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We Are the Ninety-Nines (Working Title) - Chapter 3

by SidereaAquila

Chapter III – Jackie

Harry and I trudged through town, our boots squelching in the mud. It was drizzling, and when it drizzled, everything turned to mud. The paths weren’t paved—no one had cars, after all—they were just covered with black lava sand, so when they got wet, they took on the consistency of Hayley’s cookie dough. It was kind of annoying—if your boots didn’t have tread, you’d slip all over, and the sand stuck to everything.

The tuber sector of Vesta Fields was…dilapidated. Our houses were basically shacks, shacks that looked like they’d blow over if someone so much as sneezed. There was Hayley’s house—her house looked better than most; since she made a living cooking for the other tubers, she had enough time to repair it occasionally. She was lucky. Most of us worked in the lava tubes. There were scouts, like me, who walked through unexplored lava tubes looking for hot spots, builders, like Harry, who constructed the power plants, and scientists, like our parents, who took samples and analyzed things. The pay was minimal—sometimes nothing at all, if the overseers felt like messing with us. And it was dangerous. Accidents like the one that killed my parents were regular and expected. Not two weeks ago, I had burnt the skin off my left palm in the lava tubes. Scouts had to walk through uncharted lava tubes and feel the walls for “hot spots,” areas where heat energy or magma could be harvested. We didn’t get gloves. It was just our bare hands on the rock.

And there was the tube shaft—that detested hole that led down to the lava tubes. At seven o’clock every morning, without fail, all the tubers lined up outside the wooden frame and marched down into its dark maw. The builders and scientists had to take that route, too—there was a twenty-foot barbed wire fence around the Vesta lava field, “to keep the kids out,” or so they said. But we knew better—it was to keep unemployed tubers out, and working tubers in.

Harry and I got to the studio just a few minutes before his show was supposed to start. He had a one-hour time slot on the community station. He was quite popular with the tubers—all the other talk shows consisted mostly of random people yapping about stuff they didn't understand. For that reason, Harry called his show Corrections—he felt like it was his duty to correct all the lies the media told.

We tiptoed inside, not wanting to ruin someone’s broadcast, and waved to Ryen and Deryn Sharpless, the two DJs of the show before us. They played new music for their entire hour, and they were jumping up and down and dancing to their song. They weren’t tubers or riversiders—the Sharpless sisters were writers, who lived in a condo downtown. They had grown up in Europe, so they had a unique perspective of Provincian politics. Why they had moved here, here, of all places, I couldn’t fathom. They waved back, and Harry and I sat down in the hallway.

Harry looked through his stack of CDs. He liked to play punk rock songs from before World War Three; they usually went well with the contents of his show. He looked at his little script. It wasn’t a script, really, more like an agenda. Harry preferred to improvise.

Ryen and Deryn’s song ended, and they played the prerecorded station identification clip. They opened the door silently, and Harry and I slipped inside. Muffling the microphone with his hand, he sat down in his chair and arranged his papers. I took the stack of CDs and lined them up by the CD player.

The identification clip ended, and Harry leaned forward to the microphone. “Hey, this is 73.1, KGWU,” he said. “I’m Harry Rockwell, ‘ere with my sister Jackie running the CD player, an’ you’re listening ta Corrections, the official radio show of the Vesta Field geothermal workers. If your name is Mars Thrasher, you’re listening ta the wrong station. Try 86.6, home of all things ridiculous, skewed, and factually incorrect, so the Stocks can further disillusion ya with their lies. On today’s agenda, we ‘ave…the benefits of ‘unofficial’ schools, the Stock monopoly of air travel, an’ our very own rising star Hope Everdream. But first, a musical interlude.” Harry gave me my cue, and I started the first song. I nodded my head to the beat, and Harry tapped out a drum beat on the table.

The song ended, and Harry started talking again.

“As ya all know, there is only one airline that flies within Provincia. Stock Airlines: the official airline of Provincia. Or, as some say, Stockwest: fly with us, or don’t fly at all. The only other airlines you’ll see at a Provincian airport are Europlane, Transcontinental, an’ Asia Airways—all of which fly ta other countries. If ya want ta fly ta another province, Sock Airlines—excuse me, Stock Airlines—is your only option.

