On board Air Force One, President Chong sat bewildered, discussing the events with President Torres.
“It doesn’t make any sense. Why would Ford warn Narang, then shoot him.”
“He’s a bloody man.Â Narang will recover, he wasn’t mortally wounded.Â Ford’s just making his point.”
“Did you ever think he might have meant us to take your ship? That we’re in danger right now.
“Of course we are, nut even so, the security on AF1 is the best in the world.
“Sir?” A woman interrupted them. Chong lost his breath.
“Oh hello Samantha. This is President Chong of the United Moon Colonies. Rich, this is Samantha Malinao, Speaker of the House.”
“Pleasure to meet you President Chong. This concerns you too. Sir, we just received news the Paris Elevator has been damaged. A unit of UMC troops was descending to assist at Versailles. An explosion took out the stabilizers. There are 2 fatalities, 12 injured and the elevator is damaged.”
Chong stared at Malinao. She had long black hair, and deep chocolate brown eyes. She wasn’t a bombshell in the classic sense, but she had quite an affect on Chong’s attention. He had never married or even dated much, leading to all kinds of speculation on his love life and sexual tendencies.Â The truth was he was bisexual but so concerned with his job he didn’t have time to pursue sexual relationships much. He had once though he and Lawrence would hook up, but realized he probably wasn’t Lawrence’s type, and besides they worked too closely.
“Chong?Â Do you need to contact your staff?”
Chong shook himself out of it. “Yes, yes of course. I’ll be right back.”
“We have to return to Serenity sir. It’s not just about your safety at this point,” Lawrence said when he found him at the back of the ship.
“You’re right Lawrence. We’ll take the New York elevator. But we’re coming right back down.”
“Very good sir. I’ll make the arrangements.”
“Don’t smirk Lawrence.”
“Of course not, sir.Â I never smirk.”
Chong returned to his seat to find Speaker Malinao in it.
“Oh I’m sorry President Chong…”
“Call me Richard, or just Chong like Rudy here.”
Malinao raised an eyebrow.
“It’s just more efficient.”
“Of course, Chong. Would you like your seat back.”
“That’s fine.Â I’ll sit here, and took the empty seat next to Torres.”
“So what’s the scoop Rich.Â YOu need to head back I expect.”
“Yes, Lawrence is arranging it now.Â I’ll take the New York elevator back up but I’m coming right back down. I intend to be in Omaha tomorrow.”
“That’s what happened,” Malinao interjected. “That’s why they shot Minister Narang.Â He was headed to Omaha as well. They want you there alone.”
“Well they would have known all our itiniraries, that’s true,” said Torres. “I can’t go to Omaha. I have a conference on Naval redeployment for the next three days. It’s not like you’ll be undefended, but the fewer dignitaries the fewer troops.”
“Not just that,” said Malinao with a smile that melted Chong. “It’s also to have you isolated.Â No friends around.Â Terranists like to play mind games.”
“Well, I’m going anyway. I can beef up the guards but I feel with a man like Ford it matters little.”
“Ford?” Malinao looked suprise.
“Uh, she hadn’t been briefed,” explained Torres.
“John ford is the man after me.Â It’s not just the Terranists against the UMC. It’s somehow personal.Â Ford lost his family in Omaha.”
“And you’re going there on purpose,” Malinao had a look of respect, which Chong hoped included a little admiration. “That seems really stupid.” So much for admiration.
“I want to beat Ford and beta him quick.Â The problem with all people like him is letting them rule the debate.Â Trying to go after them, trying to eliminate them or comat them.Â They don’t plan for direct confrontation, they plan for games and strategy. I’m attempting to foil his plans by doing exactly what he doesn’t think I’ll do. Unfortunately he forced my hand with the elevator. So he’s ahead. I wish there was a way I could go directly to Omaha from Serenity, but I’m limited to the elevators, at least from space.”
“Why not have a UMC ship take you direct from Luna?” Malinao asked.
“Because Chong thinks the military efforts are too important to waste time carting his ass around,” Torres butted in.
“But surelyÂ Â Â this is an exception, no?”
Chong shifted uneasily. “I suppose it could be. If there’s a mission headed that way anyway, but there’s probably not. ”
“What if I pick you up?” Malinao offered.
“What?Â From Luna?” Chong asked shocked.
“I was thinking from ISS 5.”
ISS 5 was the UN orbital station. Chong would need special permission to fly there, but Torres could get him that. However he could only leave from there if he was traveling back to Luna, unless someone else gave him a ride.
“You can do that?”
“I’m not such a masochist as you, Chong. I have a ship at the speaker’s command and I intend to use it.”
Chong laughed at the insult. He would have laughed if she slapped him, he thought. “OK. So why aren’t you in your personal carriage right now?”
“I said I’m not a masochist.Â I’m also not wasteful.Â No need to take two ships where one works.”
“Then I accept.Â Rudy, can you get me landing..”
“Yaah, yeah, you two have fun. I’ll get you ISS privilegs. Just do me a favor and don’t get our SPeaker killed, all right.Â She might be the next President.
Malinao looked a bit embarrassed for the first time.
In New York, Chong had little time to say goodbye before he was whisked out to Jamaica Bay to the elevator.
“I think Speaker Malinao’s plan is sound,” Offered Lawrence during the ride up to platform 70. That was unlike Lawrence, who rarely offered any kind of unsolicited advice.
“You’re starting to get downright pushy Lawrence,” said Chong.
“Pardon me sir, but if it saves your butt, I’ll do it. I hope you don’t mind.”
“I always thought you were a bit too deferential anyway.”
Lawrence chuckled slightly.
“What?” Chong turned to see his aide struggling to keep a straight face.
“No out with it, what?”
Lawrence sighed and lost all compsure as he put on a dead-on imitation of Chong’s voice. “Lawrence, I know we’ve been friends for a long time but now I’m the President.Â This doesn’t change our friendship but we have to act like professionals.”
“Which you agreed to!” Chong was starting to get a little angry.
“And which you’re now telling me I can ease off of. I guess it’s natural when we’ve been at it for seven years. Still sir, it just struck me funny.Â I apologize.”
There was nobody else in the car to hear the conversation, but they both new it would be observed and recorded for security purposes.
“Fine,” Chong sighed. “I hereby give you a Presidential order to lighten up a bit.”
“Very good Rich.Â Sorry, can’t do it sir. We have a staff meeting at the capitol, then we need to head to Armstrong, to the Floy Center for a UMC business council address, the Clavius this evening for a University meeting, then New Canaveral for your shuttle flight to ISS 5.”
“You certainly know how to pack an agenda Lawrence.Â Any way of skipping the University?”
“Well they’ve been waiting for you to attend for months and the shuttle can’t leave until late anyway. So it wouldn’t hurt.Â You don’t have to speak or do anything but eat their dinner and smile.”
“I’d rather be alone, but all right. It’s important. Thanks Lawrence.”
The elevator arrived at platform 70 and UMC guards escorted the President and his chief aide to the waiting shuttle to take them to the Serenity colony on the Moon.