An extract from my new book

The Master Fixer, the Red Berries 
and the Monsters

The President and the Vice President moved past the two statues that guarded the entrance to Academy grounds. The statues were four feet high, carved out of black marble in the shape of hands bent back at the wrist, palms flat and facing the sky. The symbol of the Academy. Soldiers escorted the men at a respectful distance on either side. Falling into step with the Advisor, the Cadet kept his voice low so as not to be heard by the President and the Vice President striding ahead of them.
“May I speak freely, Sir?“
The Advisor, dressed in his traditional flowing robes, glanced back at the young man who still had not left his teens. “I would strongly advise in the days to follow you speak freely and honestly at all times.” 
“I am not sure why I am here, Sir.” His voice, though young, was self assured. “I heard what the Vice President said...”, he caught himself, as if troubled by what he was about to say. “I can think of only one reason we would be here at the Academy, but that cannot be possible. Therefore...” 
Cutting his words short, the Advisor interjected “I am sure your guess would be right. We are here to give the Master Fixer permission to leave the Academy grounds, something that has not been done in a hundred years.” They walked on in silence for a while. The road curved back and forth. With each step the large black wall, which swept across the valley ahead of them, grew ever more solid and imposing. And with each step, the Cadet  grew more and more restless. The Advisor, noticing his agitation, said, “Speak boy! There is not much time. I told you that you may speak freely with me!”
“I don’t understand why I am here...  and.. and why are they doing this, Sir?” This time his words were not so self assured, and he could not keep an edge of fear out of his voice as he spoke the last few words.
“Our leaders are doing it because they are scared. Because they can no longer hide that they are losing the war, because the monsters cannot be stopped, because we are losing control of our cities, because our people are being murdered and the fabric of our society is crumbling from the violence and fear that is spreading.”
“Sir, the newscast says differently.”
“The news lies.”
“But why now? Why today? It’s been almost 20 years since the war started, why now?”
The Advisor stopped, turned to face the Cadet and stared thoughtfully at the young man as if considering his options. Finally, he said, “Very few know but soon it will make no difference. We have kept it very quiet for reasons you will understand. The President’s son was caught with berries, and tomorrow he will be one of those sentenced and marked so that all can see that he is a criminal and immoral.” The last word held a hint of sarcasm in it.
The Cadet stared at the Advisor, now clearly horrified. “But his son is 18 like me, which means he will have to wear the mark of shame for life, and the President  will have to resign his position as soon as it becomes known.”
“Yes, the President is a desperate man. He is gambling his career by taking this action, hoping he can somehow save his son and stop the monsters in one stroke. In this matter, he is acting more like a father than a President, but whatever the reason, I think the decision is a good one. We are losing the war. It must be done.” The Advisor, realizing they were falling behind started walking quickly to catch up with the others,  who were by now having an animated argument as they walked. The Cadet quickly followed, and glancing back he saw that a large contingent of soldiers were following behind them. They moved with physical ease and discretion that marked them as the elite guard. The Cadet somehow found their presence comforting, easing his growing fear somewhat.
Slightly ahead on one side of the road was an area filled with  large bushes. The bushes were covered with outcroppings of bright red berries. As the politicians walked ahead neared the bushes, they went silent; moving to the far side of the road as a group, they kept their eyes forward as they edged past.
The Advisor walked straight towards the bushes as the politicians walked away. The Cadet stopped and watched the Advisor in stunned fascination. Upon reaching the bushes, the Advisor did not hesitate as he stretched out and gently touched the berries with his finger tips.  On the back of the Advisor’s hand, a blue tattoo identical to the open hand symbol of the Acadamy could cleary be seen.  The Advisor suddenly grabbed a handful of the berries and yanked them free. The Cadet caught his breath, paralyzed on the spot. Holding the berries in the palm of his right hand, the Advisor gingerly picked one up and held it up between his left thumb and forefinger, squeezing it until the juice burst from the berry, which stained his skin red. He licked his fingers, and smiled as the sweet taste hit his tongue, and his lips tingled. 
 “Advisor!”shouted the Cadet.
The Advisor turned to the distressed Cadet. “Compose yourself, Cadet.We are on Academy land. It has been many years since my student days here, and I have missed the taste of that berry.”
The Cadet was aghast, “You could be marked for that. We could both be marked merely for being near that many bushes!”
The Advisor strode quickly to where the Cadet had stopped. In a stern voice, he said, “I was lead to believe that you were the brightest student of your year, that you had excelled in every branch of government, that great things were expected of you in service of the Republic after your graduation this year. Was I mislead? Did I choose unwisely?”
The Cadet struggled with his emotions, finally overcoming them and said in a defensive voice “No, Sir, you were not!”
“Where are we Cadet?”
“The grounds of the Academy, Sir, but...”
“Who rules here?” the Advisor said sternly.
Comprehension dawned on the Cadets face. “The Fixers, Sir.”
“Good. You need to remember that at all times. The laws of our democracy do not hold here. The Master Fixer has absolute power, and there is no law against touching and eating the berries here.”
