Fusion

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Question Time

The darkening sky was the portent of the behemoth descending from the heavens. It was silent and motionless, like a giant frisbee half a mile across with vast aluminium sails stretching upwards into the heavens; it looked like a stairway to God.

“Mummy, mummy! What's that?” screamed the children in Hertferd, “They're coming, they're coming, they're coming Mom!”

It was the fourth day of what had been dubbed the 'Grain against gears' siege. It was another feather in the cap of Jane Willerby, who'd coined the term. The farmers stood in front of Carlton with their signs and banners chanting and trying to stop people getting to work, though they'd done nothing violent whatsoever. Theirs had been a model of a peaceful demonstration.

They took no notice of the harbinger in the sky. The shadow it had cast was receding as the aluminium sails unfurled slowly, the logo T7 disappearing with them. It was T7's 'Eye in the sky' mobile studio, complete with full network links, sleeping quarters, interview forum (like an amphitheatre), canteen and so on. It was an extremely complex balloon, which they took around to news hotspots to get a bird’s eye view of all the disasters in their full glory.

The recent San Francisco earthquake had been covered live by T7's balloon and it had paid for itself just from that. It had been in the right time at the right place, quite by chance and pictures of the live mayhem unfolding had been seen in 3-D by countless thousands all over the world.

'Grain against gears' didn't have the same impact with the public, but it was beginning to capture the imagination.

T7 intended to make money out of it. Jane Willerby intended to make her name out of it. Hence T7 had taken a gamble, assessed various priorities, (like the violent Japanese no unemployment demonstrations) but T7 had decided this had a distinctly personal angle.

“Tradition against progress is what all those demonstrations are about. Let’s get a human personal angle on this. That's what this is all about and it's here!” the head of T7 had told Willerby excitedly. So they'd decided to give Duncan the Wednesday daytime slot and take things from there.

Duncan lay looking at the ceiling in an old barber’s chair on board 'The Naiad' as the balloon was called. A make-up woman was bobbing around his head weaving a make-up brush like an absent-minded fly, not knowing which way to turn next.

She was gently applying foundation and talking to him incessantly. Duncan couldn't work out if it was winding him up or allowing him to forget himself and feel less nervous.

“Ever been interviewed on TV before?"

“No, I've given statements for TV before but I've never been interviewed before, no."

“I'm sure you'll be fine Mr. Anderton. How long have you been Mayor for of er...this town for?"

“I've been Mayor for twelve years now."

“Uh-huh. You like being Mayor?"

“Yep, I do, most of the time," Duncan smiled weakly.

“Well listen, let's get you upright so as you can have a look at yourself."

"I look about ten years younger."

“Just got to do your hair now Mr. Anderton and then we're all done."

"That won't take long."

The make-up lady brushed the top of Duncan's smooth head affectionately.

“Could be worse you know, I've seen shinier and thinner heads of hair before," she smiled, "besides it suits you," she said patting it affectionately.

“Right," said Duncan diffidently.

"No, really it does."

“You're not helping my nerves now lady!"

“Aww! Ssshh, you'll look great, stop flapping!" she said in a motherly tone.

She finished doing his hair, forty strands of it and let Duncan be alone.

He had half an hour until the question and answer session, which came at the end of the news. He had no doubt that they'd get Ellephanie on very soon. In fact the way things were going the two of them would end up having a presidential debate.

Duncan's heart felt like it was determined to beat itself out of his chest and bounce around amidst the cosmetics on the table. He was perspiring and he couldn't concentrate on his notes. He flicked his pen around between his different fingers continuously.

“Would you like some coffee, Mr. Anderton?”

“Yes please, decaff.”

“I might have a stroke if I have any more caffeine,” he mumbled desultorily to himself.

Duncan wandered over to the oval window and peered out to look at Carlton and Hertferd. It was calming seeing the little place from up here. It looked like anywhere else, a lace of roads with cars, houses, the high street and little specs wandering around.

Duncan heard a knock at the door. "Come in."

Duncan didn't look up.

“Is there anything I can help you with,” the small, unctuous man enquired.

“No I think I am okay.”

“May I just talk to you for a little bit? I have to see you, Mr. Anderton. It’s part of my job."

Duncan looked up, he'd misjudged the man from his voice, and he had a warm and kind face.

“In fact here it is. Do you want to put that down there? Great?"

