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Short Story - Halls of Power

I am always intrigued by the people behind the scenes. This tale suggests that we might not always learn what goes on in the halls of government, and maybe they have to deal with some rather unexpected situations ...



Halls of Power

"I need you here in twenty."

*click*

Glen Travis glanced at the clock. It's rarely a good sign when your boss calls you into the office at 2am.

When your office is the White House, and your boss reports directly to the President of the United States it is most decidedly not a good sign.

Nineteen minutes later he was pulling in through the security gates.

Even as he pulled up into the secure parking at the West Wing he could tell that something must be brewing. Far too many cars there for this hour. Including a couple with diplomatic plates he didn't recognise. He had an uneasy feeling this wasn't going to be an ordinary night. He had barely opened the door of his car before one of the Secret Service agents was right beside him. He was glad he had remembered his long jacket, the November air was biting.

"Kelvin isn't it?" Glen offered as the agent helped him with his door.
The agent nodded, "Good evening Mister Travis. They asked me to tell you not to come in through the lobby. I am to take you around through the Palm room."

"Low profile eh?"

"Not for me to say sir."

"Busy night?"

"Yes sir."

He definitely wasn't the only person who had been woken up this morning.

As they made their way into the West Wing Glen was glad to see that at least the press corp offices were empty. Whatever this was, maybe it wasn't outside yet. It would only be a matter of time, but it was usually beneficial if they were ahead of the news cycle. There was an aura of activity, but it was all trusted people. None of the army of interns and lower ranking staffers that usually buzzed about the place were present. Glen as pretty sure some of the senior staffers that were on the phone as he passed were probably trying to source information someone usually fetched for them.

The only person he immediately recognised was Dean Tomkins. Like him, Tomkins was one of Dillon's protégés, albeit the newest addition to the inner circle. Trusted but still the new kid on the block.

"What's going on Tomkins? Fill me in."

"Can't say Mister Travis. Mister Dillon just insisted you go straight through to the Roosevelt room. He has someone there for you, and he will join you when he is done with the secretary."

"State?"

"Yes sir."

"Who all else has been coming in tonight?"

"Weird mix," Tomkins explained, "Commotion started late evening. The President then had the religious leaders in first, all through the back doors."

"So whatever this is, it's got something to do with the faith angle."

"Most likely sir."

"You said a weird mix?"

"Aye sir. After the frocks we had a bunch of the NASA folks. Then I think someone from the Smithsonian as well. Also, a couple of very serious looking black suits that I didn't recognise."

"Agency? Bureau?"

"Don't think so, at least if they were, They're not amongst the usual faces. Not any I had seen before. In fact I think the Secret Service are actively keeping the Agency at arm's length."

"Really?"

"I overheard Fitzpatrick telling Moore to tell his bosses not to bother coming in. That the President would let them know if they were needed."

"He'd only do that on the Presidents word. Bet Moore hated that."

"That guy scares me even when he's not pissed off that the Secret Service might be stonewalling him."

"I think that's the point Tomkins." Glen smiled, patting Travis on the shoulder.

"Of course sir, guess it is. Do you want to go straight through to the Roosevelt?"

"Yes, I'll head on through. Who is it that you said was already here?"

"A woman, tall and blond, he had us bring her in through the side, didn't want her seen coming or going. I didn't recognise her, not one of the President's usual entourage, but apparently she is the daughter of that firebrand southern preacher that's always trying to get himself in the news."

"You mean George Gable? Samantha is here?"

"You know her?" Tomkins raised an eyebrow, smiling.

"I went to Yale with her, smart mind, crazy father."

"You have a run in with him? You two were an item? If you don't mind me asking."

"No, I mean not really, we were friends, but that man has a run in with the world every day."

"For a religious man he does seems awfully angry most of the time." Tomkins nodded, "she is quite the looker, I'm not sure I'd have been happy at just friends."

Glen smiled and patted Tomkins on the shoulder, "well, life happens you know. Some things just aren't meant to be. Guess that was one of them.

