The More Things Change...
It's funny how things happen. How you think you have things figured out, and you think you know what you're doing, and then something changes and you realize you have no idea at all what's going on.
And that you are totally, and completely, fucked.
That's happened to me way too often, in my relatively short life. More than I thought it had any right to. First, when everybody seemed to turn on me when they found out I was gay. Then, when my suicide attempt led to something completely unexpected. After that, finding out that retro house was some kind of prison.
And now this.
I stood staring at the door, listening to the footsteps receding in the hallway on the other side. And I mulled over the past seventy-two hours or so.
Sunday we were up early. Real early. We needed to have breakfast, get showered and dressed, and get down to the conference center where the speeches and presentations were happening by nine o'clock.
Getting dressed was an adventure in itself. I had never had too many opportunities to wear formal clothes in my life. And formal clothes had changed more than a little bit in the past seven decades. If it weren't for Dad M helping me I'd probably still be in the hotel bathroom struggling to figure out the fastenings. Not to mention that stupid tie.
But, we made it on time. I wasn't scheduled to talk until one in the afternoon. We needed to be there right at nine though. We needed to check in, the people who had VR or holographic aids for their presentations had to ensure that the technical side of things was working properly. I didn't have to worry about that, but there were still hands to shake, explanations to listen to, and on and on.
I tried to keep it all straight in my head. I was given a fast explanation by someone organizing all of this. Something about cues and where to stand and how to make sure my voice was the right volume, and where to look, and how to know when my time was almost up, and all that.
I hope I wasn't supposed to remember all that. First of all, it was almost too fast to follow, but mostly, I was much, much too nervous to really listen.
I hated having to wait until one. I would have much rather been able to get my talk over with right at ten, then just be able to listen to everyone else for the rest of the day.
I do remember shaking the hand of a candidate for somewhere in South Carolina. I remember that one because he prominently displayed a colorful holographic pin on his lapel. One that displayed the currently most popular slogan for the Hope For Humanity Institute underneath the HfH logo.
I found a bathroom and washed my hands after shaking hands with him. I'm glad I had enough self-control to not to say something I'd regret.
Bryce Markham met us in the lobby after we checked in, and he and Dad M kept introducing me to people. I kept trying my absolute best to remember everything my coaching had taught me. All the little details I had learned. I never knew there was so much involved in how to shake hands and say hello.
There was coffee, juice, tea, and various refreshments spread out on tables throughout. I stayed well away from all of these. I was positive they would just upset my stomach. And I knew that I'd probably spill something on that fancy suit Dad M and Bryce had picked out for me and then I'd really look like a fool.
Finally, I had a few minutes to myself. I was relieved for a few seconds, but then I realized that I now had time to get even more nervous. I went over and over everything in my head, everything my speaking coach had tried so valiantly to teach me, all my talking points and how to stand, where to look, and all that. I took out my notes for the tenth or twelfth time and made sure the little gadget that people used instead of note-cards these days was working properly, and that I knew how to shuffle through my notes without getting all messed up.
I was so nervous I was shaking. Only the arms snaking their way around me from behind and the kiss on my neck, accompanied by Dillon's sweet smell helped keep me from quite honestly just walking out the front door and jumping on the first bus I saw.
I turned around and pulled back to arms length. I held both his hands in mine. “Dillon, I can't do this.” I was almost crying.
He just looked at me and smiled. God, he looked good in that suit. The way it brought out his eyes. “Come on,” he said, and turned around pulling me behind him.
“Where?” I asked, stumbling slightly but then following.
“You need to get your mind off this. Standing there and endlessly going over your notes and brooding isn't going to help.”
He brought me down a flight of stairs and into another room. About a dozen people were standing and sitting, talking to each other. Half of them were watching the feed from the first speech just starting upstairs, the others were just talking loudly. All the people in the room were young. I think the oldest was likely no older than twenty or so. The youngest looked closer to twelve.
Dillon explained that most of them were the kids of the speakers and attendees, dragged along willingly or unwillingly by their families.
I asked Dillon how he knew all that. He just gave me a funny look. “What do you think I was supposed to do for the last forty-five minutes? Just stand there looking pretty? I've been wandering around after you checked in. And so I found everyone down here and got to talking.”
One other boy, he was one of the older ones, was giving a talk like me. Dillon dragged me over to him.
“Jerry, this is Jeffrey Chamberlain. Jeffrey, this is Jerry Richards. He's doing what you're doing. Providing the so-called “youth perspective” for a candidate from Arizona.
I felt Jerry look me over, and then he offered his hand to shake. “So you're the famous pre-Depopulation kid everyone around here is talking about.”
