This section is fairly early on in the book, when young professor Chase Selby and his fellow Reasoners meet what's left of the federal government for the first time. It's a big meeting held in one of the board rooms of the Treasury building. The Reasoners are the panel of 12 "most reasonable" people who have been selected from a broad range of disciplines across the country - great thinkers who are considered the last reasonable minds in the country, the rest of the country seemingly haven chosen sides in the "Us and Them" stand-off that has lead to a guillotine being placed (and used) on the steps of the U.S. Capitol by the insurrectionists who call themselves Changers.
I won't deny that I laughed out loud many times writing this section. I wanted to show the inefficiencies of the government and what caused, at least in part, the crisis in the first place. But things got away from me and I really came to enjoy the arrogance of the government officials, and most particularly, Miles Mallickey, the chosen representative of the feds. That happens to writers often, or at least it happens to me. That's when you have lift-off. In this case, I think the excerpt also shows the kind of Dr. Strangelove humor as it's clear no one knows what the hell's going on or how to put Humpty Dumpy back together again. Every day that I watch the news, I have the sense I nailed it more than I understood at the time. You can be the judge, but please, don't be too hard too hard on Miles. The guy's merely doing his job.
CHAPTER 13. The GOR
The Reasoners were about to commence their first meeting with the GOR, the government of record. Already it was like nothing any of them had anticipated.
There were more than thirty of them, first of all, and they entered the room as if the meeting were their call, in their offices, and on their terms. In no way did they look like the representatives of a defeated, or at least fatally compromised, federal government.
They were also impeccably dressed in business wear and outfitted with leather folders and laptop satchels and tablets. They shook hands and passed around creamy white government business cards, not just to Brueler and the Reasoners, but to each other. They distributed other printed materials, reports with titles like Objectives in Managing Dissent and State Report Alerts. Chase guessed that the young people who did the handing out were assistants, but he had to wonder where exactly the materials had been printed. As far as he knew, the Government Printing Office was currently being used as a morgue.
Due to numbers, the government people had to take one whole side of the immense table while the Reasoners took the other. There was a lot of shifting. A dozen of the younger government people automatically took chairs against the walls. They efficiently opened sleek laptops to take notes.
The chief representative for the government turned out to be Miles Mallickey. Miles Mallickey?? Representing the entire United States government? This took just about every Reasoner – even Brueler – by surprise.
Mallickey was not an impressive man. He was diminutive, with a 1970s side part, big hair to match, and a strangely froggy mouth. He wore a poorly tailored hunter green suit and a large digital watch. What he lacked in bearing, however, he made up for in a sort of “what makes Miles run” determination. Every American had, at some time or other, seen Miles Mallickey on television. A few even knew that back in the dark ages Miles had once actually won a seat in the House of Representatives. He never repeated the feat, but that one term had been enough for Miles. It put his toe in the door.
He stayed on in Washington in a number of Cabinet positions for the next twenty-odd years. All of this meant that Miles Mallickey knew not just every back lane of Washington, but how to manage both legislation and egos.
Brueler introduced everyone politely, but once they were seated, zeroed in immediately on the obvious question in the mind of every Reasoner there. “Mr. Mallickey, can you vouch for your standing here?” Miles reached back to one of the aides sitting along the wall.The aide handed him a piece of paper, which Miles handed across to Brueler. “I am speaking with the full authority of the United States government,” he said. “I am the highest government authority available at this moment for this purpose and have complete authority to bind the government in any manner as these talks may necessitate."
Brueler read the letter of authority. Surprised, he handed it to Agniew, who shared it with Tay Hamer and then Kirsten Pappason. It made its way down the table. “Mr. Mallickey, that document is three weeks old,” Brueler said.
“The date isn’t material!” The Mick, it seemed, was ready for a
“Two people who signed it are now dead.”
“It hasn’t been rescinded, Mr. Brueler. Therefore my authority is as unassailable as your own.” Mallickey opened his leather portfolio. “Look, we have a lot to cover, and my people and I have more to do today.”
A raised eyebrow from Brueler. It was hard to imagine a meeting more important than briefing the folks who would decide the very future of the United States, but apparently Miles had places to be.
Miles clicked a pen in his hand. “What can you tell us?”
There was a long, still silence. Brueler looked to the Reasoners. The Reasoners looked to Brueler. The government people looked to the Reasoners.
“About what?” Brueler finally asked.
Van DeVere,” Mallickey said.
“What about him?”
He shrugged. “Well, on our side we’ve drafted a legal demand to the General to recant his position and to justify any refusal to defend both this city and to verify his protection of any and all other federal installations. We have also outlined a possible charge of dereliction of duty and how he risks being stripped of his command. This chaos has to stop, and order has to be restored. You need to make this position clear to Van DeVere. We need to take these people out as well as anyone else threatening the sovereign control of the United States government.”
Agniew asked, “Take who out?”
“All of them?”
Agniew was so stunned, he struggled with his response. “But
… Congressman … by anyone’s estimate there are millions of them across the country and at least a half a million in this city alone. So
… that’s your solution?”
Mallickey shook his head. “That’s your solution. That’s what you’re going present to General Van DeVere.”
An assistant reached forward and placed a can of Coke in front of Mallickey. He cracked it and swallowed half. Clearly, the Mick was done. He had shown his tough guy bona fides, and was waiting for a response.
