“We can’t do regular Stump speeches,” Seth lets me know, “After what happened with the President, it’s clear it’s not safe for Caden to be out there.”
We have all gathered in the conference room. I was officially on the global scene and it was nerve wrecking. Seth is running the meeting as the campaign manager. He is laying out his plan moving forward on the campaign trail. It should have been a straightforward meeting but it’s not turning out that way. Seth seems irritated for some reason. Every word seems sharper than before. I know why. The president had come close…too close.
“That’s what Storm wants.”
“Well, what I want to do is keep Caden safe.”
Seth stands up when he says it. There is tension that is clear as day. I look over at Rhett. I am coming to understand Rhett. What was important was the agenda to him. He would risk anything for it…including me. It makes him brave and honorable. Seth, on the other hand, has a fear in him. He’s always been on the cautious side. Maybe that’s why we ended up not working in the long run.
“We can keep him safe,” Rhett argues.
“With what? Your good looks and charisma?” Seth responds.
“Wait, what’re the personal jabs for? Weren’t you the one with him when the president ambushed him?” Rhett asks.
“Why are you even in this meeting? What’s your purpose.”
“Caden wants me here. I know that pisses you off.”
Seth drops his papers at that moment. He slams them on the desk and storms out of the room.
We all look at each other seeming a little confused on what’s going on.
Mr. Collins specifically looks at me.
“What?” I ask.
“You should go out there. You should talk to him.”
“You’re the only one who can,” Mr. Collins explains to me, “We need him.”
I knew it was going to be an issue hiring someone like Seth. I knew Seth was into government hoping to turn back all the hurt that his father did in creating GAYDAR. Seth being my campaign manager though wasn’t a good idea. It never was. I don’t trust him and I hate being around him.
But I had to do this. This wasn’t for me. This was for the agenda.
I get up and follow Seth outside of the room. I see him standing over in the hallway. He’s leaning up against the wall. He looks like he’s stressed about something. I walk over and press up against the wall with him. It’s been a long time since Seth and I have had a one on one. I know that this is going to be awkward but I feel like if we are going to work together there are a lot of things we have to get off the table.
Seth actually talks first when I walk out there. It’s clear he’s been meaning to speak for a while.
“I don’t like you with Rhett,” he explains to me.
The words are strong and low.
“Mr. Collins has us set up to get engaged. Probably get married. It’s all part of the Agenda. Shoving our gayness right in the face of America. Showing them what we are. I like the idea.”
“Do you like Rhett?”
Seth looks over at me. I look back at him. I feel myself just getting angry as though this was years ago. The nerve of this guy to sit here and really act jealous knowing what our history was.
“That’s what this is about?” I ask, “You throwing tantrums and shit because me and Rhett are going to have a political marriage?”
“You’re shoving this in my face.”
“No. You’re around and I’m living my life,” I explain, “You cheated on me. Or did you forget? Not only did you cheat on me but you sold me out.”
“Why do you think I’m here?” Seth asks me, “Everyday I’m trying to make up for the fact that I did that to you. Every day I’m seeking redemption.”
It was becoming clear that we all wanted different things from this. Rhett wanted revenge and Seth wanted redemption. It makes me understand why he acts the way he does. He isn’t in this for the same reason as a lot of other people are.
“Do you even care about the agenda at all?” I ask.
Seth gives me a long stare.
“It’s all about you.”
I wish I could believe that. It was a little too late for that kind of talk though. The truth was I had stopped being in love with Seth a long time ago. The anger that I had for him I realized wasn’t even really for him. I felt betrayed. I felt hurt but looking at Seth right now all I can think about is how fucking pathetic he is. He sold out the person he loved because he was afraid.
What happened wasn’t Seth’s fault.
What happened was Storm’s fault.
I was going to make Storm pay, dearly.
“I’m going to do whatever it takes to bring Storm down,” I explain to Seth, “You want redemption Seth?”
“More than anything.”
“Then help me. Send me out there. I don’t want to hide out here. I want to be out there with the people. I want to do whatever it takes. Even if that means risking my life. Even if that means faking a marriage. Even if that means really falling for Rhett.”
All of a sudden we are interrupted.
I turn and see who has interrupted us.
It’s Michael. Michael must have overheard the last part of what I said. It was easier to say it to Seth because Seth had lost that respect that I had for him a long time ago. Michael, however, looks immediately hurt by it. I can almost physically see the pain as he swallows it. It seems to be stuck in his throat or something.
