Small Wars Journal

The Supreme Art of War

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The Supreme Art of War

Andrew Fox

The Mad Scientist team executed its 2019 Science Fiction Writing Contest to glean insights about the future fight with a near-peer competitor in 2030. We received 77 submissions from both within and outside of the DoD. This story was one of our semi-finalists and features a futuristic look at warfare and its featured technologies.

            “Secretary MacKennan, this is what satellite imagery showed as of oh-three-thirty this morning.  The Donovians are massing their forces on their border with Otso.”  General Lauren Goldwaithe, USAF, acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, aimed her laser pointer at a holographic image that had suddenly appeared in at the front of the conference room.

            Vertigo churned Secretary of Defense William MacKennan’s stomach – due to both the sick-making hologram and the situation’s deadly significance.  “There’s no chance this is just an exercise... a drill?” he asked.

            “No, sir.  The Donovian military has always been very up-front about announcing their mass exercises.  They made no announcement in this instance.  These significant movements of kinetic assets have followed on the heels of repeated cyber-degradations of Otsan communications and public utilities, as well as suspected reputational assaults on key Otsan political and business leaders.”

            ‘Suspected reputational assaults’, MacKennan thought.  Such a bloodless, analytical way to refer to what amounts to social annihilation.  That’s their specialty, isn’t it?  The Donovian art of war-short-of-war...  And hadn’t it begun here, too, in America?  In Michigan?

            He forced himself to look at the satellite imagery the Joint Chiefs had acquired from Space Command.  They displayed the Donovian formations in two formats, holographic three-dimensional and, at his request, old-fashioned flat-screen.  They knew he hated the holos.  Walking among the seemingly floating Donovian weaponry, their particle-beam generators mounted on tracked transports and automated armored fighting vehicles, swirled his innards.  But the Joint Chiefs would feel deprived without their latest toys to play with, MacKennan told himself.  And so the holos filled the conference room like obnoxious poltergeists, his stomach be damned.

            Old eyes, old stomach...

            He forced himself to focus exclusively on the reassuringly old-school flat display screen.  “What about their space assets?” he asked.  “Any provocative movements?”

            “They’ve positioned their Global Devastator satellite in geostationary orbit directly above the Otsan capitol.”

            “I see...”  His nausea intensified.

            “State’s phones have been ringing off their hooks with pleas from the Otsans.  They want to know what our response will be.  They’ve been citing our treaty obligations chapter and verse, sir.”

            MacKennan wiped a sheen of sweat from his upper lip.  “I’m sure they have...”

            “Give us the green light, sir, and we can make Global Devastator a non-factor.  We can boost it out of orbit.  We can blind it, either kinetically or electronically–”

            “That would be an act of war, wouldn’t it?”

            “Of course it would, sir.  I’m merely offering options–”

            “That’s your job, General.  Mine is to ensure the will of the political branches is carried out by you uniformed types.  I’ll bring your contingency plans to the President’s attention.”

            “When do you anticipate the President will make his decision, sir?”

            “Soon,” MacKennan said.  “But don’t expect a decision within the next twenty-four hours.  The Administration is rather... distracted right now.  Domestic political concerns.  This business in Michigan.  I’m sure you’re aware of it.”

            “The Donovians are behind it, sir,” General Goldwaithe said.  “They’re stirring up political instability to keep us off balance–”

            “Do you have proof of that, General?” MacKennan said, exasperated almost beyond measure.  “Not informed speculation, but hard, fast proof?  Strong enough for us to take to the media and the American people?”

            The general fell silent for several seconds.  “Uh... no, sir.  We don’t.”

            “Well, you damned well call me as soon as you do.”

* * *

            “Mr. President, the Donovian situation–”

            “Not now, MacKennan.  Michigan has us twisted up like fucking pretzels. If we don’t manage to unwind some, we’ll strangle, y’know?”  President Naddler shoved a rolled-up yoga mat into MacKennan’s arms.  “Off with the suit jacket, MacKennan.  Five minutes of deep stretches for everybody.  No exceptions.”

