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By James J. Marry
Tuesday, July 31, 2001
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
Come into a parlor of survival says the rich benefactor. Some rewards are best left unexplained until the end of a proposal... or maybe not. An opening twist of the knife wherein Shut Up may truly begin, "Fidelity" examines a high level private meeting of wealthy and intelligent men with Arlene Longstreet, a doctor.
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By James J. Marry
The whole concept was ridiculous. The very idea was insane. These were some of the most powerful men on the planet and they had chosen Arlene Longstreet. She could not believe that all of the adulation and support had been a prelude to a proposition like this.
Arlene had spent her life becoming better. She would never be good enough. She had to be better. At everything. Men, friends and family had told Arlene for her entire life to relax more. Horse potatoes. Those that truly want- get. She would never get until she worked hard enough to receive. Her father had shown her that.
She had worked so hard to become the best doctor in the United States and maybe the world. Many believed that they were better. Many chose other doctors as their best. But, if it proved nothing else, this insane meeting proved that Dr. Arlene Longstreet was the best practitioner alive. According to these geniuses, the competition was going to be reduced dramatically in about a quarter of a century- very dramatically.
Arlene had heard from all of the pulpits that same message. You will never know your last day, until it is too late to do anything about it. Arlene was going to know the last day for billions of people and these four men needed her to be quiet about it. They needed her to be quiet about this fact of inevitable destruction for twenty-five years. They weren’t going to give her a choice in the matter either.
“So, what you gentleman are saying… basically… is that you want me to be your doctor for the rest of your lives?” Arlene said, hoping to get a chance to think.
Anthony Rothwaite was the obvious point man for the operation. Arlene recognized that Anthony was once again evaluating her. The decision to make this proposal to Arlene had been a very large one for these men to make. They had told Dr. Longstreet that she had been their second choice. Arlene had known the Conglomeration’s first choice professionally. She had worked with him closely on the Russian Space Station Mir and on the International Space Station due to begin its mission in six months. Life support was her specialty.
The man who had received the Conglomeration’s first nod had died in a car accident six months prior to this meeting. At about the time that Arlene had met Anthony Rothwaite in person.
“Dr. Longstreet. Surely, you understand that this position means much more to us than your being our general practitioner.” Rothwaite said coldly.
Everything that was on the table before Dr. Arlene Longstreet at this moment had been created by the efforts of Anthony Rothwaite. As a young man Rothwaite had seen great charitable operations save millions upon millions of lives. He had worked on four continents in his twenties toward humanitarian goals and had won multiple awards for his philanthropy. Now, Anthony had planned to watch the world fall into that same level of turmoil that he had witnessed twenty years earlier. He also intended to let it happen.
Seven years earlier, and by a fluke, Rothwaite had discovered that the earth would be assaulted. One of his corporate raidings had discovered the proverbial diamond in the rough. And the diamond had every sharp facet that a man could imagine.
Rothwaite had purchased the Acadia Metallurgical Production Company- AMPCO- in 1993 before the markets began to boom. He separated the company into eighteen pieces and sold seventeen of them in a year and a half. The final piece- he had named it AMPCO Experimental Industries- became Anthony’s diamond in the rough. To most of Rothwaites’s contemporaries, it would seem like the hand of destiny.
The hands of Ephram Conreid trembled. He was the true genius of the pentiad, though none of these giants could be considered anything but brilliant. Conreid could awe them all. He had combined “chaos theory” with standard logarithms using what he called “cataclysmic constants” to project movement in the universe based upon gravitational fields. Most astrophysicists had rejected the possibility that gravity might be visible in the objects that were effected by the force. Conreid had never studied astrophysics so he didn’t learn with that handicap. Conreid was a “digital philosophist’ if you asked him. He taught computers “how” to think.
In his German accented English, Conreid looked at Arlene as he said, “Surely, you don’t doubt my empirical data, Doctor?”
Ephram feared that he would be called a “quack” and Dr. Longstreet was tempted. Arlene was very aware that the other men in the hotel suite room were not likely to be as crazy.
Patrick MacGregor had worked with and supervised Arlene’s work on the International Space Station. He lived by an infamous engineering axiom. “When scientists tell us that it is possible, engineers find a way to make it happen.” He was the epitome of pragmatism. MacGregor also owned his own firm of engineers and astronomers. Arlene was certain that Patrick would have verified the truth of this tale before he had seated himself at this table. Surely.
Then the fifth member of the dais rose. Arthur Mangum was sixty years old and as healthy as any twenty- year old. He was a surprisingly tiny man of maybe five- four in his polished boots, but he was built like a brick shit house. Mangum had been chosen Man of the Year for donating $117 billion to Feed the Children in 2002. His wield of power was as obvious as his bald head.
Once risen, he summoned Dr. Longstreet with a finger. Arlene rose to answer the summons. The rest of the party of gentlemen remained in their respective seats.
The hotel suite actually consumed the entirety of the top floor of the Washington, D.C. building. It was an understatement to say that it was furnished exquisitely. Mangum had owned the block of real estate since 1970. Both, the property and the owner, had increased in value over the time.
