Buried a thousand feet beneath Ohio, the ten trillion dollar, UN-constructed SuperBunker can shelter a million members of the global elite indefinitely, with all the comforts of the surface including simulated blue skies, boutique shopping, and three golf courses. The President of the United States, Arman “Our Man” Manfred, regains consciousness in one of the bunker’s six hospitals. Surrounded by his trusted advisors and his official hagiographer, his office becomes ensnared in the Machiavellian underworld of SuperBunker geo-politics. The situation worsens when the president’s Russian and Chinese counterparts execute Protocol 4, sealing the blast doors and severing all contact with the surface, relegating the world’s leaders to governing a mere computer simulation of the world above. An attempt to blackmail the POTUS with a salacious video taken by his own security agency forces President Manfred into seclusion. With his office infiltrated by a traitor and hobbled by incompetence, he attempts one final ‘Hail Mary’ that might just save the office of the president… even if it destroys the world in the process.
Retired Major George Russell Kilgore had been a professional soldier for over half a century. He was just shy of seventy-three years old. Every morning, at four a.m., he would get out of his bunk, relieve himself, drink sixteen ounces of chocolate whey powder spiked with two raw eggs and two shots of Smirnoff, and then go for a seven-mile run… shirtless… even in January.
A graduate of West Point, Kilgore had the distinction of being the only member of the U.S. armed forces to have been in combat in twelve conflicts those being: Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Iraq War I, Somalia, Iraq War II, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Niger, and Operation Restore Democracy in Puerto Rico. He was wounded six times and had a metal plate installed in his head to replace a chunk of his skull blasted away in a firing range accident. He was also kidnapped once, while in Pakistan, but managed to steal one of his captor’s cell phones and order a cruise missile strike directly onto his exact location using the phone’s GPS. He was the only survivor of the blast. At fifty years old, he snuck into the West Point football locker room, put on a uniform, and inserted himself onto the kickoff team in a game against the hated rivals from Navy. He forced a fumble on his first special teams play and recorded two more unassisted tackles before the staff finally figured out who he was and took him out. The NCAA considered making Army forfeit the game for using an ineligible player, but the penalty was waved when the hated rivals of Navy protested out of respect for the major. Widely admired and revered, everyone, including his wife, children, and grandchildren, addressed him as “Sir” or “Major”…
…Everyone, that is, except for the POTUS who referred to Major George Russell Kilgore as “Krusty”.
Although retired, Kilgore continued to serve his country in a position known as “The Fullback”— not because of his football exploits, but rather because he carried the nuclear football— the leather satchel containing a mobile satellite telecommunications system, a dedicated, hardened laptop computer, and a laminated manual resembling a Denny’s menu that instructed the POTUS on how to go about blowing up the earth.
Major George Russell Kilgore was presently seated in a leather recliner in the situation room of the Brown House, looking terribly uncomfortable in is stretched, full dress uniform. He preferred to be standing. There were seven recliners in the room, arranged in a circle. Fricke was there, as well as Haberdash, who sat with his legs crossed scratching the arch of his foot with his pen. Buckminster, the Secretary of Defense, was present, as was Secretary of State Dexter Fricke. Two of the recliners were empty. One belonged to White House Chief of Staff Frank Tibbles. The other empty recliner was raised onto a dais and was slightly larger than the others. The executive chair had the presidential seal emblazoned onto the headrest which formed a halo around the POTUS’s head whenever he sat there.
“So…” Hab started in looking at Kilgore. “Do you carry that thing around twenty-four hours a day?”
“Yes sir,” Kilgore answered.
“So you sleep with that bag?”
“I have it beside my bunk, handcuffed to my wrist, sir.”
“And what all’s inside?”
Kilgore glanced over at Buckminster before answering. Buckminster nodded. “The satchel contains a battery-powered, satellite phone with a long range, communications array. The electronics are hardened to withstand disruption by radio flash. In addition to the array, there is a voice activated laptop computer with a video touch screen that provides the president with instructions on how to handle various thermonuclear scenarios.”
Kilgore glanced at Buckminster again
“I can explain,” Buckminster interrupted. “Scenarios such as: Is this a retaliatory scenario or a first strike? Is this a full-scale attack? Where is the enemy launch originating? What is the status of our allies? Things like that.”
“So the president enters those parameters and the screen tells him what to do?”
“Basically, yes,” Buckminster continued. “The computer will make three suggestions: a good, a better, and a best solution.”
“Why wouldn’t the president just choose the ‘best’ solution?”
“I suppose it’s done that way to provide for lack of Pareto Optimality.”
“…Optimality. Although the processor has been loaded with thousands of scenarios, it is quite possible that there is no single, optimal, ultimate, best solution. The top three solutions, ranked by projected risk and projected return, are suggested as ‘good’, ‘better’, and ‘best’.”
