Friday, July 24, 2009

The Declaration

Written for the Friday Challenge. Short version: What if the French and Spanish had successfully invaded England during the American Revolution, as they attempted to do in 1779 (failing miserably)? What would North America look like today?

Charles Gordon had just finished reviewing the document as his limo pulled up in front of the Department of State building. Gathering the document and recent intelligence reports into his briefcase, Gordon strode to the door. His assistant, Tony, was already there. Together they strode toward the car as the driver opened the rear door.

"Is it true, sir?" Tony asked.

"Is what true, Tony?" Gordon replied, though he already knew the answer.

"That French troops are massing just across the Mississippi, sir," Tony replied. "And that the Spanish navy is staging war games in the Gulf of New Spain."

"Hell, Tony, I thought all you youngsters were, um, what's the word? Inline?"

"Online," Tony corrected.

"Oh, right. Online. Never can manage to remember that one. Don't know why," Gordon muttered as he slid into the back seat of the car. He waited until Tony got in on the other side of the car. "Isn't all of that information available online? That's the hallmark of that new Internet thing, immediate access to news?"

"Well, yes sir, it is," Tony agreed, "but a whole lot of the stuff you find online is just ridiculous. There's no control, so people can post the most outlandish things without any concern whether it's true or not."

"So, this brave new online world is no different than the TV news programs? Ha!" Gordon said.

"I wouldn't go that far, sir," Tony said. "None of the TV news programs are claiming our European colonies are going to declare their independence, but it's all over the Drudge Report. I didn't think Drudge was gullible enough to buy that foolishness!"

"Hmph," replied Gordon.

"It is foolishness, isn't it?"

Gordon stared out his window, not speaking.

"Sir?" Tony asked, his voice laced with just a touch of unease.

Gordon sighed, "You might as well know, Tony, since it'll be all over the news tomorrow. Yes, our European colonies are attempting to break away, to declare their independence. They see all the trouble we're having over here, what with the Napoleon of New France rattling his saber and trying to claim Quebec from us yet again. They see the President of New Spain backing the Napoleon's power grab and see Spanish troops moving into northern California, probably in the hopes of grabbing Oregon and Washington while we're busy dealing with the French."

"What?" Tony exclaimed. "No one is reporting that bit about California! Not even Drudge!

"Well, good. Apparently the CIA can still keep one or two secrets!" Gordon said. "Anyway, the colonies see this as their big chance. They figure we'll be too busy dealing with the really important issues on the home front to keep them in line."

"Look at what happened the last time we go involved in a war in Europe," Gordon continued. "Ever since we spent the decade of the '40s in the whole German quagmire, the public just isn't willing to put American lives on the line in Europe any more."

"Maybe it would have been better if the founding fathers had just returned England, France and Spain to their original governments," Tony said.

"Really, Tony, you should know better than to give voice to that revisionist claptrap!" Gordon said. "They do teach American history in the schools these days, don't they?"

"Well," Tony said, "they teach a version of it, I guess."

"Let me guess, the version where the United States should have stayed neutral when France and Spain attacked England in 1779?" Gordon asked. "The version where the United States should have refused King George's offer to grant American independence in return for sending troops to help defend England?"

"That's part of it, sir," Tony answered. "They also say that, having helped defend England, General Washington should not have helped the British conquer France and Spain. And then, when the British turned on him in the end, how he should have either surrendered or retreated back to America."

"What kind of idiots are in charge of the schools, now?" Gordon demanded. "Any fool would know that Washington couldn't sail back here without abandoning most of his men! Washington was much too honorable a man to ever do that!"

"I know that, sir," Tony began, "but some people claim he was power hungry and-"

"What a load of rubbish!" Gordon declared. "Washington did what any real man would do in his situation; he defied the British and fought back! I only wish I could have been around to see King George's face when the American troops marched into London three years later! Wouldn't have minded seeing old George dance on the end of that rope, either, when Washington hanged the old bastard for his treachery! Let me tell you-"

"Sorry, sir," Tony interrupted, happy to change the subject, "but we're here."

"What? Oh, yes, so we are," Gordon said as the limo pulled up to the White House.

Minutes later, Gordon was ushered into the Oval Office.

