peacekeepers (1988)

A faithful friend is the medicine of life.

And they shall beat their swords into

plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks:

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war any more.

—Isaiah, 2:4

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

—Juvenal

How the past perishes is how the future becomes.

—Alfred North Whitehead

ORIGINS
Year 12

THEY'VE appointed me the archivist. My task is to write the official history of the International Peacekeeping Force. I'm doing that, but what happened this morning convinced me that I should also put down this
un
official narrative, these personal recollections, these tales and anecdotes that are the story behind the Peacekeepers.

A true chronicle of something as important as the Peacekeepers doesn't start at one single point. It can't. It's impossible to say, "The history begins
here
and not
there
."

Especially when the account involves so many people, so many events as do the origins of the Peacekeepers. Literally millions of strands of individual lives are woven together under the hand of fate to form an intricate, delicate tapestry. (I like that! "Woven together under the hand of fate." I'll have to work that into the official history somehow.)

Anyway, it's literally impossible to select a definite, specific time and place for the origin of the IPF. Easier to pinpoint the fall of the first drop of rain in a summer storm, or the exact moment when a youth becomes a man.

There were many origins for the Peacekeepers, and how I'm going to select a starting point for the official history is a problem that I'll be tussling with for some time to come.

But I know where to start this unofficial chronicle: with this morning's events.

VALLEDUPAR:
Year 12

THEY assembled in mottled green jungle fatigues with full webbing and helmets, grumbling and muttering as the slanting golden rays of the morning sun filtered through the trees. I watched them from the window of the office that the local commandant had loaned me.

They were so young! Twenty-four men and women, hardly out of their teens, each of them bearing replicas of the flags of their nations on the left shoulders of their fatigues. No two flags were alike.

None of the youngsters out there on the parade ground knew it, but the reason for this morning's exercise was me.

We were all going to take a little hike into the mountains for the edification of the official IPF archivist.

It was no earlier than they usually assembled for field training, or so I was told. But this morning they all seemed to know that something special was in the air. No one had told them; but like soldiers of every age, they sensed that today would be different.

The master sergeant, face of granite and eyes of flint, snarled them to attention. Twenty-four men and women snapped to. The sergeant inspected them briefly but thoroughly, his normal ferocious scowl even darker than usual.

Satisfied that his charges met his uncompromising standards, he saluted to the shavetail lieutenant and reported the squad ready for duty.

The shavetail marched stiffly to the geodesic dome ofthe administration building, where I stood by my window watching. For long minutes the squad stood in rigid silence while the sun climbed above the lofty shade trees and began broiling the parade ground. The monkeys chattered and jeered at the cadets from the safety of their leafy perches.

A single knock on the flimsy door of the office. I turned as the shavetail opened it and said crisply, "Sir, Director-General Hazard is ready to inspect the squad."

I nodded and reached for my cap with my prosthetic hand. The shavetail stared at it for a moment, realized what he was doing and turned his eyes away. The hand works fine, and I have even grown accustomed to its feel.

Marvelous how they were able to link its electronic circuits to what's left of the nerves in my arm.

I had met Hazard twice before, and he greeted me kindly, shaking my hand without the slightest indication that it bothered him. But he seemed preoccupied, his mind elsewhere, his eyes clouded with apprehension. I realized that his thoughts were projecting simultaneously forward into the future and back into the past: to the destination of this day's little trek and to the reason for its existence. I felt sorry for Hazard; this would be a difficult day for the man.

Six of us officers, in our dress uniforms of sky-blue with gold piping, assembled in the administration building's lobby and finally took the plunge into the jungle heat outside. We fell into a natural formation: Hazard and the major in charge of this training base in front, two captains behind them, and the shavetail and I bringing up the rear.

Hazard had grown a beard since I'd last seen him: iron-gray and cut almost as severely as the military crop on his pate. I couldn't help musing that he kept the beard short enough so that everyone could see the diamond-cluster insignia of the IPF director-general on his high choker collar.

He inspected the squad casually; none of the fierce glower of the master sergeant. His bearded face looked fatherly, almost benign. Then he took up a position precisely at the front center of the squad and ordered them to parade rest. I was already sweating, and I saw that the faces of the cadets were glistening.

