by Ailsa Zheng
His name was Warner Briggs. He was a multi-billionaire who created Blades—cell phones that could be used to watch live television as well as be cameras, mp3 players, memory cards, and web browsers all in one. He was also running for president but nobody thought much of it since he was third-party candidate and all, but then he delivered the Beautify America speech on television.
"Thomas Jefferson wrote of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," his said, "but what exactly is the pursuit of happiness? In fact, how can we pursue happiness if so many of our hard-earned tax dollars are being taken away from us? How can we pursue happiness if we're struggling to make ends meet? The sales tax is unfair, certainly, but it would be equally unfair for us to raise the income tax even more and punish others for success. As your future president, I shall rid you of your state tax without raising the income tax, and a vote for me is a vote to beautify America."
Briggs also put millions of his own dollars into his campaign and had TV advertisements in all fifty states. His campaign petitioned and donated so much that his name was on the ballot in all 50 states.
On every news channel, correspondents argued how ridiculous Briggs' campaign promise was. "How can Briggs possibly get rid of the sales tax? It's state money, not federal money. This is another example of ludicrous presidential promises." But the media's disapproval of Beautify America only gave him more fame. Briggs soon became the frontrunner of the presidential campaign, and in January of 2021 he was inaugurated into the presidency.
"After eight years of Obama and then four years Pelosi, I'm just glad we don't have another welfare-thriving, faggot-kissing, tree-hugging liberal," Dad said.
But the sales tax diminished and the income tax stayed the same. My parents were stunned when they watched the news that morning—and from then on became Briggs supporters.
"Best damn president since George W. Bush!" Dad proclaimed.
"I don't know how he's going to make up all that money, but I'm certainly not complaining," Mom agreed.
We quickly learned where the money was coming from. My little brother Tommy had suffered severe brain damage in a drowning accident when he was two, and when we tried to enroll him in the first grade the school board refused us.
"Mrs. Chavez, our school does not have the…our school cannot provide for your son's special needs," the principal of my old elementary school said.
Mom was confused, "The school has a program specifically for kids like Tommy, I've been reading up on it ever since my daughter enrolled here."
The principal shook her head, "Not anymore, not since the Liberty Act. To make up for the money lost in tax cuts, Congress passed legislation to remove Special Needs programs from public school systems."
"But what about my son's—"
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Chavez. Perhaps you may consider home-schooling him?"
The Liberty Act didn't upset my parents too much—they agreed it was probably best not to send Tommy to a public school.
"I suppose it would be selfish for us to do that to him," Dad said that night, "he could easily be teased, I suppose Briggs knew what was better for Tommy than we did."
"Private care would be better," Mom agreed.
Tommy was lying across the sofa and making gurgling noises in his throat as if he were still a baby. His head drooped to one side and he was fidgeting with his fingers. Mom went over and hugged him.
Congress passed many other bills with an unusual amount of support: euthanasia was legalized in all fifty states. The death penalty was once again legal for minors who were convicted of serious acts. Social Security was privatized. The government no longer fed money into retirement homes. Briggs always had great reasons for everything, and everyone trusted him.
Three years later, I entered college as a political science major. Like every college student I mentally laid out my four-year plan: get an on-campus job during my first two years while getting top grades in all my classes (never mind that B-average in high school), have a serious part-time job during my final two, and then get my degree and go straight to Washington to work for a US Senator. Republican, of course.
But like every college student, I did what all first-year college students did best: drinking and partying. One night my roommate Stephanie threw a party with me, and we invited several of the boys in our hall.
"You know why women are lucky?" One drunken college boy asked.
"Why?" Stephanie asked.
"Because they can never die from starvation and stuff. I mean, if you left a woman alone in the middle of a desert she can like, suck on her own boob and stay alive."
The room was silent for a moment.
"Dude, that's totally deep," Another college boy said.
Stephanie crawled on all fours up to me until her face was just a few inches away from mine. I stared blankly back at her for a while she brushed her straight dark hair away from her face. Then she looked straight at me, clearly as drunk as I was.
"Jen, do you think I'm pretty?" She asked.
I giggled, "I think everyone's pretty."
This wasn't the answer she was looking for. "Tell me I'm pretty!"
"You're pretty," I said.
She stared at me silently for a moment, and I didn't know what to do so I stared straight back at her. Then I bent my head forward and threw up.
"Gross!" She exclaimed.
I wiped the back of my hand on my mouth and quickly stood up. "Sorry, I'll go clean it up." I quickly stood up and teeter-tottered my way to the girls' bathroom, my cheeks burning from humiliation.
