Def Con 5
Premiered 9/9/9 (9 September 2009)
The continuation of The Myth and Legend of D'PTah, an original novel by Dan Sewell Ward.
Def Con 5
The White House underground war room (or "situation room" for the more politically correct) was nothing short of chaotic. There was considerably more than its normally full complement of brass and semi-brass, along with far too many civilians of indeterminate rank – all trying to find a podium from which they could each individually pontificate. Orders, often conflicting and from far too many chiefs, were tossed about with seemingly casual indifference. Inevitably each order that made the first cut, would then be filtered down the local chain of command to lesser and lesser officers and their non-com underlings – many of whom were in far distance locations. The flow of orders continued until the point was reached where any given order could be relayed no further and where the external communication channels would become thoroughly clogged. This left the far too few subordinates – those who actually carried out orders locally -- in a state of considerable confusion as to which orders to follow first and which of the conflicting orders had precedence on the basis of which higher ranking officer had originated it. The result was somewhat more complicated than your average, run-of-the-mill chaos. More like chaos mixed with bedlam.
Admittedly, the war room had always exhibited an aura of semi-disciplined pandemonium. Today it was far more intense, confused and seemingly out-of-control, and leaving most of the occupants with seriously bewildered expressions and shaking heads. The only apparent consensus among the gentry was that, 'Yes, Virginia, the sky was indeed falling.' In a manner of speaking it was... at least for some.
The notable exception to the prevailing sense of panic, stunned disbelief, and near hysteria was my boss, Art Sudra. Despite everything happening about him, he remained calm... almost detached as if he were a curious and disengaged observer of chaos theory who was being given a practical demonstration for the students of the art. Fortunately, Sudra was notorious for keeping his wits under fire. He was in fact considered a stable if not unyielding bedrock by his subordinates – the latter whom some said included virtually everyone. Had he panicked, had he lost his cool... everything would indeed have fallen apart – assuming of course anyone else would have ever become aware of any panic on Sudra's part. Those who are truly panicked, seldom notice those who are not... except to regale them for not panicking.
Admiral Arthur Z. Sudra, Chief of Naval Operations and Commander of the Fleets, in addition to being an unflappable bulwark, was... as might be expected on the basis of his exalted rank: a loyal, dutiful, and extraordinarily competent flag officer. No one ever disputed these fundamental facts.
Still... over and above any call of duty and expected qualities that might have stemmed from the above, there was also his personal characteristic of being highly secretive, his privacy quotient one of the highest on record. In general, whatever was going on in his constantly generating mind was never for public or private consumption... except perhaps when the dissemination of such information could advance one or more of his various, hidden agendas. Admiral Sudra had in fact created his own levels of secrecy classifications, going far beyond the official “confidential”, “secret”, “top secret” and “cosmic top secret” categories. Naturally, the very titles of his classifications were at a level exceeding “cosmic top secret” and thus not available for dissemination to anyone without their having an overriding and essential need to know. Sudra could have been the epitome of an extreme, triple Scorpio with massive overtones of Pisces -- these two being the most secretive of the astrological signs.
Speaking of which, no one would ever know the date, time and place of the Admiral's birth – and any claim to the contrary was almost certainly disinformation. Accordingly, one would not be allowed to gleam any possible information from an astrological source, however nebulous or authoritative. At the same time, the Admiral apparently had ready access to everyone else's history, proclivities, and astrological possibilities. He had in fact access to more highly classified information than anyone, including the combined knowledge of all of the other Joint Chiefs of Staff. When it came to elected officials -- including the President and the Vice President -- such people being no more than momentary blips on the greater scheme of things... were blessed with even less access to highly classified or secret information. Who in their right mind, after all, would countenance access to truly sensitive secret material to someone chosen at whim by voters? There is also that minor point... of their having absolutely no need to know.
Meanwhile, one can assign great credence to the rumor that Sudra specialized in those secret, covert, and hidden esoteric wisdoms -- and he did so in order for him to win the many battles he endured. As a card-carrying member of the Warrior Class, he was both respected and feared -- with much of the respect accorded him stemming from his secret stores of wisdom. He had dirt on everyone capable of having secrets and who might actually influence mundane events. Information and the timing of its use or dissemination were for him the primary weapons of war and peace. He had an uncanny sense of when, where, and whether or not to use what he knew. Everyone else relied on his discretion, even if they knew it or not. All too often they found out the hard way that someone knew all about their “slight indiscretions”, and that furthermore such knowledge was no longer going to kept secret from the world.
This meant of course that the Admiral had many enemies, even in the council where supposedly all of the four-starred individuals were comrades in arms with nearly equal rights and/or authority. In fact, his store of knowledge virtually guaranteed him longevity in a post normally subject to the whims of politics. He was accordingly senior in terms of time served on the JCS, even when the chairman had been made his superior in the chain of command by presidential fiat. Very importantly, the Admiral, more than most, fully understood and appreciated the limitations of allied, sovereign forces.
