COG Chapter 19

CogCoverSquare

#ContinuityOfGovernment, #WW3, #Deep State

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.

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Chapter 19

Before the applause for Brock McGuinn’s entrance had subsided, aides were already whispering into the ears of the presidents of Russia and China. Within moments, they were whisked away in their executive golf carts. The POTUS left shortly after them, before the conclusion of McGuinn’s press conference. Upon arrival at the Brown House, he got into the elevator along with Tibbles, Haberdash, and his personal secret service bodyguard, and descended into the depths of the Hades Level. The door opened into the concrete chamber cast in the bluish hue of fluorescent lighting. They came upon the glass security coral where they placed their personal effects in a bowl and stepped through one at a time. The doors closed. A shotgun like sound fired which trailed off into a high-pitched buzz. The door on the opposite end opened and one by one, the POTUS, Tibbles, and Haberdash passed through. The secret service agent stayed behind, handing President Manfred his .44 magnum, then stood guard over their other effects.

On the other side of the scanner, they came to the internal blast door where Tibbles presented his eye to a monitor for identity scanning and his wrist for RFID identification. The massive steel door pinged as the locking bolts released. It opened. They passed through into the UltraBunker.

They entered the conference room and took their seats. Fricke and Buckminster were already there. The nuclear football rested on the floor at Fricke’s feet.

“Gentlemen,” the president began. “Welcome to Plan B.”

“Yes sir,” Buckminster fawned with the eagerness of a low-ranking sycophant.

“Shut up, Bucky. Your failure is the reason we’re here.”

“So, what is the plan, sir?” asked Fricke.

“We’re going to be back in Protocol 4 shortly.”

“Are you certain?” asked Fricke.

“I’m one hundred percent certain.”

“I’m not following what is unfolding, here. What do you see as the possible scenarios?” Fricke asked, guarding the nuclear football with his leg.

“We can only hope that the first bitch hasn’t given them anything yet.” The POTUS turned to Buckminster. “How far along is your project to get a man on the surface? We’re running out of time.”

Buckminster swallowed. “We believe it is nearly operational. We just haven’t tested it.”

“Sir,” Tibbles added, “perhaps we can at least work up a short list of possibilities and…”

“There are no other possibilities. What god damn difference would it make anyway, Frank? We know where this is headed. We had their couriers assassinated.”

“What was that?” Fricke asked with grave concern.

“Don’t be naïve Dexter,” the POTUS replied.

“What is happening?” Fricke asked. “Why wasn’t I informed?”

“Plan B was a top-secret operation,” Buckminster answered. “Only those who need to know were informed.”

Fricke looked as if he had just had the wind knocked out of him. He spent a moment gathering himself.  “Can we just discuss this for a minute. We only think we know what the first lady has done or will do. We know that Timoshenko and Hu Li must know that we have reneged on our end of the deal, but they may not know for certain that we had their couriers assassinated. Perhaps we should try to find out all of what they know before they make any moves. We need to buy some time. Who terminated the couriers?”

“Faucett carried out the order,” answered Buckminster.

“Well, maybe we can promote the idea that Faucett was a rogue agent.”

“There’s no chance they’ll buy it,” Tibbles replied.

“I support the president. The time for dialogue is over,” barked Buckminster. “It’s time for action.”

“Sir, I…” Fricke pleaded.

“Enough!” snapped the president. “Put me through to Timoshenko right now. Do it!”

“Right away, sir.” Tibbles lifted the plastic cloche off the bat phone and lifted the red receiver to his ear. “Hello. This is the Chief of Staff for the President of the United States. President Manfred would like to speak to President Timoshenko…”

All eyes in the UltraBunker fixed upon Tibbles.

“Yes…,” Tibbles continued. “I’ll hold.” Tibbles put the phone on speaker. A tinny Muzak version of Tchaikovsky played. “Sir,” Tibbles whispered after clicking mute, “my advice would be to let him make his demands. Don’t capitulate. We can come up with a way out of this. I know it.”

