By Lori Schafer
He hacked. It was coming in gushes now, the blood in his sputum, the cureless calamity of his body and soul.
“Name a successor,” his adviser had urged, on reviewing the doctor’s report. Secretly hoping, perhaps, that it would be he.
It wouldn’t be. The Minister had no son; no child to carry on when he was gone. No reason to carry on at all.
The years of service had exhausted him. Few understood it, the strain of monocracy. His subjects perceived only its magnificence: the fine clothes, the luxurious automobiles, the sumptuous banquets with world-renowned guests. They could not guess at the responsibility that accompanied it, the knowledge that he was ultimately accountable for every decision, every difficulty of the people. When they loved, it was him they loved. But when they despised…
He coughed again, spat into the bronze basin, and watched the discolored mucus slide slowly out of sight, leaving a watery crimson trail behind it. It was nearly time.
He roused, rose from his crouch and straightened with effort. Plastered on an expression of confidence, of disdain for the concern of his aides and staff; prepared to traverse the narrow corridor to the elevator, to descend to the clandestine chamber where he would make his final arrangements.
He walked. Strolled, even, a man without cares, a well-faked smile playing upon his lips. “Good morning, gentlemen. Lovely weather today.” Cleared his throat casually; swallowed and tasted blood. But kept walking.
The guards didn’t pause, but parted at once before him, politely permitting him to punch the keypad. His orders were unquestioned, unquestionable. Even in that room his motives lay beyond suspicion.
He settled on the big chair at the wide table, flipped a switch and waited as its cover rolled back like a convertible readying itself for a smooth Sunday drive. Revealed dozens of multi-colored motorists sitting cheerfully inside, eagerly anticipating being pointed in their assigned directions.
He made his selections carefully, consulting the map with its pinpricks of populace, of dense cities and sparse countrysides. He had known already, of course, what his primary choices would be, but he was determined to ensure evenness, a flawless distribution. That there might be no error, no leak, no gap in the storm or the winter to follow. No chance for anything less than totality, completion.
He hacked again. Expelled the bloody mass out onto the floor and left it where it fell. Examined it bemusedly, sensible to its meaning but detached from its portent. Acquiesced to the death that it represented, the certain death that even now was haunting his steps, blocking his path.
He smiled. It certainly was easier this way. It was much less unpleasant to go knowing that everyone else was going, too.
A twitch of his finger and the program began. Yes. Code. Yes. Another code. Yes, code, yes. Confirmed. Done.
He leaned back in the captain’s chair. Felt the rumbling overhead and laughed; reclined and relaxed as the people, the nation, the world ended without him.