Glen made his way past the Cabinet Room, there were a lot of briefcases and coats scattered around the room. There were two more Secret Service agents vigilantly standing guard, despite the room being empty. He wondered who was in the Oval office right now. It wasn't all that often unattended briefcases got an armed protective detail.

There looked to be a series of blueprints and photographs scattered across the large cabinet desk. He wasn't going to risk trying to get a closer look.

He wound his way around into the Roosevelt room. He paused briefly with his hand on the doorknob. He hadn't seen Samantha in years, he couldn't even remember exactly when, probably some campaign fundraiser during the Senate race. It had been years though since they had actually been together, that last night before they both graduated Yale. He smiled to himself and pushed open the door.

"They told me you were here Samantha, but the question is why are you here?"

"Nice seeing you too Glen." She smiled

"Sorry, it's early," He hugged her and smiled, " just you're not exactly the first person I'd have expected to see here tonight."

"Not high enough up the food chain for your late night clandestine gatherings to decide the fate of nations?"

"No offence."

"None taken, I was as surprised as you are. Apparently they wanted my input given my background, and, how do you guys put it? My unique perspective?"

"You mean as a female scientist? a devout scientist? Or because of your Father?"

"Probably all three, although I got the distinct impression they didn't want anyone to see me here. They brought me in through some weird side passage. I kept wondering if that is where Kennedy sneaked Monroe in."

"If you believe the gossip mongers." Glen smiled, "I couldn't possibly comment."

"So who is this boss of yours?"

"Frank Dillon, old school, Washington legend. Hard to like, but once he trusts you he is a good man to have in your corner. He has had the President's ear since the primaries. He marshals all the experts like me, filters the messages to the President."

"Filters?"

"He would consider it cutting out the chaff. He distils the facts down to what he thinks will help the President make an informed choice. I don't say it about many around here, but he is a good man. Like I said, a bit gruff, and he scares a lot of folk on the hill, but I've always trusted him. Just that type of a man."

"I have yet to meet one of you Washington types that don't have an agenda," Samantha sighed, "what's his?"

"Protecting those he believes in. he might hide it, but I always took him for an honourable man. Listen, you trust me right?"

"Of course." Samantha smiled.

"Then trust Mister Dillon."

For a moment Glen was taken back to their college days, and all those late night moonlit chats up on the roof of Rosenfeld Hall at Yale. All the confidences they shared back then seemed all too naive compared to those they were expected to protect around here.

"That's good enough for me." She nodded.

"Mr Dillon doesn't trust easily. To be honest I'm surprised he has you here."

"Let's just say that it was made abundantly clear to me that it was my own best interests, and those of my family, to keep whatever I learn here tonight to myself."

While Glen wouldn't put it past Dillon to use threats, albeit indirectly, he guessed that knowing Samantha's father, there was some sordid secret that he was keeping in reserve for just such an occasion. It also then made sense why they needed him there, as an old friend, his presence would put her more at ease. Dillon was always playing the angle. Still, he thought to himself, it was good to see her again.

"He has that effect on people, I wouldn't worry about it."

"Are you kidding? I jumped at the chance to visit the Whitehouse! This is why we spent all those hard days and nights at Yale remember?"

"We did dream of making a difference didn't we." Glen smiled, "quite the young idealists weren't we."

"Is it like we imagined?"

Glen laughed, "hardly ... politics is depressingly confining. There is always someone who has some interest in any given idea dying a quiet death. You fight for every damn inch here."

"Changing the world one compromise at a time?"

"Exactly."

"That's better than not trying surely?"

"That's why I am here."

"That's why we are all here," announced a deep voice from behind them, "Miss Gable thanks for coming this late. Mister Travis, a pleasure as always."

Frank Dillon cut an imposing figure. Well over six foot tall, with immaculacy styled hair, greying at the sides with broad shoulders that meant he could easily have been mistaken for one of the secret service agents outside.

"Mister Dillon," Samantha nodded, extended her hand to shake his.

"Just Dillon is fine Miss Gable."

"Thank you."

"Please, let's take a seat. Trust me, you are going to want to be sitting down for this one."

They all sat down around the far end of the long rectangular conference table that dominates the room.

