“No luck, sir!” Cook’s aide shouted from the doorway of the Situation Room in the underground bunker of the New White House. “Everything within the Atlanta city limits is dark. I can’t reach Mayor Benjamin.”
“Goddammit, Marcus,” Cook replied, “I don’t care if someone has to fly there personally, you find Andre and you get him on my private line as soon as possible!”
“Yes, sir!” Marcus said as he exited the room and shut the door.
Cook turned back to Generals Baker and Heinsman, who were seated at the table in order to his left. “Where are we at?” Cook asked.
“Zero visibility,” General Baker reported. “No cameras, biometrics, monitors…Fulton and Dekalb atmosphere generators are still dark.”
“Do we know yet if they’re truly offline or if it’s just a coms interruption?”
“Undetermined, sir. They are priority one and two once reinforcements arrive.”
“Where are we on that?”
“A full battalion is prepping now, sir,” General Heinsman responded.
“Deploying in thirty,” General Baker added.
“Make it two battalions and get them out the door in fifteen minutes.”
“But, sir,” General Baker responded. “That will almost certainly compromise the local operations of other cities in the nat—”
“Two battalions in Atlanta within the hour, or it’s your asses!” President Cook snapped. He turned to his right, where the Director of WarFeed Broadcasting sat. “Jim, cameras?”
“I’ve got two hundred camera drones diverting from Chattanooga now, and another four hundred en route from Nashville and Memphis, sir,” Jim replied. “I can double that number by noon.”
“See?” Cook said as he looked back at the generals. “This is the kind of response I am looking for! Great work, Jim.” His attention moved further down the table. “Candice?”
“No one has claimed responsibility for the EMP yet, sir,” The Strategic Office Chief answered. “Gaslanders resurfacing is always a safe bet, but early intel suggests that it’s the group who sprung Marlowe Kana yesterday.”
“Issue a release to NewsFeed. Tell them it was a fault in eaOS 12.2 and we are issuing an emergency update as we speak. We can’t scare the public with terror threats this time around.”
“Already done, sir,” the Chief replied.
“Excellent,” Cook replied. Michael?”
“Literally putting the dots on the i’s of your speech right now, sir,” the Director of Public Relations replied.
“Has anyone reached Davis?” Cook asked.
“No, sir,” Pam Daly, the newly appointed Ambassador to Imagen Corporation replied.
“Find a way,” Cook said. “I already know the answer, but I have to ask again. Is there ANY response from ANY beacon, node, drone, vehicle, or person inside the Atlanta city limits?” Cook queried the room.
“Damn,” Cook said, lowering himself into his seat. “Engagement was the highest it’s ever been in history…”
“The numbers were staggering, sir,” General Heinsman replied. “A few hundred thousand short of every single citizen in the nation. Your engagement strategy worked, sir.”
“Yes, until it didn’t!” Cook snapped. “Who could have possibly…” He slammed the table in front of him with his fist and yelled “Davis!” Everyone in the room flinched.
“Generals,” Cook ordered, “I want you to begin working up a strategy for a hostile takeover of the Imagen Corporation’s headquarters.”
General Baker and General Heinsman both gasped. “Sir…”
“Commander-In-Chief, remember?” Cook replied nastily.
“Sir, we have satellite visual coming from Atlanta,” the Director of Citizen Welfare announced. “It’s…it’s red, sir.”
“What?” Cook asked. “Like, the footage is colored red?”
“No sir,” The director replied. “The entire city’s power grid is down. The situation is red, sir.”
Cook studied the screen. The satellite’s camera was zooming in, bringing the city closer and closer into view. An overlay of the nation’s power grid showed a web of red over the perimeter of Atlanta, indicating entire carrier lines were offline.
“Jesus,” General Baker said. “That means–”
“–no atmospheric generators,” General Heinsman answered in shock. “This is bad, sir.”
“We can deal with that later,” President Cook insisted. “I need plans for the Imagen Headquarters invasion drawn up and in front of me immediately! Alan Davis will pay for this!”
“Sir!” The Director of Citizen Welfare said again. “We’ve got a CitizenFeed with drone footage of Atlanta!”
“J.A.Q.i, main screen!” Cook ordered. A tone sounded, and the footage from a drone belonging to a user named ~StuntDronez~ appeared. Waves of heat were rising from the asphalt as the drone hovered around, showing citizens on the streets waving and fanning themselves with their tablet Pods, hats, and anything else they could find. Sweat was flying as two citizens fought with what little energy they could muster as they quibbled over an umbrella. The drone’s on-screen display reported the temperature at a hundred and seventeen degrees Fahrenheit.
“My God,” General Baker said, stunned.
“Sir, we need to mobilize every available medical and technical unit to Atlanta, immediately!”
“J.A.Q.i! Commandeer that drone, right now!” Cook ordered. “Get it to Terminus Citadel! I want eyes on the Next Top Soldiers, and I want it NOW! Find Marlowe Kana!”
