Clark looked at the envelope in his hand then shook his head disparagingly at them as he held it out. “Either we’re entirely up front with one another,” he nearly barked at them, “or I take my soldiers and we’re back to the way we were south of Chicago. Which is it?”
“Open it,” Richard said. “I’m sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry,” Anne agreed. “It was my idea—yes, yes, read it.”
A glance at Richard; was he okay with this? When Richard nodded, he strode off, found a tree stump well away from the chastened pair, perched and began to read. They saw him frown, shake his head in disbelief, howl, even laugh as he read through the page. Turned it over. Nothing on the back. He read the page again. And yet again. Finally, he got to his feet, shaking his head as he returned to them. Both were frightened to hear what he would say.
“All right, here it is without much thinking. Prime Directive—that’s good. But the articles? They’re crazy, hard—no, harsh, impossible, and they favor every species except humans. Frankly, I don’t see how you’ll get any of those humans you plan on inviting here to agree to it—any of it.”
“Oh,” said Richard quietly.
The general laughed and threw an arm about each of their shoulders. “Hey, this’s exactly how I figured you two five minutes after we’d met!”
That drew relieved chuckles from them, and he went on soberly. “This first one, living in a hole in the ground. Assuming you’re serious, okay, what’ll you to need to complete it?”
“We’re serious,” answered Richard gulping down a giant breath of relief. “Firstly, under that roller skating rink is the start of it. Two storeys – empty, so far. Part will be the kitchens, part the machinery for heating, light, power—solar driven by a wind turbine and photovoltaic panels outside there. Anne has a list of materials, of companies who manufacture them. Then, probably from your Corps of Engineers, a crew to organize the construction and installation and completion of a bunch of suites—er, living quarters—for up to a hundred, mebbe two hundred families—in that hole in the ground.”
“First of all, it’s not only the Engineers you want, but the Army Housing Authority. They build barracks, houses, airfields, whole bases.”
Clark May continued to shake his head, now more in amazement at how clever was this ‘Richard of Amwell.’ He tapped the single sheet of paper. “You’ve been thinking about this for some time.”
“I have, or should I say, we have. Dozens of heads far wiser and more grounded in those areas than I. Like I said, every night on the march that short list was hammered out with pain and emotion and, finally common sense. And yet, all the while, long before we met, I knew none of it would materialize without you.”
“Me?” Another head-shaking laugh.
“Your name, your reputation, the enormous respect of your peers, the media, politicians—oh, yeah, I looked you up. And wear your uniform, Clark, the stars and medals, too. Frankly, it’s you standing in the way of the old government, even your friends in the military from coming in and wrecking it before it’s even halfway up. Could we be up and running, say, by the spring of next year?”
Clark grinned. “I’ve seen discipline and spirit and the challenge of accomplishing the impossible, especially something new and untried, drive ordinary men to extraordinary heights. But that’s only half the equation. The real challenge will be to find people to come here and live underground,” and he once again shook his head chuckling.
“If that’s so, Clark, what’ll we do with the seven hundred thousand applications for commune membership?”
Another gape from the general, and Richard laughed. Arm in arm with Anne, they headed up the hill to the cabin. After a salad, and beer made by his soldiers in an old bathtub, Clark sat back and his face took on a somber mien. “Somethin’s been botherin’ me since—well, actually, since about halfway along your march. See, I’ve been in pretty close touch with those folks from Washington and, of course, the brass in the other branches, spook agencies as well. Plus our friendly counterparts in Europe and Asia and the Middle East. They all wanted to know what’s going on. When you began your march, it was all over the media. But like all news, after a few weeks of the same pictures . . . so I’ve been stallin’ them, sayin’ y’all were no threats to anybody. So what’s the real deal?”
“Our focus is only on America, and just the lower forty-eight. If one country could succeed in its dedication to saving the planet, others, we hoped, would follow. If not, well, we still have the largest armed force in the world. And best of all under the finger of a most reasonable combat soldier.”
“That guff’s not helpful, son, although it’s pretty much what I was expectin’. But, see, it’s what’s given me—and them, ‘specially our not so friendly friends in Moscow—the jitters. You go underground at the same time we start takin’ down cities, they’ll figure we’re planning a strike that makes retaliation meaningless. See what I’m getting at?”
Richard actually could not swallow, he was so mortified at his stupidity. How naïve—! Never once had he envisaged these obvious consequences.
“Now just hold on, son. You had no way of knowing.”
Richard turned, faced the old man, realizing he’d uttered his thoughts. “What can we do? I mean, can’t you tell them? Our friends in Europe, and the Soviets? We’re not planning a war, we’re trying to stop one—the war against the planet.”
The general gave his crinkly smile and shook his head. This impulsive and bright young fellow had single-handedly stopped the greatest army in the world in its tracks. Without a life lost, a shot fired. He even chuckled at Richard’s helpless stare. He lifted his head and howled a peel of laughter, bringing tears of merriment to his old eyes. Finally, still chuckling, he reached out his arms and took the slender tall chap for a solid embrace, reminiscent of the one they shared outside Chicago months ago. An arm went out to Anne and she slowly walked into his chest. He squeezed, then let them go and blew a breath.
Without preamble, he said, “I have told ‘em, over and over. But they’re so used to the kind of double-speak diplomacy that’s kept us in this costly cold war, when they say they believe me I know damn well they don’t. Ya know what? Fuck ‘em! Fuck the Soviets, fuck our friends. Let ‘em stew. You go on with your second, or is it third, Continental Congress? Like I said, you’ll be having enough trouble getting our own people to swallow even one of these nine articles in your Prime Directive.”
The youngsters’ eyes glistened with relief. If this hardened veteran was able to accept not just the nine steps of sacrifice to save the planet but his own demotion from lieutenant general now temporary Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to their chief of security, they were on their way.
“According to our gurus,” Richard said, grinning, “the scientific facts alone will have the Congress eating out of our hands. Right, Anne?”
“Now, now, just hold on!” It was Anne mimicking John Wayne. “Siddown, the both o’ ya,” she commanded and they half-humorously complied, and she whipped out a sheaf of papers to quote from. “We are inviting to this Congress no less than two ex-presidents, forty Cabinet Secretaries, dozens of ambassadors, two hundred current and past governors, plus senators, congressmen and women, college professors, scientists, corporate CEOs, on and on. Thousands. Not all of them will come, of course, but you cannot expect these experienced people of power and influence to sit still while a bunch of whiz-kids rattle off numbers and statistics.”
“But—but, darling, those very whiz-kids are the ones who convinced me, and you, and now Clark that our prime—.”
Her ‘you can’t be that naïve and pathetic’ frown stopped him mid-sentence. “Darling,” now her voice was that of a kindergarten teacher, “I need a list of those experts, their degrees, their hands-on experience — you know how I work. It would very much surprise me if they could last five minutes before a Senate Select Committee or a clever talk-show host. I’ll need at least a month to prep them.”
Richard cried, “You’ve got it! No problem,” and he raced off to the house, thrilled that she was now, not only in spirit but with her vast experience, prepared to go forward. Over dinner, the four of them—Penny was Clark’s Chief of Staff—set down respective tasks and time-tables. Next morning, the general, accompanied by his stalwart adjutant, Colonel Walker, flew off to enlist an army equal to the one holding siege to Manhattan, wielding tools instead of weapons.