If you could go back… His heart pounding into his ribs, he simply stared at her for a few moments, lost in her beauty… Her long, fiery red hair slung elegantly over her shoulders… Her dazzling, sharp green eyes darting attentively throughout the attentive crowd… Those sweet ruby lips forming such a striking smile… her perfectly smooth skin clothed with a sleek black dress which just revealed her stunning long legs… her voice echoing throughout the square. Oh, her voice! That sweet symphony made him shiver at her every word. His trembling finger slid off the trigger. As he lifted his head from his rifle’s scope he took a deep breath and wiped the sweat from his brow. He lowered his head onto his hands in anguish. How could he kill the only one he had ever loved? He gazed at her for a while, hundreds of thoughts passing through his head as he admired her beauty. Slowly his pulse began to calm. With a sigh, he started to dismantle his sniper rifle. * In all his life, Roger only ever saw Anna smile three times after her eighteenth birthday. The first had been at that speech which clinched the last supporters she had needed. The next time was while walking along Monument Road to work, one week later. * Her sparkling emerald eyes watched him from a huge banner hung across the wall of the City Hall. Those shining teeth, that spotless skin… it made him burn in longing. He shook off the sensation. It was no good having those thoughts now. Maybe, maybe in a few years time… He shook himself again. He had to keep control of himself! Already he regretted not taking the shot. Those old feelings must have clouded his judgement. Surely he couldn’t have believed that it was worth taking the chance when the probability of things improving was so low. Yet he had. What had convinced him? That it would be unfair not to at least give her a chance? That he, always the pessimist, was once again just assuming the worst? That she wouldn’t do it – after all, such an angel surely couldn’t be so easily corrupted? But already she was beginning to show the signs. Yet there was still a chance… and she had been so gentle and kind in childhood. Surely she was the best chance there would ever be. Roger shook his head. All that he knew was that he wasn’t going to get his hopes up again. He glanced back up at the banner, at those sharp green eyes… there was just a tinge of fierceness in them… He snorted. Now he was imagining things. Just as he stood to leave, the last line of the poster caught his eye: “You won’t regret this!” He sure hoped not. * That night, Roger sipped his ale deep in thought at a down-trodden bar. In the darkness around him his colleagues were swigging mug after mug of overflowing beer and talking wildly. The bar was always busy on Monday nights, but today it was cramp beyond capacity. Everyone, even the conservative and quiet ones, was there to celebrate her victory. “God bless Anna Bedford! God bless change!” yelled a man at a nearby table. Most of the men in the bar cheered. Fireworks erupted somewhere in the starlit skies. “Change? That wasn’t so good last time,” muttered Roger’s friend Tim, who was sitting beside him. John, a colleague who always tried to look up to speed, was quick to respond. “Things can hardly get worse. Besides, haven’t you listened to her speeches? Read her interviews? I’m telling you, Anna Bedford is the best thing that has happened to this country in a century.” There were many murmurs of agreement. A drunk from the table behind him, however, turned and yelled, “A woman in charge o’ da country, da best thing that’s happened? Wha’ are you on?” He shook his head as he slurped his drink. “We’re going to the dogs, is what. I’m getting’ outa this mess soon as possible.” The man beside him, just as smashed, smiled fiendishly. “Think I care ‘bout that? All I’m interested in, is her damn fine legs.” He whistled. “I’d pay any ‘mount she asked for, even for one night.” Roger glared at him but said nothing. The barman shook his head. “I don’t think she needs any money. Yours, anyway.” The man giggled. “You seen the junk she rides in? Even I’ve got better than that.” “If she was seen driving around in her Porsche, you think the plebs would still support her that much? What you really should be asking is how she affords that driver and all those bodyguards if she’s never worked and she’s not married.” Roger bit his lip. The drunk man sighed. “Ah well. Still, she’s one babe I wouldn’t mind seeing on television everyday. Make a nice change to those old farts…” Roger stood. His ale was tasting bitter in his mouth and every word that he heard was only