Robyn and Lilith ran out of Highway 50 at the nation’s capital and got a room on the fourth floor of the Howard Johnson’s hotel on Virginia Avenue. After they got all settled in, and the sun had gone down, Lilith took Robyn out on the balcony and said, “I brought you here to sensitize you, to let you practice what I need you to do. So please tell me what comes to mind.”

Robyn was silent for a moment as she surveyed the stack of events that piled up in her mind. At length she said, “All this, the city, it’s gone in a few months. H-bomb.”

“In October there will be a war in the Middle-East that will spin out of control. It won’t turn into World War III, but if you are able, Robyn, tell me what does happen.”

“There’s chaos at first. Millions of people are dead, here and in Russia. The United States moves the capital back to Philadelphia, where it was in the very beginning, but the states in the South and the mountain West take advantage of the opportunity and file for divorce. So you get two countries again, like way back in the Civil War, with America basically down to just New England and the states north of the Ohio River over to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, that area. The other side picks Atlanta to be their capital, and they get southern California, the Rockies, the Great Plains, and Dixie. They actually go ahead and call it the New Confederacy. But Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, they form a third country called Pacifica.”

“So look out towards the end of the century, Robyn. Tell me what happens.”

“Okay, so what’s left of the United States still has the most people and industry and money, but militarily they’re kind of weak. All the bases were in the south and the west. The New Confederacy has the most land and resources, but their culture and their political system isn’t set up to allow their people to flourish, only large corporations. It was the same thing in the Civil War, men dying to keep cotton-growers in the money. Anyone who isn’t white and Protestant will be basically non-citizens there. The New Confederates end up using the military they inherited to extort their neighbors, US and Mexico, the Caribbean, and try to bite off chunks of land. Everyone thinks they’re assholes. But they won’t mess too much with Pacifica, though, because that country inherits the west coast submarine fleet, a bunch of carriers and a crapload of nukes.”

“Tell me about Pacifica then. That’s where we shall have to live.”

“Pacifica is the smallest piece, with the fewest people, but in that country the people will come first. They will do some amazing things to make life on Earth a paradise, but the operative word there is Earth. The space program is entirely forgotten in all this, except for lofting some satellites. Everyone turns inward. And this, Lilith, if I understand your goals correctly, will not do.”

“No, Robyn, it will not do at all. We must make some sort of change, if only to make sure the suffering of those millions of people will not come to be. But I’m entirely at a loss as to how to proceed. I need to find a place where events constrict in such a way that if we apply a small change it will prevent the Cold War from going hot in October. But only you can see time that way, how it does constrict.”

Robyn desperately wanted to help, or at least give Lilith the impression that she was trying to help. She looked across the well-lit street at a large array of striking, modern buildings with graceful curves, very unlike any architecture she had ever seen. “There’s something about that place,” she said with more confidence than she really felt. “Something important, and the President is mixed up in it, but we’re about a year too late and now I can’t unravel what it was.”

“Give me a date and we’re there.”

“What day is it now? Some vacation, huh? I completely lost track.”

“Today is Saturday, June 16, 1973.”

“So there you go, Lilith. Make it June 16, 1972.”

They bugged the wrong phone during the May 1972 Watergate break-in. It was just a secretary’s phone mostly used by staffers to order in Chinese food, not the one used by the Democratic Party chairman that was clear on the other side of the office in a locked room.

The corresponding Operation GEMSTONE transcripts were useless and the Attorney General, loath to piss away $89,000 in diverted and laundered campaign funds, ordered a second break-in to square things away because the President himself insisted they keep collecting whatever information they could on his political enemies, around the clock.

On June 14 the GEMSTONE leader code-named “Daddy” got his Washington team back together and the “Spook” told the same group of burglars he used the first time to fly back up from Miami. It took two days to get everyone into place with the right equipment, mostly off-the-shelf stuff that couldn’t be traced, but there was no written plan and no rehearsal.

This astonished the “Photographer”, a semi-retired CIA operative who had captained a boat for over three hundred missions to communist Cuba (some of which were extraordinary renditions of men who might have been his friends had he dared to lift their hoods). But his friend the “Realtor”, a fellow Bay of Pigs veteran, practically worshiped the ground the Spook walked on.

The “Quiet Man” walked nonchalantly through the front door of the Watergate office complex, signed in, took the elevator to the top floor, entered the stairwell, then used duct tape to cheat the locks on every door all the way down to the parking garage levels.

But the Quiet Man was a complete moron. He taped the doors horizontally, rather than vertically, so anyone and his dog could see it.

