Chief of Staff
Copyright © 2016 by Ken Barber, Al Norris, Roland and the Revolutions Universe Partnership
All Rights Reserved
Alexander Lovell adjusted his tie and reflected a moment before opening the door...
In Jack Bryce's last Presidential term, Alexander was his Director of Communications. So he was very familiar with how the President did things. He had been with the family during the first attempt on Bryce's life, during the campaign, and was ordered to go home afterwards.
So it was unexpected that an Army unit showed up at his home, in Denver, late Wednesday night to request his presence before President-elect Bryce. Well, "request" was a nicer way of stating what that Major had said.
Alexander was given just a couple minutes to gather his things before being whisked away in the dark, to a secret place that Bryce had somehow managed to escape to. He had seen the video confrontations between Bryce and Ashwood over the attempted assassination in Texas, so Alexander hoped that wherever it was, it was safe from Ashwood's forces.
The base he was taken to was at best in chaotic disorder, no one seemed to know who was in charge and why. The staffers that saw Alexander arrive, began running to him for guidance, so by the time the Boss had asked him to take the job as his Chief of Staff, Alexander was no longer surprised.
Alexander had just the barest hint of a smile as he opened the door, "You asked to see me Mr. President?"
Jack shook his head, "I am never going to get you to call me Jack, am I?"
Alexander looked at him blankly. "No Mr. President you won't and the rest of the staff will call you Mr. President as well."
Bryce laughed. "Come in and sit down, please."
Alexander sat down while the President finished reviewing a file. He looked around the office and thought to himself, not very presidential looking; something else he would have to handle.
"Alexander, I wanted to finish our discussion about cabinet candidates."
"Sir If I may, I think it more important to finish filling your staff."
"Alexander, I appreciate that but I do not see the need for a press secretary and communications director when the press is all but defunct."
Alexander took a deep breath. "Mr. President, just before Rick was killed in the attack on your base two weeks ago, he gave me a piece of advice. He said if Jack Bryce ever says something very stupid you sit him down and say this; 'Mr. President that's just plain stupid'."
Jack laughed. "Trust me Alexander, Rick said that a lot and you better get used to saying it too. Now tell me why it's so important to have a Press Secretary when there is no press."
"Mr. President, while the press is diminished, it is not dead. People in this country still want to know what you are doing. They want to know how you are fighting Ashwood. They want that little bit of hope that things will get fixed. That tomorrow will be a bit better, because they see you are doing everything in your power to fight back against this would-be dictator."
Alexander cleared his throat. "You don't have the time to spend doing this. But your press secretary will have that time. Even small, short messages from your office will go a long way towards giving the people that hope. Need I say that keeping their morale up, will help us in the long run to win this war?"
"OK. Let's say for the moment I agree with you. Do you have someone in mind?"
"Sir this is the list Rick created."
"And where is the list you created?"
"Mr. President, it would be the same list except I would add a name."
"And who might that be Alexander?"
"Lily Manning, Mr. President."
Bryce sat down and stared at his chief of staff. "You do know how much she means to Linda and me, and I presume you know how much risk she has already taken?"
"Of course I do Mr. President. And that makes her perfect for the job, she knows you and she knows the job. Mr. President let me be clear in my opinion, I would toss that list and hand you another with just her name on it.
"There is one other problem that bringing Lily here would take care of, Mr. President."
"Oh? What problem would that be, Alex?"
"Sir, you have a considerable number of civilians that were brought here, refugees actually, that really need a better place to be. Since we will have to send a plane to pick up Lily from her bunker, we can send these people to that location. They will be safer and more comfortable there, than here."
Jack rested his head in his hands for a second. "Alexander how many people's lives am I going to risk?"
"Millions Mr. President, millions. Like every President before you."
"Bring her in Alex," Bryce sighed, "and Alexander, transfer the refugees."
"Yes sir Mr. President."
"Now about my appointments. Senator Claude Troxe, the Senate President Pro Tempore, seems to have placed them all in limbo. He isn't allowing their names to get to the floor for a vote."
"Mr. President, I believe I can find out what Troxe wants, in order to introduce your appointments. It may take a couple of days…"
"Alex, do what you have to do. We need these appointments confirmed."
Alexander stood up, "Yes Mr. President. I will get the ball rolling."
"Hopefully I won't have to give up my newborn…" Jack muttered as Alexander left the president's office.
Alexander walked through the Command Center and out through the security corridor before reaching his office and calling his meager staff together.
"Josh, get me transportation to the bunker where they are hiding Lily Manning. Make a list of all the refugees in our bunker; tell them to be prepared to move to the bunker where Lily currently is. As soon as I get back to Hill AFB with Ms. Manning, I will need a flight to Ellsworth AFB.
