The Dawn of Tears
Chapter Eight - Unexpected Challenges
Note to Readers: The generation before mine grew up knowing that Nuclear War was something that could happen at any moment. Popular fiction, not only printed, but television and movies, had used nuclear war as a backdrop for nearly fifty years before everyone thought the possibility was gone forever. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 was heralded as a new age, an age free from the threat of nuclear annihilation. What they forgot was that so long as the weapons existed, the threat also remained.
Why those weapons were ever launched was a secret guarded so closely that for the past century, only two people truly knew the full story. Now that Henry is gone, that number fell to one. Later, as I speak of the years that followed that awful day, you will find out the true reasons those weapons flew, and you will learn just how dangerously thin the threads that kept them chained really were.
The first days after the weapons fell and destroyed whole cities in fiery blasts were days of confusion. The world, already standing on the brink of ruin, tilted even further over that cliff. It is in moments like that the true mettle of leaders are tested, and for the first time in my life, I saw glimpses of the path that was to be my destiny. Now, many years later I wish I'd turned my back on what loomed ahead of me. Here, more than any other moment in my life, I had the opportunity to change the course of history, and if there was anything I would have changed, it would have been my answer when my adoptive father asked me one important question.
From the viewpoint of perfect hindsight, I would have told him him 'No'.
"What's going on here mom?" Henry asked after she had gone to the miniature fridge and gotten some soft drinks for us. I realized as I opened the cold soda (Dr. Pepper) that it was the first soda I had drank since September. It didn't taste as good as I remembered, and I thought it might have been because it was several months old.
"A lot." She answered, sitting down with perfect poise, something she had always done, but I was noticing more about her since I'd heard the way she spoke to Sergeant Connors in such a cool, authoritative tone. Both Henry and I were sitting ramrod straight on the sofa, holding the sodas in our hand. "Do you know about the cities that were destroyed?"
"Yes." Henry answered.
"The pilots gave us the basics." I added. She just nodded.
"Most of the civilian leadership is dead, as is most of the senior military leadership." She said firmly. "I know Jim's told you about the states that have seceded from the United States, and everyone is very much aware that many more states will want to follow after this. Admiral Fullard and most of the surviving commanders want to stop that. They're gathering every surviving federal elected official they can find. Every congressperson, every Senator, and most of the federal military leadership as well, here in Huntsville to figure out how to fix things."
"What about another nuclear strike?" Henry asked before I could. "One bomb now will destroy whatever leadership we have left on the federal level."
"During the flight, a transmission was received from the European Union Command." She told us and we both looked shocked. I didn't think that dad shared this much information with her. "They claim that the nuclear strike was a limited response in reply to a nuclear strike on France, England, Germany, Russia, Italy, Spain, Japan, and China. They claim that as long as no more of their cities are vaporized, they won't vaporize any of our cities."
"There's no way we did that!" I shouted, starting to stand, but Henry's hand on arm stopped me.
"Dylan, you didn't see the Update report from last night." He said, and I almost freaked out that he'd said that in front of his mom.
"You boys have been sneaking into your dad's computer system?" She said with a soft smile. "Good for you. I trust you've kept it quiet so far?"
"Yes, we have." Henry said. "But now that we're here, and from what it sounds like we won't be going back home, well it doesn't make much difference."
"No, but your dad will be glad to hear you were sneaky enough to get information and smart enough to keep it from even him." She said. So, what did this report Dylan didn't get a chance to see tell you?
"Russian subs, and probably a few from some of the other countries, struck off the east coast badly." Henry said. "They sank every remaining carrier guarding the coast line, and half the ships at sea. We got most of them, but not before the damage was done. We only have the carrier in the Indian Ocean, and the three on the west coast left, and maybe the one in the Mediterranean. The carrier in the Indian Ocean is probably steaming back now, but well, I wouldn't bet even odds on it making it back safely, and it's already lost half of its air wing. We still have a lot of surface combatants, but our ability to project power is gone with the carriers. I studied a book on Naval Strategy back at the HQ and basically without carrier airpower, we're in a very bad situation. The President, well he's always said hit them before they hit us. He might have thought it was a prelude to invasion or nuclear strike, so he hit them first. I wouldn't be surprised."
"That's the same conclusion your dad reached." She said softly. "You know, at least twenty million people died today in this country alone."
"Yeah." I said softly. "We got lucky too. A cruiser off of San Francisco shot down a ballistic missile. It's supposed to not be possible, but it did it. They said it shot every missile in its magazine. If I remember right, that's almost 120 of them. If SF had been hit, we'd have seen it, and been directly affected by it in Modesto."
"The mountain ranges to our west would have stopped most of the direct blast." Mom said gently. "But the radiation would have drifted our way immediately, and infected not only us, but all the food, all the canneries and food processing plants in the entire area. Millions would have starved to death or been forced to eat contaminated food. I know I've been thanking God for that miracle since I first heard."
"So why are we here?" Henry asked.
"They want your dad to be some part of whatever government takes shape." She said simply, and I leaned back into the sofa instead of sitting up ramrod straight.
"What role?" I asked and she smiled at me.
"Sit up straight Dylan." She chided me softly. "Don't think that God didn't have a hand in putting you on television talking about Job and how we can recover from difficult times mere minutes before nuclear weapons destroyed most of our major cities. Millions of people saw that and no matter what role your father takes, you're going to be remembered for that for a long, long time."
"Oh no." I gasped, knowing it was true. This was a personal disaster.
"I'm never, ever giving a public speech." Henry stated flatly. "Never ever ever."
