Palo Alto Weekly 34th Annual Short Story Contest
Second Place Adult

Hegemony Falls

by Tim Kane

Author Bio

Tim Kane is the JP Conte Fellow in Immigration Studies at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University where he specializes in economic growth, immigration, and national security. Kane earned a PhD in economics from UC San Diego. He served as an intelligence officer in the United States Air Force, and currently lives in Palo Alto with his family.

Inspiration

Ten years ago, a bedtime story I told my daughter about the dangers of technology run amok was so fun that I wrote it down and self-published it as an e-book. I enjoyed using fiction as a caution for something that we all struggle with. Most of my work as a policy wonk involves non-fiction warnings about economic dangers. And it seems to fall on deaf ears on both sides: Republican and Democratic ears! I recalled being inspired by apocalyptic fiction about nuclear war that I read as a young military officer: On the Beach and The Last Ship. Why not economic horror? Just maybe it will help us think twice about driving over the fiscal cliff.

Judge Comments

This is an imaginative and exciting story about a moment of crisis for the president of United States with enough heroes and heroines to keep the action racing from start to finish.

— Nancy Packer

October 29, 2025, 11:23 am, Princeton, New Jersey

The sky is flawless, and Danny tenses as the girl opens his jacket. This Wednesday's breeze is warmer than it should be, as if summer is yearning to stay forever in defiance of the revolutions of the Earth. She smiles nervously, reaching to clip the wifi microphone between the top two buttons of his shirt. Her hand lingers there, and he could swear he feels the graze of her fingertip against his neck.

His secret service agent moves in, but he waves her back. She shouldn't be so protective. This is a public speech, in front of hundreds of undergraduates in broad daylight, and they're surrounded by three cameras.

Relax.

He's the youngest Naval Academy graduate to command a cyber strike team. The fastest Ph.D. in Princeton history. The first Undersecretary of the Treasury on the cover of People magazine – now keenly aware of the young woman's hand moving down on his chest.

"Sorry, I think I dropped it," says the girl.

"What?"

"The mic. I may have dropped it inside your shirt. I do apologize, I'm just so nervous." He blinks at her, unsure what to do. She's tall, thick blonde hair, extraordinarily large eyes. Very pretty, maybe even Jewish. Mom would approve.

"No worries. What's your name again? Rachel?"

"Yes, sir. Rachel Wheldon, class of 2026." She has an intensity to her gaze that leaves her strangely unreadable. "There it is, on the floor!" She bends down at the waist, and rises back up, suddenly self-aware.

"I'll be introducing you in a few minutes." She says quickly. "And so anxious that I'll mess up in front of a million AmazonPrime viewers!" She pins the mic to the front of his shirt without incident this time.

"Not to worry, Rachel. I'm probably more nervous than you. Fingers crossed, today marks the sixty-fourth quarter of continuous economic growth. Sixteen years! Leave it to me to say something stupid that could kick off a recession."

"President Hammond wouldn't be happy with us if that happens," she laughs.

"No he wouldn't. He's got forty-seven fellow West Pointers working within a hundred yards of the Oval Office, and one Annapolis grad. Guess who's the fall guy?"

A ripple of applause from the crowd catches their attention, a reaction to the live feed going up on AmazonPrime1 when the Provost stepped up to the podium. 11:30 am. In the corner of his eye, Danny caught a look of concern sweeping across the secret service agent's face. Suddenly she is jogging, not running, deliberately across the stage toward him. No imminent danger. Something worse.

"No go," she is saying, though the applause drowns out her voice, "No go, Mr. Undersecretary." The agent nudges the girl aside and loud whispers a few inches from his ear, "POTUS ordered you back to West Wing. And he wants you on a secure line immediately."

12:37 pm., somewhere over Maryland

Danny was the lone passenger in the Marine helicopter. The president was asking questions that Danny couldn't answer. The new GDP numbers indicated the a slightly shrinking economy during the third quarter. Disappointing but hardly a national security crisis. So why was the Dow in freefall?

"We're thirty minutes away from the White House, Mr. West," announced the Marine pilot over the helicopter's speakers.

Danny's personal phone was buzzing incessantly. It was a number known only to a score of elite media contacts, Treasury and Fed officials, and trusted friends on Wall Street.

• WTH is up with the 30-year T-Bond? Call me. – M_Bartiromo.

• Wall Street going nuts. Citi, JPM, Goldman. All saying ‘Hold" for T Bills, but quietly dumping. A lot. – Electrum_Anon (inside source at unnamed hedge fund).

• Not a hack. Not an illusion. BLUF: At this morning's auction for 10y and 30y T Bonds, almost all of $63b competitive bids were revoked in the minutes leading up its close. Prices collapsed = interest rate spiked. Too late to terminate auction, so rates were locked and reported out. 9.125 percent 10y and 9.5 percent 30y. Confirm receipt. – Trey Webster (CIA Director).