“I didn’t ask for your counsel,” rebuffed the POTUS.

“Do you know what you’ll do if he tries to blackmail you?” Tibbles asked.

“Let’s just pray Veruca hasn’t given him anything. If she has…”

The Muzak stopped. Tibbles picked up the receiver. “Yes,” he said into the phone. “Yes… of course… I’ll let him know.”

“What is it?” asked the POTUS.

“They want to connect on screen, sir.”

They? Who’s they?” Buckminster asked.

Tibbles’ became doe-eyed. Sweat instantly beaded on his forehead. “Hu Li is with Timoshenko.

The POTUS winced and clenched his fist. “Fine. Put the commie bastard on, too,” he relented.

Tibbles pressed a button and the scowling faces of President Timoshenko and President Hu Li appeared. The POTUS didn’t offer a greeting.

“Hello, Mr. President.” Timoshenko greeted in his thick toned voice.

“Heroh, Mr. President,” added Hu Li in his labored English.

“What do you want?”

“You called us,” answered Timoshenko.

“Do you want to negotiate?”

“Negotiate what?”

“A solution to this crisis,” answered the POTUS.

“There is only one sorution to this a-crisis. There ohnree one way out for you.”

“And what would that be?”

“Your resignation.”

The POTUS scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“It will be very embarrassing for you if you don’t.”

“That’s not happening.”

“Mr. President, you have this one final opportunity to save your dignity,” explained Timoshenko.

“Be very careful,” the POTUS cautioned. “You don’t have the leverage you think you have. Do you want to trigger world war 3?”

“This does not need to be the end of the world, Arman,” Timoshenko continued, “…just the end of your presidency.”

“I can’t resign, Timmy. I just announced my campaign for re-election.”

Buckminster pounded his fist on the table. “We won’t surrender! The president of the United States is the symbol of America and America never surrenders.”

“It seems that your General Buckminster overestimates the loyalty of his fellow commanders.” Timoshenko punctuated his explanation with a snort.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Buckminster asked.

Timoshenko leaned back with a confident look on his blotchy, pink face. “How do you suppose your first lady came into possession of this most scandalous video?”

Buckminster faked ignorance. “What video?”

Timoshenko continued: “You don’t think she just asked someone for it, do you? No. That wasn’t how it happened. The video was given to her. It was given to her by an insider— a high-ranking, insider.”

“Who was it?” Buckminster demanded, veins throbbing in his neck. “I’ll have him shot for treason.”

“The who is not so important as the why they did it. Mr. President, even your closest allies are turning on you. They no longer believe you can lead your nation through this crisis. They are plotting for your removal from office.”

Buckminster shook his head in denial.

“I already know who leaked it,” the POTUS replied.

The eyes in the room jumped from person to person, glazed in suspicion.

“Who?” Tibbles gulped.

“It wasn’t me,” Buckminster protested before glaring at Fricke.

Fricke shook his head in denial.

Haberdash ceased scribbling tits on his notepad to observe the tension.

“It was Krusty. Krusty did it!” the POTUS groaned. “Krusty betrayed the Office of the President. Krusty sold out America.”

“That son of a bitch!” Buckminster growled.

“This pornogwaphic video is not the ohnree information that we have been given, Mr. Pwesident,” added Hu Li. “We have recent-ree discovered that you have begun work on a SuperBunker escape tunnel. We can ohnree presume it is being built to make it possibo for you to send an agent to the surface to give your order.”

“And what of it?”

“That is fo-bidden!”

The sound of the blast door alarms rang through the complex and down into the depths of the UltraBunker.

“They must have re-triggered Protocol 4,” Fricke observed.

The POTUS had no reaction.

“That is legally incorrect,” Tibbles interjected. “Our lawyers found nothing in the codex that explicitly forbids sending someone out of the SuperBunker during Protocol 4. It only forbids making any effort to open the doors.”

