"It's time, Madam President."

The President of the United States looked up. She'd been resting her head in her hands, lost in thought as she sat at her desk in the Oval Office. Now her gaze rested on the man standing across the desk from her. She wanted to look him in the eye but she couldn't. His entire face was obscured by a full facemask and dark-tinted goggles, accessories to the gray-green fatigues and body armor he was wearing. For a moment she let herself stare at the assault weapon he was carrying. She recognized the type, but for some reason couldn't remember its name. She'd spent much of her political career in courtrooms and Congressional hearings describing such weapons in detail, fighting to get them banned across the country, but just then she was drawing a complete blank, and it was suddenly very important to her to know the name of the gun.

After all, she could be killed with it at any second.

"Madam President," the man said, "everyone is assembled. Let's not keep them waiting."

"How do I know you'll keep your word?" She asked.

"We've given no word to keep." The man said. "It's up to you to decide if not meeting our demands is worth the potential cost, whatever that cost may turn out to be."

Though he spoke without a foreign accent, the President couldn't be sure he was American. He might easily have shaken off a speech pattern that would have marked him as a New Englander or a Southerner or a Midwesterner, but he might also have been trained in any of a number of foreign schools to speak a generic brand of English that would give the impression of him being an American and not a Briton, a Scot, an Irishman or anyone else from a place where English was the dominant language...except maybe Canada. She almost laughed at the thought that all this might have started because some Canuck had finally got tired of his belligerent neighbor to the South, but nothing about the events of the past several hours had been even remotely funny.

The President stood and smoothed out her dark blue suit. She'd changed into it in front of the gunman earlier. She'd been in her pajamas when he first arrived, and he'd told her he couldn't leave her side until the situation was resolved. He had at least been true to those words.

With as much dignity as she could muster she strode out of the Oval Office, gunman in tow. As she made her way through the West Wing more of his companions fell into step around them, until she felt like she was in the middle of a normal protective detail. For a fleeting moment she wished that had been the case, but it was through her own actions that it wasn't, and it was too late to do anything to change the situation.

As she stepped out of the White House into the early morning darkness she saw that there were some who disagreed. The structure was surrounded by Secret Service agents and D.C. Police Officers, weapons trained on the group escorting her to vehicles parked outside. Even in the partial light provided by headlights and police car strobe lights she could see the frustration on the faces of some of the agents and officers. They were sure they could rescue her, and they were probably right, but doing so would violate the Executive Order she'd written and signed in the first moments of the crisis directing all law enforcement agencies to stand down and allow the gunman's people to operate unchecked. Under other circumstances they might not have bothered to obey the order, but they knew the leverage these invaders had on the President and the Nation in general as much as she did, and concluded that staying their hand might be the only way to keep the invaders from using it.

The President and her captors got into four Toyota sport trucks and sped away from the White House grounds, with Secret Service and Police units in pursuit. Once they were moving the gunman watching the President took out a cell phone, selected a previously written text message from the memory and sent it. The signal was sent to a communications ship off the Eastern Seaboard, which relayed it to a telecommunications satellite just coming into range. The message was then sent to the other team leaders across the United States. It read:


With that task done, "Coyote" put the phone away and took some index cards from a pocket and handed them to the President. "Your 'State of The Union' address." He said. "The last one."

She glanced at the cards, then at him. "Does that mean you're going to kill me?" She said.

Coyote looked back at her, wondering idly how anyone could be so self-absorbed. If she'd actually believed anything she'd said in her campaign speeches she might have realized that it was never about her, or any single person. Still, there was no harm in answering her question--obliquely, anyway. "I don't have to." He said, then turned away.

With the route cleared of all other traffic the ride to the U.S. Capitol was quick. That building was surrounded by more D.C. cops and Capitol Hill Police, all ready to do anything to stop what was going on and all equally restrained by the President's order and the stakes involved. The invaders parked their vehicles and entered the Capitol as they had left the White House, without interference.

The group strode purposefully through the corridors of the building, making their way to the Chamber of the House of Representatives, where Congress had been gathered for a Special Session, per another of Coyote's demands. Most of the Legislative Body was already in Washington for the normal Session anyway, so it was only a question of gathering up stray legislators from other towns and states. The Cabinet Secretaries were a different matter. The most important had been gathered and were already in the Chamber, but some were scattered about the country on business or personal trips. They would have to be tracked down over the coming days. A setback, of course, but if the overall operation succeeded, Coyote thought, their current freedom would be useless to them.

They reached the main door to the Chamber, where the Doorkeeper of The House was waiting. Coyote smiled under his mask. Of course there would be ceremony. This would be an important Presidential speech, one for the history books.

