The Steel Portal

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An insurgent becomes an ineffectual leader after victory and inspires a new wave of revolutionary fervor.

Submitted: November 08, 2010

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Submitted: November 08, 2010

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There were countless numbers of them; people of every age and race, men, women and children, their cries of anger almost deafening me as I walked up the barricaded pathway to the front door of the Residence. I knocked quietly on the enormous re-enforced steel doors; a moment later I heard the grinding of the locks and cogs and the door opened, split down the middle just far enough to accommodate me. It was a testament to the gravity of the situation that Richard came to greet me himself. He looked haggard and grim, to the point that I barely recognized him.
“Jeremy!” Obviously very relieved I had made it safely, he took my hand and shook it with all the enthusiasm he could muster. “How bad is it out there?”
I hated to be the one to bring such bad news. “Sir—”
“Don’t call me that.”
“All right, then, Richard. It’s a scene I‘ve not seen the likes of since the old Chair’s ‘resignation’. The capital itself is in ruins, and the Residence Guards will be overwhelmed in seconds if the crowd decides to advance: if they don’t choose to join them, that is. Even those that live in New Hovel itself have turned against the Chair. There could be close to a million people surrounding us.”
“And what, precisely, do you suppose is their aim?” The immense walls of the Residence had kept the mobs cries and threats at bay, but Richard still had an idea of what they had in mind. However, he had always put more store by the insights of his friends.
“Richard, the government you head has been protested against more than almost any other in history, and ordinary people decry against your every decision, branding you a despot. They mean to break in, haul you out of the Residence and kill you in the street, most likely.” This was obviously what he had been expecting, but he sank into a chair nevertheless and dropped his face into his hands. When he spoke again, his voice was muffled.
“I tried to give them freedom, Jeremy. Freedom from want or need. But it was never enough. Any meddling by us was unacceptable; all they really want is a respite from authority. The people want their freedom?” His jaw was set; the determination I knew so well showing once more. “Then I will show them what that really is.” He looked up to me again. “Tell the people I must speak to them.”
______________________________________________________

Freedom. That was what had led us to this end. The desire and need and willingness to die for it had led us to follow Richard Danner. We had all always been in awe of him. At the government schools we had all been exceptional, but none of the rest of us were even remotely comparable to him. Because of this, Richard was always slightly outcast, which gave him a thirst for recognition and approval. The four of us, while not his equal, could at least usually keep up. He never felt more outcast than the leader of any group did with us. Because it was very clear he was the leader. We all began secondary school the same year, but by our second year he had graduated to the Federal Institute of Education. And even then, in our teens, he was trying to change things. But this, our protests, the agitation, our revolution, began my first week at the Institute.
Richard was the professor’s assistant in my Ancient History course, and we were discussing Republics of the past and why they had all ultimately collapsed. When a fellow student suggested it was because of their lack of control over Public Opinions (in accordance with the text,) I saw Richard’s face begin to darken. And as the student prattled on in the same vein, he finally had to break in.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, Mr. Catham, but no government ever fell because of its lack of censors.” He then walked out of the room, leaving the class stunned in his wake; no one disagreed with the text. It was the best around! Besides, to question the text was to question the Institution, and by extension the Chair himself. When he didn’t show himself for the next 2 weeks, I figured he had been arrested; what he had said was too easily construed as seditious. We all knew we were only free because they had no reason to lock us up yet.
One evening well after curfew, though, after a whole fortnight had passed, I heard a knock on my door. Stephen, the oldest of us 5, stood on my front step and without a word pulled me into the night. He led me to the Un-Reclaimed section; no one but Clean-Up squads went there. But he took me to a building and I followed him into its basement, where Jonas and Thomas sat at a table illuminated by a single light bulb, Richard standing over them. I was over-joyed to see him, but he spoke before I could even take a second step into the room.
“They tried to kill me.” I wobbled in place before Jonas stood and helped me to a chair. “They came to my home and tried to kill me in my sleep!” He was livid. “Did you know that that’s why they have curfew? They have to know where you are when it’s time for you to disappear. This happens all the time!This government is as corrupt as the one it replaced, maybe even more. The Chair is just better at hiding it.” He leaned over, arms resting on the table. “They tried to kill me. They saw me as a potential threat and tried to protect themselves from an enemy…but it’s more than a potentiality now. We have to do something.”
The rest of us exchanged glances. I could see the others, especially Stephen, thought “little Richie” was just off on one of his Revolutionary spiels again. But I knew he was serious this time; they had tried to hurt him and it was personal for him now. No one that ever hurt him had gotten away unscathed. He always found some way to make sure of it. And now it was personal for me, as well; he was my closest friend after all. And if I went along, so would the others. They always did.
I spoke up. “Okay, then, what’s our plan?” Determination clearly evident on his face, he looked around the table as the others nodded their approval, half-hearted as it might be. “All right, here’s how we begin.”
______________________________________________________
This will not end well. I walked out onto the Residence Balcony and turned the speakers of the PA up so the whole mob could hear. Not knowing what to address them as, I didn’t bother with anything. “The Chairman asks for one thing and one thing only.” At this, three shots were heard even over the din of the crowd and imbedded themselves in the stone wall beside me: warning shots. This was even worse than I had thought; they might shoot him on sight. I continued. “He asks that you merely listen to him peacefully for one minute, no more. Then he pledges that you may do what you wish.” I motioned to the guards surrounding the barricades and they laid down their arms. “One minute is all he asks.” Almost silence now. I turned and walked back inside, and found Richard waiting just on the other side of the threshold.
“Jeremy, go and wait and the front door.”
“Sir?”
“You can be saved, Jeremy, I have to believe that you can be. But this government, this system, cannot. It must not. These people must make something all their own.” There was bitterness on his face that I had never seen before. “Unfortunately, the Table won’t agree. Know that I am very sorry for them.”
______________________________________________________

