Everybody Hates Raymond
It was not, however, idyllic in the new American capital of Houston, as Jack and Lucy immediately discovered.
Soon after their helicopter landed, and they were driven to their new apartment, Jack was summoned to the City Building--his boss's new home.
Dr. Adrian Hall and then-U.S. Vice President Raymond Becker had despised each other from the moment they had met two years earlier. But to Professor Jack Hall's surprise, when Becker became President, one of his first official duties was to create a new Cabinet position, Secretary of Climatology, and ask Jack to take the job. Jack knew it was because of his own sudden popularity among the public--some folks, he realized, considered him some sort of psychic, able to predict the weather--and not because Becker had suddenly decided to take a liking to his nemesis.
Over the past months, Jack had begun to develop a grudging respect for the man. Becker had changed his mind on many ideas regarding the environment, and had been willing to listen to his new Secretary. But those occasions had been always been in meetings with the rest of the Cabinet. Never one-on-one, and Jack was nervous about this personal interview.
After Jack took a quick shower at their place, Lucy helped him get dressed in his only remaining suit--now well-worn--and had to remind him to shave. Then a government car took him to the City Building.
He stood outside the new Oval Office--could they still call it that, since it was just a rectangle?--and waited for the door to open. An assistant let him in, and then Jack was alone with the President.
"I wish to apologize for the mess," Becker said, surprising Jack with such an informal comment. "We're all still moving in."
"Yes, sir, I understand completely," Jack said, for once sympathizing with the man. "Lucy and I are just getting started ourselves." Becker waved for him to sit down on the couch. Then the President also sat down next to him, and looked at Jack silently.
"Did you need to discuss something in particular with me, sir?" Jack asked, getting nervous now. He watched as Becker sighed. The man had aged a lot in the past two years, but, Jack noticed, his face had lost its hard edge. It dawned on the professor that this man was probably very lonely.
"How are you and your family?" Becker asked, again surprising Jack. "Your son and his friends--how is their new place?"
"I think it will work out, sir, but it's gonna, I mean, it's going to take all summer for them to prepare for next winter."
"That's what I needed to hear, Jack, that people are trying to start their lives again. I hope that we--all of us--can get the United States--if we can still call it that--back on its feet," Becker laughed a little as he added, "God, I feel like FDR promising that 'prosperity is just around the corner.'"
"Yes, sir," Jack said, still not knowing what this meeting was for.
"I envy your son and his friends," Becker said after a few more moments. "They're safe where they are--well, relatively speaking--they are. I know you haven't been here in Houston all that long, and you don't know how bad it is.
"We're a third world country now, Professor. Our enemies are gloating and our allies don't know how to help us, especially since most of them are in the same predicament we are. But politics--that's only half of it. You haven't seen what Houston and its suburbs are like out there. Every home that was still standing--even the littlest bungalows--are overflowing with families living in them, and many still don't have running water or electricity. There are hundreds of thousands more living in cars or tents or cardboard boxes. It's the same in Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans and San Diego. Hardly anyone lives in Phoenix or Los Angeles because there's so little running water available.
"The ironic thing is, just a few hundred miles north, everything IS under water. Frozen water, and we can't do anything about it!" Becker's voice suddenly cracked, and he looked away from Jack, out the window. The President's shoulders shook once, as Jack realized with horror that the man was near tears.
He asked, "Mr. President?" Jack waited a few moments, then asked again, a little awkwardly, a little hesitantly, "Raymond? Are you all right?"
Raymond shook his head a little, wiped his hand over his face, and nodded. Jack, trying to hide his own embarrassment, didn't look directly at Raymond as he handed him a tissue from a box on the table.
"I'm sorry, Jack, that was uncalled for. I..."
"Sir, you are under tremendous pressure. It could have happened to anyone."
"What I find so ironic," Raymond began again, "is that even though everyone wants me to DO SOMETHING," he said it emphatically, "they all still hate me. I know you do! Everyone blames me for what has happened."
"Sir, first of all," said Jack, not sure how to state what he was going to say, "I don't, I don't hate you. Not anymore, anyway." To his surprise, Becker nodded and smiled a little, obviously relieved to hear it. "And it's not your fault. It's all our, I mean, it's everybody's fault. We all had a hand in it, and we've paid a price for it." Now Jack knew what Becker wanted to talk about, and, already, Jack was formulating in his head what he himself would say.
"I think we've paid our price, to God, Mother Nature, fate, whatever you want to call it," Jack stated. "And now we need to find a way to prevent this from happening again."
"That's the environmentalist in you talking, Jack," Raymond said. Jack felt his shoulders tensing in irritation but Raymond quickly waved his hand and said, somewhat teasingly, "Let me finish!"
"And, now, the conservative businessman in me that you hate so much is going to talk," Raymond said, with an odd bit of pride. "Late last night, in bed--don't laugh--people think things up in bed all the time--I had an idea. It's kind of--well, it might be completely unworkable, but on the other hand, I thought that it could be something you could quite possibly make work!"
Jack looked at Raymond expectantly, waiting for the man to continue.
"The Southern hemisphere has always been drier than the Northern hemisphere. It's gotten even worse in the past two years."
"Because so much of Earth's water is now concentrated, frozen solid, up here," Jack finished Raymond's sentence for him.The Presidentdidn't get upset, he just nodded. "They've got dry land and warmer air and livestock and a greater amount of open spaces than we do."
"A lot of Americans--and Europeans and Russians and Chinese--are migrating there already. But what the immigrants are discovering is what the folks who live there already know--there's not always enough water for their personal use, much less their livestock or crops."
"While we've got more than enough water," Jack concluded. "We just need to find a way to make it potable and usable. That's what you brought me here for."
For the first time in months, Jack felt hope, and he grinned a little at President Becker. Jack was surprised to realize he felt almost happy when Becker smiled too.
Unfortunately, Dr. Lucy Hall's first day on her job did not go as well as Jack's did. There were no employee or staff offices anymore--they were all filled with patients. What hospital staff there was had to store supplies and patient records in closets and even restrooms. Lucy's "office" turned out to be an out-of-the-way bathroom that hadn't been cleaned since the storm. She discovered it was her responsibility to clean it--if she would ever have the time.
Lucy was quickly introduced to a number of physicians and nurses in the pediatric wing, not really remembering any of their names or departments. Then she finally started walking through the corridors. There were young patients and families in beds in the rooms, and some were sitting or lying on the hallway floors. These people--both the patients and the staff--were now her responsibility. She was suddenly overwhelmed--and terrified. She tried to ignore her pounding heart as she began to talk to the nurses--no, they were now "her" nurses--to learn more about what needed to be done that day.
Jack was waiting for her at their apartment that night. It was past 10 p.m., and he was getting worried. Lucy's mode of transportation was one of the city buses, which were crowded and getting more run-down each week, and then she still had to walk half a block home. Jack had said he'd meet her at the bus stop, but she told him that morning to let her walk the way alone. He ran to the door when he heard her coming in, wanting desperately to talk to her about his morning.
"I thought I was going to be the one who had the bad day," Jack said to Lucy. "It looks like yours was worse. Honey, you, are you all right?"
She nodded her head, too tired for the moment to answer. "I'll tell you about it in a little bit," Lucy replied. "Just let me rest for a moment." She went to the bathroom, showered, and got ready for bed. She came back out into the living room, where Jack had brought her a sandwich and chips--typical guy meal, she thought--and sat down. It was her last thought. Jack attempted to hand her the sandwich, but as he looked up he noticed that his wife had already falled asleep, sitting up.
Jack decided to wait until morning to tell her about his meeting with the President.