Part 26

Life, for my Country and the Cause of Freedom,
Is but a Trifle for a Worm to part with;
And if preserved, and if preserved
In so great a Contest, Life is redoubled.
-- Nathaniel Niles, 1775

As the shuttle touched down at Andrews Air Force Base, Dick looked over at his two companions. Tonreth was dressed in his most formal uniform, a glittery dark green with silver trim. The Ch'ton warrior with him, Tonreth's bodyguard/aide Drewsen was also attired in dark green and silver, although not as glittery. Dick felt almost somber in the dark blue and gold trim of his service dress uniform. He leaned forward to talk to the young State Department official who would be their escort to the White House.

"My itinerary wasn't very precise, Mr. Jourdain. What's the plan once we touch down?"

"We'll transfer to an Osprey for the trip from Andrews to the White House, Commander. Your party will then be taken in to meet with the president. That's all they told me."

"Wonderful. Thanks." Dick sighed. Jourdain sounded as clueless as Dick felt. He hated not knowing what was going to happen.

"Problems, Dick?" Tonreth asked quietly as Dick sat back in his seat.

Dick realized the background noise of the shuttle probably made it difficult for Tonreth's translator to catch the low-voiced conversation.

"I don't think so," he answered. "Our escort doesn't know any more about our schedule than we do, but I think it's more for internal security than anything else. I just don't like not knowing."

Tonreth nodded. Moments later, the shuttle pilot instructed them to prepare for landing.

After a short flight by Osprey, they landed on the White House lawn. A civilian who appeared to be in his late fifties awaited them. He walked straight up to Tonreth and introduced himself.

"Warlord Tonreth, I am Everard Honeker, Special Assistant to the Undersecretary of State. If you and your party will follow me, I'll take you in to the president."

Tonreth nodded and followed Honeker, Dick and Drewsen a step behind him. Dick studied their guide; if Honeker was a Special Assistant etc., Dick was Bob Hope. Secret Service, perhaps? More likely, CIA. After they entered the White House, Dick decided it was time for some answers.

"Mr. Honeker!" Dick stopped walking, and at his signal, Tonreth and Drewsen stopped as well. Of necessity, Honeker halted and turned around to face them.

"You want to explain what's going on, Mr. Special Assistant?" Dick asked sardonically. "Why all the secrecy?"

Honeker sighed. "We just want to keep everything as quiet as possible with both the Warlord and President Iglesias here. And the reason I can't tell you what happens later is because it all depends on them and President Ross."

"Wait a minute! President Iglesias is here? The President of Mexico, Jose Iglesias?" Dick exclaimed.

"Yes," replied Honeker matter-of-factly. "He's with President Ross. Waiting."

"Oh, Lord. Okay, hang on a minute, I need to talk to Tonreth." Dick turned and began speaking quickly in Ch'ton. "This could be either very good or very bad. It's definitely going to be awkward."

"I recognized President Ross' name. Who is this other person?" asked Tonreth, puzzled.

"You remember my explanation about our different countries and governments? Jose Iglesias is the president of the country just to the south of us. The country whose capital used to be Mexico City." He looked to Tonreth to see if he made the connection.

Tonreth winced. "Reparations and apologies."

"Or lack thereof. That's why I said this would be awkward. However, if Iglesias okays the treaty, I can't see anyone else daring to object to it."

"Any advice?"

"Play it straight. No prevarications." Dick drew a deep breath. "Bear in mind that when he looks at you he sees a representative of a military that was responsible for almost nine million of his countrymen's deaths."

Tonreth choked. "Nine million!?!"

"I don't have the exact figures, but I seem to recall the population of Mexico City proper was around 8.5 million, and your blast took out some of the surrounding towns as well." Dick saw Honeker pointing at his watch fervently, a pleading look on his face. "We need to get moving."

Tonreth nodded absently and began following their guide once more. Soon they walked into the Treaty Room where Dick saw tall, blond President Pete Ross and a shorter, rounder man with iron gray hair and a gray bristling mustache. Ross stood and came forward to greet them.