As it turned out, in the war (“situation”) room that fateful day, there were several of his more ardent antagonists: specifically Generals Mick, McIntosh, and Koenig – the latter whom Sudra had once nicknamed “The Dark One”. It was a title that had always struck me as both esoteric and obvious. It also gave a clue to Admiral Sudra's unspoken thought processes. All of these men were members of the Joint Chiefs... of whom proper respect and honor were due as a matter of course. But in the fields of reality and power politics, for my money the Admiral effectively outranked them all.
When I entered the war room that day, I had come prepared. Despite the heat of the moment I was nevertheless required to meet the Admiral's standing orders to record anything and everything that was to transpire in any meeting – that is to say, gather the all important data, document it, and record it for later use... or threat of use. This had become for me a simple routine duty, something that was expected of any aide to a member of the Joint Chiefs worthy of the name.
The Admiral, as was our custom, spoke first. “Welcome back, Gabe. Enjoy your... vacation?”
That one caught me off guard. The Admiral didn't usually call me by my first name. Perhaps he was experiencing more emotion than I would have otherwise expected. Clearly these circumstances were extraordinary, but for Admiral Sudra to show even a hint of camaraderie was more than astounding. I thought briefly of issuing a press release of this rare and possibly ominous event, but then decided that competition from other news events was currently too much to justify the effort.
I tried a weak smile as I answered, “First two weeks off in years; I leave the city and the world changes overnight.” Hey, if he was going to call me, 'Gabe', then I was going to be cool as well.
In the same mode, he answered, “Clearly showing how important you are to world stability.” After exchanging wry smiles, the Admiral asked, “So, Colonel Gabe Yagalone, how much do you know?”
“Only what I've seen on my [?].” Okay... forget cool! Back to master/supplicant status.
The Admiral grimaced. “Next to nothing, then. You'd better sit down.”
I took my accustomed chair just behind the Admiral, who then swiveled around to talk to me. His voice was matter-of-fact, as if he were casually mentioning the weather in a distant location.
“The City of Light's Tower has taken a turn for the worse, so to speak. The blasted thing has been bent into a double curve, making it look like a giant dollar sign. The incredible part is that the top appears to be level and directly above the base. Thus the overall center of gravity has remained the same. The technical types are in a state of shock and awe as the thing looks to be as stable at this point as it ever was. Obviously the [vertical conveyance devices?] won't be functioning, but the damn thing may become a whole new tourist attraction. Provided of course the city around it survives the attack on its artistic sensibilities. I understand there's a great deal of mental anguish among the French on the that score. We at least have that one piece of good news.
“Meanwhile, our own great monument pointing toward the heavens has been lifted from its base, turned upside down, and then rammed into the earth like a stake in the heart of the evil empire. Seems entirely appropriate considering the blood-sucking vampires in this town.
“Apparently, the first chronological event was at the Great Wall of China. But we've only just begun to receive confirmations in the form of photographs. From what we can tell, a relatively straight section of the Wall has been shifted some ten or so feet to one side, with a narrow passage between the connecting sections. The end pieces are perfectly flat as if they had been cut with a [?]. It's extremely impressive as an engineering feat.
“Less technically impressive, but clearly making a statement, Jerusalem has had a portion of the disputed section in its most sacred district spiked with a huge, apparently steel cross-like structure. Our best guess for the moment is that the structure itself has obvious elements of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious symbolism, all melded together in some kind of symbolic, ecumenical statement. Don't know about the artistic quality of the new addition, but I dare say that any artistic sensibilities are the last thing on the minds of the locals. Clearly, they're not French in that respect.
“We have just had a report that the ancient fortress of Sacsayhuaman, overlooking Cuzco, is now been prepped for rebuilding using massive stones from several local churches. No clue, yet, as to what that's all about, albeit two of the churches are in danger of collapsing for lack of a foundation.
“One of the more curious features in all of these worldwide events, a feature suggested earlier by some Major  here in the war room, is that everything seems to have been done with a degree of... care – as if a special effort had been made to ensure nobody got hurt. The idea sounds pretty fanciful to me... but if there's no collateral damage when you'd expect it... who knows?
“The good news is that I rather suspect we're about to have some answers. Some sort of craft has just arrived on the White House lawn, an intruder -- or if you will a snake in the rose garden. For the last hour or so, it has simply sat there, doing absolutely nothing. In the interim, General Marvel Morton has arrived with enough troops to begin a small war. He's been ordered to take no offensive actions.”
When it appeared the Admiral had finished, I asked, “Any overt actions by the craft itself?”
“Not yet. I suspect, it's been waiting for the old salty dog Morton to arrive with his troops and then get settled down before the festivities begin. An interesting tactic. In their place I rather suspect I would have done the same: Let everyone get in place, get past the first adrenalin rush, and encourage everyone to maybe get a little bored before the intruder shows his hand. Such a tactic is far less likely to result in a situation that degenerates into a shooting conflict. Avoid knee-jerk reactions – the plague of the modern world in more ways than one. For the moment, we're still waiting.”