"Officer candidates of the International Peacekeeping Force," Hazard addressed them. His voice was rough, rasping, like someone who has a bad cold or worse. It made me wonder about the condition of his health. "It is my pleasure to announce that you have been selected for a rare privilege. You members of the first graduating class of the IPF Academy will be allowed, this day, to view the crater where the last nuclear bomb exploded."

Every young man and woman of the squad squirmed unhappily. I could feel them struggling to suppress moans of misery. The crater was a sacred place for old men like Director-General Hazard. To the cadets it meant only a long hard climb in sweltering tropical heat and the distinct possibility of a radiation dose.

You see, an event of crucial importance to

the world had taken place near the city of

Valledupar about four years earlier, the kind

of event that was supremely influential in

the development of the Peacekeepers, but

will never find its way into the official

history. (Except maybe as a brief footnote.)

I wasn't there to participate, of course. I

was on a ship in the Arabian Sea where I

eventually lost my right hand, courtesy of

the sovereign governments of India and

Pakistan. But I've pieced together the story

fairly well and personally visited each site in

which it took place—except one. If you'll

allow me a little imagination, what

happened must have been very much like

this . . .

NEUSTRA SEÑORA DE LA Misericordia
Year 8

DEATH smells worst in the tropics.

Cole Alexander wrinkled his nose at the stench of decaying bodies. They lay everywhere: men, women, infants.

Bloating in the fetid sun, sprawled in the gutted remains of their miserable hovels, swarms of flies black around their bullet wounds, beetles already digging into the rotting flesh.

The merciless sun hung high in the pale sky, steaming moisture from the tropical forest that surrounded the dead village. Alexander felt his own body juices baking out of him, the damp heat soaking him like a chunk of meat thrown into a boiling pot.

Our Lady of Mercy, Alexander thought, hot bile burning in his throat. What a name for the town.

"You see how they slaughter my people." Sebastiano Miguel de Castanada made it a statement, not a question.

Misericordia had been a tiny nothing of a village stuck in the jungle at the base of the mountains, an hour's hard drive up the rutted, twisting road from the city of Valledupar. Now it was a burned-out ruin, the shacks that had once been houses blackened and smashed, the inhabitants machine-gunned down to babies in their mothers' arms.

"Why did they do it?" Alexander asked.

Castanada pointed to where his soldiers had spread a few armloads of trinkets on an aluminum camp table. Other soldiers were still searching the village, stepping over grotesque corpses with staring eyes and silently screaming mouths to hunt for the village's hidden treasures. The soldiers wore crisp khaki uniforms. They all carried automatic rifles slung over their shoulders. But they seemed unconcerned. The dead bodies did not bother them. Neither, thought Alexander, did they seem worried about being attacked.

Castanada led Alexander to the table. It was covered almost completely with slim glass knives, miniature quartz statues, decorated ceramic vases and other dusty artifacts.

"The villagers lived on grave robbing," he said. "The men went up into the mountains, where the old Inca graves must be. When the drug dealers made their headquarters up there, they did not want these villagers bothering them. So three days ago they came down from the mountains and wiped out the village."

Alexander studied Castanada's face. He showed no sign of anger, no hint of fear or remorse or grief. Castanada was a handsome man in his early forties, broad brow, strong jaw, smooth tanned skin. His jet-black hair was brushed straight back; his eyes were the color of his native soil when the peons first turn it over for tilling after the winter rains.

But he was turning to fat, his slight body becoming round and heavy, his skin getting that waxy look that comes from overindulgence. He wore an off-white silk suit, light for the summer heat, conservatively cut, precisely tailored, extremely expensive. As befits the man who is not only minister of defense but the eldest son of el presidents Despite the heat. Cole Alexander wore a rumpled suede jacket over his open-necked olive-green sport shirt, stained with dark pools of perspiration. A broad-brimmed cowboy hat was perched at a slight angle on his head. He was much taller than Castanada, and may have been slightly older than the defense minister or slightly younger. It was diflScult to tell from his face. His hair was curly and thick, yet all white. His face looked youthfully handsome, but it was set in a sardonic, nearly cruel jester's smile. A sneer, almost. His cold gray eyes seemed to look out at the world with a mixture of amusement and contempt at the antics of his fellow human beings.

"You've got a serious problem, all right," Alexander said. "But I don't think I can help you with it."

