The sound of splintering wood was the high note in the chorus of chaos as a colossal, armored Secret Service soldier crashed through the door of the Presidential bedroom. The sudden explosion of noise caused President Cook to jerk violently, shoving deeper in the shard of glass that he was attempting to extract from the sole of his left foot.
“FUCK!” Cook shrieked.
“Perimeter sweep!” The soldier barked. Three other soldiers barged in and began checking the room through the sights of their rifles. “Are you okay, sir?” The first soldier queried as he approached Cook.
“What the fuck does it look like?!?” Cook slurred. “No, I’m not okay! I have glass buried in my foot and I’m bleeding and what on earth are you DOING in here!?! And why do you have rifles? They don’t even work! Haven’t you seen NewsFeed?”
“We heard a commotion, sir,” the soldier answered as he stood within a hair’s breadth of the President. “We thought your safety was compromised.”
“What…get away from me!” The President shouted, drunkenly attempting to shove the soldier aside. Physics being what they were, Cook instead only succeeded in flailing backward toward the bed. He instinctively slammed his feet to the ground to regain balance and the glass embedded in his foot penetrated even deeper.
“Fuck! Christ!” Cook shouted. “NOW look what you did!”
“J.A.Q.i, medical team!” The soldier barked.
“No!” Cook countered. “J.A.Q.i, don’t send anyone, I’ll be fine…”
The Secret Service leader grimly surveyed the wreckage littering Cook’s bedroom. Most obvious was the glowing rainbow sputtering behind a spiderweb of glass that was once the wall-sized screen. The distinct red bar of a NewsFeed Breaking News tag could barely be made out in the upper-right corner. Broken pieces of a chair that had held many former Presidents’ posteriors as they worked at the Resolute Desk (once the centerpiece in the original Oval Office in Washington D.C. – now a writing desk in the President’s bedroom in Indianapolis) lay in splinters and chunks underneath the screen, as did the remnants of several shattered whiskey tumblers. A drink cart sat overturned in the corner of the room, chunks of whiskey-soaked crystal lay in a soggy pool on the carpet. The audio from NewsFeed was staticky and faint as Amanda Stokes recounted once again the highlights of Marlowe Kana’s single-handed defeat of over one hundred United American State Army Soldiers — an event she’d since dubbed “The Massacre At Maple Lane.”
This soldier had seen his share of violent wreckage in his various tours over the years…but this was by far the best story he’d never be able to tell anyone.
“Room’s clear, sir!” One of the secret service soldiers barked.
“Stand down. Assume guard,” the leader ordered. The soldiers lowered their rifles. Two of them assumed posts at the doorway and the third maintained watch over the main window.
“Sir,” the leader said as he returned his attention to Cook. “It seems you’ve been consuming alcohol and that you are bleeding profusely. You need medical attention.”
“It seems you didn’t get the memo that I am the fucking PRESIDENT of the United American State, and I need you to leave me the FUCK alone!” Cook screamed.
“I must insist, sir,” the leader answered. Before Cook could further protest further, two of the staff doctors arrived with a Medi-Drone. They immediately took up positions next to the President.
“Oh, God,” Cook said frantically. “I don’t need this! I don’t need you! Get out! Get out NOW — OUCH!” He slapped his right arm as a needle slid free from his skin. “What the hell did you shoot me with!?!”
“Sobering agent and blood-clotting agent, sir,” one of the doctors said calmly as she dropped the needle on the MediDrone’s tray without even looking at Cook’s direction. A hatch opened atop the Medi-drone as the doctor reached toward it. She grabbed a pair of forceps while the other doctor lifted and held Cook’s foot.
Cook tried to struggle, but found he couldn’t jerk his leg away from the doctors or even wiggle his toes. “What the…I can’t move!”
“There was a nerve agent as well, sir,” the doctor holding his foot said. “So we can work.”
“That’s assault!” Cook yelled. “You just assaulted the President!”
The doctor with the forceps extracted the glass shard from the President’s foot and placed it on a tray held by the Medi-Drone. She dropped the bloody forceps on the tray next to the glass and grabbed a small bottle with saline and began irrigating the wound.
