@Mercury's "Fake" Message

By Ann Bridges

LAWYERS, JUDGES AT FINAL STANDOFF IN STORMY AFFAIR
PRESIDENT’S APPROVAL PLUMMETS OVER FAILED MILITARY ACTIONS

[Silicon Valley: Author Ann Bridges, contributing reporter to this story]

VICTOR: A rock crashed through the window, bounced off the table and landed in my lap. Scalding black coffee sloshed over the edges of the mug’s thick rim and joined the crimson-striped missile in its unfortunate resting place.

“Youch!” I leapt to my feet and peered out the new hole in the glass, ready to give some young protestor a piece of my mind. Last week’s Independence Day celebration had been disrupted by local students, who transformed the family event into loud squabbles regarding the future of our great country. After years of increasingly progressive presidents, this Republican’s surprise triumph in the Electoral College didn’t sit well with voters, especially since he hadn’t come close to winning the nation’s popular vote.

Yep, exactly as I suspected. A rowdy throng met my gaze—both young and old—yelling and waving crudely written signs in the San Jose plaza outside my favorite coffeehouse, coalescing into an ad hoc parade.

“Secede, California, Secede!”

“President Punishing State Businesses. Stop Him Now!”

A young woman rushed from the nearby building. “Me, too!”

“I’m with her!” another girl called, her skirt hiked high up her legs, bordering on indecency. What was she trying to accomplish, capture attention for the cause? Shrugging, I watched the two grab hands and march down the street, unified by their defiant expressions.

Mothers bounced babies on their hips and coddled toddlers close to their legs, staying far from the angry fray. Men shouted and swiped at each other, almost coming to blows, seemingly intent on making their point heard. To whom, I couldn’t understand. Perhaps simply to each other, to gin up support for this modern-day revolt, right here. Right now. Or perhaps because a pompous journalist was recording their actions, ready to hit the key to send it out over the most popular newswire network.

I shook my head in disbelief at the holy mess this untried president had made of the nation. Americans had always disagreed, but this, this descent into outright violence could have been avoided. Just let things lie, is my motto…and escape to golden sunshine once things get tough back east, as I had decades ago. Now I joined the other recent newcomers, enjoying a very definite California state of mind.

Resettling into my chair, I lifted the now tepid coffee to my mouth, slurped and scanned the headlines in The Mercury News, looking for any sort of reasonable assurance that all this legal wrangling would end soon. I’d always figured a leader had to believe in his cause and demonstrate bravery in order to motivate the nation to accomplish great things. Not this president. A wholly different man than had ever been elected, he had a reputation as a God-fearing man-of-the-people that was a bunch of hooey. Especially when he slapped that outlandish hat on his head. And that hair!

Despite my nephew’s praises, I couldn’t support this crass tyrant as my elected leader. Not after all his missteps. The  president’s copious appointees had been a bunch of mealy-mouthed idiots, probably educated at the finest universities, with influential friends in high places. But they had no clue how to handle this full-throated uproar from rebels defending their Constitutional rights. Must be why he’d had to fire his first picks so early in his term. Hard for regular guys like me to keep track of all the changes.

Maybe the demonstrators outside were on to something. Maybe this state should break off and form its own nation. That would sure make a whole lotta folks happy. Too much wealth was pouring into the national treasury thousands of miles away, used for distant military aims. Instead, that money should remain in the pockets of California’s own.

Forget New York bankers, Wall Street and the rest of the Eastern elites. They’d already proved they would only devalue the dollar further. Getting off the gold standard had been a mistake, and everyone here knew it. In a few years the United States would crumble under a crushing debt, a result of bad policy decisions and a feckless Congress.

Why bother participating in a failing government system that breaks apart every century?

Good riddance!

Closing the newspaper’s page, I walked onto the street in search of Karl. I had my suspicions he was caught up in that madding crowd.

EXECUTIVE ORDER TAKES AIM AGAINST FOREIGN INTERESTS
ATTORNEY GENERAL: WE HOLD THE TRUMP CARD

KARL: Waving at Uncle Victor, I ran up Market Street to join him. “Have you heard the news? The president just issued an executive order that’s guaranteed to cause trouble.”

“Already has,” my uncle commented with his usual dry style, pointing at the mass of bodies packing the square. “What’s it all about this time? He seems to be running our republic single-handedly.”

