The Great Premier Kaleni Uzmen gazed out from the Great Palace’s massive open window at the sea of protesters. They chanted with their makeshift signs and banners, gathered tight to one another, pressing against the tall, iron gates of the palace’s perimeter. Their individual voices became one, but it was one the Premier wished he could silence.
“These peace talks are a waste of time,” Kaleni muttered as he withdrew into the Great Office and shut the window. The chanting grew muffled and the smell of burning rubber began to dissipate. He was finally alone. He clipped the lock on the window and shook his head, stirring the bourbon in his crystal glass before taking a sip. It did nothing in the way to relax him, but it was a habitual comfort. The peace talks between his nation and the enemy state had stalled, and he was not looking forward to the next round the following day.
The Premier was startled when a knock came from the Great Office door. Kaleni smoothed his thick hair with one hand, downed the final sip of bourbon with the other, straightened his traditional white smock, and stood tall.
The Premier was stunned when President Hoshani appeared from behind the door.
“Sorry to intrude,” Hoshani said absently. He gently closed the door behind him.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Premier Kaleni was stunned. The President of the vile neighboring state had made his way to the Great Office without his knowledge. Someone must answer for this great negligence. “Who let you in?”
“Myself?” President Hoshani seemed confused. He took a seat on the Great Sofa, which several Premiers have lounged for nearly one hundred years. It was the first time a representative butt of an enemy state sat upon its cushions. Hoshani pointed to the door.
"You just saw me come in.”
“Were you not searched at the Great Front Door?”
“Was I supposed to be?”
“Where are my guards? Guards!” Premier Kaleni strutted to the door and swung it open. This wing of the Great Palace, with its rich velvet carpet, walls lined with fine tapestry and paintings, was empty.
“I believe they're on lunch,” spoke Hoshani, with confidence that ran boiling water through Premier Kaleni. The Premier turned and saw Hoshani smirk, which only made matters worse. Hoshani had the advantage, the Premier thought. I must play whatever game he is currently winning.
The Premier closed the Great Office Door and took a seat in the Great Chair across from President Hoshani.
“Are you here to kill me?”
“How? I have no weapons. What am I going to do, toss you from the window?” He laughed.
“What is this, a coup?"
“Heavens no,” replied Hoshani, smoothing out his suit.
“A peaceful secession?”
“Not in the least.”
“Then please, forgive me when I ask, what the hell are you doing in my Great Palace?”
“Ah, yes.” Hoshani wagged a finger as if the Premier had made an excellent point. Hoshani looked over to the silver tray near the Great Office Desk and its selection of American bourbon.
“May I have a drink?”
“You may explain yourself this instant!” the Premier roared. If Hoshani feared the Great Premier Kaleni Uzmen, the Sixth, the Ever Knowing, the Ever Faithful, he did not show it.
“Okay. Here it goes. Premier Kaleni. The talks with the United Coalition today brought us no closer to peace. And that is what we all want, is it not? Peace?”
Premier Kaleni almost nodded, but he would not give Hoshani the satisfaction. Hoshani continued.
“The fathers of our country fought yours in the war, and now our sons do the same. Too much blood has been spilled between our great nations!”
“This is why I agreed to discuss the matter in front of the United Coalition,” replied the Premier, “so they would recognize your regime is forcing our hands.”
“Us? It is you, Premier, that disrespect sovereignty and commit…” President Hoshani stopped himself. “I came here because I wanted to break the ice.”
“Break the what?”
“The ice. Break the ice.”
“I do not have ice, it is down the hall in the Great Kitchen.”
“No, no, break the ice. It’s a saying from the Americans. It means to make someone relaxed that you’ve never met before.”
“And you think this is breaking the ice?”
“No. But I have a proposal that will.” Hoshani smiled.
“Well, I propose that you have held me hostage in my own Great Palace, a disrespect that will surely have dire consequences, so I might as well follow along.”
“Truth or Dare?”
“Excuse me. Truth…or dare?”
“Truth or dare. Have you not heard of this game?”
“It sounds familiar…,” said Premeier Kaleni, although he had never heard of this game.
“Have you watched any American cinema?”
“’Apocalypse Now’ is my favorite movie.”
“This ‘truth or dare’ is more specifically in coming of age, teenage movies, usually involving some hijinks or shenanigans as they call it.”
“Ah, yes, sheneenagans.” Kaleni had no idea what Hoshani was referring to, but he would not be made a fool for his lack of knowledge in American cinema.
“Right. Anyways, the idea is that one individual can ask another either ‘truth’ or ‘dare’. If truth is selected, the individual who first proposed the question then asks any question they want, and the other must tell the truth. Once this is completed, the person who answered the ‘truth’ can now propose either ‘truth’ or ‘dare’. Easy enough?”
“What is the point of this game?”
“To break the ice.”
Kaleni felt a rush of frustration. How dare Hosani impose such a childish game as a means of détente diplomacy.
“And you believe this will usher peace between our nations?”
“I believe it is a start. Look at us. We have officially exchanged more words now than in the entire history of our conflict.”
For all the things that President Hoshani and his people were wrong about, on this sole fact, he was right.
