Excerpt for Election 2064: Book One by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Election 2064: Book One © 2017 by Scott McDermott

Cover and art © 2017 by Scott McDermott

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 978-1543052688

For Jenny,

who makes me

want to be

my best me

Table of Contents


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two


About the Author


April 14, 2063

Loop. Around. Under. Through.

The knitting needles flashed in her hands, throwing off metallic jangles with every stitch. The only other sounds in the room came from the regular pings of the heart monitor and the less steady whoosh of the respirator pump.  Her husband’s chest rose and fell as the oxygen fed into him.

Loop. Around. Under. Through.

The blanket was coming along slowly.  When she was really humming, she could do forty rows an hour.  Right now she was barely managing half that, but it kept her hands steady and her mind occupied.

A cough seized him.  She dropped a needle and took his hand, feeling the convulsions through his limp fingers.  She massaged his palm, reflexively checking his pulse as it settled back to normal resting.

“Bear,” she whispered.  “Come back to me.”

But he remained unresponsive. The monitor resumed its pinging drumbeat, the PanoScreen on the far wall dimming its glow.  Another screen cocooned around his chest, projecting his vitals in a softly luminescent holo. She stroked his hair and leaned in, brushing a kiss on his temple for what felt like the millionth time.

Her Bear looked smaller already, as if the hospital bed was swallowing him at the edges, but he was still a giant of a man.  She let out a quiet sigh, picked up her dropped needle, and resumed working. He might already have plenty of blankets, they draped over his body in cascading layers – but she felt he needed this one to truly be warm. Because it came from her.

Loop. Around. Under. Through.

My husband might die at any moment, and all I can do is tie a bunch of knots.

As her fingers maneuvered the yarn, turning it around and back again – repeating, repeating – she felt the repeating of their lives.  All of this was unnervingly similar to the time she met this sleeping giant, three decades ago. It felt like yesterday, in that she could still picture every detail of his face when she first laid eyes on it, and twenty lifetimes ago, in how that face had aged. But governing will do that.

And the circumstances between now and then, though mirrored in setting, had their differences. Then, the hospital didn’t block off an entire floor for this single patient.

No, then he was just a kid who’d run into some hard luck (though, considering what could have been, he was lucky indeed).  Another casualty of conflict, bouncing around the convoluted bureaucracy of the VA before finding his way to the Long-Term Recovery Ward. She almost forgot what war he’d been wounded in.

But she remembered that day, clear as noontime sun. She even recalled the thoughts going through her mind, as if she could pluck them like grapes from a vine – the first thought being, How could someone that immense ever get wounded?

And how he’d smiled at her from his hospital bed, sipping groggily out of a milk carton. “Ma’am, I got shot in the ass,” he said, as if to answer her thought.  A morphine drip may have slurred his speech, but it put him in a breezy mood. “You gonna fix me?”

Her second thought was, Handsome, probably, when not doped up.

“Fortunately,” she responded, “the backside is an alright place to take a bullet, considering. My guess is, whoever shot you couldn’t reach your head.  Is the army growing soldiers in labs now, or are they breeding you with grizzly bears?”

He gave a mock bear’s roar, clawing the air – then began to laugh, a gurgle of spittle escaping his mouth. Her toes inched toward him, as if she was drawn by his gravity – a stray comet, chancing upon a star, finding orbit.

“I’m just a little larger than most,” he said. “Growing up, everyone was telling me to play football.”

“Maybe if you had, you wouldn’t have taken a bullet in the butt.”

“Ain’t that the truth. I coulda been a contendah!”  It was a truly terrible Brando, but he flashed that cocky smile like a reflex as he pulled another swig from his milk straw. So he likes old movies, she thought. Maybe there’s some depth to all that mass.

“Doctor, um, what do I call you?”

Her thoughts became disconnected; relay runners dropping the baton. Did I forget to say my name? Did I forget my name?

“Oh…well, I’m Dr. Harper.” His smile never wavered, even if the morphine rendered it askew. It was the smile that sank her, right then, and she offered a proposition rarely extended a new patient: “But you can call me Susannah.”

Feeling awkward for putting that out there, she pulled back. “Or just, you know, Doctor,” she said. “Doctor Susannah might work, too, I suppose.”

Now she was floundering. What was happening to her? Professional, professional, she thought, trying to calm butterflies she never knew she had.

He held out his hand. It was coarse and heavy like a cinderblock, but warm. “Corporal Granger.  You can call me Acton. You can remember that because if there’s a problem, I’ll act on it.”

Something foreign escaped her. Did I just giggle? She hadn’t giggled since junior high. “You know that’s horrible, right? You should never use that line on a woman ever again.”

Neither of them realized it at this point, but he wouldn’t have to.

“Yeah, probably,” he said. “But I bet now you’ll remember my name.” Susannah realized that her hand was still in his and yanked it away, too quickly. “Well, Doctor Susannah,” he said, looking up from his own fingers, “I’d say it’s a pleasure to meet you, but I have a feeling that before we’re done here I’m not going to like you very much.”

And he was right about that, for a while.

It didn’t take her long to see why football wasn’t an option – or any other sport, for that matter. He got around easily enough for someone his size, especially with shrapnel ringing down his left gluteus and iliotibial tract, but in the rehab room he was an oaf. All that muscle, and so little coordination.

The first few weeks were hard. They called each other every name in the book, and a few that weren’t.

She wondered now, looking to pinpoint the moment those grueling, combative rehab sessions became something more – and beyond that, when he told her he loved her, that he needed her to push him the rest of his days, or he’d be worthless – whether both their lives would be in very different places if he’d been born with just a little more coordination and picked up a football like everyone in his hometown expected.

Would they have met? Unlikely, unless you placed heavy bets on fate and fairytales. Would he have accomplished all he’d done without her? She doubted it, and though that felt self-important, it was probably true. Sometimes a star needed something to shine on to feel whole.