“The getting bored phase?”
“Probably. Are you taking notes?”
“Yes, Sir. From the moment, I walked in.”
The Admiral smiled. “Good. I rather suspect I will want a detailed record on this one. They've got a hundred monitors arrayed all over the place, but it's the private conversations I want as well. Take special note of those.”
Neither of us said anything for several moments. As I looked around the room, I noticed for the first time the Commander in Chief and his German counterpart. There had been a planned [summit?]  when the worldwide events had begun. In fact the Joint Chiefs had been invited to the White House specifically to meet with the German Chancellor – thus explaining their presence when all hell broke loose. They were now trying to deal with the situation on an impromptu basis.
From my vantage it was clear the Commander in Chief was extremely unhappy. Meaning no disrespect – he is after all my supreme boss – but I would have to conclude he was way out of his league on this one. He was not my idea of a leader – certainly not on the level of my Admiral. The CinC was instead a stranger in a bizarre land. Elected officials are not trained or prone to being able to react under fire – other than by massive amounts of spin control concocted by specialists after the fact... and with prompters in case they actually have to say something. Admittedly, few people could have prepared themselves for this, but it would have been nice to have someone in charge who was known more for insights than for a newsworthy lack of curiosity.
The German Chancellor, Hilda Kurtz, on the other hand seemed much calmer. She was in fact looking about the War Room as if she were sight-seeing, taking in all the attractions, and maybe getting a snapshot or two. I doubt she had ever been allowed to see the inner workings of her ally's national emergency planning and situation room, and was apparently taking every opportunity to check it out and appreciate the possibilities. Outwardly, she seemed thoroughly impressed, even if she might have preferred to appear not particularly concerned one way or the other. That seemed to be a good sign. She for one had not panicked... yet.
General Lester Mick, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, seemed to be moderately cool himself. He had on his patented stern and serious face, and had been patiently trying to explain something to the President? . Interestingly, it didn't appear they were really communicating. The CinC was looking blank and General Mick was beginning to look uncertain on how to deal with a superior at the top of the chain of command who was apparently shell-shock. There is no greater nightmare than for a disciplined warrior to find himself at the mercy of a senior officer who has frozen in the face of real danger.
The inevitable question of what the hell do we do now was... mercifully... postponed as one of the junior officers raised his voice and pointed to the main monitor. Some sort of door had opened on the craft. The tension level took a quantum leap upward, but only to quickly ease somewhat when there was no immediate action or sign of other activity. For a very long moment (a full sixty seconds we were later able to ascertain), and with everyone breathing in hesitant, shallow gasps, we waited. After that very long moment, what appeared to be a human stepped into the doorway of the craft. A dozen or so in the room immediately let out a tentative sigh of relief. The guy wasn't green or spouting extra appendages! That was probably a really good thing.
After another long pause, the man (i.e. the best news we'd had so far) began walking down a short ramp and then stepped onto the ground. After a quick glance around, he seemed to recognize something. He began walking in the direction I assumed was directly toward General Morton, the senior officer in the defensive contingent. The General was possibly recognized as being in charge inasmuch as he was standing on the raised dais where a joint statement by the President and Kurtz had been in the works... before the summit had been overtaken by events.
Abruptly, our view became distorted. The monitors were suddenly laced with static and [snow?]. Helluva time for technical difficulties! The responses included numerous curses and orders being given in vain. But then the action – or what we could still see of it – took precedence. The man from the craft had begun to raise his arm as if in a salute... when a shot was fired! Almost by reflex, the man grabbed the air. Everything stopped. Thank the gods General Morton had not lost his nerve and had the presence of mind to yell, “Cease fire! Holster your weapons! Stand down!”
The quality of the monitors began to resolve enough for us to see the man as he approached what appeared to be a junior officer, one standing just to the right of General Morton. Extending his hand, the intruder spoke for the first time. “Stick out your hand.” When the junior officer did so, the man dropped what was apparently a still hot bullet into the officer's hand. The officer immediately dropped the bullet, and grabbed his nearly burned hand. The man then looked intently at the officer and said, “Don't panic. It never helps.” The words were very distinct. Hopefully, everyone in the war room heard them as well.
Meanwhile, I kept waiting for: “Take me to your leader" or some equivalent command. I was almost vindicated, when the man turned to General Morton, the latter who had left the dais and showed up where he was obviously needed. The intruder asked, “Are you in charge here?”
General Morton was astoundingly cool. “Of this contingent, yes sir.”
“I assume you don't speak for everyone.”
“No, sir; I do not.”
“Then why is the one who does speak for all, not here?”
“I can inquire, Sir.”
“Do so. I will expect a prompt response.” The man then stepped over to the chair normally reserved for the President, sat down, and seemed to literally make himself at home. The man must have taken extensive training in cool, possibly of the double oh seven variety.
