The Final Days of Senator Harvey Johnston's Career
A ﬂat female voice echoed through the glass and white marble foyer, "The 58th session of the corporate congress is hereby called to order. His excellency, Prime CEO Roger Daily has the ﬂoor."
As the ﬁnal fragments of the announcement bounced back from the vaulted ceiling an enormous, red-faced man bustled out of an ornately carved oak door with the word "Men" engraved on a silver plaque above it. Lumbering across the empty hall, still fastening his belt, he muttered to himself, "I knew I shouldn't have tried the new dumplings..." His belt now securely fastened, he quickened his pace to a brisk walk as he navigated the seemingly featureless white hallways that branched off from the atrium. A right, two lefts, and a brief pause to ensure the menacing rumblings of his angry stomach were nothing more than rumblings and he arrived at a pair of immense brushed steel doors.
A guard, dressed in the standard CCS uniform of a skintight black body suit, red armor plating, and a red open-faced helmet quickly turned to examine the large sweaty man who had just rounded the corner. The guard stepped forward and extended an arm, palm out, "I'm sorry sir, but the congressional chamber has closed. If you wish, I can direct you to one of the immersive viewing rooms." He smiled, revealing perfect white teeth that glinted in the same way his youthful blue eyes did. The red-faced man, panting, reached into his pocket, produced an ID card, and waved it uncomfortably close to the guard's surprised face.
The guard squinted and read the card, "Oh, I'm sorry Senator Johnston." The guard bowed formally, "This is my ﬁrst day on the job an-"
The senator interrupted with a dramatic sigh and a dismissive wave of his hand. "Just let me into the damn room before I ensure it's your last day on the job."
The young guard's eyes widened and he stood for a brief moment before closing his mouth and bowing his head, "Of course, your grace."
The senator's mouth turned up at the corners in an expression only the most socially naive person would call a smile.
The guard turned and took a few steps to the security interface on the wall. "This is CCS guard 8601 requesting access codes for the congressional chamber west doors," he spoke into the helmet microphone. "Priority one request; I repeat, this is a priority one request." After a couple seconds, he looked down and checked the display on his wrist before entering a series of 12 digits on the wall-mounted screen.
The hiss of the door unsealing masked the sound of the copious amounts of wind that escaped from the senator. His face relaxed a bit and he dabbed at the sweat on his brow with a bright red tie that did not match a single element of his drab gray suit. He grunted at the guard as he brushed past him into the chamber, not noticing the look of disgust that had taken over his features. Before pushing through the second set of doors into the chamber proper, he checked his belt, adjusted his tie, and repositioned the obvious hairpiece that had begun to invade his forehead.
"-which is the primary topic of discussion this afternoon," the Prime CEO said as Senator Johnston entered the chamber. "Many of you have laid claim to the Lost Monarch tree, the last of its kind, a relic of a bygone age. While there is no doubt that this tree belongs with one of our corporations, there has been much conﬂict over which corporation that should be. We will hear from many..."
The senator let the PCEOʼs voice fade into the back of his awareness as he surveyed the competition. His small, gray-green eyes narrowed as they passed over groups of representatives from the major companies that made up the United Corporate States of America. The dim lighting in each company's respective micro-suite made it difﬁcult to make out faces, but if you knew what you were looking for, you could still get a good look. There was Bill Jacobson from Exxon. Senator Johnston smirked, an unpleasant twisting of his mouth better described as a sneer, I bet he's still reeling from the accounts I wrestled from him last year, he thought. His gaze continued to wander: Frank Clements, Apple; Leona Brickly, General Motors; William Smith, General Electric. He made his way toward the Walmart micro-suite. The company bodyguard saw him approaching and lowered the pneumatic ramp up to the small patio.
The senator ascended the ramp with his usual grunts and puffs and, reaching the top, asked the three men seated in the plush armchairs, "Did I miss anything important?" He wiped at his face with his tie again.
"No, sir," said a thin, young-looking man in a sharp black suit. "He's spent the ﬁrst ﬁve minutes with the usual bullshit: happy to have been re-elected, excited for another opportunity to serve this great organization, bla bla bla."
Senator Johnston sat in an oversized, high-backed leather chair and snapped his ﬁngers at an elderly man in a tuxedo. "Coke," he said without looking at the man. The attendant bowed deeply and hurried into the glass-walled suite.
"Senator Johnston of Walmart," the PCEOʼs voice boomed through the loudspeakers. "I am glad to see you ﬁnally arrived."
