Luck of the Draw
New – 20 August 2005
A Glancing Blow
Luck of the Draw
When Scott walked into Griffith's office, his first sight was that of Voulers rocking back in his chair, his arms folded in a 'hands off' attitude, and his head slowly moving in a negative nod. Tom was on the edge of his chair with one arm propped on the desk. At the other end, Evan Hendricks had both elbows on the desk, with Tom's telephone in one hand. Scott had arrived at the end of the call.
"Yes, yes, I quite understand,” Evan said. "Yes, tragic. I can well imagine the shock.” Then, finally, "Thank you for the information. Good bye." With the phone on the hook, Evan's other hand went to cover his eyes. "Oh my God!" was his lone comment to no one in general.
"Oh, Lord, what now?" Tom asked. Voulers showed minimal interest and a 'I told you so' attitude. Scott said nothing.
"Landers is dead!"
But Voulers was surprised, "What?"
"How in the world..." Tom started.
“A heart attack." Hendricks glanced around the room. "Our primary supporter has just managed to die of a heart attack. God, what timing."
In the brief stunned silence, Scott asked, "Who is Landers?"
Tom looked up. "Cecil Landers, one of the assistant directors of the National Science Foundation and next in line to the Presidential Science Advisor. And, incidentally, the principal path with which we could hope to reach the President."
"And he's dead."
"Did they happen to mention if the heart attack was due to natural causes?" Voulers asked.
Tom look shocked. "Oh, good Lord, George. I doubt we've reached that stage."
Tom then cut it off. "Okay, let's not lose our heads." Then, to Scott, "By the way, Scott, welcome home."
"Thanks." Then, after a pause, "Thanks a lot, I guess."
Voulers laughed while Evan extended his hand. Tom started, "I'd better bring you up-to-date."
"John, Fred, and Kirk all went direct to a friend of John's, a fellow named Thomason. The four of them were then able to go directly to Landers. Both Thomason and Landers bought our story. But then we ran into a problem."
"By the name of Michaels" George added.
“Leonard Michaels, the head of NSF and the Presidential Science Advisor. He seemed to buy the story but was not quite ready to act."
"He's one of those far-right politicians," Voulers offered as a complete explanation.
"Contrary to George's comment, all political appointees are not incompetent. They're just politicians. But, according to Landers, Michaels is overly ambitious and likes to think of himself as a foreign affairs up-and-coming expert."
"What the hell does that have to do with what we're talking about here?"
"When Smith, Ryker and Masters met with Michaels and his staff, Michaels made the point that they must all move with extreme caution; that the government must act with great care."
"Did he say what that meant?"
"Only that it might be a problem in foreign relations. Michael's concern is that, if the United States begins making preparations to put its citizenry in shelters, the Russians, the Chinese, or Lord knows who else may claim that the comet is pure fiction and that the preparations are in reality a prelude to an all out war, nuclear attack, and/or any use of weapons of mass destruction."
"No. You need to understand that from Michaels' viewpoint the government may not be able to do anything. Don't forget, the comet is very nearly on the other side of the sun now, with little or no chance for substantiating data. And it may be that it's their inability to act that counts, not their refusal. They may not have any other options available."
"So what happens?"
"According to Michaels, nothing can be done until we can convince all the major governments of the reality of the situation.”
"And in the meantime?"
"We were hoping for some sort of watered-down announcement to begin a renewal of civil defense education."
“The critical factor," George said, "Is that Michaels does not want to go to the President too quickly."
"But that's bullshit!"
"Exactly. And that's why Landers was so essential. Our major hope was that he would be able to bring Michaels around and have the government take some immediate action.”
What kind of delays are we talking about?"
"Probably not more than a couple of weeks. On the other hand, perhaps several months.”
Scott glanced over to Voulers for an instant. “Looks like George was right. The destruction of the world has just been referred to committee for consideration.”
After a moment George answered, “Frankly, that doesn't concern me too much. The government really is incapable of doing much. And we, or at least John and Fred, did make the attempt. So, short of planting the story in the news media and being considered cranks, our consciences are clear."
“I'll agree with George up to a point. Unless the government takes action, nothing will happen." Tom frowned as he continued, “We've built a society which expects everything of importance to be handled by the government. Self-appointed groups can do nothing but create chaos.”
"I'm not sure I agree," Evan interjected, “But it's a sure bet that Masters can't do anything but create chaos.”
