into-the-weeds said: …. and “Can you guys arrange an under-the-table assassination somewhere outside of my office?”
"Doesn’t he look tired? I’m sure living on New Maryland he hasn’t seen a cardiologist," Theo said pointedly.
Sophie almost laughed. She’s laughed at worse before. Sometimes somebody in politics is old and awful and it would be really convenient if they fell down some stairs. Hell, the senator from New Maryland had come out against vat organs last year, again, and Sophie had wondered out loud if a heart attack would change his tune or not. Tracey had said once “One day a bad flu is going to wipe out that whole terraformed shithole and leave only the sheep,” and Sophie had laughed. You didn’t mean it. She would never actually wish any of that on anybody. The social contract was built on harmless shit-talking. She almost laughed.
When Isabelle snapped, Sophie swallowed her laughter fast because possibly for the wife of an assassinated politician, certain shit-talking jokes are a lot less funny.
That’s what she thought and then Isabelle said “Don’t you dare arrange an accident” and Theo said, “Old men sometimes die.”
Sophie thought for another second, abruptly changed the subject, firmly classified the whole exchange as a joke, and carefully avoided looking at Theo for the rest of the day.
She didn’t get Theo. She hadn’t gotten Robert, either, really, but at least she understood the premise of Robert. He was good politician material. He occasionally gave Sophie the impression that Isabelle was leading around a golden retriever in a tailored suit, but he wasn’t a dummy and people liked him. Sophie just wished that Isabelle had shot for her own Senate seat, instead of being someone’s pretty wife, working to put him in the spotlight and then stepping politely off to the side.
"That’s simplistic," Isabelle had said.
"There’s a lot of men walking around the Senate, and very few women rolling around it," Sophie had said. "I wish we could move those numbers a little, that’s all."
Sophie had, at the time, been running a brand-new nonprofit that occasionally resorted to collecting office supplies stolen from the volunteers’ day jobs, and Isabelle was paying for lunch. Maybe Isabelle could be aiming higher, but Senator Thompson was doing good, solid work. He had good legislative priorities and it never hurt to be able to call up a senator’s wife on the phone and ask for an introduction, or a favor, or a brief appearance at a fundraising event. Sophie was just bored of men walking around in politics, that’s all.
Nine years later, her nonprofit could consistently afford its own office supplies, and enough paid staff that they couldn’t all use the same office. She and Isabelle did lunch once a month, or every other month, if schedules were bad. The whole office was watching Senator Thompson’s speech. He was supposed to advocate for, among other things, making mod tech cheaper and easier to access, which was going to help a lot of middle-income kids who weren’t impaired enough for insurance to pay for what they needed.
As we approach the turn of the 22nd century, we need to make room for everyone in the galaxy to reach their full potential. We need to ensure equal access to health care, education, modification technology to improve the lives….
Robert stepped back, pressing his hand to his forehead. Isabelle, standing on the left, looked frightened and heaven help her Sophie thought it was just because Robert had fucked up the speech. The screen cut to black.
"Who lost the signal, us or them?" Sophie asked.
Milo had screen lenses in, so he was scrolling through the news channels and he said, “shit, Sophie,” but he didn’t elaborate.
And then the main screen cut back to a newscaster’s desk and a visibly shaken woman said “Senator Robert Thompson was shot moments ago…”
Twenty minutes later they confirmed him dead. They didn’t say anything about Isabelle, who was standing right there, right goddamn there. The assailant was dead, they said. No other casualties, they said, which meant Isabelle, but she was standing right there and Sophie wanted some kind of acknowledgement.
After Sophie left her third voicemail, Olivia told her, gently, that she should stop calling. That everyone Isabelle ever knew was calling her right now, probably.
Milo had written a statement for her while Sophie was checked out.
"I don’t want her to see that before she hears my condolences," Sophie said. She kept imagining him staggering back, hand to his forehead.
"These are MAN’s condolences," Milo said.
"Yes, but they’re not for her. They’re for our audience."