“Ok folks, our issue is as follows. Some serious egg heads out of MIT have created a machine of some kind with some fairly unique properties. Something we hadn’t even considered possible. This was totally off the radar, you won't have been briefed on this before. Glen I guess you might know the guy at the head of the team, but this has been pretty fringe stuff up until now. ”

“Must be important for this to be our problem.”

“You bet. This is a game changer, but hold onto your hats folks, this one is a doozy.”

Dillon walked across to his briefcase, and pulled out two identical manila folders before tossing them across towards the table. Glen and Samantha started reading as Dillon began pacing around the edges of the room. The only sound in the room was Dillon occasionally tapping the table with his finger while they read.

“Is this for real?” Glen asked eventually, “this is a joke right?”

Dillon just shook his head, twirling his finger to encourage them to read on. Samantha’s eyes widened as she worked through the last of the six pages. Glen pushed the folder back into the middle of the table.

“This is real?”

“I was as amazed as you are.”

“Dillon, if you'll forgive me being forward. You are the most cynical bastard I have ever worked with, and you are telling me this is actually something real?”

“I am. Let’s just say I was convinced.”

“So this has been confirmed.”

“I’ve seen it working,” Dillon replied, “right now it is set up at a secure location for testing. At this stage we are pretty sure that it is the real deal.”

“You've seen it working? What the hell did you see?"

"Sorry classified." Dillon said with a firm shake of his head, "but trust me, this is the real deal."

"These details are right? That’s a lot of power it’s eating.” Glen asked, "Where the hell would you draw that much power without anyone noticing."

“I didn’t say it was practical, I said that it worked. Yes, it needs to draw a massive amount of power. This thing won’t ever be particularly portable, but I’m guessing they will be working on that, and besides, right now that is not our dilemma. Besides, if I told you how we powered it that would tell you where it is, which is ...”

"Classified, I get it," Glen conceded.

“Let me get this straight,” Samantha said finally, having finished the document for the second time, “this device, when deployed, allows you to view that location at any point in the past, depending on how they configure this frequency generator thing that they talk about?”

Glen ran his fingers through his hair slowly, “So these guys have effectively made a window into the past? An actual time machine?”

“You can’t pass anything through it, but you can see the past." Dillon confirmed, "they tried putting a mouse through the portal apparently, but the thing just disintegrated. Same goes for any solid matter they have tried to pass through so far.”

“So our issue is that this thing could be used to find things out categorically that we might not want being found out?” Glen asked, “we need to decide if this should reach the public domain?”

“Essentially yes. That’s the dilemma on the table. That’s what the President wants our opinion on.”

“Could you keep something like secret, even if you wanted to?” Samantha inquired, looking at Dillon.

“Of course we could.” Dillon scoffed, “Done it before … but the problem is these science types. They obviously want to talk about it. Get their damned Noble statue.”

“They give you a statue for that?” Glen joked.

“Statue, medal, diploma, I forget,” Dillon sighed, “not the point. I pay you for the science stuff Travis.”

"This is huge," Samantha interrupted them, "this goes beyond any Nobel prizes that might get thrown around. This would fundamentally change our approach to history. Can you imagine? The political and religious ramifications are huge. The crisis of faith that this could inflict upon the nation shouldn't be underestimated."

"In an election year no less." Glen mumbled

"Trust you guys to be thinking strategy with something like this."

"Everything is strategy with the President." Dillon replied firmly, "that's how we got him here remember?"

"Surely this goes beyond the campaign?"

"If we let it out there sure." Dillon shrugged, "That's why we are having this conversation."

"You think they could actually bury this?" Glen asked.

"If they have any sense they will."

"Glen told me I could trust you Mr Dillon," Samantha cut in, "so I didn't expect you to one of those Washington idiots content to abuse the power of government."

"Abuse? I'm not. You don't know me young lady, so I'll let the implication slide. Let me put it this way. In my humble opinion burying this is the only decent thing to do for the world. I tell you no good can come from this one. The religious right is already on edge with our man in the White House, you think we want some well meaning college professor suddenly proving that the son of God didn't rise from the dead?"

