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Copyright © 2012 by Robert J. Sawyer. All Rights Reserved.
by Robert J. Sawyer
E pluribus unum
Out of many, one
This is how we began ...
Susan Dawson thirty-four, with pale skin and pale blue
eyes was standing behind and to the right of the
presidential podium. She spoke into the microphone hidden in her
sleeve. "Prospector is moving out."
"Copy," said the man's voice in her ear. Seth Jerrison, white,
long-faced, with the hooked nose political cartoonists had such
fun with, strode onto the wooden platform that had been hastily
erected in the center of the wide steps leading up to the Lincoln
Susan had been among the many who were unhappy when the president
decided yesterday to give his speech here instead of at the White
House. He wanted to speak before a crowd, he said, letting the
world see that even during such frightening times, Americans
could not be cowed. But Susan estimated that fewer than three
thousand people were assembled on either side of the reflecting
pool. The Washington Monument was visible both at the far end of
the pool and upside down in its still water, framed by ice around
the edges. In the distance, the domed Capitol was timidly
peeking out from behind the stone obelisk.
President Jerrison was wearing a long navy-blue coat, and his
breath was visible in the chill November air. "My fellow
Americans," he began, "it has been a full month since the latest
terrorist attack on our soil. Our thoughts and prayers today are
with the brave people of Chicago, just as they continue to be
with the proud citizens of San Francisco, who still reel from the
attack there in September, and with the patriots of Philadelphia,
devastated by the explosion that shook their city in August." He
briefly looked over his left shoulder, indicating the
nineteen-foot-tall marble statue visible between the Doric
columns above and behind him. "A century and a half ago, on the
plain at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln mused about whether our
nation could long endure. But it has endured, and it will
continue to do so. The craven acts of terrorists will not deter
us; the American spirit is indomitable."
The audience such as it was erupted in applause,
and Jerrison turned from looking at the teleprompter on his left
to the one on his right. "The citizens of the United States will
not be held hostage by terrorists; we will not allow the crazed
few to derail our way of life."
More applause. As she scanned the crowd, Susan thought of the
speeches by previous presidents that had made similar claims.
But despite the trillions spent on the war on terror, things were
getting worse. The weapons used for the last three attacks were
a new kind of bomb: they weren't nukes, but they did generate
super-high temperatures and their detonation was accompanied by
an electromagnetic pulse, although the pulse was mostly free of
the component that could permanently damage electronics. One
could conceivably guard against the hijacking of airplanes. But
how did one defend against easily hidden, easily carried, hugely
"Each year, the foes of liberty gain new tools of destruction,"
continued Jerrison. "Each year, the enemies of civilization can
do more damage. But each year we the free peoples of the
world gain more power, too."
Susan was the Secret Service agent-in-charge. She had
line-of-sight to seventeen other agents. Some, like her, were
standing in front of the colonnade; others were at the sides of
the wide marble staircase. A vast pane of bulletproof glass
protected Jerrison from the audience, but she still continued to
survey the crowd, looking for anyone who seemed out of place or
unduly agitated. A tall, thin man in the front row caught her
eye; he was reaching into his jacket the way one might go for a
holstered gun but then he brought out a smartphone and
started thumb-typing. Tweet this, asshole, she thought.
Jerrison went on: "I say now, to the world, on behalf of all of
us who value liberty, that we shall not rest until our planet is
free of the scourge of terrorism."
Another person caught Susan's attention: a woman who was looking
not at the podium, but off in the distance at ah, at a
police officer on horseback, over by the Vietnam Veterans
"Before I became your president," Jerrison said, "I taught
American history at Columbia. If my students could take away
only a single lesson, I always hoped it would be the famous maxim
that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat
Susan's heart jumped and she swung her head left and right,
trying to spot where the shot had come from; the marble caused
the report to echo. She looked over at the podium and saw that
Jerrison had slammed forward into it he'd been shot from
behind. She shouted into her sleeve microphone as she
ran, her shoulder-length brown hair flying. "Prospector is hit!
Phalanx Alpha, shield him! Phalanx Beta, into the memorial
the shot came from there. Gamma, out into the crowd.
Jerrison slid onto the wooden stage, ending up face down. Even
before Susan had spoken, the ten Secret Service agents in Phalanx
Alpha had formed two living walls one behind Jerrison to
protect him from further shots from that direction; another in
front of the bulletproof glass that had shielded him from the
audience, in case there was a second assailant on the Mall. A
male agent bent down but immediately stood up and shouted, "He's
The rear group briefly opened their ranks, letting Susan rush in
to crouch next to the president. Journalists were trying to
approach him or at least get pictures of his fallen form
but other agents prevented them from getting close.
Alyssa Snow, the president's physician, ran over, accompanied by
two paramedics. She gingerly touched Jerrison's back, finding
the entrance wound, and presumably noting that the bullet
had missed the spine rolled the president over. The
president's eyes fluttered, looking up at the silver-gray
November sky. His lips moved slightly, and Susan tried to make
out whatever he was saying over the screams and footfalls from
the crowd, but his voice was too faint.
Dr. Snow who was an elegant forty-year-old African
American soon had the president's long coat open, exposing
his suit jacket and blood-soaked white shirt. She unbuttoned the
shirt, revealing the exit wound; on this cold morning steam was
rising from it. She took a length of gauze from one of the
paramedics, wadded it up, and pressed it against the hole to try
to stanch the flow of blood. One paramedic was taking the
president's vital signs, and the other now had an oxygen mask
over Jerrison's mouth.
"How long for a medical chopper?" Susan asked into her wrist.
"Eight minutes," replied a female voice.
"Too long," Susan said. She rose and shouted, "Where's Kushnir?"
"Into the Beast!"
"Yes, ma'am!" Kushnir was today's custodian of the nuclear
football the briefcase with the launch procedures; he was
wearing a Navy dress uniform. The Beast the presidential
limo was five hundred feet away on Henry Bacon Drive, the
closest it could get to the memorial.
The paramedics transferred Jerrison to a litter. Susan and Snow
took up positions on either side and ran with the paramedics and
Phalanx Alpha down the broad steps and over to the Beast.
Kushnir was already in the front passenger seat, and the
paramedics reclined the president's rear seat until it was almost
horizontal, then moved him onto it.
Dr. Snow opened the trunk, which contained a bank of the
president's blood type, and quickly set up a transfusion. The
doctor and the two paramedics took the rearward-facing seats, and
Susan sat beside the president. Agent Darryl Hudkins a
tall African American with a shaved head took the
remaining forward-facing chair.
Susan pulled her door shut and shouted to the driver, "Lima
Tango, go, go, go!"
Kadeem Adams knew he was in Washington God damn it, he
knew it. When they'd brought him here from Reagan, he'd
seen the Washington Monument off in the distance giving him the
finger, but ...
But in every fiber of his being, he felt like he was in another
place, another time. A cruel sun hung high overhead, and
countless bits of burnt paper, ash, and debris swirled about him
a ticker-tape parade commemorating the destruction of the
Sweet Jesus, why couldn't it stop? Why couldn't he
The heat. The smoke not quite the smell of napalm in the
morning, but bad enough. The relentless drone of insects. The
horizon shimmering in the distance. The buildings torn open,
walls collapsed to rubble, rude furniture smashed to kindling.
His right arm ached and so did his left ankle; it could barely
support his weight. He tried to swallow but his throat was dry
and his nostrils were clogged with sand. His vision was suddenly
obscured, so he wiped a hand in front of his eyes and his palm
came away wet and red.
More sounds: helicopters, an armored vehicle moving along the
dirt road crunching wreckage beneath its tracks, and
Yes, always, overtop of everything, unending.
People shouting cursing praying in Arabic.
