Chapter Four – The Vote of Acclaim
November 7, 3211
CITY-STATE – LAYER SEVEN
THE CAPITOL DISTRICT – THE CAPITOL BUILDING – SENATE CHAMBERS
As soon as the group of doctors walked through the large metal doors, they were greeted by a short man in a dark brown suit. He was behind a polished black table with portable, electronic files. “Hello folks,” said the man. “Please sign here.”
“What?” asked Jeremy.
“You’ll have to sign a non-disclosure agreement before entering the Senate,” instructed Dr. Smith.
“I thought Senate business was a matter of public record,” said Jeremy.
Dr. Smith shrugged his shoulders. “It is, but this vote is a little different. That’s what they want. Do you want to proceed or not?”
“Just sign the form. You need to see this meeting,” said Dr. Koenig. “This vote will impact all of us.”
Jeremy shook his head and sighed loudly. “Fine,” he said. “Where do I sign?”
The short man smiled. He motioned to Jeremy to use the hand scanner. “Place your hand here and wait three seconds,” said the man.
Jeremy placed his hand on the scanner, it blinked twice, and it chimed happily.
“Thank you, Dr. Green. Enjoy the show,” said the man.
“The show?” mumbled Jeremy.
Dr. Smith followed. He was the last of the group to be cleared for admittance. “Thank you,” he said to the man.
The large stone space was built to resemble the ancient legislative houses of old. Pastel window treatments, hand-woven tapestries, dusty books, and small rock sculptures festooned the Senate chamber. Jeremy could not tell if the decorative theme was Greek, Roman, or some kind of bastardized design. He got the distinct feeling he was supposed to feel like he traveled back in time to the ancient world – before the Second Dark Age – before the rise of the modern empires – back to the time where democracies and republics ruled the world.
Officers of the National Police Force escorted the doctors to their seats. The visiting group situated itself in the grandstands looking down on the Senate floor at the two hundred elected officials. It was a veritable ocean of City-State’s most powerful people. They appeared like waves in their tailored suits. A variety of colors dotted the scene with shimmers of gold, red, and green.
Jeremy found himself sitting in the front row between Dr. Smith and Alaya.
“Looks like they’ve already started,” whispered Dr. Smith. The sound of a beating gavel echoed throughout the chamber. A tall, muscular man with dark hair stood up and began speaking.
“President Wilhelm is here,” muttered Alaya. “Guess he felt the need to control this vote.”
“What? Isn’t Wilhelm a total idiot?” asked Jeremy, embarrassed at his own political ignorance.
“Maybe to an S-Classer,” responded Dr. Smith in a harsh whisper.
“He’s not exactly the best and brightest leader,” said Alaya. “But the powerful don’t have to be bright. Besides, he has a lot of smart people backing him. Trust me, he wields his power with a heavy hand. Just like in his old airball days.”
“Turn that around, Alaya. The power wields him,” said Dr. Koenig who sat directly behind her. He leaned in, “And great athletes don’t translate to great leaders. Some say he even bought that last championship.”
President Heinrich Wilhelm sat atop a leveled stage situated to the left of Senator Jarvis and the stone podium. Wilhelm wore a jet black suit and a shimmery emerald green tie. All eyes were on him as he struck his gavel to its sound block. He wore a petite, shiny gold pin on his left lapel: The Seven Point Star of City-State.
“You’ll see,” Alaya replied softly. “This vote is going to go the way Wilhelm wants it.”
“Which way is that?” asked Jeremy.
“Whichever way profits him most,” said Alaya. She crossed her arms and squirmed uncomfortably in the hard, cushioned seat, “Probably a ‘yay’ vote based on what I’ve read about the S-Amendment.”
“That sounds about right,” said Dr. Koenig as he moved back to his original position in the second row.
“Quiet,” said Dr. Smith. “They’re beginning the meeting.”
Senator Jarvis approached the podium. He was a round, dumpy looking man with skinny legs, a plump belly, and hot sweat dripping off his balding head. The few gray hairs he had left on his head stuck out in various directions. The senator placed his hands on either side of the stone podium as if they fully supported his frail body.
“Ishmael’s pain,” cursed Alaya as she leaned in to Jeremy.
He smelled her sweet perfume.
She continued, “That’s Senator Jarvis. He’s a… well, there isn’t a nice word for that guy.”
Jeremy detected an over-compensated sense of superiority. He turned his head and looked into Alaya’s dark eyes. “He looks like he is about to collapse.”
Senator Jarvis stood hunched over the voice-amplifier, glaring at the other senators. Sweat dripped off the senator’s forehead onto his note cards and the podium. His voice slightly shook, but he tried to channel his “inner-actor” – the likable, mesmerizing Senator Jarvis.