“It vio-rates the intent,” Hu Li rebutted.

Timoshenko intervened. “Regardless, your tunnel is no longer an advantage. Due to receiving this information, we have begun our own joint, Sino-Russian mission in the race to put a man on the surface of the earth.”

“You’ll never beat us,” Buckminster gloated.

Timoshenko laughed, then continued: “American hubris is both your best and worst quality. It fills you with the confidence to confront any challenge but it blinds you to the possibility of catastrophe. You don’t even see that we have nearly completed our own tunnel.”

Tibbles looked at Buckminster who was silently cursing.

“There’s nothing left to discuss here,” said the POTUS. He motioned to Tibbles who disconnected the monitor. The room fell silent. The POTUS appeared shaken. He drew a breath but began to speak in a calm tone. “What the hell is happening? Is there no respect for the office of the president? Who do my commanders think they are to do this to me?”

Buckminster stood up from his seat and watched the POTUS in emotionless anticipation. Fricke’s face filled with weariness. Tibbles began to tear up.

The president’s voice turned sharply louder. “So this is what it has come to: My own men, the military, everyone spying on me? Even the NSA? They’re all a bunch of contemptable cowards…”

“Sir,” Buckminster interrupted out of compulsion, “I can’t let you insult the dedicated men and women serving our country.”

“They’re all traitors! “

“Mr. President, this is outrageous!”

“The Joint Chiefs of Staff are the scum of the American people! Not a shred of honor!” The president stood and started to pace, his voice rising. “They call themselves generals… years of training at the academy just so they can become little treasonous voyeurs! Useless! For years they’ve prevented American victories overseas. They have decades of training but they can’t even keep an aircraft carrier afloat.” The president rubbed his temples. “They have all these smart-bombs and laser-guided things and satellites but they can’t even conquer ass-backwards countries defended by sheep-shagging musket-men. Worthless!” He pounded his fist on the table sending a stack of papers over the edge. “But they can turn on me like this? Why?”

Buckminster turned to Fricke as if imploring him to do something. Fricke sat motionless.

“You know what I should have done? I should have liquidated all of them like… like Stalin did. Traitors!”

The president plunked himself down into his seat and attempted to gather himself. Tibbles filled the moment of brief silence with his blubbering. Buckminster fumed in silence. Haberdash stood up, eyes widened in amazement, and sidled over towards Tibbles.

The POTUS’s rant continued. “I’ve been deceived all along by them… by this cabal… by this Deep State. What a monstrous betrayal of the American people!” The president curled his right hand into a fist.  “But all these traitors will pay! They shall drown in their own blood!”

Haberdash patted the weeping Tibbles on the shoulder as if to say: “There, there, Frank. It’ll be all right.”

The president exhaled. His posture slumped. He appeared spent. He curled up in his seat and started to rock like some distraught grandmother. “Under these circumstances,” he mumbled, “I am no longer able to lead. There is only one thing left to do.”

Fricke’s face filled with a glimmer of hopefulness but it was quickly quashed when the president spoke again.

“…But if you think I am going to resign, you are sadly mistaken. I’d rather blow my brains out.”

Fricke glanced at Tibbles who had stopped sobbing upon hearing the president’s remark.

Buckminster broke the short silence. “What are your orders, sir?”

The POTUS pondered.

Buckminster turned to Fricke.

Fricke shrugged.

Tibbles produced a wad of tissue from his pocket and blew his nose into it.

“Fricke…” the POTUS groaned.

“Yes sir?”

“Set the football on the table.”

“Sir?”

“You heard the president,” barked Buckminster.

Fricke remained motionless. The POTUS produced his gold-plated .44 magnum. Fricke reluctantly lifted the satchel off the floor and placed it on the table.

“Open it,” ordered the POTUS.

“But sir…”

“That was an order,” Buckminster snapped.