The cacophony of a ruined place, a ruined culture.
Kadeem took a deep breath, just like Professor Singh had taught
him to. He closed his eyes for a second, then opened them and
picked an object in the room here at Luther Terry Memorial
Hospital, focusing his attention on it and nothing else. He
selected a vase of flowers clear glass, with fluted sides,
like a Roman column that had been squeezed in the middle
by a fist
And the flowers, two white carnations and three red roses
And ... and ...
Glass could cut.
No. No. The flowers were ...
Life. Death. On a grave.
The flowers were ...
Beautiful. Calming. Natural. Unspoiled.
Deep breaths. Trying to relax. Trying to be here, in
this hospital room, not there. Trying, trying, trying ...
He was here, in DC. That other place was the past.
Done. Finished. Dead and buried.
Or at least dead.
Professor Singh entered the room. As always, the Sikh's eyes
went first to the vital-signs monitor and he doubtless noted
Kadeem's elevated pulse, his increased respiration, and
Kadeem looked himself and saw that his blood pressure was 190
"Another flashback," Singh said, as much diagnosis as question.
Kadeem nodded. "The village again."
"I am so sorry," Singh said. "But, if we're lucky and we
both deserve some of that today's the day we may be able
to do something about this. I've just come from seeing Dr.
Gaudio. Your final MRIs are fine. She says we can go ahead with
The same hospital, but another room: "Ready, Mr. Latimer?" asked
one of the two orderlies who had just entered.
Josh Latimer was more than ready; he'd been waiting many months
for this. "Absolutely."
"What about you, Miss Hennessey?" the other orderly asked.
Josh lolled his head, looking over at the daughter he'd recently
been reunited with after a thirty-year separation.
Dora seemed nervous, and he couldn't blame her. He'd be better
off after this operation, but there was no denying it
she'd be worse off. Parents often made sacrifices for
their children, but it was a rare child who was called upon to
make a sacrifice as big as this for a parent. "Yes," she said.
One orderly went to the head of each gurney. Josh's was further
from the door, but his orderly started pushing him first, and he
passed close enough by his daughter to reach over and touch her
arm. She smiled at him, and just then she reminded him of her
mother: the same round head, the same astonishingly blue eyes,
the same lopsided grin. Dora was thirty-five now, and her mother
would have been sixty-one, the same age as Josh, if breast cancer
hadn't taken her.
They made an odd train, he knew, as they were pushed along: him
as the locomotive, thin, with white hair and beard; her as the
caboose, still a little on the hefty side despite dieting for
months to get in shape for the operation, her long brown hair
tucked into a blue cap to keep it out of the way. They happened
to pass the door marked "Dialysis." Josh had spent so much time
in there he knew how many tiles were in the ceiling, how many
slats in the blinds, how many drawers in the various cabinets.
They continued down the corridor, and Josh was pushed feet-first
into the operating room, followed by Dora. The orderlies joined
forces to transfer him to one of the surgical tables and then her
to the other. The second table wasn't normally here; it was
mounted on wheels. Overhead was a glassed-in observation gallery
that covered two adjacent sides of the room, but its lights were
The surgeon was present, along with her team, all in their green
surgical garb. Her eyes crinkled as she smiled. "Welcome, Josh.
Hello, Dora. We'll start by putting you both under. All right?
Here we go ..."
Secretary of Defense Peter Muilenburg a broad-shouldered
sixty-year-old white man with silver hair and hazel eyes
stood looking at the giant illuminated world map stretching the
length of the subterranean room at the Pentagon. Above the map a
large red digital timer counted down. It currently read
74:01:22. In just over three days, Operation Counterpunch would
Muilenburg pointed at the big screen, where the string "CVN-76"
was displayed in the middle of the Arabian Sea. "What's the
status of the Reagan?" he asked.
"She's making up for lost time," replied a female analyst,
consulting a desktop monitor.
"We need the aircraft carriers in position within sixty hours,"
"It'll be tight for the Reagan and even tighter for the
Stennis," the aide replied, "thanks to that hurricane.
But they'll make it."
Muilenburg's BlackBerry buzzed and he pulled it out of his blue
uniform pocket. "SecDef," he said.
"Mr. Secretary," said a woman's voice. "This is Mrs. Astley."
The next words were always, "Please hold for President Jerrison,"
followed by silence, so he lowered the handset a bit,
He quickly brought the phone back to his ear. "Repeat, please."
"I said," the president's secretary replied, and Muilenburg
realized that her voice was shaking, "Mr. Jerrison has been shot.
They're rushing him to LT right now."
Muilenburg looked up at the bank of red digits, just in time to
see it change from 74:00:00 to 73:59:59. "God save us," he said.
There were always two members of the Secret Service Countersniper
Team on the roof of the White House; today one of them was Rory
Proctor. The chill wind cut through him. He was holding his
rifle in gloved hands and walking back and forth, scanning the
grounds between here and the Ellipse, the fifty-two-acre public
park south of the White House fence. The Washington Monument was
visible, but even from this elevated position, Proctor couldn't
see the Lincoln Memorial where all of the action had been taking
place, although he was listening intently to the chatter in his
Proctor was so used to scanning for things in the distance, he
didn't pay much attention to the rooftop, which had a stunted
colonnade around its edges and a few potted shrubs. But a dove
happened to catch his eye as it flew into view. It landed a few
yards from him, by a squat metal enclosure at the base of one of
the rectangular chimneys on the south side. There was some odd
scuffing of the white roofing tiles in front of the enclosure.
He took one more look at the grounds on the south side, saw
nothing of interest, then walked over to look at the enclosure.
The padlock had been jimmied, and although it had been closed, it
wasn't locked. He swung the lid of the enclosure up, leaning it
back against the white chimney, and
Oh, shit. Inside was a hexagonal contraption of squat
metal about two feet in diameter and, judging by the depth of the
enclosure, about a foot thick; it looked like someone had taken a
slice through one of the lava pillars from the Devil's causeway.
Proctor recognized the device from intelligence briefings. The
attacks on Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia had been
successful meaning the bombs used there had been utterly
destroyed when they exploded. But a planned attack on Los
Angeles International Airport had been averted ten days ago when
a terrorist from al-Sajada, the al-Qaeda splinter group that had
risen to prominence after the death of Osama bin Laden, had been
intercepted with a device just like this one in the trunk of his
Proctor spoke into his headset. "Proctor, Central. I'm on the
White House roof and I've found a bomb."
The doors to the operating room burst open, and Dr. Mark Griffin,
the CEO of Luther Terry Memorial Hospital, strode in, wearing a
hastily donned green surgical smock, surgical hat, and face mask.
"Sorry, Michelle," he said to the startled surgeon. "You've got
to clear out."
Michelle sounded shocked. "I'm in the middle of a kidney
"We've got a priority patient," Griffin replied, "and no other
operating room is available."
"Are you nuts?" Michelle said. "Look at this woman
we've opened her up."
"Can you stop?"
"Stop? We've just begun!"
"Good," said Griffin. "Then you can stop." He looked at
the assembled team. "Clear out, everyone."
"What about the patients? They're intubated and we've put them
both under, for God's sake."
"Sew her up, then move them out to the corridor," Griffin
"Mark, this is crazy. The donor flew in all the way from London
for this, and "
"Michelle, it's the president. He's been shot, and he'll be here
As soon as the bullet hit President Jerrison, Secret Service
agents swarmed into the Lincoln Memorial. The interior was
divided into three chambers by two rows of fifty-foot-tall
columns. The large central chamber contained the giant statue of
a seated Abe made of starkly white Georgia marble, mounted on a
massive oblong pedestal. The small north chamber had Lincoln's
second inaugural address carved into its wall, while the small
south one had a carving of the Gettysburg Address.
