Oath of Office – Chapter 1

So, here’s a kind of fun but yet serious story I’ve sort of been working on between other major stories. It’s just a chapter for the moment, but if you like it, leave me a comment and tell me you want to read more!

1. Breach & Clear

“Honey?” Virginia whispered in my ear as she shook my shoulder.

“Wazza?” I asked sleepily, letting go of the slim island woman’s waist as the Caribbean jazz fusion faded into the rustling of covers and the slightest of muffled noises.

“Alex, wake up,” my wife whispered again, this time more urgently. “I think there’s someone outside.”

“Probably some fuckin’ protester assholes,” I mumbled, desperate to resume my conga line dance even if it wasn’t with my wife of twenty years. “You have my permission to shoot them.” I rolled over on my side and closed my eyes.

“Dammit, Alex, I’m serious!” she hissed, giving my shoulder one final rough shove.

“Okay, okay, sheesh,” I said then wiped the drool from the corner of my mouth. “It’s probably the cats and they see another cat outside.”

I rolled my legs onto the floor and stared into the darkness for a moment as if my slippers might suddenly glow softly so I could find them. I huffed a sigh and gingerly tiptoed barefoot toward the bedroom door, praying I avoided any number of obstacles that might make me erupt in a high-pitched scream of vulgar profanity.

I silently pulled the partially-opened bedroom door back, immediately feeling the brief sensation of fur on my bare ankles twice. I waited until I felt a third before taking another step. Stepping on one of our three cats in the middle of the night was only slightly more pleasant and slightly less heart-stopping than feeling my foot slide through a puddle of cold, slimy, chunky feline vomit.

I paused for a moment after hearing a series of strange sounds. The noises were muffled but my brain tried to interpret them as two-way radios. I shook my head and walked to the living room window to look out. The exact instant my mind tried to piece together why an army of police cars were outside our home was the exact instant what seemed like an Anti-Terror Special Operations Unit burst through every possible opening into the house.

“GET DOWN!” screamed at least seventy thousand voices all at once.

The shouts coincided with at least ten thousand hands grabbing me in unison to pull me away from the window and down into the basement. I heard Virginia shriek and winced, then cringed and made a sour face at the dozen faces within inches of mine when my wife began to verbally assault whoever these assholes were. I stayed quiet since it was hard to take a breath with eight hundred pounds of human arms and elbows pinning me in place.

Not Virginia. She threatened them with every legal statute in both the Idaho and Federal law books for unlawful entry, illegal search, and some I had never even heard of all while inserting cutting, profane nicknames for her assailants without ever repeating the same one twice. I was pretty good at swearing and reading the riot act to people, but I was a Sesame Street skit compared to Virginia Caroline Johnson.

“Alex?” she shouted as the invaders dragged her downstairs. “Alex!”

“Hoooar,” I said, the strength of my intended shout crushed into a mediocre expulsion of breath and vocal noises.

“Let me go you fucking suited dickhead!” Virginia screeched, followed by the sound of one of her hands getting free long enough to either slap or punch someone.

“Calm down, Mrs. Johnson!” a sharp voice said, cutting through the chaos.

The hands and arms holding me in place immediately retracted, their owners standing straight at attention while also parting so Virginia could rush into my arms. She was furious, her face streaked with tears, the damp armpits of the too-long shirt she wore as pajamas standing out in the dim light from upstairs. The faceless suited bodies parted once again so another man in a suit could stand before us.

I held Virginia while my mind leaped to the conclusion that my constituents had formed a mob with lawyers and bankers to break into our house and execute us for some imagined immoral tragedy I’d plagued the good people of Idaho’s 3rd Congressional District with. After taking an extra second to stare at the clean-cut, square-jawed man in a perfectly tailored black suit, I realized these men and women were Federal Marshals at the minimum, Secret Service agents at worst. I tried to remember if I’d posted a death threat toward the president on Twitter or Facebook in the last few weeks. I quickly tossed that idea since Virginia would have skinned me alive for such a transgression after winning a seat in the United States House of Representatives. I also immediately rejected the idea that my wife was either the ringleader for a counterfeit currency gang, or having an affair with the leader of such a gang.

“Alexander Hamilton Johnson?” the man in front of us asked me.

“Yes,” I said, my voice sounding like a creaky hinge.

“Virginia Caroline Johnson?” he asked my wife. She nodded. He returned his gaze back to me. “Congressman Johnson, my name is Agent David Potter of the Secret Service.”