"Good morning, Warlord Tonreth. I'm Pete Ross." He held out his hand. Tonreth hesitated for just a second, but then apparently remembered Dick's lessons on handshakes. He took the president's hand just the way they had rehearsed. Ross turned to his companion. "And this is my friend, President Jose Iglesias of Mexico."

The older man and the Ch'ton Warlord stood staring at each other for a long moment. Then Tonreth astonished Dick and presumably everyone else in the room when he went to one knee and bowed his head.

"I am too ashamed of my people to stand before you, sir," he said, just barely loud enough to hear. "I am a warrior. Our actions in destroying your city were not the actions of a warrior. I apologize for my people, President Iglesias."

Iglesias stared at Tonreth for almost a minute. Finally he spoke. "I believe you, young man. I also understand that we have both been victims of evil men. Please stand." Tonreth rose, and Iglesias continued, "I am slightly confused though. You say you are sorry, but there is no mention of apology in this treaty." He pointed to the copy of the treaty lying on the desk.

"Sir, I also have a duty to my people and my queen. For Warlord Tongear to be capable of even thinking of killing his queen violates every rule and principle our people have lived by for thousands of years. I feel I would be delinquent in my duty to protect Queen Chandria if other warriors found out that such a deed was possible. Thus, I requested that all language be removed from the treaty that dealt with what I now know was an unprovoked attack on your people. And the queen insisted on paying the reparations from her own purse."

"So you think you can buy our approval?" Iglesias asked scornfully.

"No sir," Tonreth replied. "It was more from a desire to do all that we could short of admitting what really happened."

Iglesias sighed. Abruptly, he turned to Dick. "Commander, you have been with the Warlord through all of this, yes?"

Dick nodded, "Yes, sir."

"What is your opinion of the Ch'ton and this situation?"

"Sir, I realize that the reparations aren't just about money, but I also realize that this was the only point that the Ch'ton refused. Nothing else was altered from the initial draft. Ambassador Garth told me that the terms in that treaty were based on the committee's initial bargaining positions, so we 'won' every other point. Tonreth's main focus is to protect his queen, who is also his wife. I can't exactly fault him for that." Dick smiled. "He's a good man caught between conflicting duties."

The Mexican president thought for a minute or so. Finally, Iglesias answered with a small smile of his own. "Very well, I will accept the terms of the treaty. And the 'gift' from Queen Chandria."

Tonreth bowed his head in acknowledgement. "Thank you sir."

Both presidents signed the treaty, and then it was time to take the treaty before the Senate. Ross explained that he had kept Tonreth in the dark about the rest of the schedule because he didn't want to commit to bringing the treaty before the Senate until he discussed it with both Tonreth and Iglesias.

Not unexpectedly, the Senate focused much of its discussion of the treaty on the issue of reparations and apologies, led by those senators from the southwestern states. After an hour and a half of discussion, debate, and polite name-calling, one of the senators from Texas asked to be recognized. She then declared that while it had been a good and neighborly thing for the United States to declare war on Ch'ton because of the attack on Mexico, it seemed presumptuous, even for a neighbor, to tell Mexico whether they should or should not accept the terms of a treaty as it applied to them. President Iglesias had accepted those terms for his country. It was the job of the Senate to evaluate the treaty as it applied to the United States.

