The imposing Melissa Alano compound sat high along a cliff face overlooking the Pacific ocean. As striking as its prominent command of the coastline, was the fact that at night it glowed like an illegal nuclear power plant - remarkable because during the Gorean age of Solar few could afford to power such an ostentatious display of light. Melissa Alano was different though, she was a key supporter of the Solar age and President Clint Williams and was therefore given indulgences to run rare diesel generators.

I had hoped to arrive incognito at the Alano estate, but I stirred up quite a commotion glowing like a bug lamp, driving up to the mansion in the red hydrocarbon belching Viper the Mahdi had given me (I mean loaned me). All the GreenWorld supporting cognoscenti who had driven their electro-hydrogen cars seemed more green with envy than with environmental correctness - periodic brownouts made recharging them too hit or miss even for the Green World privileged. The Gorean green legislation enacted decades ago ensured only certified collectors could own high-powered hydrocarbon cars.

The Secret Service scooted me out of my Viper through a back garden gate and into the serving kitchen. Laura was there, radiant as usual, standing impatiently waiting my arrival, her toe tapping.

"Remember, this is a very important moment for us both." Laura looked sternly in my eyes. "Don't mess it up!"

"I'm not quite sure what I shouldn't be messing up," I confessed. "But you know I love you," I added sheepishly.

"Prove it." Laura commanded. "You know how great the President's ability to affect my - our - future well being is. And beyond that, there are so many people in the peace and environmental movement here I want to impress. I am so nervous."

I made a motion to give her a small kiss by way of encouragement, but she shrugged me off. "I have to get ready to sing now."

I was left to pace back and forth, watched over by the kitchen help busy preparing the meal, and Ilhan, a bored Secret Service agent newly arrived from Somalia. Forty-five minutes of waiting were enough to nearly drive me crazy, when I began to hear the voice of Laura drifting through a crack under the door.

Well I thought that we could make it,
Yes, I thought that we could make it,
Didn't you. Didn't you.
And there were blue skies
And stars up above
A green earth,
And the magic of love

I wanted to hear Laura sing up close, this was new material, but Ilhan the Secret Service agent had info coming through her earbud and asked that I follow her. I was led upstairs to where the President was taking audiences in a drawing room; the short walk through the Melissa Alano mansion screamed boucoup riche, her place was gorgeous. I saw Laura from the top of the staircase, she had taken a break from the singing for a moment to answer questions from adoring sycophants, and I winked at her. She waved back, but it seemed a bit forced.

"Dr. Heller, how nice to meet you." Were the first chipper words from President Williams as I entered the drawing room. He stood nursing a sherry, his silverback status confirmed by two slim and perky female aids he ordered away.

"Laura Silvan is the most exquisite woman on the planet -- next to my wife," President Williams hedged with a nervous laugh when we were alone. Our President's marriage was rocky to say the least and he was known to over compensate for his infidelity. "You are very lucky, Laura speaks highly of you."

How could you not like the President's infectious voice and enthusiasm? His approval ratings were in the high 70s and Historians were already debating his place in history - better than George Washington, close to FDR, perhaps as good as Obama. Still, there was a sour-grapes minority who thought he was one son of a bitch, the ultimate incarnation of a lying socialist politician. I was neutral, I tried my utmost to tune out the political cosmic dust.

"The pleasure is mine, Mr. President," I returned, showing somewhat tepid enthusiasm. "It's an honor to speak with you." But the fact that Laura had spoken to him about me also began to nag my jealous subconscience. What did she need me for if she spoke to the President already?

"My fine friends, Dr. Qin Huang and Mahdi Ahmadi, have told me of your capabilities." The President continued, almost oblivious to my presence. "In fact, I was just speaking with them downstairs. Dr. Heller, let me be blunt. You have a unique opportunity to help the future of mankind."

"I doubt that . . ." I began to protest, but the President cut me short.