In the bathroom I cleaned out my mouth and splashed water on my face. I took one look in the mirror and suddenly wondered why I was drinking and what my parents would do if they found out. The door swung open and I turned to see who was there.
It was one of the boys at our party, Charlie. He was tall and skinny with glasses, and wore a big black watch on his thin wrist. Steph and I only invited him to our party because we invited his roommate, and Charlie was the type of guy who would watch the party but never actually drink.
I wet my fingers and pat my hair down. "I'm fine."
"You sure? I don't think you should be wandering around the halls alone when you're drunk," Charlie said. He was still standing in the doorway, not bold enough to step completely into the bathroom but not shy enough to leave.
I pulled a long sheet from the towel dispenser. "I'm sober already."
I walked past Charlie and down the hall when I realized Charlie was following me.
"I said I'm sober already!"
Charlie shrugged, "Steph told me to watch you."
In my room, the drunks now huddled in a corner and argued the possibility of burping and farting at the same time. I crawled onto my knees and laid the towels over the mess on the carpet while Charlie looked at the pictures on my desk.
"Is that your cousin or something?" He asked, picking up a photograph. It was taken only two months before I started college. In it, Tommy and I were sitting on the patio in our backyard and I had my arms wrapped around him while smiling for the camera.
"That's little brother. He's nine."
"How come his eyes look so weird?"
Briggs created a mandate: Americans who were on death row were all assigned a number of 1. Americans who were sentenced to life in prison were all assigned a number of 2. These people would be removed from maximum security prisons and put in special institutions in rural north-east Oregon.
The media took us inside the empty institutions the prisoners were supposed to be kept in and they looked relatively nice. Everything was new, there were modern showers and gyms. SC News even described what delicious, healthy foods 1's and 2's would get. "People will be happy in these institutions, it's like heaven on Earth", an anchorwoman reported, the screen then transformed into a clip of Briggs telling Americans that these institutions made America safer for the rest of us, yet did not raise our taxes.
And so 1's and 2's were never heard from again. Incurable patients from mental institutions were rounded up next and labeled as 3's. Tommy was labeled as a 4. It didn't make sense to me: how could we afford such nice living institutions for 1's and 2's when they didn't deserve it? Where did all the money come from? There were people over the internet who said it was all a conspiracy and these people were really being killed to save money on government funding, but these people were immediately branded as "paranoid Briggs-haters" and nobody else took them seriously.
I joined an online community called BBD: Bring Briggs Down. The people there were Briggs-haters and would post news articles about his suspicious acts.. I was reading such a news article when Charlie poked his head through my half-open door.
"'Sup Jen, what are you looking at?"
I quickly closed the window. "Nothing."
"Was that Warner Briggs?"
Charlie watched me for a moment. "You know, Briggs is making a speech just across the city next week."
I sat up. "What?"
"Yeah, at City Hall. My mom works there, and she says they've closed down a room for his re-election speech."
"Are normal people allowed to attend?" I asked eagerly.
"Sure, if they support him."
The next week Charlie and I went to City Hall wearing Briggs '24 pins on our chests. There were hundreds of people standing on the lawn outside City Hall. My heart sank a little when I realized getting in wouldn't be easy, and Charlie and I took our spots at a long, thick line of Briggs supporters.
One of the campaign volunteers came up to me. He was one of those fat men with skin that was always flushed pink and his skin clashed horribly with his bright yellow vest. There were sunglasses on his face even though it was winter. The man studied me for a moment before speaking.
"You're Latino, right?" He asked.
I blinked. "My parents were both born in the US, but my dad's dad was from Mex—"
"Close enough. What questions would you ask?"
I went along with the plan. "I would ask him what I, as a young person, should do to help my peers understand the importance of supporting the Darwinist Party."
The man's face was unreadable behind his sunglasses, but after a moment he nodded quickly but seriously. "All right, you're in. And tell the guys inside I want you in the front row."
"Racial bias is a wonderful thing," Charlie remarked once we settled into place in on a row of risers. We were standing in the front row and filming already started. I felt rather nervous when I saw two cameramen perched on either side of the stage.
Soon there was a burst of applause and I saw a man about 5'10 in a suit enter the room from the side. It was Warner Briggs and seeing him in person was a big shock—for a moment I wanted to back out of my original plan, but remembered Tommy could be killed next.
