A TOUGH CHOICE.
Meetings conducted in the Nocturn prior to sunrise were extremely rare occurrences. But if Francis Stewart called a meeting, regardless of time or potential inconvenience, any summoned member or members of the Covenant of Joshua was required to attend, at the risk of expulsion from the Covenant.
Such a meeting occurred at 430 hrs on Friday, 8 September, with Richard Bruce and Agent O as the mandated attendees appearing on Stewart’s pixelated screen. As Stewart squinted his eyes and creased his lips, he folded his sweaty hands in a pseudo-prayer pose as he raptly eyed up Richard Bruce.
“Is it done, Mr. Bruce?” Stewart asked.
“The operation is winding down, Your Magnificence,” Bruce replied. “Ten minutes prior, Lieutenant Callaway and his Cloaked Marines filtered sleeping gas through the vents of all fifty floors of the Portland lab to knock out all personnel. Databases and critical materials are being requisitioned by our best soldiers. Their escape should be complete in the next ten minutes when the gas wears off.”
“Good,” Stewart replied. “Agent O, where are we on the Remembrance Day security contingencies?”
“They will be complete by tomorrow evening, Your Magnificence,” O’s robotic voice droned. “A special order of SPYFLYs has been delivered to the Holy Auditorium for categoric deployment at your command, sir.”
“And what of the SPYFLYs to be deployed in the tent colonies at Central Park and Hell’s Kitchen?” Stewart pointedly asked.
“Already in place, sir,” O replied. “Undercover Divine Cloaked Force agents are on standby.”
“Excellent,” Stewart exhilaratingly replied. “We must also prepare for the aftermath of Monday’s speech on a nationwide scale; there are sure to be rioting and open debates. I will send a communique to the rest of the Covenant to prepare for a two-hour meeting at 1500 Monday.”
“Sir,” O continued, “I trust you’ve seen the NOR report about the supposed existence of the SPYFLY. What shall Rogers and I do about that?”
“Nothing yet. Let FNN deride it as hearsay. Should the situation escalate, I’ll get Agent Y on it. We’ve kept the SPYFLYs under wraps from the public and the SAA for years, and I plan to keep it that way.”
“Understood,” O droned.
“Your Magnificence,” Bruce chimed in, “the first of the platoons has escaped from the complex with 5,000 terrabytes with of data.”
Steward nodded in approval. “And those databases are being uploaded to my personal cloud drive as well, Mr. Bruce?”
“That will commence shortly, Your Magnificence,” Bruce replied. “I shall copy the rest of the Covenant, as well.”
“Thank you, Richard,” Stewart stoically replied.
“Your Magnificence,” Bruce continued. “I just want to say how honored I am that you chose me to coordinate Operation Portland.”
“Your pleasantries are appreciated, Richard,” Stewart replied with a smile. “And I have every bit of confidence that, once Operation Portland is complete, that the Cloaked Marines…and you…will have done a greater service to our country than any man or woman who volunteers for the Divine Forces.”
After a deep breath, Bruce adjusted his glasses, and gingerly looked Stewart in the eye. “Sir, we have been friends and confidants for a long time,” he said. “Although I am honored to do my duty for the Divine Republic of Freedom, I would like to reiterate that this will be the last favor on such a scale I can grant to you. The moral and ethical implications of this mission have kept me awake at night, and I would hope, from one friend to another, that one day you’ll feel the same.”
“We…” O growled, “are about to go to war. Every single member of this covenant must cast their feelings aside, Mr. Bruce.”
“Agent O, with all due…”
“That’s enough, you two, for Joshua’s sake!” Stewart abrasively interrupted, then sternly addressed Bruce. “I appreciate your moral objection, Richard, but that doesn’t change the fact your mission is still not complete. Have all your forces departed the complex?”
After a pause, Bruce’s head began to nod up and down in resigned approval. “SPYFLY cameras are currently revealing the last platoon of Cloaked Marines hovering away from the complex and into the warpcrafts,” Bruce said. “The uploads should now be at 25%.”
“Excellent work, Mr. Bruce,” O droned.
“You will be handsomely rewarded for this, my friend,” Stewart cheerfully declared. “Soon, fellow Covenantals, The Divine Republic of Freedom will become the most powerful nation in the history of mankind. Project Miracle will be ours and ours alone, and our economy will never know the words recession or depression ever again. And no one…NO ONE…will ever dare mess with us!”
“And with this ostensible economic boom, sir,” Bruce replied with a hint of desperation in his tone, “pryvies will gain similar opportunities as the nine-percenters?”
“We shall see, Mr. Bruce,” Stewart exasperatedly replied. “First, we take care of ourselves, and our corporate constituents. But ultimately, it will be their choices to…how they want to spread their wealth…if at all.”
“And what of you, Your Magnificence?” Bruce asked with a slight quiver.
“Don’t worry about me, Richard,” Stewart maleficently replied. “Keep this in mind, as well, my friend: your family has been rewarded handsomely for your service to the Covenant. Your wife’s insurance business has seen record profits. Your lovely daughters are seeing a full ride to Harvard. And their children will be financially stable. And their children, and so on. I think you’d be a fool to not be grateful.”
Bruce coiled his mouth shut, unable to muster a rational response, knowing Francis Stewart’s biblical manipulation techniques and coercion with benefits could not be countered with dignified responses. “God bless you, Your Magnificence,” he squirmed. “And God Bless the Divine Republic of Freedom.”
“Thank you, Mr. Bruce,” Stewart drawled. “You are dismissed.”
As soon as Bruce’s pixilation dissolved, Agent O eagerly made his next request. “Shall I deploy SPYFLYs to Mr. Bruce’s residence, Your Magnificence?”
Stewart leaned forward, gently removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes, and looked directly the black glowing O stick figure.
“You know, Agent O,” Stewart began, “when the original Covenant of Joshua two weeks prior to the first Divinity Day, we all seemingly agreed on everything. We answered God’s call to create a new land where everyone, regardless of race or creed can live freely with keen understanding that God kept this former part of America alive for a reason with Joshua defusing that H-bomb here in New York. We knew why we needed to support the Shanghai Sovereignty; not only to identify prospects for the future Ultimate Minister, but to ensure we could build our new nation based on the ideals of freedom, prosperity, and trust, especially trust in their leadership, because that’s what people needed after the Conflict. The Third Indentation was put in place to reinforce law and order, and now, to some, it is all amusement. We thought with enough time…enough peace time, trust and obedience would follow. Fifteen years later, it seems only half of Freedomers trust their SAA and their Ultimate Minister. Establishing NOR to create a so-called “choice” in press freedom was a mistake. As we near the twilight of our lives, Project Miracle is the last opportunity to attain our ultimate goal. We are this close to implementing Plan Zero, and when we do, the DRF will finally become a Utopia of full reverence and obedience. To fail God in this moment in history is unacceptable. You and I both know that hegemonic domination is the only key to law and order…but sadly, not everyone in this Covenant agrees. More distressingly, our biggest dissenter just happens to be one of my oldest friends. Friendship, however, is fleeting, and tough choices sometimes have to be made.”
Stewart then folded his hands in silent prayer. Seconds later, he reapplied his glasses and glanced at O.
“Permission is granted to deploy a hive of SPYFLYs to Richard Bruce’s White Plains mansion,” Stewart authoritatively murmured.
“Thy bidding will be done, Your Magnificence.”