"The President will see you now," he was told by Stormour's Chief of Staff and led into the Oval Office. As much as he had tried to prepare himself for this moment, he was deeply affected by the legendary room, the weight of history that seemed to emanate from the walls, and the impressive persona of the current President of the United States. Those words carried ancestral weight, almost holy as when a devout Catholic has an audience with the Pope. Jergen loved history, especially early American history and the Revolutionary War period.
There was a desk, of course, in the office. It was the famous Resolute desk. Built out of timbers from a British Arctic Exploration ship that was abandoned in the ice in 1852, found by an American whaler in 1855 and sent refitted back to England where Queen Victoria had a desk constructed from its wood and given as a gift back to the President as a token of friendship and goodwill.
And there it was with its ornate carved panels.
Jordan Stormour stood near a soft, brown leather sofa, offering his hand as Donald Jergin, chief liaison for the New American Republic in Washington, D.C. quickly closed the distance and shook it. Jergin was forty-five, the President, fifty-three.
Stormour gestured at the couch across from him separated by a coffee table.
"Would you like something to drink? Coffee or tea, perhaps?"
Jergen thought a moment and decided he wanted a cup of coffee very much. Such things, besides being tasty and welcome, could also serve as props in one's deliberations, a means of offering moments of reflection and strategizing while engaged in having something to sip.
"Coffee, please. Black and sweet."
The Chief of Staff pressed a button on the desk and said aloud, "Three coffees, all black, one sweet. Thank you."
Jergen laughed inwardly as he knew from past experience that his coffee would be under-sweetened. Not deliberately, but because others never correctly guessed that he preferred more sugar, so he learned to accept and drink it as given without correction. It made one look weaker for complaining, or autocratic and supercilious if insisting something be done exactly according to specification.
Which was a weird and funny thing. If he asked for a Coke, a soda loaded with sugar, no one would have given it a second thought, but he recalled many times in the office, fixing himself a cup of coffee while someone next to him, doing the same, would observe him pouring four spoonfuls of sugar into his mug and commenting, "Want a little coffee with that sugar, huh?"
Jergen was always ready for that. "Since when did my intake of a substance become your primary concern? I had no idea you were obsessed about the personal tastes of others." That usually shut them up permanently.
That was one of the funnier things about people, about a lot of men. They had no mental censor, no inhibiter for stopping stupid comments before they spoke them; of not minding other people's business out loud like the guy in the office who had to tell the secretary how hot she looked in a sweater, how good her legs were. They couldn't help it. It just automatically spewed out. Cretans everywhere.
He didn't want be annoying and have Stormour ticked off at him. He would soon have a lot to be ticked off about.
Jergen had a tablet with him. It had been cleared and found to be free of explosives or nasty chemistry. Prior to that search, other devices and papers had been given to the White House for examination that were germane to the discussion about to unfold.
The USA did not formally recognize the New America Republic, but it couldn't ignore the reality of it, either; thus both maintained pseudo-embassies. The US in the capitol of the NAR in Laramie, Wyoming.
Jergen knew the NAR was about to invade western Washington State, and that Stormour had promised the governor he would go so far as to use nuclear weapons in retaliation if they did.
Stormour knew the NAR was staging an army in eastern Washington in preparation of invasion. He knew that his promise to the governor of Washington had been rashly given, yet he could not bear the idea of the NAR proceeding in its almost genocidal manner.
Stormour had previously been the governor of Pennsylvania. In that position, his scope and powers remained nearly the same as they had for hundreds of years, and he was an effective leader, administrator, and manager of the state given its current resources and population.
Once elected president, he realized the office he inherited had lost considerable prestige, power, and range. His effective zone of influence and control remained the Northeast, Midwest, and east coast to Northern Virginia. All other States and regions were outside his jurisdiction. The west coast, ostensibly, belonged to the USA, but no taxes came from it. Those States had become poor and bankrupt. The Southwest was overrun with illegal aliens beyond government control, a bizarre frontier, nearly lawless, a highway for illegal drugs, prostitutes, aliens, guns, and warring gangs in many areas.
The Deep South now included Tennessee, Kentucky, and even West Virginia, and formed a Region of its own, not as developed in government and industry, nor with as aggressive a military, nor as federalist as the NAR, but definitely separate.
