The fox and the lion.

It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

-Niccolò Machiavelli.

Of all the gifts a man is born with, none is so uniquely human as his conscience. The voice in his head that tells him something is wrong about what he is about to do, and that afterward drives him mad with guilt till the day he dies is heard by no other beast of the earth. No dog, no matter how guilty he may appear, regrets his actions. To him, the destruction of a cherished urn or befouling of his masters furniture is meaningless; though he may be taught to fear the repercussions of his actions he does not understand why he did wrong. Our cousin the chimp, like us in so many ways, thinks nothing of killing his rivals children and devouring them. Morality is a trait entirely absent from the natural order.

It is little wonder then that many call this proof of the existence of god. They say that conscience is a gift, bestowed upon the makers dearest creation. Yet in the bible god sought to prevent man from acquiring such knowledge; was it not our acquirement of the power to recognise evil that led to our exile from eden? Whether this reflects on the nature of man or that of god is not my place to decide. All I know is that for far too long, far too many of my countrymen squandered this gift, and stood idle and allowed evil things to happen to their fellow human beings, or worse, colluded and collaborated with those who perpetrated them.

It is now I must confess to having been one of them. My name is Miguel Herrera. I was born fourteen years before the coronation riots, one hundred and sixty years after our nation achieved independence. My life was of little consequence to anyone save my mother and my friend José until I was twenty-seven years old and began my work for King Esteban's intelligence service. By age thirty-two I was appointed head of the service, following the assassination of my predecessor by members of the opposition. My apologies, that must sound strange to those who do not know what my country was like at that time. Under King Esteban, there was no legal opposition, only a few disparate groups that sought his overthrow, and the overthrow of the government I had come to be a part of.

By the time I reached office, the government was already beginning to show the signs that its collapse was only around the corner. Though the senior positions were still held by the old guard, veterans who had been in power even before the king ascended his throne, they needed people like me to fill the gaps. I was handpicked. They thought I was like them. They thought that I would be part of a new generation of people like them, making sure the status quo remained the status quo. And to begin with, they were right. Back then I was an ambitious man, I believed only in achieving my own goals, all I wanted was wealth and a comfortable position of power.

It is with shame that I look back on those days, with horror that I recall the things I did, that I was told and told others to do. I dare not recall how many people were murdered during my time as head of that wretched service. That it was any at all appalls me now, and as I sit writing these words, I use my gift of conscience to see that what I did can never be forgiven.

It was three full years before I realised I had to change. Three years my conscience slept, Three years I blindly followed orders before I came to my senses, before I saw what had to be done to save my country from the tyrants I worked for.

My awakening began one cool may evening, as José and I planned an operation against a group we suspected were supplying the opposition with food. "Opposition" was the term we used, as it was felt by the Public Information Bureau, our official source of propaganda, that the word "enemy" implied an entity of equal strength to our own. This was something that could not be allowed. It might give the public "Ideas". In the intelligence service we were expected to take a zero tolerance approach to both the opposition and its supporters. We were expected to show that no-one could escape, that resisting the law was futile. We were ruthless. We used weapons and equipment worth thousands of dollars to kill people who earned a few cents a day.

I didn't, obviously. I was far too important to dirty my hands with such wet work. The actual killing and torture was left to José and his team. We had known each other since childhood, been raised on the same street. He was my oldest, most loyal and most trusted friend, but there was always something...not quite right about him. As a child, he was quiet, unnaturally so, and rarely smiled. He preferred to be on his own, and some of the stories the other children told about him were disturbing. Some said he ate rats. Once, someone told me he had filled a goldfish bowl with molasses and placed a fish in there to watch it struggle and drown. Most of the other children were told to avoid him, their parents perhaps already sensing what he would become. My mother however, kind as she was, encouraged me to play with him. "talk to that boy," she would say "and you will have a friend for life" how right she would prove, for since then he had followed me into everything I did, joining the intelligence service around the same time as I. To describe him as being like a dog, though cruel, would probably be appropriate. He was cunning and determined, but he had few aspirations of his own. He had trouble understanding others feelings, and whilst this made him awkward in social situations, It made him ideal for the sort of work we did.

