Transfer of Power
This story was first published in Something for the Journey (2013). A complete list of my science fiction is here.
Transfer of Power
by Paul Levinson
The Cuban missile crisis is far from over. Its so-called resolution set in motion forces which I'm just now beginning to fully appreciate. Most of the world's attention, and mine as well, focused on Kennedy and Khruschev -- on how their closeness to mutual nuclear destruction sobered them, gave them new appreciation of life and humanity and the need to work together on this planet. This is true, but not the whole story.
The third man in the Cuban missile crisis was furious at the result. He felt he and his country had been used -- his revolution a pawn for the two superpowers. Most people dismiss Fidel Castro as an irritant. They're wrong. He's more powerful than that, and his fury may well find expression.
My powers are very limited. True, I'm more than the lowly assistant on the White House staff that I seem to be, but, in the end, I have very little influence over events. My role is to report, to interpret, to foresee. I have a trick or two up my sleeve, but I must be very careful about how and when I act.
And events have gone too far for me to do much in any case. Both men are in grave danger now. Khruschev is already well beyond my capacity to help. His reward for doing his part to keep the gates of destruction closed will be either assassination or unceremonial dumping from office in a year. The high aparatchniks in his party feel
he humilated them and the Soviet Union when he agreed to pull out the missiles. I can only hope the de-Stalinization there has proceeded far enough that he can be removed without being murdered.
Kennedy's situation is far graver. The CIA hates him, the Mafia hates him, and worst of all, Castro has a lot of agents in this country. Must I stand, a mute umbrella on the wall, unable to cry out about the pool of devastation I see before me? Must I be all too true to my menial disguise and keep my mouth shut? How I yearn with every fiber of my being to sound a warning, to do something to stop this. But I dare not.
Transference is my only option. Even that is a risk -- no one can predict with any certainty how such things will work out in the future -- but I must take the chance. The Earth is in very critical shape now. I must do what I can to preserve the glimmer of understanding, the sense of the deepest truth that, however slightly, nonetheless permanently impressed the souls of the leaders in the missile crisis.
The Soviet Union, I think, will be ok in the long run. Khruschev will soon be gone in way or another, true; but I've come to see that the brief liberalization under Khruschev has had an effect greater than most people realize. Young people in that troubled country -- too young to make a difference now -- have been touched by the thaw, and will move to bring the world to peace when they gain power. I don't know who they are, but they are there -- they've seen and heard and felt the meaning of what has happened in the past half year. And in the short run, those who succeed Khruschev won't do too much harm. They're too old and conservative and slow-moving to really jeopardize peace on this planet.
The United States, ironically because of its democracy, is much more unpredictable and dangerous. Kennedy's assassination -- I've no doubt about this now -- will hurt this country to the point of its unraveling. Generation will be pitted against generation, America will flout its own constitution, and much of what Kennedy learned will be lost as his enemies or incompetent successors or both assume power. My guess is it will be 25 maybe 30 years before the country has a chance of recovering some of the inspiration of the Kennedy years.
I've pleaded with my superiors, I've begged them to let me stop this. But they say no. I guess they're right -- for if I intervene now, why not the next time, and where will it end? In short order, this will become our world, not the world of the people of this planet, and that is not what we want.
Still, I must do something. I will save something of the President's soul, something of his insight and wisdom and psyche. I'll transfer this to another -- just a little, but
enough to make a difference. The recipient will of course be the same person after the transfer, but with just a little added compassion, a little better ability to envision humanity as a whole, and a little more motivation to attain the heights of power in the United States to implement such vision.
John F. Kennedy knew the world of pain, knew the world of near destruction, and the recipient of these sensibilities will bring them to the table the next time the United States faces a life-and-death crisis. Or if such a crisis does not arise -- and no one can ever be sure -- this person will be a better leader in other ways.
The question is: who shall this person be? With the gleam of the President inside, this person will surely be driven to run for highest office. I must pick someone who has a chance to win, and who has inclinations already in accord with the President's.
My choice seems clear to me. I will implement the transfer in the Oval Office tomorrow, when the two men shake hands and look each other in the eyes. The transfer will diminish the President's store of wisdom in no way -- like any other type of information, wisdom and insight and perspective are in no sense lessened in the original when shared with another.
Yes, I will safeguard the future of this country and the world, and transfer just a bit of that insight to the President's brother, Bobby.
Well, my work is almost done on this planet. I have a deep sense of grief and guilt which I know will never leave me. I've come to love this President -- his wit and his style as well as his substance -- and I know I'll never be same again for having not done something to prevent his assassination.
But I've done my part to save a bit of the best of him. The transfer to Bobby was successful -- I can see the light in his eyes, though Bobby himself doesn't know it's there. But someday he'll act upon it.
I leave tomorrow. Today, I attend a ceremony on the White House lawn for visiting high school students. Bright kids from all over the country who won some contest.
The President will be out there, shaking these kids' hands, looking them in eye, inspiring them as he inspired me. And I'll be crying inside, because no one but me knows that these are the last months of the New Frontier.
You know, my friends say I'm a worrier. But I found over and over again you can't be too careful about the future. Call me a nutcase, call me a nervous nelly, but I'm going to do another transfer right here this afternoon. A little back-up never hurt -- hey, don't I sometimes wear a belt and suspenders in this uniform?
I've picked out a boy to inspire. He's way to young to have any real impact on national politics for years, but you never know. I'll do the transfer this afternoon when he shakes hands with the President.
His name is Bill Clinton from Arkansas.
I've been gone many years. The handshake between JFK and Bill Clinton took place back in July 1963 – immortalized in photographs you can see all over what they call the Web today. The transfer of power took place, though you of course cannot see it in the photograph. But did it have its intended effect? I'm not sure. Bill Clinton is no longer President, but he still shakes lots of hands. There will be occasions for the transfer to be made. I have been authorized by my superiors to try one more transfer. My job now is to select a suitable recipient.