"Don't say that Henry." Mom chided him just as softly. "I might make you give a speech tomorrow if you don't."
"You win mom." Henry said softly.
"Mom, they're letting the politicians decide what to do?" I asked as something occurred to me. "They'll be months, weeks, going on about this."
"Not really." Mom answered me. "I understand that they're doing this in two steps. The first is to pick a temporary leader, someone who will lead the nation for the immediate future. Then they'll form something like a new Continental Congress to look at a long term solution. That way they can take months, even a year to get things settled for the long term. I've met the Admiral, and right now he's basically the only person who has the authority to lead, but he wouldn't want to take on this responsibility himself. Instead he'll follow whoever is picked, and the rest of the military will follow him. He's an American, and he believes in the principles this country was founded on, so he won't lead a military coup. Even though we've been under martial law, it was still a civilian who led this country and he won't stand for anything else."
"Well that leaves dad out." Henry said with a sigh of relief, but something in the back of my mind wasn't as sure. Dad had given a sermon even as the nuclear weapons were falling on American cities that made my little speech look simple. A lot of people might be looking at him now. There was a knock on the door before I could say anything, though, and one of the privates that had traveled from California with us stuck his head in the door.
"Ma'am, General McFarland is here to see the boys." He said.
"Send him in." Mom said, rising to her feet. Henry and I were also on our feet now, and I was curious as to what a General was doing here. When he entered, my curiosity grew even sharper. He was a medium-sized man, with graying hair, and four gleaming stars on his shoulder boards. He was dressed in his utility uniform and returned our salutes with a smile.
"Let's see, you're Dylan and you're Henry, right?" He said, coming over to shake our hands immediately. He'd gotten it right and we both nodded. "Mrs. Jacobs, it's an honor to meet you as well."
"Thank you General." Mom said, letting him take her hand gently. "May I get you some refreshment?"
"No thank you." He said with a smile, turning back to us. "I understand that you two are not your normal thirteen year old kids. I saw your speech on television, and I've looked at both your files as well. I must admit that I've come here to see if my impressions bear out in person. Have a seat."
"Yes sir." We both said, sitting a moment after he did. Mom sat down as well, a flat look on her face.
"Dylan, tell me what the standard deployment would be for squad on patrol in unfamiliar urban territory." He asked, staring at me as I answered him immediately. He listened to my answer carefully, asking a few more questions before switching to Henry. It was soon very apparent that he really had read our files because he questions me first on my strong areas, and Henry on his strong areas, and then dug even further into our weaknesses, and finally asked us questions on stuff we didn't know. He didn't accept our statements when we didn't know an answer either. He told us to hypothesize about what an answer might be, and then made us explain our ideas. By the time he had asked his last question, it was completely dark outside and our stomachs were rumbling.
"Okay, the files are accurate; you both are very advanced for your ages." He said, standing again. Henry and I stood immediately while mom stayed sitting.
"Thank you, sir." I said immediately.
"Now, for my final question, I want you both to think very hard about this. Dylan you turn fourteen on January tenth. Henry you turn fourteen on February eighth. During the Revolutionary War George Washington commissioned a fourteen year old boy as a second lieutenant after he had shown uncommon courage, bravery, and intelligence on the battlefield. You both have shown the same mettle, and even more intelligence as that boy. Right now, every West Point cadet who was at the school when this mess started has either been commissioned as a Second Lieutenant or been granted rank as Warrant Officer. The only two Cadets left in this country are you two, and frankly the Army doesn't like the confusions in active units of having cadets among them. I know that this is a big decision to make, but your father has already indicated he will support whatever choice you make."
"As will I." Mom said gently, and the General nodded at her as if he had almost forgotten she was there.
"Now, the choice you have is simple." The General said. "You both are cadets assigned to the California National Guard. You can return to your unit there or you can accept the rank of Warrant Officer, Grade 2, in the United States Army. I want you to think about this carefully before answering. Your father has stated that you are capable of making adult decisions, and so have your instructors in your files. If you accept his offer, you will no longer be boys. As far as the Army is concerned, you will be full adults, and as such responsible directly for your actions. Depending on your duties, you may be allowed to stay with your parents, but if their duties take them somewhere else, or your duties take you somewhere else, you may not be transferred as well. For now you will be assigned to the Huntsville Command area, which brigade we're not sure yet. You'll continue to be educated in civilian areas, but we'll be plugging you into jobs that you currently have the skills for and that we need people for. If you mess up, you won't be answering to mommy and daddy, but to your commanding officer. If you mess up bad enough, you'll face the same penalties, including the death penalty, as any other member of the Armed Forces. Do you understand that?"
"Yes sir." Henry said, and I said the same a moment later.
"You have a choice, boys, of whether to continue to live as kids, and enjoy whatever you can in these times, or to become adults a hell of a lot sooner than you should have to even think about. I'll be honest with you, I don't think you should accept. Take the next two years and learn all you can, and then talk to us. When you're sixteen I'd be a lot more comfortable with taking you into the service. You're both qualified right now though."
"General McFarland," I said in a firm voice, there really was only once choice for me make. "I would like to accept the offer to join the Army."
"As do I, sir." Henry said.
"You're both sure?" He asked slowly, and we told him we were. "Very well, wait here."
He left the room for a moment, and returned with two soldiers, one of whom had a camera, and the other some type of tape recorder with a microphone. I realized that this was going to be publicized and almost immediately changed my mind. However, when he spoke next, I realized it was already too late.
