The organizing committee met in the church basement as planned. Though the crowd had been interested, there was a big difference between interested and “I’m going to spend my evening doing this” which showed in the attendance.
“Ok, so I think we’re agreed. We target the city council of all four cities, and the executives and we petition to… What did you call them Max?”
Max spoke up from behind Lucius. “Refundable tax credits.”
“Yes, we petition to have refundable tax credits amended to the next six year’s taxes to repay to the citizens the total amount of the tithe we have incurred over the reign of the Orange Overlord.”
“But what about the damage the Overlord did?” It was Maria, a woman from Hollins, the northernmost of the quad cities. “We never had crime as bad as we did once the Overlord came in. We never used to have addicts and now our kids are hooked and need help. And the industrial base is hozed. The furniture factory, the breaks factory, all we really have left is a community college and a place that sells non-lethal crowd control munitions. Not exactly a stand-up place to work!”
“And what are we supposed to do about that? The companies ran out on us. Ok, so what do we do? Beg them to come back? The city needs to find the Orange Overlord’s money, is what they need to do. It’s not like it didn’t go anywhere, we know exactly where it went, it went into his dank orange rind.”
Maria pursed her lips. “Please, Lucius, I’m on your same side here. If the idea is to get the money for these tax credits from assets seized from the Orange Overlord, then we need to put that into our platform explicitly. Otherwise, it’s just looting the city coffers.”
Lucius put his hands up. “I’m sorry. I over reacted. And there is a good deal of wisdom here. But at this point, we’re no longer pushing a single idea, it’s more like a political platform.”
Maria looked around at the faces and nodded. “Well, yes. The idea, it’s a great idea, but in order for it to work, details need to be worked out. Lucius, you are an excellent voice for this change and I do not want to diminish that, but we need to work as a committee to refine the idea and push for that change.”
Lucius looked at Max who nodded. “That’s how it was in my time, young blood. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. I was my group’s writer, but we had an orator and figurehead and people behind the scenes doing work and still others that fanned out and knocked on doors. We do this together.”
Lucius nodded his head. “I’m sorry again. I’m new at this. I just … I want justice, real justice. That jackass in the jail has been keeping us down for so long, most of my adult life, that we are owed something now that we have him.”
Maria smiled as did others at the meeting. “We understand. We want to follow your ideas here. And we’re here to help. Now I think Max had a decent idea. we need to formalize roles. Now when I was in the PTA we had a Chairman, a vice chair, a treasurer,…”
“Why do we need a treasurer?” Lucius asked.
Another voice chimed in. “Not everyone who wants to help can do so in person. Those folks will want to donate. Plus, we’ll need paper, computers, phones, maybe even signs, ads. Political pressure isn’t free. Not completely.”
Max nodded. “Sister Vivian has a point. If we intend to change the mind of a politician, we need to change the mind of the electorate. That takes some scratch.”
Lucius nodded. “Ok, Treasurer. Anything else?”
“Maria thought. That was all we had, but all we were really doing was extra stuff at the school. Maybe we need someone to concentrate on the PR message? Like a contact person for reporters that isn’t the chairman or vice.”
“Well that sounds like what I’d be doing… or would like to do, if you have me.”
“No way.” Maria scoffed. “You have the chair in a lock.” Nods around the room showed that she was right on that point. “Should we put it to a vote?”
After a solid day of nothing interrupted only by the arrival of shitty pizza and a couple of gallons of water, the kids paced the linoleum covered room and got on each other’s nerves.
“Dude, you should speak up.”
Wilson hung his head and tried not to think of his mom. “And say what Fred?”
“I don’t know. If I knew that I’d be doing it myself. But the mood has gone sour here, man. People are ready to pop.”
“And I’m one of them.” Wilson snapped his book shut. “My mom is probably freaking right out right now and I’ve got nothing to do but wait for something to present itself before I can even think of doing shit.” Wilson looked at the other boy. He didn’t really think he had many friends in the Snakes. really it was just a job, but Fred was the closest thing to someone he actually knew and now he’d clearly hurt his feelings. “Look. I’m sorry. I feel freaking helpless.”
“Not as helpless as I feel, man. You ain’t the only one with a freaking out moms.”
“And dude, I been talking to the other guys. They want to know what you think.”
“Because you study history and shit and we all don’t even have a clue. Some of these guys understand that.”
Wilson tilted his head. “You think they’d listen?”
Fred smiled. “What else they got to do?”
Rog woke up, having fallen asleep in the chair in the middle of Donnie’s lab. Once again, he could not move. “Donnie! What the fuck?” he yelled.