They walked past the six individual suites for guests, past numerous other accommodations, through a small garden and into a black slate patio. Mangum had been quiet and Arlene knew better than to interrupt his silence. This was his show and he had earned the right to run it. Obviously.
They stopped at the corner of the garden and rested their elbows on the black marble wall. From here, they could see the White House and all of the glitter of Pennsylvania Avenue beautifully. The air was comfortably cool.
He turned to face her with a cold stare. He smiled wanly.
“Dr. Longstreet.” Arthur began. “I must apologize for the shock treatment that I have subjected you to, but I’m afraid that the ice needed to be broken. We have shared some very treasured information with you this evening and I should like to enlighten you as to our reasoning for doing so.”
Arlene was a very good listener. She hoped.
“As you might imagine, the gentlemen inside and myself feel that we are running against a very large clock. The pressure is enormous and I will explain to you the importance of your briefing this evening shortly. I thought that it might be nice for the two of us to take off some of this pressure and enjoy some of this beautiful night air.”
She felt Mangum’s pale eyes look through her as he said, “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course not, Mr. Mangum” Arlene said.
She knew that she was a bit flushed by the moment. Mangum had not asked her to refer to him as Arthur. That would have been ridiculous.
A boy came forward with two cups of coffee on a tray. One had been frothed and the other looked black. Mangum handed Arlene the frothed cup. When she tasted the coffee, she recognized the Mint Cappuccino Latte that she had loved from her summer in France in college.
“Don’t look so surprised, Dr. Longstreet. I hope that I might begin to call you Arlene. I intend too be spending a great deal of time with you in the future. It is in my best interest if you are aware that I know you quite well. You have been studied as thoroughly as you can imagine. In fact, we scheduled this meeting around your biological clock, Doctor.” Mangum said.
When Rothwaite had first approached Arlene months ago, he had said that she would be “checked out to the grime under her toe nails”, as Arlene remembered. Rothwaite told Dr. Longstreet to refuse the grants if she did not want the utmost in scrutiny. He insisted that her privacy would be an issue. Arlene had no idea that this was what Anthony had meant.
She also didn’t have the slightest inkling that the grants had been a prelude to Arthur Mangum telling her that the world would come close to destruction either. She remembered her deceased mother telling her that once the devil sat at your dining room table, you should go buy a bassinet because you were already pregnant. The saying seemed to fit the situation.
“Your family is gone and you live alone. We can buy the media and have you disavowed as crazy if you decide to talk to the press about this. We would prefer to have you join us in our mission, Dr. Longstreet, but the choice is ultimately yours.”
Arlene considered the deceased colleague who she believed had preceded her with the Conglomeration.
“There is no way to protect the earth from these asteroids, Dr. Longstreet.” Magnum said.
Asteroid. Arlene had never believed that a word could sound so ugly before. Magnum knew the power that the word would hold over her. He had prepared Arlene for the word with the briefing and this little coffee klatch. He had experienced a similar experience when Rothwaite had first approached him with Conreid’s findings. He needed to see Arlene let go. She could not leave this meeting with anything left but Magnum’s choices. Or why have the meeting at all? Too much had been put into play for Dr. Arlene Longstreet to walk away now. She was going to be the one.
“Why aren’t you using your money to tell the world?” Arlene asked.
Mangum looked down at his hands. “There are several reasons that we are not continuing to promote this fact to the world, Dr. Longstreet.”
He looked sad as he wrung his fingers.
“When Professor Conreid discovered his anomaly- he reported the large asteroid to NASA and even to the President’s office. He expected to receive word rather quickly. When the equations derived an astronomical incident with the Mars- Jupiter Belt, he contacted these offices again with greater urgency. He did not understand how the greatest government on the planet could ignore a risk of such imminent possibility. Ephram was considered one of the world’s greatest minds until he began warning of the shrapnel of the Gods.” Mangum said.
Wait. I heard about the Belt during the film, but I don’t understand it very well.” Arlene interrupted.
Mangum had assumed that there would be some technical questions.
“I am not an astronomer, but my understanding is that the Belt began at the beginning of the universe. Some say that there was once a giant planet between Mars and Jupiter that was destroyed by an astronomical event, maybe a major asteroid strike. Others say that the planet never formed and the Belt is the debris that could have been a planet. The material is very similar to the rings of Saturn though. But, the ring has always been there.” Mangum said.
“Okay. So, all of this is a possibility and now Conreid has created a model that shows it is going to be hit with a mega- rock from God knows where. You guys told the powers to be that we are going to be in a big shooting gallery and when it’s going to happen.” Arlene was trying not to get upset without much success. “What I need to know is why the government doesn’t believe the same model that you fellas are making your decisions based on?”
Arlene felt as though she had been painted in a corner. Mangum held the brush.
“Dr. Longstreet.” Mangum said. “You are one of the most intelligent women on the planet that I could have hoped to find. Ask yourself the same exact question?”
“Why would our government choose NOT to believe that such a disaster is possible?” Mangum asked.