• It's a *&%$ing bloodbath, Danny. NYSE and NASDAQ down 20 percent, gyrating wildly. Bond markets worse. Spreading to foreign futures. – Matt Carter.

• Secondary TBond interest rates are spiking. Foreign banks are dumping US bonds. Tokyo. London. Shanghai. – Trey Webster

Danny suppressed the anxiety that burnt up his palms as the helicopter alighted on the manicured grass of the South Lawn. From his window, he saw workers preparing the oval for this year's giant Christmas tree. One of Marine crew opened the door and lowered the stairs. Waiting for him outside was Doc Brannon, the Vice Chief of Staff.

"Do you remember that memo you sent around last year about this time," Doc yelled over the noise of the rotor. "... the one about Facebook's Libra and the new generation of bitcoins? Stablecoins."

A hundred photographers snapped images from the rope line. Reporters' voices cried out with questions.

Danny remembered trying to brief the stablecoin threat to the President's economic advisers in the White House, the CEA chair, the OMB director. They had made Libra jokes and rolled their eyes a year ago. Now? The first face he saw as they walked inside was the Treasury Secretary's. He had the fear of a child in his eyes and one word on his lips.

"Ares."

1:25 pm EDT, Hamburg, Germany

Karen Patton was the great-granddaughter of the General George "Blood and Guts" Patton, and a killer in her own right. She'd rocketed up the management team in Seattle. A young producer for CNBC's "Power Lunch" called.

CNBC's executive producer nearly spit his coffee when he heard. Where is she? Hamburg? Get the studio cleared, now! Everyone out. Quadruple backups. This was the white whale, beaching itself. It could make his career. He ran to the makeup room, giddy with the news for the host, who stared in disbelief.

Word from the Hamburg studio was that she'd already arrived. He did a mic check, explained the segment. She was a pro, entirely relaxed, smiled into the camera without showing her teeth, as comfortable speaking to a million viewers about the end of the world as she was chatting with a friend about music.

"Today, from Hamburg, we welcome Amazon's new CEO Karen Patton who's going to help us understand today's market turmoil. Karen, welcome!"

"My pleasure, Tyler," she replied. Her appearance was serenely calm and confident. Thousands of viewers had the same thought. Presidential. Or what that word once meant.

"You personally ran the Amazon Reserve division that created the Ares coin. Can you tell our viewers what that perspective gives you on today's dollar crisis?"

"Yes, that's right, Tyler. Jeff and I had an idea a few years ago to guarantee price stability to Amazon customers. On a lark we set up a digital currency called the Amazon Reserve – Ares for short. The Ares can be purchased with any major currency and saved at Amazon.com for future purchases of anything at prices that are frozen at that moment. In short, the Ares is a guarantee against inflation, even a currency collapse."

"Is that what's happening today? Is Amazon the future of banking"

She smiled winningly, pausing to ponder her words. "I wouldn't know, Tyler. I'm not privy to the goings on in Washington, DC, nor for the record do we operate as a bank."

"I couldn't agree more, Karen. The Supreme Court's decision in Bezos vs. Biden last spring means the SEC can never again regulate a corporate reserve currency as an investment security. ‘Money is money, whether gold or electronic' sayeth Chief Justice Roberts. The question I have for you is: How much money is flooding into the Amazon Reserve today?"

And there it was. The silver hook, fishing for the soundbite that would play endlessly for the coming 24 hour news cycle: "Today, the Ares coin has received a robust infusion from smart consumers worldwide who are seeking and receiving safe harbor for their savings. The definition of money needs to evolve with people's needs, Tyler. Governments are falling behind, running up debts for worsening customer service."

"I've heard rumors that the Ares holds over three trillion dollars' worth of reserves. Is that accurate?"

1:33 pm., Oval Office, The White House, Washington, DC

The President had his hand over the landline's receiver, nodded, then returned to the call. "Understood, Mr. Prime Minister, I can confirm at this moment that US markets are frozen. Agreed. Godspeed to you as well."

Setting the phone down, he nodded at Danny, "Good to see you, Squid. Sorry to interrupt your Princeton speech. I take it you're up to speed on what the intelligence community knows."

Danny edged his way forward from the dozen men circling the president's desk. They reminded him of men at the tracks at the moment everyone realizes their horse will finish last, still watching but no longer praying.

Relax.

"The GDP report didn't cause the crash. That's a coincidence, and likely misdirection that obscured the real cause. Something happened right before 9 am—"

"The auction, sir," piped in OMB Director Kevin Randall.

"No, not the auction," said Danny. He looked around the room and for the first time appreciated the spreading panic.

