William T. Riker found himself enjoying the cool air of a summer morning in Richmond. What he was not enjoying, was the stench. Every planet had its own distinctive odor, and every time on one after an extended period in the climate-controlled environment of a starship was a different experience, usually unpleasant. He wasn't prepared for it on Earth though, and the combination of horse dung, sewers, factory smoke from the massive Tredegar Iron Works at the other end of the city, and other, less palatable aromas, had his sinuses trying to crawl up into his skull. The locals, long since acclimated to the smell, hardly noticed it, and he reminded himself that his own ancestor, Thaddeus, had lived in this same world.
Richmond was not the same city it had been merely ten years earlier. Now the capital of a nation, streets that had once been muddy lanes had been paved with macadam, and new muddy lanes marked its expanding boundaries. The famous Tredegar works had grown too, to match demand, even though it was now complimented by ironworks in other cities across the Confederacy. The smoke rising from its stacks were visible palls across the rising sun.
Henry Pleasants led the way, although his infrequent trips to the capital made him only marginally more sure of his whereabouts than Riker, Sheridan, Marcus, and Ivanova, who accompanied him. They had decided to keep this group small, in order to ease their passage through Richmond and the corridors of power in the Confederate government. Nate and Mollie Caudell had remained in Rivington, keeping an eye on the AWB prisoners, though Mollie's desire not to be recognized by President Lee had played into that decision. That left Sheridan, who'd insisted on seeing this through, his first officer, who had been as strident in her complaints about the period dress she'd donned, as she had been in her insistence on joining the mission, Commander Riker, and Marcus Cole. Garibaldi had been more than willing to remain behind, preferring to hover over the shoulders and Data and Geordi as they pored over both the neutron bomb and the remains of whatever had been housed in the Quonset hut in the Rivington camp. To make sure they didn't miss anything, in his words.
The passers-by here were less interested in the visitors than those in Rocky Mount or Nashville, being a generally more cosmopolitan sort, although Riker had to stifle a laugh every time Ivanova scowled at the men who doffed their hats to her as they passed. It did seem the people on the streets were more polite in a quaint fashion than he recalled from even San Francisco on his Earth, but he supposed that would be true of whatever city he visited in this time. He supposed Richmond too had a seamy underside – every city he'd ever been too, even on Earth, had one – but there was no sign of it in the cool breeze wafting off the gently moving waters of the James.
The buildings they passed between were low, rarely more than three stories tall, generally gracefully constructed brick and sandstone structures. Pleasants stopped on one corner, checking his bearings, then led them down another block of plainer buildings, finally stopping in front of a brick, stuccoed building of four stories, capped with ornate brickwork and wrought-iron filigree. Two soldiers in clean gray uniforms stood guard outside the main entrance, AK-47's slung casually across their shoulders.
Before going inside, the group paused to glance at the smaller two-story building across the street, which made quite a sight even to eyes new to the city. The walls were pocked and scored by bullet holes, and what Pleasants indicated were the results of rifled artillery, and there were various other scars visible on the surface which had been partially repaired, but apparently only enough to keep the building itself from collapsing. There was also, in contrast to the buildings around it – their destination included – a sizable contingent of Confederate soldiers patrolling its perimeter and standing guard. Their well worn routine, however, told Sheridan that they hadn't seen action recently.
Pleasants ushered them through the main doors of what Sheridan now recognized as the Mechanics Hall – the wartime home of both the Confederate War Department and Postal Service. Clerks scribbled away furiously at desks across the wide ground-floor room, ignoring the newcomers, just as they ignored the regular flow of people through the door, many rushing back and forth on official business. At the far end of the room was a larger desk, which even featured a polished brass nameplate that read, "John Beauchamp Jones."
"Excuse me, Mr. Jones?" Pleasants waited for a moment as the bespectacled man fussily tapped the papers in front of him into some inconceivable order, then, once certain he'd been acknowledged, continued, "I'm looking for General Forrest. Do you know where I might find him?"
Glancing up only once through thick lenses, Jones turned his attention immediately back to his paperwork. "I'm sorry sir, the General is in a meeting with the Secretary of War. Do you have an appointment?"
Pleasants tried again. "Mr. Jones, I am Colonel Pleasants, and I was ordered to report to the General as soon as possible, on a matter of the utmost urgency."