Susannah always assumed that if he’d had a shred of athleticism to match his bulk, maybe he would’ve retired from a nice, short career as an offensive lineman and gone back home to marry his high school sweetheart. But she had no idea that the goofy-grinned army man had bigger dreams. And he kept those dreams hidden for some time, as was his nature, until he trusted her enough to pick out a ring and offer his name.

He finally came clean on their honeymoon, as they slurped umbrella drinks poolside in Key West. It took a half-dozen Rum Runners to spill it. And it all sounded innocent enough – he wanted to try his hand at local politics, as a State Representative. In North Dakota, the races weren’t especially competitive, and a seat had opened where he thought just about anyone could win.

Susannah didn’t know it at the time, but the rest of their lives hinged on her response. Of course, she’d said, without hesitation. It’s perfect for you. And he’d smiled again, the smile that she came to live for (turned out, it wasn’t the morphine that made it crooked, it was just like that).

All right, I’m gonna do it! he said. And that was it – they’d flicked over the first domino of Acton Granger’s political career. On and up he went, from one elected office to the next, toppling each new domino with a mixture of opportunism, fortune, and a loving wife’s unique blend of encouragement and sacrifice.

Now, three decades later, here they were. They’d reached the end of the chain and toppled the biggest domino of them all, but some unknown force had exacted its price. Was it worth it, if his life was to be cut short like this?

Susannah’s brain spun wildly.  All the what-ifs swarmed like bees in her mind. Where would her life be, if in another strand of history she never crossed paths with this man? Was it even worth pondering?

She checked the time – dawn approached, and with it the doctors and nurses and aides and minders and hangers-on would sweep back into another whirlwind of a day.

Adding to the whirlwind – at eleven sharp, the Acting President was scheduled to visit, and Susannah didn’t even know where to begin with that. The media had deemed the nation to be in crisis, and it appeared they were finally right about something.

She went back to her needlework, practiced hands resuming repetitive motion. She tried to empty her thoughts, to find her center. As her mind settled, her heart continued chugging – the rhythm of willhemakeitwillhemakeit pulsing in each beat, and it would not quiet, no matter her meditations.

Acton Granger was her beloved, and though she shared that love with all the millions that adored and revered the 54th President of the United States, she was the only one that shared his name.

She’d had two days and nights to absorb the shock of what had befallen her husband and brought them to this hospital room, but a new feeling brewed inside her. After the sorrow, the worry, the hope, the anger, and the fear, what came now was need, a need for answers. And it was a feeling no amount of knitting could quiet.

Loop. Around...



Book One

Getting In and Falling Out

October 9, 2062-April 14, 2063

Chapter One

You may have noticed that I come to this distinguished convention without nominating a vice president. I am sure most in this League would prefer that I not take this step; they’d prefer I find someone of like mind and like beliefs and deem them my running mate and my successor. But this country is a house divided – with a divide so vast that no single League can bridge it by itself. With that in mind, should I prevail in this election, in the tradition of Washington and Adams, I promise the second-highest office to whomever my chief opponent may be. Only then might we become a nation united once again.”

  • Acton Granger, acceptance speech for the 2060 Reformation League nomination – July 24, 2060

The motorcade wound through traffic in the suburban Chicago flatlands.

It was a smaller procession than Elijah Schroeder was used to – protocol required the vice president have a police escort of at least four marked vehicles and multiple advance teams, to seal off upcoming intersections and on-ramps – not to mention the Secret Service and intelligence details. But for this trip, he just had one unmarked SUV in front and behind him, and he scrapped the limo for a less conspicuous (if no less armored) passenger van.

Feels good to get away, he thought.

In fact, it had been years since Elijah had ridden in a vehicle that actually shared a road with anyone not in his escort. He’d left his handheld pano back with Cassidy, and felt an acute anxiety without the do-everything device on his person, but busied himself observing other vehicles and their occupants through heavily tinted glass. As he watched, curiosity budding, he tried to recall the last time a stranger within a few feet of him hadn’t been pre-occupied, above anything else, with being in the presence of a national political figure.

Truth was, he reveled in this opportunity to observe natural human behavior. It was like scratching a voyeuristic tickle he forgot he had.

Before the Second Civil War, most cars on the road operated without human drivers. Known as Autonomous Vehicles (or AVs), they’d become almost universal, until an enterprising member of the Underground discovered that an AV made for a useful remote bomb. The government hastily passed an AV Prohibition, pulling all but human-ops off the road. As the war faded into history, the Granger administration scrapped the ban as their first executive order and AVs were making a comeback.

The vice president entertained himself by watching the new automateds integrate with the remaining human-ops. When he used to make his living as a professor of economics, Elijah would actively monitor episodes in human interaction to understand basic motivational behavior. He’d sit outside a coffee shop, for instance, watching who would hold the door open for others versus who would not. What was economics if not the study of altruism, people weighing the common good against their own wants and needs?

Most would find observing such routines implacably dull, to be sure, about as exciting as staring into a fishbowl. But Elijah remembered an old saying from one of his professors – in mathematics you might solve for y, but in economics you solved for why.

There are two types of people in the world – those who use a turn signal, and those who don’t.

The left lane opened up ahead. Elijah saw this as an altruism at work – for the middle lane vehicles in front of them, traffic in the left lane would now be faster, thus worth the inherent risk of occupying it. This might even hold if more than one vehicle went for the faster lane. Sure enough, two cars pushed hard into the open lane, but one had cut the other off. The two jockeyed for position, swerving this way and that – but in doing so, they lost speed, and one almost veered into the motorcade.

The irony, Elijah considered as the motorcade passed them by, was that if one car had let the other take the left lane and stayed in the middle, both lanes would’ve moved faster. AVs didn’t have this problem.

Exiting onto Route 14, the motorcade transitioned from a stacked multi-level highway to a flat road, dotted with industrial parks and the occasional neighborhood. A string of trees framed the road on both sides, their leaves altered by the season to a menagerie of fall colors.

Elijah looked behind him, and through miles of film and haze he could still make out the skyline of downtown Chicago. For the most part, it still consisted of vacant skyscrapers with crumbling edifices. The Second Civil War – Civ-2, as it was widely known – had been hard on Chicago, but he saw signs of encouragement.

