Aboard Presidential Airship Rough Rider
(Presidential Air Yacht—Airship One)
Approaching San Diego, California
September 26th, 1922 A.D., 1922b
Point of Departure plus ten years
Theodore Roosevelt had never liked administrative work, but he was very good at it… and it was still entrancing to do it here, in the glassed-in front section of the main deck of the Rough Rider, which he’d designated as his office when American National Airways designed this great craft for him and delivered it just in time for the final month of touring before the 1920 election.
Which demonstrated—graphically, to every eye that saw—how America leads the world in aviation under the New Nationalism, he thought. And I admit, I always did like playing with a new toy.
He was head of the PRP—the Progressive Republican Party—and President of a progressive America striding confidently into the future. It was only fitting that he should have a means of travel by air. He’d intended a career in the sciences as a youngster, before politics claimed him, and followed new discoveries closely all his life; he’d been the first American president to fly, and the first to drive an auto… the first to really understand the changes the modern world was bringing to every aspect of war and industry and everyday life.
The seven hundred and fifty feet of the Rough Rider were clad in shining aluminum-alloy sheets over its simplified internal skeleton rather than doped fabric, a novelty that made it lighter and stronger and absolutely fireproof as well.
No more storing flammable hydrogen in flammable containers… and nowadays I can even broadcast my voice from here into the homes of the people! There are more and more radio-receivers in American homes every month; in a few years nearly everyone will have one.
And here he could stand with the horseshoe-shape of glass around him. Once you were used to the muted drone of the engines—less noise than an automobile—it was impressively quiet, quieter even than the creak of a wooden sailing-skiff.
Like standing on a magic carpet from a children’s tale, he thought. And the views!
Standing there while the airship sailed cloud canyons blinding-white or dark and laced with blue lightning or shadowed and lit by the moon. Or while a storm lashed rain and hail against the panes, or while the great craft threaded mountain chasms that reduced it… and him… to an insignificance that was as profound as sleeping beneath sequoias and reminded him of the frozen infinity of the winter plains in the Dakotas.
He turned his swivel-chair to look out the semicircle of inward-slanting, eighteen-foot windows that folded around the big U-shaped room while his new confidential secretary—she was a Miss Francis Perkins, just transferred from the Department of Education to the executive service in the White House and highly recommended—caught up with the series of memos he was dictating.
How marvelous. It gives me a new way to see this vast country of ours! Like a map, but alive, alive.
They were on the approach to San Diego now, on a brilliant fall afternoon. From twelve hundred feet he could see the brown and sage-green hills ending against the white-blue line of the sea, the lush garden-spots around Balboa Park and ribbons of green between the mesas, and the long narrow harbor… and the Navy squadron that was the ostensible (and to himself also enjoyable) reason for his visit here.
More new toys! he thought wryly. If you don’t have at least a smidgeon of self-knowledge at sixty-four, you are never going to get any.
The six battleships and the aeroplane-carrier and their attendant cruisers, destroyers, oilers and support ships sat below him in the great new Naval docks. All about to depart for Manila and the front line of the Oceanian Alliance’s uneasy peace with… peace against, you might say, a cold peace… the vastly enlarged realm of Dai-Nippon.
The aeroplane-carrier USS Ulysses Grant was new of course, radical and alien with the eye-catching oddness of the stark bare nine-hundred-foot-by-one-fifty rectangle of its flight deck and the offset island superstructure and stacks, though right now the space was crowded with the full complement of dive-bombers and torpedo-bombers and the latest Curtis Puma Mk. VI fighting-scouts, all on deck for the ceremony.
Two of the battleships were also just through their shakedown cruises, and they were the most powerful naval units in the world. Colorado-class: the ship herself and the Alberta, named for one of the new States he’d brought into the sheltering arms of the Union when London was destroyed by German V-gas, giant swift sleek predators of the waves. Sixty thousand tons, thirty knots, oil-fired turbo-electric drive, anti-torpedo bulges and the new bulb-bow Taylor hull form below the waterline, twelve sixteen-inch guns in four massive turrets, and bristling with anti-aeroplane armament and the antennae of Telemobiloscopes that could probe the darkest night or the farthest sky out to the horizon and beyond.