I looked at him with fear, my thoughts ramping back up with the crazy idea my wife had done something illegal enough to involve the Secret Service. Agent Potter gave me a grim smile then handed me a piece of paper.

“Sir, please read that then follow along as Chief Justice Graham administers the oath of office,” Potter said.

I couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. I couldn’t tell if I was dreaming or not, to be honest. I nodded as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world for a platoon of agents to burst into my home in the middle of the night.

“What the hell is going on?” Virginia asked at a volume loud enough to make the agents around her shy back before quickly resuming their professional skills at becoming human statues.

“You haven’t heard?” Agent Potter asked in surprise.

“No we haven’t heard, goddammit,” Virginia yelled. “You crash through our doors and windows at, at what time?”

“3:14 A.M., Mountain Standard Time,” Potter said after looking at his watch.

“At goddamn three in the morning!”

“You don’t have your phone ringers on?” Potter asked, the slightest hint of a smile at the corners of his mouth. I was pretty sure it would lead to my wife trying to slug the man if he didn’t wipe it off by his next breath.

“We live in Idaho!” Virginia shouted. “Nothing happens here except dumbasses who think it’s funny to prank call us at all hours now that Alex is a congressman!”

“This is no prank, Mrs. Johnson,” said a new voice.

More bodies parted and a harried old man shuffled through the tight corridor of black suits to stand next to Agent Potter. I smiled, though I’m not sure why, at seeing Idaho’s Supreme Court Chief Justice staring back at me as if I were an alien—or just a bug in a jar that he’d caught. I almost laughed when I imagined him shaking the jar while I banged around the inside after rebounding off the glass.

“Justice Graham?” my wife asked. It sounded like she finally woke up and realized neither of us were dreaming.

“Yes, ma’am,” Justice Graham said without a trace of friendliness. “Congressman Johnson, are you prepared to take the oath of office?”

“We need to hurry, sir,” Potter added after looking around nervously, as if ISIS had a suicide bomber speeding down our street toward the house.

“Oath?” I asked, dumbfounded. “What oath? What the hell is going on?”

“Sir,” Potter said, his expression changing to one that parents used on stubborn children. “Please take the oath and we can explain everything on the way to the airport.”

“Airport?” I asked. I looked at my wife. She shrugged, but at least her anger had drained. “Wait. Wait just a goddamn minute,” I said angrily. “Why the hell aren’t you kicking in the door of someone higher up the succession chain? Where the hell is the… what’s it called?” I asked, looking at Virginia for help about something I should have known since I was now a U.S. Congressman.

“The ‘Designated Survivor,’” she said, glaring at Potter. “Isn’t it supposed to be Senator Lane?”

“Mrs. Johnson,” Potter said, then looked at me. “Sir, Senator Lane expired from a heart attack less than five minutes after being sworn in. Now, if you’ll please hurry…”

“Please repeat after me,” Justice Graham said before anyone else could open their mouths. I nodded and placed my shaking hand on the bible a woman held toward me. “‘I, Alexander Hamilton Johnson, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States—’”

I stared at the older man for what felt like an hour until he scowled at me and motioned with his hand for me to repeat his words.

“I, Alexander Hamilton Johnson, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States,” I said, my voice shaking along with my entire body.

What the fuck? is what I wanted to say. Shout, actually.

“‘—and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,’” Justice Graham said.

“—and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” I said.

“Go go go!” Agent potter shouted.

“What th—” was all I could get out before a thousand hands grabbed me and hustled me back upstairs, Virginia right behind us with an army of hands guiding her as well.

“Sir, get dressed in something comfortable but direct Agent Lively as to where your suits are so she may collect them,” Potter said once we reached the bedroom. He turned to Virginia. “Ma’am, same thing. Direct Agent Heaton to your professional wardrobe while you get dressed in something comfortable.”

“Are we going to the Bahamas to give a speech?” Virginia asked.

The glint in her eye said she wanted to lash out at the man giving us orders, but her body language predicted she might collapse at any moment from the sheer unexpectedness of her husband taking the presidential oath in the living room.

“No, ma’am,” Potter said, refusing to let his face show even a trace of amusement. “But it’s a thirty minute drive to the airport in Twin Falls, and then a three hour flight to Chicago. Then possibly to Salt Lake City, Portland, or Albuquerque.”

I squeezed Virginia’s arm to silently let her know to do whatever the man said.

“Why Chicago, and why the three choices?” I said after sitting on the bed. “Are we at war or something?”

I pulled on a pair of cotton socks to let him know I was doing as commanded. I had a sudden urge to command him instead and tell him we weren’t doing diddly-shit until someone told us what the fuck was going on.