Six, no, seven construction cranes, he counted, their perpendicular silhouettes rising in the distance. It’s a start.

The motorcade took another turn, this time onto a driveway and through a security gate that opened at their proximity. They coursed down a winding stream of asphalt that plunged into a thicket of trees, their leafy branches brushing the sides of Elijah’s van. The foliage was so thick the sun only peeked through in spots, blinking on and off like a strobe. Disoriented, Elijah turned his eyes ahead.

Eventually the forest-tunnel opened into a small, nearly-vacant parking lot, dwarfed by an enormous building just beyond, hundreds of yards in width.

The caravan filed into a roundabout at the building’s entrance as a man and a woman awaited them, next to a non-descript sign that read Endure Technologies. Elijah drummed his fingers on his thigh as the van parked. The driver came around to open the door, now assuming the role of the vice president’s protecting agent. Though the sky was cloudless with rain in the forecast, the agent held an umbrella over Elijah’s head as he disembarked.

Can’t be too careful, Elijah thought. Goddamn drones everywhere.

Buttoning his coat, the vice president walked over to meet his welcome party. Yannik Vogel was tall and slender like Elijah himself, wearing a crisp black suit with a red bowtie. His face exhibited pronounced European features and though he had just celebrated his hundredth birthday, he appeared more like a man of some indeterminate middle age. As Elijah appraised Vogel closely, he could discern the handiwork of multiple reconstructive operations, a vibrant exterior stretched over something more ancient on the inside. Elijah noticed Vogel wore tinted enhancement glasses, the new ones with a two-mile range, probably to keep tabs on his motorcade as it approached.

The woman was just an inch or two shorter, her hair tucked in a ballerina bun so tight her forehead looked pained. Unlike Vogel, someone Elijah recognized instantly (but had never met in person), the woman was unknown to him. She appeared slightly younger than Elijah’s mid-forties, and no surgical procedures appeared to fudge her age. Though a lab coat concealed her figure, Elijah would’ve recognized through a potato sack the flattering shape underneath. She seemed to catch his gaze and adjusted her sunglasses uncomfortably, clutching at a PanoPad.

Vogel rushed up to take Elijah’s hand. “Mr. Vice President.” His voice contained enough of a Germanic accent that his syllables ran together – Meesterveizprezheedent, pronounced in one long word.

“Thank you, Mr. Vogel. Great to finally meet you in person.”

Vogel removed his enhancement glasses, revealing startlingly white-blue eyes – wagon wheels with icicles for spokes, sparkling like diamonds in his skull. “Welcome to Endure,” he said. “We appreciate your efforts to be here.”

“It’s not every day I pull out my tracking chip and go off the grid. The chip is safe with my wife – Cassidy went straight from the airport to the fundraiser, just as you recommended.”

“We value your…discretion.” Vogel occasionally paused in his speech as he searched for the proper English. “As I said in earlier…communications, I prefer our mutual friend not know we are meeting, at least at this time. I promise, we will make this visit brief so you can return to your duties.” Vogel turned to the woman in the lab coat. “My companion is Dr. Meijer, our head of research. She will answer any of your questions.”

“A pleasure,” Elijah said. Dr. Meijer nodded in his direction, but held on to her PanoPad without offering a hand.

Elijah glanced at Vogel, as if to ask, She’s ok? The German only offered a tight-lipped smile in return, then clapped his hands. “Well! Let us get right to it. Mr. Vice President, if you would follow us inside.”

Elijah’s protection agent handed over his umbrella and stepped forward silently.

“If you’ll humor us,” Elijah said, “he’ll want to go in first and check the place out.”

“Of course,” Vogel said, opening the door. “We will be walking through the lobby, and then you may scout the rest as we proceed.” The agent walked through and disappeared for some minutes before reemerging with a nod. He took Elijah’s umbrella and folded it away, then held the door.

Elijah stepped through the threshold into the building. He saw Dr. Meijer pull down her sunglasses, revealing the same diamond eyes as Vogel, white-blue irises that were nearly blinding.

“Oh,” Elijah said, “Are the two of you related? I didn’t realize.”

“Dr. Meijer is my granddaughter, yes. Ours is a family business.”

“That’s quite a gene. Does it run through the whole family?”

“It is referred to as Waardenburg Syndrome, but we do not consider it some kind of…illness. It is genetic, as you say – the white part around the eye turns blue and the pupils become very bright. It is quite rare, but every Vogel is born with it, as far back as anyone can remember. My wife used to joke how easy it was to find our children in a crowd, and it always made for interesting family photos.”

Elijah chuckled. “I’m sure.”

They stood in a foyer as ornately decorated as the building’s exterior was plain. A crystal chandelier dominated the space overhead, enormous but delicate. It refracted light and color in all directions, spilling millions of fractals onto the manicured arboretum (complete with hybrid orchids and other engineered botanicals), and highlighting the lavish modern art pieces that lined walls of grained marble. Elijah caught a glimpse of something darting around his feet before he realized the floor was transparent, exotic fish streaming underneath.

“An in-ground aquarium?” Elijah mused. “Business is good.”

“These have been prosperous years of late,” Vogel admitted. “But most of the…glitz and glamour is confined to this space. Our visitors typically remain in the lobby area, but as an honored guest, you get to see the whole dog and pony show.”

Vogel took the lead, transforming into a tour guide. He gestured toward an area opposite the garden, a few lush chairs retreating into a dim hallway. “Some conference rooms and offices off that way, nothing exciting. Everything else is through here.”

He walked them through the arboretum, complete with flittering rare butterflies, and past an empty reception desk. A door stood embedded in the wall, fitted so neatly that Elijah barely noticed it. His protective agent stepped forward a second time to scout ahead, this time returning in just seconds. He affirmed the environment ahead was safe and they stepped into a hallway, walking past the faint hum of a server room before arriving at another door.

This door was of brushed steel and appeared monstrously heavy, as if to a bank vault. Upon their approach, a robotic arm emerged above where the knob might be, holding what looked like a foam sponge between two pincers.

