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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
Air Force One had not touched ground for three days. During the daylight hours, Mae found the omnipresent whine of the jet engines almost unbearable. At night, it comforted her, reminding her of being a child and falling asleep in the backseat of the family car on late drives. She was told to expect a return to Andrews in the morning. She longed to be back on the ground and home so she could sleep in her own bed.
Forteson came up behind her in the media room and touched her shoulder. He whispered into her ear, took her hand and led her away to his berth. It was 0200 and no one other than security and one of the pilots was awake. He opened the door and guided her into his cabin. It was hardly large enough to contain a twin bunk and a nightstand. The walls were dressed in warm, tactile textures. It was lit by a single LED light, casting a dim, warm glow. The cabin did not have a window.
Mae set herself down on the bunk. Forteson closed the door and sat beside her, putting his arms around her. They pressed their lips together. Forteson’s right hand pulled her blouse loose from her skirt and then slid under and up it, caressing past her abdomen to her bra. With their mouths still engaged, Mae unfastened her buttons, then she reached down and loosened Forteson’s belt. They pulled off their clothes and Forteson peeled back the covers on the bunk. They tucked their naked bodies into it with him on top. Mae wrapped her legs around him and Forteson grabbed hold of her hair with one hand. Bracing himself with his other in the narrow bed, he pressed into her. She writhed. Her mouth fell open as her back arched and her breasts heaved. He grunted as the force of his thrusts and tempo built to climax two minutes later.
They held each other in the tiny bunk, silently soaking in the tingly afterglow of their orgasm, heated, sweaty bodies intertwined. Mae wondered what he was thinking. Not whether or not he loved her, but rather if she could keep him as he moved up the rungs of power. He fell still but she knew he was awake because his breathing was silent. She cocked her head to look at his face so she could see if his eyes were open. He was staring at the ceiling.
“What are you thinking about,” she finally asked.
Forteson drew in a long breath and held it for a moment before exhaling. Then he answered. “Nietzsche.”
“And I turned my back on the rulers when I saw what they now call ruling: bargaining and haggling for power with the rabble.”
“What are you saying?” Mae asked.
Forteson grunted in response.
“Are you trying to tell me that, after all your life as an elite, you’ve just now become cynical about politics?” she asked wryly.
Forteson grunted again, affirmatively.
“I wish I still smoked,” she said.
“I miss the cigarette after sex.”
“What was it about it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe the nicotine prolonged the afterglow.”
Forteson grunted again.
Mae rolled over onto him, bracing her chin on her forearms crossed on his chest. “So what made you think of Nietzche five minutes after banging me?”
“I don’t know. You just asked me what I was thinking about.”
“Let me try this again, then. What made you think of Nietzsche?”
“Reach in that stand there…” he directed her.
Mae turned, reached out her left arm and opened the top drawer. She looked in. Inside lay a pack of Marlboro Lights, an ashtray, and a chrome Zippo lighter with the Sepulcorp logo on it.”Isn’t it illegal to smoke on an airplane?” she asked coyly.
“Laws don’t apply to us. But if you’re anxious about it, I won’t tell if you won’t”
Mae took out the pack and plucked two cigarettes loose. She gave Forteson one, lit them both and set the ashtray on top of the nightstand. She took a long drag and the nicotine rushed into her lungs and bloodstream and into her brain, making her feel as if her head was floating away from her body. She set the cigarette down in the ashtray and rested her head back on Forteson’s shoulder.
“There’s something you need to know,” Forteson said as he exhaled a long drag.
“What? That you love me? Don’t tell me that. It will ruin everything.”
“I certainly wouldn’t want to ruin everything.”
“So is that it?”
“Sorry to disappoint you, but no.”
Forteson took another pull and exhaled. Mae watched the blue smoke undulate in the golden glow of the diode light. “I need to know something.”
“What?” Mae asked, head spinning from the buzz.
“I need to know if I can trust you.”
Mae looked surprised. “Of course you can trust me,” she assured him.
“Because if I know that I can trust you then I can make things very good for you,” he continued.
“Yes, yes you can trust me.”
Forteson took another long drag, exhaled, and stared upwards in contemplation. The corners of his mouth formed into a grin.
“Well?” Mae asked.
Forteson’s face broke into a full smile. “I’m going to be the vice president.”
Well, that was easy, Mae thought to herself. “Really?” she asked out loud.
“You don’t sound all that surprised.”
“I’m excited for you, but I’m not surprised because I already knew that Clancy was out.”
“T tells you too much.”
“When?” Mae asked.
“Days. Hours, maybe.”
“Does Vanessa have something picked out for your swearing-in ceremony?”
“I haven’t told her, yet.”
“Ooh, now I feel special—you telling me before telling your wife.”
Forteson took another pull on his cigarette.
“So why you? Why not some pliable establishment guy—a senator or a governor?”
“Because the joint chiefs need a strong voice close to the president. They thought I was the best fit.”