Hab bore a look of confusion so Buckminster continued.
“…For example, let’s say that a ‘good’ solution might be to shock-and-awe one or two civilian population centers with a 1 megaton airburst. There might be drawbacks to that such as what is the likelihood that the enemy will retaliate four-to-one. Maybe the ‘better’ solution might be to target a handful of enemy industrial centers with ten megaton assets. This might dampen their military resolve but may harden them, politically. Perhaps The ‘best’ solution might be to launch a full scale, pre-emptive attack and knock them out completely.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“The computer runs tens of thousands of simulations called Monte Carlo experiments by tweaking the parameters and plotting the risk return vector trade-offs of each. It then ranks the solutions by units of return per unit of risk. The ‘good’ solution, in the crude example I gave, is very risky in that there is a percentage risk that our enemy may respond with a full-scale retaliation. The return per unit of risk would be very low. On the other hand, the ‘best’ solution, a full-scale, pre-emptive attack, would be very low risk.”
“Very low risk? How could a full-scale attack be considered very low risk? Wouldn’t that mean the end of the world?”
“Essentially yes, it would, but you’re making a subjective value judgment. The computer does not make value judgements. It is only evaluating objective, quantifiable performance indicators.”
“What does that mean?”
“Quantifiable measures such as: what is the statistical likelihood that the objective will be achieved or not? In a full-scale attack, the objective measure of risk would be the statistical likelihood of preserving the government in lieu of obliterating all of the enemy’s cities. Those odds are actually very high in a full scale, pre-emptive attack, now that we have the SuperBunker. The risk of failure is very low, thus the return to risk ratio is quite positive.”
“That’s a pretty heavy burden you’re carrying there,” Fricke remarked to Major Kilgore.
“How so?” interrupted Buckminster.
“Well,” Fricke answered, “he’s carrying the computer that can launch doomsday. That seems like a heavy burden to me.”
“The major isn’t burdened at all,” Buckminster snorted. “All he has to do is open the briefcase and turn the god damn thing on. The president or one of his advisors can do almost everything else.”
“If I may, sir,” interjected Major Kilgore in his gravelly voice, “I do see it as quite a responsibility. I mean, I do have to make it available to be used.”
“But that doesn’t require any decision on your part,” Buckminster declared. “When the president asks, you turn it on. There’s nothing to it.”
“Well, yeah but—” Major Kilgore replied.
“Yeah but what?” Buckminster interrupted.
“What if the president is… what if he is incapacitated or somehow unable?” Kilgore asked.
Just then, the door to the situation room opened and the president entered. Everyone stood as he walked past and took a seat in his executive recliner with the halo of the presidential seal wrapping behind his dome in the headrest. Hab took out a notepad from his shirt pocket and reclined. The others sat back down together.
“What were you guys talking about?” asked the president.
“Oh, nothing,” Fricke replied.
“Oh, it was something,” Buckminster explained.
“What was it?” asked the president.
Buckminster’s eyes turned to Major Kilgore.
“What is it, Krusty?” the president asked.
“Spit it out.”
“We were discussing what-if scenarios, sir.”
“About the nuclear football, sir.”
“Like what kind of scenarios?”
“Buckminster interrupted: “The Major was wondering if there could be a situation whereby he would be compelled to refuse the president access to the nuclear football, sir.”
“What?” the POTUS asked Buckminster. He turned to Kilgore. “Is that true?”
“Sir,” Major Kilgore explained, “I was not implying any specific situation.”
“What kind of situation were you implying?” asked the POTUS.
“Sir, I was merely suggesting that if the president was unable to make a rational decision regarding nuclear war, due to incapacity or some extraordinary circumstance, that perhaps my duty to my country might require me to question granting him access until we were certain he was capable.”
“By he, I assume you’re referring to me.”
“I need to reiterate that I was not referring to anyone specifically, sir. I was considering the possibility in general. I have no reason to question your capability, sir.”
“But you were questioning the capability of the president— the commander in chief.”
“Well, given a very extreme set of circumstances, sir. But I don’t foresee…”
“So you were questioning the authority of the commander in chief.”
“Sir, but I…”
“I am relieving you of your duty. You are dismissed.”
“You are dismissed. You are no longer the fullback. Please turn in your badge to secret service on your way out.”
Fricke tried to intervene. “Sir, do you think—”
“Quiet,” the POTUS snapped. “Major Kilgore, we thank you for your service. My decision is final.”
Major Kilgore glanced right towards an astonished Dexter Fricke then left towards a disgusted Fitzmaurice Buckminster. Then he glanced briefly at Haberdash who just shrugged. Then he stared with piercing grays eyes directly at the president.
