The U.S. Second Civil War:

A Personal Retrospective

by Ricardo Mutiya Bayani, WASA, USMC

When my friend Tanisha Yvonne Emily Dickinson Harvey was elected President of the United States in 2036, she was only the second woman - and the third person of color - to be inaugurated into that office. She was also the first single mother, the first former welfare recipient, the first openly acknowledged atheist, and the first and only U.S. President born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri.

Lo Minh Lanh - Ricardo, this isn't a bad opening, but it's a little banally 21st century in style. Either you're doing it on purpose, which is genius, or this is just the way you write, which is not.

Ricardo Bayani - It's genius.

Lo Minh Lanh - I'm reserving judgment.

She slept on her aunt's coach after her mother died, went to college through the NROTC and joined the Marines. Over the next ten years, Lieutenant Harvey lost an eye to a roadside bomb in Kandahar and both breasts to cancer, and eventually settled into a desk job at the Pentagon. By the time she retired in 2029, Colonel Harvey had made a name for herself as the Pentagon's first Military Trade Union Liaison.

Lo Minh Lanh - Will readers have any idea that the NROTC was the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps?

Ricardo Bayani - If they don't, they can look it up. Semper fi!

Colonel Kenji Njalsson was her fiancé and her counterpart with what would eventually become the WASA, the most important of the newly-emerging military trade unions. He and I shared a converted warehouse office suite off M Street near the Waterfront Metro in DC back then, with five other officers and a couple of lobbyists. People got us mixed up, sometimes; two Eurasian guys in the same uniform in the same office. We were friends, too, and even though I was prudently cautious about getting socially involved with Real Worlders back then, I'd been his ear throughout the saga of their courtship and engagement.

In March of 2011, the three of us had lunch together at Cantina Marina. Afterwards, I dropped Tanisha off at the Pentagon and Kenji at the airport to get on a plane for Japan to bring his parents back for the wedding. The next time I saw Tan was at Ken's memorial ceremony, nearly a month after the tsunami, when the search for the missing was pretty much over. She sought me out, thanked me for coming, and said Kenji had told her to request me as his replacement contact to her office at the Pentagon, should anything ever happen to him. I hadn't realized until then that she was pregnant. She raised their son alone.

Lo Minh Lanh - Same problem with WASA instead of World Armed Services Association. The first use can't be an abbreviation. Also, your paragraph is too long. I'd break it off at 'In March of 2011...'

Ricardo Bayani - Lanh, could we save that kind of crap until the final version? I'd rather you read for content first, if you don't mind.

Lo Minh Lanh - Sure, but 'that kind of crap' needs to be fixed eventually. BTW, were you guys actually classified as Unions in 2011? I thought that came later.

Ricardo Bayani - Officially, we were still considered mercenaries until 2027. That's why I was there - my Outing was to observe and document the change in status from guns for hire to trade union.

Lo Minh Lanh - Oh. Cool.

Tan's political career began by accident. A chance interview on MSNBC upon her retirement from the military, a quote picked up on T-CNN, a Facebook following, a viral YouTube clip from the Poli-Sci class she taught at UMSL, and before you know it she found herself right back in Washington serving as the junior Senator from the State of Missouri.

She was easy to recognize - not too many other female politicians out there with an eye patch and a shaved up the back, Marine-style haircut - and man, did she ever lay the hammer down in the televised debates! Senator Harvey was sharp, accurate, scrappy, and accessible. The DNC guys were drooling. Tan may not have won her fight against the DFA Amendment in 2033, but the stink she raised brought her enough national attention to win the Democratic nomination and the election in '36.

Lo Minh Lanh - Biting my tongue...

Ricardo Bayani - Piss on you. Fine - that's 'MicroSoft/National Broadcasting Company', 'Time-Cable News Network', 'Political Science', 'University of Missouri-St. Louis', the 'Democratic National Committee', and the '2033 Defense Funding Amalgamation Amendment to the National Defense Act of 2008'. Happy?

Lo Minh Lanh - Deliriously.

President-Elect Harvey specified a nine a.m. start time for her inauguration ceremony - Tan was a morning person - so that she could spend the rest of the day getting acclimated to her new digs. She was like a cat about that sort of thing, needing to know her physical surroundings.

That evening, she skipped out on the parties, and sent an aide to pick up the crock-pot roast she'd started in her suite at Blair House that morning. After dinner she sent her son and daughter-in-law out to the nearest Home Depot for a five-gallon bucket of Behr's Winterlake and a pile of canvas tarps. Tanisha and her grandson had finished taping off the trim in the Oval Office by the time they got back. It didn't take long, even though the Secret Service dudes weren't happy about being sent to scare up a bottle of Goof-Off for the little dribbles of blue on the carpet. Tan used to say, many years later, that it was the last peaceful evening she ever spent in the White House.

Lo Minh Lanh - That's a nice little personal touch, but 'dudes'? Really? BTW, is that chunk of blue-painted plaster on the mantle in your cottage actually from the Oval Office?

Ricardo Bayani - Yep. I have one of her eye patches, her handwritten collection of crock-pot favorites, and a pair of her panties, too.

Lo Minh Lanh - You do not. You're such a liar.

Adina bat Hasdai HaKahan - Um, actually, Lanh, he does.

Lo Minh Lanh - That's just wrong.

Ricardo Bayani - :) Hi, honey, you're home?

Adina bat Hasdai HaKahan - Just got back, I'm down by the lake. What're you guys doing?

Ricardo Bayani - Shhhh... Lanh's critiquing my article.

Adina bat Hasdai HaKahan - Oh, this ought to be good...

