This story is by Nicholas V. Mineo and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The auditorium was filled with men and women speaking in hushed voices. The number of translators outnumbered the lawmakers, a common occurrence for a summit of this magnitude. It marked the first time that so many leaders had been in the same room since the Indo-Asian war. The citizens of the Federation had known it as the Great War. It wasn’t their fault, history had been banned for over twenty years and only a few had the privilege of historical information.
Listening to the flow of conversation throughout the auditorium, it rose and fell naturally and uninhibited. It was only disrupted by Ambassador Eckhart making his way to the podium. There was a silent acknowledgment that could be heard by the disruption of the conversational tide. All the representatives began searching for their seats in the ascending auditorium. They did it at such a leisurely pace that could only really be found in bureaucrats and three-toed sloths. Ambassador Eckhart made sure to start with thanking everyone and telling them how important it was to the Federation to have their friendship. These types of pleasantries made me sick but this was politics. I think Eckhart would have been a movie star if cinema hadn’t been repurposed for unity efforts. This is why we had him, his job had a lot of duties and he held many titles but ultimately, he was a sugar coater. I knew most of the countries from the EU were ready to join. We expected a couple of rogue states to resist but the Federation had ways to ensure loyalty. When I joined the military it was still the old United States. It was during the “Reclamation” period. Civil disputes raged between citizens and between different levels of government. The military, even then, knew at the time that life in the United States was going to have to undergo significant changes. The resources couldn’t support the growing population. Civilians had grown tired of the wealth and power gap that the government and corporations had created. Radicals on both sides of the political spectrum had become mainstream. The internet had become a basic human need equal to food and water which made it our duty to provide. Things had changed.
After our ambassador had finished his speech there were a few seconds of excited chatter before a few representatives had started shouting. One man even threw his chair. I recognized him immediately, Igor Adamski, the prime minister of Poland. “Would you like to take the floor, sir?” our head of overseas security detail asked me. I always liked these guys, they didn’t constantly kiss your ass and they didn’t care if you couldn’t remember their names. Real jarhead types.
“Yes, I suppose so, Daniels”
“It’s Thompson, sir”
“Uh, nothing, sir…sorry, sir”
We had been watching the meeting from what we called the “Waiting Room” a large balcony situated behind the stage covered by a giant one-way mirror. As I stood up to make my way down the stairs to the podium the usual security protocol ensued. The jarheads checked the stairs, the corners of every turn, while my cohorts followed, this was a sort of dance that had become routine over the years. As our entourage made its way from behind the stage to the podium the voices of our guests had declined from a dull roar to whispers and by the time I had relieved our sugar-coater of the podium, it was dead silent. I liked to wait a few seconds before speaking, I knew what they knew, I knew what they thought about me, what they said behind closed doors about the Federation. I also knew that most of their constituents had been taking in our culture, our movies, our music, our sports, even our politics. They yearned to be with the Federation and I was here to grant them salvation.
The advent of artificial intelligence had made corporations extremely wealthy halfway through the 21st century. They reduced the workforce and increased profits. It was a technological dream but an economical nightmare. Global governments dealt with hyperinflation and had to turn to corporations for help. That’s when the Federation was created. No one knows if it was the military or a corporation that built it but I know it must have been coded by the Marines. It had a cold and calculated way of reaching and achieving objectives that I’ve only ever seen from the Marines. I had enlisted in the old Army when I was still seventeen. I had done so to be able to go to school for music, now at the age of sixty, I don’t play an instrument. Funny how life works. I was chosen to be the Director of the Federation by the Federation itself. Shortly after creation, the Federation evaluated everyone, military and civilian, and invited a number of us to take a series of aptitude tests. Similar to old virtual reality games I played as a kid where your reflexes and decision making were tested thoroughly. I couldn’t gauge how well I had done on the test at the time and didn’t know what the test would lead to but here I am, the most powerful man on the planet. My first drill Seargent had told us the secret to military brilliance was just taking men and women and putting them under extreme pressure and keeping the ones that didn’t break.
The idea of the Federation, originally, was an efficiency model. That all the problems the old United States was dealing with could be recorded and every solution could be run through the model to see if the solution given, over time, would work or if they were wasted resources. After the success of the Federation and the collapse of other governments, the United States immediately joined with the Northern Territory (at the time known as Canada) and with the Central Territory (Central America) and eventually controlled all of the Americas. It created a golden age of technology and leisure.
Today, as it stands now, there are only two governing bodies around the world (with the EU signing over rights to production and resources) the Federation and the Republic. The Republic had banded together around the same time that the Federation got off the ground and started taking territories on. Its old-world names were China, Russia, and a few smaller nations that had been forgotten about on our side.
After the closing on the EU and a couple of small nuclear weapons to sway the minds of the dissidents, we were back to give a press conference to the people on how the EU couldn’t wait to be part of the Federation and to welcome our new brothers and sisters.
It was the same routine after every merger. As we landed we had the IT team waiting for us. Eggheads. There were so many of them now. They had the only real jobs left, fixing and maintaining the Federation. Half of the military’s “soldiers” were teenagers sitting in dark rooms snorting powdered caffeine listening to post-apocalyptic electro-funk that could guide a tactical nuke to a squirrel three thousand miles away. It made me sick.
“Director, sir. I believe there’s something you need to see.”
We sat in one of their offices, it was dark, only lit by the monitor we were watching. I watched with some of our regional managers as a skinny, long-haired technician typed away. The computer screen was old, really old. It was plugged into a tangled mess of wires that connected to the wall.
“What is it?”
“Sir, we noticed a problem with projected cost analysis from the Federation, so we shut it down to fix a bug or patch it to update the analysis”
“Sir, the Federation showed no cost analysis for next year, or the year after, or ever again.”
“We rebooted the Federation after fixing a couple of sequence bugs in the budget analysis application and as soon as it came online it launched thousands of items. Our assembly manufacturing materials are almost completely gone along with our fuel reserves.”
“How could this happen? Was it the Republic? Can the Federation be hacked?”
“No, sir. The Federation left an open application for fundamental system operations”
I had heard everything but most was escaping me.
“And what would you gather from the open application?”
The technician frowned as if he was too chicken-shit to tell me outright what was happening.
“Sir, the developers for the Federation ran it as an efficiency model with the objective to survive. At some point, or maybe all along, the Federation wasn’t concerned with our survival but it’s own.”
“I’m sorry sir but there’s more…it left a statistical analysis on the probability of survival.”
“If we topple the Republic and use their resources our chances are 13.1 percent.”
“If we fail to take the Republic?”