Left on the 4th of July
“You cannot do this.”
Prime Minister Cote glared at his fellow Prime Minister. “Then grant the funding requests we’ve made.”
“You mean won’t.”
“No, I mean can’t,” Prime Minister Ellis insisted. “There is no money. Our economies are still in tailspin.”
“As is everyone’s,” President Ramos said. “But the rest of you are looking to our two countries to seal off the rift.”
“The UK provides over half the naval forces for both coastal patrol fleets,” Ellis objected.
“Ships,” Cote snorted.
“Which are expensive.”
“But compared to sealing nearly six thousand kilometers of land border, by far the cheaper and easier task,” Ramos said levelly. “Hulls with radar and satellite overwatch manned by less than twenty thousand sailors; the two of us have millions of soldiers standing watch on the borders.”
“There is no money,” Ellis said again. “And tomorrow, when the Geneva Assembly comes to order, you’ll hear the same thing. The disappearance of the world’s strongest economy in the blink of an eye, with no real warning, has buried everything. Which is to say nothing of the absence of their military, which was keeping the peace in literally dozens of would-be conflicts. The Korean war is still raging. Don’t even get me started on the Israeli Defense.”
Cote traded a look with the Mexican President, who just gave him tired eyes and a small nod. “You, all of you, are insistent that no one be allowed to enter the areas around the rift—”
“Every scientific survey concludes it’s either a death zone, or some sort of transcendent dimensional gateway,” Ellis interrupted. “And as silly as Americans often were, we seriously doubt even they had collectively decided to commit suicide. Or allow their inattention to what their so-called leaders actually had planned to permit themselves to be led to mass slaughter. It must be some sort of—”
“Yes, we’ve read the same reports,” Ramos said, interrupting the UK leader in turn. “Extra dimensional travel. Possibly a post-physical shift, where they all left corporeal form and now exist in some sort of energy state.”
“And excepting the conspiracy fringe, most people believe some form of the second option is likely. As things continue to spiral down, more and more interest builds in following the Americans.”
“Which we also understand,” Cote said, making it clear he was trying tremendously to remain patient. “But Canada and Mexico cannot shoulder the cost and burden of sealing the majority of the rift’s borders any longer.”
“We can’t. Not won’t, can’t, to echo your lament from a minute ago. The two of us are facing crises of our own.”
“If the rift is not kept sealed, there will be an exodus as people across the world rush to enter it.”
“Not our problem,” Ramos said.
“The economy, both global and individually among the less battered countries, will stabilize. It’s just taking time for all the elements to adjust. To find new buyers and sellers for goods and services, to plant fields and harvest the crops no longer grown in America—”
“Fine. We are in the midst of that ourselves,” Cote pointed out tiredly. “But we already have an unprecedented number of able bodied adults serving in the border force, watching both it and each other to ensure none of them take off. My choice within forty days will be to feed my people or pay army salaries. I will not condemn millions of Canadian citizens to starvation just as winter is upon us simply to safeguard Europe and Asia.”
“Nor will Mexico,” Ramos said. “And I must choose even faster; within two weeks. In fact, I am technically already past time to have made the decision. I will face serious troubles even disbanding the border watch so abruptly to reassign them to agricultural and industrial tasks.”
Ellis rose. For a moment, it looked as if he was about to start shouting. Or pound his fists on his desk. Then he turned and strode to the window, where he stood looking out. “What if I could arrange other personnel.”
“Foreign troops?” Cote and Ramos said immediately in unison.
“Multinational,” Ellis said quickly, though he didn’t turn to look at them. “Drawn from every country I can convince to contribute. You will not have divisions of a foreign army camped out in your countries.”
“You cannot afford to pay for the defense, but suddenly are willing to station troops?” Ramos said, sounding extremely suspicious. “To, what, hold us at gunpoint. Act as armed cadre in order to force us to guard your weakness?” Ramos said.
“I cannot convince enough other leaders to make funds available. But I believe I can get sufficient numbers of ground forces volunteered to take up the burden from you. If the international economy can finish stabilizing, the press of exodus will abate somewhat. People will adjust. And we will be able to move forward absent America.”
“It would be simpler if you would simply arrange for funding,” Ramos said, trading looks with Cotes.
“Canada has no desire to be occupied,” Cotes put in.
“I cannot make funds available,” Ellis said, finally turning from the window. “Nor trade goods; there is not enough to cover it. But people are available, if you both join with me in addressing the Assembly tomorrow. The major nations, at least, can spare some troops. Most of the smaller countries are occupied with their own defense, or wars, but I believe there should be enough soldiers who can be moved into position to ease the burden on your nations. We’d start with Mexico, of course.”
Cotes and Ramos looked at one another again. Both seemed unhappy, particularly Ramos. Ellis waited. “It would need to be more than troops,” Ramos said eventually.
“There are no funds—”
“Experts, at least,” Ramos interrupted.
“Logistics, farming, and industrial fields,” Ramos said. “We have sacrificed much in recent months to guard the border for you, and neglected many of the strides you all have made to adjust to America’s great vanishing act. There are skills that we require to catch up appropriately.”
“Canada would request the same,” Cote said while Ellis frowned.
“And what if the answers come back against it?”
“Then the border will become open,” Ramos said.
“Don’t do that.”
“Or what?” Cote demanded. “You will invade us, seal it by force? You cannot have it both ways. If you cannot afford to pay for the defense you demand, how can you afford to pay for a war across the Atlantic?”
“There are other options,” Ellis said after a moment.
Ramos’ eyes narrowed. “You would launch missiles?”
“We can afford to maintain the naval blockades, even extend them to cover your coastlines as well,” Ellis said coldly. “And the warheads have already been built. It would even save money if they were no longer required to be maintained.”
Cotes was on his feet. “You speak of nuclear war as if it’s a cheap option,” he said, sounding both angry and shocked.
“Launch missiles, and we will retaliate,” Ramos said while Ellis and Cote tried to burn the other down by glaring. They both broke off to look at him in surprise.
“With what?” Ellis said, sounding as surprised as Cote had.
“Mine were the first people to investigate the country after the countdown ceased. We informed the rest of you of the Rift. And while that was happening, we obtained things we thought would be helpful. Among them include some number of warheads the absent Americans were no longer using.”
“Theft on a global scale.”
“You threat us with genocide, and have the audacity to scorn our taking the means to head it off?” Ramos said, coming to his feet as well.
“You don’t have the ability to use those warheads,” Ellis said after a moment. “American activation security on them was—”
“Designed against accidents and terrorists. We may be not be as rich and powerful as the EU or China, but Mexico has sufficient resources to hack and rewire when left alone to accomplish the task. The warheads will trigger. Your options are exodus or assistance, but do not threaten us.”
“I can see I’m going to have to arrange some recovery expeditions of my own,” Cote said. “But I stand with President Ramos. Choose something other than bluster, Prime Minister.”
“It’s not up to me,” Ellis said, sounding furious. “Only the Assembly can muster the answers you require.”
“But the United Kingdom has taken a leading role within it. So lean that weight to our behalf, or face the consequence of your own failed bullying.”
Ellis glared at them. He was still glaring when Cote and Ramos looked at one another, nodded slightly, and left. The Prime Minister sat down as his door thudded shut, then vented his frustration by slamming a fist down on the desk.