The Praetorians

The Praetorians

The storm caught everyone by surprise. The high-pressure ridge over the mid-Atlantic coast collapsed suddenly. A lingering Canadian cold front slid into the trough by 1 am. It dropped two feet of snow in four hours. The clouds parted over the Potomac just in time to frame the sunrise of January 22. It revealed a Beltway covered in a lush, virginal blanket of snow.

Appropriate.

Cosmic.

For too many years prior to this sunrise, Washington -- and the Country -- had awakened to an almost endless stream of dreary news. Wars that were to end hadn’t. The economy started, stalled, stopped, re-started. Jobs appeared, disappeared. Unemployment remained a moribund 9.5 %. There was much talk of “The New Normal.”

The only consistency seemed the mood of the general population.

Restless.

Frustrated.

There weren’t wide spread strikes or collective labor unrest. There was just an increase in personal conflicts.

Road rage.

Workplace rage.

Losing team rage.

Widespread sentiment was something needed to change – quickly. The country needed a shot in the arm, a new attitude.

And that’s exactly what it got with the brash, bold Congressman from New Mexico. He had made a fortune consulting with internet startups. He was seen as having a “Midas touch.” Four straight ventures had incubated, experienced explosive IPOs. A billion per in his pocket for three years’ work.

The American dream epitomized.

He was seen as a prodigy of the digital revolution that was rapidly changing society.

Smart.

Intuitive.

Inventive with solutions.

A firm believer in simplicity.

He became a sought-after speaker. His blog was the widest read on the web – even more popular than celebrity gossip. His name became a household word that quickly became associated with another word: Change.

He rocked the political establishment by self-funding his Congressional campaign.

Twice.

His political star grew brighter as the strength of his independent voice grew. It was not one that spoke for the uber-rich, or their interests. His was the voice of his constituents – the 60-hour a week workers of the lower and middle class. The workers and managers upon whose backs the corporate wheels of progress turned.

His run for the Presidency made international headlines.

Self-funded.

Independent.

No affiliations. No contributions from corporations or wealthy backers. Just common sense ideas that resonated with “The People.” When his expenses hit $300 million, he asked Average Americans to invest in his ideas. Whatever they could give, up to a limit of $100, would send a message to the Establishment.

Five million people gave the limit.

The GOP and Democratic Party went into high gear to outspend him. It was the most expensive campaign in history.

And the winner spent the least amount.

The Establishment was rocked. They had been dealt a blow they did not think possible.

The people had not only spoken, they screamed.

They elected the first independent candidate to the Presidency...by an overwhelming landslide – an unprecedented 68% of the popular vote in an election that saw 85% of the registered voters go to the polls.

They had also elected the first President with a Latin surname, James Alvarez -- the great-great-grandson of Spanish immigrants who had spent one generation in Mexico and two in the United States.

Change was going to come. Average Americans had made a stand.

Finally.

That was the general perception.

They had spoken loudly, clearly.

And the world was watching, holding its breath.

Perception. It’s a powerful tool. To the self-help gurus, it’s the golden key to opportunity, only they reframe it as attitude. “Change your attitude, change your life.” “You must be the change you desire.”

Attitude.

Perception.

Different words. Same meaning. Same impact.

“Manage perception, manage the population.” It’s the logical extension of “change your attitude, change your life”.

Attitude on steroids.

Attitude applied en masse.

Perception, applied as such, becomes a powerful weapon. Control perception, control the population.

This is the understood, albeit unwritten prime directive of the Shadow Power... the Collective, the Cabal, the Elites. Whatever their label, they are the ones truly in power -- the mysterious, all-powerful Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, the puppet-masters who hold the actual strings of power.

How all-powerful is the management and control of perception? It’s what brought down the Soviet Union, brought regime change to Tunisia, Libya, Egypt.

Soviet society was fraying. The US and its allies thought it was so. And the Russian populace had known it all along, but had managed to keep the system stumbling along – until it was perceived the government was weak.

