Writing political fantasy is a project well-suited to the modern mind. We have now seen enough political evolution at warp speed, accelerated into a whirlwind of media conjuration that has the capacity to whip up tidal waves of demographic activity. The expanding media universe is expanding quickly enough that there are still open spaces to be seized. Will they all be boiled down into homogenized media yet again? In this story, set sometime in the future present in my hometown of Phoenix, media is the disease and the cure.
The Stadium Plot
Joe Mathers moved to Phoenix with his family when he was still in preschool. His dad and mom were decent folks, who didn’t leave him much but a work ethic, but that proved to be all that was needed in Phoenix. As the years went by he grew up and got through high school, racking up a degree in construction engineering from SciTech in fourteen months after high school graduation. He kept his credit record clean and within a few months after getting certified by SciTech, his high school sweetheart, who had a job in a local watering hole pushing electric punch, was riding sexily by his side in a new red impulse-drive Jaguar pickup. He was moving up in the local Phoenix economy as fast as one of the elevators that shot up from the hills north of town two hundred and fifty stories high. Construction engineering was a great field.
The town’s insanely accelerated growth had never slowed down. People had moved from the devastated Gulf coast to the desert in droves, never wanting to see water again. Lakes had been created north of town by damming water that would’ve flowed wastefully through the desert. Desalinization plants down at Rocky Point produced drinking water that was pulled through a two-hundred and fifteen mile-long pipeline studded with solar pump relay stations. Skyscrapers sprang up in greater profusion every year. Officer workers flooded in to man banks of computer terminals, processing the flood of the data that the world economy generated. Using Google Earth, you could watch suburban sprawl moving outward from the urban center at an astonishing rate. Capital flooded in, following itself, and Phoenix grew apace.
The people of Phoenix were very patriotic. They’d come like Joe’s dad from everywhere to try and make a good life, and they had made Phoenix beautiful and prosperous. Sure, it was hotter than hell in the summer, but the golf courses were lush, the bars were cool, and the hotel lobbies gleamed with polished brass and crystal chandeliers. The jail always seemed to be overflowing, and consumer bankruptcies kept the courthouse busy, but if you kept your credit record clean you could buy a house out at the end of the freeway, wherever that was this week. There was enough frustration in the town to keep the mental health clinics busy, and it was almost a relief that the war was there to let people focus the aggression outside.
Towelheads, camel-fuckers, goddamn godless heathen brown-skinned bastards. Not that Joe was into that kind of talk, but then again he’d nod his head along when it was tossed around at work, or at the after-work drinking sessions that got more aggressive as the bitter taste of humiliation sank in over the recent nuking of Dallas. Homeland Security reported the bomb had been trucked over by a towelhead terrorist cell in the Chihuahua mountains. All of the Home-Sec border agents were under suspicion, and many had been directed to report for interrogation and of course, possible torture. The only thing more dangerous than working for Home-Sec was not working for Home-Sec.
President Starr’s real name was Smith, but in the style of all politicians in the current age, had adopted a politico-name. President Starr espoused the ethical principles of Kenneth Starr, who masterminded the Republican defense strategy in Dean v. Bush, and convinced Chief Justice Roberts that the Twenty-Second Amendment did not prevent President Bush from running for a third term, only from taking office if he won. The rest is history. Bush won his third term by a landslide, and before his inauguration, Congress repealed the Twenty-Second Amendment altogether by the required two-thirds majority, and a landslide of State governors promised immediate ratification of the amendment.
On the day of the Dallas nuking, President Starr’s face appeared on the cube everywhere, reassuring the nation that we would not collapse under this cowardly assault. He put a helluva brave face on it, but you could see he hardly knew how to deal with the fact that the nation’s venerable patriarch, Gee-Dubya, was missing in the disaster. Of course old Gee, as most schoolchildren learned to call him, had been a dotard for the last ten years, but the war was his proud legacy, and he had now become its most famous victim. The rage that boiled in the breast of every true American was unquenchable.
The Presidential edict came down swift and certain before night fell on the tragic day. Dubbed the Subversive Alien Civil Rights Elimination Directive of 2035, “SACRED” reduced aliens to completely rightless individuals, unable to assert any claim to the fairness of criminal or other proceedings. SACRED defined “aliens” broadly as “all persons acting in actual or tacit complicity with purposes, intents, plans, or initiatives inimical to the interests of the nation by means of the dissemination of tools for the accomplishment of actions lending aid and comfort to the enemies of the nation wherever found, which shall include the use of data transmission facilities and all instrumentalities of communication …” Any person, the President declared, who forms a criminal intent to attack society by lending aid and comfort to the enemy must forfeit all rights of citizenship. Otherwise, loyal conduct in the citizens would diminish, and society as a whole would suffer a loss of rights. Chief Justice Roberts had given that provision the nod in a midnight session set up by phone call from the White House.