Fricke complied.

Haberdash leaned in to have a look.

Buckminster’s eyes widened.

Fricke reached in and pulled out a laptop computer emblazoned with the presidential seal and the Numenor Corporate logo in the right corner.”

“Turn it on,” the POTUS ordered.

Fricke opened it and it lit up and began its boot up sequence. He reached down into the satchel and pulled out the laminated sheet that resembled a Denny’s menu. He handed it to the president who passed it to Tibbles. Lastly, Fricke produced a metallic metal cube with a large red button affixed to the top, and set it on the table alongside the computer.

“What does it say?” the POTUS asked of Tibbles.

Tibbles scanned down a few lines then read from the menu. “It says: Connect the Permissive Active Link (PAL) transponder to the computer with the black connector cable…

“Do it!” the POTUS ordered.

Fricke connected the cable. The red button blinked three times.

Tibbles read on: “When connected, the red indicator light on the launch button will flash red three times. The PAL will then begin its boot up sequence. When complete, the mouse pad will become active. Use the mouse pad and the left button on the computer to click ‘Proceed’. You will then be taken to the Strategic Algorithm Matrix (or SAM) program…

Buckminster moved behind Fricke to observe. “It’s ready.”

Fricke clicked the mouse pad button.

“Welcome…” came a sultry but offish female voice through the laptop speaker. “My name is Sam. I am here to assist you. To initiate the Strategic Algorithm Matrix, please select a geopolitical scenario…”

“What are the options?” the POTUS asked.

Fricke read them off:

 

Unipolar

 

Bipolar

 

Multipolar

 

Fricke reluctantly eyed the POTUS, awaiting instruction.

“I presume multipolar, sir,” Tibbles offered.

“Sure.”

Fricke maneuvered the mouse pointer over ‘Multipolar’ and clicked.

“Now,” came the voice, “please enter the number of global superpowers. Please note that you can back up one step at any time by simply pressing the control and backspace buttons simultaneously.”

Fricke entered ‘3.’

“Excellent. Now please identify the global superpowers. Please enter all superpowers regardless of political alliance. For a definition of superpower, please click the appendix button on the menu bar.”

Fricke scrolled through the list of nations and selected ‘Russian Federation, The’ and ‘China, The People’s Republic of’. ‘United States of America, The’ was pre-selected.

“Great. Now, on the next screen, please select all the strategic conditions that apply. Click advance to conditions to proceed.”

Fricke clicked advance and the screen filled with text and check boxes. At the bottom, he noticed a page selector. The screen was on page 1 of 207.

“Please note,” continued the voice, “that there is a search box in the upper right of the screen. You can also search for conditions by voice command by saying ‘Hello Sam, search conditions… dirty bomb,’ for instance. Or, ‘Hello Sam, search conditions… Chinese invasion Taiwan.’“

“Hello Sam,” Buckminster shouted. “Search conditions… Russian invasion Bolshevistan.”

An hourglass appeared onscreen. After a moment, Sam said, in her sultry deadpan, “I’m sorry, there are no conditions that contain ‘Russian invasion Bolshevik stand.’ Here are some results that contain ‘Russian invasion’. Please select from one of the following or refine your search terms…”

 

Russian invasion of Afghanistan

Russian invasion of Alaska

Russian invasion of Bulgaria

Russian invasion of Canada

Russian invasion of China

Russian invasion of Finland

Russian invasion of Lithuania (or other Baltic State)

Russian invasion of Lapland

Russian invasion of Mongolia

Russian invasion of Monte Carlo

Russian invasion of Nepal

Russian invasion of Other

Russian invasion of Poland

Russian invasion of Turkey

Russian invasion of Uzbekistant

 

“Select ‘other‘,” Buckminster urged.

Fricke toggled the checkbox.

“What else?” Tibbles asked. “Should we put more information in?”

“Hello Sam,” Buckminster barked. “Search conditions: blackmail.”