"I quite understand, Señor Alexander," said Castanada, sounding oily and at the same time slightly irritating. "I have already told my father that I would not be surprised if you refused to help us."

"Your father is beset by many problems," Alexander replied, choosing his words carefully. His voice matched his facial expression: not quite harsh yet certainly not gentle, a reedy norteamericano tenor with a hint of sharp steel in it.

"I am doing my best to help him, but . . ." Castanada spread his arms in the gesture of a man resigned to struggling against inhuman odds.

Alexander looked around at what was left of the village as the soldiers continued to search it. The drug dealers had done a thorough job. Not even a dog was left to whimper.

The table where they stood was upwind, at least. The smell wasn't so bad here.

"They have created an army of their own, up in those mountains," Castanada said, his voice trembling slightly.

"An empire within our borders!"

"Let me try to explain," said Alexander, "why this kind of problem is not in my usual line of operations."

"It is too dangerous for mercenaries, I understand."

Alexander smiled a crooked smile. "You must enjoy fishing in these mountain streams."

Castanada smiled blandly back at him.

"My people work sort of like the Peacekeepers," Alexander said. "We're basically a defensive operation. We protect, we do not attack."

"Please do not fence with words, Señor Alexander. Your . . ." Castanada groped for a word. "... Your organization is a mercenary force. You fight for pay."

"We fight for pay," Alexander agreed. "But only for those who are under attack. Only for those who can't defend themselves."

"But we are under attack! Look around you! The drug dealers have assassinated members of the government! We are at war! A life-and-death struggle!"

"But surely your Army . . ."

"Riddled with corruption." Castanada lowered his voice. "I am ashamed to admit it, but it's true."

"Then you should call in the Peacekeepers."

"We have tried, señor. They are sympathetic but unwilling to help us. They will only intervene if there is an overt attack across an international border. They exist to prevent wars, not to act as police."

Alexander nodded slowly.

"We have nowhere else to turn. I fear for my father's life. For the lives of my wife and children."

"I understand. But it's still not the kind of operation that my people can undertake."

"If it's the money you are concerned about . . ."

Alexander raised one hand. "No, I'm sure we could come to satisfactory terms. It's just not the kind of operation we do."

Castanada turned and took a few paces away from Alexander, his chubby hands clasped behind his back. As if speaking to the empty air, he said, "You know that Jabal Shamar is with them now, up in those mountains."

Alexander muttered, "Shamar."

Turning back to face the norteamericano, Castanada added, "According to our intelligence, he has taken charge of their military operations."

"What about the nuclear bombs?"

"It is not certain, but I greatly fear that he has brought them to our soil."

"Shamar," Alexander repeated in a barely audible whisper.

Si, Señor Yanqui, Castanada said to himself. I do indeed fish in these mountain streams. I know very well how to bait my hook, and how to reel in even the most cunning and elusive fish. He kept his face carefully bland and inexpressive, but he laughed inwardly.

Cole Alexander's smile had disappeared.

Yet even that thread of a beginning had its

own beginning, on the final day of what has

come to be called (optimistically) the Final War

JERUSALEM
Year Zero

THE sky was unnaturally black. Not even the high desert sun could bum through the sooty clouds. The streets of the city were empty. Not a car, not a bus, not even a dog moved as the hot winds seared alike the ancient stones of the Western Wall, the domes and minarets of medieval churches and mosques, the steel and glass towers of the modem city.

In the middle of the dark afternoon a limousine, a Rolls-Royce at that, careened through the city's bare streets like a black mouse racing through a maze, losing its way and doubling back again, searching, searching, searching.

Finally the limo sniffed out the American embassy and stopped at its barricaded gate.

A man got out: Cole Alexander—dressed in a summer-weight pearl-gray business suit stained dark with sweat and wrinkled as only thirty-six hours of travel can do. His necktie was pulled loose, several shirt buttons undone. His hair was dark brown, almost black, his face set in a breathless expression of anxiety.

He leaned on the buzzer at the gate, ducked back into the limo and took the keys from the ignition, then banged on the buzzer again. He squinted up at the dark sky, then pressed his thumb against the buzzer and left it there until an adenoidal voice finally scratched from the intercom speaker above the buzzer. Alexander spoke loudly and firmly. Within two minutes a Marine guard, his own olive-green uniform almost as sweaty and rumpled as Alexander's suit, dashed out of the building and unlocked the personnel gate.

