The year is 2228. Bill Ashwood is set to become the most powerful man in Florida since the separation of America into individually governed states. Discovered by the League and primed to win the gubernatorial election, Bill is expected to give the voters what they want – a fiery speech condemning gays in America. Despite his reservations, Bill goes ahead and gives the speech, but the seeds of doubt are planted in his mind. Along with the secret desires he harbors in his dreams, Bill’s poised for a change of heart that will ensure nothing in his life will ever be the same again.
Daniel Wilson – a journalist for the Miami Reporter – receives a late night phone call asking him to watch the video of Ashwood’s speech. Incensed by what he sees as a personal attack on him and millions of others, he hatches a plan to seduce Ashwood and expose him in a special report.
Seduction is never easy, and soon Daniel finds himself falling for Ashwood, who claims to want out of the hateful riots planned by his campaign manager. If Ashwood wants to bring down the League’s campaign in Florida, he’ll have to take off his mask and tell the world the truth about his affair – but the League will go to any lengths to keep their dirty laundry under wraps.
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I was impressed with the author skill in creating a view point of a time in the future with the same issues we face today. In many respects time seemed to stand still for 200 years. A vastly degraded educational system, decades old economic malaise and a continuing battle for the soul of the country has broke up the former United States into its constituent parts.
The focus of this book is the gubernatorial election in Florida which pits the force against each other. The political divide is well developed. Neither candidate is without flaws. The political tension reaches a fever pitch when the conservative candidate publicly comes out of the closet, faces an assassination attempt by his supporters and a liberal candidate who is ultimately elected resigns from office.
This book is fast paced, well written and left me wanting to read more. – Hearts On Fire, 4.5 stars.
Bill Ashwood stood in front of a full-length mirror, the calm in the midst of a flurry of activity. A make-up artist applied powder to Bill’s face while an assistant adjusted his suit and pinned a League flag to his lapel. Bill stared at the reflective glass, taking a pensive look at himself. Silken brown hair was combed over to disguise a slightly receding hairline. Blue-grey eyes looked back at him, a steely, professional gaze that masked his own personal tragedy; his wife, Laura, and son, Bobby, lost one fateful night in a car accident. A round, open face made him seem trustworthy to the masses, but all he could see were the wrinkles of middle age starting to set in. His bones ached with the physical exertion of each night spent in a different hotel bed, and he felt much older than his thirty-five years.
He sighed and pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket, unfolding it. His speech was laid out on the page, a thousand words of fiery rhetoric from the mind of his speechwriter and chief of staff, Dean Eizen. He read over the speech, biting his lip as he considered the things he was about to say. With these words I step off of the fence of moderation and into the realms of extremism. That’s what the League voters want. That’s what Dean claims will get me elected.
Dean stood in the open doorway, a smile pursed between thin lips. He knocked on the door out of politeness, but he proceeded to walk in casually, like he was a part of Bill’s family. Bill noticed the pungent aroma of hair gel and looked up to see Dean’s black hair, slick and greasy-looking. Thin eyebrows and a drawn face, along with icy blue eyes and a short stature relative to Bill, cast Dean as the mean little man behind the curtain. He saw Bill looking down at the speech with doubt written on his face, and casually laid a hand on Bill’s shoulder. Dean ushered the aides out with a sharp glance that made them scatter like ants bathed in scolding water. He waited until they left and shut the door behind them.
“You’re not worried about the speech, are you?” Dean asked.
“I still think we should make some changes. We’re alluding to murder here. It doesn’t sit well with me.” Bill paced the room, his polished dress shoes sinking into the thick pile carpet.
“Listen, Bill,” Dean said. “I know you. You hate to piss people off. You want to have your cake and eat it too. Well, you’re not pleasing anybody. Polls have you behind by ten points. League voters have overwhelmingly stated that you’re not hardline enough. They think you’re sitting on the fence about the important social issues of our time. Which you are.”
“I’m still not comfortable with this.” Bill sighed, looking at the paper in his hand with something akin to disgust. “Inciting people to kill homosexuals is over the top.”
“Over the top is exactly what they want.” Dean gesticulated with his hands, speaking with passion in his voice. “Out there are some of the League’s biggest financial backers, and they want some of the liberal changes to our state laws rolled back. An end to gay marriage. Prohibition of pornography and immoral materials. Protection for the traditional American family. Privileged status for religion. They’re willing to put their money where their mouths are if you can speak for them.”
