His Magnificence

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 Jesse and Matt released their HK-86’s and raised their hands while New Alaskan soldiers firmly pressed HK-186 barrels against the back of their heads.


 They stood, turned, and wrapped their hands around their heads. The soldiers then aimed the barrels against their chests.

 A blast rang out, and the soldier holding Jesse at laserpoint collapsed to the ground.

 The soldier holding Matt looked towards the wreck, then fired into thin air as Jesse and Matt ducked. Moments later, the soldier fell face first into a nearby pile of rubble, slain.

 Jesse and Matt retrieved their HK-86s and checked their surroundings. Seconds after, more laserfire flew in their direction, and they dropped to the ground for cover. Then Jesse noticed something disturbing.

 “ZACHARY!” he shrieked, then crawled toward his fallen comrade. As Peter sat behind the remnants of a damaged kiosk, Isiah and Gabriel surrounded Zachary, drowned in a puddle of blood and guts. Their visors fogged up as they attempted to apply pressure to his wounds.

 While forcing his left hand upon the open flesh wound on Zachary’s stomach, Jesse frenetically clicked away on his watch. As he screamed orders, a coughing Zachary reached out and squeezed Jesse’s wrist.

 “Je-Je-Jesse…” Zachary gurgled. His body convulsed, and a distraught Isiah and Gabriel pled for their comrades’ survival as they held him in their arms.

 Jesse attempted to hold back tears, but what Zachary said next shocked him.

 “Tha-thank you,” Zachary muttered, barely registering any decibels. Blood continued to gash out of his wounds like a geyser, and his face turned white.

 “Why are you thanking me?!” Jesse squirmed. “I… I couldn’t save you!”

 “You… you helped me see… things different.” Jesse panted as he watched Zachary convulse. “Sometimes… not everything… you think you know… is right…”

 And then he drew his terminal breath.

 But as Jesse slumped his head, a debilitating vibration lifted him and his soldiers off the floor.

 A nearby grenade blast rendered Jesse dizzy and disoriented. As a result, he couldn’t locate his HK-86. Fearing he would soon be shot dead, he walloped around like a fish out of water, attempting to reach his weapon. The ringing in his ears vibrated his brain stem, causing temporary paralysis in his limbs. His five senses were non-existent.

 Suddenly, like jump cuts in a filmstrip, the boots of two uniformed Divine Army agents appeared in front of Jesse’s face. His eyes focusing on the figures before him, he no longer felt fear, but utter shock.

 “JESS!” Mary shrieked as she shimmied the golden arm of the Everton Pioneers like a seesaw.

 Moments later, Matt barrel-rolled toward Jesse’s side, with Sarah behind him.

 When Jesse’s baby blue eyes focused on the organized chaos in front of him, the first thing he noticed was Mary frantically waiving away from their direction. Like a slow-motion reel, time stood still for Jesse as he watched two platoonmates rush to his side, then felt his arms raise up like a slingshot shooting skyward as soldiers helped him to his feet.

 Then, Sarah rushed towards Jesse and gave him a bear hug, which virtually snapped him back into a state of battle readiness.

 “Sarah!” he panted. “We… we lost…”

 “I know!” Sarah bellowed. “We have a chance to escape upstairs! We threw that grenade and took out all the insurgents, but they surely will send more reinforcements soon! It’s time to move! Now!”

 After a few deep breaths, Jesse turned toward the soldiers that helped him up and ordered them to take Peter to safety.

 He then turned back towards Sarah, with Matt and Mary standing by her right side.

 “How far away are the executive offices from here?!” he asked.

 “Approximately 2000 meters from the top of the stairs,” Mary replied.

 “Good. Have Platoon 140 remain behind here in the Ellipse to contain any potential reinforcements. If we encounter any in the corridor, we’ll take them on!”

 “How many do you want to accompany us upstairs?”

 “I’ll need at least twenty. Start flagging anyone in 809 down and order them to come with us. Matt, are you locked and loaded?”

 Matt yanked back the safety on his HK-86 and smiled. “Let’s have some fun!”

 Jesse nodded. “LET’S MOVE!”

 Meanwhile, Mary rolled her eyes at her brother and grumbled, “never change, Matthew,” then joined her platoonmates.

 Matt, meanwhile, rolled his eyes upward in confusion. “Am I that immature?! No… no… I can’t be… no way,” he muttered as he marched forward.

 Eventually, Platoon 809 ascended the Ellipse staircase and entered the undamaged dark, dreary, yet compellingly beautiful corridor leading toward the New Alaskan executive offices. Under a stain-glassed ceiling two hundred feet above and flanked by four enormous beige pillars on either side spread five hundred feet apart were three enormous silver three-dimensional statues of stars stood atop a white porcelain floor, each representing a label on the New Alaskan flag with three different inscriptions: EQUALITY, LIBERTY, and DEMOCRACY.

 As Platoon 809 collectively strode by the DEMOCRACY statue, Jesse became distracted. He stopped to study the shiny lettering inscribed into the center of each side of the star, and couldn’t help but recognize the irony. The sociopolitical malaise that defined the mindset of his teenage years resurfaced.

 This was not good for Jesse, for it caused him to commit the cardinal sin of armed combat: hesitation.

Personified by his failure to react to the sight of half of platoon 809 collapsing to the floor immediately in front of gigantic grey sliding reinforced polyester doors at the end of the corridor, under a thick cloud of white smoke.

 Then, after he finally noticed what happened, Jesse heard a deafening shriek to his left. His soul sunk to its deepest depths when his next sight came into focus.

 His girlfriend was restrained in a headlock, at laserpoint, by a New Alaskan soldier.

For the first time in their relationship, Jesse observed the typically unflappable Sarah Schale distraught, frightened, and paralyzed by fear as she gritted her teeth through the tears streaming down her red cheeks.

 “LET HER GO!” Jesse screamed toward the soldier as he drew his pistol on the soldier’s head.

 “DROP THE GUN!” the soldier ordered.



 As perspiring hot springs dripped down his face and onto his back, the same paralyzing fear that struck Sarah struck Jesse as the barrel of an HK-186 pressed against his right temple.

 Seconds later, five additional New Alaskan soldiers appeared and pointed their HK-186s at Jesse’s head.

 Wisely defusing the Mexican standoff, Jesse released his HK-186 and placed his hands above his head.

 “ON YOUR KNEES!” the soldier pointing the barrel of his weapon at a panting Jesse’s head ordered. As Jesse kneeled, he looked directly at a sobbing Sarah, also with her hands around her head as she stared back.

 Through her tears and hyperventilating, she poignantly mouthed the words she had been longing to say, with a silent poignance that fluttered Jesse’s heart.

 “I love you,” she mouthed.

 “I love you too,” he mouthed back.

 A pinging noise reverberated against Jesse’s head, the universal audio cue of a weapon loaded and primed to fire.

Jesse closed his eyes, preparing for his last moments on Earth. An amalgam of regrets and fond memories of his mother and cousins raced through his mind. More profoundly, he finally questioned what he, his girlfriend, and his cousins, and his friends were doing thousands of miles away from home, and if the murder or capture of a head of state was really worth putting his life on the line for petty revenge.

Then, one more moment of bizarre divine intervention occurred.

A stocky figure in a dark brown business suit emerged from the smoke cloud like a deity descending from the clouds, flanked by armed guards cloaked in royal blue uniforms, wielding shiny silver sabers.

The New Alaskan soldiers looked on in shock when they recognized whom that figure was.

Jesse was even more shocked by the figure’s request.

“Stand down, soldiers!” shouted George Fetisov. “Where is Jesse Maith?”

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