Alexander and the young Marine sprinted up the driveway and through the main entrance to the building. At a desk set up just inside the entryway, an additional pair of Marines, one of them a sergeant, examined his passport while Alexander explained:

"My parents are here. I've got a private plane at the airport, waiting to evacuate them."

"A private plane?" The sergeant, a tough-looking black, gave Alexander an incredulous stare.

"Money talks. Sergeant," said Alexander. "Even in the middle of a war."

"He's driving a Rolls, Sarge," said the Marine who had opened the gate, with awe in his voice.

The sergeant shook his head. The expression on his face said. You're crazy, man. But he told the other private to escort Alexander to his mother, who was among the civilians being sheltered in the embassy's basement.

Alexander got as far as the metal detector built into the doorway at the end of the lobby. It screeched angrily.

"Oh." Apologetically Alexander hauled a compact .38 automatic from the waistband of his trousers. "Bought it in New York just before I bought the jet. It's registered, all nice and legal."

The sergeant hefted the shiny pistol in his big hand. "You ever fired it?" he asked Alexander.

"Haven't had the time."

"I'll hold it for you here." He placed the gun carefully in a drawer of his desk.

The basement was big and dimly lit; only a few of the overhead fluorescent lights were on, casting almost ghastly bluish light on the people crowded together there. They were mostly women and small children, Alexander saw.

Some old men. Cramped together. Sitting on a weird assortment of chairs scavenged from the floors above, huddled on cots, makeshift curtains draped here and there for privacy, staring at the ceiling, whispering to one another, babies crying, old men coughing, worried faces looking blankly at nothing. The basement was jammed with people.

Their voices made a constant background murmur of anxiety and tension. The place was hot and stank of sweat and cigarette smoke and cooking oil. And fear.

The waiting room to hell, Cole Alexander thought.

Amanda Alexander was small, a slim little girl with a sweet smile who had grown to a petite white-haired woman who could always charm any man she met. Seeing her in that crowded basement shelter, with the stench of hundreds of bodies pressed too close together. Cole realized with a shock that his mother was old: her face was webbed with tiny wrinkles, there were dark lines under her eyes, she seemed haggard and worn-out.

"Don't look so shocked," she said after he had kissed her cheek. "You haven't seen me without makeup for years."

Then she smiled and he felt all right again.

"I've come to take you and Dad out of here," Cole said.

"That's not necessary. I'm fine right here."

"I've got a jet sitting at the airport . . ."

His mother seemed genuinely surprised. "How did you do that?"

He shrugged. "Sold the business to Palmerson; he's been after it for a year now. Spent a chunk of it on the plane. Couldn't find a pilot on such short notice so I flew it myself. Now, come on, before somebody steals it."

"Your father's not here," she said. "They sent him to Tel Aviv."

"Goddamned State Department," Cole muttered.

"Okay. We'll fly to Tel Aviv and pick him up there. Phone him from here first."

"He can't just go, " his mother said, "simply because his impetuous son wants him to. He's got a job to do. He's got responsibilities."

"They're throwing nuclear bombs around. Mom! You and Dad have got to get out of here, to where it's safe!"

"They won't bomb Jerusalem. General Shamar has given his word. The Moslems revere the city just as much as the Israelis do."

Alexander forced down his temper. This was his mother he was dealing with. "Mom, they've already nuked Haifa and Damascus. The fallout ..."

"I'm not leaving. Cole. Your father can't leave, and I won't go without him."

That was when the black Marine sergeant picked his way through the overcrowded basement toward them.

"Mrs. Alexander," he said, so softly that Cole could barely hear him against the background murmurs. " 'Fraid I got very bad news, ma'am. We just got word, Tel Aviv got hit."

Amanda Alexander stared at the sergeant as if she could not understand his words.

"A nuclear strike?" Cole asked, his voice choking.

"Yeah." The sergeant nodded.

"Oh, my Christ."

His mother reached out and touched the Marine sergeant's arm. "That . . . that doesn't mean that everyone . . . everyone in the city's been . . . killed, does it?"

"No," the black man admitted. "We don't know how bad the damage is or how many casualties. Bound to be plenty, though. Thousands. Tens of thousands, at least."