Briggs spoke for half an hour, and then he started to take questions from the people. I quickly raised my hand, but the man before me asked a question instead. I raised my hand again, but another man got his question in. I raised my hand a third time, and was given a microphone. I suddenly became very aware of my heartbeat and my numb legs, but I asked what I was supposed to.
"My name is Jen Chavez and my question is about the rehabilitation mandate. Mr. President, recently you have sent 1's and 2's to institutions in rural parts of Oregon. From what I understand, family members are forbidden to contact these people. They are given news about how well these people are doing, but never pictures or video footage. How do we know these people are still alive?"
My question was obviously not planted, and security officers were giving each other looks. The cameras focused on me for a moment, and then turned to Briggs for his reaction.
"Well Jen, the purpose of separating these people from society is so they cannot drag us down. These people are serial-killers and rapists who show no remorse—"
"So you admit they're being killed." I interrupted.
"I never said such a thing. I only said the purpose of relocating these people was to keep their family members from contacting them. The lack of communication helps these people's loved ones from being dragged down with them. Next question, please."
The man who held my microphone now started to move away to end the conversation, but I reached out and took hold of the microphone.
"You're throwing people into gas chambers, that's what you're doing."
On cue, Charlie pulled off his shirt. He had Briggs' portrait drawn on his skinny bare chest with black marker, except there was a Hitler moustache on the upper lip. Now the security officers appeared. "Ma'am, we would like you to leave the stage."
I squeezed the microphone tight as hands reached over to pull it away from me. People in the audience started booing, and some started yelling profanities and threats at me. I felt myself start shaking, but I continued.
"And the entire audience is planted. I had to pretend I was a supporter in order to get in here because everything here is staged. And you know why the entire audience is planted? It's because you're afraid of people throwing hardball questions at you!"
Finally the security officers dragged me out of the room and threw me and Charlie out of the building.
From that moment on, my face made its way onto nighttime news channels and all over the internet. I decided to use my fifteen minutes of fame by writing an entry on my blog, telling people that someone severely handicapped like Tommy would be also be "rehabilitated". The entry asked people not to vote for Briggs in his re-election. As a finishing touch, I ended the article with the picture of Tommy and me hugging on the patio.
Charlie told me to title my entry Save Tommy. ("We've gotta milk the emotions, Jen. You know how politics work.") Charlie had his fraternity Google-bomb my blog so it would be the first site that popped up if someone looked up my name on the web.
I found Charlie less annoying and more entertaining as the days went by. Charlie also had dreams of working for a US senator right after graduating, except he wanted to continue on and become president himself one day. I laughed.
"What's so funny?" Charlie demanded.
"You think I can't become president?"
"You've got no connections and no money," I pointed out.
"I'll be famous once your blog changes history forever," Charlie insisted, "and Warner Briggs loses the presidency to Chelsea Clinton."
"Ew, she won't even win her own party's primaries. You Democrats are crazy."
"We are not, you Republicans are just too sober."
Winter break started and we had nothing to do except to wait for readers to stumble across my blog. We had a webpage counter to keep track of how many hits Save Tommy received. On the first day, 3,164 hits. On the second day, 106,504 hits. The numbers kept growing, and after one week, over 4 million people (or at least 4 million different IP addresses) found their way onto my blog's viewing history.
My face and Tommy's were showed on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, and other channels. I also received numerous emails ranging from the good "You're so brave to speak out like this! God bless you!" to the very bad "Fuck you, you Mexican bitch! I hope your little brother dies a slow and painful death! Briggs '24!" and it was the negative emails that made my parents fear for my life. Because of this they made me turn down numerous TV interviews including one with Barbara Walters ("That woman is still alive?" Dad asked. "Wow!").
I later hid in my house, afraid of how many people would recognize my face on the street. Both my parents agreed, thinking it was safer, and we wondered how I could be protected when I went back to college. My mom considered going to the police for help, but the police came to us first.
"Is this the home of Jennifer Chavez?" A broad-shouldered officer demanded at the doorway as he shifted all his weight onto one side.
I came down the stairs. "That's me."
"Miss Chavez, we have a warrant for your arrest."
They took me to an Administrative Prison and I spent the night in an all-white prison cell with a window and four white walls, alone. The sheets were thin and the pillow felt plastic, but at least I wasn't sharing some smelly, barred, metal cell with a beefy lesbian named Maud.
The next day I was told I had a visitor. That surprised me, because they forbid Mom and Dad from coming to meet me. I could hear footsteps outside of my cell and human voices rise in volume as they came closer to my door. A scratching sound of a key unlocking my door, and then the white door opened up.