            MacKennan had gone through this same rigamarole before.  At multiple meetings with this president.  Still, he wouldn’t forgive himself if he didn’t make his best effort to impress the nation’s chief executive with the gravity of the present situation.  “Sir, we could be mere hours away from a national security crisis–”

            “Sure, sure!  Everything’s a crisis!  You want to know a fucking crisis, MacKennan?”  He stepped close, too close for MacKennan’s comfort, and drummed a finger on the Defense Secretary’s chest.  “Michigan.  Michigan is a fucking crisis.  You want to know why?  If the Governor of Michigan, if the Lieutenant Governor of Michigan, if the Attorney General of Michigan – hell, if the fucking chief dog catcher and head ice cream licker of Michigan get referendumed out on their asses, the Populists take over the state.  The Populists and their senile retard great-uncles, the Balanced Budget Republicans.  If those pukes take over Michigan, they’ll steamroll the voters, those ignorant cowfuckers, into referenduming me.  You may not like riding Air Force One, MacKennan, you with your delicate stomach.  Me?  I love riding Air Force One.  I want to be riding that sweet bitch for another six and a half years.  But if Michigan goes Populist, Gaia forbid, dominoes start falling in the Midwest – I could be riding a fucking electric scooter six months from now, not Air Force One.  Puttering between street corners in downtown Santa Barbara, rattling pencils in a tin cup, trying to raise money for my fucking presidential library.  Or selling autographs and hugs at those goddamn ‘Feelies Has-Beens’ conventions...”

            MacKennan slowly sucked in a breath.  A lifetime in politics had taught him Zen-like control of his visible emotions.  “Mr. President, unless the Donovians pull their forces back from the border, the Otsans are going to formally – and very publically – call upon the U.S. to fulfill our treaty obligations.  That will mean either we go to war with the Donovians, or we perform a climb-down so humiliating our international reputation will likely never recover.  The time to get the Donovians to back down is now, sir.  Before this all begins spiraling out of control–”

            “Have the Otsans formerly requested treaty assistance yet?”

            “No, sir.  I believe they want to give us a chance to work behind the scenes before they pull out the diplomatic big guns–”

            “Well, there you go, MacKennan.  We’ve still got time.  And there’s always time for a good stretch.  Jesus, the fucked-up chi in this room.  I mean, look at her – my Secretary of State’s in a bad state.  Worsened by your news, I might add.  My Secretary of Transportation looks like she’s just been run over.  By one of those Donovian tanks, maybe.  My Secretary of Health and Human Services, poor bastard, looks like he’s got ulcerative bowel syndrome.  So five minutes of stretching before we sit down at the conference table!  No exceptions, anyone!”

* * *

            The cabinet meeting ended inconclusively so far as the Otsan crisis was concerned.  MacKennan hadn’t expected any different outcome.  President Naddler wouldn’t do the right thing until events forced his hand.  If even then...

            As soon as MacKennan strode into his office, Cynthia Cormorant, his chief of staff, handed him an urgent message.  It was from Gerald Throkston, the governor of Michigan.

            Christ, I hope Jerry’s holding up.  Throkston was  MacKennan’s former protégé.  A politician he’d pulled up the steep ladder of Michigan politics, rung by rung... a man who looked to him as a father figure, who’d proven to be a more loyal “son” than Franklin, MacKennan’s biological offspring, ever had.

            MacKennan sealed his office door and returned the call.  Throkston’s face appeared on the screen at the edge of MacKennan’s desk.  He looked exhausted.  Worse than tired – he looked old.  No longer the “matinee idol” of Michigan politics, “Merry” Jerry Throkston now looked like he’d slept a couple of lost decades on a urine-stained mattress in a slum alleyway, clutching a succession of bottles of two dollar wine.

            It hurt MacKennan to see his protégé reduced to this.  Hurt him in his soul.

