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Black Gold and Other Sundries

Mara Lithaen

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John Reese, President pro tem of the Plains Federation, sat down behind his desk with a weary sigh, rubbing his temples gently with both calloused hands. At least they got the air conditioning units replaced, he thought with a touch of gratitude. The Capitol building had been sitting unused and falling into disrepair since the fall of the United States a few years prior, and not all of the furnishings had survived; among the casualties were the AC and the technology that the Plains Federation didn't yet have the skills to replace.


A knock at his door made him look up, laying his hands on the table and straightening his back. "Come on in." he said, and the door opened to reveal his tiny Vice President, Anna Kennedy, with SecState and the Secretary of the Treasury following her. John glanced at his watch, surprised by what it told him. "It is that time, isn't it... Please, sit." he said, gesturing to the seats circling the coffee table in front of his desk.


Anna, at five foot even, could only just make her feet touch the floor when she sat down on the overstuffed cushion of her chair seat. She was the youngest of the assembled group at twenty-five, but John already had her pegged as someone with absolutely no awareness of what her age was supposed to dictate she do, and much of the Plains Federation's groundwork had been laid by her and her compatriots in the Civil Unification Party. Her red hair and wire rimmed glasses made her dangerously underestimatable, as some of John's more unfortunate colleagues had already discovered.


By contrast, Jerry Montfort, Treasury Secretary pro tem, was a man of fifty two with more gray in his hair than brown. He was tall and broad shouldered, looking like he would be more comfortable as the oil field worker he had once been than as the manager of an entire nation's funding. But he hadn't been chosen out of a hat; before the Collapse, he had gone from working for one of the major energy companies in Oklahoma to starting his own, showing a large profit within a year of drilling their first well. There was little he did not understand about the inner workings of the economy.


Alexander Harrington, on the other hand, was a figure John didn't know quite as well. He cut a striking and memorable figure at six foot three, broad-shouldered and powerful looking, with gray eyes and silver at his temples, where it had taken over from a shock of blond hair that was just on the proper side of unruly. He was a relative newcomer to the power structure of the fledgeling Federation, despite holding the lofty post of Secretary of State.


John cleared his throat. "Well lady and gentlemen, what have you discovered for me this fine evening?" he asked.


Anna spoke first. "Mr. President, the Secretary of the Treasury has jurisdiction over the Natural Resource Development Board, as you know," she said, pausing for a moment, and then continuing when John gave a nod of acknowledgement. "It seems they've found something rather... interesting, regarding the events surrounding the Collapse." she said, and looked at Montfort. "Jerry?" she inquired, and he nodded once before speaking.


"As the Vice President was saying, we've gotten reports from our inspectors regarding reports they have received about oil wells and pit mines suddenly... well, refilling, for lack of a better phrase. "he said, and hurried on at the President's raised eyebrow. "Such as wells that have been empty for twenty years suddenly gushing thousands of gallons into the air like it was the day they'd been drilled. Our geological teams have used ground-penetrating radar around these sites and... well, the wells are full again. They can't explain it, and neither can the experts I've called in on it."


John blinked, a momentary look of surprise crossing his features. He schooled his expression back into line, taking a deep, but well controlled, breath before he spoke again. "That's... certainly a good turn of luck for us, I suppose." he said, and thought a moment before meeting each of their eyes. "A very good bit of luck indeed." he said, and allowed the faintest hint of a smile onto his face as he did so. "I trust you're taking care of this with your usual stellar efficiency, Jerry?" he asked drily."


"Of course, Mr. President."


"And that's where SecState comes in, Mr. President." Anna piped up. "We imagine we can set up good deals with our new neighbors for export of refined and crude products. It should be quite the massive boon to our economy."


Harrington nodded. "Indeed. With a bit of persuasion I should be able to leverage our new liquidity -" he said with an ironic grin, "to create ties with our surrounding powers."


John smiled a bit wider. "Very good, Mr. Harrington! And very, very good on your peoples' parts, Jerry. See to it all the involved parties get an extra few vacation days and a sizable Christmas bonus, if we can swing such a thing. They deserve the reward."


Montfort nodded. "Will do, Mr. President."


"Is there anything else?" John asked, curiously.


"Not as of yet, Mr. President. " Anna stated after sharing a look with the other two.


"Very well then. I'll see you all at the Cabinet meeting on Thursday."


"Yes, Mr. President." "Until then, Mr. President."


After they left, John retrieved a bottle of scotch from inside his desk, along with a highball, poured himself a finger's worth of the thirty year old drink, and tossed it back.


"A good day indeed."

