“Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.”
~William E. Gladstone, 1866
“What’s up, West?”
“The State Department has arranged a meeting for us with the visiting delegation from South Korea.”
“No kidding?! Wow… I was positive we’d have to force the issue, you know, with the tablet.”
“Yeah, well… There are a few conditions.”
“OK… And they are?”
“First of all, only you and I will be allowed in the BUILDING, let alone the meeting.”
“Second, any and all promises you make to them involving any expenditure of U.S. resources will go unfulfilled. You will not receive ANY monetary or military support – beyond what we already do today as a matter of existing foreign policy.”
“Again, not unexpected. Funny that they think they actually have a CHOICE. But whatever. That’s fine. The nature of our plan doesn’t involve any of that anyway.”
“The meeting will be recorded and a State Department witness will be present.”
Edward frowned for a moment. “Hmmm… That complicates things. But I guess it’s OK, as long as he keeps quiet.”
“I’m assured that he will only act if your words or action threaten our diplomatic relations with South Korea.”
“That fine then. Anything else?”
“Nothing outside of the standard, common sense security… AND that we need to go over there now: They’re waiting for us.”
“Well, let’s go.”
After being thoroughly screened by security, Edward and West were led through the labyrinthine halls of the State Department Building, towards the room where the delegation for South Korea was said to be waiting. Both Edward and West assumed that there escort was CIA or NSA, rather than a State Department man.
The slightest bit of suspicion lingered in Edward. “Are you sure this isn’t a trap?”
“I don’t think so. More likely a concession meant to lull us into a false sense of security before they spring their trap.”
“And still no word from… our friends?”
West answered in what he hoped would pass for code, “We’ve searched North and South and its radio silence.”
Edward wasn’t comfortable with the lack of communication, but pressed on regardless. “OK, we’re here. Let’s see how it goes.”
Their escorted opened the door, and showed them to their seats. Across from them Edward recognized Han Duck-soo, the South Korean Ambassador to the U.S., who was accompanied by another man, who was introduced only as a Deputy Foreign Minister, but who Edward and West assumed, as they had with their own escort, was a spy, and a woman who was there to serve as a translator. Their State Department escort closed the doors and remained in the back of the room.
“Good afternoon,” Edward began. “In advance, please accept my apologies. I am not a professional diplomat. I am an engineer by education and trade, so my words may come across a bit more bluntly and directly than you are accustomed to. Please understand that this entirely due to my own shortcomings, and that absolutely no disrespect is intended.”
A few laughs halfway through the translation, follow by nods from the miniature delegation.
“If I told you that in four months time, the entire power structure of The People’s Democratic Republic of Korea would be completely swept away, how would you feel about that?”
After a minute of discussion with the delegation, the translator turned back to Edward. “Of course we would rejoice if this were to come to pass. There is no shortage of support for reunification amongst our people. However we must be clear that we do not condone any actions that will lead to war.”
“Please reassure the Ambassador that there will be no military action taken by either of our countries.”
Again, some translation, at which point the Ambassador waved his hands, and answered directly in English, while the translator continued for the benefit of the other delegate. “Mister Carpenter… Are you suggesting that something will happen in a manner similar to what happened in your country two years ago, and in Iran last year?”
Edward smiled broadly. “Ambassador Han, you are truly a perceptive and intuitive man. Let’s suppose I was to confirm this; not something that I can really DO you understand, but let’s play at the hypothetical for the moment. What is your position?”
The Ambassador took a deep breath, and took a minute to gather his thoughts. “The leadership of the North has been a threat to our people for over half a century now. And you government has been very generous in support of our continued security. And with the Death of their Supreme Leader last year, and the ascension of his son, all indications are that the situation will only grow more tenuous as time goes on.” A few moments of more thought, as the translator caught up. “We would celebrate the elimination of this threat, but we cannot condone the deaths of any innocent civilians – in either country – that direct action would cause.”
“And if there were no civilian deaths? If it could be guaranteed than absolutely no one beyond the people directly involved in the current power structure would be affected – What then?”
“If that could be guaranteed… a dubious suggestion, but IF… Then we would embrace this opportunity with open arms and sixty years of pent up feelings of relief.”
Edward sat back in his chair, looking directly into the eyes of the Ambassador almost long enough to make him feel uncomfortable, before leaning forward again. “Well, Mister Ambassador, something like that CAN happen, but there are some reassurances we need from your Government in order to bring these about.”
The slightest look of suspicion. “And these are…?”