If Tanisha Harvey had a fault - and I don't necessarily say it was one - it was an inability to pretend to be anything she wasn't, or believe anything she didn't, just for the sake of image. She took her oath of office on an archival copy of the United States Constitution, and refused to let them use the 'so help you God' part. The news orgs picked up on that almost immediately.

That Tanisha Harvey was an atheist was not something she made a big deal over - she had no qualms about answering 'none of your business' to questions about her personal beliefs - but it wasn't a secret, either. Most people didn't care.

However, unbeknownst then (although knownst to us today),

Lo Minh Lanh - You stole that! That's from a movie, that one about the cat who gets stuck in the hopper grid at the market station on New Quebec and gets split into nine separate lives — crap, I don't remember the name of it...

Adina bat Hasdai HaKahan - You're thinking of 'A Cat of Nine Tales' which came out in 2489, but they actually stole the line from an Information Age movie by Mel Brooks called 'Spaceballs'.

Lo Minh Lanh - OMG, you're right! Hey, let's watch that tonight, if we can find a copy. You up?

Playing Time - Holm has it on his pocket console. He said he'd be back from Mahana by ten.

Lo Minh Lanh - What's he doing on Mahana?

Playing Time - Having dinner at the palace. Lydia's making kugel, and she has promised to send me some of her homemade gefilte fish, too. Nom, nom, nom!

Adina bat Hasdai HaKahan - Hey, PT! You're back?

Playing Time - No, I am still down on the Homeworld, but if you're showing 'Spaceballs' tonight, I shall return!

- having an atheist in the White House (especially a black, female, unmarried one who had a fatherless multi-racial son and didn't feel the need to bother with either a prosthetic eye or plastic tits) was the last straw for a certain Director of the Internal Security and Investigation Corps who shall remain nameless (but whose initials are General Patrick 'Asshat' Radford).

Ricardo Bayani - Hah! Went the other way this time! Internal Security and Investigation Corps = ISIC.

So, let me try to give a better idea of why this was significant at all. By the late 2020s, the Ethics & Ethnicity movement had gone from being a bunch of social media loudmouths to the hottest religious reformation concept since Martin Luther - ethical values, cultural education, good works, and ethnically-based excuses to party were in; the idea of a deity was out. Atheists and agnostics were coming out of the closet and refusing to give up their cultural heritage just because they didn't believe. The Jesuit leadership got excommunicated en masse for even talking about it and broke away from the Catholic Church, Pope Jason I resigned his hat and stick to join them, the Double-E Jews got denied Law of Return rights in Israel, the Islāmic Secular Humanist delegates were banned from the 3rd Muslim World Conference, la la la la la.

Ricardo Bayani - Ethics & Ethnicity = Double-Es. Did you catch the pun with en masse? Jesuits - mass - it's funny, Lanh. Huh? Huh?

Lo Minh Lanh - Whatever.

At about the same time as the Pentagon was contemplating the idea of being stripped to its panties, a group called the Burning Angels - the BA for short - began recruiting heavily in the military. Now, the BA started out as just another fundamentalist Christian youth movement, something to try to keep kids from succumbing to the lure of the Double-Es. Like lots of shit that eventually hits the fan, they didn't intend to go all stinky - there were some really nice people there originally, people who really cared and tried to do right, doing volunteer work and helping little old ladies across streets and that kind of thing. Unfortunately, the BA started picking up major funding from some of those old Teabagger groups that went underground after the 2010s, and money talks - it always has, it always will.

It took less than a year to complete the break-up and outsourcing of the military along the same lines as the European Union had done a year or two before. The Defense Department retained control over the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and the CIA, but they were cut down to a token force with the idea that major external conflicts could be handled faster, easier, and cheaper by hired Union troops. All the internal stuff - National Guard, FBI, ATF, Homeland Security - went to the ISIC.

Lo Minh Lanh - Not to mention that Union troop casualty figures didn't have the same impact on the nightly news as casualty reports on American troops.

Ricardo Bayani - I was trying not to be cynical, but yeah. And that's Federal Bureau of Investigations and Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms. Hey, where were you stationed, back then?

Lo Minh Lanh - North fucking Korea.

Ricardo Bayani - Ouch — yeah. Sorry.

Now, this was great for business as far as the Union was concerned. We picked up every laid-off soldier worth a shit who wanted a job and treated them to better pay and benefits, too. Objectively, I could see both sides of it. Tan never held it against me. I think I felt a lot more awkward about being on opposing sides than she did, and I have to admit, I made a shit-load of anonymous donations to her political campaign, just so I'd feel better about myself. You guys all know how that goes.

Lo Minh Lanh - Ah-yup. Been there, done that. At the core of all ethical conflict is right against right, not right against wrong.

Holm Aedsson - Well put, min ven.

Lo Minh Lanh - Manga tak, Holm. Didn't know you were on — how are you doing?

Holm Aedsson - You mean, speaking of ethical conflicts? Being with Their Majesties can sometimes be the most exquisitely deserved torture. Lydia and Gorren send their love to all, by the way. See you ten-ish, depending on when the kids go to bed.

In the process of moving and shuffling and sorting things out, the entire culture of the military polarized. The ISIC drew on all the old conservative, protectionist elements, while the Defense Department, for a lot of reasons, kept the more forward-thinking progressives. If anyone's interested in the whys and hows of that process, I recommend 'Marching Out of Step - Stratification and Extremism in Pre-Transition America' by our very own Odeh Soglo and Lo Min Lanh, with a forward by Her Majesty Dr. Lydia Diamond O-Tawa PhD of the United Monarchy, published 2518 by Ivory Tower Colonial Press.