"You're presuming that's what they would find Mister Dillon." Samantha scowled.

"I don't mean it like that," Dillon smiled, "No offense mam, I am as god fearing as the next man. What I'm presuming is that someone with an agenda could use this technology to claim they had proven their agenda. I didn't say they would be right. Think about it, even if some cases would be almost impossible to investigate with this thing, at the very least it would blow holes in the whole 'the world is five thousand year old' theories."

"Not necessarily," Samantha replied, "carbon dating has been established for years now, and you still have people like my father maintaining that the world was crafted a few thousand years ago. I don't see why this would be any different."

"In an election year? It will be a god damned conspiracy theory whichever way we pitch it."

"Visual medium," Glen interrupted, pointing down at the papers scattered across the desk, "it's a visual medium is why it will be different."

"Exactly," Dillon nodded, "he gets it."

"What do you mean Glen?"

"Listen we all know that the media is the key now." Glen explained, "People can see the message now, it's in their homes on their televisions. Hell, they can pretty much see it anywhere now can't they? Carbon dating is science, pure science. I mean sure, people get the theory and all, but it's still the obtuse type of science that your average nuclear family can't necessarily relate to. This thing, if I am understanding how it works, actually presents you with a window. A moving picture into the past, as if you were there. Stick a camera on that and beam it into the living room ... they will believe."

"Think of it like Martin Luthar King's speech." Dillon added, "take away the visuals and people could have seen whatever they wanted. Those old Klan nut jobs in Mississippi could dismiss it, claim there were just a few folks there ... but with pictures, with pictures everyone can see that it wasn't a small thing. The world saw that this wasn't some small speech. That's what gave it the impact."

“So you two are seriously saying that you plan on advising the President to bury this.” Samantha said quietly, “possibly the biggest scientific breakthrough of this or any other century and you want to bury it in a vault somewhere in Nevada?”

“Under a mountain in Wyoming actually,” Dillon chuckled, “but yes. Listen I know we are all here to fight for science … but this one, this one goes beyond science too.”

“I never thought I’d say it,” Glen sighed, “but I'm inclined to agree. The public may not be ready for this one."

"You mean it would change things," Samantha argued, "that isn't the same thing as not being capable of accepting it."

"Everything is changing already. The entire world is in some kind of state of flux already," Glen countered, "this could make things completely unpredictable."

"Which is exactly what we don't want in an election year." Dillon confirmed, tapping his index finger on the table, "the discussion about where and when this should be used would be problem enough in an election year, let alone what the damn thing might actually see."

"But what it might see could fundamentally change our understanding of science and history," Samantha pressed, a stern expression on her face, "surely it's worth the risk. Doesn't this go beyond an election?"

"Your input is why I asked you here Miss Gable. You would be willing to go out with this, even knowing that it might cause a crisis of faith?"

"God moves in mysterious ways Mister Dillon."

"What would your father say?"

"He would almost certainly discount it as a test of faith, an act of God. The god he believes in can appropriate just about anything to test the faithful. This wouldn't be any different."

"The church isn't your issue," Glen interrupted, "your issue is who will control this. We know the wolves are already circling. The military and the agency already dislikes the fact that they don't control NASA. This will blow up internally before it ever becomes a public issue. Maybe we would be playing right into the old establishments hands by burying this. You told me that this President was different Mister Dillon, that it was our job, our duty, to protect him."

"He is, and it is. Yes, this one might get messy real fast. I wish he had backed off pushing the agency so much of late. It's not going to make any of this any easier."

Dillon glanced at his watch, sighed and picked up his coat, “Time for the big man now. Listen Mister Travis, I don't think this will be done tonight. We will need to take another round on this after the Presidents business luncheon in Dallas. I want you to get on a plane, meet us there. I'm pretty sure he isn't going to make a call on this tonight. In the meantime find out everything you can on the actual science of this thing. Miss Gable thank you again for your time. You have my offices number, please, remember that your confidentiality is appreciated.”

Glen nodded just as the Presidential secretary appeared at the door.

"Mister Dillon, it's time, President Kennedy will see you now."


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