Scott glanced over at Hendricks. "How did Kirk take the delay?"
Evan looked back at Scott and grimaced. “That's our basic problem -- the reason we called you back here. According to John Ryker, Kirk blew up at the first hint of delay by Michaels. He screamed at Michaels, the assistants, Fred, everybody in the room. Fred and John managed to get him under control long enough for the three of them to get out of the building. Then they lost him.”
“Now that concerns me!” George announced.
“Do you have any idea where he is now?”
“Last I heard, Fred suspected that Masters contacted some bureaucrat in the Defense Department. And Kirk managed to take along a copy of all the data and results when he skipped out. Fred think's we're in real trouble. You need to understand that one of Fred's goals in Washington is not only to alert them to the problem, but also to set up some kind of communications link with other well-prepared locations, such that we can make contact after the collision."
“Do you think we're in trouble?"
“Unfortunately, yes. We have no idea of how some other agency might receive him and his claims. They may really clamp down on him."
“Do we know anything for sure?”
"Tom got a hold of Mrs. Masters and found out that she had received a call from Washington. Apparently they were trying to confirm Kirk' s credentials.”
Scott suddenly realized he knew nothing of Mrs. Masters. He sensed an urgency to discover more about her. She was immediately a key figure. "What was her reaction?”
Voulers almost smiled. "Actually, she was quite a surprise. She had already tried to phone me about the call when Tom got in touch with her. Seems as if Kirk had filled her in completely. And she was so damn calm about it that it was a little distressing. Knowing Kirk as I do, I really expected the worst. But Mrs. Masters turned out to be very practical and seemed to be keeping her cool immensely well.”
“If there is trouble, won't she be watched?"
“Probably. As a matter of fact, she brought the point up herself. Told Tom that she would contact him discreetly if anything popped. Otherwise she would put on an act of total unconcern, just as if her hubby was just off on a routine business trip. It turns out that she had called from a pay phone!”
“Hardly sounds like the grieving widow.”
“Only we don't know if it's come to that.”
“What do we know?”
Evan answered, “Right now, next to nothing. Fred is still in Washington, biding his time and trying to find Kirk. Ryker is on his way backl.”
“What does Fred do when he finds him?” Scott asked.
“Kill him, I hope,” George added.
“Primarily, try to get him out of Washington before someone puts him away. Or worse, before Kirk starts babbling to the wrong people. At this point, I don't think we want to start publicizing our own plans to anyone, especially the government.”
Tom agreed, “Evan's right. But we have all got to start building cover stories right away. We will have to remain in full view for a while, but we must be able to drop out of sight or, at least as a minimum, maintain a very low profile -- on a moment's notice.”
Scott smiled, “I've already been granted emergency leave from the university.”
“Then you had better head for the site and take charge. You may have a flock of people starting to show up rather unexpectedly.”
“What about Fred?”
“He will play it cool for twenty-four hours to allow everyone to duck. Then he plans to begin actively trying to find Kirk."
"Smith has certainly got more guts than I do.”
"More like an oversupply,” George quipped.
"Pardon me, ma'am.”
A slightly frizzled blonde looked up at the man leaning gently on her desk. He was reasonably good looking, but she had never been much of an optimist. Her tone acknowledged this with a curt but dulled, "Yes?"
"I'm looking for a relative of mine. Actually an in-law. Seems he forgot to call home and his wife is sort of concerned. She asked me, I'm her brother, to see what was up.”
The secretary began to wonder if maybe she did have a chance. This fellow was obviously not too bright. And his accent indicated that he was probably from Texas or some such and might not know about the oversupply of women in Washington. Her enterprising response was, “Yes?”
"So I was wondering if he'd been here.”
“Well, I can look in the register for you. What's his name?"
Fred noted carefully that the pedestrian look on the girl had not changed at the sound of the name. But that didn't seem too surprising. Underlings don't get told a lot in the Pentagon. It's something about “a need to know.”
"How do you spell it?" After three spellings and about ten minutes she found it. "Yes, he signed in two days ago."
"Did he sign out?"
“No one signs out. They are just logged out.”
"Was Mr. Masters logged out?"
“May I see?” While she muttered a 'well, I suppose so', Fred took a careful look. He noted that the time out was written with a different pen and there was another name alongside Kirk's. Who is William Roberts?” he asked.
"He's the one your brother-in-law came to see. Should I try to set you up with an appointment with Mr. Roberts?”