Lo Minh Lanh - Thanks for the plug, but that's 'Lo Min Lanh and Odeh Soglo'. We go in alphabetical order.

Ricardo Bayani - Mea fucking culpa.

Adina bat Hasdai HaKahan - Whatever happened to 'Ladies First'?

Odeh Soglo - Hey now, don't you go calling me a lady!

Ricardo Bayani - And have you been lurking, too, my dulcet darling? My midnight rose? My angel of death and destruction?

Odeh Soglo - I'm in the gym. Why don't you come on over and let me kick your ass?

Ricardo Bayani - Can't, sorry, I'm on kitchen duty. Stasio has nothing to do, I'll send him your way.

Playing Time - What are you making for dinner, Ricardo? I'm presenting at the CAP this afternoon, but I should be home in time.

Ricardo Bayani - Tapas. If you're coming, I'll make those huevos endiablados you like with the tuna and red onion. House Builder likes them, too, and I've been a shit to him lately so this'll give me an excuse to make up. (And that's 'Council for Alien Partnerships', Lanh.)

Odeh Soglo - Have you been unkind to your Gleaner? Is that why he's been moping around at the bottom of the lake all week? All the more reason for me to beat the crap out of you.

Ricardo Bayani - Oh, I'm scared, Soglo! I'm pissing myself, even as we speak.

Odeh Soglo - You should be scared, bitch.

Lo Minh Lanh - Excuse me? I'm trying to work here. That whole last paragraph is crap, Ricardo. Seriously, you have a great story to tell, but you write the way you talk. Are you intending this for publication? Because if you are, it's going to need some major effort to dig it out. And if you were rude to your Gleaner, you deserve whatever ass-kicking Odeh can give you.

Playing TIme - Now that's the stork calling the heron tall, La-La ;)

Odeh Soglo - La-La?

Lo Minh Lanh - Now, wait a minute - when have I ever been rude to you?

Playing TIme - I am pulling your toes, Dear One! Did you not see my symbolic representation of sarcasm? LOL!

Lo Minh Lanh - LOL? Really, PT?

Playing TIme - Sigh. I miss Facebook.

Lo Minh Lanh - You miss us all sitting around the Hall with our laptops out, not even looking at each other?

Playing Time - No, just all the cute little abbreviations. TTFN!

Ricardo Bayani - And I wasn't rude to House Builder. I just made the mistake of getting into a discussion about numbers theory with him, and it got a little heated.

Odeh Soglo - That's different. Very well then, you may live. See you at dinner!

Less than four months after Tanisha Harvey took office, on the 12th of May in 2037, the Burning Angels threw the first punch. At exactly 10:00 a.m. Central Standard Time, homemade bombs went off all over the Monsanto World Headquarters campus in suburban St. Louis. Across Olive Boulevard from its gates, at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Research Center, bombs went off at 10:05. In five more minutes, bombs began to go off at seventeen different seed manufacturing plants affiliated with Monsanto across the American heartland. By then there were evacuation orders under way at every agricultural research center on U.S. soil, so when the Department of Agriculture's place in up-state New York exploded at 11:00 a.m., the casualties were all police, firefighters, and bomb-sniffers.

Lo Minh Lanh - You make a pretty big jump here, from the Teafriggers pouring money into the BA to the BA planting bombs. Did you cut something?

Ricardo Bayani - No, but you're right, it's a little awkward. I'd have to go look some shit up first, but I could fill it in a little...

Lo Minh Lanh - Hold off on that for a while, since you could just reference an ELI entry or something.

Ricardo Bayani - That's 'Etruscan Liaison Information-net'.

Lo Minh Lanh - You have made your point, Ric.

More than seventeen thousand people were killed that morning. Many of the bombs were deliberately planted at entrances and intersections to prevent rescue vehicles from accessing the victims. In one morning, 80% of the world's grain seed supply was destroyed - gone.

Lo Minh Lanh - I'd forgotten about that part.

Ricardo Bayani - About the grain seed?

Lo Minh Lanh - No, that the sons of bitches had planted bombs at all the gateways and in the roads. They didn't have to do that to make a political point, that was purely to increase loss of life and suffering.

A week before this, on the 5th of May, my boss at the WASA was killed in a train derailment in Sydney. Colonel Ozdemir was the Director General of the World Armed Services Association, and as her Assistant, I was named Interim Director. I was okay with that at the time because I didn't think it would take long to find her replacement, finish my mission, and get the hell out of there. Tan even gave me a call from the Oval Office when it happened, which was very nice of her, and we made some 'we'll have to get together soon' noises at each other, and that was that. Or so I thought.

I put the entire Union on high alert when the second set of bombs went off. Within the hour we were on an open conference line with the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which we remained plugged into pretty much non-stop for the next six weeks.

It was clearly the responsibility of the ISIC to perform the investigation - nobody questioned that. General Radford flew in from Arizona that afternoon, met President Harvey and Secretary Kelley at Lambert Field in St. Louis, they surveyed the damages and held a press conference. I was in the Singapore office, watching live footage of that lying motherfucker saying all the right words in all the right ways and didn't suspect a thing.

Now, I didn't like the guy, never had even before this - he got my udgies up - but he was a real good natural blocker and at the time I had no reason to mistrust him so when I got another call from Tan a couple of weeks later, after I was back in DC, it took me by surprise. It was a security line call from that one special number, real early on a Saturday, asking me to walk out of my house on Brandywine Street to the alley in back and get into a black Suburban that was parked there. And not to ask any questions.

Lo Minh Lanh - 'Udgies'? What the hell is an 'udgie'?

