[5th of December, 2740 AD; Outer Courtyard of the President’s Palace, Bel, Maeitakohn – Taxaceae District]
The humid air made Johan tug at the collar of his uniform. He was getting that much closer to toppling Rodik Mahrk and putting a dent into Foundation’s plans. That thought in mind made walking under the clear skies and beaming sun that much more worth it as Johan went with some of the other soldiers towards the palace. Much to Johan’s surprise, he found securing the uniform to be easy and that no one paid him any mind as he arrived at the courtyard. Some soldiers saluted him, to which Johan returned the favor.
“Oh, you’re here today,” one soldier said.
“Yes, I’ve come at the request of the general,” Johan replied. “It seems that the president requested some extra security around the palace.”
The soldier saw Johan off and walked away. Very easy, Johan thought as he walked upstairs. Several officials paraded around in the Grand Hall while Johan continued to move ahead. He did his best to not draw any attention to himself on the way to the Executive Quarters, but was stopped by a cabinet member. He was an older man and was shorter than Johan, and was also losing hair at the top of his head. Johan wanted to move past him, but knew it would create tension if he were to try something.
“Young man, is something the matter? You seem to be lost.”
“Hardly,” Johan said. “I’m just looking for the restroom.”
“Oh, then you’ll want to follow down that hallway,” the cabinet member replied. “It’s just past the doors to the Executive Quarters.”
“Thank you,” Johan said as he tried to walk away, but was stopped when the man placed his hand on Johan’s arm.
“Is it just me, or have I not seen you before?”
“I’m sure it’s just you, sir,” Johan replied. “God knows how many people I see on a daily basis that I fail to recognize.”
“Really? You seem so well-spoken, though,” the cabinet member said. “Not to demean any of your fellow troops, but you have this certain look about you. Something foreign, I’d almost say.”
“Ah, well, it’s just a coincidence,” Johan said. “I’m a born and bred Maeita, no different from anyone else in the military.”
“Is that so? Well, perhaps I’m being a bit too intrusive, then…”
“It’s completely fine, sir.”
“Very well, then I’ll leave you to yourself,” the cabinet member said. “Oh, would you mind telling me your name?”
Johan paused for a second. He had to come up with something, but nothing that would cause the cabinet member to become suspicious. The name had to be convincing, but what could Johan use? That was when he came up with a name as a response to the man’s question.
“It’s Wihll,” Johan said. “Vincent Wihll is my name.”
The cabinet member stared at Johan for a brief second and smiled. “Nice meeting with you, Private Wihll!”
“Same to you, sir.”
He thought it improbable, but Johan made it work. Now on his way to meet with President Mahrk, Johan had no other obstacles. Everything fell into place, which was why Johan had to remain on his guard as he went down the hallway and towards the doors to the Executive Quarters. A slight hesitation set in as Johan found himself in front of the closed doors.
“Too easy,” he said as he took a brief look from side to side. “No one else is around, yet I can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong…”
“You, what are you doing?”
Johan looked to his left towards the source of the voice. The general of the Maeita military stood at the other end of the hallway. He was the last person that Johan wanted to see in the President’s Palace. As Khadir approached him, Johan pulled down the brim of his hat and faced him.
“General… sir, I was merely looking for the bathroom,” Johan replied. “It’s been pretty hot out there today.”
“I see,” Khadir said. “You do look a little worn, if I may say so myself.”
“Yes, which is why I should hurry up,” Johan said.
“Wait just a minute, soldier,” Khadir said. “I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen you before… Are you a new recruit I’ve yet to hear about?”
“That’s correct,” Johan answered.
“Well, I’d like to break the ice, if you will,” Khadir replied. “You said you wanted to go wash up, didn’t you? Let me save you the trouble and get you a towel so you can wipe off that sweat!”
“That… That won’t be necessary,” Johan said.
“I appreciate your modesty, but please, allow me,” Khadir said. “That hat of yours, as well, seems sweat-ridden as well. You don’t need to wear it at all times, soldier.”
