INVOKING THE SECOND.
The SAA, all persuasions and opinions alike, collectively attempted to gather their thoughts and maintain their composure after hearing the W-word fly out of their leader’s mouth. They respected the fact that Francis Stewart still possessed a charisma that won over a generation of young Americans when he became President of the United States at age forty, but they were just punitively reminded that he is now a seventy-two-year-old curmudgeon that lost his sense of empathy a long time ago, and that the stress of forty-plus years of public service and presiding over the deadliest conflict in human history has jaded him.
Also, they remembered one critical trait.
The man they call His Magnificence is an unabashed narcissist. He loved to use such ominous terminology like the W-word, especially during their daily 900hrs meetings in the Chamber of the Divine Power.
“Your Magnificence,” interjected Langdon Arshan, the senior member of the Legislative Wing.
“Yes, Mr. Arshan?” Stewart cordially replied.
“Um, at the risk of prying too deep,” Arshan continued in his squeaky falsetto. He then cleared his throat, adjusted his blue tie, furrowed his salt-and-pepper eyebrows, and removed his aviator glasses. “What tangible evidence do you have of President Fetisov’s intentions to go public, and secondly, if our final plan is to go to…ugh…wuh…wuh…”
“War!” Stewart interrupted, without hesitation or cringe. More gasps ensued.
“Y-y-y-yes, thank you,” Arshan fretfully continued, “would you be able to shed light on what Project Miracle is?”
“All I can say, Mr. Arshan, is that President Fetisov is keenly aware of what our scientists have done,” Stewart replied with a hint of smugness. “Because we are forced to import most of our necessities from New Alaska, Fetisov will use the Project as leverage to levy heftier tariffs on basic goods like milk, food, and water! To compensate, we would be forced to increase taxes on our most powerful corporations, which as you know, sustain our economy. We cannot allow that to happen!”
“So, did New Alaska strike gold, or is Fetisov finally free from paying his back alimony?” asked the slick-black haired Paul Cambridge, the SAA’s jokester and second most senior member of the Judicial Wing. The group collectively laughed. Stewart’s relationship with Fetisov’s relationship has been frosty for years, and the SAA’s running jokes about Fetisov’s marriage infidelities were especially gratifying for the Ultimate Minister.
“As much as we’d like that to be true,” Stewart replied, “I’m afraid not, Mr. Cambridge.”
“With all due respect, Your Magnificence,” said Devon LaForge, the youngest member of the SAA at 35, a liberal-leaning Judicial Winger, and the group’s only African-Freedomer. “One of the most important lessons I learned in the Divine Marines, instilled upon us by our sergeant commander while stationed in Siberia, was that before we attack an enemy, it was important to understand why we attack, and that when we do, it’s the right decision. If I may be so bold, sir, what you’re suggesting is…is to throw ‘peace or death’ out the window. So, before I can advise you on a course of action, I believe it to be in the best interest of this Administration that you provide us the facts about Project Miracle, sir.”
“I appreciate your concerns, Mr. LaForge,” Stewart replied with a maleficent grin.
“I’d like to add to Mr. LaForge’s statement, Your Magnificence,” said George Drummond, the third-most senior member of the Legislative Wing. “I think we should take action as soon as we possibly can. We have to assume Fetisov will go public at any moment.”
Karen MacDougal, the second shortest serving member of the Judicial Wing, rolled her eyes in disgust. She fluffed the rough fabric of her beige turtleneck, brushed back her blonde hair, and raised her right hand.
“Your Magnificence, I would like to voice some concerns,” she declared, her bright red lips protruding forward like a rush of blood and her hazel eyes beading wide.
Stewart was mentally prepared to cordially tolerate MacDougal’s suggestions, but internally, his tolerance level would be, at worst, contemptible, and, at best, feigned for the SAA’s most disagreeable member. He resented the fact that he couldn’t fire her himself, and that a unanimous 10-0 SAA vote would never be obtained for removal from office.
“Miss MacDougal,” Stewart serenely replied, “I will gladly provide you a forum to voice your concerns one-on-one in my chambers following this meeting, but for now, let’s stay on the topic of our action plan.”
A conflab of shouting ensued that sounded like static on a television screen. The other members of the Legislative Wing, Tammy Traverse, Pat Michaelson, and Carol Ian, spoke amongst each other, and Oswaldo Ortiz of the Judicial Wing, attempted to calm Karen down.
“Order, people! Order!” Stewart shouted over the chatter. “I know you folks have to concern yourselves with elections every five years, but can you please focus!”
“Your Magnificence,” Carol Ian said as soon as the chatter died, “obviously, you have invoked that three-letter-word, but what is your strategy for selling potential military action against New Alaska to the Freedomian people? Obviously, New Alaskan media is banned on interlink and public television in this country, and no Freedomer within our borders can see what you claim to know. How do you plan to control the potential rioting and hysteria that will assuredly result?”