Edward breathed deeply. “Reunification, Mister Ambassador, will not come about for FREE. I don’t mean that WE must be paid; what I mean is that there will need to be a commitment on the part of the South that they are prepared to bear the burden of investment in the necessary reconstruction that will come along with reunification: Infrastructure, Education, Welfare, Jobs, Humanitarian aid… The cost of bringing the North into the modern age will come at a great expense. Is your government prepared to handle this?”
“The Prime Minister and the Parliament would begin the process as soon as the Government in the North is gone, I’m sure…”
“Not good enough,” Edward interrupted. “They need to start making preparations, in secret if necessary, NOW. AND I need assurances that FUTURE Parliaments will continue to do what is necessary to address the wrongs that have been inflicted on those people – YOUR people – over the past sixty years. There cannot continue to be TWO Koreas, now separated by the rich and the poor where it was once the North and the South.”
The Ambassador leaned back in his chair, and pondered this for some time. “I cannot promise what a future government or a future ambassador might or might not do. I cannot influence something that I may have no involvement with. What I can assure is that the will of our people – the citizens of South Korea – desires reunification and the elimination of the threat from the North very much. I can offer you no guarantees, but it is my sincere belief that this sentiment will hold for a very long time, even with the great burden that it will bring.”
Edward frowned. “I will be honest, Mister Ambassador, I was hoping for more. But I understand that I am asking you to make promises that you couldn’t possibly deliver on. So I suppose this will have to do. Please make sure your Government is made aware of our conversation, and advise them to begin the necessary preparations to be ready when it comes. I wish you and your people – all of your people – a Happy New Year, in advance. And I thank you deeply for your time.”
“I thank you, Mister Carpenter. I am glad that we have finally had a chance to meet face to face.”
Edward would have no further contact with any representative of the Korean Government, but resolved to move forward with his plans. That evening, he and Epiphany began entering names into the Tablet, with events to be set into motion, as they had twice before, on New Year’s Eve, 2012.
As the Election season was came into full swing, as the President did not face a primary challenger his lack of campaigning thus far was scarcely noticed by the public. The Republican primary started out wide open, but an early frontrunner emerged, whose momentum would easily carry him through to the nomination: Texas Businessman turned Governor Jack Johnson.
He had been thought of as a political neophyte when he ascended to the position following the deaths of the Former Governor Perry and Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst in December of 2010. And even though originally viewed as a sacrificial lamb being sent forward to lead a rag-tag party, now almost politically bankrupt, towards what many though would be their last campaign and their final defeat, Johnson quickly emerged looking more the lion, his mane wreathed in fire. While behind the scenes he ran things with an iron fist, and was as averse to compromise as he was accustomed to getting everything done his way, in public he spoke with a simple elegance that appealed to the common man, and with a swagger that filled his audience with the same confidence that drove him. He was a quick study on the national stage, a charismatic, deft politician who grew into a natural campaigner, able to achieve that political holy grail of opposing everything the incumbent had come to stand for, yet still appearing to be a middle of the road candidate that managed to convey the illusion that he would listen to all sides, even as he rallied to only one.
His inevitability was such that he began campaigning against the President directly well before the Republican Convention. He had even had the audacity to name his own running mate in advance of the Republican’s Convention: Ronald Camp, a slightly over-weight, soft-spoken Senator with a reputation for pandering to Christian Evangelicals. While Johnson’s big-business gravitas and Camp’s credibility with the Religious Right made the ticket was already a can’t-miss amongst Conservatives, Johnson’s outspoken, charismatic style, paired with Camp’s softer, under-spoken gentility, allowed them to make early strides with moderates in advance of the general election. Even before the Convention, most in the media agreed that they would not only win the nomination handily, but they were already getting ahead in the big race.
At the High and Low, Edward switched of the television in frustration. “The guy’s still not campaigning! What the hell?”
Epiphany shrugged. “There no primary challenger. Why would he campaign?”
“To stop this yokel from getting a head start, for one!”
She sighed. “Well… Even if you could still use the Tablet on him, it’s not like you can run an entire campaign from it.”
“I can’t believe he spending so much time obsessing over me that he’s going to shit-can his own campaign because of it!”
Just then, John and Gretchen came in. They seemed in far better spirits than Edward was.
“Hey guys. How are things going?”
“Proportionate pay passed!” John beamed.
“And the Carbon Tax is moving forward,” Gretchen added, “Along with the tax changes needed to offset any of its negative economic impacts.”
