[THE FIRST DAY OF THE FINAL WAR]
I remember the day the Final War began.
John had set up the headquarters of his administration in Omaha. We had hoped that this would be a temporary arrangement until former President Null could be persuaded to properly step down in Washington or was otherwise dealt with.
The actual office used by John, and myself as his chief of staff, were within the perimeter of Offutt Air Force Base. John and I actually shared a small office space in the Strategic Command’s underground bunker.
I had come into work early that morning and was in my little cubicle in the temporary presidential office catching up on the inevitable paperwork when an alarm sounded.
I ran down the hall, flashed my photo I.D. card to the Air Force sentry guarding the door, and entered the primary control center.
There was a flurry of activity in the control center as the primary display board, which dominated an entire wall of the room, showed some kind of activity in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean just off of Spain.
I caught my breath from my short run and stepped up to the watch officer, an Air Force Brigadier General, his name tag said “Curtis”, who was on watch in the underground command post.
“General,” I said, “what the Hell is going on?”
Brigadier General Curtis looked at me as if I was a Martian who just appeared in the command post by an act of teleportation. He then apparently remembered that I was actually supposed to be here and answered my question.
“Sir,” he said, “NORAD has reported the launch of three ballistic missiles from a submarine in the Atlantic off of Spain.”
NORAD was a combined American and Canadian military organization whose primary mission was to detect air and space borne attacks against our two respective nations and our allies. Their primary assets were a group of powerful radar stations and a constellation of satellites for detecting and tracking missile launches anywhere on the planet.
I asked the general a question.
“Any idea who launched them and where they’re going?”
“Not at this time, sir.” Curtis replied. “We still have the open line to NORAD, sir.”
I pointed to the nearest phone with a line button blinking.
“Line one, sir.” Said General Curtis.
I picked up the phone and punched the blinking line button.
“Hello.” I said. “This is Al Keller, Chief of Staff for President March, may I speak to the watch officer, please?”
“Yes sir!” Said the voice on the other end of the line.
The next voice on the line sounded French Canadian.
“This is Brigadier General Lambert.” He said.
“General,” I said, “any idea who launched those missiles and where they’re going?”
“We have no idea who launched them, yet.” He said. “As far as we can tell the target is the State of Israel.”
That’s insane. I thought.
No. I had not really thought that, I had emotionally felt it.
“General Lambert,” I said, “would you please notify the Israelis?”
“Mister Keller,” he said, “that would require a presidential order.”
Bullshit. I thought.
“Moot point, General.” I replied. “My next phone call will be to the Prime Minister of Israel.”
“Mister Keller,” he said, “you do not have the authority to do that.”
I looked over to General Curtis. He had been listening to the conversation with Lambert. He covered the lower part of the phone receiver with the palm of his right hand, turned to a staff officer, and spoke.
“Call the Israelis,” he said, “let them know what’s coming their way.”
“And while we’re at it,” I jumped in, “call the Navy and let them know where that missile boat is, I’m sure the president will want it forced to the surface or sent to the bottom.”
A Navy Commander, apparently representing our own ballistic missile submarine force in the command center, spoke up.
“I’m on it, sir!” He shouted.
General Curtis commented in a voice barely above the level of a whisper.
“I’ll settle for sunk.” He said.
“Yes.” I said in agreement.
General Curtis then barked out an order to another staff officer.
“Lieutenant,” he said, “call the NRO and see what they have on this attack.”
An Air Force Sergeant turned around at her station and spoke to me.
“Sir,” she said, “I have the Prime Minister’s office on line two.”
I didn’t bother to say anything to Canadian Brigadier General Lambert at NORAD as I switched over to the second line on my phone. The Prime Minister was actually on the line.
“Sir,” I said, “this is Al Keller in Omaha.”
“Al,” he said, “why are you calling? Where is President March?”
I had met the current Prime Minister when John had visited Israel during the primary campaign in order to obtain the equivalent of “street cred” in the area of foreign affairs.
“The president is boarding the airborne command post.” I replied.
Or John should be if we’re following the operational procedure that we rehearsed.
“Benny,” I said, “it is my duty to inform you that three ballistic missiles have been launched from a submarine toward the State of Israel.”
“Do you know who is responsible for this attack?” He replied.
“Not at this time, sir.” I said.
I then saw the Lieutenant who called the NRO coming up to me with a sheet of paper.
“Just a moment.” I said to the Prime Minister.
The Lieutenant gave me the sheet of paper with a note written on it.