Agent Manny Cheung, the leader of Phalanx Beta, looked around.
There were only a few places to hide: behind the columns, in the
narrow space behind the statue's pedestal, or somehow clambering
up to perch on Lincoln's back. Cheung held his revolver in both
hands and nodded to Dirk Jenks, the thickset young agent on his
left. They quickly determined that there was no one else in
But the elevator door was now closed. It was in the south
chamber, in the wall adjacent to the Gettysburg Address, and had
been locked off here at the top with the door open; Cheung knew
that Jenks had checked it before the president had arrived. The
elevator used to provide handicapped access to the statue
went from here down to the small exhibit hall in the lower
part of the memorial. Cheung barked into his sleeve. "He's in
the elevator heading down."
There were security people guarding the entrance to the basement
gallery anyway, but Cheung took off, running on the hard marble
floor and down the wide outside steps. He passed between the two
signs that flanked the entrance. The white one on his right
said, "Warning: Firearms Prohibited," and showed a silhouette of
a pistol with a barred red circle over it. The brown one on his
left said, "Quiet" and "Respect Please."
Cheung hurried down the steps past the seating area that had been
erected for the presidential party, rounded a corner and headed
down again to the narrow entrance to the lower level. He had
looked through the gallery just yesterday, as part of the
preparations for the president's speech. It had been his first
time in it like most Washington residents, he tended to
visit the sites only when he had company from out of town, and
there were so many things to see on the Mall, he'd never bothered
with this little museum before.
The exhibit hall, opened in 1994 and occupying just 560 square
feet, had been partially paid for by school kids collecting
pennies. Since the back of the penny had depicted the Lincoln
Memorial then, it had been called the "Pennies Make a Monumental
Difference Campaign." Cheung had read the Lincoln quotes carved
into black marble slabs, including one that had startled him:
"If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do
it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do
it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others
alone, I would also do that."
He tore past the exhibits, heading to the little elevator lobby
in the back. Of course, by the time he got there, the elevator
had completed its descent. Three other men two uniformed
DC cops and another Secret Service agent were already
there, with guns aimed at the elevator door. But there was no
sign of anyone else, and the brass door was closed; whoever was
inside must have a key for the elevator's control panel, which
would explain how he'd started it after it had been locked off on
the upper level.
"Anybody try pushing the button?" Cheung asked. There was just
one button, since the elevator could only go up from here.
"I did," said one of the uniforms. "Nothing happened."
Cheung pushed the button himself. The door remained shut. "He's
definitely got a key, then," he said.
"And he's armed," noted the other Secret Service agent.
Cheung judged the brass door sufficiently sturdy that the
would-be assassin probably couldn't shoot through it. He rapped
his knuckles loudly against one of the metal panels. "Secret
Service!" he shouted. "Come out with your hands up!"
"Everyone, attention please! We need to evacuate the White House
and the surrounding buildings immediately. Do not
assemble at your fire-muster stations; just keep going. Get as
far from the building as you can. Exit right now in an orderly
fashion. Don't stop to take anything; just get out. Move!"
"Are we sure he's in there?" Agent Manny Cheung asked.
"There were guards at the outside door the whole time," replied
the other Secret Service man, "and we've looked in the exhibit
space and the restrooms. He's got to still be in the elevator."
Cheung spoke into his sleeve. "Cheung to Jenks: make sure the
elevator shaft is guarded at the top, in case he tries to ride up
"Copy," said a voice.
"Sir," said one of the DC cops, "this is bullshit. There are
three of us, and dozens more if we need them. Look at that
door." Cheung did so. It was an old-fashioned elevator, and the
door consisted of two parts but they didn't separate in
the middle. Rather, the left part tucked behind the right part
as the door opened, and both parts slipped into a pocket on the
right side of the elevator shaft. "If we pull on the right-hand
part in the middle, there, the left-hand part will draw away from
Cheung wondered at the wisdom of talking just outside the
elevator; although the heavy door probably muffled the sound,
whoever was inside could doubtless hear some of what they were
saying. Nonetheless, the plan made sense. He nodded at the
officer, who was the biggest of the three of them, easily
six-five and 280 pounds. The man grabbed the right-hand panel by
its edge, near the centerline of the door, and put his back into
it, pulling it aside so that it slid with a grinding sound into
the pocket hidden behind the beige wall. Cheung, the other
Secret Service agent, and the other cop, had their guns trained
on the left side, which was now showing a crack, then a sliver,
then a strip of light from within. The big cop grunted and
pulled again, hard, and the door opened to eighteen inches
but no gunfire hailed from the interior.
Another yank, and the right-hand leaf was now all the way into
its pocket, leaving the entire left-half of the elevator's width
open now, and
And there was no one inside.
Cheung looked up, and ah hah! There was a service
door in the roof of the elevator. He tried to reach it but
wasn't tall enough. He gestured to the big cop, who had no
trouble pushing the roof door aside. The cop then immediately
stepped out of the way, and Cheung craned his neck to hazard a
peek. It was dark in the shaft, but Christ, yes, there
was someone there, illuminated from below by light coming out of
the elevator. He was shimmying up the thick cable.
"Cheung to Jenks: the suspect is climbing the elevator cable.
He's about ten feet shy of the top."
"Copy, Manny," Jenks replied.
The elevator door started shuddering shut. Cheung wheeled
around, going for the rubber bumper at its edge at the same time
the tall cop moved for the "Door Open" button; they collided, and
the cab lurched into motion
and through the open roof Cheung could see the cable
moving. There was a massive thud and the cab shook violently.
The assailant must have lost his grip and fallen the twenty feet
or so he'd climbed. One of his arms flopped down through the
There was no stopping the elevator's ascent now, and Cheung hoped
there was enough clearance to keep a downed man from being
squeezed against the top of the shaft.
But, yes, there must be enough clearance! The assailant
must have entered the elevator yesterday, when it was announced
that Jerrison would give a speech here, and had simply hauled
himself up onto the cab's roof and waited; doubtless when they
did finally get to examine the roof, they'd find blankets and
whatever else he'd needed to survive overnight in the shaft.
The elevator came to a stop, and the door opened revealing a
crowd of agents and dour Lincoln off to the right.
"Who the hell pushed the button?" Cheung demanded.
"I did," said Jenks. "I thought "
"Jesus Christ," said Cheung, cutting him off. "You!" he pointed
at a female agent. "In here."
The woman hurried forward, and Cheung motioned for the tall cop
to boost her up. She placed a finger on the wrist that was
dangling through the hatch and shook her head. The cop lifted
her higher so she could stick her body through the roof hatch.
After a moment, she signaled that she wanted down.
"Well?" Cheung demanded as soon as she was standing again.
"It's not pretty," she said.
Agent Susan Dawson spoke into her wrist microphone. "Dawson to
Central: Prospector secured in the Beast. Tell Lima Tango that
he's got a severe gunshot wound shot in the back. His
physician, Captain Snow, is with us."
The Beast had bulletproof windows and five-inch-thick hull
plating. There was a presidential seal on each of its rear
doors. A small American flag flew from the right side of the
hood and the presidential standard flew from the left. The
vehicle had a blue emergency light that could be attached to the
roof; the driver himself a Secret Service agent had
already deployed it. Motorcycle escorts with sirens blaring were
out in front and following behind.
The car took a hard right onto 23rd Street NW. It was only 1.3
miles to Luther Terry, Susan knew, but the traffic was heavy with
the tail end of Friday-morning rush hour.
Dr. Snow was still trying to stop the flow of blood, but it was
all over the president's gray-haired chest; even with the
transfusion, it seemed clear he was losing blood faster than it
was being replaced.
