Posts Tagged ‘drama’

PRUNING: Gentle Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Inc.

June 4, 2019

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Illus: “CONSERVATIVE CONQUEST OF AMERICA” ©JLegry

Short Story – Approx. 2,500 wds

“January gives a man pause, doesn’t it, Bob?” Lowell W. Lucash Jr., President of the United States, asked. “Turn of the year, life shrouded in ice and snow, but still a time of renewing and all that crap.”
“Not so much,” Old Bob replied, never diverted by simple life.
Lucash stood at the windows of the Oval Office, staring out at the frosted White House grounds. The bare trees were thin sticks against a pale sky. A guard muffled in winter clothing, accompanied by a large breath-steaming police dog, crossed the snow-shrouded vista and went into the dormant Arbor. Lucash felt the cold despite warmth from his cheerful fireplace. He shivered.
His distinguished senior advisor, Robert “Old Bob” Archer, was seated in front of his desk, neat and meticulous, resolutely bald and shiny on top, with a thin signature file in his lap. Lucash had depended upon him from college into the White House, a legacy from Dad, now safely buried in New Jersey.
“Profits are up,” Lucash said. He sat at his desk, glancing at a crystal paperweight from Tiffany engraved with his name and the Presidential Seal– a gift from his wife, Marilyn, at his joyful first-term inaugural celebration.
“Buying power is down,” Old Bob replied.
Lucash smiled humorlessly. “We are committed?”
“Yes, Mr. President.”
“There are no alternatives?”
“No, Mr. President.”
“So, we are ready to ‘relieve the strained, overpopulated regions of earth,’” Lucash said uncomfortably. “Isn’t that what the agreement says?”
“Everything is prepared,” Old Bob replied. “We are ready for pruning.”
“‘Pruning,’” Lucash repeated. He ran a nervous hand through his famous luxuriant, color-enhanced hair. “I should never have allowed this.”
“We have no choice,” Old Bob replied. “The Developed Fossil-Fuel Nations, China, the Arab Oiligarchies and the Russian-Ukrainian Petroleum Alliance have already signed the secret accord. There is no going back now, Lowell. You must be resolute.”
“What is the full list?” Lucash asked, stalling. “How many continents and countries are we pruning? I can’t believe that I have to do this. Trump ignored the problem. Why me? This is hard. I need an assistant. I need more options.”
“There are no other options,” Old Bob said. “You can’t use an assistant. You are the president. You have to do it yourself. That makes it legal. No one likes this, but it is all that is left. If we wait any longer, we are lost, overwhelmed by starving, desperate people in a rising tide of garbage and toxic waste.”
“How did the world prune before it had me?” Lucash asked resentfully.
“The same sorts of things: famine, fire, war and pestilence, but considerably less well managed, more drawn out and agonized. We are not savages, Lowell. We do not want people to suffer. We are organized. Our pruning will be swift and merciful.”
“We’re the Gentle Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Incorporated.”
“It is self-defense, Lowell,” Old Bob sympathized. “As difficult as this is, you’ve seen the projections. Our way of life will be destroyed, if we don’t act.”
“There must be a way out,” Lucash said helplessly. “Trump’s ‘Take a Big Stick and Flail It Wildly’ Strategy was an utter failure.”
“It’s pointless to rehash the whole discussion,” Old Bob replied. “It is too late. Too much is at stake for last minute change of plan, or a time-wasting crisis of conscience. Sign the Executive Order, authorize the Third World Strike, suffer crippling angst later.” He opened the file, put papers and pen on Lucash’s desk.
“This is wrong,” Lucash said. “What about a total embargo?”
“Embargo what? The world’s resources are running out. A few years ago there was choice. Trump pissed it away. Today, billions are eating each other.”
“I thought they didn’t eat meat,” Lucash said. “Or, is that only Hindus?”
“It is getting worse,” Old Bob replied. “The good Lord provided necessary tactical devices, and it is up to us to use them to clean up our mess.”
“‘The good Lord provided necessary tactical devices,’” Lucash mocked.
“But we survive,” Old Bob argued. “Food and water are short, energy is giving out, food riots here at home, overflowing prisons, border fights with migratory gangs the size of military battles. We must control the situation. Do it quickly. Do your duty, sign the fucking accord.” Old Bob urged, not unkindly.
“It’s good we waited until after Christmas,” Lucash said bitterly, “because genocidal holocaust depresses sales. Not even Trump could think like this.”
Old Bob looked away in pain.
“I still need time to think,” Lucash said, avoiding the papers on his desk.
“There’s not much time.”
Lucash did not reply.
“Don’t agonize,” Old Bob said gently. “It will only consume you, Lowell.”
“I followed the rules,” Lucash said. “I did what I was supposed to do. I went along with the Trump Libertarian Me-First Agenda. But… I’m having trouble beating my conscience down on this. How do you do it, Bob? How do you stay so detached?”
“I approach it academically,” Old Bob said uneasily. “I try to keep my perspective.” His hands were atremble in his lap. Old Bob’s academic perspective was wearing thin. That still doesn’t stop him from being a bossy old murderous bastard, Lucash noted.
“Why don’t you go to hell?” Lucash asked with sudden anger. “Why don’t you do your damned hideous holocaust pruning without my signature? Get that frickin’ robber’s nest in the senate to sign it!”
“It’s your legal responsibility,” Old Bob insisted. “You make it official.”
“My signature makes it official to kill, how many, Bob, seven billion?”
“Five and a half, before they multiply to twenty and eat the planet.”