            “Jerry, my boy, it’s Bill.  What can I do for you?”

             Throkston’s lower lip trembled.  It was marred by scabs of dried blood, the result of unconscious, compulsive lip-chewing.  “He’s going to cut me loose, isn’t he?” Throkston said.  “President Naddler... he’s going to denounce me, insist the legislature impeach me and replace me before I can be referendumed, right?  He’s going to throw me to the howling wolves, isn’t he?  Isn’t he?”

            “Jerry, this isn’t the place to talk about this–”

            “I have to talk with you, Bill.  I have to know...”

            “All right.  All right, Jerry.  I was thinking about the propriety of it, talking dirt about the head of my party, my direct boss, here.  But proprieties be damned.  You’re in a hell of a fix.  So talk to me.”

            “When will the guillotine fall?  When will Naddler denounce me?”

            “He... he hasn’t decided on his course of action yet.  He’s still considering all options.  There’s a lot going on at once, Jerry.  A whole lot of moving parts.  There’s this developing Donovian crisis.  The Otsans, our allies–”

            “Naddler’ll cut them loose, too, won’t he?”

            “That’s a precipitous thing to say.  Didn’t I always tell not to fall prey to snap judgements?”

            “You know another thing you always told me?  Character is destiny.  So, what kind of character do we have sitting in the Oval Office, huh?  A man who made his money and fame starring in feelies for lovelorn women.  Back in the old days, we would’ve called Naddler a porn star.  But today, somehow, the man half the country voted for isn’t a porn star, no, he’s a techno-romance entrepreneur.  Just another term for a low-down sleaze.  The thought of that man, with all he’s done, standing up in front of America and denouncing me – me, and Hugh Goldblatt, and Samantha Pace – it makes me want to puke...”

            “I know.  I know, Jerry.  It’s awful.  But he’s got to think about the needs of the country.  He’s got to think about the fate of the party.  If the Populists and Fiscal Republicans take over–”

            “Fuck all that!  Fuck politics, Bill!  There’s more at stake here than who’s goddamn team comes out on top!  Naddler’s got to push back on the Donovians, Bill.  Otherwise, this goddamn crap will never stop.  The Donovians and their hackers will destroy anyone they want – anyone whose destruction will help destabilize the country.  Anyone, Bill.  You.  The president.  Please tell me the three-letter agencies are on this.  The FBI, the CIA, the NSA...?”

            “They’re all working it.  Working it hard.  I can’t share details, of course.  But the Donovians... they employ some of the finest hackers on the planet, and they sure as hell know how to cover their tracks.”

            “You don’t know... you don’t know what it’s like, Bill...”  Throkston’s voice cracked.  His face seemed to cave in on itself.  “What it’s like... to have your own kids look at you like you’re a monster.  It’s crazy... I mean, I’ve never said a racist word my entire life... I mean, in high school, in college, in the legislature, I always tried to be a good ally, not put myself out in front of people of color, let them take the lead but be, y’know, supportive...  But now, now I’m some kind of super-racist, a Michigan version of George Wallace setting dogs loose on civil rights marchers.  I’ve got crowds picketing the Governor’s Mansion, night and day, chanting for me to be wrapped with chains and tossed into Lake Michigan.  Janette and I, we can’t go anywhere, not even the goddamn grocery store, without being hounded by reporters.  But the worst of it, Bill... my own daughters won’t share a meal with me, won’t even look me in the eye... they’re the ones who denounced me... oh, God, it’s like the old Soviet Union, children ratting out parents, but it’s all super high-tech now...”

            “I know, Jerry, I know.  And it’s all implanted memories.  It’s those goddamned knowledge shunts.  ‘Boosters’.  We let doctors inject programmable nanobots into our kids’ brains, our grandkids’ brains, wanting to give them a step up in life, open them to a world of immediately upgradeable knowledge and skills, but what we’re really opening them up to is Donovian hacking...”