“Which begs this question: can we trust the Stocks? Most of ya listening would say no. An’ rightly so—the Stock brothers are notorious not only for arbitrary pricing, but also for pricing based on things like employer, income, social class, an’ political an’ religious views. This is a direct violation of paragraph 17, section 2, article 28 of the Provincian Constitution, which states that prejudice in matters of business an’ state is strictly illegal.

“Nonetheless, Spock Airlines—excuse me, Stock Airlines—is one of the most prejudiced companies out there. What’s more, President Thrasher ‘as acknowledged it, even encouraged it. Those of us with political an’ religious views that differ from the Stocks (which includes yours truly, an’ probably most of my audience) are regularly and publicly labeled barbarians an’ undesirables, just because we aren’t as greedy or as lucky as the Stocks. Smock Airlines—sorry, Stock Airlines—is a prime example: 70% of each plane is devoted ta first class, while anyone who can afford a cheaper ticket is crammed into the back. Often, there are more people in coach than in first class.

“Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about it. Charter planes are out of reach for anyone not making millions each year, an’ civilians can’t get a pilot’s license.

“Oh well. At least we can still fly out of this dump of a country. This is Harry Rockwell, an’ you’re listenin’ ta Corrections. Stay tuned for the benefits of ‘unofficial’ schools an’ Hope Everdream. Be back in a moment.”

Harry cued me, and I played the next song. He turned the microphone off and walked around the little room, stretching his legs. I peeked out the door, wondering if the station manager had refilled the water tank yet. We had run out of water last Thursday, and no one could afford to buy any more. Sure enough, the tank was still empty.

Out in the hallway, Deryn Sharpless waved to me. She and Ryen were sitting near the water tank with a little portable radio. Ryen bounced up and down to a beat, and I realized that they were listening to Harry’s show. Deryn mouthed, “Spock Airlines!” and gave me a thumbs-up signal. Ryen looked up, saw me, and waved excitedly.

I waved back, and then walked back to the CD player. I sat on the table, tapping my feet to the beat. This song was popular with the tuber kids. Psychotic Tangerine, the band Tam, Kevin Westerly, Addy Barlow and Shaun Harder were in, did a great job with it.

The song ended, and Harry turned the microphone back on. “Hey, welcome back to Corrections, 73.1, KGWU, Harry Rockwell speaking. Up next on the agenda: ‘unofficial’ schools an’ writer extraordinaire Hope Everdream. An’, of course, more music from my DJ, Jackie.

“According ta the kind, caring an’ intelligent President Trasher—sorry, that’s Thrasher—according ta President Thrasher, an’ I quote, ‘Provincia would fare so much better if every aspect of life were given over to private entities, including, of course, education.’ Which translates ta, ‘I don’t care what ya teach my kids. Just keep making me money.’ Yes, he really said that. Be very afraid.

“An’ then he went and destroyed the public education system. There are no more public schools. No more regulations about what can be taught an’ what can’t. No way to tell if your kids are learnin’ the truth, or just a bunch of advertisin’ an’ propaganda an’ crap that will twist their futures back around ta benefit the companies doin’ the teaching. Yes, that’s right—no more public schools.

“Or so they think.

“In reality, if ya look closely enough, it’s fairly easy ta find a hidden, underground, ‘unofficial’ public school. They’ve been poppin’ up in all the industrial towns, usually led by former public school teachers. ‘Ere in Vesta Fields, for example, tuber kids can get a quality education for just a few dollars a day—enough to sustain the teachers’ families, but still affordable for the kids.

“An’ the best part? These schools still follow all the rules. Our kids are getting an accurate perspective of life an’ of the world. They’re learning enough ta counter the negative effects of the private schools. They know enough ta sort out the truth from all the lies.

“Those of ya who get the National Tribune, look for Hope Everdream’s column on this subject next week. Which brings us ta our next topic: our hometown hero, Hope herself. Stay tuned!”

I played the station identification clip, and Harry turned the microphone off. I looked at my watch—thirty-three minutes of show left, and then back to work.

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I see no reason to celebrate the random timing of natural events by eating poison and singing.
— Dilbert