Release Valve: Chapter Two

Updated: Mar 23

My shoes didn't feel right. They were comfortable, of course. They were running shoes. But I was waiting in a room. I felt ashamed of my approved running shoes issued to me from the Human Soldiers of Earth last year. The only other pair of shoes I owned were old H.S.E. combat boots.

"John Carmicheal?" Asked a man with nice shoes.

I stood up and said, "Yes sir?"

He chuckled, and told me, "I think between the two of us, you can just call me Eli. May I call you John? Or do you still go by Sergeant?"

I shook my head, and told him, "No. I'm just John, now."

Eli nodded with a warm smile and shook my hand. "Pleasure to meet you, John. Let me show you around."

I followed him through the door and was struck by how run down the place looked. The old carpet with blood stains in it. The light bulb that hung free from the ceiling tile. The fifteen empty desks that filled a quiet office space. A large desk in the back of the office with a large comfortable chair.

" Most of our work now is done by algorithm, which I programmed." Eli said, as he sat down at his desk. "Your Sergeant Major told you what job you applied for?"

I shook my head, and said, "He just to me to apply and not ask any questions."

"Yeah, that sounds like my dad. Officially, this is an office of the Imperial Senior Citizen Pension Committee. Since the anti-cannibalism bill passed, we have to figure something else out for the old people on this planet."

I nodded. My hands didn't shake like my father's. I never had to eat human meat.

"Unofficially, we keep society in balance." Eli told me. " Mostly through the Newsfeed."

"Through mis-information? Fake news?" I asked.

Eli cocked his head to the right and raised his left eyebrow in thought. "Yes...but not in the way you're thinking. Our job here is to keep society stable. That boils down to figuring out what people want and giving it to them. Most want to live in the least amount of discomfort they can stand, which currently means clean water and not having to eat human meat. If eighty percent of the population lives there, they will go about their day and die quietly of cancer instead of hunger."

"What about the other twenty percent?"

"Well, there's the ten percent with ambition. Most of those are from the Lower Caste and move up the system through the Human Soldiers of Earth."

"The military is a social mobility system?" I asked.

"I mean, it's also a military. Like we just finished stripping that planet of FTL crystals. We couldn't just send mining teams there without occupying the place."

"Why are we allowing refugees? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for it after what we did there. But that's just making the Lower Caste angry." I told him, as he opened a bottle of something brown and poured me a glass. I smiled, and accepted the glass, waiting for him to pour his own before I started sipping on mine. Damn, that was good bourbon.

"That's exactly the point. That's where the Newsfeed comes in. See, there's always a bottom ten percent in any society that will never quite conform. They need something to do, an organizing principal, that keeps them focused. It used to be the Rough Riders. No, the Empire didn't start the Rough Riders. But we never finished them, either. Keeping them alive kept the Lowest of the Lower Caste occupied and focused on a controlled detonation. The Empire would let them rattle their sabers and scream about freedom, but once they got to feeling good about themselves, they'd send the H.S.E. in to remind them who's boss."

I took a sip of the bourbon and remembered the class from Senator Hook. "The civilian casualties would drive people to their side."

Eli smiled, and said, "That's what my dad said, too. If people believed there was a human opposition voice to the Empire, they could live in that belief, and it would be enough. So, he programmed the A.I. bot that creates new Jim Greene content."

"The Voice of Human Thought is an Imperial Bot?"

Eli chuckled and said, "Yep. The visual facial structure was based off a blend of himself and a barber he knew in War College. That's how one man can have three broadcasts per day."

I took a sip of the bourbon and said, "Yeah, but he says the same things every day. The Empire is bad, and the next great uprising is just around the corner."

Eli nodded. "That's all they need to hear. We throw in some positive messages about the H.S.E., since so many of them served the Empire. Gives them something to be proud of."

"Yeah, but the H.S.E. is ran by the Empire." I told him, as my bourbon was getting low. He offered the bottle and I filled it back up. "How can they hate one but love the other? Its all the same soup, right?"

" It's in those contradictions that we keep society stable. Jim Greene's videos help us keep track of those most unstable and focus them in one direction. Your father is on that list, by the way."

Jim Greene poisoned my dad's brain. Made him resent everyone. Pushed my mom away. I sat the drink down and asked, "You manipulated my dad?"

Eli's eyes looked into mine with detached sadness, and said, "If we didn't, someone else would have."

I stood up, wanting to punch him. But the mild-mannered man in front of me was more powerful than the entire Senate. There's no winning that fight. "Jim Greene turned my father's brain into radicalized mush and destroyed my family...and you did it with an algorithm? He's just a name and a number on a list, huh? Well fuck your list." I said, through barely contained rage.

Eli finished his drink, and said, "You're on the other list, by the way. The top ten percent who move up. I figured you'd turn down the job. Well, the algorithm did. You'll probably find a job somewhere in food distribution to the Lower Caste and be a credit to your community."

I chuckled with contempt, and said, "You don't know the future."

Eli shrugged. "I don't. But the algorithm does. I do know that Jim Greene has called his Indianapolis supporters to a rally this afternoon...in about three hours, actually. Local law enforcement will be waiting for them. Your father has a 99% chance of going."

I turned and began sprinting towards the door. I could do this. I could save him. I could fix my family. My shoes felt right, this time. They were comfortable, of course. They were running shoes.

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