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Bow Before the Stainless Scepter

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People think I’m remorseless. They think I’m a monster. They think I’m selfish and self-centered.

When it came out that Ben and I, “Her Presidential Highness and the late Dr. Matheson” as we were constantly referred to by the fledgling D.C. paper I allow to continue running, when it came out that we were at the head of the Blackout, that I knew what caused it and maybe even how to turn the lights back on, there was rioting in the streets.

Housewives tsk-tsked over their sewing and blamed me for their kids growing up without iPhones glued to their palms.

Petty children with delusions of freedom made signs and gathered guns and made a paltry attempt on my gates.

Men in bars grumbled over their whiskeys, slapped each other on the back and reveled in the knowledge that they were right: all women, even the powerful ones, are actually just hormone-ridden incubators with no regard for the greater good. A couple of newspapers even dared to insinuate that Ben was the real brains behind the nanotech. Those are the newspapers I no longer allow to continue running.

(Never mind the jagged scars on my wrists or the nights I still wake up screaming, the image of starving kids in Illinois, mass graves in Maryland or ICBMs on a bright LED screen seared on the inside of my eyelids. Clearly, remorseless.)

That was two years ago, the day the first paper ran with an old photo of Danny and the story broke. We never did find out how they got the truth but then again, it’s D.C. There are probably a dozen office buildings with paperwork in triplicate, detailing every move the Patriots, the DOD and I ever made. All some scrappy reporter had to do was find the right file cabinet and they probably got more than they ever wanted to know about the secret projects the old US government was working on. These days you can just walk right into the Pentagon after all. It’s more granary than it is intelligence agency.

Funny, how they didn’t also crucify Randall or the old Secretary of Defense or the entire corrupt cabinet who orchestrated the apocalypse. I’m the one in charge now, so I got all the blame. Lucky me. No longer did they have to blame General Monroe for the bombs; they no longer needed a scapegoat. Their queen, that conniving, power-grabbing bitch, she was to blame.

The hatred has died down somewhat, but I still haven’t left the White House in over eight months. Miles won’t stand for it. Says I’m too valuable, too important, too brilliant to be gunned down by a nutjob who believes the papers. Never mind that the papers are mostly true.

I might have all the power now, Bass might bend and scrape and grit his teeth at my orders, but it’s not so different from Philly. I’m shuttered away in a mansion with all the wine and steak I could ever ask for, (what more could I possibly want?), plus the knowledge that my daughter is safe, the people I love are cared for. All the comforts of my last gilded cage and then some. But I still watch the world from behind panes of glass.

Bass always used to say, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” and smirk at me, like he was making some intelligent allusion that I was supposed to coo at. But I know what he meant now, cliché as it is. It’s not just the responsibility, the knowledge that thousands of lives depend on me to make the right decision, it’s not just the guilt or the nightmares. It’s the utter lack of personal space or time or peace.

(It’s also the literal crown. The bronze piece Miles nicked from the remains of the Smithsonian right after we took the city, never imagining he’d watch his niece actually crown me with it three months later, weighs a ton.)

I’m not saying I empathize with his time as President. Bass was a tyrant and an asshole, at that. But I understand the pressures that made him that way. If  you had told me thirty years ago that Bass Monroe was going to terrorize the Eastern Seaboard, I would have rolled my eyes and returned to my Facebook feed. He wasn’t always like that. He used to be kind-hearted, even a bit of a sap, especially when it came to Miles. But this job, this commitment, it takes away every scrap of agency you have left and turns you into a program with an endless list of commands: protect the borders, provide medical support, fight bad weather and shitty crops, take dangerous men off the streets and put decent ones in charge, put down uprisings before they begin. Make the hard decisions while everyone else sits back and judges you for them.

I’m trying to be better. Been trying since Texas. The Kingdom of the Eastern Coastal Union prosecutes alleged rapists, funds homes for single mothers and abandoned children and does not participate in conscription. I did, however, end the world at least twice, and I live with that fact every goddamn day. If my people want to think I’m remorseless, let them. It isn’t my job to correct them, it’s my job to make sure they have a sunrise to wake up to tomorrow. It’s my job to make sure no more monsters like me come out of the woodwork and end the world again.

It’s my job to keep those of us with the power, in check.

It’s October now, the winds turning cold and the trees a few gusts away from leafless. From the window of the Oval, I can see carts rolling into the city center, loaded down with pelts and the last of the fall harvests: apples, grapes, pumpkins. October means the last frantic push to fill the food stores, to get the taxes in, to sacrifice a few more deer on the altar of not-starving-to-death. At least we don’t have to worry about revolts in the wintertime; people have more important things to worry about in winter than their ideologies.

I turn away from the window, picking up the slightly dinged and dented crown resting on its pillow. The metal is cold and smooth beneath my fingers as I lift it slowly onto my head. We don’t bother with all that European pomp and circumstance here, no scepter, no throne, no ball gowns. Just the crown, and the knowledge that I command each and every one of those guns on each and every one of those guards and if you move a muscle against me, you will sorely regret it for the rest of your very short life. (I’m trying to be better, but if I let every man who thought he could take me, keep his head, I’d be laughed out of this drafty old building in a week.)

This isn’t Buckingham or the Grand Ducal. This is the White House for god’s sake. We may not be a democracy anymore but then again, let’s be honest: we never really were.