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Speculative Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

(Caution: Sexual Harassment and Implied Death)

“Mr. Shaw, the Rationalists are getting impatient.”

For a moment, the only sounds were rustling papers and the clickety-clack of a keyboard. The speaker stood in front of the looming oak desk as though waiting for execution. 

Shaw looked up from his papers and cocked a slick, wry brow. He stared at the slim, bespectacled woman before his desk with expectation - waiting for more elaboration. The woman rolled her eyes as though he didn’t know what was happening. 

She plowed on, “The Rationalist Party is gathered in the town square. They have been for hours. They’re waiting for the Accord Talk to commence.” 

Shaw smiled, then he chuckled. The chuckle graduated to an outright guffaw. He pushed his plush chair from the immense desk to walk toward the bespectacled messenger. 

“Oh. Jamie! I swear, these goddamn Rationalists. They should be grateful I’m bothering.”

Shaw man hugged the woman around the shoulders, squeezing her close and wrinkling her cornflower blue dress shirt. Shaw was large and imposing, and his hugs were a little too exuberant. 

The woman tried to shove her boss off gently, but he absolutely would not budge. 

“Sir, please. Jacobson,” Jamie gave a little smile, “himself came down to declare the Rationalist Party’s demands.” 

Shaw gave his secretary an undecipherable stare. He took in her curly hair and freckled face; it was one of the reasons he’d poached her from Stetson University a few years back. 

Of course, Shaw’s feelings that the more intelligent students could become… problematic in the future had nothing to do with hiring Jamie and the slew of other intellectuals. 

As for the recently ratified Accords, the whole point was to give the Rationalist Party a platform. After years of rebellions, terrorist attacks, and plain complaining, his party, the Subjectivists, felt indulgent in letting the Rationalists have an official say. 

Thus he got pestered into signing off on the Accords. His party members had a pathological need to feel like the good guys, and he was in a generous mood. 

Shaw swaggered behind his desk toward the massive window. The Tower boasted a reputation as the highest building in the world, having beaten the Burj Kalifa for the title some years back. 

He glanced at the fog below and the city lights futilely attempting to peek through. He thought back to a conversation he’d had with his father before he’d ascended to his current position. 

“Hey, Sweetheart. You ever feel like you’re above the clouds up here?”

The woman’s face twisted in a mixture of confusion and exasperation. 

“Ah, no. I can’t say that I have Mr. Shaw.”

Shaw continued to look down at the fog. 

“Huh. Shame. It’s quite the feeling. “

The plaza was chilly, foggy, and jam-packed with protesters. People were squeezed together with signs and bullhorns, screaming and chanting toward the enormous building punching through the sky. 

Approximately 20 feet of space in front of The Tower’s entrance was cordoned off to prevent entry by the protesters. Heavily armored security personnel stood behind the division, silent and at the ready. 

The sun was sinking under the horizon. They’d been outside for hours. While the crowd’s dissatisfaction never guaranteed things would be totally calm, the long wait had stoked their fury. 

Objections from the bullhorn-wielding dissidents began blaring into the air as the crowd became increasingly agitated from the lack of response. 

“Child literacy rates are decreasing! Why would anyone want this!” 

“I want horror movies again!” 

“You can’t give jobs based on how you feel!”

“Science doesn’t care about your feelings!” 

“Justice for the Downside! Down with the Subjectivist Regime!” 

A lone figure stood out from the writhing, infuriated congregation. This solitary man wore shabby sweatpants and a faded blue windbreaker. His shaggy brown hair fell down his face as he glowered toward the great tower ahead. 

The crowd behind him was frothing in rage, their feelings boiling over after a century of an incompetent government maned by puerile heads of state. Their ancestors' dream of a better, kinder future was brought to heel by a lack of oversight and illogical ideals. 

A roar erupted behind the lead activist, and his eyes shot toward the building’s entry. The crystalline glass doors opened, and a tall, broad male figure in a black pinstripe suit emerged. Even the briefcase he carried looked like it would set someone back a few thousand credits. 