“Very well. Who will start?”
“Since I imposed," started Hoshani, "I will give you the honor.”
“So, I ask you to tell a truth?”
“Or complete a dare.”
President Kaleni wasn’t sure what a ‘dare’ was exactly, but he knew all about truth.
“No, you have to ask me ‘truth or dare’ and I select, then you follow in accordance with my selection.”
“Very well.” Premier Kaleni began to sweat. He hoped Hoshani would pick the truth since his understanding of a dare was limited.
“Truth or Dare?”
“Truth.” A sigh of relief almost left the Premier’s lips, but he held fast.
“Truth you say? Well, President Hoshani, tell me the truth: how many Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles do you have in your arsenal?” Premier Kaleni leaned back in the Great Chair, fulfilled in his first blow to the repugnant enemy.
“One. We are having difficulty developing the second at this moment. The first one was only completed because our Benevolent Department of Research was headed by Dr. Madan Absani, but your black bag squad assassinated him two years ago.”
The Premier’s jaw dropped. How could the President of the evil empire spill state secrets without a care in the world? The information provided conflicted with the Premier’s Great Department of Intelligence reports, which reported no ICBM’s. What fortune!
“You are surprised by my answer? I assumed you knew.” President Hoshani leaned back in the Great Sofa, relaxed and still confident. This shook Premier Kaleni back into focus.
“Yes. I did. Our Great Department of Intelligence is renowned for its ability to…collect intelligence.”
“I see. My turn.”
“Wait, I have a follow-up question.”
“Nope. Not how the game works.”
“Okay, Premier Kaleni. Truth or Dare?”
The Premier still needed to know more about this one ICBM, which is one more than his own regime maintained, however, he also needed to know what was this ‘dare’”.
“I dare you to have a drink with me.”
“What? That’s it? You tell me what to do and I do it?”
“You don't know what a dare is?”
“Of course I do," Kaleni lied, "I just didn’t think it would be such a plain and unimaginative dare.”
Hoshani pointed to the silver tray of bourbon. The Premier nodded. Hoshani heavily poured the smooth American Bourbon into two crystal glasses. He handed one to the Premier and raised his glass.
“A toast.” The Premier did not raise his glass. Hoshani nodded at the Premier’s crystal glass.
“It’s a dare. You have to do what I say.”
The Premier raised his glass.
“Stand. It is a toast.”
The Premier stood, dropping his glass. Hoshani cleared his throat. The Premier rolled his eyes and finally lifted the glass.
“To our peace and its growing promise.” Hoshani shoved his glass against the Premier and they clinked with a sharp click. Hoshani put the glass to his lips and threw his head back. He downed the bourbon in one go.
“President Hoshani. Are you not aware that this is American Bourbon you are drinking? It must be sipped to enjoy its exquisite taste.”
“The only thing in America that is exquisite is their cinema and women.”
“I agree. Although, if you would sip the bourbon, you would appreciate its variety of complex notes. It is quite something.”
“You know much of American Bourbon. Tell me more.”
“Well, you see, Bourbon is…” the Premier caught himself. Was he in casual conversation with the Oppressor? Chatting with the Despot? His father’s father would turn in his grave.
“Yes, go on.” President Hoshani urged.
“No. I am finished with your games, Usurper. Leave.”
“But don’t you want to dare me to do something?”
Premier Kaleni thought for a moment. Maybe he could dare the President to withdraw his troops from the northern mountains, where uranium deposits were rich. Or dare the President to hand over his ICBM?
“It would be my pleasure.”
The two sat down across from each other in the Great Sofa and the Great Chair in the Great Office of the Great Palace. The Premier sipped from his glass as he thought about his dare.
“President Hoshani. I dare you…” He paused. Obviously, any extreme dare would not be completed. It was a game after all, not of life or death but of sheengens. Hoshani clearly wanted to continue the game, foolishly believing it would solve the years of grievances between their two nations. The Premier then drummed up an idea to test how far the President was willing to go.
“I dare you to moon the citizens.”
“This moon you are referring to sounds familiar. Is it from American cinema? When an individual removes their pants and shows their buttocks to another individual, sometimes against a car window driving by or at a professional sporting event?”
“Of course," Kaleni replied, "I saw it in 'Braveheart'. I had one of my top generals research the effectiveness of such a strategy in battle.”
“Is it an effective strategy?”
“I cannot reveal such military secrets.”
“Well. The people are waiting.” Premier Kaleni smiled, ushering to the window. He knew that such a maneuver was pure political genius. If the President of the tyrannical nation were to show his buttocks to the citizens of the Great People’s Democratic Union, from the Great Palace window no less, Hoshani would be an embarrassment to his own nation and the laughingstock of the world stage.
President Hoshani shrugged and approached the window. He looked out at the mass of citizens; such a congregation meant for announcing a newly elected leader. Or dethroning one.
“From this window?” Hoshani looked back at Premier Kaleni for confirmation. The Premier nodded, giddy with excitement. Millions spent on propaganda campaigns couldn’t match what Kaleni was about to accomplish with a simple children’s game.
