The General sits back, exhaling lightly. He is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff but is in the unenviable position of reporting to the greatest military strategist to sit in the Oval Office for the last hundred years. There had been snide remarks that Colloton had chosen him expressly to be weak, someone who would be easy to dominate but still look smart in a uniform for a photo op.
"So the last eight years you spent distancing us from Ares...?" he begins.
"Played well at the polls," the President answers, a wry smile puncturing her professional demeanor. "We had to secure the third term, which was especially fraught during the tricentennial. We needed to to be strong and firm to make sure the CAS didn't do something emotional like seize St. Louis. Now that the South has failed to rise again - for the 211th consecutive year - we can turn our attention west."
The Chairman looks confused. "I don't know of any operation intelligence which suggested that -"
The President waves him off. She enjoyed explaining things to man who was nominally her chief military strategist. "The Puebs and the Confederates were looking cozy, what with their united front against the Azzies. Then the Azzies secured their northern border - so they could put their full weight on Amazonia - by donating a piece of Texas to the Puebs. The Confederates wanted their historical territory back, the Puebs declined, and now the marriage is in shambles. That pushes the Confederates back into our arms, which means we not only have a secure southern flank but also a neighbor whose westward ambitions match our own."
"The Steamroller," the Chairman summarizes.
"I believe that's what we called it in the war games, yes. And that gives us latitude to singe the beard of the Sioux."
"Can they even grow beards?" the Chairman asks, and they both laugh.
The President stands and the Chairman quickly follows suit. "Come on," she says. "We have a few extra minutes. Let's go surprise some school children on our way to the Cabinet Room."
The Chairman follows the President out of the Oval Office. The Chief of Staff joins them as they exit. Stepping into the hallway, the President freezes.
"Oh, Christ," she says. "It's Hollensfeld."
The Chief of Staff scowls. "What is he doing? Digging for brains?"
Senator Hollensfeld has his pinkie in his ear and is scratching vigorously. His hair is disheveled, he has the physique of a scarecrow, and his suit is at least two sizes too big.
The Chief of Staff clears his throat. "I'll have the protocol officer -"
"No, don't," the President interrupts. "It's part of his 'salt of the earth' persona. Plays well in Wichita. It's actually quite astute. Just don't fall for his 'bumbling goofball' persona."
"He's supporting your platform?" the Chairman asks.
The President frowns. "He's a son of a bitch, but he's a Republican son of a bitch. For now. Oh hell, he sees us. Here he comes."
"Madam President!" Senator Hollensfeld says jovially, gleefully swimming upstream into the collective contempt of the President and her staff.
"Senator," the President responds coolly, grudgingly shaking his hand. "How was your tour of the border?"
"Fucking brilliant!" he declares with glee. The Chairman and the Chief of Staff react physically to the obscenity; the President just blinks languidly.
"Those Sioux are in for a cold bowl of soup!" the Senator continues. "Just a few more weeks and it we'll have more fun than an easy-bake oven! Every Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota from here to Seattle will be eating sand."
"I believe the expression is 'bite the dust'," the Chairman corrects distastefully.
"Ha ha ha!" the Senator laughs boisterously, even though no one else does. "Ha ha ha!"
"We must be going," the Chief of Staff says, running interference by physically standing in front of the Senator as the President walks away.
"Angie, I'll call you!" the Senator shouts as the President ducks into the Cabinet Room.
"What a prick," the Chief of Staff sighs. "What's with all the food metaphors?"
President Colloton seems put out by the encounter. She broods while waiting for the rest of the principals to arrive.
"What's the matter, Angie?" the Chairman asks.
She doesn't answer for a minute. Then: "Let me have men about me that are fat, bald, and sleep at night."
"Madame?" the Chief of Staff asks, self-consciously rubbing his smooth head.
The President sighs. "Hollensfeld has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous."
"You still think he was a part of the New Revolutions coup?" the Chairman asks.
The President taps her chin. "There was never any evidence. He loves being a senator, but his heart will never be at ease while he beholds someone greater than himself. Therefore he is very dangerous. Would that he were fatter!"
Colloton walks over to the windows to stare out at the Rose Garden silently for several minutes before turning back to the room. "I will tell you what is to be feared rather than what I fear myself, for always I am Colloton. Come, let us begin."