The Watcher stands beside her, trench-coat with a shuttered collar, gloved hands burrowed into billowing pockets. A round hat, turning his face into shadow. "Not having enough money to drink ka'kazaa all night long isn't the end. Come on." Gloved hand reaches out for hers, waits in the air, stiff in the spitting breeze. She doesn't look up, but she waits. A few minutes pass, she locks her hand with his, he brings her to her feet.
He waves a cab from the electric line for her. It sizzles its way through the rain to them, the door opens. He hands her a damp dollar bill, she puts it into the cab, types in her address. The cab door closes and it hisses away. His coat rustles in the breeze left from the cab, hands back in his pockets. Five seconds later, mini-copters fall onto the curb. People fall from the doors, clumsy like leeches. Recordo-phones grasped in their hands. They scavenge the curb, the entrance to the club with their eyes, hunched necks, as if looking for something left behind. Cabs peel up to the curb, more people explode from them.
He stands, still looking beyond the curb, hands in his pockets. They eventually cluster around him, shoving recordo-phones into his face, their voices scampering through his ears.
"Jade Swendal came by here just now, didn't she, sir?" The less experienced ones.
"Excuse me, did you see Jade Swendal sitting on the curb? Could you believe what happened?" The deceitful veterans.
He waits. "I have four eyewitnesses," a more authoritative voice says. "Against. I need, in your words, for you to contribute to this case." The lawyer-reporters. These, the worst, most dangerous of the pack. Will descend into the club, smash their recordo-phones over the bouncer and bartender's head. Will hound the city itself for information. A case will be drawn, lawyers versus lawyers. A result will be reached, put into the Case section of the E-paper. Will be big, but not too big. People aren't interested in the Case section anymore. Hundreds, thousands of cases a day.
He clears his throat and the pack goes silent, leaning over each other with recordo-phones erect and waiting. "Fuck off," he says. Waves his arm at the cab line. The light blinks its acknowledgment, the cab comes beeping towards him. He steps into it.
Behind him, the recordo-phones go limp with dismay. The lawyer-reporters are the ones who recover first, pour into the club.
Jade tries to make her own ka'kazaa in the kitchen. Grabs a blender, caffeine pills, vodka, 200 proof Sunshine, a pint of coconut milk. Just the right amount, a little more. Presses the button, the blender runs silently. She stares out the kitchen window. Rain dizzily dribbles down it, blurring the network of sparkling cablines, the smudged stars of apartment complexes.
Footsteps behind her. "Jade?" Behind her, her mother. Haggard, gray-blond hair bound in a ponytail. One hand holding a pink robe closed. Jade turns, tries to cover the blender with her back. "What are you-"
"What are you doing up." Jade turns a question into an accusation.
"I heard the door," her mother explains, already backing away.
"I got home late from school."
"Okay." The mother puts her free hand up in the air, as if to demonstrate that she means no harm.
Jade snake-smiles back at her. The mother slowly backs through the doorway, up the stairs, closes the door, falls backwards into bed with a sigh that blows hopeless and heavy. Jade drinks the entire blender-full of ka'kaza. The Watcher practically kicks open the door, grabs her wrist. "What the fuck are you doing?"
"I'm home now," Jade says, indecisive with defiance and fear. "No reporters here."
"In front of the window?" he asks, ripping down the shade, gestures towards the three doorways. "Two neighbors still asleep. In the common kitchen?" He swells with rage, a huge frame which seems to inflate until filling the room, squashing Jade against the sink. With a trembling hand, she pours the blender in the sink. Already feels the twisting drill of Ka'kaza spiraling through her brain. Goes limp.
"Damn it," he says, catches her as she wobbles limply towards the floor. Through the doorway, up the private staircase, drops her into her bed. Falls asleep seated in a chair facing the bed. The chair has been there since election preseason started.
He calls Senatorial candidate Frasier the next morning, to tell him that his sister's husband's sister's daughter was caught on the curb of the club, broken down for lack of ka'kazaa.
"Well- shit. What- I mean, what the shit- now, I really wonder why we don't lock her up with the stuff. Would keep her happy- and me, us, all of us, too. You'd be- well, you'd be unemployed, though, huh?"