NRO SAYS 3 FRENCH M51 WITH 18-30 110KT RV
I spoke again to the Prime Minister.
“Sir, the National Reconnaissance Office says that they’re French M-five-one missiles with a total of eighteen to thirty warheads of a hundred and ten kilotons yield each.”
I could hear the Israeli air raid warning sirens start up over the phone line.
“Benny,” I said, “if I wasn’t a goddamned atheist I would say a prayer for Israel.”
“I think you just did.” He replied.
I had to say something else.
“Benny, we’ll do everything we can for the survivors.” I said. “They’ll have a place here with us, you have my word on that.”
“Of course you will.” Said the Prime Minister.
I could hear someone speaking to the Prime Minister in the background over the phone line.
“I have to go.” He said. “May God be with you.”
The line went dead.
I was silent. I had to mentally pause for a moment.
“That was definitely a prayer.” Said Curtis. “You definitely expressed a desire for divine intervention, without the usual fluffery.”
I turned my head to look at Curtis.
“My Pop was very disappointed that I didn’t follow him into the ministry.” He said.
“What denomination?” I asked.
“Methodist.” He said.
“Okay.” I replied.
One of the sergeants in the control center stood up at his work station.
“General!” He shouted. “Fox News has someone reporting live from Jerusalem!”
“Put it on the big screen!” General Curtis commanded.
The image from Fox News appeared on the main screen to the right of the map showing the track of the three French missiles in flight.
It was midnight and Sonya Newman was reporting live from Jerusalem.
Sunny’s hair was a little more frizzed than usual and she clearly appeared to be afraid of something on the air. But she was trying to do her job.
After the election the management at Fox News had given her a choice of assignments outside of the United States. In part this was to allow her to get away from escalating level of violence being carried out by followers of former president Null against those who were perceived to be opponents of his continued and now illegal occupancy of the White House.
Sunny had no idea what was going on apart from the local civil defense sirens sounding off. She was saying that she and her camera crew were about to go down to a shelter when someone off camera shouted something. The camera shifted off of Sunny to something in the sky.
The display on the main part of the primary display in the command center showed that the warheads of the French missiles had reached Israel.
The view from the Fox News camera in Jerusalem showed three of the reentry vehicles dropping down on the city.
Sunny tried to describe what she saw. It was almost a play by play account as the locally based anti-missile battery tried to intercept the incoming warheads.
The first two warheads were killed on live television. The interceptor missiles failed to hit the third warhead.
Sonya Newman of Fox News made one final comment.
“One of the them got through.”
The was a very brief flash of light from the last warhead before the loss of the video signal from Jerusalem.
Everyone in the command center sat in stunned silence.
I had to say something.
“I believe that the president will want to review any existing plans for action against the French.” I said. “There should be something on file.”
The fact that the French government, through their insistence on maintaining an independent foreign policy that was often antithetical to our interests, and by creating their own independent nuclear strike force, should have necessitated the creation of a separate plan for action against it.
And our field grade staff officers need to be kept busy in peacetime as well.
General Curtis sent the colonel standing next to him out to retrieve the relevant files.
When the airborne command post landed the general and I met the president on the ground. We all piled into one of the Chevy Suburban vehicles that our security group (the Secret Service was with former President Null) had scrounged up.
As we drove back to the headquarters General Curtis gave a brief summary of the existing options for dealing with the French. When he finished I spoke up.
“John,” I said to the President, “I made a promise to Benny that we would give their survivors sanctuary here in the States.”
John closed his eyes and nodded, and then thought for a moment.
“Al,” he said, “I think I’m going to have Susan fill in as chief of staff.”
“This will be your project,” he said, “any asset you need, you got it. And anyone who doesn’t follow your orders goes straight to Leavenworth!”
“I’ll need a written executive order for that.” I replied.
“You got it!” Said President John Andrew March.
The driver of the Suburban dropped President March and General Curtis off at the command post. The driver then continued on to the field officer housing area of the air base where Susan and I were staying.
I found Susan sitting on the couch in the living room. The television set was showing the Fox News Channels continuing coverage of aftermath of the French attack on Israel. At the moment Fox News was showing internet video, apparently from the West Bank or Gaza area, of the glowing mushroom clouds rising above the cities of Israel. Some of the Palestinians were in the streets celebrating.
I was not consoled by the fact that those savages were now getting full exposure to some very dirty fallout from the attack.
I sat down next to Susan and gave her a hug. She held her teddy bear tightly and her face clearly showed signs that she had been crying.
“I saw Sunny.” She said.
“I know.” I replied.