"Mr. President," Gordon said, formally.

"Charles," the President replied, equally formally. "Have you got it?"

"Yes, sir," Gordon replied, pulling the document out of his briefcase. "It's right here."

The President glanced at the document, "They really did it, didn't they?"

"Yes, sir. Cheeky bastards, if you'll pardon me, sir," Gordon growled.

"It'll score points with the public, you know," the President said, rubbing his temples. "And the opposition is going to kill us with it."

"That was the first thing that crossed my mind, sir," Gordon answered.

There was a knock at the door. "Enter," called the President.

A White House staff member entered, holding a newspaper. "You wanted to be notified if a special edition of the Post was released, Mr. President."

"Yes, Bob," the President sighed. "Have they got the story?"

"I think so, Mr. President," Bob answered. "I haven't been privy to-"

"Is the text of the European declaration included?" the President asked. Seeing Bob nod, the President added, "What does it say?"

Clearing his throat, Bob began, "When in the course of human events..."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I, Lex Luthor

Written for the Friday Challenge due July 16. The challenge is to take a well known story and turn it on its head; make the good guy bad or the bad guy good.

It is liberating to write your own obituary, to be the man who writes words that will announce your death to the world. It's something I would recommend to you in person, were I still alive to do so. Of course, far more people are going actually read my obituary than yours, so it's of the utmost importance that my obituary says what must be said.

Let's get the obligatory personal history out of the way so I can move on the important part of this obituary. I was born into poverty in the worst slum in Metropolis. My father was an abusive alcoholic who had little education and even less intellect. My mother must have been intelligent at one time but my father had beaten that out of her before I was born. I learned quickly to avoid my father and to never display my vast intelligence around him. Unfortunately, Miss Perkins, my first school teacher did not know my father.

I still remember her showing up at the door late one afternoon, her face shining with suppressed excitement as my mother let her into our tiny apartment. Miss Perkins told my parents how bright I was and how much I had already learned before even entering her class. She never noticed my father's face going red as she told of the IQ tests she had given me. She never noticed my mother shrinking into the corner as she told them my IQ was just over 200. She never noticed me sidling toward the apartment door as she told them I was probably twice as smart as anyone in the class. She never noticed my father grinding his teeth as she told them I should probably skip straight to the fifth grade. She smiled as she told this to my father, who was 13 before he ever made it to the fifth grade.

As soon as she was out the door, my father visited Hell on my mother and me, Hell as he had never visited on us before. As he chased me around the apartment, as his fists pummeled me, as his feet lashed out at me, I swore I would never been like him. I swore I would never be a stupid, unthinking brute. I swore I would use my brains to make my way in the world.

Of course, my father was hardly the only anti-intellectual I ran across during my childhood. As an advanced student, I was regularly in classes filled with children several years older than myself. They would struggle with subjects I found absurdly easy. They would always know who had ruined the curve on the latest test, usually because some clueless teacher had held my test score up as an example of true scholarship. And they would always be waiting for me in the hallway, the bathroom or the gym, trying to do with their fists what they could not do with their brains -- claim superiority to me.

Of course, I graduated at the top of my high school class. Not that it was much of a challenge. I was thirteen and set on having the last laugh. Instead of the typical valedictorian speech, I issued a warning to my "fellow" classmates. I told them their days of lording over me were finished. They laughed. I smiled and was about to offer an example. That's when the principal's hand landed on my shoulder and I was pulled away from the microphone. In a voice that carried throughout the auditorium, he proclaimed my speech was over. Grabbing his tie, I pulled him down to my level and spoke softly for a few seconds. The principal's face went pale and I went back to the microphone. No, I'm not going to tell you what I said to the principal. I told him I would only reveal my knowledge if I was not allowed to continue my speech and I always keep my word.

This time I spoke to an absolutely quiet audience. This time, I had a predator's smile as I pointed out my greatest nemesis in the school. He was, of course, a football player. Big, strong, stupid. And a five star football recruit for a college powerhouse. All he needed was a halfway decent score on his latest attempt to pass the SAT and he was set. You should have seen his face when I announced that he had threatened me physically if I didn't take the SAT for him. You should have seen his face when I announced I had recorded all of his threats. You should have seen his face when I announced that I had sent those recordings to major newspapers and the NCAA. You should have seen his face twisted with rage as he charged at me. You should have seen his face as I dropped him in his tracks with a stun gun of my own design. As he lay twitching on the floor, I calmly turned and strode from the auditorium. I never looked back.

