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.
Grave concern filled Tibbles’s face. Fricke’s eyes darted between Tibbles and the president and Buckminster. The entire COGCON cabinet had been hastily assembled. They sat around the conference table, eyes now fixed on the POTUS. Haberdash, sitting in a corner, scratched the inside of his ear canal with his little finger, then dislodged the wax from his fingertip with a flick. The president leaned back in his chair and rocked. The squeaking of the chair permeated the silence like the mating croaks of a swamp toad.
Faucett, the POTUS’s Brown House butler, had recently been promoted to administrative assistant. He poked his head into the room. “Sir…”
The president stopped rocking. “Yes?”
“There’s still no answer from the president of China.”
The president folded his hands and rocked again.
Several minutes later, the Hades Level servants wheeled in carts delivering lunch: turkey clubs with Weinstein pickles and Plochman’s mustard, and tuna fish sandwiches with coleslaw. Side salads and potato chips were also available. The cabinet members ate in the stark UltraBunker while the giant screen projected a rectangular void with only an occasional photon of primordial light flickering within its boundaries of blackness.
After lunch, Faucett poked his face in again. “Mr. President?”
“There’s still nothing to report, sir.”
Fricke leaned forward. “Maybe we should contact the Russians. Perhaps they’ve heard something.”
“Good idea. Bring Timmy up.”
Fricke picked up the conference phone and asked the operator to connect the UnderKremlin— which is what the president had dubbed the Russian equivalent of the UltraBunker.
…But the screens remained black.
Fricke held on the line. Tibbles’s eyes darted between Fricke and the president. Haberdash dug the eraser end of his pencil into his sock to scratch his arch.
“Well…?” asked the POTUS.
“No answer yet, sir,” replied Fricke as he held.
“I knew it.”
“Knew what, sir?” asked Tibbles.
“I knew them slav-commie bastards were in it with the Chinks.”
“Actually, I think only the Chinese are communist, sir,” replied the secretary of the interior.
“Who asked you?” the POTUS snapped at her before turning back to Fricke. “Anything yet?”
“Still nothing, sir.”
The POTUS scowled, punishing Fricke for his failure of an idea. Fricke relented and hung up.
“Turn on the game!” ordered the POTUS.
The secretary of transportation grabbed the remote and fumbled with the buttons. The black viewing screens filled with a menu and then gridiron action. It was the game of the week pitting the Saxons against the Normans. This elated the POTUS as he was the biggest fan of the Saxons and a close, personal friend of their coach, Vincent Fangbright. They had played football and roomed together at Yale and once chanted secret rites together with seven other fraternity pledges, each holding candles, buck naked, with a man dressed like Darth Vader walking around and whipping them in the ass with a ping pong paddle while they encircled and slurped jello shots off a stripper named Jennifer who was lying on a coffee table altar, portraying a corpse, totally nude except for a goat’s head mask on her face… which was the culmination of their secret fraternity initiation.
As the cabinet watched, the football game evolved into an intense defensive struggle. The teams mirrored each other’s conservative strategy, and each took turns punting, attempting to gain advantage by flipping the field and pinning their opponent in their end. The clock wound down and the teams withdrew into their lockers at halftime with the score tied at 10.
“Fangbright is the greatest coach of all time,” extolled the president over the din of an ad for testosterone supplements. He pressed the intercom to ping Faucett. “Any word from the Chinks?”
“Nothing yet, sir.”
A server brought more snacks and the members of the COGCON cabinet indulged in nacho chips and guacamole dip, and a giant cheese ball with crackers, and shrimp cocktail, and hot wings, and fudge brownies, and diet sodas to wash it all down.
The second half began and the president watched intently from his chair, snacking occasionally on chilled shrimp slathered in horse radish cocktail sauce. The third quarter action lumbered left and right and right and left on the screen without any scoring. Each team punted thrice. The tension built like a stalemate in a tug of war with neither side gaining advantage and timely defensive plays stifling the other’s posessions.
In the fourth quarter, the Saxons finally managed to sustain a drive taking them across midfield and close to field goal range. On first down, they connected on a short pass that netted seven yards. On second, they ran off tackle for four, gaining another first down, but the play was called back on an illegal formation penalty. On the replay of second down, the Saxon quarterback— the steely, gunslinger-eyed Brock McGuinn— threw a pass that was just knocked away at the last moment by the Norman defender. It was third and eight.
“This is where it will be won or lost,” remarked the POTUS. The Saxons broke the huddle. “C’mon McGuinn! You can do it!”
