“They who control the narrative, control the way forward.”
The Movement for Social Coercion
“Camera Three, I need a close-up on the man with the horns,” demanded the Location Director from her mobile news van as she spoke through her headset. “That’s it! Get him in mid roar… beautiful! That’s our money shot.”
Carol Vidmark intensely studied the six or so monitors all lit up in the back of her privately funded news van. Commanding a team of five vloggers – all broadcasting live feeds from their smartphones in the most extraordinary domestic event since the civil war. Nestled among the hostile throng of demonstrators, live transmissions fed an alarming threat of agitation, violence, and lawlessness to the news van’s receivers, who broadcast live out to a populace hungry for scandalmongering action.
“Make our country free again!” came the outcry from a group of disenchanted protesters congregating at the bottom of the steps of the building that stood meteorically out as the administrator of the laws of the land.
“Camera One, try and get a shot of the front of the crowd. Make it look like they’re advancing on you like a foreign onrush of invading hordes. I want the country to see their anger and feel the fear,” Carol excitedly insisted.
Nodding to one of her technicians, he responded by pushing a button on the camera feed control panel, powering up an additional screen. The monitor’s subjects appeared to be a group of oddly dressed men and women seemingly huddled behind one man. Remotely zooming in to him, the camera revealed him to be curiously outfitted in a Roman Centurion’s uniform – equipped with Gladius, chest armour, cape, and a shiny silver Galea helmet decorated with a red feathery plume. Sheltering in an army field tent viewing the events on several large-screen televisions, the group resembled a collective set of dystopian partisans readied for some sort of role play game.
“Good,” Carol pleasingly exclaimed. “The Big Man is watching this. He was right about today and how it would go down… Camera Four are you in position?”
“Affirmative,” came the clear reply.
As Carol watched the Steadicams’ quick advance up the steps, a female voice interrupted the viewing.
“…Camera Five ready, Carol.”
Sliding her chair over to monitor Five, Carol clicked a switch to respond.
“We’ve got you loud and clear, Mel. Ready when you are.”
Into view of camera Five, stepped a young woman in her twenties with perfect shoulder-length auburn hair, red lipstick, and glasses that made her look intelligent beyond her young years. Fresh out of journalist’s school, this was a trial by fire opportunity to make an early name for herself, virally introducing herself and the astonishing events to an eager audience pumping likes, shares, and comments into her new employers’ social media existence. Counting down from five, stopping at two, she then nodded a quiet cadence for the number one and a mimed Go for broadcast.
“…Today marks an historic moment in our country’s history,” Melody opened.
“…An election filled with fraudulent claims, an incumbent president refusing to yield power to the newly elected president, and a vice-president breaking ranks to turn on the man he has loyally supported for the past four years. Add those ingredients to the throng of red-flagged supporters vowing to ‘Take back America,’ and you have a recipe for the biggest political bake-off the world has ever witnessed. Reports of sporadic violence have prompted the president to appeal for calm in the face of intimidation, pledging to bring to justice anyone found breaking the peacefulness of the ongoing demonstration. However, until calm has been restored, we may be in for a lengthy and tense stand-off between opposite sides of an election gone seriously wrong… Reporting live from the capitol building, this is Melody Anderson for MSC Network News…
Continuing to look into the camera, she waited for the broadcast all-clear, but was interrupted by Carol chiming in.
“Good work, Melody…”
“Did I cover everything you wanted?” Melody enquired through her earpiece.
“Shares and re-Tweets are going through the roof. So that’s a good sign.”
“I didn’t see any violence taking place, so it wasn’t truly accurate.”
“Newscasting 101, Melody. When there’s no inciting action, inject it…”
“Melody, I need you to get to the top of the capitol steps and intercept camera Four. He’ll be your new shadow, as I have a separate assignment for camera Five… We’ve been told that the Veep is on his way to tell the crowd to go home.”
“That’s not going to go down well with his boss.”
“It’s an expected move. Now, scoot as quick as…”
“Will do. Any update as to the president issuing a statement on the situation?”
“Not yet, Mel. He’s waiting to see how this all plays out first.”
“Okay, I’ll do a few on-the-spot interviews while I’m waiting.”
“Good. Remember, the underlying message is that systemic corruption and voting fraud requires more than one person at every level to rig something of this magnitude. We need to push the message every which way we can.”
“Will do, Carol. Back in a few...”
In her first three months of reporting for MSC Network News, Melody Anderson had for the most part, been a backroom staffer, helping edit incoming news reports. Working under Carol was her journalist’s dream come true and she felt extremely fortunate for the opportunity to learn from the woman that headed up the mobile news crew. By the grace of good fortune, the assigned reporter to the rally had contracted Covid and was isolating at home. Melody just happened to be in the right place at the right time for Carol to assign her lead reporter status to the biggest news story in decades.