Adina bat Hasdai HaKahan - Lanh, darling, keep picking on every little thing like this and you aren't getting any tonight.

Lo Minh Lanh - Getting any what?

Adina bat Hasdai HaKahan - Sex.

Lo Minh Lanh - Uh, right. Forgive me if I'm wrong, Adina, but I don't think you and I have actually had sex - with each other, at the same time - in, like, two or three hundred years at least.

Adina bat Hasdai HaKahan - I was going to surprise you, for being nice and helping Ricky out. He signed my permission slip and everything.

Lo Minh Lanh - Well, in that case, what kind of sex, exactly?

Adina bat Hasdai HaKahan - That all depends on you, darling. Proceed.

Lo Minh Lanh - You're not even going to tell me what you have in mind?

Adina bat Hasdai HaKahan - Nope - wouldn't want to disturb your concentration. Shhhh...

Ricardo Bayani - Hey, can I watch, at least? I'll bring my magnifying glass.

Lo Minh Lanh - Fuck off.

Well, when the President of the United States asks you to do something like that, you do it, but you better believe I pulled down every receptive block I had in place and I listened hard to every head I could reach. Tan was in that car waiting for me, and she was scared. So were the Secretary of State and the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of the CIA.

So, Murdoch Mallory, the CIA guy, opens the door and says "Get in," and we drive off. I got the gist almost immediately, but I clamped down hard and waited for them to play it out. General Prelutsky is driving, in dark glasses and a hat, and Secretary Kelley's cheeks are all pink.

"Major Bayani, I understand you and the President are acquainted," Murdoch says.

"Yes. I was a friend of her late - "

Murd waves his hand, like the fucking Queen of Sheba. He was such a dick, but he knew his stuff. "It is fortuitous, to have an existing relationship at a time like this."

"Sure." I didn't volunteer anything else. "Where are we going?" Nobody answered.

Not that it mattered. We'd turned off Wisconsin Avenue onto Albemarle and cut over to Connecticut Avenue, working our way east toward the park through residential areas. I had a pretty good idea, but I wanted one of them to visualize it for me just to be sure. Jess Prelutsky obliged. It was Pierce Mill, in Rock Creek Park. I'd gotten the word that the Army Corps of Engineers was excavating underneath it, so no big surprise.

Tan looked like she had a lot on her mind, and she did. Shit like this isn't supposed to happen so early in an administration, when you're still figuring out who works for whom and where all the bathrooms are. She must have felt something, with me looking around in her head, or maybe I was staring at her or something, because she gave me a look with her one good eye and said, "Do you trust me, Ric?"

"Completely."

"Good."

I backed out.

We drove around behind the mill into a gravel yard, in between groundskeeping equipment and piles of old wooden palettes, and across to a shed. The door closed behind us, the two suits in front got out, and the floor dropped. I did my best to look a little uneasy, which seemed to amuse the hell out of Rue Kelley.

The car stayed in the lift. We spent the next six hours in a bare-walled concrete room with a kitchenette and half bath, just the five of us, hammering it all out.

I'll spare you the back and forth (since I'd be making half of it up, anyway). Radford was high up in the organization of the Burning Angels. So was his entire command staff, and most of the rest of the ISIC administration. Murd Mallory's predecessor knew it; so did former President Gillette, but there was a lot of denial back then. When Murd became the CIA Director, Todd Gillette had actually told him he thought this was a good thing - you know, that it meant they were all ethical, trustworthy, God-fearing folks, la la la la bullshit.

That morning, someone from ISIC leaked info on the grain seed destruction to the media, a situation that the Administration had been sitting on until they could come up with a plan to try to avoid panic. Purely by chance, the conversation was overheard and reported. A little research revealed that most of the remaining non-Monsanto seed manufacturing plants, both in the US and overseas, had begun ramping up production right after the election. All owned by known or suspected BA members.

I hadn't heard jack about this, even though I still had a few people working on contract with ISIC. So did the CIA, but contrary to the consolidation agreement, they'd kept a lot of their toys to themselves as far as surveillance equipment goes. Murd already knew that nothing was happening below the surface on the investigation of the Monsanto bombings, and within an hour of the leak he knew why. There was nothing to find out about the May 12th bombings that the ISIC didn't already know because they'd arranged the whole damn thing. They were just going through the motions.

So, that was the 30th of May. The consensus was to keep this tight while Murd's people continued to gather information. General Prelutsky already had her staff on an alert that was set to expire in ten days. She said she'd find a reason to extend, but we didn't want to tip Radford off; there was enough going on in Latvia at the time that I could keep the Union on red status without raising suspicions. We began to draw up mobilization plans for just in case. Tan was scared, like I said; they all were, all four of them, but you would never have known it.

We already had Martina in St. Louis with FEMA, and now her reports about frustrations in working with the ISIC people made more sense. So we agreed to go on about our business, but I called home to Aita that night and requested as many military command Outings as Ohyon could set up for me ASAP. About an hour later, I had Holm, Hector, Gurgin and Odeh coming up my basement stairs with a case of Stasio's homebrew and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. I don't know which I was happier to see.

As you might expect, the press went crazy on the whole idea of a food shortage, which of course didn't exist. Yet. News orgs showed stock footage of empty grocery store shelves and frightened kids from the last hurricane and before you know it everybody started hoarding. It didn't matter that the President and the Secretary of Agriculture and every agricultural consultant in the free world went on the air to remind people that this year's grain supply was safe because seed had been purchased and planted in the northern hemisphere long before the 5/12 bombings. Hey, who trusts experts? Besides, fear gets the ratings up.

