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Ninety-Nine Percent Support

By day, Filip Wiltgren is a mild-mannered communication officer and lecturer. By night, he turns into a frenzied ten-fingered typist, clawing out jagged stories of fantasy and science fiction, found in lairs such as Analog, IGMS, Daily SF, and Nature Futures. His books, thoughts, email, and free stories can be found at wiltgren.com.

"A mouth-piece?" Kalia said. "Seriously?"
"It's not that bad," I said. "Besides, the perks are fab."
And they were. The VIP+ lounge of the Starbucks-Subway was all you can eat, golden crunchy pain ordinaire stuffed with slices of printed turkey and salami proteins, olive paste in black, blue, and red flavors, fresh vat cucumbers with pale grey egg-less mayo spread, and all the coffee you could drink, buckets full of steaming hot water, and you could squirt in any flavor you wanted, as much as you liked.
Kalia nodded.
"They are," she said.
"And all for saying 'ninety-nine percent of all people support Ivan Hump for premier of the World League' every two hundred words." I grinned. "That one counts, by the way. So if you want my long-winded opinion on something, now's the time. "
"Sure," she said, waving the baguette she'd sliced open. "Should I take the pressed algae salad or a scoop of the wakame-flavor pellets?"
"Take them both, dahrling," I drawled. "They're fahbulous."
She laughed and scooped, but then her mirth faded.
"But it's not true," she said. "That ninety-nine percent part."
"I know," I said. "But we get to eat and the guy's not gonna win anyhow. No one believes what random people say."
I took the bore home. Unfortunately the perks of being a mouth-piece didn't extend to transportation. Mouth-pieces traveled public, like everybody else.
The bore was crammed, but I got on early and got a seat.
"Ivan Hump's got the highest approval ratings of all world leaders." The name cut through the murmur of people talking in the tube. I turned, and saw this skinny, pimply kid with bright red hair spikes.
"Did you know," I told him, "that ninety-nine percent of all people support Ivan Hump for premier of the World League?"
The kid's mates turned to me, all agape. I winked at the kid. He winked back. Welcome to the brotherhood of mouth-pieces.
Still, it felt nice being included.
Kalia was pissed. I was softing it on the couch. She was watching one of the news feeds, where this gorgeous African with dreads down to the small of her back was complaining about the mouth-pieces breaking the Political Campaign Financing and Truthfulness Act or something.
"Doesn't it bother you?" Kalia said.
"Sure I care," I said. "Right after the free food, free medical, and free apps."
Kalia flung her arms out at the screen. It made her look like she was begging.
"It's wrong," she yelled. "It's illegal."
"But we're safe," I said. "Law's very specific on that. The amount of the penalty is limited to the financial compensation incurred by the fraud, plus interest and percentage penalties. I'm not getting a cent."
"You really don't care, do you?" she said, suddenly quiet.
"I care," I said. "I care about the fact that for the first time in five years, neither of us is complaining about having holes in our teeth, or about wearing last year's jumpers, or about having to scramble for zero-hour contracts when everybody's racing to the bottom. Yes, I care."
That shut her up. I counted.
"Ninety-nine percent of all people support Ivan Hump for premier of the World League," I added.
Kalia screamed and threw her keyboard at me. I ducked, but it hit the wall and shattered, spilling keys and plastic shards all over the floor.
"Look what you did," I said, but she was already slapping the door open.
Served me right, dating the one percent.
They were changing the ice in the hockey rink, teams of chain-gang menials running about with square-meter-sized chunks of white Swift-Glide plastic on their backs. Occasionally, they'd cross paths, and their striped jumpers would make pictures, a guy, a car, a hockey stick, all fab and analogue like.
Free seats at the Bears-Slaughterers game. How fab was that?
I looked at the empty seat next to me. Maybe not all that fab.
Two rows down, this burly, bearded guy with tats on his shaved head yelled out that ninety-nine percent of all people supported Ivan Hump for premier of the World League.
"Damn right!" I yelled, and repeated: "Ninety-nine percent of all people support Ivan Hump for premier of the World League."
Big guy turned, and gave me a grin and a thumbs up. I gave him one back. That started a chant of Hump-Hump-Hump that spread across the seats. Who the hell needed a partner when you are part of a team?
"I want you to quit," said Kalia. "Right now."
Her new keyboard was a thin, roll-up thing that was almost flat and absolutely silent when you used it. No feeling and no heft to it. Hump should ban crap tech like that when he became premier. Too bad those campaign laws stopped him from paying me.
"Come on," I said. "It's almost election. We'll go to the Starbu--"
"Right," she said. "Now."
"Knock it off," I said. "It's not like there's anything better, right?"
"Better than what?" she said.
"Better than Hump."
Kalia stopped. Froze like a buggy app, her mouth half open like she was about to say something.
She was.
"Quit, or I walk," she said.
So that was the way it was. I should have expected a nut-slap from a fake freedom type like Kalia. Still hurt though.
"Walk," I said. "See how far you get on zero-hour contracts when nobody wants what you're selling."
"Nobody wants what you're selling, either," she said, and there were tears in her eyes. Way to go heavy on the guilt. I grabbed her flimsy keyboard and tossed it through the open door after her.
We won. Fifty-eight percent, which shows how much the fake-freedom cheated. After all, everybody knew that ninety-nine percent of all people supported Ivan Hump for premier of the World League. He had the highest approval ratings of any world leader ever, throughout the history of the League.
I wondered when he'd repeal those campaign laws and start paying me.
I wondered when Kalia would be back.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, July 1st, 2022


Author Comments

Well, you can all guess where this one came from. At least if you read the news, which I have an unhealthy habit of doing right in the morning. But I'm trying to scale it down to only reading news items that I can do something about. So far, that hasn't been a great success, but I am trying.

As for the story, well, let's hope our future isn't quite so dystopic. I do see some signs for positive change there, and I do have hope. After all, I read about it in the news....

- Filip Wiltgren
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