CHAPTER 4

President Benjamin Breen looked with disdain at the people around him. From his custom leather chair at the head of the table he saw all the faces as they entered. Men and women he spoke to only about matters of significant tediousness. Then there was Jackson Garrick who stepped in as if he owned everyone and everything in the room. Garrick was 48 years old and tall, with a face like a bulldog and a grizzled, unshaven face. Breen expected Garrick to stab him in the back at any moment, especially considering the man was leading the crusade against Breen. Claims came fast and frequent that he was a weak leader and made change only for change's sake, not to advance the cause of the City. Thankfully he did have support in the form of Veronica Reeve who showed unflinching support for her president. It was a little unfair that Breen was criticised for failing to instigate enough of a change. After all, his predecessor was a terrorist who used a missile threat to have the City declared an independent nation. How could anyone expect to live up to that? He cheered up when Miss Reeve entered, with her piercing blue eyes and wavy blond hair, hanging gracefully below her shoulders. Not to mention her commanding tone which was capable of putting even Jackson Garrick in his place. With Reeve in the room, Breen finally felt as if he had a friend to support him. Not that he didn't value his friendship with Chris Marsden, but Chris had no desire to involve himself in matters such as this. A pity, since Chris had a clear-cut agenda. You knew where you stood with him, not like these crooked politicians who would play anyone to get what they wanted. With the exception of Veronica Reeve, of course. She and Chris had no desire to play the deception game which made Breen feel a sudden twinge of guilt. He had been playing a very long game indeed.

"Shall we begin?" he boomed once everyone was seated. "We have a matter of some sensitivity to address. Archangel? Has anyone received any updates?"

"Apart from that confrontation the other day, we've heard nothing, sir" Reeve declared in that purposeful tone of hers. Breen wished the words from her mouth had been "they're all dead, sir" but he couldn't have everything he wanted.

"Don't you think you should drop this issue and focus on leading the nation, Mr President?" Garrick snapped.

In his carefully practiced and calmest tone, Breen answered "but I am leading, Mr Garrick. I'm making great strides towards alleviating poverty and crime. The black market has diminished in the years I've been in office, and public morale is comfortingly high". Breen had done all those things but knew that it would never be enough.

"That may be so, but I have been made privy to the knowledge that most of the people in this room see you unfit for office. You're too old and timid, I'm afraid". Some of the people in question looked into Breen's accusing eyes, whereas others tried to hide their fear by continuing to watch Garrick. Reeve, however, met Garrick with a fierce glare that he effortlessly shrugged off.

"Someone younger needs to lead, someone who still has the strength necessary to act".

"Someone like you, Garrick?" Breen suggested with a tilt of his head.

"Someone like me" he confirmed.

"I'm assuming this will be a bloodless coup? You see, when Archangel return, and they will return, the coup will be very bloody indeed. You know, maybe it would be better if you take my place now so that I can get away with my life". For a brief moment, Garrick hesitated. It was a beautiful thing to see him sideswiped like this.

Garrick cleared his throat and went on.

"Your obsession with Archangel is a symptom of your declining mental state, I fear. And let's not forget the taxpayers' money that you insist on squandering on various surveillance projects and other operations to try and root out Archangel. For God's sake, Breen, they haven't been active for months. It's clear the group has disbanded. Now, like the rest of us, you need to drop the issue".

"Perhaps it is you who needs to drop this superiority complex you've been nurturing. My fears are well founded; yours are nothing more than a shameless power grab".

"It seems there are more than a few others who share my concerns".

Breen made a dismissive wave of his hand.

"Lies and bribes? Am I right?" Few people met his eye and none could hold his gaze.

"I'll be filing to have you removed from office at my earliest convenience. You are unfit to lead, sir".

"You know, Garrick, that I've been expecting this for some time now. If I'm not mistaken, the vote to remove me must be unanimous. Am I right in thinking that?"

Garrick smirked.

"I'm sure Miss Reeve will come around to our way of thinking sooner or later", he said, rolling his head to face Veronica.

"I'm sure your repulsive arrogance will get the better of you eventually, Mr Garrick", she said coolly.

Garrick's smirk grew at that comment.

"We'll see", he said, slowing turning back to Breen.

"She's right, Garrick", came a voice from the far corner of the room.

Garrick's eyes went wide and he spun to face the perpetrator.

"Peter Harker, I can't say I'm all that surprised", he hissed, "you're only 25 years old and still think that your every desire gets handed to you on a platter. I suppose you can't help it. After all, you only found yourself here in the first place because of your father's connections".

Harker tried to mask his fear with a defiant tone.

"I've seen enough to know that people like you should never be allowed to have their own way".

Garrick's face was quickly turning red with anger.

"This city could be something truly magnificent if I was allowed to do things my way. It's a pity, really, that you're so afraid of change".

"I'm intrigued, Garrick", Veronica interrupted. "In the event of a coup d'├ętat with you at the helm, City government policy states that you remain in charge only as a temporary measure until a public vote has been carried out. Frankly I don't think you have the face to be a beloved president. Now I believe this city has never seen a female president, has it Garrick?"

"You wouldn't dare", he snapped.

"Oh, but I would and you already knew that".

The two glared into each other for a considerable moment before Garrick relented and sighed, swivelling his chair to face the aquarium on the wall behind him.

"You make this so complicated, Miss Reeve. Your selfishness will put this city's future in jeopardy and still you persist".

He stared through the glass screen on the wall to the fish beyond, gliding effortlessly through the water, scales glistening in the deep blue, artificial light. He envied the creatures in that aquarium. They had no fear of predators and could do as they pleased. Then he noticed a clownfish apparently trying to eat his way through the glass. They were free only within the confines of their little world. Just like Garrick in the City. No-one in the outside world cared about their squabbles. Because of Silas Gordon the City had succeeded in distancing itself from the global community. Whether they envied them or feared them or simply laughed at them, other countries dealt with the City only when they had to and let the strange little country handle problems on its own. The most significant contact with the outside world came in the form of tourists from Midas.

"If we may continue, Mr Garrick?" Breen asked, breaking into Garrick's thoughts. Garrick swivelled to face him.

"But of course, sir", he said mockingly.

Breen laughed. "How unprofessional of you Garrick, taking that tone with me. Until you happen to remove me from office, we address the issues which are of concern to me. I don't have enough time to address your problems in any further detail. Now, may we get this meeting back on track?"