The armored fist of the Republic, raised against any threat, an Eagle shield for my people.
He’d attended their gunnery trials himself, and pressed the FIRE key from the bridge, feeling a rush of pride… and, he admitted to himself, a bit of a ten-year-old boy’s sheer delight in making an enormous world-shaking noise as a dozen massive shells slammed out into the distance and the vast ship heeled under the hammer-blows of recoil.
And there was the Devastator.
Officially in the antiseptic terminology of military bureaucracy she was a bombardment monitor…
He scowled a moment at the sight, hating the necessity for her and her sisters; she was about the same size as the aeroplane-carrier and even odder-looking, with the funnel and bridge right at the stern, and only a few token anti-aeroplane guns. The real weapons were on the scores of low sloping ramps that pointed towards the bow, and stacked in the magazines below—the Lufttorpedos.
Another German invention, brought in right at the end of the Great War, after Zeppelin bombers no longer stood a chance against fighting-scout aeroplanes. They even looked like a torpedo, a bluntly pointed metal cylinder, though the shell was aluminum. With a propeller at the rear too, though a bigger one than their watery kin; fins and a single high wing and fuel tank were added to make them into the bastard offspring of a bird and a snake.
A rocket bottle would kick them up the ramp, to above stall speed, and the rear-mounted engine would keep them going—for the latest version, out to around two hundred and fifty miles in a bit over two hours.
The gyro-electric principle of the guidance system had been invented by an American named Sperry before the war, but Germany had been first to put all the elements together. It would fly blindly through the air… through the night… to rain death on the target, or at least its general area, the wing knocked clear by explosive bolts when the engine fell silent, arching down out of darkness. A thousand pounds in the warhead, and the aptly-named Devastator carried a thousand of them. Special submarines bore smaller but still deadly numbers.
With high explosive, they could devastate a large city at a single massive blow, like a blind sledgehammer from the sky, like hot steel rain.
With five hundred tons of V-gas on a large city… the deaths of millions. Many millions.
V-gas. Vernichtungsgas. Annihilation gas. Horror-gas. The devil’s instrument and the devil’s own luck. Without it, we would have won the Great War, beaten Germany to powder by 1918 at the latest. With it… the world we have instead. Stalemate.
The world went on, and the work of the day; it was his job to see it went well for America. He shook off the sudden flash of darkness.
Instead he swiveled back and spoke to young Miss Perkins, who’d draft everything into formal language for him to look over before the final result was sent. It was still a little odd to see a woman in such a job—and with skirts fully four inches above the ankle, not even covering all the calves! And over legs sheathed in nothing but transparent silk!
Still, if it’s to be done, best do it right. After all, when the Old Guard turned the Woman’s Suffrage Amendment into an Equal Rights one in 1913, and thought that such committee trickery would kill it and I’d back down, and everyone else… well, everyone else but Jane… wanted to… I insisted we fight it through. Because it only said the same things I argued for in my senior thesis at Harvard back in… Good Lord, 1880! Forty years and more!
“Next, Miss Perkins: To Senator Whitby of the Appropriations Committee: Senator, we have no alternative to urgently enlarging the Panama Canal. The whole point of the canal was to be able to shift our fleet from one coast to the other safely without going around Cape Horn, and the latest Navy ships are too large for the present one. Warship tonnages have increased much more rapidly than anticipated and merchant ships are sure to follow. And this time we’ll plan for future growth, so we don’t have to waste money and do it over again in another five or six years, you blithering, cheeseparing, penny-wise-dollar-foolish dolt, and if you don’t shut up about it, you’re going to learn just exactly why we put the recall provision for all federal judges and legislators in that Amendment in ‘13.”
Perkins’ eyes bulged a little at that, and Roosevelt took pity on her. Youthful idealism was a precious resource… though the youngsters also needed to learn that politics was a rough game.
“Make that last part more diplomatic, Miss Perkins, but unmistakable.”
Whitby will fold, he thought coldly, with the experience of decades judging men.
