Let’s Not Forget Senator Gainesley

Senator Gainesley played Russian Roulette every morning and always lost.

Losing was expected, and it was okay. It was ritual. Ritual was necessary.

He’d fix breakfast first; cracking eggs, buttering a pan, picking through the bread box for good slices to toast. Everything should end how it started, he felt. Everything should end with his famous El Dorado Scrambles. He’d eaten them when he thought of running for Senate and by gun he’d eat them before a .357 round scattered all his ideas for bills across the kitchen walls. The solitary round in the cylinder had lain, awaiting its chance, for one year now, though not to the day.

Paul Gainesley spun the cylinder and in a swift, practiced action he closed it and raised the gun. He pulled the trigger, without thinking, and there was an audible click. In seconds the action was resolved, and Gainesley returned the revolver to its prominent place on his wall, below a small plaque reading “The Power of Positive Thinking.” He nodded sagely at the plaque, picked up his blazer and headed out to work. Outside his house, two Secret Service agents, faces frozen in a disciplined military rictus, smiled at him in spirit, though not physically, and ushered him into his armored car.

Life was a long series of rituals. On his drive to Capital Newfork, Senator Gainesley pulled curtains over the tinted, armored windows of the car and shut himself from the world, gathering up his binder full of plans for future legislation. He would raise his left leg over his right and hold his phone with his left hand, resting on a cushion, unnecessarily so as he listened and spoke through a headset. He would order his driver with his right hand, conducting him through the winding streets and demanding he yield to every large crossing crowd and civilian vehicle. The driver hardly required such instruction but Senator Gainesley was used to giving it. His was an ordered world, a world bettered under his command.

The more pathologically-minded would call it “coping,” for control he otherwise lacked.

At the Capital Mound, Senator Gainesley exited his armored car through the right side, unto the road. He avoided incoming cars screaming obscenities at him and circled around his own, the secret service agents doing the hardened military rictus equivalent of expressing dismay. Soon he was climbing the steps, skipping every 13th step, to the high capitol building where every day, the fates of millions of Amerans were blocked by filibusters. He would enter between the 7th and 8th pillars, and make his way to his office on the third elevator from the left. Finally, at his office, he would smile to his aides, sit down behind his desk, and smash his face an erratic number of times against the wooden desk. Sometimes he would smash it once for each letter at his desk. Other times he would smash it 13 times to get to work quickly. Most of the times, he smashed without thought.

“Sir, you are bleeding.” He’d be told. Things were still under control. He heard that every day without fail.

“I know.” He’d reply, commandingly. Reality was still his to manipulate. “I know.”

“You have a meeting in an hour with Senator Frumious.”

Senator Gainesley attempted to flip over his desk, but the allure of its fine Zamanon pulp-fiber body and smoothed edges, along with its 700 lb weight, prevented him from doing so. Instead he half-stood, holding unto the desk by its sides, legs bent, shoulders hunched, breathing irregular, his aide staring at him from over a clipboard. He sat again. Things were spiraling out of control. Seizing a small paperweight statue of legendary sports star Bryan Bryan from his desk, he contemplated it, and he threw that instead. It struck the copy machine on the far side of the room, who silently disapproved.

His face sank into his hands.

“Ok.” He mumbled. “Tell him I will be glad to meet him to discuss things in a bipartisan way.”

A semblance of control returned – he said that every day. And he never meant it.

The aide nodded and retreated carefully out the door.

“I’m sorry, Bryan Bryan.” Senator Gainesley muttered. Sensing a need to weep, he had his 2 P.M. cry early that day, along with an exquisite glass of Black Bourbon. While he wept and sobbed the hour away, he realized it was all okay. He had decided to do it! Rescheduling was still control. Bryan Bryan’s pitching record deserved it. And Black Bourbon took on an unearthly, decadent character when accentuated by his tears. Everything about his 11 A.M. cry was okay.

Five minutes before the meeting he cleaned himself up and entered the bargaining hall. The subject of discussion would be his first personally authored bill to ever make it to the bargaining hall without being struck down in some other way, and he had a good feeling about it. Good feelings elicited control, and exuded confidence. He took his seat in the long hall, put down his binder, stared down his opponent, and then looked away, mildly intimidated.

