The Joad Cycle
The Joad Cycle
A dystopian tale of wealth and poverty in 21st century America
Book 3: Circle of Life
Terrified, STACEY GRANT watches her family and friends murdered by HomeSec rangers who attack Angel Falls. She finds GIL ROSE’s grandfather, MARK ROSE and together, they flee the mayhem and escape to Canada where the Resistance rescues them and takes them to Toronto to meet a rebel leader.
They are recaptured by HomeSec agents in a subway, but Stacey eludes them and escapes without Mark. Alone and frightened, she finds shelter under trash in a frigid Toronto alley until she wanders into an antique shop where the proprietor offers to help.
Stacey is escorted to an immense fortress and mosque where wealthy former Congressman and terrorist, OMAR SMITH, lives in protected splendor. Stacey is overwhelmed by the opulence. Smith knows who she is and vows to help her, though his real purpose is to discover why the U.S. Government had to destroy Angel Falls.
Stacey provides little useful information so Omar subjects her to a series of intense virtual reality experiences until she becomes emotionally dependent on him. Still, something inside her resists telling Omar about Gil.
Stacey’s virtual experiences become more intense and upsetting and she finds comfort in Omar’s arms. How can she resist her protector?
Meanwhile Gil reaches Hamilton, a mega-production city near what was once Detroit. He applies for work but as in Profit, he struggles to be productive. On a rare off day, he follows a group of young people into town where two worthless Conducers accost the group and drag one of the girls under the street to rape her. Due to the potential economic consequences, her friends refuse to rescue her so Gil tries. During the struggle to save the innocent girl, one of the men is severely injured, the other is killed.
Gil is arrested for his crimes and returns to jail where his wages are garnished to repay the city for the economic consequences of the death and the maiming.
Months later, Gil is invited to a concert by the girl he saved. There, he meets a franchise lounge singer, DYLLON TOMAS. After the concert, they go to a virtual dance hall where Gil is reunited with his virtual girlfriend, ANDREA, who he hasn’t seen since the attack on Angel Falls.
He angrily rebuffs her but she pleads with him and confesses that she truly loves him. Gil is unconvinced and ANDREA leaves, weeping.
Meanwhile, life takes on the monotonous rhythm of a working Conducer and Gil becomes desperate to leave for Canada but he cannot because the busy Chrisnukkah season of gift giving once again depletes his savings and he is forced to stay.
Desperate, he accepts Dyllon Tomas’ invitation to meet Hamilton’s Mayor to seek permission to leave the city. At a pre-banquet meeting, the Mayor promises to help. At the banquet, Gil is surprised by the guest of honor.
The day Gil finally manages to escape the city, HomeSec General, GINGER TUCKER arrives looking for him. With help from a surprising source, Gil flees to Presque Isle, Michigan, a junction of the rebel Underground Railway.
At Presque Isle, he meets an old man, CLARKE JACKELL who will help him to escape in the morning. But first, to fill the evening, Clarke relates his harrowing experiences years earlier with the economic genocide that was the result of the President’s Circle of Life laws.
Impressed with Clarke’s story, Gil vows to finally join the revolution but as he leaves Clarke for the submarine that will take him to Canada, he must first elude Ginger Tucker and her HomeSec rangers.
Hamilton, MI. – 2071
Gil followed the crowds off the train at the Entertainment Cusp. By late afternoon, he had done no more than sightsee when he noticed a group of young men and women his age laughing. He followed them as the street forked and forked again, trying to stay close enough to hear but that proved difficult due to the cacophony created by street vendors and independent entertainers.