Victor’s cynicism regarding our country’s chief executive was a bone of contention between us. In fact, he had told me flat out he found my attitude deplorable. So what? I’d followed the president and read his writings for years before I ever headed west. I respected the man’s self-taught upbringing. He understood people, stood up to attorneys over real estate disputes and wasn’t afraid of physical labor. Impressed with the  president’s forthrightness and willingness to tackle the big issues facing the nation, I had remained a staunch supporter throughout many a mealtime debate.

“Do you remember that vague US Supreme Court ruling unfavorable to San Jose’s foreign business owners?” I asked.

He nodded.

“Apparently, the  president’s taken it upon himself to enforce it somehow.” I took a settling breath. “According to the mayor, this has huge consequences for the rest of the minority-owned small businesses in the city, as well as throughout the state.”

“I’d love to see him try,” Victor muttered. “This next generation of young immigrant dreamers might have something to say about that. Doesn’t he have anything better to do than issue proclamations and poke his nose into commercial disputes? What’s next, tossing a bunch of tariffs on us all?”

“Maybe his message got garbled with this new technology,” I suggested. “After all, can we trust these are his exact words, or one of his surrogates’?”

Call me a throwback, but I actually prefer studying the nuances of facial expressions while I’m conversing. Some of his official statements may have been censored in transmission by political adversaries. Who knew anymore?

“Let’s go, Uncle Victor!” I implored, certain there would be more details to discover at the rally.

Finally, excitement in this sleepy town. So far, all I’d seen was work, work, work. No one seemed engaged in the issues of the day, too involved in earning a living and traveling the long miles home to consider that decisions made in Washington, DC might impact their future.

Nevertheless, I understood the implications. According to Stanford, these times were an aberration, and statistics showed that success was unlikely along the existing trajectory. I expected an announcement on that issue soon. While I didn’t dare disagree with such expert opinion, I realized my career course could be changed if the president got his way—or not.

“Not a chance,” Victor said. “Your man in Washington is a braggart, flailing around without any hope of accomplishing what he promised. At least this time, his failure means he’ll stay out of our hair.”

Victor turned to the left and started toward home, braced against the cool wind whipping down the bay as the evening fog rolled in.

I hastened to catch up with him, wondering if he was correct.

PREZ TO MEXICAN WORKERS: YOU’RE FIRED!
CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR TAKES STRONG STANCE ON IMMIGRANTS

VICTOR: I couldn’t enjoy the sparse dinner Karl had thrown together. Was he trying to win my approval, serving my favorite beef hash? I knew he would rather join the picketers, all riled up on this sultry night, but that was a foolish waste of energy. What use was holding up signs and vehemently agreeing or disagreeing with other saps, while the government was throwing its weight around in our faces? Everyone talking, nobody listening. Words didn’t seem to matter anymore.

“That damn president!” I fumed aloud to Karl, lighting my cigar. “Who does he think he is? Does he really believe that he can just announce to the world that he’s in charge of my best customer?”

“Foreign-owned or not, that dispute over who owned what never should have gotten to the Supreme Court,” Karl said. “Even the justices recognized that it was too complicated for them to decide—that’s probably why they punted on the decision’s details.”

“Only a power-hungry politician would interject himself into the proceedings now, instead of letting other savvy businessmen hammer out a solution.” Pointing my cigar at Junior as if he were still in school, I reiterated my weeks-long argument. “So much for keeping each branch of government in check. We need someone independent to investigate all this wrongdoing. When investors grease the skids of both Congress and the president, and convince the highest court in the land to roll over as easily as a puppy, who’s really in charge, anyway?”

“The citizens are,” Karl argued back, gullible as always. “And any one of us is entitled to own a business without political interference. That’s probably what the protest is about.”

“Um-hum. And the states are supposed to be a check on the feds, correct?”

“Yes, that’s the way the Constitution was designed.”

“Then why is all hell breaking out across this fine nation, hmm?” I almost shouted. “Every time states dare to stand up to the president, he’s down their throats in a heartbeat, threatening to eliminate all their so-called guaranteed Constitutional rights. Remember how he towered over his opponent in the debates, purposely leveraging his height advantage to intimidate and win? We had plenty of warning he might try to browbeat us to follow his insane ideas. So who wins, the feds or the states? Or Wall Street bankers?”

Karl rose and cleared the table, wearing a troubled expression. “He’s a good, ethical man who understands the limited power of his office. He must have a valid reason for his directive.”

