The Victim

Chapter Three: Ascent

Bait

The postal workers union’s president (our secret ally) gave me a terrifying piece of information. Natdec’s regional commissar, essentially a puppet for people with actual power, contacted him. Now I know it’s people from my own party that want to burn me. It must be a high-ranking officer gunning for me. But who? Maybe uncle knows. I must speak to my friend from school now. The driver takes me there quickly, and she opens her apartment door after I ring.

“I just landed the postal office union. The president told me we’re being screwed by someone high-up in natdec,” I say. “F-wording ingrates…” she says, disgusted by the very word “natdec.” It has upset her since uncle retired funding for the old tol. “Now, remember, they’re just a means to an end,” I say. “Those f-wording hypocrites think they can—” she goes on as I sigh. “Can we please focus?” I interrupt her, irritated, and she pays attention to me.

She suddenly realizes something. “Don’t tell your uncle yet,” she says. “Why?” I ask. “He could tip off whoever is pulling the strings if he starts asking questions.” I nod. “I shouldn’t tell him about our secret ally either,” I say. “I’ll tell our secret ally to keep quiet for now.” She smiles and says “I have an idea. What if we use our secret ally to find the traitor?” I look at her, marveled. “What exactly are you proposing?”

“Alright, now, we know it’s someone high-rank, right?” I nod. “Our secret ally has refused to help them… so far. What if he suddenly decided that, for the right price, he could change his mind? Maybe he’s heard rumors, maybe he just feels he’s hold on long enough. Then all we need is to follow him and see who calls him or goes to see him.” I nod. “I’ll tell him that—” “Not yet,” she interrupts me. “It’s best if it looks like he jumped on the train at the last minute.”

Her plan troubles me. “But if we spread rumors about me being close to surrender,” I say, “more people will turn against me.” “So be it,” she says. “That way you’ll catch them off guard when you cut the serpent’s head and we turn this rebellion upside down.” I think about it for a minute, weighing the risks and rewards. I don’t have anything better to find whoever is behind this.

“Ok, can you handle it?” I ask. She nods. “They’ll get overconfident,” she says. “Everyone will say you’re on the verge of surrender. Also, I’ll have my rock feed counterfeit news to some reporters.” “I also have reporters in a few counterfeit news networks that would eagerly publish anything we feed them,” I say. She smiles thinking of the same network as me. “I’m a little scared about this though, it doesn’t leave me in a very good position.”

She grabs my shoulders and says. “If there’s someone who can pull this off it’s you.” “It’ll be a lot of pressure…” I sigh. She nods. “Just imagine what a victory it’ll be if we stop this before the strike begins,” she says. After a couple of hours discussing our strategy, I leave for home. I sleep four hours before I head back to the office. My rock joins me there. We make lists of people who can support me, of people who owe me favors, and of people I can owe favors to.

Then we spend the day on the phone and meeting people in person. From noon till dusk I try to rally support, injecting myself coffee after coffee to stay focused. The number of people treating me like a political leper is appalling. I add all of them to my blacklist. Ironically, I find more support in the conservatives than in my own party. They understand that a general strike in summer is simply bad. Without police, there will be riots and looting. Without firefighters, fires will get out of control. Without garbage collection and with the scorching heat, our streets will be disgusting.

Finally the fourth of august comes. We’re four days away from the beginning of the strike, and I’m starting to feel anxious. The press reports that “… according to internal sources, the incumbent governor will resign before the start of the strike if no solution is found. Trade unions have publicly agreed to negotiate terms to stop the strike, but only with someone other than the incumbent governor, as they claim she isn’t open to dialogue. Maybe it’s time citizens demand she steps down, now that—” I turn off the tv.

What a load of crap. I’ve offered those greedy union puppets more than they’ve asked for, publicly. But it’s ok, I can stand being grilled by the press. I feel like a juggler, trying to keep the plates spinning. Every time there’s a new rumor or story on the press, my few supporters waver. But today is important because there’s an important benefit gala to support some rare children’s disease. Or maybe it’s to support research to fight that disease? I always confuse the two.

Anyway, our secret ally has already sold me out as I commanded him to do. He’s called natdec’s regional commissar to say he’s willing to negotiate so his request reaches his masters. Me and my friend from school are also attending the gala, which some are calling my “political funeral.” We’ll watch whom he talks to, but we must not be too obvious.

As my driver takes me there, I feel like this is it, I’m fighting for my life. What’s there for me if I lose? Some manager’s job at some company? Before I became governor, I thought power was hardly worth it. But now that I’ve tasted it… I want more. I’ll admit it, I want to survive this at any cost. I want more than a simple bill in state congress and a few ephemeral social programmes. I deserve it for all the crap I’ve put up with during—

“Are you ok, ma’am?” asks the driver noticing I’m distracted. “Yes, thanks,” I reply. “What do you think about the strike?” I ask. He smiles. “Well, ma’am, I think they picked on the wrong governor.” Damn straight. “Thanks for the support,” I say. “It’s… it’s more important than it looks.” He tips his hat. Shortly after we get to the gala. I take a deep breath before I step out of the limousine.

A couple of reporters flock to me, poking for answers. “When are you going to resign?” “Aren’t you ashamed?” “What do you have to say about—” But their buzzing gets lost when I enter the building where the gala will be held and they have to stay outside. I smile at them from the door and force myself to remember their faces. I’ll look them up later and add them to the blacklist.

As I walk around the gala, people stop to stare. I’m wearing a dress that reveals my legs. But that’s not all people look at. They see me as a political corpse being buried. They don’t use their masks of false pleasantness on me anymore. They simply grin at my misfortune. But I keep my chin up and show them I’m not afraid. It’s the perfect excuse to watch our secret ally.

I spend most of the party with my friend from school, receiving stabs from the hyenas. “Hopefully next year you’ll have more time to attend galas. I’m sure any non-profit would be lucky to have you,” says one of the women in the board of whatever foundation organized this party. I just smile and take it. Everyone there assumes I’m going to give up. Even our secret ally probably thinks the best for him is to just take whatever they offer him.

After four painful hours, no potential traitor has approached our secret ally. “Are you girls up for dinner? I have a few friends that may be able to help you,” says uncle, who’s also attending the gala. I want to stay and keep watching my bait, but my friend from school says “Don’t worry, my rock can take over.” Uncle’s friends are two rich couples with more appetite for gossip than relevance, but at this point I’ll take anything.

Finally the evening is over and I get home to my bed. But I can’t sleep. I feel the walls choking me, there’s no room for me to breathe.