Thirty-one-year-old Ahmad Salazar bounded his way up the stairs, two steps at a time, to the twenty-fifth and top floor of the Bureau of Government Affairs building on Capitol Heights in New Washington State. A multi-tasker to the core, it was his way of getting in needed exercise, while accomplishing important business. He was a man on the move. Everything he did was purposed and important in his mind.
Upon reaching the summit, he paused to catch his breath. It wouldn't do to appear breathless before important people. Slowly he made his way down the richly carpeted long hallway, which was entirely on the west-facing side of the massive monolith.
With a single spike pointed skyward at the top, the Bureau of Government Affairs building was easily the tallest edifice in New Washington State at 350 feet. It had been purposely built to eclipse The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which had formerly claimed the title. The top floor was also five feet taller than any of the other floors in the building. All bureau buildings in every city of any significance were constructed cube-shaped, with one-way green-tinted windows covering their entire exteriors, suggesting the motif that "Big Brother is watching over you."
At the end of the long hallway, he came before the entrance to The Shrine Room, as the inner sanctum of the Bureau was called. He stopped before the highly polished mahogany double-door, which reached all the way to the ceiling and swung outward in both directions. It had been purposely designed to lessen the perceived significance of outsiders who entered and to increase that of those who worked within.
"One day I will rule this room, this building, and the lives of all 400 million Americans, including whoever is president. And then I will rule the world. But for now, I will tread lightly. The current occupants don't know about me yet." He pressed the doorbell a single time, as was the established protocol.
He waited. It was also established protocol for the weighty people inside to take their time in answering. He needed a little more time to settle his breathing anyway.
Hearing footsteps, he composed himself. The great double-doorway swung open, forcing him to retreat backward. At the door stood Mr. Francois Dupont, a man somewhere in his forties, whose severe face conveyed calculated condescension. Salazar knew him only slightly, as those who worked in "The Shrine Room" had their exclusive elevator to the top and seldom mixed with "the serfs" who worked below, as he knew they referred to him and his co-workers.
"What do you want, sir?" he intoned formally in his carefully cultured French accent.
"I am Ahmad Salazar. I work on the sixth floor. I wish to see the commander, please."
"What is your business?"
"I wish to discuss my assignment."
Dupont frowned. "Wait here. I will see if he will see you." He closed the massive doors, leaving Salazar outside and alone, seething at his perceived disdainful treatment. "Someday I will put Comrade Dupont in his place."
He turned to survey the city through the one-way window. All New Washington State was blanketed in snow. Some six miles distant he could make out the White House, the Capitol Building, and the newly renamed New World Order Monument, formerly known as the Washington Monument. To the northwest lay the Smithsonian International Zoological Park, beyond which flowed the Potomac River.
Again hearing footsteps, he turned before the doors swung open. "You have two minutes," spoke Dupont haughtily.
Salazar bit his tongue and followed Dupont through a maze of cubicles, swinging right and left. The immense room reminded him of a gambling casino, which he suspected was deliberately designed to make it hard for customers to find their way out. Though well illuminated, it also had the dark feel of a casino. He knew that once people made their way into this inner-sanctum of power, only death or dementia were tickets out.
Finally, they came to the office of Commander William Walter Cunningham, the current director of the BGA, at the far corner of the building. Evidently, the commander didn't want anyone working behind him.
A single knock on the door from Dupont brought a terse, booming response from the other side. "Enter."
"Two minutes," Dupont repeated. He opened the door, gestured Salazar in, and closed it behind him.
Cunningham remained seated, leaned back on his swivel chair, eyeing the younger man with a certain wariness. Somewhere in his fifties, he was attired in a Brioni business suit, with vicuna threaded fabric from Australia, a silk tie, and golden cufflinks that thundered his perceived significance. But it was his penetrating eyes more than anything else that unnerved Salazar.
"Comrade Salazar, am I to understand that you are dissatisfied with your assignment to the city of Green Valley?" The question seemed more accusation.
As if he were staring into the face of Medusa, Salazar broke eye contact and glanced down slightly. "I had hoped for an assignment more commiserate with my capabilities," he answered in his carefully rehearsed response. Inwardly, he shook.
Cunningham stared long and hard at the man who stood before him. "We don't yet fully know your capabilities, Comrade Salazar. But you'll have ample opportunity to demonstrate what you've got with this assignment. You ought to be pleased with our show of confidence. It's a new year. Green Valley has been highly problematic to us for years. It is the epitome of God-fearing, gun-toting, mid-western values. We sent one of our top agents there six years ago to bring to heel what we thought were a few Christian simpletons. It seems that we underestimated them. They ended up destroying Justinian Lubinecek instead. He was forced to resign in disgrace from the BGA. The man who replaced him, a Byron Bell, turned out to be even worse. He is no longer in the picture and you will replace him. We think you are capable of delivering the results we want."