The plan was to have everyone come out, so that he could show them the property, let them know how things would be worked out and hold their first meeting so that they could hammer out and prioritize their near term legislative agenda. But looking at all the furniture covered by tarps and almost ten years of dust, he was beginning to regret that decision. There was a knock of the door, a few hours before anyone was expected. It was Gretchen.
“Sorry… I’m early.”
“Yeah, a bit.” Edward answered with a smile, “But I’m glad you’re here, come on in.”
“So this is your place?” She asked, somewhat tentatively, as she looked around.
“It is, and there are several more on the property – at least a dozen, I believe. One for you, and everyone else in our little Council.”
Her eyes looked as big as dish plates, magnified by the thick lenses in her glasses. “Wha…?”
Edward laughed. “It’s true I promise. A bit off the beaten path, I’m afraid, but it won’t be long before we’re going to need a place to disappear to.”
“What do you mean?” Gretchen’s asked, sounding concerned.
Edward sighed. “Gretchen, I’ll be thirty-nine years old this year. Do I look it? You? You can pass for at least another decade yet, but what happened ten, twenty years from now? When we’re supposed to be in our sixties? Hell…”
“YES! Professor Todd is sixty-five! I haven’t seen him yet, but he called me this morning, and whatever transformation happened must have been pretty profound, because he’d sold. He’s in.”
Gretchen smiled. “That’s good. I was thinking he would the most likely to decline.”
“Epiphany thought so as well, but he’s in.”
Her smiled faded at the mention of Epiphany. “So, uh… Where is she right now?”
“Had to go into town to pick up some stuff. Groceries, personal sundry items, that sort of thing. But, as you may have noticed, we’re kind of out in the sticks here, so I don’t expect her back for a while yet.”
“Oh, OK. What about the others?”
“I got messages from them as well. John sounded almost giddy.”
Her smile returned. “I like him. He seems to have both his heart and head in the right place. Pretty cavalier attitude about things, but I’m assuming he’s just playing it close until he knows that this is all real, and that he can trust us. To… you know… deliver.”
“Well, it sounds like he trusts us now. And yeah, that laid back devil-may-care attitude is kind of how he is, but it hides a burning passions for… well, for pretty much everything we stand for: Anti-Corporatism, Separation of Church and State, Science Based Education, National Health Care, Objective Media… You name it, whatever my opinion is he seems to share it, save for the fact that I’m never thinking BIG enough! Paul’s on board too, though he didn’t sound as enthusiastic.”
“Why’s that do you think?”
Edward though for a moment. “He has family. And truth be told, despite every warning I gave them last night NOT to accept the Tears out of idle curiosity, or doubt; not to accept them unless they were IN, I still think he figured nothing would come of it.”
“Huh. I would have thought Professor Todd…”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong, Bob didn’t believe it either. But he probably figured that if there WAS something paranormal going on, that he’d want to be a part of it. Thing is? He’s nearing the end of his academic career and lives alone. Paul’s twenty years younger, and has family that he’s close to. He’s bound to have a harder time of it.”
“Kind of a strange bird. I had a hard time reading him yesterday.”
“Not that I disagree, but how do you mean?”
“Well, he says he a ‘Conservative Republican,’ but he didn’t seem to be all that different, politically speaking, than anyone else.”
“Yeah, well… He’ll usually come to the same conclusion that most of the rest of us will, but he’ll get there from a different perspective. That’s really what we need: To build a consensus while approaching the problem at hand from many different points of view. Plus, don’t forget, most of yesterday was just exposing them to what happened, what it all means and where we’re going from here. We didn’t get into any serious politics. That’s what TODAY will be all about.”
“And… You still plan on having this meeting here?” she asked, wiping the dust off her fingertip, acquired by tracing a nearby table top.”
Edward laughed. “Well… I did… But I guess I had no idea how much work these places needed.”
Gretchen smiled, “With all the dust and whatever that musty smell is, I’m half shocked my allergies haven’t gone haywire yet.”
“Well, that’s likely the Tears at work. I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that ever again. But beyond that, they’ve been mothballed for almost a decade now and at the moment, nothing even works.”
“Well, I mean like the electricity, for example. This whole place is off the grid, with roof-mounted Solar Panels and nearby Wind Turbines providing self-sufficient and sustainable energy for the whole property.”
“Wow. That’s cool!”
“Yeah, but there must be something wrong with the circuitry or something, because I can’t even turn a light on. And I’m sure you’ve noticed how cold it is in here.”
“I hadn’t actually, but the cold doesn’t really bother me anymore. I assume that’s…?”
