Category C: Highly Commended (2017) Monash Short Story Writing Competition
Author: Robert New
The Queen had finished her breakfast and was turning her attention to her fresh pot of tea, when her butler, James, knocked on her sitting room door.
“Ma’am, the Prime Minister is here to see you.”
“Really? She wasn’t on my appointment list.”
“No, Ma’am. She says this is a private matter and she doesn’t want it recorded.”
“How intriguing. Show her in.”
The Queen watched as the elegant, grey haired lady entered the room. The Prime Minister looked like a shell of the person who’d won an election a year ago. She carried a folder that was marked TOP SECRET – HM/PM EYES ONLY.
“Your Majesty, I…”
“Eleanor, you look exhausted, let me get you some tea.”
“You’re too kind.”
The Queen rang a small bell. The PM knew the tingle was only a conceit for the Queen’s benefit, as the bell had a motion sensor that triggered an alert outside the room. In a moment James reappeared.
“A cup for Eleanor please, I’ll pour it from my pot.”
James soon returned with a China cup and saucer which he placed in front of the PM, he quickly disappeared again.
“So, Eleanor, what brings you here so early this morning?”
“Your Majesty, I apologise for coming unannounced and at such an hour, but some information about the U.S. President came to light last night that couldn’t wait.”
“I thought this was a private matter?”
“It is… I’m not sure how to say it though.”
“I can only act on what I know, so tell me.”
“Let me put it this way. If you could go back in time and kill Hitler, would you?”
“Oh, I say. What a question…” The Queen gave the idea some thought, “No, I wouldn’t.”
“Well killing Hitler would be unlikely to stop the war. He may have been the figurehead we know, but someone worse could have risen to that position if he wasn’t there. I mean what if they were a better strategist? They might have won. So no, I would not kill Hitler. Mengele on the other hand… those poor children.” The Queen shook her head in disgust.
The Queen watched as Eleanor pondered her response. “Must not have been what she was expecting,” thought the Queen.
“What if you could be certain there was about to be a war and you could stop it from eventuating?”
“Now that is a different question. Would anyone say no to preventing a war?”
“Why don’t you just tell me what this is really about? You didn’t come here to discuss philosophy.”
“No, Your Majesty, I didn’t. I apologise for not getting to the point. Some information has come to hand that needs to be dealt with. Something I’d like you to consider taking a leading role in…”
“Eleanor, you know I cannot lead you into battle.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. I think though when you see what is in this folder, you might consider the unorthodox course of action I have in mind.” Eleanor passed the folder to the Queen, who carefully untied the string that was wound in a figure eight to seal the binder. The binder opened to reveal a screen on the left and a sheaf of paper on the right.
“So what is in here?”
“I think it speaks for itself.” Eleanor took out her phone and started replying to emails, while the Queen started reading through the document.
“But that would mean…”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“…Their election was rigged?”
“Not only theirs, keep reading.”
The Queen kept reading, giving the occasional gasp. Meanwhile, Eleanor kept tapping away on her phone.
“Is he really a genius and not a buffoon?”
“Apparently so. Watch the video.”
The Queen clicked on the screen. “I don’t believe it.”
A few minutes later, the Queen asked, “And you’re certain of the veracity of this information?”
“I wouldn’t be here if there was any doubt. We were lucky that the person who found it handed it to one of our double agents and that they both accepted asylum with us. Keep reading.”
Ten minutes later the Queen felt her face going cold as all the blood drained from her skin. She realised she was going into shock.
“So if I read this correctly, every major election since 2015 has been compromised? … What about France?”
“The way the program works is by boosting the underdog’s vote in key areas, but they need to be polling over thirty percent for it to work. In France, the final round was only between two candidates. The algorithm couldn’t do its thing. Plus their President took two-thirds of the vote, which was too high for the algorithm to deny.”
“I see. That I accept. What I cannot accept is that all of this was masterminded by that man. He’s giving the orders, even to Russia?”
“I found it hard to believe too. But as you can see, the information was checked more than once. It's all to do with the training: you can do a lot if you're properly trained.”
“What are you going to do about this?”
“That’s why I’m here…” Eleanor paused, as though she were unsure how to continue, “As you can see, other than the two operatives and myself no one else knows about this. If he dies this process stops. No one else can activate or decode the tech used and no one else even knows about it. What I’d like, Your Majesty, is for you to kill him.”
“You want me to kill the American President?” The Queen gasped.
“Yes, Your Majesty. The message it would send, coming from you, would restore people’s faith in leadership, right at the time it is being questioned.”
“Why not just release the information? Let the people go after him themselves.”