"I'm sure it is," the clerk replied ambiguously, without looking up. "However, the General is not available at the moment. If you'd like to make an appointment, I suggest you speak to his adjutant."
Ivanova growled deep in the back of her throat, crossed her arms, and fixed one of her meanest glares on the uncooperative man. He was impervious.
Pulling the soggy telegram from a pocket, Pleasants dropped it on the desk like a trump card, then simply waited for the scowling clerk to read it.
As Jones read the brief note, his whole demeanor changed, his eyes going round, and Pleasants knew there'd be rumors flying through the building about his business in a matter of minutes. "The Rivington men?" The clerk's face twisted indecisively, then abruptly relaxed, gingerly returning the damp telegram. "Very well. The Secretary's office is on the fourth floor. You can't miss it." He gestured to the stairway behind his desk.
Pleasants nodded politely, then strode past, leading his small group up four flights of stairs, until they found themselves in a hall with doors leading off from each side. When this had been the Mechanics Institute, this was an area that might have been reserved for faculty offices, but now it played host to some of the highest brass in the Confederacy. Near the end of the hall, they came to an unassuming wooden door which someone had tacked a plate to that read merely, "Secretary of War." The door was ajar, and another door lay beyond a small, stuffy room in which two aides were at work. Pleasants rapped his knuckles against the door politely, and stepped inside, removing his hat. Sheridan and Riker followed suit with theirs. Ivanova wasn't wearing one, and Marcus had never replaced his after having it shot to pieces, so they merely nodded to the two harried men.
"I'm here to see General Forrest," Pleasants said, brandishing his telegram outright this time. "I've an urgent report to make. I'm Colonel Henry Pleasants, formerly of the 48th Pennsylvania, more recently of Forrest's staff."
One of the two men stood, looking at the intruders curiously. "You're that Yank officer then, aren't you? I'll announce you," he said without waiting for an answer. He opened the inner door, and slipped inside quietly. A moment later, he reemerged, and nodded to them. "The Secretary and the General will see you now."
As the aide returned to his desk, Pleasants led his companions through the inner door, into a comfortable, if utilitarian office. Seated in an armchair in the corner, a rough-looking bearded man in a rumpled gray uniform watched them file through. Behind the wide, polished desk that dominated the room, a thin, sallow-faced man stared up at them from behind several small piles of papers, and replaced the pen in his hand in the inkwell beside them.
Sheridan's eyes widened, recognizing that face immediately, from various ancient photographs, illustrations, and even a few busts. He thought about mentioning it to the others, but was unsure if they'd even know the name.
Secretary of War Jefferson Davis glanced sideways at the ranking officer of the Confederate armed forces. "Is this your Yankee I've heard so much about, General?" To Pleasants: "Your reputation precedes you, Colonel."
"He does know how to dig a hole," Nathan Bedford Forrest said in rejoinder. "So, Colonel, you seem to have spared no delay in reportin' here." The General's accent was much thicker than even Mollie's, though still understandable. "What d'ya have for me?"
"A long, crazy story, General," Pleasants said with a half grin. "But first we've something of an emergency here."
"And your companions?" Davis sounded curious, and perhaps a bit put-off at the lack of expected introductions basic courtesy suggested.
"Part of the story, Mr. Secretary."
Forrest leaned forward, studying them all with a dark, hooded gaze. "Let's hear about this emergency o' yers first."
Taking a deep breath, Pleasants began to explain as much as he could of the current situation: About the new batch of Rivington men, their super-bomb, its destination, and their motives… though he glossed over the exact circumstances surrounding his compatriots. He knew it would come up, along with a dozen other questions, but hoped that those revelations could be put off until they could gain an audience with Lee. Like a lot of Union officers, he'd respected Lee, as a soldier and a man – but he frankly detested Davis, and Forrest simply unnerved him. Somewhat to his surprise, he quickly learned that both of them had already known about the improbable origins of the Rivington men, and seemed to be taking his warning seriously.
Davis's gaunt features looked even more drawn than when they'd entered as Pleasants finished his tale, and he shared a meaningful look with Forrest. "General, where would you say a carriage or wagon would be right now, if it were to arrive in Washington tomorrow afternoon?"