"Where's the vice president?" asked Agent Darryl Hudkins.
"Manhattan," said Susan, "but "
A male voice came over their earpieces: "Rockhound is en
route to Air Force Two. Will be at Andrews in ninety
Despite the siren and the driver leaning on the horn
they'd slowed to a crawl. Those motorists listening to
the radio might already have heard that the president was being
rushed to the hospital, and that might make them slow down for a
look: would-be Zapruders hoping to catch the moment of
"This is ridiculous," the driver said over his shoulder. "Hold
on." He pulled a hard left onto E Street, and Susan did her best
to keep the president from sliding out of his seat as the car
careened onto its new course. They were now heading directly
toward the Kennedy Center. The limo then took a sharp right onto
24th, and the president pressed against Susan. She gently pushed
him back into place, but the hip of her dark jacket was now
soaked with his blood.
A voice came over Susan's earpiece: "They've got a stretcher
waiting at the ambulance entrance, a thoracic team is assembling,
and they're clearing an operating room."
"Copy," Susan said. They were doing better than when Reagan had
been shot decades ago. Back then, the Secret Service had started
taking the president to the White House, not realizing he'd been
hit until he began coughing up bright, frothy blood.
Mercifully, some cars were pulling aside to let the Beast pass.
Susan looked into the rear-view mirror, catching the driver's
eyes there. "Maybe two more minutes," he said.
At last the car made the forty-five degree turn onto New
Hampshire Avenue, paralleling the longest side of the hospital,
which was shaped like a right-angle triangle. After some deft
maneuvering, the driver got the Beast up the ramp into the
ambulance emergency bay. There was indeed a team waiting at the
side of the curved, covered driveway with a stretcher.
Susan jumped out into the cold air, but by the time she was
around to the other side, Darryl Hudkins and the two paramedics
were heaving the president onto the stretcher. As soon as
Jerrison was secure, they rushed him through the sliding glass
doors. Susan put a hand on the stretcher and ran
experiencing an eerie echo of all the times she'd run alongside
the Beast, holding onto it with one hand.
"Susan Dawson," she called across the stretcher to the tall,
handsome black man on the opposite side. "Secret Service
"Dr. Mark Griffin," he replied. "I'm the hospital's chief
executive officer." He looked behind Susan at the president's
physician. "Captain Snow, good to see you."
They hustled the stretcher into Trauma, which had two beds
separated by an incongruously cheery purple, yellow, and blue
curtain. There was a patient in the other bed a white
teenage boy, who, despite having a mangled leg, sat up to try to
get a glimpse of the president.
"On three," said one of the doctors. "One, two, three!" He and
two other men transferred Jerrison to the bed.
"The bullet obviously missed his heart," Griffin said to Susan as
a swarm of doctors, including Alyssa Snow, surrounded Jerrison.
"But it looks like a major vessel has been clipped. If it's the
aorta, we're in real trouble; the mortality rate for that is
Susan couldn't see what was being done to Jerrison's chest, but a
new transfusion bag had already been set up on a stand beside
him; of course, they had Jerrison's records on file here, and
knew his blood type. Four more pint bags were on a tray next to
the stand, but she guessed he'd already lost more than that; the
back seat of the limo had been sodden.
A DC police helicopter deposited a bomb-disposal robot onto the
roof of the White House. Secret Service sharpshooter Rory
Proctor was now on the far side of the Ellipse, along with a
hundred White House staffers who had decided they had evacuated
far enough; many others, though, had headed further south,
crossing Constitution Avenue onto the Mall.
Proctor looked north across the grass at the magnificent
building. He'd had binoculars with him up on the roof, and still
had them: he used them to watch as the squat robot, visible
through the columns of the balustrade, rolled on its treads
toward the second chimney from the left. Listening to the
chatter on his headset, he gathered that the original notion
just winching the bomb into the sky had been
vetoed, out of fear that there might be a switch on its underside
that would detonate it as soon as it was lifted.
"Stand by, everyone," said the calm male voice of the bomb-squad
leader, who was operating the robot remotely from a police truck
parked on the far side of the Eisenhower Executive Office
Building, which had also been evacuated, along with the Treasury
Building and the buildings on the north side of Pennsylvania
Avenue. "I have the bomb in sight ..."
"Let's get him into the O.R.," said one of the doctors.
The trauma bed was on a wheeled base. Susan Dawson followed as
they rolled it out of the room and down a corridor. They came to
a metal door with a sign next to it that said, "Trauma Elevator
DO NOT BLOCK." Susan made it inside with the president,
Dr. Griffin, and two other physicians, and they rode up to the
second floor. Dr. Snow who wasn't a surgeon headed
to the ICU to make arrangements for Jerrison, who would
eventually be taken there, if the surgery was successful.
The president was wheeled out of the elevator, down another
corridor, and into an operating room. More Secret Service agents
were already up here. Susan took a moment to deploy them.
Rather than piling them all in front of the door to the operating
room, she spread them out along the corridor; she didn't want any
unauthorized personnel getting anywhere near Jerrison. When
Reagan had been shot, a dozen Secret Service agents had crammed
into the O.R., but they'd gotten in the way of the surgical team
and had represented an unnecessary infection risk; protocol now
called for only a single agent to actually go in and she
designated Darryl Hudkins, who had the most EMT training.
Susan pointed to two occupied gurneys a short distance away, one
with a thin white-haired man in his fifties, the other with a
plump younger woman; they were attended by a nurse. "I want them
out of here."
"They'll be gone in a few minutes," Griffin said. He led Susan
up a steep narrow staircase to the observation gallery. As they
settled in, she heard, "Rockhound is airborne" in her ear, and
then, a moment later, she received a report about the discovery
of a bomb at the White House. She looked down at Darryl Hudkins
just as he looked up at her, his face a question. She shook her
head: no point distracting the surgical team with this awful
news; they needed to focus. Darryl nodded.
People in the operating room were working rapidly. The
anesthesiologist was the only one sitting; she had a chair at the
head of the surgical bed the president had been transferred to.
A nurse was cleaning the president's chest with antiseptic soap.
"Which one is the lead surgeon?" Susan asked.
Griffin pointed at a tall white man, who, now that the nurse had
stepped aside, was applying the surgical drape over the
president's chest. The doctor's features were mostly hidden by a
face mask and head covering, although Susan thought he perhaps
had a beard. "Him," said Griffin. "Eric Redekop. A doctor of
the first water. Trained at Harvard and "
They were interrupted by the sound of a bone saw, audible even
through the angled glass in front of her. The president was
being cut open.
Susan watched, fascinated and appalled, as a chest spreader was
used. Jerrison's torso was a mess of blood and bone, and her
stomach churned looking at it, but she couldn't take her eyes off
the spectacle. One of the doctors replaced a now-empty bag of
blood with a fresh one.
Suddenly the whole tenor of the room changed: people rushing
around. Griffin stood up and leaned against the glass with
splayed hands. "What's happening?" demanded Susan.
Griffin's voice was so low she almost didn't hear it. "His
The O.R. had a built-in defibrillator, and another doctor was
adjusting controls on it. With the open chest, they didn't have
to use the paddles; the doctor applied electrical stimulation
directly to Jerrison's heart. A nurse in a green smock was
obscuring Susan's view of the vital-signs monitor now, but she
saw the woman shake her head.
The man administered another shock. Nothing.
Susan rose to her feet, too. Her own heart was pounding
but the president's still wasn't.
Something else happened Susan didn't know what and
various people changed positions below. The defibrillator
operator tried a third time. The nurse watching the vital signs
shook her head once more, and that famous phrase echoed through
Susan's mind: a heartbeat away from the presidency ...
