Author Topic: Chapter 5  (Read 1458 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 5
« on: June 10, 2022, 12:59:25 AM »
Chapter 5

Tom was busy going over notes for his meeting with a particularly troublesome donor tomorrow. He was pretty sure he could nail down all the talking points, but he had to be careful. His donor was loaded, and had controlling interest in several tv stations across Pennsylvania. If this meeting didn't go well, he could sway tens of thousands of voters against Tom in the primary.

He was at his parents' house, ostensibly spending time with his nieces and nephews before getting back on the campaign trail. In reality, his parents had invited the donors to come here, both because of the opulence of the grounds and the historic reminder that it was here that all the power was brokered. At least in Pennsylvania. Hopefully, that would affect his would-be donor.

Tom's train of thought was derailed when the newscaster on the tv down the hall mentioned a familiar name. He walked into the living room to get a better look, but his niece had already changed the channel. He was sure about it, though. That had been Tina Rafferty's name he'd heard.

He went upstairs to his computer and typed in a search. Sure enough, Tina had written another story, this time concerning a prison riot. He pressed 'play' and leaned back to watch.

"Reports are still coming in, but we can now confirm that there has been a deadly standoff inside the Bellstock Penitentiary in southeastern Arkansas," the newscaster said placidly, belying the message he'd just given. "We've confirmed that four guards and five inmates were killed during the altercation, and at least a dozen more were wounded. The warden has yet to make any kind of statement, but the Department of Corrections is insisting that this was not a prison riot. According to their spokesperson, it was a coordinated attack by a handful of inmates, and has been contained successfully."

Another news anchor took up the story. "Less than an hour ago, a story from the Windy City Banner was released, concerning the events in Bellstock Penitentiary. According to the WCB reporter Tina Rafferty, the warden and at least nine other prison staff were involved in an experimental and extralegal form of prisoner control. Rafferty's report includes a detailed schematic of an implant, apparently called the BT102, which was surgically placed in the inmates' necks, and used as a sort of shock collar to control them. Details of the story are still being confirmed, but it appears that there were six prisoners subjected to this procedure, which is a clear violation of their civil rights, and it was those six who were involved in the attack."

There wasn't much more to the story yet- just unconfirmed rumors- so Tom shut it off.

He had to admit he was impressed. Tina had always been dedicated and driven. It had been obvious, even as far back as their activist days in college, that she was meant for great things. Being mentioned on national tv would be a huge boost to her career.

It could also help his. It was no secret they'd known each other back in the day, and having her endorse his campaign would be a big PR boost. He hesitated before grabbing his phone, though. Tina could be cagey and secretive, assuming she hadn't changed much. He'd be better off getting more details on both the prison attack and her own story before getting in touch with her.


When Tom called her a few days later, he was better armed with information, but at the same time dismayed by its possible implications.

Details on the Bellstock situation had continued to flow in. Autopsies of the dead prisoners had confirmed that they all had implants, just as Tina had said. The surviving prisoner hadn't released any public statement, but Tom had to assume he hadn't been a willing participant.

The major government agencies that would normally investigate this situation, like the CIA or FBI, had to walk a tightrope here. They couldn't appear to be covering anything up, but the massive publicity of this story forced them to investigate on their own. Thankfully, they hadn't interfered with Tom's own efforts to track down the truth.

"Tom, what a surprise!" Tina said cheerfully, when she finally picked up. "I'm glad you called. It's been too long."

"Hello, Tina," he answered carefully, trying to moderate his tone. "I'm glad I got the chance to speak to you, too. I wasn't sure I'd be able to reach you, given your newfound celebrity."

She laughed lightly. "Yeah, it's a bit more than I expected. Still, we all have to make adjustments for our careers, right? You know that better than most people."

Tom actually wasn't sure what she meant. His career had barely started, despite the groundwork he'd been laying for his campaign. "You should know I've taken a personal interest in this Bellstock story of yours," he put in, trying to change the subject. "I even hired a PI to go down there. He's been trying to get to the truth behind all the media hype. It's fascinating stuff, really."

"It's a pity you couldn't come down here yourself and see it with your own eyes," Tina put in with just the slightest edge to her voice, and Tom felt that same sense of confusion again. "Still, I'm curious what your guy came up with. Maybe he picked up something I missed."

"Oh, I doubt that," he said more smoothly. "I'm sure you left a lot out of your story, in fact. For example, that BT102 thing they dug out of the prisoners' bodies? It turns out it was manufactured upstate, at Etani Tech. Isn't that where Vicky's working these days?"

"Is it?" Tina responded, in a convincing and yet at the same time utterly unconvincing tone. "Wow. We really do live in a small world."

"And it's getting smaller. My guy got access to some of Bellstock's security footage. One of the dead prisoners got a visitor a few days ago. Someone who looks a lot like Amir, in fact."

"Well, you know that Amir's got one of those faces. A lot of people look like him."