Almost everyone in the war room turned to look at the President, whose face had gone chalk white. They had just called his number, and he had no cue cards to even hint at what he was to do next. It was clear he was not up to facing the intruder. The vice  President, who I knew my Admiral considered an even greater coward, had taken the President's arm and began saying something to the muted leader in a low voice. Kurtz, standing alongside, was following every word. Still the President said nothing; did not in fact even acknowledge that he had heard anything.
Admiral Sudra quietly snorted. “The VP is probably offering to stay behind in the safety of the bunker while the President meets the new arrival.”
As we watched a distinct lack of initiative on anyone else' part, Kurtz took the President's other arm and whispered something to him. After some carpet dancing, it soon became apparent she and the President were going to leave together. General Mick stepped in and began moving the two Commanders in Chief toward the door as well. He quickly ordered a Major to accompany them. Tall and powerfully built, the Major  could probably have bodily carried both of the Head of States at the same time, tucking one under each arm. There was even the possibility that such would be his precise task... in the likely event that shaking knees and wobbly legs gave way in the transition between the worlds of the war room and the White House lawn. The Major was obviously equipped to make such inter-dimensional transitions with ease... and with whatever baggage he might find himself burdened.
With the three out of the room, followed reluctantly by several other security officers, everyone turned back to view the results. For several moments, no one said anything. Until General William McIntosh asked, “Did anybody catch that... that bullet snag or whatever it was on the monitor.?”
One of the technicians replied, “Most of it, but it was a poor angle, and with the static it's going to be hard to see what really happened.”
“Bad timing on that.” Normally pleasant enough, General “Mac” did not look at all pleased.
Frowning heavily, General Mick asked, “What about the status of the monuments?”
“We're checking, sir,” a junior officer answered. “We do have a report from the Army Corp of Engineers that it's as perpendicular to the ground as they can measure at this point. It doesn't appear as if it's going to fall over inasmuch as it seems to be rammed into the earth sufficiently deep. We just can't see yet what is now the lower section and what condition it's in. For the moment, it's anyone's guess if the upper section is strong enough to support the lower portions. Or the lower section supporting...”
“We get the point,” General Mick answered, looking perplexed. “What I want to know is how can they ram it into the earth that fast, and not break it? The damn thing is made of rock and concrete – not some [tempered?] steel.”
The junior officer had no answer and shrugged helplessly. A civilian physicist noting the man's hesitation, spoke up, answering the General's question. “It's a matter of impulse, what might be called a radical change of pace. Do something quickly enough and the thing doesn't have time to break or bend. There have been straws of hay embedded into iron after being propelled by tornado winds and hitting the iron had just the right angle.” There were several blank expressions. Not everyone wants answers.
“The President,” someone said, interrupting the technical conversation.
Everyone turned back to the external monitor. The President, Chancellor Kurtz, and the Major had just reached the dais. The man, still seated, had ordered two chairs for the new arrivals. As the two sat down – with the Major standing behind the President -- the intruder began to study them for a moment. Then taking a deep breath, he spoke.
"My name is Daniel. I am a human being like yourselves. I am also the Liaison of those forces responsible for certain... shall we say... architectural modifications and works in progress in several of the world's most prized locations. I can assure you uncategorically that these demonstrations of a vastly superior technology are only the tip of an iceberg. What you have thus far witnessed -- and will continue to witness -- should clearly and definitively demonstrate to the most skeptical observer that... to coin a phrase... resistance is futile. Furthermore, any resistance of any kind will not be tolerated, and will in fact result in the total annihilation of the resisting forces.
"It is not the intent, however, that you be assimilated. You will merely be required to capitulate, cease the continual strife among your peers, and once and for all assume your fiduciary duty to do what is best for the greater good. What is being required here is your unconditional surrender, first to me as their Liaison, and ultimately to the Forces of NinGish. To ensure you understand completely, this unconditional surrender is worldwide – there are no [tribes?] which are exempt.
"Unconditional surrender in the face of the unknown -- even the unimaginable – may not seem like a ready option. Historically, surrenders among humans have had the slight advantage of the surrendering parties having a pretty good idea of what would be the ultimate result – subjugation, continuation under a new leadership, reparations, that sort of thing. In this case however, for all you know the forces whom I represent might be looking for food stocks from the human menagerie.
"Accordingly, I can understand your quandary, and perhaps ease some of your concerns.
"As a human being I am personally convinced that the Forces of NinGish are benevolent and are acting in the best interests of humanity. That does not mean that the higher echelons of governments will not be replaced in most cases. In fact, you can consider your own job security and that of your peers throughout the world to likely be a thing of the past. Se la vie."
"We are also aware of your system of government and the distribution of powers. However, as the Commander in Chief of the [?] Forces, you can at the very least order all defensive forces to stand down. And this you will in fact do, handing over full authority and control of said Forces to us. One might expect certain problems in this transition, that discipline might tend to break down. This will be dealt with as deemed appropriate. What you need to understand is that this is an unconditional surrender. How we intend to govern or utilize your [?] Forces will no longer be under your control.
