The crowd cheered and shouted, “Gecko! Gecko! Gecko!”
“Alright! Lovely seeing you all out here tonight, thank you so much for being here. Thank you Alderan for an amazing introduction. Thank you, Dennis, Eliza, and everyone else who helped make this event possible. Let’s have a round of applause for them!”
The crowd applauded, cheered, and chanted. The energy here was at a peak.
“And a big and special thank you to the people of Chart who came here despite the obviously malicious intentions of the bastard guards and soldiers who are currently surrounding this square with orders to follow and kill the most enthusiastic people here!”
It took a while for the words to carry, but then there was silence.
“I never get used to this,” the voice continued unfazed. “Everyone always shuts up so fast, it’s kinda funny. Although, I thought they’d get used to it by now, even if I haven’t held a rally in Chart before.”
Some soldiers began to shift. The one’s closest to the window were glaring in the direction of the stage, and a few even had their hands on the hilts of their sheathed swords. But then the most well-armored one signaled for them to stand down.
“Right now, the dumbass soldiers’ captains are telling them to stop confirming everything I just said. See, some of these maniacs may wanna jump into this crowd of innocent people, and swing their swords and cast magic to murder kids in public!”
The people on the edge of the crowd looked back, saw the scenes playing out between the guards and their captains, and inched closer together.
“Ignore them for now. Also, you guys. Yeah, the ones powering the jabbers. Thanks so much for your help, but I’ll take it from here.”
There were some murmurs from the front of the crowd.
“Don’t worry, I can run them on my own. Go join the crowd. There you go!”
The black box in the living room crackled to life even though it hadn’t been turned on.
“Nice!” came the voice from the box and from outside the window. “I’ll let you in on a little secret, the Front Party leadership in Chart told me to stay away from the Header’s part of town. They wouldn’t let me hold this if I didn’t agree, so I did. But I thought it was unfair for you all to have to endure my crappy speech alone, so let’s make sure this reaches the rest of the city too.”
There were some more murmurs, and even a half-hearted cheer, but the energy that had been accumulating had all dispersed to be replaced by a heavy sense of unease. Or perhaps the unease had existed beneath the excitement and had only been laid bare by the incendiary words of Gecko Ross.
“If I know that old coot up in the Tower, he’s probably got some snipers trained on me right now.”
What was this guy doing? I understand this wasn’t really his fault, but he was fanning the flames too hard. The crowd was getting more agitated. The guards were on edge. The tiniest spark could set this place ablaze.
“The government’s probably planning to round up everyone who came here and take you in for some reeducation,” continued the voice of Gecko Ross. “Maybe a few men will wind up dead in the sewers, or some women and children will mysteriously disappear. Or perhaps guards will crack open some heads for minor infractions. The wells will be poisoned. A strange disease will appear and Chart will be quarantined. There’s a very good chance that as soon as I leave, this place will go to hell.”
I felt goosebumps on my skin but I couldn’t tell if it was because he was saying the government would do those things, or because he was implying they would do those things because of him, and he was totally aware of it.
If he was so sure these people were going to be punished, then why the hell was he saying all this crap? His words seemed to be designed to fuel anger at the government, but honestly, at that moment, I could only feel angry at him.
“Now don’t get mad at me, this would have happened even if I hadn’t insulted the guards or told you about their evil plans. Just seeing so many of you showing up at a rival party’s event would’ve been enough of a reason for them to crush you.”
Ben and I were sitting out of view of the window, listening intently to the black box in the old lady’s living room. I met Ben’s eyes and confirmed that he was just as frightened and confused as I was.
“And you know why I can say this with absolute impunity? Why I know they won’t come after me? Even if I wasn’t the leader of the second largest party in Fore, or a damn good fighter, the reason I’ve never been scared about getting killed for opposing the government, is because I was born a Header.”
Gecko paused. The murmurs stopped.
“And you weren’t. That’s all there is to it. I was born a Header, while most of you in the crowd are Cheeks, with a few Collars who managed to sneak in somehow. And just because of those little marks on your body, you’re going to look over your shoulders on your way home tonight. You’re going to stay up all night worried for your family. You’re going to know that your life and the lives of your loved ones are at risk because a stupid bug from the capital said some bullshit words that he won’t have to face any consequences for!”
That makes no sense, I thought. Why were these people going to be punished for his words?
“I suspect a lot of lickers like me are listening to this on their jabber boxes from inside the inner walls. To them I say, come put yourselves on the line. You’ve got the power, you’ve got the social status. Come here and fight with your burnt brothers and sisters. Come on!”
A group of people tried to leave through the road by the inn, but the guards wouldn’t let them through. Several other groups detached from the main crowd too, and were trying to escape the square.
“To all of those trying to leave, do you wanna know why you were willing to come here even though I’ve given this speech in every other city in Fore?”
No, I thought to myself. No, we don’t.
“It’s because the papers aren’t allowed to publish my speeches. It’s part of why I say all this stuff. The Official Press and the Daily Scribbler would rather pretend I never speak than talk about what I say. Even the Gazette won’t run my speeches, but that’s because they’re a bunch of spineless pansies.”
I motioned to Ben. We were outside of the square but it might be a good idea to try to get as far away as possible. I peeped out the window and saw the guards drawing swords and pushing people back into the square.
“And since we’re on that topic already, how about I explain why I’m doing this. Why I’m so blatantly challenging the government while obviously alienating my own supporters and putting their lives on the line.
And the answer’s quite simple. After centuries of lethargy and apathy, we need a little kick to get us all motivated. Because if we don’t stand together all at once, they’ll pick us off one by one. They’ll keep us weak, disunited, and most importantly, afraid.
Afraid to challenge the Header who got you sent to prison for talking back to him. Afraid to get justice for your friends killed by the guards for no reason. Afraid to look for your daughter who went missing even though you can hear her screams coming from a bug’s window. Afraid to fight for a future where your vote counts as much as theirs, and where those on top can’t stay inside their pretty little walls without having to breathe the same air as everyone else.
A future where you don’t have to burn an empty book just so you can be identified as socially inferior.
You’re lying to yourself if you think your life isn’t terrible. You know that in the world we live in, your life isn’t worth the dirt on a Header’s foot. That your future was crippled the moment you had to devote a slot on your shelf to the Book of Chart, or even the Book of Bitany, and the rest to whatever cheap bundle of pages the Headers will throw out of their libraries.
Don’t you see, friends? You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain! Come, let us shape the future together. A future where all of us are equal. A future where your dreams can come true. Vote for the Side Party, and together, we will change this unjust system, together! We will make a more just, more righteous society.
Let us start a new chapter in the book of Illustair. One where we are the heroes, our struggle is the plot, and our dreams the conclusion!
Thank you all for giving me your time today. Stay strong and united, and nothing will stop us. Goodbye.”