            “You warned me, Bill.  Ten, eleven years ago, when my girls were little, you pleaded with me not to let them get fitted with boosters...”

            “And I made the same pleas to my own children regarding their kids.  And they still went ahead and fitted them out with boosters anyway, despite everything I said.  You can’t blame yourself, Jerry.  Parents... parents will do whatever they can to ensure their kids have a leg up in life.  They’ll expend sweat and treasure and blood on that, trying to give their kids every advantage.  It’s what we do as parents.”

            Throkston managed a pained smile.  “Good intentions.  The road to Hell is paved with ‘em.  I’m getting to know that road pretty well, Bill.  All the rest stops, all the damned scenic overlooks...”

            “I know, Jerry...”  He was running out of things to say.

            Throkston made a visible effort to compose himself.  “I’ll let you go.  I’m sure you’ve got a lot on your plate, without having to listen to me...”

            “No, no, it’s all right, Jerry.  You call me any time.”  He couldn’t help but feel relieved this train wreck of a call was over.  “Anytime you feel the need.  You’re going through hell.”

            “I just hope you never have to experience this, Bill.  I hope you never learn what it’s like to have your loved ones turn away in disgust...”

            “You hang in there, Jerry.”

            “Oh, I’ll be hanging...”

            Throkston cut the connection.

* * *

            Did I do the wrong thing?  Bringing Jerry up in politics the way I did?  Without realizing it, did I doom him to this personal demolition the day I first stoked his ambitions?

            MacKennan stared out the security glass rear windows of his chauffeured Suburban.  The trees of Alexandria had recently been stripped of their autumn plumage by an early-season ice storm.  His familiar surroundings seemed changed, somehow darkened, as though a malevolent enchantment had taken hold of the town while he’d been at work in Washington.

            He was glad he wasn’t driving alone.  Strictly speaking, Don Nogami, his chauffeur, wasn’t necessary – the electric Suburban could drive itself – but the uniformed man up front served the twins needs of tradition and security.  So far as that went.  Nogami was a perfectly solid young man by the standards of the day – a former Army Ranger, spawned from a long line of patriots going all the way back to the Nisei Regiment of World War Two – yet even he couldn’t resist flashy trends.  The Suburban’s front compartment bathed in a glow that didn’t issue from the vehicle’s touch screens.  The glow seeped from the cuffs and collar of Nogami’s uniform jacket.

            “Don?”

            “Yes, sir?”

            “How long have you had your nano tattoos?  If you don’t mind my asking.”

            “Not at all, sir.  I got them right after high school graduation.  An Army recruiter told me Colt’s Manufacturing was looking to sponsor young men in the armed forces.”

            “You mean the gun manufacturer?”

            “That’s right.”

            “And the Army – back then, they didn’t have a problem inducting recruits covered in bioluminescent tattoos?  What about the visibility issue on the battlefield?”

            “Well, y’know, sir, most soldiers nowadays don’t set foot on any battlefields.  They send mechs to do the fighting for them.  And if you’re a member of Special Forces, like I was, there’s camo paint you use to cover up your tatts.  It’s not a problem.  Just about everybody in my platoon had them.  I remember, this one guy, he got himself sponsored by Disney.  Most of the time, he was covered in really macho art, martial stuff.  But three times daily, at noon, seventeen-hundred hours, and twenty-one hundred hours, the Disney bots took him over, and for twenty minutes he lit up with the Little Mermaid and Dumbo.  The funniest damn thing.”

            Lack of standards.  Disgraceful.  Lord knows, I’ve wrestled with that issue plenty during my eighteen months as Secretary of Defense.  And gotten precious little support from the Joint Chiefs.  ‘We can’t afford to alienate the recruits.’  ‘If we try to fight the civilian culture, we lose, and we’ll never make our numbers.’  ‘Maintaining morale is more important than maintaining traditions.’  It’s all of a piece, this lack of firmness, this giving in to the whims of the mob.  All those amendments to the Constitution over the past decade... direct democracy, national referendums, instant recall elections.  No more electoral college.  Forget extended debate, giving important issues time to congeal, passions time to simmer and cool.  Everything turns on a dime now.  One minute you’re a messiah, the next you’re a goat...