Johan sighed and pulled his cap down a little further. “Thanks, but I’ll keep it on,” he said. “Isn’t there something more important that you should be doing, general?”
“Well, we’ve got that summit to worry about,” Khadir replied, “But soldier, you really should know that already since the president sent out his message yesterday.”
“Of course, of course, sir,” Johan said. “I was just testing you, that’s all.”
He wanted to be done with this conversation, but as it was with the cabinet member, Khadir did not seem to budge one bit. Then Johan realized something that could help him in his pursuit of the president.
“Speaking of which, sir, have you met with the president today?”
“Oh, no, not today,” Khadir replied. “He’s been busy all day.”
“Really?” Johan asked.
“Looks like he’s been reading up,” Khadir said. “I gotta say that I’ve never seen that man so engrossed with the upstairs library before… Maybe he’s taking his job seriously for once…”
“Oh, okay,” Johan said. “Thank you, sir.”
Now the location of the President of Maeitakohn was certain. However, Khadir still stood in front of Johan and he needed to find a way out of the conversation before it got out of hand.
“Now that I think about it, sir, I think I will take that towel,” Johan said. “It looks like the heat’s getting worse.”
Khadir laughed. “I’m glad to hear that, soldier,” he said. “No one just turns down a free towel, especially when I’m the one offering them! You just wait one second.”
As he headed into the nearby restroom, Johan waited until he was inside. With that settled, Johan made his move for the stairs. His destination was set on the next floor and now he had a chance to get closer to the president.
“Damn it, why hasn’t he called back yet?” Rodik Mahrk asked.
Johan pushed the door to the library open as he saw the President of Maeitakohn leaning over the table. Two armed guards surrounded either side of the president as Johan did his best not to draw attention to himself. He had to pick out the right moment to confront Mahrk, though Johan was certain at this point he would be able to succeed in his mission. After all, he thought overnight about it carefully what he would do in the case of security, because Johan knew there was no way that Mahrk was not going to have guards protecting him at every moment. Johan hid next to a bookshelf as he watched the president begin to shake.
“Everything that was promised to me, yet it looks as if I’m all but certain to be thrown to the wayside,” Mahrk continued. “Kunigunde promised me a lot of money, but I‘ve yet to see a single pound… What was the point?”
Johan heard enough as he came out from behind the bookshelf. It was now or never. He rushed the closest guard to him and held him in an arm lock. This caused the other guard to take aim, only to realize that Johan had himself covered by the subdued guard.
“Lower your weapon,” Johan told the other guard.
“What the hell is this!?” Mahrk asked. “And what are you waiting for? Shoot him!”
“You do that and you’ll cause an international incident,” Johan said.
Mahrk raised his eyebrows. “What did you just say to me? Who do you think you are that you can just stroll here and take a hostage?”
“Don’t you think there’s a more pressing reason as to why I’m here?” Johan asked. “Namely, a reason that should concern you, Rodik Mahrk, the subservient lapdog of Foundation.”
“I have no time for this madness!” Mahrk exclaimed. “Just pull the trigger already!”
“Oh, but you do,” Johan replied. “Besides, I’ve already told you that if your guard tries to shoot me, you’ll be causing an international incident with Ameci. That’s not what you want, is it now?”
“Surely… Surely you are bluffing,” Mahrk said. “You’re just a nobody… Hell, I could pass this off as a soldier gone rogue if I really wanted to…”
“You know full well that that won’t fly with the people in the south,” Johan said. “If you send that news down towards Kals, they’ll be sure to rise up. How many South Maeitakohnians make up the military, again?”
“What’s your goal, you scum?” Mahrk asked.
“Ah, it seems now we’re getting to the good part,” Johan said. “All I want is for you to confess to your role in Foundation and your cover-up involving the True Thekohnians.”
Mahrk pressed his hand down onto the table. “How could you, of all people, know about that?”
“Well, the fact that you didn’t bother to try and say that I’m wrong speaks a lot,” Johan replied as he looked at the man he was holding. “Say, my friend, you can see this man for who he is, right?”
