Short Story: Valiant Undertakings

New short story! This short story was originally written or an English assignment, so it’s a bit on the short side. It’s a return to the more ‘political-thriller’ side of me. Enjoy!

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This short story was originally published at Publish Your Mind.

SHORT STORY: VALIANT UNDERTAKINGS

“We’re not ready for such a war.” I say, my voice faltering slightly. The room’s cold, and I adjust my glasses and take a deep breath. I must sound confident in front of all the ministers and generals. I’m Nolan Miles, Vice President of the country, anyway; I deserve respect.“The military isn’t in top shape, and we’ve been cutting down on military spending for years now to help the economy. There’s also no pretext or justification for us to get into war. Besides, all our neighboring countries have militaries not significantly weaker than ours…to go to war would be to put our citizens in a bloody, relentless conflict. I must advise against this idea.”

The room is quiet for a moment, before a snort breaks the silence. My face flushes at the thought of being embarrassed in here as General Victor raises his hand up to cover his laugh. “Miles, your talk is absurd. I’m in charge of the military; I know what we’re capable of and what we’re not. We can take over the newly discovered gold mines to the east easily. We only need to win about twenty miles’ worth of territory to get there. The mines will boost the economy and the war will serve as a ‘rally round the flag’ moment for the discontent population. We can trump up any official justification for war easily. Trust me in this.”

I stare blankly at General Victor. He’s a bald man with a mustache and a cap who looks awfully reminiscent of Stalin; a fairly intimidating presence, certainly. I’d known it would be impossible to get General Victor to budge, but I need to make my point clear enough that the other ministers will refuse to along with the plan. “No, sir. This war is not needed. Who knows how many of our soldiers and civilians will die if this war breaks out and escalates? The ends do not justify the means.”

This time, General Victor laughs heavily, and it’s not a pleasant sound. “Are you telling me you know my troops more than me, chief of the military? What do you think, President Francis?” 

“I…” Francis starts, but does not continue. We all look towards the President. He’s a frail man, with a weak voice and an equally weak will. He’d started out strong and determined, but somehow the work and stress over the years seem to have weathered him to a shadow of his former self. It’d almost been sad to watch, but there’s nothing I can do other than help him in his duties.

“I think we should put this to a vote.” the President says finally. I knew this would be coming. The President’s too weak to say no and risk General Victor’s displeasure, but he doesn’t want to be the one who decides on declaring a war either. He’s indecisive like that. 

General Victor simply nods. “All the generals sitting with us here have already agreed that war should be declared. It is now up to the ministers to decide. We will respect the choice the civilian government makes.” He stresses the word civilian almost with a sense of ridicule, as if to tell us he’s being sarcastic. I roll my eyes as President Francis nods for the vote.

All but one hand goes up. That hand is mine.

“Very well. It is done. The war shall be declared, with the objective being to secure the newly discovered gold mines of our eastern neighbor. Thank you for being understanding.” General Victor stands up and stares at me. I stare back into his eyes and see nothing but a cold, power-hungry soul. 

He marches out and the rest of the ministers follow, leaving me sitting alone in the cold room.  The door closes.

I immediately bang my fist into the glass table, shattering the delicate transparent sheet into broken pieces. I’m so useless, I tell myself. I’m so weak. I’ve always been weak. I’m Vice President of the nation, and yet I fail to even make my objections to a war being declared against a longtime eastern ally heard properly. Who knows how many troops will get wounded, how many will die just because of a general’s poorly-thought out plans?

I close my eyes. A million other possibilities float in my mind. What if General Victor simply wants a state of war proclaimed so he can freely move around troops and launches a coup d’état against the government? What if he then establishes a de jure military dictatorship, even though real power already lies with him since we have such a weak President? I hate these what-if scenarios, but they helplessly run through my mind. There are factions in the military that will disagree, certainly, but General Victor is a cold-blooded. man. For him, the ends justifies the means. He won’t hesitate to order an entire regiment to their graves for trying to resist him.

And all of this could happen, because I’m the only one brave enough to object openly, but not strong enough to fight. I open my eyes and clump my fists. No. I must fight. I refuse to let the country fall into the hands of a military tyrant like General Victor. 

I’ve always been weak, but for once I must take matters into my own hands. 

*   *   *   *

A week later, and I find myself walking rapidly through the doors of Government Complex, and stealthily I run into the President’s office. The guards don’t question why I’m walking so fast; they never stop the Vice President when he’s in a hurry. I try not to bump around the suitcase I’m carrying too much; I haven’t even bothered to count how many explosives are in it. My heart beats fast. The explosives are set to go in ten minutes.

The office is empty, and I leave the suitcase lying right under the President’s desk. President Francis always stays true to his schedule. He’ll be here in a minute or two, and out I run. 

I’ve never ran any faster than when I run out of Government Complex. I hear an explosion behind me that rocks the building, but there isn’t any time to stop. I jump back to my car and quickly start it up before driving it onto the roads, and I just feel so exhilarated. Finally, finally, for once, I’ve refused to give up without a fight. 

I drive the car along to a military base, one controlled by one of the generals who I know well. I can trust him. I park, get off and is greeted by a couple of soldiers. I see the general along in there.  “Take me in.” I say. “It’s done. Francis is dead. I need to get your troops out to take control of the capital. Proclaim myself the new President where the military’s allegiance must lie, and issue orders to get Victor arrested. Now.”

The general hesitates, and I quickly slap his shoulder. “Quickly. There’s no time to waste.”

He seems at a loss for words. “I…I…”

“What? It’s the plan! We’re going to save the country from the hands of a military dictator by getting rid of a weak nominal President, and avert the war, and…”

“Nolan Miles, you are hereby arrested and charged with attempting to overthrow the state.” Immediately two soldiers come behind me and handcuff me, and I’m left stunned.

“No! We’re supposed to be going to arrest General Vic-“

“I’m sorry, sir, but I’d told General Victor long ago of your plan. Consider this a betrayal, and I’m truly sorry, but I’m more loyal to my commander in chief than to you, sir.” 

“Jesus Christ. Are you kidding me?”

The general reaches into a pocket and pulls out a sheet of paper. “General Victor wanted me to give you this letter.”

I read.

Dear Nolan Miles,

I must applaud your bravery. What a valiant undertaking. I have always seen you as a weak man, completely useless in everything but as a position-filler. You’ve done well to detect and try to counter my plan for a coup d’état,  but not well enough. You are still but a young man; what hope do you have of going against an experienced powerbroker like myself?

I have one last question for you. In order to prevent a war, get rid of an upcoming military dictator and to make yourself President, you’ve set off a bomb in the heart of Government Complex and killed your own President. Tell me: does the end justify the means?”

I have no words for that.

THE END.

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