Back at the van, Carol, sat chatting on her mobile phone to the Centurion – who was facing camera Six while speaking through his own phone. With the monitor’s sound muted, only Carol could hear the conversation between them; however, it did not deter him from looking straight at the camera as he spoke.
“Yes, sir. Everything is in place… Not sure, yet. I’ve assigned cameraman Five the task at hand… Top of the steps, yes, sir. We’ll have the exclusive and you’ll have your motive… Thank you, sir. The future happens today, yes… What’s that…? Yes, sir. The uniforms look splendid. Very apropos. This will be an epic chapter in the book of our great history… Yessir, all investors are on board… Thank you, sir… In deo speramus in te… It’s Latin for In God we trust in you… Mr. President...”
“They stole the election from us!” The grey bearded man repeated into camera Four. “We ain’t gonna let them get away with it,” he loudly insisted.
Melody listened from an attentive distance. As soon as the interview started, her thoughts began to wander elsewhere. Perhaps the current choice of interviewee had been premature, she thought – as all he wanted to do was shout at the camera. When an uncomfortable silence provided an opportunity to close the interview, she quickly thanked him for his time, and moved away - visually studying the swelling crowd. It seemed that word had spread for all to congregate at the steps of the Capitol building. What had started off as a rally, had quickly become a pot of simmering anticipation for what was to come next.
“Okay Melody, you’re live in thirty seconds.” Carol jolted Melody back into action. “What have you got?”
“Yes, Carol. I’ve lined up a security official to tell us their side of things.”
“Great! When you’re ready, go for it.”
Melody motioned toward a uniformed police officer, who on cue, approached her and her cameraman. Counting down, she launched into her report.
“…With things heating up here at the Capitol Building, tension on both sides of the argument is building. Outnumbered and outgunned, security here has been stretched thin with only thirty or so officials tasked to prevent an expected onslaught to the meeting place of our country’s congress. I have with me Captain Washington Williams of the Capitol Police Department… Captain… you’ve been here since before dawn on this frosty January day. How are you coping with the threat of violence?”
Washington Williams – a man of low tolerance and less tact, could only pause for thought at the suggestion of rebellious behaviour.
“I can’t say this is an ideal situation for my officers. We all have families to go home to; however, we are ready to repel any incursion that may come. We just need to hold out until the National Guard gets here.”
“Aren’t you just adding fuel to the fire by introducing the National Guard to the still peaceful demonstration?”
“Did you say peaceful, Miss…? Look around you. We’ve got scaffolding missing from the temporary stands built for the upcoming inauguration. All morning, we’ve been pelted with stones and rocks from unseen assailants, and we’ve been subjected to name calling from a large section of hecklers.”
“Press him on the proof of this,” Carol interjected into Melody’s earpiece.”
“…Well, I’ve been here almost as long as you have Captain and I’ve not seen any of this.”
“Good, Melody, Good,” Carol trumpeted into Melody’s ear.
“I know what I seen, and I seen nasty people shouting nasty things. Mark my words, there will be blood spilled here today.”
“Thank you for your time, Captain.”
Surprised at the shortness of his interview, Captain Williams quickly accepted that he was no longer the focus of attention, so returned to his previous position at the top of the steps.
“Today is all about sides,” Melody continued. “…and about how each of us perceives the truth. It is evident that the police are itching for a fight and that the peaceful demonstrators are preparing to defend themselves in the face of adversity. Clearly, the authorities are looking for a scapegoat, should chaos rain down on them… That scapegoat appears to be none other than the peaceful citizens congregating below us. To protect and serve is no longer the motto in a self-serving police state. Democracy and freedom wotcha-gonna-do. This is Melody Anderson for MSC Network News sending you back to our studio hosts.”
“…Nice work, Mel,” Carol calmly congratulated into Melody’s ear. “The Veep is on his way, so make sure you get video of him ascending the steps. Also, try to get a few words with him before he addresses the crowd.”
“Thanks… and will do,” Melody responded, before seeking out higher ground.
In the news van, Carol took a deep breath before dialling a phone number on her smartphone. Several unanswered rings echoed through her ear before a male voice finally responded.
“…It’s on,” Carol assertively relayed to the person on the other end of the call.
“Confirmed,” was the one-word reply cut short by Carol’s aspirational statement.
“Throughout our pursuit for freedom, we may be called to make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. Your time is now, and we thank you for your service…”
“…For the greater good,” was another short reply from the voice before hanging up.
