Big Money, Your Choice
Sweat was trickling down my spine on this hot February morning, like melting wax sliding down a candle. I couldn’t get my arm out of my HAZMAT suit, my leg was stuck in the zipper, and the back had just ripped; it wasn’t ClimateProof anymore. The Climate Protection Services should definitely be expecting a call; they still haven’t returned any of my requests to fix my affiliation chip in my ankle, which kept flickering from blue to red. I ambled across the Capitol garage and entered the main elevator, pressing the fourth-floor button. Next to me stood two young women, likely interns, who were quietly chatting amongst themselves, likely gossiping. I could only discern a few words of what they said, but could immediately tie it to an article in this week’s conspiracy magazine—utter garbage masked as ‘journalism’—which talked about how DUA spies have recently noticed that Katrina, the heinous leader of the Federal Republic of America, is in possession of a book which she always discretely carries around with her. From what I could hear, the two ladies were exchanging pointless theories of what that book could be, and they seemed to be in disagreement with whether it was her personal diary or some notebook she used for all her meetings. The elevator came to a halt, and before I left the brief ride, I took a quick glimpse of myself in the elevator mirror, straightened my collar, and continued across the long, narrow halls of the building that I had worked in for the last twenty-three years. Every day I would walk through the same narrow doors which were so nobly labeled as “Speaker of the House: Lydia Thompson”. Today was another day in which I could serve the people of the Democratic Union of America, and get one step closer at sticking it to the Republicans in the FRA.
Breathe in. Cough.
Breathe in. Cough.
I confidently walked through the main office doors and was greeted by a troupe of government employees already frantically at work, despite the clock on the wall reading a mere 7:00 am. Visibly over-caffeinated, sleep-deprived interns were briskly walking to various ends of the room, and each desk was covered in a mountain of files, papers, and folders. Maria, my secretary, was already by my side with a pack of folders under her arm, already inquisitive as ever.
“Good morning, Mrs. Thompson! How was your charity event yesterday?”
“Hey, Maria. Umm, I’ll take those folders from you… walk with me.”
I made my way towards my office, with Maria right behind me.
“So,” I continued, “Umm, yeah where was I… Oh, the charity. Yeah, it was awesome, I got to volunteer at the convention of re-wilders, and it was just amazing! We had all these events and everything—it was really fun. You know, I never really understood how they did what they did, and one of them explained it so simply to me. They’re basically the opposite of farmers. That’s easy to remember isn’t it?”
“Farmers?” Maria asked.
“Oh, I forgot, you don’t know,” I laughed. “Farmers used to grow plants and crops outside on the land before… you know. But anyway, I learned that all that re-wilders do is fix the land. They’re trying to bring it back to how it used to be, some thirty or forty years ago. A noble cause indeed. But back to business, how’s the CDS report?”
“Well, it’s not too good from what I remember,” Maria said, as she pulled out a paper from her back pocket. “Okay, so, the Critically Destructive Storms count for yesterday, February 15th, was actually quite low. We only had Hurricane Andrew 14 hitting the east coast and only about two thousand people dead. And then, we had a power outage in California, so with the heat and lack of cooling, an estimated five hundred people dead.” She shrugged indifferently and proceeded with her briefing.
Dropping down in my chair, I turned around facing the wall, reclining as far back as I could and let out a weary sigh as I tried to collect myself. How could this be? 2500 people dead in one day. All of them had families and people who cared about and loved them; all because of what we humans did to our planet. More accurately, what the Republicans in the FRA did to stop us from doing anything about this. This just shows the fact that—
“Umm, ma’am?” Maria interrupted my thoughts. “I need you to sign off on these storm report papers.”
“Yes, yes of course. Just put them on my desk, and you’ll have them by the end of the day.” With that said, my secretary left the room and shut the door behind her.
The glass walls surrounding my office made it convenient for me to oversee my staff and assess their impressive work ethic. Like the endless rows of cubicles in call centers; twelve desks, in four rows of three desks each. The office of the Speaker of the House for the DUA was constantly at work. As I should have been right now; I had things to do, places to visit, and I could most definitely not afford to fall into this rabbit hole every time I heard the storm report. Diverting my attention back to my desk, I managed to rummage through the clutter and open my laptop, reviewing my calendar. I had a meeting with the Committee on Environmental Affairs at 10:00 am, and I needed to review the bills that were passed on the floor yesterday by 12:00 pm. Nothing too major; today was a relatively calm day.
As if I had summoned her, Maria was already at the door with a light blue folder under her arms.
“Come in,” I called.
“Good to see you again, ma’am.” After a brief pause, she continued into the room with two incredibly old women trailing behind her. These ancient, frail figures were barely walking into the room, which made me wonder what this visit was for. “Ms. Thompson, this is the leadership of For The People PAC.”
“Ahh, yes.” I shot up out of my seat to help accommodate them, “Please, take a seat.” The two women each shuffled in their chairs with what seemed to be intense discomfort. Wheezing and sighing with every movement they made, one of them finally spoke up after a forceful coughing fit.
“My name’s Lorraine Adams, with me here is Gina Ali.” At that, the two women transformed from ancient creatures to stable, determined people with threatening glares darting in my direction. “We’re here to talk about Bill S.2857.”
“You mean the Clean Trees Initiative?” I asked.
“Yes, the Clean Trees Initiative!” Gina chimed in, “What else would it be?”
Taken aback by that comment I punched back, “Excuse me?”
“Oh, cut the bullcrap! It’s sitting right on your desk, and all that it’s awaiting is a stroke of your pen.”
“Yes, I intend on signing it later today,” I replied firmly.