"Take note that we are prepared to provide a further demonstration of our superior technology. Considering your history of bloodshed, you might well require that such a further demonstration involve the loss of life – perhaps on a comparatively massive scale... just in order to get your undivided attention and to convince you of the nature of reality. This bloodshed will likely occur because, one, you will have been forewarned, and two, because such a bloody demonstration may be the only kind that will be convincing to you. Merely say the word and we will provide additional and overwhelming evidence in the form of an explosive destruction of supposedly impenetrable defenses, and of course, the collateral damage of an horrendous body count. You may require such numbers in molding public opinion.
"We would want to point out, however, that as the responsible party for initiating such an ill-advised resistance, it will be necessary for you to personally lead the way in joining the body count. Only in your case, your grave and/or monument will be located within the watery depths of the ocean – an appropriate place for someone willing to send others to die in his or her stead."
With the returned quality of the monitor, the sheer panic on the President's face was obvious to everyone in the war room. General Perse Koenig [“the black one'] perhaps said it best: “We're fucked.”
My Admiral effectively concurred. “And all very legal like. Shit!”
General Mick looked at him, as if unable to believe what he'd said. “Are you serious?”
“If the Commander in Chief surrenders, we follow orders and surrender as well. That's the way the law and the regulations work.” Admiral Sudra seemed very clear on the subject.
“Speak for yourself, Art,” General Mick replied. “We always have the option of mutiny.”
“And why would you do that? Do you think you could defeat their technology?”
When General Mick did not immediately answer, General McIntosh added almost wistfully, “Personally, I'd like to know a lot more about their technology. Looks like incredible stuff!”
In these brief moments, the President had apparently realized that he had to somehow respond and had been trying to say something. But he wasn't making sense. His voice was unintelligible and there was no hint in his usual cowboy, take-no-prisoners style confidence. It was in fact becoming embarrassing – a point emphasized by General Mick's definitive comment on the situation: “Shit! We're really fucked!” The Vice President seemed disconnected but in agreement nonetheless, as he kept muttering, “fuck, fuck, fuck...!” over and over again.
Then the unimaginable happened: Kurtz stepped up to the plate. Hardly acknowledging the President, she asked, “What assurances do we have of your supposedly good intentions?
“None. Absolutely none. But then again... what assurances has any member of the human race had of the good intentions of the current regimes? None?”
Kurtz smiled slightly. “There are constitutions.”
“Which are regularly ignored. Try to think of what will likely be proposed from henceforth as an expanded version of those contracts, constitutions, charters, and covenants, all of which have attempted in one way or another to limit the authority of the physically strong over the weak. At the same time such documents have been intended to unleash the human potential in all its many forms. In that venue, we agree. Freedoms that are genuine will in fact be provided, but also such freedoms will of necessity have to be earned through responsibility, service and education.”
“Are you suggesting a democracy?”
“No. Nothing so fragile or easily thwarted.”
“Fragile? I would have thought democracies have proven their worth and stability."
“Being a prime beneficiary of such mass illusions would naturally make you a supporter. But enough of such talk as to what is to be or not be. This is an unconditional surrender, an ultimatum. You have no guarantees, no assurances, and nothing but my personal belief in the intentions of the NinGish... and possibly you may be encouraged by the fact that I have been assured that I will continue to act as Liaison.
“The relevant issue is whether or not you wish to experience an example of massive destruction in order to be convinced of the futility of your situation. This can of course be done, but only once before we meet again. This is not a matter of prolonged negotiation. It is either capitulation or a single further demonstration. I am of course obligated to point out that the latter will almost inevitably be what might best be described as the epitome of “overkill.” Are your choices clear enough?”
Kurtz looked as if she really had something on which to back her stance. “Can we have time to consider your demands?”
“You have forty eight hours.”
The President suddenly said, “But... but... that's not enough. We need...”
“Forty eight hours. In the interim and in the next few minutes, I will see the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Inasmuch as they have undoubtedly been monitoring the situation, they are herewith ordered to appear immediately. And for the moment, they do not need to bring their swords, or even think about being required to fall on them.”
The response within the Joint Chiefs is likely not appropriate for posterity.
“General Morton, please arrange nine chairs next to my craft for the Chiefs and their aides. I will use this chair if you would be so kind as to have it moved. You will also need to move your troops back, perhaps against the fence and as far away from the activities as possible. They may, however, continue to keep everything in sight and to maintain their defensive posture. We will simply want to avoid any more panic shots, any future incidents of which I will hold you personally responsible.”
General Morton looked at the President, whose expression can only be described as bewildered. Morton then looked to Kurtz, who had leaned toward the President, gotten his momentary attention, and then as if relaying the President's orders, turned and gave the go-ahead to the General. Morton then began giving orders. All soldiers began moving in a roughly orderly fashion back to the fence, giving a wide space in the middle to provide for a degree of privacy.