“…Okay… Camera Five! Please get into position,” she assertively instructed. Noticing some movement from the Presidential tent, Carol answered the aptly timed incoming phone call.
“The ball is in play, sir,” Carol informed the man looking directly at her on Camera Six. “God speed…”
Composing herself, she addressed the several technicians milling around the various monitors.
“This is it, people. Let’s capture every second on video. History will be made today…”
The sound of angry people booing filled the crisp January air as a motorcade of secret service vehicles came to a halt at the base of the Capitol building’s stairs. Opening a door to one of the black SUVs, a secret service agent made way for the Vice President, who emerged from the vehicle with a concerned look on his face. Flanked by two agents, he began his ascent of the steps toward a makeshift podium that had a microphone clipped to its backrest. Halfway up, the Veep slowed his pace as Melody descended towards him, microphone in hand and Camera Four capturing the moment from directly behind her left shoulder. Above the sound of the boos, Carol’s voice could be heard through Melody’s earpiece.
“Remember Melody, the Veep is on our side.”
“Yes, Carol. Got it.”
Stopping the Veep in his tracks, Melody launched into her broadcast.
“…We are here with the Vice President on the steps of the Capitol building. He is about to address the vociferous crowd to assure them that the transition of power must be peaceful and the election results respected… Mr. Vice President… Melody Anderson, MSC Network News… What is your reaction to the reports that you publicly denounced the President’s decision to fight the election results? Have you turned against him?”
Watching with annoyance, Carol barked at Monitor Four.
“Goddamit, Melody! That’s the wrong approach. Camera Five,” she infuriatingly instructed. “Go… go… go!”
Watching the hurried bounce of the camera on Monitor Five, Carol shouted through her headpiece.
“Melody, stop! Rephrase the question.”
Touching her earpiece, Melody lifted an index finger to the Veep.
“One moment, sir. My boss is instructing me to start again.”
Without the opportunity to speak, the Vice President’s torso exploded in splashes of blood as several gunshots rang out. Falling backwards, he tumbled down the steps, coming to a dead halt at the foot of them. Turning toward the sound of the gunfire, Melody was shocked to see Camera Five’s operator standing motionless with an automatic pistol still held aloft, pointing at thin air. Reacting to the gunfire, several police officers and secret service agents returned fire, instantly killing the sacrificial lamb. Without hesitation and disturbingly coordinated, the incensed crowd suddenly stormed up the steps attacking any official in sight, then smashed their way into the building to occupy it. Caught up in the powerful surge of bodies, Melody found herself swept helplessly into the great hall with Camera Four. Visibly shaken and traumatised, she contacted Carol for directions.
“Carol… did you see what just happened?”
“I did,” Carol replied through her headset.
“I don’t know what to do… It’s complete mayhem in here… What do I do?”
“Calm down, Melody. The Big Man is on his way to restore order.”
“He’s coming here…? Inside?”
“I’ve arranged for you to get the exclusive. Only you will be allowed to interview him.”
“Carol… I’m covered in blood.”
“If it’s not yours, then I expect you to do your job and interview him.”
Just then, a roar of cheering went up outside that filled the Capitol Building’s interior as well. Those inside seemed to understand what it meant.
“Where do I start, Carol?”
“I will be the words; you will be the conduit. All you must do is repeat everything I say into your ear, okay?”
A noticeable silence caught Melody’s attention. Then, in unison, people started to drop to one knee, as several trumpeters in the room blasted a fanfare fit for an emperor. Standing in a sea of kneeling bowed heads, Melody was quickly overshadowed by the presence of a six-feet-two-inch Roman Centurion, flanked by similarly dressed officials. Raising a commanding hand, the trumpets ceased their introduction.
Reacting to Carol’s instructions, Melody plucked up the courage to talk.
“Mr. President… May I start with offering mine and the country’s condolences on the tragic loss of the Vice President today. Is there any threat to the congressmen and women still in the building?
“I’ve spoken with many of them in great length,” came the prepared response. “While it is truly a tragic day for America, rest assured that they are in no immediate danger.”
“What words of comfort do you have for those affected by the violence?”
“His passing is a sad day for all of us. This is a great country, and we must stand up to anyone that threatens our way of life. That is why I am here in the Capitol Building and not hiding away in the Oval Office. I am here to carry the torch for freedom.”
“…And for those questioning your choice of garb. What can you tell them?”
