Premiered 9/9/9 (9 September 2009)
The continuation of The Myth and Legend of D'PTah, an original novel by Dan Sewell Ward.
General Mick was pacing the room, exorcised to the point of being unable to stand still or to sit down in the midst of a tirade. Being spread out on a comfortable couch had never lent itself to the kind of blood curdling anger he would liked to have employed. Certainly not nearly as effective as stomping about with heavy boots. Accordingly, Mick was forced to do the stomping bit, intent upon showing just how angry he was... not to mention just how bewildered.
Curiously, the combination of anger and bewildered shock was simultaneously tempered with just enough life-long discipline to keep him from throwing a tantrum, collapsing on the floor, or simply wailing against a wall -- the latter a popular sport among certain segments of the population. Any of the above actions would of course have been unseemly for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And even in the event he had resorted to such tactics, none of the rest of us would report on such an event for reasons of professional courtesy... not to mention national security.
His general [pardon the pun] state of mind, however, could possibly be gleamed by what he had begun muttering -- just as we approached the final moments of the 48-hour deadline -- the gist of which was: “I never thought I'd see the day when we'd surrender without so much as firin' a single fuckin' shot!”
Admiral Sudra came close to violating protocol and dismissing his senior officer's statement outright, when he said, “Yes, well... while our own forces did not fire any shots... fuckin' or otherwise... you may recall the Iranians did."
"Actually," Koenig added, a smirk on his face, "They attempted to do so and pretty much 'shot their wad'. And, might I add, with the implicit understanding that we were behind them."
"True," Sudra admitted. "But of course, we were way behind them! This led them to be sufficiently trusting to believe they would have the honor of leading the charge and we would be there in reserve. The fact they stupidly chose Israel and an alleged Semitic conspiracy as their target was just blind luck on our part. The good news is that it gives us plausible deniability of being in on their plan from the start.”
MacIntosh grimaced slightly, as he added, “We certainly saw what happened to them. They had their attack aircraft falling from the skies like geese flying into a convention of trigger-happy duck hunters. Their payloads and state-of-the-art aircraft ended up littering the western Jordanian desert like confetti on Fifth Avenue. Tel Aviv may have been spared, but the sudden massive explosion of chronic diarrhea among the Iranian populace has got to be the ultimate in non-deadly but highly effective retaliation.”
Mick shrugged. “It was a bit comical. I'll readily admit to that. Still, betraying your ally is practically a Middle Eastern tradition. They should have known better."
Koenig added, "They might have also tried hitting someone who was unlikely to hit back. How dumb can you be?”
When no one commented, Mick returned to his tirade. “We're getting off track. I don't care about the Iranians! I care about us. And I don't like what we're doing! We are surrendering... unconditionally!”
Sudra grimaced, dismissing the illogical statement of the chairman. “I don't think your liking or disliking anything is entirely relevant.” Surprisingly, Mick missed the target of the comment.
General McIntosh took another tack. “You may recall, General Mick, that the unanimous choice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was to tell the President that one, we had no defense against whoever and whatever was demanding our surrender. Two, we were technologically outclassed. And three, we had no clue on how to counterattack, where to counterattack, and against whom we would counterattack – assuming any form of counterattack would have done us any good at all.”
General Koenig scoffed at the idea. “Maybe if we'd taken the time to gather a bit more intelligence...” The man was almost livid, despite this condition being hard to see with his complexion.
Admiral Sudra merely shook his head. “I've had every resource known to this government... and several more that aren't known... working on this nonstop for the last two days. No leads on this NinGish at all. Nothing! Nada! Zip! The only thing we've got is the result of their handiwork.”
MacIntosh smiled, “Which, if I do say so myself, is damn impressive.”.
Koenig still seemed unconvinced. There's something about being a [-marine animal?-] that suggests the only convincing arguments are those at the megaton levels and the blind obedience of the men with the loaded weapons. “And we don't have anything capable of doing what they did?”