“Sir, the first priority is the safety of the people!” The Director of Citizen Welfare said grimly.
“I’m the goddamn president and I am ordering you to get that drone to Terminus Citadel!” Cook barked. “And where are the plans for Imagen Headquarters?” Silence was Cook’s only answer as the screen showed a drone buzzing past fighting and dying citizens, making its way through the city to Terminus Citadel.
“Sir…” Marcus, the President’s aide, said from behind him as he peeked in from the doorway, “There’s something you need to see…a new CitizenFeed that just started broadcasting—”
“Not the time for cat GIFs, Marcus!” Cook snapped.
“It’s not that, it’s…well, just look. J.A.Q.i, main screen.”
“Approval, Mr. President?” J.A.Q.i asked.
Cook thought for a moment, sighed, then said,“Yes, J.A.Q.i. Approved.”
The screen flickered, then showed a muscular man with short, graying black hair. A kaleidoscope of tattoos poured from the sleeves of his black t-shirt, which was emblazoned with a red fist logo.
“I am Hank Collins, and I am the voice of The Sovereign. You will be hearing from us,” the man on the screen said, before it went black.
“Dammit, Marcus!” President Cook barked, “How many times do I have to tell you to rewind these things before you show them to me?”
Marcus gasped. “Sorry, sir,” he said, “Let me start it from the beginning…there.”
The man’s face on the screen jumped and bobbed manically as his mouth flashed opened and closed, the scrubber on the video’s timeline sliding back to the beginning. Suddenly, everything froze. Hank Collins stared directly into the lens of the camera, a scowl stamped on his face for a second, then two, then three…
“Play the damn thing!” Cook yelled.
“It’s playing!” Marcus replied. “He’s just…starting really slow, sir.”
“Dramatic, much?” President Cook muttered.
Hank Collins took a deep breath on the screen, then began: “My name is Hank Collins, and I am the voice of The Sovereign. As many of you just saw, the unfair battle that Marlowe Kana was forced to fight was interrupted, much like how her life was interrupted when Imagen falsely imprisoned her…like how General Kana’s freedom was interrupted when he was arrested for a false charge…just how like your life, and my life, and the lives of every United American State Citizen has been interrupted by imprisonment thanks to Imagen’s over-corporatized society.
“Your entire life, you’ve been lied to. You have been told that you have choices: work and advance your family, or don’t work and Imagen will take care of you. Go to school and advance yourself, or don’t go to school and Imagen will take care of you. You’ve been given choices of which flavor of drink you want to drink, or food you want to eat, or what color you want your hair to be, or what type of clothing you want to wear. All of it made by Imagen. All of it controlled by one corporation. A corporation started by our so-called president’s great-great-great grandfather. A corporation that controls our weather and our entertainment and our time, none of it truly ever free. A corporation that we now depend on to eat, to work, and to live. A corporation that tells us that great and necessary wars are going on outside of our borders to keep ‘terrorists’ in line and keep us safe.
“There is no war. There is only control. And we, The Sovereign, are done being controlled.”
“Tonight, we announce ourselves. Tonight, we tell you that there is real choice coming. A choice for your future. A choice to be truly free. I am Hank Collins, and I am the voice of The Sovereign. You will be hearing from us.”
The video faded to black.
The personnel in the Situation Room wasted no time scrambling into action. “Sir,” General Baker said, “I have began running searches and harvesting intel on this Sovereign group. We should have preliminary intel back within—”
“—I know who it is,” President Cook said flatly, staring down at the table while rubbing the graying temples of his head. “Run intel for Andrew Garfield, age fifty-nine, also probably known as The Judge. It’s a stupid name, I know. You won’t find anything, but try anyway.”
“…Who is Andrew Garfield, sir?” General Heinsman asked.
Cook looked up and faced an expectant room full of his administration’s greatest minds, all of whom had eyes locked on their President.
“Someone I used to know,” Cook stated.
The deafening silence in the room was eventually interrupted by a tone ringing. “Sir,” J.A.Q.i announced. “The drone has arrived at Terminus Citadel.”
All eyes turned to the screen as the drone surveyed the area. The courtyard was flooded with prisoners who were tearing out of the front gates, spreading out in all directions as they fled. The facility’s lights were dark and the once-electrified fencing was failing to keep the prisoners from climbing up and over. There was no sign of Marlowe or her squad.
“Sir,” General Baker spoke up urgently. “There are nearly ten thousand felons with some degree of advance warfare training pouring into a city with no electricity, no weapons, and no soldiers,” she said. “I have to insist that you–”
“–FINE,” Cook rolled his eyes as he waved his hand at the General. “Send aid and tech services to Atlanta. And one of the United American State Army battalions.”
“Right away, sir!” General Baker replied.
“But only the one!” Cook insisted. “The other one is headed to Indianapolis. To Imagen.”