The smatterings of rain across Central City had driven tourists away from Wilhelm Parade. The lengthy green bank was thus strangely empty. The stone monuments to past men and women, wars and movements, stood alone under the grey sky.
Redwood House was, to the contrary, abuzz with tense activity. Staff of seven of the most highly ranked men and women in the country flew like bees around the many halls and offices, but the House was quiet. The pressure of the occasion suppressed most excitement. The most prominent sign of the political furor was the horde of black umbrellas and cameras outside the House. A rigid line of military police held them back from the premises. Two of the silver camera-balls had already been shot down for floating too high in an attempt to see into the House, offering exciting live footage.
Normally, this occasion was marked with more celebration than tension. But this was a spill, only the ninth in history. Usually, the meeting was held in the Prime Office. Today, the seven of them sat in a dimly lit conference room. The air conditioning was frigid. The table was long and polished until it mirrored their locked jaws. Five of them already sat evenly along the length of its dark, smooth length, more than a meter away from each other. Generals Gungrave, Templeton, McCormish, Kleinhans and Donovan.
When Commander John Stone walked into the room, the last to enter, he suppressed a breath of anticipation. He avoided his peers’ eyes.
They still all rose to salute him, General Gungrave perhaps a second slower than the rest. General Smith indicated his seat next to her. It had been some time since he had not sat at the head of a table. He could not deny it was humbling. He still noted McCormish had gained at least another ten kilos, and Kleinhans' smart red bun was seeing strands of iron grey.
He seated himself just before two armed humans, decked in full body armour and holding not pistols but enormous assault rifles, strode in the room and took their places in the corners, almost invisible in the dark.
After them strode President Eulfinger.
They all rose again to salute as the President sat at the table, bringing a single folder.
The President said bluntly and without looking at any of them, “State the accord, General Stone.”
At the very back of the room, a scribe scribbled furiously on a tablet.
Stone said, voice flat, “I henceforth relinquish Commandership of GUN Forces, surrendering it to the Commander in Chief.”
The President said, “I assume Command of GUN Forces until this meeting concludes. Thank you, we may dispense with formalities, speak plainly.” The President’s eyes flicked to General Templeton, “Eliza, I thought you had another three weeks of maternity leave?”
“Collin is at home. I returned to work last week.”
“Madam President,” coughed General Gungrave, “May we resume?”
The President breathed deeply. The lines in her face had deepened considerably in the past four years. “Yes, I suppose we shall. You may move, ladies and gentleman.”
General Eliza Templeton spoke first, pushing forwards and envelope, “My seven votes go to General John Stone.”
Gungrave spoke, “My 16 lieutenants vote for myself.” He pushed forwards his own envelope.
And so the votes were tallied. All votes went to either Stone or Gungrave. McCormish and Kleinhans both spent their ten lieutenants votes each on Gungrave. Stone, Donovan and Templeton had 35 votes between them. And for only the second time in history, the opposing party only matched that number.
President Eulfinger huffed into her palm, “That is unexpected.” She looked to General Stone with a slight smile, playing with her pen in her fingers, “I honestly didn’t expect you to retain the votes.”
“In the end, Ma’am, it is your decision,” Stone said without inflection.
“Then we go to debate,” said Gungrave, gruffly. He stood, seven feet of fortitude. He boomed, “General Stone is no longer fit to helm the Guardian Units of Nations. I could speak for hours of his immense contributions to GUN, our country and to a lesser extent the world, but his actions not three days ago would render my words inept. For the first time in history, the United Federation had Robotnik at gunpoint. Yet he did not pull the trigger!”
“Nearly a billion dead or roboticised. Entire nations wiped from the face of Mobius, our own Port Santa Fran leveled! We could have given them all justice, but for General John Stone.”
“Thank you, Nikita.” The President looked back to Stone. “Well? Please explain?”
Stone said, “We had an asset aboard the Egg Carrier.”
“Yes. Your ‘GM’ anthrohuman.”
Stone stirred slightly. “Ma’am, with all due respect, you know he is more than that.”
“If he is so powerful, why not just destroy the Egg Carrier from the inside? And the Mad Doctor too.”
“He would have it been possible. As the report indicated Robotnik could have de-compartmentalised his ship at any given moment, crushing my soldier.”
Gungrave spat, “I read the report. Your reasoning is incompetent. Of course Robotnik used the trade to escape! Meanwhile another fifteen men and women have died on the front line between then and now.”
General Templeton said stiffly, “You are not in front of the cameras, Nikita, we do not need the hyperbole.”
“Or the hindsight bias,” said Stone. Their eyes met like a struck flint.
“I see the issue,” said President Eulfinger. She paused for a moment. “John… could you reasonably suggest that the life of your ‘asset’ was worth more than the death of Robotnik?”
“No. I cannot.”
The President sat back, eyes now wider as if she were finally getting some engagement out of the meeting. “Oh? I’m sorry, I suppose I expected you to put up more of a fight.”
“I deemed the life of the Spagonian redeemable in hindsight of all he has spent in the fight against Robotnik.”
Even Stone’s allies flinched. Gungrave did nothing short of scoff.
“The Hedgehog boy? You kept your finger off the trigger for that vigilante? If we are speaking plainly then I must say it: this is nothing short of ludicrous!”
Stone began, voice slightly louder, “We owe that boy” –
“Enough!” murmured Eulfinger, rubbing her temples. She opened her palms in a lazy shrug, “I can’t believe I’m hearing this.” She stood. “Melissa.”
The scribe at the back of the room froze, then raised her head. A frightened rabbit, she stared at the seven most powerful men and women in the country in something akin to shock at being addressed by the President by name.
Eulfinger continued, “Please eradicate from the record everything spoken after General Stone spoke ‘No, I cannot.’”
The scribe looked mortified by the illegal request. But as Eulfinger continued, she scrambled to obey.
“I henceforth surrender the Guardian Unit of Nations to General Gungrave, now Commander General Gungrave.”
Gungrave appeared to swell. He stood perhaps even taller, and replied, “I accept Commandership of GUN.”
They all stood, and saluted and Gungrave. Stone stared straight ahead. Inside, outrage bubbled.
“Congratulations, Nikita. Now, the press.”
Gungrave and Eulfinger gathered their paperwork, shook hands, and left the room. The scribe tip-toed out the room after them. McCormick said reservedly, “Ah well, chap. Your leadership was” –
Templeton cut him off, “Don’t even speak. That man lobbied aggressively against the Mobius Guard, and you just put him in charge of it.”
McCormick chuckled patronisingly. “Little lady, the Mobius Guard is a hand-out to the anthro-countries. I’ve made my views clear on this. Sorry, John.”
Stone glanced at him just once, but otherwise ignored him. He said instead to Templeton, “The Mobius Guard sees partnership with the member-countries of the Tri-Alliance. No one man is charge, not even Gungrave.”
Templeton’s bitter glare spoke for her.
With a final nod, Stone left the room. Even as he did aides were entering to collect the nulled votes.
Donovan left after him, walking quickly to catch up with his longer strides. She was a small, squat woman in her sixties, and barely came up to his lower ribs.
“She would have picked you, you know,” said Donovan, only a step behind him. “You threw it away. Foolish.”
“The President knows what kind of Commander she wants. So she picked the right man for the job.”
Donovan huffed. “Ridiculous. Call a spill in twelve months. By that time I’ll make sure Templeton scoops some of Gungrave’s lefts. And when the time comes, don’t mention any bloody anthros."