MacIntosh was the resident special weapons and technology expert – as much as from his predilection toward such matters as the necessity of his field of command to utilize the latest in military technology. His answer was succinct, if not convincing. “In the science fiction section, perhaps. But the frank assessment I'd had so far is that most of our geniuses had not even thought of the sort of thing we witnessed... much less as a current, viable possibility. Think of it as going back a hundred years and showing the top scientists of the day your [-I Pod?-], with the Lord of the Rings prepped and ready for viewing. It's totally mind blowing. It takes some effort just to admit you're not having hallucinations.”
Koenig almost smiled. “But we could do it if we decided we had to?”
MacIntosh returned the smile. “Sure, Perse. Maybe... after a massive effort on the size of the Manhattan Project... assuming we had the time... which we don't”.
Koenig hated it when anyone called him by his first name, but he was not quite ready to take Mac outside and settle the matter. A wolf at the door tended to make best buddies of those trapped inside.
The senior officer decided to intervene – as he had had to do more than once before over the years. “What about this Liaison fellow? Surely, we can check him out.”
Sudra looked at me, giving me leave to speak. It was the only way any of the aides would ever think of opening their mouths. I took advantage of the opportunity.
“We've identified this 'Daniel'. It turns out he's a former naval officer; spent some time in [-?-] submarines. He's also something of an intellectual with a number of what might be called fairly progressive ideas. We've got a lot of information on him. He has not exactly been hiding his light under a bushel. The guy even ran for Congress several years ago as a third party candidate. The end result is that basically he's clean. No associations with any unsavory characters that we've been able to identify... other than a few liberals. But no one unsavory enough to flip the Washington Monument.”
MacIntosh laughed, as he looked at the sheet which had already been prepared, and which I was merely summarizing. “I suppose that if he's neither a Democrat nor a Republican, that would certainly increase his chances of being clean.” Mac always had the gift of understatement.
Mick was less generous. “Just how the fuck did they choose this guy? I mean, why him?”
“No clear idea,” I answered (after a quick glance at my Admiral). “We do know he was likely contacted quite a few months ago, and that there are several others who appear to have joined him at various stages in the intervening time. We're still checking them out as well, but it looks thus far that they are not only clean, but in a couple of cases, we've got some moderately influential individuals. There is one guy who has a very interesting past. But for the moment we have to assume they were simply friends of this Daniel fellow -- those who apparently he thought he could trust.”
Mac was skeptical. “And so they just happened to pick this guy? A random choice?”
Sudra reassumed his lead in the discussions, eclipsing me for the moment. “Nobody believes it was entirely random.” (Inasmuch as it was now judgment being reported, and not mere statistics, the CNO was duty bound to take over the conversation.) “The guy is too smart, too well known to anyone who would take the time to investigate him, and too obviously an [-?-]. The fact that he's a former naval officer with leadership credentials cannot be arbitrary.”
“Your faith in his being a naval officer does not impress me,” Koenig scoffed. “The fact is that the Navy's job is primarily one of being delivery boys for the people who do the real fighting – you know the kind of fighting I mean; the up close and personal kind?” It was the old taunt. Everyone had heard it before. Mac groaned and looked away. Mick frowned but said nothing. It was left to Sudra to respond; which of course he did without any hesitation.
“Possibly. But this is the same Navy you will be contacting in order to save your asses when you get in trouble, and who will thereby allow you the glory of 'advancing in the opposite direction', as you've been prone to do over the years. We might be, among other things, a delivery service for your guys, but... how many times over the years have we delivered you from hell?” Sudra actually seemed to be enjoying the repartee; possibly a tension breaker. I don't think Koenig was kidding though. His response was essentially a low growl, just short of showing his fangs... and the razor sharps knives that several believed he magically kept within his hands.
“Enough of the inter-service rivalry,” Mick felt compelled to order. “This is not the time nor the place. We're in deep shit here. Let's keep the focus on our priorities.” He sighed heavily.
“Which brings us to the first item on the agenda,” Mac replied. “We have an hour to deliver to the 'Liaison' either our resignations or to publicly swear to the most severe, uncompromising, and binding loyalty oath I've ever encountered.”