“They’re not advising him already?”
Forteson exhaled slowly. “They are.” He turned his head and looked into Mae’s eyes. “But the joint chiefs are one heartbeat away from losing control.”
“So you’re an insurance policy?”
“Clancy has ideas that don’t align with the joint chiefs. If I’m in, then there is no risk of a change in course.” Mae wrapped her leg around the future vice president. Forteson continued. “You don’t need T to tell you how dire things are. There’s talk of a breakup, of a DC fire sale, selling off most of the federal assets, slashing the military two-thirds, mothballing four aircraft carriers. It’s like we’ve become the Soviet Union in its final days. Morale is at its nadir. The currency is ruined. Doc controls a quarter of the country and we’re losing ground every day. Two percent of servicemen defect or go AWOL each and every month. That’s twenty-two percent per year. Factor in the casualties and suicides and in six months we will be past the point of no return. The military will be watered down with conscripts to the point that it will be useless. At that point, the country will be lost. We have one last chance to put it all back together, to make America great again.”
“And you are a key part of it?”
“I’m in the circle of trust, my family, the other key families.”
Mae flicked her ash. “So what’s the plan?”
Forteson sighed, reached over and stubbed out his cigarette, then lit another. The whine of the jet engines filled in the spaces of the conversation. Their smoke rose and roiled just below the ceiling. Mae listened intently. Forteson finally continued. “There was a banking panic back in 1907. Know anything about it?”
“I’ve heard of it, but my economics education didn’t go back before the Depression.”
“Well, it was a transformative moment, an unparalleled crisis. Markets crashed. The New York banks got squeezed mercilessly by the masses—people pulling their savings out. The banks collapsed and the contagion spread. The entire economic system hung in the balance. The country itself was on the brink of ruin.”
“The families stepped in and bailed the banks out. The Morgans, the Rockefellers, the Fortesons, the Rothschilds, they invested their own fortunes to save the system, to save America.”
“Did they really have a choice?”
“Had they not done what they did, everything would be different. Who knows, maybe the communists would have taken over. We certainly wouldn’t have been able to enter World War I. How would it have ended without U.S. involvement? Britain reeling and bankrupt? Germany in control of the Middle East and Africa? The state of Israel still a pipe dream?”
“So what was their reward for saving the country?”
“The Fed, of course. A central bank, owned by the families was their payback. Congress, Wilson, they gifted it to them in exchange for saving the system. America, as it is presently constructed, would not exist without the Fed. America would be a confederation of squabbling states, trapped in the 19th Century while the rest of the world marched on. Who financed the expansion of Washington, DC? The Fed did. Who financed Social Security, the bailouts, the economic booms, the military? Hell, we’d probably all be speaking German right now, if not for the families.”
“So they’re coming to save us again?”
“Yes. But it’s so much bigger now. The families don’t have enough. Everything they have is invested in the central bank. It has to be saved. But the families are over-leveraged. Their wealth is tied up in the banks, in the debts owed to them by the U.S. government. A hard default would ruin them all. The banks, the trusts, the multinationals, the military industrial complex…they would all be destroyed. And hundreds of millions would suffer. The system has to be preserved and rebuilt.” Forteson took another long drag and exhaled. He looked into Mae’s eyes. “I’m not a fool, Mae. I know you’re close to T, but his plan is in opposition to what the families want. It’s very important that you not tell him or anyone about this. If this leaks out it could get bloody. No one wants to lose this fight. The stakes are too high. The losers will be ruined. The joint chiefs don’t want a bloody coup. Coups are damaging to national prestige. An open coup would strain our foreign policy efforts. Can I trust you to keep quiet? It’s only for a few days, until I’m sworn in.”
Mae smiled. “Yes. Of course you can trust me.”
“Good. Because if you prove yourself reliable there will be a role for you. I’ll help you. I’m already a key influencer. In a week, I’ll be a heartbeat from the presidency. In a year, I’ll be the president. You’ll get a secretary position.”
“Secretary of what?”
“What difference does it make? HHS, HUD, Education, Interior. I know you’re talented. And you’ll have paid your dues.”
“What about T?”
“Mae, I need to be frank with you. Your boss is widely perceived to be the architect of this economic disaster. Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe he’s a scapegoat. I don’t know what he could have done to stop it. But rightly or wrongly, they are going to pin it all on him. He’s finished in government. The banks, Goldman, Chase, they won’t touch him after. He’ll take a lucrative retirement in the French Riviera or the Bahamas.” Forteson sat up in bed. “I’ve got to piss. I’ll be right back.” Forteson got up out of the bed. He stood naked at the side of the bunk and stubbed his cigarette out in the ash tray. Then he slid on his trousers and t shirt and left the room.
Mae listened for his footsteps as they faded away down the galley. When she couldn’t hear them any longer, she grabbed her cell and texted T.
“Forteson will be VP. Bankers and JCs behind it. You are out.”