Even as President Jean Armageddon rushed down the hallway to the Cabinet room, s/he was besieged by aides.
"Mizza President, the Governor of Hawaii would like a personal hologram with you."
"Mizza President, the Japanese say they're going to stay neutral in this conflict."
"Mizza President, the European Union says America and China should settle their differences without dragging the world into a war."
"Mizza President, the Internet poll shows that 63 percent of the American public does not believe that the pictures of the Chinese fleet in Pearl Harbor are real."
The last caught the President's attention. "Well, I'm going to go on television in half an hour and convince them that what they're seeing is real. Have the cameras set up at my desk. We'll broadcast as soon as this meeting is over."
As she swept into the Cabinet Room, the buzz subsided immediately. Everyone was already seated. Vice President Meers, Secretary of State Adams, and several others started to rise in respect but s/he waved them down. "Let's get started," s/he said brusquely. "I want to hear from the military first."
All eyes turned toward General Hiram Forebender, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the far end of the table. A square, stocky man in his mid-50s with gray at the temples and a jut jaw, he seemed to have been born into his uniform. Thumbing his i-World with studied deliberation, he cleared his throat and began:
"Mizza President, this morning at 4:23 a.m., a portion of the Chinese Navy entered the waters of Pearl Harbor Bay. The flotilla consists of two supercruisers, the Qingdao and the Taicang, two destroyers, the Guǎngzhōu and the Chóngqìng, plus two troop transports. There is also a vessel we are unable to identify that we believe to be an electronic fortress capable of jamming all communications within fifty miles. One aircraft carrier, the Phangjong, is also sitting outside the harbor."
"Have the transports got soldiers on them?" Jean shot back. As much as the military and even members of her cabinet might have doubts about the President's fitness for the office, they were always impressed with herm quickness of mind and ability to run a meeting.
"Sir -- ah, Mizza President -- ."
"Do not address me as 'sir,' General."
"I'm sorry, it's an old habit I picked up in the military." General Forebender chuckled but no one followed and so he quickly went on.
"Mizza President, we believe each transport to be loaded with at least 2,000 members of the People's Liberation Army. There has been no attempt to put them ashore but they do have the capability. Each transport is equipped with amphibious landing gear but there are no indications of putting them to use at this time."
The President took measure of this and then looked around the room. "Alright, can anyone explain to me how this happened?"
General Forebender started to respond but the President interrupted. "Let's hear from someone else on this. What about the Navy?"
Admiral Byron Hickenlooper, Navy Chief of Staff, cracked his knuckles for a moment and leaned forward. "Mizza President," he began in a clear Southern accent, "The state of the Navy has been one of declining preparedness. We have five aircraft carriers in our half of the Pacific but three are in dry dock in San Diego. We estimate they will not be able to return to action for at least three months."
"Yes, I realize that but I want to know is how was this fleet able to enter the harbor without anyone knowing?" said the President curtly.
The Admiral ran his hand over his forehead and started again. "Mizza President, since we ceded the Western half of the Pacific to China in 2035 we have had incomplete knowledge of anything they are doing. We know the size of their fleet but have not always kept abreast of their technology. They seem to have developed ways of disguising their movements. Our satellite system can track surface ships but we are not always able to locate their submarines. We have not sailed a vessel west of Guam in fifteen years so we have very little knowledge of what is going on in their territorial waters. We knew they had maneuvers in the vicinity of Hawaii over the past week but we did not expect anything like this. They seem to have been able to hack our satellite system overnight in order to bring those vessels in without our knowledge."
"Weren't there any mines in the harbor?" spoke up Warren Doyle, the Secretary of Commerce, a former Midwestern governor new to Washington.
"They were removed in the 2042 as a gesture of peace," said the Admiral glumly.
At that moment a nervous aide entered the room. "Mizza President, excuse me. Our polls now show 68 percent of the public now believes that the invasion is a fake," he said. "It's climbing."
"Alright, thank you," said the President and the aide vanished. "Ask them why they think it's not real," s/he called after. Instant polling had become an essential tool in the White House and the government often paid thousands of people to be on call at any moment.
Again there was a moment of profound silence.
"Gentlemen and ladies," said President Armageddon forcefully. "I know many of you are thinking. I know what people around the world are thinking. They doubt my capabilities. They are saying that I am unprepared to fill the responsibilities of this office and that a foreign power has taken advantage of a new President before he or she had the chance to get his or her feet on the ground. Well, let me tell you that this is not what is going to happen. We are going to respond to this emergency with appropriate measures. Now does anyone have any recommendations?"
"Mizza President," spoke up Frank Buzzworth, the Secretary of the Air Force. A handsome, athletic figure in his late 40s, he had been on an unsuccessful attempt to reach Mars in 2052 and had enormous prestige across the country. "Even if we were at full strength, I doubt we would be able to dislodge the invading force at this time. We are not fully acquainted with their technology and so there are certain risks involved. But we do have submarine capability and with our nuclear strength we have enough firepower to dislodge the intruders while protecting ourselves from retaliation. In short, we are prepared to go to war."
At that moment the aide interrupted again. "Mizza President, the prevailing belief in the Midwest is that this is a government plot to curtail civil liberties. On the East and West Coasts they think it's a movie trailer."
"Alright, thank you again," said the President.