"Oh, that's not necessary since Kirk is no longer here.”
Then, after a dull 'uh huh', Fred casually threw out, "What does William Roberts do?"
“Oh, gosh. Let's see." She pulled out a book and flipped through it. Then she came to a picture with the name 'William Roberts' under it. There was also the title, 'Deputy Director of the Public Information and Communications Office'. The secretary showed it to Smith, explaining, "That's right. He's the Deputy PIC."
Fred looked at the official picture for a long moment before giving the secretary his best smile. Then he walked out.
Larry Scott sat in the easy chair in the darkened room. The television set was turned off and the only light came from the open kitchen door. In fact, the only sign of life was the muffled noise of a housewife routinely putting dinner dishes into a dishwasher. Scott, himself, was sprawled in the chair almost casually, one leg dangling across the upholstered arm. His mind, however, was taut as an unresolved question was debated within himself. The occasional kitchen noise only served to remind him of one of the key elements of his problem. Alternating visions of Linda, Scott and Sally Hammond gained his attention as he thought of the possibility of there now being two women in his life, and the incredible complication of a comet on a collision course with the earth.
Scott had not yet told Linda about Ketuohok, the time had never seemed right. There were too many excellent excuses for avoiding or postponing the ominous discussion. Perhaps the thought of Sally was in itself sufficient reason to procrastinate. But Scott could not forever accept this possibility. His essential honesty prohibited such a crime. He was, after all, still in love with Linda. Sally had not changed that, even if his new feelings for Sally were of a distinctly different form. Furthermore, not to tell Linda would be paramount to not loving her, a fact of life that Scott was not ready to accept. The fear that his wife simply would not accept the story of a worldwide catastrophe gnawed at Scott. But he feared more the temptation to use this fear as a crutch and as an excuse to avoid telling Linda anything. Such an ‘out' could not be tolerated.
But what of Sally? Surely it would be easier to leave Linda for Sally and the enclave. Sally offered talents which could later be used by the community. Linda, Scott thought, really didn't. Maybe, he thought, Linda might never have to be told; she might never have to suffer the knowledge of the impending disaster. Perhaps it would be kinder...
The fallacy of his argument was all too apparent. Scott dismissed the idea with a wave of disgust. The problem was not whether Linda should be told, but the consequences of the telling. Should Scott also tell her of Sally? Or should he rather give up Sally? The thought of keeping both of them was only a fleeting thought, summarily dismissed.
Clearly in his mind he began to decide that his first duty was to Linda. But did 'duty' count for anything anymore? Was he still bound by the duties of a dying civilization? To Scott, duty seemed important and not a matter of convenience. Duty should not depend on specifics, but act as a general principle. But did this general principle survive when the whole of civilization perished? Surely it must. But to give up Sally? The questions ricocheted within him. Finally he relented and his path began to take clear form.
Almost on cue, Linda entered the room. She seemed surprised that he was sitting so quietly in the darkened room. "Don't you want some light?" she asked. "Maybe you want the TV on?"
Scott watched her for just a moment, his mind settling. Then, with a kindly smile, he answered, "No, nothing. Leave it off and come sit here beside me."
Linda glanced at the ottoman by Scott, her face laced with a cynical smile. "That sounds suspicious," she kidded. Then something in his eyes and demeanor caught a corner of her mind, suggesting an event of more significance than a brief foreplay. Her smile only slightly diminished, she went over and sat on the ottoman. She maintained a certain distance, warily – almost coyly -- watching her husband. When he took both her hands in his and slowly lifted his head in order to meet her eyes, she suddenly realized the stillness of the air and the quiet importance of the moment. She shuddered slightly, almost immediately embarrassed by her own act. Then she tried to cover it with a smile.
Quietly and deliberately Scott began to speak. At first Linda could only grope for the meaning. Scott seemed to be talking about his work, which had long ago been agreed was a topic which was not to be a normal subject of conversation between them. She could not fathom the reason for Scott's words. Only the subtle undercurrent of terror -- flowing gently near her -- kept her attention intent upon her husband as he talked.
Then, almost abruptly, Larry had quit talking. He looked at his wife with anticipation and hope. But Linda was only vaguely aware of his interest as she struggled to make sense of all that her husband had said to her. The rational concepts eluded her, the chance for survival and the hope that Scott foresaw in the enclaves seemed incomprehensible. Only the terror could gain access to her mind.