"Dylan Thomas Jacobs, Henry James Jacobs, please raise your right hand and repeat after me."
We raised our hands, and he led us in the Oath that was required of all members of the Armed Forces. As we spoke, mom moved behind us and the photographer began snapping pictures, his camera's flash nearly blinding me it was going off so fast and from several different angles. The other soldier with the tape recorder and microphone was kneeling between us and the General, out of the pictures that was being taken but positioned so that his microphone picked up all of our voices clearly.
"Welcome to the United States Army." General McFarland said with a smile, shaking our hands as the photographer got shots of each of us shaking the Generals hands. More pictures were taken when a teary-eyed mom hugged both of us. I hoped they weren't going to be color pictures because I blushed again. The two soldiers left immediately, and the General turned to leave, but stopped near the door.
"Oh, I almost forgot." He said quickly. "Call it getting old. The last of the delegates was scheduled to arrive while we were talking. There's a dinner party in the ballroom downstairs tonight in about an hour. I understand your dress uniforms were left in California. We've gotten our sized from your files and I do believe that the staff won't have a problem getting you something that fits. Last I heard they were almost done altering them. They should be up within fifteen minutes. Make sure you're properly dressed, side arms are not appropriate. Mrs. Jacobs, your husband told me when I saw him briefly that your best dresses were also left behind. He was able to tell me your size and I called my wife. She should be here any minutes after raiding a department store downtown. Please feel free to keep anything you like. You'll probably need as many as possible in the near future."
"Thank you General." Mom told him as he left. I immediately sat down, letting out a huge sigh. Henry collapsed next to me, also sighing.
"Did we do the right thing?" I wondered out loud.
"Of course you did." Mom said with a smile. "Believe me he was probably exaggerating a bit about your duties. I'm willing to bet it'll be much the same as it was back home."
"How long are we going to be here?" Henry asked.
"You?" She asked, teasing him a bit. "Who knows. Your dad and I? Probably about as long as you two are."
"I don't like this uncertainty." Henry said, and she laughed.
"I don't either, but it's what we have to deal with for now." She said, and there was another knock on the door, and the private announced Mrs. McFarland had arrived. She was accompanied by four porters carrying bags and bags of clothes. Mom introduced the shorter, almost frumpy woman to us and then they quickly disappeared into the master bedroom of the suite. The harried-looking porters were leaving a moment later, shaking their heads. Henry and I giggled, and I had just punched him in the leg when there was another knock. His return punch as I stood made me collapse back to the sofa again, remembering why he was better at hand-to-hand than I was and laughed as he told the private to come in.
This time two middle-aged women came in, gushing all over us, with two new sets of dress uniforms in her hands. It was embarrassing the way they talked, asking if this or that had really happened, and had we really flown a plane all by ourselves across the country? By the time we'd disappeared into our rooms and changed into the new uniforms, and come back out to have them check the fit, I decided that if this was what the future held, I'd desert and run away to some island.
After several more questions, the women told us to take the uniforms off so they could do some final alterations. When we changed back into our duty uniforms, they both gasped in overblown dramatic horror and demanded that they had finished our dress uniforms and we had them on, we were to give them the other uniforms to be fitted. I was about to tell them absolutely not when Mom's voice from the door cut me short.
"An absolutely brilliant idea ladies!" Mom said happily. "While you're at it, I've got some new dresses here that could use some work as well."
Henry and I ran back into my room, shutting the door in horror as the ladies immediately began talking. The room had a television, and as I didn't know what time it was, we decided to see if there was anything on. Sure enough, there was a news broadcast going. The picture was shaky, like there was bad reception, and as we gazed closer we realized it was one of the bombed cities. A moment later, a tag came on the screen saying 'Dallas, TX.'
"These pictures, coming to us courtesy of the US Army," an off-screen male announcer started saying. "show the devastation caused by the sudden and deadly nuclear attack. The Army is projecting nearly thirty million dead across the nation, including most of the nation's leadership. Surviving military and civilian leaders are meeting in an undisclosed location even now to discuss possible reactions. Meanwhile, teams from Army and National Guard units are moving into the devastated already, attempting to find and help any survivors. A special video of California National Guard Colonel James Jacobs has been released by the military from that undisclosed location and will soon be available for us to air. Due to security concerns, we are double checking the work of the military censors to make sure that their location is not revealed."
The shot shifted back to what appeared to be a local newsroom. I was surprised to see a channel identification number and realized that this was either a good government trick or that it really was a private news station. I hadn't seen anything but official government broadcasts in so long that it seemed almost surreal.
"Okay," The announcer said after a moment of silence. He looked nervous and his black hair was slightly frazzled and the picture suddenly became crystal clear. "I've just been told that our signal is now being broadcast across the nation by surviving satellite transceivers. I'd like welcome those people that are listening. I've been told that places with available power are being directed to provide as much power to homes as possible so that as many people as possible can see this transmission. I'm not sure why we're being broadcast like this, oh, really? I'm sorry folks, this is Daniel Tramont, and I'm a news anchor for channel 8 in Alabama. Just this morning we once again began broadcasting on the public airwaves. We're a civilian television station, and our local government officials granted us permission and power to operate for limited times, independent of government control. None of us expected that our first day of transmission since the September Troubles would be so earth-shattering. Okay, yes,"
He swallowed nervously and a disembodied hand put a glass of water near him. Henry and I were riveted to the television, and I decided it really was a civilian broadcast. It lacked the controlled atmosphere of a government system, and no efforts were being made to tell people that the government was fully in control of events.