There were two prison guards there, as well as three outsiders. One was a solemn-looking man with a comb over, another was an elderly blonde woman in a dark blue skirt-suit. The third was Warner Briggs.
He looked much older than he did just a week earlier at the City Hall meeting, but then he was in front of cameras and wore layers of makeup for the camera. His skin looked much more flawed and bumpy now, and he lost all traces of the cheery personality he had on camera.
He pulled a folded sheet of paper out of his pocket and started reading a line from my blog, "'A vote for Briggs is a vote against America. We are a proud country built on Democracy and we cannot let this power-hungry madman play us like he's breeding guppies.'"
Briggs looked at me. "Like I'm breeding guppies? People with low ranks like your vegetable of a brother are what holds America back! Evolution is what makes us humans—we evolved from those damn bacteria to become the miracles we are today! Survival of the fittest is necessary. What good do comatose victims, criminals, or the mentally retarded do for us? They eat up the money we could use to pay off our National Debt, and they create stressful burdens on their own loved ones."
The situation felt ridiculous to me—I was an eighteen and a nobody. Did Briggs really view me as such a threat?
"I'm guessing you read my blog," I said.
"You've hurt my campaign. The media has suddenly started attacking me like never before, and you're the little pest who's to blame for all of this. Why does it matter to you, Jen, if I kill criminals or retarded people? What have they done for America?"
"Killing so-called 'weaker' people is against my morality," I said.
Briggs laughed. "Morality! You Republicans are so fond of that word. What exactly is morality, Jen? It's what society makes of it, that's what it is—ever heard of the categorical imperative? The acts we consider immoral are just the acts that we don't want to fall victim too. Don't lie to yourself, all humans are naturally selfish."
I straightened up proudly, "I'm not."
"I'm just trying to save my brother."
"You're trying to save what used to be your brother, Jen. According to your article the real Tommy died when he was two."
I looked away, but Briggs continued staring at me.
"And why is it," Briggs continued, "that you're so keen to save this empty shell you call your brother?"
"Because I love him!"
I was staring at the bare white floor, but I could hear Briggs' voice rise in excitement."
"Is it really love you're fighting for, Jen? How is it that you said your brother drowned? Oh, that's right, you never mentioned it in your article, did you? All you said was that he was underwater for eight minutes. Now why would you leave out something so important as that? Did little Tommy fall into a pool, Jen? Or maybe little Tommy was left alone in a bathtub by a neglectful eleven-year-old sister…"
"I got it right, didn't I!" Briggs exclaimed triumphantly. "I knew there was more to the story. It was your fault, Jen, you signed your own brother's death warrant and in the past few days you've signed your own with that damn article. I'm a smart man, Jen. You can call me a Nazi and the Anti-Christ and you certainly have in your article, but the one thing you cannot deny is my brilliance. You say I lack heart, but everything I've done has benefited America as a whole. I've lowered taxes and I've taken out the lowest forms of life in America."
"You're insane." I said.
"I'm not a bad man, Jen. I'm a good man, a very good man. I've done what's best for this country. There are some people in this world who just ought to die, and I won't stop until I kill off every loony, every retard, and every welfare mother that has dragged our country down. We need less of them and more intelligent people like you or me. You're a smart kid, Jen, I don't want you to be convicted of sabotage when you're so resourceful. That's why I'll make you a deal: you apologize to all of America saying you were wrong and endorse me, and I'll make sure those charges on you drop. How about it?"
"Go fuck yourself," I said.
Briggs' face turned fierce again. "If you are unwilling to undo your wrongs, Jen, you must go too. Your philosophy makes you just as bad as the people you fight so hard to save. Goodbye, Jen."
In the next four months I was tried, found guilty on all accounts, and sent aboard a train ride to Oregon to be euthanized. Briggs had made sure that not only would the number fours be "moved" on the same day, but Tommy would be in the same car with me on the train ride.
And so Tommy sat there in the same car with me. It was a metal enclosing, and because of our special circumstance there were only two of us in the car unlike the packed ones in front and behind ours, where we could hear dozens of people wailing and screaming to be let out.
I crawled up and sat down next to him.
"We're going on an adventure, Tommy," I said, "it's a very big and long adventure, and when I was a little kid my Sunday school teacher told me it would be this place full of bright happy clouds and singing angels, and we'll be happy for the rest of eternity."
I paused, and Tommy let his head fall back with his mouth open.
"Or maybe you're already there," I corrected myself, "maybe you were there since you were two. In that case, I hope you won't still be mad at me when I come up there to meet you. I did everything I could, you know."