I'll Be Home for Christmas--
by Sue Kite
December 21st, 1300 hours, Seoul standard time
Nelson accompanied the president and his bodyguards into the reception area. He saw President Kocerin as well as the heads of state from about ten other nations, presenting a gamut of ideologies and forms of government. He realized it was an historic event, but he was having a great deal of trouble being patient with all the hoopla that was going on now. Formal receptions and photo extravaganzas. Since this was a first for a couple of the nations, there were cultural entertainments slated, ranging from singing to dancing to even acrobatics from The Peopleís Republic. That would be most of this day and evening. He didnít expect that the two presidents would have any time to speak alone today. He sighed and pulled at the cuffs of his dress blues.
"Sorry to hear about the imprisonment of your captain, my dear Admiral," a voice said from behind him.
Nelson recognized the voice even as he turned around. It was the Indian prime minister. "Thank you, sir," Nelson replied evenly. He really didnít want to even talk about it now.
"Since you are here, can I assume you are planning on talking to the Peopleís Republic president?" the very proper Oxford trained voice asked.
Nelson had no plans, but he wasnít going to tell this man that. "The president asked me to bring him to the summit and I was more than happy to do so."
"Ah, but my dear Admiral, your submarine is docked in SeoulÖ."
"Because we have a research mission in the northern Pacific after Christmas," Harry responded quickly. What he didnít say was that the mission, while technically after Christmas, was actually in February.
"Well, whatever you have in mind, may I wish you great success in recovering your Captain Crane," the prime minister said.
"May I ask how you knew about this?" Nelson asked warily. "This was mainly passed along through diplomatic channels."
"Indeed it was, sir. The Peopleís Republic envoy informed me personally yesterday. He is rather good at keeping me informed of Republic successes, you know."
Nelson almost groaned. Yes, there were those in the Republic who would be very quick to exploit this Ďvictory.í He wondered if Kocerin had directed that Ďleakí? If so, then anything the president would discuss with him would be inconsequential. Unfortunately, Harry had no more ability to talk to the United States president privately now as he would with the Republic president. As Doc might say, right now it was totally in the hands of God. Not that he didnít trust God, but Harry felt that God helped those who were working hard for the same ends. And right now, there was absolutely nothing he could do. It was not a position he relished in the least.
December 21, 2200 hours, Seoul standard time
Nirhan Kocerin looked at the schedule of events and groaned aloud. Kroshna, who had been checking the room with the other bodyguards sent with him, turned. "Are you ill, sir?" The other guards were stationed in adjoining hotel rooms now, with one outside his hotel room door. Kroshna would be the only guard inside, which suited him just fine.
"No, Iím just looking at this schedule and wondering which masochist put it together," he said sarcastically.
"Too many things to discuss and not enough time set aside to do so," Kroshna said bluntly.
"Yes, I would have liked another day, but most of these people celebrate Christmas and want to be gone by Christmas Eve," Kocerin said. He felt a rapport with Kroshna, one that superseded that of servant to master and visa versa. He could be blunt with the man and Kroshna was blunt with him when he felt warranted in doing so.
Now was one of those times. "Your family also expects you home for these Christmas days, sir, even if you do not believe in the reasons for the holiday."
"I know," Kocerin replied, still thinking of what else Neera expected of him. And what his father expected as well, even though it had not been expressed. "I would like word sent to the American president that I would like to speak with him privately. I want this to be as secret as possible, so I suspect that it will be some time after all the events listed on this schedule.
Kroshna looked at the offending papers and grunted. "That would make it very late. Perhaps this American wonít want to meet that late."
"I noticed Admiral Harriman Nelson accompanying him at the beginning of the afternoon events. I do believe that the president has been asked to speak to me about Captain Crane, so I donít think that is an issue."
"Do you wish me to directly take your request to his personal assistant?"
"Yes, Kroshna, tomorrow during breakfast, a bit before if possible."
"Very well, sir, I will do that."
December 22nd, 1900 hours, Seoul standard time
"President Kocerin, is it true what we are hearing from your countryís news service that a member of the American Navy was captured, tried and imprisoned in your country several days ago?" an annoyingly nasal voice asked, butchering his language horribly. The man, whom Kocerin took to be an American, had been staked outside of the dining hall and had partially pushed past the bodyguards to ask the very loud question. It seemed to get very quiet around him.
