Today I’ve got an excerpt of Ben Bova’s new novel Power Surge, and be sure to enter to win a copy using the widget below the post!
Senator Tomlinson’s Office
The room smelled new. Jacob Ross hesitated at the door to the senator’s inner office and looked around at the light walnut paneling, the wall-to-wall carpeting, the pearl gray drapes on the long windows. Not standard government issue, he realized. The senator had spent his own money on his office’s décor.
Why not? Jake thought. He’s got plenty to spend.
Outside the private office, the senator’s suite was almost empty; hardly anyone had shown up yet. And Jake was almost an hour late for this meeting. Washington was blanketed with three inches of snow from the first storm of the new year. In his home state of Montana, nobody would even notice a paltry three inches, but here in DC the city was practically paralyzed. It had taken Jake more than an hour to drive from his newfound apartment to the Hart Senate Office Building, crawling through skidding, slow-moving traffic and stalled cars. He had narrowly missed being sideswiped by a city bus.
“You made it, Jake!” called the senator, from behind his impressive wide desk. “We were beginning to worry about you.”
Another man was sitting in one of the bottle green leather chairs in front of the desk. Jake stepped across the office and took the empty chair. He saw a gleaming new nameplate on the desk: SEN. B. FRANKLIN TOMLINSON, in gold letters, no less.
Tomlinson glowed with the kind of youthful vigor that comes with family money. In his shirtsleeves and fire-engine red suspenders, he was smiling handsomely.
“Jake, I want you to meet my chief of staff, Kevin O’Donnell. Kevin, this is Dr. Jacob Ross, my science advisor.”
Jake was one of the few people that Tomlinson had brought to Washington with him from Montana. Most of the office staff were local talent, knowledgeable Beltway insiders who had stayed home because of the snow.
The senator’s chief of staff was thin, edgy-looking. Suspicious dark eyes peering out of a pinched face. His light brown hair was thinning badly, and he had it combed in an obvious flop-over that accentuated his incipient baldness more than hid it.
O’Donnell put out his hand. “Hello, Dr. Ross,” he said, in a reedy, sharp voice.
“Jake,” said Jake as he took the proffered hand. O’Donnell’s grip was surprisingly strong.
Beaming and relaxed, Senator Tomlinson leaned back in his swivel chair and said, “Jake is putting together the energy plan I told you about, Kevin.”
O’Donnell muttered, “Energy plan.”
“I’ve gotten onto the energy committee,” Tomlinson said, “and I want to make an impression.”
Smiling knowingly, O’Donnell warned, “New senators usually keep pretty quiet until they learn the procedures, make a few friends, get accustomed to the Senate.”
Brushing that aside with a wave of his hand, Tomlinson repeated, “I want to make an impression. I got elected to help make new energy technology boost my state’s economy. I don’t want to waste any time.”
The staff chief’s smile turned wary. “You want to make a name for yourself.”
“That could be dangerous, Senator. You don’t want to be too pushy right off the bat. You don’t want to get known as a glory hog.”
“Me?” Tomlinson looked surprised, almost hurt.
O’Donnell fell silent, but the expression on his face was cautious, guarded.
Jake took up the slack. “Energy is a key issue, Mr. O’Donnell.”
“Okay, Kevin. Energy is important to everything we do. It affects our economy, our balance of payments overseas, it impacts the global climate-”
“Hold it right there,” O’Donnell said, raising a hand in a stop signal. “You’re one of these guys who thinks he’s going to change the world, make everything better. Well, it just doesn’t work that way.”
“But it should,” Jake snapped.
Turning back to the senator again, O’Donnell explained, “A brand-new senator can’t go barging into this town trying to change everything. It’s political suicide.”
“We’re not trying to change everything,” Jake countered. “We just want to put the nation’s energy policy on a solid, sustainable, comprehensive basis.”
“Why do we need a comprehensive energy plan? We don’t have an energy crisis anymore. We’re doing pretty well these days.”
Softly, Tomlinson asked, “For how long, Kevin? How long will it be before we fall into another disaster?”
Shaking his head, O’Donnell said, “Look, Senator, I can understand that you want to push the energy issue for your constituents back home. What’s your new technology called? MHD, isn’t it?”
“Magnetohydrodynamic power generation,” Jake said, feeling some resentment at the chief of staff’s obtuseness. “MHD power generators can burn the coal we can’t use now because of its high sulfur content, without polluting the atmosphere.”
“And MHD generators are more than twice as efficient as today’s power generators. We can lower people’s electricity bills.”
“That’s wonderful,” said O’Donnell, without a trace of enthusiasm. “Stick to that and you might be able to get it through.”
Senator Tomlinson shook his head. “No, Kevin. I’m not going to allow myself to appear as a man who’s only pushing for some pork-barrel legislation for his home state. I want to push for a comprehensive energy plan that can make the United States the world’s leader in energy production and in new energy technology, as well.”
Frowning, O’Donnell asked, “That’s what you want?”
“That’s what I want,” Tomlinson replied.
With a reluctant sigh, the staff chief said, “Okay, you’re the boss. But take it slow. And don’t go making any public pronouncements until you’ve talked to me about it. I’m here to protect you, you know.”
Tomlinson broke into a bright, easy smile. “Fine. No problem. Jake, you coordinate everything you do with Kevin.”
“Okay,” said Jake, warily.
“Okay,” said Kevin O’Donnell, equally unenthusiastic.
They chatted on for more than half an hour. Then, when Jake left the senator’s office and headed for his own, his cell phone buzzed.
Pulling it out of his pocket, he saw that the caller was from back home in Montana. But he didn’t recognize the name.
“Dr. Ross?” a woman’s strained voice asked.
“Yes,” said Jake. “This is Amanda Yañez, at Mercy Hospital. Dr. Leverett Caldwell has been admitted here, with a cerebral ischemia.”
“A stroke. We found your name-”
“A stroke? How bad is it?”
A hesitation. Then, “He probably won’t last the night.”