"Sophie, if you can’t do your job, go on leave and I’ll do your job, but we can’t drop the ball at a moment like this. He’s becoming an icon fast and we need to react."
He’s becoming an icon. She was at his wedding. Sophie signed off on the statement. She was in no shape to record a video, but Milo said text was fine, under the circumstances. Deeply shaken, the statement said, and deeply shaken people can’t always record video.
"But we should be deeply shaken," Sophie said.
"We are, Sophie. Just because we put it in an official statement doesn’t mean it can’t be true," Milo said.
Olivia insisted on driving her home and staying there overnight, as though Sophie needed babying, or support, or whatever.
The next day, Isabelle sent out a mass video message from her personal account.
"Hi, y’all," said Isabelle, who had worked to ditch her accent. "Hi, everybody. I’m okay. This is really hard, but I got all your condolences, and I appreciate them so much. Forgive me for not replying individually, but there’s a lot that needs doing right now, and I need to be with my daughter. I’ll try to get back to each of you at a later date. I have a Google Calendar for people who want to drop by the house- I’ve already had a lot of visitors and I need a little break, but I know people want to see us, so feel free to put your name in one of the empty slots starting next week. We have all the flowers in the world, but I’m attaching a list of Robert’s favorite charities. We have all the hot food we could possibly eat, but if you want to feed us, feel free to bring grocery items or treats for Cassie. The funeral will be next Friday and I’ll send more information about that as soon as I can."
She set up a Google Calendar for visitors and she attached a list of places to donate- MAN was among them, and the ASPCA, and Sophie sent money to the ASPCA because obviously she couldn’t send it to MAN. Isabelle was practical and organized, even now. Sophie almost couldn’t stand it.
There was a similar message in Sophie’s work account, too, more composed. “The kindest thing you can do for us is help move Robert’s work forward. He died working for broader health care, education, and modification access, and we can’t let a lunatic with a gun slow down that work. I’m taking very limited appointments for the next month, but you can call my work phone any time. One of my staffers is screening the calls, but all messages will be passed onto me.”
There was a message to the public, too, airing on all the news stations. “Thank you for your outpouring of support. At this time, I need to focus on my daughter and my family. The kindest thing you can do for us is help move Robert’s work forward….” That line again, and the charities.
At work, Milo had the news playing on his screen lenses. She could see the newscasters in his eye like a reflection.
"We have talk show invitations," Olivia said. "I think we should take them. Mrs. Thompson wants to move the work forward."
"Schedule them," Sophie said, and went somewhere private to throw up.
The funeral was awful, even by funeral standards. It was mostly politicians, even if nobody talked politics, apart from the occasional line about “moving his work forward.” The cameras were hidden, but they were there. Isabelle gave a dry-eyed eulogy, but she shook like a leaf. Cassie sat in the front row with a grandparent, wearing a black coat over pajamas. Sophie wanted to talk to Isabelle, but she moved at the center of a dense crowd and Sophie never got the chance.
She had signed up for a visit and came by ten minutes early, with a box of cookies that Olivia had made. Theo let her in. She had met Theo before, at the wedding. They were tall and fine-boned, their neck lined with wires under the skin, silver spots in their eyes, thin metal lines in their fingers. They didn’t blink much.
"She’s on the phone. Give her a minute," they said.
Sophie sat on the couch, across from Cassie, snuggled up to her grandfather, still wearing pajamas and cuddling a stuffed otter.
"I’m Matt, Isabelle’s father," said the grandfather, shaking Sophie’s hand.
Sophie could hear Isabelle on the phone. “I understand your concerns. They’ve quintupled security. I have a family too, Brad. Someone needs to carry the ball on this. I don’t think we should wait. We have momentum now. Yes I do, and I’ll tell you why. He was passionate about this work, really passionate, and he would hate to see the work stall out because some lunatic scared the Senate. I don’t think we need six months, Brad, but if you’re not interested, I’m sure someone else will sponsor the bill. What I’m not going to do is let the work stop. I owe Robert that much. I came to you first, Brad. Okay. Can I count on that? Give Kim a call tomorrow and we’ll get you briefed. Good, you do that. Thanks, Brad. It would have meant a lot to him. Trust me, I will. I know. Thanks.”
