The hearing on the national debt, the one Senator Flik Maynard was going to use to deliver his Big Speech and launch himself onto the national stage, was canceled because of World War III.
Even worse, he still had to get up early, and after a few rushed meetings with the Republican caucus and a quick lunch, his aide Tika was leading him through one of the tunnels in the Capitol to a secure briefing room.
“What’s this all about again?” he whined to Tika, who was a few steps ahead of him.
“We bombed China, remember?” Tika said patiently. “The National Security Council is briefing all the senators about it.”
Flik barely heard her as he sulked through all the tight little corridors under the Capitol building. When he was first down here, years ago now, it seemed interesting. The history, the ancient brick of the building covered in fresh, creamy paint. But now it was dull and boring and familiar to him, so he looked down and stared at Tika’s great ass as it led him through the maze.
“Oh, right,” Flik said to her ass. “The bombing. Well, that’s pretty important, so that’s good. We should have a briefing on that. But what about the debt hearing? Do you know when the might reschedule it? Later today maybe?”
“I doubt it,” she said. “We just bombed China. It’s a big deal. Like World War III, you know?”
This sucked. All day on this stupid stuff. Maybe all week, or all year or more. Another distraction. How the hell could he get people to pay attention to the debt again? It might take forever now.
These congressmen, these senators. They were always looking to spend more, just begging for some excuse to piss away more money. And now they’d have it again. War against China. That sounded expensive. Both the House and the Senate would probably end up passing a supplemental spending bill by the end of the week to cover the first few zillion dollars. And that would just be the start of it.
Even worse, hidden in these bills would be lots of other junk no one would ever bother to read. Expensive stuff. Like studies on the mating habits of tomatoes, and why babies cry when they’re hungry. Billions more out the door through a million little programs that no one would ever need.
And then, if the war ever ended and somehow we were finally in a position to cut spending, something else would get in the way. Another war. A recession. A manned mission to Jupiter or something.
“Flik, maybe you can ask how much this is going to cost,” Tika’s ass appeared to say to him. “The deficit always goes up even faster when there’s a war, right?”
Tika’s ass had a point there. Maybe this was still the right time to take a stand. Just when everyone was getting ready to blow past the limits again, he could make a big fuss about spending. Make the case for controlling it somehow.
His brain worked quickly to find ideas. Maybe he could insist on an audit of the spending as a condition for supporting it. Every three months, the feds would have to report on where the money was going, to help limit the waste. Or limit the available money somehow. Yeah, those were good ideas.
So here it is, Flik thought. The big moment is still right now. He would stop the process dead in its tracks in the name of fiscal responsibility.
More corridors, some stairs, more corridors. Tika guided Flik to the hearing room as he kept his eyes down on a screen he called up in his hand. He was buried in his notes, writing a set of remarks that would make history.
Soon enough he was sitting in a bright, clean room with what looked like most of the Senate. The senators, who knew nothing, got the best seats, nice and high and with plenty of legroom. From there, they would look down on the lowly National Security Council briefers, who knew everything.
All the newer senators, like Flik, sat lower down to the floor, but actually got to sit closer to the NSC briefers. Even after a few years, Flik thought it was weird, that the most powerful senators would want to sit furthest away from the witnesses.
Flik looked around until he saw Tika, who was sitting on the edge of the room with all the other staffers.
The room suddenly quieted down, and Majority Leader Mitchell Bullard, a crusty old goat from Virginia, turned on his microphone.
“Turn on the blender, please,” he said. To the right of Bullard, a staffer flipped on the blender, a device that really was, in part, a noisy blender than people would use to make frozen drinks. But it was much fancier than that, and it was combined with an old-school landline telephone and some other gadgetry that helped it emit a horrific squelching noise that prevented people from using their own sneaky technology to eavesdrop on the room, or transmit out of it. Nothing blocked the signals better, and turning it on guaranteed that none of the wireless equipment embedded in their heads, ears and wrists would be able to transmit or record anything said at the meeting.
“Gentlemen, thank you for coming on such short notice,” Bullard coughed into the microphone. Flik could almost diagnose him from the gurgling noises deep in his throat. “We all have busy days ahead of ourselves, so if you would please begin.”
At the table below Flik, a faint light glowed in front of a short man in a tan suit with greasy brown hair that hung down to his shoulders. He was wearing thick glasses, and sat as still as a stone as he waited for the hearing to start.
Flik didn’t like this guy already. No one wore glasses anymore, no one needed to. Everyone’s eyes were fixed at about the same time their teeth were adjusted, around 11 years old. Wearing glasses was an affectation that was meant to impress people somehow, or send some kind of message. I was poor growing up. I’m special. Something like that. Flik hated it, and then the guy started talking.
“Thank you, senators. I’m Levi Raffets, deputy national security adviser,” he said. “At about 3 a.m. this morning, the Dawson administration launched a pre-emptive conventional strike campaign against the People’s Republic of China.”
“Those of you on the Select Intelligence Committee will recall the several skirmishes between the U.S. and China in the Open Asia Sea, what we used to call the East China Sea,” he said. “Those skirmishes included four encounters with some of our most advanced warships in the last six months. Until today, those events had been classified — today, they are part of our public rationale for our open declaration of war.”
“Over the last two weeks, Chinese ships have been ignoring our repeated warnings, and sought to claim several islands to the south and west of Nagaski, which belong to our protectorate, Japan,” Raffets continued. “These include the islands of Fukue and Nakadori and everything that lies between them, Shimo-Koshiki Island, and Yakushima.”
