State of the Union

"Turn the channel; it's almost time," Lucy said as she passed behind the couch with a laundry basket full of clothes. The dangling leg of some jeans clobbered the back of her husband's head as if to emphasize her request.

"But I'm watching the game…" he protested and craned his neck to get a better look at her. Lucy set the basket on top of the papers scattered all over the dining table and crossed her arms, staring her husband down. "We talked about this, Michael. We're all going to watch it together."

Mike nodded after a minute, and Lucy watched him turn back to the TV sitting across the room. He punched in the new channel number on the remote and sighed as the game was replaced by a talking head in a gray suit and blue tie with the now common American flag pin proudly displayed on his lapel. Lucy walked up behind him and laid her hands on his shoulders, rubbing them lightly. "I look forward to hearing the President's State of the Union address. The Press Secretary did not released the full context of the speech ahead of time, and that makes me wonder what kind of surprises the President has in store for us tonight," the anchorman commented and turned his head to look at the woman sitting next to him.

The woman's blonde hair was pulled back into a tight bun on the back of her head, making her look almost boyish from the front. She pushed her glasses up on her nose with one finger and smiled at the anchor. "Tim, I completely understand your anticipation. The few blurbs we've received from the Press Office haven't said much other than address the usual State of the Union fodder like the economy and those few foreign affairs issues that the President has on his plate at the moment."

Tim smiled and focused his gaze back on the camera, his salt and pepper toupee sitting proudly atop his head. "Stay tuned folks; we'll get back to the State of the Union after this brief commercial break," he said and the News 24 logo flashed up on the screen before cutting to commercial.

Lucy chuckled at the commercial and tapped the top of Mike's black-haired head.

Her husband tilted his neck back and looked up at her with his big brown eyes. "Something funny?"

"Not particularly. Can you grab the popcorn out of the kitchen while I get Dana? The speech should be starting any second now, and I don't want to miss it. There's been a lot of talk of what new things the President is going to talk about tonight." Lucy walked off towards the office/toy room where Dana was currently playing with her Barbie dolls. She stopped just inside the open doorway and smiled as her five year old daughter held up two dolls and proceeded to spout out voices for each. Lucy remembered playing with her sisters twenty some years ago and marveled at how the basic toys hadn't changed in the interim. "Dana, come along, honey; the show's about to start," she waved her daughter forward.

Dana scurried over to her mother, her two dolls still firmly clenched in her small fists. "Do I haaaave to?" she asked.

Lucy knew Dana didn't have the slightest idea about the importance of the State of the Union, but she still wanted her daughter to develop an interest in current issues at some point. Not to mention this was a good opportunity to get some much needed family time in. "You can bring your dolls, honey," Lucy said and scooped Dana up into her arms. She kissed her chubby cheeks and walked back out into the living room where Mike had once again taken a position up on the couch with a big green bowl overflowing with popcorn on his lap. "Popcorn!" Dana squealed and wiggled out of Lucy's grip as she approached the couch. Their daughter landed on the cushion beside Mike, letting the Barbies slip from her fingers as food occupied all her attention.

Lucy sat down on the other side of her husband and grabbed a handful of popcorn as the commercials came to an end. "The news network for the U.S. of A—News 24," the announcer declared, putting way too much emphasis on the first 'the'. The picture immediately cut to the House Chamber where the doorkeeper was just finishing announcing the President's arrival. Lucy watched as President Abrams walked down the aisle, shaking hands with members of both houses of Congress as he worked his way toward the center platform. The procession seemed endless, but he did manage to make it about fifteen minutes later. Abrams walked up the steps of the platform, grinning as he took his position behind the podium. He took a quick sip of water from the glass to his left and cast his bright blue eyes (one of the most appealing thing about Abrams was his eyes) out over the Chamber as everyone present took their seats.

"My fellow Americans, despite recent upheavals around the world and within our own borders, the state of the union has never been stronger," applause broke out in the Chamber and the President was forced to stop speaking until it died down. "A couple of the proposals I am planning on introducing tonight will propel our nation into the future as a bright, shining beacon of hope." More applause, but this time there was a secondary sound. Silence descended in the Chamber, but silence did not really exist. Lucy's eyes were riveted to the TV as the faint roar grew louder through the television speakers.

On the screen, Secret Service Agents started from their positions around the Chamber, converging on the President who still stood at the podium, his mouth opened to continue his speech. The larger of the black-suited men grabbed the President's arm and jerked him down from the raised platform, nearly lifting him off the floor as five more agents surrounded him and President Abrams. By now, the sound coming from the TV was nearly deafening in its intensity. Lucy seized her husband's hand as her mind frantically presented her with a slew of horrible outcomes.

She wanted to turn away, but some fascination kept her eyes glued to the screen which seconds after the President's hasty removal from the podium erupted in a flash of light and then dissolved into black and white static vying for control of the television screen. Lucy's hand tightened on Mike's as the News 24 logo popped onto the TV. The news anchor who'd been so calm and composed before the broadcast of the State of the Union looked anything but now. His toupee was completely turned on his head and his hands shook slightly as he shuffled the papers on the desk before him.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, it appears that something has disrupted our live news feed to the Capitol. We are currently working to reestablish contact with our news crews there. Please pardon us for the interruption as we work to correct these technical difficulties," he said, his voice shaking. The cameras left his face and the commercials resumed.