So, we watched, and we worked - very, very carefully. Within a few days the CIA got the tip that the BA was gearing up for another action, and the Suburban pulled into my back alley once again.

Now, if we knew anything at all about Radford, it was that this guy ran a very tight ship. The first inkling Murd got about an action was a very unimportant-looking email about changes to the emergency contact phone tree, but that was enough. We had some tough calls to make. I had another tough call to make after that.

When we were through putting together our action plan, Tan asked me to wait and took her peeps aside. She told them to go up without us, drive around, and come back in an hour. It didn't take telepathy to know that they weren't thrilled with that idea; I pretended I didn't know why.

How much we tell any Real Worlders about who we are and what we do is a tricky business, even now. Back then? It was rare - really, really rare.

Adina bat Hasdai HaKahan - Okay, I admit it - I told Baruch Spinoza. I loved the man, and he had an aneurysm that was going to blow any day, and I knew what it would mean for him to know.

Lo Minh Lanh - The last person I told before the Transition was Jan Smuts. Completely rocked his world.

Tan started out by letting me know that Kenji had seen me, once when I thought I was alone in the office, going into the closet I'd set up with a hopper grid. When I didn't come out again, he tried the door. The closet was empty, and he could smell that kind of ozone smell the grid gives off. Now, I'd picked that up from Ken's mind when I saw him the next day and I blocked it off, but he'd already told Tanisha. So, when she asked him about it later and he had no idea what she was talking about, she figured there was something a little odd about me.

"After that, I began experimenting," she told me, just as cool as the other side of the pillow. "Every time I saw you, I'd deliberately think hard about something - the traffic, or the weather, or how the Cardinals were doing this season, and invariably that was how you'd start the conversation."

"That's a big secret to carry around for twenty-five years." I needed to know if she'd told anyone else. She hadn't.

She sat back, crossed her arms, and looked at me. I could feel her putting together a list of thoughts, a test; she probably had baseline encoding Sensitivity herself.

I made my decision. "Fine. You're thinking of the number six, your underwear and camisole are both blue - oh, and you just remembered that they were a door prize at your daughter-in-law's bachelorette party a few years ago. You're wondering who I really am, and thinking that I look like an old actor whose name you can't remember - it's Daniel Dae Kim, and thank you, that's very flattering. You're also trying not to go off the deep end speculating about who I might be because you pride yourself, deservedly so, on being extraordinarily well-grounded in reality. Earlier this morning you were wondering if I was flirting with you at the reception at the Lincoln Center last year, or if I noticed that you were flirting back, because you think you suck at that kind of thing, and what it might have been like if you'd gone out for coffee with me that night after all."

She went kind of ashy, and I could see the hairs standing up on her arms. "And now you're wondering if I'm actually human, and if you just made a really big mistake meeting with me alone. So, first, let me assure you, Madame President, that you are perfectly safe. You should also know that I can make you completely forget anything I'm about to tell you, if I think it's necessary."

She got herself another cup of coffee and sat back down, looking right at me. "Should I tell you that I'm armed, or do you already know that?"

"You have a very sleek little Midnighter in a shoulder holster and a throwing knife in an ankle strap. And I'd still like to take you out for coffee, anytime you want. Powerful women trip all my triggers." I smiled as I said it, and so did she.

Adina bat Hasdai HaKahan - Ricky, that was so sweet! That's the nicest way of handling it I've ever heard.

Ricardo Bayani - You know how I feel about strong women, O Best Beloved... ;)

Lo Minh Lanh - I may puke.

"Yes, I'm a Human - and proud to be one. I'm part of a group of forty-eight Humans with a genetic predisposition for telepathic Sensitivity that have been Gleaned from the Earth at various times for the last - well, almost a thousand years now, and, uh - altered, slightly, to be able to serve more efficiently in a very good cause."

"Altered."

"I'm older than I look, and I'm one of the young ones. I grew up in a back alley in Manila in the 1870s."

"Fucking hell."

"Nah, it was just off Escolta Street." I could see from her face that this was not the time to try to make a joke out of it, so I went on. "Tan, I'm on the Human end of a preliminary partnership with the inhabitants of another solar system within our galaxy. When we Humans have developed a sufficiently comprehensive planet-wide civil unity - and I am completely over-simplifying this for the sake of clarity - "

"No doubt."

" - then we'll have the opportunity to enter into a full and mutually beneficial partnership. One of a dozen or so such partnerships already in existence."

Sometimes silence is the only response. Tan had stopped putting deliberate thoughts forward, and I wanted to respect her privacy, so we sat there for a while saying nothing at all.

"Alright then," she stirred her coffee, although she'd added nothing to it. "So, what can I expect from you and your - your partners right now?"

"Well, that's a good question. It's hard to watch your fellow Humans do to each other what sometimes we do without interfering. However, we have rules - policies, guidelines, whatever - and we have learned the hard way to follow them. And we are so close now, Tan. My people have been on pins and needles since the League of Nations, but we seriously think it'll be some time within the next thirty to fifty years."

She drew a big, deep breath and let it out. "In my lifetime, maybe."

"Maybe. I hope so."

"Okay." She looked away. I could tell she had determined that she could expect no help from me. "Okay. Well, you know, you have to follow your rules…"

"Wait - listen to me for a second." I put my hands on hers, and hers were cold as ice. "It's important that you completely understand that this isn't magic. This isn't anything supernatural - we can't see the future, we don't control anybody's destiny. We can't just step in and make it all better, rules or no rules. But while we're on assignment, we take our Real World commitments very seriously. I didn't expect to end up the head of the Union at a time like this - we try to keep a pretty low profile, but sometimes shit happens. As the acting Director General of WASA, and as your friend, you are going to get everything I've got to give you. Now, are we cool?"