“Here are some results that contain ‘blackmail’.”

 

Extortion of Prime Minister of Canada by China

Extortion of Prime Minister of Canada by Russia

Extortion of Prime Minister of Germany by China

Extortion of Prime Minister of Germany by Russia

Extortion of Prime Minister of Germany by China

Extortion of Prime Minister of Germany by Russia

Extortion of Prime Minister of Israel by China

Extortion of Prime Minister of Israel by Russia

Extortion of President of France by China

Extortion of President of France by Russia

Extortion of Prime Minister of United Kingdom by China

Extortion of Prime Minister of United Kingdom by Russia

There are 188 More results…

 

“Hello Sam, search conditions… extortion of President of United States,” Tibbles asked.

 

Extortion of President of United States by China

Extortion of President of United States by Russia

Extortion of President of United States by Israel

Extortion of President of United States by Mongolia

 

Fricke checked the first two boxes.

“What else?” Buckminster asked.

Tibbles consulted the laminated instructions. “It says to click ‘advance to secondary criteria.’” Fricke clicked the button and a popup question appeared:

 

Have nuclear weapons been detonated by any nation state?

 

Fricke clicked ‘No’. Another popup immediately appeared.

 

Is it confirmed that nuclear weapons have been launched by any nation state?

 

Fricke clicked ‘No.’

 

Are any nation states preparing to launch nuclear weapons (including rogue states)?

 

Fricke looked at the POTUS who was staring at his gun in a catatonic state.

“Yes, of course!” Buckminster scolded.

Fricke clicked ‘Yes’. A popup appeared with a list of countries and check boxes. Fricke clicked ‘Russian Federation, The’ and ‘China, Peoples Republic of.’

 

Have the critical members of government been evacuated to hardened facilities in order to ensure continuity of government?”

 

‘Yes.’

 

What day of the week is it?

 

‘Friday.’

 

Proceed?

 

Fricke looked over his shoulder at Buckminster for affirmation. Buckminster glanced at Tibbles who was faintly shaking his head. The trio turned to the POTUS who was still staring at his gun, motionless. “Just do it!” he ordered.

With a shaky hand, Fricke moved the mouse pointer onto the ‘Proceed’ button, but he hesitated.

“You have your orders. Do it!” growled Buckminster.

Fricke clicked the button. The screen went instantly black. Fricke hopped back, looking as if he had broken something.

“What did you do?” Buckminster demanded.

“I… I just clicked ‘Proceed’,” Fricke appealed.

“Please stand by…” SAM implored.

The screen came back with the icon of an hourglass with the sands running out.

“Please stand by… Pareto-optimizing…”

The sands ran down the hourglass.

“Please stand by… Pareto-optimizing…”

“Please stand by…”

The last grains ran out and the hourglass icon froze in the middle of the screen. Everyone but the POTUS gathered and stared at the screen in anticipation.

“What happens now?” Haberdash asked? “Is it frozen up? Did it crash?”

“Shouldn’t the hourglass flip over or something?” Tibbles queried.

“How long should we wait?” Buckminster asked. “I think we need to call someone.” Buckminster grabbed the black telephone receiver and lifted it to his ear. “Get me IT!”

After about two minutes, Tibbles asked: “Can you put it on speaker?”

“I don’t know how to do that. I’m afraid I’ll hang up and go to the back of the queue.”

“It’s easy,” Tibbles advised. “Here…” Tibbles took the receiver from Buckminster, pressed the speaker button, then hung the receiver up. The room filled with the melody of Summer Breeze by Seals and Croft.

“Catchy, isn’t it?” Haberdash chimed in after several effervescent measures.

Finally, someone answered on the other end. “Help Desk. Who am I speaking with?”

“You are speaking to General Fitzmaurice Buckminster, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Special National Security Advisor to the President.”

“Did you say ‘Buckmeister’?”

“Buck-min-ster.”

