Karen glanced out the window at the Potomac River. God, August in Washington was hot. She half expected steam to rise. She wondered what the aliens’ world was like. Maybe they liked this kind of weather. Why else would a starship land in D.C. in the summer?
She turned back to the tiny black and white TV, waiting for an update on President Nixon’s summit with the aliens. For the past week the networks had shown the same shot of the mile-long interstellar space ship hovering over Camp David where Nixon was negotiating Earth’s fate. Since he steamrolled over the Iron Curtain after the Eisenhower assassination, most loyalists believed Nixon could do anything. Which was why he was now serving his fifth term.
“Nixon’s going to screw this up somehow,” Karen muttered. “Like when he cut all arts funding or auctioned off the national forests to private investors.”
Mark, her husband, adjusted his tie in his reflection in the toaster. He was a staff attorney for the Committee to Re-elect the President. “We’re not having this argument again. Everybody’s got a job, at least. Communism’s on life support.”
“Almost nuked back to the Stone Age, you mean,” Karen snapped.
Mark ignored her comment and poured coffee into a thermos for his commute into the city.
“I can’t wait to see what the aliens bring us,” Karen said. She ate another spoonful of soggy Grape Nuts cereal.
“You’re so naive.” Mark pointed to Karen’s jeans and flowery poncho. “Aren’t you going to work?”
Karen hated her job waiting tables at an Arlington greasy spoon, but there wasn’t much better out there for women. “Painting today. Calling in sick.” Karen didn’t tell him that she’d probably attend another Free Martin Luther King rally.
Mark rolled his eyes. “I’m taking the van.”
“I need it. My easel and supplies are inside. I’m painting Mount Vernon. Take the beetle.”
Mark glanced through a pile of preliminary sketches Karen had left stacked on their worn Formica table. He pulled out a crude black and white rendering of a cracked-in-half Liberty Bell with an atomic mushroom cloud behind it. The caption said Happy Bicentennial. “What the hell’s this?”
Karen hadn’t meant to leave the drawing where Mark could see it. “Just an idea for a protest poster.”
Mark glared at her. “What are you trying to do?’
“It’s about the atomic curtain and Nixon’s reelection campaign and how far we’ve sunk since 1776.”
Mark dropped the sketch on the table. “It’s called the Ural Mountains Buffer, not the atomic curtain, and it works. It keeps Europe free from the Soviets.”
No matter how many times they discussed it, she couldn’t get Mark to understand the problems with blasting a thirty mile wide nuclear wasteland through the Ural Mountains to contain the Soviets. Karen folded her arms. “The fallout’s affecting everybody. Milk’s contaminated in Wisconsin, for God’s sake.”
“Karen, don’t you understand? I work for the President. You can’t keep doing this.”
Karen snorted. “Is your boss going to arrest me like George Wallace and Strom Thurmond?”
“They ran treasonous campaigns in ’68.” He took a deep breath and said in a softer voice. “Nobody’s going to arrest you. You’re not on the enemies list.”
It was sometimes hard for Karen to remember the way things used to be before her husband became such a staunch Nixonian. “Sure. Whatever,” she mumbled.
Mark ran a hand through his short cropped hair. “Even if what you say about Nixon is true, there’s nothing I can do about it. We have to make the best of things.”
The words SPECIAL REPORT flashed across the television screen.
The large Esso logo behind Nixon reminded everybody who paid for his palatial oak-walled briefing bunker. Nixon’s jowls hung low. His eyes were bloodshot. His sad face looked like he hadn’t slept in days.
“We now understand the Visitors’ intentions,” the President muttered.
“Where are they from?” a reporter blurted, breaking Nixon’s strict protocol.
Stern Secret Service men closed in. Nixon gestured for them to stay back.
“The aliens are from a star many light years away,” said Nixon. “They have nothing to offer us. There will be no further communication with them.”
“For the love of God,” Karen spat. “The bastard made them leave.”
Mark exhaled loudly. “Thank goodness. I was worried sick.”
“We’ll never know what they could have taught us.”
Mark stared at Karen. “Taught us? They were going to attack us.”
“I guess we’ll — ”
A voice resonated in Karen’s head.
On television Nixon looked puzzled.
Mark stood transfixed. “Do you hear it?” he gasped.
The voice boomed. “The technology we offered was not for you alone, Richard Milhous Nixon. With rulers like you, your planet is not ready for our gift. We will leave your world for now. And, although you will not remember this, we will change history to give you what you deserve. The past will be rewritten. Your long reign will be undone. You will leave power in disgrace.”
A smirk crossed Nixon’s hound dog face.
“My God,” said Mark. He’s resigning.”
Karen looked at the television. Nixon slouched behind his desk. He looked depressed. In 1974, halfway through his second term, Nixon was leaving office.
Karen wanted to enjoy the moment, but she had to make it to her Georgetown gallery. Some high rollers were buying more of her landscapes. After tonight’s show, she could easily afford a third vacation home. Maybe one in the Caribbean. “That jackass is getting what he deserves.”
Mark crossed his arms. “He’s not perfect, but he doesn’t deserve this.”
“Don’t you have class?”
“Mark, you’ve almost got that law degree. Don’t skip.”
“I’ll be all right.” He turned his back to Karen and watched the television. “Some people are saying he was framed.”
Karen laughed. “Who framed him? Space aliens?”
Peter Wood is an attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina where he lives with his surly cat and patient wife. He has had stories published in Daily Science Fiction, Bull Spec, Stupefying Stories and Every Day Fiction. He has two very strong memories of Nixon. As a child in 1973 he saw Nixon stick his head out of the White House one frigid December to light the national Christmas Tree before ducking back inside a moment later. In August, 1974, he was blissfully unaware of Watergate, living in Ottawa, Canada, but will never forget when Nixon resigned. Maybe this is what happened.