Vogel pulled the sponge out and bit into it, making an impression with his teeth. He handed it back to the robot arm, which retracted back into the door.

After a positive buzz of identity confirmation, the door slid open. Elijah’s agent stepped forward.

Vogel coughed nervously. “Ahem, I would actually rather not have someone in there unsupervised. I assure you, nothing in there is dangerous, you have my word.”

The agent didn’t take his eyes off Vogel, but spoke to Elijah. “Sir, I strongly caution against entering the premises without my checking them in advance.”

“It’s all right, this man is President Granger’s Sponsor. If you worked with the president during the campaign, you should know him well.”

Vogel interjected, “I would like to say I am the president’s friend first, Sponsor second.”

“Either way,” Elijah reassured, “I’m sure whatever’s beyond that door doesn’t pose any harm.” The agent protested, but in these situations the protectee had the final say, if they insisted forcefully enough. Elijah patted his guardian on the arm as he filed past.

Once through the door, he found himself on a catwalk overlooking a sunken floor. The catwalk branched out every forty feet or so, forming an elevated lattice pattern throughout, the occasional staircase spanning down to the bottom. On the floor, rows upon rows of steel cylinders stood like miniature grain silos, each about two feet in diameter and eight feet tall. They numbered in the thousands – no wonder this building looked so enormous on the outside! At about eye level, each cylinder featured a translucent window the size of a PanoPad, a pulsating light flashing from within – red, then blue, then white – all in unison.

“Holy smokes,” Elijah said. “What is all this?”

Vogel offered a polite smile that looked strained on his reconstructed features. He led the vice president down a staircase and to the first cluster of cylinders, arranged in a ten-by-ten grid. Above this grouping hung a placard from the ceiling: Females, 19-21, Caucasian. Similar placards hovered over neighboring clusters, with labels like Males, 36-40, Hispanic; Females, 61-65, African-American. And so on.

Elijah couldn’t help himself – he leaned in for a peek through the window of the nearest silo and touched the surface. “Why isn’t it cold?” he asked.

“We do not freeze them,” Vogel said, but he left it at that.

Elijah peered in further, looking for the light source inside – a PanoScreen, positioned a few inches in front of the face.

“That is Amber,” Vogel said. “She appreciates a clever advertising jingle, enjoys Christmas movies, and has a…soft spot for anything with cats. Sad to say, in this last election you had very little chance with her.”

“College females weren’t my best demographic. Except maybe econ majors.”

Dr. Meijer stepped forward. “Grandfather, you know we shouldn’t linger down here.”

“Of course. We don’t want to disturb anyone’s sequencing. Elijah, follow us, please.”

After a tour around the catwalk and a look at the data center, Vogel, Dr. Meijer, and Elijah sat in a conference room with the agent begrudgingly waiting outside – after he’d been allowed to case the room first.

Vogel rattled at some controls and the room’s four walls went full pano as he cycled through environments. “Which would you prefer: Spring Meadow, Caribbean Cabana? Something else?”

“Anything is fine.”

“Oh! You’ll like this one. Coney Island. Feels like home, no?” A boardwalk spanned the wall to Elijah’s left, with Coney Island’s famous amusement-park landscape beyond it. It felt like being there, so much that he could almost smell the cotton candy. The resolution was astounding. To his right was the beach, the water of New York’s Lower Bay spilling out to the ocean, reflecting a sun-brightened sky.

Vogel stood up and poured himself an espresso. “Now that you have seen our little facility, some history. Many decades ago, before your long period of civil…unrest, Endure Technologies was created for persons suffering from the bovine flu. Those infected looked to preserve their bodies in a cryogenic state until a cure could be found. As the flu became an epidemic, Endure’s owners were overwhelmed by the demand. They became victims of their own success – the maintenance cost for each cryogenic unit was…extensive. They were losing millions of dollars a day. Then the war began, and a new problem – many of Endure’s subjects lost their next of kin, so their bills were no longer being paid. The company faced bankruptcy and the unfortunate…consequence of being forced to release these subjects. But the flu still had no cure, and that meant a death sentence for anyone in here.”

Vogel sat back down, sipping his espresso. “What an opportunity! When I was much…younger, I looked far and wide for a facility like this for my research. Thousands of people, from all walks of life and every state in the union – except for maybe a couple of the newer ones. This,” he gestured back beyond the security door, which now happened to be the Coney Island Wonder Wheel, “is now the best neuromarketing research facility in all the world.”

“And what is neuromarketing, exactly?” Since seeing the silos, Elijah found it hard to contain his brimming interest, but Vogel apparently wanted to walk him through every detail.

“I will get to that in a moment, but know this. Surveys, focus groups, polling – all of it is useless. In those studies, there is bias. You cannot get around it. The waking mind…interferes. Whenever you see something and decide whether you like that something or not, noise gets in the way. Whether you think your spouse or friends will also like it, whether you had a good experience with something similar, perhaps even what you had for breakfast or the last song you listened to. And there is always that voice in the back of your mind telling you how you should feel. All of those factors influence your decision, and it makes a mess. What we do is turn off the noise. To register accurate opinions, we remove the conscious mind and focus on cognitive reactions at their most basic.”

As Dr. Meijer tapped away at her PanoPad, Vogel smiled and resumed his history. “So, I purchased this facility and moved it in a new direction – not just preserving these…specimens until they might be cured, but utilizing them while we have them, applying their shared knowledge and testing their reactions to stimuli. I also got rid of all those expensive cryogenics as you mentioned – we found another way. This gave birth to neuromarketing. And what a success it has been! We test messaging, branding, product placement. Businesses consult us to know what drives a person to prefer one type of soda, toothpaste, vehicle, what have you.”

“So, like a subconscious focus group?”

“Precisely! Then, a short time ago, a new phase. It was…accidental, if I am being honest. We had no intention of getting involved in electoral politics until someone approached us, working for a relatively unknown presidential candidate from North Dakota. I met this candidate, and I decided to become his Sponsor. And we put the full weight of what Endure can do behind him.”