"Sure. We're cool."

We weren't. I could tell I'd really messed with her mind and her confidence. What happened next may not have been the smartest move on my part, but I've always been a creature of instinct. I took her face in my hands and I kissed her, good and hard.

Bam. Big bam. She was scared, and she was fascinated, and she was wound up as tight as an eight-day clock. We went from zero to sixty in about five seconds flat, banging the holy crap out of each other on the conference table.

And I gotta say - nailing the Leader of the Free World? Oh, yeah. Ohhhhh, yeah.

Lo Minh Lanh - Definitely not for publication. Definitely, definitely NOT for publication.

Ricardo Bayani - I have one word for you, Lanh - Adina's boobs.

Lo Minh Lanh - Reading for content - yep, yep, that's what I'm doing alright...

By the time we'd wiped up the coffee and were hunting for our socks, she had her confidence back, I was weak in the knees, and I'd had the chance (while we were all tied into each other like that) to put a little space around the new info. Not a block, just making it seem a little less - weird.

It was less than a week later that I got a shout-out from Martina in St. Louis and another security line call from the White House within minutes of each other. On the 12th of June, a couple named Travis James and Sandy Ellen Mueller rented a helicopter, flew to the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, and started pouring gasoline on the trees and rooftops and then dropping homemade incendiary bombs out the window. It had been an exceptionally dry spring in the Midwest; by the time the University City Police shot them out of the sky, the entire campus was in flames.

Lo Minh Lanh - Out of curiosity, why Washington University? They didn't have any connection to Monsanto.

Ricardo Bayani - Stem cells, the Human Genome Project, cloning studies, law students - just another hotbed of abomination, as far as the BA was concerned.

Lo Minh Lanh - Abomination? They considered Monsanto an abomination?

Ricardo Bayani - Yeah - it started with the genetically altered food thing, but apparently they crossed the line with the cellular replication stuff. Do you remember Meat on a Sheet? Bean Strings? Paper Chicken?

Adina bat Hasdai HaKahan - You mean the way we kept most of the Earth and the forty-seven colonies supplied with protein for the rest of the century? Yeah, such an abomination.

Ricardo Bayani - That came from research begun at the Danforth.

Lo Minh Lanh - Jesus fucking Christ. Real Worlders - sometimes you just want to slap them.

It was a Friday morning. The summer semester hadn't started yet, but there were a couple of professional organizations holding seminars on campus, the St. Louis Symphony was rehearsing there while the remodel of Powell Hall was underway, and students were gathering in the commons to try to break the Guinness Book of World Records entry for the largest number of people engaged in a game of Bocce. Seven thousand people died that morning.

The order went out within minutes. The entire remaining US Army rolled out of bed and out onto the tarmac at Lambert Field, headed towards the Monsanto campus, the Danforth Center, and Washington University. Tan got on all the networks to publicly denounce General Radford and issue an executive order to relieve the ISIC of all investigative powers.

They surrounded Wash-U quickly enough that there was no one to displace except the St. Louis County Fire Department. Within an hour they had a field hospital set up across Skinker Boulevard in Forest Park.

At Monsanto and the Danforth, the ISIC leadership refused to stand down. Lindbergh Boulevard was closed to public traffic because of damage to the Olive Boulevard bridge, but they'd been bringing in heavy equipment trucks that way from the airport and now they had tanks.

Knowing that Lindbergh was inaccessible, the troops were rolling south from the airport down Highway 170, with the Monsanto forces splitting off at the Olive exit and heading the mile and a half west through the little municipality of Olivette. Halfway there, they met the ISIC tanks.

The Olivette Stand-off, in front of the McDonald's at Olive and Dielman, lasted until early on the morning of the 13th, when word came out that BA pods all over the country were moving in to occupy city halls, radio stations, police and fire departments and grocery stores. They even managed to hold twenty-some-odd Senators, Representatives and staff hostage in the Capital for a few hours before we pumped the rotunda full of happy gas. At about 7 a.m. St. Louis time, Radford ordered his troops to open fire.

I'd sent Holm to Germany and Hector to Suriname, Odeh was in Morocco and Gurgin up in the Afghan mountains. We started very quietly moving everybody into position, and then we waited. It was the hardest four days of my life, that waiting, but we had to do it. Holm was incredibly calm about it, kept reminding me that we had to wait until the President had absolutely no other choice, or our presence would cause more harm than good.

Late that night, or early the next morning, depending on where you were, came the third attack. The John H. Kerr, the Roanoke Rapids, and the Lake Gaston dams along the Roanoke River all blew at around midnight, east coast time; I don't remember how many people died there - whole towns were gone in minutes. I know it was more than two hundred thousand, but I've blocked it out of my mind.

Radford and the BA issued a declaration of war, and demanded "that freakish whore in Washington", i.e., the President, "renounce her Godless ways and immediately relinquish the office of the Presidency" (to him, of course) or more dams would be destroyed.

Tan declared a nationwide state of emergency. With the U.S. Army spread out across suburban St. Louis, the Coast Guard moved in to block harbors and ports, the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds shut down the airports, and the Marines barricaded roads along the northern and southern borders. And when they had put every last set of boots they had left on the ground, I got the call.

"Ric, it's Tan. I need a friend."

"I'm on my way."