“Soldier, arrest these people!” Cook ordered. “I want them…I…” Cook stopped mid-sentence. He’d suddenly realized that not only was he completely sober, but that he had clearly been acting like an ass for the better part of the last half hour.
“Clean,” the doctor irrigating the wound said to the other holding Cook’s foot, who held up a small spray bottle and coated the wound with a liquid suture. The cut closed itself immediately.
Cook watched as the doctor who had extracted the glass pricked him with another needle. A numb rush swept over his body. For a fraction of a second, he could feel every single nerve ending dancing and tingling. Feeling returned to his limbs. His head cleared.
“Wow,” the President said as a wave of euphoria washed over him. “Well…good work. I seem to be…better now. Thank you.”
“It’s our job, sir,” the doctor at his feet said as he lowered Cook’s leg. He began scanning the President’s body and checking vitals while the other doctor held her fingers to Cook’s neck.
“Really, I’m okay now,” The President demurred. “I just…I really need some sleep.”
Just then, a line of cleaning drones wheeled their way into the Presidential bedroom and dutifully began clearing up the mess. One vacuumed up chunks of broken glass; another dragged splintered and cracked (and priceless) antique wood fragments out of the room. Three of the bots began scrubbing the blood from the carpet.
“Out, okay?” The President asked quietly, a headache starting to throb at his temples. “All of you out. This can all be done tomorrow.”
“The drones need to clean and the doctors need to be certain you’re okay, sir,” the leader of the secret service team said over the din of clanking cleaner drones. “Once they’ve cleared you and the drones have made the room safe, we will be on our way.”
A tone sounded throughout the room. “Sir,” J.A.Q.i announced, “Chairman Davis for you.”
“Fuck him,” Cook said quietly. “Hang up.”
“Sir, as you know, I’m an Imagen system,” J.A.Q.i replied. “He’s the Chairman of the Board and has overridden disconnects. I can’t.”
Cook sighed. He sat up straight and cleared his throat. “Everyone out. Now.”
The soldiers didn’t move. The doctors continued monitoring his vital signs.
Cook stood. “OUT!” he barked, pointing to the door. “Or you’re fired!”
The soldiers and doctors exchanged glances. Reluctantly, they all filed out the door.
“Drones out, too!” Cook commanded. The robots stopped their cleaning and began rolling toward the door. Cook walked over and punted one, nearly breaking his toe in the process. He pushed the door closed, but due to the severe manner in which it had been opened, it didn’t quite close all the way.
“Okay, let’s get this over with,” Cook said aloud. Another tone sounded.
“Stephen!” Davis barked immediately, his words seeming to stab directly into Cook’s throbbing skull. “Tell me this was part of your plan! Tell me you intended to steal my entire security force only to render them inert, feeding them to that wolf of a woman in front of the entire nation! Tell me how our own citizens are now emboldened to graffiti a MilSec station! Tell me how open revolt and a super-powered terrorist contribute to your ridiculous plot to return the United American State to some kind of former glory! Unless that glory, of course, results in a THIRD Civil War, you…you imbecile!”
“Engagement, Alan,” Cook answered coolly as he returned to his bed. “It’s always about engagement. Trust me, it’s all part of the plan.”
“Oh, there was certainly engagement!” Davis scoffed. “Marlowe Kana just engaged several squads of soldiers in front of an audience of forty million people — to a bloody end! The Subs in Atlanta are still smoldering, and now, our citizens are taking to defacing National property!”
“They’ve always done that,” Cook interjected. “It’s art.”
“It’s embarrassing is what it is!” Davis yelled. “And yes, it’s all great footage, if that was your goal, but now the entire nation knows that our guns don’t work! Which is also your fault! Yes, sir, the citizens of the United American State will be engaged for weeks with this…this…”
“It was a calculated move,” Cook interjected, wincing as he rubbed the newly formed scar on his foot.
“You calculated this?!?” Davis yelled. “You hijacked our entire nation’s security and military division and didn’t update the code on the biometric weapons lockout system on purpose?!? It was a calculated move to render over a hundred thousand soldiers both domestic and in the Gaslands absolutely defenseless? That was on PURPOSE?”
