Wisecarver stepped across the threshold. “Good morning, Mr. President.” He gave a little nod. Beneath his arm he carried a single binder. “Good morning, Trent.” Smith gestured for Wisecarver to sit with him on the sofa while Hunt and Hendrickson sat opposite. As they settled in, Julia caught Wisecarver glancing at the half dozen other binders spread across the coffee table, as if gauging the competition. The president cleared his throat. “As you all know, Speaker Wisecarver believes a unity government, in which I’d select a vice president from his party, would be in the best interests of our country …”
Julia felt her godfather shift in his seat, as if he couldn’t quite stomach the idea that Wisecarver’s interest in the matter had anything to do with the country as opposed to his own naked ambition. While the president spoke, Wisecarver looked around the room, his eyes running the walls. As Speaker, he’d been in the Oval Office plenty of times before as a guest of President Castro, but he seemed to be taking it all in for the first time, as if he were rearranging the furniture in his imagination and, quite literally, measuring the drapes.
Smith finished. It was Wisecarver’s turn to speak: “With the loss of President Castro, our country has gone through a significant trauma. Now it’s time for us to heal. The formation of a unity government is an important first step in that healing process. The people are in the streets telling us this. We can’t afford to ignore them any longer. Really, we have little choice in the matter. Either we heal together, or we tear ourselves apart.”
“Is that a suggestion?” Hendrickson asked. “Or an ultimatum?”
“It’s a reality, Bunt.” Wisecarver glanced down at the binders on the table. “If you pick one of those candidates, you’re tying my hands.”
“Tying your hands how?” Hendrickson leaned forward so that he was perched on the edge of the sofa.
“Well, for starters, they won’t go home anytime soon,” and Wisecarver gestured to the encampment out the window. “There’s also the commission investigating President Castro’s death to consider, a process that could drag on, depending on who we in the Congress appoint to lead it. If you need more reasons than those two, I could continue.”
“That won’t be necessary,” the president said to Wisecarver. He turned to Hendrickson with a look like a child pleading with an overly protective parent. He couldn’t sustain this level of conflict, the protests around the country, the machinations of his political rivals. Like any performer, Smith cared deeply what other people thought of him and couldn’t tolerate being hated, or at least being hated to this degree. He had all of a politician’s neediness without any of the cunning. He was doomed.
Julia Hunt could see her godfather reconsidering what Wisecarver offered. A unity government would de-escalate the current crisis, at least in the near term. In the long term, elevating a Truther could prove an astute move. It would diffuse Wisecarver’s power within the party. Also, depending on who that person was, having steady leadership—at least steadier than Smith—could help stabilize the country, or at least keep it from tearing itself apart, to use Wisecarver’s words. But it all depended on who he was proposing.
Hendrickson asked for the name.
Wisecarver reached across the coffee table and handed him the binder he’d brought, with its pages of due diligence. Julia Hunt leaned over her godfather’s shoulder as he opened it. Of course, she thought. On the first page she glimpsed the official portrait of Senator Nat Shriver.
2054, Part V: From Tokyo With Love
“Had this all been contrived? Had his life become a game in which everyone knew the rules but him?”
From 2054: A Novel, by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis, USN, to be published on March 12th, 2024, by Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2024 by Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis.
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