Chapter 48: It's to late

In Norway, the four men shook hands.  Although Lawson had reservations about taking the risk to expose his Facility and the employees for profit gains, he was happy with the turn of events, which would allow the families of his staff to be treated for whatever illnesses they had—a chance for complete physical restoration, to be more precise.  The next month promised to be busy.  With hands in his pockets, he stood by the shoreline and gazed at the surrounding waters and mountains, as the silence of the place gave way to the familiar sound of a helicopter roaring above as it makes its approach to land on the shore.  It was there to take them to Oslo International Airport, where he would say farewell to the two government officials and take a flight to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C.

With the project no longer in need of urgent recruitment, Lawson returned to flying on commercial airlines and was happy that the rules for business class applied.  He welcomed that like an ice cream on a hot day.  He would have to hit the ground running and alert if he wanted to fight his way out of the situation he was in.  The news he had read was bleak at best:  The majority of the judges on the Supreme Court, having been nominated by the Baker family, meant that the Republican Party was in a better position to win the electoral court battle that had just followed the rigged election.  For the second time in so many weeks, the American people, including his friend Theodore Grant, were about to be cheated again in ways most Hollywood movies depicting high treason had not even dared to illustrate.

After a few days in the United States, he would have to return to Norway to oversee the last days of the construction of the tunnel, participate in its inauguration, and be there for the King’s visit.  Like the other first-class passengers, he was in line before the first boarding call was even announced.  He thought it was logical, since they had something to look forward to and someone to take care of them.  Having booked a last-minute ticket, he was placed on a window seat, which he always hated, because he always had to disturb the person next to him each time he needed to stretch or go to the bathroom.  The man in the aisle seat next to him introduced himself, as he sat down and placed his laptop in the large pocket in front of him and removed his shoes.  As the stewardess passed in the centre aisle offering American newspapers, Lawson took a copy of USA Today and started reading an analysis on the man that had taken the presidency away from his majority-voted friend, and it wasn’t long before he started discussing it with his fellow traveler.  Lawson, after the fourth refill of Chardonnay, had loosened his tongue a little, but still remained professional.  Employees of the United Nations were, after all, diplomats, at least as far as governments were concerned and the diplomatic immunity that offered its own line at the airport customs, the tax-free status and of course, the immunity from prosecution also came with unwritten rules and one of them was, never talk negatively about anyone.  Because you never know who you were talking to or who was listening to your conversation.  But in this case, Lawson didn’t care much; it was no secret that he was no fan of the Bakers’, all of them.  The discussion concluded at the end of dinner when the lights in the cabin were turned off at the same time as duty-free sells.

Lawson woke up in a different world and he didn’t know it just yet.  The stewardess gave him a warm hand towel and, as she returned to the front of the cabin to warm up breakfast, Lawson noticed that the seat next to him was empty.  He opened the window shutter less than a centimetre, noticing that it was day time and closed it at once, so as not to disturb the rest of the passengers.

The man soon returned from the bathroom and sat down.  “Nice to see you’re finally awake. I would have woken you up when the captain announced it, but I wanted you to dream of better days while you still could,” he said, his face devoid of emotions like a man who had not slept in days.

“Announced what?  Our ETA?” asked Lawson, not sure if the man knew the acronym for Estimated Time of Arrival.

“Nope, he did mention it after, but I was not paying attention and besides, we will land in two hours and eleven minutes,” pointing at the screen in the middle of the aisle listing the time of origin, time at destination, and time of arrival.  The captain announced the result of the Supreme Court’s decision and, being from New York and hating Willy Baker as much as the next man, he said, “And it’s dumbbell by a nose!”

Lawson understood the repartee at once, and his world collapsed for a second time. The finality of the news was turning his stomach and, a few minutes later, when the stewardess started offering tablecloth to the first class passengers, he almost refused, thinking that he wouldn’t be able to eat breakfast at all.

Minutes before landing, the flight attendants collected the rest of the items and ordered everyone to bring their seats back up, with the overbearing sense of authority that reminded him of the Nazis.  He imagined that if the plane was really about to crash, the remaining inch of inclination of his seat wouldn’t cause any more damage to him or the guy behind him.  The fireball would, however. It was a grim thought, but he dismissed the idea as soon as he had conceived it.

