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The Cardinal


2027, Outside Munich, Germany


Catherine Schmidt drove toward Munich, returning from Salzburg, where she had happily announced to her parents she was in her fourth month of pregnancy. But the joy of that revelation faded as she gripped the wheel of her BMW. It wasn’t the speed of the surrounding vehicles on the autobahn that bothered her. Rather, Catherine’s concern grew from the gray winter clouds showering the highway with snow and the dusk’s failing light obscuring visibility. 

The screen on her console beeped, announcing Josef, her husband, wished to video chat. She grinned, pressed the accept button, and his worried face appeared on the display.


“Hi honey, I’m so glad to see you. Keep me company the rest of the way.”

“That’s why I called. Are the roads bad? It’s snowing pretty good here.”

“Here too. Makes it hard to see but I’m okay.”

“How are you feeling?”

“We’re fine. Mom and dad pampered me the whole time. I just miss you.”

“I miss you too. You look beautiful. Hey, guess what? The painters finished yesterday. You should see the baby’s room, you’ll love it. How’d your folks take the news?”


“They’re so happy to have a grandbaby. I even think dad likes you now,” laughed Catherine. “They took me shopping. You should see all the kid’s stuff they bought. The backseat’s full.”

“I think your father still doesn’t like…”

A Mercedes van popped out of the gloom, swerving close, startling Catherine, forcing her to veer to the right to avoid a collision.

“Watch it, Arschloch!” cursed Catherine. She moved her hand and patted her stomach, comforting the child inside. Josef saw the aggravation etched on her face.

“What’s wrong?”


“Some guys in a Mercedes van almost hit me when they passed. Going too fast in this weather. Tell me about…Oh shit, Josef!”

Fifty meters ahead a car skidded across two lanes of high-speed traffic. Everyone slammed on their brakes. None of the motorists saw the black ice until it was too late. The last thing Catherine’s brain registered was a cargo truck clipping the back end of the Mercedes van causing it to roll side over side. On the second flip, the lithium batteries burst into flames causing the pallet of C4 in the cargo bay to detonate, obliterating the dozens of vehicles caught in the blast zone. 


Josef saw the red glow of brake lights reflect off his wife’s face; her mouth opened as if she were about to scream. But then a bright yellow flash streaked across his screen just before everything went dark.

“Catherine! Catherine!” he yelled.

Her unrecognizable body was one of many found by the emergency responders in the burned-out vehicles strewn about the concrete highway. It was, however, Josef’s inconsolable grief that would have a monumental impact on the world.


Chapter One: The Conflict

Air Force One, Sacramento, CA

One Year Later


President Martha Jennings rushed down the stairs of the helicopter. She held onto her cream-colored cowboy hat as the wind from the rotor blades whipped her shoulder length gray hair. She strode across the tarmac, her brown boots stained with ash from touring the latest fire disaster. As Jennings passed the throng of media, they erupted, firing questions all at once. She could distinguish a few of them as she passed, not stopping, wanting to get on the plane as fast as she could.


“What’s your administration doing to stop the fires?”

“When’s the power grid going to be reliable again?”

“Farmers don’t have water. What’re you doing about it?”

 President Jennings hustled up the stairs of Air Force One. She hoped to hear a final solution from the task force meeting held that morning chaired by her chief of staff. As soon as the stairway pulled away, the pilot spooled up the engines for an immediate takeoff.


Jennings hurried to her office in front of the plane and barked at her assistant. “Tell Richard I want to see him.”

Richard Yount, her Chief of Staff, was sixty-three, a former Army General of Special Forces and Deputy Director of the National Security Agency. His black hair was silver at the temples but the distinguishing feature most remembered was his dark, lifeless eyes when he stared at you. He came in and strapped down for takeoff, sitting across from the President. He could smell the smoke absorbed by her white cotton shirt and blue jeans.


“How was it?” asked Yount.

“Fucking heartbreaking. Fifteen hundred homes gone; two hundred square miles scorched. Thousands of livestock dead. People are scared, angry, and desperate for answers. Another year of the West burning.” She paused and shook her head. “Ok let’s get to it. How was the meeting?” 

“It was a ten-minute conference call that lasted two hours. You know the science types; they grappled over every detail.”


“Did they agree?”

“Finally. Too late to reduce the temperature. They said in twelve to fifteen years population growth, combined with the heat, diminishing water supply, and decreased crop production will cause significant food scarcity on every continent. Consensus was the only way to avoid mass starvation is to reduce the Earth’s population. Less people, less food, less CO2 into the atmosphere. They called it zero population growth, ZPG. The biologists agreed the best way to get ZPG is to sterilize the men. They said we’re at a tipping point.”