A couple of days after SACRED went into effect, Joe was having a beer at his favorite bar, The Trail’s End, when Attorney General Reese pushed a soccer game off the cube and shoved his ugly face into the bar. He he was unable or unwilling to conceal his pleasure over the power that SACRED put into his hands. “The Dallas nuking,” Reese emphasized, “would most likely have been prevented if the terrorist sympathizers who aided the demonic project had been ferreted out and forced to divulge their sympathies through appropriate methods.” He paused, “Those methods give us the power to prevent evil, the power to uproot terrorism, and will now be deployed full-strength to get to the root of the rot in our society.”
Reese had meant what he said. As Joe left the bar, the streets were already filling with army trucks and black, windowless vans. As he drove home through the streets, he saw soldiers going into the apartment complexes methodically, leading men, women and children out of their homes and into the vans. A lot of them had looked like Mex’s, but that wasn’t surprising, since a lot of Mex’s were towelhead simps according to Homeland Security, which nevertheless encouraged the employment of Mex’s in “non-security” positions, i.e., as janitors. So Joe wasn’t that concerned about the roundup. They’d happened before, and he never had a problem, and didn’t really know anybody personally who had. His record was clean, and he kept it that way by logging his whereabouts on GPS twenty-four/seven. He could always prove where he’d been, with whom, and why. Every roundup just gave him one more reason to keep his nose clean and stay away from politics. So far it was working.
Joe was hooked at his waist to a very strong rope way the hell up over the skyline, using his laser to calibrate the exact position for a plastic girder on the 282nd floor of the new Hyatt tower. He had almost dialed in the specs to perfection and was about to do set codes for the auto-crane when his earbud rang with a phone call. He answered. Mandy’s hysterical voice broke into his ear. “They just took Lexi away!” Lexi was Mandy’s best friend, and a hot brunette into the bargain. “Who took Lexi?” answered Joe. “The fucking Sacred cops, you asshole, who the fuck else?” Mandy was sobbing, shrieking. It wasn’t a prank, but Lexi couldn’t be arrested – her dad was richer than hell. “It must be a mistake,” Joe said. Mandy’s shrieked back: “It was no mistake! She’s been hanging out with terror-simps – civil righters, evolutionists, global warming nuts – you know she loves that intellectual bullshit.”
Joe couldn’t calm her down, he couldn’t leave the job, and his nerves were rattled. Shit, he thought, just like Lexi to stress out all her friends by getting involved with the civil rights of towelheads. What could be more irrelevant to real life? As if anything was going to change. Tell the towelheads to stop nuking us, then maybe we can talk about civil rights. He turned back to his work, but he screwed it up, tried to redo it, then gave up and decided to come out of the weather. It was getting kind of windy anyway. He returned to his office, a lightweight ovoid cocoon at the center of the auto-crane, like the body of a spider built for constructing and navigating through the skyscraper structure. He flipped the cube to newscast and saw coverage of an ongoing interrogation down at the Rattlers stadium.
The interrogation subject was confessing to participation in an extensive plot to poison the water supply of a large Midwestern city. The guy who was confessing looked like all the terrorists they brought to trial these days – very docile. The show was directed by a Homeland Security interrogator who explained that the terrorist had been truth-drugged, an alternative to torture allowed for those who agreed to confess. However, the interrogator admitted that, however satisfactory truth-drugging might be, the infliction of “the ideal amount of pain” a term he introduced with an explanatory grin, always made a confession more complete. “There are always some questions left unanswered with truth drugs. Applying the ideal amount of pain helps us answer those questions. And answering questions saves lives.” The interrogator concluded with a reassuring smile and a nod.
Joe googled for news on SACRED enforcement in Phoenix, and found a cube-cast of Reese, explaining how the Dallas nukers had been linked to a terrorist nerve center in Phoenix that apparently had operated through a corrupt financial network that had infiltrated the banks. Reese was in Phoenix himself, directing interrogation of high-level suspects personally from field headquarters he had established in the new Rattlers mega-stadium. All “aliens” were being concentrated in the stadium as the first stage of mass interrogations. Reese was gloating like a freak as he ended his speech. Then the speech started to play again, a clockwork asshole cranking out the shit that others had to eat.
He looked at his watch and was surprised to see his shift had ended. Fattie Macdowall was coming up in his own auto-crane just a few floors below him, walking up through the latticework in the slow, methodical fashion that typified Fattie’s movement in his control-suit. Joe was relieved to be off-shift. He settled himself back into the gentle grip of his suit, and drifted down to base on the 285th floor. He wasn’t surprised when Mandy broke into his ear again, somewhat calmer this time, but now whining, asking the impossible – “Joe, we’ve got to help her.”
Joe replied, “Are you kidding? How could we help her? She’s being taken to the new stadium like everyone else. We can’t get in, and we can’t find her, and if we could, they wouldn’t let us out. I worked on that place, and it was designed as a gigantic backup terrorist holding pen. All around the top perimeter, they put gun emplacements that make every seat in the place a perfect target. They can shoot any kind of ammo they want, from stunners to glue blobs to armor-piercing rounds. Perfect for crowd control. There are only thirty entrances, each of which can be covered by a small number of guards. Large vehicles can be driven straight into a network of underground tunnels, and there’s enough space under the stadium to get lost in. Lexi will be back when the Sacred cops let her go.”
