Two Good Men
“Good Morning, Dmitry. It’s nice to see you after all these years. Won’t you sit down?”
“Thank you.” The man sat down slowly, placing his cane carefully on the side of the desk, ensuring that it didn’t slide off. “How have you been?”
“I am well. How are you? Has Irina kicked you out yet?”
A low chuckle. “Not yet. She’s probably thinking about it, though.”
“I know how that feels. Abigail has tried more than once, but we’re both too old for that nonsense anymore, I guess. So, what has it been? Twenty-five years?”
“Oleg, you certainly know how to make a man feel old. I think it was twenty-three. We saw each other at that UN conference in Vienna, I think.”
“Ah, yes. We were gradually moving back east then. It felt like coming home in a way.”
“In a way. I can’t even remember what life was like before my parents moved out for good.”
“I was born in London,” Oleg replied. He allowed the silence to stretch out, thinking about how he’d had to adapt to life in the east once more, especially after the breakup of the old Soviet Bloc into tiny, fractious nation-states. “I wonder why they voted for us,” he asked finally.
Dmitry shrugged. “We are of the old guard, the traditional leading families. Our people don’t want change, even when they demand it.”
“Our people, Dmitry? Do you really think they are ours? I’m almost certain that the ones who voted me president aren’t mine.”
“I suppose not. Perhaps it is better to say that we are theirs.”
This time, the silence stretched a lot longer. Oleg knew that, with the precision of the chess matches they’d enjoyed in those wonderful, carefree years at Cambridge, that it was now his move. The stillness could stretch eternally, if necessary, and neither would feel uncomfortable with it. But there was an important matter to discuss, and it was best to be expedient. Perhaps. “So, will it be war?”
“I don’t see how it can be avoided. Our entire western border is up in arms. They claim that there hasn’t been a day in which we haven’t been hit by a rocket from your side of the river.”
“I’m in a similar situation. The farmers along the river want us to invade. They say that the land on the other side belongs to their families, and that it has done so forever.”
“My ministers tell me that there has never been a war along that border.”
Oleg sighed. “That border is less than ten years old. It’s new even by the very unusual standards of our strange little place in the world. And the Soviets weren’t really tolerant of unrest in their satellite states.”
“But to start a war because a few thousand farmers are unhappy? Can’t you do anything to stop it?” The pleading note was plain in Dmitry’s voice.
“Can you? What is your military saying?”
“They are urging me to take police action. They say that even if the attacks stop, we need to go in there and ensure that there are no more rockets in the region that might be launched at us with no warning. Karpov has been very firm about it.”
“Do you really think it’s about the rockets? That isn’t a systematic thing; someone found a Soviet-era stash somewhere, or bought some old weapons from the Serbs. Nothing that will happen again.” Oleg shook his head. “What is Karpov like?”
“He is like his father.”
“Oh. Then you truly can’t do anything. But neither can I. The people are furious, and if I try to stand in their way, I will be removed from office, at the very least. I prefer to ride it out and see whether I can limit the damage.”
“I know. I will be doing the same. But it seems like such a waste.”
“War is always a waste.”
Dmitry looked out the window for a few heartbeats. He had a faraway look in his eyes that Oleg knew all too well. “Do you remember when we were students? If someone had told us back then that the two presidents of two countries at the brink of war were in agreement about stopping the war, then we would have assumed that war was impossible.”
“We were young then, my old friend. What did we know?”
“History will make it our fault.”
“Let history do as it pleases. I won’t be around to see it, and even if I am, I will be much too old to care. For now, I will try to keep as many of my people alive as possible.”
“I will do the same.” Dmitry looked back into Oleg’s eyes again. “I only wish we could have met again under different circumstances. This seems like such a terrible way for our last encounter to end.”
“Do you think it will be the last?”
“I think you are right. Perhaps in the afterlife.”
“If there is an afterlife, I will be wherever they punish the atheists. So this must be goodbye.” Dmitry stood and held out a hand.
“Please give my warmest regards to Irina. Perhaps she will understand. She knows us well.”
“The same to Abigail, although if she’s the same firebrand she was in Cambridge, she will never understand.”
Oleg smiled sadly. “She won’t. I’m not even certain that I do.”
“You were always a wise man,” Dmitry said. He picked up his cane and walked through the door.
Oleg took a single moment for sad contemplation. He had little time for more. There were meetings to attend: first the press secretary, to dictate the press release in which he regretted that talks had broken down.
Then he had to meet with his Generals.
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Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer with over a hundred stories published in fourteen countries, in seven languages, and a winner in the National Space Society’s “Return to Luna” Contest as well as the SF Reader short fiction contest (2014) and the Marooned Award for Flash Fiction (2008). His short fiction has appeared in the Texas STAAR English Test cycle, The Rose & Thorn, Albedo One, The Best of Every Day Fiction and many others.