"As you well know, as president I am confronted with uprisings and upheavals throughout the world: Burma, Mexico, the Indo-Pakistani tactical nuclear war, China hydrocarbon pollution. The U.N.'s World Carbon Tax was never accepted completely and here at home there is the Autonomous Territories issue with so many problems. Our National Civilian Security Force is hard pressed to keep order. There is scarcely a day that goes by without requests for Presidential intervention both here and abroad!"

"You honor me if you believe I could influence such momentous events," I responded weighing my words. "But I'm just here to help Laura Silvan."

"Well, Dr. Heller, I know you believe yourself just a common citizen, but often common men and women are called on to perform uncommon acts that will change the New World community!"

This immediately made me gut-nervous.

"There is a need for this president to be able to act as a calming agent in the world, a messenger of peace."

"The bully pulpit you mean?" I asked naively.

"Well, not exactly, Dr. Heller. When there is famine in South Africa and a bunch of petty warlords execute white invaders, my only option has been to send in the troops. When one million Latinx peasants, God help their poor souls, come struggling across the Rio Grande each month driven by Global Warming induced hunger, I have been asked to draw a line in the sand. Again, my only option has been to send in the troops and open fire on our own border agents . . . ."

"Doing nothing is also an option, isn't it Mr. President?" I suggested. "I know your use of the Presidential Praetorian Guard in the Dearborn Sharia Territory uprising has not gone well."

"Doing nothing is not an option when children are starving!" the President replied huffily, irritated especially that I would mention Dearborn. "Nor when minority civil rights are abused! We are an open border multicultural society you understand! Inaction is not an option when we face an existential threat! Global social justice must be enforced when our planet is being environmentally raped!"

This was politician gibberish. But understanding the forced Balkanization of America along ethnic, class, environmental and energy faultlines had long been above my paygrade. Despite my puzzled look, President Williams continued anyway.

"Obviously, what is needed is a way to quell the inflamed passions of quarrelling factions of cultural populations driven by recidivist White Supremacist revolution. Because that's what all these opposition groups are, violent factions whose selfishness stands in the way of positive change for our civilization!"

I felt like a 'Here here!' or 'bravo' was required, but I was only capable of a subdued "Like I agree totally."

I guiltily wondered whether this president was perhaps as much the root cause of much of the global upheaval as the solution. Always eager to act as nanny to the world, he used the lives of American fighting boys as bargaining chips for environmental and social 'change', yet never seemed willing to prosecute these wars to their logical end - that is, genocidal war of annihilation against hydrocarbon polluters and white supremacist domestic terrorists.

On the DarkWeb's underground FreedomNetwork, some called President William's doctrine the Europeanization of American policy. Some called it dilettante humanitarianism gone insane. I myself had no opinion. I don't get paid to stick my nose where it doesn't belong.

"I am a transhumanist," the President continued. "Do you know what that means?"

"No," I admitted.

"Transhumanism is an international intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of new sciences and technologies to enhance human cognitive and physical abilities."

"Who could oppose anything so logical?" I agreed to the President's well rehearsed mouthful. The President continued.

"We wish to ameliorate the undesirable and unnecessary aspects of the human condition. Disease, aging, death, climate change: transhumanists believe in developing and using human enhancement techniques and other emerging technologies for these purposes. We oppose the know-nothing anti-scientific backwardness of right-wing ideologues."

"Seems admirable," I admitted. "Though I'm always wary of unintended consequences, even when you have the best intentions. Sometimes my fractals get out of control," I added obtusely.

"What I'm telling you is that this is your chance to help humans by shaping their future in a positive way," Williams ignored my cerebral burp. "We need change!"

"Who could object to that?" I agreed.

"I don't know if you know this, but Ahmadi Mahdi and Dr. Huang have been friends of mine for quite some time now," the President tried to establish rapport with me.

"They've told me you are long time friends, something about campaign money," I acknowledged.

"It goes far beyond money, we have far more than we could ever use personally. But they have a problem - an opportunity it is better to say - that parallels a problem I have. In fact, it is a problem you share in as well. We are all in the same boat."

"And what boat might that be?" I asked, thinking it sounded like the boat we were on was the Titanic taking a pleasure tour through the North Atlantic iceberg fields.