The black Suburbans met me at Bolling Air Force Base. The President got out of the car and headed my way, Secret Service so thick around her you could barely see the top of her head, at about the same time that Martina came jogging up with the latest damage info on Roanoke. I put them right together. Then Holm rolls down the butt end of a transport on the back of an open jeep and jumps out, looking all goddamn Holm-like with no shirt on and his hair halfway down his back and a swarm of European WASA in the red earth uniform behind him, and somebody snapped That Picture. You know the one I mean - Holm has his back to us, his arms out and his hair blowing in the wind and every muscle clearly delineated for all posterity, Tan and the Secretary of State have their mouths wide open and drool pouring out, Martina looks stoned, General Prelutsky's adjusting her bra and I'm tugging at a wedgie - priceless.

While they got their respective estrogen levels under control, I briefed a shitload of people who looked semi-important right there on the tarmac, and then got scooped up into another goddamn Suburban and hauled out to the Naval Facility Thurmont - which most people knew back then as Camp David. Washington was no longer considered safe for the President.

The largest mobilization of troops in the history of humanity, and I spent all but the first few minutes of it locked down with too little alcohol, inadequate air conditioning, and some highly intelligent and intense individuals. You learn a lot about people at a time like that. Secretary Kelley, for instance, brought her accordion. She used to raise money for the Heifer Project as a teenager by playing in New York City subway stations. Murd Mallory could juggle knives, and Jessica Prelutsky could swear in over twenty-seven different languages. She originally wanted to be a pastry chef, by the way. Tan and I took quite a few late-night walks; I made sure nobody noticed.

In most major cities, the Union reps were able to negotiate a surrender without a shot being fired. The majority of the BAs squatting in the city halls and shopping malls were civilians caught up in the excitement of a cause, scared shitless by the idea that they were on the side of an organization that had caused a quarter of a million deaths in the past month. There were plenty of rank and file ISIC troops who were more than willing, at that point, to disobey Radford's orders.

There were three exceptions that everyone knows who's ever been in a movie theatre or attended a public school and they were Boise, Fort Worth, and St. Louis. Now, the Internet (that's what the console system was called back then) was an open forum - anybody could get just about anything out to almost anywhere in no time at all. The American public began broadcasting surrenders, the ISIC objectors tying strips of red-earth cloth around their biceps as a unit badge, and the WASA troops from all over the world pouring out of ships and transports all over the country. They also broadcast American troops fighting American troops in Fort Worth, the massacre in Boise, and the tanks lobbing missiles at each other in front of the McDonald's while the press holed up inside 'I Mr. Sushi', Walgreen's, and the Jiffy Lube.

Anywhere else on Earth, the civilian population would have been out of there so fast it would make your head spin. But in suburban St. Louis, Radford hadn't reckoned with the sheer stubbornness of a population of affluent, well-educated, upper-middle-class liberals who were used to speaking their mind and being heard. Local radio stations set up speakers and screens all around the perimeter and allowed regular, everyday people to take the mic and tell the ISIC exactly what they thought about their shitty little war. Cable and local TV and radio ran nothing else, hour after hour.

On the 21st, we played our last card. The other two significant military Unions, the OSS and SFI, sent fresh troops to the three major battlegrounds, and the media carried the landings. What was left of the ISIC leadership pissed themselves and surrendered, turning Radford over in handcuffs.

Lo Minh Lanh - I know, I know - it's the 'Organization of Soldiers & Sailors' and 'Sky Force International'.

Ricardo Bayani - I wondered if you were still here. You stopped commenting.

Lo Minh Lanh - It's called being caught up in the story. Shhhhh...

I wish I could have been there, but once again Holm had all the fun. He got out of his jeep in front of what was left of the Olivette City Hall to receive the surrender, hauled back his arm and bitch-slapped that shit weasel to the ground. And, of course, it being Holm, he broke half the bones in Radford's ugly face.

There isn't too much more to tell, after that. Most historians today give the Harvey Administration as great a share of the credit for the First Congress of Congruence as they give Great Britain's King William V, the Central African Economic Union, or the staff of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Tan told me, long after, that knowing how close we were to meeting the goal gave her a kind of permission to take the big chances.

Within the next few years, President Harvey offered the Unions a home in the moth-balled military bases while still allowing them the freedom to operate independently, in defense of people and governments all over the world. She made high school completion mandatory, and she introduced the public service requirement for all graduates. She initiated the Ethical Commonwealth Dialogue program to get the disgruntled faith groups back talking to their Double E counterparts. And she encouraged the formation of the first Union International Academies, where kids from all over the world could come to serve humanity and work on a bachelor's degree they could really use at home in Public Service, Small Business Management, Cottagecraft, Education, Agricultural Stewardship, and Subsistence Engineering.

Tan and I kept in touch over the next twenty-some-odd years, and saw each other when we could. My Outing with the Union was over long before the end of her second term, but I was Out again pretty soon after that. Of course, all of us were Out more than In those next couple of decades. Goddamn, that was an exciting time.

There were a few years that I had to have a recognition block in place, where I'd see her at a UN thing and forget, for a minute, that she had no current idea of who I was. It was hard to watch her grow older.

I know we've all been through it; you get to really caring about a Real Worlder, and then comes that awful moment when you realize you're going to outlive one more lover, one more friendship, and you want to - I don't know. You want to make it stop. But it can't - if we were able to share the expanded life-expectancy thing with our fellow Humans, how long would it be until we ran out of room on the forty-seven planets they've been granted to colonize? And even if we could prep another set, how long after that? There is no 'just for now'; you can't give a gift like that and take it away again. We have to let them live and grow old and die - that's just the way it is.