Finally, General Williamson spoke in his low earthquake rumble.”Congressman, you are aware, I assume, that the Supreme Court of the United States ruled – ”
Mallickey waved that off. “A different time, General, and, if you missed the headlines, only two Supreme Court justices still have their heads on, so – ”
“I think you’ll find their rulings still stand,” the General persisted. “And any military officer, and certainly someone of the character of General Van DeVere would never – ”
“Yeah, yeah, honor, manhood, et cetera,” said the Mick. “But I think you’ll find the General was constrained in taking orders from a representative of the Congress. Our legal argument – and it has complete support from more than three Harvard and Yale scholars – is that with the invention of the Reasoner Compromise, we have a whole new power structure, none of which the court was able to take into account. So, there’s nothing that prevents the Reasoners from telling DeVere to get back to work.”
The silence that greeted this seemed to go on forever.
Finally, Ambassador Macomb crossed his legs elegantly (armed, definitely armed, Chase thought) and asked gently, in that buttery southern lilt, “If I may?” There were nods from the other Reasoners. His manner was so courtly, who could refuse him? The Iron Butterfly, they used to call him.
“Congressman Mallickey, there may be confusion here about exactly what our duties are and where our powers lie.”
Mallickey shrugged. “I’m happy to clarify if people need me to clarify.”
The Ambassador smiled and continued. “In fact, we are intended to be an impartial body, tasked with assessing and hopefully providing a direction that will bring the two parties together to reunite the nation as a whole. To be, literally, the last reasonable minds to put an eyeball to this most vexing of conflicts. You, however, are talking as if we are in the employ of yourself and the Government of Record, and that, I’m afraid, just isn’t so. As well, it should be noted that the Reasoner Compromise explicitly prohibits us from any direct contact with the commanders of the United States military without expression permission – ”
“Sure, sure, sure,” Mallickey said. “That’s what we all said, but if we just hold it at that – I mean, if that’s all you do – then how the hell do you expect to get things back on track?”
“Well, for starters,” Vin Jansert jumped in, offering that trademark smirk, “I sure as hell thought we’d be helped by someone like, say, the President of the United States – or whoever is acting as President. I didn’t think our first meeting would be with a cut-rate leftover Congressman.”
Mallickey seemed shocked by the demand, if entirely unoffended by the attack on him personally. “The President is in isolation, and certainly doesn’t report to you!”
There were looks around the table. Ambassador Macomb tried again. “Perhaps it would be advisable to verify our understanding of where we are on executive authority. By that I mean, what happened to the President.”
“Which President?” Mallickey asked.
Before the Ambassador could answer, Vin Jansert interrupted again. “Start with Drury! After all, he was the last person actually elected to the damned office.”
Mallickey offered an angered shake of the head. “That’s been extensively covered in the news media. There’s no reason to go over that.”
“Let’s try anyway,” said Kirsten Pappason.
Mallickey studied the faces in the room. After a moment, he managed, with no small amount of discomfort, to say, in a weirdly flippant manner, “Regrettably, President Drury was not able to fulfill his constitutional duties.”
“What does that mean?” asked the Ambassador. “It means exactly that.”
“I think you’re going to have to do better than that.”
“The President,” Mallickey said carefully, “is a patriot, and as such was extremely upset by the guillotine appearing on the Capitol steps and the flouting of civil law. As a result, he was moved to Camp David for his own safety.”
“That’s not what I heard!” Vin Jansert said. He looked at everyone around the table. “I heard he had a shit fit. Screaming and yelling and losing his mind. Everybody’s heard that!”
(Senator Sofia Puccelli’s words were clear in Chase’s memory. “He is a weak man. A very, very weak man.”)
Mallickey gave Jansert a very cold and very troubled look. “Let’s agree that when the Vice President went up to Camp David to see him, he determined that the President would no longer be continuing in his constitutional role. That was to be passed on to the Vice President, as per the 25th Amendment.”
“But then they threatened to kill the Vice President,” Vin said. “And his whole family.”
Mallickey nodded slowly. “For personal reasons, while the Vice President agreed to invoke the 25th Amendment, he elected not to assume the office.”
“Can he do that?” asked Hydy Horvat from the far end of the table. “Just refuse? He was sworn to take over the Presidency if the President was unable to.”
“The Vice President chose not to take those responsibilities upon himself,” Mallickey persisted.
“And from there?” asked Brian Gleeber. It was the first time he
Mallickey stayed true to the home team. “As you all know, it was decided that the mantle of the Presidency would best rest with the Speaker of the House. The Senate’s objection to that is obviously a matter of long public record.”
“When was she sworn in?”
But clearly Mallickey didn’t want to answer that question. “Look, folks! Everyone knows this. We’re wasting time!”
“Humor us,” said Agniew.
Mallickey sighed. “Immediately after 5/22. And just as you all also know, she was immediately moved to an undisclosed location for her own safety. But I assure you she is issuing directives through surrogates and has always been in complete control of the government.”
“Yet here you are,” said Vin. “Making deals for the government. And not her. And here we are. Asked to step in. To solve the government’s problems.”
“And when was the last time she – Ms. Joles – made contact with General Van DeVere?” Pappason asked.
Mallickey seemed baffled by the question. “I thought I explained. We haven’t talked to those people for weeks. That’s why we’re tasking you.”
There was silence.
“Well, I now understand one thing.” They all turned. It was General Williamson.
“What’s that, General?” asked Mallickey.
The man straightened himself in his chair. “The problem you’re having with General Van DeVere.”
“It’s not my problem,” said Mallickey. “It’s the nation’s problem. He’s hiding behind the court’s decree when he should be fighting for his country!”
“I’m afraid it’s the same problem that kicked off some of these confusions,” said the General. “He’s clearly waiting for the appropriate authority to instruct him.”
“He responds to the commands of his Commander in Chief and the United States government.”
“And who is that, Mr. Mallickey?”
A very awkward silence from the Mick.
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