In the war room, the Joint Chiefs were in a quandary – a four sided dilemma looking for an enigma to launch an attack against. My Admiral and General McIntosh were ready to go and meet the intruder (but for different reasons). Mick was ready as always to lead the discussion, and Koenig was just standing there, obviously far less eager to commit himself to anything.
Mick finally said, “A fundamental rule is that one does not expose a commander to possible manipulation. With their technology, anything is possible. We need to consider that.”
Sudra agreed. “General MIck has a good point. We've already begun mapping the brain . It doesn't appear that it would be much harder than mapping the human genome and that's been proceeding at an incredible pace. Mental manipulation might indeed be a possibility.”
General McIntosh almost laughed. “What are our options? This Liaison fellow is obviously aware that there are four of us; the reason for nine chairs; one for him, the four of us, and our four aides. He seems to know all about us, while we know nothing about him.”
Koenig challenged him. “Are you that eager to surrender?”
McIntosh bristled only slightly. “That's not our choice. I follow the chain of command. But if the President throws in the towel, I would like to know more about the enemy to whom we would be required to surrender. Think of this as an opportunity for us to read the enemy's mind.” Then looking directly at Koenig, “That's assuming, of course, that you're up to it.”
Koenig displayed the expected surge of masculine machismo, while General Mick quickly intervened in his normal peace keeping role. “No one is challenging any one's courage.”
“Still...” the vice President interjected, as if he had just gained the power to contribute to the joint Chief's deliberations [which technically he did not, inasmuch as he was not in the chain of command from the President to the JCS]. “While it would never be a matter of... courage... the fact is that... well... the President does not appear... at the moment at any rate... to be acting in accordance with... well... let's just say, his full mental powers. It may be necessary... possibly... to consider declaring him... unable... to perform his duties. That would of course require... my intervention... that is: to regretfully replace... however temporarily... the President... and began acting on his behalf.”
There was a decided hush in the war room, with General Mick winning the prize for apparently being the most astonished. The tension was suddenly eased slightly when someone irreverently remarked in too loud a voice that such an idea was far too little far too late. As several junior officers were immediately targeted for said breach of conduct, two civilians – later identified as Barry Laurence, some kind of high powered lawyer, and Norman Malestrom, who I was unable to find any good intelligence on, and who enjoyed no apparent or obvious ranking in the hierarchy -- spoke up.
Following Laurence's, “What would be the legal basis, Sir?”, Malestrom made it clear that this was not the time for such discussions, declaring in the fashion of an ultimatum, “That's not an option!” In some manner which I did not understand, a civilian had scorched the idea with such finality that the matter was irrevocably settled... at least for the moment. In fact the vice President seemed to have been more shaken from Malestrom's dictate than the idea of unconditional surrender of his [tribe] to alien and overpowering forces. From my perspective, it suddenly became enormously important to know who the hell these civilians were and what constituted their unofficial, but apparently ranking authority.
My Admiral then said what most were probably already thinking. “There is also the possibility that the Liaison may turn out to be a better commander than the ones we currently have.”
The vice President took immediate offense – he was not, after all, that stupid. Cowardly, perhaps; and inasmuch as retreat is often the more intelligent part of valor... he was in fact pretty much in vogue. He was also suddenly bristling with a reddened face and a look of undisguised hatred. He asked, “Where the fuck do you come up with that... insubordinate... fucking bullshit?”
General Mick, being the only warrior diplomat with extensive sensitivity training, was able to pick up on the changed mood in the room -- however subtle and low key it might have been. He quickly took a step forward. “We will all follow the chain of command. With respect!”
Admiral Sudra turned to the VP. “No offense intended, Sir. If the vice President would prefer to lead us in meeting this... liaison fellow... I would welcome such leadership.”
The hatred in the VP's stare actually increased. Then with a gritted teeth expression, he interrupted Sudra's dangling challenge, forcing his voice to retain some semblance of control, “As General Koenig has already stated... and made abundantly clear, I might add... it seems preferable... that we not expose any more of the leadership than absolutely necessary.”
My Admiral smiled. “In that case, General Mick, if you would care to lead the charge of this... very light brigade... we can be on our way.”
General Mick looked at Sudra for only a moment, before uncharacteristically taking the first of several bold steps. “Gentlemen. If you and your aides will accompany me.” With that he turned and led the seven of us to our “command presentation”. I kept listening for some martial music to stir my emotions to the kind of the fever pitch essential for charging into the breech... perhaps Stars and Stripes Forever ... or even just The Magnificent Seven ...(or the slightly less magnificent eight?).
But I could hear nothing, other than Mick as he yelled back into the room, "Keep recording. Be ready to use every available analysis technique. I want it all on record.”
'Great!' I thought. 'If I get fried by some advanced weaponry, it will all be on tape... and it can be replayed over and over again! And thereby... I'll always be remembered... maybe.'
