The Sword and the Star
IN GAME: 9-12-3200
The president was gone. With shaky hands, she reached towards her pocket for cigarettes, only to remember for the hundredth time that day that she quit years ago.
Three hours before, she’d been given an apology and a slip of paper that told her her husband was killed. He was in Rio, wasn’t even near the fighting or the orbital bombardment, just doing some sort of aid thing at an ad hoc hospital. He was going to call her about it that evening. A truck backed into him. When she first read it, she wanted to reach through time and space and grab him by the bones and say “You IDIOT! There’s a war going on! You can’t die like that!” Then the magnitude of what had happened began to sink in.
Her aides were very supportive. They gave their condolences, she graciously accepted. Someone called her, she wasn’t sure who—maybe the Secretary of State? Everything was starting to streak in gray and black at that point, when she tries to remember it. Maybe she hung up, or dropped the phone. She wasn’t sure.
Then she locked herself in a janitor’s closet and sobbed into her arms for fifteen minutes.
Her aides were very worried when she came out. Someone gave her a glass of water. It helped—briefly. But then, just ten minutes ago, she’d been handed a warning and a slip of paper that told her that the president was captured. Good God, she wanted to say, who cares? My husband’s dead. My son is 200 kilometers above the surface of this planet, boarding Draconis warships in some of the most dangerous fighting yet seen in the war. Some of those units were formed just a couple months ago and they already have three, four hundred percent fatality rates. I pushed him into this! There’s a good war coming up with Alpha-D, I told him two years ago. If there’s a war, you have to be there; you won’t get anywhere in politics by sitting in the sidelines. Of course, she didn’t say any of that.
Christ. Her son was going to die and it was going to be all her fault.
Her aides are all around her now, fluttering. She can barely focus. They carefully apply the finishing touches of makeup for the cameras. Your eyes are red, here’s some eyedrops. You’ve got bags under your eyes, we’re putting down some foundation.
She hadn’t slept at all in the past 48 hours. Christ.
Someone hands her a slip of paper. Some notes and half a speech. Is that the best they can do? She can barely read it, her hands are shaking so bad. They usher her towards the stage and the dizzying array of reporters, microphones, and flashing camera lights. Some of them looked like they expected her to break down on the stage, the brats.
“And now, a moment with Vice President Charlotte Gladstone,” some distant voice announced. She walked onto the stage, shedding her burdens. She was a pillar of solemnity, a bastion of strength and stability and solidarity. She glanced at her speech one last time and discarded the paper. Her hands are steady as a sharpshooter’s. Her voice rings loud and clear.
Later, Charlotte watches herself on the television. Damn, I looked good, she thinks to herself, fighting back the tears as she pours herself another drink.