“My name's Jules, pleased to meet you Mr. Anderton. Now the thing is, I gather you haven't done this before. Is that right?"

“Yes that's correct."

“Well, we always give all our guests a little advice if they want it. In fact to be honest Mr. Anderton I'm supposed to give you this advice whether you like it or not. Part of the drill I'm afraid, first you get the make-up then you get me."

“Okay Jules, shoot."

“Firstly, non-verbal communication." Duncan nodded sagely.

“You know the old saying; it's not what you say but how you say it that's important. About 70% of communication is by posture, body..."

Duncan held up his hand. "I know the drill."

“Fine so you know not to wave your hands around too much when answering questions and don't gabble."

Duncan shook his head.

“We've had gabblers on here before." Jules shook his head. They talk at a thousand miles an hour and no one can remember a word they say."

Jules looked beseechingly at Duncan.

“I can tell you don't normally gabble but if you feel at all nervous then you might gabble.”

Jules paused.

“The other thing is, and I know it sounds obvious but don't lose your temper, or even vaguely appeared irritated by any question the public asks, even if they're annoying you to hell. It's easy to say in here but out there you might find it different. You know the question areas don't you Mr. Anderton."

Duncan nodded his head.

“Right, well that's about it. How do you feel?"

"Fine thanks."

Jules smiled wryly.

“It's okay you know, even the experienced ones get nervous. It helps you out there."

Duncan flushed slightly.

“Good luck Mr. Anderton.”

“Thank you”.

Jules made his way towards the door and stopped. He took a couple of paces back towards him.

“For what it's worth Mr. Anderton I agree with what you’re doing and I understand why you're doing it. Don't tell anyone. I am not supposed to an express an opinion in front of guests."

Duncan raised both hands and winked. Jules disappeared.

The twenty-five minutes before Duncan was due on felt like hours. He went to the toilet eight times and drank five mug fulls of decaff coffee. At least this was an opportunity to get his case out there first before Ellephanie, which made Duncan feel good but didn't obviate his nerves.

It was only by thinking about going fishing that he managed to finally calm himself down. In fact it was thinking about the time he had learned to fly fish with his father, which really calmed him down. They'd gone up to the Great Lakes and somehow Duncan managed to wind his line around a pine tree. His father had howled with laughter at him, howled and howled. At first Duncan scowled and sulked but in the end the two of them sat on the edge of the lake, in the pouring rain laughing under a fishing umbrella, drinking coffee and laughing. He'd never heard his father laugh so much ever before, nor since.

A few minutes later Duncan found himself sitting in a chair opposite Jane Willerby, the bright lights of the studio beating down on him. Duncan was surrounded on all sides by people in the amphitheatre style seating. Jane made small talk in the final minute before the session went live following the news.

There was an expectant silence from the crowd.

One of the stage hands caught Jane's eye. He held up his ten fingers, then nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two one.

"Hello good evening and welcome to T7's hot issue. My guest tonight is the Mayor of Hertferd, a small town in central Iowa. He's been one of the few people in American history whose authority has been challenged by a no confidence vote.

We're here in The Naiad, over Carlton motors, where a large group of farmers is protesting against Carlton motors whose plans to expand and force purchase some of their land have led to angry confrontations.

Carlton's owner, Mr. Ellephanie, is the challenger to Mr. Anderton here who is our guest tonight.

Mr. Anderton, welcome and thank you for agreeing to be here tonight." "So Mr. Anderton, let's take our first question from the floor."

The cameras zoomed in on an apparently simpering little woman in the front row.

“Mr. Anderton, my husband works at Carlton and has done for the past five years. I along with a· lot of other people here feel you have a backward looking philosophy and are an enemy of progress? "

Annie's question was met with a cheer from some parts of the audience.

“No, quite to the contrary. I embrace progress and I always have done. Under my term many positive changes have been made to Hertferd which you probably make use of: shopping centres and the new sports complex to cite two examples.

No, what I object to is the imposition of progress where it's not welcomed by most of the people who it is being imposed on. Further, I object to the force purchase of farms, which I personally feel is an infringement of personal freedoms. I like America and I believe in a free America, which supports the individual as well as corporations, not an America where the power of corporations renders the individual unimportant. I would hope that you would agree with me on that point."

The camera zoomed back towards Annie.

