THE DEATH OF PEACE OR DEATH.
From beyond the windows of the Chamber of the Divine Power, two profound sights were visible.
The deluge of the sludgy Hudson River waters extended as far north as the ruins of the Empire State Building, and despite being a spec in a line of structures, the missing upper half of the Statue of Liberty was profoundly noticeable.
Through the jaded eyes of Francis Stewart, these images not only represented an inaudible call to arms, but validated to him the magnitude of this moment in World annals, which the press had dubbed “9/25.”
Watching from the Table of History, The SAA were aware of the uncharacteristic restraint their leader was exercising. They all remembered one occasion in which His Magnificence caused destruction to the Chamber’s furnishings, but his lack of fiery demonstrativeness raised eyebrows.
“How,” Stewart growled, suppressing decibels, “could we allow this to happen?!”
Then, the wrathful and vengeful side of the Ultimate Minister returned. “HOW!?” he shrieked as he banged his hand on the window. He then turned toward his subordinates as he readjusted his glasses. “I WARNED YOU ALL ABOUT THAT CLOWN! We’ve had debates and disagreements regarding their threat of! We’ve examined how they see fit to wield Project Miracle! YOU’VE SEEN IT! But now, it’s cut and dry: they want armed conflict! Now, thousands of innocent Freedomers may be dead! THOUSANDS!”
“Your Magnificence,” Karen MacDougal chimed, which was not a welcome sound to Stewart’s ears, but was expected.
“I figured you’d have a question, Miss MacDougal,” Stewart replied as he rolled his eyes.
“You are one hundred percent sure that New Alaska perpetrated this attack?!” she asked.
Immediately after, Stewart produced his ultraphone and scampered toward the center of the Table of History. He slammed the phone on the glass and played an audio recording of his and George Fetisov’s conversation in the Marvelous Room.
As Fetisov’s voice boomed into the tense air, the words that filtered through the ears of the of the SAA resonated within like a fault line carving a tectonic plate in half.
You left me no choice, Francis. We deemed you a matter of national security, and we had to attack!
Stewart cut off the recording.
The collective reactions were that of shock and anger.
“OF COURSE, HE DID!” Jack Minor boomed.
“Oh my God,” Tammy Traverse quivered.
“That little…” Carol Ian growled.
The other seven SAA members either tilted down in pure desolation or buried their heads in their hands. The need for argument or debate was non-existent.
Fetisov’s message was now clear to Stewart’s subordinates: he declared the dreaded W-word on the DRF.
Moments after most of the SAA gathered their thoughts, two remained crestfallen: MacDougal and Devon LaForge. They stared blankly at the fingerprint-smudged glass in front of them, frozen and devoid of rational thought. For the first time in their careers, they knew they could not challenge their boss and question his motivations. They knew they would have no choice but to go along with his next suggestion.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Stewart boomed with a hint of quivering in his voice. “As Ultimate Minister, I hereby confer upon the Supreme Assembly of Administration to vote on two matters: one, to authorize a full military incursion into New Alaska; two, to institute a Divine Military draft of citizens age fourteen through twenty.”
The SAA remained silent while Stewart closed his eyes, folded his hands, and prayed silently at his throne. Jack Minor soon joined him, followed by four others. When Stewart completed his prayer, he removed his glasses and rubbed his weary and red eyes.
“As I have heard no objections,” Stewart said, “we shall begin the vote on the aforementioned matters immediately. As always, the vote must be unanimous. Mr. Minor, let us start with you.”
“Your Magnificence,” Minor said with a hint of a grin, “the evidence is there. Our nation is under attack, and New Alaska wants war. I vote yes on both measures.”
“Mr. Drummond!” Stewart declared, looking to his immediate left.
“Your Magnificence,” a glum Drummond replied, then sighed. “You know well that military conflict is the last thing we could ever consider, but… peace or death… died today. We can no longer stand by while a belligerent antagonizes us, and… people are dying. I vote yes on both measures.”
“Your Magnificence,” Cambridge eagerly replied. “If I could vote a thousand times for the w-word, I’d vote yes every single time under circumstances such as these. I vote yes on both measures.”
“Your Magnificence,” Ian snarled, “despite my objection to instituting a draft for high schoolers, some of which have not yet adequately developed physically, we have no choice considering today’s events. I vote yes on both measures.”
“Sir,” Ortiz demonstratively replied. “I second Mrs. Ian’s comments regarding the draft.” He shimmied his arms back and forth to emphasize his points. “I will, sir, vote yes on a declaration for armed conflict, but I vote no on the draft, and I urge you to reconsider your position.”
“I understand, Mr. Ortiz,” Stewart calmly replied. “And I know that some of you fear I will invoke the Second, but keep in mind, you all have the authority to override me by seven-three vote should I make that choice, as per, well, the Second Indentation!” Half the SAA members skeptically scowled at their leader, unbelieving of this statement. “As of right now, the vote for authorizing the military incursion against New Alaska is 5-0, and the objection of Mr. Ortiz for a draft renders this vote eradicated. We shall continue the vote on the authorization of military action. Mr. Michaelson!”
“I vote yes,” Michaelson methodically replied.
“I would like to thank Mr. Ortiz for voicing his moral objection to the draft, but after today’s events, to second Mrs. Ian’s thoughts, we have no choice. I vote yes.”
“7-0. Mr. LaForge!”
LaForge’s head remained tilted toward the Table of History, unable to muster an eloquent response. He felt a slight sense of relief that he would not have to denounce his leader for suggesting a draft of high schoolers. Nonetheless, he recalled one critical principle in his reply.
“Sir,” LaForge groggily replied, appearing to hold back tears. “Evidence is evidence, and that cannot be questioned.” He paused for an additional fifteen seconds to collect his thoughts, then folded his hands in prayer and closed his eyes. “I vote yes, and my God have mercy on us all.”
“Thank you for such an appropriate statement, Mr. LaForge,” Traverse mocked, then stood up and placed her right hand over her heart. “I vote yes.”
“9-0. Ms. MacDougal, I trust you have no further objection based on this evidence?”
MacDougal solemnly stood up from her chair and folded her arms. The trembling she felt deep within her soul was enough to melt the skin and bones of any able-bodied human.
The reality was, her pride was eradicated. She knew she could win no arguments, nor could any be workable. She heard Fetisov’s words loud and clear, and the sheer devastation her eyes had seen had broken her spirit. There was only one way she could respond.
“Yes,” she quivered, then sat down and began sobbing.
Stewart raised his eyebrows in stunned delight. “Then it is unanimous! The motion to authorize a Divine Military incursion into New Alaska is, under the watchful eye of God and the presence of these witnesses, hereby ratified. We will reconvene again at 1600hrs to iron out the details and strategy. May God bless the Divine Republic of Freedom. We are adjourned.”
Francis Stewart and Jack Minor were the only ones to stand up from the Table of History immediately after. Breaking with protocol, the remaining SAA sat somberly, attempting to reconcile the magnitude of what they had done.
Stewart and Minor walked together to the window to gaze out toward the devastation. Minor then whispered to his boss, “what are they so upset about? Peace or death are just words.”
“I’m surprised it was that easy to get a unanimous vote without a charged debate,” Stewart whispered back. “Now, the difficult part begins.”