Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday Change Jar, Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research

Of all the heartbreaking images from the Gulf oil spill the ones that have gotten me the most are of the birds. Call it a never suppressed wish that I could fly but I love birds. Especially sea birds. Gulls squabbling among themselves, the humorous dignity of a pelican, watching sandpipers dart with lighting quickness on the shore, and cranes that move and look as living works of art.

Tri-State Bird Rescue is leading the effort to save, clean, and relocate the Gulf coast's avian wildlife. So click, look around, and see if you can spare a tuppence for the birds.

[EDIT] This was actually supposed to go on my blog, but if it's alright with the mods, I think it'd be nice to leave up for the interested.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Harvest of Souls, Chapter Seven

Say Ye Not, A Confederacy

As first light shone across the Shenandoah Mountains, Marine Two Foxtrot flew in low over a nondescript complex of low, rectangular buildings, roads, and parking lots set in a clearing surrounded by a forest of tightly-clumped deciduous trees. Richard held Beth’s hand tight with one hand, a telephone with the other.

“You got Britain, France, and China? Good, see what you can do about the other nuclear powers. Let them know I’ll be down in a few minutes. Then I’ll need a meeting with the Joint Chiefs, and a sitrep from FEMA. The leadership of the House and Senate should be in on that,” he said, then was silent as the other person spoke.

“…The ceremony can wait a bit…at least until we’ve got things in motion,” Deming said heavily. Those who called Huckabee and Deming a ‘team of rivals’ engaged in massive understatement. As hard-fought as the primaries had been, Richard never wanted to get the Presidency this way, at the expense of the man’s life, and those of his whole family. The ceremony can wait. To raise his hand and take the President’s oath would be to pronounce President Huckabee dead…and Emilie, James, Aisha, and Ricky Junior, and everyone else who was among the vanished. “Thank you. We’re setting down now.”

“Welcome to Mount Weather, Mr. Vice President,” a Marine guard said as Richard, Beth, and the Football were whisked into the elevator he was protecting. Deming gave him a nod, as that was all he had time for. Moments later, the doors whisked open on a scene of barely-controlled chaos. FEMA agents talked on phones, typed at computers, or hurried to and fro with printouts and manila folders. Knots of Senators and Representatives stood huddled in their pajamas with their families, all pointedly bereft of younger children. Some of them simply stared blankly, like poleaxed steers. Others, spotting Richard and his entourage, hurried over and started talking all at once.

“Mr. Vice President—“

“What’s happened?”

“Where are our chil…

“…alien attack?”

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll meet as soon as we can,” Richard said. “First I’ve got to talk to the other nuclear powers,” he said with a glance toward the Football. That silenced them.

“Godspeed, Mr. Vice President,” the chairman of the Ways and Means committee said as they parted to let him pass. A harried staffer was waiting for him.

“The teleconference is set up, Mr. Vice President,”

“You got them all?”

“Except for North Korea and Pakistan.” Deming suppressed a groan of irritation. “The North Koreans refused to talk, and we weren’t even able to get someone on the phone in Pakistan. Their ‘net servers are down too.”

“Their leadership disappeared?”

“We don’t know that, sir. Their government was precarious to begin with, and now…”

Richard exchanged a pained look with Beth. Both knew that reminders of the catastrophe, of their missing children, would not stop coming. Beth gave him a quick, fierce embrace as they reached the conference room door.

“I’ll see what I can do to help out here,” she said, then released him and turned back toward the members of Congress. Richard gave her a wan smile, then went inside. The conference room was sleek and futuristic, Japanese-style black lacquer and accents of white marble. He sat down in front of a wrap-around green screen and nodded to the technician.

“Um…sir?” the technician said, glancing at his “outfit.” Someone at the National Military Command Center had given him an Army T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants.

“Just do it, I’m not going to keep them waiting while I get on a suit and tie.” Though he’d managed to talk briefly with the Russian President over the Hotline before getting America’s missile-defense radars back online, Richard wanted to speak with the rest of the nuclear club as soon as possible. Especially the ones engaged in miniature Cold War standoffs: India and Pakistan, Israel and Iran. The joker in the deck, North Korea, apparently wasn’t interested in talking. Not with the U.S. anyway.

The other places at the table were taken by tall parabolic high-definition screens. They flickered to life, conjuring 3-D images of the other nuclear-armed world leaders. They all looked as haggard as he did, but due to placement in more fortuitous time zones, they were all dressed “properly.”

“Thank you all for being here. In case you haven’t heard already, President Huckabee is among the missing. I will be assuming Presidential duties until he can be recovered, or we discover for sure that he can’t. We all have to face the biggest national emergency in the history of our countries right now, so I don’t want to take a lot of your time--”

“My condolences for your country’s losses, Mr. Vice President,” the Russian President said. “From what we have learned so far, your country has been hardest hit among the developed nations. Under the circumstances, perhaps the United States should not be the nation coordinating our response to the crisis.”

“I’m not jockeying for position here, Dmitry Adreievich. No nation on Earth is responsible for what’s happened. The primate house behavior has got to stop. We have a common enemy now.” What if Mike was right? What if our ‘enemy’ is God? Richard thought, but he pushed it aside. First, keep people from nuking each other. Then find out if this is the Rapture or not. “If any of you knows the best way to respond to this crisis, I’ll be happy to go along. But right now—“

“We must neutralize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal immediately!” President Patil of India said. “If militants should seize power—“

“Do you intend to continue President Huckabee’s policy on Iran’s arsenal?” the Israeli Prime minister asked. “We will not accept an Iranian Bomb!”

