Trenton Makes, the World Takes

Once the Burlington Island came into view on his left and the red neon letters on the remains of the Delaware River Bridge flashed into view, Senator Jim Dodge knew his career was over.

It didn't take long. His final holo-call with Congressional leaders had just ended as the train entered New Jersey. The two hour marathon session with the Press and with his own mentors in the Legislature was a muddled disaster. Dodge may have been seated in the Congressional car of the Beltway express rail at that moment, but he might as well have been thrown in front of it. 

Twelve hours earlier, Dodge gave a speech in DC that ended his career. While in the midst of his prepared elocution, the Senator couldn't have been prouder of himself. He was convinced that the speech would be followed with wild applause, pats on the back, and invitations to the Presidential offices adjacent to the White House memorial. Instead, the two hours afterward spent haggling with the press and Congressional leaders had all been a big waste of time. They all wanted him out.

His 'hit speech' was now being re-broadcast every five or ten minutes on TPN, a version so heavily edited that it was not remotely his speech. They broadcasted a perverted, truncated version of his speech, and it seemed cobbled together from snippets of what he had actually said. TPN blogger pundits then did what they did with every speech or press release that countered the party line: they humiliated the Senator, inserting their derisive comments like morning show deejays. The effect was swift and clear: any support, or perceived support, of Senator Dodge's simple plan, was offset by a blitzkrieg of negative spin. By lunchtime, the Senator's own backers were calling for his immediate resignation and apology. He left on the first Congressional bullet for New York, but he never apologized.

Normally, speeches critical of the network were silenced completely. The Senator pondered this, wondering why they had even bothered to play the speech at all. He surmised that they feared what was said, feared that the speech would be remembered and admired from within his own Congress, and felt that re-tooling it, rather than smothering it, robbed it of any potential power. Replaying the re-tooled version would bastardize any memory of what was originally said.

Dodge de-activated the media feed from his holo-pad resignedly. He leaned back, sighing. The polaritors were making an awful lot of noise underneath the train. Typically they didn't began whirring or clicking until the Lincoln Tunnel, by which time the other sanctioned Congressional aides and representatives were usually standing by the door with their bags packed. 

He tried to keep still, to breathe, and to keep calm. His torso jiggled left and right as the train gave a mighty rattle. An odd sound like metal cards in bicycle spokes filled the air of the cabin. The sound - unnerving every time - was the car's polarity struggling to stay above the mag track. The underlying whining noise beneath the clicking told Dodge that the train itself was slowing down.

The sound grew louder and it was then the Senator realized that the nonstop Beltway Express train from DC to Penn Station was stopping, and at the wrong Penn Station.

The two armed guards materialized in front of him, dead faces, fingers twitching at their sides. They both had on filtration helmets.

"Off the train... now!" one bellowed. The guard on the right didn't even wait for the Senator to stand. He clapped a firm hand on the back of Dodge's collar and yanked up with surprising force. Just moments later, the Senator found himself luggage-less, bloody, without a filter mask, on one of Penn Stations decrepit concrete islands. The guards clamored back up the steps to the train car and the door closed behind them.

He struggled to process what had just happened. Clearly, his peers in Congress were under great pressure from the Network to yank his Congressional status immediately. TPN knew he was en route to New York, and must have deliberately had him 'disembarked' in Trenton to make a point.

The bridge was far up ahead on the left, and he could still see what remained of the red neon sign half-hanging off the side of the fallen structure, most of the letters flickering or gone dark. The sign was once famous, but no longer. It now read "the World Takes." The other letters had gone dim and dark. The bridge itself was broken in two, metal beams jutting out like a broken rib cage.

He picked himself up, walked slowly from the station and took long, drawn breaths. The air, considerably worse outside safety zones, seemed a sickly, dingy yellow cast. It resembled sodium light, and surrounded the disgraced Senator as he walked. He tapped a finger on his coat pocket and knew where he had to go and what he had to do, but the walk would take several hours. He found a cracked footpath leading around to the other side of the river and began walking.

Jim Dodge wasn't born in Jersey, but he grew up there after his parents fled the Arizona/Texas secession riots to seek sanctuary. Even as a boy, Jim heard stories about the city of Industry and its proud labor movements, its industrious spirit, its textiles and metals and plastics. His parents shifted, like so many others, into full blue collar jobs, and Trenton had something of a high tech renaissance for a time. There were tiny devices coming out of Trenton, as late as mid 21st century, that could generate and expel huge amounts of energy. A few of them were smuggled out just as the Corporations inevitably skipped town - promises of homegrown industry trumpeted by the Party could only last as long as profits soared - and Dodge was gifted with a few of these devices. He surreptitiously pocketed them, and one of them, in fact, lay inside his coat pocket.

The city had long fallen into disrepair, but prior to the bombings, Dodge had a faint memory of seeing the sign with its full message 'Trenton Makes, the World Takes' emblazoned across the side.

Soon after, though, it was all chaos and smoke and radio chatter, and once that faded, the crystal clear images that emerged from the rubble were Plasticine. The on-air messages were suddenly all finely honed, perfected Corporate speak. There was no pretense of Lobby's influence in Washington. The Lobby was Washington.

TPN's influence only grew in the years following the civil wars, and before long, Dodge knew how he wanted to spend his life. New York still thrived, in part because New Yorkers considered themselves separate from the Tea Party Government and its surrogate network, in part because they knew ruinous disaster and how to grapple with it. Dodge got into NYU on a family friend's generosity - student aid was a thing of the past, thank to the Party's crackdown on student loans, and its Network's incessant campaign against taxpayer funded Federal aid.

