Election 2064: Book One

By Scott McDermott

Sci-Fi, Thriller, General fiction

Paperback, eBook

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141
5 mins

PROLOGUE

April 14, 2063.

Loop. Around. Under. Through.

The knitting needles flashed in her hands, throwing off metallic jangles with every stitch. The only other sounds in the room came from the regular pings of the heart monitor and the less steady whoosh of the respirator pump. Her husband’s chest rose and fell as the oxygen fed into him.

Loop. Around. Under. Through.

The blanket was coming along slowly. When she was really humming, she could do forty rows an hour. Right now she was barely managing half that, but it kept her hands steady and her mind occupied.

A cough seized him. She dropped a needle and took his hand, feeling the convulsions through his limp fingers. She massaged his palm, reflexively checking his pulse as it settled back to normal resting.

“Bear,” she whispered. “Come back to me.”

But he remained unresponsive. The monitor resumed its pinging drumbeat, the PanoScreen on the far wall dimming its glow. Another screen cocooned around his chest, projecting his vitals in a softly luminescent holo. She stroked his hair and leaned in, brushing a kiss on his temple for what felt like the millionth time.

Her Bear looked smaller already, as if the hospital bed was swallowing him at the edges, but he was still a giant of a man. She let out a quiet sigh, picked up her dropped needle, and resumed working. He might already have plenty of blankets, they draped over his body in cascading layers – but she felt he needed this one to truly be warm. Because it came from her.

Loop. Around. Under. Through.

My husband might die at any moment, and all I can do is tie a bunch of knots.

As her fingers maneuvered the yarn, turning it around and back again – repeating, repeating – she felt the repeating of their lives. All of this was unnervingly similar to the time she met this sleeping giant, three decades ago. It felt like yesterday, in that she could still picture every detail of his face when she first laid eyes on it, and twenty lifetimes ago, in how that face had aged. But governing will do that.

And the circumstances between now and then, though mirrored in setting, had their differences. Then, the hospital didn’t block off an entire floor for this single patient.

No, then he was just a kid who’d run into some hard luck (though, considering what could have been, he was lucky indeed). Another casualty of conflict, bouncing around the convoluted bureaucracy of the VA before finding his way to the Long-Term Recovery Ward. She almost forgot what war he’d been wounded in.

But she remembered that day, clear as noontime sun. She even recalled the thoughts going through her mind, as if she could pluck them like grapes from a vine – the first thought being, How could someone that immense ever get wounded?

And how he’d smiled at her from his hospital bed, sipping groggily out of a milk carton. “Ma’am, I got shot in the ass,” he said, as if to answer her thought. A morphine drip may have slurred his speech, but it put him in a breezy mood. “You gonna fix me?”

Her second thought was, Handsome, probably, when not doped up.

“Fortunately,” she responded, “the backside is an alright place to take a bullet, considering. My guess is, whoever shot you couldn’t reach your head. Is the army growing soldiers in labs now, or are they breeding you with grizzly bears?”

He gave a mock bear’s roar, clawing the air – then began to laugh, a gurgle of spittle escaping his mouth. Her toes inched toward him, as if she was drawn by his gravity – a stray comet, chancing upon a star, finding orbit.

“I’m just a little larger than most,” he said. “Growing up, everyone was telling me to play football.”

“Maybe if you had, you wouldn’t have taken a bullet in the butt.”

“Ain’t that the truth. I coulda been a contendah!” It was a truly terrible Brando, but he flashed that cocky smile like a reflex as he pulled another swig from his milk straw. So he likes old movies, she thought. Maybe there’s some depth to all that mass.

“Doctor, um, what do I call you?”

Her thoughts became disconnected; relay runners dropping the baton. Did I forget to say my name? Did I forget my name?

“Oh…well, I’m Dr. Harper.” His smile never wavered, even if the morphine rendered it askew. It was the smile that sank her, right then, and she offered a proposition rarely extended a new patient: “But you can call me Susannah.”

Feeling awkward for putting that out there, she pulled back. “Or just, you know, Doctor,” she said. “Doctor Susannah might work, too, I suppose.”

Now she was floundering. What was happening to her? Professional, professional, she thought, trying to calm butterflies she never knew she had.