worsening his mood. Most of his workmates didn’t even realise he was leaving, and Tim watched him go without a word. * It was certainly very subtle. It was also unexpectedly quick. Just three weeks after the election results had been announced, Roger noticed the first change. * “…relocation.” She paused to take a breath. “That way, you won’t need to walk so far to get to work. It is, of course, completely voluntary.” “So where are these sites?” a reporter asked. “Just outside the city, beyond the walls.” And well out of reach for any intellectuals. * Disheartened, Roger pulled out his jacket for a stroll around the park. The fresh smell of greenery always improved his mood. The jacket was torn and tatty and the sleeves didn’t quite reach his wrists, but it kept him warm. He left his apartment and began to descend the flight of stairs. It was a long way down from the tenth floor and was wearying on his mind, though his legs were well accustomed. He could have rented an apartment in a better are with elevators, or even bought a car, but he always had other interests on his mind. As he finally reached the streets, he heard trumpets playing nearby. Surely, he thought, she wouldn’t bring a carnival. But then he remembered: Sunday afternoon was the army’s parade day. He paced through the narrow alleyways until he reached crowded main roads. Almost everyone was there, watching and cheering, proud of the magnificent military power. Roger sighed. He turned away and walked through the quiet streets toward the park. Nobody was about. Everyone was watching the procession. Roger never understood how even the mention of the forces could strike terror into the people’s heart one week, and the next they were heroes. Why were people always so damn stupid? No point thinking about it, he reminded himself. It was over. He had missed his chance, and now the people would have to face the consequences. He finally reached the park. A quick glance revealed nobody to be about – at least he would have some peace and quiet. But as he strolled along the pathway, figures in even shabbier clothes rose up, lifted bony hands and begged in a hoarse voice. “Please, sir. Bread’s gone up double! I haven’t eaten in days!” Roger had no money to spare. He himself had barely enough to get through the sudden increase. In the distance, other haggard tramps stirred, glancing hopefully at him. Bitterly, he turned back and headed home. * Roger sat alone in the bar, irritable and frustrated. He called for an expensive beer. He needed one. “You sure you got enough?” asked the barman. “It’s 15 big ones.” Roger was left dumbstruck for a few seconds. “What?” he yelled exasperated. “That’s almost double what it used to be!” The barman shrugged. “All drinks have gone up. Could hardly afford to buy half my stock. Alcohol’s been soaring lately.” Roger realised that the bar was almost empty. Those who were there drank cheap ale. Not many people were going to get drunk any time soon. * “What do you have to say about the recent price hikes, Madam President?” a reporter was asking Anna at a conference. Roger listened to the shop’s radio carefully. Her voice sparkled across the room. “I’m increasing wages of all workers below the collar-line by 15%, and everyone else by enough to compensate for extra expenses.” Well, isn’t she a hero, thought Roger grimly as his mind made the calculation. He gasped as he realised that it really only covered half of the inflation rate. Surely the reporter would realise that as well? But no. Roger smiled wryly as he heard the man commend her, saying that she truly had the people’s interests at heart. * “Have you heard?” A colleague, Fred, was telling Roger. “Make-up was banned yesterday.” “Very funny,” said Roger, cynical as ever. “I’m not joking. Seriously, haven’t you seen the paper? Anna Bedford declared it yesterday. Take this if you don’t believe me.” He handed Roger a newspaper. “It’s on page four.” Roger groaned. What was that woman up to now? As he turned through the pages, he asked, “Why the hell would she outlaw make-up?” “Waste of money,” said Fred. “She’s a genius. Only afterwards I realised just how much my wife squanders. Says we should use money for better things, like saving for a car.” Roger found the article. As Fred had said, she was quoted saying, ‘If people spent less on cigarettes, beer and make-up, they’d realise just how much it all amounts to. They’d be able to buy a car in no time! If you just started to make some small sacrifices, you wouldn’t even feel the price increases.’ He couldn’t believe that people actually agreed with her. He looked at the picture of her at the speech. It was probably because of the tight-fitting top and short skirt she wore. And, he noted, her face caked in make-up and the latest plastic technology. * Roger awaited his copy of Global News with great anticipation every month. When it didn’t reach the post office that day, he immediately knew that she was behind it. Even so, he couldn’t help but vent his anger at the postmaster. After waiting in a long queue, he finally reached his office. After explaining his problem, the grey-haired man looked up at him confused. “Surely,” he said, “you’ve heard that all foreign newspapers or radio transmissions were banned yesterday.” Roger gaped. He had given up reading the news and listening to speeches or colleagues. Each time he did so, he was only more gloomy than before. He sighed. He had been quite dumb, really, not to have seen this one coming. * As the year went by, people were becoming more and more gloomy. They were almost always hungry, as poor as ever and tired from overworking. But they never once blamed her. It was, after all, their fault; their fault that they couldn’t resist getting drunk every night, their fault that they still smoked, their fault that every now and then they bought more to eat than they needed to, the women’s fault for buying make-up off the black market… their fault that they were poor. The horror of their miserable lives was that they all felt responsible for it. And determined not to see things otherwise. Roger hated it. But more than anything else, he hated that he had failed them all. * “What?” gasped the man, shocked. “Madam Bedford’s a lifesaver.” “Oh yeah?” Roger had lost control of himself. Never in his life had he been this angry. “Then what do you have to say about the food prices?” “I – that’s not her fault!” yelled the man, fumbling. “That’s… foreign droughts. Expensive imports.” Roger slammed the table and beer flew from the mugs. “You don’t even know what those words mean.” “Of course… of course I do!” “Oh?” Roger clenched his fists. “Then explain why the international food industry is blossoming. Why their prices are decreasing.” “I… you’re lying. You must be lying.” “Fool! Why do you think she’s stopped any communication with the rest of the world.” “You know perfectly well why! Foreign influence–” “Is a complete load of rubbish. It never caused any problems while it was around, did it?” “Yea it did!” protested the man. “During those times things were so much worse.” “Idiot. That had nothing to do with the outside world – it was the exact opposite.” “Yeah it did!” the man repeated. "It was the reason for all the poverty." “Oh?” muttered Roger. “And how is that?” “I… you shut up! You’ll be one of Caser’s lot. People like you deserve to be rounded up and sent to the mines.” He gulped down the rest of his glass, swung it across the table where it struck the wall. "Don't talk to me again," he muttered as he moodily stomped out of the bar. Roger gave Tim a dirty look before following him out. * Roger's hand slipped absentmindedly into his money sack. For a second his fingers felt the rough threading, scratching around for change, while he continued to gaze at the front page of the newspaper. He found no coins. Irritated, he dug harder. Still nothing. Realisation came to him, and with it a feeling of hopelessness. Still, he stood and gave his full attention to the sack, praying. He held it up toward his dim paraffin light and searched for a moment. When he saw no glint, his fingers began to search frantically. He already knew that he would find nothing, but somehow he felt even worse when he did not touch any cold, glorious metal. He took a deep breath. It didn't help. How had he possibly run out? He hadn't taken a note of the last week's increase, but surely it could not have been that much? Staring back at the newspaper, his eyes caught a smaller article squeezed into the bottom left corner. "Plan Your Spending Carefully," Says Country's Saviour He had been tempted to snort the first time he had read that, but now... NO! This wasn't his fault. It was all because of her. * Four years later, Anna had become something of a goddess. Women wished to be more like her, and she left men simply dazed. Whenever something went wrong, someone else was pointed at. When things went well, she was there to celebrate. Somehow she had managed to pull it all off without any angry feelings toward her. No matter how miserable their lives were, the people still looked up to her, treasured her, loved her. It wouldn’t go on forever, Roger knew, but it would last a long, long time. And it was his fault. He