“Good point,” Mick said. “So... Gentlemen... Do we have a consensus on the matter?”
“Don't need it,” Sudra replied. “What I do does not apply to you. These are individual decisions. Even our aides can choose independently of what the rest of us do.” I exchanged glances with Koenig's aide, whose views... based on their respective track records... very likely differed notably from that of his Commandant.
Mick, apparently, wasn't buying it. “I don't agree. It's going to carry a lot more weight if we all go one way or the other. It's a matter of making a unified statement. If we have one or more hold outs, then there will be people who will look to rally around the hold outs as the focus of a resistance. We've got to stay together. Otherwise, we will be far less effective. Any thought of taking unilateral actions effectively becomes providing support to the enemy by the old 'divide and conquer' strategy.”
“All for one and one for all? The four musketeers?” Mac, among other virtues, had the ability to distill Mick's more rambling statements.
Koenig was more direct, and simultaneously more devious. “We must all take the oaths.” The intensity of his voice suggested that any counter argument was pointless.
MacIntosh was the first to challenge the idea. “And how is it you speak for all of us?”
“We swore an oath to our country,” Koenig replied, as if the issue was moot. “We can't now walk away just because it's inconvenient to stay around and continue the fight.”
MacIntosh leaned forward in his chair. “Are you serious? Is it your plan to sign an oath that you will honor only to the extent that it later suits you?”
Koenig hesitated for just a moment, marshaling his thoughts. “As Art, the consummate strategist has already suggested, sometimes it's necessary to advance in the opposite direction. That is, until you're ready to wheel about and charge back into the breech.”
MacIntosh frowned. “I find that pathetic.” Any humor I might have expected from the Air Force chief was now entirely absent. The proverbial shit had just hit the fan.
Sudra was less offended, but was also not inclined to support Koenig. “It's also a violation of your original oath.” His voice was quiet and steady, and thus, I suspect, carried more weight. Koenig looked at him with the same gaze he might have had had he been challenged to a duel. My admiral leaned forward slightly, speaking directly to Koenig.
“You pledged a binding oath to defend this country... to obey until your dying breath the orders of your Commander in Chief. You are not released from that oath simply because there's a been a regime change. We're talking about the all-important essence of law here.”
Koenig failed to recognize the admittedly subtle argument. “Are you kidding? We're surrendering unconditionally! There's no law involved!”
“And in the process,” Sudra continued, “we're handing over the reins of our government to a new, de facto President, a new Commander in Chief to whom you owe your loyalty... or as per his dictates, your resignation.”
“I do hope you know where you can take your 'de facto' shit!” Koenig really had a way with words. It comes, I suppose, with his group's legendary Esprit de Corps.
Mick, the peacemaking interventionist, quickly did his thing. “Enough!” The Chairman was now erect and as forceful as I'd ever seen him. “This crap stops now! No more personal attacks!” As he looked around the room at the semi-compliant faces, he added, “The obvious solution is to retain the integrity of our military forces.”
Koenig smiled a devious smile. “That would suggest a unanimous vote in order to retain our commissions. If it turns out later that we've been hornswaggled by some con artists, then we will be in a position to do something about it. It's far better to be in power – even if temporarily diminished in our ultimate authority -- than looking on helplessly from the outside. Any decision we make now is contingent upon our knowing the true facts of the situation.”
“You're talking about a Fifth Column at the highest level of command.” Mac was incredulous.
Koenig was grim as he begun to overtly suggest a reality that had often haunted many a philosopher or political scientist. “There has never been a time when the military could not have conducted a coup in this country. But we've always known that it wouldn't work unless you had a totally disciplined force behind you. Inasmuch as that's never been the case, there's never been a coup.”
“So much for honor,” groused MacIntosh.
The Commandant virtually ignored Mac. “I will take a binding oath here and now to do what is best for my country. If that means taking an oath to a foreign regime on a... shall we say, a temporary basis, contingent upon later intelligence, then so be it. I will do what is necessary. All's fair in war.”
