Old Executive Building, Washington, DC
13 September 2017
Half a world away, in Washington, DC, the vice president of the United States was wrapping up a meeting that might have taken a more urgent tone had they known about the conflict raging at Chunxiao.
Normally an upbeat guy, Clayton Joseph McCarty found that meetings like this left him drained. His boss, President Lyman Burkmeister, had asked him to chair this high-powered group of business leaders and cabinet members in search of ideas for incorporation into the State of the Union address in January. McCarty was frustrated by the glacial pace of policymaking in Washington and chagrined by its inability to effectively deal with the economic malaise that draped the world like a pall. No matter how you sliced or diced it, the root cause always came down to oil—more specifically, to the dual challenges of access and affordability of oil. With oil trading at $231 per barrel and pump prices over six dollars per gallon of gas in the United States, how could you not have economic stagnation?
He checked his watch—past 1 p.m. already—and ducked into his office, shuffling through his sheaf of notes and reports. Irritated, he thought, We could meet a thousand times and still not fess up to the truth: America is addicted to oil, and the cost of the addiction is tearing the nation apart. The massive cost of that addiction—and the accompanying transfer of wealth to often-hostile oil-producing countries—had a destabilizing effect on national security and the economy. The addiction also aggravated the ravages of climate- change. The dual disorders were overwhelming the system, but nobody seemed to hear the alarm bells. He glanced over at the picture of his wife, Maggie, and their two young daughters, Melissa and Amy, taken aboard Air Force One. He reflected, sadly, My generation is mortgaging their future and sticking them with the payments so that we can live the good life today.
His family was in Palo Alto this week, visiting Maggie’s mother as she recovered from gall-bladder surgery, and he missed them dearly. On impulse, he decided to give Maggie a call. She picked up her cell phone on the second ring.
“Hi, Mags, how’re you doing?”
“Clayton! What a nice surprise. To what do I owe this pleasure? You haven’t been laid off or anything like that, have you?”
He laughed, glad to hear her voice. “Everything’s fine. I just miss you and the kids and wanted to check in. Is everything okay with everyone? How’s your mom?”
For the next five minutes they talked about everything and nothing. Maggie and the girls were flying back on Saturday night, and she suggested a Sunday dinner with his brother, Jack. Clayton loved family dinners, and Maggie knew her man.
“That sounds good to me. I’m scheduled to appear on Nelson Fitzwater’s Financial Issues and Answers show at ten on Sunday, but I’m free as a bird after that.”
He heard Maggie’s groan as he said his good-bye. She absolutely despised Fitzwater and his style of browbeating his guests into submission.
Just then, his secretary advised him that Jack was waiting for him. This brought a smile to his face. He relished the hard-fought handball battles he had with Jack in the new White House gym.
The vigorous workouts improved his frame of mind and helped him maintain a weight of about 190 pounds on his six-foot-two frame. At age forty-nine, he was secretly proud of his physical fitness.
“C’mon in, Jackson! Are you prepared to get your butt kicked today?”
“I’m always prepared, big shot, but I sure don’t see anyone around here that packs the gear to do it.”
“Before I forget, Maggie was wondering if you’d like to have dinner with us Sunday night when she gets back from her visit out west.”
“That depends. This isn’t going to be one of those ‘let’s fix Jack up with a nice lady’ nights, is it?”
“Nah, it’s nothing like that. It’s just that we haven’t seen you around much lately, and my daughters keep saying they want to see their Uncle Jack—though I can’t for the life of me understand why,” he said with a smile. Clayton ignored the blinking call line as they left for their battle in the White House gym.
13 September 2017
Pastor Veronica Larson turned the page of the Mankato Free Press and sighed. On top of another stiff hike in gas prices, another local plant was closing and layoffs continued to mount. Mankato, a Minnesota town of over 33,000 people, was her home, and she loved the small-town feeling and work ethic of its people. It was painful to watch the rippling effect of rising fuel costs on agricultural production and the toll it was taking on the local economy. Boarded-up buildings and rising unemployment levels were two visible manifestations of the blight that troubled her greatly.
In response to this bleak situation, Veronica had created a formal ministry in Mankato called “Life Challenges.” It was a support group focused on the socioeconomic and personal problems of her congregation and others in the community, and it was designed to provide hope and practical solutions for a population devoid of confidence in the government and private institutions alike.