Bill slumped down on the edge of the bed and fought the urge to play with a loose strand of cotton hanging from the comforter. “They want the Purge here in Florida. Nothing less. I’m to be the face of that?”
“If you’ve got a conscience, you’re in the wrong business,” Dean said. “Come on, you’ve said it yourself a thousand times: words don’t always equal actions. We’re on the verge of war with the Alliance and people want to hear that we’re with them. It doesn’t mean we’re going to start the Purge here today. Just read the speech, get yourself elected, and we’ll work from there.”
Bill realized how cornered he was as he considered his other options and realized he didn’t have any. “All right. Let’s get this unpleasant business over with.”
“The League’s supporting your candidacy for state governor,” Dean said. “Just pay them a little lip service, will you? Without their money, you would still be screwing around on the local level. Now you’re set to become the most powerful man in Florida. Being Governor is the closest thing to President since the end of federal government. Don’t underestimate how important this race is.” Dean shepherded Bill to the door, patting him on the back and pressing him onward to his fate.
So you keep reminding me, Bill thought as he strode along the corridor, painting a smile on his face as the press took photos. Have I sold my soul to the League? It’s not like I believe homosexuals are right, but this kind of talk is dangerous. It only takes one zealot to start a fire and the whole of Florida could be consumed by the Purge. Book burnings, arrests… I had hoped League candidacy didn’t have to mean those things. Maybe I was wrong.
Before he knew it, Bill was being gently pushed out from behind the curtain to polite applause. He stepped up to the podium and laid out the paper containing his speech. He cleared his throat and sipped from a glass of water. Expectant eyes looked up at him. The eager crowd held their breath waiting for his first word. Campaign cameramen stood ready to stream his video on the Net, so it could be watched worldwide.
“People want to hear that we’re with them.” Dean’s words echoed in Bill’s mind as he studied the crowd. The audience was generally older and male, though women and young people were dotted throughout the audience. Most of the attendees wore red clothes to support the Moral League. Technology lit up the crowd, with cellphones, tablets, and Net glasses delivering live updates and poll numbers to the League’s most diehard supporters.
This movement is bigger than me and will continue whether I make this speech here today or not, Bill thought. If I don’t, I will be replaced. Dean’s words told me that much. The League wants fire and brimstone, and one way or another, they will get it. He was aware of the silence in the room and ran his fingers across the sapphire glass tablet that rested on the podium, eyeing the holographic words of his speech that floated just above the screen. Maybe it has to be me making this speech. Perhaps I can control this frenzy, stop the Purge from happening here in Florida and bring political discourse back to a more respectable level. Each state of America is a nation state now. Florida doesn’t have to dance to the tune of any higher power. Even the League.
Someone in the audience cleared their throat. Bill realized that every eye in the audience watched him as he stood in silence. The air conditioning gave the room a chill, yet Bill felt sweat trickle down his forehead as the spotlight of the whole world was trained on him. Anticipation filled the room, and Bill thought he might choke onstage as he froze like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car. He thought about Dean’s words.
“Just read the speech, get yourself elected, and we’ll work from there.”
Bill Ashwood opened his mouth and began to speak, shedding his doubts and slipping into character. The man that addressed the audience was everything the League wanted and more.
Daniel Wilson rolled over in bed as his phone rang to the Alliance anthem, wiping sleepy sand from his chocolate brown eyes. He uttered a guttural sound that belonged more to instinct than rational thought, before picking up the wafer-thin glass slate that served as a cellphone. He looked at its translucent screen with another incomprehensible complaint and pressed his fingerprint to the glass to answer the call, running his other hand through short, messy brown hair and down to scratch the stubble on his square chin. He reached for the glasses that sat on his bedside table, putting them on with relief and watching the bedroom slip into focus.
“Hello?” Daniel’s voice was husky and dry. He climbed out of bed, clad only in boxer shorts and headed to the kitchen. He opened the fridge and pulled out a carton of orange juice. He checked the date and poured himself a glass before heading back into the bedroom. The cool liquid eased his throat. He recognized the voice on the other end of the phone: Marissa, his assistant at the Miami Reporter.