“The Tears as well. All the same… Maybe we should find a place and do this downtown. They can stay at the hotel, or a rental unit of something, until we can get these places back up to code.”
“I thought you were an engineer?” she said, shooting him a sarcastic glance.
“Behave, now. I’m a MECHANICAL engineer. Let me loose with electricity and I’d probably end up giving the Tears a run for their money.”
Both shared a laugh before Gretchen continued. “So what’s plan B then?”
“Well… In addition to these places, I bought a little run-down bar in Alexandria that I used to hang out at after work. The guy closed it down late last year, just after Election Day actually. I’d like to renovate so that we’ll have a place to crash and hang out that’s a bit closer to downtown.”
“Yeah, this is a bit out in the sticks!”
“Well, it is remote but that’s kind of the point. Still, with the nearby access to Sixty-Six, you can be downtime in about forty-five minutes, barring traffic.”
“Which, of course there never is!” Edward had to smile and nod in concession of that point. “So what's this other place called?”
“It’s still listed as ‘The Lower Depths,’ if you want to punch it into your GPS rather than follow me and Epiphany into town. I’m thinking of renaming it though, once it’s fixed up. Maybe to ‘High and Low,’ I’m thinking. We’ll see.”
Epiphany arrived while Edward was relaying the change in venue to West over his cell. After that they went into the city to meet the rest of the team.
Not much had changed from the last time Edward was in this bar, save for that it was now void of even the sparse customer base it once served. The liquor was gone, but the television stayed, per the agreement he had made with the Bartender. The tables and chairs remained as well, and Edward, Gretchen and Epiphany had just finished setting up as everyone else started to file in.
Edward knew who they were, but could barely recognize from yesterday.
“Looking good, gentlemen! Hopefully this goes a long ways towards dispelling any notions that this is all some kind of joke.” He and Professor Todd shared a meaningful look of concession on the academic’s part before John started in with some ribbing.
“Hey, Eddie… I though you said this organization of yours had billions… This place is a dump!”
“Yeah, it needs some work, no question about it. I’ve uh… had a few other things on my mind. I’m sure you understand. Unfortunately the properties I wanted to show you were in even worse shape. Much worse, actually, so I hope you don’t mind staying in your current accommodations a while longer. I realize that it’s probably dawned on most of you that at this point, looking like you do, you cannot go back to your old lives. If there was any lack of clarity on that point,” Edward was now looking at Paul who, inconstant to the near giddiness of the remainder of the company, looked more like he had rediscovered his teenaged angst, “I apologize for that. When I advised against accepting the tears out of doubt or idle curiosity, I meant it. I also meant it when I said that are going to change our political culture for the better. And we’ll get to that in a moment. First, I’d like to assure you that while going home may no longer be an option, that you will be quite well taken care of.”
Edward projected some aerial shots of the Manassas compound onto the wall through a projector connected to his laptop. Someone whistled, impressed.
“Once we bang the rust off, what you’re looking at is a self-sufficient, carbon-neutral community of about a dozen large homes spread out over a 40-acre parcel of land. For tax and public records purposes, these will all be held in trust by the Avalon Corporation, of which we will all hold an equal share. And there’s more than enough to go around. Just pick the one you like and it’s yours.”
“Suppose two people want the same one?” John chimed in, with a sarcastic smile.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake… Rock, Paper, Scissors if it comes to that! Considering how Corporate Greed and privileged wealth are at the top of the list of things we need to address here, I’d be sorely disappointed if the whole thing started out with my hand-picked council of advisor bickering over a land dispute! And anyway, they’re all exactly the same, as far as I can tell. They were originally intended to be a secure location for Congress in the event of a nuclear attack, once the Greenbrier Hotel was retired for that purpose. So they’re very secure. After the Cold War ended, they were outfitted with technology for clean energy generation. And even thought that was back during the Clinton administration, they’re Green. And more importantly: Off the grid.”
Paul raised his hand.
“Just curious… What do you mean, ‘for tax purposes?’”
“Well, I don’t me avoiding payment, if that’s what you’re thinking. The problem is that at some point in the future, someone at the IRS is bound to notice that some of us have been paying taxes for one hell of a long time. So, yes, to make this work and to avoid the public either fearing us or, god forbid, worshiping us, we’re going to have to not exist at some point. Putting our major assists into a holding company will make it a lot easier for us to avoid attracting to much attention to our existence.