“We wear the symbolic clothing of true patriots. What you see here are the new Romans, and our country is the new Rome – an empire for the generations. I wear this uniform as a mark of respect for all defenders of liberty… past, present, and those that follow in the footsteps we now proudly leave. Earlier today, I signed a bill that slavery is to be reintroduced to our great democracy. Starting with the migrants, the unemployed, the maids and janitors of our great nation, a new order will be instituted to make sure the wealthy and powerful of New Rome will be protected, maintained, and catered to. Anything is possible in the land of opportunity; however, we must build from the ground up and who else better to help us do that than slaves… Thank you, thank you…”
Completely flummoxed by the President’s bizarre behaviour, Melody had to be prompted by Carol to address the camera.
“Repeat what I say, Mel. Word for word… Nod to the camera, so I know you can hear me.”
Nodding, Melody robotically repeated Carol’s words.
“In a nation that grieves the tragic loss of its Vice President, all eyes are on our glorious leader, who with determination and the backing of the military… will resume his seat as President, nullifying an illegal election that fraudulently tried to depose him from his throne... Declaring the reintroduction of slavery and a change in our country’s constitution, a new Rome will be built on Capitol Hill… Twenty-seven hundred years ago, Romulus and Remus argued where their Rome’s capitol should be built. We have no such conundrum, because our Rome… your Rome… is right here – in the middle of Elysium… This is Melody Anderson reporting from New Rome for The Movement for Social Coercion… Network News…”
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Hey Chris, I thought the concept was good. I didn't think a Vice President stopping in the midst of a crisis to talk to a reporter seemed believable. It struck me as a little too close to current events gone wrong, but certainly the media angle was an interesting one. I think I might have tried to work in the Roman influence on the POTUS somewhere at the beginning, to give us a hint it was coming. I also liked the moment of push back from the reporter's response to her handler (a.k.a. producer) after the shooting.
Thanks for your comments, Beth. The VP angle is supposed to be the only true voice in the fake news blitz that gets silenced before even being heard. A Dictator can't have his rule questioned, and yes, it surely is a comment on recent events. As the title says (if you say it with an Irish accent), it's just a fairy tale.
“…We are here with the Vice President on the steps of the Capitol building. He is about to address the vociferous crowd to assure them that the transition of power must be peaceful and the election results respected… This was too close to historical non-fiction for my taste. Good connection to the prompt!
I did try to be subtle and not mention names. 😉 Thanks for reading and commenting, Marty.
With this it got very real very fast: “Carol… I’m covered in blood.” “If it’s not yours, then I expect you to do your job and interview him.”
Raluca, Thanks for reading and commenting on my story. Carol is a very calculated and cold individual. Not to be crossed, methinks.
I like the way this is introduced, where we know something is happening, but we're not quite sure what, yet. There's excitement in the air, danger. We learn more as time goes on, and it takes on alternate history vibes. You called it dystopian in another comment, and that would fit too. Certainly as a "dystopian origin story". It's a good fit for the prompt. I like that there's already an interpretation in mind, and the work is presenting the events to match that interpretation. Like a kangaroo court. One thing that struck me is how qu...
Michal, Thank you for your in-depth analysis. You always seem to read in-between my lines. That's a great gift. Melody is sadly caught between ambition and loyalty. Yes, being splattered with blood is the eye opener and the message is clear that Carol pulls all the strings and should not be crossed. I would even hazard a guess at Carol's own ambitions to be top dog. A lot of buildings in D.C do have a remarkable similarity to Roman architecture, so part of the story was inspired by that. Plus, I love Roman history and wanted to pose the co...
The Veep's security detail, cordoned off the area and detained a 'Mr. Campbell' for questioning. "We would like to ask you some questions." "Yes." "Can you establish your relationship with the Vice President?" "Uh." "Please don't make any sudden moves and follow us to this van, please." "Am I under arrest?" "There are worse things than being under arrest. Agree to cooperate and you might survive." "Oh, O.K." A black windowless van zoomed off under the turnpike.
Hmm, I'd better start using a nom de plume asap. 😎 This was purely an example of write whatever comes into my head based on the prompt. I hold no political views at all outside of my own four walls... I wish Reedsy would offer a "Dystopian" option as a category.
All in fun, for real. I like the idea of a dystopian category for sure.
I'll suggest it to Reedsy.
Seemed fairly dystopian to me, all too possible but some of the stuff in history books is almost too awful to be real it’s hard to conjure nightmares worse than the death camps of WW2 and yet that all started with democratic elections. The Roman element I thought was odd but the rest of this was very on the nose.
Thanks for your comments, Graham. I hoped the Roman element would qualify the story as Dystopian. In Ancient Rome, any leader/General that brought his army into the city would be considered a danger to Rome. It would be like installing a tyrant by force. In this case, the demonstrators were symbolic of his own personal army. A complete disregard for the constitution and a turning back of time to a practice long stamped out, could only be the actions of a madman, an Emperor, a tyrant - acting without fear of retribution, feasting on the powe...