            No, I can’t blame myself for ruining Jerry Throkston’s life.  We lived in a different world, we did, when he first walked into my office as a college intern.  Crazy as the world seemed back then, in retrospect, it was a far saner place.  I couldn’t have known what was to come.

            “Don, are you up for a little stroll?  The missus and I are supposed to meet our grandchildren at a pizza parlor on King Street in forty-five minutes.  I think a nice walk might help my constitution.  Would you mind accompanying Nan and me?  It’s only about half a mile’s walk.”

            “No problem, sir.  I’ll just wait in the car until you and your wife and ready.  I’ve got some paperwork to fill out.”

            “You’re sure you wouldn’t rather do it in the house?”

            “That’s all right, thanks, though.  My secure comms link works best from the vehicle.”

            They parked on a quiet street of Colonial Revival houses.  MacKennan unlocked his front door and entered his parlor.  “Nan?  Are you getting ready?  We’re supposed to meet Bradley and Christina for pizza.”

            No answer.

            “Nan?”

            Well, maybe she walked over to the neighborhood store for something.  A carton of milk, perhaps.

            He could use a glass of milk.  Something to counteract the acid seething in his stomach.  He found no milk in the refrigerator.  He settled for a pair of Tums tablets.  Best he should skip the spicy toppings at Roma Pizza tonight.

            It wasn’t just the Donovian situation, or the bad aftertaste of that fiasco of a cabinet meeting, or his pained conversation with Jerry Throkston.  Rather, it was all those things, plus the edgy anticipation of his having to sit at the same table as his son Franklin tonight.  Having to pretend to be sociable and pleasant, for his grandkids’ sake.

            Franklin hadn’t gotten himself inked with nano tattoos as his form of rebellion.  No, that wouldn’t have been nearly outrageous enough.  Instead, he’d joined the Young Populists League in college.  Oh, had that had led to salacious backstage whispering in Lansing and Washington!  A source of continuous embarrassment for Franklin’s father, the junior Democratic-Communitarian senator representing Michigan, former head of the state assembly.  MacKennan had hoped Populism would be a distasteful stage that Franklin would pass through once rebellion against patriarchal authority had lost its luster, once he’d realized his father, far from being an omnipotent ogre, was just an ordinary man with good intentions who’d always striven to do the best he could.  Yet Franklin had doubled down on his rebellion.  After graduation, he’d gone to work for the People’s Heritage Foundation as a policy researcher, then climbed through the ranks of Populist political magazines to become a leading pundit.

            MacKennan and Nan had tried mightily not to allow political disputes to color their relationship with their son and his young family.  But Franklin hadn’t obliged them.  The headstrong fool had used MacKennan’s two grandchildren as a weapon in the family’s civil war.  Until very recently, MacKennan and Nan hadn’t seen their twin grandchildren, Bradley and Christina, in nearly three years.  Precious years lost to needless enmity.  Nan had worked assiduously behind the scenes with Franklin’s wife Natalia to regain access to the children.  Her efforts met with success, finally.  But their tenth, eleventh, and twelfth years, years that could have been filled with boat trips on the Potomac and afternoons eating ice cream and flying kites on the National Mall, were forever lost to MacKennan.

            Useless to dwell on what’s been denied you, what you can never regain, he told himself as he climbed the stairs to his bedroom.  Concentrate on what you have now, what you have to look forward to.

            He headed for his closet to put away his suit and change into casual clothes.  Passing the shut bathroom door, he heard soft weeping from inside.

            “Nan?”

            He opened the door.  He found his wife slumped on the bath mat, her shoulders convulsing with sobs.

            “Nan?  What’s happened?  What’s wrong, honey?”

            He knelt down next to her and tried embracing her.  She squirmed away from him.