“Yeah, that’s why they’re rioting in the center of the very town that touted itself as the capital of all of California. Because ‘we the people’ are in charge. Who’s watching out for the businesses, eh? They can’t vote. So if our elected representatives, including whoever sits in the Oval Office, decide what to trash or not, who’s to stop them?”

“You’re just mad because the case disrupts your customer,” Karl said, hurling the accusation like a dagger. It cut deep. “You’ve never cared what the government does, except this once. I bet you don’t even vote! Why should government protect you if you avoid involvement and commitment?” He crossed his arms over his narrow chest and glared. “Mother said you always quit at the first sign of trouble. I’m starting to believe she told the truth…you’re a coward.”

Well, well, well. My young nephew had figured out my soft spot. True enough, I’d run out on his mother when the going got tough, and left her for my brother to smooth things over. Not surprising that she had ugly things to say regarding me. More surprising was that she trusted me with Karl’s final development. A few key experiences mature a man, and my Bible-thumping brother simply wouldn’t do in this case.

“Fair enough, son, then I have a question for you. By what method can we determine what the public thinks of all this?”

“We need to ask them.”

“Anyone, or the individuals whose livelihood depends on the outcome?”

Karl chewed on his lip. “Fairest and most accurate would be those affected, of course. So, the staff at NAQSM, right?”

“At last, something we agree on. Let’s go there first thing in the morning before the day shift starts, and get our questions answered. Agreed?”

“Agreed!”

#POLL: OUTRIGHT FRAUD OR WALL STREET SWAY?
#POLL: IS FOREIGN INFLUENCE RUINING OUR REPUBLIC?

KARL: Although I came to California under duress—my mother wanted me to “do something with my life”—I found I liked it. The previous moniker, the Valley of Heart’s Delight, seemed fitting. Certainly better than naming it after a mineral, of all things. Beyond the valley’s spectacular weather, a clear improvement over the cold wintry storms of the Midwest, the diversity of its population was amazing.

I help my uncle with his transportation company, an apprentice of sorts, moving precious cargo from the southern regions of San Jose to a soon-to-be-drained swampy port on the San Francisco Bay. While tedious, it definitely beats following in my father’s footsteps as a preacher. True, several passages from the Bible spoke to my heart—until this domestic feud broke out everywhere. Then I questioned how it could guide anyone during contentious times.

We passed through the mixed neighborhoods dotting Market Street and along the Guadalupe River. Unlike Missouri, where a fading European heritage still dominates its growing populace, here different cultures thrive, yet stay separate. The ever-increasing Chinese population has its own little districts with businesses serving somewhat peculiar culinary choices. The Mexicans who have lived in the area for decades keep their distance from the white Americans. I’ve learned a little of their language as part of the job, and have come to realize that in many respects what they still call Alta California is merely an extension of Mexico. Migrating to and from with the seasons, some young family members inevitably remain, fulfilling their dreams for education, good jobs and prosperous lives under this country’s laws.

If today’s strident political environment is better, what must it be like walled within the borders of Mexico? I winced, imagining the worst.

Soaring eastern hillsides and creeping ocean fog hid the sun’s earliest rays until well after dawn, so our early morning quest began mostly in shadows. I shrugged off the bad omen and looked forward to engaging with the personnel at the innovative NAQSM. The formal name of their company was such a mouthful that everyone trading with them had taken to using the shorthand abbreviation, which was stamped on each of their numbered packages. They took security seriously, though hadn’t yet required passwords to come and go onto their lot.

Nodding hello to the familiar guard at the end of the gated drive, we found NAQSM laborers buzzing with the news of what amounted to, in their view, a rogue regime’s seizure of the company’s valuable assets. Victor kept his mouth shut, and I kept my ears open until we reached the headquarters compound.

Built to impress, the headquarters stood aloof and above the sprawling corporate acreage. This is where venture deals were made and foreign dignitaries hosted. The structure was flanked by an ostentatious display of notorious gifts from Chinese visitors wooing a lion’s share of the company’s exports during its early years. There, standing at the top of the steep staircase, the manager was trying to maintain calm among the increasingly agitated people.

“Please return to your posts,” he called out. “Our company’s owners are in constant communication with Washington officials demanding clarification and fairness.”

“What about our jobs?” an older man called out.

“Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” The crowd chanted louder and faster, massing around the steps.

According to Victor, this was a solid corporation compared to the risky endeavors started in the previous decade. Its founders had done a thorough job identifying the market for its down-to-earth goods, creatively capitalized the newest technology to stay ahead of entrenched European competitors and handled its resulting explosive growth easily. The dispute over the transfer of company ownership from the original Mexican shareholders to various investment firms in between should never have had to be resolved through the courts.

Motioning with broad sweeps of his arms, the manager finally convinced the disgruntled hands to begin their workday. Breaking up into their usual teams of different colors and nationalities, they trudged to their respective corners of the property, energy and enthusiasm clearly lacking. The cool breeze carried their mutterings to our ears as they ambled away.

“Did you find the answer you were seeking, Karl?” Victor asked, his wise old eyes shrewd and unblinking. “How many of these folks back your precious protectionist president now?”

I opened my mouth to answer, and snapped it shut. No reason to prove my foolish claims made last night. The workers’ unrest was directly related to the  president’s hasty decision, and could only grow worse. What had prompted him to send such a dire message to loyal citizens of California? He’d be campaigning for re-election soon. Didn’t he seek their support and votes to unify the country? Or was it as Victor theorized, that a privileged group of financially powerful men had tipped the scales in opposition to this unique global company and its industrious employees?

“Let’s get to work, too,” I replied. “This will all be resolved by tomorrow morning. The  president’s bound to clarify his message.”

PRESIDENT ORDERS TROOPS TO CALIFORNIA
MILITARY INTERVENTION INDEFENSIBLE: STANFORD

VICTOR: Famous last words, I thought as the next morning brought new signs, new crowds, new anxieties. All valid, given the  president’s latest audacious edict. What is that idiot thinking? Does he really believe he can throttle thriving free enterprise from three thousand miles away?

Apparently not by means of pronouncement alone. After all, he’s calling up soldiers to make us follow the law according to his terms. I guess it takes a strong military to win a righteous war. And a stronger one to win an unrighteous one, if history is any indication.

My nephew is at least shivering in the cold water of reality. His hero has finally toppled from his pedestal. The best thing Karl could learn is that no person should be trusted blindly whenever massive amounts of money and power are involved—especially those who function in and around government.

“Won’t the governor defy the president?” Karl asked me as we traveled our daily route. “I mean, the valley’s residents already figured out that secession is an option. If so, wouldn’t the governor lead that charge? He’s popular enough, and he’s at odds with a lot of the president’s views.”

“Show me a man who has favors to call in, and I’ll show you a politician, anytime,” I answered. “That gov won’t do squat unless and until he knows for sure which direction the wind is blowing. He sits in his catbird seat in Sacramento, waiting for the crisis to brew much larger before he steps in as the savior for California.”

Karl collapsed against the seat, puzzlement screwing with his usually serene features. “NAQSM management, then? Shouldn’t they be out in front, leading the opposition?”

“Yeah, they show great judgment.” I couldn’t prevent the sarcasm infusing my voice, nor stifle my cynical snort. “Their legions of lawyers lost every single case. Besides, who says they won’t put their tails between their legs and run off with their riches? Who will the troops hold hostage once they get here, the peons or the bosses?”

We passed through the entry gate of NAQSM. Laborers milled around, showing no sign of starting production. And who could blame them? Their future looked bleak indeed.

As did mine. Without a thriving NAQSM to supply components to the booming modern economy, my itty-bitty enterprise would shrivel up and die, too. No great loss, as it didn’t take a genius to handle transport and logistics. Nonetheless, I had hoped to create something valuable to pass on to Karl if he chose to make his home in San Jose, and I had already told him so. With no heirs of my own, it seemed a fitting gesture, a belated apology to the family for the vicissitudes of my youth.

Karl dragged his feet as we headed toward the loading dock. “You’re right, Uncle Victor,” he acknowledged. “The president is mistaken. This is downright immoral.” He waved his arm, encompassing the labor stoppage, the indignant faces. “Our country stands for individual liberty and protection of property. Our allies negotiated treaties with us in good faith. They’re bound to be mighty upset with this disruption to the status quo. Their economies count on us, after all. Nowhere does it say in the Constitution the government has justification to send in troops to seize a business from its owners!”

“Are you sure, son?” I quizzed. “There is this concept called eminent domain, where in the name of the greater good, the government confiscates anything it damn well pleases.”