“Sorry to interrupt,” he hesitates after overhearing what I was saying about Rhett, “Mr. Collins wanted me to come get you guys. Something is happening.”
“Can we have a few minutes?” Seth asks.
“No…this is something big. You need to see this.”
We go back into the room and I see everyone is packed up around a television. Laura turns up the volume. I look over at the television confused on what could be so important that everyone is just stopped in their tracks the way they are.
“He wasn’t joking,” Seth states.
When Seth states that I have an idea who he is talking about. Live on television I see a group of men. There are ten. They have been lined up on what looks like a building. We are all looking at the screen in horror.
There is an announcer on the screen. He’s a silver head, a representative from Storm’s A&E caucus.
“These men have been charged with the illegal act of sodomy. They have laid with other men. Because of this, they have been sentenced to death.”
I look over at Rhett. I look over at the others. Rhett grabs me almost knowing that I may need some sort of protection. He pulls me close and covers my head as though trying to shield me from the screen but he can’t. I turn. I need to see this.
This was what our country had become.
I look over at Laura. She’s tearing up. She’s showing emotion. We all are at this point. One of those men could be me.
“They wouldn’t…” I find myself saying into Rhett’s chest.
I’m lying to myself. They would.
I see the gay men being pushed violently off the ledge of the building. There bodies go crashing down. It’s the longest seconds in my life. I close my eyes at the last seconds but that doesn’t stop me from hearing the cracking bones. It doesn’t hear me from almost feeling the shattering of skulls on the pavement below. My whole body shakes knowing that there is nothing that I can do in this situation to have stopped what happened from happening. I feel so fucking helpless.
And deep inside I know one thing.
I know this is my fault. Storm had promised me he would do this. Storm had did this because of me.
The entire room gets quiet. No one has anything to say. We feel defeated in a way. All of this fighting back and in the end, we couldn’t save people like us. That person dropping to their deaths could have been me. It could have been Rhett. It could have been Seth or Michael. It could have been Laura.
Rhett seems reluctant knowing how defeated everyone looks he offers a brave face instead, “He’s just trying to scare us. He’s just trying to shake us up from going on the campaign trail.”
Rhett is right. What he isn’t aware of however is the fact that it works. Everyone is shaken up. Everyone is scared.
Mr. Collins looks around the room, “Seth is right. Storm is too dangerous. We will video record all our campaign speeches from the safety of here. No one leaves. No one.”
Mr. Collins saying what he is saying definitely makes it law. No one wants to leave. The months pass by quicker than I would like. The primaries were over and of course, President Storm was the top runner against a Democratic opponent. I came out of nowhere running as an Independent.
“My fiancé and I would like to send a message to the world,” Rhett speaks out, “We want to let everyone know that we are not afraid of Storm. We want to let everyone know that love conquers all. Fear conquers nothing.”
I’m sitting in a chair beside Rhett. He has a brave face on. We both do. Rhett is a natural at this. At times I wonder why he didn’t choose to run for president. He looks the part. He looks like his father. He’s been raised in the political scene so he has that way of speaking to people that are clear and precise. He even has a political smile. I watch how he brightly smiles, pushing back all his fears.
He leans over and grabs my hand.
The camera goes off.
“Amazing. Just amazing,” Mr. Collins is saying.
“We’re at 30% in the polls,” Seth states at that moment.
I watch everyone around us start clapping. The election is coming up. We have inundated the market with our propaganda videos. Seth has a huge smile on his face. It was all his idea. He’s gotten Mr. Collins to believe in him and put all the money behind his vision. Rhett and I are being marched out as this beautiful couple. Seth seems to have a problem with it but he doesn’t throw anymore tantrums. I’m assuming the talk that I had with him worked.
Michael has been another story though. Michael sticks to the sidelines and almost disappears into the shadow as though he’s not there. He’s been working a lot on creating new androids like 3818 from straight men that they capture. It works for them, but I can almost see Michael changing. The kind, happy face is being replaced everytime he sees his lover holding my hand, kissing me, making me feel as though I’m the only one that matters to him.
It’s a beautiful look, but none of it matters.
“We’re going to lose,” I announce out of nowhere.
I say it soon as the camera cuts. I walk off the set dressed in Laura’s best outfit. I look like a million bucks but I feel like shit.