Tunisia and Libya fell from the perceived – and ultimately true – weakness and frailty of their aging leaders.

Iraq was a war created through the management of perception. Saddam Hussein had been a strategic US ally in the region. As we look back through the crystal clarity of hindsight, his pathologic ruthlessness was the much-needed counterbalance to rabid sectarianism. It was the linchpin to a unified Iraq.

But then the strategic ally and stabilizer became a de-stabilizing agent of aggression who would soon upset the critical balance and plunge the region into chaos.

He had to be removed.

Immediately.

A new perception emerged. And prevailed.

America is a land uniquely built on perception. Home of the Brave. Land of the Free.

The American Dream.

The Land of Opportunity.

Freedom.

Self-determination.

Manifest Destiny.

Americans perceive their needs, wants, desires -- dreams -- to have an innate magical purity about them. They are from us. We are from and born of the land of goodness, therefore they are good, blessed, divinely protected.

Our worldview is the proper, correct and right one... because of the purity of our roots.

The US-led Allied victory in World War II and subsequent prosperity gave this perception a world stage... and world acceptance.

America’s “special status” was not just a national perception. It was now one held worldwide.

America. Moral righteousness. One and the same.

Hope.

Truth.

Freedom.

The one place on Earth dedicated to protecting and nurturing man’s God-given, inalienable rights.

Americans – as a people – ultimately believe two things:

• They can do no harm, when all is said and done

• It is divinely thus.

As long as the American people perceive this, embrace this, it will be true.

And we hold onto this belief, this perception, with the tenacity of a rabid pit bull, which means we would much rather believe the perception of who and what we are as a country then to see the reality of who we are as a country.

And thus a noble ideal intended to inspire can be used to imprison -- for as long as perception is blindly believed to be reality, the true connection between the two can be severed.

The television rose with the slightest whirr from its concealed compartment in the credenza at the foot of the bed. It bathed the sleeping couple in a bluish glow as it powered up.

“And welcome to the Today Show’s 7:00 hour on this, the start of the first full work day of our newly elected President, James Alvarez, the first Hispanic American elected to the nation’s highest office...”

“Turn it off!” The man grumbled as he pressed a pillow over his head, clamping it tight with a forearm.

“Here to give us some insights into what that first day is going to look like is our White House correspondent, Jessica Bailey-Harris.”

“Thank you, Matt! We haven’t received an official agenda yet – which is certainly no surprise since we’re not expecting to see the President actually enter the office until 8:30 or 9:00.”

“And I’m thinking that’s awful early given all the Balls they attended last night”

“Yes, Matt – 12 in all and they didn’t make it to their new home until after 1 am!”

“Turn it off!” came the muffled demand.

The woman rolled over, cracked open one eye to glimpse an arm tightly holding a pillow. She smiled, stretched out her hand to find her husband’s body. He was on his side, facing her. She gently touched his well-defined chest, letting her fingers graze softly through the thick fur she so loved to stroke. She traced her index finger down his chest, then his stomach, stopping briefly at his belly button before moving slowly, intently south.

Her fingers found his limp but full manhood, encircled it, lightly stroked it back to life. A wry smile broke across her face. She slid under the covers, gave the sturdy rod in her hand a last squeeze then stroked it from its head to its base as she guided it through her moist, waiting lips.

“So what do you think is going to be on the President’s agenda this Day One – He made several promises during the election, Jessica.”

“And as far as we understand, he fully intends to fulfill those promises with several key executive orders.”

The arm released the pillow and tossed it off the bed. He rolled gently onto his back, tightening his knees with the pleasure. His breathing rate increased rapidly as his knees locked ever tighter. The explosion of ecstasy was happily, fully, captured by his wife. She reached up with two fingers and gently tapped on his stomach that all-too familiar and beloved pattern of short and long touches. Morse code on the body. An intimate form of communication the two shared. “Touches that speak volumes” they would say only to each other. It was their way, their secret, their means of speaking in the silence.