“There are two reasons. First, were this to become known it would destroy democracy. Full stop. No one would trust governments, elections or the fundamental aspects of democracy. There would be violence, civil war, and even world war.”
“Yes, I see. And the second?”
“Do you remember Coventry and the blitz? We chose not to act on the intelligence we’d received from cracking enigma, as it would alert the enemy that we knew how to read their messages. It cost us five hundred and sixty-eight lives, plus thousands in injuries. However, it gave us a strategic advantage that wound up saving many times more.”
“That was the decision of the Prime Minister. Not the monarch.”
“You’re right, Your Majesty. But you have a unique ability to get close to him and achieve the outcome while restoring pride in our system and keeping diplomatic relations open between our countries. If we went with a sniper or someone anonymous, it could be spun by his supporters that the people they perceive as enemies were responsible, or worse a terrorist group could claim responsibility and confirm the biased beliefs of his supporters. It needs to be public so the message can be controlled.”
They sat in an uncomfortable silence. Both took sips of their lukewarm tea without comment. The Queen sighed; “The lessons from the peace process are clear; whatever life throws at us, our individual responses will be all the stronger for working together and sharing the load. I do not give you laws but I can do something else - I can give my devotion to the peoples of our brotherhood of nations. For this reason, I’ll do what you ask.”
“Thank you, You Majesty.” Eleanor began packing up the files.
“On your way out ask James to send for a copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s biography for me.”
“Sorry, Your Majesty. Right away,” she replied as she walked briskly to the door. Ten minutes later James knocked, entered the room and handed the Queen the book she was after.
Two weeks later, the President and the Queen were about to meet at the Palace. The Queen knew the President would accept an invite to a private meeting between himself and royalty. Particularly as she put a phrase on the invite about wanting to talk to a man of his stature.
She checked that everything was ready. Two pots of tea were steeping, and a plate of petit-fours sat waiting to be consumed. A moment later there was a knock on the door and James introduced the American President. A security agent came in with him. The Queen asked for the guard to wait outside. A nod from the president and at last they were alone. The Queen motioned for the president to sit down, thereby avoiding shaking hands, since she knew the President did not like the action.
“Mr. President,” she began.
“It’s Your Majesty, Mr President.”
“Please sit down and let me pour you some tea.” The president sat in the gilded chair, looking smug, while the Queen poured them each a cup of tea from their respective pots. The Queen took a sip of hers and confirmed it was the right temperature.
“The Yellow Jasmine tea I have prepared for you is very special. It was used by the creator of Sherlock Holmes as a tonic to promote his health and vitality. I remembered reading about it in his biography, so I looked it up for your visit. It’s made from a plant called Gelsemium, which we have in our garden. Very pretty flowers. I believe he liked to drink it in one go as he convinced himself it was more effective that way.”
The Queen wondered if the President would take the bait. He did, and drank it in a few gulps. “The trouble with playing a role, is that you have to behave in accordance with it,” the Queen thought.
“Arthur Conan Doyle started off with very small doses of the tea and slowly worked his way up. He got up to 12ml and then stopped as he felt the side effects were too severe. I’ve just given you 24ml, just to be safe.”
“Huh?” the President grunted.
“The tea. It’s poisonous.” The president scrunched his face in confusion.
“You should probably tell your serviceman to enact the protocol for the death of yourself. I don’t know what yours is called. Mine is Operation London Bridge. We know about ‘assumo’ and what you’ve done with it.”
“How can you know about that?”
“The person who created it for you went to your government. Fortunately, the agent they went to also worked for us.” The President’s face was starting to redden. The Queen knew it was due to the relaxation of the blood vessels as a mild paralysis set in. The President struggled to stand up. He staggered towards the door, while the Queen sat down and took a sip of tea. She watched him fumble with the handle and almost fall out of the room. A moment later both of their security personnel burst into the room. The Queen’s agent stood next to her.
The American agent yelled, “Why aren’t you arresting her?”
The Queen’s agent replied, “She, she has immunity.”
“She murdered him.”
“Yes, but she is the Queen. She can’t be charged with any crime.”
“Probably why Eleanor asked me,” thought the Queen.
A few minutes later, the Queen spoke to an assembly of reporters, explaining why she’d taken the course of action she had, according to the story she’d agreed with Eleanor. She reached the end of her speech as it had been written, took a breath and added words that would surprise the Prime Minister, “Today I’ve chosen to act in accordance with my heart, despite the cost of a life. I hereby implore the parliament to pass an act enabling me to abdicate. At such time, I will leave the grounds of this palace so that I may be arrested. I ask for no special treatment and wish to face justice for my crime.”