“That’s great news, guys. And the President will sign these?”
John shrugged. “We don’t know any more than you do on that front. According to our supporters in Congress, he seems to be rubber-stamping whatever they send across his desk.”
‘Focusing all of his time and energy on me, it seems,’ Edward thought to himself.
It was Paul’s turn to report. “Campaign Finance rules continue to be strengthened. And banking reform is back on the agenda.”
“Good. Hopefully our supporters will be willing to continue act even though it’s an election year.”
“Given the massive uptick in new jobs now that health care costs are no longer fixed to head count, everything that would have been considered controversial at one time is now appearing to quite populist.”
“That’s good. How are things on the education front?”
Professor Todd stood up. “I’m promised that we’ll have a vote on the new National Curriculum by month’s end.”
“And you’re satisfied?”
“No… I wouldn’t say our work there is finished. But this will lay a strong foundation for us to build on moving forward.”
“And there’s a vote on a reinstated fairness doctrine sometime this week. Believe it or not, this is coming with full support from the Republican side.”
Edward laughed. “Well, I’m not surprised, actually. As the media conglomerates are broken up, and corporate influence weakened it’s the only way anyone will even invite them on to speak! Sometimes I forget that they still have the majority!”
The meeting wore on, eventually covering further peace accords in the Middle East, with the nascent Iranian Government, born for the first time of secular democracy, signing on in support the Israeli-Palestinian Non-Aggression Pact, and triggering several other countries in the region to do so, before ending in a celebratory round of drinks. But Edward could not empathize with their revelry. He was concerned that the traffic lights on the tablet had gone yellow-red again, and his thoughts kept going back to the meteoric rise of the Republican’s new star, Governor Jack Johnson.
Later that night, back in Manassas, Epiphany found Edward in his study looking over the Tablet.
“What’s up, hon?” she asked, putting her arm over his shoulder.
The smell of her perfume told Edward that she had other things in mind than politics tonight, but he had discovered something extraordinary, and had to share it all the same. “Well, we had about an hour ago the traffic lights had gone green, but I’m sure they’ll be back to Yellow-Red before too long.”
“They’re fluctuating pretty quickly these days, huh?”
“Yeah… But I wanted to show you something else… I was looking to see what I might find out about this Jack Johnson character. Check this out…”
Edward showed her his profile and Epiphany noticed that his timer seemed extraordinarily short. “When…?”
“According to my math, he’ll be dead about six weeks after the inauguration, assuming any of us are still alive by then anyway.”
“Don’t know.” Edward admitted. “If he loses, as increasingly unlikely as that would seem, then it really doesn’t matter. But if he wins…”
“Do you think he’ll be killed?”
“As I said: I don’t know. But I meant what I’ve said before: I will not have ‘Carpenter’ added to the list of Boothe, Guiteau, Czsoloz and Oswald. I will not become a Presidential Assassin, no matter what else I’ve done.”
“Are you worried it’s someone else might…? I mean… West, or the Major, maybe?”
Edward hand’t considered matters that far, and composed a quick email to both of them informing them of what he had discovered. He ordered each man to keep the knowledge a secret, but that if either should discover a plot to kill Johnson, whether President or otherwise, to let him know and to do all in their power to stop it and said that that he would do the same. Finally, he made it very clear that NO ONE, not them, nor anyone else in their group, is be permitted to take ANY action to harm this man, Edward included.
He received their acknowledgements, but the timer never changed. Either they would fail to stop whatever was happening, Edward would change his mind, or the man’s death was to come about naturally.
“Isn’t this… well, GOOD news though? I mean… Johnson seems hell-bent on undoing everything we’ve accomplished. And if the polls are to be believed, Congressional candidates are going to get quite a boost with him at the top of the ticket...” Epiphany did her best not to sound worried, but Edward knew her better.
“See… That’s what I’m just worried about, and why I think the lights keep changing. Everything we’ve done can be still be undone. And so for all we’ve accomplished, Gabriel’s judgment is still coming - and it hasn’t changed.”
“And we’re running out of time.” Now she looked worried.
“I know. But if Gabriel can predict what’s going to happen, based on people’s choices, just like this thing can, and Johnson wins? Maybe he WILL undo everything. Maybe he’ll erase everything we’ve done, and it will all be for naught and THAT’S why we’re already fucked.”
“Why not just make him drop out of the race?”
“I’ve thought about it. But someone else will come along. Someone always does. AND… maybe it’s not him we need to worry about.”
