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2002–2003: Into Afghanistan …

… with a gesture that plays a lot better at home than abroad.

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2002: Vice-President Lieberman calls it quits.  

The severed head was a little over the top, President Gore had to admit to himself, as he stood on the back lawn of the Greenbrier, waiting for the presidential helicopter to touch down in its usual green blizzard.

But damn, it sure wowed the hawks.

The security guys were already hustling over. One of them the spitting image of himself, right down to the POTUS windbreaker and those awful earth-toned suits Naomi Wolf was always on about.

“Mr. President, please! When you go out on the lawn, you must have your double with you at all times!” the one who wasn’t supposed to be him shouted. They were more terrified of some local mouth-breather creeping up behind a tree Deliverance style, he knew, than they were about Al Qaeda. Between the gun nuts and the laid-off miners and steelworkers demanding he get tough with China, he’d punted West Virginia by six points, and that had been almost as responsible as Florida for all the commotion on Election Night.

Well, tough titty, the president thought as he strode to the helicopter. Some people were going to have to get used to the idea that life in the new millennium wasn’t about tearing the tops off mountains just so you could grub some more lung polish. Besides, hadn’t he given the locals the Robert C. Byrd Clean Coal Research Institute as part of his omnibus energy package? Clean coal—riiight.

Meanwhile, his relocation had become the biggest jobs program West Virginia had ever seen. It was the logical choice, once Flight 93 had demolished the White House. All they’d had to do was spruce up the Bunker under the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, built there for Congress back in the Cold War days. The Secret Service loved it. Everything you could ask, all behind twenty-ton blast doors: dormitories, cafeterias, a state-of-the-art communications system, even a weight room. Everything, that is, except for the Congress. Capitol Hill was untouched; no need for them to come. He had the run of the place, and could call in anyone he wanted, whenever he wanted. Amtrak was running twenty trains a day in from D.C., and the town had doubled in size from all the media crews alone. He and Tipper took the presidential suite upstairs in the Greenbrier. They stuck Hadassah and Joe Leave-Me-Alone down in the Bunker itself, where he could keep an eye on them.

Coulda been a mistake, the president thought, frowning. Maybe that’s when he started to go all squirrelly on me—

He paused on the top step of the chopper, sucking in the sweet Allegheny air. God, it was intoxicating! Air like that, well, it gave a man an appetite. He smiled as he thought of Tipper, left back in the presidential bedroom just now in a state of flattering befuddlement.

Gave him other appetites as well, as the press had begun to notice. He looked over at the trim stomach of his body double. Would that guy have to start eating more, too? Maybe growing a beard would help …

The helicopter rose along with the two identical decoy choppers, the three of them zigzagging and changing places all the way to Andrews. He hated to leave even for a day, but he had to be in New York for the second 9/10 anniversary, at that damned hole in the ground. Who’d have believed two years could go by without a blessed thing getting built on ground zero? As it was, he’d had to intervene in every niggling negotiation between Pataki, that bastard Silversomething, and Mayor Mark Green, who had taken office following the tragic death of Rudy Giuliani in his emergency-command center. They’d even sent him the final designs for the replacement tower, which he tried to go over in the ’copter. There was something that looked like a giant hypodermic needle. Good Lord. That floating bone thing. No. A building that would stand exactly 1,776 feet high. Subt-le!

He shoved the drawings back in their portfolio, took out the day’s correspondence. First, a warm congratulations to George and Laura, who had just completed their respective rehabs. It had been quite an emotional moment when his 2000 opponent, face covered in unsightly boils, had gone on Oprah to admit he had fallen back into the bottle. And Laura right there beside him, holding his hand and copping to her own addiction to mood stabilizers. Now they were on the cover of People, looking tanned, rested, and ready.

In fact, the Republicans were finally showing some signs of life after the drubbing they’d taken in the midterms. They never stopped complaining about how long it was taking to rebuild the White House, what with the solar panels and the recycled water system he had demanded. All those jokes on Fox News about the Green House. Cheney got so worked up about the cost at one press conference that he’d set off his internal defibrillator, which sent him bouncing around the room like a pinball. The clip had been viewed so many times that it started a new catchphrase on the Internet: “going viral.”


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