Now, I’m sure there will be many questions regarding how this is all going to work, but these can all be worked out in time. There is really only one rule here: In everything we do, will work towards consensus. We all get a vote, a veto, in fact, meaning that each of us is both King and Kingmaker. And to avoid one person mucking up the whole works, their vote can be overturned if the entirety of the council is against them, and is willing to cast an over-ride vote. I’m sure I don’t have to point out that voting in support of an action and voting to override the objections of one who opposes it are two different things. We. Will. Work. Towards. Consensus.
And I need to clarify something that I didn’t really push yesterday, because I’m sure none of you would have believed me. But there’s a reason that I’ve gathered you all, and that I need your help. At the moment, humanity is doomed. And I don’t mean in the long term ‘we’re slowly destroying ourselves’ sense. I mean that if things are not turned around dramatically, in just under two years time, we will all be destroyed.”
“And why do think that?” Professor Todd interrupted.
“What would you think if I said an Angel told me?”
“Well… YESTERDAY, I’d have said you were delusional.”
The skeptic looked away, and then down at the table.
“It’s OK, Robert. I’m not asking you to BELIEVE me, necessarily. Just to accept that this is the motivation behind my impatience. It is the force that drives me. And we all have our complaints, and beliefs of how the world should work; How it should govern itself so that all people can live together, in peace and sustainably. What I need from all of you is to help guide me, and to help me guide the Country and eventually the World towards that end, for the good of all people. Can you accept that much?”
The professor looked up at Edward and nodded.
“Great. Now, all that being said, there are a couple some things that I’ve already set in motion before this council was formed that are NOT up for a vote. The first is a National Health Care System. I’ve written about this extensively on my blog in past years, and have already shown my proposals to the President. Gretchen here has been resourceful enough to find a Member of the House to sponsor it and get it going. In time, we can discuss the details and debate any changes that are proposed by Congress or that we think are needed. John? Seeing as how you and I clashed so often back in the day regarding the Wisdom and utility of what came to be known as ‘Obamacare,’ I’d like to ask you to take this on as your personal project. Keep an eye on these bastards for me and make sure they don’t water down my plan with shitloads of unnecessary amendments.”
“Sounds good. This plan of yours repeals Obamacare, then?”
“My makes Obamacare into what it should have been, with all the public benefits of a single payer system, with none of the pitfalls of full Government control and none of the problems of insurance companies putting profits ahead of providing healthcare. Government will make the rules, Doctors will provide the care, and be paid for it according to the market, and Insurance Companies will manage the cost, behind the scenes and without involving the patient. And they won’t be able to just gouge the government either, because there are automatic, market-based, profit-oriented safeguards in place to prevent it. ”
John seemed to sour a bit on this. “What’s all this ‘market-forces’ stuff? I thought you were a Liberal? Why not just go National Healthcare like in England or any number of other places and be done with it?”
Edward thought for moment about the best way to answer this. “During the 2008 Primaries, the Candidate Mitt Romney said that he didn’t want the people who managed the response to Hurricane Katrina to manage his healthcare. And you know what? He was right: I wouldn’t want the Republicans to manage my healthcare either! I would not more trust the austerity-minded Republicans to maintain a robust and effective system than I would the Democrats to even TRY to control costs. So I say, let the insurance companies do what they do best, just take them out of the equation when it comes to what care to provide. They’ll be required to charge the same for every person, spreading the risk and cost over as wide a base as possible. And newborns will be awarded to them on the basis on that cost. Greed now works to keep costs DOWN, and they won’t be given a choice about what to cover or how to break up the bill – it’s still single-payer. The whole market forces thing will just be something they use to maintain supply: If there’s a shortage they’ll have to pay more; a surplus, less. And they’ll have to reimburse providers at such a rate that there will be at-least three ‘no-cost’ options for every person in a given area. AND… if the patient wants to elect to go to another Doctor anyway, they just pay the difference out of pocket. That way, no one need ever be told, ‘No.’”
Paul’s interest was piqued by this setup. “So you raise taxes, and offset this by people not having any premiums…”
“Or out of pocket expenses,” Edward added.
“So… What keeps costs down?”
“Aside for Insurance Companies negotiating directly with Doctors, Preventative Care will always be cheaper than waiting to treat illnesses until they’re reached a critical point. Which is what happens NOW. Instead of going to a family Doctor, the uninsured wait until they’re on Death’s Door and then show up in the Emergency Room, require MORE drugs and MORE man-hours of MORE intensive Care, and all of this results in LESS positive patient outcomes. And all of THAT is done so that we can have lower slightly taxes and/or to protect profits for insurance companies? Fuck that. You’re sick: We’ll heal you. Done. End of story. Financial stress should never be part of a proper medical care.”
“Anything NOT covered?” asked Professor Todd.
