Dr. Elizabeth Knoe had stayed out of the discussions up to now. She was in the bunker to administer the Vulcana, monitor the reactions and make sure nothing went wrong. She asked, “There seems to be a contradiction here that I don't understand. We've been denying the existence of Vulcana. Now we're about to reveal to the world we've been lying?”
They were sitting in the lounge area on cheap-but-comfortable furniture – all but the president, who had slipped away to another room to work on his speech. Ruth answered Dr. Knoe: “Not really, Liz. All we've ever said is that Al's book is fiction.
“While it might be technically true, at least they can say we've been misleading. The book is labeled satire, and that's certainly how it comes across.
“But Vulcana has existed all this time.”
“Vulcana's still in the research stage. It's never been put on the market. In fact, we should stop calling it Vulcana, which is simply the name we've given it in-house. Give it a number or something. How about Love Potion Nr. 9?”
“Spoken like a lawyer, Ruth, a smartass lawyer. But I doubt anybody will buy their argument.”
“A judge will – or should.”
“Ruth, what the president is doing will look like a commercial!”
“For something that's not on the market?”
“If it works the way it should, the way Al says in the book it should...”
“The way we know it can? Sure, Liz. What's your point?”
“That it would hurt your credibility.”
“My credibility? Who gives a crap anymore about my credibility? If Vulcana works? And the world is watching? Live? That's the credibility that matters.”
“What if it doesn't? Work, I mean? What if something goes wrong?”
“Always possible. Anything's possible.
“I mean, Morowitz could have a heart attack. Or a stroke, or God knows what. It might not have anything to do with Vulcana, but how could we prove it?
“That is the catch, isn't it.”
“The game would be over, Liz.”
“Hmmmm,” Dr. Knoe's tone was subdued, “How secure are we down here?”
“Depends on how loyal the Marines upstairs are,” said Joan Stonebraker. “If they want to get down here, they'll get down here. Otherwise nobody's getting down here.”
“I give them two days at the most,” Geddes said.
“Who's 'them'? Two days for what?”
“Before WACKO takes control of the government, Joan. If Morowitz doesn't start making sense in two days WACKO will gently urge the esteemed Quentin Kudlow to rally the cabinet and invoke the 25th Amendment. They'll hem and haw awhile, but I'd give them about a week and they'll agree to declare the president incapable of being president, whereupon the esteemed...”
“The esteemed idiot will not be a factor,” said Ruth.
“Forget him. Do you seriously believe Edith Glick would go along with putting that fool in the Oval Office?”
“She'd have no choice.”
Ruth reached out and pinched Geddes's cheek. “That remains to be seen, bubby.”
Geddes started to ask her what she meant, but saw the president standing in the room just inside the doorway. “Mr. President,” Geddes said, as he rose from his seat. The others shifted their bodies and began to follow suit, but Morowitz motioned them down.
“Don't get up, guys. We go by bunker rules down here. No formalities. I just wanted to let you know I think my speech is about ready. I have a couple questions for Dr. Knoe, but they can wait. You all are hungry, aren't you?”
He led them into a small kitchen where a tray of sandwich fixings sat on the counter. “Help yourselves. Soft drinks and bottled water in the fridge.” They ate standing at the counter. When they'd finished eating he led them into an adjacent room.
“Welcome to the bunker studio.” The room was paneled with acoustic material. A lectern bearing the presidential seal perched on a small dais in front of a navy blue curtain covering part of one wall. The only other indication they were in a sound studio was the minimal cluster of electronic equipment on a table opposite the lectern. Two people in the room were fussing with the equipment. One was a thin, dark-haired man who looked to be in his thirties. Everyone recognized the other, a startlingly attractive young women with a cloud of red hair who had been in their living rooms many an evening.
“May I introduce my son, Bradford,” Morowitz said, as the young man turned and squinted at the others. “Bradford is our engineer here. He's as good as they come. I assume you all know Charlotte Remora. She'll be introducing Ruth, who will then introduce me.
“Why don't you all have a seat. Make yourselves comfortable. We're about ready to start. Ruth?”
“Geoff, I...I look a mess. Can I have a few minutes?”
“Certainly, Ruth. But, really, you look fine. We want our constituents to see this the way it is, the reality of what we're doing, not some kind of hoked up performance.” He led Ruth to another door, which opened to a lavatory.
Joan Stonebraker turned to Geddes and Dr. Knoe. “I'm starting to get cold feet here. How about you guys?”
“I wish we had more time to talk it over with Morowitz,” said Geddes. “But it looks like he's thought it through. He can't change his mind now, anyway...” He whispered in Joan's ear, “not with her here.” He nodded toward Charlotte Remora, who was conversing with Morowitz and his son.
“You don't suppose he's told her?”
“Hard to say. She's no dummy, though.”
“I mean she must know something, if she's planning on staying here for the duration.”
“Good point. She'd almost have to.”
Ruth emerged from the lavatory, hair brushed and her face transformed by makeup.
“Well, as Jack Lemmon used to say when he stepped in front of the cameras,” she announced, “Magic time!”