Authors: John Dalmas
Tags: #Science Fiction, #General, #Fiction
THE GENERAL'S PRESIDENT
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 1988 by John Dalmas
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises
260 Fifth Avenue
New York, N.Y. 10001
First printing, February 1988
Cover art by Alan Gutierrez
Printed in the United States of America
SIMON & SCHUSTER
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, N.Y. 10020
U.S. Navy (retired),
devourer of books,
glutton for learning.
I want to thank the following:
BILL BAILIE for his interest, his comments, and the long-term loan of numerous books, articles and maps on matters military, geographic, geopolitical, and geologic—information sources I found enormously helpful.
JIM BAEN, who, after reading the first draft of early chapters, made a criticism of central importance in developing subsequent chapters and drafts.
EVERETT KYTONEN, for important reference works and for his encouragement when this book was only a concept.
Father JAMES CONNOR and Father RICHARD JUZIX, for helping this non-Catholic keep his fictional priest realistic, and in general for their interest and friendship.
DR. RICHARD HUMPHREYS, M.D., for his advice on story matters medical.
THE REFERENCE PERSONNEL at the Spokane Main Library for their very frequent and unfailingly cheerful help, in person and over the phone. They are real professionals, and I love 'em!
And GAIL, who voluntarily read and commented on each draft, including the roughest, and who never once complained when the reference books overflowed my office to pile up on the kitchen table, occupying it for months and threatening to tip it over backward. I love her too.
Several others, specialists in different fields, critiqued pieces of this and made helpful suggestions and comments, but preferred not to be acknowledged in a book of which they had read only one or two chapters. They know who they are, and have had my personal thanks.
Numerous others provided specific information, most of them in reply to this stranger who called and asked questions over the phone. Their contributions are definitely appreciated.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
known as "The Declaration of Independence":
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed....
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.... But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism....
Quotation from a letter by John Emerich Dalberg, Lord Acton, written in 1887.
Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
A History of this Planet,
by Mentor Hsu Mei Chun, Ministry of Textbooks, 2034.
This textbook, which begins with the Shang Dynasty, shows you how the people of the world have created our present reality. For people create reality, create it constantly and mostly unknowingly. This is indisputable.
It is easier to see in the case of a ruler. A ruler creates a broad reality, within which his subjects create their own realities. He creates to whom he will listen, whose advice he will heed, to whom he will give an order, who to praise and who to punish. He even helps to create what other rulers he will challenge, and who will replace him on the seat of government.
Now I just wrote that a ruler creates a broad reality, within which his subjects create their own realities. And it is true. But the subjects also create the ruler, and thus
create their entire political reality. This creation by a people of its ruler may not be so apparent to casual observation. But look! The Russian people had repeatedly been invaded and preyed upon by outsiders—Ostrogoths, Huns, Avars, Magyars, Varangians, Cumans, Mongols—until they dreaded foreigners. And in their xenophobia, they created czars who created a strong empire, large and costly to invade. And because the Russian people were disorganized and unruly, it was necessary that they create czars who were domineering and often brutal.
In time, however, the czars were no longer effective enough or ruthless enough. In a word, the people's creations were no longer adequate to their need. Thus the people created an intelligentsia, which they then resented. And the hardest and most intelligent and domineering of this intelligentsia called himself Lenin, a man who had borrowed a socio-economic theory from a German named Karl Marx.
Lenin created a social and governmental system called Marxism-Leninism, with an army and a vast secret police to support it. And from this base, through a series of rulers, the Russians created an even larger empire, and a far greater military force, than any of their czars had done. And this government and army ground the Russian people harshly, which they were used to and which was according to their image of how the world should be.
Now let us consider our own people. Their progress through history has been quite different from that of the Russian people. They created rulers who less ruled them than fed off them. Many of those rulers ruled only enough to keep the people domesticated, so that taxing them would be less strenuous and uncertain than preying on some wild population. And by creating such rulers, our ancestors created national vulnerability as well, vulnerability of the whole nation to warlords and foreigners.
Until finally they tired of vulnerability and the abuse that accompanied it. But they were a people resistive to working together beyond the village level. So they too created a great ruler who was overbearing and hard—Mao Tse-tung. Chairman Mao borrowed Marxism-Leninism from the Russians. But because the Chinese people were different from the Russian, and had created a ruler who was unlike Lenin, and unlike Lenin's successor Stalin, the program and government fashioned by Mao Tse-tung was unlike Russia's. And the successors of Mao Tse-tung were unlike Stalin's successors, because the people created them so, and for a long time had been creating a different stage for them to rule on.
Now in another part of the world dwelt another people, the Americans. And they created themselves as a people from elements of many nations, because mankind's gradual creation of itself toward a space-faring socio-economic body called for such a nation in its evolution.
The Americans too were unruly. And because they had created a very different environment for themselves, one not unduly threatened by invasions, they undertook to create a governing system that allowed them unusual freedom to create their own individual realities. Which they did, in greater diversity than any other people. And they created a series of chiefs of government who did not rule but presided. For the American people did not wish a ruler.
