"Fine. So what are the American people getting for their billions?"
The president pressed play and, straining against the weariness of reciting it all for the two hundredth time, began to tick off the bountiful spin-offs that Celeste would bring to earth: glorious advances in - you name it - machinery lubricants, long-distance telephone networks, sewage treatment, robotic wheelchairs, insulin pumps, pacemakers, research on cures for osteoporosis, diabetes, uh, radiation-blocking sunglasses, energy-conserving air-conditioning . . . too numerous to mention, really.
Banion listened to this life-enhancing litany with the chin-quivering air of a man at pains to stifle a yawn. Sensing that he had better come up with something more millennial than Celeste's contribution to the field of ultrasound scanning, the president gave a gripping description of what the AOR--atmospheric ozone replenishment--module, part of the launch package, would accomplish once it became operational, namely squirting ozone back into the atmosphere to cover the O-Hole, which now stretched from the Falklands to Madagascar, wreaking havoc on plankton and emperor penguins alike.
Still Banion looked faint from boredom. The president dragged out the LAWSI module, the ultimate--if slippery--argument for Celeste's relevance. If in doubt, refer to the large asteroid warning system indicator, which theoretically could detect whether some astral death star this way was heading. The top people at NASA and the Pentagon had been cautioning him from becoming too evangelical on this particular aspect of Celeste. It was tricky business, getting the citizenry in a lather over the prospect of death-by-gigantic-meteor, especially this close to the millennium, when every fruitcake in the pantry was screaming Apocalypse.
"But what," Banion said, "are we supposed to do if we find out that there is an asteroid coming our way?"
"Well, in the unlikely event . . . we'd want some sort of warning."
"I wouldn't. If the world's about to end, I don't want any warning."
"No one is saying the world is going to end," said the president, trying to smile. "This is about beginnings, not endings."
When he began to extol the racial and cultural diversity of the astronauts being launched, Banion interrupted him.
"We'll be right back with the president, after this."
The studio filled with the sound of Ample Ampere's theme music. The commercial showed a basset hound sitting staring hopefully through the glass door of an oven, inside which a juicy roast was baking. The president gestured to his press secretary to approach with his miserable, inadequate excuse as to why he, Leader of the New Millennium, was being made to endure a homey commercial message about the joys of electricity.
A makeup woman, modern-day medic of the TV battlefield, sprang forward to touch up glistening foreheads.
Banion, overhearing a snatch of perturbed presidential conversation, leaned forward and said, "I asked them myself if we could bank the commercials at the beginning and end, but" - he smiled dryly - "it seems I am as helpless as you, sir, in the face of the exigencies of Mammon."
Banion's wife, bitsey, reached him in the car on his way to brunch at Val Dalhousie's in Georgetown. The interview had made her nervous. After all, the president was coming for dinner, next week.
"He's going to cancel now."
"No he won't."
"They'll make it sound like a last-minute thing. I've spent the whole week with the Secret Service."
"Bitsey, he's only a president." She would understand. She was fourth-generation Washington, a cave dweller.
Banion hummed along Rock Creek Drive, fairly throbbing with contentment over the entrance he would make at Val's. The car, made in England, had a burled walnut dashboard that shone like an expensive humidor. He could actually make out his reflection in it, and he liked that. He'd paid for the car with two speeches--one of them on how to revitalize the U.S. auto industry--and he hadn't even had to leave town for them. More and more, he hated to leave town. Everything he needed was here.
Excerpted from Little Green Men by Christopher Buckley. Copyright© 1999 by Christopher Buckley. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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