could have stopped it all. He had known, all along really, that this would happen. He didn’t mind the suffering himself. To him, that was just a part of life. But he had been given a job, and he had failed at it. * Roger stumbled into the bar and found a seat in the corner next to Tim. The men in the centre were talking about the upcoming elections. The discussion had begun to deteriorate into wild jokes centred on Anna’s competitors. The only man who had ever stood a real chance against her had mysteriously resigned and disappeared, saying that he had personal issues. The other candidates were really just jokes who probably wouldn’t even receive a single vote. “I’m Anna Bedford all the way,” a man hiccoughed. He said her name with the slightest moan. “Heard she wants ta’ lower the price o’ beer.” “Beer?” A man with many wrinkles under his eyes shook his head. “All I’m interested in, is food!” The first man laughed. “Didn’ ya’ hear? We be getting’ tha’ soon, if we all work hard enough.” He turned to his other companion. “Wha’ d’you think, Allan?” “She delivers on her promises is all I’m sayin’.” “Yeah… a lot better than that stupid old Caser, ain’t she? He goes and promises the world, bu’ all he did was suck us dry.” Allan shrugged. “I’d rather Caser than that idiot George. Can see he’s one of ‘em pompous arses.” His colleague frowned. “You’d still take him? After all he did?” Allan nodded. “He was bad, but it coulda been worse, you know? Of course I’m votin’ Anna,” a small smile played on his lips, “but if she wasn’ there, he’d be my first choice.” Roger silently glanced up from his mug at Tim and raised his eyebrows questioningly. Tim knew what he was asking. He sighed. “Anna can still get away with loads, if she wants.” His voice was a soft murmur. “The fools don’t see any of it; they just love her. I reckon she’s only getting started.” “And Caser?” “That guy’s right. People don’t like him, but if you got your timing right… He certainly can’t cause any more harm. He was already fighting off a revolt last time. I don’t think he could even keep what Bedford’s built. And someone else would come. If you just chose well enough, we’d be living in heaven. For a few years, at least.” * The alleyway was dark and quiet. Everyone else had gone to sleep and the two silhouettes were the only figures on the street. Tim looked at Roger gravely. “This is your last chance.” Roger nodded. It would be enough. * The last time Roger ever saw her smile was on a Sunday. She was scheduled to make a speech at 2pm, just one day before the elections. Everyone had turned out to see her. Many guards surrounded the market square and all the surrounding buildings had been secured. It had taken many dollars and a lot of effort, but he had finally managed to gain entrance into a nearby apartment an hour before she arrived. He nervously set up, and then waited in anxious silence. * Roger took a deep breath. His heart was thumping rapidly against his chest and his hands quivering. Slowly he lowered his head and peered through the lens. He couldn’t help but gasp. Every magnificent feature of her was magnified tenfold. Her sparkling green eyes, her soft, long red hair slung across her shoulders, that beautiful, dazzling smile… every tooth glittered and bliss radiated from her… She still looked so young… She was wearing red today, and a slit in her long dress revealed those long, smooth tanned legs that made him squirm. But something about it all just didn’t seem right to Roger. It wasn’t real; it wasn’t her. She began to speak. Standing on a nearby balcony, Roger listened not to the words but to the wonderful melody. Her voice had deepened and was so much more serious than it had ever been. Yet it was still beautiful; more melodic than any other he had ever heard. Many of the mass before her were not listening to her words either; they simply stood and stared in wonder. Some drooled. The crowd was made up solely of men. It had been ruled a few months before that no woman should have the right to vote. Roger didn’t see how people could accept the explanation; after all, the president was a woman. But any rumour amongst the educated of rebelling had remained simply that. It was a hot, calm day and the wind had long ceased to blow, but his shirt was not drenched with sweat because of that. His shaky hand slid forward toward the trigger. He took one long, last look at her. Her words floated through the air to his ears. “…things are going to get better.” She stopped to take a breath. Yes, thought Roger. They will. For an instant, Anna’s wandering eyes met his. She faltered. He fired.