He was in no mood for friendly chatting and he was the first out of the airplane, speed walking in the corridors, all the way to customs.  There were almost twenty international flights to clear at that hour and only ten customs agents available, from what he could see as the escalator took him to the ground level.  He was a diplomat alright, but not in the United States, but he also had no more patience and didn’t have time to wait an hour in line.  So, he took out his blue UN Laissé-Passé passport and hoped the customs officer was in a good mood.  He didn’t get to find out, as the customs officer at the empty diplomatic counter looked at the photo in the UNLP, requested his United States passport and stamped it on the first free page he could see, and let him go.

He moved past so fast that even the luggage with First Class priority tags were not yet on the carousel, and he had to wait for another ten more minutes.  As soon as he saw his Samsonite luggage, he didn’t wait for it to make the half circle and he just went and grabbed it. He then took the car at Avis that he had already reserved and signed the damage form without looking.  He gunned the Toyota Camry, making the tire screech on the painted parking floor as he exited, ignoring the eight-kilometre-an-hour sign.

He knew the road to the Vice-President’s on 1 Observatory Circle in Northwestern Washington, D.C.  It was already 1700 hours and the roads were busy with all the office workers returning home or going to more meetings, likely with one of the tens of thousands of lobbyists who promoted their industries like encyclopaedia salesmen promising that they would make the world a better place.  But as Lawson waited for the light to change, he couldn’t see what lobbyists from tobacco and oil companies could do, except perhaps reserve the White House for four years as they had just done.  The light had changed and two more thoughts entered his mind, but one was dismissed instantly as the possibility of Baker’s re-election for another term in four years was as impossible as his Camry growing wings and flying over that damn traffic.

The traffic finally lightened a few blocks later and he had gunned the car for the rest of the trip.  At the entrance to the cul-de-sac, he was stopped by secret service agents.  After his identity was confirmed and the car summarily inspected, he was allowed to drive in front of the house where another agent opened the door and invited him inside, where he had to be searched by yet more agents using metal detectors and opening every pocket of his laptop briefcase.

He looked at them and was wondering if they would feel sad and angry at the departure of their current Principal and the arrival of another, or if it was just a job to them, where the subject being protected didn’t matter.  Secret service and army personnel served the country and whoever the people were foolish enough to elect, or were taking over their countries, it didn’t seem to matter so long as he was a good old American-born citizen, Lawson thought.

He was brought first to the main living room in the East wing before being requested to walk to the second floor, where Sylvia Grant was waiting for him in a room that they referred to as the “Family Library.”  She was dressed in a simple black dress and was barefoot, as it was often her habit when she was on her own, enjoying the feeling of the shaggy carpet in between her toes.  She had always been a nature lover since the first day her father, a park ranger in Colorado, had taken her for a night of wild camping and began her lesson on the value of nature.  She gave Lawson a long hug and started crying again.  She was a criminal district attorney and had seen her share of criminals, and put more than one behind bars.  But she knew that the new President of the United States was the biggest of them, save maybe his own brother.  Lawson guided her to the nearest couch and as he turned, he noticed that the security service lady had closed the door to the room.  He felt terrible at the sight of his best friend’s wife crying and unable to stop herself.  He had briefly gone out with her in high school but remained good friends until she met her husband in their senior year. Then they became an inseparable trio, until Lawson joined the army and moved to Germany to pursue his career.

They had always remained in contact.  He returned to the US as often as possible and when he did, they were always in his trip plans wherever they went, following Theo’s career path all the way to being the Vice-President under Bill Clinton.  He had replaced Al Gore a few months after the election, when Gore decided that the environment would be better served if he had more time to devote to its protection.

It took a while longer for Sylvia to regain her self-control.  He had been her friend for more than thirty years, her most trusted confidant, and today was no exception.