The Watcher stares down into the Comusicbox, the crystal clear image of Frasier's twitching, erratic, gray-haired visage. Like a trillion tiny worms of color, writhing on the screen. He waits at this seizing pause, because he knows Frasier will make it clear when he wants him to talk.
"What'd they get, huh? What- what is the allegation these vultures have found this time?"
"The bouncer and the club owner now have lawyers. Some L.R's accused them of, what, uh...."
"Endangering an Electoral? What- forcefeeding a seventeen year-old ka'kaza?"
"Ka'kaza is legal at 16 now," he says.
"Fucking, what the fuck when did that- well, what, what should we do? Market W isn't sponsoring me for this shit, you know- they want results, not the face of some fuck-up of a removed niece smeared all over the World Network. That doesn't look good on their product reports and it certainly won't help the campaign." The image goes blank.
He slips the Comusicbox into his jacket, looks at the window. The pale, broken daylight dulls the billboards, sprouting like mushrooms among the slumped buildings. Already, a grainy picture of Jade with her head in her hands, sitting on the curb. Flickers bright in the sunlight, changes to an unflattering image of Senator-candidate Frasier. The rotten apple doesn't fall far from the family tree, the billboard claims in a hellish crimson font. Culminates by flipping to opponent Scott Mcarfee's beaming face, heroic against the faded skyline. A red and a green bar glow beside the face, showing that the current population supports Mcarfee by a healthy margin. The numbers are probably made up, but no one is interested in that anymore. Perhaps there is an asterisk hanging from the chart, microscopic beside the bulbous percentage signs, stating that these numbers are from a fifty person sample size, including mostly the Mcarfee campaigners and his immediate family.
He chuckles to himself.
"What are you laughing about?" Jade groans, a hand swept over her forehead, eyes squinting in the dusty sunlight, like a princess from old stories. He points out the window, she watches with dull eyes as the billboard revolves again. "Motherfucker," she says, grabs her Comusicbox from the table, turns it onto the Election channel.
"....race will begin in three months, evidence already against Frasier. Photos here, here. Show a very young Jade on the curb. Almost obviously addicted to ka'kazaa. Reports given by ex-therapist. Ka'kazaa dependency." This last part, said again in the melodic chanting of News Speak. "Jade, of Senatorial hopeful Frasier, has a ka'kazaa dependency." The pictures again, with new ones already uploaded behind the reporter. "Here, Jade, on the curb, with her Watcher."
She pouts, updates her World account: "Is seriously misunderstood by reporters. Just wanted to see friends at the club, got blown off, real depressed." Back to the News. In two minutes, this entry is floating around behind the reporter. "News from Jade, says just waiting for friends, what do lawyers have to say about it? Bouncer and bartender, witnesses. Also being prosecuted for not testifying against...."
"Turn that off," he says. "It's time for school."
At school, Jade sits in front of the Teach-Matic Board, retypes, mouths the lessons aloud with the other students. Jade is in Class Level IV, a level below her normal age group, but this is because she gets so impatient with the Student Input Board (SIP) that, by the end of each day, she jabs at it in resentment. Many other students do the same. They end school, age eighteen, in Class Level IV, becoming invalid for application at Writer, Lawyer, Accountant, Advertiser, Marketer School. Jade thinks she doesn't care about this.
Three 'o'clock, the Teach-Matic Board shuts off with an anticlimactic blip. Jade slips down the hallway, looking over her shoulder, looking around corners, gallops down the stairs, through the Delivery Exit, out into the humid air, foggy with spring sunlight. Past cab stops, Internet Stalls. The cab lines are sparse during the afternoon, cabs only occasionally whining by them. Jade wears large sunglasses and a hat to protect herself from wandering reporters. Down one of the damp alleys, littered by broken Comusicbox discs and outdated Comusicbox supplements, where the Trash Chute and the Water Converter Lines burst above the ground, the great, iron lifelines of the city.
In these damp shadows, she puts her palms to her eyes and tries to keep from crying. Even from here, there is a billboard facing her, radiating with her previously secret World Account messages. She wonders which friend sold them to the News Merchants. Probably all of them, she thinks. She hasn't been able to see anyone but her mother since the election preseason began.
