“Perhaps our own planet was pulled out of orbit or became incapable of sustaining us. Perhaps after ages of misuse or carelessness. Or perhaps there was a great war that triggered a nuclear winter. Whatever the cause or impulse, we left . . . and came here. And in the struggle for identity or to make ourselves at home, over time we changed the planet’s elemental nature. We killed or shoved off its inhabitants, or maybe they fled to places we didn't want or find tolerable.”
He turned to face the general, to wait until the other raised his head.
“It is our bounden duty to change it back to the way it was. For them it is all they have. And we owe something to all the other living things we've harnessed, collected or changed or carelessly killed. Do you know what I saw the last time I drove a car? The windshield, uh-huh. The dozens of dead insects on it. How many do we destroy, do you think?” He paused, then, “There isn't much time, General.”
The older man got up and turned away. He had heard similar daydreams before, but over them drifted the cloud of responsibility that tugged at his eyes, twisted his lips. Ideas always started a rumble in his gut. He kept glancing at the people waiting nonchalantly through the afternoon for him to make up his mind to slaughter them or, if this feller was serious, hand over the country to them.
“You're not losing a battle, General,” Richard implored as if he’d read the man’s thoughts, “you're regaining a nation.”
The general coughed. “Wonder if Robert E. Lee saw it that way?”
For a second time, the chairman walked toward the orange ball of the sun. He stopped, bent over, picked something up and came back to the old soldier. The general saw in the chairman's hand a smooth, round, fist-sized rock. The general stuck out his jaw quizzically. What's he up to now?
The chairman walked up to the general, took a deep breath and in a slightly formal gesture offered him the stone.
The soldier accepted it and gaped at it. He rubbed it with both hands
Turned it over and over, groping for the meaning of this foolishness. But something was coming through, fathomed without clear thought. He didn't dare look at the chairman; wasn't right somehow. He placed the stone on a nearby stump, then un-strapped his revolver and offered it to the chairman.
When the Chairman returned from placing the gun next to the stone
The general's hand was extended, a frowned grin creasing his weathered face.
Richard made no move to take the hand. Instead he raised his arms and waited for the general to clamp his lips together, his eyes to become moist, to shake his head at the wonder of feeling his own arms rise and clasp the Chairman in a great hug.
It might have been a strange sight but the Outsiders had been embracing
for a good many months. Then hundreds, then thousands rose and ran to surround and cheer the two men who would be remembered for this