Cameras flashed as the President made his way across the stage to the lectern. Holding a hand to hush the crowd of press he made the following statement:

Ladies and gentlemen of the press and to the country as a whole. Today, we’ve seen the best our society has to offer; the bravery and self sacrifice that has made this great nation somewhere we are proud to call home. One man, a single solitary citizen just like you or me held back a potential violent coup against our precious democracy. This one man said no to oppression and violence and stood tall when others crouched for cover. Today we honour that man and present him with a medal, the highest commendation we can offer as a people for his bravery. Ladies and gentlemen, General Antonio Felipe III Pero:

Pero stepped up to the President and stood smartly, feet together in his new and highly polished boots. More flashes and murmurs as the President pinned the medal to Pero’s breast. Then a cheer from the assembled crowd as he turned to face them, beaming with a face scrubbed pink and waxed moustache. He approached the lectern and leaned heavily into the microphones.

“Friends,” he started. “Friends, countrymen and women I stand here before you humbled by this gesture. I am no hero; I would do anything to defend this great country of ours.”

His father had appointed him advisors; political spin doctors and speech coaches. They had advised him to keep the speech short, very short. Pero continued:

“I come with bad tidings in this celebration. The world, it is neither fair nor just. We as a country are facing dangers and threats never thought of in our little utopia. We must come together as one and fight back. Fight back against injustice; fight back against corruption and fight back against the undemocratic.”

The President’s smile became fixed; this was most definitely not part of the plan. He looked over at Pero’s advisors who shrugged back in return.

“I am here today talking to you because I was fortunate. Fortunate to be able to fight off countless insurgents, fortunate that the three men I killed are dead and not me. But, those three men were countrymen and comrades. They were my brothers and it breaks my heart to see us fight, for we are a family.”

“The coup was a failure. It failed because it went against our national nature. We do not fight among ourselves, we love one another. These are dangerous times and in dangerous times quick thinking and leadership are a minimum. I did what I had to do but I am not proud. I worry for our future.”

The President made towards the lectern to stop Pero’s monologue, however holding a hand up to him he continued:

“Here my friends, here is our President. He fights hard like me to make the world a better place. He is a brave man, he should be proud of what he has accomplished; my friends, a round of applause for our President.”

The assembled press pack looked slightly dumbfounded, this wasn’t the usual protocol. A smattering of applause broke out sporadically around the room, dying out quickly before the television cameras. Point made, the President returned to his position with the same fixed smile. Again he looked over at Pero’s advisors who shrugged and slapped their foreheads. Pero had no intention of stopping now; not while he had everyone’s undivided attention. However, before he could continue a functionary stepped in and asked if anyone had any questions. No hands were raised and Pero wrestled back control from the civil servant.

“Yes. I General Antonio Felipe III Pero have a question; who cares enough about this great country to help make it powerful again? I ask all of you, do you care? Will you stand up and end the corruption of our great land?”

Finally, someone pulled the power cable to the lectern and Pero was unable to continue his plea. No matter, he thought. I have done my duty today. Stepping away from the microphones, he shook the President’s hand before waving one last time to the people in the press room and left. His advisors followed along with his bodyguards.

A lone voice called from the press pack.

“Mr President, do you have any response to the General’s claims of corruption?”

Pero grinned offstage. He didn’t need advisors, just friends in the right place and at the right time. “Come.” He said, “Let’s go back to the base, we have work to do.”

To Chapter Fifty-Four – Azad’s Second Dream

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