Tanisha Harvey was born in 1982, coincidentally the same year as William V of England, with whom she became good friends, having both lost their mothers in their early teens. It was in 2055, at the press conference held during her visit to London, that he issued his historic invitation for the nations of the world to send their finest minds to Glasgow and begin hashing out what would eventually become the Declaration of Congruence. I could see that she knew. She knew it was coming. You could see it in her eyes.

Five years later, on December 31st of 2060, I called her private line. I told her. I knew I wasn't supposed to, I knew we were all just supposed to hop in wearing our nifty new uniforms during the next morning's signing ceremony for the big surprise reveal; the First Contact. I also felt she deserved the heads-up.

That evening, she skipped the parties and slipped her handlers at the Glasgow Imperial and met me for coffee. We drove south down the Clyde to the ruins of Crawford Castle and made love wrapped in a blanket on the grass out there under the stars. Damn, it was cold.

Lo Minh Lanh - How old was she by then? I knew you were partial to older women, Ric, but really? She could have broken a hip!

Adina bat Hasdai HaKahan - President Harvey was only half his age, Lanh. I have more than eight hundred years on him. Unlike some men, my Ricardo is attracted to the soul of a woman more than to her body.

Lo Minh Lanh - Then how come he ends up paired off with the most beautiful woman in this colony?

Ricardo Bayani - Kiss ass.

Adina bat Hasdai HaKahan - Preen, preen...

We talked about how things had changed, and how they were going to change even more, and what it might be like. I told her that our team of 'partners' called themselves the Etruscans the way a football team might call itself the Vikings or the Fighting Irish. Tan thought that was hilarious.

She was giddy. I felt really bad, telling her that we expected things to get worse before they got better, that we knew we would be introducing another period of turmoil and conflict and doubt, that being given the opportunity for a controlled expansion far from the shores of home didn't mean that all the problems at home would just go away.

"I know, Ricky. It isn't magic, and there isn't anything supernatural about it," she said, throwing my own words back at me, the way she always did. "There is no deus ex machina, and nobody knows what's going to happen next or how it all comes out because it doesn't. It doesn't end. I'm just happy I made it through to the first act curtain."

And she was. I could hear it in her, a deep, sincere happiness. A knowing that she only had so long to make it good and she'd done it. And as I lay there under the blanket with her, listening, I suddenly realized she was listening to me, too. That maybe I had my guard down a little, maybe it was the anticipation, maybe it was lying together under the open sky on New Year's Eve with someone you love, but she was picking up on me.

She pushed herself up on one arm, and looked at me out of her one good eye, and said "I'm sorry. I know you're going to miss me. I know it's going to hurt. I know what it's like to outlive someone who matters to you, outlive them by a long, long time." She was remembering Kenji, just as clearly as if it were yesterday. "I'd take that pain away from you, if I could. But not what it makes you - never that. Pain is a harsh, sweet teacher, my friend. Don't you ever forget it."

"Are you feeling sorry for me? Tan, you're seventy-nine years old. You have another ten, twenty years at most."

"And I don't have a problem with that. Do you?"

"Yeah, I do! Our cellular studies indicate that we of the Gleaned can expect at least four thousand years of healthy life, and that's something I can't give you! I wish to hell I could, Tan, because I can't imagine what someone like you would do with a lifetime like that. I can't imagine what so many wonderful, amazing people I've met out in the Real World would do," and I was trying not to cry, "with just a little more time. It just makes me crazy - and you're feeling sorry for me?"

She patted my cheek, like I was one of her grandkids. "Exactly, Ricardo. Exactly."

It was almost midnight. We got dressed then, and as we walked back down the hill to my car we saw a couple of black Suburbans waiting for us. I swore a blue streak, but she just laughed. "Hey, I'm a national treasure," she said. "I haven't belonged to myself, alone, in a long, long time. Happy New Year, Ric." And she kissed me goodbye.

I saw her the next day, sitting next to King William and Queen Katherine as we came marching into the hall. I watched her face while Lanh read the scroll - the sonnet he wrote, the invitation - "While yet this seed of Fellowship is new, Comes springtime's warmth to prove our Unity…'. I saw the look of fulfillment, of satisfaction, of completion on her face, the unabashed wonder when Life With Purpose and Playing Time appeared on the podium, and I figured out then and there why it was that she felt sorry for me.

That New Year's Eve, the very last day of the Information Age, was also the last time I ever got to spend with her alone. After that, there were always other people around, and we were so damn busy. Tanisha Harvey died of a massive cardiac arrest, working in her garden one day, in back of the 1950s brick ranch house not far from the Tanisha Harvey Presidential Library and Historic Preservation Area along Olive Boulevard in Olivette. She was only eighty-three, but she'd gotten to travel to and from the colony sites on all the forty-seven new planets a time or two, met House Builder and Farthest Speaker, had a lot of cool shit named for her, and written her memoirs. I'm in them, a little. She was very careful - and very kind.

The only other thing I have left to tell about Tanisha Yvonne Emily Dickinson Harvey - the marathon runner, the cancer survivor, the Marine, the mom, the collector of Emily Dickinson memorabilia, the President, the lover, and the friend - and yeah, I know, I said I was going to write about a time and a place and a happening and it ended up being all about a person - is that her grandson, the one who held the copy of the Constitution during her Inaugural ceremony, named his first child Ricardo Bayani Harvey later that spring. He said she'd asked him to.

Lo Minh Lanh - You know what?

Ricardo Bayani - What?

Lo Minh Lanh - Now and then you make me remember how much I really love you, man.

Ricardo Bayani - Thanks, Lanh. Hey, come on up to the Hall, and I'll buy you a beer.

Lo Minh Lanh - I'm on my way.

END