All around her, she can hear the City Screens bellowing with candidate speeches. She can't tell whether Frasier or Mcarfee is speaking. Underneath this rumbling, the cabs whine through the city like mosquitoes. There is no other news broadcast throughout the city. Jade hears her name over and over again, spilling from strangers' lips, and curls deeper into the alley, against the moist wall.
She wonders why the reporters never see the correlation between her ka'kazaa consumption and Senatorial Candidate Frasier's decision to run for Senator. She wonders why they don't try and find out why she was sitting alone, in the rain, outside a club. With no one there but her shadow of a Watcher. Friends were wary of her now, afraid of being torn to shreds by the media frenzy, only going behind her back to sell party pictures of her or to forge World messages and pawn them to the Merchants.
When she finally lifts her palms from her eyes, he is looking down at her with a blank expression. She is startled into indignation, especially when she sees the flat, black wells of his unsympathetic eyes. He sees the curling of her lip and puts one hand on her shoulder. "You'll be okay," he says, clumsily, hollowly.
She snorts. "Fuck you."
He shrugs, his hand wilts away. ""You want me to suspend your school ID for the next few months or do you want me in the classroom?"
She double-blinks. "What?"
He adjusts his hat, so his eyes drip with shadows. "You are supposed to report directly to me, outside the School's public entrance, every day after school. You failed. What's it gonna be? No school or a school chaperone?"
"Fuck you!" she shrieks. Shoulders him aside, bolts down the alley. The City Screens still boom with election updates, every so often saying her name with an inflated sense of disgust. Jade. She thuds with flat feet down the alley, turns into a Residence street until slowing down in one of the parks, a few square feet of turf with a tree and a rosebush. Water trickles around it in grooves. A black bench sits underneath the shade of the tree.
She is openly weeping now, hand to her forehead, tossing her hair over her face. She puts her head against the tree. A few seconds later, something snaps around her wrist and she is tugged away from the tree. He has latched her with a Cuff Bracelet. "Ready to go back to your house and sit there for the rest of the night?" he asks. "It will give you time to decide about school tomorrow."
She sniffs and walks with him, having no choice, not even in her answers.
The next week, Christians United sponsors Mcarfee's campaign. Mcarfee's speeches include additional comments about God, he wears ugly black T-shirts that say C.U on stubby shirt pockets. The Watcher sees all of this on his Comusicbox, in the kitchen, while Jade types her homework into her SIP upstairs. Frasier's face flickers into existence right after Mcarfee's new speech.
"Can you- fuck, can you believe this? I thought we- we had won with W Market's sponsorship, but this is bad. What- do you think we should lock her up or should we go the reconstructive route?"
"Reconstructive might get more attention," he replies.
"Excuse me, Mr. Watcher, or whatever you're called," Jade's mother says, appearing from the doorway, cradling a cup of steaming tea. "Am I to understand that you manhandled my daughter at a park today? You put her in handcuffs?"
He pulls his contract up on his Comusicbox, complete with the tiny pictures of Jade and her signing it, scrolls down, and presses a button. The Comusicbox's pleasant baritone announces the highlighted text: "The Watcher, if s/he deems necessary, may physically do with the Watched as s/he deems necessary for the ultimate protection of the public, private, personal, mental, emotional, psychological Cause. For more on Cause, press or say 'Cause.'"
He looks at the mother, she looks at him. "I didn't know what we were getting into," she says slowly. "I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this."
"For more on Cause, press or say 'Cause,'" the Comusicbox chirps again.
"Sorry." He makes a face, turns it off.
"It's okay," she says, for no reason.
He has done several Reconstruction cases. They cost campaigns gigantic amounts of money and the results are always dubious at best. The Frasier campaign signs Jade up for a Private Institution. Class Level IV here is as easy as Class Level I in Sponsored Institutions, so Jade's grades almost immediately improve. Each class is a private class, with Jade and the Teach-Matic. Because of this, she is soon recognized by the PI as "the top of her class."
The classroom is a cube. He stands at the wall the whole time, staring into the distance. She sits at the SIP as the questions slowly appear in front of her. They don't fade until she has gotten the right answer. Marvels at her improvement, not realizing the disparity between the schools. The campaign also creates a foundation, Frasier Against Ka'Kazaa for Young People When They Consume it in Excess. They call it Excess for short. Jade leads the rallies by appearing on stage, sometimes reading something embedded in the podium screen. People cheer for her. He watches all of this, amused.
