The Descendants Presents: Politics As Usual
[This story takes place prior to Descendants #67]
A red SUV rattled up the hill, following the gravel drive that disappeared into a grassy patch in front of the house.
It was a magnificent house: a three story mansion in the modern style, but with carefully chosen siding to make it look like it came from a much earlier era. A screened in front porch took up most of the front and was itself fronted by an immaculate flowerbed planted with marigolds.
The house on the hill was in stark contrast with the actual farmland down below: several acres under white domed moisture hoods, making the surrounding land look like it was covered with a giant’s shaving cream. The coasts might have been spared flooding in the close call the world had with the effects of climate change, but Iowa farms now needed the help of technology meant to help grow crops in the Sahel region of Africa.
As the vehicle ran out of road, the screen door to the porch swung open and a man in his late fifties came out, followed by a long legged German Shepherd.
Congressman William Sinclair wore a flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up above the elbow and jeans, both of which were more expensive than they had any right to be—the standard uniform of rural politicians at home. He put his hand on the dog’s head and it sat beside him as both of them waited a respectable distance from the car.
After a minute or too, the door opened and a woman stepped out. Her blonde hair was pulled back and braided severely. She wore a full suit with a feminine cut, thick, black boots, and leather gloves. Her eyes were hidden behind dark glasses.
“Evening, Miss Merullo.” greeted the Congressman amiably. He was well acquainted with Kimberly Merullo, a lobbyist for the Interstate Psionic Bounty Agency. They had worked together to make sure one of their incarceration facilities was built in his district. The endeavor brought four hundred jobs to the district and a hundred thousand dollars to his campaign war-chest.
Merullo nodded in return. “Evening Congressman.” She smiled that broad, overly familiar smile used car salesmen had, but her eyes softened in a genuine manner when she caught site of the dog. “What a beautiful dog! I didn’t see him around here last time I came by.”
Sinclair chuckled, “Ol’ Butch here? Well this fella’s new. Bob Binchy—you know Bob; works for the Designer Pets Association International? Well he was here three or four months ago to discuss the unnecessary regulations being put on engineering docile clones of exotic animals. Now you know me and where I stand: if a company fails to ensure that their products are docile and they kill a few people, the free market will eventually push that company out of business on its own without government interference.”
“Oh, of course.” Merullo nodded along. Even if she disagreed, or was actually listening at all, there was no point in disagreeing with him when she had a sales pitch to make.
“But anyway, Bob was telling me all about how customers want variety in their pets and how GenePals was developing a docile Bengal tiger when he noticed we had all this wide open space and no dog. Long story short, he pulled some strings and a week later, the good folks at PetsoftheFuture.animal delivered Butch here free of charge.”
Merullo’s eyebrows went up as her urge to pet the animal went down. “So he’s engineered?”
“The company that made him call them the Einstein Mutt; smart as all hell. Most dogs will bring you your slippers when you come home, but if you come home with a load of groceries, Butch here will open the garage door for you, then start opening cabinets for you to put things away. He’ll even start the coffeemaker in the morning if you forget to set it.”
“Smart dog.” Merullo said, looking Butch over. He had a chocolate brown coat, which she’d never seen on a a German Shepherd, and was watching her just as intently as she watched him.
“The smartest.” said Sinclair. “I never got a dog before ’cause they were too stupid. Butch single-handedly turned me into a dog person.”
He gave the dog an affectionate scratch on the head. “But I suspect you’re not here to talk dogs, Miss Merullo. How about we go sit on the porch and I’ll hear you out.”
“That sound perfect, Congressman.”
The porch could only be differentiated from a room because three of the four walls were just frames with screens in them and glass slats that could be closed against the rare instances of rain. It sported a hardwood floor and fancy throw rugs beneath wicker furniture with red velvet cushions. There was a ‘taming of the west’ motif with numerous cowboy figurines shooting Indian figurines and a a huge painting of men shooting buffalo from a train hanging on the wall the porch shared with the house proper.
Sinclair had his guest seated in a comfortable chair with a high back and used his palmtop to tell the butler to bring them drinks; lemonade for Merullo as she was driving, and whiskey and coke for himself. Once his order was given, he sank into his own seat. Butch obediently lay down at his right hand, still watching Merullo.
“While we’re waiting, let’s get down to business.”
Merullo nodded. “Right. Now Congressman, you know the election is coming up in a few weeks, and we have some concerns…”
The congressman gave her a confused look. “We still have the House in a lock (thank God for gerrymandering) and I’m not for election this year…”
“Oh, we know you’re not. But our number say that the Constitutional Freedom Party is going to lose the presidential bid and their hold on the Senate.” replied Merullo, her face a mask of disappointment and disgust. “It’s this damn Brazilian gap flipping Florida again, plus the psionic situation.”
“What about psionics?”
Merullo waved a hand, dismissive of the entire controversy. “Oh they’re trying to paint the CFP as bigoted because of the party’s support of the Braylocke laws. It started as this ‘movement’ challenging things like France’s draft and PSA’s with prelates and now they’re demanding to be called ‘descendants’ and saying that Braylocke laws are discriminatory.”
