Your only freedom will kill you.
President Benjamin Alan
“Son-of-a-gun, now that was a good speech,” President Benjamin Alan said under his breath as he walked off stage. He raised his hand up again and throngs of people screamed in applause.
“Great speech, Mr. President,” Mary Buckingload, his personal assistant, said to him as she began to escort him back to his ride.
“I know,” he agreed. “They just ate it out of my hand. The trick is to remain calm yet energized, eloquent but not overly arrogant. It can be hard,” he said. “Good thing you don't have to worry about stuff like this, eh Mary? Must be nice only having to worry about minor logistics for the President.” Mary clenched her jaw. “I guarantee you this speech is going to dramatically boost my popularity. I'd like you to watch the polls, Mary. People came from all over the country for this event. It's not only important for you and me. Heck, it's important for this entire nation.”
The crowds were still screaming and cheering like maniacs as Benjamin Alan disappeared out of sight under the wide yellow banner which read: NASCAR Fans of Freedom celebrate NASCAR.
The President shook hands as he walked out the door. People were still screaming for his attention. Expectedly, President Alan stopped near the exit and raised his hand into the air and swept it backwards over his head and then threw a thumbs up into the air – his signature goodbye. (It had taken him most of his time as Governor to perfect his salute. He liked to think of it as lassoing a tornado.)
“Take a seat, Mr. President,” Mary said as they got to his ride. “You've got another engagement shortly.”
President Alan ducked into his limousine. “Phew!” he said, and crashed backwards into the seat. “What a speech!” He sat up and opened his mini fridge and pulled out a Dr. Pepper. “And what a day!” he said after a satisfying gulp. First there had been the cutting of the ribbon at Mother Mary's Church of the Saved. Then he had been rushed over to the east side where he had shaken hands with several dignitaries from various African nations appealing for aid. Luckily, Mary had been there to help him pronounce the names of those African nations and remind him when to say country instead of continent. After that was the luncheon at the children's hospital with the press and half a dozen cancer survivors, which would have been somewhat of a downer had the food not been absolutely stupendous.
With such a busy schedule the President relished these moments of solace.
His phone rang. “Blast it,” he muttered and pulled his phone out of his breast pocket. “Hello, this is the President,” he said for the twentieth time today.
“Mr. President, I have just been informed that we are going to have to cancel your eight thirty. It looks like a meeting with your cabinet was just added to your line-up about an hour ago.”
The President shook his head in frustration. “But Carlson, my eight-thirty is very important. Are you sure this is necessary?”
“One hundred percent, Sir. I've been told it relates to a level five security order.”
President Alan rolled his eyes. “They usually just let me play golf during that kind of stuff.”
“Not this time, Sir.”
He sighed like a punctured fuel container on a million dollar yacht. “I would like you to reschedule my eight-thirty as soon as possible,” he said with a tone of disapproval.
“Right away, Sir. I'm sure your barber will be able to fit you in tomorrow morning.”
“Good,” he said and hung up. President Alan looked out the door as he sipped his Dr. Pepper. He didn't like the unexpected. Whatever this was had better not take too long.
Thirty minutes later President Alan walked into the Cabinet Room and everyone looked up as the President strode in. The conversation died down; to say they looked tense would have been an understatement. Someone suggested they open a window. Twenty five men and women looked at him expectantly from around the oval table.
The President sat down at the center of the table and looked at each of his cabinet members. “Good afternoon,” he said. The group nodded back to him, waiting for him to say more. He felt an impatience. “I apologize for my delay,” he said. “I've been in the bathroom – Mary,” he said and looked over his shoulder, “have the FDA shut down the cafeteria at the Children's Hospital.” He faced the group again. “Anyway, I received the documents. They looked very important and I'm beginning to think that I should have read them while I was on the pot.”
The Director of Homeland Securities, Lou Donahue, nodded toward the doorman who left and closed the door behind him. “Mr. President,” Donahue said with an edge that could have cut through a bank safe. “There has been an attack. Two hours ago a biological weapon was released in the heart of downtown Seattle. Over one hundred casualties were reported at the epicenter.”
Beads of sweat began to form on the President's brow. “One...hundred?”
The room was quiet. “What's the population of Seattle?” he asked.
Donahue furled his brow and did a quick google search. “Almost seven hundred thousand.”
Benjamin Alan gritted his teeth. “We can only pray they weren't all registered voters.”
“I am afraid the initial attack was only the beginning,” Donahue said. “By seven o'clock there were nine hundred casualties. By eight o'clock, over eight thousand. Dead. We have received a report that the virus has already spread to Tacoma, Portland, Spokane, and Boise, Idaho. We are still gathering data, but the numbers are looking grim.”
“What are the estimates?” the President asked.
“It's hard to say for certain. Two hundred thousand. A half a million, maybe?”
Nervous faces stared at the leader of the free world. All eyes were on him now, awaiting his reaction.
The President took in a deep breath. “Would someone get me a Dr. Pepper, please?”
Mary opened the lightweight refrigerated bag filled with chilled sodas that she carried with her wherever the President went. She quickly passed him his favorite drink which the President drank down in two choking gulps.