“Mr. President,” Potter said after nodding in satisfaction that we were both getting dressed, “less than two hours ago, a light rain began to fall over the northeast corridor. Somehow the rain has killed everyone along the entire eastern seaboard. The devastation is over a two hundred mile long area from south of D.C. to somewhere between Philadelphia and New York City. We’ll have more details once we get aboard Air Force 2.”

“What?” I said. I stopped putting my second leg in my jeans. “Rain?”

Potter waved at me to hurry up. I struggled with the zipper on the pants as my mind churned over his words. A thunderstorm destroyed the eastern seaboard the morning of the presidential inauguration? I took Potter’s words to mean that something catastrophic had happened, but I couldn’t believe that it had been so bad as to fly out to central Idaho and swear in the lowest ranking member of Congress—a joke candidate at that—as the new President of the United States of America.

“We’re still waiting on confirmation of exactly what is happening, Mr. President,” the woman who held the bible during my oath said. “I’m Special Agent Kira Thurmond, FBI. I guess at this moment I’m the acting director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Until two hours ago, I was the director of the Los Angeles Field Office.”

“Uh, welcome aboard, I guess?” I asked. I shook her hand after slipping an arm into a comfortable t-shirt. “What’s this about a thunderstorm?”

“I’m not a meteorologist,” she said with a grim smile.

I assumed the smile was to make me feel at ease while the lack of any actual information was to make me hurry the hell up. The rest of the agents in my house visibly bristled with impatience. If any of them knew the story of how I’d won a seat in the U.S. Congress, they’d probably feel like slugging me a few times on my way out the door.

“Okay, whatever,” I said, taking a coat from Virginia as she walked by. I followed her through the door and into the living room. “What’s going on?”

The agents hustled us outside into the freezing winds of the Snake River Plain to a fleet of black Ford Crown Victoria sedans surrounded by what had to be every cop car in southern and central Idaho. Once we were seated in the back of the closest vehicle, two dozen cars and SUVs accelerated at breakneck pace toward the airport.

“Mr. President,” Agent Potter said after turning himself around in the front seat to look at us. “I’m sorry to tell you this, but as of 1:03 A.M. your time, 11:03 P.M. Eastern Time, it seems a two hundred mile long by sixty mile wide area from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia has been completely wiped out. From what we have been told by those close to the region, there’s something in the rain that seems to have killed every human being who wasn’t in full MOPP gear.”

“This is a joke, right?” I asked. “You guys saw something I said on social media and the president-elect or even President Turner put you up to this to scare us, right? Or scare me, at least. Or is this some kind of freshman congressman initiation?”

“This is not a joke, sir,” Potter said. “There’s worldwide panic right now. Reports are coming in that fires are starting to spread through dense city blocks. The military has ordered at least twenty drones to fly through the corridor to give us a real-time picture of exactly what is happening.”

“Wait,” Virginia said, holding up a hand while shaking her head in disbelief. “You’re saying that the entire corridor between D.C. and Philadelphia has been wiped out? That everyone is dead?”

“We don’t know yet, ma’am,” Potter said, his grim expression reflected the harsh green glow of the Ford’s dash lights. “The death toll is the worst in D.C. and Baltimore. So far. We’ll have drones and surveillance planes and satellites scouring the area, but the unknown yet lethal nature of it is making it very hard to gather intel. Twenty minutes ago a FEMA team suited up in hazmat gear and are now heading into D.C. from the west.

“Within an hour a team from the U.S. Army will arrive. Their specialty is chemical, biological, and nuclear warfare, and they have the gear and equipment to both help FEMA and whatever other agencies you direct to head to ground zero find out what’s happened, as well as provide security to any buildings containing classified documents, communications, or information systems. You will need to get with whomever is the highest ranking member of the military still alive and get this done for every city in the corridor.”

I was silent for a few minutes, letting Potter’s words sink in. I tried to imagine a boiling, black, deadly squall line over D.C., raining death down on top of everyone and everything, melting through the hardest substances as if it were plasma straight out of a nuclear furnace. None of it made sense. I decided I was still dreaming. It wouldn’t be the first time I had dreamed of waking up only to realize sometime later that I was still dreaming.

For a joke candidate and lifelong stoner, it was some Inception-level shit. The fact Virginia and I were now POTUS and FLOTUS and racing toward Air Force 2 on the tarmac of the largest airport in rural southern Idaho made it all the more likely I would wake up and swear off getting high right before bed in the future.

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