“What are you talking about?” Seth asks me, “We’re doing well in the polls. Sure Storm is leading but we are independent. We have time. We have a real shot here to catch up.”
“It’s not enough,” I respond.
Mr. Collins seems to try to calm me down, “Caden we’re doing our best here.”
“IT’S NOT ENOUGH!” I scream at the top of my lungs, “Do you know what today is? President Storm is going to execute 10 more gay men because of me today. Do you know what the tally is? Of course not, you know the polls. That’s all. We don’t have the luxury of worrying about the polls. We have to win this. We have to defeat Storm decisively so that everyone knows that this can never happen again in our history.”
“Send a message,” Rhett states, “I like it.”
“Right,” I tell Rhett knowing he would be on my side in this situation, “Storm knows that he has competition. That’s why he feels so threatened. People out there are not evil. They want the best for us. They don’t want to see Storm rise to the level of Hitler in the present day.’
“We need to destroy him.”
“How do you propose we do that?” Mr. Collins asks.
We all get silent. I didn’t think that far.
“Going to the surface,” I state.
“You’ve lost your mind,” Seth returns.
“People need to see me. They need to know I’m not afraid.”
“The presidential debate is coming up,” Michael states out of nowhere, “We’ve been invited.”
Everyone gets quiet.
“Absolutely not,” Seth stated, “We already missed two debates. We can survive missing the final debate as well.”
“What president do you know won the presidency without attending?” I ask.
“Unless you aren’t aware things have changed in the world. We have a president who is a murderer. The fact that you are rising in popularity is going to make him want to end you.
Rhett is clearly on my side with this, “Listen to…”
“ENOUGH!” Mr. Collins cuts him off, “We need to be safe. The last thing we can do is lose Caden. We’ll just post more videos during that time to make up for the debates. Slow and steady wins the race. We won’t do any public appearances. And that’s final.”
“Who do you think you are?” I ask.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” I ask.
Mr. Collins and I look at one another. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of him throwing around his weight like this. This was ending now.
“I am the one keeping you safe. I am the one financing your campaign,” he tells me, “You do what I say and I’m saying you don’t leave.”
“How do you plan on stopping me?” I ask.
“3818…please escort Mr. Crosby to his room.”
I don’t even see the Android approach me. My heart races with anger when the Android stands by my side. He won’t take no for an answer. He’s ready to escort me to my room whether I like it or not. ‘
I can’t believe that Mr. Collins is doing this. I can’t believe that Seth has his back in this. I head to my room and I’m so angry. 3818 is just looking at me. He’s just watching me.
“What the hell are you looking at?” I ask him.
He doesn’t respond. He looks at me like I have three heads. I can’t believe this is the ghost of Shad. Nothing is in him. Nothing at all. I don’t get it. My heart races wondering if there is actually anything else in there but this ghost.
“Do you recognize me? Do you see me at all?”
“Order?” he asks.
“I don’t want to give you an order. I want to know if there is a soul behind all of that?”
I walk forward at that moment. I look 3818 in the eyes. I look at that face of his. It was Shad at one point. It was someone who was kind to me for no other reason but to be kind for me. I had nothing I could repay him with. I didn’t know him from a can of paint and he literally risked his life to save me. That took a soul.
Could they have possibly have gotten rid of all of that soul?
“Do you even know who I am?”
There is a pause.
I roll over. I can’t. I just have to ignore this guy. I have to get out of here though. There was no way I was going to win the presidency from underground. Seth was too scared to understand that and he’d spread his fear right over to Mr. Collins.
I didn’t care about my life. As long as I beat Storm and proved to everyone that there was a better way.
I had to prove to everyone that there would be a city in the sky.
“Hurry,” a voice says.
“What the fuck?”
I look over at 3818. Our eyes connect. There is something there. It isn’t robotic. It isn’t fake. There is something there.
“Shad?” I ask.
He nods at that moment, “You want to leave here? I just did an override on my protocols. I don’t answer to Mr. Collins or anyone else right now. I answer to you.”
I look at this Robot. I watch as he grabs me. I watch as he breaks down the door. And from this moment on I knew that I had nothing to fear. 3818 was there to protect me. He was there to guide me.
Muscle. Power. And Fear. I was going to go on that stage and I was going to win this presidency.
“Yes…oh yes,” I mutter underneath my breath as we storm out of the GA headquarters.