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art by Jonathan Westbrook

For the People

Ronald D. Ferguson is a full-time writer and member of the SFWA and Codex Writers. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of publications. His website detailing his publications can be found at sites.google.com/site/ronalddferguson/home. He lives with his wife, a dog, and five feral cats on two acres of the Texas Hill Country.
"I speak for the president." Drugs make the words difficult to say, but the man asked about my job.
"He's not the press secretary, but our sources say he regularly sees the president. Hmm. Charles Milford. Top security clearance. Maybe a speech writer. He'll do."
"We need someone who sees the president every day. Who's in the inner circle? "
Assuming the question is for me, I answer, but only because I have no choice. "The Ten." I consider glancing down when he positions the laser scalpel over my stomach, but my head won't move.
"The Ten? I thought there were fifteen departments in the presidential cabinet."
I smell roasting flesh. Mine? Curious. Doesn't hurt. Would I mind if it did?
"The cabinet provides the faces of power, secretaries of defense, state, etcetera. The control strings stretch behind the scenes. Who knows the unseen puppet masters?"
Another of them asks me a different question before I can reply with, "I do."
"Will you see the president today?"
Silly question. I see the president every day. I need the feedback. "Yes."
"What time?"
"Two to four in the afternoon." Easy to remember. My work hours are regular.
"Perfect."
"My God! How much explosive do you intend to pack in his abdomen?"
"Enough to take out a city block. If we're lucky, we'll get the vice president, too."
"He looks pregnant. Security will check him over if we send him looking like that."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Take out his small intestines. He won't need them. That should eliminate most of the bulge."
"Fine, but we'll have to make sure he doesn't eat lunch."
"No problem. We won't release him until just before his appointment. I'll include a false memory with his other instructions. He'll remember eating a big lunch before arriving for the two o'clock meeting."
"Hey Charlie." One of them leans above my face. Blurry. Do I know him? He continues. "You're doing a great service for your country helping us take out this fascist regime."
"He's got no idea what you mean. His synapses have lost their snap."
"Come on, Chuck. Impartial viewpoint. Do you think we can kill the president?"
A question for me. I reply, "No one can kill the president."
"The man's an idiot. Can you get a better weld on that suture?"
"It only has to hold for an hour. The local anesthetics will keep the pain away for longer than that."
"Hey, I've got an idea." The face leans over me again. "Charlie, do you think you could get the president and vice president into the same room?"
"Of course," I say.
"At two o'clock this afternoon?"
"Yes," I say.
"Make that part of his compulsion. I've set the detonator for two-thirty. Dump in the next round of chemicals."
Things shift out of focus. I don't mind.
I feel peculiar when I step from the car. Probably ate too much at lunch. Who dropped me off? Strange, I can't remember. A little dizzy, too.
I pass the front-gate with only a perfunctory challenge from the guard and walk the back driveway to my office in the basement. Arrive breathing hard. Must be getting out of shape. Glad there are no stairs to climb.
My secretary hands me today's script when I enter. One page. Good. I can finish early--don't feel up to par, kind of washed out, tired.
Inside the office, I slip on my sensor-laden face mask and swap my corduroy coat for a wired lab jacket. The electronics of my costume glow to life when the control console activates.
First scene: the Oval Office. Looking serious, the president sits at his desk.
The image forms. A few moments to fine tune the interface, and then a link test. I raise my left arm, and the president does likewise. I pop my jaw, so does he. He mirrors my thumbs-up.
The ready light glows. I hesitate.
Isn't the vice president supposed to be in the Oval Office with the president? Where had I seen that? Must be some subtle strategy from The Ten that I don't understand. Well, he has no lines to read, and that makes it easier. I press the icon for the vice president, and his computer generated image materializes behind the president.
Just a quick electronic enhancement to inspire even more confidence for my meaningful low tones.
Everything is set. I can record.
Going on stage always energizes me. What a great gig for an actor. Twelve years of performing two hours each day. Twelve years since The Ten replaced the president and then the vice president with computer graphics. At election time, they edit the CG image based on focus group feedback and modulate my tenor to create an attractive new candidate package. That perfect image brings a landslide victory for The Ten. Same people in charge, different stage props.
My job in the re-costumed administration? Same as before. I speak for the president.
I quickly run through my voice warm-up routine and glance at the clock before pressing the record button.
Two twenty-nine P.M.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, February 11th, 2013


Although I've been working on two novels, political campaign events accumulated until I took a break in October to write this flash fiction. The hardest part was selecting a point of view.

- Ronald D. Ferguson

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