Brock “The Gun” McGuinn sauntered into position behind the center and called the signals. The short, white, slot receiver went into motion back across the formation. The defenders pointed and shifted their alignments with great urgency. The Saxon crowd went completely silent in anticipation. The center snapped the ball. The front lines collided in a crackle of brain trauma. The snap went dangerously high. McGuinn nonchalantly reached up to snatch it out of the air with one hand. He quickly planted his feet within the halo of blockers that was collapsing at his flanks. He stepped forward with his bow-legged chicken legs, into the salient of desperate, bulging, mud-stained, meshed polyester and neoprene. A receiver broke free in the middle of the field. McGuinn raised the ball to his ear. The pocket of protection was closing in on him like a garotte. The Gun coiled his arm. A defender extended his paw to swat the ball from behind him, just missing. McGuinn snapped his wrist forward. The ball rocketed out from the scrum and down the middle of the field in a brown, spheroid spiral. The receiver reached out his hands to receive it—
“Heh-roh Mr. Pwesident!”
The screen filled with the round, bespectacled face and nubby Grey teeth of the Chinese president.
“What the fuck is going on?” shouted the POTUS.
Faucett stuck his pubescent face into the room. “Mr. President, we have finally gotten through to the president of China.”
“I can see that. Couldn’t this wait five minutes?” The POTUS shooed Faucett away. Faucett withdrew his head and closed the door. Manfred feigned cordiality and greeted the president of China. “Huli!”
“Manfweed,” Hu Li replied. “Have you fine-ree come to yo senses?”
“I don’t know what you mean, Huli. Oh…,” the POTUS continued, snidely, “…do you mean that because of the first lady situation that I have somehow changed my mind and decided to acquiesce to your demands?”
“I don’t a-know anything about yo first ray-dee, Mr. Pwesident.”
“Don’t be coy, Huli.”
“I’m not a-being coy. I do not know anything about her.”
“Cut the crap, Huli. I know what this is. You are trying to maintain plausible denial.”
Tibbles pushed back from his seat, rushed over to the president, and cupped his hand over his ear to speak privately. “Maybe we should consider the possibility that he in fact doesn’t know that she is missing,” Tibbles whispered.
“Just in case, sir. If he does have the first lady, then we need not remind him of it. But if he doesn’t, he need not know of it.”
“So, what do you want, Huli,” asked the POTUS.
“I’m returning yo call, Mr. Pwesident.”
The president glanced at Tibbles who faintly shook his head.
Hu Li Continued: “I thought you were ready to end this a-madness and arrow Master Chung to return to the bunker.”
“Why? Because your dead-rine is a-rapid-ree approaching.”
“And then what?” the POTUS asked.
“Then you will find out.”
“You’ll get nowhere with this, Huli. I am not budging on the Chung situation, regardless of what you threaten to do with the first la—”
“Er… uh… whatever you intend to do,” the POTUS finished.
“I know nothing of your first a-ray-dee.”
“I’m just putting it out there, Huli. I’m letting you know that whatever you intend to do, it isn’t going work. I’m not changing my position.”
“I fear that this situation may be deteriorating into world war three,” Hu Li observed.
“That’s on you.”
“You leave me no a-choice. We cannot arrow you to kidnap our citizens.”
“You’re one to talk, Huli.”
“I see there is nothing for us to discuss. This is a waste of time.”
President Hu Li’s image vanished from the screens and was replaced by a television commercial for Dodge pickup trucks. The football game resumed. The Saxons had scored a touchdown during Hu Li’s interlude, but the Normans had scored as well and the game was tied at 17 with two minutes remaining. The Saxons broke the huddle and approached the line of scrimmage which was at their own twenty. The home crowd quieted once more. The first play was a pass that resulted in an eight-yard gain. The second play connected for ten yards. McGuinn signaled for a timeout. After commercials for lite beer, erection pills, and Chevy pickup trucks, the game returned. McGuinn ran four plays, connecting with his receivers on each, taking the Saxons down to the Norman forty-yard line. There were fifty seconds remaining in the game. The Gun rushed up to the line while the clock ticked away. Forty-nine… forty-eight… forty-seven… He took the snap and spiked the ball into the ground, stopping the clock at forty-four seconds. The camera cut to the pot-bellied Saxon place kicker who kneaded a pigskin, placed it on a tee, and with a look of furrowed seriousness, booted it into a practice net on the sideline. His longest-ever career field goal was fifty-four yards. From where the ball was placed, it would be a fifty-seven yard try. The Saxons knew they had to gain a few more yards to have a decent chance.
Coach Fangbright took off his headset. His lips formed inaudible words on the screen. McGuinn lifted his helmet and his lips started to move. Then Fangbright, noticing that a camera was zooming in on his face from two-hundred yards away, covered his mouth with his laminated play sheet that resembled a Denny’s menu— which was not unlike the nuclear football instructions. McGuinn stopped talking and just nodded every couple of seconds. Then The Gun turned and trotted out onto the field and into the Saxon huddle.
The huddle broke and the players assumed their positions. McGuinn took the snap on first sound and extended the ball to the halfback who cut towards the right side of the line… but it was a play action fake. McGuinn withdrew the ball and rolled in the other direction. The Norman linebacker pursuing from the back side discovered the ruse and cut towards McGuinn preparing to murder him. McGuinn was just able to get the pass off and turn his back before he was pile-driven into the ground, face first. The brown pigskin wobbled out, fluttering downfield about ten yards before it was intercepted by the Norman safety who was charging up fast…
The referee watching this play unfold could easily discern that the interception would be returned for an uncontested touchdown. He glanced at the flattened Brock McGuinn, then over to the charging Norman defender who plucked the fluttering ball out of the air and charged on, without breaking stride, towards the goal line.
