Chapter 7 - Onto the Top of the World.
The pinnacle is a lonely
Who will take the mission and do right?
Who knows what 'right' is?
Who can cross a sea of failures and win?
I woke 'early' that morning. The sun stood high. No trace of the storm remained. Looking at the ocean from Ross' balcony, everything seemed normal, peaceful, and serene. The cruise missile episode appeared like one of those dreams that come in the night and are quickly forgotten, the kind that one leaves behind when the new day dawns. The tragic episode seemed to have this kind of unreal quality. It had suddenly ended and given way to the real world. It was a warm, clear morning. The sun shone brightly. A perfect calm lay upon the water. And more dreamlike than that, had been to find Heather at my side when I woke.
We were the first ones up. She had joined me moments later on the balcony.
"Is this real?" I asked. I squinted at the sunlight.
She just smiled and nodded.
I went inside and started the coffee kettle as a diversion, hoping for a chance to sort out my thinking. But without avail. To my delight, she had followed me to the kitchen. With nothing more to do there we went back to 'bed' for a quick cuddle on the camping mat on the living room floor, that I had been sleeping on, waiting for the others to wake up.
"I'm terribly sorry for leaving you that day," said Heather.
"Nonsense!" I replied softly. "You might have saved our lives. I admire your sensitivity to what had been required under the situation back then. It is I, who should apologize!"
She put a hand over my mouth. "Don't apologize!"
We lay there for a while, silently, smiling at each other. I remembered the times we had spent together like this in the mornings, those precious times.
"Did Ross tell you that we are going to be married soon?" she broke the silence. "And then we are going to have a baby."
"Hey that's great news! And no, Ross didn't say anything about that."
"You guys saved the world just for my child," she said and grinned, "and you didn't even know."
"Not me," I said, "it was you who had saved the world."
"No, you did that," she repeated. "You got Ross' attention onto the fishing boat."
"Yes, but it was only because you and Sylvia were talking about me. I wanted to stop that."
"You heard everything?"
We developed an argument over this incidence that turned into a pillow fight that woke everyone else up.
Since Ross had only one double bed that he let Sylvia use, and only one chesterfield on which he slept himself, it was camping style for the rest of us. Heather and I had chosen to camp in the middle of the living room, while Tony had preferred to sleep on the balcony.
"Did you notice how jumpy Ross was last night?" said Heather. At this point we were surveying the world once more from the balcony with our coffees in hand. "He is already behaving a bit like a prospective father," she added.
I didn't really have time to answer. I noticed a helicopter approaching from the sea. It touched down on the beach. A man with a baseball cap got off, wearing a bright red jacket. In the view of the binoculars the man looked remarkably like Fred, my boss, Ferdinand Constantine. Yes, Oh yes, it was Fred all right. I should have expected him. But how did he get here so quickly?
"Hi Pete," he called out to us as he arrived at the top of the trail to Ross' place. He didn't seem surprised to see me. Obviously, he knew where he could find us. He had been the first to know about the wonderful place that we had bought. He came straight up to the balcony where everyone was, enjoying, as we were, our morning coffee.
"In the light of what happened last night," he announced to us all, "I have a delicate job for you, and I mean all of you, Ross too. You are about to become tourists."
"A special mission?" I asked.
Fred nodded. "A very special mission. The President has made up his mind to give the Russians some breathing space. Apparently he had thought about this for some time. Maybe your report from Steve had something to do with that. In any case, last night's incident convinced him that our SDI push is putting too much pressure on the Russians. The SDI development is pushing them into a corner, strategically. He wants to ease that pressure and hopes that this will increase our security."
"That's the dumbest I heard yet," I replied.
Fred jerked his head around and looked at me, as if I had hurt him to the bottom of his soul.
"Sure, it's logical what the President wants to do," I said, "but is America able to withstand the consequences. He is proposing surrender!"
"No, he is proposing to save our lives," said Fred.
"Oh, is he?" I said. "If we hadn't had those high-tech AWACs," I reminded him, looking straight into his eye, "the cruise missile accident last night might have ushered in the end of the world." I asked him to think about that. Without the SDI we would be totally helpless against a similar accident involving one of their big ICBMs. "If you want my help in throwing away the best defense this country has invented, forget it!"
I spoke angrily. I didn't even give him a chance to reply. I hammered on. I reminded him of how all previous attempts by the Soviet Union have failed to get the SDI killed. "Not the most devastating acts of sabotage against the Space Shuttle system has broken the American devotion to its space activity. What had been destroyed has been re-built. We've never given up on our vision that a strong presence in space can deter ICBM warfare. While the SDI cannot create peace, it can make life safer. And the President wants to throw all this away?" I almost shouted at Fred.
Fred shuddered. "I didn't come here to ask for your cooperation. I'm ordering you. You will go on this mission!" he said.
I shook my head.
"Then I'll have the deed to your property," said Fred, getting angry now, too. "Who do you think sold you that property? Who but the government would give $800,000 worth of property away for ninety grand, and for a nudist beach of all things? Didn't I tell you which Realtor to contact? And on top of that, we gave you twice what this beach house of yours was worth. I just wanted to get you near to our surveillance station and thereby secure the station a bit more. The people that owned the property before you could not be trusted. So we both benefited. But you still owe me. And now I am wondering whether you can really be trusted."
"Fighting among ourselves doesn't solve anything," Ross intervened. "This isn't such a clear-cut issue anyway. Maybe the President is more right than you are," he said to me. "Not giving up when the Space Shuttle system is sabotaged, is one thing, but not yielding when the lives of the world are at stake, is stupidity. The President may be stupid, but maybe he has no choice in this particular matter. It probably hurts him as much as it does you."
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