Once a month, he has a day off, while Jade and the rest of the Frasier's immediate family get together to discuss campaign strategy. He spends this day at a Residence Park, one of the ones with rivers steadily running down carefully polished grooves on either side of colorful gardens, ending in dual waterfalls which pour into a small pond. The pond drains into the main water supply and is cleverly distributed for any commercial purpose of WashDryClean Corp's products.
He sits back in one of the benches, relaxing in the sunlight. A man with curly blond hair, a drooping face, and dull eyes sits next to him, clasping his hands. Observing proper bench etiquette, neither man speaks to the other. Until, suddenly, the man with blond hair reaches into his suit and produces a pamphlet which is branded with big letters: "Christians United." The man drops the pamphlet into his hands.
He stares at it, hesitantly opens it. Inside, lies a bundle of money and a neatly printed question: "Can you help those in need?"
The man with curly hair stares directly in front of him, at the grimy brick wall beyond the murmuring river. "I have recently heard that Jade may not need a Watcher anymore, since her Restoration has been so successful."
The Watcher stretches against the bench in response, then puts his left leg over his knee. Delicately extracts his Comusicbox from his inner pocket, looks at it. An e-mail has been forwarded to him: Watcher found by W Market to have questionable past. Please fix.
"C.U is here for you," the man with curly blond hair says. "The Mcarfee Campaign is here for you."
He takes a deep breath.
"W Market is relentless, profit-driven," the man whispers. "C.U will take you in and forgive you. This is what we do." The man hands him another pamphlet, pregnant with bundles. "Consider this a donation, please." He nods, stands, and walks down between the rivers, to the pond, disappears down an alley.
The Watcher turns on his Comusicbox and accesses his World Account. This is his Watcher Profile: Robert T. Walker. Nine Years, Military Involvement. Two Years, Watcher Training. This is the questionable past: Son of Son of Senator Walker (Sponsor: C.U).
Robert T. Walker joined the military to escape the same election hounds that now stalk Jade. His grandfather, Senator Walker, hired a Watcher for the young Robert T. Walker every election preseason and every election season. After his grandfather again ran for Senator as an incumbent, Robert T. Walker decided he had enough of the News Merchants, the City Screens, and the Lawyer-Reporters. He dropped his name to guarantee that they stopped following him, destroyed his World Account, authorized his Death Certificate, as provided by the Military, and then took a grant to attend Watcher Academy.
He is intimately familiar with Jade's situation but, because Robert T. Walker is dead, he finds that he can no longer relate to it. But now, he muses, the ghost of Robert T. Walker has come back to haunt him with the ghost of his grandfather, the once-marginally important Senator Walker. He again tries to summon sympathy for Jade, before his eyes fall to the pamphlets in his hands.
The Frasier Campaign's biggest sponsor is W Market. Almost all of the campaign finances come from them. Hence, Frasier emphasizes the need to 'fully globalize and internationalize the economy,' since W Market's noble goal is to give as many jobs to the cheapest laborers as possible. Frasier runs on a platform of W Market's design: Pro-Capitalism. Stick to the Constitution, the billboards read. The C.U's nobler goal is to avoid spending money on the States that will end up in the hands of non-Christians.
Within a few minutes, his Comusicbox buzzes with Frasier's impatient face, peering out at the screen, waiting for the ex-Robert T. Walker to answer. The ex-Robert T. Walker cracks his back against the bench and puts the phone back in his pocket. There's no need to hear about the e-mail in some glamorous message from Frasier. The bottom line was that he is no longer a Watcher. Now, the question is whether he would decide to help Jade or whether he would help those in need.
"That's why I stopped, and you should never, drink ka'kazaa… in excess!" Jade proclaims triumphantly to the microphone. This last phrase must be said at the end of every speech, to clear up any confusion as to the recreational uses of ka'kazaa. Overconsumption is frowned upon but, as W Market is the leading seller of ka'kazaa worldwide, consumption is clinically proven to lower stress. The children in front of her clap, she flushes with the burn of a job well done, and hops off the stage. She expects to see her Watcher, as she is habituated to his hovering shadow, but she instead sees two men in business suits and Info-glasses. News Merchants.
"Jade," the shorter one says. "You are aware of a man named Robert T. Walker?"