The struggling guard attempted to look back. “I’ve no reason to answer you,” he replied. “Do your worst, because I’m here to serve this country!”
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you,” Johan said. “Anyway, Rodik, you heard him, right? He’s serving for his land, not for you.”
“Anyone would proudly serve for me,” Mahrk said. “Those soldiers whose uniform you’re disgracing would attest that I’m leading this land back on the right track!”
“Unfortunately, it seems like there was never a track to begin with,” Johan said. “You seem to be more wrapped up in what your benefactor says than what you’ve failed to do for your people.”
He gazed over at the other guard, who had his weapon lowered. Mahrk turned and saw the same thing Johan did, which cause him to react in the appropriate manner.
“You can’t be serious,” Mahrk said. “Don’t tell me that you believe what he says over me?”
“Believe me when I say that I wish to believe you,” the other guard replied, “But I am not a fool like you may think I am. My brother told me that there are many men who exist only to line their own pockets with cash, something I never thought about until I began serving under the Rhodes regime.”
The struggling guard stopped his fight with Johan. “Milton…”
“Yes, Mo, I understand what this man is saying,” Milton said. “But what do you suggest we do then, stranger?”
“That’s all up to you,” Johan said. “As for our friend, the president—well, the ex-president-—over there, there’s little he can do now at this point.”
“You think you can get away with this?” Mahrk asked. “I’m not afraid to call for extra help!”
“Call all you want,” Johan said. “I’ve not acted out in violence, yet you seem all too ready to strike even with the walls closing in on you. Here’s what you’re going to do instead: you’re going to resign immediately and the general will be taking over duties until a proper president is elected.”
Mahrk clenched his fist. “You!”
“I’m not done yet,” Johan interrupted. “Second, you will confess publicly your involvement with both Foundation and the True Thekohnians. No details will be left out, nor will you attempt to avoid responsibility for your actions. Milton, is it?”
“What is it?” Milton asked.
“You and Mo here will make sure Rodik follows my word to the letter,” Johan told the guard. “He is to be held responsible for his actions, but you also must make sure he is not harmed, either. If this is to be a true revolution, then we will have to achieve it without bloodshed.”
Milton nodded. “Very well.”
“And you, Mo, I assume I can trust?” Johan asked. “I will unhand you and you will cooperate with Milton. Inform the others of Rodik’s intentions to resign and make sure that it sends a message to all of the other officials in Maeitakohn. You got it, pal?”
“I… I got it,” Mo replied. “Just let me go already!”
“I can trust you,” Johan said in order to make sure Mo would hold true to his word.
“He understands,” Milton said. “I know that face and he’s not the type to lie to anyone.”
“Good,” Johan said. “I’m glad to see that there’s still fight within you two.”
He let go of Mo, who helped Milton apprehend the president. Mahrk could not do a thing as he glared at Johan. Now it was time for Johan to make his move, with little to do except watch it all unfold before the eyes of Isaac Kunigunde. The news would reach Isaac sooner rather than later, Johan thought.
“Well, let’s get this started, Mr. Mahrk,” Milton said. “Wait, where did that man run off to?”
“He’s already left?” Mo asked.
“You see? That man is nothing!” Mahrk exclaimed.
“He’s done a lot more than you have,” Milton replied. “After today, the people of Maeitakohn will be able to control their own destiny!”
Johan stared at the President’s Palace in the distance. He had accomplished what he set out to do and now he waited for the next bus to the Copper Hotel. It all was going to plan, but Johan could not afford to be lazy. For all Johan knew, Mahrk’s resignation could turn out to be nothing more than a warning shot to Isaac Kunigunde. That was why he had to plan his next step. Right now, though, Johan could feel the persistent heat getting to him, so he decided to take off his hat and unbutton his shirt. The heat did not go away, but exposing his bare chest helped get Johan some air as the bus pulled up to the stop. He looked one last time at the President’s Place, his victory assured.
“One step closer to my goal,” Johan said as he stepped onto the bus. “Now it’s time for me to get out of here.”
To be continued…