I shook his hand the way I'd been taught and tried to make sure I had good eye-contact and kept my voice steady. “Word travels fast. It was supposed to be a bit of a secret until I gave my speech.”
He smiled. He had a very nice smile. “I think it still is. Mostly. Dillon was telling one of the other kids,” he pointed over at a girl about my age, “and a few of us overheard.”
I looked over at Dillon, and he shrugged. “She's okay, her dad is running in Vancouver. We got to talking about hockey.”
I looked back to Jerry. “So what are you going to talk about? In your speech?”
He looked a bit more animated. “Well, Timothy Erickson is my uncle. He's running in Glendale. He's trying to implement a program to bring back native vegetation to the state and to help try and get the climate to stabilize more. Maybe in the future we'll even be able to have some agriculture again in our state.
“Anyway, I'm at the University at Arizona, and I'm working on a way to genetically modify certain heat and drought resistant crops...”
Dillon was right. Next thing I knew it was 12:45 and Dad M was interrupting. “There you are. Come on, Jeffrey. You need to get upstairs and get ready.”
Startled, I looked at the time. “Wow, I didn't realize it was so late. Nice talking to you, Jerry. Good luck with your speech.”
He smiled that nice smile back at me, “You too Jeffrey. If you're still here after my talk why don't you meet me here. I'll buy you coffee.”
I was still trying to figure out if he was just being nice, or was flirting with me – after all, coffee was free here – when we arrived backstage and a middle aged woman gave me a few final instructions.
I could hear a little bit from the MC about Bryce Markham, his platform and ideas, and then I heard myself being introduced. The red light went on, the little gong sounded, and I walked out onto the stage behind the glass podium.
Remembering what I was taught, I launched right into it before I had to chance to get nervous and freeze up. The bright lights on me meant I could barely see the thousands of people spread out in front of me anyway.
I forced myself to not fidget, and to project my voice. “Good afternoon. I'm Jeffrey Chamberlain. I'm fifteen years old. And I was born in 1996, almost one hundred years ago.”
I paused and waited for the buzz to die down. I had been coached well.
“I'm here to tell you about what Bryce Markham stands for. I'm here to tell you why he, and people like him, need to be elected. To have the opportunity to represent us. But mostly, I'm here to tell you how things used to be. And how, if we are not very, very careful, they could be again.”
I was surprised. The nervousness had left me. Almost right after the third or fourth sentence, I was more concerned with trying to make these people understand what I needed them to know than I was with my own fears about being here.
I barely needed my notes. I had gone over my talk so many times that it flowed easily. I talked about late twentieth and early twenty-first century politics. About the gains we had made in freedom, and equality, and prosperity, in the fifty years before that time, and the losses that seemed to be accelerating all over the world since a certain fateful day in 2001.
I talked about culture and social systems. About hate. About freedom, and justice. About privacy and openness. About bigotry and stereotypes.
And then I talked about me.
I told them what it was like to grow up as a persecuted minority in North America in the first decade of the century. I talked about the bullying I saw, and was victimized by, every day at school. I detailed what this looked like, the violence, the shame, and the hate.
I talked about my feelings. About my growing self hate and isolation. Even from my own family.
Then I told them I had enough. That it was too much. Too much hate, and anger, and guilt, and self-recrimination, and confusion. Too much for this fifteen year old boy to bear. I didn't want to die. I just needed the hurt to stop. The pain. I needed it to end.
“So that's why I tried to kill myself. To commit suicide.” I said.
A gasp went up from my audience. I knew from my conversations with everyone since I got here that suicide is extremely rare now.
I glanced at the clock set into the stage. I had two minutes left. I leaned on the podium with both hands, and kind of moved my head and shoulders forward a bit.
“That's why I'm standing here today. I'm worried. Since I came out of suspended animation I've learned a lot. And I've been impressed. After 2022 things needed to change. And they did. The world is, in many, many ways, a better place now than it was then. Safer. There's more equality. More freedom. Less hate, less bigotry, and less stereotyping.
“So I can't help asking. I've been watching the news vids. Listening to politicians talk and everyone else talk. Listening to the rhetoric.
“I can't help asking. Why in the world are you starting to try so hard to give it all away? Everything that's better? Everything you've worked so hard on rebuilding? I might be just a kid, but I'm not blind.
I waited for two or three beats. The audience was silent. I could feel eyes on me. “Don't do it. Please. For me. For your kids. For everyone, especially those who are beginning to feel the persecution and hate. Don't do it.”
The little clock said I had ten seconds. I had to be careful with the timing and phrasing of the next bit. Subtle, but not too subtle.