Suddenly, Sudra's reference to Koenig as “The Dark One” took on an even more sinister meaning. But then Mac took him on.
“And who decides when we act? When you unilaterally think it's time to revolt?”
Mick took a quick glance at both men who were attempting to stare each other down. “Clearly we need a consensus.” The words didn't seem to faze either of the other two generals.
But then Sudra leaned forward. “I would suggest the following. One, everything said today is classified top secret in extremis with the additional stipulation that any need to know is defined as strictly limited to the eight people in this room right now.”
“Of course it's top secret,” Koenig felt compelled to add. “Everything in this room is top secret.”
“Two,” Sudra continued without any acknowledgment of Koenig's comment, “We all sign loyalty oaths to the new Commander in Chief.” When Koenig started to interrupt, Sudra added, “Three, we all swear the most holy and binding oaths to each other that under no circumstances whatsoever will we act unilaterally without a majority vote by the four of us.”
The gauntlet was tossed, but Sudra was still not finished.
“Four, no one outside of this room is to ever be apprised of this agreement. No other officer or anyone in the chain of command will be given the option to believe that their oath to the new regime is conditional or even remotely not binding. The burden of jointly deciding to undertake a coup will be ours and ours alone. As far as any subordinate will ever know, any act against this new regime is an act of mutiny. They will follow the chain of command, or they will be traitors and subject to the most severe punishment for betrayal. Unless, we first unanimously agree otherwise.”
Koenig was watching Sudra intently, even as the Admiral turned to look each of the other Chiefs directly in the eyes. As far as I was concerned, Koenig had spoken his piece, been upstaged by my Admiral, and had decided to agree to everything. But I doubt he had really agreed to allow such an agreement to be binding on him. I suspected he would ensure that there were elite units at his sole beck and call – with the discipline to ensure they would blindly follow him exclusively.
MacIntosh was more pragmatic. “Why majority rule? Why allow one hold out to potentially escape the implications of a... revolt? Why not make it unanimous? Mac was clearly moving in the direction of agreeing with Sudra. But the Admiral was also likely setting it up as if the decision had already been made, and now it was just a matter of tweaking the details. I knew that Koenig was suspicious of the ploy, but that Mick on the other hand was probably completely buying into this basic debate technique.
Mick said as much. “Needs to be unanimous.”
I thought I detected a smile on the Admiral's face. Mick would have to feel that he contributed something material to the final decision and Sudra had set it up precisely that way. The fact that Mac had helped nudge Mick along was not surprising in that Sudra and Mac both had common sense... so to speak. Koenig of course would be the loose cannon, but for appearances sake he would go along with the idea. Any time he found himself unable to compete in a verbal debate, he simply became quiet. Ominously so. Of course, in the end, unless the [-jockey?-] was willing to take us all on – even the delivery boys to get his elite troops into the action – the Chiefs would act... one for all and all for one.
On a deeper level, I doubted that Sudra would ever countenance a coup. He would never tell the others of his refusal, but in the end he would not. His sense of loyalty was less prone to the politics – certainly not in the fashion of Mick or Koenig. One's discipline should not be dependent upon who's in charge. The best duty was in having a good boss. But duty was still duty even when it wasn't the best. The Chief of the Navy would likely end up holding the hidden Ace – the one that would prevent any semblance of a unified coup. This was just one more place where I instinctively knew I would follow the Admiral anywhere.
One reason for my suspicions of my boss' hidden motives stemmed from Sudra's expressed disgust at such military idiocies as The Charge of the Light Brigade. When Koenig had been making his case for a counter attack, I could almost hear the music  in the background, in particular the version by The 3 D's in the last track of their New Dimensions in Folk Songs  album.
When we were again alone in the Admiral's spectacularly secure private quarters, I took the opportunity to ask what was to me the obvious question. “But won't Koenig renege?”