The nurse moved, and Susan could at last see the flat green line
tracing across the monitor. She spoke into her wrist. "Do we
know where Hovarth is?"
Griffin looked at her, his jaw falling. Connally Hovarth was
chief justice of the United States.
"He's in his chambers," said a voice in her ear.
"Get him out to Andrews," Susan said. "Have him ready to
administer the oath as soon as Air Force Two touches
Kadeem Adams desperately wanted the flashbacks to end. They came
all the time: when he was out for a walk, when he was in the
grocery store, when he was trying to make love to his girlfriend.
Yes, Professor Singh, and Dr. Fairfax at the DCOE before him, had
told him to avoid triggers things that might set off a
flashback. But anything everything! could provoke
one. A chirping bird morphed into a baby crying. A car horn
became a wailing alarm. A plate falling to the floor turned into
the rat-a-tat of gunfire.
Kadeem knew better than to hope for the best. If things had
worked out for him in the past, he wouldn't have failed to get
that scholarship, he wouldn't have been working at a McDonald's,
he wouldn't have enlisted because it was the only
halfway-decent-paying job he could get, he wouldn't have
ended up on the front line in Iraq.
Still, he was grateful for Professor Singh's attention. Kadeem
had never met a Sikh before there'd been none in the 'hood
and he hadn't known what to expect. At first, they'd had
trouble communicating; Singh's accent was thick and his speech
was rapid-fire, at least to Kadeem's ears. But slowly he'd
gotten used to Singh's voice and Singh had gotten used to his,
and the seemingly endless alternation of him saying "What?" and
Singh saying "Pardon?" had fallen by the wayside.
"Okay, guru," Kadeem said. He knew it amused Singh when he
called him that, and Singh's beard lifted a bit as he smiled.
"Let's do this."
Kadeem walked over to the low-back padded chair and sat down.
Next to it, on an articulated arm, was the latticework sphere.
Kadeem had once quipped that it looked like the skeleton of God's
soccer ball, but he knew that wasn't quite right. It was about
two feet in diameter, and it was, as Singh had told him, an open
geodesic, made up of triangles fashioned from lengths of steel
tubing. Singh unclipped its two halves and opened it. The
hemispheres, joined by a hinge, swung apart.
There was an open section at the south pole of the sphere. As
Singh jockeyed the articulated arm to move the hemispheres closer
to Kadeem's head, that opening allowed for his neck. Singh
rejoined the two halves, enclosing Kadeem's head. There were
about eight inches of clearance on all sides, and Kadeem could
easily see through the open triangles. Still, it was unnerving,
as if his head were now in some bizarre jail cell. He took a
deep, calming breath.
Singh loomed close like an optician adjusting glasses even
Elton John wouldn't wear. He moved the sphere on its arm a bit
to the left, and a bit up, and then, apparently deciding he'd
gone too far up, a bit down. And then he nodded in satisfaction
and stepped away.
"All right," Singh said. "Relax."
"Easier said than done, guru," replied Kadeem.
Singh's back was to him, his turban piled high. But his voice
was warm. "It will be fine, my friend. Let me just calibrate a
few things, and yes, yes, okay. Are you ready?"
"All right, then. Here we go. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
Singh pushed a button; it made a loud click. At the vertices of
each triangle in Kadeem's vision, blue-green lights appeared,
like laser pointers. In the demos Singh had done for him,
colored dots had shown up on the dummy head. They'd stood out
brightly against the white Styrofoam, but were doubtless hard to
see against Kadeem's dark skin. He'd thought there might be some
sensation associated with them: heat, maybe, or a tingling. But
he felt nothing at all. The lights weren't strong enough to
blind him, but he did nonetheless shift slightly to stop one of
them from hitting his left eye.
Singh moved around, looking at Kadeem again. He seemed satisfied
and said, "Okay. I'm going to run the program now. Remember, if
you feel any discomfort, tell me and we can abort."
Kadeem nodded. Since the sphere was supported by the articulated
arm, it didn't bob at all as he did so. Singh reached over to a
laptop computer sitting on a surgical-instrument stand, moved the
cursor with the trackpad, and finished off with a rapping of his
The program started executing. The blue-green lights began to
dance; they were on tiny gimbals and moved in patterns Singh had
programmed. It was impossible to keep the teal points from
hitting his pupils every few seconds, and rather than fight that,
Kadeem just closed his eyes. The beams were bright enough that
he could still tell when one was touching his eyelid, but it
wasn't irritating, and the darkness helped him clear his mind.
This was going to be hard, he knew. He'd spent years trying to
avoid triggering flashbacks and now Singh was going to
find whatever switch in his brain caused them and throw it,
hopefully for the final time. The only small mercy there'd been
with the previous flashbacks was never expecting them they
just hit him upside the head, with no warning. But now Kadeem
felt dread, knowing one was coming. He was hooked up to a
vital-signs monitor, and he could hear the soft ping of his pulse
The intersecting lasers were specially tuned to pass through bone
and flesh; the teal dots were mere markers for invisible beams
that coincided with them. The beams entered his skull without
having an effect, but when two or more beams crisscrossed inside
his brain, they stimulated the neural net at the intersection and
caused it to fire, providing, as Singh had explained to him, the
equivalent of an action potential. First one net was brought to
life, then another, then another. Singh's equipment bypassed the
usual excitatory disinhibition that frustrated other brain
researchers: normally, if a neural net had fired once recently,
it was disinclined to fire again. But Singh could make the same
net fire as often as possible, until it had, at least
temporarily, exhausted its supply of neurotransmitters.
Singh was doing that just now, and
A picnic, one of the few happy moments of Kadeem's childhood.
Five big kids taking his lunch from him on the way to school.
His mama, trying to hide her bruised eye from him, and his rage
at knowing she was going to let that man back in their home.
His first car.
His first blowjob.
A sharp pain but but no, only a memory of a sharp pain.
Ah, it was when he broke his arm playing football.
More pain, but of a good kind: the short, sharp shock of Kristah
playfully biting his nipple.
A flock of birds blocking the sun.
Hot, beating down. The desert sun.
His heart pounded; the sound from the monitor had the tempo of
the Bee Gees' "Staying Alive."
Singh was homing in, getting close, circling his prey.
Kadeem gripped the padded arms of the chair.
Sand. Tanks. Troops. And, in the distance, the village.
Shouts. Orders. The roar of vehicle engines fighting against
the drifting sand and the heat.
Kadeem's breathing was ragged. The air he was taking in was
cool, but his memory was of searing hotness. He wanted to shout
for Singh to abort, abort, abort! But he bit his lower
lip and endured it.
The village was growing closer. Iraqi men in desert gear, women
who must have been sweltering in their robe-like black abayas,
children in tattered clothes, all coming to see the approaching
convoy. Greeting it. Welcoming it.
Kadeem tasted vomit at the back of his throat. He fought it down
and let the memory wash over him all the screams, all the
pain, all the evil one last time.
Sharpshooter Rory Proctor continued to watch the activity on the
roof of the White House from what he hoped was a safe distance.
He was angry and worried: the nation had been pounded for months
now by al-Sajada. How much more was yet to come? How much more
could this great country take?
He'd tuned his headset to pick up the appropriate police channel
and was listening to the running commentary from the man
operating the bomb-disposal robot: "I'm going to try cutting
into the side of the enclosure so that we can get at the device.
In five, four, three, two ..."
Agent Susan Dawson kept flashing back to an episode of
Columbo she'd seen years ago, in which Leonard Nimoy had
guest-starred as a surgeon who'd tried to arrange the death of
someone while supposedly saving his life: when installing an
artificial heart valve, Nimoy's character had used dissolving
instead of permanent suture. But as far as she could tell, Eric
Redekop and his team had worked fervently to save Seth Jerrison.