The crowd exploded, “It’s Shaw!” 

“That monster!”

“You’re despicable!”

Shaw outstretched his arms, seemingly gratified at the screaming insults from the dissidents. 

“Ah, Jacobson! So good to see you, man! How’s things Downside?” the bespoke suited man exclaimed, striding toward his adversary. The head protester, Jacobson, scowled as he walked to the roped-off section. 

“But God isn’t Shaw a pretentious prick,” he muttered.

Once he came close enough to the cordon, a disgruntled guard hesitated long enough for Shaw to speak up. The man in the suit cleared his throat. “Hey, guard. Let him pass.” 

The guard looked toward his employer, then back toward Jacobson. The armored man begrudgingly allowed the shabby dissident to pass. The protesters cheered as their champion was admitted past the blockade of armed guards.

Once inside the tower, the two met Jamie and entered Shaw’s spacious private elevator; Jamie sighed and glanced up at Jacobson. The latter met her eyes and smiled. God, she missed him. 

So much for internal reform. Jamie couldn’t believe her boss had convinced her that she could make a difference in the Subjectivist Party. 

We could use people like you. Someone who can influence things. I think the Subjectivists could use a little more logic, too,” was what Shaw said back then. 

What a joke. Jamie would have been better off joining her friend and the Rationalist Party. There she may have been able to make some kind of difference. 

She couldn't help but wonder if this is how it would always be - under Shaw’s heel. The young woman remembered a university course she’d attended and discussed civil discourse. 

The idea was that everyone had to come together to reach a logical, functional result for the good of society. That was a fascinating history class. But Professor Burbage was simply a natural at stoking her students’ curiosity. 

Jamie remembered how the other woman decided they’d give civil discourse a try and calmly discuss ideas with each other. The students latched onto the idea like starving animals. 

Jamie’s class was among the last of the college graduates. The government said education kept people from “better things.”  Anything to keep the Subjectivists in charge, she supposed. 

But, regarding the civil discourse affair, Burbage didn’t agree with her students' ideals and ideas. But she was willing to discuss them and even compromise when someone could rationally sway her toward their perspective. It was lovely - God, she had adored Professor Burbage. 

“What are you pondering in that pretty head of yours, Jamie?” 

The young woman cringed at her boss’s voice. Jacobson’s face twisted in irritation. Here was another one of Shaw’s sins, enticing people into working for him and stomping out any resistance. The man was good at appearing to care about what other people wanted. 

Jacobson should know; he, like many others, was fooled into voting for the cretin. So much for change. Shaw was better than his father. Jacobson made a subtle step toward the other man before Jamie stopped him with a pointed look.

Not much, Mr. Shaw. I was just thinking about University. You remember Professor Burbage, right Se -Jacobson?”

Shaw arched a brow. Jamie glanced toward Jacobson, pleading for him to play along. The latter sighed and said, “Yeah. I remember her. Nice lady. What brought this up? 

Jamie cleared her throat. 

“Nothing in particular. Just reminiscing on old times is all.” Before Jacobson could respond

The elevator dinged as the three reached their destination. 

It wasn’t Shaw’s office, tucked away on one of the uppermost floors, but rather a small, opulent room outfitted with a bar, leather lounge chairs, and a brilliant view of the dark sky. 

Jacobson scoffed at the showy display of luxury. There was a time when political discussions were held in more official places instead of private bars tucked away in towering behemoths. 

There was no proper protocol for how to conduct the Accord Talks. The whole thing was a slap-dash attempt at appeasement and would be conducted however the person in charge wanted. But, in fairness to the Subjectivist Regime, at least it was a shot at civil discourse. 

The last time any kind of conversation between the two factions took place was around 30 ago; that era’s Subjectivist leader decided Capital Hill was the best place for the Subjectivists and Rationalists to hash things out. 

He’d also decided to wear a rhinestoned chicken costume while doing the cossack dance during the talk introductions because why the hell not? 