“Well… I think I know where you’re going with this… ‘Alternative medicine’ would not be. Sure, we’d have to established some guidelines over what constitutes a standard of care, but taxpayers will NEVER pay for anything that doesn’t have science-based, mainstream medical backing – however that ends up being defined. That work for you?”
Robert nodded in agreement.
“And, it should go without saying, but any non-reconstructive, elective cosmetic-type surgery would not be covered. Outside of correcting a recognized deformity, nothing voluntary.”
“What about abortion?” challenged Paul, the resident Conservative.
“Covered. No questions asked.”
“What?! How is THAT not voluntary?!”
“Paul, first of all, I shouldn’t have to point out that SOME abortions ARE medically necessary, and that this matter should stay strictly between the Doctor and Patient. There is no need for the Government, nor the Public, to become involved. As for the rest of the cases? Other voluntary procedures are being left out because they would costs more than the alternative: which is doing nothing. Doing nothing in this case leads to a live birth, which is ALWAYS more expensive. Putting aside that this is an UNWANTED pregnancy in the first place, and while it may seem a bit cold and calculating, even to an accountant, Abortion is therefore a cost-savings measure.”
“And you think that means that people who are opposed to it should pay for it?”
“Their moral opposition should govern their own behavior and nobody else’s. It’s a LEGAL procedure. Until that changes, no one person has the right to dictate what someone else be forced to do with their bodies. What’s more, seeing as how it’s a cost-savings they’re NOT ‘paying for it.’ They would be paying to prohibit it. And that means WE’D be paying more to potentially put women's health at risk. Which we WILL. NOT. DO. EVER. If you want to pursue some kind of Abortion-Reduction program? I’m all ears. But any such programs has to pass two tests.”
“First of all, not even a single woman’s health may ever be put at risk. Period. Even accepting your pro-life principles, the blood of a thousand dead babies remains on the hands of others. But the blood of ONE woman dead as a result of our health care policies would be on mine. And THAT. WILL. NOT. HAPPEN.”
“Fair enough. I’m not suggesting that we should put anyone’s health at risk anyway. What’s the second test?”
“Principled Logical Consistency that doesn’t end up being a ‘Rapist’s Bill of Rights.’”
“A woman shall keep her rights to decide who’s children to bear, yes? No man can force this upon her, nor is it the business of anyone but her to decide if the rape was ‘legitimate’ on not. Are we on the same page, or are you going to come to bat for all that misogynistic propaganda the Right's currently spewing out on this?”
“No, I’m OK with a rape exception.”
“Then why bother? If you’re not going to put the victim on trial, than anyone can simply say ‘rape.’ And have an abortion anyway. Why force them to lie? What’s more, would you mind telling what ‘test of life’ a fetus conceived by consent passes that one conceived by rape fails? Being motivated by a Pro-Life principle can only therefore lead to men, and men alone, deciding who will bear their children. It’s barbaric and yet a rape-exception violates any pro-life principles right up front. So until you can solve that conundrum, abortion will remain legal. And until that changes, it will remain covered. Does anyone else have an issue with that?”
No response, save for a few shrugs of agreement.
“OK, then. It’s settled. John? Will you lend me some eyes and ears regarding any proposed legislation and amendments?”
“And let me know if there are any other snags that get hit. I’m not opposed to small out of pocket expenses, but I mean it when I say that literally NO ONE will be put at risk, OK?”
“I got you.”
“Great. Now Paul… I submitted some loose proposals for Campaign finance reform. That, to me, is the next priority: Getting corporate money the hell out of the political process, and preventing the voice of one rich person from being able to drown out the voices of the millions. One person, one vote, one voice. Everyone equal. But like I said: It was only a rough outline. Reading your work over the years I know you’ve got some good ideas. Can you take this on?”
Paul nodded, before John interrupted, “Good luck doing that in a post-Citizens United world!”
Edward just smiled, knowingly. “Oh, I don’t know. Let’s not forget that the President has four open seats on the Supreme Court to fill. I’m sure we can see that overturned.”
“Really? Hmpf. Somehow I see the Obama just putting up a bunch of status quo consensus picks like he did with Kagan and Sotomayor.”
“First of all, could you please stop calling him ‘the Obama?’ Shit, I showed him more respect than that when I yelling in his face about what a failure he’s been. Second…” Edward produced a piece of paper from a nearby binder and slid it over towards the cantankerous Liberal. “THIS is a list of Justices that I suggested the President chose his nominees from. I trust it meets with your approval?”
John scanned the list and found that most of it consisted of Judges that he himself had written about as preferable – and viable – alternatives to the two Centrists, Sotomayor and Kagan. “Yeah… This would be great.”
