“It is my solemn promise to you, as your president, I will do all with the power of my office to further liberate the Markets. No longer will any person be off-limits or available only under extreme restrictions. My opposition would have you believe that their call for more public use terminals is the best use of our budget while I know what the public needs most is fewer restrictions on their desires, not further avenues to explore the articles already available,” Congressmen Bill Ellit finished, pounding the podium once more for emphasis.
The Blue party had already closed their arguments; this last strike by the Red party’s presidential candidate was just salt in the wound. However, Ellit was not the last candidate permitted to speak for the night.
Lawrence ‘Lars’ Burdress would be last again in the evening debates. It was a safe slot to keep the third-party candidate in, so networks could quickly drop coverage of him when they so chose. Despite that, enough major networks would keep the feed rolling, seeing that viewership would not only stay constant for Burdress but spike.
Lars scanned his notes briefly before turning them over and meeting the cameras head-on, “Good evening, my fellow Americans. I am not one to mince words, and if you have caught more than one of my speeches, I believe you will not only recognize that but will know my thoughts on the Market. Congressmen Ellit would have you believe a freer Market will return the economy to stability. Already we face a Market that permits children as young as five-years-old to be bought and sold and used to the owner’s desires. Ellit and Representative Gutierra are both of an age, if I’m not mistaken, when five-year-old human beings were treated as children and not vessels for desire. The idea, I would hope, is as preposterous as the notion the representative has put forward, using public money to increase the infrastructure of the Love Markets. Again to harken of times past, in their day, that money would go to public insurance, food stamps, and housing for the homeless. I ask you, every one of you, how are we to fix the problems we are afflicted with when all of your money goes into the Love Markets and never comes out? Feeding the addiction is to continue enslavement to a careless and useless obsession.”
A resounding applause came at the close of Lars’ speech, as had been expected, and then came the booing, another assumed reaction. The three candidates made their way off stage, and again came the tension once they were out of the public eye. Where the public might have thought that each of the three was at each other’s throats behind the scenes, the truth couldn’t be further from reality. No sooner than they had entered the privacy of the backstage, Bill tossed an arm over Juliet and tried even to get Lars in on the embrace to no effect.
Bill’s demeanor was that of an uncle who would buy underage kids alcohol as he asked, “Well, who wants to hit up the Market tonight? Julie? Lars?”
“I have a meeting in the morning, Bill. Next time, definitely next time, ’cause I could use it,” Juliet remarked before glancing at Lars, “Certainly no help to the fella trying to put so much pressure on the citizens about the Market.”
“That’s right, Lars, we’ve been meaning to talk to you about your stance on the Market and moving forward,” Bill stood in front of the third-party man while Juliet milled behind him.
This wasn’t the first, and he could conceive it wasn’t the last time they’d accost him like this, but Lars relented, “What might that be?”
“The Market isn’t going away. I mean, argue all you want, and hell, get everyone in the nation up in arms about it, but at the end of the day, there are still going to be sellers, and all those people so angry about it, are going to be buying. Regulations, changes to improve the economy and make it so the Market is safe and accessible but still there, that’s what you need to argue.”
“Besides,” Juliet Gutierra added, “We would be undoing so much progress. The Markets have made it so much easier for women and people of color, gays, and foreigners to find a new home and hope in America. You wouldn’t want to rob all those people of such dreams, would you?”
“Miss Gutierra, Congressmen Ellit, I’d love to debate the virtue and vise of the Markets, I could go all night, but I have a lot of work on my plate. Let’s say, next debate, we can take on publicly where the problems of equality and economy come in when talking about selling flesh,” Lars made his quick exit, hoping neither party member would follow. He didn’t quite have the heart to tell either of them to leave him alone in a less polite manner, and were they to follow him, no one would stand in their way. Sure, there were a few lingering members of his divergent group in politics who would attend the debates, but not the security firms that protected both parties when they were out and about.
Beth Calloway fell into step beside Lars as he made his way out to the parking lot. Her private driver wasn’t typically someone Lars wanted to employ to get from here to there. Often, he would drive himself, but the economics of fossil fuels had stifled his ability to do so, and though the green energy initiatives had failed for most vehicles, Calloway happened to have backed the right horse in the race. They didn’t say a word until they were in the back seat of the sedan, and even then, it was little more than small talk, congratulations, and so on.