The treaty was ratified.

~~~~~~~~~~

Tonreth looked down in horror.

He, Drewsen, and thus Dick, had been at loose ends for the last ten days while they waited on the United Nations to ratify the treaty. He and President Ross had presented the treaty to the General Assembly. He had been allowed a brief statement, and that was it. Dick explained cynically that since the U.S. hadn't allowed the U.N. much say in how the war was fought, the U.N. was trying to take its revenge in delaying the ending of that war. The U.N.'s ratification was just a formality, though, and everyone knew it.

Still they had to wait. Dick offered to take the two Ch'ton sightseeing around Washington. After seeing all of the memorials and monuments and having Dick explain their significance, Tonreth finally asked, "Is there a monument to what happened at Mexico City?"

"Not an official one. Not here, anyway," Dick replied solemnly. "I think my wife mentioned that people have made a sort of unofficial memorial near the crater."

"I think I'd like to see the crater," stated Tonreth cautiously.

"You haven't seen it before?"

"No. I wasn't in any of the Earth system attack fleets. Do you think you can arrange something?" By now, Tonreth had a healthy respect for Dick's ability to get things done -- one way or another.

Dick thought for a few moments and then nodded. "It'll have to be on a Deuce, though. Sorry, Drew; it's a two-man ship."

About an hour later, Dick and Tonreth took off from Patuxent River Naval Air Warfare Center in one of the versatile little ships. Forty-five minutes later, Tonreth could see a dark spot through the cloud cover. As Dick slowed the small ship and descended, the dark spot became bigger and bigger. Soon he was staring at a large gaping wound in the earth's surface.

"This ... this is obscene!" Tonreth whispered, as they descended even further.

Dick didn't say anything, letting the crater and surrounding wreckage speak for itself. He flew the ship slowly along the perimeter, which was dotted here and there with rubble from buildings that had not been damaged by the initial bomb but had been destroyed by the shockwave of the blast. At last, on the southwestern edge of the crater, Tonreth saw a structure. Dick appeared to be intending to land there.

"What is that building?" he asked Dick.

"That building survived the blast. Nothing else within thirty miles of the bomb did. Just that building."

"Did it have some sort of special protection?"

Dick landed the Deuce a short distance away from the structure. "You might say that. It's a church. My wife told me she heard that just before the attack, one of the priests had felt compelled to pray that they might withstand a 'rain of fire.' He gathered a group together, and they began to pray. Shortly afterward, the building shook and a loud roar surrounded the building, but they kept praying. When it became quiet again, they stopped and went outside and saw what you see now. And before you ask, I have no idea why they were spared when so many were not." He shut down the engines and motioned for Tonreth to open the hatch.

The two men got out of the Deuce. Tonreth stared at the church. For such a remarkable building, it certainly looked ... unremarkable. It had a plain, unadorned facade with a bell tower on top. It didn't seem capable of holding more than, say, one hundred people at the most. How had this smallish building survived forces that had crushed other buildings to rubble?

"Here," said Dick, handing a small bouquet of flowers to Tonreth and keeping one for himself.

"Where did these come from?"

"I brought them with me," Dick replied with a small smile. "I believe in being prepared." He led Tonreth to one side of the church where a rough-hewn cross slightly taller than Tonreth looked out over the crater. Bunches of flowers covered the ground around it. Tonreth saw Dick close his eyes briefly and then bend down to place his flowers gently on top of the pile. Tonreth wasn't sure of the meaning of the gestures, but he did the same. He then followed Dick back to the Deuce.

"All right, Dick. You win. My people, not just Chandria and I, will apologize to the Mexican people for this. Allowing my people to continue to believe that we were somehow justified in causing this ... horror in the name of security isn't worth the cost." He turned to Dick with a wry grin. "And you knew I would decide that, you sneak! You managed to maneuver me into this trip by showing me all those memorials, and I didn't even realize it!"

Dick smirked. "Let's just say I played a hunch." He started the engines and lifted off, sending the Deuce back across the crater and towards the U.S. Suddenly, Dick smacked himself on the forehead. "I almost forgot! Since we've got a clear schedule tonight, Babs wanted to know if you'd be interested in joining us for dinner?"

"At your home?" Tonreth asked, slightly astonished.

"Sure! She really wants to meet you."

"I would be delighted! As long as you're sure it wouldn't be too much of an imposition."

"One way to find out," Dick said with a grin. He fiddled with the communications gear for a moment until he was able to contact his wife. Tonreth saw the lovely red-haired woman from Dick's pictures appear on the small screen.

"Dick!" she greeted him happily.

"Hi, sweetheart! You still feel up to having Tonreth come home with me for dinner tonight?"

"Of course. It's not like I've been doing anything strenuous today," she said in a tone even Tonreth could recognize as mock-complaining.

"Babs, you know why Alfred is there," Dick replied soothingly. "You just had major surgery, and the only reason Leslie let you out of bed is because she knew Alfred was there to keep an eye on you."

"But he won't even let me do much with the baby," she replied, an edge of real complaint creeping into her voice.

Dick must have heard it too because he grinned at her. "Then you shouldn't have produced such an adorable little girl who puts everyone she meets under a spell. Alfred can't help it. I'm already trying to figure out ways to keep her from dating until she's thirty!"

Barbara laughed, her expression clearing. "In any event, as I said, Tonreth is definitely welcome for dinner. I invited my dad over as well; is that okay?"

"Sure! We should be in Gotham in less than an hour."

"Just how are you expecting to get from the airport to here, Clueless Wonder?" she asked mockingly.

"I should still have my bike parked in the hanger from one of these jaunts. We'll be fine."

"All right. See you soon."

"'Bye."

