The Oasis is Burning

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2.4 - Frequency

“Did we lose you on the tour, Mr. Gainsborough?”

Stuart the friendly OSIS goon seemed peeved when I turned up at the Kansas Union ballroom. It wasn’t anger in his voice, more the trembling disappointment of a sixth-grade teacher suspicious that one of the kids did something untoward on a field trip.

“I drifted off the path for a little bit, but I corrected myself.”

Stuart took a deep breath. “...Okay. Well, find your seat. We have eggplant wraps, Balsamic pasta salad and iced tea. The presentation will start shortly.”

If you’re going to watch a police state form before your own two eyes, you might as well do it in an air-conditioned room with a little taste of the Mediterranean. The company could have been better, though. At least the organizers had the good sense not to put me next to Tomasson, but all that meant was that the three assholes I was seated with were strangers. It’s a situation that calls for chemical rescue, but most of these sensible and serious journos wouldn’t think of doing anything as crass as drinking from a flask, at least not while anyone was looking. So I excused myself from the table along with a frosty glass of iced tea, intending to dump it out and substitute something with a slightly higher proof. It’s a trick I picked up while attending conferences with the scum of the planet. The subterfuge isn’t perfect, but the color is a good match and the social contract prevents anyone from pointing out the smell.

There was a woman waiting out in the hall, a drawn and exhausted figure pacing in circles and chain-smoking. The features were dimly memorable, and I felt I might have seen a picture of this person when she was much younger. I stepped around here to the fountain to pour out the tea. “You’re not supposed to smoke in buildings in this town. I think they have corporal punishment for that.”

“You probably don’t know me but I know you, Gainsborough.” The woman was in my face, blocking the way back to the ballroom. “Outlaw junkie journalist, hero to every dimwit college student and middle-aged stoner willing to buy into your persona as a crusader for the real shit and too addled to recognize the weeping cuts you’ve been inflicting on the profession I’ve been fighting four since I was fifteen.”

“I’m not quite grasping the source of this hostility -”

“Maybe if you hadn’t been steeping your brain in liquor and amphetamines for a decade and a half like it was one long freshman year you’d be able to get a handle on what’s going on here. But that’s not your way, is it?” The words were coming out fast, a raging linguistic torrent with little break in between the breakers. “No, I know the Atticus Gainsborough way: Slip away from the group, do a little conflict tourism, write some florid little travelogue that everyone knows is 80% bullshit by volume but that everyone loves because you’re a mad genius, and then deposit your check with the nearest dealer. That about cover it?”

“I have a person who delivers, actually.”

“Look, you want to do some actual journalism?”

“I’m up for that.”

“Take a look at this.” The woman shoved a crumpled flyer into my hand. “It’s an ad for a little political shindig being held right here next week featuring Governor Goldstreet and one Joshua Jameson. You know who that is, don’t you?”

“Illinois area billionaire kingmaker with a God fetish.”

“Good for you, you’re not too burned out to follow the news. Now, what the hell is he doing coming here? Keeping in mind that this was planned out months ago. What reason did he have for a public meeting with the governor at the start of this year?”

“Uh...I assume the answer is something paranoid.”

“Yeah. ‘Paranoid.’ Crazy.” She lit up another cigarette. “You ever ask yourself where Goldstreet got the money for this occupation? This state is broke, and yet you can’t take a deep breath on the street without having a dozen gun barrels trained on you courtesy of Goldie’s paramilitary civil servants. Where’s the cash for that? And those beyond Big Brother biometric peeping happen to know where the FASTR system comes from?”

“Jameson made it in his garage?”

“It was designed by a company called Cybercog Solutions which, two years ago, was acquired by Jameson Research. A little off charter for a company that specializes in energy exploration and development, isn’t it?” The woman broke for the first time, taking a nice long drag. “Here’s the straight dope, Gainsborough, and smoke it slow: This country is never more than five years away from theocracy courtesy of that jacked-up Bible-thumper. I’d know, okay? I used to be one of the Jameson family biographers, back when I was just a kid. But I dug a little too deep into Jameson’s dealings, spoke to some family members I wasn’t supposed to, and boom - out on the street.”

“You find out that he swings both ways?”

“I found out he has plans. And this right here? This has all the markings of a Jameson power grab. He’s going to build the Holy American Empire starting in the heart of Jesusland and his first move is to sweep out that last oasis of liberated thought. Get it?”

“It sounds like gibberish to me, but I’ll look into it. One question: Why give this ‘scoop’ to a man you clearly can’t stand?”

