THE MEETING HAD GONE on for hours and little had been decided. This was the age of participatory democracy with the emphasis on participating. Shyloh blamed the Triumvirate. Nothing became precious until it was removed. Once restored it became a novelty, at least for some.
“We’ve run out of time,” the chairperson said. “The list of those who’ve registered to speak to this issue and haven’t yet will be carried over to the next meeting a week today.”
“I wasted an entire bloody morning and I have to come back next week,” a bearded man shouted. “This is outrageous.” Shyloh recognized him as owning the bicycle repair shop.
“Take a vote now and be done with it,” another of his neighbours yelled. “We’re hearing the same arguments over and over anyway.”
“A vote can’t be taken until all those registered to speak have had a chance,” the chairperson said, a retiree for whom time was not an issue.
The crowd, already diminished by the length and lassitude of the meeting began to leave.
“What do you say, Shyloh?” The bicycle repair shop owner had spotted him among the attendees. “We were better off when the Triumvirate was in power, at least decisions were made, things got done.”
The remaining people stopped and waited for his reply.
Shyloh smiled. “For sure things got done, whether you liked it or not.”
“What’s different now?” a middle-aged woman said. Shyloh recognized her from his co-housing unit, she was a seamstress, patching holes and replacing buttons on his shabby wardrobe. “I’m against most of the decisions council makes.”
The tyranny of the majority was the argument of malcontents.
“It’s true democracy is the worst form of government,” Shyloh said, “except for all others.”
“Answered like a bloody politician,” his original questioner said and stomped off.
Shyloh followed his neighbours out of the common room.
This wasn’t the first attempt to recruit him to take a side in the debate that was causing a widening schism not only in his community but the country. Decentralizing government control and taking decision making to a local level might be empowering but it was hugely inefficient. There had been progress with some autonomous areas achieving self-sufficiency in food, energy and even commerce with sophisticated systems of barter, but it entailed a learn as you go approach and often two steps forward resulted in at least one back, and nothing was achieved without endless discussion.
There was no question about it, the four years the Triumvirate ruled things got done. The problem was power corrupted, not so much materially as morally. He’d always seen that possibility in Judith, was surprised when it began to manifest in Aiya, and shocked when he saw the symptoms in himself.
Power was like a drug. Some people were allergic and avoided it. Others enjoyed it recreationally and would wear the mantle occasionally in the role of president of the parent-teachers association or the Rotary Club. For a few once they tried it they wanted more and the more they got the harder it was to kick.
Every member of the Triumvirate was hooked on power to varying degrees. The election had been like going cold turkey. It appeared he’d been the only one who’d stayed clean.
Shyloh had immersed himself in the practical application of the society he hoped would be created by the policies and programs they initiated. He shared in the assigned chores and duties in co-housing project he lived in, encouraged local decision making and attended the co-housing meetings, community meetings and was on the citizen liaison committee that met with their elected government representatives. He was supportive and cooperative, but because he was still held in high regard and didn’t want to influence outcomes, he avoided debating issues and seldom contributed more than his vote.
Time would tell if Cascadia was on the right course to survive what lay ahead but for now the country seemed to be muddling through, able to make necessary adjustments as circumstances changed. Citizens had an acceptable quality of life that included adequate nutrition, good health care, and an orderly society.
Under Aiya’s guidance, Interfaith had morphed from a coalition of different religions to a religion of its own melding the primary teachings of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. The members, who now numbered a third of the population, worshiped a Higher Power and to a somewhat lesser degree Aiya.
Two years into their mandate the government offered Judith a post as a senior advisor with the Cascadian Security Forces. Though controversial at the time even the opposition had to admit Judith was likely the best person to deal with maintaining the integrity of the country’s borders, specifically the growing problem of raiders attacking small border towns in the southeast. Judith had left the military college to be administered by a board of governors and started Wolfe Intelligence and Security Enterprises. The only involvement she had with the institution was teaching a regular course on martial arts.
Shyloh no longer had an agenda and so there had been no need to harness the energy and resources of his two friends. In their new roles they had neither asked for his counsel nor had he offered it. Taalia who visited frequently, though not often enough for Shyloh, kept him up to date on her mother. Aiya had become unapproachable. Her staff arranged audiences not casual meetings with old friends.
A Chinese woman had fallen in step with him as he walked back to his co-housing unit.
“Do I know you?” Shyloh said.
“Jenny Chang. I’m a journalist, I interviewed you years ago when you were still a member of the Triumvirate.”
Shyloh remembered the interview, the young reporter had been confident, aggressive and impeccably attired and groomed, hardly this person dressed in dusty denims and hiking boots. Her broad-brimmed straw hat shadowed anxious eyes in a drawn face.
“I remember. Have you come to do a follow-up?”
Chang forced a smile. “Perhaps another time. Is there somewhere we can talk privately?”
Shyloh could sense her fear and it alarmed him. “Follow me,” he said. He turned off the market street and down a narrow lane. It came out onto a wooded path that followed the banks of the river.
“Just a little further.” Both sides of the trail were crowded with blackberry bushes, then a slight opening in the wall of thorns revealed a short, steep path down to a thin slice of beach. They sat on a log.
“Sorry to be so dramatic, lately things have been strange,” Chang said.