            The word crawled out of her throat.  “Horrible...”

            “What is it?  What’s horrible?”

            “What... what they told me you did to them...”

            MacKennan felt an iciness on the back of his neck.  His throat went dry.  “Who told you this, Nan?  What did they say?”

            “The children...”

            “You mean Bradley and Christina?”

            “They said... they told me you violated them... repeatedly... when they were hardly more than babies...”

            His mind flashed red.  Franklin orchestrated this.

            That abominable suspicion lasted only an instant before logic’s harsh light dispelled it.  No, even if he could stoop that low, he couldn’t force them to lie so despicably to their grandmother – they aren’t robots that he can program to do his bidding...

            Then he knew.  The boosters.  The same implants that had enabled Bradley to master advanced calculus and Christina to effortlessly recall the notes of the entire classical piano repertoire...

            His grandchildren had been hacked by the Donovians.  They’d implanted false memories in their brains.  He was being targeted the same way Jerry Throkston and other leaders in Michigan had been targeted.

            He took hold of his wife’s shoulders and forced her to face him.  “Nan, this isn’t real.  It’s the work of foreign enemies.  How can you believe I’d do such a thing?  An enemy country wants to start a war with one of our allies, and they don’t want us to intervene.  So they’re destroying the reputations and lives of our leaders, one by one, remotely.  They’ve infiltrated our grandchildren’s minds through those goddamn boosters Franklin had them implanted with.  They’ve corrupted their memories–”

            She pulled herself away again.  “That’s just what Franklin insisted you’d say...”

            “I’m going over there.”

            Her tear-reddened eyes grew wide.  “Bill, don’t.  He doesn’t want you anywhere near the children.  He’ll call the police–”

            “He can call the FBI and the military and the goddamn Harlem Globetrotters, if he wants.  I’m going.”

* * *

            He rang his son’s doorbell repeatedly.  No response.  Franklin was home; his car sat in the driveway.  MacKennan could feel the tiny cameras of the house’s security system eying him.  He pounded the door with his fist, yelling into the intercom.  “Franklin!  I insist that you speak with me!  I’m not leaving this porch until you let me in!”

            Finally the door opened.  Franklin quickly stepped out onto the porch, locking the door behind him.  “I won’t have you causing a scene,” he said coldly.  “You’ve got ten seconds to get back in your car before I call 911.”

            “Franklin, I’ve got to talk with the children–”

            “No way.  They’re terrified.  They don’t want to ever see you again.”

            “Franklin, what they’re thinking and feeling, it’s not real.  It’s the Donovians.  The Donovians are on the verge of invading Otso.  They don’t want the U.S. to intervene, so they’re warning us off by destroying the reputations of key leaders.  Their hackers have infiltrated the children’s minds through the boosters–”

            “Always with the boosters, huh?  You didn’t think I was smart enough to make that decision for my children.  So these are fake memories, are they?  Let me tell you, it’s not just Bradley’s and Christina’s claims, Dad.  Half a dozen of their friends back them up.  They’ve come forward, told school councilors that either Bradley or Christina talked about your abuse.  Told them about it years ago, while it was going on.”

            “They’ve been hacked, too, don’t you see?”

            “Oh, yeah – all of them, right?  Hell, the Donovians hacked the whole school, didn’t they?  Just to get at you?  Jesus Christ, I always knew you had an inflated ego–”

            “It’s not ego, Franklin – I’m the goddamn Secretary of Defense.  Of course they’d go to these lengths.  Why else would the children be making these accusations now, when the Donovian Army is massing on the Otsan border?”

            “Repressed memories.  You’ve been on the news a lot lately, Dad.  With that iron tone of voice of yours.  Maybe the same tone you used when... when you ordered them to submit to you, out at the lake house.  The kids have seen you on their devices.  They knew they’d be having dinner with you tonight.  It triggered repressed memories.”

            “'Repressed memories’ are a load of pop psychology horse shit and you know it!”