She often thought of her Life Challenges group as a good bellwether for the emotional and spiritual health of the community. The ebb and flow of meeting attendance levels correlated strongly, she observed, with local economic conditions. Greater stress produced higher attendance levels, and attendance dropped when times were good. The attendance trajectory line had moved steadily upward for some time, and that was not a good macroindicator for Mankato, though it was helpful for the people attending. She was troubled and unsure of what to do as she put down her newspaper and left for work.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
13 September 2017
Wellington Crane left his sprawling mansion for the short walk to his broadcast studio. He walked past his six-car garage and smiled contentedly at his mint 1998 Rolls-Royce, which sat in the driveway, waiting to be polished. He loved the beautiful self-contained complex he had created and named Wellington’s World, after his juggernaut show. It was a fitting testament to his greatness and contrasted sharply with the lifestyles of the shiftless Americans he so contemptuously referred to on his radio show. He reflected on his unique talents as he entered the front door of his high-tech studio.
“Good morning, Mr. Crane,” said his youthful receptionist in a cheerful voice.
“Get me a cup of coffee, Amanda,” he growled, “and make sure it isn’t as weak as that slop you made yesterday.” He then proceeded into his “war room” to prep for today’s radio show.
Crane was a heavy user of the Shared News Services. He detested the more conventional news reporting services—though he used them as necessary—but he regularly checked the SNS bulletins before going on air with his syndicated radio show. After all, he had a daily audience of over twenty million Americans who deserved the best. Shortly before his three o’clock afternoon airtime, a breaking story caught his eye: “Massive fires reported near a giant Chinese oil platform located in the Chunxiao area of the East China Sea. No details yet available, but fires are reported by several aircraft across large areas.”
Hmm, thought Wellington, this might be worth mentioning when I do my bit on China and how they are eating our lunch under the incompetent leadership of President Burkmeister and his commie sidekick, Clayton McCarty. If the flash bulletin turned out to be important—something he would know more about as his show progressed—he could once again claim a scoop over his bumbling cable and news competitors. He was always several steps ahead of them, and he had even bigger plans to trounce them in the near future.
Although it hardly mattered in radio, Wellington was as fastidious about his appearance as he was in prepping for his show. As he looked in the mirror before going on the air, he smiled and winked at himself. He liked what he saw and only wished his radio listeners could see as well as hear him. They would appreciate him even more—if that was possible—if they could observe his body language and handsome features. For a man of fifty-one, he could easily pass for someone in his early forties—maybe even late thirties—and he was proud of everything about himself. The mirror doesn’t lie.
Thus, his listeners would be pleased to know that he’d agreed to make a rare television appearance this coming Sunday as a panelist on Nelson Fitzwater’s Financial Issues and Answers. He was delighted to learn that Clayton McCarty, a man he despised, would be the cannon fodder for panelists. It would be a genuine treat for his adoring fans to hear and see him launch an audiovisual nuclear attack on the hapless McCarty—the VP half of the team he took delight in referring to as the BM movement.
After one last look in the mirror, he entered the broadcast studio, adjusted the microphone, and said in his deep, authoritative baritone voice, “Good afternoon, my friends and fans, and welcome to Wellington’s World.”
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
13 September 2017
Prince Mustafa ibn Abdul-Aziz was in a foul mood as he prepared for a clandestine meeting with his coconspirators. The malfunctioning air-conditioning unit did little to improve his disposition as he waited for his team to arrive, but that was but one price to be paid for anonymity.
For the past two years, his small but powerful group had met in this nondescript office in south Riyadh to plot the overthrow of the royal Saudi government. His eclectic team was united by a common hatred of the decadent Western values inundating their society, the growth of the apostate Shiite movement in the Middle East, and the royal government’s benign neglect and unwillingness to confront the issues. These threats were a direct assault on the teachings of Allah, and Mustafa would not rest until the infidels were eradicated from his country, the region, and eventually the world.
Mustafa ibn Abdul-Aziz was a study in contradictions. At age forty, he had a muscular body on a six-foot frame but loathed the idea of working out or pampering himself with self-indulgences. He had the square-jawed good looks of a young Omar Sharif but spent little time in front of the mirror. Although a member of the monarchy by virtue of his place in the royal lineage of King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, he despised everything about the monarchy. He had the fabulous wealth and power afforded the ruling members of the Council of Ministers, but he detested the sinful way in which the oil-driven economy picked away at the proper ways of Islamic society.
Still, he maintained a veneer of good cheer and impeccable manners that fooled all but a few in his inner circle. Mustafa hated Zionism and the corrupt Western culture that contaminated mankind. There was no other way but that of the Monotheism he faithfully practiced as a cornerstone of his daily life. There was comfort in the well-structured Islamic fundamentalism outlined in shari’a law, and he longed for the day it would be universally practiced and enforced as it was meant to be.
His coconspirators shared his driving passions, and together they planned for the ultimate jihad. The planning was all but done, and they were now only waiting for the right set of circumstances to come about. They were all on edge, and Mustafa, an impatient and bitter man, was a time bomb ready to explode.
— Michael Conley, Transition Voice