“Senator Firefly, the floor is yours,” the Speaker said, sitting down in his chair, as Gary rose. Gary flashed a smile to the room and took his time slowly walking to stand at the podium in the center. His suit was charcoal with a maroon shirt and a crimson tie. After an offhand comment from Randidly, Ms. Terrygate had spent an increased amount of time sewing as she attempted to raise her Skill
At first, Gary had been dubious whether such effort was worth it, and whether sewing would be a Skill worth having. But his current suit was a testament to the amount of improvement that was possible over a month when there was a concerted effort. Plus, it had the strange side effect of increasing his Reaction and Focus by 5 stat points each! Gary had never heard of such a thing.
It had been so shocking that Gary hadn’t quite figured out how to use it to make a profit yet, which was quite unlike him.
President Howard sat with folded arms watching Gary walk up towards the podium. The System had done away with “parties” as a concept, and there hadn’t been enough time for new ideologies to emerge, but Gary Firefly and Alan Howard had always been opposed. Mostly on the issue of where funds should be allocated.
Gary wanted the money to go through the military first, with more emphasis on training and ‘hardening’ the Tier System. Meanwhile, Alan poured money into West Providence like he was giving water to a fish bleating weakly on land. President Howard also argued against defining the Tier System too rigidly, in fear of creating a caste system.
Didn’t the fool realize it was far too late for that? If they were going to have the damn thing, they might as well make it clear, and not rely on the mysticism of an AI to determine. It would give the lower class workers hope to rise. Right now, there were so many damn probationary citizenship applications coming through that the Bureau of Citizenship was in shambles. They needed money too.
But today’s agenda concerned two issues, one of which was at least ancillary related to citizenship: the rising number of refugees and their new neighbor Rawlands.
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for letting me be the first speaker today, as we discuss these critical issues facing our great nation," Gary said, knowing full well that most would love for him to not to possess the dubious honor of starting with the floor. Yet, here he was, mostly due to the extra clout that Gary had from Randidly.
"We are here today to talk about whether to recognize this Zone 32, this Rawlands as an independent nation. Obviously, this is a point of contention, as it was a nation that was previously under the umbrella of the United States of America, the predecessor to the UHF. But of course, like us, this Zone dragged itself up by its bootstraps, through every trial and tribulation thrown at it, to arrive here. This is an accomplishment deserving of our admiration. They were not prepared, as we were. They were not warned. They could only struggle against each new threat that arrived before them in turn, doing their utmost to survive."
Gary smiled. "You might be wondering how I know these things. That is because a traveler from Rawlands stopped into my orchards a few weeks ago, and we've become very good friends. His name is Randidly Ghosthound, and he is a great warrior. Although the technology of there Zone was practically stuck in the stone age, they were still able to leverage the System to receive significant benefits. I might also wager that these benefits are superior to our own. The Classes they have access to are different than ours both in focus and diversity. Mr. Ghosthound told me once that over in Rawlands, they believed that your Class does not just come from the criteria given to us by the Village Spirits, but also is shaped by your understanding of the world.
"When is the last time we saw a Class not related to our chosen profession? Why do we lack this diversity?
"I cannot speak to the undoubtedly compelling that President Howard will soon present for us today, but I would like to make my stance known; the commune of knowledge and connection of trade between our Zones can lead to nothing but benefits. I believe that Rawlands should be recognized as a sovereign nation."
Now, Gary paused, looking at the bored and glazed eyes arrayed before them. There were enough briefings and secret meetings prior to this that Gary didn't doubt most knew how they would vote. What he needed was something to stir the pot. Not that he believed that in the end, Rawlands wouldn't be recognized but his sights were set further afield, and this was just one round of a grand game.
"...in the interest of giving my fellow congress members a clear picture of how things stand, I have brought Mr. Ghosthound to today's session. He is currently waiting outside. If there is a majority who shares my feelings, perhaps it would be best if we question him directly."
Randidly's eyelid twitched. "Ma'am, there has been an attack at the power plant. Power is out. We've been sent to escort civilians to a disaster station until we can apprehend the culprits-"
"I don't believe you," The woman said spitefully, her wrinkled face squeezing together. "You don't truly believe in what's going on. If you are going to lie to my face, then why would I come with you? What if you are a salesman?"
What is this salesman, that this woman would fear them so? Lucretia asked, slightly puzzled.
Randidly didn't have the energy to answer her. He had been hard at work for almost an hour now, moving people from apartment buildings and condominiums and having them escorted back to the disaster station. In the apartments, once one person left, most people followed, drawn by Randidly's crew's air horns. Their speed also rose noticeably when the first sounds of gunfire echoed in the distance.
All in all, Randidly had led his team of 6 to clear 5 buildings already. They were moving so much faster than the soldier expected that Randidly sent one or two people into each building to pry out recalcitrants who didn't exit when everyone else did. With plant dominance, it wasn't hard to extend his senses into every houseplant and bit of mold in the building, resulting in a pretty comprehensive search. Things were easier in the buildings.
Now they moved into higher end condos, and there was significantly more trouble.
"Ma'am, the power is clearly out," Randidly said calmly, wondering what crime he committed in a past life to deserve this inanity. "You can hear gunfire. There is no cell service. This is an emergency, and I would appreciate if you-"
The woman, a 60ish-year-old woman with a thick new jersey accent, held out a phone to him. "I dialed 911, and it's ringing. Now, do you see why I can't come with you? You just told me the cell service is out, and here it is, ringing like normal."
The line clicked, and then a voice emerged. "Thank you for calling 911, what is your emergency?"
Randidly wanted to slap himself in the face. Of course Zone 1 took the time to set back up cellular service, and of course, they didn't bother to improve it enough that old phones wouldn't work. "Look, that was just a guess on my part. But you really need to come with me. Look, your neighbors are departing."
"Bah, they are Gentiles. They are as gullible as lambs," the woman said, waving her hand dismissively. The family in question was a youngish couple with what looked like twin 5-year-old boys. They carried their children and hurried after one of Randidly's team members towards the shelter.
As Randidly considered his options, he felt a pulse of warning from Acri; it had encountered a monster in the nearby area that was Level 19. It looked like the rise in Levels was beginning to accelerate.
Again, Randidly tried to open his mouth to say something, but the woman held up a forestalling hand. "Get off my front lawn or I'm calling the cops. And believe me, I've made calls before, they know they need to respond promptly to my calls."
Then Randidly's radio squawked. "Viking, report. High sighting for your group?"
Grimacing, Randidly raised the radio to his mouth and replied, "19."
Randidly's squad had heard Tatiana say it, and now they were saying it too. The worst of it all was they all gave him weird looks, but said nothing. Inwardly, Randidly deeply wished someone would say something, anything, just so he could come clean and make a joke out of it. As it was, it sounded like some lame codename a tween thought up.
The woman, of all fucking people, snorted. "Did they just call you Viking? Do you think you are a spy? Okay, okay, get off my land. I've had enough."
She closed the door in his face. Randidly waited three seconds, then knocked. There was the sound of dragging furniture, and Randidly could see through the glass window on the door that the old woman was pulling a fainting couch over to block the door. When she noticed his gaze, she flipped him off.
"Fine," Randidly said, and he turned on his heel and walked away. There were still about 30 people left in the neighborhood. Beyond the neighborhood, there was one more apartment building, but Randidly had already sent two of his people ahead to talk to those gathered there and start bringing as many people as they could back.