As the eight of us approached the Liaison, General Mick gave the intruder a smart salute, after which all the rest of us followed his lead. Koenig was slow to do so, and received a very brief studied look from the Liaison. When eventually everyone was saluting and standing at attention, the Liaison straightened himself and gave a very sharp military salute in return. This prompted Admiral Sudra to later remark, “Wow. A Commander in Chief who actually knows how to salute! What a novelty! Perhaps even more stunning, a commander in chief who has done military service himself. In olden times, anyone who had not proven themselves in battle would never be allowed to become king.” Sudra's pet peeve had long been putting up with any commander-in-chief not having served time as a subordinate. For my part, I suspect that the Liaison's return salute and marked show of respect to the Joint Chiefs did more to gain their support than anything said in the subsequent, very brief discussion.
As everyone took a seat, the intruder/”liaison” began.
“Thank you gentlemen for your prompt response to my invitation.
“While we have no doubt as to your willingness to continue to follow the chain of command, we are also aware of your first duty being to your country. The issue with which you are faced is what is best for those you serve however indirectly. There is also the unspoken stipulation that while your [tribal?]forces might have once been considered to be superior to anything in the world, nevertheless such superiority does not and never has allowed you to conduct unilateral actions, of any chosen scale, anywhere in the world. You were not, in a word, omnipotent in such matters.
Still... your forces are indeed considerable, well trained, well equipped and respected by your enemies. For this reason, if your forces can be combined for the sake of convenience and the lessening of possible resistance with the technology of the forces I represent, it hopefully goes without saying that your decisions in the next forty eight hours are of paramount importance.
“What specifically do I require of you? Total obedience and loyalty. No broken swords; merely the willing acknowledgment of a new Commander in Chief who obtains the right by the semi-lawful means of an unconditional surrender. There will be no laying down of arms and walking into the confines of some detention. We fully intend with your cooperation to maintain the integrity of your established forces. Any intelligent study of history makes it clear that any disbanding of a conquered army does not subsequently lend itself to the stability of any resulting occupation.
“There is, of course, the proviso that beginning at the highest ranks and continuing down to the lowest member of your forces, all members of the continuing [?] Forces will be swearing a binding and unswerving oath of loyalty and obedience. The breaking of such an oath freely and willingly given will mean immediate death for the offender and selected, if not all members of his or her family. In the event any member of the military chooses not to take the oath, they will simply be disarmed and released from further duty, no questions asked. The death penalty is only for those who take an oath to obey us, and then dishonor that oath. Any questions thus far?”
General Mick asked the first obvious question, “How do you know you can trust us? What's to prevent us from taking an oath and then stabbing you in the back?”
“We don't know for certain how any one of you might act in the future. We assume that some of you will do precisely that... or at least attempt to stab us in the back. However, it might be wise for any individuals so motivated to note that accompanying our technology -- for which you already have evidence of its superiority -- are other similarly advanced technologies... including those associated with intelligence gathering. There are some very impressive... tools and techniques! Any sense of privacy that you might like to think you now enjoy – even given your acquaintance with the kind of technologies which you currently command to violate privacies – may now be viewed as a thing of the past. Your privacy as a continuing member of your Forces can be expected to be severely compromised.”
General Koenig was even less amenable than General Mick. “If your forces are so all fired powerful, what do you need us for?”
“Wholesale destruction is far easier than maintaining peace among billions; surely you of all people can understand that. Destruction is also much easier than rebuilding. The latter is particularly onerous, but inevitably necessary. If one is to maintain peace, then one needs a massive force – ideally one forged with the specific task of working within a given system and culture. If your forces and others like yours choose to resist, then the result will be massive destruction. There will be no other choice. The only hope for billions of souls will be that at some point everyone realizes that pain... truly intense pain... comes primarily from resistance.”
“This assumes you have the ability to inflict massive pain.”
“True. Would you like a demonstration? Of course, it would have to include others, in addition to yourself. Interested?”
No one appeared eager to pick up the gauntlet. Sudra almost smiled at Koenig's hesitancy. Then he changed topics. “What has convinced you of the benevolence of these alien forces?”
The man actually smiled. “What convinces you of the benevolence of those you serve?” Then with an almost a slight of hand, the man took from an interior pocket numerous documents and handed them to Admiral Sudra. The Admiral quickly flipped through them, apparently recognizing them immediately. He then handed them to General Mick, the latter whom merely grunted his own recognition. As the thin collection of papers made their way around to the others, the Liaison continued with a wry smile. “These Executive Orders should make it clear that your leaders have voided any slight adherence to the authorizing documents under which they serve. The four of you have been aware of these documents... for how long? And you took what actions because of them? You did exactly what to preserve the integrity of law and honor in your society? Isn't the greatest crime, cowardice? Or am I thinking of something else? Perhaps you can enlighten me here."
The dead pan silence on everyone's faces spoke volumes.
