[This is original fiction by Marion Deeds. If you want to link to it, fine. If you quote it, give me credit.]
“I can’t talk to you right now,” Shillaylee said as the volunteer brought Heather into the empty garage. Shillaylee was striking poses under a “Shillaylee for City Council; We Fight Change,” banner, fluorescent light glaring off her blond hair. “I’m developing a new signature gesture.”
“You’ve missed our last two meetings,” Heather said. “And I’m confused by your slogan. Since when do you fight change?”
“‘We fight for change.’ I always fight for change. Geez, Heather, where’ve you been?”
“That’s not what it says.” Heather pointed.
Shillaylee turned around and stared at the banner. Heather saw her lips moving, and then the slender, athletic woman whirled and sprinted toward the door. “You guys! The sign is wrong! It’s wrong!” She disappeared into the other room. Heather tapped her fingers together while she waited for her client to come back.
“Thanks for pointing that out,” Shillaylee said, reentering the garage.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Running for office. Making a difference. Fighting for change.”
“It’s marginally better than sitting around reminiscing about the dystopian governments you’ve toppled, I guess,” Heather said, “but you don’t stand a chance.”
Shillaylee straightened up and pushed back her shoulders. She raised her chin. “I never stand a chance, Heather, but I fight. I fight and I win. Things are bad here. There’s something dark and rotten at the heart of this city council, and it’s going to take us, the people they don’t even look at, to—”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Shillaylee, no offense, but you’re thirty-three. You aren’t a scrappy, charismatic young teenager fighting an evil government anymore. And not everything’s a dystopia.”
“Oh, yeah? Have you seen what this city council did to that homeless encampment? They bulldozed it! It’s just wrong.”
“It takes money to run for office,” Heather said, infusing her voice with as much reasonableness as she could. “It takes name and face recognition. It takes a last name. Do you have one?”
“Jones. Shillaylee Jones. I fight for change.”
Heather closed her eyes and ran her fingers through her short graying hair. “You couldn’t even get your first banner right. Have you researched your district? It had sixteen percent local turnout at the last election.”
“I’ll rally the people.”
“By tossing your hair and striking fight poses?”
Shillaylee’s shoulders hunched a little. “It used to work.”
“It’s time to give it up, Shillaylee. I’ve worked with you for ten years now. You’ve been a good hero but you have to face facts. This thing just isn’t in your skill set.”
Shillaylee delivered one of her signature glare-with-sneer looks. “I thought the Champion Recruitment Agency never gave up on a hero. You sound just like the President and the Council back home. I led the revolution that toppled them, remember?”
“That’s where I found you, hungover and moaning about the good old days. Do you remember?”
“Well, whatever. You’ve let me down.”
“Sorry to disappoint, Shill, but you can’t win this. Even if you did, you wouldn’t know what to do. You’d be a useless dupe.”
“That’s not true! I’ve been – talking to people! I’ve been listening in coffee shops and laundromats. I know what the issues are.”
“You don’t have a platform.”
“Stop bulldozing homeless encampments!”
“Great start,” Heather said. “How long before you start dating someone in your opponent’s campaign, and then wondering if you can trust them? How long before you’re up on some rooftop staring at the sunset and brooding when you should be at the debate?”
Shillaylee gulped. “There’s a debate?”
“And what about those volunteers in there? Are you really going to disillusion all six of them, ruin their dreams, when you’re crushed on election day?”
Shillaylee stared, her thick lashes quivering over her blue eyes. “Someone got to you,” she whispered. “I can’t believe it. The Hero Recruitment Agency has been co-opted.”
“I know you don’t believe this,” Heather said. “But I’m trying to help you.”
Shillaylee stretched out her arm, her fingers curled, her index finger pointing at the door. “Get out!” she said.
Heather sighed and turned away.
Shillaylee called after her, “You know what? I’m going to start looking stuff up. I’m going to read up on the city council and what they do. And I’m going to start having town meetings! I’m going to win!”
Heather walked through the living room where a volunteer was saying into a phone, “For change. It’s Fighting for Change.” Outside, she turned left and headed down the cracked sidewalk past the shabby houses with their neat stoops, until she came to a local coffee shop. Lucas sat at a table near the back, pulling up data on his phone. “You owe me a coffee,” she said.
“She did not pick Jones.”
At Heather’s grin he shook his head and went to get drinks. Delivering them, he said, “How’d it go?”
Heather sat down. “Perfectly. The projections?”
“Worst case, she’ll get six percent of the vote, but best case, she’ll get twenty, this time. And she’ll inspire a bunch of people. In four years, when she runs again?” He raised both hands in a cartoon shrug. “Maybe she even wins.”
“All the people she inspires,” Heather said. “We’re always counting the ripples.”
“Did she give you a hard time?”
“It’s Shillaylee, what do you think?”
“Were you worried about overplaying it?”
Heather shook her head. “She’s so oppositional-defiant, overplaying would be almost impossible. I’ll go back in a month, tell her I was wrong, that I’ve seen the light…”
“And yada yada ya,” Lucas said. He sipped his drink. “Do you ever miss Intake? I remember thinking, back in those days when I was chasing down champions who needed more challenge, how much I’d like case management. It seemed so easy. But all this manipulation… Is it worth it?”
Heather looked around, as the proud, shabby neighborhood that deserved a change. It deserved a champion. “Yeah,” she said. “Definitely worth it.”