“Be not afraid for the terror by night…” In part 2 of the Indivisible series, the nation boils in economic collapse and sectarian violence. The president withdraws into his flying bunker to implement his Amero Plan to restore order. Maiden Lane finds herself in peril beyond the government’s zone of control. Marzan is separated from his company during a firefight and rescues an orphaned boy. Jess Clayton defends her home and young daughter from repossession and armed looters.
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“They take up arms against their ruler; but in this they deceive themselves, for experience will prove that they will have actually worsened their lot.”
—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
Five hundred thousand people gathered on the National Mall beneath the five hundred-foot-tall Masonic phallus dedicated to the memory of George Washington. They waved placards and shouted slogans calling for more government-funded jobs programs, the resignation of the president, and free money—and why not? The cronies had all gotten theirs. How about some cash for the great unwashed? These middle-class people were reeling; they were economic refugees from the unabated financial crises that had wiped out their savings, increased prices fifty times over, and wrecked their lives. Some hurled curses and raged, but the vast majority stood quietly and politely clapped as each speaker got up at the podium before the reflecting pond and actualized their “I have a dream” moments. No media was present and the demonstration was invisible to the rest of the country. When their permit expired at 8 p.m., battalions of Americorps and mounted police in riot gear converged, hosing the protestors down with skunk water and tossing flashbang grenades into the clusters of humanity. By 10 p.m., it was all over, and an army of migrant workers and garbage trucks was on scene cleaning up the mess left behind. Suffice it to say, the peaceful demonstration failed to convince the president to resign.
Maiden Lane’s alarm went off at 4:15 the next morning. She threw her feet onto the floor and levered herself up out of bed with the vigor of an Olympic gymnast. In ten minutes, she was on her stationary bike, grinding out the miles, bronze quadriceps flexing, sweat beading and dripping off her body, black spandexed breasts heaving, inhaling, chest expanding, exhaling, abs flexing. She finished at 5:00, and began washing and exfoliating and shaving in her twenty-five-square-foot, cobalt-tiled shower. She dried and straightened her hair, applied her makeup, and dressed. Breakfast was a poached egg. She scrolled AmericaOne.com as she spooned the egg’s yolk and sipped her special blend coffee, beans hand-picked by an actual Incan field laborer…although he was not named Juan Valdez.
“Drones Dis-Employ Thousands of Troops reported the headline. Just after that: “Statistics Show Teen Pregnancy Declines by Age 25,” and below that: “President Unveils Massive Package.” She clicked on the television…
“…So how would you describe the present situation?” an androgynous anchor asked his guest. “Are we winning the war?”
The Secretary of Homeland Security hesitated. “Um, yes. We are winning but we don’t call this operation a war. It’s very important to draw that distinction. A war involves nation states, some degree of combat symmetry. Geneva Convention and all that. This is what we call insurgency counter-insurgency. ICI for short. So it’s not a war. But to answer your first question, yes we are winning. We’re in what you would call ‘mop up’ operations. Large numbers of the terrorist leadership have been taken out. At last count, twenty-nine of thirty-five of our most wanted have been killed or captured. The insurgency leadership has been wiped out. We are continuing to hunt down and scatter the remaining cells. We’ve infiltrated several of the more significant ones and are ‘in their huddle,’ as we like to say. The country has been saved by the tireless efforts of the tens of thousands of patriots in Homeland Security, FBI, armed forces and police.”
“And the president, too,” added the anchor.
“Absolutely. We have had the full support of the president every step of the way, and will going forward. He had to make some very difficult decisions at times, but they turned out to be the right ones. We fully expect complete order to be restored before winter.”
“Some have argued that the response was heavy-handed and that the insurrection, if I can call it that, might have been dealt with in another way.”
“Can I just say that we are operating in real world situations out there. There are known unknowns, but many unknown unknowns and even unknown knowns and known knowns. The task is daunting and complex. The insurgents—sorry, let’s call them what they are: the terrorists—they have some advantages related to terrain, logistics, small sympathetic local populations…”
“Now you make it sound like they’re winning.”