“It all began with a deep throat tip about three months ago. The caller said he’d delivered weapons to border raiders who’ve been attacking travellers and farming communities in the southeast.”
“Where did the weapons come from?”
“According to the caller they’re weapons procured for the Cascadian Security Forces.”
Shyloh raised his eyebrows. This was a serious allegation, one an experienced journalist wouldn’t advance without some verification. He waited.
“Two weeks later I got a call from Creston, from a local reporter I use as a stringer and he told me he’d met with the leaders of a group of raiders and they informed him they were being armed with automatic weapons, grenade launchers, carbines and hand guns and the weapons were coming from us.”
“Why would we arm groups that cross into our country and rape and pillage?”
“A better question is why would someone who is a member of these raiders reveal this?”
“Apparently, not all of them want to survive that way. There are those, and not just a few families, who choose to live peaceably among themselves and with Cascadia. The problem is, according to our liaison, they’re not being allowed to.”
“Who’s stopping them?”
“Their own leaders and our military.
“Yet they keep violating our borders and killing our citizens, like the raid two weeks ago–”
“My stringer says he’s not sure that even happened.”
“You’re referring to the report of the attack on a remote farm, eight people murdered including three children?”
“There’s no independent verification.”
“Wolfe Intelligence and Security Enterprises personnel were the only ones to respond. They sealed off the area while they looked for raiders. You enter an active area and you could be mistaken for a raider. W.I.S.E. operatives shoot first, period.”
“But there were photos of charred buildings and corpses.”
“W.I.S.E. provided the details including photographs. No civilians visited the site until days after the event.”
“You’re saying they staged it?”
“You’d have more insight into that than I would.”
Political machinations were Shyloh’s specialty, and he wasn’t that out of the loop he couldn’t conceive of a few reasons. All were disturbing, but none the less interesting. He asked because he wanted to hear Chang’s interpretation.
Shyloh shrugged and waited.
“The Ministry of Security and Defense wants an increase in their budget to establish demilitarized buffer zones in high incursions areas, but the opposition is saying they’re already spending too much and want cuts.”
Military spending was thirty percent of the budget and there was growing sentiment among the average Cascadian the threat to the nation’s security wasn’t as great as it had been a decade ago. Diminishing tax revenues would be better spent on much needed improvements to healthcare and infrastructure rather than an increase in security and defense.
“You’re suggesting there are those in our government and military who would stage terrorist attacks to justify an increase in their budget?”
“Perhaps, but it could be the information their getting on the situation is unreliable. W.I.S.E. has a security contract for that sector and are bidding on other vulnerable areas. There’s a lot at stake.
Shyloh shook his head. The coup was only twenty years ago, and the players were still in the game. Could it happen again?
“What are you going to do?” Shyloh said.
“We need to expose this. To let the people know what’s happening before the election.”
The election was still three months away. That gave Chang lots of time, but Shyloh knew time wasn’t what she needed. She needed proof.
“Why are you involving me? Broadcast your story.”
“My editor won’t air it. He says it’s unsubstantiated.”
“Get the reporter in Creston to bring his source in.”
“He can’t, he’s in hiding.”
“Someone tried to kill him.”
Shyloh stood up and went to pick berries. He would have dismissed Chang’s conspiracy theory, uncorroborated as it was except for his earlier conversation with Taalia. Should he believe her? If he did, should he get involved?
He wasn’t a young man, it wasn’t his future and his vision of a better world had been naïve. Yet the thought of his country, the country he had helped shape, targeting and killing innocents, subverting the opportunity for a peaceful co-existence with people on its border, and lying to its own citizens to rationalize it seemed the anathema to everything he had strived for.
Chang stood and approached him. “Will you help me?”
“The only way is to bring some reformed raiders here, to the capital, have them appear in the Legislature and tell their story.”
That was a bold move and likely futile, but a quick assessment of the situation proved it might have merit.
“Can you do this?” Shyloh said.
“With help, yes. There’s a delegation of Neighbours, as we call them, who are prepared to take the risk, but we need transport and safe passage and only someone of your stature, credibility and influence can provide it.”
Stature, credibility and influence didn’t protect you from a drone attack. Once you were blown to bits by a five hundred pound laser-guided bomb the fact you were morally right, didn’t make much difference.
“I have to talk to some other people.”
Chang grabbed his arm. “Be careful who you speak to.” Her fear was palpable. “I think the network and my editor are compromised. How else could my source be identified and someone attempt to kill him?”
“Don’t worry.” Shyloh removed her hand. “How can I get in touch with you?”
“You can’t. I’m convinced my communications are being monitored. I know I’m being followed.”
It wasn’t unlikely. Judith and those now trained by her knew the value of surveillance and intelligence.
“I’ll contact you,” Chang said. “How long do you need?”
Chang shook her head. “Two days.”
On the way home Shyloh wondered what he’d got himself into. For the last several years he’d spent his time teaching at the college Judith had founded and soon abandoned to start Wolfe Intelligence and Security Enterprises. The college was now administered by a board of trustees of which he was a member. That and learning and applying community development at the grassroots level had kept him busy. He felt what he did was necessary and to some degree fulfilling, what lay ahead was not only dangerous and contentious it was also ethically ambiguous. No wonder he was so excited. He’d had his fill of ‘life piled on life.’
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