“You mean CAMP?!”
“If the world doesn’t end, and Johnson wins, Ronald Camp will be the forty-sixth President come March. Maybe HE’S our problem, I just don’t know.
“Yeah but he’s so…”
“He’s might look milquetoast and soft spoken, but he’s a religious firebrand underneath it all. Exactly the kind of politician that got us in trouble in the first place. Who knows, maybe…? I don’t know. All I know it that we’ve just about done all we can, and it still seems like we’re on the brink of losing it all!”
“You had expected more from Obama, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, but looking back, I realize that I’ve probably mishandled everything. I should have stayed in the shadows. The cowboy act was… stupid. Very poor judgment on my part.” Edward rubbed his temples in an effort to ease the tension he was feeling, emotionally if not physically.
“I don’t know,” Epiphany started rubbing his shoulders. Edward was shocked at the strength in her hands. “You HAVE accomplished almost everything you set out to do.”
“And if our current Commander and Chief was half as interested in keeping his job as he was about silencing ME, we might have had a chance of keeping it!”
“Does West have any new info?”
“No, other than they are surveilling the hell out of us, which we already knew. West received some vague information hinting that they were planning something BIG, but it was lacking any details.”
She continued to knead the tension from his shoulders, a vice-like grip molding muscles of stone. “I’m sure we’ll be OK. I believe in you. You’ll figure it out.”
Back in the Oval Office, the President was meeting with his entire Cabinet, eager to hear their reports. General Alexander of the NSA began.
“Gentlemen, with the information we have gleaned from telephone conversations, internet communications and good old fashioned surveillance, we can be confident that we have identified all of Edward Carpenters associates, as well as identified and ,located nearly all – we estimate over 90% - of his monetary and fiscal assets, including those of his associates.”
Relieved nods from around the room.
“The plan is set to go into motion on November first, once every last loose end is addressed. Treasury will freeze and seize every asset.”
Nods from Secretary Geithner.
“The FBI, with support from the ATF and the National Guard will take their compound in Manassas, and arrest everyone there. Anyone who leaves, any time between now and then, will be trailed and arrested at the same time. Any evidence seized will be immediately made available to all departments – FBI, CIA, NSA, State… Everyone.”
Attorney General Holder interrupted. “And what is the purpose of that? If CIA and NSA are involved, we won’t be able to use ANY of it in court.”
“You won’t have to, Mister Holder,” General Alexander continued, “The President has already named Edward Carpenter and all of his known associates as enemy combatants, engaged in terrorism and insurrection against this country. Once we have everyone in custody, and all information taken that we can possibly get, using any and all means at our disposal, we have been authorized to execute every last one of them.”
Grim looks around the table, but no objections – even from Director Panetta, the last holdout for Edward’s potential usefulness.
A question came from one of the Cabinet members at the other end of the table. “And how do we know, after all of this preparation, that Mister Carpenter won’t find out and use his… influence to cause up to change course, as he did last time?”
A broad smile crept across General Alexander’s face. “The very first precaution we took was to pre authorize every aspect of the operation, and to make every single order non-rescindable. By his own executive order, if anyone involved shows a change of heart, including both myself and the President, they are to be immediately removed from duty or office and placed into protective custody until the operation has been fully completed. This order has also been made absolutely non-rescindable.
The second precaution is that every single person involved has an alternate already selected to take over and proceed in the event of said removal. And each alternate has themselves another alternate, and so on.”
“How many deep?” asked the Vice-President.
“At least twenty layers deep, in every single case, right down to the men that will go marching in. And in the unlikely event that the entire arm is eliminated, the other branches of the operation are authorized to assume command as needed. Everything is already in motion, and our systems will make automatic notifications if anyone appears to have a… change of heart.
Finally, no one, not even myself or the President, know the names of everyone involved. As the alternates were named, their identities were kept secret. Quite frankly? There is no one here, or anywhere, who can stop this now because no one knows anywhere near the full list of people involved.
The problem of Edward Carpenter will END with this administration.”
From a cubicle in his dark corner of the National Security Agency, Information Technology Officer Southworth looked at his screen. It contained names; what looked like thousands of them. He cut-and-pasted the list into a text file on his personal flash drive, deleted the data mining programs he’d been using to generate it and then spent several hours making sure that there was no trace left behind of his electronic eves dropping.
He was not satisfied until close to midnight. “Now… How can I get this list to Carpenter?” he thought to himself.