            Franklin’s face took on a haunted cast.  “No, they’re not.”

            “How would you know?  You’ve never even studied psychology!”

            “I know from personal experience, Dad.  The kids aren’t the only ones who’ve had unbearable memories surface.  You’ve been a sex criminal and a pedophile for a long time.  Do you remember needle-nose pliers?  What you did with them?  I’ve had an aversion to them for years.  Until a day ago, I never knew why.  You’re scum.  The worst scum in the world.  And once my column appears tomorrow, the whole world will know you the way I do.  Now get the fuck off my porch.”

            MacKennan realized then what his son had never revealed.  The insight squeezed all hope from him.  “My God... you got yourself boosted, too...”

* * *

            “You’ve become a liability, Bill.  You’ve got to see that.  It’s clear as a fucking bell.”

            “Mr. President, I am the victim of a precisely targeted character assassination.  You and every man and woman in this room know that.”

            “Yeah, well, maybe so.  But I’ve still gotta ask for your resignation.  You aren’t going to drag the rest of this Administration down with you, Bill.  It’s not right that one drowning man flips over the lifeboat and causes everybody else to drown.”  President Naddler searched the faces of his department heads, arrayed around the long conference table.  “Aren’t I right?”

            MacKennan did his best to ignore the mumbled affirmations.  “I’m not handing in my resignation.  If you want me gone, you’ll have to fire me.  And I doubt you want to do that in the midst of an international crisis.  I insist that we address the Donovian situation, right now.  The Otsan ambassador called me personally.  He says the Secretary of State hasn’t been returning his urgent calls.”

            Secretary of State Zegatsky cleared his throat, then straightened his tie.  “That’s not precisely true...”

            “The Otsans have officially requested military and diplomatic support due to them under authority of treaty.  All power to the Otsan capital and their five largest cities was cut off this morning, forty-five minutes before the Donovians crossed the border.  This aggression cannot be ignored.  How are we going to respond, Mr. President?”

            All eyes turned to the president.  He squeezed his left hand with his right, cracking his knuckles.  “The Otsans are on their own.”

            “Mr. President, our treaty obligations–”

            “I’ve had my people look very closely at that,” Secretary Zegatsky interjected.  “There are loopholes.  Off-ramps.  Our obligations are nullified if the Otsans incited foreign aggression through aggressive acts of their own.”

            “Just this last week, there were bomb attacks in the Donovian capital, a bunch of them,” President Naddler said.  “The Donovians claim it was the Otsans, or Otsan sympathizers.”

            “Mr. President,” MacKennan said indignantly, “that’s just Donovian propaganda!  Misinformation!  They’re experts at that!  Have our own intelligence services verified the Donovians’ claims?”

            “It’s not in our interest to go to war against Donovia, or even to threaten to go to war,” President Naddler said.  “Look, Bill, the Otsans aren’t innocent.  They made their bed, and now they can lie in it.  Secretary Zegatsky says we’ve got a diplomatic off-ramp, and I agree.  Putting American lives at risk for Otso isn’t something I’m willing to sanction.  I’m sure the American public will back me on this.”

            “Which American lives are at risk?  The lives of our soldiers, sailors, and aviators?  Or the comfortable lives of those of us here in this room?”  MacKennan stared at the faces of his peers around the table – sheepish, embarrassed expressions, all.  “I’ll tell you what I think.  I think you’re all terrified.  Terrified that what’s been done to me and to Jerry Throkston and the others in Michigan will happen to you next.  You’re willing to sell out America’s international standing so you won’t risk having your children and grandchildren and the fashionistas in Georgetown shun you like you’re some abomination.  If we cut the Otsans loose, America’s credibility on the international stage is shot for a generation.  In your hearts, each of you must recognize that.”