Tom felt a flash of anger, and couldn't hold back any longer. "Cut the crap, Tina! They were both in on this and you know it. What's more, you probably got them involved in the first place! I know them- they wouldn't know the first thing to do in an investigation like this. They wouldn't have been anywhere near this thing if not for you!"

Tom realized he'd been nearing a shout by the end of that. He looked down the hall, but it didn't seem that anyone had noticed. His parents were still out on the lawn with the rest of the family.

"Wow. Do you feel better now that you've said that?" Tina asked politely.

Tom ignored the question. "Let me guess. You found out about these implants and tried to shine a light on it, but you couldn't get enough evidence to go to your paper. So you found a way to shut off the implants, and then told the prisoners. The resulting bloodbath was enough to get national attention, and then your story could be printed without any obstacles!"

"It wasn't quite that simple," she said a little defensively, finally showing some emotion. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to get hold of a signal jammer powerful enough to reach into a prison that size? And getting a secret message into a supermax like Bellstock, to tell them the implants weren't working anymore, was no picnic either. I worked hard for this, and it paid off."

"Paid off?" Tom asked incredulously. "Nine people are dead, Tina! Doesn't that mean anything to you?

"Of course it does! Do you think I don't care?" She paused for a moment, probably collecting her thoughts "I never wanted anyone to be hurt, Tom. I wish that there had been another way to stop what was going on there, but there wasn't. And I truly believe that all of them, guards and prisoners alike, are better off now!"

Tom couldn't believe his ears. "Better off.. as corpses?"

"Yes! Those prisoners were slaves, Tom! They had no options. They couldn't remove the implants without bleeding out. They couldn't oppose the warden without being rendered helpless and tortured. They were all lifers, so there was no end in sight." She took a deep breath. "Look, I know about their crimes and their histories. They were monsters- there's no debating that. But even monsters don't deserve to be slaves! As for the guards, they were even worse. They knew what they were doing and did it anyway." Tina sighed. "Walter Scott was right. It is better to die as a man than live as a slave."

There was no immediate response to that. Tom, Tina, Vicky, and most of their old activist friends were all white. Unlike the black people who had joined them in the protests from time to time, they had no idea what it was like to have slavery in their ancestry. But those prisoners had all been the worst kind of white people: obsessed with so-called racial purity and willing to kill to uphold it. Tina clearly believed that what she had done was right. Could he?

"Vicky and Amir don't know you triggered that fight, do they?" He asked after a bit, mostly just to fill the silence.

"No," she said faintly, almost inaudibly. "You can tell them if you want. They might never speak to me again, but it's still worth it."

He could tell she meant it, too.

"Is that really what's bothering you, Tom?" She started to sound more sure of herself. "Or is it that we did all this without you?"

"You could have used me! I have resources and connections. I might have been able to get this story out without bloodshed. All you had to do was ask, and I would have come running!"

"Would you?" She asked bluntly. "If I'd called you and told you about what we suspected but couldn't prove, would you really have come all the way down here in the middle of your campaign just to help us? Would you have sent someone else instead, or even just tried to send us money to help? We were out on a limb with this. If we'd been proven wrong, and publicly humiliated, you would have been affected as well. Come to think of it, why are you even calling me now? Are you concerned for your friends, or are you hoping I might somehow help your campaign?"

Tom thought back to his first instinct upon hearing about this story. "Can't it be both?"

"No, Tom," she said in a painfully gentle voice. "I did a cruel and probably illegal thing to help other people. Amir did a terrifying and valuable thing to help other people. Vicky's done a bunch of both to help other people. What you did, and what you're trying to do now, is to help yourself."

"So that I can get elected! So that I can help people on a grand scale! I'm not doing this for me; you have to know that."

"Really?" She hammered at him again with that bluntness. "Back in the day, you were in some march or rally at least twice a month. More like twice a week most of the time. You gave speeches meant to inspire and uplift people at every one. How often have you given a speech to anyone but donors or sponsors recently? How many rallies or protests or demonstrations have you attended in the last.. say.. year even?"

He hesitated, and she went on implacably. "Face it, Tom. Even if you do win your primary, and then your coveted Senate seat, you'll be just as hamstrung then as you are now! You'll be a part of the system. You'll have power, sure, but you'll have to play by the rules of the system in order to hold onto that power!" She sighed. "Amir and Vicky want to believe that you're still the same man they knew, but I know better. Whether you win or not, you're Senator Penderton now. Hurricane Thomas died a long time ago, and he's not coming back."

There didn't seem to be much to say after that, so she hung up gently. Tom just sat there for a moment, before detaching the voice recorder from the phone.

Tina had admitted to inciting a prison riot, among other crimes. If he leaked this recording- or rather, parts of it- to any major news outlet, she would be discredited and most likely arrested. Vicky and Amir would probably get in trouble as well, for not taking this to the police themselves. Vicky would be fired, and Amir wouldn't get his residency anytime in the next century or so. In fact, he'd probably be deported. But Tom's name would be elevated to a national scale, and he could pretty easily leverage that into a senate seat.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 01:57:40 AM by Daen »