“Negotiated to a fair price so that the owner doesn’t lose out,” Karl corrected. “Everyone at NAQSM stands to lose instead.”

Well, I couldn’t refute that.

A shot rang out behind us.

“Look out!” I shoved Karl’s head down to his knees and quickly followed suit.

A rapid volley of gunshots peppered the air.

“The troops couldn’t be here yet…could they?” Karl said, his whitened face pivoted towards mine. Hard to believe this might be the first instance he’d actually heard gunfire, with those St. Louis–area massacres happening so recently. Besides, hadn’t my brother taken him hunting at least once? Given my brother’s principled antigun stance, I shouldn’t be surprised.

“Dunno. Doubtful.” I raised my head and glanced in the direction of the shots.

“We’re not going to take it no more! No más!” an angry voice yelled. An upraised arm holding a rifle appeared from behind the far building, then a familiar face, accompanied by a dozen or more workers. “It’s up to us to preserve our work if management will not!”

“Can they do that?” Karl whispered. “Won’t they lose their positions?”

“If they don’t, they may not have a job anyway,” I replied. The ringleader had worked for NAQSM as long as I had—a fine man of Mexican heritage. Perhaps he perceived the president’s command as discrimination against the California Mexicans working as hard as the rest of us to survive, maybe even get ahead, in these tough times.

I’d been to the man’s home once, a grand old party celebrating his first grandson’s birth. Lots of music, dancing…and tequila. Didn’t remember much from that night, but could vouch he was a company man, through and through. However, I doubted he’d be able to form an effective resistance coalition with the rest of the diverse employees. The other minorities didn’t trust the motives of the Mexicans, as if they were at fault for this legal mess of defining the boundaries of American property.

The rabble coalesced in front of the headquarters.

“Stand up to the president! Victory over oppression!” the leader shouted, firing additional shots into the air. “He needs us more than we need him!”

“Ain’t that the truth,” I murmured. Hmm, maybe there was a means to turn this whole chaotic mess around. Nothing wrong with a little negotiation to prove a point—and stop this lawlessness on all sides.

“Let’s go, son,” I whispered into Karl’s ear. We slunk back in the direction of the entrance. “I figured out a way to pick up some allies.”

RUMORS FLY IN HIGH-STAKES IMPASSE: VIOLENCE THREATENED
# RESISTANCE: WESTERN STATES UNITED IN OPPOSITION

KARL: I had to hand it to Victor. We hightailed it to San Jose, where he contacted his network of venture-backed start-up customers throughout the Pacific region—the entrepreneurial end users of NAQSM’s transformative product that created their newfound fortunes—and laid it on the line. If California’s success story could be taken over by a simple executive order coming out of DC, what made them think their years-long, backbreaking effort to build businesses and earn wealth for themselves and their families could ever happen?

Victor’s satisfied smile said it all as he exited the offices of his second-largest customer. He’d made his point, and handily.

“Let’s just see if your wonderful prez succeeds when he encounters all this opposition,” he crowed. “Our boys are pretty incensed that this buffoon wants to exploit our resources just to satisfy his outsized ego.”

 

I pointed to City Hall, where a smaller yet no less vocal group of protestors had settled in for the night. “Supposedly the mayor is trying to intervene now. He hasn’t had much luck protecting minority rights. The governor hasn’t even acknowledged his messages.”

“How could he?” Victor scoffed. “I keep trying to tell you, son. Between the president, Congress and Supreme Court justices, not a single one of them tried to probe the facts behind their inside boys’ reassurances. And those New Yorkers? They want to secure the company assets and run it purely to increase their own power and influence, and to hell with the shareholders. They need what California has, so they took it.” He spat, his disgust evident.

“Rumor has it that one of those insiders is on his way, along with the troops.”

“Ah, a party crony to oversee the takeover, standing up to an irate mob? That Second Amendment may come in handy.” He winked. “Would your prez get a laugh if we returned his messenger’s severed head to DC on a platter?”

I knew Victor wasn’t serious, but his implied threat of violence turned my stomach. I still had a hard time believing that my choice for the revered White House would use his power against innocent Californians…or me. I guess nobody imagines that the person he voted for would resort to such heinous steps, but I couldn’t deny the news headlines. Or history’s repeating itself. What was that phrase I learned at school?

“History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.”