He knew that Jergen knew exactly how many soldiers, tanks, artillery pieces, airplanes, helicopters, sailors, ships, submarines, drones, nuclear warheads, laser and missile systems he had at his command. The diminution of his forces was humiliating. The budget was draining forever with Entitlements to keep the Welfare Society functioning.
The NAR greatly outnumbered them on the ground and in the air. Being landlocked, they lacked ships and submarines, hence their push to the west coast, and their annexation of northern Minnesota with access to Lake Superior. Soon, no doubt, they'd gain cities on the Mississippi.
The US Navy was reduced to two aircraft carrier groups, one for each coast. There were four mothballed nuclear carriers in California alone. Would they end up in NAR control and refurbished? That was one of the things they war-gamed. Scuttling them was useless. They could be easily raised, regardless of depth. Blowing them up could result in retaliation such as the NAR destroying their last two functional platforms.
Stormour had quickly realized as president that the job was no longer about presenting a vision to the people, and then attempting to implement it through Congress, full of promises about how these measures, this new agency, this subsidy would result in lifelong benefits and goodness.
His job now was plugging dikes springing a thousand leaks, robbing Peter to pay Paul, pleading with States to deliver revenue. His great idea and election message had been a program to re-establish tariffs as they once had during the mercantile period of history. It would protect domestic manufactures and goods while taxing foreigners underselling Americans. It might have worked in a robust economy, but now it only made people that much poorer without increasing wages.
The coffee arrived, and Jergen was both surprised and delighted to discover it was exactly to his taste. Perhaps someone had been studying up on him? He was impressed, and that much more wary.
"Mr. President," Jergen began, it is both an honor and a privilege to meet with you. I wish I could convey to you just how deep a feeling we of the New American Republic have for the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the connection we feel to the United States of America, of 'our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave'," he said.
Stormour recognized the quote from Lincoln, but wasn't sure where to place it. It was the first inaugural address.
"I appreciate that Mr. Jergen, but it pains me to mention that just as Lincoln was in conflict with the South, we are in conflict with your Region of the country. You are on a course to do great harm to other Americans. The United States stands firmly against your objective. It must not happen. We will oppose you."
Jergen nodded. "Sir, I won't waste your time explaining our reasons or our Constitution. You are a conscientious leader, no doubt well briefed on our politics and culture. What I have to tell you pains me, also. It is simply this -- you cannot, must not, oppose our actions in the west (or anywhere else for that matter)."
Stormour drew back slightly at the affront of being told what he could and must not do.
He wanted to clench his teeth, but relaxed his jaw and replied instead, "How do you intend to prevent the defense of our country?"
"It is our understanding that the USA maintains something close to 350 nuclear warheads. We know for a fact that you told the Governor of Washington you would use nuclear weapons against us if our forces invaded them in the west." He paused to study Stormour's face. It was impassive, but clearly a tacit acknowledgement of the fact.
"Mr. President," he continued, "I want you to briefly study a few matters."
He presented his tablet computer to Stormor's view, tapping a few places on the touch screen. "This is a replica of a nuclear weapon we presented your people with a few days ago. This is a prototype of a rejected design; one of many, but instructive in that it's a design that clearly works. We also furnished all the schematics for this. Are you confident that we know how to build functional nuclear weapons?"
The President glanced at his Chief of Staff at the end of the sofa way from him. He nodded.
"Yes. I understand you know how to build nuclear weapons."
Tapping on the screen again, Jergen pulled up a picture of an area of Utah.
"This is an area of Utah well known for its uranium deposits. Through Canada, we've also been able to import quantities of yellowcake from Africa. You can check with Canadian authorities on that. You may not recall, but Arco, Idaho was one of the first processing labs for plutonium in developing nuclear submarine power plants. This satellite picture shows how extensive that laboratory and processing plant has become since it no longer worked for your Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Go ahead and bomb this place if you like. We have others."
The President grimaced. He knew he was being set up. Jergen was running a dog and pony show that somehow, inexorably was going to make him impotent. Make his job futile.
"Continue," he said.
"Standing by in a secure location in Wyoming is your liaison to my country, and a team of your nuclear scientists." He again pressed a few glyphs on the tablet. A group of men appeared in a bright-lit room.
The Chief of Staff had moved over to observe the tablet screen, and spoke, "Mr. Washington (he was a black man chosen deliberately for that reason to be liaison there), do you hear me and see me?"
"The President is standing by."
"Mr. Washington, what is your report?"
