A Loss In The Family


cedric_icon.gif harding_icon.gif hesser_icon.gif

Scene Title A Loss In The Family
Synopsis The Hesser family receives grim news about a loved one.
Date June 28, 2021

"…and I understand that, but if we bend on this topic the opposition is going to push us the rest of the way until we break."

President Joshua Harding is rarely this candid, but outside of Washington he often relaxes into old mannerisms and old roles. It is not the urban sprawl of Kansas City that stretches out the bay windows in front of him, but the rural splendor of Montana. Silence hangs over the drawing room as Harding reconsiders his words while staring into the lowball glass of Whiskey in his hand.

"I get that, Joshua. But we can't always be an iron post." Cedric Hesser is often a voice of reason and temperance, and that nature is one of the many reasons why Harding appointed him to the position of Secretary of the Interior in spite of their political differences. Hesser rarely jumps to conclusions, makes brash decisions, and by Harding's rule is a genuine man who cares for his country and the people in it. In these times, that's hard to come by.

Harding turns from the window and steps around an unoccupied leather armchair, gesturing to Cedric with his Whiskey. "If we allow autonomous mechanized infantry to deploy overseas, we're opening the door to all of that coming home to roost. I won't have our streets look like something out of the Terminator again."

Cedric's sigh is an exhausted one. They've been circling this topic for years now, it feels like. "You said it yourself in that Times interview, the recruitment rates for the armed forces are down sixty-five percent since the war ended. I understand that we have a preponderance of Expressive at home and that alone is deterrent, but we are doing absolutely nothing to protect our allies overseas, especially since Praeger—in his infinite wisdom—pulled nearly all of our international military operations back home after the war ended. We've opened the door wide for groups like Mazdak to sweep across entire continents."

"And you think sending war machines overseas is going to change that?" Harding is quick to fire back with. "Do you remember the drone strikes under the Bush and Petrelli administrations? All that did was radicalize a generation of parentless children and allow them to be swept up by militant radicals who have half a good point." Harding sets his drink down on the coffee table in front of Cedric and sits across from him on the other sofa. "Cedric, we saw what this did at home. An entire nation is still suffering from the trauma of what the DoEA did. We put one war machine into service and we're going to be the enemy whether we think we are or not."

This time Cedric has no swift rejoinder. He slouches back in his seat and furrows his brows, looking down at his own drink. He and Harding are both silent for a time as they consider the lose-lose scenario they found themselves in. "We can't keep letting Mazdak gain ground." Cedric finally opines with a position both agree on. But this time Harding doesn't agree, something has stuck like a splinter in his mind and been working its way to the surface for a long while.

"Can't we?" Harding sits forward and folds his hands between his knees. "You take one look at Iraq right now, they've done right by it. Through deplorable means, unquestionably, but you can't throw a dart at US history without hitting an atrocity. Now," he holds a hand up as Cedric sits forward, "I know. We can't justify what they've done, but we can't keep fighting an unsustainable war, either."

"Are you saying we negotiate?"

"I'm saying we consider all our options." Harding says with a slow shake of his head. "The only other way this ends is with millions of dead, and I won't have that on my hands. If Mazdak wants an Expressive state, fine. But we draw lines, they play by the international community's rules and—"

"The UK would throw a fit." Cedric says with a shake of his head. "Turkey, Lebanon, China, we're talking a completely global clusterfuck, Josh."

"I will not preside over World War III!" Harding raises his voice, startling a little spy who had been eavesdropping by the study door. Her squeak of shock draws both Harding and Cedric's attention over just in time to see a wide-eyed face slip away from the crack in the door. Harding slouches in apology and Cedric gestures for him to wait as he heads over to the door.

"Honey?" Cedric calls out, "It's okay, we're just talking." Gradually, the young Leah Hesser slinks back into view with an apologetic frown. Cedric pushes the door to the study open and wraps one arm around his daughter and kisses her on top of the head. "Look, I know you want to ask Mr. Harding a lot of questions, but we need to…" He notices that she's been crying, and looks past her to see his wife Carol standing in the hall with her cell phone cradled in her hand, frowning.

Cedric looks back at Harding and holds up one finger, then shuts the door and slips away with Leah. "What's up? He asks Carol halfway down the hall.

"The hospital called, your father passed away." Carol says with a frown. It isn't a shock to either of them, but for Leah losing her grandfather hit hard. Cedric hangs his head and takes a knee, wrapping both arms around Leah.

"Hey," he whispers into her shoulder. "You know grandpa Teddy wouldn't want you crying." He says with a look over to Carol, who comes over and joins in the hug, giving Cedric a moment to extricate himself from the situation. Leah smiles, tiredly, and nods to her dad and then leans against her mother's chest and buried her face at her shoulder.

"I need to wrap things up with Josh, can you—"

"I've got it." Carol says with a sympathetic smile, urging Leah to follow her. Cedric mouths "I love you" to her and turns back to the study. From the look on Harding's face when Cedric returns, he heard everything.

"I'm sorry about your father," Harding says with a solemn nod. But Cedric doesn't seem deeply distraught about it. Instead, he walks over to his desk and grabs a framed photograph, looking at it as he returns to the couch.

"I barely knew him, to be honest." Cedric says with a shake of his head. "He dropped out of my life when I was ten years old. I'd get cards from time to time, no return addresses. I didn't hear from him again until the war started, when he was a scared old man facing the end of his life. He stayed with us, here, through the war." Cedric passes the photograph over to Harding. "Got really close with Leah, and I wasn't about to stop that. Not because I wanted him to be in my daughter's life, but because I thought… maybe it would be good for her to have something I didn't."

Harding takes the photo and looks at it, managing a mild smile. "That was a very big thing to do," he says kindly, setting the picture on the table.

"Yeah," Cedric says, looking down at his unfinished drink. A silence hangs over the room for a time, and Cedric is the one to break it with a challenging question. One a bigger man may ask:

"What would it take to bring Mazdak to the table?"

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