28th January 2022. Het Goor, North Diessen
"She's here, Ekrem."
President of the Confederacy of North Diessen Ekrem Mueller sighed. For weeks, even months, his new and orderly reign had been undisturbed by attempts to oust him, or uncover the ways in which he had gained power. Surprisingly to him, no one had openly challenged why he should have been the one to follow in former President Inge Pekcan's footsteps when she had oh-so-inconveniently been injured during civil hostilities earlier this year. No one had questioned why units from the Inimician armed forces had cut communication lines to and from military compounds and had prevented anyone in military high command from communicating with one another.
All things considered, the ruse had gone perfectly, and Ekrem had the Inimicians to thank. He had even been slightly frightened by their immense efficiency. Within a matter of days they had completely quashed the rebellion Ekrem had instigated in Reuland -- always the odd State out in this country. At the same time, they had organised themselves entirely according to the discussed plan and positioned units at crucial junctions and infrastructure checkpoints. Within an hour or two, it had all been done. Pekcan was out, and Mueller was in.
He hadn't killed her. For some reason, there was still a sense of loyalty towards his former employer that had prevented him from, as it were, finishing the job. The Inimicians had insisted she be 'taken away' to their country, which Ekrem knew full well was one of the most gruesome euphemisms one could use. Instead, he had insisted Pekcan be kept under guard here, in the cellars of the Presidential Palace. She had not seen anything other than the four walls surrounding her since her ousting last autumn.
Until now. The head of Pekcan's security detail had informed Ekrem last week that Pekcan had found a way of getting in touch with a journalist, perhaps through a less-than-perfectly loyal guard, and was threatening to leak the whole saga to the Hilverbode unless she were granted an audience with him. Naturally, he had 'dismissed' all guards at her cell immediately and had had new detachments take their place, but one could never be too careful. That, if anything, was the lesson the Inimician Emperor had taught him. Cover your corners, pay attention to the details, and you will always outsmart those who threaten to bring you down.
"Inge", he said as the former President sat down in front of him, "Good to see you again." She was quite literally a shadow of her former self. Her face was pale, devoid of exposure to sunlight. Her incarceration diet had reduced her body to bones and skin, and her hair to thin, textile-like strands dotted around her scalp. Her voice, which clearly had not been used like it once had been, was hoarse, rough, and weirdly horrifying.
"The more humane result would've been to put a bullet in my head and be done with it, Ekrem. You see what a life I live. All day, every day, for four months, I have done nothing but think about what I'd do to you if I had the chance."
"And now, you have your chance."
"My chance came and went a long time ago, Ekrem. You know, I pity you, in many ways. If you had waited for a few years, you would have risen to the top of the ladder by yourself. But you didn't have the patience. And now, you will suffer the consequences of your mistake."
Ekrem saw Inge sigh. He would not have been surprised if she had dropped dead right there, right then, but she kept going. She appeared to gaze at her surroundings, the office which she had occupied herself until last October. It was a sentimental type of gaze, the sort of look one gives one's holiday apartment on the day of a return journey home.
"I just wanted to see you in person before your demise, Ekrem. It's all been done, the press are aware. They'll be verifying their sources by now. You've left it too late."
Ekrem frowned. He wanted to interrupt, but Pekcan continued: "Loyalists in the government will see through your lies and deceit, and at a moment's notice, they'll stand up to fight for what is right."
He stood up, walked over to Inge's chair, and slapped her across the face. She grinned. "You should've listened to your puppet master, Ekrem. Leave no stone unturned, or it may come back to bite you. Or spit at you."
A glottal sound, a wet splash on Ekrem's face. The guards in the corners intervened and began to drag Pekcan back down into the bowels of the Presidential Palace. "Take care of it", Ekrem shouted after them as he wiped his face, "And get my crisis team here at once." Artabanos had once said, nip crises in the bud, resolve them before they emerge. Perhaps, however, this crisis had already emerged further than he could possibly have imagined.