The Senator might hanker in his heart after the old days when his ilk could be independent chieftains who must be courted and flattered, but his head knew better. Plus he knew the man, and speaking of his anatomy and the organs thereof…
I could carve a better backbone than his out of a ripe banana.
His mind ticked down a list; he’d always been able to read quickly, and remember nearly all of it verbatim whenever he needed it, even years later.
“Next: To the Chairman of the Association of Coal-Mine Operators, use the usual formulas of greeting, note that it’s a reply to their latest protest about the Wage Board arbitration awards, and then just three words—nothing else: American National Railways.”
Back early in the century during his first Administration he’d cut his teeth settling a hard-fought strike in the anthracite mines, and it had formed his view of big business’ political acumen, or lack thereof; his opinion of their morals had already been rather low. Nationalizing the railways had been done as an emergency measure in 1913 because the companies so thoroughly botched the job of moving troops during the first months of the Mexican Intervention. Popular feeling had been running very high… and American National Railways had worked out much better than he feared.
And it had given him a useful horrid example ever since. The Party’s militants loved giant smoothly-organized operations, and admired their administrators and engineers… But the big capitalists who owned the firms? Them, not nearly so much. The days when moguls like J.P. Morgan had casually assumed that they could treat with the President of the United States as an equal were long gone.
In point of fact despite the hints from the UMWA he very much didn’t want to nationalize the coal mines…
I know civil servants too well to want it. But the mineowners don’t know that.
The coal magnates’ own delusional fears of Red Ted would make them think he did, and be very anxious indeed not to provoke him.
“Next. To the Secretary of Education: Dear Jane, I completely agree that the school-lunch bill’s time has come… long overdue, in fact. It is a disgrace and a threat to the future of the United States and the American people that there are still schoolchildren, any schoolchildren, coming to lessons too hungry to learn well, not to mention building strong bodies and minds to serve America, and the evidence your people have dug up is incontrovertible. Bully! Have your staff draft the appropriate proposals and send them to me; if anyone tries to obstruct you, quote me as saying they’ll be very unhappy indeed if they have to come and get it again from the horse’s mouth.”
And it’ll help with the surplus crops problem Henry Wallace over at Agriculture is on about. Who would have thought it—feeding hungry children good solid midday meals with meat and milk and vegetables and bread and butter and an apple or an orange or a peach is a solution to agricultural overproduction! No doubt some professor of economics can justify it ex post facto with graphs and equations. I recall Jesus having something to say on the subject as well.
Another mental item to tick off, saving the most delicate for last:
“Next. To the Secretary of Agriculture: Dear Henry, I agree that the point of our land reform program in the South is to make the former sharecroppers and tenants into independent yeomen like your neighbors in Iowa, not government dependents…”
He thought hard before he went on. Henry Cantwell Wallace was a good Party man, and very able at implementing the crucially important Country Life Program that was transforming daily existence for a third of the American people… but a little touchy about his modest roots in microscopic Winterset, lost in the endless grid-divided green-and-gold rustle of the Midwestern corn-belt.
A place and people who are a fundamental pillar of our strength, yet so easy to forget from the vantage of the great cities. But in reaction Henry tends to try and treat all rural areas as if they were Iowa… which they are not… or as if they could be the Iowa of his hopes and dreams… and that they cannot be.
He continued aloud after a second’s pause: “But a man has to walk before he can run, and they’ll need help… and oversight… for some time on the Credit Unions, and the cooperatives for ginning their cotton, selling it and buying supplies. It’s very important there be no scandals. Festina Lente; more haste, less speed.”
Now to sweeten the pill a bit, and it’s a good idea anyway.
“I second your excellent notion of appointing George Washington Carver, who I know, as special roving representative for the whole program in Dixie. If… no, Miss Perkins, make that when… we have to tell them something unpleasant rather than continue to bestow a shower of good news, it’ll come better from a man of their own race. But while he’s a brilliant agricultural scientist he’ll need some competent administrative assistants. Booker T. Washington warned me about that, God rest his soul; I suggest you ask Mr. Du Bois for some names. Tell him I said you need some keen and first-rate men for the job, young ones but not too young.”
Which leaves the notably touchy Mr. Du Bois owing me a favor.
