Another lifetime ago, maybe, and the Consul had felt the ground shift under his feet.
In the great Californian state.
Another lifetime? Sure. He had been another man, then. A schoolmaster. The name sounded nice. Better, surely.
However, back then, they had derisively called him a teacher, the same people the state regularly turned out to the wolves at the beginning of each fall, and then reduced their pasturage, until they had nothing left. Effectively cut down to size.
In those days, while the media belabored school shootings, talked about school bullies, and Facebook, the Consul remembered – and he never forgot – the real issue. The teachers, the ones a better, more orderly civilization would have called schoolmasters, took the side of the students...the children…the ones in a state of decline.
The staff actually began to take the side of the children. The wild things won out.
That’s when the Consul knew. They had forsaken their promise to protect the children from themselves.
And then, most mercifully, the power went out.
The Consul had taught in a classroom for 15 years, and like that, the bureaucrats took it away.
They. They, they, they...
He had never blamed the bureaucrats for the first insufferables. The loss of a wife happened early in his career, and he never replaced her. The mortgage that went belly up in the golden sun. The lawsuits from students with special accommodations. He survived all that. He believed he could endure.
Then came the bankrupt times, when the school districts began to lose their money. The orders came from high up, in the former capital of Sacramento. The death sentence was handed down to schools, and just like that, new powers took over. The charter schools.
He had possessed a limitless tenure then. Overnight, the new school rulers treated him as if he was one of the underperforming. These new educational reformers, the ones from learning corporations, presented him with an at-will contract.
Sign it or lose your job.
He felt, then, at that instant, he no longer had pride. Now, the so-called reformers said the fault lay with him for the Great Underperforming. Then, they said, every year he would be judged by the number of kids who passed his classes.
He didn’t sign the contract. He lost his job and tenure.
The Consul had loved the great California state then. But his anger was soon directed at the State. Never again would he allow government to obstruct the wishes of the people.
Back then, the loss of his tenure to teach, while others practiced, followed his wrath. He had been born to teach about history! To teach about the ancients and the moderns, and inform future generations about the follies of each age.
The state hadn’t even allowed him to do that. He suffered, bouncing between schools, forced to endure other teachers reduce his love of history to pop culture. The search for cultural relevancy?
How he had lived to see the end of that age of folly...
He didn’t know it, then, but a great rebellion brewed in his heart. He just hadn’t the power to do anything about it.
Not then, at least.
Then, came the Blackout, the lights went out, and a new power emerged.
The Consul likened the paternalism of his rule over the Commonwealth to his one-time philosophy in the classroom.
He was merely a facilitator.
Yet his first days of teaching were filled with sympathy for the ruled. He had encouraged discussions about power and why children should differ to adults. He even entertained notions in the hypocrisy of the social order. When the students questioned authority, he staged community circles in the classroom, assembling the children to discuss the pressing issues of the day.
Real talk, they called it.
For all his failures in the classroom, this one had worked. Yet he would never engage in dialogue with children. His responsibility was to protect them, because his might was right.
He administered the Commonwealth in this identical fashion.
Oh, sure. He had entertained the notions of dialogue during the establishment of the Commonwealth. When the Vigilance Committee sought the enemies of the people – after all, someone was responsible for the Blackout! – he stood on the steps of the Governor's mansion and opened the tribunals to the people.
Very soon, he learned his skills to facilitate the people came in handy. There was no direct instruction required. He gave the angry what they wanted.
And he saved the responsible parties from the mob. I.O.U.s had more value than gold in this post-Blackout world.
But he would never let the new Californians forget who was the adult.
He would be the father to the new patricians of the Earth.
No, eastern monarch would prevent that. Not this self-styled General Sebastian Monroe.
Only then, might the lights come back on.
With the restoration of power, came a grander, more impressive California. The Consul made sure, this time, that everyone had his or her day in the sun.
The power plants were meager things, nothing like the former glories, and neither would churn out furious energies, again. But nothing was wasted. Every solar cell of desert collectors turned everward toward the sun, and the Consul imagined that, with the promise of free energy from the Contract, the Commonwealth would grow tall, reaching towards the light ever higher, twisting and turning to stay in the rays of nourishment.