“If there's going to be any real hope.....For humanity, we need to ensure that the opportunities, rights, and freedoms of everyone remain truly equal. Thank you.”
I turned immediately and walked off the stage and into the back.
It took me a second to realize that the roar behind me was applause. I guess I did okay after all.
Bryce Markham and Dad M were right there. Dad M was pounding me on the back, and saying that I nailed it. Bryce was grinning and shaking my hand.
Then a blonde whirlwind kind of shoved right by them and I was being hugged and spun around, and then kissed rather embarrassingly. “Told ya Jeff! I knew you could do it! I was behind you the whole time!”
I pulled back a few inches, laughed at him and shook my head, and then pulled him in for another hug. “You still think politics is boring?”
I heard him giggle in my ear.
I thought it was all done with as we walked out into the lobby. That we could go quietly back to the hotel. But as usual I was wrong. Now there were interviews. Dillon and Dad M excused themselves, leaving me standing with Bryce. Bryce Markham had endless questions to answer from reporters and he wanted me there too. Many of the questions were directed at me. Bryce's team were a lot more prepared for that than I was. I was wearing a little earphone, and was given some help for how to answer so I didn't get myself in a mess.
We finally seemed to be done with the cameras and microphones and I saw Dillon waiting for me across the room. I caught up with him just as a woman with a microphone walked up to me. I saw a guy with a 3D camera to the side and just behind her.
I tried to pretend I didn't see the woman, and I had just grabbed Dillon's hand and was grinning stupidly at him when the reporter, I remembered seeing her on the news, asked me a question.
“Jeffrey Chamberlain just gave the speech you saw excerpts from a few moments ago. We thought we'd catch up with him and ask him a few questions.” She turned to me, I was looking stupidly into the camera, and then she looked at Dillon. “And who's this?” she asked.
I looked at Dillon. He was trying hard to move away from the sudden throng of microphones and cameras that seemed to have appeared around us. I held his hand tighter and drew him towards me, until he was right beside me. I grinned at him, then turned to the cameras and put my arm around him. “This,” I told the entire world proudly, “is Dillon Masterson. He's my boyfriend.”
It was funny watching myself on the news on Monday. I thought I looked like a dork. Everyone else kept telling me I looked amazing. Dillon told me, with his grin at 100%, that I looked “salaciously freak!”
It was a lot harder to listen to the analysts afterwards. One particular network really tore me to pieces. They reminded me a lot of another network, back several decades ago. This loud obnoxious looking guy was expounding on how my analogies of what happened at the turn of the century had absolutely nothing to do with now, and that I was probably a know-nothing pipsqueak who hadn't figured out how the world worked yet. And that, with the suicide attempt, I was obviously mentally deranged and therefore nobody could possibly take anything I said as remotely true.
I did have to admit though, watching Dillon scream at him on the vid screen in the hotel room and explain in rather colourful language why he was an idiot was quite entertaining. Mom M didn't even try to stop him. In fact, she was nodding in agreement.
Tuesday was election day. We were meeting with several other people in a rented hall to watch the results come in. Bryce needed to return home prior to this but the rest of us stayed in Washington. Our flight was tomorrow.
Mom and Dad M had done their advance voting before we flew out from Toronto. So we spent the day doing the sightseeing we had put off because of the weather a few days ago.
We arrived at the hall that evening just as the first results started rolling in. Dillon was seated on my left. We were in steel folding chairs sitting at an old wooden table. An ancient vid screen that looked like it was from closer to my era than this one was showing the results up at the front.
Someone sat down on my right and I looked over and did a double take. “Hi Jerry. I thought you'd be home in Arizona by now,” I said.
He smiled at me. “Hi Jeff. Hi Dillon.” Dillon nodded curtly at him and slid his chair closer to me. “No, I don't have anything until next week, so I thought I'd stay here for the fun.” He looked hard at me, his eyes looking down at my body and then up again.
Okay, no doubt now. He was flirting. I found myself slightly flattered but a bit uncomfortable. Dillon had apparently picked up on it before I had. I tried talking to him with just the right tone of politeness but without encouragement. I was having a hard time finding that balance.
Our conversation tailed off after a while though. The results were coming in fast now. And they were surprising.
Surprising, as in, very good news, and very bad news.
Some analysts were saying the marked polarization was due to my speech. I doubted that, but polarization there was indeed.
Mom and Dad M had finished their conversations with the various people gathered in the rented hall, and were now sitting down at the table with us as well. I could see Dad M wringing his hands and shaking his head every time a HfH candidate pulled ahead.
