Life is good, mused Billy Rainbow as he ambled across the wooden bridge to Kresge College. Sprinkles of sunlight drifted down through the redwoods and he could taste the scent of spring in the air – woody and fresh, with a hint of the sea that lay just below campus.

Billy Rainbow had just taken some mushrooms. He had mixed them in peanut butter to eat them, and it left a funny taste in his mouth. It occurred to him that the one thing that could make his mouth taste better was chocolate. It also occurred to him that the best place to get chocolate on a sunny afternoon in Santa Cruz was Sluggo’s at Porter College. So off he went.

This particular afternoon Darcy Fortinbras sat at a small table in Sluggo’s with her friend and comrade Simon Fisk. Visually, they made an odd couple. Simon was tall, lanky and seemed underfed. He wore a faded Cesar Chavez t-shirt and threadbare blue jeans. He sat slumped in his chair as if he was taking a short break from his work in the fields, his legs dangling casually down from the chair. But the tightness around his eyes and the corners of his mouth suggested something other than farming on his mind.

Darcy was much shorter than Simon, squat almost, with a trim, muscular build. She had dark black hair (friends wondered if it was her natural color or whether she dyed it to match her black wardrobe) which she had had carefully clipped to create the impression of having been hacked at carelessly. She had a wide mouth and large dark eyes, around which she had drawn heavy black eyeliner.

Like Johnny Cash, Darcy Fortinbras had pledged to wear black every day of her life until all injustice had been scrubbed from the earth. For Darcy Fortinbras though, “Injustice” had quite a different meaning than it had had for Johnny Cash.

As they often did in the afternoons, Simon and Darcy were discussing this injustice and what they were going to do about it. Darcy was hunched over the table, a look of intense despair weighing her down. Simon leaned back into his chair, frowning deeply.

It was at this moment that Billy Rainbow walked into the cafe, stepped up to the counter and ordered himself a double-dipped mud-pie delight.

“You know,” said Simon glumly, “sometimes I think people are so consumed with greed and self-interest that the larger social structure doesn’t even matter. They’ll just continue grabbing and… and grasping… and…”

“…consuming…” Darcy filled in for him, nodding.

“…consuming, yes… oblivious to the fact that everything they consume is taken from the mouth of another.”

Darcy nodded some more.

“And yet…” Simon continued, gazing upward, “I wonder also whether I am just as guilty. Whether, as a white male, I even have the right to have my voice heard in a world where the less privileged have been silenced for so long.”

Darcy frowned, nodding a little more deeply.

Simon shook his head. “Every word I speak, every thought that I utter… is a word denied to someone else – perhaps someone more deserving. By what right do I claim even one iota of the world’s bandwidth from those who have no voice?”

Darcy reached out and clasped his hand in both of hers.

“Inequality is everywhere,” she said to him gently. “It’s like a virus, or… a fungus… or like that mold people find in their houses. Just when you’ve scraped away one layer and you think your work is done… there’s a deeper level to it. There’s always more. But we don’t shy away from it. You show great courage in confronting your own role in the systematic oppression of…”

“Sorry to eavesdrop,” Billy smiled widely at the couple at the table next to him.

Darcy looked up slowly from Simon’s hand, her eyes burning with all the rage she felt toward the world. A normal person, an unimpaired person, would have recognized the rage, would have immediately understood the message implicit in that stare: “The world is burning. I spend my every waking hour working to quench the inferno, to rectify the injustice that engulfs the world and you want to waste my time with idle chit chat?” A normal person would have slowly backed away.

But Billy Rainbow was no normal person. He was happy. Happy about the colors that were leaping out at him, shouting their names, colors he had never noticed before. Happy about the glimpses he was seeing of the people around him – little sparkling reflections of their childhoods, buried beneath decades of busy-ness, trying to fit in-ness and working to keep up-ness, glimpses that he could see now and that made him smile. “It’s always new,” he chuckled to himself. “Every time…”

“Hey, sorry buddy,” Simon had seen Darcy’s look of utter disbelief and interjected. “We’re a little busy…”

“Oh, hey!” Billy put his hands up in the air. “Me too! Believe me, I understand! It’s just… I heard you guys talking about all the injustice in the world, and inequality and stuff and it just made me think, you know, one of the biggest forms of inequality is sexual inequality.”

Darcy rolled her eyes. Simon tried very hard not to get angry.