W.E.B. Du Bois was pretty much the Party’s head of Negro affairs in general since Booker Washington’s death, an increasingly important role now that his re-enfranchised people were the Party’s mainstay in the otherwise-hostile Deep South and had sent Negro Congressmen from several Gulf states and a Senator from South Carolina to the PRP caucus, the first since Roosevelt’s youth during the First Reconstruction.
Du Bois was a much less agreeable man to the President’s way of thinking, but then Washington had been a friend and ally for a long time. Du Bois was unquestionably a first-rate man, though, even if prickly.
And a better man to have inside the tent looking out rather than outside looking… glaring… in.
“And no, it doesn’t matter that your family were friendly with Carver at the University of Iowa; all the better, in fact.”
He smiled, tilting his face down from the pale expanse of the ceiling to beam at her with a toothy smile.
“Thank you, Miss Perkins. That will be all for now; I’ll review them tomorrow and you can do up your fair copy for signatures over the next day or two. I know you’re looking forward to dinner with young Lieutenant di Filippo.”
She gave him a startled look and a smile.
“Thank you, Mr. President!”
She rose and left, first for her own desk by the entrance where she locked the pad in its secure drawer, but then through the door into the main quarters. A knock followed.
“Enter,” he said.
A man came through, a broad-shouldered but slender soldier in his early thirties with an outdoorsman’s weathered tan, close-cropped sun-faded brown hair and wide-spaced blue eyes above a short nose and a long thin-lipped mouth. He wore the formal dress uniform of the US Army, a midnight blue that was almost black, with a Brigadier-General’s single star on either side of the standing collar of his tunic, but his uniform was unadorned otherwise, except for the light blue ribbon with a thirteen-star blazon that bore the Medal of Honor around his neck. The Colt 1911 in the formal holster at his belt was plain and use-worn.
He saluted crisply. “Mr. President!”
Roosevelt stood, grunting slightly. He still had a fair bit of muscle in his sixty-fourth year and worked at maintaining it, but he’d also put on a fair amount of weight. And now he was paying for the way he’d pushed his body hard every year since his sickly asthmatic childhood, every strain and tear and broken bone forgotten for two or three decades coming back to haunt him, like the malaria he’d caught in Cuba.
“At ease, you young scamp,” he said with a grin.
The younger man relaxed the ramrod brace. “I was a young scamp when Archie and I walked on stilts across the parquet floors in the White House and put your top-hats on the stuffed trophy heads, Father,” he said. “Nowadays I’m an adult scoundrel who’s moved on to real crime.”
“They say the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Roosevelt snorted and came around the desk to embrace his eldest son and namesake.
I am a man lucky in his sons, he thought, feeling the easy strength in the younger man’s arms—the left had finally recovered fully from the troublesome break a German shell near his tank had inflicted years ago. And lucky in their luck. What greater blessing?
Each of his four boys had fought for America; in the Mexican Intervention for the elder pair, then all of them in the Great War, and all had been wounded but none killed or crippled. They’d thought young Quentin was lost for two days of breathless fear when his fighting-scout went down trailing smoke during a huge furious melee with none other than von Richthofen’s Flying Circus, but then the news had come he’d been found by Allied troops unconscious and very battered but alive in his crashed, shot-up Curtis Puma behind the American lines in France…
And he’d made ‘Ace’, as the young men called it, before the American Expeditionary Force was withdrawn.
“You’re looking spruce,” he said, holding Theodore Jr. at arm’s length with his hands on his shoulders for a moment. “You’ll need to for the review—Admiral Coonz is a stickler. But a good Progressive.”
“Yes, I remember he was one of the ones pushing for converting the battle-cruisers on the slipways to the new aeroplane-carriers. We’ll need to work closely while I’m Governor-General of the Philippines and he’s CINC of the Pacific Fleet. On planning for Case Orange particularly.”
Their eyes met for a moment, and Roosevelt was glad to see sober determination in his son’s gaze, as well as eagerness. He knew the young man had political ambitions—and why not? He’d shown he was forceful, could think clearly under the most intense pressure, and was brave to a fault…
In fact, reading the citation for that Medal of Honor back in ’14 had made his father swear softly as his flesh crept, and his mother burst into tears.