“We have two Bombs. You have two hundred, or more! Which you have been lying about for decades!” the Iranian President snapped.

Ladies and Gentlemen!” Richard shouted. “There’s two things we’ve all got to agree to do right now. One: let’s not make things worse than they already are. No mushroom clouds blooming over anybody’s cities. No preemptive strikes. Two: I want my kids back. I want your kids back. Some little tribe of Bushmen living in the Kalahari desert? I want their kids back! All of our grand strategies, our force deployments, our weapons procurement, our alliances, our foreign policies—all of that has to be focused on our kids and grandkids now. What else is there?”

“Do you really think we can get them back?” the British Prime Minister said.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what we’re up against, but I am convinced that our only chance is cooperation. It’s going to take all we can do just to maintain a semblance of order.” Dmitry’s eyes narrowed.

“You know more than you are telling us, Richard. I see it in your eyes.”

“I wouldn’t exactly call it ‘knowing,’” Richard said with a sigh. “Yesterday, this would have been crazy talk. The Rapture. Some of you may remember my debate with President Huckabee on foreign policy, when I grilled him about his belief in the Rapture. Well…this looks an awful lot like what President Huckabee and others like him have been talking about for years.”

“You mean, God taking all of the Christians away?” Dmitry replied. “I assure you, the churches in my country do not lack for attendance.”

“And what does that have to do with the children?” the French President asked.

“Well, the belief is that God would take the children too, ones younger than about 12 or so, what they call the ‘age of accountability.’ And as for the Christians in your countries, I think the idea is that God was only coming for the Christians who believe the same things as the Rapture Ready types. I’m not endorsing this idea, for all I know it’s aliens faking a Rapture the way the Spanish Conquistadors pulled one over on the Aztecs by playing the part of Quetzalcoatl.”

“But you think it could be true?” Dmitry asked. Richard gave him a lopsided grin. Now he was in the hot seat fielding questions about the Rapture.

“I’m not going to rule it out just because I hope it’s not. But I’m not going to just jump to it as a conclusion either. Whatever this is—“ Richard was interrupted by a military attaché entering the conference room and striding briskly over to him. He leaned over to whisper in Richard’s ear. Deming paled.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve just been informed that North Korea has started shelling Seoul and our defenses along the Demilitarized Zone with long range artillery. We can’t afford this distraction. Whoever or whatever took our kids could be just getting started. I’m going to be putting my country’s strategic forces on alert, but I want to do it in cooperation with the rest of you. Li, Dmitry, do you think you can get the North Koreans to stop?”

“Kim Jong-Il must be doing this because he feels he needs an external conflict to stabilize his regime. He may be too desperate to back down,” Li replied.

“Then I think the best approach is going to be a unified response from all of us with military forces in the theater, and we may need to include the Japanese. If they can’t be talked down, they’ll have to be taken down, as quickly as possible. Do we have an alliance?”

“What are your intentions for the Korean peninsula afterward? Unification with the South?” Li asked.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Maybe political unification with some kind of joint occupation of the North like we did with Germany after World War II. This is not about expanding American hegemony. This is about standing together to defend our world and keep human civilization alive. Do we have an alliance?”

“The anti-missile systems you have deployed against us, would you agree to relocate them?” Dmitry said. Upon taking office, President Huckabee had re-instituted the Bush policy of ringing Russia with forward-deployed anti-missile systems in allied nations in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and East Asia. The weapons had increased tensions with the Russians and led them to closer ties with China and Iran.

“In principle, yes. I can’t talk specifics until we can develop some kind of planetary defense strategy. I don’t know if those systems are going to be much use against whoever took our children, but that’s their purpose now. Get your military planners working on a way to coordinate your strategic defenses with ours and I’ll do the same. Do we have an alliance?”

“What if you become convinced that it is your Protestant God who has done this?” Dmitry asked.

“The God I believe in is the one who sent His Son to Earth with a choir of angels singing ‘Peace on Earth, good will towards men.’ My Jesus is the one who gave the Sermon on the Mount, and who went to the Cross instead of summoning twelve legions of angels to lay waste to the world. I don’t know of any place in the Bible where it says God will kidnap all of our children. But if I’m wrong, and it really is God, the creator of hundreds of billions of galaxies that did this to us, then honestly, what can we do?

“All I know is…humanity is under attack by something much more powerful than we are. If we can’t…at least try to stand together, to be on the same side for once, even now…to just try and keep our whole world from falling into war and chaos…what does that say about us? What does that say about us?”

There was silence for a moment as the other leaders looked each other in the eye.

“I cannot speak for others…but with Russia you have your alliance, Mr. Vice President.”

“We have an alliance,” Li Peng said.

One by one the leaders announced their solidarity, until it came around to the newest, and apart from North Korea, the least welcome member of the nuclear club.

“I…will need to speak with the Supreme Leader…but if I can bring him an assurance of security for our nation…”

“If you’re talking about the threat of a unilateral attack by Israel, I won’t stand for that,” Richard said, casting a warning glance toward the Israeli Prime Minister. “Nor will American forces be launching any attacks against Iran as long as we and our allies are not attacked by Iran. The only ‘assurance of security’ I can offer you is to have the United States and Israel as allies rather than as enemies.” He cast another hard glance at the Israeli Prime Minister, who was looking distinctly uncomfortable. “And yes, that means working out a Middle East peace that no one will like but everyone can accept.

“Making this work isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to be the most difficult thing humanity has ever attempted. And we have no assurance of success, not against something that can just come down and take over a billion children…right out of our arms. Getting through this is going to require the utmost from each and every one of us…the very best that humanity is capable of, in every area of endeavor. This is when we find out who we really are, as human beings.”