Ah, yes, I remember being impressed by that very wise Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, who proved in his book Democracy in America that he understood America’s strengths and weaknesses better than Americans themselves. Would he be as surprised as I am about today’s events?

Probably not. Europe had its fair share of dictators and oppressors over the centuries. And my teacher was vindicated in making us study history, although we all grumbled and complained that the past had no relevance to today’s tempestuous actions. I hadn’t fully understood then. Perhaps I should consider Uncle Victor’s acerbic comments more seriously. Perhaps this administration’s overreach was too much, and relying on career politicians to solve a problem of this magnitude was a fool’s errand.

After all, the Constitution says the power of our country resides in the hands of the people, no one else.

Wrapped up in my thoughts, I hadn’t noticed the swelling of the crowd occupying the City Hall plaza. Wandering among the demonstrators, I overheard tales of journeys at breakneck speed from all over the West. They’d read the headlines and wanted their voices heard, too. The stakes were too high to remain silent.

I feared local law enforcement would treat these assorted protestors as a common gang of criminals, and stop at nothing to break up what was really a political rally. After all, they would be following presidential orders. They were sworn to uphold the law; what other choice did they have?

Rumor had it that the governor had caved, apparently spending hours negotiating over who would pay for what to enforce the president’s directive, rather than joining outraged citizens in opposition.

Yes, Victor—and Thomas Jefferson—spoke the same hard truth. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, especially over elected representatives.

ENTIRE NATION UP IN ARMS, GUN SALES JUMP
CALIFORNIA PUSHBACK: NO CONFIDENCE IN DC LEADERSHIP

VICTOR: We crept into position in the early morning dimness, scattering ourselves along the unwalled perimeter of the property. I insisted that Karl stand in the rear and guard the headquarters building. It was distant enough from the main entrance to hopefully ensure his safety. During the quiet night hours, the owners had stashed inventory in every nook and cranny, including their absurdly grandiose basement.

I recognized many of the latest arrivals, men who had filtered into the valley’s transport hub during the night and headed south to join our cause. Some were significant customers of NAQSM; others, simple sole proprietors purchasing tiny amounts—all had a vested interest in the outcome of this altercation. Secession from the United States suddenly seemed exceedingly real. Our premier multinational concern couldn’t fail, not when all their livelihoods depended on it.

Newcomers to foggy San Francisco were always surprised that our valley had such unusual resources. A little-known fact: our groundwork underpinned the rest of the great state’s energies. Without the NAQSM entrepreneurs, and their creativity to redeploy necessary solutions to the better-known, well-funded businesses, California wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

Plus, with the amount of wealth creation pouring directly into a separate California’s bank account, trade with other countries would be easy enough to arrange. China, Australia, Russia—all had willing customers eager to consume every last bit of stock we could produce and ship.

To hell with the rest of America!

I signaled to the lone man I could count on. My Mexican friend had brought two rifles, one slung over each shoulder. He notched his chin, glanced at the rising sun and skulked over to meet me.

Buenos días, Victor,” he whispered. “We have many friends this morning. Almost seems as if NAQSM is hiring today, instead of perhaps losing work, hmm?”

“Better losing jobs than lives,” I murmured. “Last count was over 150 men joining our employee ranks. How many are actually armed?”

“All carry something. Rifles, knives, bats. Even those large rocks over there might be necessary to hold off these soldiers. Who knows how mightily this militia will push to disrupt and capture our business?”

My friend was right. Career soldiers following dubious orders was one thing. Zealous fanatics unquestioningly enforcing a charismatic leader’s directive was another. Given my nephew’s blind devotion to the president until this crisis had broken, I feared recent recruits would be equally as passionate about performing their duty, despite disastrous consequences to a civilian population. Their general clearly deserved the nickname “Mad Dog.”

Karl broke away from his station, sprinting straight for my cover. He skittered to a halt, grabbing on to the low branch of an ancient oak tree to break his momentum, and dropped to his knees beside me.

“According to the manager, heavily armed soldiers are heading directly toward us!” Karl said. His voice wobbled, but his gaze was steady as it met mine. “How long do we have?”

“To fight? Or to work? Or to live?” I asked. The irony of the situation braced my determination. I’d run all the way to California to avoid this confrontation at Karl’s age. I guess you can’t ever outrun destiny…or justice.