“Possibly. He's always been something of a lit fuse – a trait instilled by his training I suspect. I have no doubt he'll put together a couple of elite units who will be primed and ready for anything – with or without the concurrence or knowledge of any of the other Joint Chiefs. Except that I'll know which one of his units are the elite corp, and I'll make damn sure that every time some flash point in the rest of the world heats up, it will Koenig's precious palace guard, his legions, who will be on the front lines where their capabilities will be severely tested.”
One of the things the Admiral had instilled in me was to be open and frank when there was just the two of us. He wanted the input, despite the difference in our rank. This seemed to be one of those times. “Sometimes I suspect the disadvantage of my Air Force training is that they don't teach us to be nearly as devious, secretive, or complex in our dealings.” I smiled to lighten the mood, but Sudra took it as a simple statement, requiring a simple, unassuming reply.
“Air power is notoriously obvious and above board. Aircraft are easily the most transparent forces in the military. Despite stealth and the latest technology, they are still there to be seen by any eyes with the ability to see. Given that, why in the world would you learn the subversive techniques? Being from submarines, on the other hand, I have a different world view. Everything there is about being hidden, popping up from a hiding place to deal a death blow, and thereafter quickly retreating to a good hiding place. On a more philosophical level, anything of importance in the world is always intermixed with the science of illusions and hidden mysteries. One never really tells or accepts any truth. There are only perceptions of truth.”
“Perhaps, but when it comes time to rise above conflicts and get the heck out of harm's way, nobody can do it faster than the aviators.”
The Admiral smiled. “And I hope to teach you the futility of such thoughts. Airplanes without regular fueling opportunities tend to eventually fall rather precipitously to the ground. Until such a time in the evolution of your forces, you have the ability to stay aloft and... 'out of harm's way' for unlimited periods of time, I would suggest you invest in a naval vessel... ideally one capable of living off the bounty of the oceans if and when it becomes necessary.”
“These days, perhaps,” Sudra mused. “Clearly a [-?-] submarine could survive a very long time out of sight on the high seas. The fact of the matter is that you can hide one helluva of a lot of stuff under the water. It's really just a matter of commitment and funding.” He paused for a moment, and then seemed to begin to relish his role as mentor. “Tell me, Colonel: What do you know about the Knights Templar?”
“Something from the Crusades?”
“Certainly that,” he replied, seeming to enjoy the prospect of being a teacher. “But also much later when they became the bankers of European Civilization. Was this in your training as well?”
When I shook my head, confessing a chink in my education, he continued. “When the Knights Templar were threatened, they simply loaded their vast hordes of gold aboard their sailing ships and silently headed out to sea. No one had a clue as to where they went, or more importantly what they did with their gold. It is for this reason that secret societies have always understood the absolutely essential importance of having a navy, of having an exit strategy, an escape route onto the vast expanses of the oceans. The best possible defense in warfare is to avoid detection. They got really good at that.”
For several moments, I simply marveled at my boss' abilities. Something told me that Sudra would indeed make the Knights Templar proud.
“How do they get this stuff?” Pete was shaking his head, reading verbatim transcripts of what should have been conversations stamped everywhere with “Cosmic Ultima Top Secret” classifications. The material Pete was looking at was some of the most sensitive on the planet, and somehow his fellow conspirators on site had access to the point of a detailed transcript, one without the normal confusion of missed words. One could only wonder if they also had color video... widescreen... and with surround sound.
Clearly Pete was on the right side if his new buddies and their intelligent sources could get away with this kind of thing. He would certainly not like to find himself on their bad side. Come to think of it, if they could do this to what might be one of the most secret chambers in the world, they could surely find their way into someone's bedroom, say, for example, Messire Pete himself. Ah, yes. Food for thought.
But was there another angle here? Another way to thinking about it – one that might yield all manner of alternative theories? What if, for example, the Chiefs were very much aware of the bug, plant, or whatever, and that they knew it was being used to transmit and record their conversations? Could this all be a con, a reverse, counter-espionage type of act? 'Were they acting out a play to confuse and misdirect us?'
Of course, it's not as if they were graciously knuckling under. They were clearly making it clear that they were not to be trusted. They were also keeping more than just an Ace up their sleeve... hell, they were hiding most of the deck.