His irritation level increased with that silence. "Sir, what is on my countryís news service is something I will not discuss with you or any others of your profession at the moment. Anything that involves Americans, in or not in my country, I will discuss with the American envoy. Then you will know what is or is not happening in our two respective countries."
He cursed under his breath, but wasnít surprised. His political opponents had waited longer to embarrass him then he thought they would. Or perhaps by waiting they hoped to get the most effect out of this news in the western world during a summit they had rigorously opposed him attending. Regardless, it was good he and the American president were meeting tonight. If this was going to become newsworthy to the general public, he needed to figure out how to handle the fallout that would come of it.
December 22nd, 2300 hours, Seoul standard time.
Kocerin walked into the small room with Kroshna at his heels and the other bodyguard staying at the door. He had watched from the doorway as members of his countryís guard and the American presidentís secret service checked the room for devices. This had been only the second time such a sweep had been performed, but that was fine with Kocerin. He didnít want anything he said becoming common knowledge. It was bad enough that the incident with Crane was becoming international news.
He walked in and took a seat in a large overstuffed chair. It was too low for his frame and he already felt uncomfortable. He would have preferred to sit on the floor, a custom among some of the ethnic groups of The Peopleís Republic, as opposed to this western built, overstuffed fluff.
The Americans entered and he rose. He had seen and heard the American president during the summit meetings. The prepared speeches had not overly impressed him, although Kocerin had to admit that the man, in a generic way, had some good points. Yes, world peace was an admirable goal. Yes, environmental cooperation was also admirable. However, the goals were generic, with no specifics for them to be achieved. All in all, he felt that the only thing he had gained today was having been able to watch and observe the various heads of state. As for himself, Kocerin had said little, listened much and committed to nothing.
There had been another question about the trial of the American, but his answer had been as generic as everyone elseís had been about pollution, the environment and arms reduction. Kocerin would have been happier spending these days at home with his family.
But he wasnít. He was in the same room with the American president, the man whom his predecessor had called an evil war-monger, a decadent leader of a decadent country. Kocerin had done some research, watched videos, read news releases, from his country as well as the United States and her allies. The man seemed astute and capable. The president seemed also to be tied by the same political restrictions as he was. His countryís economy had improved during his first four years and it was still prospering. So a talk, even without the pall of this trial, was something that Kocerin welcomed.
Just as Kroshna stood warily behind his chair, one of his counterpartís security men stood near the president, while another stood by the wall. He reached out his hand in the western form of greeting. "I am so glad you agreed to this private meeting, Mr. President."
The American took his hand and shook it firmly. "As am I, President Kocerin. I have wanted to talk with you privately, but someone on the planning committee of this summit has a perverse sense of humor, or a mean streak."
The manís candor was welcome, especially considering that it was the same opinion that he himself held. "I agree. If I may speak candidly, I believe that most decisions are made publicly after much private discussion."
"I am impressed with your open-mindedness, sir," the president said as they sat down across from one another. "I also feel that we can discuss delicate and very private differences openly and without rancor. I welcome that."
Kocerin noticed that the American had stressed the word private and he nodded to his other guard near the door. "Please wait outside, Misha. We will be safe and by being outside you will prevent any unnecessary interruptions."
Misha looked a bit distressed, but he obeyed. The American president did the same and they were each left with one bodyguard, presumably people whose discretion was assured. Kocerin was sure of such from Kroshna. He would hope for the same from the American leader.
The conversation began awkwardly, each trying to feel out the other. A variety of things came up, including questions about nuclear weapons that almost had Kocerin walking out. He felt the Americans had a great deal of nerve talking about the use of nuclear energy, whether for peaceful purposes or for defense, when they had more weapons stockpiled than every other country on earth. But just about the time that Kocerin was about to call a halt to the meeting, the president changed the subject.
"I have been trying to find out the extent of the damage the strange weather patterns have had on your countryís resources. Itís been difficult, but I have heard that there have been food shortages," the president said. As Kocerin again began to bristle, the American continued. "Despite out differences, the United States is ready to help immediate needs among your people."