Despite Jenna's tutoring and school I was still getting a handle on how government worked these days. Especially this kind of complicated multiple country government.
I had learned a lot more from Bryce and Dad M over the past month than I had in the rest of the time since I had been here.
Political parties had been outlawed. Like I said before though, something quite similar had replaced them. Though not really.
When representatives were voting on legislation, especially controversial legislation, they could, and almost always did, form voting blocs. These were officially sanctioned groups of representatives that would come together and agree to stand behind a particular bill being debated. They could do some level of advertising, and buy airtime and ad space to do so, but this was very, very regulated. The purpose was to get people to call their own representatives and encourage them to vote the same way as the voting bloc. It was, in theory, supposed to be for the express purpose of public information, and was overseen by another elected committee whose only mandate was to do this job. They would determine what could and could not appear in the ads.
Funding for these groups was also carefully regulated. Corporations, businesses, and other governments were strictly forbidden from contributing. Individuals could contribute, and so could non-profit organizations but there were all kinds of weird regulations and limits on these non-profits that I didn't really understand yet.
Also, contribution caps were strictly enforced and very carefully regulated to ensure that it wasn't actually one person funneling money from supposedly many different sources.
Anyway, the voting blocs themselves, they were fluid. They existed only for the purpose of a particular piece of legislation, then they were mandated to dissolve afterwards. New bills meant that new blocs needed to form.
Of course, people being people and politics being politics, you could expect most of the same people to be forming the same sides on the issues being debated. These limits did help though. But, as these things tend to do, some of the safeguards were being eroded. Especially over the past year or two.
Anyway, that's some of the reason why the results now rolling in were so significant.
Even though many of these candidates couldn't officially be part of a party, or officially ally themselves with the Hope for Humanity Institute, this had been watered down to everything but official. They wore the pins, they spewed the slogans, and they talked the talk. As much as they could possibly get away with.
The candidates who supported most of the same ideals that Bryce Markham supported, most of the same ideals that Dad M supported, and myself for that matter, were winning in a landslide. Almost everywhere, from the border of Guatemala to the Arctic Circle.
Except for certain areas. In those areas, it was exactly the opposite. The HfH supporting candidates were winning in large blocks of geography on the maps showing up on the vid screen.
They were bunched together. Obviously so. It was immediately apparent that this was no accident. The HfH must have spent well over 90% of their effort, and money, in these areas. It was that apparent.
Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Alabama were all almost entirely controlled by HfH supporting candidates. As well as Washington D.C. itself.
The analysts were all over this. The talk was heated, the debate intense. But nobody, nobody at all, seemed to have any idea what this meant.
The cab ride back to the hotel was lively with debate. Debate among ourselves and the debate on every radio station on the dial. We settled in for the night still discussing what this might mean for the future.
It turned out, the future was a lot closer than we realized.
Our flight was Wednesday afternoon, so we had all morning to spend doing whatever. Mom M decided to do some shopping. Dad M seemed to need to spend much of the morning on VR calls with Bryce and other people talking about election stuff, so that left me and Dillon to wander around. We were walking about a block from the hotel, chatting and holding hands, when we caught up to two or three dozen people standing still and watching a vid screen on the side of a building. We caught their curiosity and stopped to watch along with them.
A news anchor was saying, “...until further notice. The confusion continues in many cities in the affected areas. The representatives are still meeting as we speak, and we expect further information shortly.” The news anchor cocked her head, obviously listening to an audio feed from somewhere, then looked back into the camera. She seemed to be frowning. And puzzled. “The representatives' meeting has apparently just concluded. We will have an announcement from the meeting in just a moment.
“For those of you just joining us, at dawn this morning all of the winning representatives informally allied with the Hope for Humanity Institute met in Washington. That meeting has just completed. Furthermore, almost all of the commanders of the armed forces and police services in the affected areas have canceled leave for their personnel, and seem to be mobilizing forces and equipment. It is unclear the what the purpose of this mobilization is, or who ordered it. All questions and calls to police chiefs and armed forces commanders are being ignored. Regular policing in these cities has almost completely stopped, leading to a number of problems for people in accidents and other situations.”
Dillon was gripping my hand tightly. We looked at each other, our eyes wide. I was feeling a bit scared. The news anchor began talking again and I turned back to the vid screen.
The anchor now looked practically frantic. You could see her having to work hard to maintain her composure. “I've just been handed the following report from the aforementioned representatives meeting. We will have a live VR feed shortly. In the meantime, I have been...” she hesitated for two long beats, her expression utterly unreadable, “...ordered...to read the following.”