The rigors and tedium of political life had led them to develop a secret means of checking in with each other. Glances. Gestures. Touches. To anyone observing them, they were just normal things people do. But to them, in context, they sent special messages – “Come save me!” “Leaving soon.” “Eyes left or right”. Key pieces of communication that helped them move effectively, efficiently through the cocktail receptions and gatherings that were de rigor for members of the political circuit.

Their most intimate and secret form of communication was with touch – purposeful touch. A light touch for a dot. A long, deeper one for a dash. It allowed them to carry on conversations while silently holding hands. It was thrilling. It was comforting. It was uniting. It was just for them and helped create the inseparable bond that was them.

“There is one thing we do know that will be happening, Matt....”

“And what’s that, Jessica?”

“By tradition, there will be a handwritten letter to the new president from his predecessor. That will be the only piece of paper on the most important desk in the nation and arguably, the world.”

“And wouldn’t we all love to know what is written in that note!”

“But we never will. It’s private. And they are all considered one of the best kept state secrets – and well they should be.”

The woman slid her body tightly against her husband, encircled his legs with one of hers. She ran her left arm across his chest, rested it on his right cheek as she rubbed her nose around his ear.

“And what just happened will be another tightly kept secret. I just wanted your day to start off in the best way possible, Mr. President!”

President James Alvarez.

It was the thousandth time he had said it to himself since his wife’s thoughtful wakeup gesture.

He had worked so hard for it.

And here it was. He wanted to laugh, pinch himself, kick-up his heels in delight, stand in awe all at the same time.

He straightened his red, yellow and blue striped tie. Three colors perfectly blended. He felt it would be symbolic – if anyone chose to look at it that way. Reds and Blues together with a cohering Yellow. Democrats, Republicans and the Independent working together.

He knew it was just a symbol but he thought it worth a try to start thinking everyone would be willing to work together, given his clear mandate.

He gently thrust his arms into the jacket sleeves as his valet held it.

“Thank you, Lewis.”

“My pleasure, Mr. President. My pleasure.” Lewis brushed the shoulders gently, reverently as the President adjusted his shirtsleeves. He and the President had been together for over ten years. They had met when James was working with his third internet start-up. Lewis was homeless, living in the alley, picking through the scraps from the company’s lunches in the dumpster. Their meeting was purely accidental. James had ducked out of the building’s back door to catch some fresh air during a tense negotiation session. There was something about Lewis that caught his eye. They acknowledged each other, exchanged pleasantries, conversed. The man had gotten caught in the vortex of hard times. As he talked, James recognized a trait he admired, one he hadn’t seen in a long time. Earnestness. Lewis was earnest. All he needed was a break. James decided to provide it – right then. Lewis cleaned up, became the driver, then the personal assistant, as well. When the White House became the future, Lewis asked if he could serve as Valet. “They always seem so genteel, and I would like to experience that in my lifetime.” A smile. A handshake. A pat on the shoulder. The new position was accepted. And Lewis felt fulfilled. He was happy to give back to the man who had given him so much opportunity.

“We’ve come a long way together, haven’t we Lewis.”

“Indeed we have, sir. I much further than you...for which I am very grateful.”

James looked in the mirror at Lewis standing behind him. “You and me both, my friend, you and me both.”

Lewis grinned, nodded in agreement.

With a final tug of the left sleeve, the President threw back his shoulders, took a deep breath. He furrowed his brow, stuck his left index finger into his left ear, jiggled it. He removed the finger and shook his head.

“Everything all right, Mr. President?” Lewis asked. “We have a doctor on call.”

“No, everything’s fine. Just felt like I had a little something in my ear.”

“That happened to a girlfriend in high school. Turned out she had an earwig that had died in the ear canal. Imagine that. Guess that’s why they call them earwigs!”

“Is that right, Lewis. I’ll keep that in mind. This feels more like I’ve been swimming and there’s water trapped.”