Cole grasped his mother's wrist. "We're getting out. Now."

"No!" She pulled her arm free with surprising strength.

"Your father may be all right. Or he may be hurt. I'm not leaving. Not until I know."

"But that's . . ."

"I'm not leaving. Cole."

So he stayed with her in the basement of the U.S. embassy building in Jerusalem.

It had started as another round of the eternal Middle East wars between Israel and its neighbors. In three days it escalated into a nuclear exchange. By the time four ancient cities had been blown into mushroom clouds, the two great superpowers decided to intervene. For the first time in more than fifty years, the Soviet Union and the United States acted in harmony to end the brief, brutal conflagration that is now called the Final War.

The Americans and Soviets imposed a cease-fire and ringed Syria, Israel and Lebanon with enough troops, ships and planes to make it clear they would brook no resistance.

The U.S. Navy moved in force into the Persian Gulf while Russian divisions massed on Iran's northern border. With Damascus and Tehran both reduced to radioactive rubble, with Haifa and Tel Aviv similarly demolished, the fighting stopped.

That was when General Jabal Shamar, supreme commander of the Pan-Arab Armed Forces, sent a special squadron of cargo planes to Jerusalem. The lumbering four-engined aircraft circled over the city at an altitude of some three thousand meters, cruising lazily through a sky just starting to turn blue again after three days of darkness.

Men and women cautiously came out into the streets, blinking at the brightening sky and the glinting silvery planes circling gently above. They were obviously not warplanes, not the sleek angry falcons painted in camouflage grays and browns that hurled deadly eggs at the ground. These were fat clumsy cargo carriers, their unpainted aluminum gleaming cheerfully against the clearing sky.

The powder that the planes spewed from their cargo hatches was so radioactive that every crewman in the squadron died within two weeks. So did most of the living creatures in Jerusalem: men, women, children, pets, rats, insects, even trees curled their brown leaves and died.

Moslem and Jew alike bled at the pores and died in convulsive agonies. Citizens of the city, refugees who had fled there for safety, tourists trapped by the war, news reporters camping in the hotels, foreigners on duty in Jerusalem—they all died. Two and a half million of them.

After the cease-fire had been declared.

The medical help rushed into the city by the Americans and Europeans saved a pitiful few. Cole Alexander was among those who survived. He was young enough and strong enough to pull through a terrible ordeal of radiation sickness, although it left his hair dead white and triggered a form of leukemia that the doctors said could be "controlled" but never cured. It also left him sterile.

His mother did not survive. Cole watched her die, inch by excruciating inch, over the next seven weeks. She finally gave up the fight when the news came that her husband.

Cole's father, had been vaporized in the nuclear bombing of Tel Aviv. The American consulate there had been practically at ground zero.

The Final War led to the Athens Peace

Conference, and that's where I suppose I'll

have to begin the official history of the

Peacekeepers. With the impressive figure of

Harold Red Eagle, of course.

ATHENS
Year 1

HE was a very large man, very grave, and so respected in his own land that not even the ultraconservatives ever had the nerve to make jokes about his name.

Harold Red Eagle was considerably over two meters tall.

In his young manhood, when he had made a national reputation for himself as a lineman for the Los Angeles Raiders, he had weighed nearly 130 kilos. Even so, he could chase down the fleetest of running backs. And once Red Eagle got his hands on a ball carrier, the man went down. No one broke his tackles.

The Raiders had been known to be a hell-raising team of undisciplined egotists. Red Eagle changed that. He spoke barely a word, and he certainly gave no speeches. He neither exhorted his teammates to self-sacrifice nor berated them for their macho antics. He merely set an example, off the field and especially on it, that no man could ignore or resist. He made the Raiders not only into champions, but hallowed heroes.

Football was merely a means to an end for Harold Red Eagle. For an impoverished son of the proud Comanche people, college football was the key to an education.

Professional football paid for law school and provided the glory that established him in a lucrative practice in his native Oklahoma.

When he retired from his athletic career, the governor of the state appointed him to the bench. (A rather neat pun there, don't you think?) A few years later he became the youngest federal judge ever to serve that district. A canny President nominated him to the U.S. Supreme Court, and during the Senate confirmation hearings not a word was spoken against this Amerind, whose massive dignity could strike even TV talk-show hosts into reverent awe.