"Bullshit!" said a heavily sweating Randall. Primal fears lurked in the unknown. "Those Gucci bastards pulled their bids at the last minute. Total setup. Mr. President, you need to call them out right now—"

"Enough, Kevin," said the president. "Danny, you were saying?"

"I am saying the auction was an effect, not the cause. This morning, twenty minutes before the auction even opened, there was heavy buy and sell activity on the open markets for U.S. Treasuries. Keep in mind, sir, there are hundreds of US Treasury auctions per year, one every day of the week almost. This morning's auction involved no more than $80 billion, maybe half that in long bonds. That's small fry compared to the $25 trillion T-bonds held internationally."

"So?"

"So the Chinese own a major block of U.S. debt. Nothing says they have to keep those bonds until maturity. Well, Mr. President, that's basically what happened this morning. There was a worldwide, massive, unloading of T-Bond sellers on the open market."

"The Chinese?" The President was looking at the CIA Director.

"We think so."

The NSA spoke up, "It's an act of war. Economic war."

"Wait a second," Hammond said, holding his right hand up. "Let's say it was Chinese banks selling their bonds. Did they do anything illegal?"

"No sir, but it was malicious."

"I don't get it," said Randall, "Doesn't a global financial crisis hurt the Yuan, too?"

Danny shook his head to say no, and the President said what he was thinking, "No. The Chinese are savers. They don't borrow money to pay for their government's overspending because their government doesn't overspend. Right Danny?"

"Yes, sir, but there's something more happening ... I just can't figure out what."

 

3:10 pm EDT, somewhere over Germany

 

An hour after the CNBC hit, Karen was mediating in a soft leather chair, eyes closed, listening to the Bombardier Challenger's engines. She was at 34,000 feet, cruising soundlessly at 850 kilometers per hour.

"The board of directors are all dialed in, Ma'am."

She turned to the laptop. "As the briefing materials sent to you via encrypted email explain, the collapse of the dollar market worldwide has been echoed across most Western currency markets. And as our econ team projected, there is a direct correlation between each country's capital flight and its debt to GDP ratio."

Her COO talked them through the second slide.

"Our behavioral studies team noticed a deep trend ten years ago in the utilization of Amazon gift cards in less developed countries, notably throughout China, South Asia, and Latin America. Low to medium income households were using our gift cards as a savings vehicle. Central bankers didn't like it, but what could they do? Ten years ago, in 2015, the global gift card market was valued at $200 million US dollars and was projected to grow by 5 percent annually. Instead, it grew by 10 percent per year, going exponential. As our friends in the Valley love to say, we were approaching a singularity. A global financial singularity.

She heard Jeff's voice cross-talking, "From gift cards to a new global currency. You did well there, Karen!"

"Well, we all learned a lot from the collapse of the Libra in 2022. That's when Amazon's leadership decided to expand the Amazon Reserve program with two key features. By converting existing gift cards into Ares coins for Prime users, and allowing them to be exchanged between one another seamlessly, without taxation of any kind, we've turned the obsolete gift card into a medium of exchange, a defining feature of a global currency. Secondly, we evolved the idea of a stablecoin, the standard set by Libra and other cryptocurrencies. Ares was stablecoin 2.0, pegged to frozen prices of millions of goods."

"And what's the growth rate in the reserve?"

"It's more than a growth rate, Jeff. Reserves doubled in the first twenty minutes and have now risen five hundred x."

"What's the float?"

"Hundreds of millions in dollar terms every hour."

Lighting flashed off the right wing. A board member mused, "Are there ‘dollar terms' anymore?"

This was the day Karen had seen coming. State meant nation, as mind meant body, then like a flash of lightning, state meant corporation.

"Is this good for the country?" asked the retired four-star Admiral who had recently been recruited to the board.

"Yes and no," Karen admitted. "The American people will be fine. The American government? That's up to Washington."

6:34 pm., La Guardia Airport, Queens, New York

Rachel handed her passport to the TSA agent and was soon through security. She opened her Huawei phone and checked her Ares account. Even more than she was expecting.

She considered dialing Mr. West. Pressed his name.

"West here."

"Mr. Undersecretary," she whispered, affecting the vulnerable, admiring tone. "It's Rachel Wheldon. I'm sorry if I'm disturbing you."

A pause before he spoke, clearing his throat. "Rachel."

"I'm not sure that was wise for the President to start this new post-dollar era with a lie. Maybe I shouldn't be calling, but I honestly I feel guilty about that thing with your shirt, about letting them listen to you all day. Even now. They know."

Danny reached up to his collar where her finger had lingered at his neck that morning. And that's when he felt it, not the mic they'd removed from his front button. There was another one, the first one, just inside. It was warm.

"You're a fugitive now, Rachel." He had nothing more to say, as if the shrinking dollar was a rope tightening around his neck.

"Fugitive?" she laughed. "The danger is over for me now, Danny. For you, for your country, the danger is just beginning."