“Maybe from your shower.”

“Perhaps so. How do I look for my first day?”

“Like the man who’s going to change the world.”

The President touched Lewis tenderly on the shoulder. “Well said, my friend. Well said.” He stepped to the open door leading to the central hallway of the Residence.

“The elevator is to the left, last opening on the right.” Lewis whispered.

“No, not today.”

“Very well, sir.”

James Alvarez walked down the stairway. He was surprised at the amount of butterflies in his stomach. He wondered if he were walking Presidential enough.

The White House Chief Protocol Officer greeted him at the bottom of the Grand Staircase.

“Good morning, Mr. President. It is my privilege to guide you this morning. I’m Morley Atkins, Chief of White House Protocol.”

“Yes, Morely. Thank you and good morning.” They walked down the main hallway.

“Sir, the weather today is perfect for a walk through the portico. Just continue straight down the main hallway through the Palm Room. The doors will be opened for you. Once in the Portico, there are three pool photographers who will take photos of you from a discreet distance. I’m sure you understand.”

“Yes, Morely. I’d like to see those photos myself.”

“Yes, Mr. President, I’ll see to it. You’ll be met by your secretary outside the Oval Office. She will provide you the day’s agenda.”

“Yes.”

“Thank you, Mr, President. This is where I leave you. Godspeed to you this day”

The President stopped, stuck out his hand. Morely hesitated, then shook it, graciously. “Thank you, Morely. You provided me a very efficient welcome.”

“Thank you, again, sir.” She blushed, stepped away. The President continued his inaugural walk, alone.

The morning air was crisp, fresh... and cold. The bright winter sun filled the Portico with light and took the bite off the chill. The President listened as his footsteps echoed. He could hear the clatter of camera shutters off in the distance. He turned the one corner and saw the two Secret Service officers at the side entrance door.

The door opened as if by magic just two strides away. “Good morning, Mr, President,” offered the Agents in unison.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” the President replied as he stepped into the small foyer in front of his secretary’s desk.

“Good morning, Mister President!” came the familiar voice giving extra emphasis to both words. She took a step toward him, clutching the black leather folder tightly to her chest.”

“Good morning, Gracie. How do you like your new digs?”

“They’re just fine, sir. Just absolutely fine.” She took a second step and handed him the folder.

“Thank you, Gracie.” He bent over and kissed her on the cheek. “Where do I go?” He whispered in her ear.

She shrugged her shoulders as she held in her giggle. “Follow me,” she whispered back.

Gracie stepped forward to the doorway. She opened it. “I’ll let you enjoy this yourself.”

James Alvarez took a deep breath, threw his shoulders back and stepped reverently through the opened door, a broad grin commandeering his face. The door closed almost silently behind him.

The Oval Office.

His office.

He was finally here. He stood three steps from the now almost invisible doorway. He looked around the room. It smelled of fresh paint, newness. He walked to the back of the closest couch in the “conversation area.” It seemed more like a living room than an office. Fireplace, coffee table, couches, chairs, lamp tables. It was homey.

National and global politics discussed, debated, decided in the comforts of home. The thought had never occurred to him.

Of course, he had never been who he was and where he was right then.

Fitting, he mused. America is run from the living room – as it ought to be.

He glanced over at the desk – the Resolution Desk. It was now an Oval Office fixture. Others were available, but this one – this one had the history, the reputation, the presence.

Resolution Desk.

What other piece of furniture could compete with that?

James walked toward it, slowly. He approached the right corner, reached out, hesitated. Could he really touch this fabled anchor of power without white gloves?

His fingers caressed the corner, drifted along the top edge. It felt like warm glass. He followed the edge to the front of the desk, stood next to the chair. It was slightly pulled out, turned, welcoming. He touched the soft leather back. The smell of its newness mixed with hydrangea filled his nostrils. He glanced at the large bouquet on the credenza behind the desk.