“Yes of course,” said Darcy with disdain. “Inequality between the sexes is one of the most obvious forms of social oppression…”

“No no,” Billy waved his hands again. Simon noticed that it was beginning to irritate him. “No, I don’t mean feminism and all that…”

Darcy and Simon exchanged glances.

“…I mean, there’s this great inequality about who gets to have sex and who doesn’t.”

Darcy and Simon were silent.

“You know, say you’re a dude, and you’re really built, and good looking and…”

“You mean your features align with society’s arbitrary standards for sexual attraction?” Simon corrected him gently.

“Yeah, yeah…” Billy went on. “Or let’s say you’re a chick and you’re like blonde and hot and, you know, you have tits and everything…”

Darcy very subtly tossed the dark black bangs off of her forehead.

Billy looked from one blank face to the other. “Well, you know…” he laughed, “…those guys are gonna get all the sex they want, while the rest of us… well, it’s not always so easy.”

Darcy had gone very quiet. Simon could tell that she was processing and knew to stay quiet.

Billy didn’t.

“Oh man!” He shouted, jumping up from his seat and knocking the remainder of his double-dipped mud-pie delight into the air. It landed with a wet thunk right in front of Simon. “That guy’s shirt is like psychedelic!” Billy cried out as he dove toward the door, barely turning his head back to say goodbye. “Hey, nice talking with you guys!”

And he was gone.

A spattering of mud-pie delight had come to rest on the front of Simon’s Cesar Chavez t-shirt. He picked up a napkin, dipped it in his cup of ice water and very coolly dabbed at the brown flecks.

Finally, Darcy spoke.

“You know,” she said, “I think that guy might be on to something…”

                    *          *          *

Meghan had taken to walking around campus in the early morning and again at dusk. She couldn’t bear to be alone in her dorm room, and she didn’t want to be around other people. She wanted to be alone… but not alone. So she began to take long walks as soon as she woke up in the morning, before anyone else was out, and again after her last class had finished – after she had picked at a cafeteria dinner that smelled just like the one the day before, and after she had gone through the motions of studying in the library.

She would walk with no goal in mind, no destination, walking just for the sake of walking, just to keep moving until she was tired enough to fall asleep. She had never felt this way before. It didn’t occur to her to talk to anyone about it. She wasn’t even entirely sure that she and Chrissy had been “together.” But she had become such a big part of her life, taken over so much of her existence that now she was gone the emptiness was too much.

She couldn’t have talked to any of her friends anyway, since the official line about the relationship – now that it had ended – was that Chrissy had been “toxic”, she had been manipulative, had taken her for granted and sucked the energy from her, that Meghan was so much better off without her. And it was all true. She knew that, but none of it changed the bottomless chasm she faced when she came into her room at the end of the day and shut the door.

The only things that made any remote sense to Meghan now were being near the ocean – listening to the rhythm of the waves, feeling the spray and seeing the vast expanse of open possibility spread out before her; her morning and evening walks on the solitary pathways through the redwoods; and listening to David Bowie in the dark.

                    *          *          *

Billy Rainbow was missing his two top front teeth. He wore a set of fake teeth that he would take out at parties sometimes, just at the right moment, when those around him had reached just the right level of inebriation to be most affected by the sight. If three different people asked him how he lost those teeth, there would be three different stories. At this point in his life, not even Billy was entirely sure which was true.

Right now, Billy’s two front teeth were on his mind. He was lying on his back in the middle of a field, totally and utterly stoned. He was wondering what it might be like to be an insect – a bee in particular – and whether insects – bees that is – needed teeth. He did not know whether bees had, or needed, teeth, and he was thinking that if they didn’t, it might be nice to be a bee. To go through life not having to worry about biting down on things, or dental care. He did know that bees saw colors differently than humans did, and that their ability to see ultraviolet wavelengths was crucial to their ability to locate flowers and thus to the very survival of their species. What must it be like, he thought, lying there on the ground, to see colors so vibrantly? To be drawn to massive, vibrating flowers and to dive face first into them?

Billy Rainbow decided he wanted to find out. He rose, unsteadily at first, and looked around. He was in luck, as the field was dotted with wild flowers of every description. He said a little “yippee!” to himself and took off down the hill, his arms stretched out in the wind. Billy planted his face first into one bunch of flowers, then another, all the while buzzing, as students walked by with their backpacks and their friendship bracelets, barely noticing him.