Mangum sipped from his mug while Arlene mulled over his question. The man was getting to her. He was right. There was not much mulling required. It annoyed her that Mangum knew that she would have this answer.
“The only reason that the American government would choose not to believe that such an incident is on the way is because…” Arlene hesitated because she knew that it would be important for her to answer this question right. Real important.
Mangum let Dr. Longstreet say the words. He knew that she had to say the words before she would ever believe them.
“…there is nothing that they can do about it if it is true .”
And that was all the logic that the American government needed to support a decision of inactivity. Mangum smiled a little and Arlene hated him for it.
She thought of the science fair film that Professor Conreid had shown. The film didn’t begin to show the potential devastation that this event could create. These men were sure that it would happen. Who was Dr. Arlene Longstreet to argue with them? The American government didn’t want to argue with them.
If Ephram Conreid was correct, the large asteroid would hit the belt in little more than twenty-one years. He was working on refining his study and trying to narrow it down to the larger rocks in the belt and the likelihood that they would be propelled toward the earth’s orbit. According to Ephram’s film, the earth would be at the optimum point of orbit for the strike. Any debris that would head in the direction of ground zero would take about fourteen days to get here. The possibility of a planet killer was very slim if not non-existent. Ephram’s presentation claimed that multiple large strikes were the most likely scenario.
Ephram said that the odds of the planet being struck by more than two pieces of the shrapnel from the belt was 87%. The professor also estimated that more than six hits would be a planet killer. Due to the distance of travel from the point of impact on the Belt, the likelihood of more than six hits was close to nil. Earth would survive the attack. How much life would still be sustained was the question. And why tell Dr. Arlene Longstreet?
“May I summarize then, what I believe is the point of our meeting, Mr. Mangum?” Arlene asked knowing that he would allow her to do so.
“Several years ago, my foundations began gaining financial strength via investments by your companies, Mr. Mangum. We made some very good efforts at regenerating oxygen thanks to your funding. If I am not mistaken, it was at that point that your Conglomeration decided to, lets say, keep an eye on me. Right?”
“Go on.” Mangum said.
“My guess is that there is a contingency for each member of your group with the possible exception of Professor Ephram Conreid. The least necessary party would be Anthony Rothwaite.” Arlene said.
“And why would you say that?”
“Because your group needs to know, as close to accurately as possible, when, where and how many space rocks are going to hit the earth. You have already determined that there will be at least one, and one will cause a great deal of destruction by itself. Ephram is the only man that can do that.” Arlene said confidently.
“Anthony Rothwaite, on the other side of the equation, is nearly expendable. He has done his job by bringing all of the parties in your group together. His reward, I think, will be his survival. Or at least increasing the odds, shall we say.” The picture was growing in her mind.
“Bravo, Doctor. Continue, please.” Mangum said.
“I think that survival is the key to your unstated proposition, Mr. Mangum. Unless, I have misunderstood the attendance of Patrick MacGregor. Have I?”
“I think that your grasp is quite impressive, Dr. Longstreet.”
“Patrick MacGregor designed, engineered and built two space stations in the last two decades. I think that it is safe to assume that he is building another. A station for the richest man in the world to survive on when the sky falls to the earth in the year 2024. I am to be the person to make the station that Patrick MacGregor builds as comfortable and survivable as possible.” Arlene smiled.
She knew that she was right.
“I knew that I had chosen the right woman for the job, Dr. Longstreet. You do realize the importance of your decision then?” Mangum asked.
Arlene thought about the choice.
She could say “no” to the project right here and now. She might even be allowed to walk away from it. There was not a reason for this Conglomeration to believe that she could pose a threat to their plans. Of course, why should they even take the chance? They may even have ended the life of her predecessor before offering this chance to her. He may only have been guilty of “cold feet”.
If Arlene said “yes”, and meant it, Mangum would see to it that she was well taken care of. She could do whatever she wanted for the next quarter century with the money of the world’s richest man to back her up. He was sixty now, but to believe that he would reach the age with the vigor for this “mission” was highly likely. Arlene knew that her rewards would be immeasurable regardless.
Plus, she would survive a holocaust like mankind had never known- comfortably.
“I believe that I will have to answer you “Yes”, Mr. Mangum.” Arlene said.
That was really the only answer she could give.
“Please.” Mangum said. “I think that you will need to begin calling me Arthur from now on.”
“Okay… Arthur.” Arlene said with a little embarrassment.
Arthur noticed the little tinge of red from Arlene’s blush.
He thought to himself. “You’ve chosen a fine mother for your children, Arthur. A fine mother.”
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|Reviewed by Valerie F. de Daulles
|Great story! Should be fleshed out as a novel. Don't know about the very, very end of the story (a tad Hollywood, maybe?).|
|Reviewed by Valerie F. de Daulles
|I would have rated this a 12 or a 15 if there had been that option. This is a first rate story and I can only hope that it is a book in the works. Pretty awesome stuff along the order of Grisham's first few novels. You got a winning story here, James. Go Figure?|