He looked at the desktop. It was just as he requested. Telephone to the right, black leather blotter, Truman’s “the buck stops here” placard.

And that was it...except for the white parchment, #5 Baronial envelope perfectly centered on the blotter; the personal note from his predecessor, the contents of which only the two of them would ever know.

Since winning the election, he had often thought of what words of wisdom would be imparted. How many pages? How many words? How could someone sum up the experience in such limited space?

He laid the leather portfolio from Gracie on the desk, backed into the chair, swiveled to his left and gently eased up to the desk. He reached for the envelope.

Now was the time to find the answer.

He pulled open the desk drawer. A silver letter opener was centered in the tray. He encircled it with his fingers, lifted it out.

He slipped it under the flap, cleanly, easily sliced it open.

He parted the envelope, tucked a finger in, pulled-out a single, folded sheet.

His heart perked up its beating. He flipped open the note.

“48. By the time you finish reading this, a man will be standing in the Oval Office who will provide you with what can only be described as the ultimate reality check.

Believe me, he is not kidding.

May God grant you the strength and wisdom to persevere.”

James raised his eyebrows. He stared at the note, read the words again. He checked to make sure there wasn’t another page stuck to the first.

“Not exactly what you expected, is it?”

James looked up, beyond the note in his hand. A man wearing a dark blue suit, white shirt, red & blue striped tie stood in the middle of the room, directly in front of him, 10 feet away. He looked to be average build, neatly groomed, full head of hair, about 5’10, fifty-ish.

“And you would be?” James reached for the portfolio.

“You won’t find me on the agenda. I’m the one mentioned in the note.”

“You’ve read it?”

“No, just the expression on your face. I see it on all of you. I come as quite a shock.”

You’re certainly right about that, James thought. His presence. The apparent mention in the note. All pretty much a shock, though James quickly moved on to intrigue. What was going on here? He needed more information.

“And you would be?”

“The man in the note.”

James paused, cocked his head to the right, stared at the man. “Your name. What is your name?”

‘That’s not important. What’s important is that I’m here.”

“Here for what?”

“The reality check. I assume that’s what 47 called it. They all do.”

“All?”

“Your predecessors. We all have this chat at this time. Welcome to the Oval Office and the Presidency, Mr. Alvarez.”

James continued to look the man over. Arms straight down at his side. Perfect posture. Very calm, almost nonchalant. All business. Yet he knew this wasn’t right. His fingers found the panic button on the under edge of the desk. He remembered it from his Secret Service orientation after winning the election. He pressed it. Hard.

The left inside door opened almost immediately. A Secret Service Agent in a dark blue suit stepped into the doorway. “Everything all right, sir?”

President Alvarez stood up behind his desk. “Here’s the reality check I have for you.” James looked to the Agent and pointed to the man. “Please remove this man from my office immediately.”

The agent stood in the doorway, his hands clasped. “Sir?”

“You heard me, remove this man immediately!”

The man held up his palm toward James. “The agent is directing his questions to me, not you, Mr. President.” The man turned his head and addressed the agent. “Everything is under control, Agent Winslow. Please close the door.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the Agent. The door closed silently.

The man turned back to the President. “Please, Mr. Alvarez, sit down. I’ll get right to the point.”

James sat slowly back into his chair, his eyes locked on those of the man in front of him. The situation had gone from intriguing to perplexing. The irritation in his left ear returned. He reflexively stuck his index finger in the canal, jiggled it.

The man smiled. “The irritation will subside in a few days.”

“I wouldn’t describe what I’m feeling at the moment irritation.”

“I was talking about your itchy ear. You’ll forget it’s even there in a couple of days – well, let me be more accurate, it’ll feel as though it’s not even there. You certainly won’t forget it’s there.”

“What would you know about an itch in my ear. I only mentioned it to Lewis, my valet.”

“Everything.” The man paused, held his gaze on the President.

James held his gaze on the man. “Come again?”

