SEATTLE, PART 5.
Jesse had recognized the voice of the New Alaskan president from television and the interlink. The sight of the man in the flesh, though, looking much shorter than he appears on screen, elicited paralyzing emotions.
But why the fellow that ordered the attack that killed his beloved aunt asking for him by name?!
“JESSE MAITH!” Fetisov roared. The vibration of his vocal chords was potent enough to cause tremors. Jesse, meanwhile, struggled to regain his composure. “WHERE IS JESSE MAITH?!”
As the president approached a still knelt and nervous Jesse, a distraught Sarah looked into her boyfriend’s eyes through the salty water in hers. She had made the conscious decision to not respond to protect the boy she fell in love with.
Jesse wasn’t on the same wavelength. He gritted his teeth to subdue himself; he was the bull and Fetisov was the matador.
“WHAT. THE HELL. DO YOU WANT?!” he roared. His wrists throbbed. He wanted to clench his fists and throw left and right hooks until his hands detached.
Sarah gasped and glanced at Jesse as if to ask him what he was thinking.
Fetisov, meanwhile, approached Jesse. “Stand up,” he ordered.
“At ease, soldiers. Mr. Math, I’d like to have a private word with you.”
“I think you’ll want to hear what I have to say.”
“Why should I listen to anything you have to say, you murdering sack of…”
As the troops guarding Jesse reached for his wrists, Jesse waived them away like a cat swatting at a feathered wand. “FINE! FINE!” he bellowed. “On one condition. That Sarah is in the room with me.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Mr. Maith,” Fetisov said. “This conversation will be confidential.”
“I SAID I WANT SARAH TO COME WITH…”
The soldier guarding Sarah sprayed her with a chemical agent.
“NO! YOU SICK SON OF A…” Jesse wailed in terror.
Fetisov approached closer as the guards attempted to restrain him.
Jesse scowled at him like a grizzly bear eyeing a slab of meat. “KILL ME!” he rumbled. “I’d rather die than speak to you.”
Then, Fetisov removed his glasses and looked at Jesse with what appeared to be genuine sympathy.
Even more extraordinary were the next words that came out of his mouth: “I knew your father. He was a great man.”
“You’re lying! YOU’RE LYING!”
Fetisov knelt, produced his ultraphone, and summoned a picture of a younger version of himself, in a white golf shirt, arm in arm with Brian Maith himself in a navy blue shirt, smiling.
A chill ran through Jesse’s spine. His breathing trembled, then he sobbed. “Wha… what the hell is going on?!” he screamed.
“I understand you’re angry with me, Jesse,” Fetisov replied. “You have every right to be. And don’t worry, your girlfriend and your fellow soldiers will be fine. We sprayed them with non-toxic sleeping gas. I only ask for five minutes alone.”
“Why should I trust you?!”
“I’m going to leave my guards out of this. No guards, no soldiers, just us.”
Jesse huffed, then pulled himself to his feet. His primal instinct within wanted to give Fetisov a thrashing, but the sheer shock of the sight of the picture of the president and his dad restrained him.
Eventually, they emerged in the New Alaskan presidential office, commonly known as “The Cave,” because it appears as if it was carved out beneath the earth. Jesse’s first impression was that Mary would be impressed; the Cave appeared like a kryptonite chamber created by Lex Luthor. The jagged edges of the gray ceiling appeared to extend hundreds of feet skyward, and plate-glass windows carved up from approximately one hundred feet above Fetisov’s white porcelain desk. Immediately above, a gigantic New Alaskan flagged draped behind the desk, only providing minimal natural light. Two massive lit torches flanked Fetisov’s desk, stretching half the distance to the ceiling more than a hundred feet up, and lined in a centrifugal appearance around the walls among the perimeter were holographic televisions tuned to NOR, FNN, and all major New Alaskan news outlets.
Jesse saw the appearance of a Lex Luthor-type figure, but Fetisov’s calm and strangely empathetic demeanor suggested something completely out of character for an ostensible villain.
Regardless, Jesse wanted answers.
“What the hell is this all about?!” Jesse demanded. “By the way, you killed my aunt, and I lost a good friend down in the Ellipse! I should choke you to death right here, right now!”
Fetisov retreated behind his desk and poured himself a glass of water. Then he looked at Jesse with sadness.