The senator stood and bowed as far as his stomach would allow and when he rose from the bow his face was full of a large, practiced smile. "Would you like me to call for the guard who made me late, your excellency?" he asked, his voice ampliﬁed through the chamber via the invisimics around the patio. "He must have been born and raised in the Eastside Slums to not recognize me!" A buzz of soft laughter ﬁlled the room and the senator's cheshire grin grew. "Honestly, what kind of inbred scum are we hiring these days?" he pantomimed patting down his pockets, "Have we run out of money?" The laughter in the room grew louder.
Roger Daily's playful expression as seen on the bank of tennis court sized monitors on the wall had not changed after the senator's response but his voice had an edge to it as he said, "That will not be necessary, Senator Johnston, but in light of your tardiness, I am sure we would all appreciate it if you were to present the case for Walmart ﬁrst."
The senator's face was a perfect mask as his hands bunched into ﬁsts. "Of course, your excellency," he bowed again, "it would be my honor."
* * * * *
"Here," he said to the driver as he unfastened his seat belt. "I don't know how long Iʼll be, but it's not like you have anything better to do, eh?" he smirked at the driver's reﬂection in the rear-view mirror before exiting the limousine.
It was a nasty sort of twilight that the senator stepped out into; it was cold for a July night in New York City and the smog was thicker than usual. His eyes shifted around nervously before he took a step away from the car. His gaze rested on an alley for a moment, searching for anything even remotely dangerous; he then shifted his focus to the next alley, then the next until he was sure that he was safe.
"You would think in the nation's capital, you'd be safe walking from your car to a restaurant," he muttered as he trudged up to the broken screen door of Hsuʼs Barbecue. The bell tinkled as he pushed it open.
An elderly Chinese man, balding and covered in age spots, poked his head out of the kitchen. "Harvey!" he shouted, smiling. "How is my favorite customer?"
The senator scowled. "Senator Johnston."
"Right, yeah, sure Harvey. You want the usual?"
He nodded. "But give me an order of the lobster too."
The old man raised his eyebrows, "What's the occasion?"
"I'm rewarding myself for the phenomenal presentation I gave today. That tree is going to be ours, you mark my words." He eyes took on an almost fevered look as he stared off, fantasizing about the praise the president would heap on him. A bit of drool spilled from the corner of his mouth.
Hsu stared at the senator for a moment, an amused expression on his face, and then retreated into the kitchen, leaving his favorite customer to drool over something other than his food.
* * * * *
"Floor 48," a robotic voice said from inside the elevator car. "Welcome home,
The doors slid open without a sound and he stepped out into the white tile ﬂoor of his entryway, an enormous brown paper bag in his arms. He kicked off his black loafers and walked into the den where an in-wall TV was already turned on to his favorite news channel. The white leather recliner creaked its protest at he plopped down and put his feet up.
The senator pulled out the ﬁrst plastic container of food from the bag and placed it on his lap. He then reached into a side pocket of the recliner and produced a fork, blowing a dust bunny from the tines before digging into the pork fried rice.
"I got your favorite," he announced in an odd, sing-song voice. He scooped a small amount of rice, bean sprouts, and peas onto his fork and carefully moved it over to a large ﬁsh bowl that sat on a table next to the chair. As soon as the food hit the surface of the water, a large goldﬁsh swam lazily out from a generic ﬁsh bowl castle. "Good evening, Maude," he crooned to the ﬁsh. "How is the loveliest lady in New York?"
The ﬁsh remained silent and lethargically poked at a pea.
"Good!" he said, his mouth full of food. "I'm glad to hear it! Do you want to know what Papa Harvey did today at work?" He paused a moment, giving her a chance to reply. "Daddy made a fool of a bunch of fancy senators and made a great case for a raise."
The ﬁsh nibbled at the last grain of rice.
The senator pulled a second box from the bag and opened it, revealing a heaping amount of Peking duck. He smacked his lips and belched before tucking in. Maude dutifully waited for her next spoonful of rice, listening to the senator's running commentary on the horrible suits the news anchors were wearing.
* * * * *
Senator Johnston took his seat near the head of the enormous black granite table that ran the length of the boardroom. The smartglass was set to cast a light green tint on the room and, to the senator, it made everyone look old and sick. He looked around the room and, not seeing the president or any senior board members, pressed the button on the side of his chair that inﬂated the seat, raising him slightly above everyone present at the board meeting. He assumed his usual dominant, self-assured posture and soon no one in the room was able to meet his eyes. He smirked to himself.
"Thank you all for coming in on such short notice," the president said as he entered the room. Everyone stood and bowed as he continued, "I have some exciting news to share with you all."
A tremble went through Senator Johnston's body and he struggled to contain his excitement.
"But ﬁrst," the president said, "I would like to introduce you all to my son, Jared. He has just moved to the city and has taken a job with Corporate Congress Securities."
Everyone but the senator clapped as Jared entered the room, his brilliant white teeth glinting in the same way his youthful blue eyes did.