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The Great Potlatch Riots

by Allen Kim Lang

Oh, leave it to the bureaucrats and they'll figure out new ways to make you buy more and more... . But there was only one way the poor consumer could rise up in his wrath.

"I've sweated for months over the plans for this campaign," Captain Wesley Winfree told the Major. "Just nod, sir; that's all I ask; and I'll throw my forces into the field."

"I admire your audacity, Winfree," Major Stanley Dampfer said, "but don't you think we'd be wise to consolidate our current positions before launching a fresh offensive?"

Captain Winfree, straight in his scarlet-trimmed winter greens, tapped the toe of one boot with his swagger-stick. "With all respect, sir," he said, "I feel that if we do no more than hold the line, we're lending moral comfort to the foes of prosperity. Attack! That's my battle-plan, sir. Attack! And attack again!"

Major Dampfer, seated behind Winfree's desk, stretched out his legs and sighed. "You younger officers, men who've never in your lives tasted defeat, are an inspiration and a trial to us old field-graders," he said. "Captain, a project that failed could set your District back fifteen years."

"I realize that, sir," Winfree said. "I'm placing my career in the balance. If I attempt this, and goof, ship me to the sticks, Major. I'd rather spend the rest of my BSG years as a corporal, a simple Potlatch Observer in a downstate village, than never to have embarked on this campaign."

"Young Napoleon must have been very like you, Winfree," Major Dampfer mused. "Very well, lad. Brief me."

"Yes, sir!" Captain Winfree marched over to the giant calendar that covered one wall of his office and tapped his stick against the three dates circled in red. "We've established this triangle of strong-points," he said. "We control the second Sunday in May and the third Sunday in June in addition to our first and most vital holding, the twenty-fifth of December. I regard these three victories, sir, as only beachheads, only the softening-up phases of a still greater campaign. We must press on toward Total Prosperity."

"How, Winfree?" Major Dampfer asked.

"By adding three hundred and sixty-two days a year to our laurels, sir," Winfree said, sweeping his swagger-stick across the face of the calendar. "My plan is to make every consumer's birthday a Gratuity Day for each of his Nearest-and-Dearest."

Major Dampfer sat up straight. "Captain," he said softly, "this is Thinking Big. This could lend billions a year to the Gross National Product. It could mean a major break-through on the Prosperity front. Are you really proposing that each consumer be required to give birthday presents to the same people, and on the same scale, as he now gives Xmas Gratuities?"

"Precisely, sir," Captain Winfree said. "My staff has in the files the birthdate of every consumer in the District. Enforcement of the new quotas I propose will be no more difficult than the old: the same scale of fines for non-compliance, the same terms of imprisonment for repeated offenses will be imposed. The dates-of-destruction to be marked on Birthday Gratuities will be set as the next Potlatch Day, plus one year. Merchandise will be marked with the year-date precisely as is now done for Xmas, Dad's Day, and Mom's Day gifts. Birthday-cards will be addressed and sent from this office, just like Xmas cards."

 

Major Dampfer stood and drew on his uniform gauntlets. "May I assume that you've covered the field public-relations-wise?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," Captain Winfree said. "I've composed a slogan for this year's drive in my District: 'Make the Magi Come the Year 'Round—Birthday Gratuities for All!'"

"It sings, Winfree," Major Dampfer said. "I like it. Captain, you have my nod. Carry on with this program. If you win the battle for this District, I'll get you a desk in Washington and Divisional Command; you'll help us tailor your plan to fit the entire nation."

"Thank you, sir," Winfree said, grinning. "I won't disappoint you."

"You'd best not," the Major said. He paused by the office door. "Captain Winfree, the word is on the grapevine that you're planning to marry one of the corporals in your office. That right?"

"Yes, sir," Winfree said. "Peggy and I have set the wedding for twenty-three December, the day before Potlatch. We'd be delighted should your duties allow you to attend, Major."

"I'll be there," Major Dampfer promised. "And as a little gift from the Bureau of Seasonal Gratuities, Winfree, I order you to move out on your new campaign that same day: twenty-three December." He raised a gauntleted hand. "No, Captain! Don't protest that you'll be needed here. Your work is strategy, not tactics. Your plans can be implemented by your staff while you're off on your honeymoon."

"Whatever you say, sir," Winfree said.

"I'd be further gratified," the Major continued, "if you'd hold the ceremony right here in your Headquarters Building. We of the BSG must establish some traditions, Winfree; the other Services have a century-and-a-half's lead on us in that field. So, if the lovely corporal approves, we'll make yours a proper military wedding."

"All this is very good of you, sir," Captain Winfree said. "I'm certain Peggy will be pleased."

"Good!" Major Dampfer said. "I'll handle all the details. Winfree, you've got the quality we used to know as Old-Fashioned Intestinal Fortitude, back in the day when a spade was called a spade and no apologies about it. We need more men like you in the Bureau." He snapped a salute. "Carry on, Captain; and Happy Potlatch!"

"A Very Happy Potlatch to you, sir!" Winfree said, tossing back the salute. "And a Merry Xmas!"

Captain Winfree walked to the big window in the outer office to watch Major Dampfer driven off in his sergeant-chauffeured, scarlet-and-green BSG Rolls limousine. Then he about-faced without warning to glare at his little command, the eight non-coms, the twenty-seven Other Ranks, the four young lieutenants. They all sat silent, watching him as though waiting for confirmation of an unpleasant rumor. Not a file-cabinet stood open, not a typewriter was moving. "Listen, you people," Winfree growled, pointing his swagger-stick like a weapon, not sparing even Corporal Peggy MacHenery his anger; "We've got a Potlatch Day coming up, the biggest ever. Now get on the ...

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