Mollified, Kocerin tried to think of an answer that would put off the offer without insulting the man across from him. Thing about it was, he really couldnít. There were shortages, there were problems caused by extreme weather changes. "In exchange for what, sir?" he asked bluntly.
The president sighed. "The effort to stave off death can have no price tag. I would hope that such an effort would only net both of our countries increased understanding, that would increase dialogue and cooperation with each other." He paused a moment and then continued. "I am very gratified that your country has allowed a diplomatic office in your capital."
Kocerin considered. "That is something we can discuss further, Mr. President." Then he took a deep breath to tackle an issue that was a particular sore point of his. He was determined not to bring up the imprisoned American until the president did. "I would most like to discuss your countryís trade embargo against our country."
"As would I." The president smiled slightly. "Believe me, I think a relaxing of the embargo would benefit not only The Peopleís Republic, but the United States as well. The only problem is the history of our relations. Your predecessors tried several times to either sabotage our interests or to outright attempt to begin a war with us or to destroy our homeland."
Kocerin couldnít deny the accusations. "And what of your ships and submarines, including that so-called civilian research submarine, Seaview?"
"The Seaview is not a United States military vessel. Itís privately owned."
"It may be privately owned, but itís loaded to the hilt with military devices, including nuclear warheads on torpedoes and missiles. And it has been used in operations against our country."
"Only after actions by your country, or for defensive actions."
"Semantics, Mr. President. You will simply have to trust that our agenda for nuclear energy is for civilian purposes and for defense."
"I will have to admit that there have been no covert actions against my country since you took office."
Kocerin mentally cringed, remembering his predecessorsí plots and schemes. And yet he bristled slightly at the statement. "Unlike your countrymanís incursion into my country, presumably to spy on us," Kocerin shot back.
"I assume you are talking about Captain Lee Crane?"
"Yes," Kocerin said stoutly.
"I am concerned about the news that is coming from your country. I am a bit dismayed about it coming at this time. The American people are much more sentimental at this time of year. They will be disturbed about the possibility of ill treatment and torture. I cannot help but wonder at the benefit it will give you, especially here."
"The man was an agent of an American espionage organization, Mr. President. He did have a fair trial. And he has not been tortured. Admittedly, we do not coddle our prisoners as your country does, but Commander Crane has not been tortured."
"I will not refute the charge of spying, President Kocerin. However, I was informed as to who was in charge of his trial and that disturbed me. General Zu-shin was one of the most ardent anti-American leaders of your military and I canít believe that heís changed all that much, for all that heís been demoted. That he was the head judge gives me cause to question Commander Craneís rights of fair trial." He paused for a quick breath. "I suppose I am more concerned with what we can do, if anything, to affect his release."
"I have a particular reason to want to do that, too," Kocerin admitted. Now the conversation was going in the direction that he really believed both of them had wanted in the first place. They could have spared the past couple of hours of bantering and verbal sparring. He could feel the fatigue weighing down on him. "I want to be candid with you, sir, and didnít want it done in a public forum, which was why I asked for this meeting. I feel that I can trust you as an individual. I cannot say the same for some of your legislators and members of leadership positions."
"I can only do so much on my own, Mr. Kocerin. Most important decisions and actions are dependent on the cooperation between myself and those legislators and senators elected to run the government."
Kocerin saw more similarities between himself and the American than differences. Americans liked to do things much more openly, he thought, which in his opinion was sometimes a serious mistake. How could private citizens know what was best for the whole of the country? Be that as it may, the problem of Captain Lee Crane wasnít going to be a simple one to solve. "It is similar with me. Only the legislators and senators that you talk about would be the militarists and members of the Citizenís Committee that are opposed to my policies. I didnít pick Gen. Zu-shin to head the court, nor did I arrange for the news of Craneís capture and trial to be publicized at this particular time. If you think about it, this would be the worst possible time for news like that to come to light."
The president nodded. "I think I understand, but what did you mean when you said that you had a particular reason for wanting to help the commander?"
"Commander Crane was only captured because he had taken the time to save my injured father and my daughter who had been trapped in the mountains during that terrible blizzard that struck earlier this month."
The American presidentís jaw almost dropped open in shock. "What?!"