This would be how the new California state functioned.
Oh, sure, there were setbacks. While some cities and their captive environs had looked to emulate the Californian Model, rebels thought they could escape the allure of California.
Yet the Consul knew in their striving for independence, nothing was more captivating than the promise of true independence, which the California Model delivered. Like the new patricians the Consul had saved from death, the liberty-seeking soon fell to the sway.
Of free power.
The Social Wars took their toll on the Commonwealth. But the Consul thought the bloodshed represented the only tax he had collected from the fully-expanded union of states, cities, and their principalities.
The rebel Cascadians had proved the toughest to break, but their rebellion proved that the civilizing mission needed all-on-board.
The Consul knew what to do this time.
Face the teacher, hands where I can see them. Noise level should be at a zero.
The lights went back on.
The Consul still didn’t trust the children.
As he walked among the celebrators, he thought the strangest thoughts. About the great Californian state restored. About another war coming from the farthest east.
Painted banners spelled out the word RESTORATION and the Consul looked at the methane lamps burning yellowish-brown in the dusky sunset. Half a world a world over the Pacific, a world dried up and blew away. What a nice sunset.... But in California, revelers could parade at-will, free to consummate their mercantilist tendencies. All under the lights of a burning civilization.
Someone would have to pay in the end.
Frivolous, the celebrants bounced to the sounds of acoustic instruments amplified by electricity from the Eastern Solar Cells, and, still, the Consul could not turn his back on the youngest of this generation. Young, strong bodies. Born under the signs of an open-market energy consortium, these children had bare memories of the blood shed to rebuild society.
The future always wanted more, and more could be ruinous.
He silenced the exterior sounds of laughter and song, his body broken from the Social Wars and the treachery of Cascadians, and pondered the human ambitions of progress. Very soon. These very children would want more.
He must get them to follow his lesson.
Ambition? Would they ever want more? What their parents had once had? The rebels in the north had been broken. The new patricians still believed they controlled the fortunes of civilization.
But the Consul only saw darkness. In the east came tales of magical devices that could restore the old way at will.
Such was the wicked Orient.
This General Sebastian Monroe might work to make things of war march towards conquest, but they could make other toys march inexorably forward.
The lights he had built must stay on.
The Consul knew it was fine to let the children have their singing. If everyone could pursue their desires, all the better for the Commonwealth. How better to explain the California Model? But the possibility existed that people would learn of the Pendants. And when they did...all would be lost.
The party of the Restoration formed a bittersweet motivation for his next actions. He walked upstairs into the Governor’s mansion. He had threatened to turn the place into an artificial lake, but had stopped short of his demonstration of anger at the old regime. The people needed the old forms. The familiar shadows appealed much more than the new darker things.
They came from the east.
He thought about this as he crept up the stairs, his withered hand on the banister, the lights from methane gas playing with his shadow. It danced from wall to wall. He tried to escape.
A guard waited for him at the top of the stairs. The Consul had gone through many extralegal paramilitary forces in his years of creating the Commonwealth. He had ended each experiment and come to the same conclusion. Each time, it was the Highway Men he could trust more than others.
Some things had never changed about California. It was still a republic of freeways.
The Consul couldn't read the man’s eyes behind the sunglasses. Here in the dark-lit chambers of the Governor’s mansion, the glasses were only as useless as the need to stay innocuous. And for what the Consul had ordered the Highway Men to accomplish, better it was to stay unidentified.
Lately, a lot of secretive men prowled the continent on the orders of the Consul.
The Highway Man followed him into the Governor’s office. The Consul heard the creak of the man’s leather uniform. The Consul walked with a slight limp, and he felt the guard slow his long stride. Inside the office, and a single desk made out of redwood.
On it, a box. Inside, he opened it.
A tear-shaped pendant just the right size to fit within the indent of a woman's throat. The Consul bent down, grabbed the pendant, and choked it as he lifted it high. For a brief second, the light of a methane lamp outside caught the pendant. It reflected in the mirrored glasses of the Highway Man.
The Consul felt the class press in and watch his next actions. He purposely turned his back on them, keeping the pendant hidden, and put it back in the box. Snapped closed. The children of the new California sang outside.
The lights could never be allowed to go off.