At this point, you probably think I've become exactly what I despised; a bully, albeit one who used his brain rather than his brawn. And you would be right. For the next several years, I was consumed by the need to get revenge on those who wronged me. And I succeeded in every case, yet my revenge was hollow. There was no challenge in this pursuit and little satisfaction in attaining it. Enlightenment finally came, however. I cast aside my goals of petty revenge and chose, instead, to work for the benefit of all humanity. Since that moment, I have spent my entire life pursuing that goal.

Even from the grave, I can hear the snorts of disbelief at this claim. Lex Luthor, the arch villain, working to benefit humanity? This is the final proof that, in life, I was insane, right? Wrong!

Every state in this country has at least one school for academically gifted founded and supported by the Luthor Foundation. Every hospital in the country has several major medical devices designed, manufactured and sold at cost by Luthor Industries. I could go on -- quite extensively -- but I know why none of you will believe me. Because of him. Because of Superman.

When Superman first appeared on the scene, I was as excited to see him as any of you. Imagine, an alien from an advanced civilization right here on earth! Just think of what he could teach us! Just think of what we could accomplish with his advanced intellect to guide us! Just think of what he could accomplish all by himself! Oh, the possibilities were endless! I decided then and there to put all of the vast resources of Luthor Industries at Superman's disposal. Together, we would design a better future for all of mankind! Together, we would discover mankind's true potential!

Alas, my dream for a better world had one fatal flaw. That flaw was Superman, himself. Rather than devote himself to intellectual pursuits that would have saved millions and benefited billions, Superman chose to devote himself to physical pursuits that saved a mere handful. Rather than design a new and better world, Superman chose to fight to preserve the world we already had.

Devastated, I was forced to see the truth about Superman. I had envisioned a god among men, leading all of us -- even me -- in pursuit of knowledge. Faced with the choice between brains and brawn, Superman chose brawn. Instead of the ultimate intellect, Superman chose to be the ultimate jock.

Oh, he's a nice jock, certainly. He's always saving the innocent and helping the helpless. He never dunked a nerd's head in the toilet or gave him a wedgie. But that doesn't make him any less of a jock.

Superman uses his body to shield people from bullets and everyone cheers. I used my brain to create Lexar; a thin, flexible, bulletproof cloth used by our military and police forces around the country. No one notices.

Superman flies and people are amazed. I design a small, inexpensive jet pack and fly, too. People are unimpressed.

In every way, Superman has come to personify this country's love of the physical and disdain of the intellectual. With Superman leading our research efforts, it's entirely possible we could have cured cancer or HIV or heart disease or even the common cold! With Superman leading our research efforts... Well, we'll never know what could have happened because the big guy with the cape chose the physical over the intellectual.

I could have accepted many things from Superman, but not that. I could not accept a being who could have shown the world the value of knowledge, the value of science, the value of technology but chose, instead, to show the world the value of big muscles. I could not accept a being who had so much to offer yet gave so little.

That is why I made the destruction of Superman my life's work. I dedicated myself to the proposition that brains were mightier than brawn. I dedicated myself to proving that a determined, intelligent man could defeat an alien god who had chosen to live among us.

I lost the company I spent my life building to this pursuit. I lost my fortune to this pursuit. At times, I lost my freedom to this pursuit. And, now, I've lost my life to this pursuit. But it will not have been in vain if just a few of you rise above the vast flock of human sheep to stand where I stood. My sacrifices will have been worth all they cost me, if just a handful of you rise to take my place.

Superman, you have won this round, but it was only the first round. Humanity has some fight left in them yet. Humanity has a few champions who will take up my torch. Someday, Superman, those who follow will succeed where I have failed. Someday, Superman, you will regret your foolish infatuation with your physique. Someday, Superman, you will wish you had expanded your intellect. Someday, Superman, mankind will destroy you.

And then I will know peace.