She dismissed the talk of planning for survival, just as she dismissed the thought of her children, herself, and her husband struggling to make a life afterwards. Such a struggle was contradictory to her concept of life and as such was not feasible as a possibility. As the terror mounted, she dismissed the very thought of a catastrophic collision. Slamming shut the door which housed the unacceptable horror, she sensed the first hint of relief. Grasping it with all her mind, she once and forever dismissed the subject. This ultimate threat to her way of life she would never again consciously consider. Only the nightmares and the eroding of her subconscious would ever evidence the knowledge that she possessed.
Slowly her face took on the blank stare of a championship bridge player playing a mediocre hand. Scott watched intently, puzzled at the apparent apathy in her expression. Then, tentatively, “Linda?"
Smiling slightly, she answered, "Let's watch some TV instead.'
Thunderstruck, Scott reeled back in the chair. He watched his wife as she eagerly grabbed the remote and turned on the television set. Then she sat down on the couch with her arms holding a throw pillow to her breast. She was, to all intents, enjoying a quiet evening at home. Scott could only stare, uncomprehendingly, his mind in turmoil. Tears began to streak his fact, but he never noticed them. He could only sit, staring at his wife, trying to shoulder the weight of sorrow on his being.
When George Voulers reached Griffith's door, he didn't bother to knock, but went in without missing a step. Time suddenly seemed too short for minor courtesies. George had never concerned himself with many of these common factors of socialized life, much on the basis of no need and no time, but they seemed even more inconsequential now. There didn't seem to be enough time for anything, much less the myriad of essential tasks that must be accomplished within the next months. As if the universe were approaching at the speed of light, time seemed foreshortened.
Tom looked up only briefly, no longer expecting knocks at the door (in fact, he had lately begun ignoring them -- if it was important, they would have come in, if not, then it was better that they go away). Tom did not even bother to say good morning. It did not even occur to him to justify to himself a reason to forego this simple aspect of civilized life.
George was typically blunt, "You still here?"
"I am 'til tomorrow."
“Oh, crap, Tom! We need you on site. We've got to have someone kicking ass. There is still a helluva lot to do!"
"Yes, George, I know." Then, glancing up at his assailant, "Actually, a great deal is being accomplished without my formidable presence on site."
Voulers grimaced. Challengingly, he asked, "What about the steel?”
"Trippe is still at the steel plant with Evan. They are planning to supervise the first enclave. Then Jon will take it to the site, assemble and outfit it, and then if they have to make any changes, let Evan incorporate them at the steel mill on the remaining enclaves."
"How did negotiations go with the steel people?"
"Excellent. Hendricks knew one of the top guys at the steel mill, a guy named Small, and he clued him in right away. That way we could get some priority. Of course, we're not sure we convinced him we weren't joking. I suspect he's just playing it safe.” Then he laughed, "Of course, once he saw our money, I suspect he would've built most anything for us."
"So Small is expecting a place?"
"He's playing it pretty close to the vest, but he says yes. I doubt that he'll commit himself until later. But he will give us the priority we need. They plan to finish all six enclaves in about three or four months. We should have the first one in six weeks."
"Four months?" Voulers was not smiling.
"I know . But that'll still give us two months to outfit the last one. Isn't that quick enough for you?"
"Hard to say. It's just that, more than any other object, those are the critical ones. And with Masters still loose in Washington, we have no idea when and if all hell is going to break loose. We have to be able to become self-sufficient from the rest of the world on a moment's notice. I'm not terribly happy, knowing that the primary items are as much as four months off."
“Well, even if we couldn't get all of 'em, we might be able to make it with just two or three.”
“I doubt it. We're going to need all six. They'II be jammed full of supplies and equipment and a fair number of people. You have to remember that the more enclaves, the better the chances that enough people will pull through to help the less fortunate ones. Six is about minimal from a statistical point of view.”
“Perhaps you're right.”
“Naturally!” Voulers answered, with full authority.
When Tom only grinned slightly, continuing to gather papers, Voulers continued, “Who's minding the store?”
“A couple of Hendricks' friends. One is Mike Sienstra, a welder and heavy construction type. He used to work here at the university. He might just be invaluable. The other one is Tom Warren. I think you already know him. ”
“Fine. But who's in charge?”
“I suppose that, for the moment, with Scott away arranging for the temporary shelters, Mike is.”