“While you slept last night, a tiny implant was inserted deep into the canal of your left ear, positioned just in front of your eardrum. It’s quite a remarkable instrument. It captures every word you not only hear but say. It allows us to ensure the interests of the United States of America are always protected to the fullest extent possible.”

“You did what?” James clenched his fists, forced his legs against the sides of the desk’s chair well. His muscles twitched, prepared to leap across the desk. His mind fought back the impulse.

He had learned a long time ago not to let “the other guy see you sweat.” Growing up as a proud, smart, handsome, athletic Latino-American had come with its share of tense moments. He had always been able to rely on his confidence, his quick wit and warm, friendly demeanor to get out of tough situations. And when tough escalated to rough, his athleticism and cool confidence always settled things quickly. His innate ability to handle such situations with respect -- even when victorious over an oppressor -- typically turned foe into friend.

But this time, with this man, his resolve was being tested to its fullest. He had been violated – without even knowing it was about to happen. Who was this guy? The question screamed through his brain. Who could do such a thing? Who could just show up in the Oval Office? Who could plant a non-secret service agent outside his office?

His mind was racing. But there was no more important time for him to stay focused on the matter at hand, to remain completely in the current moment. There was no more important time in his life for him to keep cool. Remaining unfazed meant the intruder had to keep guessing as to how James would react. Cool meant James maintained his control, instead of giving it up. And this wrested a modicum of control from the intruder. James had just been thrown into a chess game... and his opponent was already countless moves ahead.

What he needed most right now was information, answers. James took a long shallow breath through his nose, kept his eyes locked on the man. “Under whose authority?”

“Let me put it this way, you have sworn to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and, by extension, its citizens. I am here to protect the interests of the United States of America, that is, myself and the people I represent.”

“The people YOU represent?”

“Yes, Mr. Alvarez, the interests of the United States. That’s what we protect and maintain. It’s all really quite simple. The people I represent are the actual holders of power. That device in your ear ensures our interests are maintained.”

And there it was: The reality check. The most powerful man in the world had been rendered powerless in one move.

Checkmate.

The King becomes the pawn.

Stay cool. You need more information. “Let’s suppose what you’re saying is true. You standing here. Agent Winslow. Quite the calling card. All this to let me know you now can hear everything I hear, everything I say?”

“That is correct.”

“Is it two-way?”

“No. We’ve discussed that option but tabled implementation. We believe it might be too distracting.”

“And it is operational...”

“Twenty four/seven.”

“Starting?”

“Upon insertion. This morning was quite a surprise. We’ve never encountered that ...though it will remain our secret.”

James catapulted from his chair, swung himself over the desk as though dismounting a pommel horse, landed directly in front of the intruder. A full tackle to the mid-section capitalized on his forward momentum, slamming them both backward, onto the coffee table between the two couches of the conversation area. The table splintered. James grabbed a broken-off leg, bashed it into the side of the man’s head. Blood seeped from his crushed skull. It was all over in an instant...and his thoughts returned to reality.

Stay cool.

His nostrils filled with air as he took another long, shallow breath.

Cool Rules.

“My wife – did you?”

“I can’t answer that.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Either way, an answer is not possible.”

And suddenly it all became crystal clear. As a civilian and throughout his tenure as a Congressman, James couldn’t help but notice the difference in the level of protection afforded the President of the United States compared to that provided other heads of state. The Prime Minister of Great Britain, the President of France, the Chancellor of Germany – perhaps a half dozen agents at best. Motorcades were two cars, maybe some motorcycle escorts.

But the President of the United States – a small army travels with him everywhere. Motorcades are mini parades. Even in retirement, a contingent of agents is always at hand. That was the aspect that most puzzled him. Even out of office, protection is provided. Other leaders – regardless of their fame, reputations -- become ordinary private citizens, allowed to walk the streets as normal folk. But not U.S. ex-presidents. Now he understood. They always remain – not protected – but rather, under watchful eyes. Never too far out of range. Every word monitored. Never out of earshot. State secrets protected. James understood completely. He could never know the extent of who was being monitored so that control would always be maintained....