Lucash studied his mentor and saw a tired frightened old man. It scared him. “I need more time,” he said. “Please ask Marilyn to see me on your way out.” He turned his profile to the right to close the meeting. He often turned that way for photographic effect. He did so now to hide his fear. Old Bob rose, said farewell and left. Lucash rose and went to the windows, looked out at the frozen day and shivered again. Moments later, his wife Marilyn entered, a slender dark-haired beauty, elegantly dressed as always. They were loyal to one another, publicly and privately, despite discrete dalliances on both sides.
“You sent for me, darling?” she asked.
“Oh, Mommy!” he cried, going to her.
She held him, soothing him and stroking his hair.
“Now, now,” she crooned, “it’s all right. Poor little Lowly. It will be all right. You didn’t think the Presidency was all golf, after dinner speeches and rallies, did you? Of course, you did. Remember your programming. It would make old Uncle Puti proud if he wasn’t down with stroke. Der Don would pop his buttons. You’re trained to pop buttons too, aren’t you? Don’t you carry a big flailing stick?” Lucash flinched and released her.
“Whose side are you on?” he asked in distress.
“I support you, Lowly, as always, but you must act soon. Do something.”
“What should I do?”
“Do what Old Bob wants. Don’t think and sweat. It’s bad for vid lights.”
He nodded grimly, staring at the documents on his desk.
“The hell with Bob,” he decided. “I’m going to the War Room.”
“‘Situation Room,’” she corrected. “They haven’t called it the War Room since FDR died. I don’t think they have wars anymore, just situations.”
“Whatever,” he replied and was soon the center of noise and activity: voices, phones, flickering screens. Hours passed, predictions piled up, scenario after scenario was analyzed. At last, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General McClean Benson, arrived with a small entourage to receive immediate private audience with the President.
“Every scenario runs the same, Mr. President,” Benson said. He put the summaries on Lucash’s desk. “Pruning is the only option.”

Lucash looked at him suspiciously.
“I’m not eager for this either, Mr. President,” Benson said defensively.
“The projections are totally unbiased?” Lucash asked.
“Totally unbiased, Mr. President.” I did not have to bias them, he thought.
“Not good enough!” Lucash yelled. “Run it again. Find something!” Upset by his own passion, he said, “Keep working, General, thank you. Carry on.”
Benson saluted stiffly and departed.
Hours later, with the early morning darkness still upon the city, Old Bob returned to the Oval Office to find Lucash hunched tiredly at his great desk.
“Come up with anything?” Old Bob asked, wanting to say, I told you so.
“There’s enough data to reflect every possible variable on the uncertain face of the whole planet. It all adds up the same, regardless of how arranged.”
“You admit that we have no other choice?”
Lucash abruptly picked up the pen Old Bob had provided hours earlier and signed the accord. He shoved the papers across to him.
“There are two more copies,” Old Bob said, pushing them back.
Lucash stared, then quickly signed the copies. He tossed the pen down.
“Souvenir, Bob. Put it in your breast pocket. It will eat a hole in your heart.”
“It already has, Mr. President,” Old Bob said. He picked up the documents, avoiding the pen, and advised, “Destroy it.”
“Pruning is set for seven-thirty a.m., EST,” Lucash said, glancing at his Rolex. “We’ve two hours, fly the damned pen to the closest target and nuke it.”
“I’ll have the Secret Service dispose of it,” Old Bob said. He picked the pen up with a tissue. “I…uh, must get the documents to the courier.” Lucash nodded and Old Bob left. Marilyn Lucash entered immediately. He looked at her bleakly.
“Are you all right?” she asked and was suddenly crying. He went to her.

