The next few weeks were hard for Stan. The announcement that he would be considering a proposed move to potentially assess the possibility of lifting the state mask mandate in the near future was not as well received as he had hoped. He was ridiculed on social media, with people accusing him of doing “too little too late,” while some of his supporters were outraged, claiming these measures were a slippery slope which could end in unvaccinated people being treated the same as everyone else. A series of headline-dominating events—war in Europe, floods in northern Australia, and a worldwide resurgence of the perm hairstyle—meant Covid-19, and the government’s response to it, was now barely mentioned. Worst of all, Stan no longer got to have his daily press briefings. He rarely saw himself on television anymore, and when he did, it was just part of some generic news report about the upcoming election. Stan was suffering the most devastating curse to ever befall an elected public servant—no one was talking about him.
In the state government offices, Stan and his colleagues met to discuss strategies for the final weeks of the election campaign. Arguments were passionately delivered, debate raged, and any contradiction was met with the utmost offence. It was a joy for all involved. Except Stan. Stan sat alone by the window. He offered no input to the meeting; he just sat there motionless and stared out at the grey sky like a catatonic psychiatric patient. Wearing his pyjamas and slippers to the office only added to the likeness.
A cheer went up. Bill Fishburg, state minister for education, and leader of the government’s ethics committee, had discovered a video which appeared to show the opposition treasurer, Angela Rhubarb-Smythe, kicking an old man. The video in fact showed Ms Rhubarb-Smythe dancing (badly) at her son’s wedding, and the angle of the camera made it seem she was kicking her own father, who, judging by his size in the video, was either a considerable distance beyond Ms Rhubarb-Smythe, or four feet tall. With a little editing, and an overdub of someone saying, “I hate gays,” in the opposition treasurer’s voice, the video would make an effective addition to a campaign ad. “Hey Stan!” called Donna Steeple, the state finance minister. “Come see this video Bill found. This could be an election-winner!”
Stan sighed and kept staring out the window. Barney Fyfe, the state minister for footpaths (he was more there as an in-case-of-emergency-scapegoat, if a scandal should threaten the premier’s career), came over and put a hand on Stan’s shoulder. “Are you all right, Stan?” he said.
Stan groaned and turned away.
“I know things have been quiet lately,” said Barney, “but it’ll pick up again. After the election, right? Oh hey, I know what will cheer you up—” he went to the meeting table, then returned with a newspaper. He placed the paper on Stan’s lap and tapped the front page “—take a look at these poll numbers. We’re ahead. Can you believe it? What a turnaround. Things are looking up, and it’s all thanks to your leadership, Stan.”
Stan grunted and leaned away from him.
“Well,” said Barney, “we’ll just be over here discussing campaign ads if you feel like joining us.” He headed back to the meeting.
Stan looked down at the newspaper. Fifty-one percent of voters now preferred him for premier. He sighed and opened the paper. The usual headlines, usual stories. There was a small article on page six about the failure of the federal government to deliver the stealth helicopters it had promised. What happened to the two point four billion dollars of taxpayer money? Was Gavin’s Stealth Helicopter Solutions a legitimate military aircraft manufacturing company? Were the prime minister and Stan Berserkervich involved in corruption? “Bloody hell, they can’t leave it alone,” muttered Stan. “Always trying to take me down. None of these hacks knows what it takes to govern a state. Parasites, the lot of them. Probably unvaccinated too.”
He continued turning the pages. Possible peace talks in Europe, terrorist attack in Africa, some guy in America did something crazy. And then, on page twenty-eight, just before the business section, a small headline caught his eye: Study Finds Age may be a Factor in Covid Risk. Stan skimmed the article— elderly at significantly greater risk… account for majority of deaths… average age of deceased, 84 years… Stan’s jaw dropped. He put his hand to his face. “That’s it,” he whispered. He tossed the paper aside and jumped up from his chair. He turned to his fellow state politicians. “That’s it!” he shouted.
His colleagues fell silent and looked at him. “What is?” asked one.
“I know what to do now,” said Stan. His hands jittered as his mind raced. “It’s… It’s so simple… I can take care of both problems… I can save the country!”
“That’s great, Stan,” said Barney. “But… what do you mean exactly?”
Stan pointed at a young man at the table. “Phil, get my brother on the phone.”
The young man looked around, then looked at Stan. “My name is Julian,” he said. “There’s no one here called Phil.”
“Great,” said Stan, his eyes wide and darting about. He scratched his neck furiously. “It’s all coming together. Helicopters, get the helicopters. And then I can end Covid once and for all!”
Stan’s colleagues looked at each other. “Covid?” said the minister for sport. “What is that?”
“Oh, Covid,” said the defence minister. “That was that virus, remember?”
“Oh yeah. That was what, like, two months ago? I thought we were finished with that.”
“No, just until after the election. Isn’t that what you said, Stan?”
“I can do it!” yelled Stan. He was beginning to sweat. “I can save everyone. I just… get the helicopters!” He pointed at Julian and then ran from the room.
Everybody watched him leave, and then Julian looked around. “What helicopters?”
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