Harold Red Eagle was appointed by the next President (a political opponent of the previous one) to be part of the American delegation to the Athens Peace Conference. It was there that the first step toward the International Peacekeeping Force was made.

The moment was dramatic. Representatives of Israel, Syria and Iran all demanded reparations for the damage to their nations. Other Moslem figures warned of the need to find a homeland for the Palestinian refugees. The Western Europeans and Americans, terrified of renewed nuclear war, demanded that the belligerent nations be disarmed and occupied for an indeterminate time by an international army that would enforce the peace. The Soviets and Chinese jointly suggested the conference be enlarged to consider dismantling every nation's nuclear arsenal.

Instead of patching together a peace in the Middle East, the Athens conference was threatening to tear itself asunder over the old Cold War issues separating East and West.

That was when Red Eagle rose to his feet.

All talk around the wide green-baize-covered circular table ceased. The Comanche loomed over the other delegates, his deep brown face solemn with the racial memories of innumerable wars and slaughters.

"It is time," he said slowly, "that we end this Cold War. Nothing of peace can be accomplished until we do."

It was as if he had trained a powerful gun on them all.

The delegates—politicians and diplomats, for the most part—sat in silent awe as Red Eagle calmly enunciated the plan that he had been shaping in his mind over the many weeks of the conference's fruitless wrangling.

His plan was simple and breathtakingly daring. East and West were at that time both deploying heavily armed satellites in space, each claiming them to be purely defensive in nature. Let a true international peacekeeping force be created, said Red Eagle, to operate both systems of satellites as one and protect every nation on Earth against attack by any nation.

Further, let this peacekeeping force be empowered to act immediately against any kind of aggression across any international frontier. Give it the weapons and authority to stop wars as soon as they are started.

Impossible! countered the delegates. But over the next several weeks they listened to Red Eagle and a growing host of technical and military experts. Yes, it would be possible to observe military buildups from surveillance satellites in orbit. Yes, defensive technologies could produce highly automated systems that are cheaper and more effective than massive offensive weaponry.

But who would control such an international force? the delegates asked. How could it be prevented from turning into a world dictatorship?

"The problem is war," Red Eagle told them. "Create a peacekeeping force that will prevent war. No nation need disarm, if it does not care to do so. Whatever goes on within a nation's borders will be of no concern to the peacekeepers. The peacekeepers will acquire no nuclear weapons, no weapons of mass destruction of any kind. Their sole function will be to prevent attacks—nuclear or conventional—across international borders."

The force of Red Eagle's personality greatly multiplied the sheer power of his ideas. Slowly, grudgingly, the conference delegates came to accept the notion that an international peacekeeping force could be created. It might even work.

They offered command of the force to Red Eagle, of course. Just as naturally, he politely refused. (The man they did give the command to, unfortunately, was a political compromise, a nonentity who ignored the warning signs and was caught desperately unprepared for the revolt that nearly shattered the IPF. But I'm getting ahead of myself.)

After several months of deliberations the Athens Peace Conference concluded with the signing of the Middle East Treaty. More important, a week later the nations met on the Acropolis, before the ancient splendor of the Parthenon, to sign the document that created the International Peacekeeping Force.

The conference ended on a public note of optimism and private snickers of cynicism. Perhaps this was the way to save the world from nuclear holocaust, the delegates told each other. But none of them truly believed it. It was a gesture, at best. No one expected peace to last in the Middle East. No one expected the newly created IPF to finally end the scourge of war.

But they had tried to take a step in the proper direction.

Even the hard-boiled media reporters seemed impressed.

Hardly any of them offered a word of criticism or mentioned the fact that General Jabal Shamar, the man responsible for the Jerusalem Genocide, had not yet been apprehended.

I joined the IPF the first day of its

existence, I'm proud to say. At first, they

put me in an intelligence billet. That

experience will serve me well now that I'm

an archivist; I have had access to electronic

intercepts and other forms of snooping that

would have made J. Edgar Hoover tremble

with joy. Most of these snippets can't be

used in the official history of the IPF, where

every source must have its own footnote.

But I can use them here. Happily.

MOSCOW
Year 1

THE General Secretary eased his tired body into the gleaming stainless-steel tub. His valet made certain that the old man was safely settled in the steaming water, then touched the button that started the whirlpool action.