“Danny, there’s something I think you should see.”
“Rissa, it’s three in the morning. Unless the war has started, I don’t want to hear about it.” Daniel fought back exhaustion and resisted the urge to hang up, but a gut feeling told him to hear her out. Perhaps the war has started. It’s inevitable at some point. The Moral League and the Freedom Alliance cannot co-exist in this world.
“I’m sending a link to your e-mail right now. Grab your laptop.” Marissa could be heard tapping on a hard surface with her acrylic nails as Daniel fumbled around for his laptop bag. He pulled the featherweight, paper-thin computer out of the bag and set it on his lap, flipping it open in one easy motion. He tapped the symbol that represented his e-mail inbox and a video feed popped up. He wrinkled his nose in disgust as the League logo filled the screen along with a progress bar.
“You called me at this hour to send me a League speech from last night? You’ve got to be kidding me,” Daniel said.
“Yeah, well, watch the video before you judge me,” Marissa said. “Trust me, you’re going to be interested. More on the personal level than the journalistic one, but I suspect you’ll be after a story on this guy when you watch it. Skip to ten minutes, thirty-one seconds for the really good stuff.”
Daniel sent the video feed to the television with a specific wave of his hand and the big-screen, wall-mounted T.V. lit up, filled with the image of Bill Ashwood, candidate for governor. He clicked his fingers and the video started to stream over his fiber-optic Net connection. Daniel skipped forward with a verbal command and settled back on his pillows to watch.
“—and I say that this country is not going to be clean, be pure and good for our kids to live in again until we clear away the filth and debauchery that fills our streets and our law books. Archaic state laws from before the Separation are still on the books, laws that allow two men or two women to marry and enjoy equal rights to the natural, Biblical couple of one man and one woman.”
“Jesus, this guy is so two-hundred years ago.” Daniel sighed in frustration, squeezing his phone harder than he normally would. “Still, that’s the League for you. What’s so important that I had to wake up for this? You know I’ve barely been sleeping lately.”
“Keep watching,” Marissa assured him. “You’re just getting to the good stuff. By the end of this, you’re going to be angry I didn’t wake you sooner.”
Daniel sighed in an attempt to relieve tension, but there was an uneasy feeling in his gut as he watched Ashwood talk. It’s like his pretty blue eyes are a thousand light-years away, even as he puts passion into this speech. What’s the deal with this guy? Is he just thinking about the buffet or does that pretty face hide a dark secret?
“It’s gotten dark in America,” Ashwood continued. “Dissolving federal government was supposed to restore our right to make the laws that matter to us, but has instead become a reason for national corruption to spread to the local level. Special interest groups have lobbied to keep laws that don’t adhere to our principles on the books, and our current Governor takes their bribes. Newspapers owned by queer liberal journalists fill our newsstands, corrupting our kids. Tell me, how can a gay man write articles about family values when he knows none?”
“Hey, that’s not cool,” Daniel said. “I had a family growing up. I appreciate the importance of children, even if I don’t want any. I have values.”
“Oh, it gets worse,” Marissa said.
“I actually think you’re enjoying this. Do you love hearing me get frustrated?”
“Sometimes. You get so riled up.” Marissa laughed, then checked herself and fell silent. The tone of her voice when she spoke again was uneasy. “Just watch it, okay?”
The energy in the crowd seemed to be growing as Ashwood spoke. Clapping seemed to break out after every sentence of his speech. He had to wait for the audience to stop making noise in order to continue. Ashwood seemed to lose his reluctance as the crowd gave their approval. He left the podium and started to walk across the stage.
“Gay men work with kids now. They have children in their homes that they call their own. That isn’t right. Kids need a father and a mother. These are the things we’ve lost: the sense of family, of tradition, of order. Chaos reigns supreme. You can see it when you look at Alliance controlled states. Two hundred years of war against the family unit and nobody knows what a traditional family looks like any more. I saw a kid on a Net video who said his dog was his brother from his two mothers. What kind of crap is that?”
“Really? You’re judging society on the Net? I guess we should all be doing the Holo Dance twenty-four-seven.” Daniel reached for the orange juice and took a sip, his mouth dry as a bone. Marissa sat silently on the other end of the phone, listening to his every word.