“It’s done,” he said, hugging her close. “Please, be still.”
“How bad will it be?” she asked, wiping her cheeks with her palm.
“’If everyone holds to the accord,’ he cited the official Trumped Scenario, “‘and if we contain effects, according to projection, we guarantee safety for the civilized world: North America, Europe, Russia, Japan.’ Unfortunately, Australia may suffer due to wind, or ocean currents, but that is part of the ‘necessary cost to succeed.’” She stared at him. He took a deep breath and released her.
“What about China and Korea?” she asked.
“Whatever must be done, will be done. This is no time for mourning.”
“We must be brave,” she agreed, drying her eyes. “You look so tired.”
Thirty-eight hours later, a haggard Lowell W. Lucash Jr. stood at a microphone, looking at a largely uniformed crowd of men and women cramped into Command Shelter Number One. Their families were in equally crowded adjoining quarters linked by a brightly-lighted tunnel network. Built for ten thousand, the bunker accommodated sixteen-thousand-five-hundred for the “duration of the emergency.”

Lucash saw Marilyn with the White House staff group. She smiled bravely at him and he smiled back uneasily.
“Your attention,” Lucash called, stilling excited voices. “Pruning is over. We think it is. Nothing has been released, or detonated for an hour. I regret that everyone exceeded pruning level by, uh, 32%. Is that right, General Benson?”
“That may be conservative, sir,” Benson replied. “We matched ’em release for release. Some analysts say fifty, but, damage assessment isn’t complete.”
Lucash nodded. The world felt upside down.
“Your prepared remarks,” Old Bob urged.
“In a short while,” Lucash read, feeling disconnected, as if in a dream, “we will return to the surface, hopefully. Thank each of you for your dedication and loyalty. The real task lies ahead: building a strong new America and a brave new world order.” There was scattered applause. “I know that you are up to the challenge. Our goal is worth sacrifice. Our country began nearly three hundred years ago and it is up to us to see that it lasts for a thousand more. Our brave new world order will be finer, better and safer than ever. As Tiny Tim once said, ‘God bless us every one!’” There were patriotic tears in many eyes as he finished. The crowd applauded and cheered, full of hope, glad the speech was over, their optimistic echoes springing back from the high-vaulted thick concrete ceiling.
“Can we trust the Chinese and Koreans, sir?” General Benson asked.
“Trust has to begin somewhere,” Lucash replied. “I’d rather not spend the rest of my life cooped up down here, would you, General?”
“What if they are waiting for us to come out so they can finish us off right now?” Benson warned. “We should hit ’em first. Pre-emptive strike.”
“General, everyone is horrified,” Lucash said. “I even heard it in Imam Fuad’s voice when he agreed to cease fire and he thought it was a holy war.”
“I wouldn’t mention that publicly,” Old Bob cautioned.
“It’s all my fault,” Lucash said sorrowfully.
“Stop that,” Old Bob scolded. “Be strong.”
Lucash looked at the people waiting to return to their normal topside world. The great concrete walls curved over their heads into black darkness and they instinctively moved closer, seeking comfort in proximity. Lucash wanted to console and wish each one well, and then lead them straight up out of that claustrophobic over-filled chamber.
A military attaché arrived with a message for Lucash. Lucash was shocked at what he read. He handed the message to Old Bob, whose face went white.
“The surface is contaminated beyond habitability,” Lucash told the crowd.
A moan went up.
“Damned Korean overkill!” General Benson shouted angrily.
People wept.
Lucash signed to Marilyn who quickly joined him. They hugged as when flashbulbs exploded and the Party Convention rocked with cheers short years before. Such pride. This time, shame almost overwhelmed Lowell W. Lucash Jr.
“We must…we must somehow live with this,” he told the crowd. Amid a common agonized murmur, an Air Force general went to his knees on cold concrete and began to pray. Others followed. A droning wail went up as echoes.
“My God,” Old Bob said at Lucash’s side, assessing the bunker’s long-term livability, “this is like being buried alive.”
“There are other bunkers all the way to California,” General Benson advised. “They were doing okay until communication went out. If they survived, they will be loyal to us.”
“If they survived, they are in the same mess,” Lucash said. “Cut off.”
“Meantime,” Old Bob said, “we must survive underground and there isn’t much room.” People looked at Lucash in horror. His flesh crawled.
“The Great Pruner!” an enraged technician screamed, pointing an accusing finger. “The bloody-handed Great Pruner!”
There were angry shouts, more weeping, more hostile eyes, more people screaming at Lucash. Marilyn’s arms tightened around his waist.
“O, Lowly, what do we do?” she whispered.
“This is a nightmare, Mr. President,” Old Bob said, taking Lucash’s arm.
“I wish to God it was, Bob,” Lucash said, trembling.
“Get behind me, Mr. President,” General Benson ordered, drawing his service weapon, as the angry crowd surged toward the Presidential party.

THE END: JL:Portland: 05-19
© JLegry

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