[I don't usually write fiction, but the recent revelations of Ed Snowden and others about the massive surveillance apparatus of the National Security Agency, sparked an idea for this dystopian short-story. The scenario I present below is, perhaps, one response to those who do not think that a blanket spying program poses any problems.]
“Send the young man in.”
“Send the young man in.”
The General's voice was gruff but warm, his tone cheerful. He always looked forward to these initial meetings, they were a bit like first dates. But whereas his actual first dates had almost universally ended in uncomfortable silence and thinly veiled rejection, these political 'first dates' never failed to reach a happy conclusion. He had yet to suffer rejection in his official capacity.
The man who was shown into the office was tall and text-book handsome. He had a strong jaw, a full head of chestnut brown hair and intensely blue eyes. He strode into the General's office confidently, as if he owned not only the office but the whole building. His face bore unmistakable signs of irritation. The General smiled and motioned for the man to sit down.
“Please Mr. President, have a seat.”
The President did not have a seat. He glared at the General in silence for a few moments and then erupted.
“You better have a damn good reason for this Mitchell! I've got a million things to do at the moment and I don't have time to be taking bullshit social calls! Unless you want to start a war this evening, I can't imagine what on earth couldn't wait until after the fucking inaugural.”
The newly-elected President of the United States had been shuffled out of a celebratory ball by two severe looking NSA agents half an hour before. They were grim and persistent and they arrived right in the middle of a solo by the President's favorite jazz clarinetist, which added considerably to his irritation.
“General Mitchell needs to see you immediately, sir.”
“What about? Can't it wait?”
“I'm not at liberty to say what about, sir. The General needs to see you now. We've been sent to bring you to his office.”
The President thought he detected the hint of a threat in the agent's tone and he didn't like it one bit. He scowled at both of the agents but neither registered a reaction. They just gazed back at him with dead eyes and repeated their command.
“We need to go now, Mr. President.”
He scowled at them for a few more seconds and thought about getting their names for future retribution, but decided it wasn't worth the trouble.
“Alright. Fuck. Jerry, tell the boys we're moving out.”
The Secret Service agent standing nearest to the President nodded. “Yes, sir.”
The General's office was spacious but spartan. No art hung on the walls. No plants or furniture interrupted the vast expanse of black marble tile that covered the floor, save for the General's desk and two leather chairs that sat facing it. The General was now gesturing to one of those chairs with an outstretched hand, a used car salesman's smile frozen on his face.
“Please, Mr. President, have a seat. I assure you this will only take a moment.”
The General had been expecting a fiery response from the President: it was the response he always got at the start of these meetings. Anger and indignation was what he expected when he had given the order for the President to be brought to his office; indeed, it was what he had hoped to elicit with his exquisitely bad timing. He was not disappointed.
“Please, sir, sit down and let me explain.”
The President glared at the General a few moments longer and then finally took a seat.
“Make it snappy.”
The General took a moment to consider the man sitting across from him, the man who many were already referring to as “the most powerful man on Earth” and “the leader of the free world.” He chuckled silently to himself, savoring the irony of those phrases.
“Some things have come to our attention at the NSA, Mr. President, some rather disturbing things.”
“What kind of things? What are you talking about? I don't have time for this bullshit.”
“Well, Mr. President, it has come to our attention that in 2022, a Ms. Jenny Butler received a pregnancy termination at the Port View Medical Center of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Does that ring any bells for you Mr. President?”
The President said nothing. A man who had been radiating confidence and power just a few minutes before now sat stunned, his mouth slightly agape as the implications of the General's words slowly sunk into his brain.
“You were married at that time, were you not, Mr. President? Quite unfortunate. There is also the matter of your brother, Michael.”
The President just stared at the General, still in shock. Vaguely connected thoughts ran wildly about the inside his skull like squirrels on methamphetamine. Jenny...the abortion...so long ago...if Cindy knew...if the press knew...Michael?...
“He would appear to have a predilection for three-way intercourse. Watching videos of others, I mean, not participating himself. Still, it would be an uncomfortable thing to have to explain to his congregation, don't you agree? I'm not a church-going man myself, but I've heard that they tend to frown on that sort of thing, especially among the leadership.”
The President started to regain his composure. He hadn't risen to the height he had by allowing himself to be intimidated. Ok, he thought, they've got some dirt. It isn't the end of the world
“So what do you want from me?”
“Oh,” the General grinned cheerily, “we'll let you know.”
“And am I to understand that you've been spying on me for my entire political career, that you know all my deep dark secrets? Is that what this is about?”
“No, no, of course not! Don't be ridiculous. No one has been spying on you for all those years. You're beginning to sound paranoid, Mr. President.”
The General's good-natured smile had remained unchanged throughout their conversation, but now it broadened slightly and took on an additional air of sadistic pleasure.
“No, this is just what the boys have dug up in the last few hours. I'm sure you have plenty of deep dark secrets that we haven't found out about yet.”
The leader of the free world and commander-in-chief of the US military seemed to physically shrink in his chair. In the space of a few minutes he had gone from a self-righteous, self-assured world leader, to a beaten, battered dog. He felt like his guts had been ripped out. He felt like there was a noose around his neck.
He stood up slowly and turned to leave without a word. Just as he reached the door of the cavernous office, the General called out.
“Oh, Mr. President...”
The President turned, too traumatized already to fear anything else the General might have to say.
“The Air Force drone bases in Afghanistan, the ones you promised to shut down during your campaign...that's not going to work.”
The President stared at the General in silence, then opened the door to leave. The General's cheery, gruff voice followed him out of the office.
“National Security, sir, I'm sure you understand.”