A hush fell over the crowd as they looked on at the Great Palace’s large window. Some peered through binoculars and pointed. Members of the gathering confirmed suspicions, that the President of the Benevolent Republic of States was now at the very window where generations of Great Premiers had greeted their citizens. It was unprecedented.
President Hoshani turned his back to the window and confusion rose from the crowd. Kaleni was not in view, standing off to the side so he wouldn’t appear culpable of this silly game, but he observed the crowd, who watched with intense curiosity.
Then, President Hoshani undid his belt. He unbuttoned his pleated pants and held the waist.
“Here we go.”
President Hoshani yanked his pants down and pressed his bare buttocks against the Great Palace window. A sudden yelp rose from the mass of protesters. Premier Kaleni himself gasped and, for a moment, everything was silent.
And then, a roar of laughter broke free from the streets. President Hoshani giggled as he rubbed his buttocks on the windowpane. Premier Kaleni could not help himself. He felt his stomach tighten and his mouth ache then bellowed a peal of laughter like a young child.
Once President Hoshani pulled up his pants he fixed the two another drink. Hoshani turned on the Great Television.
“You see.” President Hoshani said to Premier Kaleni, pointing at the newscast about the mooning incident. The image of President Hoshani’s buttocks was blurred out.
“They love it. My approval ratings jumped nearly eight percent already.”
“Is this not your state-run network?”
“No, it is yours.”
“I see.” Premier Kaleni’s plan had backfired. He fumed and gripped his crystal glass, hoping it would shatter in his hand so he could ram a shard into President Hoshani’s throat.
“We take ourselves too seriously. The people need to know we can be fun, even vulnerable. They appreciate someone they can relate to.”
“They appreciate power, President Hoshani," Premier Kaleni stated firmly, “power and strength above all else. If we act vulnerable, someone may take advantage of it.”
“Do not misinterpret strategy as weakness, Premier. Unchecked power only breeds fear. We need not be feared, only respected. People respect leaders who they relate to.”
“And you think mooning my people was a powerful strategy? Something to be respected? I see it as a distraction.”
“Is not showing my buttocks to the world a power move, as the Americans call it?”
President Hoshani giggled. Premier Kaleni broke into a smile.
“I’d say it classifies as soft power.”
The two joined in a deep laugh. Premier Kaleni relaxed a bit but was still determined to undermine President Hoshani. He ushered to the Great Sofa and Great Seat.
“That was a good joke, Premier. But now it is my turn.”
“Truth.” Premier Kaleni said, planning out his next maneuver.
“Why do you hate my people?” The question stunned Premier Kaleni. He expected some ridiculous inquiry to continue the American game and break icicles. President Hoshani grew gravely concerned as if he were suddenly worried for every citizen of his oppressive nation. The Premier couldn’t find the words, so President Hoshani continued.
“Two hundred years ago, this was all of our people’s nation. The richer kingdoms came in and divvied up the rivers, the mountains, the coastlines, drawing borders where none had ever existed. And we accepted our fate, led blindly by the colonizers who abandoned us to our own devices. And what do we do? We fight over the byproducts of their decisions, hundreds of years later. My people, your people, no matter what our propaganda campaigns say, are all the same. We have the same eyes, the same faces, the same smiles, the same sweat and blood, the same dreams. Our origin is yours. Your ancestors, ours. They would have us fight over this nonsense because we keep their coffers full to fund our wars. Why do we continue this bloodshed? Because your grandfather said we were different? Because my grandfather said you betrayed us? Those were our grandfathers. Not us.”
President Hoshani was near to tears. He stood and looked to the Great Palace window where a distant thought held his attention. Premier Kaleni felt the heat rise in his chest from Hoshani’s impassioned speech. The words moved him; no denying that. Many citizens of the GPDU have died fighting the terrorists of the BRS. But what was he to do? End the years of bloodshed for no gain? With nothing to show for it? His people would be appalled at the weakness.
“Please.” President Hoshani pleaded. He dropped to his knees beneath the feet of Premier Kaleni. The Premier jumped, dumbfounded that the leader of the enemy state was begging at his feet. It made no sense. The man risked every ounce of respect with such carelessness.
“Go, look at your people! They beg to end this bloodshed. Look! They chant and yell despite your bullets and tear gas. Look at the truth!”
Premier Kaleni walked to the window, absorbing the endless gathering with growing worry. He could not read their signs and banners from such a height, but he knew what they said.
“Maybe we can have peace. Maybe if we…” and then Premier Kaleni felt a thrust against his back.
He was knocked into The Great Palace window which then flew open. How could that be? He locked them just before…
The President’s buttcheeks. He must have rubbed it against the window, unhooking the latch.
Kaleni's waist hit the guard railing and his body tumbled over the edge. He gripped the rail upside down as he went over, and Kaleni's traditional dress fell down to his ankles. A gasp filled the street, followed by laughter and cheers. He dangled from the rail, hanging on as tight as he could. His smock fluttered like a white flag in the wind. He tried to pull up the smock, but his grip wavered. The damage was done. Kaleni had lost the game. Naked and embarrassed, he let go.
The last thing Premier Kaleni saw before he hit the ground was President Hoshani’s smile, greeting the crowd from the Great Palace window.