His first two failed elections taught Dodge to walk the line. It wasn't until the third campaign that he perforated his pride by taking Corporate sponsorship, being sure to praise the product at least once during every campaign stop. He won handily.

Since entering the Washington fray, he first decided to keep quiet, learning the ropes as well as any Freshman could expect to. That day, the day of the Speech, ended any pretense of party loyalty. Maybe his entire campaign had been one big ruse to get him to that day, to say something on-air that citizens would connect with. How short-sided and arrogant, then, had he been, to not anticipate the flurry of counter-spin that would immediately destroy his message?

The night sky glowered down at him, a deep crimson. Far off clanging in the still night air made him first think of the old factories that once stood there. A shudder passed through him as he remembered the food gangs, and their warning bells to unwanted visitors in any zone. He increased his pace, although it burned his lungs, until the bridge loomed closer, a great dark skeleton yawning desperately across the black water. It grew closer, as did the violent clanging up and through streets and alleyways behind him.

Finally, under the shadow of the bridge, Dodge steadied himself and approached it. Once at the road, less than a story above ground, he headed out across as far as the west end of the bridge would take him. Dark waters, choked with garbage, swirled below. He stopped, looped his thumb into his pocket compartment, and pulled out the small device. If there was a signal to be found, this was as fitting and safe a place as any to seek it out before the gangs tracked down its signal.

By dropping him in his hometown, TPN had clearly hoped it would put Dodge in his place, much like dropping a dog into his kennel when he misbehaves. This proud adopted son of Trenton, his suit torn and bloody, no longer harbored illusions about his speech or the remote chance it would ever spur people to action. The reason was, there would never be a chance that anyone would hear it without spin, unless it were broadcast from a zone TPN considered unimportant. The former Senator could think of no place better than a rusted, broken landmark in a city known for labor and industry, in an incorporated country known more for dizzying volleys of profit maximizing imports.

His device - small, unimposing, and hugely powerful - could hook onto any free radio signal and sink into its current, broadcasting content with a signal strength far beyond any of the TPN affiliates in the area, cutting through all the scramblers. While the bridge wasn't a metal tower, it was close enough, and Dodge just had to try. Everyone would hear it, and even if 1% really listened, it would be enough.

The device began its loud, incriminating search for signals once he affixed it to the side of the bridge. The gangs would arrive soon. He walked out on past the guard rails and emerged near the dark and dormant end of the crooked sign, and made out the barely discernible words on the bridge's west end: 'Trenton Makes.' The crude device made a great deal of noise and chatter, and the clanging sound only increased as a group of men, all wearing breathing helmets, approached the bridge.

Just then, the device began to broadcast the full, unedited, unabridged speech. A free signal flew out over the bridge and throughout the city, then to the environs on past then to adjoining states and beyond. The loud voice startled Dodge until he realized it was his own.

"Government failed you." the voice intoned, full of emotion. "You feared your Government." The speech went on to tell the story of how the Government fell to the networks and the Corporations and the Lobbyists because of its own ability to confront how people felt about it. People responded to a narrative about the waste and inefficiency of Government, and there was no counter narrative to tell anyone that the Government itself was not itself evil or greedy, but due to its own inefficiency, was slowly and surreptitiously infected with a parasite. The organizations meant to represent peoples began acting as a donor host to Corporations and lobbyists and the hegemonic power games there. Not only was Congress and Lobbyists and think tanks complicit with the Corporations they represented, but the television and radio networks acted as a kind of conduit through which this unholy union could propagate. Before long, the fear in the country grew so that the only message that got through was the message capitalizing on that fear. And as many in psychology know, it it takes but moments to break people down and re-order their thoughts, but it takes much, much longer to prop them up and give them faith.

Dodge went on to tell the story of how his adopted hometown was born, grew, fell, rose again and finally gave its last dying sputter with the advent of the multi-national corporations' final abandonment of the American workforce. He told the story of Trenton, of how it was once, and what it could be again.

The transmitter's energy output overwhelmed the bridge, and the dark sign started to flicker. There was a surge of buzzing, a loud pop, and suddenly, the entire bridge was awash in red light. The slanted lettering: "Trenton Makes" had returned to its former glory. The speech continued on, telling the story of what had gone wrong, not prescribing the cure, but for the first time in a while, grieving over what had been lost. In Dodge's mind, there was nothing left to do but grieve. He didn't even notice the groups of helmeted individuals who had all amassed on the bridge around him, the way their predatory stance had reverted and their arms hung at their sides, awestruck.

The broadcast emitted from the device for another few moments and then went silent. A small explosion sent a quick plume of dark smoke curling out from the girder. The bright letters blinked and went dark again. A moment later, a whirling silhouette plunged from the side and was silently consumed by the river. The groups of men, stunned, wandered back to the main road, back to their homes, and heard stories from their families about how their radios and televisions had all gone wonky. None of them could get the words out of their heads. No voices rose to counter the speech, either.

In the days that followed, the Congressional bullet hummed along its route as usual. No one remembered its Trenton stop the night of the broadcast. The airwaves continued their perpetual broadcasts of banalities, but there was a kind of stunned silence at the speech that had interrupted those banalities days earlier. Much like a factory clicking back into gear, there seemed to be a process taking hold in the cities, something that might take decades to find momentum. It was there nonetheless, where it had not been before, and that was in itself, miraculous.


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