“I made a mistake, Jesse,” Fetisov replied, somber in his tone.
“Don’t play the sympathy card on me,” Jesse snapped.
“Jesse,” Fetisov replied as he leaned forward against his desk, “how much do you actually know about Project Miracle?”
“What does this have to do with anything?!”
Fetisov then sauntered around his desk and leaned back against its front, approximately five feet apart from Jesse. After a deep breath, he refocused on Jesse’s angry blue eyes. “I’ll reiterate: I made a mistake. I let my anger at Francis get the best of me. I took the bait. And now, I’ve made a fatal miscalculation. We’re back at war.”
“Wait, took the bait?! What do you mean?!”
“Jesse… I… I didn’t organize the attack on the Rockland plant.” Fetisov’s tone, to Jesse, suggested conciliation, but he still had difficulty believing its genuineness. “That was a pure Divine Cloaked Force operation designed to make sure I was paying attention. Well, believe me, I’ve been paying attention for a long, long time.”
“I know Stewart is a total sociopath. So what?”
“You think you know enough about Francis Stewart based on what you read on the interlink, that Project Drith whatever. Jesse, there’s so much you don’t know.”
Jesse raised his eyebrows. He was listening, but skeptical.
“I ordered the TSUNAMIBOMB attack because I felt like I had to stop him. It keeps me up at night knowing I had to make this call, knowing that thousands of innocent people would die. And I assume your aunt was…”
“YES!” Jesse screamed.
“I’m extremely sorry about your aunt. I raise my right hand to Joshua when I express my remorse. Let me ask you a question. Do you believe that Francis Stewart wants to abolish the Supreme Assembly of Administration?”
“Well, obviously I know about his lust for power, but the thought never crossed my mind.”
“It’s inevitable. Let me go back to my original question: how much do you know about Project Miracle?”
“Not a lot.”
Fetisov chugged the rest of his water, then slowly approached Jesse. As he came within two feet, a tear appeared to form in his left eye. “I’m not sure if your mother would have been saved, but if that S.O.B. had just listened to me… my goodness…”
For the first time, Jesse felt Fetisov’s remorse. His guard, however, remained up. “Mr. President,” he stammered, “with all due respect, these cryptic remarks aren’t helping me right now. How could my mother have been saved, exactly?”
“We could have completed Project Miracle at least a generation ago, around the time you were born. Again, I’m not sure if you mother would have survived, but her chances would surely have increased. I am very familiar with your father’s research and work on the Project. At the time of the inception of the DRF, the project was close to completion. But that rassie Stewart held back funding and sanctioned us and just about every country involved because his piece of the pie wasn’t big enough; you know, the whole dollars-and-cents bit.”
“It’s been 15 years. Why would he hold back funding for this long?”
“Because he’s waiting for the perfect time to usurp the entire program.”
“And I assume that time is now?”
“You’re very intuitive, but do you know why that is?”
“He’s getting older and wants to avenge personal vendettas?”
“Yes, but what else?”
“He wants total hegemonic domination of the DRF? Is having a peaceful world too much to ask?”
Fetisov nodded, but the weariness in his eyes hinted at something bigger.
“More than the DRF?!” Jesse entreated.
“You think it’s that simple he brokered the Treaty of Shanghai with Russia and China? You think he would have surrendered that easily? Francis Stewart is not a man that does not back down. As far as your pleas for peace, here’s a dose of reality: world peace is impossible! Humans are predators; a competitive species! Inevitably, someone like Francis Stewart, the epitome of human predatory instinct, will ruin it for everybody! In a way, he already did after the Endgame, because he got something out of the Treaty. Something massive.”
“What did he get?!”
Fetisov paused, then rubbed his head vigorously as Jesse looked on in anticipation. “Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Look, if you and your soldiers want to kill me or capture me, I’m perfectly content with that at this point. Stewart is going to do whatever he is going to do to gain the power he wants. There’s nothing more I can do; this conflict is a losing battle. But the more important question for you is: are you prepared to tolerate or accept what Stewart is going to do to you and your people?”
“Me and my people?! What is that supposed to mean?!”
After an awkward pause, a combination of explosions and an EMP blast that knocked both Fetisov and Jesse onto the floor and caused part of the ceiling to collapse.