"Central to Dawson," said the voice in her ear. "Justice Horvath
is en route to Andrews, but says he can't proceed without
an official death notice. Has the president
Susan yanked her earpiece out; the wail from it was unbearable.
The lights in the observation gallery flickered then died, as did
the ones down in the operating room. A few seconds later,
emergency lighting kicked in below. Mark Griffin bounded up the
steps in the small gallery and opened the door at the back. More
emergency lighting spilled in from a ceiling-mounted unit
containing what looked like two automobile headlamps.
"Those are battery-operated lights," said Griffin. "The main
power is off meaning so is that defibrillator, as well as
the perfusion pump." Susan saw someone run out of the O.R.,
presumably to get a crash cart with a portable defibrillator.
Eric Redekop, starkly illuminated from the upper left by the
harsh emergency lights in the O.R., reached his gloved hand into
the president's chest and began squeezing Jerrison's heart. The
surgeon glanced at the paired digital wall clocks the
actual time and the event timer but their faces had gone
After a moment, the regular lighting flickered back to life.
Susan looked down at the surgical bed. Redekop continued to
squeeze the heart once per second. Other doctors were
frantically trying to reboot or readjust equipment. She turned
to Griffin. "What the hell happened?"
"I don't know," he said. "The emergency power is supposed to
kick in automatically. An operating room should never go dark
Susan picked up her earpiece and, after making sure it wasn't
still wailing, put it back in her ear. "Dawson," she said into
her sleeve. "Whiskey tango foxtrot?"
A deep male voice: Secret Service agent Darryl Hudkins, looking
up at her from down in the operating room. "Could it be an
"Christ," said Susan. "The bomb."
"Agent Schofield cutting in," said another voice in Susan's ear.
"Affirmative. The bomb at the White House has gone off."
"Copy that," replied Susan, stunned.
"How are they managing with Prospector?" asked Schofield.
Susan looked through the angled glass at the chaos below.
Redekop was still squeezing the president's heart, but the
vital-signs monitor continued to show a flat line. "I think
we've lost him."
Rory Proctor had been using his binoculars when the bomb went
off. As soon as he saw the flare of light, he lowered them
just in time to see the entire curved back of the White
House blow out toward him. A plume of smoke started rising into
the gray sky, and gouts of fire shot out of the shattered windows
of the east and west wings. Screams went up all around him.
Seth Jerrison's deep, dark secret was that he was an atheist.
He'd managed to secure the Republican nomination by lying through
his teeth about it, by periodically attending church, by bowing
his head when appropriate in public, and after numerous
reprimands from his wife and campaign director finally
breaking himself of the habit of using "Jesus" and "Christ" as
swearwords, even in private.
He believed in fiscal conservatism, he believed in small
government, he believed in taking a strong stand against
America's enemies whether nations or individuals, he believed in
capitalism, and he believed English should be the official
language of the United States.
But he did not believe in God.
The handful of RNC members who knew this sometimes chided him for
it. Rusty, his campaign manager, had once looked at him with a
kindly smile the sort one might bestow on a silly child
who had claimed that when he grew up he was going to be president
and said, "Sure, you might be an atheist now, but
just wait until you're dying you'll see."
But Seth was dying right now. He could feel his strength fading,
feel his life draining away.
And still he felt secure in his atheism. Even as his vision
contracted into a tunnel, the thoughts that came to him were of
the scientific explanation for that phenomenon. It was caused by
anoxia, and was, after all, commonly experienced even in
situations that weren't immediately life-threatening.
He was momentarily surprised not to be feeling any panic or pain.
But, then again, that was normal, too, he knew: a sense of
euphoria also went with oxygen deprivation. And so he managed a
certain detachment. He was surprised to be conscious at all; he
knew he'd been shot in the torso. Surely they'd given him a
general anesthetic before performing surgery, and he must
be in surgery by now, but ...
But there was no doubt his mind was active. He tried, and
failed, to open his eyes; tried, and failed, to sit up; tried,
and failed, to speak. And, unlike some horror stories he'd heard
about patients feeling every scalpel cut and stitch while
supposedly knocked out, he was experiencing no pain at all, thank
well, thank biochemistry!
Ah, and now the white light had begun to appear: pure,
brilliant, but not at all painful to ... well, not to look
at; he wasn't seeing with his eyes, after all. But to
A pristine, bright, soothing, inviting light ...
And then, just as those who'd come back from the brink said it
sometimes does, his life began to flash in front of his eyes.
A kindly female face.
A public school.
But he didn't remember all the graffiti, all the litter, the
broken stonework, and
No, no, that was ridiculous. Of course he remembered it
or he wouldn't be seeing it now.
A knife. Blood.
The air shimmering. Unbearable heat. Screams. The stench
of ... yes, of burning flesh.
No, no, he'd been a good person! He had. He'd done his
best always. And even with him agreeing to Counterpunch, he
couldn't be going to hell!
A metaphoric deep breath; he had no control over his body, but it
felt like he was inhaling.
There is no hell. No heaven, either.
But the heat. The flames. The screams.
There is no hell!
All of it was explicable, a natural phenomenon: just the way the
brain responded to oxygen starvation.
The images changed, the smells changed, the sounds changed. The
hellish vista was replaced by a city street at night.
Another woman's face.
And much more, in rapid succession: people, incidents, events.
It was a life review flashing before him.
But it wasn't his life that he saw.
"EEG is erratic!"
"BP continues to fall!"
"We're losing him!"
Eric Redekop lifted his head to look at his team as he continued
the manual heart massage. A nurse named Ann January daubed his
forehead with a cloth, picking up the sweat. "No," he said
simply. "We are not. I'm not going down in history as
the surgeon who couldn't save the president."
Nikki Van Hausen looked at her hands and an image of them
covered with blood filled her mind. She shook her head, trying
to dispel the grisly sight but it came back to her even
more forcefully: her hands red and dripping, and
And she was holding a knife, and its blade was slick and crimson.
More images: cutting into skin, blood welling up from the wound.
Again: another cut, more blood. And again: another thrust,
this time blood spurting.
She sat down and looked really looked at her hands:
the smooth pale skin, the tiny scar along the side of her right
index finger from a wineglass that had broken while she was
washing it, the silver ring she wore with a turquoise cabochon,
the painted nails red, yes, but not blood red.
But again images of her hands covered in blood came to her. And
beneath the blood, peeking out here and there: gloves. Like a
murderer who knew that fingerprints would otherwise be left
Her heart was pounding. "What's happening?" she said softly,
although no one was paying any attention to her. She raised her
voice. "What's happening to me?"
That caught the interest of a doctor who was walking past her
here on the fourth floor of Luther Terry Memorial Hospital.
"Miss?" he said.
"What's happening to me?" she asked again, holding her hands in
front of her face, as if he, too, could see the blood on them.
But, of course, they were dry she knew that; she could
see that. And yet visions of them glistening and red kept
coming to her, but
But her real hands were shaking, and the bloodied hands
never shook; she somehow knew that.
The doctor looked at her. "Miss, are you a patient here?"
"No, no. Just visiting my brother, but but
"What's your name?" the doctor asked.
And she went to answer, but
But that wasn't her name! And that wasn't where
she lived! And that wasn't her hometown! Nikki felt
herself teetering. She was still holding her hands up in front
of her, and she fell against the doctor, her palms pressing into
More strange thoughts poured into her head. A knife slicing
through fat and muscle. Being tackled in a football game
something that had never happened to her. A funeral oh
God, a funeral for her mother, who was still alive and well.