Schroeder remembered hearing whispers during the campaign, that Granger had some sort of technological ace in the hole, but his sources were never close to sniffing it out. Though sponsorships were not required to be publicly disclosed, Vogel was not shy with his support, but how his business operated and how it assisted the campaign were both guarded secrets.

Even now, after touring the building and hearing Vogel’s initial summary, he still wasn’t sure what went on here.

Elijah hoped the German was getting to the point, but after only knowing the man for an hour he sensed a penchant for theatrics. Vogel was still winding up, the pitch was yet to come. “Our subjects may have been confined in isolation for thirty years, but with our special incubation, their brains never age. We discovered that for the best response data, they needed to eat – not food, but a diet of information. We keep their PanoScreens active around the clock to keep them abreast of national events. Tastes can shift depending on the cultural mood. For instance, as the war ended, there was a…seismic change, a yearning for unity above all else.”

That appeared to be Dr. Meijer’s cue. She set her PanoPad on the conference room table and pulled at its corners, stretching it wide and flat. The vistas of Coney Island dimmed around them. Meijer used a nimble set of hand gestures and vocal commands to activate a holo display, hovering above the stretched pano. The holo showed a diagram of the human brain, divided into quadrants. Some statistics and other figures flashed below the diagram that Elijah could not decipher.

“This is a file for one of our subjects,” Vogel said. “He is a forty-three-year-old pipefitter from… South Alassippi, it’s called now? Let’s call him Mark. The file is from May of 2060.”

Elijah thought backward to the campaign season. May would’ve been toward the end of the primaries, two months before the conventions. With their League nominations wrapped up, the remaining candidates would be plotting their strategies for winning a general election. Granger had won the Reformation nomination easily, while Elijah’s campaign had slogged through a bruising primary to limp away as the nominee of the Conservative League.

Next to the brain diagram, a video appeared – one of Granger’s old campaign ads. Candidate Granger loomed large in the foreground, surrounded by a dense forest of elm trees in his native Dakota environment. Meijer dragged a thumb across the timeline, fast-forwarding the ad. The brain diagram flashed different shades of color as the video moved forward, mostly confined to the area marked Frontal Lobe. Meijer zoomed in on that area, magnified enough that it resembled a maze of clotted spider webs.

She pointed to some of the starker colors. “Sequences are monitored using a blue-red spectrum, which show whether the different processing centers react positively or negatively.”

Vogel interjected, “It shows us if they like what they see.”

Dr. Meijer pushed the Play button, and the ad moved in real time along with the neurological readouts. “At this point in time, our pipefitter’s brain is reacting to the test ad. We can show hundreds of ads with various differences to find the most effective. This version performed rather well – you can see how the blue starts to overtake the red as Mark connects emotionally to Granger’s inspirational message.”

Elijah thought he recognized the ad – the future president was either flaunting his salt-of-the-earth background or his service in the Yemeni War. Mark’s frontal lobe reacted with splotches of blue in several places.

“Each highlighted area,” Dr. Meijer pointed out, “is a connection to different qualities – trust, strength, and so forth. In this frame, Mark is connecting with the sense of unity and family that Granger made his central campaign themes. With your Civil War recently ended, these themes did very well. To measure this precisely, we compare Mark’s responses to the overall group.”

Interesting, Elijah thought, but nothing earth-shattering so far. Still, he felt Vogel had more to show.

The German smiled, as if reading his thoughts. “Still with us so far? Good. At regular intervals, we will run a test – a…snap poll, if you will. We show our subjects an image of each candidate and quantify the responses for the different qualities we measure. Because there’s no noise, our predictive models for determining who will win an election are precisely accurate.”

Polling had been the bane of every politician since the first democratic election, its methodology and accuracy the source of endless debate. But there had to be more.

“Can you play the ad one more time?” Elijah asked. Meijer obliged, and Granger was again touting his roots. Elijah pointed to another quadrant at the back of the pipefitter’s brain, marked Occipital Lobe, where shades of green were forming. “What’s that there?”

Vogel jumped forward animatedly, the science clearly exciting him. “Ah! They told me how smart you are! This part of the brain controls vision, but it is also where ideas…originate. Where new thoughts are formed. Which is why this particular subject, and this particular ad, were so exciting.” He turned to Dr. Meijer, who met her grandfather with a look of, If you’ll let me continue?

Vogel sat back down.

Dr. Meijer pointed to some highlighted areas within the occipital lobe. “As I was getting to, opposite the frontal lobe, where you react to something, here you’re acting on that reaction. At this moment, our subject is doing precisely that.”

As Granger was going on about his uplifting backstory – war wounds healed by his wife’s love, and how he would heal America’s wounds the same way, or something dopey like that – the pipefitter’s occipital lobe became a lit Christmas tree of green. Vogel was practically jumping up and down.

“The…brighter shades you see, the bigger the idea – you know, light bulb! Ding!”

Dr. Meijer ignored her grandfather’s animations, something she’d probably been doing her entire life. “When we see something as vivid as this, it can be exciting. Observe – if you zoom in here, you can see the different areas have different shades of green – an emerald hue here, a mint color there. They are very specific and important. If we hit play again, slowing it down to just microseconds, we can take these different color patterns and approximate them.”

Elijah thought Vogel might explode, but he wanted to make sure he grasped what Meijer was saying. “Approximate them? Into what?”

“Well, phonics, basically.”

“Phonics? Like parts of words?”

“Yes!” Vogel exclaimed, jumping around and clapping him on the back. “String the phonics together and you can form words, even sentences!”

“That’s – wait a minute, you can translate his thoughts into sentences? Are you saying you can read his mind?”

Vogel looked like a kindergarten teacher about to award a gold star, but Meijer was more subdued. “These moments of inspiration can be mapped with enough specificity that yes; we can approximate it into language. I wouldn’t say translate, not yet. Each brain palette is slightly different; there is much trial and error. This is one decipherable sample out of millions.”

She zoomed in on the occipital lobe and slowed the playback further, slow enough that Granger looked almost fully still. “You see this splash of cucumber?” She touched it on the holo and text appeared.