"Our mutual future is tied to the liberation of a certain virus from the shackles of a right-wing bureaucracy - a shadow government really. An internal coup at the Center for Disease Control, one might almost say."

"But you appoint the head of the CDC. You are the one who gives the orders and is in control," I responded."

"I wish you knew how naive that sounds," the president responded sincerely. "Going back to the original Covid 19 virus of 2020, the Center of Disease Control became it's own parallel government. Why else would it need it's own special police forces?"

"I know the story," I replied gingerly. "When Covid jumped the tracks and started mutating like crazy back in the early days of the Perpetual Pandemic, they had to militarize the CDC, first for mask mandates, then enforced inoculations."

"Yes, of course, every schoolchild knows that," the president interrupted curtly. "But of course, America faced many health problems back then. Guns on the street was obviously a healthcare issue and the FBI was just too stodgy to do the confiscations. That's when the CDC first stepped in to confiscate weapons from mentally insane people."

"But an even larger existential threat was carbon-dioxide pollution that was claimed to be causing climate change." I cut to the chase. "The CDC had to step in there with enforcement for public health. The disparate impact on the health of minority populations required more interventions."

"Well someone remembers their high school history," the president replied somewhat condescendingly. "And everything proceeded in a logical fashion as the CDC took on a parallel governmental role under Progressive Party control. But what is not known, and you must swear secrecy to, is that elements of the CDC Citizen Police have staged a white supremacist coup and are refusing to follow their enforcement mandates."

"You mean they no longer administer forced inoculations for COVAIDS? They allow gun ownership? That kind of insurrection?" I asked naively. "There have been rumours on the DarkWeb chat forums that something was up and enforcement was slacking."

"That's actually why Qin Huang is here tonight, along with the Mahdi. My intent is to give Directorship of the Center for Disease Control to Dr. Huang, there is no one better qualified."

"And the Mahdi?" I queried, after my initial shock about Huang's future appointment wore off.

"Huang will need a physical enforcer to clean out the gang of supremacists who have made the CDC a swamp. Brutally but as quietly as possible."

"Oh," I paused. "Then why do you need me? Why am I here? I don't have any place in what will likely be a military public health action."

"There is a virus the CDC keeps locked in its vault," the president responded slowly, gauging my reaction. A light began to dawn. "Its known as COVAID-Omega, the last most infectious mutant version of the virus that began with the COVID-19 engineered so long ago at the Wuhan Lab in China. It is held captive by the mutinous right-wing Anti-Progressives who infiltrated the CDC bureaucracy."

"Anti-Progressives?" I quizzed. "The idea that there is any internal opposition to your government is news to me."

"Yes, they call themselves the Forgotten Patriot Brigade. Bluntly, and this is in strictest confidence you understand, some few members of our military anti-biological warfare units have gone rogue and combined with elements of the Center of Disease Control Citizen Police. This is not something that can be revealed to the general public, you understand."

"That would explain the heightened activity of the National Civilian Security Force," I conjectured.

"Yes," the President admitted. "In a free state, we need counterbalances, especially to our military. We've tried mass re-education, but it doesn't seem to work against ill educated and indoctrinated Old Constitution True Believers. So you see the need for me to act outside the box regarding acquiring the COVAID-Omega viral code."

"And why is that virus so damn important to everyone?" I begged a coherent explanation.

"Because it is a window to the soul, Dr. Heller. It is inordinately attracted to structures of the central nervous system, structures in what commonly are known as the pleasure centers, the nucleus accumbens. It is therefore a direct route to the control of primitive psychological motives, a control over the emotions of war and peace. Coincide ntally, it is also a means to cure the addiction to Black Orchid, the opiate which has ravished our nation."

"But that's not the viral operating mode in nature, is it?" I asked, internally beginning to answer my own question. "To cure mental diseases?"

"Of course not, Dr. Heller. COVAID-Omega has no interest itself in the psychodynamics of humans. In its natural state, it simply debilitates its victims, causing a weakening and eventual paralysis."

