Charlotte Remora's attitude morphed through several faces as she sat with the others. Professional blank initially, to conceal her rage at losing exclusivity for her station within minutes of airing quite likely the century's hottest story. Startled next to realize her mouth was hanging open and she'd forgotten to breathe as the full import of President Morowitz's disaster established itself in the room. Finally her camera-ready complexion betrayed from beneath by the clammy pallor of helpless fear, which reflected a growing despair shared by the small group.
They were slumped on the studio's folding chairs. All but Dr. Knoe, who sat tending the president on his cot in the alcove, and Brad Morowitz, dutifully manning the camera for the record and whatever outlets remained tapped into the feed. The sound was off, so the feed carried little more than a still frame of an unconscious president. Even Dr. Knoe for the most part remained outside the view. It seemed to Remora that although Ruth Rose looked as worried as everyone else she'd become by default the center of gravity in the room. Something in her comportment, an implicit poise manifested so far as Remora could see only by a tilt of the head, as if the former president was leading with her chin and daring anyone to take a shot. Ruth's presence mitigated for Remora a creeping sense of claustrophobia. Nonetheless, she suspected that were it not for her appreciation of the irony of being the only news reporter trapped in the eye of the cataclysm she would spontaneously atomize to a mist of shrieking terror. As it was, she joined warily with the others in the frozen surrender of supplicants. Other than slight movements when Ruth and Joan Stonebraker occasionally reached outside the bunker via their cellphones the small group resembled mannequins in a department store window.
“Can I have my phone back, Joan?”
“Sorry, Charlotte, it's not a secure phone.”
“You had no problem when I used it before.”
“That was before the White House had a chance to sic the NSA on us. As it is we have to talk in code on ours.”
“Who you talking to?”
“Oh, sorry. I guess that's why you're Secret Service.”
“OK, OK. So can you tell us how they're reacting? In the White House?”
“They're in shock. Like us.”
“So I would imagine are most people, in the country. The world, maybe.”
Ruth, holding a cellphone to her ear, broke in, “We got a real problem”.
“No shit.” Several voices.
“Kudlow and Edie are down. Both of them acting like they've taken Vulcana.”
“What?” Several voices, with Al Geddes's the loudest. Ruth winked at him. He nodded.
“Both of them at the Gridiron dinner tonight. Somebody must've spiked the drinks. There must've been at least a couple WACKO people there.”
“WACKO? Why would WACKO knock out Kudlow? I mean Glick, sure, but Kudlow would do whatever WACKO wanted. He's a lapdog.”
“Maybe she's hiding. God, I hope so. Nobody knows where Homer Twining is either. He's next in line. And Marie, Marie Crispin's out of the country. Jeezus I hope Geoff pulls out of this OK. Anything, Liz?”
Dr. Knoe slowly shook her head. Ruth rose, folded her chair and carried it into the alcove. Geddes followed, shaking his head at Charlotte Remora as she started out of her chair. He smiled and held a finger up, hoping she would understand this as a temporary restraining gesture. She rolled her eyes and sank back onto her chair. Joan Stonebraker took over then and engaged the TV reporter in quiet conversation.
Geddes had the odd sensation as he entered the alcove that he was approaching a bier, except the aroma was more scatalogical than floral. The light was low, and Dr. Knoe's strained face and slumped shoulders might easily have been mistaken for a mourner's at visitation. She glanced quickly at Ruth and Geddes, and turned back to the curled, silent form in front of her. Morowitz was motionless except for the slow, barely perceptible movement of his shallow, soundless breathing. Geddes waved a hand back and forth as an effort to diffuse the malodorous effluvia that grew stronger the further he moved into the cramped enclosure.
“Dr. Knoe tilted her head toward the cot, smiling tolerantly. “Presidential gas.”
“Jeezus, I hope mine was never that rank,” said Ruth. “Anything you can do?”
“For the gas? Nope. Not unusual, though, when the metabolism slows down. Digestion takes longer, gets more complex.”
“I meant for him. Politicians are always gaseous.”
“I'm not sure. Haven't seen anything like this yet, not even with the mice.”
“Do you think he took too much?”
“I don't think so. I suppose Pink might've doubled the dosage accidentally, but I don't know how that could have happened. Our equipment is state of the art, and we follow procedure rigorously.”
“Never happened before?”
“Maybe in the beginning, during development, when we were testing different strengths. Pink's still working on variations, but I'm sure he gave me the standard version for this.”
“Could it be he's just having a bad trip? I mean, this has LSD in it, doesn't it?”
“Yes it does, Al. But if this is a bad trip it's the worst one I've ever seen. He's unconscious. I think.”
“I've tried talking to him, even touching him. I've gotten no reaction. None at all, other than that his eyeballs are fluttering. That's an indication of anxiety. But he could simply be in so deep a catatonic state he's retreated completely into his head.”
“What do you do for LSD, for a bad trip?”
“That depends. If it's anxiety, a sedative can help. But I don't know what's going on here. A sedative slows the metabolism. His is so slow right now a sedative could stop his heart. If he's in an anxiety state in his head, an amphetamine could cause irreversible psychological damage.”
“We wait. I don't know what else to do right now.”
“Hey, you guys!”
“The Secret Service and Bart Gladstone are meeting with the attorney general. They're talking like they think there's a coups.”
“Oh, shit.” This from Ruth. “I suppose it is, though, technically. Jeez, I wish Morowitz would start babbling, or show any sign of life, for the camera. Do they know about...”
“They know about Kudlow and Edie. They think she's been drugged, too. And they have no idea where Twining is, thank God. They're trying to reach Marie Crispin. Secretary of state is next in line after the president pro tempore.”
“Jeezuz, c'mon, Geoff, say something!”
“They'll be coming after us now. How long can we hold out here, Brad?”
“Kitchen's stocked for a month, and six months after that if you can handle MREs.”
“Meals ready to eat. Lordy, I hope we're outta here before then, one way or the other.”
Geddes waved both hands back and forth over the farting president.