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The rule of the people, p.39
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       The Rule Of The People, p.39

           Christopher Read

  * * *

  The five-car motorcade swept into the Mall and pulled up along the east side of 3rd Street, police already in place to establish a safe zone with people kept back a good ten yards. In a well-practiced routine, the protection detail closed up around the Secretary, the crowd parting to allow Thorn free access towards the main speakers standing close to the Capitol Reflecting Pool. It was a narrow channel of relative security, a dozen agents guiding Thorn forward, but within seconds the initial murmurs and words of support had turned into a spontaneous ripple of applause. Thorn slowed, almost embarrassed and unable to hide his smile of appreciation, reaching out to shake peoples’ hands.

  Cameras flashed but the media had long since gone, the majority of the public still favouring Thorn’s hard-line stance. A middle-aged woman stepped forward into his path and an agent instantly blocked her view, strong hands half-guiding half-pushing her backwards; she almost stumbled and Thorn instantly reached out to hold her upright, getting a smile and a few words of thanks in return.

  It took Thorn a good five minutes to walk through the crowd to reach the earlier speakers, the Vietnamese mother one of the first to be introduced. He shook the woman’s hand warmly, a few suitable words of sympathy offered before he moved on to the next person in line. He never quite felt comfortable in such an environment but his words were sincere, Thorn not someone who found it easy to act out a role. Paul Jensen would no doubt argue that’s what he had been doing for the past few months but Thorn had been true to his ideals, pushing as hard as he could for America to re-assert its power and curb China’s drive to control South East Asia. An assertive China, an unpredictable North Korea – it was a lethal combination, and a war in Asia was a price that at some stage would have to be paid. Thorn might be a long-time Democrat but that didn’t mean he was afraid to confront China, and for far too long America had warned and condemned but been reluctant to act, her military and technological superiority an underused threat which others had learnt to ignore.

  The petulant nature of Congress’ two-party system was a major part of the problem, the essential difficult decisions invariably meeting delay and rancour, a feeble alternative the best that could ever be achieved. Without the shackles of Congress, problems such as China and North Korea would never have arisen, every U.S. president since Richard Nixon held back from doing what was right.

  Thorn’s new vision for America was one Bob Deangelo had once shared, the two men reaching an understanding despite differing as the magnitude of the problems. Yet within days of taking office the President had stepped back from the easy promises of the past, and the relationship between the two men had quickly grown fractious, Thorn determined not to water-down America’s response and settle for an unclear victory; for Deangelo, the weight of responsibility was proving a heavy burden, his commitment to a strong and forceful America apparently more fragile than Thorn had hoped. The nomination of Jack Shepard for Vice-President had been another surprise move by Deangelo and the President was evidently working to his own specific agenda, one over which Thorn had minimal influence.

  When Yang Kyung-Jae had proposed an alliance, Thorn had regarded it as a one-time opportunity to change history; now the conspiracy had turned into a struggle of personal aspirations over the needs of the nation, the weak – like Ritter and Yang – discarded along the way, and in the end even Golubeva had proved unworthy. Thorn himself felt as if he had been stabbed in the back: he had willingly played second fiddle to Deangelo but that agreement was now in ruins, the President’s change of heart clearly revealed by the Secretary of State’s presence in Astana.

  Thorn couldn’t – wouldn’t – allow China to escape so easily. Many would see his actions as dishonourable, a betrayal of his country; yet it was the only way to protect America’s future status. The conspiracy might be stuttering towards an eventual collapse but the Ronald Reagan Strike Group had its new orders and Thorn was confident they would be carried out to the letter; if anything, he was just surprised it was taking so long to hear back from Admiral Lucas, Deangelo’s peace initiative soon to be blown apart along with the Liaoning.

  It was a second-rate solution but better than nothing. A month ago Thorn had been riding high on outrage, China and Congress both within his sights – now he was having to sacrifice a good friend’s reputation in order to force Deangelo’s hand, a limited victory over China the best he could hope for. Congress was certainly out of reach, the tightened security making it too much of a risk even for the D.C. National Guard, and Thorn was left wondering whether that too was down to Deangelo. Allies once, now effectively bitter enemies, the similarities between what had just happened in Russia were not lost on Thorn. Morozov’s victory was a lesson in perseverance but the spectre of a full military takeover in America was never an option, it a step too far even for Thorn.

  Jensen’s blind refusal to let matters take their course had been unfortunate and Thorn had been pushed into a hasty response; as yet there had been no confirmation as to the outcome and Thorn genuinely regretted the need for such draconian measures. Adams for one was a respected colleague, Jensen capable enough if naïve.

  To show any prior knowledge as to their potential fate would be foolish and Thorn had stuck with his earlier schedule – despite what the cynics might think, the scenes from Vietnam had affected him as much as anyone, the vigil simply an affirmation as to his own actions.

  Handshakes and words of condolence completed, Thorn duly lit a candle and stood with head bowed as a final prayer was said. There were then more people to acknowledge and speak to before a whispered word from one of his security team urged Thorn to cut it short, the car chase west of the White House already starting to create waves.
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