Mandy’s response was unbelievable. She began to pout. As if she were going to dare him into going to find Lexi. Just go to the Sacred cops and ask, she said. It didn’t sound like a good idea, said Joe. Mandy insisted. It was ridiculous. She teased him into coming to her apartment right away. He said he’d bring pizza. She said to bring some ideas. He sort of mummed along, thinking he’d have her in the sack before the night was over, and Lexi’s Daddy’s lawyers would surely save Lexi’s ass. After all, she was not of the victim class. It would all turn out okay. He checked his credit rating and it was clean. He liked to check it several times a day.
Hoisting the pizza jauntily over his shoulder, he sailed out of the pizza joint, and was just giving the pizza chick the eye when Mandy called again. “Joe,” she shrilled in a whisper, “I’ve got Lexi on the line. Lexi?”
Lexi whispered back, “Oh guys, I’m so scared.”
“What happened?” asked Mandy.
“Jeezus Christ, what didn’t happen. I’m hidin’ in the can right now. They took everybody’s phone away, except mine’s in my designer belt buckle, and these bitches that search you are fashion illiterates. I’ve got an implanted radiomike in my mastoid, but I still move my jaw when I talk, so I was afraid to call where anyone could see me. They’re knockin’ people around like flies. I’m really scared, just trying to stay quiet. My dad’s not taking my calls.”
“He’s what?” questioned Mandy.
“Not taking my calls …” answered Lexi. She explained, “He told me he couldn’t risk being associated with me if I insisted on going against him. I didn’t think he meant it.”
“Hey Lexi,” said Joe, “do me a favor and turn on the video on your phone.”
“Oh, I look like shit,” responded Lexi.
Joe sounded exasperated: “Christ, Lexi, I won’t be seeing you, I’ll be seeing what you’re seeing. Have you ever used the video feature?” said Joe.
“Well, duh, why would I buy it?” answered Lexi.
Joe winced. Only Lexi could make you feel stupid when you were trying to help her, so he just asked the next dumb thing. “Have you got plenty of battery time?”
“Plenty. Here, I’m turning on video.” Answered Lexi.
Lexi activated the lens that displayed as an apparent gemstone on the stylish buckle, and Joe saw a toilet stall door on his phone. He ported Lexi’s video stream to his phone’s uplink. The toilet stall door tilted as Lexi shifted her torso. Some scrawlings on the metal stall door squirmed a little from transmission lag.
Lexi and hundreds of other unfortunates were locked into the Rattlers stadium as it morphed into a pit of orgiastic brutality and the long-pent up hunger for homicide at last slaked itself in streams of gore. As the carnage continued on, Lexi served as a human recorder. We hear her cries, her stifled agony, witnessing the horror that she knew it was her task to record, and which we share through her sacrifice. Using all the cunning at her command, she lingered long at the periphery of the evolving massacre, trying, successfully for a time, to elude her own inevitable death by torture at the hands of Reese’s zealous prosecutors. The transmission of Lexi’s record over the net has been compared repeatedly to the network-television release of the infamous Rodney King tape. It is like comparing a hand-grenade to a nuclear blast.
The towers in Phoenix still gleam, and Joe still works among them. Sometimes when he is striding among the towers, trying to make it all straight and perfect, he looks out across the desert horizon. The tears begin to fall as he remembered the concluding scene of Lexi’s transmission, recording the faces of the precise violators of the young witness’s own person. The images were damning evidence at the successful trial of Reese and Starr for war crimes.
At trial, the prosecution proved that the Dallas nuking had been masterminded by Reese with Starr’s agreement, in order to resolve various problems involving toxic waste, urban blight, and unemployment in a single plan pursuant to which Reese and Starr came first to own downtown Dallas, then to destroy it, then to collect government bailout funds for its destruction under the Real Estate Owner’s Recovery From Terrorism Act. As for the death of Gee-Dubya in the bombing, that turned out to be a shameless exploitation of Gee’s last big load of political capital, because military hospital records proved Gee had died ten years before. The stalemated forever war in the Middle East mysteriously sputtered out after the jailing of Reese and Starr, as the arms trade seemed to stall. Surprisingly and spontaneously, peace broke out all over the world.
While the jury was unanimous in recommending death for the two convicted traitors, Chief Justice Roberts and the other eight Supreme Court justices unanimously agreed it would excessively deter worthy persons from seeking high office if the chief executive and chief law enforcement officer were held to answer with their lives for what were, essentially, misguided attempts to perform their official duties pursuant to law. The Court therefore reversed the death sentences on the grounds that SACRED was void.
A couple of years later, they demolished Rattler stadium. Couldn’t get anyone to go there anymore.