            He plunged ahead, heedless of the personal consequences.  “Mr. President, the rest of you, I’m going to give you all a chance to choose to do the right thing.  I’ll give this Administration until oh-eight-hundred hours tomorrow morning to declare through diplomatic and public channels that we’re backing the Otsans and fulfilling our treaty obligations.  Otherwise, I’m going to the media.  I’m explaining to every major outlet how personal moral cowardice is warping American foreign policy in a time of international crisis.  I’m going to share our intelligence estimates that indicate the Donovians have been manipulating our political processes and inflaming political passions through targeted memory hacking–”

            “Revealing intelligence sources and methods is a federal crime,” Attorney General Monique Legrande said.  “Don’t do it, Bill.  I’ll be forced to bring you up on charges.  Serious charges that could put you away for life.”

            “My life is already over,” MacKennan said, rising decisively from his seat.  “All I have left are my honor and my country.”

* * *

            MacKennan saw no reason to go home.  No wife or other family awaited him.  He had a couch here at his office suite in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  He could catch a few hours of sleep on it, in between sessions of monitoring international news feeds.

            He glanced out his sixth story window.  Rows of street lamps along Pennsylvania Avenue revealed a cordon of protesters.   He wondered whether other protesters surrounded his home.  At least Nan wouldn’t be subjected to that.  She’d left him a message that she and Franklin’s family had fled the area.  And that he shouldn’t try to locate them.

            Even if every street lamp on Pennsylvania Avenue lost power, the protesters’ messages would still shine through the darkness.  Most wore transparent outerwear, so that, even on a night when temperatures hovered in the low forties, their nano-tattooed messages would glow forth.  Pedophilia has no place in the Democratic-Communitarian Party.  William MacKennan – Secretary of Offense.  No war, no baby fuckers.

            He could read the slogans from up here.  Camera crews surrounded the protesters.  Cameras from all over the world.

            He stepped out to use the bathroom down the hall.   The old building’s long hallways stood empty, with only a bare minimum of illumination provided by after-hours ceiling fixtures.  As dim and deserted as my life has become.

            He stood over a sink and splashed handful after handful of cold water on his face.  Oh-eight-hundred hours was just six hours away.  He truly doubted Naddler would find his spine.  So MacKennan would be forced to betray his country in a small way, so that he could redeem it, he hoped, in a far more profound way.  He stared at himself in the bathroom mirror.  He’d aged at least a decade and a half in the last few days.  And the Donovians hadn’t needed to physically touch him.

            He’d read Sun Tzu as preparation for becoming Secretary of Defense.  Now the Chinese philosopher’s immortal aphorisms glowed like beacons in his mind.

            One need not destroy one’s enemy.  One need only destroy his willingness to engage.

            The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.

            In the mirror, he saw a stall behind him swing open.  He hadn’t noticed any shoes resting on the floors of the stalls when he’d entered.

            Don Nogami silently exited the stall.  He held an automatic pistol, its barrel lengthened by a silencer.

            “I assume you’re ordered to make this look like suicide,” MacKennan said, not turning around.

            His former driver wasn’t wearing a shirt, only an unzippered black windbreaker that exposed his chest and its transitory tattoo.  The last act MacKennan engaged in was to decipher the backwards message in the mirror.

            ...YRROS M’I

 

About the Author(s)

Andrew Fox is the author of the award-winning comic-horror novel, Fat White Vampire Blues (2003), and its sequel, Bride of the Fat White Vampire (2004).  His third novel, The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501 (2009), was selected by Booklist Magazine as one of the Ten Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels of the Year.  He is also a member of SIGMA, the science fiction think tank. His day job involves managing acquisitions of information systems.  One of his biggest personal accomplishments was organizing one of the most successful citizen-led anti-violence campaigns in New Orleans’s history.  After his cousin Amy Silberman was killed by celebratory gunfire on New Year’s Eve in 1994, he co-founded the New Year Coalition Against Holiday Gunfire.  Over the next six years, the New Year Coalition’s public safety education campaign helped reduce annual injuries from New Year’s Eve gunfire from a dozen casualties or more to zero.