Organizing the American Legion for veterans in ’18 had shown he could move men to action in peacetime by his words and force of personality. The job in Manila was a chance to show what he could do as an administrator. If he did well in it, there was no reason he couldn’t be President himself someday, perhaps after a stint in a Cabinet post… Secretary of State or War, say… or nomination as Vice-President in ’28, and in either case in ’32, when the young man was in his prime…
And I’ll be well past mine! There were the two Adams, father and son Presidents, back a century ago, so there is a precedent. And what I’ve created would be in good hands when I passed the torch. Strong hands, too, ready to carry it forward. My boy has become a very formidable man.
“You’re young for the Governor’s job,” the elder Roosevelt said. “But I was young to be President—only seven years older than you are now.”
His wife Edith—who was his most valued advisor, as well as his love and other half—came through the door behind her son, looking summery in the semi-formal outfit she’d wear for the review, her greying hair in a coronet beneath the broad-brimmed hat; no newfangled bobs or those absurd bell-shaped cloches for her.
With her was John Wilkie, Director of the Secret Service… and the Black Chamber… anonymous in an ordinary three-piece business suit of cream linen, a snappy Panama in one hand, both appropriate for southernmost California’s endless mild warmth.
“Well, Theodore, you were right. Once you’re used to the heights, this is a very pleasant way to travel. Much less cramped than a railroad, even a private car,” Edith said. “Even with all the people we’ve got along. It’s like being in a flying house, rather like Dorothy except more decorous than being carried off by a tornado.”
Roosevelt chuckled—they’d both read from those books to their own grandchildren.
“Glad you think so, my sweet. You look beautiful, as always,” he added sincerely.
“And you have rumpled yourself, as usual,” she said, twitching at his wing collar and the lapels of his cutaway. “And you, Ted, are leaving us again just a few years after you came back from the war, and you’re taking Eleanor and the grandchildren away with you this time. To the other side of the world!”
“Mother,” Ted Jr. said. “We’re all going to Manila together on this very airship, from San Francisco. Seventy-five miles an hour twenty-four hours a day—not counting the stopover in Hawaii—”
“Which is only politically necessary,” his mother said, blinking thoughtfully.
“This airship could circumnavigate the world with only two stops,” he agreed. “And it’s the Presidential air yacht now, like the Mayflower for sea voyages. And we’re at peace, and it’s not a Presidential election year.”
“I suppose I could board in Washington or New York for visits, couldn’t I?” she said.
“Leave Washington on Sunday afternoon, arrive in Manila on Thursday,” Ted Jr. said.
“That’s more like a… an express train to the West Coast than a sea voyage, really,” Edith said in a musing tone.
“Faster,” her son said. “Because it can take a straight-line… great-circle… course.”
Roosevelt had rarely seen his wife nonplussed, but this wasn’t the world they’d grown up in together, where steam locomotives and electrical telegraphs were the symbols of the modern. The telephone had been invented when he was a student at Harvard, moving pictures when he was an up-and-coming Police Commissioner in New York, and the first manned aeroplane flight when he was already in his first term as President.
She thought my going after the nomination in 1912 was a forlorn hope, and looking back without my dander up she may well have been right—as things were at the start. With Taft as incumbent and the Old Guard united behind him it was a long-shot. But when his heart gave out in his sleep… we were all flabbergasted when that happened, though he was the size of a beached whale… and his Vice-President Sherman already deathly ill… yes, she saw what that meant as fast as anyone. She’s doing the same now.
“Come any time you’ve got a week or two to spare,” their son said. “Stay with us in the Governor’s residence, or the hill station that Burnham built at Baguio, get away from the East Coast winter and see the sights.”
“Well, yes,” she said. “It’s just so new to think of such long, long journeys… nearly nine thousand miles, and across the Pacific Ocean… being so quick… though aeroplanes are even faster, I believe.”
“About twice as fast or even more lately,” her son said. “But it’ll be a long, long time before they have this sort of range or carrying capacity.”
“Perhaps that’s for the best,” the President said, and saw his wife and son take the meaning.