“It would make the ACLU obsolete, because the Supreme Court would now BE the ACLU. Which, of course, is exactly is it SHOULD be.”
“If he’ll make these nominations.”
Edward stared at him for a moment, another wry grin creeping onto his face. “West – What time did you say the President’s Press Conference was today?”
“2:30,” the Agent replied.
“Shoot, it’s already started!” Edward grabbed the remote and flipped on the Television, which was already tuned into CNN. The President was already in mid-announcement.
“…and that’s why I am proud to announce the nominations of Justices Diane Wood, Professor Diane Strossen and Professor Kathleen Sullivan to fill the Associate Justice vacancies on the Supreme Court, and Professor Laurence Tribe to fill the vacancy of Chief Justice.”
Edward muted it. “Satisfied?”
John’s mouth hung agape. It took a moment for him to regain his composure as the rest of room looked to him to respond. “Well… more like… SHOCKED, actually. I’ll give you that. But they’ll never get through Committee, let alone Confirmation!”
“I wouldn’t be so sure. At the moment, there aren’t any Republicans left on the Judiciary Committee. As for their Confirmation…? Any possibly of media-driven opposition is currently null and void. Clear Channel is broke, having lost most of their on-air ‘talent’ and News Corporation is in the process of liquidation. What’s more, any potential opposition from the few remaining Republicans in the Senate will be stymied by the fact that most of their Corporate and Billionaire Donors and Propagandist Think-Tanks has also been swept away. They’re disorganized, leaderless and broke. And it’s our job to make sure they STAY that way.
To that end… We will use the Citizen’s United Decision against them, and see to it that any Politicians willing to support OUR agenda will have their war chests for their next few election runs filled with cash BEFORE the Citizens precedent gets overturned and Campaign Finance Reform goes into action. The Corporatists will be punished, even beyond those that already have been, for their shortsighted greed. Once our people are flush with cash? We’ll shut off the flow from 529’s and Corporate PAC’s. Hopefully before they regain their organizational footing.”
Paul “Not that I want unregulated money influencing elections, but doesn’t’ that sound a bit hypocritical? You were soapboxing a minute ago about principles and equality.”
Edward gave a mischievous smile. “I’d like to think of it more as giving them a taste of their own medicine. AND… maybe after having it used against them, they’ll be less inclined to insist the practice was such a good idea in the first place.”
“Do they make Engineers a take a course in rationalization?”
“No, but I’m still damned good at it! And I should add that you needn’t worry yourselves about getting the votes. I’ll take care of that. A few reminders about what happened to their predecessors and WHY should cow enough of these phonies – either out of some form of religious fervor or simply out of fear. And it suffices to say that I just KNOW that the harder cases will come around eventually.
Moving on… Professor Todd. You and I spoke about education reform. I’m afraid I don’t have much to offer, other than to say that I’ve read all of your books, and I know that I’m placing our young minds in good hands. I would like you to get to work on an educational system that will teach critical thinking, along with reading, history, math and science, starting for the earliest ages, inoculating our children against indoctrination, dogmatism and magical thinking.”
“It’s a tall order, but I’m game to try.”
“Excellent. I’ll leave that with you then. At this point, I’d like to open the floor to other suggestions. If the goal is for all human beings to live together, sustainably, in peace, tolerance and equality, what are the big hitters? Just call them out. Gretchen and I will take them down. As long as it’s not already covered, there are no bad ideas. Shoot.”
Immediate calls of “Global Warming!” Followed by, “Environmental regulations!” “Conservation of resources!” and “Alternative Energy!”
…Before moving on to, “Separation of Church and State!” “Gay marriage, marriage equality!” “Science based education!”
…Then, “Economic inequality! Fair trade!” and “Media accountability for fairness and accuracy!”
…and once the conversation died down a bit, Gretchen finally chimed in, quietly: “World peace.”
Epiphany rolled her eyes, but Edward admonished her for it. “That’s the ultimate goal. We’ve got some work to do first, but make no mistake: That truly is the end game here, people! I’ve got good ideas on where to start too, based on our jailhouse conversations. But we’re not quite ready for that yet. Give me a couple of months, OK?”
“In the meantime,” John asked in an all-business tone, “Can we at least stop torturing people, and murdering our citizens without trial?”
All eyes fell on Edward. “Tell you what, John… I’ll see to it personally that this practice stops immediately. And what I miss, I’m sure you’ll agree that the new Supreme Court can be trusted to take care of. West? Please let the President know that we’ll be stopping by tomorrow to chat, would you?”
West, silent throughout the entire meeting, nodded. “I will take care of it.”