The system that was now poised to collapse had been born out of Richard’s brilliance a scant 6 years beforehand. From the basement with the 5 of us to the fall of an empire, with us at the forefront of every protest, every attack; Stephen, Jonas and Thomas were the three shooters at the Table Policy convention; I was the lead in the group that stormed the Chairman’s opulent palace (ironically given the very drab moniker of The Residence.) But Richard was the one with the plan. He found every weakness and pressure point the Federation had. He was incendiary, exciting people in every setting, from the humblest drawing room to the grand homes of sympathetic nobles, speaking out against the Federation’s discrimination, censorship and control of almost every aspect of our daily lives. He began to gain public support, at first just a person or two at a time. But as the 4 of us became discouraged, Richard became more determined, dragging us on, until those resisting grew from dozens to thousands to a movement that spread throughout the entire country. Resistance to the Clean-Up squads became routine, sometimes violent. In every province officials began to join us or disappear. Every Federal Institution became our target, from government R&D facilities to the corner Post-Depots; almost all decided to join with Richard’s party rather than rely on federal protection. Fewer and fewer offered any resistance, until the day come of my palace raid and the guards simply threw down their weapons and went home.
I personally captured the Chair, John Hawkins, and brought him down to the street were Richard waited. The two leaders merely stared at each other for a moment. Then Richard took my side-arm and executed him without a word. As the body fell, a cheer swept through the multitude that had gathered around the palace, led by Jonas and Stephen, chanting what had become the mantra of the resistors:

Totus Ero Par (All Will be Equal.)
______________________________________________________

As I fled down the richly appointed stairs ot the front door, I heard Richard’s voice echo through the building and the surrounding countryside. “Citizens of the New Federation, I have failed you.” I stopped with my hand on the steel latch to listen. The mob, whose anger had almost drowned out his salutation, was now almost entirely muted. Never much of an orator, he continued immediately and bluntly. “I tried to rule you and give you as much freedom as I could while ensuring rights for all. But I was weak and allowed the greed and ambition of a few to sway my judgment. The fault lies squarely on my shoulders.” I was stunned. The table set policy! They strong-armed and bullied him into passing their wants into state mandate. How could he blame himself? His voice answered my question soon enough, though.
“Our Federation stood by the idea that all would be equal. All. Yet I accepted a position of near-absolute power. But my hypocrisy will now come to an end. My friend, who tried to made this a noble system, waits at my door.” With a jolt, I realized he was now referencing me and I stepped through the Steel Portal onto the threshold and was assailed by vicious cries of spite. Richard now addressed them for the last time. “Let him go free, do not harm him, and you will have your freedom.” The PA clicked off. Bewildered and terrified, I ran back inside to find him sitting at his magnificent desk, with what I recognized as a remote detonator of some kind in his hand. He turned to me.
“Remember, when I took office, the buildings I had reinforced? The government facilities, the Table Palaces, and all the others?”
“What is that for, Richard?” I pointed with a shaking hand to the detonator. “What are you doing?” He looked up at me, his prematurely aged face frozen in desperation. I had never seen him desperate before.
“Don’t go anywhere near them today.”
“Sir?” Fire showed in his eyes again as he leapt from his desk and took me by my collar.
“Jeremy,” He was shouting now. “We failed. We’ve failed ut-ter-ly! I cannot impose enough authority to keep the people safe, and you cannot bring freedom about by making more laws!” He shoved me away, and I watched as all the life drained out of him. “I will let the people find their own ways. They must decide how to live with one another. One person alone can’t tell them how.”
He turned away from me now. “There is no reason for you to suffer though. Leave, now, before I can wait no longer.” I stood, rooted to the floor in shock, but he took my side-arm from my holster and sighted in on me. “Leave, Jeremy, or I will kill you here and now! GO!”
______________________________________________________