However, the alluring, likable Senator Jarvis did not exist. He was dull and monotone as he began his speech, “Ladies and gentlemen, if we don’t approve the S-Amendment, we are allowing the degradation of this society to continue. If we don’t have the legal authority to do such necessary things, then we must find it. DNA privacy laws are not worth keeping City-State’s people in the dark. They are not worth the decline of this thriving civilization. What if? What if, ladies and gentlemen…” Senator Jarvis paused for dramatic effect.
The senator’s voice grew more confident. He took on the persona of ancient preacher – the one with magnificent vibrato in his voice. He boldly proceeded. “We need this amendment – the S-Amendment – to ensure our survival as a nation.”
Jeremy looked down at the floor. The other senators seemed agitated yet somewhat uninterested in Senator Jarvis’ speech. Jeremy leaned over to Alaya, “No one paying is attention, but at the same time, they all look nervous.”
“Have you paid much attention to politics?” asked Alaya. “Because their votes are bought and paid for, this is all a useless formality. This is about as exciting as it gets. I bet you thought this was some kind of honor to be here. Ha ha, jokes on you.” Her sweet, sarcastic smile was intoxicating.
“I thought you said the President would make sure things went his way,” said Jeremy.
“I’m not talking about Wilhelm, but, well, there is that,” admitted Alaya. “I suppose there is a small chance that the Senate might be against the President, and if that happens, we better watch out.”
Jeremy dismissed Alaya’s warning as hyperbole. “What could possibly be so horrible?”
“We’re standing at a precipice,” continued Senator Jarvis, “and we’re looking over the edge. Maybe society won’t fall off the edge, but that doesn’t mean someone can’t push us off!”
Jeremy rubbed his eyes, his forehead, and his temples. He could almost hear the nervous sweat drip off Senator Jarvis’s nose and spatter against the hard, stone pedestal. It was as if the Senator was just killing time. It seems as if he was waiting for something. He was stalling.
“What is this guy doing?” asked Jeremy aloud.
“This is very strange,” whispered Alaya.
Dr. Smith leaned over Jeremy, “What are you two talking about?”
“This is weird,” Alaya said, leaning towards Dr. Smith. “He’s just rambling.”
“How is that different than any other senator?” chuckled Dr. Smith.
Senator Jarvis’s clammy hands slipped off the stone podium; he nearly face-planted his upper body into the carved rock in front of him. Fortunately, his fat belly caught the front edge of the podium, and it prevented him from falling. As a result, he stood upright and grabbed the lapels of his suit jacket.
Jeremy heard a few laughs from the Senate floor.
Senator Jarvis continued, “Furthermore, City-State won’t have the minds and bodies needed to save us from decline. We won’t be able to continue to rely on the Treasure Trove for technological development. Our people must forge ahead! The StarChild Act is vital to…”
“Cut him off!” yelled someone from the floor. The loud interruption came one of the vile Liberal senators.
Senator Jarvis ignored the outburst, and he raged on with his words. “Senators, I ask you to vote for the S-Amendment. Let the courts decide later. The Senate set forth strong policy…”
“Cut him off! Cut him off!” This time, the Progressives chimed in as they threw their hands in the air.
“Cut him off!” yelled another Liberal senator.
President Wilhelm slammed his gavel repeatedly. “There will be no more outbursts from the floor,” boomed the President’s voice. The Seven-Point Star on his lapel glowed in the chamber’s bright lights. Again, Wilhelm’s gavel crashed against its base.
The admonishment was followed by several “boos” and hisses from the Senate floor. Jeremy could not clarify the situation. From what Alaya said, it was as if the senators had already sold their votes to specific special interest groups that funded their campaigns. And yet, it was still impossible to tell if the S-Amendment would pass or if it would fail.
Jeremy thought to himself, “Why is he rambling? This guy would have more success talking to the red and green tapestries hanging on the Senate walls.”
Jeremy’s mind wandered to the age-old draperies that contained various shapes and patterns. These designs resembled the foundations of City-State: hands joined together, men and women poised as immaculate thinkers, and tall, towering buildings and monuments. “The Builders would turn in their graves to see the kind of leadership we have now. Maybe that’s why they constructed the nation like this – to prevent these idiots from doing too much damage.”
Jeremy’s thought process was interrupted by a loud commotion at the East Entrance of the Senate chamber. His head quickly turned to the boisterous noise on the other side of the room. The doors flew open with a boom as they slammed against the chamber’s stone walls. Through the doors stepped a person even Jeremy could recognize. His face was everywhere: the confident, dashing, and charismatic Supreme Judge Kaisin Harkin.
Harkin was dressed in a black trench coat and a red silk shirt. Perfectly tailored black slacks and shiny leather boots completed his high-fashion look. The lights of the Senate chamber gently illuminated the small pinstripes on his trench coat and slacks. His shoulder-length dark hair was pulled back into a loose pony tail, and his dark, almost black eyes graced his fellow colleagues seated in the room. Harkin coolly winked at the female senators who eyed him with open lust.