"To those people who might just be catching this broadcast, this is Daniel Tramont with Channel 8 news. We just started broadcasting independent of government controls this morning, following the Thanksgiving Service televised nationally from Modesto California. As many of you may know, and many of you may not know, disaster struck the United States again shortly after the conclusion of those services. It first became apparent when the official government signal was interrupted. I've just been informed that this is being broadcast nationally because we're the only station currently online that still has satellite communication capabilities, so that it can be broadcast worldwide.
"Two hours ago, the sudden loss of the government signal was explained by local Guard authorities. Approximately five minutes after the conclusion of the broadcast from California, nuclear warheads fell on a number of American cities. That's right folks, nuclear warheads fell on American cities. The list of cities, and this is very preliminary, that we have so far includes Washington D.C., Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, Denver, Los Angeles, and San Diego. There are also reports, unconfirmed that warhead was launched at San Francisco, but a US Naval vessel managed an extremely miraculous shot and destroyed it before it could hit. The devastation in those cities has been reported to be horrible. Military forces, however, have already begun to move in to several of them searching for survivors."
"What? Are you sure?" He said suddenly, obviously responding the voice in his ear speaker.
"Okay, please forgive me for the rough edges of the broadcast." He continued a moment later, after taking another drink of water. "Information is still coming in fast and furious here in Alabama. As mentioned earlier, the attacks on our cities have devastated the national leadership. The Alabama National Guard, and local units of the US Army are on high alert status and have been providing us with a lot of information, and even video images. They have just confirmed that the President, his entire Cabinet, and many members of congress were killed when Washington was hit. The Vice-President was killed when Philadelphia was blown up. Since this occurred approximately twelve hours ago, surviving leadership of the US Armed Forces have called for an immediate meeting of the surviving military and civilian leadership, um, I'm not sure how wise it is to release this information, but I've been told the military leaders want you, the American public to have this information, so I'm just going to say it. This meeting of surviving leadership is taking place in Huntsville Alabama, near where we are broadcasting from.
"The leadership, all of whom have arrived at this location, are reported to include Admiral Fullard, the Commander of the Atlantic Fleet, General McFarland, the only surviving member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was on an inspection tour in Louisiana, four more three-star generals from the Army and Air Force, twenty-six members of Congress, and fourteen members of the US Senate. The purpose of this meeting has been stated to be the selection of a temporary President since there is no clear line of succession at this point. Okay, we're going to roll a tape here we've just received. This is a tape of California National Guard Colonel, excuse me, Brigadier General James Jacobs. You might remember that General Jacobs was the focus of a broadcast this morning from California. The General has been in command of a district in California that was cited by President as shining example of the recovery America had been making. His district had begun shipping valuable food supplies throughout the state of California, and plans were underway to begin shipping food from the region to neighboring states including Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Western Texas. General Jacobs is also a minister in his civilian life and a special Thanksgiving service from his church was broadcast that included a moving speech by one of his sons. Okay, the video is ready and should be coming on your screen now."
The television switched to a scene of our aircraft coming up to the terminal. I breathed with a sigh of relief that you couldn't see the cockpit clearly, not wanting to be seen again on television. The announcer's voice came back on.
"Okay, apparently this is showing his arrival at a local airport. We're going to fast forward it a little bit. Yes, okay, stop it there. Yes you can see the General exiting the plane now, surrounded by his family. That's his wife, Mrs. Jacobs and his two sons in fatigues next to him. I think their names are Dylan and Henry."
"Why do they have to point us out?" Henry groaned and I jabbed him in the ribs, and he pushed me back.
"They just want all the girls to drool over your blond hair." I teased and he thwacked me on the arm. The scene had shifted to our APC pulling away from the airport, flanked by the other vehicles. It then jumped a little and we saw Dad standing in a non-descript room. Okay, it wasn't non-descript. There was a large model of the space shuttle over his left should and we could see the words 'space camp' on a far wall. Maybe that explained why they were going ahead and letting people know where we were.
"Okay, well, locals might know where this shot was taken." The announcer was saying, and he stopped as soon as dad stepped towards the camera.
"I've been asked to say a few words for broadcast to the American people." Dad said with a very concerned look on his face as he faced the camera. "I know that right now I am in uniform, but I want to speak to the American people first as a fellow American, second as Pastor, and last as military officer.
"First, as an American, I learned in grammar school that America was founded on ideals of freedom, of liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our institutions, our government documents, our government itself are nothing but an embodiment of those ideals. Sometimes they served us well, and at other times they did not. Today, our institutions, our government, already strained by the difficult times, were dealt a deadly blow. Our Constitution, and our Declaration of Independence are likely ashes in the remains of Washington. Since I was born, there have been ten different Presidents of this country, I have been represented in congress by dozens of elected official. I have had dozens of mayors in the towns in which I lived. When the person in a particular office left that office, America did not cease to exist. I know, as an American, that so long as one of us lives, breathes, and believes that all men are created self-evident, endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights and that among those rights are liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness, then America shall never be conquered or die. America is alive and well despite the tragedy that has happened today. We will be alive and well as a nation tomorrow. I have faith that we shall survive this crisis and only become stronger for what we have been through.
"Second, I am a preacher. I believe in God, and I believe that God never throws a challenge in our path that we cannot overcome. He has blessed me with not one, but two sons who are brilliant and mature beyond their years. During the troubles of the last few months, my sons were faced with a situation that no parent would want for their children. They found a sniper who was about to take the life of the California National Guard Commander. They both reacted instantly, eliminating the threat, and saving the life of the General. However, in order to do this, they had to take a life themselves. This affected them both tremendously, and I feared that they would be scarred, hurt forever by this incident, but they recovered in time, and are leading good, productive lives now.
