Manny Ormann, Director of National Intelligence, watched the mannerisms of the President. Her decorum was off kilter, as if she was stuck on a feeling she couldn’t shake. Her hands fidgeted away behind the podium, so Ormann was unable to see what she was doing, whether she was handling something or was simply restless
He waited for her to start, perplexed at what was vexing her since he submitted the daily briefing. “You know,” she began, now visibly irritated, “since I’m now in charge, things should be going the way that best suits my taste. After all, it’s why the majority voted me in…a slim majority at that.” Her last words were said in nettled staccato.
Ormann shifted upright from a cross-legged slouch. “Well, Mrs. President––”
“Ms. President,” he corrected, perturbed at his carelessness in forgetting proper formality, thus continued, “but your current seated position is not an exercise in home décor––”
“I am blissfully aware of that,” she feigned a veneer of calmness. “Nevertheless, things will go according to my standards. Got it?”
“That goes without saying, but you must understand there’s a process in ratifying––”
“Yes, we’ve got Congress to wade through, but they’re quick to be conciliatory. It’s just a matter of waiting a little longer. Though, I think I’m going to lose a bit of patience along the way.”
“The electorate's always malleable.”
“Low hanging fruit. What else?”
“Considering we’ve provided a teeny tiny bit of help to edge out the results.”
“Small margin. No biggie. And don’t let them hear you––oh, wait…” her brow popped into a wide arch, bulging her eyes out like the stare of a shark. “It doesn’t matter what pours out of our mouths in any given place. We propagate the narrative, and the whole electorate parrots it like puppet strings. Boy, are they dumb!”
“Well, to put it mildly, they are certainly easy to cajole,” he said, giving a loose shrug.
“Any news bate seems to do it, so, the better for us––Now…” she made a deep sigh, “we’ve got a bigger problem on hands, and it comes from overseas…”
Her insinuation was flawless, the workings of an ardent predator.
“I assume you’re implying––”
She interrupted, her usual manner of colloquial repertoire, “For the record, it’s more than one. We’ve got our hands full stretching out the empire a bit too much these days. However, to make things a bit easier on ourselves, there's one particular nation standing out. We all know who that is, right?”
“We’ve repeated it on the news feeds without end. But there’s two in particular––”
“The weaker one first, then the other follows, leaving the rest with a straw shorter than they could hold. Get me? We can carve that place up, spoil their youth and empower them so that every mature adult will fear their wrath, and in the meantime, we’ll be securing all the rare-Earth minerals, uranium, oil reserves, arable land to monopolize the food supply…the works! We’ll certainly have a complete map at our disposal if you know what I mean.”
“The Swiss forum loaded us with a lot of promises, hopefully none of which go empty, but the Devil requires a sullen patience in order for the cards to fall into his hands. But that takes a little time.”
“And may he bless us with the fruits of the whole world,” she chided, shaking her head forward in a childish taunt.
“And the last of the aquifers are under our jurisdiction. We can up the water bills now…way up!" He chuckled. "The county proxies handed them over with a giant smile and a handsome transaction in return.”
“Did you include the trust funds for their little brats?”
“The future’s sealed.”
“Good! What about the emergency extension of eminent domain?”
“Still in the works.” Ormann felt his heartbeat. “Too many holdouts.”
The President showed her teeth. “You’ve got every media outlet at your disposal. Tell those juvenile technomancers out West to flood the cycles with another dosage of venom for the masses.”
“You mean campaigning property rights as prejud––”
“That and throw in a few slurs against the enemies, foreign and domestic, if you get my drift.”
“It shall be done, but we have to tread lightly over the variants, or the word will get––”
“Variants, shmariants! And the word will fall on deaf ears. Remember the weakest straggling behind the herd? We’ve got plenty of localities that are lax in these kinds of protections, and the rest, to reiterate, will fall like dominoes, no matter how well-regulated their municipalities are.”
“Alone, they perish. A common adage among our ranks. And the enemy, I’d say, will have a lot of similar circumstances up to their ears that we can look forward to.”
“Indeed.” Her mouth arched into another tooth-addled grin. “Now,” she slammed the podium in two staggered palms, startling the Director, “the crux of the matter.”
Ormann grew reluctant. “Were these the new developments from overseas––?”
“Were they ever!” the President shouted in new found rage. “How can you allow a nation clearly inferior to the likes of our own to suddenly hemorrhage our resources and financial support?”
“The Reserve is getting mildly hesitant––”
“Mildly hesitant? Those damn bean counters have an infinite supply of wealth. Don’t tell me otherwise! Just make a few market adjustments, devaluing the currency, making the knaves pay for it through the nose and voile! We’ve got the money to do whatever we please. It’s like magic!” She momentarily freeze-framed, splaying her hands to solicit his agreement. Her eyes blazed open again, showing signs of psychosis. “What could possibly deter them from that?”
“Go on.” Her wide-open eyes remained fixed.
“It’s more complicated than that, Ms. President.”
She drummed her fingers impatiently.
“The enemy,” Ormann continued, swallowing hard enough to hurt his throat, “has been making advances against our proxies––” The sudden slam from the podium louder than before cut him off.
“Are you pulling my leg?” She began to shriek, her oversized glasses glaring impetuously at him. She wanted blood…his blood. “So, why don’t we just waltz on over there and take 'em out ourselves? We’ve got a military big enough to take out their sorry hides!”
“Come now, Ms. President. That’s default casus belli! They would exchange in more ways than one, us being their immediate recipients.”
“Nuh-uh! They wouldn't dare to trigger the arsenals we've got at the touch of a button!”
Ormann’s phone vibrated. He was temporarily whelmed with relief. “Excuse me one second…” he said, reaching into his jacket and glancing over the message marked urgent. His mouth stretched into a stifled resignation.
“What is it this time, Director?” she demanded.
A brief pause ensued. “Several of our unmarked divisions were just wiped out in the heart of the disputed territory. They now have solid evidence that we've breached NATO accords. Looks like the game’s gonna take a little longer than expected.”
An uncomfortable silence followed. The bad news needed time to sink into the President's roiling mind.
Skipping any deliberations, she concluded soberly, “Well then…I think it’s time we showed them a little muscle of our very own.” She reached behind the podium. Ormann leaned to one side trying to figure out at what she was looking for.
Something plopped on top of the podium. The Director winced. Her form, leering over him like a black cloud, radiated the severity of her ultimate decision.
“What the hell is that––?” He implicitly knew.
“Whaddea think it is, Sherlock? Duh!”
A sudden blight of frost exploded across his chest. “Ms. President…that’s…you’re not thinking…”
“The hell I am! If I can’t get what I want, why should anyone else?” she said forthright, opening up the briefcase.
“But…but that’s something to be authorized outside the bounds of any command center, the Capitol city included!" He gestured at the immediate vicinity in which they sat. "And where’s the aide-de-camp? Isn’t he supposed to be in possession of that?”
“Nah. Presidential veto. The hell with Congress.” She began pressing the combinations.
“Wait a minute! Since when did you get those access codes?” he said, sitting up tightly securing the arms of the chair, his palms saturated.
“Oh, shush. I'm not gonna be bamboozled by a bunch of goody-goodies on the other side of this godforsaken planet. I’ll show them!”
“You lunatic! Stop it…!”
The Director’s words resonated into the ether, never to be heard from again. Missiles from every launching platform jettisoned into the air and streamed off to their targets. It was a zero-sum game with every corner of the Earth going up in flames, all because of the impulse of a sullied bureaucrat, leaving only memories of the extinct no one would ever remember.