“No. Not at all. I’m just trying to say that the situation is complex and often requires rapid, forceful response. A soft touch or nudge isn’t going to get things done. This is the real world. Things have to be dealt with in a manner which leadership feels gives us the best chance for success. These are terrorists we’re dealing with here. They abide by no known rules. They use mines to kill and maim our troops and destroy our assets. They shoot at our men and women in uniform. They are uncooperative and hostile. There is no diplomatic resolution here. We can second guess things, play Monday morning quarterback, but we are all in strong agreement that everything that was done and is being done has been necessary. We are trying to win a war.”
“I thought you just said it wasn’t a war.”
“Right. I don’t mean war in the traditional sense. Not a war war. I meant that in the broader sense that this is part of the war on terror but more specifically a full scale ICI…but not a war…”
Mae heard a car pull up. She looked across her reclaimed mill wood vintage oak table, over the porcelain Tiffany’s tea service and the internet-connected DeLonghi Toaster Oven with integrated panini press, under the pleated shade crafted of Egyptian Ertegun cotton and through the triple-paned, argon-infused, green-rated glass of her kitchen window. A driver popped out of the limo parked on the street, clamored up the steps, and rang the doorbell of her brownstone. Mae tossed her titanium egg dish, silver spoon and un-slipped and unglazed English clay designer coffee mug into the hand-hammered copper sink and darted to the door. She handed the chauffeur her suitcase and went down to the car, descending the stone stairs with intense purpose, a furrow creasing her brow. Her posture was erect but her movements were fluid. The driver followed, scurrying behind. She stopped at the door looking annoyed as he passed her and set her bag down to open the door. T was waiting inside.
“Good morning,” he said without raising his eyes from his mobile, his greeting drowned out by the helicopter thumping that had just erupted overhead.
She slid in elegantly, preventing her hem from retracting and exposing anything beyond her upper thigh. The door closed with a suction sound, sealing out the external racket. She took out her phone as T remained preoccupied with his. The car sped away
It took over an hour and a half to travel the five miles to Reagan National Airport. Passing through the Rock Creek Gate had always been an ordeal, ever since it had been erected in the wake of the dollar devaluation—or “dollar reset” as the government officially coined it. The checkpoint backed cars up all the way to Virginia Avenue NW. Thankfully, the Treasury Department merited a patrician-class escort that evaded most of the queue. The limo escaped over the slow-rolling Potomac and onto the George Washington. They eventually wheeled onto the tarmac at Reagan, pulling under a purple awning a hundred steps from the cyan underbelly of the president’s personal modified C5. The door opened with a reverse suction sound and the noise of jets and helicopters flooded in.
“So this is the new Air Force One,” Mae remarked as she stepped out of the car.
“Wait until you see the inside,” T remarked. He had not spoken the entire ride and was still reading his phone as he got out of the car. Mae came up close beside him, invading his space as if they were a couple. He walked with her that way up the escalator, past the marine honor guard and through the portal door into the president’s personal flying bunker.
“What do you think?” T finally asked as Mae absorbed the interior that reminded her of a boutique.
“It doesn’t feel like we’re on an airplane,” she answered.
T pointed. “Go that way, through that door.”
She walked through a lobby of small sofas, delicate glass lamps and brass-framed mirrors, a Van Goghish canvas, a Zulu mask, a silver platter cradling a petrified dinosaur egg, a framed reproduction of the Emancipation Proclamation and a signed photograph of the president standing on a golf course with Snoop Dog and Matt Damon. They pushed through the bi-fold doors emblazoned with the presidential seal. Before them were four rows of leather seats that reclined and swiveled 360 degrees and were equipped with flip-out LED screens. They passed through another bi-fold door with the seal. Through it, they found an aisle with enclosures on either side, each with two more seats. These fully reclined into a bed with extendable privacy blinders on either side. Mae and T found their assigned enclosure, marked with a nameplate, and stowed their carry-ons.
“I can’t believe you brought me along, T. This is amazing. What a terrific experience.”
“The president wanted to reward you for your efforts…for taking one for the team.”
“Not sure why he would be impressed. It didn’t end so well with Tsang.”