"I'd still be south of Richmond," Forrest said, without hint of humor. "But if this here charge's half as big an' heavy as he says, they cain't be moving that quick. Depends on which way they's goin' too. Could be as far as Winchester if'n they swung wide to the west, but if they went the straight road, they might be closer to Fredericksburg. They've got to cross the Rappahannock and the Potomac, and the bridges ain't all been fixed up yet"
"That is my assessment as well," Davis agreed gravely. "That does not leave us much time to act."
"Do we want to?" Forrest prompted with a raised eyebrow.
Davis's tone became hard. "General Forrest, while I would shed no tears for some of the denizens of that city, you are as aware as I that such an attack would only provoke another war. And I will not allow this country to suffer such horrors again if there is any way to prevent it." He turned his attention back to Pleasants and his companions. "However, we do not have the authority to make this decision. We must see the President at once."
The Secretary of War unfolded himself out of his chair, and led the way back through the outer office, and into the hallway, stopping only to alert his secretaries to his unscheduled absence. Once out on the street, he led them in the direction of the executive mansion, ignoring the carriage set aside for his use, as it would have been unable to accommodate a party of their size. Fortunately, Shockoe Hill was not too far distant, and they made steady progress through streets crowded with sudden onlookers, well-wishers, and job-seekers, who by all appearances, spawned by the dozens out of every door and alley at the mere sight of a political notable, particularly one as august as the first president of the Confederacy. Indeed, only icy glares and a march like a bulldozer from Forrest allowed them to reach the environs of the capitol, where politicians and officers of all stripes and stations were so common as to be practically beneath notice.
"We should'a moved the War Department the minute the shootin' stopped," Forrest grumped irritably.
"There are more pressing requirements for our treasury, General," Davis replied wearily, as though this were the latest bout of an on-going argument between them. "The Mechanic's Hall has sufficed for the war, and will continue to serve until more permanent facilities can be built." He nodded to some new construction on the far side of Capitol Square, where a statue of a mounted George Washington surveyed the booming national capital with sightless stone eyes.
The executive mansion, despite sometimes being referred to as the "Confederate White House" was painted an unappealing shade of gray. It had originally been the residence of the state governor, and like the state capitol building, had been commandeered by the new Confederate government when it transferred the capital there from Montgomery, Alabama.
They were waved through the gates in front of the building by two sentries who looked far better dressed than the men they'd spent the night battling Rivington men alongside. Two more guards stood at either side of the main entrance, impassively ignoring the newcomers. Riker was sure that the presence of the Secretary of War and one of the highest ranking generals in the military aided their speedy progress, but he still found security disturbingly light compared even to the largely ceremonial guard stationed outside of Starfleet Headquarters, even before the recent Dominion War.
They were met inside by Walter Taylor, who had served on Lee's staff during the war, and followed into the same envied position on the staff of the President. He inclined his head to Davis and Forrest, giving the others a curious once-over. "Mr. Secretary, General Forrest, is there something amiss? I did not see you on today's schedule."
"I will give the President my apologies for disturbing his busy schedule," Davis said with a faint smile. "Perhaps it will come easier from one who is somewhat experienced with just how busy that schedule is. But we must see him at once, Mr. Taylor."
Taylor looked nonplussed, and tugged distractedly at his neatly trimmed mustache. "That may be difficult, sir. He's meeting with the US military liaison at the moment. I will inform him immediately of course," Taylor hastily added. "Wait here please."
He returned barely two minutes later. "The President will see you now." He started to lead them to the stairwell, but Davis stopped him with a raised hand, looking even more openly amused.
"I believe I know the way, Mr. Taylor. Thank you."
Walter Taylor showed no trace of embarrassment, nodding and withdrawing to another office.
Davis led them upstairs to the second-floor office that served as the Confederate Oval Office – although this office was quite rectangular. Rapping his knuckles against the frame, Davis waited for a muffled acknowledgement before pushing the door open, and escorting his small retinue inside.
An officer in a blue uniform stood, placing his wide-brimmed hat back atop his head. As he turned to face the newcomers, Riker swore he heard Sheridan gasp, although he himself had not the faintest idea of who the officer might be. The officer's face was defined by an enormous handlebar mustache with a beard that was little more than thick stubble, his eyes radiating a certain chill, and his uniform lacking much of the gold braid and ornamentation that might otherwise have been expected from someone with two stars on his epaulets. Riker also found himself looking nearly down at the top of the man's head.
