The President hadn't tried to bring his big Air Force One to Camp Smolley. He had come in his VTOL, which was still an incongruously big ship to be perched on the camp's little landing strip. It was snow white with the lettering THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA luminously emblazoned on its side.
At the plane's ramp an army of American Marines were guarding the VTOL under the eyes of an army of blue-beret United Nations troops. That was as far as Hilda was going to go. She stood motionless at the foot of die ramp while a couple of Marine officers body-searched me, their hands in all my pockets, their sniffers all over my body, poking into every fold of my clothes. At least they didn't bother with body cavities before they allowed me to enter. "Hurry up," the female colonel ordered me as she led the way to the President's cabin. "The President doesn't have much time."
Apparently he didn't. He didn't keep me waiting. When the colonel shoved me into his office the President was sitting at his desk, looking up from his array of miniscreens to regard me. There was no one else in the room, just the President and me, though I had no doubt there were eyes and recording gadgets in the walls-and maybe even, behind some panel, a Marine sharpshooter with his weapon aimed at my heart, just in case. When the President had finished looking me over, he said, "Sit down. Talk to me."
So I did.
I had never been alone with the President before. He looked a lot older than his pictures: suntanned face, mop of curly white hair, the powerful shoulders of the Harvard oarsman he had once been. He was a lot better listener than I had expected. He didn't interrupt. He didn't speak at all. A couple of times, when he wasn't quite catching everything I had to say, he cocked one of those bushy white eyebrows at me. Which I interpreted as a request to clarify, so I clarified. When I got to the part about letting Beert go home he didn't start throwing the book at me. He looked, if anything, amused. He didn't speak then, either, or even push any buttons that I saw, but a moment later the office door opened and a pair of good-looking girls in Marine uniform pushed in a dolly with white linen, a silver coffeepot and two cups. "Help yourself, Agent Dannerman," the President said, speaking at last. "So you took it upon yourself to order the Scarecrow subs away from the coast.
There didn't seem to be any point in trying to explain my reasons, so I just said, "Yes, sir."
He nodded. "Maybe that was the smart thing to do. Or," he corrected himself, "the wise thing, anyway. It's not hard to be smart in politics. It's a lot tougher to be wise. Of course, that doesn't solve the long-range problem of what to do with the aliens on board."
The President sipped his coffee meditatively for a moment, and then he sighed and began to talk. "Ever since you got here, Agent James Daniel Dannerman Number Three," he said, "your friend Marcus Pell has been on my ass. He likes you even less now. He says letting a known enemy of America go free-he's talking about your Horch friend-is something pretty close to, his word, treason."
That made me start to open my mouth, but he gave me the kind of look that made me close it again. "See," he said, "I don't agree with him. I'll tell you what I think. I think you were protecting a friend, and you've way exceeded your authority to do it. Don't say yes or no to that, Dannerman. It's not an accusation.
It's what I might be doing myself, if I were in your shoes, and anyway it's done, so we just have to live with it. But it does make a problem."
He paused long enough to refill his coffee cup, motioning me to do the same to mine. He didn't seem to be in nearly as much of a hurry as I had thought, and then he began to get reminiscent.
I don't know if you paid any attention to my election," he said. "Sixty-seven percent of the voters evidently didn't, because they didn't bother to go to the polls at all. I won with fifty-four percent of the thirty-three percent who voted. That wasn't much of a mandate, actually-though that's not what I say to the Congress. I campaigned on two main issues: Stop inflation, stop terrorism. So I'm batting five hundred right about now. I haven't been able to do a thing about the inflation rate, but terrorism is down all over the world. Did I do that? No. It happened on my watch, so I take the credit, but what did it was the Scarecrows. It has now become pretty clear to most people that someday we're all going to find ourselves in a shooting war worse than any we've ever known before, and if we don't hang together, like the fellow says, we're sure to hang separately.
"So, for the first time in the history of the world, the human race is starting to act as though there are more important things than what some part of us wants to do to some other part.
"I'm not talking about the various nations. They've all got their own superpatriots-I won't name any names, but you can probably think of a couple right here-and they're all getting grabby. But we can deal with that, as long as the terrorists don't screw everything up. They aren't doing that, Dannerman. The IRA, the Tamil Tigers, the militants in our own country, the Sons of Palestine, even the Lenni-Lenape Ghost Dancers- they've all been turning in their weapons caches, and even the ones that haven't gone that far are mostly laying low. For that matter, the Floridians are beginning to talk as though they were part of the United States again. I can see it happening myself- do you know that nobody's tried to assassinate me for nearly three months? And it's not just here. Why, a couple of Sundays ago the President of the Russian Republic took his grandchildren for a walk in Gorky Park without a single bodyguard, and nobody roughed them up.