“As you know, China has already had effective control of Okinawa for years now, ever since our active military operations ended in Japan in 2041,” he said.
“At any rate, these new incidents, China’s flouting of the undisputed territorial rights of South-South Korea, and its refusal to be tamed by two waves of sanctions warranted immediate…”
“Son, that’s all fine,” Bullard grumbled from the back of the room. “What is it you want from us? Do you need a declaration of war, and if so, how soon?”
“No, sir,” Raffets said quickly. “The articles in the Emergency Asia Safety and Security Act of 2037 are still potent for six more years. That means we have all the authority we need.”
“How about men? Equipment?”
Raffets took off his glasses and started cleaning them as he answered. Flik figured maybe the grease from his hair was smudging the lenses.
“Sir, as you know, every stage of a modern war is handled remotely. Precision orbital bombs, the landing of completely mechanized troops, the seizure of infrastructure by computer code,” he said. “At no point are U.S. troops involved here.”
“China’s just sitting there, taking all that?” another big-bellied lawmaker asked.
“No,” Raffets said. “China has fought back in all conventional forms. We’ve bombed 17 cities, seized effective control in six of those so far, and have either repelled or withstood the sino-counterattacks we’ve encountered so far. No contact with the Chinese government yet, but we expect after a few more cities…”
“So you don’t need approval, men or equipment,” Bullard belched. “You’re just telling us about it, keeping us informed? Pretending to cooperate with us?” A bunch of senators sitting next to Bullard laughed.
“That’s right, sir,” Raffets said solemnly.
A tiny noise in Flik’s ear alerted him that Tika was trying to get his attention. He looked over, and she said “money” in a low voice that transmitted into his ear.
Money? Oh, right, how much would this cost.
Flik stole a few glances around the room. Christ, what the hell did he know about protocol in these meetings? No one else seemed particularly interested in the hearing. From Bullard’s cues, senators were supposed to just sit back and pretend it’s all cool.
Was this how war was waged? A bunch of ancient senators being told by some unelected guy who weighs 70 kilogams that we’re now at war with China, and no one has any questions?
Flik looked around the room again. Several senators were whispering to themselves, laughing at some inside joke or another. Bullard looked like he was ready for lunch, and Raffets was already packing up his papers.
Flik turned on his microphone and spoke into it.
“How much is this all going to cost us?” Flik said, his voice booming through the chamber. The sound of it surprised even him. He backed away from the mike and repeated the question at a lower volume. “What’s the price tag for all this?”
It took Raffets a few seconds to look far down enough the row of seats to find Sen. Flik Maynard, Republican of New Hampshire, the freshman who dared to speak. Then he looked up again at Bullard, and Flik could see in his eyes that he was silently asking Bullard, “Do I really have to answer this guy?”
But Bullard was already ordering a late lunch off the personal screen in front of him, and wasn’t even paying attention anymore. Raffets drew from a reservoir of patience he stored up for just these situations, and cast his gaze back down the row of seats to answer.
“We… haven’t had time to run a budget analysis at this time, and won’t be able to do so for several days, until we have full reporting from the assets we’ve deployed,” Raffets said as cheerfully as he could. “There are also costs associated with simply activating the military infrastructure in this way, and implied costs of ongoing operations, costs associated with replenishing used assets…”
“I would like a full report on cost estimates from this action, based on the assumption that the war lasts two years,” Flik interrupted. Was he barking at this NSC snot? He might have been, but he didn’t care. The whole thing sickened him.
“And I want it in a week,” he added.
Now even Bullard had looked up from his menu and watching the show. Technically, there were rules for being recognized in these briefings, but then again, technically Congress was supposed to declare war first, so no one seemed to be giving much thought to the rules today.
Bullard hated everyone from the NSC anyway, so he didn’t care. He let Raffets squirm for a bit, and enjoyed the way he was trying to find a way out of the situation. Then he put his foot down.
“Do you think you can get us that information by Friday, Mr. Raffets?” Bullard asked. He would have said, “Could you get that information for Senator Maynard by Friday,” but he had no idea who Flik Maynard was.
“Of course, Mr. Majority Leader,” Raffets answered. Raffets seemed relieved to answer Bullard. It was at least better than answering the pissy little junior senator. Raffets was actually smiling now, playing up to Bullard and indirectly showing his contempt for Flik.
“Thank you, and thank you Senator… Maynard for your question,” Bullard said after consulting a seating chart.
“I thank the Majority Leader,” Maynard replied as he sat up straight in his chair. Now was his big chance. “As all of us here know, many say the debt is too big to fight, an insurmountable obstacle. But we don’t need to resolve this problem in one day. We can remove the obstacle brick-by-brick, and all the while…”
“I said ‘thank you,’ Senator Maynard, and by that I mean, ‘shut the fuck up, I’m late for lunch,’” Bullard said. He banged down the gavel and some of the older senators near him were laughing.
Flik looked down at Raffets and saw him laughing along with his aides. He was wiping his glasses again. Another empty gesture. This guy was just full of empty gestures. Probably the report he’d hand in would be empty too. Big words, no useful information.
Raffets finished cleaning his glasses then looked directly at Flik. Still smiling, he gave Flik a wink.
Greaseball. Well, at least he owed the Senate a report. It was something.