PrologueChapter 1234567, 8, 9

As soon as the light on the camera went red, the President looked off to her left.

“Are we off now?” She nodded her head by way of question. There were thumbs up and she heard “yes, ma’am” from behind the camera. She strode off the dais as the young woman with the page-boy cut ran up with a cappuccino.

“You were great, Ma’am. Totally in control. Very Presidential.” The young woman gushed.

“Mm.” She took the cappuccino, sipped it loudly, then walked toward her National Security Advisor. “Well?”

“We’ve finished the Insurrection Act paperwork, Ma’am, just as we discussed. The active duty components have been ordered to begin immediate deployments to major cities, particularly here around the Capitol, Madame President.”

“Good. I want the people who did this, General. I want those fuckers to hang. And where is the Speaker of the House, for fuck’s sake?!”

“We still haven’t been able to get hold of her, ma’am. There- the District is- the situation is very chaotic right now.” He looked at his watch. “It’s still only 4:45, so we’re hoping-”

“I thought you were sending people to her apartment?”

“We did, ma’am, but there have been some problems getting to her. The routes have been blocked, and there have been some firefights –”

“Jesus Christ,” the President fumed, then started walking toward her office. This was the worst part of it. She waved her hand at the General and he stayed behind. She couldn’t even deliver her address from the Oval Office, the symbol of Presidential of power. She’d had to look weak, away at Camp David, while the District burned.

“Who’s got my phone?!” She yelled at anyone.

“Here, Ma’am!” an effeminate man’s voice called and footsteps came shuffling up. “Here you go.” He held out his hand and the President grabbed her iPhone. She caught a glimpse of missed calls and text messages, but looked up to see the man, who was wearing eyeliner, still standing there. The President stared at him and finally he said, “excuse me” and ran off.

She looked back at her phone, unlocked it, and saw the missed calls from Kendrick. A chill went down her back. There were two texts: one from Kendrick and one from a number she didn’t recognize, a 202-area code. Kendrick’s text said simply, “You’ll want to look at this” with a link, and then “Call me after you’ve had a chance to read it.” The President tapped on the link and waited while her phone showed a timing circle that the link was loading.

The President waited a moment until her patience wore thin.

“Does this fucking shithole have internet?! Does anyone have cell coverage?” She continued to walk toward her office, as her staff bustled about. “And where are my Cabinet members?? Do these fucking people not know what Emergency Meeting means?!”

The General came striding up again.

“Ma’am, in the Chief of Staff’s, um, absence, we’re recommending that-” The President interrupted him.

“What’s the fucking WiFi password!? Does someone have that? This fucking piece of shit phone wants the WiFi password again.” This had been a recurring problem in recent weeks and the President’s simultaneous reliance on, and disdain for, technology were legendary.

Astrid came walking up. “I’ve got it, Madame President!”

The President handed her phone over and took a sip from her cappuccino while the young woman pecked out the password. The President held her hand out and Astrid handed her the phone. The President turned and continued walking to her office for some silence so she could think.

The link hadn’t loaded, so the President looked at the second text. It was a video file and the preview showed Calvin Jefferts from the shoulders up. His expression was wild-eyed and he was splattered with blood. It was apparent he had tried to wipe it off of his face.

She pushed play on the video and there was a pause and every screen nearby, including the ones in her office, went dark and then the video popped up on it.

“Madame President, Madame President,” he began hurriedly, his breathing ragged. Calvin Jefferts’ voice filled the entire complex, his Caribbean accent light, but clear. There was another glitch, where the video seemed to skip, and Jefferts appeared to have bent over, then he stood up, and now his eyes were wide-eyed, gleeful, and his teeth showed. He was laughing maniacally.

“Ahhhhhhh, Madame President! How are you this fine morning? By now you’ve declared martial law and events are in motion that none of us can predict or stop. The cancer that is – or was – your administration, is about to come to an end. In fact, the entire PSA as you know it will cease to exist before long. I just wanted you to know that it was me.” The President could hear gasps from outside the office, low murmurs from people, and someone shushing everyone.

“A number of governors will refuse to provide troops, most of them won’t respond to your orders, and those that do… will be dealt with.” Jefferts paused and someone from off-camera handed him a towel. He wiped his face of some of the blood and threw the towel back offscreen.

Jefferts’ demeanor shifted. “Did you know that after Frederick Douglass escaped slavery, he first began writing articles and most people didn’t believe they were authored by him? The articles were considered too well-written, too intelligent, to have come from a Negro.” The President of the PSA stood behind her desk and tried to reconcile what she was hearing. It took a moment before she realized that his accent was gone. There was none – he sounded like he was from the Midwest, no hint of any accent at all.

He smiled.

“El Unico controls this city in the ways that matter –” the President heard a gasp and a moment later realized it was her own. “– and he has the backing of a number of governors. I suggest that you listen when representatives contact you to negotiate, ma’am. For your own sake and everyone else’s.” There was a pause, a brief glance off-camera, and then a new accent, a dead-ringer for Brooklyn. “And if y’play ya cawds right, y’might gitta keep some of yaw… a’thawity on behalf of the cities… and turf yaw pahty controls, aiight?”

He licked his lips.

“Moral sanction, Madame President. El Unico has given the people moral sanction.” Now it was the Midwest accent again. “Kendrick was the symbol of your reign and authority, of unearned leadership, the ultimate member of the neo-aristocracy.” Jefferts nodded his head over his left shoulder and the camera panned right, then slowly zoomed in, where Harmon Kendrick’s body still kicked and twitched, and barely, she could hear low moans, more animal than human. She had gone to Spain one summer during college and had been convinced to see the spectacle of a bullfight. She managed to witness the destruction of one particularly worn animal after the event… and that’s what flashed into her mind – Kendrick sounded like that bull: labored breathing that was barely certain to take the next one, lowing… bleating…

She covered her mouth with her hand.

The camera zoomed back out and centered in on Jefferts.

“Now the people have been set free to express their heretofore impotent rage.” He nodded his head a few times. “Sign and countersign. Message and reply, Madame President.”

A smile creased his face, the white teeth gleaming, some spots of blood on them where it had dripped down his lips. Then the video ended.

The President of the Progressive States of America heard chaos outside her office, but it came from a distance, muffled, as she slumped back into her chair, put her head in her hands, and began to cry.