On the other hand... the sneaky bastards might be...
Pete frowned. There was always a point in time when one reversal after another in the logic chain led one to the inescapable conclusion that taking something at face value was far preferable to the maze of conjectures possible in rampant over-the-top analyses. This chain of “but...”, “Of course...”, “Still...” was becoming just a bit too onerous to maintain. It was a bit like excessive paranoia... the kind arising from being hounded for years. And with the possibility of some seriously weak links in said chain... perhaps, this was entirely the wrong angle.
Then, with the dismissal of the camouflaging and torturous logic path, another thought slipped into his mind. Now that was positively a lot more interesting.
Pete's timing on his thinking process was excellent. Daniel had just walked into his office such that Pete could now avoid embarrassing himself with his flip-flop conjectures and instead concentrate on the latest, far more intriguing and plausible... well... okay... wild conjecture. Or maybe a step above that... a working theory... in progress... at its initial stages. Pete's head shook itself, trying to avoid wholesale confusion and bewilderment brought on by some serious over-thinking.
The Regent had not said a word. He noted Pete's reading material, as well as his bewildered expression, and then with the question on his face, silently asked Pete's opinion.
“Astounding intelligence,” Pete answered. “In fact, quite incredible.” When Daniel said nothing, merely acknowledging the fact, Pete added, “In fact, incredible might be the key word here. This transcript is so thorough, so lacking in missing words, that it could almost as easily have been manufactured as a work of creative fiction.”
Daniel frowned and took a seat. “Interesting idea,” he replied.
“The question you and I have to ask ourselves, is whether or not we can trust our compatriots to provide us with completely truthful evidence... and not simply create something out of thin air.” When Daniel did not immediately answer, Pete made his question clear. “Can we trust them? Lil, Hormer.. and the rest?”
“I would not be inclined to do so,” was the surprising (to Pete) reply. “I suspect they would be disappointed if we took everything at face value... as if they had made a serious misjudgment in selecting us for this mission.”
Pete was momentarily taken aback. But with instinctive quickness, he asked, “And of course they could be monitoring us right now. That would be child's play to what they've already done.”
“Of course,” Daniel applied. “Hi Lil, Hormer. Hope you're having a nice day.” Then he turned back to Pete, the wry smile on his face waning. “We no longer have the luxury to trust anything at face value. We can't fall into that trap. Your job description in fact requires that you always raise such issues.” Pete smiled. “However... Let us keep in mind that actions speak louder than words. We may be persuaded to take with a grain of salt anything from the Joint Chiefs, but frankly, that was a basic assumption from day one. Accordingly a falsified transcript, the kind you have before you, would have minimal effect on giving us an unwarranted paranoia. As for the trustworthiness of our tall friends, you and I and the others will have to think in terms of the big picture. Does what they're doing consistently make sense? There can be no single bit of data that sways our direction or our decisions.”
Pete frowned slightly. “This being in charge does have its downside. All that 'lonely at the top' stuff.” When Daniel merely laughed, Pete added, “Actually, the phrase I think I'm looking for is 'uneasy lies the head'...”
“I get the point,” Daniel replied, quickly interpreting where that train of thought was going.
Then Pete got a twinkle in his eye – one which caused Daniel to look at him with amused concern. Casually, as if addressing a stenographer, Pete said, “Hormer... I had a question. Got a moment?” Then Pete, and Daniel smiled.
Which lasted until an unknown speaker announced, in Hormer's voice, “Not right this moment, Pete. A couple of us are having a good laugh at a very amusing dialogue. Perhaps a bit later?”
When Pete could recover his composure, he replied, his voice still somewhat strained, “No problem. I think I just figured out the answer.”
Daniel laughed, joining with Pete's amused expression. There was also the sound of some additional laughter from other quarters.
As Daniel stood up, he looked at Pete and asked, “Is it possible that the transcript came from one of the attendees at the meeting?”
When Pete looked dumbfounded... and then sheepish, Daniel smiled and left the room.
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