“Your lack of action to preserve your constitution forced the hand of the NinGish. Thus the Joint Chiefs of Staff are indirectly responsible for the unconditional surrender of those whom you have been allegedly serving. In effect the JCS surrendered before they even heard of the NinGish.”
Sudra looked at Mick, as if the subject of taking such treasonable action had once been raised. There was just the hint of Sudra saying, “I told you so.” But in fact neither said anything at that point.
“As for the NinGish, a portion of the evidence of their benevolence can be evidenced in a single word: restraint. Having the ability to do most anything, to cause all manner of destruction while enjoying defensive capabilities that ensure no effective retaliation... and not doing anything other than demonstrations of superior technology which injure no one... that is restraint. Trust me; had I been making the decisions in the beginning, I might have preferred a clearer message where the many heads of the Hydra were decapitated in many and diverse fashions. But the NinGish wished to demonstrate with clarity that the initial agenda was the epitome of responsible, measured restraint. Furthermore, choosing a liaison from among the conquered allows you every opportunity to save face and avoid extinction. And I must admit to having learned a positive lesson from their example.”
General McIntosh asked, “Are your forces sufficient to cause extinction of the human race?”
“Extinction? Possibly, but clearly not warranted. In many respects, it would only be increasing the time table of your own rush to extinction. Even then, it would still take a lot of time and effort. On the other hand, could we quickly obliterate your hundred largest cities? An unqualified yes.”
Admiral Sudra then smiled slightly, “And we're believing you... why?
“Because a quick glance to your right, Admiral Sudra, will yield the sight of a massive obelisk turned upside down and impaled upon the earth. Could that obelisk just have easily been rammed through the halls of Congress? Or a dozen equivalent such objects dropped alongside the piers of your mighty fleet? You have of course by now sortied your forces, but earlier a surprise attack would have been... shall we say... devastating? Also how long can your forces stay at sea and in a state of readiness if the NinGish forces decide to bide their time? In the interim, who and where do you counterattack? What, in plain language, do you shoot at? Beside the Liaison, that is.”
“Which seemed to have little or no effect.” General McIntosh has apparently found a reason to smile as well.
“A surreptitious demonstration admittedly, but it will serve.”
Koenig was not smiling. “Do you expect the military, or its commanders, to simply surrender?”
“We expect the four of you to obey your Commander in Chief, with no reservations whatsoever. You have been given a brief opportunity to gain some insight into what you as Chiefs might use as cannon fodder in advising your superiors. At the same time, you need to be aware that we do not operate within the same, very narrow confines of a strict chain of command. We operate slightly differently. Instead of three of you being required to report to your Commander in Chief only through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, all four of you would have equal access to your new Commander in Chief. Think of it as a limited but notable modification of the pyramid structure."
I could see that this new idea had a lot of appeal to three of the four Joint Chiefs – they had never liked being dependent upon the ability of their chairman to accurately convey their advice. Equally clearly, the Liaison's promise was a gambit to win them over to his side.
General Mick, however, blissfully unaware of such general frustration, clearly had other concerns. “We will advise the President, but we need more concrete information.”
“I believe the obelisk in the distance there is concrete, is it not?”
General Koenig said, “There are magic tricks and there are wars. Other than an admittedly very impressive show of technology, what is the depth and strength of your forces? Where's the meat?”
“The ability within a roughly twelve hour period to do what has been done on a worldwide basis should be enough meat for anyone. As for the depth of our forces, who cares? If you haven't a clue as to who, what, and where said forces are... then even if it takes us longer to accomplish our aims, exactly what do you think you can do in the interim? We can slowly or rapidly whittle you down to size.
“Are you familiar with the concept of a wasp inside a moving vehicle? When it is first discovered, there is the very real possibility of massive destruction of the vehicle and its occupants in their all-out quest to avoid being stung by the wasp. What we have is the case where a very small creature is capable of potentially causing the death of several relatively very large creatures, sentient beings who should be able to kill the wasp easily.”
“We have intelligence services as well. Perhaps we can answer those questions to our own satisfaction soon enough.” Admiral Sudra was still smiling, as if in a friendly challenge.
“And in the interim? Would you like to assume responsibility for what might be unleashed in the space of moments while the four of you return to advise the President?
“I wouldn't think so. You of all people are simply not that stupid.”
General Mick almost threw up his hands. “But all of this could be a bluff!”
“I suppose it could be viewed that way. But it's one helluva a bluff, don't you think? When you see the ten though king of spaces showing, do you really feel comfortable betting the lives of millions on whether the ace of spades, or even a joker is the hole card?”
There was a momentary pause. Several glanced in the direction of the Washington Monument. After just a moment, the Liaison brought the proceeding to an end.
“It's time for you to report to your Commander in Chief. You're dismissed.”
Dismissing four-stars is not a casual act, but amazingly, it seemed to work. All eight of us rose and saluted – with the Liaison returning the salute in what I have to believe was a respectful manner. Honor seemed to have been served that day.
And now, on a completely different topic, the President.
 The Week News Magazine, 21 March 2008.