Every reporter raised a hand. Stan’s shoulders slumped. Wendy got his attention with a wave, then tugged on the collar of her red t-shirt. Stan shook his head in confusion. Wendy pointed to her shirt and mouthed, “Red t-shirt.”
Stan’s eyes lit up and he nodded. He looked about the room and locked onto the first reporter he saw wearing a red t-shirt. “Yes, Stephanie,” he said.
Stephanie stood up. On her red t-shirt was an image of Che Guevara. “Mr Premier,” she said, “how disappointed are you to see so many selfish people still refusing to be vaccinated, and should those people be held responsible for all Covid deaths?”
Stan nodded thoughtfully. “That’s a great question. Look, obviously I am disappointed. I allowed people to make their own decision whether or not to get the vaccine—I gave them that choice—and so for some people to actually choose not to get vaccinated shows astounding ungratefulness. It’s a slap in the face really. As to whether the unvaccinated should be held responsible for Covid deaths, that’s a tricky issue. Even though they are responsible. I’ll be looking at that closely, and whether non-vaccination falls under the category of negligence, or manslaughter, or war crimes, we’ll just have to see, and take steps from there.”
Stephanie put her hand over her heart and nodded solemnly. “Thank you, Sir,” she said.
“Ah yes,” said Stan. “Let’s have another question. That last one was good. Say more like that.” He picked a reporter from the second row.
The reporter, a young man named Lyle, stood up. His red shirt had a picture of Karl Marx wearing sunglasses. “While the good people of this state have accepted Covid restrictions and prohibitions as necessary—and even preferable—” the red-shirted reporters nodded in agreement “—some churches continue to meet on Sundays, presumably to steal money and molest boys. With their complete disregard for safety and common sense, is it time the government banned religion?”
Stan bowed his head and nodded gravely. “Look, as a devout member of all religions, this is something close to my heart. Jesus said to love your neighbour, but how can you love your neighbour if you’re dead from Covid because you were gathering in groups indoors every Sunday? It’s pretty simple. Don’t go to church. I mean, the bible even says to obey authority, okay? So, I don’t want to say that disobeying Covid restrictions is the same as disobeying God, but, unless you get the vaccine…” —Stan shrugged and winced— “you’re probably going to hell.”
Lyle nodded and sat down, and Stan called on another reporter in a red shirt. The reporter, Robert, was so short that a journalist seated in front of him obscured Stan’s view of his t-shirt design. Stan was comforted, however, by the hammer-and-sickle tattoo on Robert’s forehead. “Mr Premier,” said Robert, “a two-part question—should children be removed from vaccine-hesitant parents, and what is your favourite kind of sandwich?”
“We just don’t have the funds or the facilities yet,” said Stan, “to remove all children from science-denying parents and place them in the care of the state. Such a large-scale move, done suddenly, would also incur a public backlash too big for us to risk right now. One step at a time. And as to the second part of the question, I’m a true-blue Aussie—I like Vegemite sandwiches.”
The red-shirt-wearing portion of the audience erupted into applause and hoots and cheers. Wendy gave Stan a thumbs up.
After two solid minutes of increasingly boisterous adulation, Stan humbly motioned for the reporters to sit down. He pointed to a reporter at the back of the group, who then stood to ask a question. While the collar of her shirt was reddish (more of a dark orange), the rest of her shirt was revealed to be mainly white. Stan huffed and crossed his arms. “Go on then,” he muttered.
The reporter, Rani, got straight to the point. “What do say to suggestions this morning that your two-hundred-foot yacht, which you claimed to have recently inherited, was in fact given to you by the CEO of a major pharmaceutical company?”
Stan turned white. He stammered a few incoherent syllables then stepped back from the microphone. His breathing became rapid. He undid the buttons on his jacket, cleared his throat and looked around the room. He buttoned his jacket again and returned to the microphone. “That’s uh, an unfounded… accusation. The thing is… What, uh, what exactly do you…” He leaned one hand on the podium and loosened his tie with the other. His head hung low. After a moment, he looked up and glared at Rani. “It’s a conspiracy theory,” he said. His chest heaved, and he began to sweat. “It’s all a… a right-wing—no! Far right-wing conspiracy theory.” He pointed a trembling finger at Rani. “You’re a Racist.”
The reporters in red shirts turned around to face Rani.
“That’s absurd,” she said.
“Yeah, that’s it,” said Stan, removing his jacket. “You’re a Nazi. You’re a science-denier. You’re… you’re… unvaccinated!”
Many of the red-shirted reporters gasped. One leaned over and vomited on the floor.
“Actually, I am fully Covid-vaccinated,” said Rani, “but that has nothing to do with—”
“Liar,” snapped Stan. “You, you… your body might be vaccinated, but… in here—” he tapped his chest “—in your soul, you’re unvaccinated.”
Lyle hurled his phone at Rani. She ducked it and asked again, “Mr Berserkervich, who gave you the yacht?”
Stan gasped for breath. He grabbed his collar and yanked it down, popping two buttons loose and sending them flying into the audience. Wendy put her hand over her mouth in shock and shook her head. “You’re a Nazi,” said Stan. He slapped a hand to his face, then clawed his nails down his cheek. “I can’t breathe…”
“Stop it,” said Wendy.
Murmurs and hisses circulated the audience.
“Mr Berserkervich,” said Rani, “was the yacht a payment in exchange for promoting the interests of pharmaceutical companies?”
“Science-denier,” wheezed Stan. He stumbled backwards.
“Stop it,” said Wendy, burying her head in her hands.
A few reporters aimed cries of, “Unvaccinated!” at Rani.
“Mr Berserkervich,” she said.
“Stop it!” yelled Wendy. She stood up and turned to face Rani. “Stop attacking him! He’s a great man.”
Stan wiped the sweat from his eyes. “Attacking me?” he muttered.
“You always do this,” said Wendy. “After all he’s done for you, you just want to bring him down and attack him.”
Stan’s eyes widened, and he nodded to himself. “They’re attacking me.”
“I’m simply asking a question,” said Rani.
“No, you’re out to get him,” said Wendy. “All you want to do is destroy him.”
Stan tried to get his bearings as the room spun around him. “They’re out to get me,” he mumbled.
“He is an elected official,” said Rani, keeping her composure, “and he must be kept accountable.”
“You’re a hack,” said Wendy. “You just want a headline.” She turned to Stan. “Look what you’re doing to him!”
Stan staggered and leaned against the podium. His thoughts swirled. “They’re out to get me.”
“I’m not attacking him,” said Rani. “He has abused his power, and people deserve answers.”
“Stan, don’t listen to her,” said Wendy. “She’s not a real journalist, she’s just out to get you.”
Stan clutched at his throat. “They’re… They’re coming to get me.”
“Mr Berserkervich,” called Rani.
“Leave him alone!” said Wendy. “Stop attacking him!”
Stan screamed at the top of his lungs. Everyone in the room fell silent and stared at him. Stan flipped the podium over and it cracked on the floor. His chest heaving, he tore his shirt open, then gazed wide-eyed at the ceiling and shrieked, “It’s an assassination!”
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