When the large group broke up, many to enter the various entertainment venues, Gil stayed with the five remaining at first hesitating but then following at a distance as they walked down a dim, lightly traveled street. He hid in the shadows as they stopped between street lights in an area of shadows and huddled together to smoke. The laughter increased and Gil was about to leave when two heavy-set older men appeared out of the shadows. Curious, Gil moved closer but stayed out of sight. One of the intruders pushed one of the young men in the group hard against an abandoned storefront. The young man dropped to the ground. Concerned, Gil edged closer. The young man tried to get up but one of the bullies kicked him hard and he began sobbing
“Sob all you want you damned techie crybaby,” the other man growled. “You’re all pieces of shit; the whole lot of you. You don’t pull your own weight. You schedule for shit and then you shut downs of our friggin’ lines. Because of you, we’re laid off, evicted, disappeared. Damn your sorry asses. It’s beyond damn hard out there but you don’t care you arrogant little whiners. We’re gone and you’re out here partying. You think you’re living high but it’s just drugs and silly parties. You don’t care about us working stiffs. You’re having your fun. You don’t give a rat’s ass whose life you ruin. Well I care and and it’s time to pay up. This isn’t simulation, good people will disappear because you, you…” With that, the man kicked at the young man who was still cowering on the ground. The young man grunted and sobbed some more.
The others in the group searched frantically for help. One, with his voice quivering, tried to reason with the bullies. “Misters, please, I don’t...we don’t want any trouble. I can’t speak for my friends here but I’m doing the best I can. This last layoff wasn’t my fault. Someone at Franklin Town developed a better process, that’s all, and they’re making better products right now because of it. I know it’s not your fault either; your lay-off is just part of the creative destruction we all live with. It can’t be helped. I’m sorry. We’re sorry. I’m on a committee to reverse engineer Franklin Town’s products and we’ll compete again as soon as we can but in the meantime our customers are canceling contracts. We’ll win them back, I promise, you’ll see. This no one’s fault, it’s a free market; there are always winners and losers in a free market. Just you wait; business in our Sector will be as good as ever in a couple of months. I promise.”
One of the toughs pushed the young man hard, causing him, too, to bounce off the wall. “Who are you a fucking orator? Shut up. You got a cake job and don’t give a damn about production people like Ed and me. How can we hold on? For Morgan’s sake, time is money and we have neither because of you. If you really want to help, empty your goddamned PIDS and transfer the funds into our accounts.” When the young man didn’t respond, the tough kicked his fallen comrade. “Didn’t think so.” He mumbled and tried to kick the prone man again but when he missed, he cursed and went after the others who cringed against the wall. “I’m speaking to you, you worthless, gutless pieces of crap. I work for everything I have and that’s a big zero. You caused our problem, you should be the ones disappeared.”
“Please don’t hurt us,” one of the young women pleaded. “We’re late for the show.”
The other tough, Ed, backed the girl against a wall. “I’m about to disappear and all you care about is your fucking show. If you really want a show, princess, how about you and me put one on? What do you say?”
“No, please, you don’t understand.” the other woman in the group whimpered. “It’s Dyllon Tomas. She’s playing tonight and the tickets are real expensive and hard to get. Besides, we can’t solve anything here. Please let us go.”
“What’s your name, sweet lips?”
“Vicki,” the girl stammered. “I’m… I’m sorry about the production problems but we’re just workers too. This isn’t my fault.”
“Well, Vicki, I’m Phil and I’m sorry it’s no one’s fault and I do appreciate how important your show is. I apologize for wasting your time.” He bowed and turned to his partner. “Ed, we’re sorry aren’t we?”
Ed nodded. “Damn right, Phil. All we really wanted was a sincere apology.” The girl offered an apology. Thank you, Vicki.” Ed said politely as he moved closer, towering over her. “Say, sweetie, because you’re so reasonable and friendly, maybe you can make it up to us. Can you be friendly? Real friendly, Ed and me, we’d appreciate it, wouldn’t we Phil.”
Phil nodded. “Vicki, darling, be good to us, me first, of course, and we won’t beat the living crap out of you and your friends.”
Vicki tried to move away as Phil reached over and gently lifted her chin. She appeared to be crying. “I like crying sweetheart. Ed and I always say there isn’t enough crying here in town. Those tears are just right to make what we’re going to do to you real special. Phil, look at those tears, I’m getting hard.”