The Cadet, embarrassed, uncomfortably shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Yes, Sir, I understand. I apologize for my outburst.” He swallowed and appeared to master himself, “I apologize I meant no disrespect. It is merely...”
“Merely that I was breaking our law.” The Advisor said impatiently, “Yes I know, but you are too young to understand that when I was boy these bushes were found all over the Republic. My mother used to use them in her cooking. The taste is quite exquisite and brings a sense of vitality to the mouth that is hard to describe. Would you like to try one?”
“No, Sir!” said the Cadet horrified.
“Oh seriously, we are going to have to talk a little before we enter the Academy or you are not going to survive the next few days,” said the Advisor in exasperation. “Come talk with me while we walk.”
They moved past the bushes, the Cadet keeping a distance from them as he passed. Up ahead the others had not progressed that far, as their argument seemed to be slowing them down. 
 “The government of the Republic  has only rarely invoked the Agreement,” continued the Advisor, “and the last time was over 100 years ago. What do you know of the events surrounding the previous times that the Master Fixer was released?”
The Cadet seemed more comfortable showing off his knowledge and relaxed a little.
“I know that the intervention of the Academy and the Master Fixer resulted in lasting peace between the states and the establishment of the universal rights, “ he paused and continued somberly, “and the last time it resulted in the execution of the President and imprisonment of half his cabinet.” 
“Hmm, I wondered how they were teaching that last event in the schools. What did your instructors say about why the Master Fixer executed him?”
“Very little. Our professors were not forthcoming on the subject,” he paused.  “But they implied the Master Fixer had made a terrible mistake,” he stopped as if he had said too much.
The Advisor laughed. “Yes. I can see that might be how some people viewed it, especially in schools filled with the children of politicians, but the Fixers do nothing without reason. The Agreement was created with a very serious purpose, and it is extremely dangerous. I believe the Fixers wanted to send a message to future Presidents. The President at the time and his cabinet enacted the Agreement in an attempt at personal gain, so the Master Fixer fixed the problem as he saw it: he executed the President. Capital punishment has been forbidden since the founding of the Republic, but the Master Fixer is above the law.
“But how could have done that - murdered him? Not only is it illegal, it is immoral!”
The Advisor stopped walking and grabbed the Cadet’s arm, spinning him round, so he was looking directly into his eyes. “You need to be very clear on this, Cadet, once given permission, the Master Fixer can leave the Academy and do anything he wants; he can start a war, make or unmake our laws, imprison people, move whole populations at a whim.  Whatever he wants to do, he can do, and when you keep that perspective in your mind, executing a politician for abusing the essence of the agreement was simply teaching a lesson in his mind.”
The Cadet gulped, visibly shaken. “Yes, Sir, I understand.”
The Advisor let go of the Cadet’s arm and held his gaze for a few seconds.  “I hope so. Do not fear unduly Cadet. The Fixers do nothing rash. It is not their nature. They need to understand the situation thoroughly first, but when they act, they will do so without hesitation, fear or favor. They seldom do what we expect or what we think they should do, which is why the Vice President fears this decision so much. He has been in charge of the war for years and has made no progress. The worst consequence of that execution is that it has made our current leaders too fearful of invoking the Agreement; it should have been done long ago.“
After a pause, the Cadet spoke. “Sir, I do not understand why I am here.”
Looking ahead, the Advisor saw that they were only a quarter mile from the gate. “Come. They are getting too far ahead of us. It is obvious that I need to explain your part in this, Cadet. 
“Thank you, Sir. I was just summoned here today from university without any explanation.”
The Advisor said simply, “I chose you and had you brought directly here. You are going to work as a liaison for the Master Fixer.”
Dismay showed on the Cadet’s face. “Why me, Sir? I am just about to graduate and have no practical experience. Surely, as an Advisor you would be far better suited to help him.” 
The Advisor held up the back of his hand displaying the blue tattoo on the back and replied, “No, as a failed student of the Academy, he would not want me. He will want someone who knows the workings of the current government and is young, hard working, open minded and flexible. Innocent even. Not someone who might be part of the problem.”
Looking ahead at how close the gate was he said, “Cadet, you need to understand about who you will be dealing with. I do not have time to have a discussion with you before we get to the gate, so please let me sum up the important points with as little interruption as possible.”
“Yes sir, of course.”
The founders of the Republic believed that eventually any political system would face dire problems either from within or without. They knew they could not foresee all the problems that the future would bring, but they could foresee a way to solve them. They knew that one man with the interests of the Republic at heart, if given absolute power, could achieve much more than any group with differing desires. Yet no man could be trusted with such power, as eventually it would corrupt him. 
So they sealed off this valley and created the Academy. It is a country within a country, with different laws and stands apart from the Republic. Its purpose is to forge a man that can be trusted for a time to wield absolute power and give it back. 
“But Sir, I thought it was there to train the Advisors such as yourself.”
“No,” the Advisor laughed, “we are a byproduct of the training, the waste if you like. As senior students of the Academy, we are banned from ever entering politics, or amassing wealth, but we are respected and cared for as payment for our skills in problem solving and mediation.”