Even the way he looked reminded me of an Alsatian. His dark, gloss black hair was kept perpetually cut short and square. He was short and had a thick neck, but was otherwise athletically built, and loved the thrill of chasing down suspects on foot, bolting down the streets with zero regard for public safety. On paper, this would be exactly the sort of mission he enjoyed, smash the door down, Grab the suspects, maybe kill one at the scene as an example, drag the others off for interrogation. Interrogation was, again, more his department than mine, but it would be a lie to say I was completely unaware of what went on. Waterboarding, sleep deprivation, electrocution, humiliation, all routine.

And this was just what José bothered to tell me about.

José handed me a list of those believed to be involved. Looking it down I saw the usual mix of disenfranchised students and eager liberals, the sort who believed that if they kept just the opposition going long enough, change would eventually come. Poor souls, I thought, they did not look like the sort with an ideal to die for, just a desperate desire to make things better. Usually I would then follow up this thought by reminding myself that they had made their choice, and that they had chosen wrongly, but that day I didn't. That day the little voice in my head, my awakening conscience, told me to stop, to think. Was it really going to do the country any good to bring down this small-time group of well-meaning food smugglers so viciously?

"Do these people look like a threat to you, José?" I thought aloud.

"The army want them dealt with, sir" He replied.

"I know that. But do you think they look like they're going to topple us anytime soon?"

"No, but it's who they work for, isn't it? We can't let them continue supplying the opposition, can we?"

"José, do you really believe that? Do you really think Carlos will miss a few bags of flour?"

Carlos. The Enigma. The leader of the opposition. For all our skill, for all our resources, we had been unable to track him down. Since The coronation Riots he had moved virtually unseen in the shadows, striking at any symbol of government , be it a building or a person. It was he who slew my predecessor. He was the ultimate enemy of the state, with a three million dollar bounty on his head. His name filled any government employee with dread or rage, which depending on how secure they felt.

José shrugged. "I guess not. But then every little thing helps, right?"

"I suppose."

I went over to my desk and reached into the draw. As I searched amongst its contents for the rubber stamp used to green light such operations, I felt a cold, unpleasant sensation sink down my spine. My hand became clumsy, limp, refusing to operate without confirmation from my mind that it was doing the right thing. I couldn't see the stamp anywhere. I checked the other draws frantically, even digging through the waste paper basket to check It hadn't accidently fallen in there. Still I could not find it.

"I think you've lost it Miguel."

I looked up at José, puzzled. He still had the same look of quiet concentration he had had since he entered the room.

"Pardon?"

"The stamp. I think you've lost the stamp."

"Oh, of course," I began cursing myself internally. What else could he have meant ? The column of ice in my spine was met by a flush of hot, angry, red blood rising upwards. In my frustration I continue searching through the old filing cabinets for the stamp. Only in recent times had we been able to afford computers, even in our relatively well funded department, and so most of our paperwork continued to be stored in the aging metal cabinets, whose draws I could barely open with the amount of rust that had built up. José began to help me look, checking the stamp had not been dropped on the floor somewhere. It was embarrassing, the head and deputy-head of the intelligence service scrambling about in search of a misplaced piece of stationary.

"Enough of this lunacy, I'll just sign the damn thing."

"Are you sure?"

We used the stamp because it was dangerous to leave a signature on such sensitive documents. Personally signing death warrants was my predecessors great mistake, it made him an obvious target. It only took one mole to see the document and they knew exactly who was responsible for the death of their comrades. If I was honest, I didn't want to sign the papers. Not only out of concern for what the opposition would do if they found out, but because I really didn't see why the raid had to happen in the first place. By putting my name on that document, I was good as murdering them myself. I looked at the list again. They were all so young. One was only sixteen. I looked at the photographs that accompanied the file, most of them were taken from the passport records. Appearances, of course, can be deceptive, but not one of them looked like they deserved what was about to hit them. José stood looking at the ceiling fan, impatient to start the "fun" part of the operation. An idea began to form in my mind, a plan. A plan that risked my entire career, possibly my life, but one that might save at least a few, more worthy, lives.