"God threw them a challenge, and instead of shrinking from it, instead of shirking what was placed on their shoulders, they accepted the challenge, and they overcame it through the help of God. Christians, Americans, we are being challenged today, as a nation by God. This challenge started in September, and now the stakes have been raised. I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but I do know one important thing, we are up to this challenge. America in its infancy faced a war that it could not win, Washington was burned to the ground, just as it has been today, but American survived and grew stronger. We tore ourselves apart in a tragic civil war that turned brother against brother, and we once again survived, becoming even stronger. Now today, we have suffered blow after blow, but again, we will survive because we are Americans, and there is no other nation that has the strength, the certitude, and the faith that we do.
"Finally, when I first heard about the nuclear attack on our country, I was horrified. I, like many of you had thought the threat of nuclear war was gone forever. My heart and prayers go out to all of those who lost loved ones today. As a military officer my first thought was to hit back hard at whoever did this to us. However, I realized that my initial angry reaction might not be the best for this nation. We will investigate, we will contemplate, and we will make sure that those who made this attack have paid, or will pay a price commiserate with that incurred by American blood today.
"I also am very much aware that many people wonder about military forces attempting to exert undo influence on the civilians of this country. Even in times of martial law, it has always been a civilian President that has commanded the Armed Forces of this country. The military commanders, even in times such as these, must answer to the civilian government of this country. I believe in that principle with every fiber of my being, and I know that my fellow officers here today do as well. When it comes time for the civilian officeholders to meet, and choose a new leader for this country, they will do so free from influence or pressure by any members of the military. I promise this, and promise that if it takes my life to make this promise true, I will give it willingly. I am a member of the National Guard of California. I am a citizen-soldier, not a full-time military leader. There's a reason why we're called citizen-soldiers, and that is because we are citizen's first, soldiers second. You have my word, my promise, upon my life, and the lives of my family and all that I hold dear, that the principles on which this country was founded shall survive the fires of the tests today has brought."
"Oh, wow." The announcer said. "I don't think I've heard something like that from a military official before. I'm not really sure what to say, except that I for one feel a whole lot better about things now. From the nods of the camera crew, and the voices I'm hearing from the control both, I'd say most of the people here agree with me. I wish the phone lines worked because I'd love to hear what other people think, but "
"I think you two had better get dressed." Mom's voice made us both jump. She was smiling at us though as she handed our uniforms to us. "Dad sounded good, didn't he?"
"Yeah, he did." Henry said after taking a deep breath and grabbing his uniform.
"You two understand what may happen?" She asked us, and we both nodded. She breathed a sigh of relief. "His star was already rising in Washington, and we both thought it might be a matter of years, but now "
"Who else?" Henry asked.
"Maybe the Senator from Virginia." Mom said quietly. "But after that little speech he gave I don't know. I'm not sure I'm ready for this either."
"You will be fine." Henry said, and I noticed at that moment that she was dressed in a very elegant, but conservative green and silver dress. Her hair had even been done a lot better than it had been when we arrived, and she was wearing just the lightest touches of makeup. She also had two dangling earrings that looked like diamonds.
"Get dressed boys." She said with a fond smile. "I want my two soldiers to look sharp when they escort me downstairs. You have fifteen minutes."
"Yes, mom." Henry said with half-groan. She shut the door as she left. My uniform was on a hanger and I went to put it on a coat hook located on the back of the door. That was when I caught a distinctly unpleasant odor from my upraised arm.
"I need a shower." I said aloud, moving towards the bathroom.
"So do I." Henry said.
"Um, we don't have enough time for us both and there's only one shower in the bathroom." I said worriedly.
"We'll share." Henry said and then laughed at the look on my face. "We've been showering in a barracks with other men all the time. Besides, we're brothers. There's nothing wrong with sharing when we have to."
"Yeah, you're right." I said, realizing I'd been foolish and wondering why I had been hesitant. We showered quickly, happily using the hotel's free soap and shampoo. I was very thankful for my short hair cut (I'd gotten another one just the week before) when I was able to finish getting dressed and ready well within the fifteen minute time from mom had set. Henry and I entered the main room of the suite, and mom immediately moved over to us, brushing non-existent lint off of our shoulders and running a finger along the edges of our new rank pins. She smiled happily and moved between us so that we each offered her an arm, and left the suite together.
Sergeant Connors was waiting outside along with four other soldiers. I recognized two of them, but the other two were new. They all wore fatigues, but only carried pistols. Connors grinned as he saw the rank insignias and winked at us in a friendly fashion. With them moving behind us, we made our way to the elevators and went downstairs. A hotel staff member was more than happy to show us to the appropriate ballroom. Our guard detail left us as we entered the room, heading off down the hallway.
The room was huge, and filled with dozens of large circular tables all set with fine china and silverware. Most were already full, and waiters were still moving around, placing plates of salad in front of the tables. Dad stood up on the far side of the room as we stood in the doorway, and started to make his way towards us. He was dressed in his dress uniform as well, and seemed very happy to see us. Mother's slight pressure on our arms was all the direction we needed to head towards him. He greeted mother with a kiss on the cheek, and us with a quick grasp of our upper arms.