“But effectively your attitude is halting job creation and prosperity in Hertferd."

“Well there are two issues there, one of them is a question of ethics the other is one of practicality. On a practical level my views are not stopping prosperity, it's a question of having a short-term and long-term vision of Hertferd. In the long-term, the over dependence of a community on one employer almost invariably leaves the community very vulnerable to the success or otherwise of that employer. We need a diverse local economy. We used to have one but this is now being eroded by our over dependence on Carlton. I want to see different employers here in Hertferd.

I, along with my administration, have a long-term vision for Hertferd, which is not based on making a quick killing with deleterious consequences in the future. I think that would be damaging to the community.

Mr. Ellephanie has a short-term vision for Hertferd, based on self-interest rather than what's good for the community. He only represents a small part of the community without taking account of the needs of our wider, largely agricultural community. He's using the Mayor issue for reasons of political expediency rather than really caring for the town or the county, don't be fooled that he has any other motives. And don't be fooled by propaganda, the success of Carlton at the moment rests on him making a deal with a Korean company not an American one. He's no patriot. "

“Yes, and that deal relies on him getting the land to expand, which you are trying to block!" she shouted, but her voice was drowned out.

“Can we take the next question please?"

Jane Willerby gesticulated at another member of the audience.

“Mr. Anderton, don't you feel the needs of an agricultural community will become academic if Nan technology delivers the promise of cheap food for everyone?"

“Well, I think Nan technology has the potential to change everyone's lives enormously within the next ten to twenty years. But the breakthrough in nana has been on the horizon for the past twenty to thirty years, so I think for now we must deal in absolutes and practicalities. We're only starting to see it affecting unemployment. With respect I think we must deal with the here and now. It's that that I intend to do."

“Thank you for that," said Jane Willerby. "Could we take a question from the gentlemen in the front row here?"

“Yes. How do you answer to the accusation that you've been augmenting your income from the Farmers Union for several years?"

There was a hush amongst the audience. Duncan looked momentarily flustered. Jane Willerby's eyes sparkled.

“I don't know where on earth you have heard that from but I can assure that I have never received any such monies."

So you would be open to have people investigate this?" Jane Willerby said.

“Yes, in principle, if there was any evidence whatsoever to support this claim, but I know there’s none”.

“So on the record you're saying there's no evidence of this?"

"On the record it's a fallacious claim."

Jane pointed to another figure in the audience.

“The farmers have taken direct action and are costing Carlton and Hertferd money. Do you support them or not?"

“I would never condone actions which caused others economic disadvantage.”

“But they are demonstrating precisely on account of policies and so on which you advocate."

“With respect sir, they are defending their rights, which are irrespective of me. This is a free country they have a right to demonstrate against what they don't agree with."

“So you do condone them then?"

“No, sir but I support the freedom of the individual to demonstrate and show their displeasure. Democracy is what America is all about."

Jane Willerby held inclined her head and held up her hand. "I think there have been some new developments."

The floor of the balloon turned into a giant screen projecting a three dimensional image of the dispute down below. Some of the farmers were hurling rocks and hunks of twisted metal at a small crowd of Carlton workers, who were returning their projectiles with equal ferocity.

Jakob Hamburg was gesticulating, evidently trying to calm people down. He had a small cut on his cheek from which blood flowed freely. Rocks and metal chunks rained down as the situation escalated. People on both sides were trying to calm the situation down.

A tall man in the audience stood up and shouted: "So those are the people you represent? Is that your idea of progress? Is that your idea of a forward-looking long-term community? "

"No," said Anderton, "U at is the inevitable consequence of the minority imposing their view on the majority."

He looked at the expression on the faces of the audience. He regretted the comment as soon as he had said it.

They looked up at the screens. It had been a brief skirmish, they could see Jakob Hamburg talking to one of the Carlton guys and it all simmered down. It could have been worse.

About ten minutes later Duncan lay in the barber's chair again having his make-up removed.

Jules came in.

“You did well in there, Mr. Anderton."

Duncan nodded his head slightly and didn't reply.

“This whole thing is getting way out of order," he muttered to himself, "way out of order."

Something didn't feel right and there was still no sign of the Governor.

“You ever thought about follicle treatment Mr. Anderton?" said the make-up lady.

Duncan half laughed.

“Thanks for the encouragement, I think my hair is the least of my problems right now."
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