Edited by Mara Lithaen
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A week later, Vice President Kennedy and the SecState came knocking on John's door again. Given his permission to enter, they did so, with SecState Harrington holding a large manila folder in one hand, blazoned with the old seal of the State of Louisiana.


"Please be seated. What brings you to my office today?" President John Reese asked, mildly distracted by his Secretary of Defense's requisition of foreign armaments to form the backbone of the Army's light armored forces.


"Mr. President, I'm afraid I've got good news and bad news. Which would you prefer to hear first, sir?" Harrington asked diffidently.


"Might as well start with the bad, Alex. Give it to me straight." John said, moving his full attention to his Secretary of State.


"Two pieces of bad news: First, elections are coming up, but you already know that. Your prospects look good, but so do the Opposition's. Secondly, a major bandit raid just occurred in Kansas not an hour ago. The Army says they struck Wichita and casualties are in the hundreds at the minimum - on the civilian side. Uniformed casualties look to be higher. The bandits in question were disturbingly well-armed and coordinated, and we're still trying to track down where they came from and who they're commanded by." Harrington informed him, and John sat back heavily in his chair, rubbing his temples. When he looked up, there was a question burning in his eyes which was quickly voiced.


"Where the hell is the SecDef?"


"Secretary Williams is currently in the middle of an emergency meeting of the Joint Chiefs, who are putting together a strike package to deal with the bandits once we locate their base of operations, Mr. President." Harrington replied, and John fumed. But he didn't say anything of it, since the Secretary of Defense was doing no more than exactly what her job said she should do in the situation. Still, he'd have preferred to have heard it from the source rather than secondhand like this.


John sighed, sitting up a bit straighter. "And the good news?"


"Well, Mr. President, Louisiana has petitioned for provisional membership in the Federation..."

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  • 2 weeks later...

The knock that sounded from John's door this time surprised him because it was quiet, but more so because it was unexpected. His secretary hadn't alerted him about anyone coming to see him, so who -?


His questions answered themselves when, after a moment, the door levered open and the Vice President quietly stepped through the door and shut it equally silently behind her. She wasn't wearing her normal professional suit of fine French manufacture, but instead a strange, harness-point studded body glove, over which she wore a cinched coat. "Ms. Kennedy?" he questioned, eyebrows raising. "What brings you here at this late hour and dressed so... strangely?" he continued.


She walked over to him, a flash drive in hand, and set it on his desk. "I'm here to show you the reports we've gotten out of Illinois of late. Read them, then I'll happily tell you everything I can." she said, and Reese looked at her for a second, before nodding and taking the drive. She'd never steered him wrong before. He plugged it into the side of his personal laptop and brought that machine to life where it sat perched on his desk, and waited the few minutes for it to wake up and log in. He opened the files in the flash drive, and began watching and reading the reports and stolen video and a hundred and one other things which slowly added to his horror.


"This is growing in Springfield?" he asked her after making sure he could speak without losing his late dinner all over his keyboard. She nodded, and he sat heavily back in his chair. "What in God's name is this, Anna?" he asked, using her first name for only the sixth or seventh time since their meeting. She shrugged with a kind of helplessness that spoke volumes about where her mind was at now.


"I don't know, John." she said, returning the favor. "That last video, the one of those... those... things..." she said, trailing off, alluding to the massive demonic being that had so brutally killed the man who summoned him,"I've never seen anything, anything at all like that outside of a monster flick. Only, this one is all too real and all too... lethal." she said, and he waved her into a chair, which she sat in gratefully.


"Is there anything we can do about this?" he asked, and she bit her lip a moment before she nodded.


"Yes, there is. I've heard rumblings of other forces around the world mobilizing to fight this menace before it spreads... but as for what we can do about this ourselves?" she said, and she looked at her hands a moment, before looking back up at her President. "I... I've got a few old friends and favors I can call in. People I knew before I got all respectable, you know. They are very... talented and skilled. Headstrong, more than a bit violent, but good people, John. And I think they're our only hope."


"How many of them?" he asked


"Sixty, John." she replied.


"Only sixty? How can sixty people help us against... against... that?" he asked, turning his laptop around to show her the image of the Daemon once more.


Her lips thinned in what could charitably be called a smile. "Sixty was more than enough to bring the world to its knees, once upon a time."


His eyes widened, and he looked at her for a long moment. "That was...?" he began to ask, and she held up her hand to stop him.


"Yes. And no, I won't answer questions about it. Do you want me to call them in, John?" she asked, a kind of pleading and longing in her eyes, like one who sees something familiar almost close enough to grasp but just out of reach, just needing a bit of help to make the final stretch and seize it.


He saw the look in her eyes, took one last look at the monster on his screen, and nodded.


"Do it."

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