"I'm proud of you boys." He said softly, his way of telling us that he approved. Then he guided us to the table he had been sitting at. "Most of the people at these tables are staff employees of the congressmen, their families, and so forth. A few are from the print media that still exists, and there's supposed to be a television camera let inside here later. It's a tape camera, not a live signal. Don't look directly at the camera if it comes near here. They know they're not supposed to bother either of you boys. Dylan, I don't know if you've ever eaten at a formal dinner, just start with the silverware on the outside and work your way inwards."
"Thanks" I said softly. We had reached the table, and proceeded to introduce us to Admiral Fullard, General McFarland, General Ankers, Senator Crawley from Virginia, and their wives. As I sat down between Admiral Fullard and General Anker's wife, I noticed that Henry and I were the only person under the age of forty there. Henry was sitting between General McFarland and Senator Crawley' wife while mom and dad were sitting next to each next Senator Crawley himself, with dad next to the Senator himself.
I quickly found out that I didn't have much to worry about. Admiral Fullard was a very friendly older man, whip-cord thin and very intelligent. He'd also been a naval aviator (he advised me never to say navy pilot), and he'd heard about my adventure flying a cargo plane. General Ankers' wife was mostly quiet, although I did try to be polite and talk to her a bit. Admiral Fullard whispered that her son had been New York with her grandparents, and had been near my age. I politely left her alone after that, focusing instead on a lively discussion about my newest passion, flying. The Admiral even offered to arrange for me fly onto a carrier sometime, provided there were any left.
Dad was having a very amiable, and constant conversation with the Senator, and I understood what that was about and felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. It looked like Dad's star was definitely rising. Henry also seemed to be enjoying his conversation. The food was even pretty good when the main course arrived, and a dessert of real chocolate mousse was exquisite to my thirteen year old taste buds.
The Admiral was so amused at my rapid consumption of the chocolate that he gave me his as well. I almost declined the offer, but he made it an order, and as I was now officially a part of the army, I had to obey. He laughed when I said so aloud.
"If I may have everyone's attention please?" Senator Crawley said after dessert was over. He stood as he spoke, and the room that had been quite noisy with dozens of conversations went suddenly quiet. That was when I noticed a television camera that was actually fairly close to the table was now focused in our direction. When he had everyone's attention he spoke again.
"Today has been a long day for many of us." He continued, and I realized he was a very experienced speaker. "We have suffered a tremendous loss and many of us personal losses as well. I know that I will grieve for many friends and colleagues in the days to come. However, I and many of you were elected to represent the people of this great nation, and the nation's business must come before our grief, and our own needs. We have enjoyed a fine dinner, a dinner only made more precious by the hard times in which we find ourselves. We have had a chance to relax in the companionship of our fellow Americans, but it is now time that we conduct the business of our nation, and set things in motion to recover from our losses today."
"I was elected to the House of Representatives in 1978. I was elected to the United States Senate in 1994. Is there any currently elected member of Congress senior to me?" He asked, and I knew that everyone already knew the answer. It was a formality, but a formality that the camera, and history would record. I felt another fluttering in my stomach as I realized that what was unfolding before me was a history that would rival that of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and that it would record me sitting at this table, the same table as the man now speaking. I felt dizzy for a moment, but as the silence almost became unbearable, I took a deep breath and recovered my equilibrium.
"As the most senior elected member of the remaining Federal Government of the United States, I do hereby declare that we are in a state of emergency not completely covered by our country's Constitution." He said, and I couldn't help the shiver that went down my spine. "I have been informed that every surviving member of the civilian government of our nation that could be found is here. Even in an age where the firepower of a machine gun was unknown, much less the destruction we have experienced today from nuclear weapons, our forefathers foresaw situations that might require drastic measures, as today clearly requires. Therefore, in the traditions on which this country was founded, I do hereby declare, as the senior member of Congress present, that we shall immediately commence a meeting of the Continental Congress. This meeting shall have two purposes. The first shall be the selection of a Chief Executive, to hold and execute the office and powers of the President of the United States in these troubled times. The second purpose shall be the preparation of a plan to reestablish a freely elected civilian
government at the national level, and where necessary at the state level. Are there any objections to this action?"
The room was silent for a full minute before he continued.
"I would like to thank our hosts, General McFarland and Admiral Fullard who have made this meeting possible. However, as the government of the United States has always rested on civilian control, and the will of the people through their elected officials, I do hereby request and require that all uniformed members of the Armed Forces leave this room. I also ask that all elected official move to the first five tables. Our staff may take the tables behind this row, and all members of the public are welcome to observe. In addition, a civilian television crew will record these events so that the people of the United States, and our descendents will know what was done here today.
The generals, admiral, dad, Henry and I all stood from the table and left immediately. Surprisingly, mom stayed, moving to the back of the room. There had been fifteen other officers in the room as well, and they all left. When dad left he motioned us to follow him and he led us into a nearby room. Sergeant Connors and his men had appeared from nowhere and shadowed us as we moved into that room. There were a couple of chairs in the room, and we sat in them in a loose circle while Connors and his men stayed at the door.
"I'm proud of your choices, boys." He said when we were sitting. "I only hope that you will be as proud as mine."
"Dad, do you really think that they are going to ?" Henry asked, his voice trailing off, not being able to actually say it aloud.
"The good Senator asked me if I'd resign my commission immediately." Dad replied and I shuddered. "Mom has already given me her answer, but I want yours as well. I want you to understand, I'll refuse if either of you say 'no'. Your mom stayed in the room to borrow a laptop from one of the staff members we saw. It has a portable printer. She's typing up my resignation now, and will bring it to me when it's printed. However, this is a family decision, not one for me alone, and not one for just the parents. I know that when you took the oath earlier today the army now considers you legal adults on your own, but you'll always be my boys and this affects you as much as mom or I."