“You know that Theo has always told me everything, despite the rules.  Therefore, I know all about that underground complex of yours and the implication for humanity, especially that the latest reports I have read indicated that they were extreme nature lovers.  Hell, they make me feel like a logger and poacher when I read the length they have gone to in order to limit their impact on the environment,” offered Sylvia in her even tone and perfect diction, muffled by the acoustics of the bookshelves all around them.  “I also read about the medical devices you have discovered.  Theo has been thinking about it a lot and he wanted to discuss that with you.”

Lawson was surprised at the conversation so far.  They had not seen each other in months and because of the lack of communication in the Facility, they had been unable to call and chat much.  But it was not the absence of her usual repartee that astounded him, it was the subject.  He knew that Sylvia and Theo had no secrets from each other, and that the topic of the Facility would arise soon enough, but he expected her husband’s defeat to be at the forefront of the discussion somehow.

“The minutes of the meeting with the Council will be available tomorrow morning, our time.  But, it is still fresh in my mind,” he assured her.  “Sylvia, is somebody sick?  Because if that’s—” But he was interrupted by her raised hand.

“No, nothing like that, it’s just that the White House has been effectively shut down since the election,” as she said it, the word got stuck in her throat.  Elections were supposed to be the cornerstone of the democratic process, although the United States was not really a true democracy, mainly because the guy with the most money generally won.  It was like buying more lottery tickets would increase your chance of winning.  Campaign contributions also increased your chance to be elected and unless every candidate was to receive the same amount to compete in the elections, there would be no true democracy.  But of course, no one had tampered with voting machines and then ferried people by the bus load to vote before in America, at least not in modern times.  She blinked to shake the image out of her head and continued, “Bill and Theo have been unable to make major decisions, other than offering pardons to people who deserved it, because unlike our friends to the north, we don’t like to forgive our criminals, even if it is only for a petty crime.  That’s why they have been unable to help you in any meaningful way.  No decisions could be made, since they would be automatically reversed in the days following the inauguration.”

“I understand that.  Government transition is like that, since the hot potato has been passed from the Democrats to the Republican Party every four or eight years since George Washington, as the American people get fed up of one party and wanted to see what the other guy was selling,” observed Lawson.  “What were the things he would have changed if Baker’s people had not rigged the election?”

She took a long pause before replying.  She still cared for him and she was sure that job must be the ride of a lifetime, but she didn’t feel the need to wait for Theo and just said it.  “Albert, they would have made sure that you remained in command as FD.”

Lawson didn’t react to that, maybe because he had a contract as Facility Director with the United Nations and he was not willing to accept any offers to resign earlier than he had negotiated in the first place.  “Vy, that’s the UN.  They have rules and unless I screw up big time, they can’t fire me.”

“Al, I’m an attorney, although not a corporate one; I still understand how the game is played.  That’s what I would do if I were them.  I would fire you on the spot and wait for you to use the United Nations court to defend yourself.  Then, it will drag for years.  After that, they will argue that they would rather not reinstate you for reasons better left untold, and also because your former post is occupied, and that it would cost the organization too much in monetary compensation to relocate the current director and to bring you back up to speed with the current operations.  The judges will agree as they have in the past and voila! It will have cost them almost a million dollars in court fees and compensation to you, but you will be out.  After that, I’m sure the United States government will be all too happy to pay the bill, silencing all the other member states in the process.”

The logic was inescapable and he knew it.  So apparently, he would be out of a job just like his friend had discovered today.  But Lawson had no intention of taking it lying down; he was a fighter and he would go down fighting, just like his wife had fought against a relentless cancer.  Unfortunately, she had died ten years too soon, but today he had gotten over it.  His only relapse in a decade had happened when Vladimir confirmed that the MARS was actually working.  Upon receiving confirmation that it could have cured his wife’s cancer, he cried for the first time in years.  Unfortunately, he had already cremated her body according to her wishes. They had not known about Alcor Life Extension Foundation or cryonic suspension at that time, and it was too late now to consider it.  He had lost her forever.

The Vice-President, at least that’s what the secret service agent who knocked on the door still called him, would be very late.

Lawson and the Second Lady would have plenty of time to catch up before her husband returned.  The night was going to be short, but Lawson didn’t care.  They needed to hammer out a plan and it needed to be now, while they still had time.