by Graham Debenham
Flakes of snow drifted past the window of the Oval Office as Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States and arguably the most powerful man in the world, stood with his hands clasped behind his back gazing down at the White House lawn. Soon he would be celebrating his third Christmas in office. At this point in time, however, he did not feel the least bit joyful.
“What if it doesn’t happen?” he asked.
The man sitting on the padded leather sofa said softly, “It will happen, today. There is no possibility of it not happening. It is inevitable.”
Roosevelt turned. “And just how do you know this?”
“It is my business to know.”
“And you’re telling me that when it does happen — assuming that you’re correct — it will alter the path of civilisation as we know it.”
The man nodded slowly. “That is correct.”
“And those alterations will have devastating consequences in the years to come?”
“That will happen only if your progress is left unsupervised.”
The President walked slowly across to where the man was sitting. “When you say unsupervised, what do you mean, exactly?”
“When today’s event happens, it will be a milestone in the scientific development of your country. Not only that, it will influence the entire world. Within the next century, mankind will develop space travel, will even walk on the surface of the moon.”
“But that can only be good for mankind. It will expand our horizons immeasurably.”
“True, but you will also develop weapons of mass destruction, based on research initiated by this one event.”
The President sat down on an adjacent sofa. “Weapons of mass destruction; I don’t understand what you mean.”
“I’m talking of missiles with the capability of carrying payloads that could destroy entire cities.”
“But surely these kinds of weapons would ensure peace, not threaten it. I mean, who in their right mind would start a fight with somebody armed with weapons like that?”
“So you think that it would be a deterrent?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I see, speak softly and carry a big stick.”
“I couldn’t have put it better myself.”
The man leaned forward. “And what happens when somebody else acquires a big stick?”
Roosevelt frowned. “We can make sure that doesn’t happen, can’t we?”
“You mean prevent the spread of knowledge? How would you do that?”
“Why, by any means possible. If this knowledge is as powerful as you say, it must remain in the proper hands.”
“And you think that yours are the proper hands.”
“Naturally, we are the young giant of the West.”
“And yet you cannot even govern yourselves without incurring two civil wars.”
Roosevelt raised his index finger. “Only one civil war actually, and that was fought with the best of intentions; the abolition of slavery.”
“And what about the civil war of 1775?”
The President shook his head. “That was a war of independence, fought against the British.”
The man frowned. “But surely, at that time you were all British. Were you not?”
“Well... technically yes. But...”
“The so-called Americans were merely colonists; British subjects living in a foreign country but subject to British law, is that not so?”
“Yes, that’s true but—”
“In that case, it was indeed a civil war.”
Roosevelt raised his hands in surrender. “Okay, I’ll concede the point. The fact still remains that we are perfectly capable, at this stage in our development, of looking after our own interests.”
The man leaned back in the sofa. “Perhaps, but are you capable of looking after everybody else’s interests?”
“What do you mean, everybody else?”
“Well, surely you don’t think that the repercussions from this event will only affect the United States. What about the rest of the world? How will you help them to cope with the advancements that it will produce?”
“I thought I made myself clear on this matter. We will have to prevent the news of this event from spreading. In the wrong hands, this kind of knowledge could be catastrophic.”
“But you think it will be quite safe in your hands, Mr. President.”
Roosevelt opened his mouth to reply, but before he could speak, there was a knock on the door. He cleared his throat. “Come.”
A young aide rushed into the room, waving a piece of paper “They’ve done it, Mr. President. They’ve done it.”
Roosevelt was silent for a few seconds. “And what is that piece of paper that you have there?”
The aide held out the paper. “This message was telephoned through to us from North Carolina. It’s the transcript of an article for tomorrow’s Racine Daily Journal.”
The President looked at the sheet of paper long and hard before taking it from the young man’s hand. “Thank you, George,” he said softly. “That will be all.”
The young man, still beaming, nodded and left the room.
The man on the sofa spoke. “Is that the good news?”
Roosevelt nodded. “It happened, just as you predicted.”
“Why don’t you read it to me?”
Roosevelt looked at him, then began to read; “‘The machine flew for three miles in the face of a wind blowing at the registered velocity of 21 miles per hour and then descended gracefully to earth at the spot selected by the man in the navigator’s car as a suitable place for landing. The machine has no balloon attachment, but gets its force from propellers worked by a small engine.’”
The man stood. “There you have it then. Your Wright brothers have put you on the pathway to scientific enlightenment. Now it is up to us to ensure that you remain on that path.”
“How will you manage that... I mean what happens now?”
“As far as this country and the rest of the world are concerned, nothing will happen. In reality, however, we will become the administrators of the United States of America.”
The President nodded. “And what will become of me?”
“You will remain in office for as long as your people want you, as will your successors. To all intents and purposes, you will still be the man in charge. Anything else would just spread panic and loss of confidence.”
“And how will this... arrangement be perpetuated?”
“The successive heads of state will be informed of the arrangement by one of our people, upon inauguration. Like yourself, they will all be sworn to secrecy.”
“So I become nothing more than a puppet, correct?”
The man thought for a second. “As the President, you are answerable to the people of the United States, are you not?”
“Then for you nothing has really changed, the only difference is that we are now responsible for them, and you are answerable to us.”
“And who exactly are you, and where do you come from?”
“Who we are is irrelevant at this point. At some future stage in your development you may discover where we are from. Hopefully by that time, you will be able to look after your own interests.”
He turned and walked across to the door.
Roosevelt stood there for a second or two. “And what exactly gives you and your... kind... the right to become arbiters in the affairs of this great country? We haven’t come this far in the past hundred and thirty years just to finish up being governed by you.”
The man stopped and slowly turned. “You can never escape being governed. Either you must govern yourselves or you must submit to being governed by others.” With that, he turned and left, leaving the President alone.
He stood for a while, pondering his situation before walking back to the window.
Theodore Roosevelt, the last President of the United States and formerly the most powerful man in the world. Now he was just a puppet ruler, with no power to speak of. The snow was getting heavier forming a carpet of white across the nation’s capital.
He straightened his back and turned to his desk. Sitting down, he opened a drawer and took out a worn leather bound journal. He carefully opened it to the next blank page and picked up his favourite pen.
He wrote for several minutes before finally laying down his pen and reading the page.
December 17th 1903
Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To dissolve this unholy alliance is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.
“The Government is us,” he said softly to himself. “We are the Government, you and I.”
He smiled with satisfaction and leaned back in his chair. “Hail to the chief.”
Copyright © 2012 by Graham Debenham