"You know, none of us have actually said 'it' yet." I mentioned into the growing tension in the room. Our laughter cut that tension life a knife.
"Then why don't you say it Dylan?" Dad asked, still laughing a little.
"Because it'll make it real." I answered honestly.
"Is it that scary for you to think about?" He asked me. "Or is it something else? Do you think I won't do good as in that job or what?"
"No." I answered immediately. "It's just that it's so big, so not normal."
"And you worry about being normal, a thirteen year old non-commissioned officer in the US Army?" He said with a touch of humor and I laughed.
"Dad, okay." I said at last, nodding my head. Henry nodded as well.
"Okay what?" He asked, teasing us.
"You say it first." Henry demanded of him, and he smiled.
"Okay." He said after taking a deep breath. "Here we go. Dylan, Henry, do you have objections or problems with me accepting the Presidency of the United States if it is offered to me?"
"Oh man, that makes it so real." Henry whispered with wide eyes, and I knew my facial expression was similar. It really did make it so much more real, so much less an intellectual idea and so much more a reality.
"How about answering my question?" He said testily, and I realized I hadn't spoken at all.
"Do it, dad." Henry whispered tightly.
"Do it." I said simply and he pulled us both into a tight hug.
"Here it is." Mom's voice was quiet at that moment as she entered, and approached us with a piece of paper. When she got close enough, she handed it to dad before picking up a chair that had been lying on the floor and moved it until we were all so close we were touching. Dad pulled a pen out of his uniform jacket and clicked it before touching it to paper. I noticed it was a nice looking parchment paper.
"Would you believe that Congresswoman Shaney's staff member had parchment paper?" Mom asked rhetorically and I chuckled. "When he saw what I was typing he snatched the regular paper out and put this in. I think he likes Dad."
"There." Dad said softly, signing his name after pausing for a moment. He handed the paper back to Mom carefully, as if it was the most precious thing he'd ever held.
"I think we need a prayer." Mom said gently, setting the paper on the floor and reaching one arm around dad's shoulder, and one around me. I wrapped my arms around her and Henry, just as Henry and Dad completed the family huddle. Our heads bent towards each other so they were touching, and I help my breath. The entire moment seemed so unreal.
"Lord, we come before you, a humble family and ask for you guidance at this critical moment in our lives." Dad said softly, and I wondered for a moment why I had ever thought this form of prayer was odd, or not fitting for such an important moment. Nothing else seemed as natural as this moment did. "We have come to a crucial time in our lives as a family, as a nation, and as your people. I ask for the strength, the courage, and the wisdom I and my family will need to do your work here, with the duties and responsibilities we are about to assume. We thank you for the gifts you have given us, and pray that your will shall show through us. Amen."
As dad finished the prayer, the sound of a clearing throat caught our attention from the doorway. A middle-aged man in civilian clothes was standing there, and motioning impatiently to mom. She picked up the piece of parchment paper, and went quickly towards the man. Sergeant Connors appeared then, and she spoke quickly to him before disappearing out the door. I looked back at Dad and he was looking at the door with a very thoughtful look on his face. I sat back in my chair and wondered if schoolchildren a hundred years from now would be reading about this moment in history and wonder what was going through my mind, or Henry's mind, or mom's mind, or most likely Dad's mind? Would this moment in history even be remembered? What if they picked someone else?
Sergeant Connors appeared a few minutes later, carrying a dark blue suit in his arms. He crossed into the room, smiling at us all and handed the suit to dad. Dad took it with a silent nod of his head in thanks and stood. None of us were saying anything at that moment, none of us really knew what words could be said. Dad undressed in silence, taking off his uniform with special care, and dressing in the dark blue suit with just as much care. He was nervous, I saw when he had problems tying the green tie. Henry started laughing softly, as dad flubbed it a third time, and stood up to help him. They hugged each other when that was done, and I didn't feel left out at all. As much as they were my family now, Henry had been there from the beginning. I knew dad loved both of us, but there would always be moments they would share that I wouldn't.
Just as I was closer to dad in faith than Henry was.
"Mr. Jacobs." The familiar voice of Senator Crawley coming from the door made all three of us jump. Dad turned towards the door with a very serious look on his face.
"How may I help you, Senator?" Dad said slowly, formally.
"I have been informed by Admiral Fuller that you have resigned your commission in the California National Guard. The Continental Congress has seen this resignation and has decided that your nation still requires your service." The Senator said, and I realized that the camera crew was on the other side of the door, recording this.
"I am always willing to answer the call of my country, sir." Dad said, moving towards the door. Henry and I followed him a few paces behind. Dad shook the Senator's hand before moving out into the hallway. It was filled with people, in and out of uniform, all of whom watched the small procession moving down the hallway in total silence. I hesitated as he began to move down the hallway, the light from the camera shining in our faces as the cameraman walked backwards, recording Dad's walk down that hallway. A naval officer I didn't know made a moving motion with his hands when Henry and I hesitated a moment, and I realized that we were meant to follow Dad. We picked up the pace a little bit so that we stayed an arms length behind Dad and the Senator. As we passed the civilians and military people lining the hall, they filled in behind us and followed us. When we reached the ballroom dinner had been in, mom was waiting by the open door. Dad held out his arm and she took it with a bright smile before they resumed walking towards the front of the room.