One of the young men stepped forward. “Listen mister, you know the law. You’re going to get in big trouble and you don’t want that.” Gil remembered his time in the Hamilton jails and shuddered.
Phil turned and slapped the kid hard across the face. “You’re the smartass, huh, big fellow?” He took an aggressive step forward and as a group, the kids backed away from their fallen comrade. “Next week, me and Ed are goners so what more can the law do to us and outside, we won’t have much to look forward to so before we go, we’re going to get some well earned credit-free sex from one of you. Which one will it be?” No one said anything. “With all her sobbing, pretty little Vicki is my preference. Ed, what do you think?”
“Don’t,” shouted another of the young men, obviously frightened. “If you do something, the Mayor will deny your work petition when we get more work and you’ll die out there for sure. Leave us alone. We won’t say anything and maybe we can work out a loan at the regular rates. What do you say, guys?”
From the shadows, Gil saw that the girls nodded agreement but the guys weren’t sure.
Ed put his arm around Vicki who struggled as he hugged her tight. When, her friends moved to help Phil stepped forward and stared them down. “I’ll tell you what we’re doing.” Ed said as he rubbed Vicki’s breasts through her winter coat. “We’re taking this little cutie down below. You can do whatever you like. The concert’s obviously important to you so come back for her when it’s over or you can wait here if you don’t cause any problems. What do you say?”
One of the guys responded, trying to sound calm. “Vicki, come here.”
She tried to break free but Ed held her tight as Phil shoved the others away. “Who wants a piece of me?” he yelled. “Do you really want to try to stop us from getting a piece of our Vicki? Well, do you?”
No one answered.
“I thought so. Vicki, doll, it’s time for sweet, credit free loving. We’ll be good to you if you’re good to us but not too good.” He laughed as he looked at the others. “If we see your faces down below, she’ll regret it and so will you. The town won’t keep broken schedulers so you’ll be out there with us and I wouldn’t want that if I were you. Take her, Ed.” Ed covered Vicki’s mouth and dragged her down to stairs.
Remembering how Bree was almost raped on the road to Profit, Gil stared horrified but he was unsure how he could help. As the three young men and the other young woman stood by meekly, Gil decided he had to do something. The girls muffled screams turned to sobs that faded as she disappeared below. Gil looked around for help but the crowds were partying and obliviously too far away so he approached the group.
“Should we go to the show or wait?” One of them asked. While they were deciding, Gil popped out of the shadows and they all backed against the wall. “What… what do you want?” said one of the young men striking a silly defensive pose.
“She’s going to get hurt. We can’t let that happen. Five of us can handle those two.”
“No we can’t and why would we anyway? Who are you? Do you owe Vicki something?”
“I’m new in town and I don’t know her but we have to do something.”
“What’s it to you?”
“Does it matter? It… it isn’t right.”
“You are new. No one gets any extra credits for being right and helping her could be worse than doing nothing if you cause some damage or those guys have value and we hurt them. For Morgan’s sake, the fines will be enormous and we don’t have insurance or the time to get any. If you have Entertainment insurance, be our guest, knock yourself out.”
Gil didn’t understand what they were talking about or how they could abandon a friend. “I don’t have insurance, whatever that is. It isn’t about that. She’s going to get hurt.”
“Of course and we’re sorry. What’s your angle? If we agree to help, how do we benefit?”
Gil heard a muffled scream and turned toward the sound. When he looked back, the group was moving toward the crowds in the distance. “Where are you going?” Gil shouted. “I don’t care about benefits. This isn’t right. I’m going to help her and I sure could use some help.” When none of them made an effort he whispered to them, “at least call for help.” With that, he ran to the steps. When he turned, they had moved a safer distance away.
Gil bolted down the steps. When he reached the river level street below, he made his way cautiously. The street was filthy, dimly lit, and littered with refuse. Staying in the shadows, he maneuvered silently toward them using the girders to hide his movements as he avoided stepping on piles of trash and garbage. The muffled sobs of the girl got louder and brought back the memory of Bree’s attack near Profit. He had to do something.