Phonic designate: /ie/

“There are vowel phonics and consonant phonics, you may remember. This one, ie, is a vowel phonic, like in tie or lie. Taken by itself, it stands for the word I, like I want this or I like that, which is the beginning of most thoughts, really.”

The playback inched forward, nanosecond by nanosecond, and a splurge of darker green appeared above and to the left of the fading cucumber shade. Meijer touched it.

Phonic designate: /w/

“Our first consonant phonic,” Meijer said. “And then another two phonics right after it, here and here, a vowel and another consonant.” She pointed to an olive area and a teal.

Phonic designate: /i/

Phonic designate: /sh/

“I wish?” Elijah asked.

Vogel beamed. “We have seen this pattern often enough to approximate it with relative…confidence.”

Vogel signaled to Meijer to speed things along. She hurried through the rest of the playback, tapping out phonics until they appeared in a string.

/ie/ /w/ /i/ /sh/ /h/ /ee/ /d/ /p/ /i/ /c/ /a/ /c/ /u/ /n/ /s/ /er/ /v/ /u/ /t/ /i/ /v/

Elijah puzzled it out. “I wish he’d pick a conservative?”

Vogel clapped him on the back. “This is before the conventions, mind you, when the running mate…speculation is at its peak. Mark clearly likes our candidate, but something holds him back. We assumed Mark’s wish meant he wanted Granger to pick a more conservative Reformer, someone to balance the Reformation League ticket. We showed him everyone we could think of, but no one stuck – Granger still did not have Mark’s vote. Dismayed, we started to look…elsewhere. Candidates from other Leagues. The one that finally pulled Mark over the line was this handsome man.”

Meijer tapped her PanoPad and Elijah saw a picture of himself on the holo.

He stared at the image, trying to piece his thoughts together. “But Granger didn’t say at his convention that he would pick me. He said he would pick whoever came in second.”

“Well, we could not just go out there and say it! As his opponent, you would have said no thank you. But you were the choice. And given our polling data, we knew it would be you. Yes, it was a…gamble, that the electorate would associate a vote for Granger as one that essentially included you on the ticket. The media likes to make a game of polls, this person is gaining, this one is crashing – but people do not change their minds. They might pretend they do, but they lie – to pollsters, to friends, and to themselves.” He pointed to brain on the holo. “But! Just to be sure, we run another scenario.” He nodded again to Dr. Meijer, who keyed in more commands.

“Same person, same ad,” Vogel said. “Now, we add your image while it’s playing. And boom!”

The frontal lobe was almost blinding with light. Mark the pipefitter’s brain was as vibrant as Vogel’s body, the seams of the German’s refashioned skin stretching in the light.

“We were curious about these results at first,” Vogel said. “We compared Mark’s readings with other subjects across a variety of…demographics. Then we pulled back to the whole group, the collective subconscious of all our subjects. We call this the Hive Mind. And the Hive Mind confirmed what our friend Mark saw – although you and Mr. Granger were two very different people, agreeing on almost nothing when it came to…issues, you were his perfect compliment. Granger conveyed strength, confidence, trust. These are classic Alpha Male qualities. Yourself, seen as intelligent, kind, sympathetic. You made the perfect beta.” Vogel had clasped his two hands together, shaking them demonstrably. “The synergy of the two was tremendous.”

Just how am I so sympathetic? Elijah wondered for a moment, then let it pass.

“I’m the beta to his alpha,” he said. “Isn’t that humbling. Mr. Vogel, did you bring me here to humiliate me?”

“No,” Vogel said. “I assume you accepted my invitation because you had a question – why did I lose? Maybe that explains much of it. But I asked you here to tell you this. Since you have been vice president, we have seen some…changes.”

“Yeah, my approval rating has fallen twenty points.”

Vogel shook his head and tittered, as if humored by Elijah’s lack of faith. “Actually, our responses show that as the president…governs, taking slings and arrows from all sides, you are gaining in some of those alpha qualities.”

“Really?” Elijah was never good at sarcasm, but he hoped it came through here. “When I lost, the conservatives all turned on me. They thought I blew a winnable election – I guess it’s nice to hear you tell me that I never had much of a chance. And that was before I accepted Granger’s offer. Once I took it, they turned on me all over again.”

“Based on our findings, we knew who would win this election very early on. And the next election, we will know as well, perhaps…earlier. Our science improves every day. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.”

Elijah kept thinking backward, putting the pieces together. “I remember Granger’s convention speech so well; it was like a kick in the chest. A brilliant maneuver. He invoked George Washington and John Adams – Washington won the presidency and Adams came in second out of a crowded field, which back then made him vice president. I guess at that point, I knew we were fucked.”

Vogel’s accent thickened the softer he spoke. “It made Granger the…front-runner almost overnight. As we had expected.”

“And the rest of us scrapped at his heels for second place. But you knew how that would turn out, too.”

Instead of responding, Vogel pointed to the brain diagram on the holo.

Elijah remembered the first days after losing the election – a dark, dejected time of self-immolation. He ran a good campaign with good ideas, or so he’d thought. Elections can hinge on thousands of factors, most of them out of your control, but at the end of the day it comes down to how many people believed in you.

A question popped into his mind. “How did you know I would take the job? I’ve never been hooked up to your machines.”

Vogel shrugged. “Ah, our biggest gamble of all! You are correct, we did not know if you would or would not. But Granger trusted you to do it. He thought you might appreciate the…history it invoked, and that you would appreciate the symbol of unity.”

“But all his talk of unity was a lie. A tactic to win.”

Vogel jumped at the accusation. “Win, yes! But you must win to govern! And what a team you make. He inspires, you perspire. Can you not say that it works?”

Elijah sighed. Now he was looking for his words, even with English his native language. “It’s been…bumpy.”

He reflected on the night of the election and the painful concession call. The new President-Elect had been as gracious and kind as could be. I made a promise to the country that sort of involves you, he’d said to Elijah. Help me keep it.