Voulers frowned. “That's the sort of thing I don't want to hear. We need someone there, such as yourself, who is undisputedly in charge. Too many of the people who will be in the enclaves need someone who can give then clear direction."
Tom smiled slightly. “I'll get there as soon as possible, George.”
“And how soon is that?”
Tom looked at his senior for just a moment. Then, "Well, I'd have gone yesterday if not for all the people coming in this office to check on my leaving.”
George seemed totally indifferent to Tom's complaint. “It's your job to listen to the bitches on how well you're doing your job. That's what it means to be a leader. ”
Tom couldn't help but smile. "Maybe we should have let you be head ass-kicker."
"No thanks. I prefer to be the power behind the throne." Then almost smiling, "Besides, wheresoever I lead, no one follows, not even the blind."
"Maybe you just scare 'em too much, George. A little hint of subtlety might do wonders for your leadership abilities.”
George scowled. "I'm not totally convinced that subtlety is the answer. This is a case of survival, imminent survival. Perhaps more importantly, my survival. What we need here is when you say jump, the orderee asks 'how high' on the way up.”
Tom turned and stared hard at George. Then, earnestly, “Jump, George.”
"Go to hell, you son of a bitch.”
Tom laughed while George grinned.
Lew Snapp had watched the comings and goings for weeks now. At first his curiosity had been dampened by his natural inclination to strictly mind his own business. But slowly he realized that more and more things were happening at the old Riley place than could easily be accounted for. And they were weird things. What's more -- and possibly more significntly -- no one in town had the slightest idea of what was happening. Many of the townsfolk weren't even aware of the group of strangers. That surely was the more incredible part, since almost nothing newsworthy ever happened that wasn't discussed in detail by almost every person in town.
But today it seemed as if he might learn something. Along the side of the road was a truck that Lew knew belonged to the strangers and two men who were busy replacing a flat tire. Without hesitation, he pulled over. Turning off the motor in his old pickup, Snapp slowly drawled his way out of the cab and ambled up to the men. “Need any help?”
Mike Sienstra looked up at the farmer. Then, turning back to his work, “No, I think we about got it.”
Tom Warren, who had watched most of the proceedings with his hands in his pockets, then added, “Just a flat tire. We'll have it fixed in a jiffy.”
Both Snapp and Sienstra looked at him and then at his hands in his pockets, casually wondering what he meant by ‘we'. Then Snapp asked, “Ain't you with the people over at the old Riley place?”
Sienstra ignored Tom's 'where?' and answered, “Yeah, that's us.”
“Say, just out of curiosity, what the hell you guys up to over there?”
“Just doing a little surveying and exploration.”
Snapp looked suspicious. “I noticed you hauling in them buildings and that all that steel last week. You building some sort of 'exploration' equipment?”
Sienstra was about to politely tell the old man where to go when Tom interrupted him. In typical mock-spy fashion, he carefully took Snapp's arm. “I suppose it's bound to get out sooner or later. And you obviously are a very perceptive man.”
Snapp braced himself. This had all the earmarks of a good bullshit story. Smiling quickly at Sienstra, Tom went on, “We have information that the world is about to be destroyed. But we've figured out a way to survive the holocaust. That's what the steel is for.”
Sienstra groaned while Snapp maintained a complete blank. Lew knew that one had to be very careful with this kind. To himself, he said 'crazy as a loon', but to Tom it came out as, “The world's gonna be destroyed?"
“Yeah. I'm afraid so." Tom was suddenly very earnest. Sienstra decided to add as much incredibility as possible. There's going to be a worldwide fire storm.”
“A worldwide fire storm.” It was not a question.
“Right. But we know how to save ourselves.” Then, generously, “Maybe you'd like to join us?"
Snapp looked at Tom, then at Sienstra -- both were crazy as a loon. Then, aloud, “Well, good luck, I hope you make it." Then, as an afterthought, "I'd have to check with my family first.”
"Oh sure, we understand.”
"Well, be seein' ya."
Ignoring their barely concealed chuckles, Snapp ambled back to his truck. Only a little faster than his normal gait. Maybe too fast, they seemed to be laughing even more.
'Crazy as a loon'; he thought. When he had pulled out and passed on by them, he muttered, "Crazy as a loon.” And then with more emphasis, "Crazy as a fuckin' loon!”
Chapter Three -- Recruitment
Chapter Five -- Politics 101
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