~~~~~~~~~~

Dick managed to arrive at the clocktower in time to "help" put Terri to bed. He placed the baby girl in her crib and spun the small mobile of circus animals that hung above her. He eyed the animals semi-critically -- he had carved each figure in his spare time aboard the Chaffee, and one of the other pilots had painted them. The mobile had been shipped home with the rest of his effects, so it had been on hand for his daughter's arrival, even if he hadn't.

Dinner passed quickly as Dick and Tonreth shared their experience at the crater. Tonreth repeated his intention of asking Chandria to issue an official apology to Mexico.

"I just wish I knew how the warriors will take the news that one of our own killed a queen," he concluded quietly.

"Why do they have to know?" asked Jim Gordon.

Tonreth stared at him. "We cannot tell our people that it was wrong for us to bomb Mexico City and not tell them who killed the queen -- the two events are linked together!"

"You look like a man with an idea," said Barbara to her father.

"I was just thinking," he replied. "Why couldn't you tell them that it was Luthor who killed your queen? He's already dead, so that's taken care of. And he did help the queen's murderer conceal his crime."

Tonreth still looked puzzled, but Dick had a flash of inspiration. "That would work perfectly, Tonreth!" he said excitedly. "You could say that Luthor knew your people would retaliate, and that he hoped to use the resulting war for his own ends." His expression became more serious. "I think it would still be a good idea to put the true story in your archives somewhere. You owe it to your future queens to let them know what really happened."

Tonreth slowly nodded. "Dick, Mr. Gordon, I believe you are right. I will contact Chandria tomorrow."

After dinner, Jim and Alfred left, and the others settled in the living room. Tonreth and Dick told Barbara about their nightmarish experiences in the Ch'ton court trying to get Tonreth installed as Warlord as well as married to the queen.

"It was certainly crazy. I don't think I ever want to go through that again!" sighed Tonreth. He turned to Dick, "That reminds me -- do you remember that conversation we had the night before the wedding? The one that got interrupted?"

"When we found out your escort had just gotten themselves thrown in jail for disturbing the peace, or whatever you call it? Yeah, I guess so," Dick replied, puzzled.

"You never did answer my question -- what are your plans for after the war?"

Dick stiffened. This wasn't a question he was quite ready to answer. "I ... I'm not completely sure yet." He felt Barbara turn to look at him, and he saw the surprise in her eyes. "I'm just not sure I can go back to being a cop," he said, speaking mainly to Barbara. "I've thought about it, and the idea of going back out on those streets," he knew she'd understand he meant both as Officer Grayson and as Nightwing, "just doesn't sound all that attractive. I don't think that's who I am any more. Besides," he continued with a smirk, "I doubt it's a proper occupation for the husband of the CEO of LexCorp."

Barbara swatted him on the arm. "Silly!"

"Have you ever thought about taking over Luthor's idea of colonization?" Tonreth asked.