"Mr. President, this team of scientists from the NRC has examined the material here in the NAR and they all conclude that they have sufficient fissionable material to construct a great many atomic, hydrogen bombs. There is no doubt, no possibility of deception. Our instruments have not been tampered with, and the material reacts with other elements in ways that can't be faked."
"How much material were you able to test?"
"More than the United States possesses at this time."
"Thank you, Mr. Washington," Stormour said ending the conversation.
"Even so," Jergen added. "Your weapons could utterly destroy us if you launched them. Our having plutonium and devices to explode it are meaningless unless we can either launch missiles or deliver the bombs directly. Here are three co-ordinates in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia you must send police or federal agents to immediately. They will discover three lead lined containers holding a small amount of plutonium in them (to be returned to us when they're done). Undetectable by sensors."
"This demonstrates out ability to both penetrate your security, and destroy your major cities, too, without the need of missiles. But we do have missiles as you can observe here, if your satellites haven't already observed."
Jergen showed on the tablet videos of missile launches by the NAR in the Utah desert.
He then spoke about their missile shield and defense system, far more advanced than anything the US had after cutting the program decades earlier, having lured their most knowledgeable scientists to Wyoming to develop their ideas and engineering.
He didn't mention their EMP drones, pilotless airplanes capable of destroying electronic systems by means of electro-magnetic pulses. Nor did he demonstrate their laser weapons capable of destroying projectiles from artillery shells, guided missiles, ICBMs, and Cruise types.
The capabilities of both defensive and offensive weapons easily exceeded that of the USA. Stormour's heart sank as the reality of the situation settled in.
A call came into the office and the Chief of Staff answered it.
"Mr. President, three containers as Mr. Jergen described have been found in the locations given."
"Mr. President, I hesitate to say it, but you should consider the possibility that we have placed other containers in the same cities or elsewhere with active nuclear weapons and are ready to activate them should we be attacked in any way by your country."
"Yes sir. That's how it falls out. The USA is dead as far as we're concerned. Beautiful while it lasted until the 50's or so, but no longer a viable entity for human beings."
"By God, just who do you people think you are!?"
"The descendants of Celts, Saxons, Angles, Germans, Vikings, Pilgrims, Puritans, Scots Irish, and others who refuse to go gently into that good night. Just who the hell are you?"
Stormour didn't answer. He had no answer. He was a man of motley peoples. A conjuror at building coalitions, pulling disparate groups and separate agendas together. He was a man who'd built his house on sand, but was certain he had good will toward everyone, every person in his jurisdiction: the black woman having babies at fourteen, never getting a job, living on welfare; the illegal Mexican having a baby at no cost in the emergency room and suddenly eligible for federal benefits; to the poor Somali in a cab mutilating his daughter's genitals and refusing to transport a blind man and his seeing eye dog.
Stormour pretended to love them all. It was his duty. The Statue of Liberty proclaimed his creed -- the wretched refuse, the tempest tossed -- they were all supposed to find a place in America, to melt into one race and people, the American race that knew no color, religion, sex, culture, ethnicity except baseball, mom, and apple pie. Damnit! People were supposed to get along and not have petty differences like food, music, clothing, beliefs, or tribalism. Everyone was supposed to be transformed into an average white man of northern European sensibility. It stood to reason. To differentiate by ethnicity, by color, by race -- well, that made you a racist; the most evil of the evil; a monster. Everyone was the same with the same needs, same desires, aspirations, abilities, and concerns. Everyone had the same intelligence. To say otherwise was to be a Nazi.
It wasn't that all these thoughts flew through Stormour's mind, just that they'd occurred before and were referenced in passing.
"Mr. Jergen, you're telling me that any act on our part will result in Mutual Armed Destruction."
"Yes sir, but worse than that. You can't destroy us while we can surely destroy you."
"You're willing to bet on that?" he stared him down.
"Absolutely. If we're wrong, most of us believe we're going to a better place anyhow. If you're wrong, everything's finished."
"The United States will stand down so long as you do not use nuclear weapons under any circumstances on this continent. Do I have your word?"
"You have our word. We do not wish to kill anyone and will do all we can to preserve lives. Our main objective is to restore, not destroy."
"I don't believe that's true."
"Here is what I believe. It was written by John Jay in the Federalist Paper number 2. He wrote 'Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people — a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.' What a shame so many like you have abandoned those principles. They're good ones."
Jergen was shown the way out and soon relayed the outcome to Laramie and their president.