The conservative party had swept the congressional elections, leaving Senator Gainesley as a freshman minority liberal senator from New Coatl – the least listened-to person in the higher chamber. Across from him on that long, black table in that long, dark room, was Senator Frumious of Theftha. He had a head like a brick and a torso like a barrel, and his hardened military rictus of a face betrayed his past of elite training and successful classified missions. The most listened-to Senator in the higher chamber, whose state controlled the textbook industry, drilled all the oil, fundamentalized all of the religion, and sold all the cowboy hats. There was nothing more Ameran than Theftha, and nothing less Ameran than New Coatl.

“Gainesley.” Frumious said simply.

“Frumious.” Gainesley replied. Was mimicry control? He was feeling an acute loss of control.

“Let’s not mince words,” Frumious said, “This bill you wrote is the most vile sociocommunist bulgarofascist bumloving thing I have ever seen since the Bum Lover’s Act of 2002 by Senator Bumlover. It’s a disgrace to Amera and a clear redistribution of wealth in the Aminostalonist fashion, and I will not stand for it as written, Gainesley!”

Gainesley shuddered, unable to tell if it was bigotry against homosexuals or the homeless at play. It could be both, judging by the conservative agenda and looking at the amendments proposed on Gainesley’s bill.

“With all due respect Frumious, it’s just a minimum wage increase of 50 micro-ameros.” Gainesley retorted. “Increasing the minimum wage by 50 micro-amero will make an incredible difference for millions of families and little difference for the margins of the most fortunate Amerans.” He said the last phrase smoothly, having practiced it very often. It’d be a mistake to call them anything explicit, like the Corporations or the Bourgeoise. That’d be ad hominem.

“It’ll also bankrupt all our jerb creatums!” Frumious said, his speech becoming garbled with rage. He pounded his fist on the table. “All of the Fortunate 500 will see this bill and flee to the SENTINEL countries or Chung Kuoh!”

“SENTINEL and Chung Kuoh have an even higher minimum wage now than we would with this bill!” Gainesley said. “It’s only 50 micro-amero more, we’ve done extensive testing on this, it won’t hurt anyone.”

“Right, testing! Using all your leftist feminomarxist think thanks, running them round-the-clock to look for ways to dismantle capitalism. The market cries out in agony, and you just want the JACKDAT to sink further! We closed down 5 points yesterday Gainesley, five whole points! Do you even know that you’re destroying Amera?”

Gainesley sighed and gripped his binder like an eagle crushing a mouse’s neck.

“Frumious that’s disingenuous, most of those companies are not only showing record profits, and many don’t even play host to any minimum wage Ameran jobs that would be affected by this legislation.”

Frumious stood up and pointed his finger right between Gainesley’s eyes.

“You’re delusional! What you’re proposing here is that we pay every desk warmer and paper pusher in the world 8.50 Amero for the privilege? Bah! You’re gonna bankrupt every industry in the world! Soon you’ll be asking for them to earn the same wages as esteemed bankers and CEOs! Soon you’ll be asking for everyone to earn the same!”

“None of those are minimum wage jobs!” Gainesley shouted back. “They already get paid more than 8.50!”

“Every lemonade stand and shoe-shining boy gets to own a limo now, is that your big dream Gainesley?” Frumious ranted, slobbering over the table, “Redistributing our limos by bankrupting high industry?”

Gainesley stood bolt upright and slammed the table himself.

“This is for service work and janitors, it’s not going to bankrupt anybody you fucking idiot!”

There was silence in the room suddenly. Gainesley covered his mouth.

“OH.” Frumious said. “He called me a– OH.”

His jaw dropped and his hands shook.

“OH. OH. He called me– he called me a fucking idiot! Did you get that?” He stared up at the camera in the ceiling and the camera nodded. “You got that? Good. Good. Then I win Gainesley. Ad hominem. I win.”

Senator Gainesley’s face sank into his hand.

“God damn it I’ll add your stupid oil company tax loophole in it! Okay! I relent!”

Frumious smiled. “I’m glad you see sense now Gainesley. Glad my talk got through to you. You’re a good man at heart. A sensible politician. Never made a bill I didn’t agree with on some level.” He extended his hand.

Senator Gainesley tried to flip the table, but the strength to do so again eluded him.

After the hand shake, and applying copious amounts of molecularly-corrosive medical acid cream to cleanse his hand afterward, Senator Gainesley returned to his office, sat on his desk, and banged his head on it. But only once. This part was controlled and properly planned. He was easing back into life now, and life was rituals and control.

“How did the meeting go?” The aide asked, seeming ready to avoid an incoming throw.

“Bill’s gonna pass.” Gainesley replied. “Frumious likes it now.”

“How did that happen?”

“I let him have his oil loophole.”