“Okay. Got it.”

“I’m letting you know you are on speaker as well.”

“Thank you. What can I help you with?”

“It seems that the PAL system has frozen up on us.”

“The PAL system?”

“Yes. The Permissive Active Link.”

“Hmm. One moment while I look that one up. Oh, here it is. Okay, what seems to be the problem?”

“Like I just said, it appears that it has crashed or locked up on us.”

“Do you see an error message?”

Buckminster leaned in to look at the screen. “No. There’s just a frozen hourglass.”

“Can you tell me what you saw before it froze?”

“Well, it said it was ‘Pareto-optimizing.’ Then it just froze up.”

“Hmm. Hmm. Uh, how long has it been frozen?”

“It’s been a couple minutes.”

“Have you experienced this issue before?”

“No. I don’t believe any of us have ever tried to launch nuclear weapons before… No.”

“I see.” They could all hear the click clack of keyboard typing. “Unfortunately, I cannot access this system remotely. We will have to try to solution it over the phone.”

“Fine.”

“Mr. Buckmeister, can you hit control-alt-delete, please? Make sure you press all three keys simultaneously.”

“Sure.” Buckminster nodded to Fricke who carefully pressed the three keys.

“Can you tell me what you see?”

“Nothing. I still see the hourglass.”

“Hmm. And you said you didn’t see any error message?”

“No. Nothing like that.”

“Well, I think at this point we should try a hard reboot. Can you turn the PAL system off, wait thirty seconds, then turn it back on for me? I’ll hold while it reboots.”

Buckminster picked the computer up and looked under it and on the back side and scanned the keyboard. “I don’t see a power switch.”

“Hmm. Well, let me ask someone else in the department if…”

“Hang on!” Tibbles urged. “It just did something.”

The hourglass disappeared and was replaced with a popup.

 

Pareto-optimization complete.

Click to proceed.

 

Tibbles reached in and clicked the link.

 

“The Strategic Algorithm Matrix has resolved the current scenario to three possible strategic solutions. Select the appropriate solution and click Proceed.”

“What does it say?” The POTUS asked.

Tibbles scanned the screen. Fricke got up from his seat and Tibbles sat down in his place. “It has three solution buttons titled ‘Good’, ‘Better’, and ‘Best’. Click for details.

“Click the ‘Good’ one.”

Tibbles clicked the button.

“What does it say?”

“It says: ‘Limited tactical nuclear strike upon frontline military and naval targets. Pros: Shock and awe should undermine adversarial resolve. Cons: A limited military strike prior to a threatened enemy launch may trigger a military coup against the Office of the President as the Joint Chiefs of Staff will view it as a waste of initiative. Chance of preserving continuity of government: 29%. Press select to transmit launch codes.

“What is the better option?” Buckminster asked.

Tibbles read it off. “Large scale thermo-nuclear detonation over select industrialized population centers. Pros: Enemy may become demoralized and resolve to detente. Cons: If successful detonations are skewed toward civilian targets, the U.S. civilian population may attempt to overthrow the current government of the United States. Chance of preserving continuity of government: 55%. Press select to transmit launch codes.”

Buckminster pondered. Fricke gazed at the screen in astonishment. Haberdash scribbled notes over the scribbled tits in his notepad,

“And the best option?” asked the POTUS who remained fixated on his magnum.

“It says…” Tibbles started.

“It says what?” the POTUS asked.

“It says…”

“Spit it out, Frank,” ordered Buckminster.

“It says: ‘Total, full scale, thermonuclear first strike.’” Tibbles’ lip quivered.

“What could possibly be the pros of that?” Fricke asked.

“It says: ‘Pros: Enemies will be totally annihilated.’

“And the cons?” Fricke asked.

Tibbles gulped. “It says: ‘The end of the world as we know it.’

“What are the odds?” asked the POTUS.

“The odds, sir?” asked Tibbles.