But in conjunction with the other nations, the Americans, who were very powerful creators, gradually created a world which was dangerous to them. And being unruly, and lacking a ruler, they began to feel threatened....
The burly old man flared his paddle, slowing the expensive kevlar canoe, then pointed. "I worked here one summer," he said.
The younger man, the bow paddler, turned and looked. On the east bank, autumn-bared ash and birch stood pale gray and chalk white, punctuated with dark, spire-like balsam fir and the bleached crumbling bones of blight-killed elm. Among them were the visible remains of an old logging camp, not large. Floors and wooden frames had decayed and disappeared, but he could see moldering floor sills, half covered by the remains of tarpaper nailed half a century past over rough board siding.
An older time, thought Father Stephen Joseph Flynn, S.J. A more careless, less complicated age. A time when the United States was energetic, optimistic, thought well of itself. At least that's what Father Flynn had heard and read. When his friend, Arne Eino Haugen, had worked here in the forest, he himself had not yet been born.
Smooth current took them past, and while Flynn looked back, Haugen did not—not physically. Inwardly perhaps, for he talked about it, smiling.
"During the war, Emile LeBeau and Emil Norrland built a tie mill here, and a camp. I got out of the army in the spring of '46 and went to work for them. There was a good market for sawn hardwood railroad ties, and we cut ash and elm for miles along the river. And any birch that were big enough. Floated them to the mill and held them inside a boom here." He chuckled. "There's hundreds of elm sinkers along the river bottom, unless they've rotted—logs that were too heavy and sank. And we cut all the spruce and fir along the river, that were big enough to make anything"—boards, pulp. The pine had been logged out back in the teens. My dad worked on that.
"We called the camp 'the Two Emils,' one French Canuck and one Swede. In the fall I quit to skid pulp for Wiiri Koskinen, and the next spring the mill burned down. So the two Emils went to Littlefork and got drunk, and never really sobered up till they'd gone through about everything they owned. Took them a month."
Haugen stopped talking, to paddle quietly, serenely. The canoe came then to a long rapids, and hurried through clear amber riffles.
"The loss hit them that hard, did it?" said Flynn. "The two Emils?"
"Not really. They just decided it was a good time for a big drunk. Part of logger tradition. Still is, but probably not as much. The days of logging camps are long gone; loggers live in town now, have families. Commute. When the market allows; when there's work. But they still drink a lot."
Perhaps that characterized the country today, thought Flynn. Unemployment and drink. Drink and drugs. Recessions and depressions had been scattered through the history of the country, but this one truly threatened to ruin it.
Or am I being cynical?
he asked himself
Had they all seemed that way, in their own time?
They'd talked a bit about the new depression, he and Haugen. Haugen seemed to accept it with a degree of equanimity that bothered the Jesuit.
"What would you do," Flynn asked, "if you were president?"
Haugen snorted. "I'd resign. Especially if my name was Kevin J. Donnelly. Not that the collapse is actually his fault, though he may have speeded it up a bit. He's just getting the hog's share of the blame. And he did the obvious salvage actions: closed the stock exchanges, declared a moratorium on mortgages. I'd have done the same.
"What would you do, Steve?"
"First I'd pray for God's guidance and intervention. Then—apply a tourniquet the way Donnelly did. After that I'd give way to some more qualified person."
He'd looked back at Haugen when he'd answered. Haugen grinned. "I thought Jesuits were trained to handle problems like that. Or did that change when Europe stopped being ruled by kings?"
The priest wasn't sure whether Haugen had said it in jest or not. "Times have changed," Flynn answered, "for better and for worse. And Jesuits on the whole weren't involved in court politics. A few were, as the confessors and counselors of kings. Mostly, though, they were the educators of Europe, for generations. Including royalty at times."
Haugen nodded without saying more, and let his eyes roam the banks, the bottomland forest.
Donnelly's closure of the stock exchanges and his moratorium on mortgages had been the big news ten days ago, Flynn recalled, and wondered whether more good had resulted than mischief. The Jesuit had very little knowledge of things like stock markets. For him they were simply parts, presumably critical parts, of the monstrously complex socio-economic machine that western man had built, and now depended on to feed him in his thousands of millions. Mortgages he could understand. Stop mortgage foreclosures and you'd save people's homes. You'd also prevent banks from getting back money they'd loaned, and maybe break them. Too many had gone broke already, and millions of people who'd put their money in them had been wiped out.
To do what, go where, in these times of massive unemployment?
That one was beyond Flynn's ability even to speculate on, and mentally he paused, looking at an earlier thought.
Cynical? Of course I am, in my soul, my heart of hearts. Arne doesn't consider me so, but he doesn't know me as I know me. Cynicism more than anything else stands between the life of Stephen Joseph Flynn and that total compassion, that empathy incarnate, that was the life of Christ on Earth.
A hiss from Haugen's lips drew him out of himself.
Here I am
, Flynn thought,
riding a forest river through scenic near-wilderness, and forgetting to look around.
His eyes followed Haugen's pointing arm to see a buck gazing at them from the river bank. Its flanks were gray, and it wore a considerable rack of antlers. As it watched them pass, only its head moved.