Doctor Lorenzo strolled in smiling. Oh good. “You are awake. Do you remember when we put you to sleep?”
“No… wait… yes. Donnie said he wanted to try some kind of helmet thing.”
“Precisely. Well, I might have gotten a bit over anxious about the dosing for the relaxant and we thought, hey, it’s almost time for a dinner break anyway.”
“Doc, I swear to god I’m going to kick your balls into your throat.”
The doctor looked at Rog with a dimmed smile. “My, what an unpleasant promise.”
“I’m serious, here. Why the fuck can’t I move?”
“Ah! Well once we had you asleep, I had an epiphany.”
“What the fuck is that, Doc, speak English.”
“It is English, Rog. And epiphany is a sudden flash of inspiration. You see I’ve expanded my consciousness and studied it to the point where I instinctively take these things very seriously. Sure, sometimes they are nonsense, but not in this case. And Donnie agreed with me, so I went straight to work. And … Ta Da! Here you are.”
“Here I am and… What did you do?”
“I solved our super strength problem. That is, if Donnie came through on his half.”
“Wait, what? I can’t lift a finger and I kinda feel like I’m going to fall over. I can’t even move my neck.”
“Yes! you probably don’t feel the electrodes on your head, either. Don’t worry, they are about as harmful as shaving, which we had to do to get a good contact.”
“You shaved my head? I’m… Donnie!” he yelled again. “Donnie, I’m going to wring your fat fucking neck for letting this creepy maniac touch me!”
“What the hell is going on?” Donnie came in, still eating a chocolate bar. “Lorenzo, are you freaking him out or something?”
“Why no!” Lorenzo protested, checking the IV line that went into rog’s neck. “He just woke up and immediately started threatening me!”
“Donnie. What the fuck did you guys do?”
“We solved the super strength problem. Didn’t Lorenzo tell you?”
“No… Yes… Why the fuck can’t I move?”
“Oh!” Donnie said. “Well, you see, that’s part of the issue. What Lorenzo noticed is that while you were aestheticized, you were a proper rag doll. You could be manipulated without much effort because you weren’t consciously or even unconsciously trying to do much of anything with your body.”
“Donnie. Get to the fucking point.”
“You are going to be like that inside of the suit and all of your movements will be propelled by the super strong exoskeleton. You won’t be able to move, but you won’t have to. You will be mentally moving the suit.”
“That’s fucked up.”
“Yes, that’s what I said.” Lorenzo chimed in. “I mean, if you are going with a brain interface arrangement, why have the body along at all? Terribly inefficient. And I can keep your brain going perfectly fine in a medium of protoplasm that would replicate the cerebral Spinal fluid in it’s entirety. The interface would be better, more space for weapons without the need for space in the limbs or body cavity. Much more efficient.”
they both stared at him. Donnie in horror and Rog in anger.
“You know what, Don? I hold you responsible. Him? I don’t think he can help himself but be an evil crazy fuck, but you? You know better. So, if he fucking touches me again, I’m using your face as a speed bag.”
“Um… Ok. Look. Just let me boot things up.” Donnie went to the prototype suit and switched some switches, yelling all the while. “The paralysis is temporary. I swear. Right Lorenzo?”
“I’m highly insulted and not talking to either of you.”
“Cool.” He checked the wires that led to the helmet on Rog’s head. When he looked at Rog’s face, the scowl told him that he dared not get too close to his mouth. “Ok. In 10 seconds you will experience a little bit of vertigo. It will pass… I think.”
“You think? Ugh!” Rog felt the feeling of his stomach lurch but without the physical presence of a stomach. It was horrible, but did taper off. “Woah, that felt like an entire bad night out all at once.”
“Sounds about right. Now can you try to, very gently, raise your right arm?”
Rog looked down at his right arm and tried to move it. On his screen, Donnie could see the wireframe of Rog’s body slowly raise his right hand and give Donnie the finger.”
“Um. Don?” Lorenzo said.
In the far corner of the lab, the Faux-verlord suit stood in its rack and gave everyone the bird.
Donnie smiled. “Fuck you too, Rog.”
[Authors Note: This bit has me searching for Wilson’s natural slot. I have an idea of his arc, but he needs to slide in and I don’t think I have that yet. I’m also not a hundred percent on the timing of the various threads yet. But hey! First draft! Once December rolls around I can work my perfectly functioning delete key!
Hope you are enjoying the ride. Likes and follows are appreciated. I don’t do much outreach, being a cyber hermit, so mentions go a long way while I’m doing this instead of The Strange. Another thing that’s mostly going to wait until December. Damn, going to be busy in December!