At the same time, in the middle of campus, about as far away from Billy Rainbow as it would take a real bee to fly in three minutes, Darcy Fortinbras was shouting at a large gathering of students. She wouldn’t have called it shouting. She would have called it “speaking.” But the absence of any microphones or other amplifying equipment meant that she was, in reality, shouting.

“Who here,” she shouted slowly and clearly as she scanned the multitude of faces spread before her, “thinks it’s fair that the people who happen to meet society’s arbitrary definitions of ‘attractive’ get to have more sex than the rest of us?”

Angry howlings from the crowd indicated that nobody here did think that.

“Who here thinks it’s OK that people who score higher in the superficial realms of beauty and physical fitness get to reproduce more than those of us who may be more intelligent, more creative, kinder…?”

More howling.

“Does anyone really think it’s acceptable that some people can have sex whenever they want to while others go with no sex at all?”

A loud chorus of ‘BOOO’s rose up into the redwoods.

“Some cry ‘free choice’”, Darcy continued, “but it’s not about choice, it’s about the unequal distribution of sexual benefits, it’s about one privileged class getting more than others, and all because of the way they were born, the way they look. It’s not your ‘choice’ to deprive an entire class of people of their sexuality.”

Cheers erupted.

“What gives one person the right to have more sex just because of the way they were born?”

More cheers.

“Do we really want to allow our society to continue to be based on superficial values? Judging people and rewarding people based on their appearance? No! It’s time for a change!”

At this moment, Meghan – who had been pretending to study in the library – stepped outside to see what the noise was all about. She was just in time to hear Darcy’s big announcement:

“We call on the state of California to pass the ‘Equal Distribution of Sex Act’ – guaranteeing sex to the sexually underprivileged, to those people who do not meet society’s standards for ‘attractiveness’!”

The crowd went wild. Now even Darcy would agree that she was shouting.

“And we hereby announce a STUDENT STRIKE…”

Meghan hadn’t thought the crowd could get any louder. It could. She began fishing frantically through her over-the-shoulder bag for the earplugs she always carried with her for the occasions when humanity became too irritating.

“…UNTIL THIS LEGISLATION IS PASSED AND THIS INJUSTICE IS MADE RIGHT!”

The crowd was now unbearable. Unable to locate her earplugs, Meghan turned quickly on her heel and almost stumbled over a young man sitting cross-legged on the pavement and whooping as if his life depended on it. Meghan shook her head. Earlier, she had seen a grown man in a tie-dyed shirt running around a field buzzing and diving headfirst into bunches of flowers. Now this. The day had all of a sudden become too much.

“Maybe I just need to get the hell out of here,” Meghan muttered to herself as she stepped over the cross-legged man and wove her way through the onlookers and back to her dorm room.

The weeks that followed were filled with rallies and sit-ins. Meghan’s classes were nearly empty and some were simply cancelled. Euphoria filled the spring air and students ran – and often skipped – around campus shouting slogans and waving banners.

Darcy was interviewed on the campus radio station:

“And uh… who will provide the sex?” Asked the befuddled host.

“Everyone will be responsible for complying with the law,” said Darcy smartly.

“But… who will provide the sex?”

“The Board of Sexual Equalization will determine who is eligible for State Mandated Sex,” she explained, “and partners will be assigned based on a number of criteria including experience, desirability …and merit.”

“So… you mean… the government will force some people to have sex with other people?”

“We don’t like the word ‘force’,” said Darcy. “We prefer to say that the state prohibits the withholding of sex from the underprivileged.”

“But isn’t that… rape?”

“No, it’s not rape, because it’s done through the democratic process. So you’ve already consented to it by being a part of a democracy. We as a society agree that it’s the right thing to do, so to think of it as ‘rape’ is incorrect. It is Sexual Justice.”

The first time Billy Rainbow saw a student with a large red and white pin that said “Sexual Justice Warrior”, he pumped the air and shouted “right on!”

When the banners appeared proclaiming “Sex is a Human Right”, he said a silent “amen!”

When he saw a few more people wearing the pins, and a few more banners, it no longer seemed as original and he was less impressed. It wasn’t until he noticed that nearly everyone was wearing a pin or a t-shirt declaring themselves to be a “Sexual Justice Warrior”, that he started to wonder what it actually meant.

One day, as he was walking past one of the now daily rallies, he heard a voice call out to him:

“Hey! Rainbow Man! Yeah, you! The guy in the rainbow t-shirt!”

