She sighed. “Yes. As well as the Nosferatu, Doresain, and pretty much anyone else who has a domain nice and far away from the war.” She rolled her eyes. “The Canians helped with the war, but now they’re having a party. So they’re probably going to burn their entire street to the ground.”

“Then let’s go talk to them.”

No.” She stepped in front of me and put her hand on my chest. “We have people handling that. Not all of Necessarius is drunk right now. You need rest. The city can survive without you for eight hours.”

I frowned, but didn’t push her aside. “Mephistopheles respects me.”

“And he also respects the ‘sarians we sent to talk to him,” she said. “We’ve got this. Gosling knows what he’s doing. He’s the one who handled that scandal with the Canians and the troll a little while back.”

The name did sound familiar. “Okay, then the Nosferatu will probably—”

“We have people for that too. And the ghouls, and the Nessians, and the hags and the kemos and the trapped American soldiers.” She tried to smile. “It’s a city, Derek. Not a sad puppy. It can take care of itself.”

I looked her deep in the eyes for a moment, trying to stare her down.

After a moment, I closed my eyes and nodded.

“Fine,” I said after a moment. “I get it, I’ll do it. Rest, relaxation, all that annoying stuff.” I looked at the crackers in my hand. Why was I even eating these? My stomach was fine now. “Just tell me one thing. Butler got a cease-fire. In exchange for what?”

Laura smirked. “In exchange for a diplomatic meeting in New York on New Year’s Day.”

I started. “That’s in a week! We need to—”

She rolled her eyes and entwined her arm with mine. “We need to do nothing.” She pulled me away from the vending machines and towards the elevator up to ground level. “None of the Paladins or the retinue are going to be involved in this.”

“Why are we using the elevator? It’s just one floor.”

“Because I don’t want you using the stairs right now.” She pressed the button. “Anyway, the cultures will send one ambassador each, including Necessarius. Most haven’t been decided yet, but it’s not us.”

The elevator opened, and we piled in. “Which ones have been decided?”

“The dragons and the giants.”

I was still getting used to dragons being real, and more than just Io. “Who are they sending?”

“The dragons are sending Tamara, the Mercy.”

I thought for a moment. “…which subculture is she in charge of?”

“The Compassionate Healers.”

“Right.” The elevator doors opened again, and we piled out onto the first floor. “What about the giants? Nicholas, or maybe even Thor? His mom would probably be a better choice.”

Laura took a deep breath. “They’re sending Skrag.”

I blinked. “Skrag the Slaughterer?

“Yes,” she said glumly as we walked out onto the street.

“But—but—he’s Skrag! What is Odin thinking?”

“He’s thinking that the ogres are the closest thing that the giants have to a neutral party.”

“Yeah, because everyone hates them equally!”

“True, but Skrag is highly respected.” She shrugged. “As much as he can be, anyway. He was the only real choice.”

“Gordok,” I said instantly.

“Gruul would riot,” she said. “And the trolls wouldn’t be far behind. Gruul himself is obviously not on the table, the trolls would never agree on who to send, the Muspels and Nifs still dislike the Aesir ambassador after that stunt at Surtr’s birthday party, and the Aesir would never trust the Jotuun ambassador. So yes, Skrag really is the only option.”

I groaned. “I hate this city.”

She pulled me closer as we walked to a cab waiting at the sidewalk, and I received a whiff of her perfume. “Is that so?” she asked, smiling.

I smiled back. “Well, only sometimes.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 292)

We’re doing a lot of short ones right now, but the longer ones are coming back soon.

In other news, if you are an American citizen, please vote in the upcoming election.  Even if you feel like you are in a “safe” state or district where your vote doesn’t matter.  Democracy only works if people exercise their right to vote.