“The one that’ll quadruple Oil profits while reducing accountability?”

Senator Gainesley stood quietly, picked up his statue of Bryan Bryan, and threw it past his aide such that it struck his desk, broke in half and landed gracefully in a garbage can. He nodded with satisfaction at the result.

“Yes, that one.”

“Oh. Congratulations.” The aide said, clapping joyfully.

Severla hours later, his work accomplished, Senator Gainesley returned home. He entered his armored car through the right side, ignoring the rushing traffic. He closed all his curtains, straightened out his lefts and rights and conducted his driver through the night traffic. His agents stood before his house like dutiful gargoyles. He had an unscheduled cry and stared upon his Power of Positive Thinking plaque. Beneath it was the revolver, with its one bullet, all ritual and superstition.

It had been almost a year, but not to the day, since he’d begun playing Russian Roulette every morning. He played it over his famous El Dorado scrambled eggs and not once had he won. He had never played it at night though – it did not seem as appropriate before, as it did right then. Perhaps this night would be a mix of ritual and innovation, he thought happily. Drinking a cup of black extra caffeinated coffee made all the more decadent with the addition of tears, as he usually did most nights, Senator Gainesley picked up the revolver, opened the cylinder to see that one bullet as old as his young political career. He’d not introduced many bills, and most of them had not made it far. He’d got one though. He’d got one today.

Senator Gainesley spun the cylinder and with incredible control he let fate sort everything out.

Ackley’s Wish

A bell rang and the elevator doors closed. The people inside tried not to sweat on each other much. Ladybird particularly hated sweat, or at least her dossier said so. Her dark chitin-colored skin found it particularly difficult to sweat, and she hated many things, and both were strong signs that she would hate sweat, and would probably hate people who sweated near her. She was an x-factor. The nurse with them was also an x-factor, but there was no controlling that ahead of time, and it would be minimal compared to Ladybird. The most controlled element of this operation was Fulton Handler, and he was sweating the most. He sweated so much that Ladybird crammed herself in a corner away from him.

Being a Wish-A-Wish sponsor was difficult. Every kid had wishes and nobody would ever be granted exactly the wish they wanted. Fulton tried his best to keep up with the names. So many kids. What’s worse is all the collaboration required to make the wishes come true. He was anxious because this was an industry where you had to have done things before and my god he was with someone who hadn’t ever done this before. Seizing his tie he eyed her up and down, knowing that somehow everything was going to go wrong and everyone was going to be mad. Everyone.

Especially Mr. Fairway. He would have a fit if he saw how much Fulton spent booking the Ladybird, while he was out working hard trying to campaign for healthcare funding cuts that were valuable to the Wish industry. He would be in his office all day, answering calls and preparing the perfect ways to berate Fulton for his excesses.

“Is something the matter?” Ladybird asked, her antennae scraping the ceiling of the cramped little elevator whenever she so much as moved an inch. She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes at Fulton for staring.

“No! Nothing. Everyting is fine.” Fulton replied. “So, are those real?”

“No.” Ladybird said. “I’m just an actor whose forehead managed to sprout antennae just like Ladybird’s.”

She glared at him. Fulton knew off-hand that Ladybird had punched some robots and done some things. She was the city’s resident super heroine, and the red and black polkadot neoprene suit, the goggles, the antennae and translucent wings hidden under fleshy folds in her open back, all seemed to suggest it. But Fulton was so busy! Kids were always in the hospital and always wishing things and by god, he had to make all the wishes come true. He couldn’t keep up with the news. He had also read in Ladybird’s dossieur that she might hate aggrandizement, on account of also hating many things.

When the elevator bell rang again, and the others opened, Fulton rushed out ahead, feeling like he would tip over and faint from the heat. Ladybird ambled behind him, and the nurse smiled and led them to the room.

It was a little private room high up in the hospital, with a breath-taking view of Central Newfork. Crowds marched below them like motes of dust carried by a fickle wind, and cars were like colored chiclets and trails of light rushing across pretedermined paths. There was a little child in the room, made all the littler by the bundle of pillows and blankets she was cocooned in, pale as a ghost. She cast a silent, wan look at the doorway.

Ladybird failed to smile, and Fulton failed with her, too anxious to start the wish-granting process.

The nurse succeeded in smiling in their stead. “Ackley, these are Mr. Fulton, and the Ladybird, from Wish-A-Wish!” She said cheerfully. “They’re here about your wish. You wanted to meet the Ladybird, right?”