Her eyes had closed when she'd fallen forward, but she opened
them now, looked down, and saw the doctor's little engraved
plastic name badge, "J. Sturgess, M.D.," and she knew, even
though she'd never seen him before, that the J was for
Jurgen, and she suddenly also knew that M.D. didn't stand for
"Medical Doctor," as she'd always thought, but rather for the
Latin equivalent, Medicinae Doctor.
Just then, two nurses walked by, and she heard one of them
spouting medical gobbledygook. Or it should have been
gobbledygook; she shouldn't even have been able to say, a moment
later, what words the nurse had used but ...
But she'd heard it clearly: "Amitriptyline." And she knew how
to spell it, and that it was a tricyclic antidepressant, and ...
My God! ... she knew that "tricyclic" referred to the
three rings of atoms in its chemical structure, and
Her flattened hands balled into fists and pounded into the
doctor's chest. "Make it stop!" she said. "Make it stop!"
The doctor Jurgen, he played golf badly, had two
daughters, was divorced, loved sushi called out to the
passing nurses. "Heather, Tamara help, please."
One of the nurses it was Tamara, she knew it was
Tamara turned and took hold of Nikki's shoulders, and the
other one, Heather, picked up a wall-mounted phone and dialed
four digits; if she was calling security ...
How the hell did she know all this?
If she was calling security, she'd just tapped out 4-3-2-1.
Nikki half-turned and pushed Tamara away, not because she didn't
want help but because it welled up in her that it was wrong,
wrong, wrong to touch a nurse during duty hours.
She felt dizzy again, though, and reached out for support,
finding herself grabbing Dr. Sturgess's stethoscope, which was
hanging loosely around his neck; it came free and she was
suddenly falling backward. Heather surged in to catch her. "Is
she stoned?" the nurse asked.
"I don't know," said Sturgess, but Nikki was incensed by the
"I'm not stoned, damn it! What's happening? What's going on
here? What did you do?"
Tamara moved closer. "Security is on its way, Dr. Sturgess.
They're sending someone down from five; everyone normally on this
floor is downstairs, helping guard the president."
And suddenly she saw him, Jerrison, his chest split wide,
and her hands plunging into his torso, seizing his heart,
squeezing it ...
And that name again: Eric Redekop.
"Make it stop!" Nikki said. She moved her hands to the top of
her head and pushed down, as if she could somehow squeeze the
alien thoughts out. "Make it stop!"
"Tamara," said Sturgess, "get some secobarbital."
And that, Nikki found she knew, was a sedative.
"It'll be okay," Sturgess said to Nikki, his tone soothing.
"It'll be fine."
She looked up and saw a middle-aged white man: lean, bald,
bearded, wearing green surgical garb, and
"Eric!" she called. "Eric!"
He continued to close the distance but had a puzzled expression
on his face.
Sturgess turned and looked at Eric, too. "Eric! My God, how's
" He glanced at Nikki. "How's your, um, your special
Eric sounded weary. "We almost lost him, but he's stable now.
Jono is closing."
"And you?" asked Sturgess, touching Eric's arm briefly. "How are
"Dead," said Eric. "Exhausted." He shook his head. "What's the
world coming to?"
Nikki was reeling. She'd never seen Eric before, but she knew
exactly what he looked like, and God! even what he
looked like naked. She knew him, this Eric, this man who
who was born fifty years ago, on April 11, in Fort Wayne,
Indiana; who has an older brother named Carl; who plays a killer
game of chess; who is allergic to penicillin; and who yes!
had just performed surgery, saving the president's life.
"Eric," she said, "what's happening to me?"
"Miss," he replied, "do I know you?"
The words struck Nikki like a knife like a scalpel.
Surely he must know her, if she knew him. But he didn't. There
was no hint of recognition on his face.
"I'm Nikki," she said, as if that should mean something to him.
"Hello," Eric said, sounding bewildered.
"I know you," Nikki said, imploringly. "I know you, Eric."
"I'm sorry, um, Nikki. I don't think we've ever met."
"Damn it," said Nikki. "This is crazy!"
"What's wrong with her?" Eric asked Sturgess.
Tamara was gesturing to someone; Nikki turned to see who. It was
a uniformed security guard.
"No," she said. "No, I'm sorry I hit you, Jurgen."
Sturgess's eyebrows went up. "How did you know my name?"
How the hell did she know his name or Eric's?
And then it came to her: she knew Jurgen's name because Eric
knew it. They were old friends, although Eric found Jurgen a tad
brusque and a bit too humorless for his taste. She knew ...
well, everything Eric knew.
"It's all right," Eric said, motioning for the guards to halt
their approach. "Nurse Enright here will look after you. We'll
get you help."
But that was even worse: suddenly a flood of memories came to
Nikki: recalcitrant patients, patients screaming obscenities, a
heavyset man throwing a punch, another man breaking down and
crying a cascade of disturbed patients Eric had dealt with
over the years.
"I I'm not like that," Nikki stammered out.
Eric narrowed his eyes. "Like what?"
Christ, she was a real-estate agent, not some fucking psychic.
Her sister believed in that shit, but she didn't. This
was impossible she must be having a stroke, or
hallucinations, or something.
"Come with me," said Heather Enright. "We'll get you taken care
"Eric, please!" implored Nikki.
But Eric yawned and stretched and he and Jurgen started walking
away, talking intently about the surgery Eric had just performed.
She resisted Heather's attempts to propel her in the opposite
direction until Eric had turned the corner and was out of sight.
But not out of mind.
The secretary of defense continued to study the wall-mounted
deployment map; it had flickered off for a few seconds, but now
was back on. The aircraft carriers were mostly on station, and,
as he watched, the Reagan moved a little closer to its
"Mr. Secretary," said an analyst seated near him, looking up from
her workstation, "we've lost the White House."
Peter Muilenburg frowned. "If primary comm is down, switch to
The analyst's voice was anguished. "No, sir, you don't
understand. We've lost the White House. It's it's
gone. The bomb they found there just went off."
Muilenburg staggered backward, stumbling into a table. As he
flailed to steady himself, he knocked a large binder onto the
floor. His eyes stung and he tasted vomit.
An aide burst into the room. "Mr. Secretary, they're asking if
we should evacuate the Pentagon as a precaution."
Muilenburg attempted to speak but found he couldn't. He gripped
the edge of the table, trying to keep on his feet. The Oval
Office, the Roosevelt Room, the Press Room, the Cabinet Room, the
State Dining Room, the Lincoln Bedroom, and so much more ...
could they really be gone? God ...
"Mr. Secretary?" the aide said. "Should we evacuate?"
A deep, shuddering breath; an attempt to regain his equilibrium.
"Not yet," Muilenburg replied, but it was doubtless too soft for
the aide to hear. He tried again. "Not yet." He forced himself
to stand up straight. "Have them continue to sweep for bombs
here, but we've got a job to do." He looked again at the
deployment map and found himself quaking with fury. "And no one
can say they don't have it coming."
Bessie Stilwell looked down at her wrinkled hand; the skin was
white, loose, and translucent. She was gently holding the hand
of her adult son, which was smoother and not quite as pale.
Bessie had often imagined a scene like this: the two of them in
a hospital room, one lying in bed and the other providing
comfort. But she'd always expected it to be her in the bed,
waiting to die, and Mike sitting next to her, doing his duty.
After all, she was eighty-seven and he was fifty-two; that was
the way the scene was supposed to be cast, their parts ordained
by their ages.
But she was well, more or less. Oh, there was a constant
background of aches and pains, her hearing was poor, and she used
a cane to walk. But Mike should have been vigorous. Instead, he
lay there, on his back, tubes in his arms, a respirator covering
his nose and mouth.