The Doorkeeper opened the door and strode in a few yards before declaring in a loud, clear voice: "Mr. Speaker--The President of the United States!"

Normally, this would be followed by a standing ovation as the President walked to the dais down the center aisle, shaking hands with legislators from both sides along the way. This time, there was anxious silence as the President made her way, and no one was in the mood to shake hands. The others in Coyote's group peeled off for other parts of the Chamber, but Coyote stayed right behind the President until she reached the dais. Once there, she looked up at the Vice President and Speaker of the House, seated behind the podium. She could see fear on the VP's face, but the Speaker's face was contorted into a mask of barely checked rage. Whether that rage was directed at her or her captor--or both--she couldn't tell.

She took the podium and looked around the room. Everyone's attention was riveted on her, another first. Usually everyone knew what was going to be said, and thus most people just kept an ear cocked for the proper applause lines as they continued to quietly conduct the politics that were their way of life. This speech was one no one could know in advance, and that everyone had to hear. The usual press contingent was in attendance as well, and the invaders seemed willing to give them free reign.

The President cleared her throat, placed the index cards on the podium and started. "Mister..." Her voice came out in a ragged, shaky whisper. She cleared her throat again, bowed her head and steadied herself. She'd found her voice when she started again. "Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Members of Congress, My Fellow Americans...thank you for having me. I would now like to address the events of the past several hours.

"In my campaign for the office of President I made a promise to the World. I promised that the United States would finally live up to its claim to being the Guarantor of Peace and Freedom. I promised that the United States would finally come to respect the people and cultures of other nations. I promised the United States would finally shake off a legacy of violence and Colonialism, and learn what it means to be a community, one that is part of a larger Community of Nations. In short, I promised that the United States would follow a moral imperative, that we would finally beat our swords into plowshares in an effort to promote Peace worldwide. Over these past three years, thanks to the efforts of this Body and legislators and leaders across the country we've made great strides toward achieving that goal, but obstacles remain.

"Tonight...tonight, those obstacles are being removed.

"Representatives of the International Community are being sent to the United States to assist in our transition to a modern, peaceful nation. This first group, which you've already heard about, is here merely to facilitate the work of the coming personnel. When their task is completed, the greatest stumbling blocks to a more peaceful United States will be set aside..."

Elsewhere, one of Coyote's team leaders was listening to the speech on the radio, waiting for the right cues. Most of his team were at the windows and entrances of the building he was in, keeping watch on the police that had gathered outside. He gave the "ready" signal to one of the men nearby. The man went over to the elaborate display case they had come all the way here to seize. On each glass pane the man had attached a special demolition charge. Each charge was a binary weapon. There was a small plastic explosive designed to shatter the glass and release the nitrogen inside, while the main explosive, an incendiary, was there to use the nitrogen and oxygen to incinerate everything within range of the blast.

The man checked that all the charges were armed and ready, then gave the "ready" signal back to the team leader, who pulled out his own cell phone. He activated the two-way radio feature, selected "All" from his list of recipients and transmitted one word: "Withdraw."

The team regrouped on the run and made their way into the lower levels of the building, from which they'd ultimately make their escape. As they moved the team leader listened on, waiting for "Miss America" to say the magic words...

"Change is necessary for such an undertaking. As we've seen over the past few years some people are afraid of change, but we can no longer afford such sentiments. Provincial thinking must be disregarded if the nation is to advance into the future. To defeat provincialism, abrupt changes must be made, and no one must be given the chance to unmake them. In this great cause, those changes will be made now."

"Now! Now! Now!" The team leader called out. The group charged for the exit en masse, ready to jump into the teeth of any police that might be waiting for them. As they scrambled the demolition man detonated the charges.

In the halls above, the explosions sounded as one as the charges destroyed the display case and the surrounding area with a wave of concussive force and a wall of fire. The blaze spread throughout the floor, damaging several priceless artifacts...

...but the most important ones, The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the founding documents of the United States, were already nothing more than ash.

Across the country, the founding documents of each of the states were similarly destroyed. Phase One of The Renaissance Plan was now complete.