Everything had begun to unravel years before, though. Despite the fact that Richard felt we should dismantle the government and create one that was entirely new, after much cajoling from the four of us he accepted the old position of Chairman. Stephen, especially, was eager for a position, and Thomas and Jonas followed him and assumed the three seats at the Table. While they offered to create a fourth seat for me, I had no desire to be involved in ruling, and I left the three of them to set policy alone, trusting Richard to keep them from getting out of control as they often did. But he, when leaned on by all three of them could never help but acquiesce. What began as a restitution of the Federation Ideals of equality and free perspectives became an even greater perversion of them, And Richard’s old fear came back to haunt him; he could not imagine losing his 3 friends’ acceptance, or his people’s approval, and he began to withdraw more and more often into the secluded depths of the Residence, while the new Table members cooperated only to mutually expand their influence and wealth, leaving the Federation to rot.
I tried. I pointed out to the Table time and again that they could still live like kings and not bring our empire to its knees, but it wasn’t enough. They had been given power to rule absolutely, using Richard as a scapegoat whenever people were hurt or neglected, and they let all administrative duties stagnate. Nothing I said or did could convince them to exercise their authority properly, nor could I persuade Richard to stand against three old friends. And with each successive issue, more and more people began to get angry. The protests began, often led by some of the same people who had fought alongside of us just five years before.
Then the final restitution began, with the Table Mandate demanding Clean-Up use lethal force on civilians for any protest or word against any part of the government. The day the post-depots closed, all employees having resigned in protest, 960,000 civilians were killed across the country for daring to say they wanted their mail before we could get it to them.
Then, as assassinations became a daily threat, all of the Table members retired permanently to their palaces, and Richard hardly ever even left his bedroom.
As the entire infrastructure collapsed around me and every other citizen, I could hardly blame the whispers of “revolution” that began to turn to cries from every province once more. And when the cries became action, there was no resistance by the government at all; everyone, from governors to everyday people, joined in. This morning, firefights, the first of this coup, broke out at the Table Palaces, and one protestor for every citizen killed on Post-Day (as the massacre was called) surrounded the Residence.
______________________________________________________

I fled out the Steel Portal once again, trying to will the image of Richard’s desperate insanity from my mind; it was useless, though. All I saw was his anguish as he had forced me from his study at the point of the gun that had inaugurated, and now ended, our New Federation; I had no doubts about who he would use it on next. But I, for once, was wrong about him. He had something far more complete in mind.
As I stumbled in a daze up the path to the street, fortifications now manned by armed protestors, I could feel the hatred of the crowd turn onto me. But as the angry murmurs grew in volume, a young woman, heavily armed, strode up to meet me between the barricades. She spoke: “We will grant the Old Chair that one thing. He is powerless and without him you can do nothing against us. You will not be harmed.” At this, the wrath of the crowd subsided as their leader wished, and the only sound was that of the continuing firefights at the distant Palaces. She walked past me, continuing on to the Residence, and as she gained the threshold she turned to address the mob.
“It belongs to us!” she cried. “To each and every one of you. I go to make the Chair keep his promise!” Cheers erupted around me, and I continued on to the road, wanting only to get back to my own small home and shut out this new world. I stepped out between the wreckage of the Residence gate. My feet hit the pavement.
I was then knocked flat to the ground by a shockwave before hearing detonators go off behind me. I turned over to watch, as with every support now rubble, the Residence began to collapse before I was dazzled by a plasma charge that left nothing but the smallest shards of glass and iron behind. I stood, dazed, as the now leaderless mob broke apart into chaos. The wave of heat from the explosion burned and blistered my skin, but I scarcely noticed as I heard secondary bombs going off all over the city, in every government facility, and finally the Table Palaces.
What had been a mob of protest no longer had any institution to decry against and was reduced to its fundamentals; a huge crowd of angry people, now with nothing to be angry at. The inevitable ensued. 16,000, those with enough sense to run lived to see the next day.
______________________________________________________

That was three years ago. No one ever bothered me, except those that remembered me from the first resistance and wanted me to move into what had become a power vacuum. Being truly free from authority, people were prisoners within their own homes; no one could even walk the streets in the day light. But a year ago, it became common practice for people to band together to keep themselves safe whenever they ventured out of their front doors, and six months ago, out of these vigilante groups, some semblance of order began to return to the major cities, and talks began about setting up a provisional government based on these conglomerates. Every city selected one person to meet representatives from the others in New Hovel, the old capital, which chose me to speak for it. We bickered and argued over sickening trivialities, but began to make progress away from the anarchy left by the utter dissolution of the old regime. Our volunteers, the new police force that replace the Clean-Up, had by six weeks ago brought violence in the capital to its lowest levels in twenty-two years. And yesterday, across the country, we re-opened the post depots


© Copyright 2020 S Antonio Gomez. All rights reserved.

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