“Now,” he said, laying his hands on the table, “I am well aware that everyone here knows that I have never been to Seattle before, which would make this a pretty easy prank to pull off. So you might as well come clean. Come on now, who is it? Jenkins? Was this your idea?” he pointed playfully at the Director of the ATF.” Jenkins looked at his hands and shook his head.
Donahue eyed the President with measured concern. “Sir, this was a terrorist attack.”
The President burped loudly in surprise. “A terrorist attack?” he said more to himself than to anyone else. “But the War on Terror is over. We brought freedom to the Middle East years ago and blasted all the terrorists to kingdom come. Those towel-heads, forgive my Arabic, deserve what they got (may they rest in God’s arms),” he said, and then crossed himself. Many in the cabinet followed suit.
“I just don't understand it,” he said. “Those countries are democratic beacons of the world now. Why, we standardized their way of living, or we better have what with all the money we've been sending them,” he muttered under his breath. “Do you have any idea how many American school books my wife has sent to Samoa?”
“You mean Afghanistan?” the Director of Education asked.
“That's the one!” he snapped. “The point is they have infrastructure now. More roads. Less camels. How many McDonalds are in Libya now? Becky, what's your latest count?”
“Well over a hundred, Sir.”
He shook his head in amazement. “We've left nothing but opportunity there. We brought them freedom and they drank it down like a tall smooth glass of scotch,” he said and closed his eyes with an expression of suppressed nostalgia. “No. Something tells me that we need to look at this differently.” He looked across the desk. No one spoke. No one knew what to say. Suddenly, his eyes widened and President Alan looked at Donahue. “General Donahue, you mentioned it was a biological attack. Is that correct?”
“Yes. Most certainly.”
Alan nodded. “That's what I thought. Now it’s been a long time since I took Biology One at Yale, but I remember a tremendous amount,” he said tapping his head with his finger. “Biology is the science of living things. Birds, rocks, monkeys, it's all biology, got it? Now who here has seen the movie Outbreak?” he asked. “You know, the one with the monkeys?”
A handful of people raised their hands slowly.
“Great. So the way I see it, we're likely looking at the wrong culprits. While we were busy killing jihadists in the Middle East, the real terrorists have been plotting to take back all the land we've been encroaching on.”
“You mean monkeys, Sir?”
He shrugged. “Maybe. I'm talking more about your local flora and fauns. Bears, bobcats, mountain lions, your occasional porcupine. We'll definitely need to watch out for them. Porcupines can shoot quills like a trained soldier shoots a rifle.”
“I'm saying they're infected quills,” he said angrily. “Like in Outbreak? Am I the only one paying attention, here?” The President stared across the table and scanned the eyes of his advisors until they landed on those of the Administrator of Environmental Protection.
“Liz?” he asked. Elizabeth Munsfield's eyes widened with a strange look of panic. “How long since you've received information on an animal attack?”
“Um…” Ms. Munsfield said, “Well, they come in every day.”
He snapped his fingers. “And I’d be willing to bet that it's been getting worse.”
“Well, what with increasing urban-wildland interface, that would be true.”
“Haha!” he yelled in triumph. “Mary,” he called over his shoulder. “Get Ms. Munsfield a Dr. Pepper!” Mary handed her a soda. An alarm on her phone prompted her to leave the room. “OK,” he clapped his hands. “Now we're getting somewhere. I want everyone to be focused on large game animals. Bears, bighorn sheep,” he said, counting off his fingers. “Skip the birds for now but keep a watch on them.”
“What about rodents?” the Vice President asked.
“If they come across your path just step on them and move on.”
“Mr. President,” Lou Donahue said as carefully as possible, “Though you pose a convincing theory, I fear the story is a bit more complex.” He passed a yellow folder across the table. “For the last two months we have been observing a budding terrorist cell that popped up outside Midland, Texas. It was small, only five men in total, but all of them had previous connections with both Al Kabob and Al Kabib. After the fall of the Taliban, we felt certain that all terrorist organizations below them would fall like dominos, which they did. All but that one,” he said, pointing at the folder in the President's hands. “Halam Hakbar was just seen last week in Seattle along with three of his men. Hakbar was a chemist in Iran for fifteen years before he legally entered the U.S. sixteen months ago. He has become quite adept at social media. What bothers us is that his ratio of jihad-like rants to kitty memes is practically a thousand to one. He has been quite vocal about his distaste for American international politics and has vowed on multiple occasions to make the U.S. government pay for the slaughter of innocent women and children. His family was killed years ago in a drone attack though we still have not confirmed if his wife was indeed a terrorist or a preschool teacher.”
Donahue paused. “There is also another man,” he said and swiveled his chair and flicked a switch. A wide screen lowered from the ceiling. A young man in his late twenties was standing in the center of a plaza of dead people. “This is David Dingle,” he said. “This man was the last person at the scene of the crime. We believe he is working for Halam Hakbar.”
The door opened and Mary walked into the Cabinet room carrying a large television. She walked laboriously over to the far end of the table and set the television down with a loud clunk. She walked over and presented Alan with a remote control.