“We put you through a great deal, Mae. We knew it was a suicide mission of sorts.”
“Pardon me,” interrupted a gentleman wearing a tuxedo and white gloves. “Is there anything I can get you? Appetizers? Beverages?”
“I’ll have a Bookers,” answered T.
“And the Madame?”
Mae looked at T before responding. He nodded.
“A vodka martini. Belvedere if you have it. Up. Blue cheese stuffed olives…Bella di Cerignolas. If not, then dry with just a twist of lemon.”
“Of course, Madame.”
The waiter withdrew, replaced shortly after by a diminutive man with receding hair and a rigid but narrow posture. “Good morning,” he said, in an over-compensating baritone.
“Have you met?” T asked Mae.
“Not officially,” Mae answered as she extended her hand to the president’s chief of staff.
“Gabe, this is Maiden Lane, my top deputy.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Mae,” Gabe replied. “Great show with PBC. The president is well aware of how difficult that situation was.”
“What did I tell you?” T said, looking meaningfully at Mae.
Despite the praise, Mae felt uncomfortable shaking Gabe’s child-sized, delicate hand. She gazed down to avoid prolonged eye contact but had time to notice he was wearing lifts.When standing, she guessed she was a full head taller than him, taller than that in heels. The handshake lasted too long and she sensed that he was aware of her discomfort. She smiled and he withdrew his hand.
“So do you know the schedule?” Gabe asked. He continued without waiting for an answer. “At 0800, the president will have his coffee and breakfast and watch an hour of AmericaOne. We’ll convene in the romper room at 0900. T, you’re slated for 9:05. You’ll have seven minutes to brief him on your proposal. Don’t go over. You need to leave time for Q & A, too. By 9:45, we’ll be into domestic security issues so you two can excuse yourselves. Just ghost away. No announcement is necessary. Until then, make yourselves comfortable.”
“How long will we be airborne?” T asked.
“We stop every twelve hours to empty the tanks and refuel. We’ll more or less be flying a big figure eight over the middle of the country, returning to either Andrews or Reagan on the 14th.”
“How is it decided which?”
“The president prefers a coin flip. For now, relax. Get some work done. Enjoy the amenities. There’s a full service bar. There’s a gym. I hear that you work out religiously, Mae. There’s also a golf simulator, a bowling alley with a gyroscopically balanced lane, and a movie theater—although Forteson’s probably getting the DoD feeds down there. Have you met him, Mae?”
“Uh, no. His heir, David. You know what? I think you should go down there and talk to Forte. I bet you two’ll hit it off. He’s a quite a rising star, not unlike yourself.”
“I thought he was running the family business,” Mae said.
T rolled his eyes.
“Sepulcorp more or less runs itself. David’s considerable talents were called into service.” Gabe continued. “He’s being groomed by DoD and possibly the president for a cabinet appointment.”
“I’m going to steal T for a while if you don’t mind. Go say hello to Forte.”
“Where’s the theater, again?” Mae asked.
“Go that way, then take the escalator down. You can’t miss it.”
Mae got up and Gabe pushed his way into their berth and sat in her chair.
“Oh, but I just ordered,” she said.
“We’ll have it sent down,” T answered before directing his full attention to the chief of staff.
Mae stepped out past the partition into the aisle and made her way aft. She passed ten partitions populated by White House well-to-dos scanning their mobile devices, nursing beverages or napping. She walked around a conference chamber, through a lounge, and found a spiral escalator. At the bottom, she came upon a double doorway opening into a dark chamber. She walked in. There were twenty plush seats in the theater. AmericaOne Business Channel was playing on a giant screen. An anchor with glistening eyes and translucent teeth read the news. One person was sitting in the second row.
“In other news, the Bureau of Labor Statistics just released the unemployment numbers and it’s great news for America! The unemployment rate has dropped for the third month in a row to just under twelve percent. When asked for comment, the White House released a memo praising the efforts of the Council for Economic Recovery, citing the 300,000 jobs created last month alone. The Industry Infrastructure and Security Program is strengthening the country’s economy and security with public partnerships. 200,000 new law enforcement officers are expected to be on the streets by year’s end, working to keep us all safe. The White House memo also praised the resilience and patience of the American people.