The General Secretary leaned back and sighed. It had been a long, difficult meeting. He saw that his valet was sweating heavily, rivers running down his face, dark stains growing on his shirtfront.

"You can remove your shirt, Yuri," he said, over the throbbing and gurgling of the agitated water. "It's all right."

"Thank you, sir," replied Yuri. But he made no move to disrobe.

Always the proprietaries, thought the General Secretary. If I asked Yuri to dash out into the snow and into the path of an oncoming tank he would do it without hesitation. But he will never willingly bare his chest in my presence.

The steaming hot water bubbled and frothed, relaxing the tensed muscles of the General Secretary's back and legs. I'm getting old, he thought. The Kremlin ages a man.

The responsibilities . . .

He leaned his head back against the soft padding and smiled up at his valet. Yuri looks ten years younger than I.

Still has his hair, and it's still as dark as it was twenty years ago. No responsibilities. No worries.

"Yuri, my old friend, what do you think of this International Peacekeeping Force?"

"You signed the treaty in Athens." The valet had to raise his voice to be heard over the whirlpool.

"Yes. It was quite a moment, wasn't it? The Parthenon is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world."

"Too delicate for me. I prefer something more solid, like St. Basil's . . ."

"I don't intend to argue architecture with you! What do you think of this Peacekeeping Force?"

"My son wants to join it."

The General Secretary felt his brows rise. "Little Gregor?"

"He is almost twenty-five, sir," said Yuri with some gentleness. "A lieutenant in the Guards."

Twenty-five, thought the General Secretary. The length of time of a generation.

"Will it be possible for him to join the international force?" asked Yuri. "It won't be a mark against him on his record, will it?"

"Of course not," the General Secretary replied almost absently. "We want loyal Russians in the IPF. It is necessary."

"And we will disband the Red Army?"

The General Secretary felt astonished. "Whatever gave you that idea?"

"From what people say . . . there are so many rumors, and no two of them are the same."

"We have agreed to reduce the size of our armed forces—slowly, according to a fixed timetable. We will also dismantle our nuclear weapons; again, in keeping with a strict schedule. The Americans and Chinese and all the others will do the same. There will be teams of international inspectors."

"Spies," muttered Yuri.

"Our own people will be on the inspection teams," replied the General Secretary. "Our own people will watch the imperialists dismantle their bombs."

"Do you trust them?"

With a slow smile, "Yes, of course. As much as they trust us."

Yuri laughed.

But the General Secretary grew serious again. "My old friend, there have been many changes in the Soviet Union since I dandled your Gregor on my knee."

"Many changes," Yuri agreed.

"We have lived through turbulent times."

"You have been a great leader, sir. The Soviet Union—the Russian people—are richer and stronger because of you."

Accustomed to flattery, the General Secretary asked, "But are they happier?"

"Yes!" Yuri's answer was so swift and certain that the General Secretary knew his valet believed it to be the truth.

He slid down lower in the bubbling water until it was up to his chin. He could feel the knots in his neck and shoulders easing.

Yuri stood by the tub, silent, stoic, as enduring as the endless steppes and the birch forests. Finally he asked "Once we have taken apart all our hydrogen bombs, what will we do with the pieces?"

The General Secretary smiled lazily. "Why, put them back together again, of course. You don't think that I would leave the nation defenseless, do you?"

I admit to some embellishments in the

preceding account, although each word

attributed to the two Russians comes

straight out of the Security Agency's

transcripts. I can't use such dramatic

devices in the official history; it's got to be

dry, factual, and nonthreatening. Twenty

committees will sit in judgment before it

will ever see the light of publication. I

shudder to think that my name might be on

it.

What follows is another (slightly

embellished) transcript, this one from a

videotape. As I said, being in IPF

intelligence was a good experience for me,

although, at the time, I fought and argued

and fumed through the system until they

transferred me to an active unit. Which is

how I lost my hand, of course. Young men

want glory. They never think about the

price.

WASHINGTON,
Year 1

"I wouldn't trust those Commie sumbitches if Jesus Christ himself came down from heaven and pleaded their case!"

"But that's the beauty of the system: we don't have to trust them. We don't have to give up anything unless they do."