With a small cough, Sinclair shifted in his chair. “Miss Merullo, you should know that my niece is a ‘descendant’. She even goes to that school in Mayfield.”
“Oh, I’m well aware.” said the lobbyist. “And the IPBA wants you to know that we have no interest in targeting your niece. All the Braylocke laws do is make sure that psionics are punished b the law to an equal extent that humans criminals would be.”
Sinclair’s eyes narrowed at the distinction between psionics and humans, but Merullo kept talking.
“The issue is the powers these people have. They’re perfectly find for a law-abiding, proper young lady like your niece and like most psionics, but let’s face it: if one wants to turn to crime, they’re more dangerous than any gun. I have information here about terrifying events that had already happened, starting with the Greenview Ridge incident itself and continuing on to things like a little girl and Canada who burned her parents to death in their home.
“That’s the kind of thing the IPBA is meant to protect people from, Congressman. This isn’t some sinister plot. We are providing the means for state to police and incarcerate psionics without the need to hire and train more police or build new jails themselves. And the best part: we’re creating new jobs in the process.”
Sinclair cupped his chin in one hand, rubbing it thoughtfully. “I’ve already worked with you getting that prison built. I’ve already proven to you and the party that ‘m a team player. So why are you coming to me now? I’m not up for election this year, and there’s no vote on anything involving descendants until after the election.”
Shaking her head, Merullo leaned forward. “This isn’t about this year’s election, Congressman. The ProgLibs have too much momentum now to break them this term. We’re looking toward 2078’s senatorial election.”
She clasped her hands in front of her and looked him in the eye. “Senator Knowles is barely hanging on in polls. He’s out of touch, the rugged good looks he cruised in on have turned to flab and even the power of incumbency isn’t going to protect him for long.”
“Now wait just a minute, Steve Knowles is a great man. He was a mentor of mine when I first took office.” Sinclair protested.
Merullo shrugged without a shred of sympathy. “And mentors age, Congressman. They eventually need to step aside. In this case, stepping aside means stepping into a vice-presidency within the IPBA if he’s amenable. If not, one of his mistresses will certainly be willing to come forward…”
The hand on Sinclair’s chin traveled up to rake his hairline. “I refuse to believe the Steve ever cheated on his wife…” he caught the look in Merullo’s eyes and realized that not having an affair wouldn’t stop a mistress from emerging. “…but may I ask what this has to do with me?”
“As I’ve said: the Braylocke laws have been taking hits lately with these accusations of profiling and bigotry, and the opposition is going to try to ban them on the national level if they can. We need someone to lead the charge against that in the Senate; someone who can’t be accused of bigotry—perhaps because they have family who are psionics?”
Serendipitously, Yates, the Sinclair family butler arrived with the drinks. He was an older man; bald up top but with a thick, white mustache. While he served the drinks and asked if there was anything else, Sinclair pondered what lay before him.
He wasn’t a fool and unlike far more of his colleagues than anyone would like to admit, he read the laws that came up for votes as well as some that were passing through the state legislature. For him, it was actual excitement about the law that led him into politics to start and only later had he learned of all the perks that came with voting the right way.
The Braylocke laws mostly replace police with state-contracted bounty hunters in cases where a descendant was involved. The more sensible ones only opened this door in the case of violent crimes, but most of them allowed for such action for any arrestable offense, from murder to shoplifting. Worse, some of them even dumped descendants into an entirely separate legal system not unlike a military court. It was a class of laws destined for a date with the Supreme Court and being on the wrong side, be that upholding a potentially unjust law, or letting the next Arjun Ravi get away, would obliterate a man’s legacy.
And then there was the actual offer. It surprised him that the IPBA thought it had enough power to knock Steve Knowles out of office, but it surprised him more that they wanted to put him in Knowles’s place. A Senator has a great deal more direct power and with power came perks and a nice retirement package in a corporate pay-grade.
What of his niece?
As much as he loved her, he knew for a fact that Betty as not the ‘law-abiding, proper young woman’ Merullo painted her as even if the girl’s parents thought otherwise. Betty as opinionated, shrill and so spoiled that milk turned to yoghurt on the tongue. Like so many spoiled rich girls before her, it was only the matter of time she landed before a judge with her folks shocked that such a thing could happen.
If there was a Braylocke law in the state she finally got arrested in, she would be brought in by heavily armed and armored individuals with all the powers of a cop and none of the responsibilities or limits.
…Unless her Senator uncle pulled strings with the IPBA. He doubted he would be able to do that as a congressman who turned down the company’s generous offer.
“Congressman?” Merullo’s voice jarred him out of his thoughts. He came back to himself, staring down into the dark, effervescent surface of his drink.
“I was saying that there’s no hurry. We can shop the idea around to a few others—in fact, if the numbers hold, we’ll need to flip three seats in the Senate as it is. Call if—“
“Wait.” Sinclair held up a finger as he took a gulp of whiskey and soda to calm his nerves. “I didn’t say I was turning you down. I just need more details. For example: is the IPBA willing to set up a Political Action Committee for me?”
Merullo smiled her car salesman smile and took a sip of her lemonade. “Oh most certainly, Senator. Let’s talk shop…”
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