There was an unspoken rule between the two, conversations could happen, discussion of talking points and upcoming debates were fair game, even each other’s personal lives, what little they had of them, were all on the table, but not until Lars finished going over the most recent reports in global affairs. It would take an hour or two into a night already overshadowed by the public forum and all the preparation to reach that brief spurt on the airwaves. Still, Lars diligently picked over the recent events with great scrutiny. Where he knew what stance he took on domestic affairs, trying to rebuild the economy, smooth out difficulties between diverse groups, and reinvigorating the national spirit into something that everyone could be proud of, foreign affairs were more complex.
It might have been that Lars Burdress and his campaign manager were the only people in the proper position to do something about the troubles between their nation and others. For the glimpse he was given into how the majority parties handled distant conflicts, he could see they offered only cookie-cutter solutions to multi-sided problems. If the world kept turning, bombs weren’t dropping, and the Markets stayed open, neither party cared. But for Lars’ party, it wasn’t enough to maintain some homeostatic juxtaposition between nuclear war and peace. To keep always on guard and worry about the next terrorist attack on an ally or perpetrated by an ally was not acceptable.
Another conflict was breaking out in the Mediterranean, while in the far east, there were the continued threats of nuclear weapons coming into play. There would be lives lost in the conflicts between countries, but that final kiss of annihilation was simply threats. Lars had done his research, and though he couldn’t say other world leaders or candidates for the position had, he was confident in the status of nuclear war. No sane person would allow the launch of any such weapons without fear of retaliation, and if there were, that would spell the end of civilization. If it came with the flash of power, Lars might be content knowing the suffering was minimal, but he feared the continuation of this endless winter.
Nuclear war would mean nuclear winter, a punctuation on an already dread-inducing climate change event that had worked in a slow burn to shift seasons and intensify weather patterns. Only three decades of life had shown Lars how the world had changed. When he was a boy, winter lasted a few months, some years less, some years more. In those days, the season would be more or less intense based on numerous factors that had grown less predictable and far less favorable than they had been. For Lars, the weather almost mirrored the economy and the societal view of the Market. When he was young, there was a Market, but it was quiet, niche, and almost underground. By the time he was into adulthood, the Market had usurped the entertainment industry and was the foremost force of economic power in the states. It was about that time when the winters grew colder, longer, and more desolate, utterly empty of that passionate joy that the season once held. One of these issues he could work on, the other was beyond his control.
Lars’ campaign quickly became synonymous with a push to break apart the Markets and restore some sense of value to any other corner of the nation’s economy. Where Gutierra and the rest of the Blue stood beside a desire to help those living in barren factories and starving in the street, they feared to touch the Markets for what it would mean to their constituency. The Red party with Ellit still talked up American values and strong community as well as family bonds, but the money, as well as government overreach, kept their hands frozen on the table. The third party, come to be known as the Gray party, attempted to take both humanitarian sentiments and mingle them with authentic action against the issues facing the country overall. Yet, somehow, those so well entrenched within party lines could not see the compromise he offered. Citizens had, but the people in charge were far less receptive.
At the sight of another bombing report, Lars set down the tablet and looked to Bethany. She was half slumped in the seat with a tablet of her own which had gone dark. Though he wanted to have a discussion with her, Lars wasn’t about to pester his cohort to wake just to be an ear for his ruminations on the state of things. Instead, using his tablet, he accessed the files she had been going over. The last time she had left the device open to his, Lars found a backlog of electronic mail that threatened his life and those he held dear but also those quiet yet hopeful attempts at contact.
Ignoring the variety of inflammatory messages sent to the campaign’s main address, Lars began to cherrypick those few that were attempting something genuine outside of hate. Some confided in their messages how intently they hoped the country might make a turnaround. Some compliment Lars’ ability in speech, while others insisted his attacks on the Market were brave. Still, he wanted something very specific that seemingly no one would give him. Lars wanted criticism that was not simply hatred but uncorrupted by fawning over change. More than anything, he needed someone to look him in the eye, say half his views were wrong, and give good reason why he should change. Then there was that e-mail.