Yesterday, the first lady gave the commencement address at the Americorps graduation ceremony. She reminded the class of nearly four thousand of their momentous duty to defend democracy and their responsibility to the democratically-elected government of our great republic. She reminded the eighteen and nineteen year olds of the power that comes from the right attitude and that anti-government speech is hate speech that should always be confronted or reported whenever it is encountered.
And finally, as part of our ‘America Strong’ segment…”
“David Forteson?” Mae interrupted.
He turned. “Yes. Who’s there? Is that Linda?”
“No.” She stepped into the theater so that her eyes could adjust. “My name is Maiden Lane, Mae for short. I work for T.”
Forteson hit the remote, pausing the network feed. He pressed another and the lights came up. He turned and looked her over, but he wasn’t ogling. Then his face brightened. “Oh yes, I’ve heard about you.”
He stood and moved into the aisle and approached. He was tall and thin and in his mid-forties. His appearance and posture was crisp, and he was sharply dressed in a charcoal suit. With his black hair greased back, he invoked the image of Jay Gatsby that Mae had held in her mind ever since she read Fitzgerald’s novel as a teenager. At that moment, she regretted that she was wearing conservative navy blue.
“Oh? So what have you heard about me?” she asked.
“Ha,” Forteson smirked. “They say that you’re T’s honey badger.”
“That’s right,” he said as he glided towards her.
“A rodent?” she asked.
“No. No. No. Badgers aren’t rodents. They are ruthless, tenacious, fearless and resourceful predators. They devour rodents. That is, if there’s nothing more worthwhile to prey upon.”
” I guess I’m supposed to take that as a compliment?” Mae asked, looking unimpressed.
“Of course,” he answered. “Is this your first time?”
“On Air Force One?”
Forteson grinned. “Yes.”
“It is. And you?”
“This will be my fourth flying bunker tour. But hopefully the last in my current capacity.”
“Years of planning and hard work are coming together.”
“Ooh, a plan,” Mae replied with playful mockery. “Do tell me more.”
Forteson pursed his lips and rubbed his chin. “I suppose it’s many plans, actually. Three main ones, anyway. A three-legged stool, as they say. Economics, politics, security. Security is predominant.”
“You’re being vague. I must be prying. I imagine you know a great deal about security. That is Sepulcorp’s business. Won’t you be taking it over, soon?”
“I think my father’s intending to run things into his eighties. I don’t intend to wait around that long. I’ve said too much. I’m boring you. Did you come down here to watch AmericaOne?”
“I’m surprised someone like you watches it.”
“Why?” Forteson asked.
“It’s engineered for mass consumption.”
“If I was being frank, I would describe it as propaganda, myself.”
“You’re not uncomfortable using that term while sitting on Air Force One?” Mae asked.
“It is what it is, Mae. Times like these demand blunt pragmatism. Honesty between members of the leadership is crucial for continuity of government.”
“But not for the masses?”
“God no. An honest dialogue with the public is impossible. The public can’t even comprehend a TV sitcom. Expecting the hoard to grasp the realities and demands of saving this republic would be like trying to convince a three-year-old to choose broccoli over ice cream.”
Mae laughed. “So they get bread and circuses, instead?”
“I liken it more to religion. Everyone is getting the calling.”
“So why do you watch it?”
“For its brilliance. I enjoy watching how they navigate the precarious minefield of molding public consciousness. If the media is too forceful, too demanding, their message will be resisted. In a sense, the media is a barometer of the public. They still have to give the masses what they want…even if they want them to hear the Gospel.”
“Sounds theoretical to me,” Mae said.
“Trust me. You really can discern the attitude of the public by the media they’re willing to digest.”
“I guess I always thought it was the other way around. I thought the media manufactured public consensus.”
“It does. But it has to tell them what they want to hear in order to do it. You must think I’m a bore, Ms. Lane. Have you seen the rest of Air Force One?”
“Actually no. We just boarded.”
“Then please allow me to give you a tour.”
Forteson walked Mae out of the theater, guiding her with one hand placed just faintly upon the small of her back.