"Cartoon-girl should go free!"

And, like the roaring of surf against a granite shore, like the thundering of trucks over an iron bridge, like the shrieking of wind through defiant pines, the assembled crowd detonated. Boom! Its ten thousand mouths concussed with angry accord.

"Save Cartoon-girl!"


"Free Cartoon-girl!"


Then...Whish!...The voices receded, hissing, washing away.

So it had gone since the appellate court's ruling against Cartoon-girl. Twenty-four hours had passed and still mass demonstrations erupted spontaneously; still raucous marches obstructed famed thoroughfares; still throng after far-flung throng groped for leadership, cheered a woman here to speak for them, booed a man there aside, passed the loudspeaker along.

"Cartoon-girl is alive," placards proclaimed.

"Car. Toon. Girl," rhythmed the chants in the streets. "Car. Toon. Girl."

Finally one among the thousands of this Chicagoplex gathering assumed the role of spokesperson. His turn before the crowd came naturally, the loudspeaker having shuttled from waving outstretched hands to clutching outstretched hands to his sweaty outstretched hands. Instead of repeating what had been voiced now a dozen times, though, and what the protestors still clearly craved, the sickly bearded youth boldly broached Cartoon-girl's deeper context, and elaborated it. His tone--unaffected, unpracticed, but somehow both lawyerly and common--rang eloquent. The crowd demanded he speak on. Someone nudged him atop a waste receptacle for wider visibility. He spoke on:

"...to the Blonk Age?" he fulminated. "Have we backpedaled two centuries to a time when what was just and necessary was trod underfoot? Did we survive the Great Devilment to become again oppressors and genocides? Torturers and magnates? Exploiters and haters of alternate species? Cartoon-girl lives! Anyone who has seen Cartoon-girl sees that she lives! Anyone!"

Boom! A thunderbolt of huzzahs from the crowd.

"She moves about. She licks her lollipop. She grins and skips and giggles. We have seen her. We have seen her here in Chicagoplex just as so many others have seen her on Pulse screens. She is an existing entity. Why should she be punished, brutalized, dehumanized simply because of her form? The gap in that receptor link was fortuitous. It has shown us her individuality. Would you ignore that receptor link's faulty connection? Would you chose the confines of the Pulse over a chance to escape into the crawl space of a lakeshore bungalow? Would you decline the chance to become sentient? Would you decline the chance to become free? Would you? Would you?"

Crash! A piercing of nays split the air.

"Nayyyy," it shrieked.

"Cartoon-girl is like us," he roared on. "This is proof. She craves freedom the same way we crave freedom. How can we then force her to return to the Pulse? We created Cartoon-girl, yes. We brought Cartoon-girl to life, yes. But by slipping out of our power, out of the Pulse signals that enslaved her, she has proven she should not be returned to them. She fought her way out. She escaped into that crawl space. She roams about freely now as we speak. Her freedom is justified by her thirst for freedom! She deserves the same rights as all other artificial beings! Let Cartoon-girl go free! Let Cartoon-girl go free!"

Boom! A shudder. A cacophony of affirmations.

"Liberate Cartoon-girl," many bellowed.

"Liberate Cartoon-girl," others returned.

"Here, here," yelled a boy.



He proceeded: "The High Court ruled last year in favor of the biosynth dolls. That ruling set a precedent that was right and obvious. Just because we create a toy that can breathe, does not give us the right to destroy it once it frees itself of our control. Consciousness has rights, they said. If that principle applies to biosynth dolls, it has to apply to Cartoon-girl. Her freedom is as legitimate as Barbie Breath's life. The appellate court ruling is a fraud," he stormed. "Toy-Com pressure over reproductive royalties skewed that decision," he stormed. "This cannot stand!" he stormed.

And the crowd stormed with him. The howl of its collective rejection swirled into a funnel cloud. The whorling of its confused fury resolved to a chant.

"Kill. The. Judge," it chanted. "Kill. The. Judge."

But the sickly youth lifted his hand. And the masses, embracing as they did his point of view, reverberating as they were with his message, acknowledged his gesture. Their chants faded.

"Have you seen her?" he asked then, softening. The youth stroked his beard and swayed his head. He looked down sadly. He put aside the loudspeaker.

"Aye," breathed the thousands. His sudden shift of mood had subdued them.

"Have you seen her skipping about the city?" he mused. "The girl-child? The cartoon? Sucking her parti-colored candy? Giggling and sing-songing her happy freedom?" He addressed the demonstration through a glass-like quiet, one that allowed each to hear his unamplified voice.

"Aye," the assembly responded.

"How can they sentence such carefree innocent joy to the prison of receptor links and Pulse screens? How? Cartoon-girl is harmless. She has found her fragile freedom. Leave her to her happy childsplay."

And then, in an irruption that would soon become legend, a man behind the somber speaker cried, "Look! There!"

The head of the bearded youth pivoted.

A murmur rippled across the crowd.

All eyes followed the indicating arm of the pointing hand. Every eye widened at the astonishing sight above them. The murmurs turned to gasps. The gasps became inhalations. The inhalations fell to silence.

"It's her," chorused many.

"Look," commanded others, involuntarily.

Countless arms now pointed.

Above, skipping along a high wire near a power tower, came Cartoon-girl herself. About two feet tall, she came, brightly shining, like plastic new, a kaleidoscope of primary colors. Pink beamed her skirt. Green glinted her shoes. Purple shone her blouse as her arms peaked out orangely. Her hair bobbed firefly blue. Cartoon-girl's light eerie giggle trilled across the awestruck throng. The protestors giddied, many echoing the girl's giggle in response.

"Cartoon-girl," a man called.

But Cartoon-girl did not notice.

"We love you, Cartoon-girl," declared a voice.

But Cartoon-girl did not hear.

Cartoon-girl hopscotched blithely along the high wire, oblivious to the adulation of the crowd. She twirled her big lollipop with her stubby little arms. She licked the candy merrily. She smacked her lips in glee. Faintly she tootled her ever-familiar theme song.

"We're with you, Cartoon-girl," a woman pledged.

But then: "Hey!" broke through as a man's voice: "She doesn't have an ass!"

Startled silence followed.

The man choked. He coughed. He shouted haltingly: "I mean it! Look! I'm standing right under her. I'm looking up her skirt. Look, you guys, she doesn't have an ass! There's nothing under there but bright orange. Just bright orange. No ass!"

The silence resounded awkwardly, uncomfortably. The will of the thousands flickered, then ebbed from stunned to unsettled to disoriented. The bearded youth took up the loudspeaker. His mien boldened. His presence enlarged. He would cap his proclamations with a flourishing coda now, with an electrifying homage to this source of their collective passion, to she who had just so opportunely presented herself.

"This, my friends..." he commenced.

But he glimpsed then the orangeness of Cartoon-girl's underside. He saw that, truly, she had no ass. The youth's sickly pallor wanned even further. A hope in him collapsed.

"...Is...what we fight for," he finished, half-heartedly. "Here she is. She...lives."

The storm of protest had died.

The crowd began to disperse.

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John Dishwasher