“Sterilization was the final answer?”

“Yeah, well people won’t stop having sex, and given one man can theoretically impregnate several women a day, it’s the surest way to depopulate the planet.”

“Well, we were warned it might come to this. Let’s move on it. What’s the methodology?” 

“The Chinese have a drug they say can safely do the trick and India’s agreed to use it. But after the Covid scandal, no one here or in Europe trusts them. Same with Japan. They’re looking to us. The good news is we have an almost shelf-ready drug they can make into a pill. It was developed by the Army decades ago then discontinued. It’s called Project Bare Cabinet. General John Bailer’s running the show now at Ft. Detrick.”


“Can Bailer pull it off?”

“He’s a highly regarded scientist. Has a world reputation. Was a Nobel finalist years back. If he finishes the drug, it’ll be accepted by the participating countries and be well received by both parties here. I’ve done a deep background check on him. He’s conservative in his beliefs. You’ll have to convince him sterilization is morally correct.” 

“Convince him? It’s voluntary. If he doesn’t like it, I’ll fire his ass and appoint another one. I don’t have to explain my orders to those in my Chain of Command. For fuck’s sake, Richard.”

“Madame President, you know I’m a conservative Catholic, a member of Opus Dei. Under normal circumstances, I’d consider a sterilization program, voluntary or not, to be immoral too. Remember the vaccination resistance? Thousands died unnecessarily. Again, we’re asking people to change their values or at least make an exception. Not easy to do.”


“You don’t support this?”

“I do because if we don’t reduce the population, hundreds of millions of innocents will perish. That’s an even bigger sin. We can’t let that happen. But I’ve seen the data and believe the scientists. Not everyone does.”

Jennings turned in her chair and peered out the plane’s window. He’s right. Too many have lost faith in government. They blame us for all this. We should’ve acted much sooner. Passing below, she saw the once productive farmland now had large swaths of brown empty fields, water no longer available to grow crops. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped the armrest. 


“Look at the San Joaquin Valley, most fertile soil in the country. Used to grow twenty-five percent of our fruits and vegetables. Now it’s only fifteen and getting less each year. Easy to see how we’ll run out of food. We only have one shot at this, Richard. We can’t fuck it up.” She continued to look down then finally turned back and faced her Chief of Staff.

“Alright. Let’s get the Pope to help us. People have faith in him. If he backs our efforts that’ll convince millions it’s morally right to volunteer. What else?”


“Two national security implications. First, what if we don’t get enough volunteers to sign up? What happens then? Do we just let nature take its course? We need a backup plan because border security will break down and …”

“Stop right there. Let me be clear on this. This is strictly a volunteer program. Completely above board and transparent. Sterilization’s a sensitive enough issue, and we don’t have a lot of credibility. Anything amounting to the slightest perceived impropriety will derail us. Got it?”

“Yes, Madame President.”

“Let me worry about getting enough volunteers. What’s your other issue?”


“There are sections of the world not participating, some are our enemies. Specifically, ISIS, Al Qaida, and their terrorist offshoots. The Middle East’s been flooding immigrants into European cities, the largest migration of people in human history.  The NATO security people believe it’s deliberate. They’ll wait until the native populations are reduced then swoop in, seize political power, making Christianity illegal forcing everyone into Islam.”

Jennings shook her head. “That fear-mongering is old thinking and I reject it. I have the utmost confidence in our Muslim allies. This crisis, as terrible as it is, will tear down the prejudices we hold against one another and unite us as one world.”

“I respectfully disagree, Madame President. The violence is escalating again and…” 


Jennings held up her hand, halting his argument.

 “Noted. Start working on Bailer. Set up a meeting with just him and me. And start arranging an appointment with the Pope. I need to come out of there with a yes, Richard. Figure out how to make that happen. The fate of the world is resting on what we do over the next few months.”


Yount went back to the staff room and opened his briefcase. In it was a folder labeled, Psychological Profile, General John Bailer and next to it, a private computer void of any government software. He removed it, realizing what he was about to set in motion.

Jennings is naïve. Politicians are so fucking clueless about national security. They never listen until it blows up in their face. Not this time. She leaves me no choice. 

Yount gritted his teeth, powered up the laptop and typed in the message: 

“Project Brimstone is a go. Stand up the team and execute phase one.”

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