Nothing could have prepared the United States for that level of death, and yet the 284,000,000 survivors were working together to rebuild. Partisan politics didn’t exist. Racism seemed to be something from the past. All that mattered was helping one another out, putting the pieces back together. Would this new Land of Brotherly Love last? Probably not. For now, however, it made the recovery process an amazing thing to behold.
The Oval Office door opened. President Albertson walked in. At his side was Murray Longworth, carrying two small, black lacquer boxes.
The president shook each man’s hand.
“Gentlemen, the world owes you a debt of thanks,” he said. “I can only imagine what you went through. And I can only empathize with the grief you must feel.”
He looked at Clarence. “Agent Otto, I do wish you’d reconsider and let us share this moment with the nation. I think the people need to know who their heroes are.”
Clarence shook his head. “I prefer my privacy, Mister President. Margaret would have wanted the same thing.”
Albertson nodded. “Very well.” He smiled at Klimas.
“Commander, fortunately you don’t have the option of telling me no thanks when it comes to public recognition. I look forward to the Navy Cross and Medal of Honor presentation ceremony for you, Chief Ramierez and Lieutenant Walker. Thank you for what you have done. The world owes you a debt that can never be repaid.”
He shook Klimas’s hand.
Albertson turned to Feely.
“And as for you, Director Feely, I’m glad you will let us have a little pomp and circumstance for tomorrow’s presentation of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”
“Love me some pomp,” Tim said. “And I’ve earned all kinds of circumstance.”
Clarence turned to him, surprised. “Director Feely?”
Tim nodded. He held up the cane. “As in, the Director of Special Threats.”
Clarence turned to Murray.
Murray shrugged. “I retired. I’m getting too old for this shit.”
Albertson frowned. “Mister Longworth, please.”
“Sorry,” Murray said.
Tim nudged Clarence.
“Can’t wait for you to come back to work, Agent Otto, seeing as I’m your new boss and all. You can call me Daddy.”
Albertson sighed. “Director Feely, please.”
“Sorry,” Tim said. “I’ll be a good director from now on. Scout’s honor.”
The president turned, held out a hand to Murray. Murray gave him one of the black boxes.
Albertson faced Clarence.
“Agent Clarence Otto, for your service to the country, and to the world, I present you with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”
The president opened the box. Inside was a golden medal on a blue-and-white ribbon. Just a piece of metal and some cloth: meaningless. Maybe someday Clarence could appreciate it, but not now.
The president smiled. “Shall I put it on you?”
“No, thank you, Mister President. If Margaret can’t wear hers, I won’t wear mine.”
“Very well,” Albertson said. He closed the box and handed it to Clarence.
Murray handed the president the second box. Albertson opened it.
“Clarence Otto, it is my greatest honor to bestow this award,” Albertson said. “For immeasurable service to the nation, and to the world, and for quite literally saving civilization if not the entire human race, I present you with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom for Doctor Margaret Montoya.”
Clarence stared at it. It was the same as his, exactly the same, so why did this one seem so much more important?
He reached out a shaking hand and took the box. He closed it, held both boxes together. Lights gleamed on the black lacquer.
The president offered his hand. Clarence shook it.
“Your wife saved us all,” Albertson said. “I will personally see to it that everyone, everywhere, understands what she did. The hatred she suffered from Detroit? That’s gone, Agent Otto. Margaret Montoya will be remembered as the savior of the world. Her life — and her death — will be celebrated, forever.”
Margaret Montoya. His wife. His best friend. The bravest person he had ever known.
She would never be forgotten.
She would be remembered as what she truly was.