On A Brink [Short Story]
Have I got a treat for you today folks! After a long gap I’ve been free enough that I’ve been toying with this little story and was reworking it this past weekend. Then I dropped on the good folks of InMon over at bekindrewrite and decided to use their prompts in the final version of this little tale – so I started re-reading and editing it from the beginning and managed to finish it! Hope you enjoy it!
She jerked away instinctively from the searing heat at her ear, yelping involuntarily. She angrily dumped the hair-dryer down on the counter, cursing at nothing in particular and herself in general for not being able to get enough sleep. Maybe she should have taken up all those offers of a private beauty staff on-call 24/7 and not been the stand-up, honest leader that she’d been trying to become.
But time nor tide waited for anyone and the world kept right on spinning toward oblivion regardless of whether Prime Minister Ashwini Gupta of India was a part of it or not – but she could do her part to keep away the worst if she did her job right, it was why she was where she was today. A strong leader who had an impeccable record of honourable conduct in the military and then briefly the government sector until she found herself unexpectedly swept into the political arena.
She rushed through the rest of her morning routine – at 3 in the a.m – and headed back into her bedroom to get into the dark business suit that was laid out on her bed. She hated these emergency meetings and war-room sessions that came up on a surprisingly regular basis, many of them turning out to be either over-estimated or in error. Of course each one had to be seen as serious until confirmed otherwise.
In the forty years she had been alive, the world had gone from apocalyptic theories like the Mayan Long-Count to actually being on the brink of global disaster. Half of the developed world was on the brink of chaos as new super-viruses that had mutated to become stronger and more resistant to medicine were thriving, south-east Asia had become startlingly militaristic and had already begun to (unofficially) laying groundwork to seal borders and the global water-shortage was becoming a constant struggle. The constant annoyance that was North Korea remained as such, pushing from all sides and even after taking a terrible beating from the Americans and the Chinese after they invaded the south and despite failing in their nuclear goals, they persisted in their madness and irrationality.
Dressed and ready, she gulped her coffee, dumped the cup back amidst the meagre leftovers and strode out and headed to the emergency conference room where her senior-most staff and military liaisons waited to brief her.
“Good morning gentleman.” she said in her most business-like manner as she took her seat. “What do you have for me today?”
After a moment of silence as everyone seemed unsure of where to start, the army General in the room cleared his throat and spoke, “Madam Prime Minister, as you know, we have for the past three years had a special unit of technicians working to monitor financial institutions in the country and the flow of money in an effort to follow trails and…”
“Yes, yes, I know all this.” she waved him to silence, “I’ve been in office over two years and am well aware of our… questionably legal monitoring of financial movements and private accounting data in an effort to be more proactive instead of the reactive nature of governments past. What I want to know is whether breaking the law and allowing small-time crooks to stay free because all evidence is illegal has given us something to justify waking me up at two in the morning after I’ve spent almost thirty-four hours without sleep until a mere two hours ago.”
The old soldier bristled a little but was more respectful of chain of command and was an old hand so did not take her curtness badly. He understood the pressures of her position and of the times they lived in now.
“As you say.” he replied. “We were alerted to something alarming just a few hours ago and have been rushing to corroborate it as best we could before sending it any higher up the ladder. It appears that over the last five years there has been steady activity in certain sectors and industrial accounts all over the globe but were very skilfully managed so as to raise no alarms or flags.
“It was by sheer chance that one of our people noticed an oddity and followed a trail until he reached a web that connected trillions of U.S dollars for of transactions. Drugs, weapons, legitimate enterprises, banks, front businesses, real charities – the people behind this scheme have their hands in so many places that it’s impossible to chase down who is at the centre and what they are doing with any certainity.
Ashwini nodded thoughtfully, her face reflecting her focus and only slightly revealing the tension she was holding in check.
“Alright. So do we have anything to go on at this point?” she asked.