“That will be all, Major Kilgore,” said the POTUS.
Major Kilgore stood up, clicked his heels together and saluted. “Yes sir.”
“You can leave the football right there,” the POTUS advised.
Kilgore entered a code into his handcuffs, releasing his wrist, then set the satchel on the table where he was seated. He made a crisp turn and exited the situation room.
Fricke’s eyes darted between the president and Buckminster. Haberdash was scribbling in his notepad as if he was trying to disappear entirely within it. A faint smirk formed on the president’s face, one so faint that anyone who wasn’t dialed in to the entire exchange would have missed it. Manfred waited until the door closed.
“I’m appointing you as the new fullback.”
“Sir, I respectfully decline.”
“Bullshit. It’s you. You’re only one of maybe three people in this world I trust.”
Buckminster leaned in and raised a hand to object. “Sir, I don’t want that responsibility.”
“It’s a direct god damn order. Oh, don’t get all nutty on me. Look, there’s nothing to it. It’s just for while we’re down here. I’ll appoint someone else on the surface if this blows over. You just carry that bag around at all times. When I give the command, you open it, take out the computer, and boot it up. It’s on Windows. What could possibly be so difficult?”
“I won’t accept ‘no’.” The president turned to Buckminster. “You don’t think Kilgore keeps the Denny’s menu somewhere else, do you?”
“I think that is highly unlikely, Mr. President.
“Check it out.”
“No, next Tuesday when Kilgore’s sipping a mojito on a beach in Naples using it as a sunshade. Of course, now!”
Buckminster got up out of his recliner and went over to the satchel. All eyes locked on as he unlatched it. He reached into the pocket. The president’s eyes widened. Fricke stared, unblinking. Haberdash’s thumb found its way into his left nostril— which was what it tended to do when he found himself in tense situations.
“It’s here, sir.”
“Good. Give it to Fricke.” The president pointed. “Fricke, study that thing. Memorize it. Keep it on your person or with the satchel at all times.”
Buckminster slid the tri-fold, laminated instructions across the table to Fricke who looked like he was battling indigestion.
“Now…,” continued the POTUS as he waited for Buckminster to take his seat. “Now we can finally get down to business.”
“What’s on the agenda?” asked Hab.
“Only one thing… Frank Tibbles,” answered the president. “Fricke, what’s the latest report on your progress?”
“What? Oh, right,” Fricke gathered himself. “I just came from the UN bunker office. I would have texted you their answer but I’m not comfortable sending these communications over SuperBunker WiFi.”
“Of course. Of course. What did they say? Are they gonna tell that Wang kid to pack his bags?”
“I’m afraid not, sir.”
“I’m sorry, sir. They said that, according to their interpretation of the codex, a person is granted permanent residence upon entry and that status is irrevocable. The PIN Tibbles holds belongs to Chung Wang, now.”
“This is unacceptable. What the hell am I supposed to do without my Chief of Staff? How many UN chinks were party to that decision?”
“Sir? I don’t know that any Chinese nationals were—”
“Bullshit. I need my Chief of Staff.”
“Perhaps you should consider appointing a new one, sir?” Buckminster suggested.
“Who asked you?” bristled the president. “This is a big problem, Fricke.”
“I understand fully, sir.”
“No, I don’t think you do. If you did you would have found a solution by now.”
“I’m doing the best I can, sir.”
“Fricke, do you know what Tibbles is?”
“I think he’s in Maryland at the moment.”
“Not where is he, Fricke. What is he? Do you know what Tibbles is?”
He’s the white house chief of staff, sir?”
“He’s the halfback! Jesus.”
“The halfback, sir?”
“Bucky, fill him in.”
Buckminster cleared his throat. “Mr. Fricke, Tibbles is what we call the ‘halfback’. He is the carrier of the launch codes.”
“That’s for redundancy, I thought,” Fricke answered.
“This is not for civilian ears, Mr. Fricke,” Buckminster advised. “It’s not done for redundancy. It’s done for what is known as the ‘Two Man’ system. The president must have both the halfback and the fullback present in order to launch nuclear weapons— to instigate the process otherwise known as ‘The Hail Mary’.”
“So have the president appoint someone else,” Fricke suggested.
“It’s not that simple. The halfback has the codes embedded on his person. In order to appoint a new halfback, he must be present, but in order to be present so the codes can be transferred, he must be down here, in the bunker.”
“So why don’t we just send someone up to the surface, do the switch, then bring them back down?” Fricke asked.
“It’s complicated,” Buckminster explained to Fricke. “Any ‘handoff’ of authentication codes requires the presence of the president.”
“How so?” asked Fricke.
“I don’t want someone else, I want Tibbles!” shouted the president as he pounded his fist on the table.
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