Day of Change

Lawrence Holofcener

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               While the battalions of soldiers noisily dismantled and loaded the war machinery and themselves onto trucks and awaited further orders, Richard conferred with the General. 

Both were privately relieved when the impending battle was abruptly avoided.  Yet, while cheering the leaders, many of the Outsiders as well as the soldiers were privately disappointed.  Where was the glorious martyrdom of one, and the victory, the medals, for the other?   Among those was General May’s adjutant, Colonel Walker, who found Anne brittle and Richard soft.  

But when the troops were invited by their older ‘enemy’ to share their mile-long barbecue, they came with wagon-loads of beer, and laughter and singing was heard.

The General shared a salad with Richard and Anne and the two boys.  Afterwards, Richard took his cautious new friend outside their tent to watch the red sun fall.  He asked if, just for the summer, or a little beyond, he might borrow a crew of engineers, builders, welders and carpenters and some construction and earth-moving machinery for a ‘relatively small but interesting’ task. 

“Take all you can handle,” the general said, complying.  “We’ll have trouble finding duties for them not related to military affairs.  Although we’re thankfully fortified and secured, many of our bases are under siege by vandals and armed gangs.  Speaking of which, have you any ideas about handling this dangerous rogue element in our society?  The prisons are already full to bursting.”

Richard took a gulp of the cool evening air and posited, “Jupiter is ready and waiting, General.”

The old man’s mouth opened for an unuttered confounding howl.           

Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system, not all that distant in space time and able to absorb most of the human population within a fraction of its surface.”

“Is that so?  And just how will they get there, and if they do, survive on Jupiter’s cold climate and almost airless atmosphere?”

Richard said, nodding, “Some astrophysicists, even lowly astronomers, have long been saying there have to be lots of inhabitable planets like ours out there.”

“Mebbe so, but you still have the problem, if you find one, of getting to it, huh?  Our space program was in its infancy before the shut-down.  What?  Come on, out with it.”

Richard merely smiled then invited him to return later this summer to see what his soldiers would construct at the site.  Walking the tall old man to his helicopter, Richard said, “We could use a demolition expert as well.”

“Ha.  Got just the man,” the general called out.  Richard watched him and Colonel Walker board the big Huey, then put his arm around the younger man and gesture back. 

Waving to the clacking bird, Richard was suddenly light headed.  It was not the wash from the helicopter but the thought of the man inside it that assailed him.  Lt. General Clark May was, in fact, the titular head of all the armed personnel and military hardware up to and including tanks, ships, planes and submarines, and enough weaponry to obliterate any enemy along with a lot of innocent species.  Everyone and everything military stood ready and waiting for his orders.  Awesome to think of the power invested in that tall, humble soldier.  If he so wished, he could literally take control of the country, set aside the Constitution, rule by force.   Like so many despots across the globe had done and were still doing. 

Richard regained his composure and sighed benignly.  How fortunate for him to have confronted such an ‘enemy dictator’ on his march.   Indeed, most of the dictating had been Richard’s.  Most of the surrender to reason had been Clark May’s. 

When he rejoined Anne, she seemed cool, distant.  “What’s the matter, darling?”

She gave a large shrug.  “I don’t know.  It’s the general, I think.  No, it’s having to deal with the military mindset.  They’re ruthless, single-minded.  Mammon is their God.”

“That’s not Clark May.  He’s surprisingly unhawkish.”

“Maybe so, but not his adjutant, Colonel what’s his name.  He couldn’t look me in the face.  He was desperate to hear what you were discussing with the general, as if he were afraid of his surrendering the entire armed might of the country to a bunch of nerdy tree-huggers.”   

Richard laughed and put his arm around her until she smiled.  “Of course,” she admitted, “he was a perfect gentleman.  He even apologized.  He told me soldiers preferred combat over surrender.  Truth is, I realized how tense I’d been, thinking like the colonel that you, so grateful that we all weren’t slaughtered outright, had submitted us to a spell in prison.”

Richard found that funny.  “As a matter of fact, he’s very helpfully assigned a whole bunch of those who prefer combat to escort all of us back to our home states by bus and train.  I’m glad you and Colonel Walker got along, ‘cuz I believe we’ll be seeing a lot of him.  We’re going to need his specialty and right away.”

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