The three men sat at one end of a long polished table in a conference room in the Old Executive Building, that rambling pile of Victorian stonework that stands next to the White House. The conference room had old-fashioned luxury built into it: high cofferwork ceiling, oak parquet floor, gracious long windows, the kind of spaciousness that modern office buildings are too efficient to afford.

Senator Zachary, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, chewed on his tongue for a moment, a habit he had acquired when his first heart attack ended his smoking.

Senator Foxworth, the committee's minority leader, silently wished Zachary would bite the damned tongue off and choke on it.

Aloysius B. Zachary was rake thin, his brittle-looking skin mottled with liver spots, his wispy white hair hanging long and dead down to the collar of his baggy suit. He had been much heavier before each of his heart attacks; lost weight after each one, only to gradually fatten up and have another attack. He was only a month out of the hospital after his latest. A waddling dewlap of grayish skin hung from his chin. For a dozen years now he had chaired the Foreign Relations Committee, wielding as much power over U.S. foreign policy as most Presidents did.

Foxworth knew that only death would remove this ignorant, arrogant, stubborn old fool from his powerful position. His Louisiana political machine would reelect him to the Senate for as long as he lived. As far as Foxworth was concerned, that had already been about one decade too long.

Jim Foxworth was known to be the best poker player on Capitol Hill. His face never betrayed him. He smiled always, especially when he was angry or fearful or making the final arrangements to drive the knife into an opponent's back.

He had the compact build of the health-food athlete: slightly bulging in the middle, but otherwise taut and fit.

Tennis and swimming. Horseback riding back home in Wyoming.

The third man in the conference room, seated between the two senators, wore the blue uniform and four stars of an Air Force general. A former fighter pilot, former astronaut, and the first black man to be appointed chief of staff, Charles Madison held degrees in engineering, management and communications. Of all the braid and decorations heaped upon him, though, he treasured most highly the two kills he had made against Nicaraguan MiGs during the Central American War.

"Lemme ask you, General," said Senator Zachary, his dewlap quivering with emotion, "d'y'all trust the Russkies to live up to this treaty they signed?"

"We signed it, too," Foxworth snapped.

"But we ain't ratified it. Senator!" Zachary leveled a forefinger at the younger man.

Foxworth turned to General Madison, smiling with his lips only.

"I don't trust the Russians, no, sir," said the general.

"And I certainly don't trust this international committee that's supposed to protect us against nuclear attack. I don't like the idea of turning our SDI satellites over to them. I don't like it one bit."

Zachary bobbed his head and sneered at Foxworth.

"Y'see?"

At that moment the corridor door opened and the ponderous figure of Harold Red Eagle filled the door frame. He wore a business suit of dark blue with a maroon tie knotted precisely.

"Forgive me, gentlemen," Red Eagle said in his deep, slow voice. It was like the rumble of distant thunder, or the suppressed growl of a restless volcano. "I was delayed at the Court. The computer was down for about an hour."

From the size of him, Foxworth thought, he may have broken the computer merely by laying his hamhock paws on it.

Red Eagle pulled a chair out and sat carefully on it, as if testing to see if it could hold his weight. Suddenly the head of the table was where he sat, and the three others turned to face him.

"I understand that you have grave doubts about the International Peacekeeping Force. I have come here to answer your questions, if I can, and relieve your fears."

"If you can," Zachary said.

Red Eagle turned his sad brown eyes to the senator from Louisiana. "If I can," he acknowledged. Zachary unconsciously edged back a little.

The gist of Red Eagle's argument was simple: The United States need give up none of its defenses. The Strategic Defense satellites were already_ under NATO control; by allowing the new International Peacekeeping Force to operate them, they lost very little and gained the entire fleet of Soviet SDI satellites, as well.

There would be no disarmament, no dismantling of nuclear weapons, no shrinkage of the armed services that was not matched by the Soviets—gun for gun, bomb for bomb, man for man.

"That still leaves the Russians with three times the conventional forces that we have," said General Madison.

"Yes, it does," admitted Red Eagle. "And three times the burden on their economy."

"If they decide to attack Western Europe . . ."

"The International Peacekeeping Force will stop them."

"That's not possible."

"General," said Red Eagle, gazing at the black man, "it is possible. It is even inevitable, if you serve the IPF with all the heart and intelligence that you now devote to the defense of the United States."