Billy turned and saw that it was the young woman up on the makeshift stage calling out to him. He thought he recognized her, and smiled.

“Come on up Rainbow Man!” Darcy called out. “You’re the one who started all this!”

Darcy introduced him to the crowd, and told the story of how they had met at Sluggo’s and how Billy had very astutely raised the idea of the Equal Distribution of Sex. Billy was ahead of his time, she said. He was a prophet, she said. We should all learn from Billy, she said, on this Victory Day of all days.

It was all coming back to Billy, and by the time Darcy handed him the microphone, he had some grasp of what this was all about.

“You guys are beautiful!” He shouted to the crowd. The crowd roared its approval.

“Man,” he said, wiping his brow and looking at the great throng before him, “who would have thought a casual conversation in a cafe could lead to all of… THIS!”

He said a little more about how beautiful they all were and how inspired he was by their action, how they had accomplished so much in so little time. He told them he was only the guy who came up with the idea, while they were the ones who had done all the work. He said it was they who should be up on stage, not him. And then he invited all of them to come up onto the stage with him. That was when Darcy said that unfortunately they had to move on because they had a message of congratulations from the Governor of California and suddenly he didn’t have the microphone anymore but he waved goodbye to everyone and they chanted his name several times and then it was all over.

He was still smiling by the time he got up to the Whole Earth Restaurant. He grabbed a newspaper from one of the tables, ordered some vegan chili and a sprouted muffin and sat down. He looked at the headline on the paper: “Signs of Water Found on Mars.” He chuckled to himself, shaking his head.

“Well you just never know,” he said to himself.

                    *          *          *

Several weeks later, Meghan still could not bear to be alone in her dorm room, but the searing pain had been replaced by a dull numbness. The gaping hole was still there but it was smaller, having been filled somewhat with the minor distractions that made up her life. Her daily walks now gave her a little happiness rather than merely relief from the emptiness.

Meghan found herself sitting in the quad with some friends, puzzling over a pamphlet that had been hand-delivered to every student. The pamphlet was bright pink and had pictures of happy faces of various genders and ethnicities on the cover.  Emblazoned in cheery yellow letters were the words: “Your Sex, Your Rights!”

A girl named Angie was looking through the pamphlet trying to see how it might apply to her. A pale blonde girl named Jessica stood next to her quietly.

“So… how does this work?” Angie asked of nobody in particular.

“Well,” said Candy, who had already read a good deal of it, “it says here, if you believe you are sexually underprivileged or have been unjustly deprived of sex, you apply with the BSE to get Sexual Equalization. ‘The BSE will evaluate your claim and if it is found to be valid, will assign you a sexual partner based on Equalization Criteria. Each pairing will be based on criteria that is designed to bring about the equal distribution of sex.’”

“Oh. So you don’t get a say in who your partner will be?”

“Well… it does say that ‘every effort will be made to accommodate special requests. If there is a specific person you would like to be your partner, please provide that person’s name, address, date of birth, social security number and/or any other identifying information…”

Jessica nodded along as Candy read. Meghan had only been half paying attention, but now something occurred to her.

“Um… what if someone requests a… partner… and that person has a different sexual orientation than them? You know, what if a straight chick requests a certain guy, but he’s gay?”

“Hang on…” Candy flipped through the pamphlet. “OK, here… ‘as the purpose of this legislation is Equal Access for All, differences in sexual orientation will not be considered valid criteria for an exemption or reassignment…’”

Jessica nodded.

Meghan found this last part somewhat troubling, but as she didn’t think of herself as ‘conventionally attractive’ to hetero males, she wasn’t too worried about it. Indeed, she wasn’t even ‘conventionally attractive’ within the lesbian circle in which she now found herself. When she thought about it, she didn’t really understand what had attracted Chrissy to her at all. Maybe it was just the fact that nobody else was attracted to her. Maybe it was that she thought she’d be easy to control, to dominate. The pamphlet wasn’t turning out to be the pleasant distraction Meghan had hoped it would be.

A girl with long red hair who she didn’t know was asking “…and… if the person you want is… you know… with someone else… does it say what happens then?”

“Um… let me check…” Candy flipped through again.