“Well, he certainly dresses well,” said Jeremy.
“What’s he doing here?” asked Dr. Smith as he leaned over Jeremy to talk to Alaya.
“Is he not supposed to be here?” asked Jeremy.
Alaya scowled. “No. He’s not normally on the Senate floor during deliberations. It’s the senators who star in this intellectual delight of the senses.”
“Seems like he’s everywhere lately,” said Jeremy.
“Yes,” Alaya agreed. “And despite his almost comical dedication to the latest fashion trends, he’s probably the most powerful man in City-State.”
“Arguably as powerful as the President,” added Dr. Smith.
“He’s certainly smarter,” chuckled Alaya.
Jeremy sank into his seat. He felt out of place. He spent all his time studying genetics, physiology, inherited diseases, and human development. However, he never acquired a taste for politics. He decided to sit back and watch the political show unfold before him, and Harkin was definitely the hero of today’s episode.
Harkin radiated a shadowy, edgy presence. He stared straight ahead as he paraded himself down the aisle to the base of the podium.
Shaking, Senator Jarvis got the hint and turned to Wilhelm, “Mr. President, I would like to yield the balance of my time to Supreme Judge Harkin,” the senator paused, looked into the crowd of angry senators and continued, “if it is done so without objection.”
A silent Senate signaled disapproval, but none of the senators openly objected. Wilhelm assented, “Yes, Senator, that will be fine. It is done without objection. Supreme Judge Harkin has the floor.”
Senator Jarvis descended the platform, graciously ushered in his superior, and took his assigned seat in the front row.
Harkin ascended the steps to the podium with narcissistic grace. He produced a small white towel from one of the inside pockets of his trench coat and dabbed the sweat off the stone surface. He tossed the wet towel at Jarvis, hitting the fat politician in the face. The disrespectful act amused the senators as several laughs were heard throughout the chamber.
Harkin smiled, opened his mouth, and paused slightly before speaking, “Ladies and gentleman, today I have the honor of speaking with you on behalf of a serious issue regarding not only the law, but the fate of the entire nation.”
Harkin’s words fell like sweet honey on the ears of the Senate, “As you know, there has been some concern over the legality of certain amendments to the StarChild Act. These amendments would authorize the City-State Federal Government to screen citizens not only for major health concerns as an embryo or fetus, but they will allow StarChild to scan for positive traits such as high degrees of intelligence, physical prowess, and longevity. We would then, as you know, be able to classify the embryos before they reach full-term.
“This will allow certain governmental bodies concerned with labor, science, research, health care, defense, and arts to discern who is best suited for which field of study long before the normal testing cycle. And as you know, tracking usually begins in the second year of a child’s life. But here, class identification will begin within the mother’s womb. Members of the Senate, it is with high hopes that the S-Amendment would be able to remedy the current decline in scientific research and innovation and usher in the Golden Age of prosperity in City-State.
“Unfortunately, there is a slight conflict with previous laws concerning DNA privacy. This has caused many of you fine senators to indicate that you would vote against such an amendment. I have met with the Supreme Court on this matter, and we have reached a ruling.”
At this point, a number of loud murmurs started slowly emanating from the floor. The voices quickly turned into shouting, and then a dull roar ignited, interrupting Harkin’s speech.
“What’s going on? asked Jeremy, leaning over to Alaya.
“That shouldn’t happen,” she explained. “The Supreme Court can’t rule on something that isn’t even law. A law has to be passed first in order to be considered for any court – let alone the Supreme Court.”
President Wilhelm allowed the chaos to build for a moment before he caught Harkin’s annoyed, dirty look. Rolling his eyes, Wilhelm pounded the gavel repeatedly at egregious disruption until the noise level dropped.
Harkin patiently waited for complete silence, and he received it after a minute. He smiled and addressed the Senate, “We have a ruling on SB 114123.5b, also known as the S-Amendment, and we determined that DNA privacy laws are not being violated because the fetal screenings – original to the StarChild Act – are beneficial to society as well as the individual. This will not result in discrimination, but it would result in the proper placement of all our citizens.”
There were several shouts of approval from the Neo-Progressive side as cries of “Vindication!” and “Vote now!” resounded throughout the chamber. The Progressive party generated mixed reviews of the statement while the Liberal party was in total uproar. A few Liberals yelled “Rights violations!” and “This amounts to slavery!”