Back far back in 2016 when National Medal winner Dr. Fauci was greenlighting Gain of Function studies with the Wuhan Lab, they only had a dim hope that the Corona Bat virus would be so adaptable to planned human engineering. After they designed Covid-19, they realized they had the perfect vehicle to control populations, both in China and around the world, for the betterment of all humankind. They just made the mistake of releasing Covid-19 too early before it was mature evolutionarily.

"It took a decade before COVAID-1 came along," I recited the popular story. "The rumor was that it was a cross between the AIDs virus and COVID, created when people with HIV caught Covid-19. Something about the surface spike glycoproteins being so similar and Dr. Anthony Fauci having patents on them."

"Well that's just rightwing propaganda," the President chortled. "Fortunately, the Cybersecurity Information Serivice was able to keep the population from panicking. If they thought their governments were designing retroviruses to turn them into pliable zombies, all hell would have broken loose. That's why they came up with the stories about Covid Delta, Mu, Lambda and an alphabet soup of Greek letters to hide continuing work."

"Pliable zombies!?" I stuttered. "That sounds like the work of Nazi Dr. Menegele, not something America would be involved in."

"Well, it wasn't just Americans. We were funding the Chinese military with millions in bioengineering grants too. But don't act so indignant, it was for a very good scientific reason."

"Such as?"

"Scientifically," the president looked me square in the eye. "The world has reached it's carrying capacity of human beings. The matrix of civilization has reached its limit and World leaders have been convinced for decades that to avoid wars of annihilation, over religious aberrations, over global climate change, over gender inequality - that human populations need a blow off valve to avoid self annihilation. That's why COVAID-1 was designed to leapfrog Covid-19's capabilities, to add scientifically calculated modifiers to the human genetic base that would calm our primitive instincts. But in random cases it caused demyelinating diseases, something called tropical spastic paraparesis. It was just too unstable. We are fortunate it was never released"

"But now you are talking about COVAID-Omega, not COVAID-1," I interejected.

"COVAID-1 has progressed far beyond its initial level of refinement with human help," the president explained almost condescendingly. "After all, it is pretty easy to run away from paralysed people once word spreads of an epidemic. Soon no one is left to transmit the disease!" The president laughed.

"Not until scientists got their dirty hands involved," I hypothesized. "What you're implying is that COVAID-Omega is a debilitating biological weapon derived from the natural Corona bat virus. I can't believe what our CIA is capable of . . . ." I mentally filled in the stereotype of our clandestine service. Except I was wrong.

"Oh no, Dr. Heller. The CIA didn't develop this virus to its present form, that's a myth. It was the Chinese who did that ages ago under Prime Minister Xi and with the help of U.S. money pumped into the Wuhan Lab. But it was created for very noble reasons, to create a just society."

"But then our government began to develop the virus as a weapon of war?" I asked incredulously.

"Wrong again. I am disappointed you have not caught on more quickly. It was developed as a weapon of peace!"

"At first the Chinese hoped they had a paralyzing killer on their hands, but when they tested it in the War, all they got was a bunch of soldiers who complained of vague neurological disorders. What they had created was a variant of the Corona retrovirus that acted as a carrier for a mild opiate," the President filled in the story. "An unanticipated change in manufacturing technique caused the viral RNA strand to uncoil leading to a non-lethal variety."

"But you don't need COVAID-Omega, the new version, to carry opiates, do you?" I queried unhopefully.

"That would be an unfortunate possibility, Dr. Heller, I won't lie to you. But I am more hopeful of a lifegiving purpose. It is needed to carry an antidote to central nervous system maladies. Curing the addiction to Black Orchid is the use that most interests me. Did you know that 25% of our population is currently addicted? Did you know Laura Silvan is addicted??"

"Laura??" I was visibly stunned for a long moment, Laura meant everything to me. "Is your interest because of Laura?" My jealousy was ill concealed.

"Sadly, first and primary it is for my own daughter, Alicia, who is also under the influence," the President admitted. "But I certainly care for Laura's health as well."