“Leave that to me,” Stewart replied. “I will face the consequences of such actions alone.”
“Your Magnificence,” LaForge said, “I, and I’m sure, a few other of my colleagues here, are deeply concerned about the lack of details you are seemingly unprepared to divulge. The invocation of…quote-un-quote…war…is not something we can just casually throw around. We’d be going against everything the Divine Republic of Freedom stands for!”
“I will abstain from any vote! I refuse to be a part of this!” MacDougal screeched.
“Of course, you don’t,” Jack Minor snapped.
“SHUT UP, BOOTLICKER!” MacDougal barked.
The static-like noise resumed, this time at deafening levels. In response, Stewart slammed his right hand on the table.
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!” His Magnificence bellowed after standing up, drawing an immediate hush. “Disagreements are a fundamental to a functioning democracy, but childish bickering is something I will not tolerate!”
“Your Magnificence,” MacDougal interjected, “it is disturbing, and frankly, disheartening, that you are being so evasive. And, frankly, how do we know you won’t invoke the Second indentation?”
“Miss MacDougal,” Jack Minor interrupted, “when you were elected to your post two years ago, you took a vow to trust your Ultimate Minister. I don’t think you want us to open up a 3-I case in this chamber, do you?”
“Mr. Minor,” MacDougal snapped, “there will be no Third indentation hoodwinking at this table, and I will not have my judgment questioned…”
“ENOUGH!” Stewart roared, then ripped his glasses off and slammed them on the glass table, damaging the frame. Then, like a preacher intently eyeing up his congregation, His Magnificence looked at all of his subordinates with anger and disgust, virtually prepared to rain fire and brimstone down.
“Look, ladies and gentlemen,” Stewart calmly resumed, “I understand some of you are skeptical, But, there’s a reason I can’t go into too much detail right now. After we adjourn, you are all free to meet with me in my Chambers to express concerns. I know how fortunate I am to have this job for life, but the rest of you were elected to not only serve the Freedomian people, but to influence my decision-making, a duty I must respect. But let me be clear: nothing is decided at this time, including that three-letter-word you all hate. I have not decided to end ‘peace or death’. All I am telling you is that we must prepare to protect our interests, and that includes diplomatic strategies and military options. If the W-word happens, I will deal with the political and social repercussions. We can debate the merits of my executive privilege to invoke the 2nd indentation to overrule you all for the nation’s interest at a later time, but for now, let’s monitor this situation closely, and allow God to shine a light upon us when the hour comes when we must vote on a final decision. As Joshua Evans once said, ‘only the extraordinary, with God on their side, can accomplish the bold and the astonishing.’”
“Your Magnificence,” Carol Ian interjected, “have you already made up your mind to invoke the 2nd should we cast a majority vote to not authorize military force?”
“Mrs. Ian,” Stewart replied with a chuckle, “I admire your honesty. I assure you all, from the bottom of my heart, from the right hand of God, and the teachings of Joshua Evans, that I do not plan to invoke the 2nd should the rest of you not authorize military action.”
“Your Magnificence,” said Pat Michaelson, “I second Mrs. Ian’s comments. I fear that despite your declarations to the contrary, you’ll change your mind and invoke the 2nd. Therefore, it’s a waste of time to debate the pros and cons of…ugh…war.”
“Again, ladies and gentlemen, I suggested we prepare for the possibility of armed conflict, and I do so because…I know George Fetisov. The man has wanted revenge on me for years, and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Clearly, we will not come to a compromise at this table today, so let us adjourn until tomorrow. God bless you all, and God bless the Divine Republic of Freedom.”
The only SAA member to shake Stewart’s hand and thank him was Jack Minor. The other nine slowly sauntered away without making eye contact nor approaching their boss, a rare departure from the formal custom of expressing gratitude to the Ultimate Minister following a meeting at the Table of History.
Only Stewart and Jack Minor remained in the Chamber after the rest departed.
“Well, that went well, Your Magnificence,” Minor sarcastically muttered.
“I’m not surprised at all, Mr. Minor,” Stewart replied, adjusting his glasses. “It’s moments like these I’m glad Freedomers are so undereducated and ignorant. They’ll never know we run a shadow dictatorship and the SAA are puppets – heck, all the pryvies struggle to spell their own names!”
“Even better,” Minor slowly muttered, “is how the Shanghai Sovereignty has already chosen me as your successor! The rest of those saps think they have a chance!”
Both men guffawed as they walked towards the Chamber exit.
“It’s time for Mark Leonard’s morning monologue,” Minor said.
“My favorite part of the morning!” Stewart beamed. “Ain’t having trusted allies in the media grand? Plus, it’s good entertainment before our next meeting.”