“Yeah. The odds of preserving continuity of government, so we can at least save democracy.”

“It says: ‘the chance of preserving continuity of government is… is 99%.’

“This is ridiculous,” Fricke intervened. We don’t even know that the Chinese and Russians will launch their nukes. Gentlemen we still have time to negotiate a peace.”

“The time for talk is over,” Buckminster rebutted. “It’s time for action.”

The POTUS started to rock again in his chair. He reached up and massaged his temples, with his pistol clasped in his right hand. Then he ran his fingers through his hair. “I choose…”

“What was that, Mr. President?” Buckminster asked.

“I said, I choose…”

You don’t have to do this, Mr. President,” Fricke urged.

“I… choose…” the sentence dissolved into mumbling.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t roger that,” Buckminster said.

“I said I…”

“Don’t do it!” Fricke pleaded.

“Best!” shouted the president. “I choose best. Now get on with it.”

Fricke looked desperately at Tibbles imploring him to stop the madness. Buckminster’s hand slid down and unsnapped his holster, forgetting that only the POTUS was permitted to possess a sidearm in the UltraBunker.

“Best! Best! Best! I choose best. Do it!”

“You heard the president, Frank,” Buckminster added.

Tibbles’ finger moved the mouse pointer. He toggled the box. Then slid the pointer down to the link that said ‘proceed.’

“Do it!” Buckminster ordered.

 

Click

 

The hourglass returned. Tibbles watched the screen as the grains of sand ran out. When the last grains passed through the icon, a new popup appeared.

 

Please enter authentication code.

 

“Authentication code?” Buckminster asked. “Fricke, give me the code.”

“I don’t have it.”

“Give me the code or I will have you shot for treason.”

“I don’t have it.”

“Mr. President? Do you have it?”

“I don’t,” mumbled the POTUS.

“Who in the hell has it, then?” Buckminster asked. “Fricke? You’re a damn liar.”

Fricke shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not lying.”

Tibbles backed away from the PAL.

“Tibbles, do you have it?”

“Uh…” Tibbles gulped.

“It’s Tibbles. Tibbles has the code,” the POTUS muttered. “But you have to get it out of him.”

“What do you mean, sir?” Buckminster asked.

“I’m sure it’s all there in the instructions.”

Buckminster yanked the Denny’s menu from Tibbles’ who had started shaking. He flipped to the last page where he saw the diagram of a person’s head and neck, but with the skin peeled back revealing the cardiovascular system and musculature. An arrow pointed to the external carotid artery and the depiction of a small splice connecting both ends of it. A text box on the instructions described how the authentication code was contained within the arterial splice.

“How in the hell do we get it out of him?” Buckminster asked.

“You have to cut it out,” the POTUS lamented.

“But won’t Frank bleed to death,” asked Fricke.

“It’s part of the Fail-Safe Thermonuclear Protocol,” the POTUS explained.

“We can’t just cut him open, can we?” Haberdash asked, backing away from Frank.

“I think it would be best if we euthanized him first,” the president suggested.

“Does anyone have any poison?” Haberdash asked.

“Sir, you can use your pistol,” Buckminster advised.

“No, I… I can’t do it,” the POTUS protested.

Tibbles sighed in relief.

“Why not?”

“I just can’t. I can’t do it.”

“Thank God,” Fricke exclaimed.

“Why not, sir?” Buckminster asked.

“I just can’t.”

“Well what do we do now?” Buckminster asked.

“I said I can’t do it,” repeated the POTUS.

“We understand, sir.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Sir?”

The president looked up at Buckminster. “Here, you do it!” The POTUS slid his gold pistol across the table to Buckminster.

“Why me?” Buckminster cringed.

“Because you got us into this mess.”

“Gentlemen, we really don’t have to do this. We can…” Fricke interrupted.

“I’m sorry, sir, but I just can’t shoot a man point blank.”