“Mary?” The President asked. “What is this?”
Mary nodded her head.
President Alan pressed the on button. The TV screen flickered and hummed to life and a granulated picture wavered into focus. In front of them a short over-weight Jewish man in his late sixties stared back at them. He wore thin-rimmed glasses, though the President could not see the bags under his eyes, because the man's entire face was covered with an industrial gas mask.
“Mr. President, can you hear me?” the man said.
“Melech!” the President exclaimed, recognizing the voice. “Hell, I didn’t even realize that you weren’t here. Where the hell are you?”
“Hello, Benjamin,” Melech said morosely. “I apologize for my absence. I’m in…Seattle.”
Everyone at the table collectively gasped.
The President leaned forward. “What on earth are you doing in Seattle, man? Don't you know there's been an animal attack?”
“For the time being I am safe, thank you.” A thin line wavered through the transmission. “I’m underground, Mr. President, in bunker unit B-683.”
“So you’ve heard then?” the President said.
“Heard?” Melech said with a grim smile. “I’m at ground zero. I was here when it happened, in this very room. My colleagues and I were finishing up the last of our business when an envelope came in,” he said. “You see, the virus that was released onto the populace had been inserted into this envelope without our knowledge. Senator Macklemuck inadvertently triggered the device and within moments everyone in the room had become infected. I knew what it was the instant I saw it on the table, the weapon, I mean. Luckily this room is equipped with hazard masks and hand grenades.”
“How did they die?” the President asked softly.
All emotion left Melech's voice. “Their heads exploded.”
President Alan shook his head in disbelief. “My God - I can only imagine. I've only seen that happen in cartoons,” the President said quietly. “I'm so sorry, Melech. That must have been horrible.” Melech was a dear friend of the President's and it felt horrible knowing how much Melech must be suffering. Melech was his go-to man, had helped him get elected, in fact. Melech was probably one of the smartest people President Alan knew, which was saying a lot, considering that the President surrounded himself with brilliant men.
“Have you had to drink your own urine yet?” the Vice President asked.
“Are you planning on using the grenades to blast yourself out?” Donahue inquired.
“Can you show us the tag on your gas mask so we know what kind to get?” the Secretary of the Interior asked.
“Gentleman, gentleman,” the President said, raising his hand. “Please, not all at once. Let me handle this. Melech,” he said with a tone serious enough to stop the charge of a sugar-crazed four year old in his tracks. “We’ve got to handle this disaster with diligent care. If we screw this up our chances of a second term are shot. Elections are less than a year away! If more people's heads explode then Senators Guiles's spin-masters are going to have a field day with this.” He put his hands on the desk and leaned forward. “Do you think there’s any chance we can wrap this up before the primaries in four months?”
Melech sighed. “Sir, forgive me if I sound trite, but this might just be more important than getting re-elected.”
The President coughed. More important than re-elections? Benjamin Alan straightened his tie as he tried to collect his thoughts. “What about the economy?” he asked. “Surely this is going to be detrimental to the economy.”
Melech shifted uncomfortably. “I agree, Mr. President. No doubt the economy is going to suffer. But right now we're going to have to set that aside.”
“But Melech!” the President said. “You've always taught me that the economy is the life-blood of this great nation. Without it, why, we just wouldn't be America.”
Melech nodded. “You are correct, Sir. That is why you have to do exactly as I say.”
“What do you suggest we do then, Melech?”
“Shut down all commercial flights and impose a quarantine on the Western states.”
“You're talking about taking away people's freedom of travel! No, I don't like the sound of that one bit. I am the President of the United States of America, Melech. I give freedoms. I don't take them away.”
“A quarantine on Westerns states is only the beginning, I'm afraid,” he said. “You are going to have to close the Canadian and Mexican borders after that. It is imperative that you do everything in your power to prevent this from spreading beyond our borders. If this were to cross into other countries then we are talking about a global pandemic.”
Benjamin Alan involuntarily crushed the empty Dr. Pepper can in his hand. “Are you suggesting that we isolate ourselves off from the rest of the world?”
Melech nodded his head slowly. “For now.”
“But the world needs us, Melech. We’re like a big brother to most countries, ready to beat up shitty countries who make fun of democracy while still giving our younger siblings the occasional but necessary noogie.”
“I understand your sentiments, Sir. But if you want to wrap this up quickly, you must do as I say.”
“What about the terrorists?” the President asked quietly, afraid of the possibility of getting sucked into another war. “The War on Terror has been over for five whole years. It would be a real bummer if it resurfaced now, during elections and all.”
“All terrorists must be apprehended as soon as possible,” Melech said. “If this is to end quickly, we must nip this in the bud. I understand your Secretary of Defense has a few leads. Follow them vigorously. Leave no stone unturned. It is imperative that you find David Dingle, Mr. President. We must get to him at once. The American people have the right to see this man behind bars. Get your best men on this assignment. The sooner we find him, the sooner this mess will be over. Just make sure he is apprehended alive. A dead terrorist cannot answer for his crimes.”