“No man left behind. No man left to die.”
Those words echoed in Tobias Zen’s mind as he stood many miles away from Emmie in a brightly lit dressing room. On hearing back his perfect piece of propaganda he pulled a sly grin that raised the corners of his expertly pruned goatee and beard. Image meant everything to Tobias. From the way he wore his designer suit, to the words that he used whenever he spoke.
It’s why he kept his hair extra short and why he preferred to keep his hair grey rather than try to dye it another colour. Whilst other men tried to hide their grey Tobias saw it as adding wisdom to his overall image. Tobias was his very own personal brand and he tried to put that into everything he did.
Although he could afford any procedure he wanted Tobias had only ever used plastic surgery once, to hide injuries he had sustained in an accident, and he vowed never to do it again. He wanted people to know his face and that meant keeping the wrinkle lines on his forehead, his large nose, and rounded chin consistent.
He continued to practice his speech, ensuring his words were as well prepared as he was. “I promise, that no solider will be left behind to die. I will give my entire mind, body and soul to protect this country and to protect the brave men and women who defend it.”
“An investment in TethTech is in investment in the future of our nation, an investment in the future of our world and an investment in human lives,” he loved his new copywriter and thought about giving her a raise when this was over.
Tobias tried to visualise the crowd that awaited him. In a few moments he would appear on the Jonathan Lewis show. The most important chat show in the world.
Unlike Tobias, Jonathan Lewis was a cosmetic surgery addict. He was fifty now but he looked like a twenty five year old. His hair was a rich brown colour and he had no wrinkles on his face. His lips were so plump they were downright comical and the tip of his chin was perfectly shaped into a small point. He wore neon jeans and a graffiti covered T-Shirt. It sickened Tobias to see someone hide who they were but the show was just a means to an end for him so he was prepared to humour this man, at least for the moment.
Tomorrow morning his company ‘TethTech’ would go public and float on the stock exchange. Turning years of hard work in building his company, into a huge stream of cash flow from new investors.
Tonight he would kick start that investment with an emotional speech on how his company would revitalise warfare. He planned to explain how through his use of Tethers, he could protect the life of every soldier on the battlefield and ensure a minimal loss of human casualties.
Playing on human compassion had always worked well for Tobias and tonight would be his biggest trick. No one wanted to see a soldier die, especially after the events of the ‘20 Day Siege’ and Tobias knew exactly how to turn public sympathy into cold hard cash.
“Two minutes Mr Zen,” said the announcer.
Tobias looked at himself in the mirror. He straightened his orange tie, checked what little hair he had left and buttoned his designer suit. He looked down at his shoes, a pair of orange trainers. A vibrant contrast to his tailored suit and that was exactly why he wore them.
“The man with the orange trainers,” was a lot more memorable than being just another guy in a suit. Plus Tobias had always had a thing for the colour orange.
The announcer tapped Tobias on his shoulder and pointed to the stage. His moment of glory would come soon. Tobias looked on to the show floor to see a raised wooden platform that housed hundreds of fans. Above them was a giant skylight that looked out on to the night sky and flooded the studio with light from two giant spotlights. It was more like looking out on a stadium concert than an intimate studio interview.
Jonathan’s stage was as cosmetic as the man himself. It was half enclosed in a dome that showed the greatest landmarks of the world all superimposed on to one image. The other half of the dome gave the audience a perfect view of a single sofa where Jonathan and Tobias would soon be sitting.
Between the audience and the stage were a row of metal gates with guards located around them. Tobias had asked for security to be improved for his appearance and the production crew had not disappointed. He didn’t want a repeat of recent incidents.
Jonathan took to the stage, “Our next guest was voted Man of the Year in TIME magazine, appeared in the Globox world’s best thinkers hot list and most importantly was responsible for ending the 20 Day Siege.”
The crowd started to cheer. A set of twins held a British flag to their chests, smiled and started to weep, somehow managing to do everything at the same time in unison. Another woman ran to the stage and was promptly stopped by security.
There were other guests for the evening but it was clear who everyone was there to see. Tobias could see everything and was in his element.
“He is a national hero and the man who will change the world forever,” Tobias heard Jonathan’s words and only he knew how true they would be.
“Join me in welcoming ... Tobias Zen!”
The crowd rushed to their feet, cheers erupted and a chant began. “Zen! Zen! Zen!” They stomped their feet in unison and the wooden stands beneath them started to creek from the pressure.
Tobias stood by the entrance to the stage for a moment. He wanted to soak in every last bit of applause before he made his way to the stage.
The woman who had been stopped by security caught a glimpse of Tobias in the stage entrance and she fell to her knees. The sight of her idol proved too much. To her, he was her saviour.
As she fell to the floor, twenty miles away her twin did the same.
Tobias saw the woman and knew that this was his greatest moment. A prelude for what was next to come; his life was about to be forever transformed.
He walked onto the stage and held one hand in the air to acknowledge their applause. “Thank you, thank you.”
Tobias shook hands with Jonathan who grabbed his arm and raised it into the air. “Tobias Zen, everyone!”
The cheers continued long after the audience signs that read ‘applause’ had been turned off.
It was Tobias who stopped the cheers, simply by directly facing the crowd and preparing to speak. The crowd really wanted to hear what he had to say and they quickly let the room return to silence.
He uttered his first words to the audience. “No man left behind. No man left to die.”
The crowd knew where this was heading. His optimistic spiel was exactly what the world needed right now.
As Tobias was about to launch into his masterpiece, he spotted an odd face in the crowd. In amongst the cheering happy faces, a woman with straight red hair sat stony faced. She looked in her early twenties and although Tobias thought she looked beautiful he could see she also looked unhappy, almost angry.
Oh, well, you can’t win them all, thought Tobias.
Jonathan gestured to the crowd for them to sit. It took three minutes for them to contain their excitement and for everyone to sit down ready to hear Tobias continue his speech.
As the last person sat down, the red haired woman defiantly took to her feet.
“Tobias Zen,” she stated with a voice that echoed through the silence.
Tobias looked at her, frustrated that he would have to wait to win the crowd over. Jonathan whispered to Tobias that they could have the woman escorted out of the building.
Tobias saw that she was wearing a grey and green patterned army uniform and knowing how important soldiers were to his cause, he encouraged the woman to stay. “Yes, my dear.”
“This is a citizen’s arrest,” she shouted. “I am here to arrest you for war crimes against the people of Britain and the world.”
The crowd immediately began booing the woman.
“I can assure you, you are mistaken,” explained Jonathan. “Tobias Zen is a national hero, without his help there wouldn’t be an army for you to enlist in. Without him you may have never been born.”
“You are wrong!” screamed the woman. “Tobias Zen is no hero. He is responsible for the death of one billion people! He is a traitor and he will be held accountable for his crimes.”
As security guards made their way to the woman’s seat she held an arm out and raised the palm of her hand upwards pointed at the sky.
She looked up through the glass ceiling above her and saw a helicopter shine a beam of blue light through the window and onto the crowd. It engulfed the room.
The entire audience were fixed in place. Security guards were like statues held to the spot. Camera men were stuck to their cameras and even Jonathan Lewis, a man well known for rarely standing still, remained motionless.
The only two bodies that could move were now focused entirely on each other.
Tobias and the red haired woman were all who remained.
“Well played,” said Tobias.
In amongst a sea of motionless bodies, the red haired woman lunged forward towards Tobias. As he was pushed to the floor, he saw a chain around the woman’s neck that held in place a Queen of Diamonds playing card.