"Shelly, find a way to make the President's Office look... like a President's Office... Oh, Hell! Find him a new office. Something that can connect to mine, if it can be arranged. The President has no need to walk that security gauntlet and the war room, just to conduct his own business.
"And someone find a photographer. We need to start showing President Bryce is working and in charge… Then we let Lily write it up."
On the flight to Ellsworth Air Force Base, Alexander mused over the almost trivial concession he had made to get Lily Manning on board as Bryce's Press Secretary. Lily only wanted her children to move with her. Seeing that her kids and those of the president were already friends with each other, made it almost too easy.
At first, he had balked and made it seem that since they had already moved all the other refugees, and all the children, from the presidential bunker to the bunker that Lily was residing, it would be an imposition to move children back to that bunker.
After a few minutes of argument, he had allowed himself to be persuaded by Lily's counter argument that having just a few friends, which her children were, was a much better condition for the president's children than being isolated by themselves with no one to interact with.
Once they had reached the agreement, it only took a small amount of time to get her and her family packed up and onboard the aircraft for the flight back to Hill AFB and then the chopper flight to the bunker.
It was the next leg of his trip that was going to be more complicated.
When the Congress had met and voted to impeach former President Ashwood, it was done through the expertise of children who were not only computer geniuses, but also some kind of genetically enhanced warriors. That they were classified as beyond Top Secret, only added to their mystique. The upshot was that in doing this, the exact location of each member of Congress was known. They were clandestinely gathered up and moved to Ellsworth in South Dakota. How and why it was overlooked in the recent missile attack by Ashwood's forces, was something of a mystery. It had left intact a large portion of air power that was now at Bryce's command.
Nevertheless, it was where the entire Congress had been moved. Knowing a bit about Senator Troxe, Alexander could only assume this placement was by his design. A feather in the cap of the senior Senator from South Dakota.
A meeting had been arranged that evening with Senator Troxe's Chief of Staff, so that Alexander could probe to find out what the Senator wanted in exchange for his support to move the nomination process forward.
Alexander really hoped that this would go smoothly and he could be on his way back to his new home by morning. He was prepared to spend a couple of days with the Senator, if it came to that, but he hoped that it would not take that long to reach a deal.
The Raider's Cafe was nominally the base mess hall, but it also served as a restaurant for dignitaries and other visitors to the base. The decor was tasteful, if subdued. This was where Alexander was meeting with Randolph Butler, Senator Troxe's Chief of Staff.
"I must admit, Randolph, that this T-bone steak was delicious. If the Navy doesn't watch out, the Air Force may yet take over the Presidential Food Service, when we regain the White House."
"Yes, I do believe that is the goal, here." Randolph chuckled. "So what brings you out here Alexander? How can Senator Troxe help the President?"
"President Bryce would like to get his cabinet nominees approved. Some of the nominations are essential to defeating Ashwood's forces and others are essential for running this country. Now and later, after the war." Alexander took a sip of his wine before he continued, "It is my understanding that the Senator is holding up the vote. So I have to think that there is something that the Senator wants, in order for him to bring the names to the floor…"
"Down to business it is then?" Randolph raised an eyebrow.
"Yes well, the war won't stop just because we have some slight political differences. So we might as well roll up our sleeves and get to work."
"The Senator is concerned over the current makeup of the House."
"Oh? How so?"
"After Congressman Burruel resigned as Speaker to become President, and the subsequent events unfolded, Mr. Burruel returned as a congressman and resumed his post as the Speaker. He wasn't renominated and elected by the party. So technically, the position is open and being filled on a voluntary basis."
Alexander sipped his wine and leaned back in his chair. "Randy, we have been at this a long time and you and I both know the President has no say in the speaker of the house."
Randolph smirked. "I think you mean to add officially to the end of that."
"Ok so let's say hypothetically we could apply a little grease to the wheel, where does the Senator want the grease applied?"
Randolph smiled. "Corey Edgin."
Alexander sat up. "Edgin? Are you out of your fucking mind! He worked for Ashwood, Bryce will rip my nuts off if I bring this back to him."
"Edgin was the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. He resigned right after the election and Ashwood wouldn't concede. He was appointed to the Idaho First Congressional District a couple of days later when the congressman for that district went MIA. He is neither for nor against Bryce."
Alexander took a moment to think. "Ok Edgin is not a bad guy, but he and Bryce are pretty opposite on many issues. If I could even sell this to Bryce, we still have to sell it to the rest of the party."
"Look at it this way. Troxe's only issue is that Burruel is a Bryce 'Yes Man' and Troxe wants an impartial man there. A restoring of the 'separation of powers', if you will."
