Life Arts

Short Story: "Serving Time" (5th in a series)

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"It gave us a way to tell people why it's so important to be able to constrain what businesses can do. At the very least, it starts people talking. If they get angry enough to say something, the way you two felt when you walked in, we can start to communicate. We can make sure people understand that there is a difference between flesh and blood people and legal fictions like Fremont-Wayfarer. Corporations were granted the rights of citizenship, but never ran the risks that people do, never had to face up to the responsibilities that go with those rights. But now they do. Now they can be killed for murder, or imprisoned for theft, just like the people who work and eat here. And because it lets us talk about this, it also defuses the taboos that keep people from talking about the folks they love who may have been locked up just like this company was."

Starling extended a hand to the young woman. "That was great. Have you ever considered being a motivational speaker? Miss...?"

She shook his hand. "Barbara Woods. Thanks."

"That aside," Leon pressed, "why was this enough reason to buy into the idea?"

"There was a bit more to it than that," Klee said as the cashier turned to go. "Edward Reese, the CEO, could have had the charges dropped by convincing the corporate community to relinquish their claim to the rights of citizenship. Mr. Starling here gave him that out, but he refused. At the first board meeting after sentencing, he proposed a scheme to keep the chain open by flaunting the company's status as a convict with this radical makeover. For the employees, it came down to a choice between humiliation and unemployment, because none of us really believed that people would want to support a business with criminal ethics. But if we could turn the potential for humiliation into a virtue, into a conversation-starter, then we could not only keep our dignity, but also become a force for change. Every single employee of Fremont-Wayfarer, from the farm workers who harvested your salad and the truckers who brought it here, to the people working in the inns and restaurants, has, in a fashion, been deputized. They have all been charged with spreading the word about corporate criminality, with interacting with the public instead of acting like mute wage slaves."

Several employees had stopped what they were doing and walked over. People at several nearby tables had put down their forks to listen.

"At a stroke," he continued, "Edward Reese created an organized force for getting the people who work for every other business in this country to speak out against whatever criminal activity their own management may have been party to. That is why we're proud to wear these uniforms."

Francine looked up at the gathered staff. "I had no idea."

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One of them, a bearded man with silver hair, nodded. "But there's still something missing. And I think you may be able to help us with that."

"Oh?"

"Yes. We're out here talking to folks like you. What we don't have is a voice on the inside of real prisons. I hear you have a relative inside."

She nodded. "My brother."

"I don't know what he might have done, or even if he was justly convicted, but I do know there are a lot of people in prison for making choices forced on them by circumstance, and that those circumstances may have been contrived to make someone else rich. We'd like to find out how much of the prison population are locked up because what was done to Fremont-Wayfarer wasn't a possibility yet, how many people have had their lives, and the lives of their loved ones trashed for the benefit of well-heeled scum like Reese and his corporate cronies. And to do that, we need you to join the conversation."

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She smiled. "I'm flattered."

"You're needed," he corrected.

A boy from one of the nearby tables came over and stood beside Klee. "Can I ask you something?"

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Ever since I learned to speak binary on a DIGIAC 3080 training computer, I've been involved with tech in one way or another, but there was always another part of me off exploring ideas and writing about them. Halfway to a BS in Space Technology at (more...)
 

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