Merely a thought experiment carried out in a summit meeting three years before, the Plan evolved over the years into a real strategic operation when the people of the World saw that the President actually meant to keep the promises she made. With the help of most of Congress and a war-weary electorate, the President beat America's swords into plowshares by withdrawing all American servicemen stationed on foreign soil, reducing the Navy to a coastal defense force, standing down all Air Force combat squadrons, reducing the Army to a small, territorial quick reaction force and nationalizing and disbanding the National Guard. The Coast Guard was stripped of its armed cutters and instructed to concentrate on Search and Rescue and Maritime Safety close to America's shores. S.W.A.T. and other special law enforcement strike units, which often used military-style weapons, were outlawed nationwide. Private gun ownership was banned immediately by Executive Order. (The President "found" that even highly restricted private gun ownership was a threat to National Security.) A law was passed putting a solid cap on defense expenditures. The most stringent immigration laws were repealed, and the State Department began working on a series of non-aggression pacts with neighbors near and far, while preparing the way for international monitoring of America's strategic forces.

The World saw this progress, but also saw the terrible resistance from the country's Extreme Right. The President had to face rabid opposition at every turn, making each victory a costly one. Most leaders were at a loss for what to do to help the President along, until someone called attention to what the Right was using as the basis of most of their arguments.

The Renaissance Plan then became the official (though secret) policy of the International Community. It took more than a year to organize and equip the right forces, get them into place and launch the strike across all fifty states in one night when most of the members of the central government would be in Washington, D.C. and the rest were easily tracked. Special Forces and Elite units from nearly thirty nations had taken part in Phase One, the goal of which was to eliminate the main obstacles to the President's agenda becoming reality, but first those obstacles would be used to get the nation's attention and bring the President back on track.

The dissenters said that the Founding Documents trumped progressive ideas. Now, there were no Founding Documents. Renaissance in America had begun.

This, of course, meant that Coyote's forces were now targets, who would be hunted down like dogs assuming they made it out of their target areas without being shot dead by what were sure to be extremely pissed law enforcement officers. It was actually a small concern. They'd all known beforehand that this would be likely, and those that managed to survive would soon have help.

"I call on the people of the United States to accept change." The President said. "I call upon you to resist the temptation of vengeance, resist the allure of 'an eye for an eye'. This is not a crisis. This is a new morning in America. We can be great again, and we will have help to be. The International Community will help the several states to adapt to the changes we still need to make in order to truly be good neighbors in the world. Until then, Peacekeeping Forces are being deployed to help maintain security and order."

They would arrive soon, Coyote thought. Those forces, heavier ones to implement "Phase Two", had already been deployed to safe areas in Canada and Mexico and would now be heading for their respective borders with the former superpower.

"To make their arrival as uneventful as possible, I would ask that those citizens who have not already complied with Executive Order 13666 please do so now by turning your weapons in to your local police department. Dead--Deadly force w-will be used against anyone who threatens the Peacekeepers with violence. Really, the order is to protect you."

She took a moment to regain her composure. "If we're calm, and if we're smart, the transition period will be short and relatively easy, and at the end of it all we will have a better country. Better, Cleaner, Safer.

"Once again, I thank you for your time, and ask that you join me in wishing the best for our country in the times ahead. God Bless you, and God Bless America."

There was no applause. It was as silent as it had been when she entered. After a minute or so Coyote leaned in and whispered in her ear: "You did fine, Madam President." With that, he left the dais and sprinted toward the exit, then filed out with his men. The door slammed behind them.

Another moment of silence passed, then the President heard someone hiss through his teeth: "You stupid BITCH!"

She turned. It was the Speaker of the House. "Couldn't have done it WITHOUT you, Dick." She shot back.

The Speaker was flustered. "I never meant...!"

He was interrupted by a shout from the Doorkeeper. "They've locked us in! THEY'VE LOCKED US IN!"

This caused a general panic as legislators, administration officials, aides, reporters and others rushed to the exits, trampling each other in the process. Every possible exit was somehow locked or barricaded.

The President, defeated, just sat on the steps of the dais and watched the melee.

"Target in 3...2...1..." The Rafale pilot called over his radio. The carrier had gotten him very close to the U.S. East Coast, so the mission would be a relatively short and easy one.

"Two Away!" He said as he released his payload.

It was getting ugly in the House Chamber. The politicos were battering the doors and each other. Several black eyes and crushed kidneys were traded, and the President could swear she saw the Junior Senator from Arkansas break his neck as he was tossed into the seats.

"The Price of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance." She whispered to herself. It was the one saying she never bothered to discover the origin of. After all, it was just something right-wingers liked to quote when they thought someone might take their "shootin' irons" away. She'd never thought there was anything to it.

And yet, it came to mind as she reflected on the night, the approaching dawn, and her actions since she'd been elected.

"ETERNAL Vigilance." She said. "Now I get it."

A moment later, the first 500-pound bomb hit.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Veterans exist because there are people willing to risk their lives to prevent nights like the one just described from happening in real life. For that, we owe them eternal gratitude.

Begun at 11:00, AM (EST), 11/11/03.