He held out his hand. It was coarse and heavy like a cinderblock, but warm. “Corporal Granger. You can call me Acton. You can remember that because if there’s a problem, I’ll act on it.”

Something foreign escaped her. Did I just giggle? She hadn’t giggled since junior high. “You know that’s horrible, right? You should never use that line on a woman ever again.”

Neither of them realized it at this point, but he wouldn’t have to.

“Yeah, probably,” he said. “But I bet now you’ll remember my name.” Susannah realized that her hand was still in his and yanked it away, too quickly. “Well, Doctor Susannah,” he said, looking up from his own fingers, “I’d say it’s a pleasure to meet you, but I have a feeling that before we’re done here I’m not going to like you very much.”

And he was right about that, for a while.

It didn’t take her long to see why football wasn’t an option – or any other sport, for that matter. He got around easily enough for someone his size, especially with shrapnel ringing down his left gluteus and iliotibial tract, but in the rehab room he was an oaf. All that muscle, and so little coordination.

The first few weeks were hard. They called each other every name in the book, and a few that weren’t.

She wondered now, looking to pinpoint the moment those grueling, combative rehab sessions became something more – and beyond that, when he told her he loved her, that he needed her to push him the rest of his days, or he’d be worthless – whether both their lives would be in very different places if he’d been born with just a little more coordination and picked up a football like everyone in his hometown expected.

Would they have met? Unlikely, unless you placed heavy bets on fate and fairytales. Would he have accomplished all he’d done without her? She doubted it, and though that felt self-important, it was probably true. Sometimes a star needed something to shine on to feel whole.

Susannah always assumed that if he’d had a shred of athleticism to match his bulk, maybe he would’ve retired from a nice, short career as an offensive lineman and gone back home to marry his high school sweetheart. But she had no idea that the goofy-grinned army man had bigger dreams. And he kept those dreams hidden for some time, as was his nature, until he trusted her enough to pick out a ring and offer his name.

He finally came clean on their honeymoon, as they slurped umbrella drinks poolside in Key West. It took a half-dozen Rum Runners to spill it. And it all sounded innocent enough – he wanted to try his hand at local politics, as a State Representative. In North Dakota, the races weren’t especially competitive, and a seat had opened where he thought just about anyone could win.

Susannah didn’t know it at the time, but the rest of their lives hinged on her response. Of course, she’d said, without hesitation. It’s perfect for you. And he’d smiled again, the smile that she came to live for (turned out, it wasn’t the morphine that made it crooked, it was just like that).

All right, I’m gonna do it! he said. And that was it – they’d flicked over the first domino of Acton Granger’s political career. On and up he went, from one elected office to the next, toppling each new domino with a mixture of opportunism, fortune, and a loving wife’s unique blend of encouragement and sacrifice.

Now, three decades later, here they were. They’d reached the end of the chain and toppled the biggest domino of them all, but some unknown force had exacted its price. Was it worth it, if his life was to be cut short like this?

Susannah’s brain spun wildly. All the what-ifs swarmed like bees in her mind. Where would her life be, if in another strand of history she never crossed paths with this man? Was it even worth pondering?

She checked the time – dawn approached, and with it the doctors and nurses and aides and minders and hangers-on would sweep back into another whirlwind of a day.

Adding to the whirlwind – at eleven sharp, the Acting President was scheduled to visit, and Susannah didn’t even know where to begin with that. The media had deemed the nation to be in crisis, and it appeared they were finally right about something.

She went back to her needlework, practiced hands resuming repetitive motion. She tried to empty her thoughts, to find her center. As her mind settled, her heart continued chugging – the rhythm of willhemakeitwillhemakeit pulsing in each beat, and it would not quiet, no matter her meditations.

Acton Granger was her beloved, and though she shared that love with all the millions that adored and revered the 54th President of the United States, she was the only one that shared his name.

She’d had two days and nights to absorb the shock of what had befallen her husband and brought them to this hospital room, but a new feeling brewed inside her. After the sorrow, the worry, the hope, the anger, and the fear, what came now was need, a need for answers. And it was a feeling no amount of knitting could quiet.

Loop. Around...

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