“To save freedom,” Karl replied. “I don’t care if I did vote for him. No citizen will defend his decisions if he disrespects us. He’s acting like a bully—no, worse, a dictator! Who does he think he is?” He cocked his rifle, taking aim through the trees.

Placing my hand on his shoulder, I squeezed. “Thank you, Karl. Our country will be safe with you guarding its treasure.” I tilted my head in the direction of the headquarters. “Now return to your post. We’re counting on you to keep these jobs alive, even if some of us don’t make it.”

He cast a worried glance in my direction, firmed his jaw and headed back. Pearl-hued sunshine dappled his wiry figure as he picked his path around scratchy shrubs, following my orders instead of his president’s.

Did that make him more of his own man? Was he an American or a Californian? Identical to the others, he was an immigrant to the Golden State, seeking sanctuary and opportunity, not a heritage of prejudice and inequity.

“Here they come.” My friend nudged my arm and pointed his rifle. The length of the road ahead suddenly appeared much shorter as the swarming force approached.

I swallowed, wondering if there would be a chance of a reprieve, a last message from the owners or the courts—or possibly the president himself. Didn’t anyone else grasp the implications of this executive order? Or the precedent it would set for decades to come? Never again, I vowed.

Jumping to my feet, I waved at my fellow revolutionaries hiding in the bushes. “Let’s give these boys a taste of what it’s like to clash with Californians!”

They charged to my side as one, hollering and hooting, aiming their rifles, brandishing makeshift weapons.

Out of the clamor I heard a youthful voice cry, “He’s not my president!”

I barely had a moment to smile at my nephew’s change of heart before I settled into a dead run. Just wait until history writes its chapter on this president. The worst we’ve ever had, in my humble opinion. I could only pray they would share this story far and wide with their friends and family.

Taking a bead on the troop’s commandant, I wondered how future generations would judge all of our actions, and what this president’s pitiful legacy would be. Did he really presume he could make America great again?

They’ll never believe this…

From the archives of @POTUS via Telegram Message App:

VICTOR & NEPHEW LOGISTICS, FREIGHT AND DRAYAGE’S corporate customer
NAQSM – New Almaden Quicksilver (Mercury) Mines–1863

From the first Republican  president’s Gettysburg Address, four months later:

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure.… It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

  1. LINCOLN.

November 19, 1863

Author’s Note:President Abraham Lincoln’s decision to seize the New Almaden Quicksilver Mines panicked gold and silver miners in California and Nevada, providers of Union wealth during the darkest hours of the Civil War. Quicksilver (also known as mercury) is used to easily separate these precious metals from the surrounding rock, and thus highly valued. While Lincoln’s distraction and garbled communiqués were perhaps understandable, as first losses and then victories piled up in 1863 for both the Union and the Confederacy, there is little documentation regarding why he so drastically overstepped executive authority regarding this world-renowned San Jose mine. His final telegram on the subject (above), six weeks after this altercation, was only one of many miscommunications and reactive decisions using what was then the newest technology—the telegraph.

Despite all the truthful similarities and parallels, this story is not about trashing the current Republican president, yet we are all so quick to decide “the facts”—but only as we know them. Purveyors of fake news have done such a good job brainwashing us all that it is quite easy for a professional writer to deceive by sprinkling fake but true headlines and miscues. (Did you read the story as being set in the present or past—or an alternative future?)

Fortunately, Lincoln’s talent for ripping away the unimportant and prioritizing of both his words and his actions are memorialized. His legacy serves as a guide forward for this and future generations grappling with how to best resolve this uncivilized—perhaps unintentional—war of words, before it turns into an unholy war of deeds.

To learn more about the principles of freedom in a fun and interesting way, visit Ann Bridges’ website, authorannbridges.wordpress.com. There you can read the entire, original chain of confusing telegrams as the backdrop to this tumultuous event, and learn how critical thinking could have tipped you off to this and other fake news. Discover further details on this “true” story from Mercury’s Messenger, the upcoming prequel to Kit’s Mine: A Daring California Novel, and its modern-day equivalents, Private Offerings (named 2015 Best Business Fiction) and its sequel from the Silicon Valley Series, Rare Mettle, available wherever books are sold.

Original telegram courtesy of the Government Printing Office in Washington, DC, compiled in 1897 under “The War of the Rebellion.” Mine photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Mask images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Winged Mercury image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Lincoln Memorial photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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