"Damn it Randy you're asking for a miracle here. I need to get someone senior in the House to endorse Edgin before Bryce can make a statement."
"Talk to Haley. Make him see that this is in the best interests of the country. Haley is kind of a stickler for that sort of thing. With Burruel backing Edgin, you have your senior backing."
Alexander could hear the victory cheer in his head. A well-kept secret in DC was a college friendship between Burruel and Edgin. Now it was time to get the coffin nailed shut. "Ok I am willing to do whatever it takes to get your man as Speaker but I need something in return."
"And that would be what? Besides placing the names on the table?"
"We want smooth nominations and we want Troxe to endorse the nominees."
Randolph smiled and held out his hand. "Alex, I think we have a deal."
Alexander shook his hand and smiled. "Thanks Randy it's always a pleasure, but I expect the first hearing to be held before we say anything about the speaker. Call it a gesture of good faith."
"Hmm… I don't know if I can guarantee that, but I will put it to the Senator."
Alexander stood up. "Tell your boss if he wants us to manipulate the election of the Speaker of the House then he needs to show he is all in."
"All right Alex. I will call you as soon as I know."
Alexander was smiling as he left the building. He called his flight crew and told them to be ready to leave in the morning.
"Alexander... The Boss wants a meeting of all senior personnel in fifteen minutes." Derek Tenner, the President's secretary said in a hurried voice.
"What's going on?" Alexander asked, his stomach sinking.
"I'm not sure. I do know he just had a call from Admiral Norris. I don't know what was said, but I heard raised voices." Derek was just as nervous as Alexander was. Emergency meetings were never a good thing.
"Okay, I'll handle it." Alexander sighed, then added. "See if you can't figure out what's going on, so I'm not walking into this blind."
"Will do." Derek answered, so Alexander hung up, sighed, then picked the phone back up and started making the needed calls.
It was almost twenty-five minutes later when President Bryce finally entered the large conference room, causing everyone to jump to their feet. Bryce was known for his punctuality, so for him to be late without an explanation, made everyone nervous. The look on his face though, made it so no one bothered to ask why he was late; he was the President after all. Those that had known Bryce for a while, knew the last time he was this angry was when Ashwood tried to have the Vice President and his husband arrested, and their children taken away. No matter what was going on, things were about to change, and it was up to Alexander to make sure that they changed for the better.
Without a word, they watched as Bryce moved to the front of the room, but instead of taking his seat, he simply motioned for everyone else to sit, then inserted a jump drive into the console at his seat, then hit play. He moved out of the way as the screen behind him dropped, and moments later a video started to play.
Alexander had a sinking feeling in his gut as he saw the opening scenes to what should have been a normal Veteran's Day Parade. He watched the confrontation with the federal agents, and knew what was coming. He hoped that it wouldn't, but he knew Ashwood, and his goons like few others. His entire family were die-hard Ashwood supporters. Alexander had had the 'pleasure' of meeting the man at a fundraiser that his parents put together for the man. That was the last time he had spoken to any member of his family.
Alexander wanted to look away, but couldn't. He saw the young man holding the American flag high, saw the tears stream down his face as he stood there knowing what was coming. He, along with everyone else, jumped in their seats when the gunfire started. He fought to keep his face blank even as his anger rose to a boiling point. He took a deep breath and thought, 'How can we use this?'
Alexander watched as his boss paced for a few moments, then sat down heavily into his chair. When the President spoke, his voice was tight, and barely controlled. "This was sent to me by Admiral Norris just a few minutes ago. The young man at the front of that line, the one carrying the flag, is still alive, and recovering from his wounds on the Reagan."
He paused as he looked around again, he noticed that almost everyone wanted to say something, but no one dared. "Ladies and Gentlemen, we need to go on the offensive." He drew a breath, and sat up straighter. "Admiral Norris and his people are taking the war to the enemy on the East Coast. They have Central Florida under wraps and Maine is now in their control. The Admiral tells me he is planning to make a big push for most of New England this week." Bryce paused again. "Up to this point we have been reacting but that ends now. We will go on the offensive. I have appointed General Rose as Western Theater Commander. This morning I authorized the General to use the 28th Bomb Wing out of Ellsworth AFB to begin surgical strikes on military infrastructure along the Mississippi River. I want a combined push to relieve the beleaguered forces in Chicago. General Rose, the reports I have read show Ashwood pulling some units off the front line in the Midwest and moving them east. This leaves us an opening. Use it, get the Air Force into play and hit those units that are headed east. The longer Norris and his team can be a thorn in Ashwood's side the easier it's going to be to win this war." He looked up and down the table, "Make no mistake this is a war in its ugliest and dirtiest form. We can no longer hope for the best. Ashwood and his administration have proven time and time again they will do whatever it takes to win, damn the consequences. Last week a young man dressed me down right here in this room, telling me I needed to take the kid gloves off. I fought him but now I see the light. From this moment on, this war is to be prosecuted to the highest degree possible. Crush the enemy, don't give them long enough to regain their breath, push them from every angle, hit them where they least expect it. We have some of the greatest military tacticians sitting in this room and I have been keeping you on a leash. That Ends NOW! You have my authority to do WHATEVER it takes."