“Here it is, here it is, I found it… it says… ‘Should a person be found to be an acceptable match for a claimant, but is already in a relationship with another person, he or she will not be required to leave that relationship but will be required to fulfill his or her obligations to his or her legally assigned sexual partner. These obligations must be fulfilled during times that are convenient for the person to whom he or she is assigned. Should a conflict arise, the claimant should contact the BSE for assistance. If necessary, the BSE will impose a mandated schedule for couples who cannot come to agreement on their own.”

“That seems fair,” said Jessica, still nodding.

                    *          *          *

It was very early in the morning when Meghan first heard the screaming. By the time she had roused herself from bed and opened the door of her dorm room, a small crowd had gathered in the hallway.

At the end of the hall, six uniformed officers with guns were wrestling with a young woman. At first Meghan didn’t recognize her, but somebody nearby whispered “Stephanie…” and Marcie realized that she did vaguely know her, having seen her around the dorms. She had just never before seen her without makeup – or sobbing and distraught.

“Please God no!!!” She was shrieking at the top of her lungs. The officers remained calm.

“Ma’am you’re going to have to come with us,” one of the officers said. “You’ve had ample warning. You have failed to make contact with your assigned partner and you have not responded to attempts to contact you. You are in contempt of the law and you need to come with us.”

“Nooooooo!!!” Stephanie wailed and went limp, dropping to the floor. The officers pulled her back up roughly.

“Not him!” She screamed, eyes closed. “Anyone but him! He’s grotesque!!!”

Some of the students shook their heads.

“Entitled bitch!” A female student called out from the small crowd.

“Yeah, check your privilege, princess!” Spat a male student.

Stephanie’s screams continued as the officers dragged her from the hallway. The students moved aside respectfully to allow the officers through. One of the officers nodded his thanks.

“It’s a shame when some people think they’re above the law,” he commented as he pulled the girl through the doorway. The other students nodded their heads in sympathy, agreeing that it was indeed a shame.

                    *          *          *

It was early morning when Billy began the walk home, having spent several hours wrestling with a burst water pipe in the Stevenson dorms. He was shivering with cold, and tired, but somehow exhilarated. He had forgotten just how stunning the world was when he was sober, how serene the woods were, how delicious the early morning air could be, even as it stung to breathe it in.

Just past the library, he was surprised to see that he wasn’t the only person on the paths at this hour. Up ahead, a young woman walked at a deliberate pace, her arms wrapped around herself – less it seemed for warmth than for strength. She was dumpy looking, with nondescript mousy hair that hung down limply. She wore heavy round glasses and as he approached, he could see that she looked like she could use some cheering up.

“They told me the rally was at five,” he said to her. “I guess they meant pm.”

Meghan smiled faintly. She had seen this man somewhere before. His face was familiar but she couldn’t quite place it.

“This part of campus is so beautiful in the mornings,” he said. “I totally get why you’re out here now. I’m surprised everyone’s not out here now…”

She laughed a little to herself. Of course he had no idea why she was out here. But he was right. It was spectacularly beautiful here under the trees just before the sunlight hit them. The man was still talking. Where had she seen him before?

“…you know, cheering, waving banners, ‘Go sun!’ ‘Yay dewdrops! you’re doing great!!! ‘Way to go redwoods!’ ‘Nice job swirly pink clouds!’”

“It’d sure beat the Sexual Justice rallies,” she smiled.

“Yeah!” He exclaimed, “what’s that all about anyway?”

Meghan shook her head.

“I have no earthly idea,” she said to him. They were both quiet for a few minutes.

Then she told him about watching the woman from her dorm being dragged off screaming, listening to the other dorm members hurl abuse at her as the police took her away. She told him about the crowds that wouldn’t stop shouting and the banners and the pins and the t-shirts. She told him about the stupid pink and yellow pamphlets that had been delivered to every student. And then she found herself telling him about Chrissy.

She told him she had never expected to get so attached, that she just thought they were having fun. She told him that she didn’t even think of herself as ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ – she was just in love with a woman. Or had been. And she had never before known how dark and empty the world could be – how there was nowhere to hide from it. She told him that every time she thought she was over it, she’d find herself pulled back into the darkness, into the emptiness. She found herself sobbing now, having to stop talking in the middle of a word so she didn’t choke. And then after a while, she found that she had nothing more to say.

They walked in silence for a while. The sun was fully in the sky now, casting morning light and shadow on the path ahead of them.

“So what do you think,” asked Billy finally, “is there life on Mars?”

And for the first time in what seemed like forever, Meghan laughed out loud.