Dick stiffened and looked away from Barbara, but he thought she still must have seen the flare of excitement in his eyes. "Colonization?" he asked, trying to speak calmly. "Why ask me?"

"I've now met many of your leaders, Dick, and I honestly believe you would be the ideal man to lead a colonization effort. It would certainly be a challenge for you, but it's a challenge I think you would welcome."

Dick shook his head silently.

Tonreth soon pronounced himself ready for bed, so Dick showed him to the guest bedroom. When Dick rejoined his wife, he found her already in bed. In silence, Dick got ready for bed, turned out the lights, and joined her. She snuggled up against him, her head resting on his shoulder. Dick wrapped his arm around her and held her close against him.

"So why don't you think I'd want to go off into space with you?" she asked quietly. "Do you think I couldn't hack it?"

Dick sighed. "I've always maintained that you can do anything you set out to do, sweetheart. That's not it. It just seemed ... selfish of me to ask. I mean, you've got LexCorp, your work as Oracle, plus Gotham is your home."

"Taking over LexCorp was just a tool to bring down Luthor. I certainly have no interest in being a CEO. I've already chosen a new chairman, and J'onn assures me she's an honest woman. Lucius has also pledged to keep an eye on things. As far as Oracle is concerned, I think Tim would prefer doing that to his Robin work -- he's certainly proved he can handle the job, and it still keeps him close to Bruce. As far as Gotham's being my home -- you are my home, Dickie-boy. You and our daughter. As much as I love this city, I'm not all that sure I want our daughter growing up here."

"You want to give up being Oracle?"

"Yes," she replied, and he could hear the smile in her voice. "I've enjoyed my work, and I'm certainly proud of what I've accomplished, but like you, it just doesn't sound all that attractive any more."

"What does sound attractive?"

"Y'know, one of the times I felt most ... alive was when the earthquake hit Gotham -- when I worked in police headquarters coordinating the rescue efforts. Apart from the fear and the adrenaline, I felt this sense of ... rightness, as if this was what I was supposed to be doing."

Dick lay silently for a few moments. Finally, he said, "Any colonization effort is going to take an awful lot of organization -- not just people, but materiel. The amount of coordination necessary to make it work would be tremendous. To me, it sounds like an incredibly complicated, tedious job. What do you think?"

Another few moments of silence. She replied, "Yes, it sounds complicated, but to me it honestly sounds like fun. You know where I could get a job like that?"

"It's just possible that someone might start mobilizing an effort to plant a colony. I've heard that the guy has a known weakness for redheads. You might give him a call."

He stopped talking as Barbara pulled him into a passionate, somewhat punishing kiss. When she released his head, he continued, "I misspoke -- he has a weakness for one particular redhead." She laughed softly and kissed him again. After a few minutes, he cuddled her against his side once more.

"You realize we're going to have to find some way of convincing Alfred to come along -- how would we be sure that we were doing things 'properly' without him?" Barbara asked.

"Oh, that's easy -- just remind him Terri's going with us," Dick snickered. "The real question is, which of us is going to tell Bruce?"

** The End **

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov'd homes and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust!"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
-- Francis Scott Key, 1814

Epilogue

In the administrator's stateroom aboard the colony ship, SS Esperanza, Dick and Barbara had finally settled in after a long day. The ship was now two days out from Earth, and things were finally beginning to settle into a routine. Dick sighed. Maybe, just maybe he might get through tomorrow without any "world-coming-to-an-end" crises. Barbara snuggled up more closely against him, and he tightened his arm around her.

"Hey, I almost forgot," Dick said, "What did the doc want to see you about?"

Barbara yawned and dropped a sleepy kiss on his shoulder. "Oh. Remember that stomach flu I thought I had? Turns out I'm pregnant again." She smiled lazily up at him. "Think Terri might like a baby brother to play with?"

Dick stared at her in shock. "You're kidding, right?" he sputtered.

Babs simply smiled and turned off the light.

~~~~~~~~~~

Dedicated, with much love, to my father, LCDR Elton Dorsey, who joined the Navy in WWII at the age of 17.