Quickly I jotted down the address of the building about to be raided on my hand , making a note of the area code, before signing the box marked "authorized".

"Done?" José asked, making me jump.

"Done. May God have mercy on them."

José laughed. "Haha, they're going to need his help to get out of this."

His help no. Mine. As soon as José was out the door I resumed taking my office to pieces, hurriedly searching this time not for the stamp but for the national telephone directory. I found it tucked under the desk, covered in a thin layer of dust. Fortunately, it was still in date. I licked my fingers and started flicking through the pages searching for the right number. If I could reach them before José and his men arrived maybe, just maybe, they would have a chance to run. And they had to run. If they tried to stand and fight they would be massacred, of nothing was I more certain. José had many personality faults, but he was the most thorough person I had ever known, he made sure no one escaped him. Besides, he would have his team with him, the most terrifying group of people imaginable. I swear some of them killed for pleasure. Continuing to skim through the book at an incredible rate, I reached into my pocket and pulled out my cell phone. Landlines, especially government landlines, are far too easily traced. Eventually I found the number, and began tapping it in. The first time I did it wrong, and began cursing myself loudly.

Taking a deep breath, I got ready to try again. If I was going to do this, I had to do it properly. Lives depended on it. This time I slowly, deliberately typed in each number, double checking each one was correct. Satisfied that it was the right number, I closed my eyes, held my breath, and pressed "dial". As I listened to the apathetic, electronic ring of the dialling tone, part of me was screaming inside "what are you doing? Hang up now and save yourself!" It was so tempting to just hit the cancel button; I had to fight to keep my finger off it. To my racing mind, time moved unbearably slowly. The seconds seemed to drag into agonizing minutes, the cold fear in my spine rose up and seized the back of my head.

At last someone answered. My nerve had held. Just.

"Hello, who is it?" said the voice on the other end of the line. It was a man, and he seemed blissfully unaware of what was about to hit him, like the fattest lamb in the field.

"I can't tell you that, and I don't have time to tell you why, just listen to me. You are in great danger. They are coming for you, do you understand? You have to run, don't try to fight, just run. As far away as you can."

"Where? Wait..."

"It doesn't matter where, so long as it's safe and so long as you can reach it. You have about twenty minutes before a team of government SWAT troops arrive, so I suggest you start getting ready to leave as soon as I hang up."

I could hear the voice repeating what I had said to the others in the room. There were gasps, and at least person started to scream. Chairs knocked against tables. Unseen objects began to be moved and doors slammed open

"Oh shit. I don't know who you are, but thank you. I'll make it up to you someday, I promise."

"No. Don't even try. It's safer for both of us that way."

I hung up. The cold feeling sank back down and collected in my stomach. I'd done my best, I kept telling myself. Would it be enough? I opened my window and leaned my head out of it, taking a few gulps of the warm spring air. Looking out on the city, I wondered if I would be able to hear to gunshots. I could see everything, the shanty towns and favellas in the east, the royal palace and the theatre district in the west, with the sun setting gracefully behind them. Though the light was dying, I finally felt I could see the world clearly, as it was. The people needed a leader, not a bully, and though at the time I did not even begin to consider myself as that person, I knew I had to help whoever was willing to try and make the change. From that moment on, I was a member of the opposition, if not in name than in deed. I stood there for some time. Though raised a catholic, I was not much of a believer, but even I prayed for divine intervention that night as I waited for a sign that I had either succeeded or failed.

It took me quite by surprise when it came. I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. It was José.

"I trust everything is going well?"

"No sir, it is not," José raged. It was uncharacteristic of him to get angry, and I worried he was on to me somehow. "There's no sign of the suspects anywhere. It's like they just up and left for no reason."

"Good." I said. I knew if I was to succeed it was paramount that I have someone as skilled and as dependable as José on my side.

"What do you mean good?" he replied. Now he sounded confused.

"Come back to my office. We have much to discuss."