“Because you’re the only one who would follow up. Those idiots out there don’t care. Just treading water until their next six-digit speaking engagement or seven-digit book deal. Sadly, you’re my best hope.”

“Very well. You got a name for me?”

The woman turned and walked away. “Sara. I’ll find you.”

I pocketed the flyer, refilled the glass, slipped a wireless earplug into my left ear and returned to my seat. A few people noticed the whiskey but no one said a word, out of professional courtesy and perhaps envy that none of them thought to do it. The earplug was to tap me into something a lot more useful that self-serving government fluff. Normally I’d tune it into our news feed to get a handle on what my friends in the business were up to, but that day I had opted for something more dire and brutal. It was broadcasting the words of Leroy Brigg - movement leader, indicted (but never convicted) murderer, and terrifying human being.

I should have had more whiskey first.

LEROY: Friends, listeners, I would like to take a few moments to talk about THE issue, the topic that is on every mind in this country and that I know - I know - is close in all of your thoughts. The occupation of the Heartland. First, I would like to express the pride I feel in this virtual community of ours and address what you have already achieved. Already the first brigades have arrived from Missouri, from Arkansas and Alabama, and they have already made a tremendous impact in securing this town for the good folk who live here. There are neighborhoods that are safe now owing to the brave work these boys have been doing. And I know that many, many more of you are putting your lives on hold to come here - I’ve received messages from people in twenty other states who are eager to lend a hand, and the fund to get them here is growing by nearly a million dollars a day. There is a spark of pride and...I’ll say it: hope that I haven’t felt in many years.

But there is one thing that I must address because it’s important for the future of our movement and our civilization and possibly even our species. I have had an opportunity to meet with many of our volunteers here in the Sunflower State, and there is a certain feeling that many of them share - that many of you share - that is perhaps misguided. It concerns the so-called Union for Justice - for their definition of justice, which is to claim by fiat that which they lack the fortitude or the intellect to take for themselves. Many of my listeners have expressed a strong animus towards this group. And I do not blame you in the slightest given what they have done to this country but friends, listeners, the Union for Justice is merely the latest symptom of a disease that has afflicted the nation for a long time.

Think of the Union for Justice and all its allies as a pack of aggressive dogs turned loose by a careless owner. You may fear the dogs, you may despise what they have done to your community, you may aim to put the dogs down, but the one thing you do not do is hate them. The animals are only doing what is in their nature. The hatred you save for the owner. The dogs are but a tool, and you do not hate the tool - the evil lies not in the assassin’s blade, but in the hand that guides it, and who is guiding the blade?

To answer that, we have to have a discussion about something very important: Power. What is power? Other than something that we’ve been told that none of us have, of course? Your entire life, you’ve been told that you don’t have power, that power is concentrated in some structure far removed from you and your family and your community. And how did that structure acquire that power? Money? Intelligence? Connections? Popularity? Divine authority? Blind luck? Did you - did any of you - give them that power? Because that - friends, listeners - is the only way they could have acquired it. Unless, of course, it’s all a lie.

And it is a lie. Money is a lie. Education is a lie. Fame is a lie. The law is a lie. The authority of the church is a lie. Science is a lie. Ideology is a lie. Democracy...democracy as it is practiced in this nation, is a lie. There is only one source of power in this world, and that is action. Power is that which you, which any of you, do with your own two hands. Everything else - everything you have ever been told is powerful - is either a means to suppress or co-opt your own personal power.

The irony of it, friends, is that these radicals in the UFJ think that they are exercising that power. They think that they are freeing themselves with their own hands. But these dogs are so blinded by ideology and their own rage that they can’t see the chains around their necks. They can’t understand that they have been permitted to run wild only because it serves someone’s interest. The fear, the hate, the outrage, are all a means to tie your hands, to take your power away. Don’t let them do it. Hunt the dogs by all means, but never take your eye off the son of a bitch who turned them loose. And never turn your back on him.

I covertly extracted the earplug and returned to a reality I better understood. Stuart was standing before a projected map of campus with the disposition of the OSIS forces displayed. But the control zones for OSIS and UFJ weren’t the only ones - there was a small area in the southern part of campus marked in a different color. That was the area controlled by the brutes and thugs of Leroy Timugen Brigg. It looked like the Briggs were covering the OSIS flank. Had the state forces actually made some sort of deal with those racist goons? The only shocking part was that I wasn’t all that shocked.

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