“Correction,” Ackley said, poking her head from out of the blankets, “My wish was phrased thus: ‘I wish that the Ladybird perform some favors for me.'” Satisfied with her correction, she started to twist one of her long and thin pigtails around her index finger, waiting blankly for a response from the doorway. The nurse smiled like a champion.

“Ooookay.” Ladybird said. “Well, um,” She rubbed her chin, “what’re you sick with?”

Something buzzed loudly from Ladybird’s ear. “FOR GOD’S SAKES DON’T ASK HER THAT!”

Shut up Dragonfly,” Ladybird said, tapping against her earpiece.

“She’s right, don’t ask her that! You’re already ruining everything!” Fulton said, near to tears with despair.

“I have Stilton’s Syndrome.” Ackley replied matter-of-factly. “It makes liquid nitrogen bubbles in my lungs sometimes.”

“Oh my god.” Ladybird replied, hands gripping her own chest. “How does that even happen?”

“Don’t reply like that.” Dragonfly urged. Ladybird reflexively tuned her out.

“My chances of survival are minimal.” Ackley said. “But I have made peace with this reality.”

“That’s so frickin’ sad.” Ladybird said, sobbing.

“This is awkward for all of us!” The nurse chimed in merrily. “Don’t worry, I remember the first time Captain Captain did a Wish-A-Wish grant here. He was also very nervous with the children.”

“Captain Captain isn’t a real superhero though.” Ladybird said, wiping tears from her eyes.

“DON’T SAY THAT.” Fulton and Dragonfly shouted, both right in Ladybird’s ear.

“Can I have my favors now?” Ackley asked, raising her hand from the bed bundle.

Fulton collected himself. “Why yes, of course Ackley. Ladybird will do anything you want!” He was in the zone now. He thought of kids and the things kids liked. His imagination soared as he recalled his extensive child psychology classes. He thought of blues and blues things and then fixed himself and thought of pinks and pink things because Ackley was actually a girl. He fell out of the zone for a moment because that was stereotyping and he shouldn’t do that but then he climbed back into the zone. He was in the zone. Again. “Ladybird could fly you around Newfork, like she does all the time!”

“I could.” Ladybird added. “I could also bifurcate one of Dr. Cruciere’s stupid robots while you watch. You could have the chunk that has her stupid logo on it as a present, if it’s not radioactive or booby trapped.”

“Yes! I mean, no!” Fulton said, stomping the ground. “She can have safe things!”

“Okay!” Ladybird said, “I can take her to a baseball game. Or take her to the museum.”

“You could make her a princess for a day!” Fulton said, trying to grasp a girlish thing to suggest.

“I want PVC pipe.” Ackley said.

The room fell silent. Even the nurse had failed to smile now.

“You want what?” Fulton said, scrabbling at his own mouth as he said it.

“PVC Pipe, this list of industrial fertilizers and chemicals, and some spare computer parts.” Ackley reached down the neck of her pajamas and produced a small list of items that she wanted Ladybird to procure.

Ladybird took the list. She reviewed it. “Well. She wants PVC pipe all right.”

Fulton wanted to cry. This was very much not like the business. This was not in the same Venn diagram sector as the business, in absolutely any way. The Business had left the building. But this was a wish. And you had to grant kid’s wishes – or else you made no money and the bank foreclosed your house. Kids needed wishes and so did Fulton.

“Um, I’m a bit worried, about this. Because you know, we got the Ladybird to come, and that was kinda expensive–”

“I wasn’t paid anything actually.” Ladybird said.

“The bookers who approached you were kind of expensive.” Fulton corrected. “And Mr. Fairway, our CEO, you know, he wants every kid to have a wish granted, but, you know, in a budget conscious way and all.”

“I’m afraid if I don’t have my wish I will have to make this a media scandal.” Ackley replied. “I believe the headlines might go ‘Genius Girl Denied Wish By Sad, Scared Man.’ I’m very well versed in Mr. Fairway’s current lobbying against child healthcare and other aspects of your organization you’d rather not make the news cycle for the day.”

Fulton turned stark white and grabbed hold of the door for support. “DO IT LADYBIRD, DO IT.”

Ladybird nodded. “I’ll be back in a bit with that PVC pipe and junk. And uh, power tools?”

“Yes, I need power tools.” Ackley said. “They needn’t be child-safe. You’ll supervise me.”

“Roger.” Ladybird said, giving a thumbs up. She opened the window, spread her elytra and translucent wings, and dove out the side of the hospital and toward the nearest House Shack.