I was surprised to see a podium had been set up, complete with a microphone, and a long table set beside it with several chairs. The Senator motioned for dad to sit in the closest chair. Dad first helped mom into the seat next to his before taking his own. The Senator whispered for Henry and I to stand behind them, and I motioned for Henry to stand behind dad, and he gave me a warm smile in thanks. Then we both stood at attention as the Senator stepped up to the podium.
"I don't think an American government has decided on anything this quickly since George Washington was chosen to be the President of the First Continental Congress." The Senator said, and a low chuckle filled the room.
It was all I could do to not groan aloud. First of all, his facts were a bit off, and second of all I knew the comparison between Dad and General Washington, the man who became the first President of the United States was very dangerous for dad's chances at being successful. But then again, this wasn't the normal political system anymore. Maybe it would help. I didn't know, and realized that only time would tell.
"While some might flinch at the comparison of James Jacobs to our first President, I'm not most people." Senator Crawley said and I realized that this might be a good thing after all. "George Washington faced a tremendous challenge when he took office in our new country. No other country, no other people had ever attempted what that first generation of independent Americans attempted. Our form of government was new. We had huge debts from our war of Independence. We faced challenges that many of the time thought were insurmountable.
"We face such challenges again today." This sentence the Senator uttered in a low, dangerous tone.
"I do not compare James Jacobs to George Washington, who many revere as the greatest of Presidents, even as having been among the greatest of men. There are enough similarities between them already. Both were generals, men who led this nation's troops in battle. Both were leaders in the faith of their communities, and both expressed their dedication to the rule of this country by the people of this country first and foremost. But these are not the reasons why I make such a comparison. Rather, it is the challenges that George Washington faced, and the challenges that face our country today that moves me to make such a comparison. George Washington was President during a time when our nation faced great challenges, and its future was in doubt. Today we also face dire challenges, and our future is uncertain. I only pray that we, its leaders will be proved as wise as our forbearers, and it will be history that judges whether James Jacobs is up to the challenges we face.
"Ladies and Gentleman, less than twenty minutes ago, by unanimous vote of the elected members of this Continental Congress, we chose to ask James R. Jacobs to assume the position, duties, and responsibilities of President of this Congress, and of the United States of America. Mr. Jacobs?"
The room exploded into applause, and dad stood up, smiling slightly at the crowd. The camera moved in close, obviously to get a close up of his face. Dad stood still for a long moment as people applauded, and then moved to the podium. He shook hands with the Senator once more, and then stepped up to the platform. The room went silent then.
"A few minutes ago, my family and I discussed this possibility and I asked them if they approved of me accepting this responsibility." Dad said in a voice that was firm, but at the same time held an intangible reverence to it. "This morning I was preparing a sermon for my church, something that is where my heart truly lies. If you had told me as I prepared the sermon that many of you watched, that tonight I would be standing here, being offered this great responsibility, I would begged to learn that it was a terrible joke.
"We face great challenges in the road ahead of us." Dad continued, and his voice began to rise, filling more and more with a fiery passion. "We have been hurt, we have suffered many losses, and we have a long journey ahead of us, but I know that we can make that journey!"
"As I said, a few minutes ago, I was discussing this with my family." Dad said, his voice once again low but firm. "I could not stand here today and consider accepting this responsibility without their approval, and their support. My sons and I sat there, trying to discuss this without actually saying the word "President". Finally, Dylan said that if we were to really think about it, one of us had to say it, and they looked at me, waiting for me to take that step. I finally did say it, and they told me that I had their full support. My wife also gave me her support. Then we prayed, asking God for the wisdom, the courage, and the strength that we will need in the days to come. I can honestly say that I did not come here tonight seeking this position, but now that it is before me, I find that I cannot resist accepting this challenge that God and Congress has set before me.
"I spoke this morning of the challenges we face in these trying times, and I said that God does not give us challenges that we cannot overcome. I think God heard me say that and is determined to find out just how much I meant what I said."
That got a loud burst of laughter from the people assembled, and I noticed movement at the back of the room. A man in black robes was rushing into the room, and began to moving towards us. I realized that Dad had been speaking mostly to delay things until a judge arrived to swear him. I wondered why the Senator hadn't waited until the judge arrived before getting dad, but then again that was a stupid thing to worry about.
"Ah, I see a judge has arrived." Dad said with a touch of nervous humor. "I don't suppose I have much time left to change my mind?"
"It's kind of late for that already." Senator Crawley stated, and more people laughed.
"Okay, let's get this show on the road." Dad said as the judge reached them and introduced himself. He was actually a very high-ranking judge, the leader of the federal circuit appeals court for this area. He led Dad in the Oath of Office exactly as it was spelled out in the Constitution. When he was done, he shook dad's hand. Dad then gave mom a hug, and then hugged both Henry and I as people clapped and shouted in approval. Several more people came up to shake his hands, but dad finally moved back to the podium.
"I understand that it's nearly midnight local time." Dad said with his command voice. "As it is this late already, I ask that the Continental Congress adjourn until tomorrow afternoon. I also ask that Senator Crawley continue to act as chair. I'm afraid the nation's immediate business shall require that I miss tomorrow's proceedings. I will meet with the military staff officers tomorrow at 0500, please be prepared to provide me with all the information you have available on the current disposition of our forces and relevant information. To the American people who will likely be watching this tomorrow morning, I ask that exercise patience in the days to come. In the last two months I managed to get my California district back on its feet. While it may take a bit longer I promise you that the United States will recover as soon as possible. Thank you and good night."
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