His father had made it to sixty before having the heart attack
that took his life. At least the coronary Mike had suffered
hadn't killed him although it had come close. The stress
of a Washington job had doubtless been a contributing factor; he
should have stayed in Mississippi.
Mike had no family of his own at least, not anymore; his
marriage had ended over a decade ago. He was a workaholic, Jane
had said when she left him or, at least, that was the
story Mike had conveyed to Bessie.
"Thanks for coming, Mom," Mike said, each word an effort for him.
She nodded. "Of course, baby."
Baby. She had always called him that. It had been five
decades since he'd been as helpless as one, and yet he was again.
She moved over to his bed and leaned in painfully, her
back and knees hurting as she did so and kissed him on the
top of his bald head.
"I'll come back tomorrow," she added.
"Thanks," he said again and closed his eyes.
Bessie regarded him for another half-minute; he looked like his
father had at the same age. Then she started the slow walk out
of the hospital room and down the long corridor, heading toward
Her eyesight wasn't as good as it used to be, but she read the
signs on the doors, noting landmarks so that she could easily
find Mike's room again tomorrow; she'd gone down the wrong
corridor earlier and, when every step hurt, that was the sort of
thing she didn't want to have happen again. There were a lot of
people further down the corridor, but the stretch she was in now
was empty. As she passed a door labeled "Observation Gallery,"
the lights in the corridor suddenly went off, startling her.
Emergency lighting soon came on, but she was terrified that the
elevators would be off; she was on the third floor, and doubted
she could manage that many stairs.
She continued to shuffle along, and after a short time the
overhead lights spluttered back to life. Up ahead, she saw the
elevator door open, several people get off, and several more get
on; everything seemed to be back to normal.
She finally made it to the elevator and rode down to the lobby.
To her surprise, there were uniformed hospital security guards
and several men in dark blue suits there, but they seemed more
interested in who was trying to come into the hospital than who
was leaving. She headed out into the cool air, and
and the world had changed since she'd entered earlier
today. Thousands of car horns were honking, the sidewalk outside
the hospital was packed with people, there was the smell of smoke
in the air. A fire, perhaps? A plane crash? Reagan was only a
short distance away ...
Numerous TV crews crowded the sidewalk. Near her, a reporter
a colored man wearing a tan trench coat was holding
a microphone, waiting for a signal, it seemed, from another man
who was balancing a camera on his shoulder.
It came to her that the reporter's name was Lonny Hendricks
although why she knew that, she didn't know. But, well,
this was Washington, and stories from here often got
national exposure; she supposed she must have seen him on the
news back in Mississippi at some point.
She'd had trouble finding her way inside the hospital the
corridors took odd bends. But now that she was outside, she
found herself feeling confident. Her hotel was that way,
down New Hampshire Avenue, and well, if she continued up
there, she'd run into Dupont Circle, although ...
Although she didn't know why she knew that, either; she hadn't
had cause to go that way yet. She supposed she must have seen it
while flipping through a tourist guidebook.
She slowly made her way over to the taxi stand, wondering what
all the panic, all the commotion, all the noise, was
Seth Jerrison opened his eyes. He was lying on his back, looking
up at a ceiling with fluorescent tubes behind frosted panels; one
of the tubes was strobing in an irritating fashion. He attempted
to speak but his throat was bone-dry.
A face loomed in: black, perhaps fifty, gray hair, kind eyes.
"Mr. President? Mr. President? Can you tell me what day it is?"
Part of Seth recognized that this was a test of competency
but another part wanted his own questions answered. "Where am
I?" he croaked out.
"Luther Terry Memorial Hospital," said the man.
His throat was still parched. "Water."
The man looked at someone else and a few seconds later he had a
cup of ice chips in his hand. He moved it over and tipped it so
that a few went into Seth's mouth. After they'd melted, Seth
asked, "Who are you?"
"I'm Dr. Mark Griffin. I'm the CEO here."
Seth nodded slightly. "What happened?"
The man lifted his eyebrows, wrinkling his forehead in the
process. "You were shot, Mr. President. The bullet ruptured the
pericardium the sac that contains the heart bruised
the right atrium, and clipped the superior vena cava. A
centimeter to the left and, well, we wouldn't be having this
Seth wanted to speak again, but it took him several seconds to
find the strength. "Anyone else hurt?"
"Not by gunfire. Some members of the crowd were injured in the
panic that ensued broken bones, bloody noses but
nothing life-threatening." Griffin paused for a moment, then:
"Sir, forgive us for waking you up. Normally, we'd keep you
under as long as possible while you heal, but, well, you
are the president, and you need to know. First let me
assure you that no one was hurt the First Lady, as you
know, is in Oregon. She's fine, and so is everyone else. But
there's been an explosion at the White House. The bomb was
spotted before it went off, and they got everyone out."
Seth's head swam. He'd long lived in northern California; he'd
felt the ground literally shift beneath his feet before
but this was more disorienting, more terrifying: the whole world
shifting, changing, crumbling. His heart pounded, every
beat a knife thrust.
"They're relocating most of the White House staff to a facility
in Virginia, I'm told," said Griffin. Mount Weather was an
underground city there, built during the Cold War; there were
contingency plans for running most of the Executive Branch from
"Take me ... there," said Seth.
"Not yet, sir. It's not safe to move you. But your chief of
staff will be at the Virginia facility soon. He can be your eyes
and ears there; we'll get you a secure line to him." A pause.
"Mr. President, how do you feel?"
Seth closed his eyes; everything went pink as the overhead light
filtered through his eyelids. He tried to breathe, tried to hold
on to his sanity, tried not to let go not to let go
again. At last, he managed to speak. "Were ... were
my ... injuries ... life-threatening?"
"Yes, sir, to be honest. We almost lost you on the operating
Seth forced his eyes open. To one side, he saw Susan Dawson and
another Secret Service agent whose name he didn't know. He felt
weak, still parched, emotional agony layered atop all the
physical pain. "Did you ... open my chest?"
"Yes, sir, we did."
"Did my heart stop?"
"Sir, yes. For a time."
"They say ... if you're about to die ... your life ... flashes in
front of your eyes."
Griffin, still looming over him, nodded. "I've heard that, sir,
Seth was silent for a few moments, trying to sort it all out,
trying to decide if he wanted to confide in this man but
it had been the damnedest thing. "And, well," he said at
last, "something like that happened to me."
Griffin's tone was neutral. "Oh?"
"Yes. Except ..." He looked at the doctor for a moment, then
turned his head toward the windows. "Except it wasn't my
life that I saw."
"What do you mean, sir?"
"Someone else's memories," said the president. "Not mine."
Griffin said nothing.
"You don't believe me," Seth said, with effort.
"All sorts of weird things can happen when the brain is starved
for oxygen, Mr. President," Griffin said.
Seth briefly closed his eyes but the images were still
there. "That's ... not it. I ... have someone else's ...
Griffin was quiet for a moment, then said, "Well, you're in luck,
sir. As it happens, we've got one of the world's top memory
experts here a fellow from Canada. I can ask
Griffin's BlackBerry must have vibrated because he fished it out
and looked at the caller ID. "Speak of the devil," he said to
Jerrison, then into the phone: "Yes, Professor Singh? Um, yes,
yes. Wait." He lowered the handset and turned to Susan Dawson.
"Is your middle name Marie?"
Susan's eyebrows went up. "Yes."
"Yes, that's right," Griffin said into the phone. "What? Um,
okay. Sure, I guess. I'll tell her. Bye."
Griffin put the BlackBerry away and turned to face Susan. "Our
resident memory expert would like to speak to you up in his
You've just read the opening of of
by Hugo and Nebula Award-winner Robert J. Sawyer.
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Copyright © 2012 by Robert J. Sawyer. All rights reserved.
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