"Mizza President," said Genevieve Ambrose, the Secretary of Gender. She was a tall, scholarly woman whose pale and solemn demeanor spoke of hours and hours in university libraries. "I would like to take great exception to what has just been said by the Secretary of the Air Force. I think what we're hearing in the typical male response that has led us into all wars throughout history. That is just what we want to avoid. This is not necessarily an act of war. I think the Chinese are making a gesture and we should respond. There may be other ways of settling our differences."
"Does that mean we play scissors, rock, paper to see who gets to keep Hawaii?" asked Clyde Wadsworth, the Secretary of Transportation. He was a Navy veteran himself.
"Please don't make light of what I'm saying. If there are differences between us and the Chinese, we should sit down discuss them. Maybe there is some misunderstanding."
"I don't think there's any misunderstanding about that $64 trillion we owe them," said Ananta Singh, Secretary of the Treasury. As a Sikh, no one was sure exactly where he stood on China.
"Other countries have been in debt before and have found ways of settling it," said the Secretary of Gender.
"Yeah, they usually settle them by going bankrupt," said Secretary of State Winston Adams, a fifth generation Ivy Leaguer known for his knowledge of history.
"I want to speak up in defense of the Secretary here," interrupted Vice President Harriet Mews, a rousing orator who was fanatically loyal to her Commander in Chief. "I think we have to avoid jumping immediately to the male point of view. You push me, I push you. Says who? Year, what? Before you know it, we're in a brawl. That's not what we want to happen here. I think we have to look for ways to avoid confrontation."
"Aren't we already in a confrontation?" said Wadsworth, who was beginning to find his footing.
"Not necessary," said the Vice President. "We have to talk to them, find out what they want."
"We already know what they want," said General Forebender, getting back in the fray. "They want Hawaii in lieu of the debt, they want two seats on the Federal Reserve, they want a hundred thousand Chinese women back. There's nothing unclear about that."
All eyes turned for a moment to Ann Wang, the Secretary of Education. She was known to be a Chinese orphan raised by a prominent San Francisco family. Wang stared at her i-World but said nothing.
"Well, this is just another instance of discrimination against women," said the Secretary of Gender finally. "We know China's one-child policy, often coupled with infanticide, has created a huge imbalance in the Chinese population. The ratio of men to women is about 125 to 100, which is worse than it was in Saudi Arabia before they gave up polygamy. What this means is that one in five Chinese men has virtually no chance of marrying. This has pushed Chinese men to marrying girls at or below the age of puberty, which we regard as one of the greatest atrocities against women in the modern era."
"What you're saying is that maybe we need a few men in this country to stand up for these women?" said Wadsworth.
"No, I didn't mean that at all. This is a simple case of sexual discrimination."
"Mr. President," interrupted Secretary of State Adams. "It is our understanding that some of these unattached Chinese men have banded together in an Islamic cult called the Golden Horde where they claim to be descendants of Genghis Kahn and other warriors of the Mongol Era. The group is very strong in the western cities, inciting violence and committing acts of terror. We believe the Golden Horde may be behind this action by the central government."
Everyone took this in.
"Mizza President, you're scheduled to go on the air in fifteen minutes," said another aide, popping his head in the door.
"Alright, tell them I'll be there.
"Who is our Ambassador to China?" said the President, turning back to the business at hand.
"Samuel Federer," said Adams. "He's an old China hand. He's had some health problems recently and may be about to retire."
"He's very knowledgeable about China," said Darwin Slater, the diminutive head of the National Security Council, brushing some dandruff off his suit. "I think he'd be the man for the job."
"Alright, let's get him back to Hawaii and see if we can get started on some kind of negotiation," said the President. "Now could someone get that pollster back in here a moment? I have to go on television in ten minutes and convince the American public this is all really happening. Does anyone have any ideas?"
This was new to everyone.
"How about bringing in a group of Hollywood directors to say they couldn't create anything like this in virtual reality?" said Vice President Meers.
"People will believe Hollywood," said Wadsworth.
"Probably more than they believe us," added Adams ruefully.
"What's the level of public skepticism on other issues?" asked Treasury Secretary Singh in his usual analytic fashion. The pollster had entered the room and heard the question.
"Forty-five percent believe the debt is an illusion," he said impassively. "Fifty-five percent say the Mars Expedition of 2057 was a fake. Fifteen percent think China owes us money."
"What the percentage for those moon landings in the last century?" asked Kiernan Train, the Secretary of Technology.
"Fifty-five percent still believe they were staged in Arizona," said the aide. "It's held fairly steady over the past thirty years.
"How many of them believe in Santa Claus?" asked the Secretary of the Navy.
"Thirty-four percent of all children under eight, sir," said the aide without blinking.
"Alright, I'll have to deal with this," said the President. "Let me remind you," s/he added as the meeting showed signs of breaking up. "We are not going to approach this in the traditional fashion. This is precisely why I was elected to office. And let me remind you that I am the only person in this room who has been elected to office by the entire American people. All of you have been appointed to your position, most of you by me. So I have the weight and strength of the American people behind me when I say that we are not going to go to war over this matter. The pages of history are filled with such outbreaks -- men fighting over land, men fighting over women, men fighting over the size of sticks they have found in the forest. It happened several times in the last century and I promise you upon my Oath of Office that it is not going to happen again. This is an era when the United States of America is going to transcend gender." Even as I have transcended it myself, s/he added in her own mind.
Even as you have transcended it yourself, thought everyone in the room. But no one said it aloud.
FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER, the President sat before the holographic cameras in the Oval Office and began: "My fellow Americans. I come before you today to discuss a matter of the gravest importance to all of us…"