Tibbles’ eyes darted between Buckminster and the POTUS.

“What?” asked the POTUS.

“I said I just can’t kill someone like this.”

“What in the hell are you talking about?” The POTUS smoldered. “You’ve killed hundreds… thousands of people. You’re a soldier… a general.”

“Yeah, but that was by text message. It was never in person. Not face to face.”

“What the hell difference does it make?”

“This is different. I… I can’t do it.”

“You have to.”

“I can’t.” Buckminster’s voice cracked. His chest heaved and fell. He sniffed. His throat tightened his voice into a squeal. “I… I…” He started to sob.

“Do it!” the POTUS urged.

“Arman, are you sure?” Tibbles whimpered.

“I… I can’t, sir,” Buckminster wept openly.

“That’s a direct order, Bucky.” The POTUS got up from his seat and slapped Buckminster across the cheek.

“Arman…” Tibbles beseeched.

Buckminster hefted up the gold-plated magnum.

“Gentlemen, please!” Fricke shouted. “Let’s talk about this for a minute.”

“Arman,” Tibbles implored, “I… I…”

Haberdash cleared further out of the way.

“Bucky, I’m giving you a direct order!” shouted the POTUS.

Buckminster stepped forward, tears and snot running down his face. Blubbering incoherently, he placed the barrel against Tibbles’ temple.

Tibbles stared lovingly at president Arman “Our Man” Manfred, who himself had sat back down and stared at the floor rather than looking his lover in the eye.

“Sir…”

“What, Frank,” the POTUS asked, finally looking up.

“I love you.”

 

BANG!

 

Fricke sat frozen in terrified disbelief. Haberdash vigorously scribbled notes in his notepad. Buckminster wiped the tears and blood splatter and brain matter from his face with his handkerchief and reflexively stuffed the president’s sidearm into his holster.

“Is everything okay there?” came the voice of the IT support person who was still on the speaker phone. “I heard a loud bang and crying or something.”

Buckminster cleared his throat, straightened his splattered uniform, then withdrew his pocket knife and proceeded to cut out the authentication code splice capsule from Tibbles’ neck. When he had retrieved the capsule, he broke it open and unraveled a tiny strip. He took out his reading glasses.

“It’s like a fortune cookie. What does it say?” Haberdash asked.

“It says ’42’,” Buckminster answered.

“42?”

“What do I do now? Enter it in the computer?”

“You have to enter the complete code. I have the prefix,” murmured the president. “Enter #… @… A… first, then 42.”

Buckminster entered the code. “What now?”

No one answered.

“Hello Sam, what do we do now?” Haberdash asked.

“One moment please…”

Buckminster stared at the screen.

“One moment please…”

Fricke looked at the president.

“One moment please…”

The president stared at his shoes.

“I am unable to establish connection.”

“What did she say?” Buckminster asked.

“It must have been trying to transmit the launch sequence to NORAD. It can’t connect due to Protocol 4.”

“Well, what do we do now?” Buckminster asked, glaring at Fricke. Fricke was unresponsive, as if in catatonic shock. Buckminster turned to the computer. “Hello SAM, what do we do now?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.”

“Hello SAM,” asked Buckminster. “How do we deliver launch sequence manually?”

“Due to loss of connectivity, you must deliver the launch codes manually.”

“Hello, SAM. How do we deliver the launch codes manually?”

“Simply re-establish internet connectivity with PAL.”

Confusion filled Buckminster’s face.

“You’ve gotta take the PAL and the red button thing up to the surface,” the president mumbled, “so it can connect.”

“Oh, of course,” Buckminster replied. “So we’ll need to send someone up to the surface, in the transport capsule? You’re not going to send me, are you? I get claustrophobic.”

“Not you, Bucky,” said the president. “You’ve already failed me once.”

“Who then, sir?”

All eyes were set upon the president who looked down at the floor. “Fricke,” he answered. “I want Fricke to do it.”

 


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