“Two hundred years ago there were over three hundred from thirteen colonies!”
The general touched Anne’s shoulder. “Penny’s right. It’s not how many but how many committed. And by my count, well over half women! Lots of color, too—blacks, Ind—uh—Native Americans. It’s what y’all hoped for, isn’t it?”
“It is!” cried Richard. With a gasp of wild laughter he hugged his new partner and her disappointment lessened a trifle.
“Richard, how can we go on? Even they know something’s not right.”
The remaining scattered delegates did seem perplexed at the empty seats and they got up and took their envelopes to sit closer to the podium.
“Let’s go,” said Richard, pulling her up.
“Come on, they’re waiting.”
“For what? For me to dismiss them, let them know it’s over?”
“Anne, don’t you see?” He tugged her but she refused to budge, embarrassed not to have seen it. It was so obvious, so damned orchestrated. Stay for the whole exercise, then exit en masse to show that it was all a childish fantasy. How dare we think we could turn this country on its head, scrape away two hundred years of history, shove them underground and treat them equal to the damned possum! Anne stood, frowned at the empty seats as she relented and breathed deeply, muttering, “Damn. I guess I’ll think of something.”
Clark and Penny, holding bottles of bubbly, joined them. Also popping up was Sidney McCloud, ex-Cardinal of St. Louis, with food stains on his wide front, holding a plate of cake.
“Oh,” whispered Clark, “we have another wedding before you go—sit, sit.” That jolly ex-prelate, now atheist, grinned and plopped on a chair and munched the cake.
Anne stood at the podium to smile and frown at the small group and up at those in the stands. “Well, what can I say?”
She saw the grinning, confident councilors, heard the silence, not awful as she anticipated. Another deep inhale. “I guess. . . I believe, yes. We have a council.”
“Not exactly,” Richard called out, then waited for complete quiet. “Anne and I have long discussed the make-up of the Council; I for women only and she for a mix of men and women.: There was a tug at his sleeve; he looked over to see Anne shaking her head—no, no. But he said adamantly, “I will have nothing to do with a government where men have a say. We all know that the situation we are facing is because of men, men only. What say we give women a chance?”
There was quiet, then buzzing as people below and in the stands discussed this strange turn of events, then slowly applause gathered and became thunderous. Richard looked at Anne and she frowned helplessly. Of course he was right, and she nodded, and the dozen or so men got up and slowly walked to the waiting buses.
Richard took his new ‘partner’s’ hand and raised it high and shouted, “Dear friends, honored guests and the press and the television people (to wake them up and get moving), I give you The Council of the new American Society!”
Penny and Clark raised their arms, too. The ex-Cardinal shouted, “The new American council of—of Society! Slowly, the crowd in the stands set their trays down and rose to cheer. There was still uncertainty until Richard beckoned the new councilors to rise and acknowledge the crowd in the stands grinning and applauding them. Some even bowed. Now the barrage of TV cameras were rolling and the still photographers snapping away.
When all was quiet, she said. “Was that a surprise—a shock to see people leaving? And was I angry at myself for not realizing their intention was never to join us but merely to attend, to listen and then walk away. In other words, those people, they were never really here.”
That received a noisy response.
“I have to ask. Are there any more who feel the same, to reject even one of the articles of the Prime Directive? Because if you do, you must leave at once.” She scanned the small crowd of eighty or so smiling female faces, some waving their Prime Directives.
“Good. As I said before, you will soon return for the first Council meeting, the chief agenda being the selection of possible sites for communes and communities. So, do some homework, bring us maps, statistics and reasons for placing them. Not to worry, we’ll have on hand our wonderful army engineers, geologists, builders and surveyors. General May, our chief of security, has something to add.”
Anne and Clark exchanged places. He smiled then cleared his throat (to mean this was serious). “We are all aware that parts of the country have been in a state of anarchy and lawlessness. And it has become obvious by the sudden departure of most of the delegates that there are elements of our former government who are set against any change from the status quo. Frankly, I’m not sure what they are for. I strongly suggest when you get home to be careful with whom you discuss your role in the new American Society. I would not be surprised if you were contacted and urged to disavow it. Please inform us if this occurs. Safe journey home and I commend you for your courage today.”
Applause grew into another standing ovation. Richard and Anne shook hands with Clark and Penny, who went off to meet and chat with their troops in the grandstands.
Richard whispered to Anne, “Uh-oh, here they come. You up for this?”
Moving down to set up before the podium were the film crews, still photographers, reporters and journalists Anne had invited, plus the ever-present documentary crew. Descending the podium—more informally, as she knew all of them—she stood before them with Richard.
“Thanks for being so patient.”
Richard pulled two chairs for them to sit before the onslaught of questions began. She sat heavily and he saw the fatigue in her face. But she put on a grin, nodding to her friends, even some of the camera crew.