Reaching an Ultimatum (Part III)
Could the world be pushed to the brink when it comes down to matters of climate change?
- "Right here. I'm waiting. And when you're ready to sign up to the Carbon Plan, it's the same address."
- "Every six hours, the American people are going to see me in front of this White House to know that's exactly where I am."
- "I have a message for you, President Wen. The U.S. government is here. The U.S. government is open for business. And in the U.S. government, the buck stops with me."
Tuesday, November 1, 2033
Joe Benton didn’t move. He gazed at Enderlich. Could this be a coup? Could it be an attempt to get him to launch a major strike to create the conditions for the military to take over? Led by who? Jay MacMahon? Larry Olsen?
In the meetings over the last few days, Olsen and Enderlich had been saying pretty much the same things. And Olsen wasn’t here, even though he was meant to be. Where was he? Maybe he was up there, on top, orchestrating things.
“Sir?” Enderlich pointed at the briefcase. “We have to act. They’re escalating.”
“Put it away.”
“We have to respond.”
“What if they’re de-escalating? They attack the Bay area. They kill, how many? Three million? We respond and kill the same. Or more. Then they attack Junction City. It’s a de-escalation, Admiral. Isn’t that obvious?”
“It’s an error, sir. A lucky escape. We have to take our chance—”
“What if they’re looking for a way out?”
“What if the next missile is already on its way?”
Benton stared at the admiral. Suddenly the bunker seemed unbearable. Benton felt utterly cut off from reality, dependent on information filtered through to him by people he didn’t know, didn’t trust, didn’t understand.
The woman’s face on the vox pop flashed into his mind. Tearstained. Shocked. Her voice. “Where’s our president? How do we know he’s even alive?”
“Get me out of here,” he said suddenly.
“Get me back to Washington.”
“Sir, I can’t do that. Remember what your position is.”
“Your commander in chief. I said get me back to Washington.”
“Sir, Alpha Plan requires—”
“I don’t give a damn about Alpha Plan. I’m giving you an order. Get me back to Washington!”
The first thing he did was to go out on the south lawn and speak with the White House in camera shot behind him. Heather was on one side of him, and Angela Chavez on the other, and around them were his cabinet secretaries. They had been given the choice to stay bunkered or come back, and they were all there.
The message was short. He started by telling the American people that they had just lived through terrible days, but that he was here, he was at his post, and he was doing everything he could to make sure they would never see such days again.
Then he said: “This part is for President Wen of the People’s Republic of China. I have a message for you, President Wen. The United States government is here. The United States government is open for business. And in the United States government, the buck stops with me. So if you don’t like what the United States government is saying, leave innocent people alone. Hit me with your bombs.”
He spread his arms. “Right here. I’m waiting. And when you’re ready to sign up to the Carbon Plan, it’s the same address.” He pointed to the White House behind him. “I’ll be right in there, ready to hear from you, one way or the other.” He paused, gazing at the camera. “President Wen, I’m not going anywhere.”
Back inside, he gave orders for the evacuation of the Washington area. Only essential military staff would be asked to stay. Then he went to the situation room where he gathered the National Security Council and the other service chiefs.
He had brought Enderlich back with him on Air Force One and decided to include him in the discussion, even though the admiral was technically under arrest. Larry Olsen was there. He had been bunkered in Virginia, as the president had been told, and there had been a communications failure.
“Mr. President,” said Jay MacMahon, “you’ve made your point. Quite magnificently. We should now move you out of Washington to safety.”
Joe Benton looked at him incredulously. “Jay, I didn’t just say that. This is where I’m staying. Every six hours, the American people are going to see me in front of this White House to know that’s exactly where I am.”
McMahon glanced at Enderlich. “But sir—”
“I’m not taking discussion on this.”
Editors Note: This excerpt is a work of fiction from the book “Ultimatum.” © 2009 by Matthew Glass, reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Atlantic Monthly Press, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Read Part II here.