Then the referee looked at McGuinn…
And as if he was perhaps overcome by some sense cognitive dissonance at the notion of the underdog Normans actually beating the Saxons…
Or perhaps because he was subtly informed by his supervisor before the game that it would be best for television ratings that Brock McGuinn continue playing in the post season for as long as possible…
Or perhaps because he was of Anglo-Saxon decent and ancient blood rivalries are sub-consciously passed on through genetic inheritance…
Or perhaps it was a legitimate, objective, unbiased assessment of the situation…
The referee reached into his pocket, withdrew his yellow hanker chief weighted by a roll of pennies and…
The Norman safety ran into the end zone and spiked the ball. His teammates followed him and embraced each other and celebrated the miracle play and good fortune virtually ensuring victory. But they soon heard the Saxon crowd begin to cheer and they knew something was amiss. They turned back toward the original line of scrimmage and their fears were realized when they spotted the yellow flag and they spotted the skinny-armed, villainous referee whom they now cursed, and they spotted their arch-nemesis Brock The Gun McGuinn, sitting up on his knees, tufts of mud and grass stuck in his facemask, and a shit-eating grin scrawled across his face.
“Unnecessary roughness!” shouted the president with unrestrained glee. “Fifteen-yard penalty! Fuck you Normans!”
The skinny-armed referee announced the call and the crowd went into a frenzy of approval. The chubby Norman coach protested and spiked his headset to no avail. The ball was moved to the twenty-five yard line. There were thirty-two seconds left in the game.
The Saxons called three halfback dives in succession, forcing the Normans to use their allotted timeouts. With twenty-one seconds left, the pot-bellied Saxon kicker pranced out onto the field in his spotless uniform. The teams took their pre-snap positions. The crowd fell silent, meditating on the field goal that would secure yet another victory. The long snapper snapped the ball. The holder snatched it from the air and set it on the ground, spinning the laces away toward the goal post. The kicker approached, planted his left foot and unleashed his coiled right leg. The ball launched toward the center of the uprights, over the outstretched hands of the desperate defense. The kick started out true. The crowd’s roar built. But then the ball started to fade. The crowd roared louder, as if they might will it through the uprights with their screams. The ball tumbled, hooking toward the left post it…
The screen went totally dark…
“What the hell is going on?” screamed the POTUS.
The cabinet members stared at each other and at the blackened screen in confusion. Faucett poked his head into the room.
“Mr. President, you have a call on the bat line.”
“The bat line, sir,” answered Tibbles. “It’s a hard-wired communication network that serves the leaders in the SuperBunker.”
“I know what it is. Frank, give me the phone,” ordered the POTUS.
Frank Tibbles calmly stood up. Walked around the table. Carefully grabbed the bat phone with both hands. Walked around the table and set it in front of the president. The president and the members of the cabinet all focused on the red, archaic telephone handset, resting before the leader of the free world. The president reached out and grasped the clunky handset and slowly raised it to his ear.
“He-roh, Mr. Pwesident,” came the voice of the president of China.
“What do you want now, Huli?”
“I am calling to inform you that yo a-dead-rine has a-passed.”
“What did you do, Huli?” asked the POTUS.
“I’m afwaid you reft us no a-choice.”
“What did you do?”
“Protocol 4 was our onree option,” answered the president of China.
“Yes, we did.”
“Do you know what you’ve done?”
“Yes, we know ver-ree well. Ah communication rines have been severed. The brast doors are crose-ing as we speak. In moments, no one in the bunker can have any contact with the surface. No one can get in or out. We are toe-toe-ree ice-o-rated. Maybe now you will come to your a-senses and negotiate in good faith.”
“This is another act of war!” shouted the president into the red handset.
“No. It is an act of peace. It is onree war if you make it so. If we can work out our differences and make arrangements for the rightfur return of Master Chung to the bunker, we will revert the situation back COGCON 3.”
The POTUS covered the mouthpiece of the receiver. “Can he really do this?”
“I’m afraid he can, Mr. President,” Fricke answered. “It was a pre-condition of bunker construction that any member of the UN Security Council can unilaterally invoke Protocol 4.”
“Sir, we discussed this,” Tibbles answered. “Protocol 4 was designed with the idea that if we have come down into the bunker, that the geopolitical situation on the surface is precariously close to Armageddon. It is a failsafe; if we find ourselves cut off from contact with the surface, we might be compelled to work out our differences before a worst case scenario.”
“Oh, holy hell!” The president plowed his hands up over his face and through his coal and gray hair. “Is there a back door? Tell me we have a back door…”
“Tell me we have a back door!”
Fricke glanced at Tibbles. Tibbles sighed. The president waited for an answer, cupping his hand over the receiver.
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