"Uh, no," she says.
"Robert T. Walker the Watcher," the taller one adds.
"Oh, well, that's probably my Watch-"
"Was your Watcher, commissioned by the Frasier Campaign to protect you from the vicious Mcarfee Campaign. Would you like to elaborate on his shortcomings as a protector?"
She shrugs. "I mean, he wasn't, like, a blast to be with. He kept me from doing things I wanted."
"Encroached on Personal Freedom (E-PF)," the shorter man mutters.
Jade considers, decides to get worked up about something she had previously gotten over. "And, holy shit, yesterday he slammed me against this tree or whatever and just handcuffed me for, like, no reason."
"Unwarranted Aggression (UA)," the taller man says.
"Encroached on Personal Freedom II (E-PF II)," the shorter man says with a nod.
It's unclear whether they are talking to her or not, or that they care about her additional input either way. The Info-glasses are instantaneously recording her remarks, transmitting them to the World Forum. Robert T. Walker will soon be a known perpetrator of E-PF, E-PF II, and UA, three charges which will make him ineligible as a Watcher for any future campaign. Just like this, Robert T. Walker's violent history makes him unemployable.
It is when the ex-Robert T. Walker sees Jade talking about him in this way, in a widely broadcast video on the City Screens, that he decides that all is fair in this war of gossip. No one, he thinks, is real enough to be spared from the fantasies of elections.
The Frasier Campaign's quick maneuvering fails to counter the Mcarfee Campaign because, as the Mcarfee billboards read: God is on Mcarfee's Side. Robert T. Walker, ex-Watcher, is shepherded onto a stage watched by the other eager members of the Christians United flock. They cheer for him unconditionally. The Pope hovers behind him on the screen, waving his withered, bejeweled hand, making the crowd go berserk with blessings.
"I have been transformed!" Robert T. Walker reads from the teleprompter. "You may have heard the tales of my old life, as a Watcher, but I have been born again, with the help of C.U!"
The roars ebb and flow, tides drawn to his every word.
"The Frasier Campaign actually sponsors the complete destruction of religion," Walker says when the crowd settles, lying in wait, a breathing, oozing mass. "Jade is the best of that litter, and you will see it soon, mark my words! They are faithless to God and to the public. I can guarantee she is already drinking ka'kazaa again!" The crowd hisses like a chorus of serpents.
The Pope is relegated to a small screen in the corner, while a clip from Walker's Comusicbox plays. It is a video of Jade attempting to mix her own ka'kazaa in the kitchen, an event which happened months ago but proves that images are timeless. Walker has kept this image as insurance. He knows that showing the video is a breach of the Watcher Contract, but the C.U has assured him that they will arm him with their most powerful lawyers and he knows, too, that the Frasier Campaign has already destroyed his chances of being a Watcher for another campaign.
W Market pours millions of dollars into a final marketing campaign, but don't directly attack the C.U for the fear of isolating religious customers. It relies instead on giveaways, to encourage undecided voters to vote for Senatorial Candidate Frasier. Different states attempt to block these actions, but it's late in the campaign season and W Market has a Law Division which manages to articulate the fact that the giveaways are actually Individual Acts of Charity Under the Name and Directive of the Frasier Campaign.
Frasier wears shirts which are nauseating collages of W Market's different brands, gives away all sorts of items to attract more customers and voters. They hire spokespeople from sports teams and W Market's Marketing Department creates Frasier key chains, action figures, even manages to design a Frasier Cola ("Tastes like Capitalism!"). Unfortunately, Jade's ka'kazaa clip boasts more than three billion individual views on the World Forum. "The real side of Frasier's sister's husband's sister's daughter," the video proclaims proudly.
The week of the election, analysts already shake their heads when looking at Frasier's prospects. "The mistake was not locking her up when he had the chance."
"People just don't want to see that kind of unwholesome thing, broadcast for all the world to see."
"It just doesn't reflect very well on his family is all."
The C.U wins the election and their candidate, Scott Mcarfee, takes
office. He vows to bring God back into the country, erase from Public
Institutions all traces of evolution and erase from courts all laws
legalizing abortion. The broken Frasier Campaign laments that this will
be the end of education and capitalism but, for the most part, things
stay the same
Blaise Lucey is 22 and works in Boston for an online news agency.