James slowly nodded his head. His eyes remained locked on the man. He ended the long pause. “So you’ve made it impossible for me to say anything about all of this without you knowing.”

“Precisely.”

“And if I were to just say damn it all and speak out....”

“Excellent. You’re hitting this head on. I respect that.” The man paused, then looked piercingly into James’ eyes, “Not a recommended course of action. The device can deliver quite a painful resonant tone if you attempt to communicate anything about what’s been discussed here. Test subjects experience an aneurysm and die almost instantly.”

“Test subjects?”

“No humans, please rest assured. Monkeys. Apes. We’re not inhumane.”

“No, just into control.”

“Exactly. Although ‘into the preservation of our Vision is more accurate.’”

“And that vision requires the President to be your puppet?”

The man grinned. “Not exactly, though all of you do typically feel that way at first. It’s that A-type personality thing you all share. Once you settle down and get used to it, you’ll see you have quite a bit of latitude -- in certain areas. But here’s the point, there are times when we will need you to do certain things to ensure the interests of the country remain on track. That’s all. And we’ll let you know when those times are. It’s really quite simple.”

“Simple?”

“Yes, actually. You see, we are a small group, but very well placed. We are everywhere, but we are not everybody. Just a select few.”

“But if I reach out and try to stop you?”

“To whom would you reach out? Friend? Foe? Are you sure you can accurately distinguish between the two? Agent Winslow is one of us, but he is also a respected Secret Service Agent. One of many or a few? But again, not all. You see, Mr. Alvarez, as the Secret Service, we’re not here to protect you, but to protect the interests of the United States. We extend our oversight to all of your family members and, of course, to your predecessors. So as you can see, we’ve handled the details quite well to ensure our objective.”

Bingo, James thought. At least he glimpsed a bit of the game correctly. “And me?”

“Why, Mr. Alvarez. You are the President of the United States, duly elected in quite the landslide I might add. Impressive. But ultimately, of little value. Things will be the way they need to be.”

The President picked up the note, glanced at it.

“I’m sure that seems an understatement right now. And it will prove to be one. I’ll let all this soak in. We’ve covered the highlights.”

“The highlights. I suppose we have.”

“Indeed, Mr. President. I’ll leave you. You’ve got enough to think about... but here’s one last detail: The warning tone is extremely painful and you only get one. So please think very carefully about what I’ve presented. Enjoy today and the rest of your time in office. It’s quite the accomplishment.”

The man smiled and turned to leave.

“Excuse me,” the President said.

“Yes?” The man stopped in his walk toward the side door, turned back.

“Our little talk, your organization, this oversight team. I’m reminded of the Romans and their Praetorian Guard.”

“A very astute observation, Mr. President.” The man walked to the door, opened it, closed it behind him.

James Alvarez looked slowly around the Oval Office, let out a long, slow breath. His arms fell weak, seemingly disconnected from his control. He felt engulfed by his chair.

Caged.

Powerless.

Utterly powerless.

For the first time in his life.

The Game hadn’t even started and it was over. Could he resign? No. The implant would still be there. Forever. He was without a move. All show, no go. There was nothing he could do about it.

It was all brilliant in its simplicity, in its scope. A part of him admired the audacity of it. A very small part.

Only for an instant.

The foundation upon which he had built his political career – independence -- the one Truth the American people believed about him had just been wrested away from him...and them, all because a small group endeavored to perpetuate a lie. A silent coup d’etat. A complete shift in power...had been averted. Again. Normalcy would be maintained. The way things were is the way they would remain.

Change was the illusion. The system would remain in place, uninterrupted.

Unimpeded.

Gracie’s voice over the intercom broke the silence. “The Joint Chiefs have arrived for your briefing, Mr. President. Then you leave at 10:30 for the National Cathedral service.”

The President responded. “Thanks Gracie. Please send the gentlemen in.”

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