The two faction leaders sat at a small oak table while Jamie, whose job entailed whatever Shaw decided, served as the talk mediator.  

“Alright, gentlemen. So starts the First Accord Talk. The Subjectivist Party Representative Jacob Shaw and Rationalist Representative Sean -” Shaw’s large hand slammed the table, and Jamie paused midspeech. 

“So, Jamie-love. I noticed you and Jacobson; sorry, Sean seems to know each other. I wanted to know a little more about that.” 

The two others in the room stared at Shaw. Jamie supposed she should have seen that coming. She’d never hidden the fact that she knew Jacobson, but it was still infuriating that he felt the need to know. Jacobson, on the other hand - 

“Are you kidding me?! It took five months to arrange an arrangement meeting - whatever the hell that even is - to get here, and you’re stalling because you wanna know if Jamie and I were ever a thing?”

Shaw grinned and leaned forward on the table. The small piece of furniture shifted under his bulk. “Ah, there he is. I was wondering what this calm, collected nonsense was. You know, you’ve been the best part of these past few years!” 

Jacobson’s eyes narrowed, and a fittingly bestial snarl tore through the air. 

“What does that even -! What is this conciliatory crap! After what your regime did to the Downside! All those people you disenfranchised! You absolute monster!”

Shaw’s grin only grew wider. He really did enjoy rilling Jacobson up; those protests and rebellions were the most entertaining things to happen while he was in office. Shaw spoke.

“Yes, yes, my father’s birthday topiary didn’t work out quite as he’d wanted. I tried to tell him those bushes couldn’t possibly survive in the Downside, but he felt like it would have prettied the place up. But enough about that; neither of you answered my question. Are you an item or not?” 

Jacobson sprung from his chair, but Jamie placed her hand on both men’s shoulders. 

“Enough! You two are here for business; sit down and discuss your terms!” The young woman pressed down, and the two men sank into their chairs. Jacobson inclined his head toward Jamie. 

“Sorry, civil discourse and all that. Burbage would be embarrassed to see me right now.” Jamie gave her old friend a slight smile. Shaw’s manic grin faded. He clasped his hands together on the table with a contemplative look.

Jacobson exhaled, clinched, and unclinched his hands. “Ok, Shaw. I’m sorry about that. How about we proceed with the talks, yeah?” The other man nodded for Jacobson to proceed. 

“Ok. Firstly, the Rationalist Party would like to put forward a motion to reinstate mandatory childhood education. Almost nobody knows how to do anything. Even you’ve got to see how that’s not helping matters.” 

Shaw shook his head. “Why on Earth would any of that matter? Books have been outlawed ever since my predecessor two eras back decided, and I quote, ‘Reading is for pretentious fools.’ What would anyone read? ” 

Jamie made a confused noise, and Shaw turned to see bafflement on her face. He explained, “Honestly, it’s speculated the man couldn’t read, nor could he stand being made a fool of. You’re smart - you can put together why he felt literacy had to go.”

Jacobson gritted his teeth. “What does that have to do with you?! You’re Regime leader until the next election; just change it!” 

Shaw yawned and inspected his nails. 

“Mmmm. You’re right. The Tamilson Era’s stupid decisions really have nothing to do with me. But! The citizens aren’t ready for that kind of upheaval. Many of them still feel like the man had a point. More time could be spent outside than wallowing in pretentious like reading.”

The pinstripe-suited man mockingly spat the last word from his mouth. Jamie pursed her lips. 

“I wonder how many of them couldn’t read,” she wondered aloud, “Mandatory childhood education had been vetoed during the Tamilson era, so people didn’t have to learn literacy skills before Tamilson had outlawed books.”

Jacobson rubbed his head. He hadn’t expected differently from Shaw. Although the Accords stated the ruling party had to hear their opponent out, they didn’t have to make any of the requested changes. Unfortunately, Subjectivists tended to get stuck in their heads, not the reality of things. Jacobson took a breath. 