She came into the living room, shaking her head. “Hi, Sophie. Oh, are these Olivia’s chocolate chips? Tell her thank you. Cassie, baby, do you want a cookie?”
Cassie shook her head. Theo picked her up, rested her piggyback on their shoulders, and took her out of the room.
"Is that guy still being chickenshit?" Matt asked.
"No. I don’t know why he’s making it so difficult, though. Lightning doesn’t strike twice and he knows damn well that Robert wouldn’t let that lunatic win." Isabelle shook her head. "That’s it. No more work talk. We’ve got a guest."
Isabelle served Sophie lasagna on a paper plate, kept the conversation light, and shooed her out promptly at eight o’clock. “Sorry, Sophie. It’s time to get the pumpkin ready for bed.”
The ACCESS act got passed. Eileen Nichols got elected to Robert’s old seat and Isabelle was on her staff. She seemed fine, right up until the moment she started screaming and fell over on C-SPAN. Nervous breakdown. A month later, the camera footage from that taxicab got leaked and the galactic senator from Russia resigned in extreme disgrace but without a criminal conviction. Isabelle spent two months in the hospital.
She was less perfectly composed this time when Sophie visited her with cookies. She was wearing sweatpants and lying across the sofa and didn’t offer Sophie any food.
"I still can’t believe the press didn’t get my medical records. It’s an actual miracle," she said, sounding tired. "I get to have a career in a year or so."
"You can always come work for MAN," Sophie said.
"I’m an alcoholic, Sophie."
"Once you trust yourself to go back to work, we’re an option."
"I had a blood alcohol level of point eleven on the senate floor and it wasn’t the first time," she said.
It took Sophie a minute. “Well, you’re right, it’s a miracle the press didn’t get that, but when you’re working again, you can always call MAN. I’m serious, Isabelle. I’m not doing you a favor. You’d be a dream staffer and you know it.”
Isabelle grinned weakly.
"Did you hear what the press did get?" Sophie asked, just as Theo came into the room with glasses of water.
"Somebody saw us kissing and it made the damn news," Isabelle said, laughing. Theo sat beside her and pressed her water glass into her hands. She took a sip.
"We’re not usually demonstrative," Theo said, a little stiffly.
"It’s not your fault. I was the one being demonstrative. I was just glad to be out of the hospital," Isabelle said. They fluffed her hair.
It wouldn’t necessarily have made the news if Theo was someone with a gender and a past, someone who blinked. But it might have, and Isabelle smiled, so Sophie let it go. Theo shadowed her to meetings sometimes, but didn’t talk much. For someone with enough neural hardware to connect to the office’s wifi, they didn’t seem personally interested in modification advocacy work.
Sophie was startled when they walked into her office and sat down, like they had an appointment.
"Isabelle’s on her way," they said. "She decided to talk to Richard Brinton, and now she’s on her way to talk to you."
Theo didn’t change their tone of voice or facial expression and still somehow managed to communicate that they thought trying to talk to Brinton was a damnfool decision of which no good could come.
"Why me?" Sophie asked.
"I think you’re her best female friend," Theo said.
That might be true. Anyway, Theo was right, Isabelle did show up, and Sophie almost laughed at the cardiologist joke and then Theo said, expressionless “old men sometimes die” and Isabelle looked at them almost scared.
Sophie made the executive decision to believe this was a joke, because honestly she was really busy and didn’t have time for the possibility that her friend was dating an assassin.
"Can you arrange an under-the-table assassination somewhere outside of my office?" she said, like it was a joke, and she watched the news for three weeks until Richard Brinton went back to New Maryland. Not that his death would have been a loss to the world, but she was a little relieved, all the same.