If aeroplanes could do it, sky-torpedoes could too—the engineers say they’re potentially faster than fighting-scouts. That could mean intercontinental strikes, from thousands of miles away, not just hundreds. We’d be just as vulnerable as the British are now, and inland cities like Chicago wouldn’t be safe anymore… nobody would be!
Then Edith rallied: “Theodore, do remember that the Vice-President is supposed to catch the public eye at this review. It’s his home state, and he worked hard on the base construction project.”
Roosevelt nodded; it was worthwhile to keep Hiram Johnson sweet, especially now that he’d realized that he’d never be President, understandably a bit of a blow. The prospect of a Senate seat or the Party’s nomination for another stint as Governor here in California or a Cabinet post would probably do well enough, or possibly a spell as Plenipotentiary in Mexico City when Henry Cabot Lodge got tired of the job despite its ongoing challenges—it would be a full decade there for him come next July. And the Progressive Republican Party had much stronger discipline than any of the old loose groupings of regional chieftains and city machine bosses glued together mainly by patronage and corruption.
The Party believed. It was sometimes a little disconcerting how much of that was belief in him.
He didn’t blame her for the reminder, though: he knew full well that not hogging the limelight was difficult for him. Twenty-two years ago a humorist—one he liked, and who’d later become a personal friend—had used his print persona as a Chicago-Irish barkeep to suggest some alternative titles for The Rough Riders:
Th’ Biography iv a Hero by One who Knows. Th’ Darin’ Exploits iv a Brave Man by an Actual Eye Witness. If I was him, I’d call th’ book, ‘Alone in Cuba’.
“That’s why we’re driving north along the new Coastal Highway to San Francisco. Hiram was closely associated with that, too,” the President said.
He remembered vividly how utterly useless he’d felt during his brief stint as McKinley’s Vice-President, before the assassination, when it had looked like a sentence of political oblivion. The most important thing he’d done in those longest five months of his life, apart from remembering to breathe and maintain a pulse, was saving some dogs on a Rocky Mountain hunting trip by leaping on a cougar, a record-sized male, and stabbing it to death with a Bowie knife, still a fond memory. For just that reason he’d used Hiram Johnson as a sort of Cabinet-member-without-portfolio, overseeing big projects, especially here in the West, and constantly as a political fixer and negotiator in the Party.
“For that I’m giving up the chance to fly over San Simeon and literally look down from a great height on William Also-Ran-dolph Hearst and that absurd fairytale concoction he’s building there. And Hiram will be there front and center when we dedicate the new Big Sur National Park and Marine Sea-Otter Preserve,” he added. “I’m having him give a speech and pull the cord to reveal the gate, and I intend to be applauding energetically in the background for the photographers and newsreel cameras.”
He cleared his throat. “And driving north like that will let us make a few unscheduled stops… I was thinking of dropping in on Luz O’Malley at her family home—she’s on vacation right now. Business and seeing an old friend’s daughter both.”
She nodded, a trifle hesitant because the O’Malley ménage was a trifle… unconventional.
Luz was the daughter of old friends—her father had been Captain Patrick “Follow me!” O’Malley in the Rough Riders, and on his own a two-fisted engineer-adventurer who for twenty years built big projects in wild places. Edith had liked him, and his Cuban wife Luciana even more, and played hostess to their only child often when she was a girl and her parents had visited Sagamore Hill or the White House. Or when the O’Malleys entertained them in turn at the house Patrick had built in the Spanish style for the beautiful Cuban daughter of sugar-planters who’d eloped with him in 1891.
And again when Luz—barely—escaped her family’s slaughter in Mexico during the troubles in 1911 and fled to them for refuge. The tale she’d told sobbing in his arms had burned in the back of his mind all during the 1912 campaign and had been one reason he’d harried Taft so hard in the fight for the nomination—driven him to his death, resentful Old Guard shellbacks still muttered in their self-exile.
The other side was that Luz O’Malley Aróstegui and her…
Companion, Roosevelt thought.