“Some days I look at the world and feel genuinely frightened inside,” Ashwood said. “These people are parasites, leeching from the natural order and giving nothing back. That kid was still conceived from a man’s seed, yet that man has had no part in his upbringing. These leeches are taking from society. They are feeding on life, culture and art and twisting it to their own desires while we are the ones who prop up the backbone of this country.”
“Hear, hear!” A woman yelled from the audience. Bill picked up his glass from the podium and took a sip of the cool water to ease his burning throat.
“That’s why I have to say something now that’s going to be hard to hear, something that is politically incorrect. The news organizations and the media fags are going to hate it, the Alliance politicians at the Assembly are going to decry it in a resolution, but I have to be honest now and come out and say it: we have to destroy this monster. This twisted child of our society has gone too far. We have to destroy it before it consumes us and annihilates our future. We have to take the twisted fantasies they call art and the vapid pornography their culture is based on, and we have to burn it like they did in San Francisco. We have to get rid of it before it poisons our kids. We have to silence the gay agenda that is fouling up our state and clean the streets of the queens and queers. It’s only out of the ashes that we can create anew. It’s only by cleansing the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah that we can reclaim this world in God’s name.”
The crowd stood in rapturous ovation, thunderous applause rocking the building. I feel like a preacher channeling the Holy Ghost, Ashwood thought, a smile on his face as he felt the power of something else acting through him. The crowd’s reaction filled him with energy. The part of him that loved the crowd’s adoration ate it up, and he pushed down the voice of his true self crying inside. He smothered it with the joyful cries of the crowd and the clapping that filled the auditorium as the people raised the roof in response to his words.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Daniel said. There was no mirth in his voice, no black-humored quip on his lips, just outright shock. “I can’t believe he said that. I can’t believe he said that and everyone clapped.” He put the glass down before it could shatter in his grip, realizing he was clutching it so hard his palm was white. “He wants to bring the Purge to Florida. I thought the League was backing away from murder since the Rainbow Massacre, but he’s gone and poured fuel on the fire. Fuck him.” Daniel’s voice cracked.
“Are you okay?” Marissa asked with concern in her voice.
“No, I’m not okay,” Daniel snapped. “I’m not okay with yesterday’s moderate coming out and saying he wants to destroy the LGBT community. That he wants us dead.”
“It’s not your fault, Rissa. I’m glad you called me. I need to get a story out there and blow this thing wide open. I have to show the voters what will happen if they vote for violence and hatred. Even if I only convince a few people—”
Marissa’s voice fell to a regretful whisper. “Chief doesn’t want you on this story.”
“What?” Daniel almost dropped the phone. “Why the hell not?”
“You’re too close. You’re the very definition of a queer liberal journalist. Chief doesn’t want to prove Ashwood right by having you write a fiery response article. He’s trying to protect you. Do you really want to get harassed by these jerks? They’ll pull out the sordid details of every sexual encounter you’ve ever had and make the information public. You don’t want this hateful mob after you, Danny.”
“That’s not Chief’s decision to make. I’m prepared to take the risks.”
“It is, and you know it,” Marissa said. “He’s got your best interests at heart.”
“He’s just scared of the League’s power.” Daniel sighed and rubbed his forehead. He could have sworn wrinkles were working their way in, Ashwood’s speech aging him by ten years in less than an hour. His temples throbbed from stress and exhaustion. The rise of the League across the former United States was keeping him up at night.
“Perhaps he is,” Marissa said. “Look, we all just need to keep our heads down and get through this. The election will be over soon. Ashwood will lose, I’m sure. One pre-screened crowd does not guarantee an election victory.”
“How can I keep my head down after watching a video like that?” Daniel asked. “The Purge is coming here, Rissa. How can I just sit back and watch it happen?” He stood up and walked to the balcony doors of his apartment, pulling the curtains back, opening the doors and heading outside. The cool air met his skin, and he could hear sirens echoing through the city streets. The warning lights marking Miami’s giant steel and glass skyscrapers lit up the night sky, making the stars invisible to the naked eye. The city was a modern metropolis, its growth attributable to the new spaceport that ferried people to Melvana Colony on Neptune’s moon Nereid and the fledgling League colony Advent, based on Saturn’s moon Titan. “People have to know Ashwood’s selling murder.”