"Ah, Secretary Davis, I understand you are here with some pressing business? Walter was quite insistent on your behalf." This speaker was seated behind the central desk in a dark civilian suit, his face framed by a beard and thinning hair the color of new driven snow, peering through a thin pair of spectacles at a document in his hand. Riker was suitably impressed – even in the 24th century, the strategies devised by the man in front of him were still studied in Starfleet Academy – and beside him, Sheridan drew a short, awed breath.
Forrest, standing behind their small company, ushered them into the office, and took up a stance near the door, his face suddenly expressionless.
Davis ushered Pleasants, Riker, Sheridan, and Ivanova into several armchairs and a bench as he approached the desk. "Mr. President, as you know, we have maintained a garrison in the town of Rivington, North Carolina for the past several years. I must report that we have troubling new information…"
He got no further. Eyes flashing with sudden interest, Robert E. Lee set down the paper in his hands, and put his glasses aside, his gaze flickering across each of the new arrivals in turn. "The Rivington men have returned?" It was less of a question than a statement.
Forrest bristled at the question, and the officer in blue cleared his throat, sensing, despite his interest, that this was an internal matter to which he was an unwelcome observer. "If you will excuse me, Mr. President, Mr. Secretary, General Forrest," he said, preparing to make his exit.
"If the President has no objection," Davis drew himself up, "and against my own deepest inclinations, I believe General Sheridan should partake in this discussion as well." At that, Ivanova visibly started, though she held her peace. "This matter concerns his nation as well as ours, and we may well require his assistance in particular."
"I can only trust your judgment in this matter, of course," Lee replied, motioning for the other Sheridan to retake his seat, which the US officer did with a genteel nod. "The situation is truly that dire then?"
"I fear it is."
"You must by all means educate us at once, sir," Lee announced. "I presume this will involve your compatriots here?"
Forrest growled, "It will," in a tone that suggested it had better.
Lee paused, and said, "I trust you can vouch for their character, General? This is sensitive council, of course."
"No sir, I don't." Forrest replied plainly. "But Pleasants here does."
Now Lee's expression sharpened, coming to rest squarely on Henry Pleasants, who blanched, but thrust out his jaw and nodded. "I believe we have never before met, Colonel Pleasants," Lee said. "But I have heard of your exploits, and I thank you for your service to your adopted land once again. You were the subject of some discussion during the last fight against the AWB – General Forrest's Yankee, I believe was the expression."
Looking surprised at having been known to a man who was still reverently known as Marse Robert to his veterans, Pleasants nodded again. "Thank you sir. I'm afraid I did not fully explain the nature of my companions to either General Forrest or Secretary Davis in the interests of time, Mr. President, so what we have to say will be new to them as well."
"Do please continue, sir."
Pleasants stood, clearing his throat, and trying not to shy away from General Sheridan's accusing glare. "Mr. President, I should first say that I have a farm just outside of Nashville, North Carolina, not more than twenty miles as the crow flies to Rivington itself. Yesterday morning, I got word from my friend Nathaniel – First Sergeant Caudell, that is," he amended with a nod to Forrest, "that he had seen several suspicious persons at the Nashville General Store, on their way to Rocky Mount. We followed them to the train station there, and thence on to Rivington, where they debarked. Shortly after our arrival, we were taken under fire from the outskirts of town from some unseen and silent attackers. After we had driven them off, we continued to the garrison post, where we collected a squad of men, and continued on to the area where the Rivington men had made their settlement. We found there a camp, which we assaulted and destroyed. We also found a weapon, sir, an explosive device of unparalleled power. Under interrogation, we learned that the device we found had been intended for Richmond."
Lee absorbed that, considering what he'd been told carefully before speaking. "They hope to gain through chaos what they could not through manipulation," he murmured.
"My estimation as well, Mr. President," Davis seconded gravely.
In his own mind, Lee had always pictured time as a railroad, with the present as a station moving ever forward at a fixed rate, and the distant time the Rivington men came from as a second station, further up the track, also moving at a set rate of speed, and a time machine that allowed them to journey backwards on the rails like a chugging locomotive. That first machine – their original locomotive – had been destroyed, and Lee had always wondered if the men of AWB on that future station could not one day build or steal another 'locomotive.' And now it seemed that they had. He sat, head bowed, and eyes closed, for several moments before looking back up to meet Pleasants' gaze. "Tell me everything."