Elijah made no promises then, merely saying he’d think about it. And think he did, when he wasn’t feeling despondent. A week later, Granger called again, offering to discuss his offer in person. Elijah reluctantly invited him to his summer cottage in the Hamptons. Granger had looked even bigger to him then, barely fitting through the doorway, casting a shadow as wide as the living room. Elijah was prepared to turn him down, to say it would never work, but eventually he bought into the man’s earnestness and the ebullience of his character. This won’t go over well with our factions of loyalists, Granger told him. The war remains fresh in so many minds. But I have your back, so long as you have mine.

The last thing the president told him: On the plus side, making history sure is fun.

With that, Elijah accepted and the two rivals set about forming a government. And after two years of fits and missteps, setbacks and struggles, that nation was beginning to shake off the rust, an old locomotive churning out steam.

Elijah considered his original question. “So why am I here?”

Vogel looked at Dr. Meijer and nodded. She turned off the holo and the lights came back up.

“Such intelligent questions,” Vogel complimented. “Granger was the first and only candidate we have sponsored. He won’t be the last.”

Schroeder studied Vogel as he twiddled his bow tie. The German tried to smile and look relaxed, but there was tension behind it – whether it was from the anti-aging treatments, his angled features, or something more, he wasn’t sure. “I do not much care for politics,” Vogel admitted. “I did not become Granger’s Sponsor for any…partisan reason. I am not concerned with his policy to re-introduce immigration or his position on paying for reconstruction costs – nor yours, for that matter. I am a businessman concerned for my business. This company has made great strides, poised to make more. In time, we will need to sponsor another candidate. I am assuming you will again seek the presidency when the opportunity arises?”

“Honestly, I don’t think I have it in me.”

Vogel gave him a look as if to say, My data tells me differently. Perhaps he was right – Elijah’s mind did ponder the future, even as it still litigated the past.

“Campaigning wears on your soul,” Elijah insisted. “Maybe in ‘68, when Granger’s second term is up. I’d have to think the president’s re-election is a lock.”

Vogel only said, “Possibly, but we have no way of knowing without knowing the candidates.”

“It’s still a few months before anyone jumps in, but I expect some will begin making noise after the midterms.”

“A lot of time between now and then, to be sure.”

“Well, I wouldn’t dare run against him. If he asks me to stay on, I would. Right now, I’m a man without a caucus. Approval in the twenties, pilloried from all sides. Conservatives no longer trust me, if they ever did. And though it can be painful working under Granger’s bleeding heart, I’m no Benedict Arnold. Like you said, against all odds, it does sort of work.”

“As we knew it would,” Vogel said with a smile, pointing behind him. “But they say in politics, circumstances are forever changing.”

“Not according to your polling. But if they do, feel free to invite me back. Maybe by then I’ll understand all this.” There was catharsis to this trip, he supposed. He’d been comparing himself to Granger for years, during the campaign and after, now that he worked for him. Trying to find where he failed and the president succeeded. Knowing the cause of it, however jarring, brought some peace. The alpha to his beta, and all this technology. He wondered if he could have won with Vogel as his Sponsor – what a weapon this was!

“Tell me, what did Granger say the first time you showed him this facility?”

A flash of disappointment crossed Vogel’s face, and he hid it with an air of wistfulness. “If he had ever accepted my invitation, I could tell you.”

“He’s never been here?”

“We have worked very closely with his…aides. Mr. Ricketts, mainly. The president, not as much.”

You and I have that in common, Elijah thought. He checked the time, well beyond his scheduled appearance at the fundraiser. “I should be going.”

“Ah!” Vogel exclaimed. “But there’s one more thing to show you. Dr. Meijer, may I borrow your handheld pano device please?”

Vogel’s granddaughter fished in her coat pocket and handed it over. The lights went down one more time.

Chapter Two

I don’t care what the nursery rhyme says, anything that falls down broken can always be put together again. That’s the beauty of our Constitution.”

  • Acton Granger, debate excerpt – October 17, 2060

For Tess Larkin, her father’s study was the most beautiful place in the world.

Her love began with the skylights – three of them, angled and wide, inviting broad bands of sunlight into the room. During the day, the light would journey from one side to the other, passing over the scores of books – actual books! – that lined the shelves, as if to highlight each of them for a period. Fiction novels, biographies, poetry collections, and classics populated the stacks, along with her recent contributions of legal dictionaries and briefing books. And there was her special corner, reserved for her romance collection when the occasional indulgence was required. Tess felt more at home here than in her own apartment, or anywhere else. She felt a sense of vigor, of enlightenment, as if the collective wisdom within all these storied pages hung in the air, waiting to be inhaled. This was why she never missed a chance to come by on Sundays.

Stuffing herself in her favorite leather lounger (quite possibly the most comfortable chair in the world), amidst piles of paperbacks and hardcovers, Tess looked up from her book and watched her father, seated at his desk a few feet away and attending to a soup bowl. Funny, he never lets me eat in here, she thought. Tess pretended to read as she noticed the spoon quaking within his fingers, spilling its contents back into the bowl. He put the spoon down resignedly and attended to the surface pano embedded in his desk.

How many Sundays will I have left with him?

“Everything all right, Daddy? Chowder too salty?”

Richard Larkin replied without looking up. “You’re thirty now, Tess. You can call me Dad, Papa, whatever. Just something, anything other than Daddy.”

Tess tried again, with feeling. “Dearest Patriarch, how is the homemade bowl of clam chowder that I slaved over for you?”

He sighed but not without a subtle smile. “Dad will do,” he said, returning focus to his pano without commenting on the soup. Tess noticed the bowl was still nearly full. Must be stone cold by now, she thought. Does he notice?

She went back into her book (Leonora, the constable’s daughter, longed for Sergio, the pirate captain – but he’d rejected her for the high seas), as she kept one eye on her father. He struggled with the pano – his fingers, so nimble and sure when he picked up his guitar, lingered lost in the air. He dropped his hands to his lap, defeated.

“Tessa, help,” he said quietly.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, trying to sound chipper and nonchalant. She set down her book and took the few steps over in a no-big-deal pace.

“I’m trying to get to the news and this dang thing won’t let me.”