“Of course,” Cook bluffed. “Everything will be explained in due time–“
“-NOW is the time, Stephen! Explain yourself!”
“Goddammit, Alan!” Cook snapped. “You haven’t seen the bigger picture like I have! You’ll understand soon enough. For now, I’m exhausted. I need some sleep. Goodnight, Alan.” He waved his hand in the air and the call was placed on hold. He may have the connection locked, he thought, but that doesn’t mean I have to hear him…
Cook stewed. He could kick himself for such a minor oversight, if it weren’t for the fact that he’d re-open up the wound on his foot that had just been sutured. He gritted his teeth and shook his head. The weapons lockout was a major setback. And he needed a major comeback. One that would make it appear as if forgetting to update the weapons systems during the transition from MilSec to UASA was on purpose.
J.A.Q.i,” Cook said aloud.
“Yes, Mister President?”
“Ping Doctor Rossler.”
“His status is set to Do Not Disturb—“
“GET ME THE GODDAMN DOCTOR!” The President barked.
A tone sounded. And then another. And then a third. There was no response.
“Turn on every light and screen in his home. And activate the alarm system,” Cook said.
“Mr. President, I don’t—”
“–National emergency. Do it.”
After a few seconds, a groggy Dr. Rossler answered the pings sent by the President. “What the hell…who is this?” he asked blearily.
“It’s the President of the United American State,” Cook answered from his bed.
“Uh…yes, sir!” Rossler said, suddenly sounding much more awake. “It’s an honor to speak with you, sir! I’m sorry, I’m still waking—“
“Cain,” the President interrupted. “What is his status?”
“Well, sir, he’s in critical, but stable condition,” Rossler replied. “His healing trajectory puts him in the acceptable range. He’s no Corta, but despite that, I do think we can work with him, sir.”
“Well, there’re skin grafts, and the implant procedure, and then rehab.He suffered major spinal damage, so he’s going to have to learn how to walk again. But I think—“
“How long, doctor?” the President asked.
“Twelve months…maybe eighteen.”
“You have four hours,” Cook stated.
“Four HOURS?!?” Doctor Rossler said in shock.. “I… I can’t…”
“I suggest you get started. Right now. Call whomever you need. Bring them in. You get that man battle ready, and you do it today. Now.”
“But, sir!” Rossler demurred. “Project Phoenix is a three-month procedure on its own! You saw it with Corta — and she was nowhere near as badly injured as Cain—”
“Then skip Project Phoenix,” Cook snapped. “Wire his brain to a tank and cover it in spikes if you have to. I need that man up and on the battlefield by tonight!”
“That’ll be all, Doctor,” President Cook said as he gestured in the air, terminating the call.
A tone sounded.
“Yes, sir?” Major Sabrina Corta answered.
“Are you ready?” The President asked.
“Absolutely, sir,” Corta replied. “Just give the order.”
“It’s given,” Cook replied. “I’m sending something else that should help.”
“But I can handle her on my own,” Corta argued.
“I have no doubt,” Cook answered. “You’re getting it anyway.”
“…Yes sir,” Corta responded and the connection dropped.
Cook sat at the edge of his bed and contemplated his reality. He raised his injured foot to his knee and examined it. What was once a gaping wound was now just a large scab just to the right of his plantar ligament. He examined his bedroom. The floors were spotless, save for a small red stain that the drones weren’t able to tackle. Missing was the chair that was once next to his writing desk, a lamp, the glasses and trays and decanter from the drink cart (which was once again upright), and a clear view of the NewsFeed still glowing through a cracked and spiderwebbed screen.
“J.A.Q.i, turn everything off. And no calls for at least two hours.”
“Yes, sir,” J.A.Q.i replied as the lights dimmed.
“And I am going to need some AMP when I wake up. I’ve got a long day ahead of me.”
“Yes, sir,” J.A.Q.i said. A final tone sounded, barely audible over the rustling of the sheets as Cook slid himself into bed.