Out of necessity, and faced with both Lee's incisive questions and the steady burn of General Sheridan's eyes against the back of his head, Pleasants explained the sequence of events for the second time that morning; in far greater detail. He culminated the story with the account of capturing the Rivington men and their weapon, and learning of one bound for Washington.
When he finished, Forrest crossed his arms in front of him and scowled blackly.
"If I hadn't known the true origin of AWB, I'd have called you a damned liar, Colonel," he said.
General Sheridan twirled his mustache absently, nodding, out of habit or agreement, Pleasants couldn't tell. "A fantastic story indeed," he commented, "and I would have been far less inclined to believe those peculiarities had I not suspected such outrageousness for some time. Men from the future! An absurd tale… which I confess I brought up in conversation with Sam not long after Kentucky voted itself from the Union."
"You thought these men were time travelers?" Marcus blurted, astonished, visibly echoing the reactions of Davis and Lee. Forrest's scowl never wavered.
"It was one thought amid a night of mad speculation, sir," General Sheridan shot back. "An incident occurred during the vote in Kentucky which Sam relayed to me, regarding the strange men who had been apprehended attempting to smuggle some of your repeaters into the state. President Lee graciously agreed to sell the weapons to the United States for a nominal sum, which enabled us to examine fresh samples of the marvelous weapons.
"We spent much of a night discussing the nature of weapons of impossibly precise manufacture, created in countries to be found on no map, appearing suddenly in the midst of a rebellion that lacked the resources to supply the excellent ammunition, let alone the weapons themselves." He paused triumphantly. "You have confirmed idle speculation, sirs, nothing more, although Sam will be sore to hear he lost our small wager. You see, I had recalled reading a story, by a Mr. Poe, wherein a sailor, lost at sea, encounters a ship made of iron, and his mystification at beholding that which we take for granted in our own age." Seeing the reactions he'd gained, the general clarified, "I will, of course, consider this information to be taken in the closest confidence. You have my word on that."
Lee had considered such a perspective when he first learned the truth, and while it did not surprise him to find that others had perceived matters in a similar light, it nevertheless irked him. Changing the subject, he addressed Pleasants directly: "Colonel Pleasants, in the course of your narrative you reported that the people you initially followed as far as Rivington revealed themselves to be from a time even more distant than the year from which the AWB came to us from."
Pleasants ducked his head in acknowledgement. "Mr. President, these are some of those… more distant… travelers. Without them, we'd have never discovered this plot." He gestured then, to each of the people in question, in turn. "Mr. Marcus Cole, Commander Susan Ivanova, Commander William Riker, and Captain John…" here, even he paused, "… Sheridan."
Lee's brows lifted. Coincidences never sat well with him. "Relations?"
General Sheridan, caught off-guard by the name, shook his head vehemently. "No, Mr. President."
"Distantly," Captain Sheridan said at the same moment. "Very distantly." He met his ancestor's piercing gaze levelly, trying to suppress a sudden shiver. Now this was something the Academy never prepared him for! Based on the stories he'd heard from Picard's crew, he was inclined to think that Starfleet Academy probably had a program devoted to it: Face-to-Face Meetings with Famous Ancestors 101.
General Sheridan (a name which had a nice ring to it, Captain Sheridan thought wistfully) finally looked away, glancing back across the others. "An Englishman, a Russian woman by the sound of the name, and two men with military ranks from a future time," he observed. "Extraordinary." If Ivanova bristled at the way he ignored her rank, she hid it well enough that he remained oblivious.
"I intend to discern your motives at the earliest opportunity," Lee cut in. "Our experiences with men from the future have been… mixed. However, Colonel Pleasants vouches for your character, and that must suffice for now if the situation is as dire as you say." He abruptly stood, suddenly, surprisingly tall and commanding. "Mr. Taylor," he called.
Taylor, who must have been waiting just outside the office door, entered almost immediately. "Sir?"
"A map of Northern Virginia, if you please," Lee said. Taylor disappeared instantly, and Lee looked solemnly around the room. "Gentlemen, in that case, we have a campaign to plan."
Phil Sheridan twirled his mustache extravagantly. "Mr. President, allow me use of your telegraph, and I shall have the border from Pennsylvania to the Chesapeake sealed by this very evening."
"We have to find that bomb first, but we've got a few options of our own," John Sheridan added.
Robert E. Lee peered at him through calculating eyes. "Of that, Captain, I have no trace of doubt."