“Yes ma’am.” said an intelligence agency representative. “We have been able to figure out enough that all this appears to be not a centralised or organised movement in the traditional sense.”
“Enough Brijesh!” barked his superior, “We don’t have time for speculation.”
“No, let him speak.” said the PM.
The superior was visibly irate but stayed quiet as the young man composed himself and began to speak.
“Thank you. Actually ma’am, I work with the technicians who do the monitoring and some of us noted that the flow of funds and the overall system that we CAN find seems to indicate a loosely organised system. What I mean is, there may have been a singular authority at some point early on, but over the years whoever started all this, allowed it – by accident or by design – to split itself into independent entities. If we shut down one chain, the rest will keep going and even if we stop some by loose connection, there are likely double that many that will keep going.”
A hushed silence was in the room for a few seconds until she spoke, “Is that all? What does all this mean for us?”
“No ma’am! Sorry. I mean…” said the young man as he cleared his throat to go on, “If we are correct, these people have created a black market network that operates under a common system but independent of each other unless they cross paths without even knowing it – in essence a digital age equivalent of how terrorist cells were created some years back. They are consolidating power, money, land, equipment and extensive manpower – if our worst fear is true, they could at a prescribed time cause the global economy to collapse, while being in control of their own little collectives with basic supplies and infrastructure intact. They could hold the world hostage.”
As he finished speaking, the room fell under a blanket of total pin-drop silence. No one had anything to say and the possibility of the scenario laid before them being true put everyone ill at ease. The tension was palpable.
“So it seems that someone – a group, a nation, a confederation – someone is trying to take over the world. In essence they are not trying the tried and tested division but instead will have taken random individuals and created an army that at some point could unite and conquer the world as we know it.” said Ashwini, putting into words what they were all thinking. She continued, “Or at the very least they can hold it hostage – neither being a situation that will do anyone any good.”
It was now three hours later and Ashwini sat in her private office, an ice-pack on her forehead as she fought off a migraine that seemed determined to nest in her frontal cortex.
“Here’s your drink ma’am.” said her assistant, placing the glass of red wine near her.
“Thank you Karan. If you learn anything in your time here, remember not to drink. It’s terrible for you.” she said, her hand reaching to take the glass.
“Yes ma’am” he said, only slightly amused. He was her most trusted aide and knew her better than most and respected her for the kind of leader he had seen her be – both on and off camera. He was the picture of an earnest youth, untainted by the cynicism that gnaws at us all.
After several minutes of silence, he venture, “Is there anything else I can do for you now?”
She sighed as she continued to replay that last meeting in her head – it had been possibly the most tense such she’d ever seen. They had pored over all the possible facts that had been gleaned, names, places, known entities, etc. Theories, anger and at times undue zeal and fear had eventually started to take over the meeting until she had slammed her fists into the table and forced a moment of silence. Eventually she had no choice but to order them to redirect every available resource to first try and follow and unravel as much of this web as they could do without alerting their enemies – whoever they were – and secondly to start assessing how best to shore up their own national interest and systems in a worst case scenario.
Sometimes she felt like they were all on a real highway to hell in overdrive.
Finally she said, “Just clear my morning and reschedule those meetings for the remainder of the week – national emergency matters, you know how to do this.”
“I understand.” he said and giving a brief bow, walked quickly and quietly out of the office, gingerly shutting the door behind him.
As she looked out the window at the once bountiful gardens outside that now suffered from poor repair and limited resources to spare for aesthetic purposes, she felt weary. She also felt a twinge of anger at the people they were after, people who just wanted to watch the world burn for petty ends like temporary power and riches or a mindless belief in something they couldn’t understand – with little or no regard for the innocents they hurt along the way. It was times like this she almost wished some part of the old world still existed where she could call in some high-ranking spiritual figures, make them open their myth kits and conjure a story to suit her purposes that the people would take as the word of God.
But then again, if she did such things, how would she be any better than the people she and her people were trying to stand up against?