"How do you have all this information, if COVAID-Omega has been secluded by the CDC?" I asked inquisitively.

"Dr. Huang worked on some of the original COVAID RNA sequencing analysis at Wuhan Lab where he worked in China. He is an expert on Glycoprotein 120, the virus spike protein that transforms the simple COVID into COVAID. Huang can tell you even more about the viral properties. I am just an armchair biogeneticist."

"Huang has had a busy career," I understated. Huang's involvement was a shocker, but I had lost my ability to be surprised by anything. "So once our CIA, once Dr. Huang got hold of this virus, they opened its inner secrets?" I conjectured.

"Inner secrets is a good way to phrase it." The President continued. "Yes, they found COVAID-Omega is a perfect transport vehicle for other substances. Combined with some psychotropic drugs, it is capable of delivering a sense of peace, through its affinity for the pleasure centers. But in the case of Black Orchid addiction, it can deliver a site specific cure to those same neural centers God forbid it ever be a weapon of war, but only a peaceful drug."

"So why do you need me." I asked puzzled. "Surely, as President you have the power to get access to this virus if it is of such incredible strategic importance."

"Oh how naive you are, Dr. Heller," the President sighed. "You forget, we have UN enforced treaties that specifically call for the destruction of all biological weapons of mass destruction. Its a wonder there's any of the COVAID-Omega virus left after the anti-biological weapons treaties of 2030. These rules restrict even an American President from access to biological warfare instruments. A fiefdom, the Forgotten Patriot Brigade, was inadvertently created within the CDC and there are now recidivists and rogue military there who not only wish my failure. They are plotting a coup!"

"Let me get this straight. You want to use COVAID-Omega as a biomedical cure, but the Forgotten Patriot Brigade in the CDC considers it a biological weapon they think you are plotting to use in a coup? But you don't wish it destroyed because it has wide application as a curative agent?"

"Something like that. Obviously I can't call up the FDA and CDC and tell them I need some viral samples? In the middle of a Presidential campaign? Perhaps I could tell them the President needs some petri dishes of a biological warfare virus for his daughter's science project?" He laughed at his own joke, and it made clear to me what was going on here. "You were designed as a Future Warrior, I think it is time for you to fulfil your destiny."

"In other words, you need an operative, an expendable fall guy," I coughed out the truth. "Ronald Reagan had his Oliver North to do the dirty work with the Contras. You need Steve Heller."

"I prefer to call you a Patriot, though, fall guy sounds so crude," the President admitted candidly. "Especially since I don't believe you will be caught. We need the recipe for the virus, it was locked up and sealed for a hundred years back in along with much of the evidence of Gulf War Syndrome. There is a specific culturing trick needed to get the active form of the virus."

"To culture the active, the lethal form? I don't think we need to discuss this any further if we're talking about me stealing a lethal viral code just so y'all can kill a couple billion people."

"No one wants to create a lethal version," the President turned stern. "We need it to create a benign healing version. You see, my dear daughter Alicia also has the same disease Laura Silvan has."

God, I was caught in a hard place now.

"So, while this virus is potentially the seed of a destructive biological weapon, it is also potentially a life-giving wonder cure of last resort?" I asked.

"That is the horn of the dilemma. Life is always a paradox" the President admitted, for the first time seeming sincere. "If it weren't my own child at stake, and it wasn't in the hands of the Forgotten Patriot Brigade,I would have personally ordered the destruction of COVAID-Omega long ago."

I paused to think. This wasn't a clear cut decision to make, there were risks on all sides and the benefits carried their own demons. But I was shaken from my thoughts by external events.

There was a sudden flashing of light from the window to the garden below, and I heard a scream from the first floor. A quick pop-pop-pop-pop of automatic weapons fire was heard coming from the grounds outside. Four square jawed secret service men, previously standing bored just outside the door, rushed in.

"Its time to go, Mr. President", the first agent motioned sternly, moving into automatic defence mode. They began hustling Williams out the door and down the stairwell, protecting him with their bodies as they went.

Suddenly we were in the middle of what seemed to be a war.