The anchor looked at the tablet she had been handed and began reading. She wasn't even trying now to stay professional. Her hand was trembling. “We, the Representatives of the people of the former states of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Alabama, as well as the District of Columbia, with the power vested in us by the people of said areas, and with the support of the police and armed forces of said areas, hereby declare secession from the North American Union and from the United States of America. All transportation to and from the People's Genetic Protectorate is hereby temporarily suspended until customs and border stations can be set up and manned. We apologize for this temporary inconvenience, but it is necessary to protect the future of our species. More information and instructions will follow. In the meantime all citizens are instructed to attend work and school as usual.”
The anchor dropped the tablet to the desk with a clatter. She looked out at the camera. “I...don't know what to tell you. I think...”
I didn't hear the rest. Dillon was already pulling me by the arm at a jog towards our hotel. The last couple of hundred meters were done in a sprint.
We barged into Mom and Dad M's room to tell them what we learned. One look and we knew they probably knew more than we did. Mom M was packing. Her face was a mask of determination and anger. Dad M was standing on the balcony and was on the phone again. I looked closer. This was a different phone. I had learned about them. I didn't know he had one. This phone used a coherent tight microwave beam. It bounced the beam off a satellite and then this was directed to another, predetermined location. The system was essentially impervious to snooping. A true secure phone. Why Dad M had one, and where he got it, I had no idea. But he was using it now.
He hung up and came inside. “Boys, go pack. You have ten minutes. Then come here. We're leaving in twenty.”
Dillon and I looked at each other. “But Dad,” Dillon said, “the vid said all transportation has been suspended. We can't leave.”
Dad M just looked angry. “I know what they said. We will be leaving, in twenty minutes, and I don't give a damn about any permission. Be ready.”
We ran to the elevator and up to our room. Dillon turned on the vid while we were packing.
A different anchor was at the desk now, and he was talking. “The riots that had broken out in Raleigh following the announcement and due to the complete lack of policing have now been abruptly quelled.” A bit of video ran showing the scene. Armored personnel carriers of some kind were rolling down the streets, indiscriminately shooting stun weapons at absolutely everything that moved. “New orders from the Representatives of the People's Genetic Protectorate are that martial law is now in effect. All persons are ordered to be at home, at work, or at school. Retail shopping for necessities only is permitted. All other activities are temporarily suspended. Any non-sanctioned gathering of more than three persons will be stunned, until their intent can be ascertained.”
The news anchor changed gears slightly, “Several pieces of legislation have been reported to have been pushed through during this morning's meeting. These documents are intended to become the basis of law for the Protectorate. More information will follow...”
I turned the vid off. Dillon and I looked at each other and then we both started packing our things even faster.
Just as I was zipping up my bag there was a knock on the door. Dillon looked up as he was putting the last of his things in an outside pocket and I walked to the door. “Mom and Dad M must be finished. I wonder how we're getting out of here.”
I opened to the door to see two police officers standing there. One of them was aiming a stun weapon at my stomach. The other pushed into the room and aimed his stun weapon at Dillon.
The one who was aiming at me said, “Jeffrey Chamberlain?”
I nodded dumbly.
“You are hereby under arrest under the Preservation of Genetic Diversity Act. You have no rights. Your genetic material is the property of the Protectorate. You are required to accompany us for processing and for the preservation and distribution of your genetic material.”
I hesitated and Dillon held an arm up. “Just wait a minute,” Dillon began, “you can't...”
The officer aiming at Dillon shot his stun weapon and Dillon slumped to the floor, conscious but unmoving, watching the scene.
The other officer repeated at me, “You will accompany us.”
I didn't see that I had a choice. I accompanied them.
One of the cops was in front and the other behind me. I had little doubt if I didn't cooperate fully they would simply stun me and carry me, though this would probably piss them off.
I wondered where they found these guys. Again, I was shocked. I didn't think anybody could act like this now. I wondered how they did it. Drugs? Brainwashing?
Then I had a thought. I'll bet I knew. After all, I was subjected to it myself. I'll bet they used mental blocks, and untangling. Or maybe, in these guys' cases, tangling.
It didn't matter really. Right now I didn't have much of a choice. I followed.
We went up to the roof, where we boarded what must have been some kind of helicopter. I was strapped in and we lifted off and went to an airfield. There, I was loaded, at stun-gun point, onto a sub-orbital jet, and then we were in the air.
An hour later we landed and I was herded off the jet and into a car. Another ten minutes and I was marched into a large building, down a long hallway, and through a steel door. Behind the door was a small bed, a toilet, and a sink.
It was a cell.
I turned around to see the door close. I heard it lock.I listened to the footsteps receding down the hallway and wondered how so much can change in so short a time.