"I like that. It makes my job a lot easier. And I don't want it to stop."
He finished his coffee, looking into space for a moment, as though he were coming to an important decision.
As a matter of fact, he was. "So, two things," he said. "As long as you're exceeding your authority, exceed it one more time. Don't let any of those subs contact any human forces until, and how, I tell you. I don't want them landing anywhere until we've sorted this out a little better. All right?"
I said, "Yes, sir." At that point I would have said, "Yes, sir," to just about anything the man said.
"Good," he said. "The other thing doesn't affect you directly, but I think you ought to know. Today I'm going to push all the chips into the middle of the table. I've asked our UN ambassador to call an emergency session of the General Assembly, and I'm heading up there as soon as I've finished with you. I'm going to admit that to attack the Scarecrow ship we used a few nukes that we'd stashed away-well, I don't have much choice about admitting that. Pell wanted me to claim we'd used only conventional chemical bombs, but the astronomers have already detected gamma radiation from where the Scarecrow ship used to be, so that's that. And I'm going to tell the General Assembly exactly how many nukes we still have, and exactly where they're hidden, and I'm going to invite UN troops to come in to safeguard them. And I'm going to release every last bit of data we have on the Scarecrows and the Horch, including all your translations and all the secret work we've done at the NBI place in Arlington. And I'm going to tell them that, using my powers as President, I am pledging to accept whatever decisions the UN makes as to where the submarines at sea should go, and what should be done with them.
"And then I'm going to come back here and face up to the Congress. God knows what they'll do to me.
"But that's not your problem, is it? So you go back to work, Agent Dannerman Number Three, and-Now what? Is something bothering you?"
I said, "Sort of. I mean yes, definitely. I was hoping to get out of this job pretty soon."
The President looked surprised. He opened his mouth to speak to me, but someone somewhere cleared his throat. So instead the President said testily to the air, "What is it, Hewitt?"
The air sounded apologetic. "It's your appointment with the ambassador, sir. If you want to meet with him before you go to the General Assembly, we're cutting it pretty close."
"We'll cut it a little closer. Call him to say we'll be late." Then, to me, "What did you have in mind?"
So I told him about my hope of fitting some others with language implants, and what Pirraghiz had said about my needing more rest, not to mention my wanting to get on with some of my personal concerns. And then-because he seemed to own the most sympathetic ear I was likely to have for a while-I went on to tell him what some of those personal concerns were, such as Patrice Adcock.
When I ran down he took another meditative sip of coffee, and then he looked up at me and grinned.
"I love solving other people's problems," he said, "because they're always so easy. You've got yourself tangled up in a problem that doesn't exist, Agent Dannerman. I've met your Patrice, you know, briefing me on Threat Watch now and then. Seems like a very nice woman to me. Why do you think she isn't the real
I frowned. "Because she's a copy, naturally."
"Naturally she is," he agreed, "but so are you, aren't you?
And how 'real' do you think you are? Shit, man! Marry the girl, if she'll have you. Only," he said apologetically, "don't count on any long honeymoons, because I've got to say no to making any more translators just now. See, you're all I've got."
I can't say I didn't hear the last part of what he said. It was on a sort of delay circuit, though, shunted aside while I considered what he had said about me and Patrice. As the man said, other people's problems were the easiest to solve, especially when-as he said-the problem didn't exist, but was only something I had put into my own head.
Then I woke up to his last remarks. I said. "What?"
He was patient with me. "The thing is, as long as you're the one and only person who can talk to these, ah, persons from other planets, everybody has to be reasonable. I'll make damn sure this job is made as easy as possible for you, Dannerman, I give you my word. But until further notice, I'm afraid you're stuck. If that's all right with you?" he added, just as though I had a choice.
I said glumly, "I guess."
He grinned and stood up, shaking my hand to show that the interview was over. He didn't let go of it right away, though. He said, "I know what you're thinking, Dannerman. You're saying to yourself, 'Gripes, I just got these guys out of the worst trouble they've ever been in, so doesn't that settle it?' Only it doesn't, Dan. It never does. You solve one problem and another one comes up and starts biting you on the ass before you have a chance to catch your breath. Welcome to the real world, where the only final solutions come when you die. And," he added, dexterously turning me toward the door as he let go of my hand, "if these people are right, maybe not even then."