He paused, then spoke again. "I will be going to Maine for Thanksgiving. General Rose, I want you to go with me so that you can meet Admiral Norris. As the Western Theater Commander, you're his counterpart, so I want you two on the same page." General Andy Rose nodded, as Bryce moved on.
"Lilly," Bryce started, and Lilly Manning looked up and gave him her full attention. "I need you to get our message to the people. They are not alone, we are here for them. We will do everything we can to help, but it will be a while before things return to normal. I need to set you up with Norris's PR people. He is doing Psy-Ops up there and it seems to be very effective. Learn what they are doing and copy it. They are getting volunteers coming out of the woodwork."
"Yes Sir." Alexander heard himself say, echoing what Lilly said, already his mind was spinning with what they could do, and how to get it all done. This was what he had been pushing for a while, but Bryce was resisting. Finally he was starting to see what Alexander was trying to get across, whatever Admiral Norris had said to Bryce had hit home. Alexander was looking forward to meeting this Admiral.
"Helena, I need you to work with the Vice President and redouble your efforts to get us more humanitarian aid. Kettle Falls is doing wonderful things, but they still need help, and no one else is doing as well as they are. You have full authority to draft anyone you need to make it happen."
Secretary of State, Helena Gutierrez nodded, "Yes Mr. President. Judge Ralkin and I are working closely with the Canadians and they have been extremely helpful since King Arthur got involved."
Bryce smiled at the mention of the young King. "Okay, I need ideas, fresh ways of looking at things. I don't care how off the wall they seem to you, if you think it will help, I want to hear it." The President got nods from everyone, then waited to see what would be brought up.
Alexander was the first one to jump in. "I need a copy of that video to edit and release."
"No! No way!" Tom Larkin stated immediately. "We cannot release that video."
Alexander turned his attention to the Secretary of Defense. "Why not." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bryce lean back in his chair. As was usual with the President, he would sit back and listen to what everyone else had to say before reaching his decision. That was his way of making sure he heard from all sides.
"If we release that video, the people will go nuts. Any veteran or veteran's family that sees that will be so incensed that they may rush to the front lines wanting to help. Way too many noncombatants will be in the way." Larkin was leaning forward in his seat, trying to make others understand.
"True, and we'll have to be ready for that, but..." Alexander said as he too leaned forward and looked up and down the table, "this will also, almost single-handedly rip away any and all support that Ashwood has with the people. Yeah, some will stand by him no matter what, they have no choice anymore, but those that are on the fence will jump off, and land on our side."
"I think most people already know what that man is capable of. Just look at what happened in Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Boulder, Austin, just to name a few." Admiral Cathcart said softly. "Do we really need to show them more?"
"Yes!" Lilly Manning jumped in. "Ashwood's actions in those areas are not well known and what media outlets that are left, are controlled by him and he is blaming Jack." Lily could feel the glare emanating from Alexander for using the President's first name, but she ignored it. "We need to take back control of the information flow, we need to show the people every bit of evil that Ashwood drops on our country. They need to be reminded what we're fighting against. Yes. We will have to deal with a populace that is out for blood, but that's better than letting them forget what's going on here. Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it. Thomas Paine said that and today its meaning is clearer than ever. We need to show not only what Jack is fighting for, but what every citizen of this country should be fighting for."
Alexander smiled as the room got quiet and he thought, 'Someone else who gets it.'
They continued to argue for close to ten minutes but with more and more of the Cabinet and staff agreeing with Alexander and Lily. Finally the President held up his hand, almost immediately, the room fell silent. When he spoke, his voice was soft, which Alexander knew meant he wasn't really going to like what Bryce was about to say. "For now, we hold the video. But only for now. Tom you need to get prepared and have a plan in place to deal with the rush of volunteers. Alex, you and Lily have a valid argument and I want the video out but give the military time to get ready." He paused then looked at the military side of the table. "Get yourselves prepared, because we will be releasing it at some point. You need to be ready to receive and accept the volunteers that come."
He then glanced at Alexander, then Lilly. "Get plans in place to make sure that anyone who wants to volunteer knows where to go, and how to do it in an orderly fashion, we cannot just have them showing up at the front lines."
Once he got nods of agreement, Bryce leaned forward, "Okay, now let's talk about my trip to Maine."