Harkin’s red silk shirt glistened in the chamber’s lights. He smiled and continued over the outbursts, “Each citizen could be fast-tracked to his or her most useful post in City-State. No longer would A-Class and S-Class citizens get lost in the shuffle of every day labor. No longer would society have to suffer for want of highly skilled people in the right positions. Everyone would benefit, and that is why the Supreme Court and I approved this ruling. Privacy does not mean that we are allowed to linger while society collapses. That isn’t privacy; it’s piracy. It’s outright theft. No man has the right to stand idle while another falls to his death!” And on this last word, the Supreme Judge slammed his right hand on the podium and swiftly raised his outstretched palm to his audience.
The Senate floor erupted in cheers and applause. Harkin, satisfied with his speech, stepped down and from behind the podium. He adjusted his black trench coat and smoothed his hair. He looked to Senator Jarvis to complete the process.
Senator Jarvis stopped shaking and sweating. He stood up. The nervous senator could call for a vote of acclaim instead of a head count. This would ensure that the bill passed without objection.
Harkin paused just as he was about to step out of the room. He presented Senator Jarvis with a slow nod. “Thank you, Senator. Please finish this.”
“Yes, sir,” said Senator Jarvis.
Supreme Judge Harkin cascaded the steps that lead to the Senate floor. His exit was as bold as his entrance – every senator spied him enviously. In an instant, the chamber’s doors opened, and he disappeared.
Jeremy looked over at Alaya who was staring at the commotion in dismay. “That seems to have gone the way Harkin wanted it. Did Wilhelm get his way, too? I caught that maybe he and Harkin aren’t the best of friends.”
“Jeremy, to be honest, I have no idea what’s going on,” admitted Alaya as she applauded to conform with the rest of the audience.
Jeremy sensed her frustration. She seemed to understand simple City-State politics in the short time he has known her.
Senator Jarvis turned his beaming face to President Wilhelm, “Mr. President, I make a motion to vote for the passage of the S-Amendment of the StarChild Act by a vote of acclaim.”
The crowd cheered, and President Wilhelm hammered his gavel for silence. His deep brown eyes scanned the room. The Senate took a few minutes to calm down, but Wilhelm finally got what he wanted. His voice bellowed throughout the chamber, “Senator Jarvis has moved to vote by acclaim, and the motion has been seconded.”
“By who?” screamed a Liberal senator. The Senate floor erupted again.
Slamming down his gavel, the President silenced the room, “The motion has been seconded, and we will vote by acclaim!” Without waiting for any other outbursts, Wilhelm shouted, “All in favor?”
The room ruptured into total chaos. Rambunctious arguing encompassed the chamber, and no one heard a comprehensible word, much less a vote of approval. But Wilhelm was undeterred. He stood up and clutched his gavel.
“This is not going to turn out well,” said Alaya. She looked concerned.
Jeremy only stared at the train wreck below. He was sucked into the drama.
“All opposed?” said Wilhelm in a soft tone. Without waiting for a response, the President declared a verdict. “The ‘yays’ have it. The S-Amendment has passed!”
The opposing senators wailed in protest. Some picked up chairs and hurled them at Wilhelm. Others threw their MediPalms and empty coffee mugs in his direction. The President dodged the flying objects. “Yes, again, the S-Amendment, in accordance to the StarChild Act, has passed. Clear the room!” he shouted as he ducked behind his chair. He pulled out his MediPalm and quickly notified the National Police Force.
“What the hell kind of proceedings are these? This is absolutely crazy!” said Jeremy.
Alaya grabbed Jeremy’s hand. She widened her eyes. Jeremy became silent when he noticed the a number of people marching into the Senate chamber.
“Here come the police,” said Dr. Smith. “Please. Don’t say another word.”
The President stood up and motioned for the National Police to clear the room of senators. The uniformed officers in black drew their stun-batons and started herding the angry officials out of the chamber. Slowly, the crowd began to disperse, but not before a number of rebellious, Liberal senators lay scattered on the floor. They were unconscious, but alive. As instructed, the police removed everyone including the guest doctors in the grandstands.
“That’s democracy?” asked Jeremy as a nightstick jabbed into his backside.
“Do what they say,” said Dr. Smith. “I don’t want to be short-staffed in the morning. And none of you need arrest records.”
Alaya did not move. She stuck an accusing finger into a police officer’s face. “Now I know why we needed to sign that non-disclosure agreement,” snarled Alaya as a National Police Officer grabbed her collar and shoved her. She flew backwards, slammed into Jeremy’s chest, and crumpled to the floor.
“Hey! Don’t touch her!” yelled Jeremy as he caught Alaya. He helped her to her feet.
With Dr. Smith’s help, he led her out of the Senate chamber and into the adjacent lobby. The other doctors followed.
“Are you all right, Alaya?” asked Jeremy.
“Yes. Thanks,” she smiled.
“Oh my god! Who would ever want to get into politics?” asked Jeremy.
“Wilhelm and Harkin seem to know how to work the system,” said Alaya.
“Right. And it looks like we – the doctors – are caught in the middle,” said Jeremy.