* * *

“You know,” Dragonfly said, “this reminds me of something.”

Ladybird muted her earpiece again.

A chilling wind blew over the roof of the Fairway Children’s Hospital as the Wish-A-Wish representatives, Fulton, Ladybird and the beaming nurse gathered to supervise Ackley. Wrapped in a bundle of blankets with a pillow over he head, she twisted nuts, mixed chemicals, and soldered silicon chips on the roof of the building, while the puzzled onlookers tried to determine what the child’s perhaps final building project would be.

“Unmute her, she was saying something important!” Fulton demanded.

Ladybird growled and unmuted her earpiece, turning the volume up for Fulton to hear. Dragonfly was in the middle of counting off all the things Ladybird had gone to buy and acquire for Ackley’s wish.

“–Amonia tablets, fertilizer, a GPS module, an old miniature ASAN rocket engine, hmm.”

“How did you even get that?” Fulton asked, looking at the rocket engine as Ackley affixed it.

“I stole it from an ASAN facility.” Ladybird shrugged. “It’s the kid’s last goddamn wish.”

“Well, you know, this is irregular. Mr. Fairway won’t be happy with this at all.” Fulton said.

Ackley smiled. “That may soon cease to be a problem.”

She flipped a switch, and her construction came to life. The rocket lit and burnt and blasted the PVC edifice and its chemical payload into the night sky, leaving behind a heavy stench of fertilizer. It arced and twisted in the sky, circling around a nearby skyscraper, dodging under a pair of streetlights far below, rising anew. It sputtered once, then suddenly thrust sharply into the peak of an adjacent building and erupted. A single office upon the face of the building was reduced to a cloud of green biohazardous ash. There were screams, and sirens, and people on the ground growing terribly erratic. There was a second explosion and people flying out of the office. Smoke trailed into the sky and flashing lights piled up below.

“Oh!” Dragonfly said, “A home-made explosive chemical missile! That’s what I’m reminded of!”

Ladybird tapped her earpiece. “That just kinda happened, right now.”

“I knew it!” Dragonfly said. “It hit the Fairway building right? Right next to Fairway Hospital?”

“Uh huh.” Ladybird said.

“I’ve figured everything out Ladybird.” Dragonfly said. “Signed, sealed, delivered.”

“Yeah. Delivered. Quite.” Ladybird said, staring blankly at the devastated office.

Ackley lay down atop her blankets, sighing. “And that’s my wish. Thank you Ladybird.”

“No problem.” Ladybird said, scratching her hair nervously.

The Nurse fainted. Fulton choked.

This is what happened when you worked with people who hadn’t done things before.

A Modest Catastrophe

On a small pacific island with an unpronounceable name, the world’s last barrel of oil was extracted. A party was held to celebrate the event: a small team arrived, a humble assortment of corporate caterers, with entertainment provided by Kaden Ledouchi, a neuro-net pop mini-sensation whose somewhat average voice graced the mindwaves every so often. There were little apple tarts and miniature pizzas, and people drank custom, genetically engineered beverages. Kaden stood up on a podium, the nano-diodes behind him providing a dazzling accompaniment to his #22-on-the-charts single “Let’s Get Technical.”

Most people in attendance clapped.

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An Unbearable Factness of Being

Everyone in the office knew that the perfect informational rhythm of the Polystyrene had come swerving into a five-car pileup of a halt when they heard Editor-In-Chief Grosby shouting from his office, with ear-mutilating finality: “UNPUBLISH THAT BITCH.” In the mind of any other human being a series of questions might arise, such as which “bitch” should be unpublished and why the terse nomenclature was required. But the Polystyrene was a journalistic vessel no longer piloted by humans but by biological automation. Somewhere in the building, a journalist trained to exclusively communicate in howls and exclusively navigate by echos rammed its hand unto a keyboard, and all offending material was now so much nuclear waste, piled under a man-made mountain.

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Praying Over A Meal

Aruvinda turned his back on the first rays of the sun, coveting every moment of sleep he could glean before the day’s labors began.  He was meant to wake at dawn, but the past day’s work overtook him, and the cold dawning breeze whittled away his strength. He pulled the cover of his sleeping bag as far tight over his head as he could, and returned firmly to his dreams. Though he felt aware of footsteps and felt the steaming of the family’s pot nearby, nothing woke him. When he finally opened his eyes, and knew that they would not close again until nightfall, the sun was high over his square tent. He had slept tight in his bag until the afternoon, and soaked himself in sweat.

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