“Only the children who show the most potential are allowed to try out for the Academy. The teaching schedule is so harsh that many do not manage the first few years, and drop out of the training, returning to normal life. That is no failure, as any student that has been in the Academy would excel elsewhere. The Academy is constantly testing and removing those that do not meet their high standards or who do not meet their emotional profile. At 16, the students are marked on the back of their hand with the open hand symbol as I was. The mark signifies that they are forbidden to enter into politics except in an Advisory role. For the next 5 years, each time a skill is mastered, a line is drawn on your hand and arm.”
The Advisor showed his hand to the Cadet walking by his side. The Cadet leaned over and could see a few twisting lines emerging from the tattoo. He had not noticed them before because they had been hidden by the wrinkling and aging of the Advisor’s skin.
“By the age of 21, a Fixer is an expert on practical human behavior. He understands the true motivations of people,  behavioral economics, and group and crowd psychology. He studies the complex working of the functions of the brain. He is trained to be a master manipulator. The ultimate pragmatist, he is taught game theory to understand how to get the best result in any situation, and in the end, he is even taught the uses of terror and the horrors of war! 
By the age of 30 a Fixer has completed training. Some stay in the Academy to study more and teach. Others are asked to serve the Republic as I have. Every 10 years,the most senior Fixers meet and appoint a new Master of the order, the one they deem the most skilled of them all. He will take up residency in the Academy and will be forbidden from leaving, helping the school and must simply wait. Wait for such a day as this.
“Why is he forbidden from leaving?”
“Has it been so long that they no longer teach the obvious in schools? What is the symbol every soldier wears on his uniform?
“It is the open hand, Sir, the symbol of...” the Cadet stopped mid sentence.
“Yes, Cadet. It’s the symbol of the Academy. He is not allowed to leave unless expressly given permission by the sitting President simply because the Army is sworn first and foremost to the Master Fixer and secondly to the President and the republic.
The Advisor noticed the others were at the gate in the wall and said, “Hurry we need to catch up!”
The President had indeed reached the gate. The gate was twice the height of a grown man and three times as wide. A single thin seam ran down the middle. Both doors, dark and black, looked smooth and hard as stone. They were plain apart from in the center of each door, raised in gold, was an outline of a hand bent back and palm flat. The Vice President and the President were now in a full blown argument.
As they argued, the gate moved back as if sliding on ice and then swung inwards. It made no sound at all. The Vice President, seeing the gate open, grabbed the President’s arm.
“You must not do this!”
The President turned, red faced, “Enough! You and your supporters have had as much money as you have asked; you have used the army, the police; we have created as many laws as you have needed, you have asked for more every year, and we have given it and more. For twenty years we have given you all you asked, yet now our children die or are corrupted, our cities darken and become unsafe; we are losing! The Monsters have crossed the borders and are beginning to control the cities. For every one, we kill, two take its place. We are losing!”
“But,” the Vice President pleaded.
“I said enough!” shouted the President.
 A man stood quietly in the opening where the gate had been. He bowed gracefully. He was probably in his early 40’s and was dressed very simply, in the same flowing robe of the Advisor. If he had heard the argument, he did not show it. He bowed to the President, smiled warmly and said, “We seldom have visitors. Welcome! How can the Academy help you?”
The President, recovering his composure bowed formally back. “We have come to meet with the Master Fixer, on a matter of urgency and importance. Please direct us to him. ”
The man made no effort to move and looked around the group, his eyes taking in them all including the soldiers forming in ranks behind them. “Yes, Monsters sound like very urgent business. Indeed, I have never seen a Monster or known there were any in the Republic.”
The Vice President moved forward abruptly. “Look Sir, just take us to the Master Fixer and stop wasting our time. This is important.” 
The man was totally unmoved by the outburst, as if immune to the other’s emotion. 
“I apologize. No deception was intended,” spoke the man. “We noticed you arriving hours ago; your purpose seemed obvious, and I thought I would come down to the gates to welcome you personally. I had not expected to intrude on an argument. I am the Master Fixer.”
He raised his right arm upright pulling back his sleeve as he did so. On the back of his hand was the symbol of the Acadamy, but from it swirled an intricate pattern of lines that trailed all down his arm.
The Vice President took a step back. The President said nothing, but he took out a folded set of papers from an inside pocket on his jacket and walked forward to the Master Fixer. 
“Here is your permission to leave the Academy and the details of our problem.”
The Cadet noticed out of the corner of his eye that the soldiers were moving to stand behind the President and Vice President, but his attention and eyes were locked on the Master Fixer.
The Master took it, opened it, and quickly scanned it. He looked back, appearing slightly puzzled, at the President..
“Monsters and Red Berries?” he asked, staring at the President. The President merely nodded.
“I have been asked, and I accept,” said the Master Fixer formally and moved past the President and out of the Academy gates.
The soldiers behind the Cadet slammed their hands against their rifles and then thrust out their arms making the symbol of the Academy with their hands.
The Cadet felt sick with fear. In a single moment the greatest democracy the world had ever known, by the will of its elected leader, was for all intents and purposes under the power of an unknown dictator.

To be continued. Read on...