Lucy ran her free hand over her face and looked over at her husband. Their eyes met and no words were necessary to convey the feelings they both shared. Something was absolutely wrong. The country had been down this road before. She shifted her gaze to her five year old daughter who was happily munching on the popcorn, blissfully unaware of what may have just transpired, and suddenly, she wanted to keep her daughter that innocent. "I'm going to take Dana to bed," she announced, rising. "Keep an eye on that," she added in a whisper and jerked her thumb back at the TV. Lucy held out her arms and breathed a sigh of relief when Dana climbed into them with a yawn. They were safe; her family was safe. She had to focus on that.

Lucy clung tight to Dana as she went up the stairs to the second floor. Once there she turned and quietly opened the door to the bedroom her two young daughters shared. She tucked Dana into bed and gently kissed her forehead, "Goodnight, my angel," she whispered and made sure the blankets were securely wrapped around her little girl. "I love you," she added before walking across the room to the crib standing against the opposite wall. She stood watching their one year old daughter sleeping peacefully, her pink footie PJs poking out from beneath the blankets where her legs had thrown off the covers. Lucy tucked her back in and trailed a finger down Clara's rosy baby-soft cheek before slipping out the bedroom door.

She eased the door shut behind her and leaned back against the wall at the top of the staircase, breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth in an attempt to stave off tears. However, her attempts were futile and the tears came of their own accord, streaming down her pale cheeks. Lucy wrapped her arms around herself and prayed that this was a dream; there had to have been some mistake.

Footsteps on the stairs drew Lucy's attention outward once more. She brushed the tears from her face and watched as Mike drew near. "You all right?" he whispered. Lucy nodded, but the short movement was all it took to dislodge the tears that had been welling in her eyes, restarting the flow she'd just mopped up. Michael stepped up and enveloped her shaking form in a hug. "It'll be all right, Luce."

Lucy laid her head on the shoulder of his red flannel shirt, "Did they say so?"

"No, they've been on commercial break since you came up here, playing the same three or four commercials over and over again. All the stations."

"Then why aren't you down there watching?! What if they come back on?" Lucy demanded, her voice hard as she pushed her husband away.

"I just wanted to make sure you and the girls were okay."

Lucy nodded again and tried to shake her sudden anger. Mike had seen the same things she had. She renewed their hug, "I just need to know."

Mike patted her back for a moment. "Let's go on back down, maybe they've fixed whatever's gone wrong." He took her hand and the two of them descended the stairs together. The scene that greeted them on the TV screen did nothing to calm their fears; it fact it exceeded them. It was 2018 and the U.S. had been safe since 9/11. They'd had seventeen years of safety and now this. The capitol building where nearly the entire U.S. Government had gathered for the State of the Union was gone, leaving nothing but a pile of smoldering rubble in its place. Many of the outside walls were still standing, but it was clear that the entire building was being gutted by fire and the once beautiful domed ceiling had begun to give way. Lucy choked back a sob and sank into the faded sofa cushions beside Mike, their hands still firmly entwined. "Oh God," she whispered, watching the flames and smoke rise from the wreckage of the capitol.

The voice of the news anchor came on over the live footage of the devastation. "All the reports we're getting in right now confirm that President Abrams did not make it out of the House Chamber before the explosions hit," Lucy could hear the talking head take a deep breath as if steeling himself to continue, her own mind reeling. Explosions. What did that mean?

"The Vice President as well as the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate were also in attendance, and so far there hasn't been any indication of survivors." A photograph of a woman with short graying hair and a narrow face appeared on the screen to the left of the capitol ruins. "Secretary of the Interior Carol Johnson was the cabinet member acting as the designated survivor for tonight's State of the Union Address. We are hearing that she has now assumed the responsibilities of the President and Commander in Chief with the two members of the House of Representatives and the two members of the Senate who were also held in secure locations outside the capitol taking their positions as the Congressional leadership." There was another long pause and the anchorman's image replaced that of the first female president, a distinction no one would likely discuss for months to come.

"None of us know what to expect now…I mean, 9/11 was one thing, but this blatant attack has disrupted the core of our government. All but one member of the Supreme Court is gone, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, almost all the congressmen…everyone," he wiped his brow and knocked his toupee off in the process but didn't bother to pick it up. "All we can do is pray and hope for the best at this point. There's no ready answer. Even the continuation of government plans that various departments developed after September 11th were never really meant to be implemented. We're all flying blind now, and it is my sincerest hope that we as Americans will come together and find a way out of this new…well, mess, I suppose." He cut off there and dropped his eyes. Lucy could make out a tear on his face and then the cameras shifted off of him. The picture of Capitol Hill returned with its ruins still burning and Lucy started to cry in earnest then. What kind of world were their girls going to grow up in now?