She reached around from behind and cradled his wrists. “Ok, not a problem. Just wave this hand to the right to open your favorite sites, like that. Now point to the site you want. ABCBS News is the third link down; I think you like that one? Good – now, to cycle through stories just move this finger, like you’re flicking something. There you go.”

“Thank you, I’ve got it now.”

“Here to help,” she said, still chipper. A fleeting memory jumped at her – her ninth birthday, the first time her dad had bought a pano and showed her how to use it. He hadn’t been as patient, Tess remembered.

After a few more pages into Leonora’s yearning tale, she saw him struggling again. “If you’re looking for the crossword, just draw the letter C in the air.”

“Ah.” Richard followed her instruction. Soon he was working his daily puzzle, locked in, forefingers in a confident dance as he spelled out the various clues. Some skills, like reflexes, never dwindled.

He asked casually, without looking over, “Honey, where’s Bruin?”

“The cat?” She tried to find a positive way to say it, but if he’d forgotten that Bruin had been gone for years that was more devastating than a difficulty in handling a soup spoon and trouble with pano controls. She fought the recurrent urge to take him by the shoulders and shake him, as if she could jostle the memories back. Maybe he’d remember burying Bruin in the yard, or that he still placed fresh gravel over his resting place each year.

“Oh, Daddy…”

But Richard broke out in a sheepish grin, waving his hand as if to say Eh, I was just fuckin with you.

“Dad, don’t ever – Jesus, don’t ever do that again.” Now she wanted to shake him for a different reason. Tears welled in her eyes.

His smile vanished. “Oh, look…I’m sorry, sweetheart. You’re right. It’s just, I need to keep a sense of humor about some things.” When she didn’t look at him, all he could say was, “Please don’t cry like that.”

“I’m serious. I won’t come over anymore.”

They both knew she was lying. “You love it here, and you know it,” Richard said.

She could not deny it, but every time he forgot something, her heart broke a little more. Pretending to forget was somehow worse.

Tess picked up her PanoPad – time to let Leonora’s pirate-pining go for a while, and check in on work.

Some minutes later, after a completed crossword – and probably the quote acrostic, by now – her father piped up again. “Any men in your life I should know about?”

Tess rolled her eyes his way, making sure he registered her derision.

“Whoa,” he said with a laugh, “sorry for caring. What’s got you so busy that I won’t meet my first grandchild in the foreseeable future?”

“Do you have to bring this up every time?” She squirmed with obvious unease, though the question didn’t really bother her as much anymore – anytime he was engaged and lively, even at her expense, was fine by her. As for her dating and any potential reproduction, she had a valid excuse – there simply was no time, not on Speaker Cunningham’s watch.

She held up her PanoPad. “If you must know, right now I’m reading through some White House petitions.”

“But you don’t work for the White House, Tessa,” her father said, then paused. “Right?”

“Right, I work for the Speaker of the House. But part of being an Assistant Policy Director is finding new ideas. I check out these petitions from time to time and see if there’s anything we can run with. This is one of the few places where anyone in the country can propose a new law, or push to strike down an existing one. And if a petition gets enough signatures, the White House has to craft an official response – no matter what.”

“How does the Speaker feel about you combing through sites devoted to the Executive Branch? And…what’s his name again?”

“Cunningham. He’d hit the roof of the Capitol Building if he knew about it, actually.”

“Careful, Tessa. I hope you’re not putting your career in jeopardy.”

“I don’t think it’s quite that dire. Most of these petitions are pretty self-serving and small, but some are worth a read.”

“Pardon my second cousin? Legalize whatever drug I just got busted with?”

She smiled. He hadn’t been this animated in weeks. Tess referred to these moments as Lucid Time, those fleeting periods when her father was himself again – inquisitive, to the point of combative. His thirst for knowledge was an urgent one.

“Some petitions can be more off-the-wall. Here’s one: ‘Require the president to appear in Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby.’ It has over five thousand signatures. He’s big, but I heard Granger had two left feet when it came to sports. Oh, they want him to appear mainly so he’d be tested for PEDs beforehand. I guess that’s clever. Another one you’d like: ‘Issue a statement demanding the restoration of Milo Georgino’s Snark! account, revoked unfairly by social media fascists who take bomb threats too seriously.’ Eight thousand signatures for that one.”

“Democracy in action,” Richard Larkin declared.

Tess scrolled down her pano, looking for more examples while he was still engaged, a narrow window that could close at any moment. “Oh, you’ll like this one: ‘Introduce an amendment to the Constitution, one that nullifies the Constitution.’

“Ambitious, that one.”

“Whoever wrote this must be a first-year law student,” she observed, and started reading. “‘Herewith, on the occasion of the two-hundred-and-seventy-sixth year of its creation, we the people request proposal and passage of a Constitutional Amendment, and that this Amendment shall strike down the constraints of those who may lord over us, so that Natural Law and not our so-called elected representatives shall govern this nation.’”

“Natural Law, I think they’re on to something – I’ve always thought the trees should be in charge, myself.”

“I don’t think that’s what they mean. There’s more, if you want to hear it?”

His face changed. “That’s ok. You get back to what you were doing.” In a flash, he’d gone back to a distant stare – as if someone pushed a reset button and he was still booting up.

More like powering down, Tess thought.

Richard Larkin returned to his cold soup, listlessly stirring his spoon.

“I guess it’s not entirely crazy,” Tess said. “The Amendment thing, I mean.” But he was lost again, Lucid Time another runaway memory.

Tess thumbed through other petitions. A handful stood out as halfway plausible. A proposal for a New Orleans Dam Project. A request to further incentivize Automated Vehicles. A demand to prosecute the company that manufactured faulty pano battery casings.

But her mind kept going back to the Amendment petition. Apart from whatever Natural Law implied, was it really so crazy? Tess knew as well as anyone how ridiculous the system had become – Speaker Cunningham and his petty, backbiting politics a prime example. The original Constitution had created a beacon of freedom in its beginning, but all Tess knew was a nation torn apart by infighting and civil war. Had the country become broken enough that it required questioning its sacred foundation?

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