The unconventional nature of the ménage at the Casa de los Amantes disturbed him a little for the same reasons it did his wife. He knew full well what that nature was, just as he’d always known about Secretary of Education Jane Addams and her companion Mary Smith. Addams, who’d been his friend and close political ally since the early days of the century, and who’d given the speech nominating him in 1912.
… Luz and her companion Ciara Whelan were also both agents of the Black Chamber. The top field operatives before their recent spell of training and study and administrative work, and among the few living recipients of the Order of the Black Eagle, which was the Chamber’s secret equivalent of the Medal of Honor. And which was if anything even harder to get, because the deeds that won the corona obsidionalis were mostly done all alone and among enemies, not in hot blood and surrounded by comrades, which he knew from personal experience lifted you with an exultation beyond all normal limits.
“I wish Luz wasn’t insisting on returning to field service,” he said. “Granted, she said after the mission in Zacatecas back at the end of the war that she’d want to eventually…”
“Mr. President, she said specifically in three years,” Wilkie said quietly, breaking his silence. “I don’t know why it’s taken her this long, and I was surprised.”
“I do know and I’m not surprised,” Edith said. “Four young children; and the good Lord have mercy upon her and Miss Whelan, four all the same age. Motherhood, John. If you haven’t done it, you don’t understand it.”
Roosevelt nodded to his wife to acknowledge the truth. He’d spent more time with his children than most men did, much more, and they’d always had some domestic help… and he knew that raising six the way Edith had was still work. It was interesting work, valuable and necessary work… but work and hard toil at that, just as surely as cowboying or soldiering or lumberjacking were.
“They’re lovely children, and it will be nice to see them again,” she added.
To Wilkie he said: “Well, yes, John. But it still disturbs me to put a woman in harm’s way deliberately. And her a mother now, too!”
Nobody here had ever swallowed the cover-story about adopting orphans. That was for appearances’ sake, like the vacation and stay elsewhere under the assumed personas of Great War widows for the last five months before the mysterious newborns appeared before a Californian judge as mysterious orphans. It was all a lawyer’s technicality, to settle matters of inheritance and surnames on the legal record.
“She’s done very well helping with the Chamber’s training program for the last few years, too. That’s valuable,” he added.
Wilkie made a gesture of agreement… though with a hand-waggle that added: yes, but and said aloud:
“Miss Whelan has been very helpful on the science side—N—”
Which is Chamber jargon for our good Nikola Tesla.
“—would love to have her permanently in the Technical Section. He has an uncle’s regard for her, or even a father’s, which I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t seen it.”
“If Luz and Ciara hadn’t been put in harms’ way and discovered the German V-gas plot, you and I and Mother and Eleanor… and our children… and Archie, and Quentin, and Ethel and her little Richard… most of the Roosevelts for three generations… would be dead, Father,” his namesake son said bluntly; he’d worked with Luz in Mexico before that, too, in the hunt for Villa. “And millions of others, and the country wrecked by the… Breath of Loki, didn’t the Germans call it?”
John Wilkie nodded. “A fair point, General. Most of your family were in Washington that October 6th, Mr. President, and the Kaiserliche Marine had two of their special U-boats aiming those da… dashed rocket-mortars at the capital from the Potomac. Twenty pounds of V-gas is a million lethal doses, and that was over twenty tons of the devilish stuff from those two alone. For that matter, I was there too. Your son Kermit and his wife and son were in New York; they’d almost certainly have died as well. I don’t know how the nation could have recovered from losing all the big east-coast cities, the way the British and French did London and Paris that day.”
“Yes, that’s true,” Roosevelt said.
You could make a good case that the whole modern world dated from October 6th, 1916, even more than his own election four years earlier—though sometimes in the wee small hours he had a haunting suspicion that somehow the two were linked. He went on:
“Yes, you’re right, both of you. She has a life-time’s right to ask any favor I can grant in good conscience—and what she’s asking now is a chance to serve the country again, serve it in a way she’s proven she’s highly competent to do, and do it without even any hope of reward or public glory! How can I say no to that?”
He was glad to see Edith remembering October 6th 1916 too; it wasn’t the only great service the companions had done the United States, but it was the greatest.
“And while we’re at their house, we can discuss that… other matter more privately.”
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