“Ok, what about horror? The people are getting fed up with the Sound Mind, Safe World Initiative. That should be a small thing we can compromise on. Maybe it’ll take the edge off the dissenting populous rough that we can come to an agreement on other matters?” 

Truthfully, even Shaw felt like the Sound Mind, Safe World Initiative was a load of garbage. The idea that horror movies could affect the entire country’s population so adversely that it’d give rise to a flock of murders was just stupid. 

Those who believed horror movies invoked evil forces were worse. His father was of the former category, “Horror movies will turn you mad!” he would exclaim. Both camps of jumped-up morons got together to ban the horror genre. 

It was the biggest show of power his father had ever managed - to ban an entire entertainment genre. Of course, Shaw decided then and there that he would be the one to succeed his father. 

After the law passed, Jacob Shaw took his father out for a celebratory dinner. A few hundred credits to the waiter and one too many refills in his father’s wine glass, and his father tragically passed away in a messy car accident. 

Unlike most Regime leaders, the elder Shaw was paranoid and didn’t trust a driver to get him around. 

“I can handle my booze,” he’d always say. 

And he couldn’t help that his father’s constituents felt he was the right man to carry on Robert Shaw’s legacy. Repealing the Sound Mind, Safe World Initiative would endear the masses to him, but…

He thought about Jamie and Jacobson and how they’d given each other those “surreptitious” glances. Jacobson tried everything from organized terror attacks to actual negotiations for his Party’s terms for about half a decade now. It would be the sporting thing to acquiesce to some of his demands.

But those looks. Jacobson and Jamie clearly had something going on…

Well, that decided it, then. 

Shaw stated, “Well, this has been an enlighting Accord Talk. But, I’m afraid we’re done here.” Jamie’s jaw dropped. Jacobson’s face was an interesting mix of incredulity and anger. 

“I knew it. You never had any intention of truly hearing me out! You’re like a giant toddler - doing what makes you happy and damn everyone else!” 

Shaw’s face became thunderous at the insult. Jamie’s eyes widened, “Sean! Stop insulting him isn’t helping! You said you wanted to do things right this time!” 

Jacobson rebutted, “Right way?! This whole thing is just to the Subjectivists can feel better about themselves! They’re tired of us attacking their palatial buildings, so they’re trying to quiet -” 

Shaw interrupted, “That’s where you’d be wrong, Sean. I am the Subjectivist Party; You’re here because I found your little uprisings fun and thought this would be a nice change of pace. How else do you think you’re still a free man?” he paused for a breath, “Being in charge gets boring, and I needed an opponent. You were as good as any.” 

He stood and stared directly at his secretary. 

“But, the fun’s over now; we’re done here. You’re dismissed.” Shaw knocked on the table four times. The bar’s door opened to reveal two uniformed guards - like the ones from the plaza. They made a beeline for Jacobson and roughly jerked him away from the table and toward the door. 

Jamie looked at her boss, eyes wide and mouth twisted into a snarl.

“Is that what this is about? Jealousy? You are a child!” She made for the guards. Jacobson was halfway out the door, his struggles somewhat impeding the process. Shaw shrugged and walked toward the bar. 

The door was still slightly opened in the aftermath of the four’s departure from the room. The Subjectivist Party Representative opened a particularly aged bottle of whiskey and poured himself a glass. 

Shaw’s face was pensive, and he recalled Jamie’s upset expression. The man chuckled and downed his drink. 

“I suppose I’ll count that as a win; any battle your opponents don’t win is your victory. Right, Dad?” 

November 19, 2022 02:44

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1 comment

21:49 Nov 23, 2022

I felt your pacing go from quick when describing the beginning scenes to slower during the talk scenes. It seemed fitting with the descriptions. Your description skills are really good, picking out subtle details like cornflower blue and immense desk, as well as your description for each main character. I didn't quite feel the implied death in the way I think you wanted it to make an impact. To me it more implied forcibly removing him or detaining him in jail or maybe a different private confinement. Though, I can sort of see a hint of it in...


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