“Well you won’t,” Lorraine said, “you’ll reach into your drawer, pull out your veto stamp, and slap a big fat ‘x’ on that bill.”
I was in such shock that I disregarded her blatant unfamiliarity with the veto process and, instead, humored her by asking, “And why exactly would I do that?”
“I’ll tell you why,” Gina said starting to stand up, “the woman you’re looking at right now owns more than 70% of all ClimateProof factories in the entire west coast. And these factories run on the meager shrub that hasn’t entirely been burnt yet in the Great Fires.”
“Yeah,” Lorraine pitched in, “those very shrubs that you consider trees and want to place under government protection.”
“But that’s what the people want!” I answered, “They want to protect the environment!”
“Oh, look around you,” Lorraine continued, “what environment? These aren’t the 2010’s anymore, its 2055! The only type of wood left is synthetic, twice as expensive for ClimateProof to use, and that meager shrub which now you want to take away! Think of what this does to ClimateProof.”
“The percentage increase in price of our raw materials,” Gina butted in, “is directly proportional to the percentage increase in price of an average HAZMAT suit. That’s how it is.”
“Look, ladies,” I said firmly, “this bill passed with overwhelming support from the American people. Surely there’s something you can do about it. And, after all, we listen to the concerns of our citizens; we’re a party of the people! I mean your PAC is even called ‘For The People’.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Lorraine started laughing mockingly, “that’s just a thing we say.”
“Look,” Gina said sharply, already starting to head to the door, “either you veto this bill, or thousands of people won’t be able to afford their essential ClimateProof gear. Your choice.”
“You’re not going to get away with thi—” And with that, the two ladies left the room and returned to their frail, ancient figures.
What an odd encounter. I reached over for Bill S.2857 and started reading some of the files that were associated with it. I quickly learned that those bastards were only up for the money and astronomically high profits. They held a monopoly on an industry critical to the life of every individual in the DUA; thus, they held the upper hand. Lorraine and Gina were two of the largest multi-millionaires in the DUA with the fates of millions of people in their hands. Their company was fine – more than fine – they could have easily transitioned to synthetic wood like everyone else and still be making a profit, but instead, they gave me this impossible ultimatum.
I was fortunately distracted by one of my staff members, Julio, who burst into my office.
“What’s up, Julio? Is it her again?”
Julio barely vocalized in a trembling, weak voice, “Yes, ma’am, DTV is having an exclusive on Katrina.”
I grabbed the remote and swiftly turned on my office TV. Every time news was reported on Katrina, it was never anything good. And sure enough, the headlines read, ‘KATRINA SHAMEKH AUTHORIZES MASS EXTERMINATION OF FOREIGN PRISONERS’. I despised that woman. She was a plague to her entire country.
“Sources are telling DTV, that Speaker of the House for the Federal Republic of America, Katrina Shamekh, just yesterday, February 15th, 2055, authorized an intense labor camp, dubbed by critics as one of the harshest of this century. The camp would host foreign prisoners as an alternative to the current punishment of exile. One source told DTV that this camp was commissioned and conceived by Katrina personally. We are hearing that staff in this camp would physically and verbally abuse the inmates, deprive them of basic amenities such as clean water, and separate families in an attempt to extract information from vulnerable mothers. Just last month, sixty African-American inmates were sent to the camp for ridiculous reasons. The official charges brought against some of them were noise pollution, littering on the street, and vandalizing public property. Grieving relatives tell DTV that all the victims did were whistle, accidentally drop some candy wrappers on the floor, and add a coat of paint on their own house. This is outrageous. This is a targeted attack on all the black people of the FRA, and Katrina is using any chance she has to lock up any non-white pure Americans. We share the same land as the FRA, and even though we might be divided by a border, we cannot stand by and witness these atrocities unfold. Wake up America! Stop Katrina! Stop the Republicans!”
Julio turned the TV off, and I looked behind me. The once-bustling office had ground to a halt and gathered in my office to watch the report. There were twelve motionless faces in complete shock. I needed to address this situation.
“Okay, so. I know what you just saw. I saw it too. And however horrible she may be, she’s just our motivation. It’s people like her that drive us to continue doing good in this world. People like her are why we work. So, let’s get back to work, and do what we do best so that we can stop people like her from ruining the entire planet.” After such a shocking news report, I still didn’t feel like I had convinced myself that it would be alright. Power was held in dangerous hands right now. The best I could do now was simply get back to work, and focus on my schedule. There was no changing Katrina.
As I left my office to head to my meeting with the Committee on Environmental Affairs, I made a quick pit stop at a bathroom on the way. I had to make sure that in this hectic world, I could calm down for a few minutes, and be convinced that I was making the right decisions.
Looking at myself in the mirror I saw a stranger staring back. Working as the de-facto head of government was taking a physical toll on me. I had enough wrinkles on my face, for each individual wrinkle to be able to represent a year of service in this government. After the split, the government was rattled, and some changes had to be made. The president had become irrelevant, and I was given no term limits; just keep the ship from sinking. I was stuck in here for as long as the people wanted.
I was sixty years old, born in a time when there wasn’t all this political fuss, but it was throughout my life that all of this hatred and division had developed. I opened the tap and was startled at the sensation of cold water running through my hands. The water pipes ran outside and were exposed to harsh conditions, so I was expecting hot water; warm at best. I took this opportunity to splash my face with refreshing water and then reached for the towel. One last look in the mirror was what it took to reassure myself that I got this.
With so much going on in the Capitol, it was not possible to stay on top of everything. In other words, I wasn’t necessarily best prepared for my meeting. I wasn’t a religious person, but in my mind, I prayed to whomever was up there for some good news now. I needed it.