A private security guard named Frank Wills did see the tape, because his first task was always to check the basement doors for tampering when he came on to his shift at midnight. He pulled the tape off and called his supervisor, who told him to check the other doors and call back in fifteen minutes.

But what Frank did instead was go get some fast food across the street with a young intern who was pulling a late-nighter, a young lady that he was trying to make tracks with.

When the actual burglary commenced, it lasted for about seven minutes before they came back to their base of operations in Room 419 of the Watergate Hotel and told Daddy the duct tape on the B-2 garage level door was missing. Meanwhile the “Locksmith” and “The Goon” went around looking for another lock to pick.

The Realtor and the Spook told Daddy they wanted to abort the mission, because obviously a guard must have removed the tape. The Photographer said he was ready to do whatever Daddy decided to do. Daddy decided to cancel the evolution and try again two weeks later.

So the Quiet Man made his rounds again, this time removing the tape from all the doors. By the time Frank Wills finished his hamburger and actually did what his supervisor told him to do (check the other doors), there was no tape. He figured it had just been some lazy workman who taped the B-2 level door open that one time to save a few seconds of hassle fumbling for keys while carrying something big. Wills forgot about the entire episode.

But the third time was the charm for the burglars. On July 1 the GEMSTONE team returned one more time to the sixth floor offices of the DNC at the Watergate complex, bugged the correct phone, photographed ten rolls of film of the Realtor holding documents in his blue-gloved hands, and even made off with some blank stationary with Party letterhead.

What they didn’t find was evidence that Cuban President Fidel Castro was giving money to the Democratic Party, which is what they hoped to find. But that was okay, because President Nixon’s master of dirty tricks, Donald Segretti, simply used the letterhead they stole and the photographs of various signatures to manufacture such evidence.

Tactically, there was little profit in any of this illegal activity, all it really did was turn what would have been a historic 49-state victory in November 1972 into an even more historic 50-state victory. But having avoided a messy second term scandal, Nixon was free to bring about what he called the New American Revolution, making the executive branch nearly omnipotent with a cabinet whose heads were supremely loyal to him. Congress he largely ignored. But this notion of an imperial presidency was going to bite America in the ass in October 1973 when the Yom Kippur War spiraled out of anyone’s control, even that of an Imperial President.

Rewind to early Saturday morning, June 17, 1972. At 12:30 in the morning, Robyn and Lilith walked across the street from the Howard Johnsons and entered the parking garage of the Watergate hotel/office complex. Robyn led them one level down, and walked toward the door leading into the building. It was locked.

“This is going to sound very strange, Lil, but if there’s an empty mailbag sitting right here for the next hour, Washington DC will not get nuked..”

“A mailbag?”

“Yeah, you know, like the kind a mailman carries.”

“What’s going on here anyway?”

“President Nixon sent some burglars here tonight. Well, not the President exactly, but men working for him did. If the burglars get caught, there’s not going to be a nuclear war. He’ll be too preoccupied by the scandal.”

“Why would such a small thing become a scandal?”

“Because Nixon will abuse his power and try to cover it up, and that will be the scandal.”

“So why don’t we just call the police?”

“If we do, they’ll get away. They’ve got a lookout posted in our hotel. In the room right next to ours, in fact.”

“So how does a mailbag lead to them getting caught?”

“It’s very complicated. If I try to explain, we’ll run out of time.”

“Fine, I’ll go find a mailbag.”

“Empty one, Lil.”

Robyn saw Lilith shift a little bit, change her position slightly, but she was carrying an empty mailbag. Lilith had used the worm-tunnel to pop into a nearby post office, lifted a bag, dumped out the mail, and returned to the same spot and instant that she left.

Then they both went back across the street to their room and watched from the balcony.

At one AM the balding Quiet Man pushed open the door from the inside, noted that the duct tape he had placed there before was missing. But he did not immediately assume a guard had removed it, because he saw the empty US Postal Service mail bag sitting there. He assumed a mailman had come and tried to use his key to unlock the door, but found the door was already accessible thanks to the strip of tape. The Quiet Man also assumed the mailman had removed the tape, but that he would be too busy delivering mail to think of reporting it to anyone. So he replaced the missing tape with another strip to cheat the lock, and of course being stupid he posted it horizontally, leaving it perfectly visible.

At about one thirty, the Watergate security guard Frank Willis pushed the door open a second time and saw another strip of tape along the edge there after he had removed the first. He said, “What the hell?” but left the second piece tape in place. He left to call the police.

At 1:52 AM, Robyn and Lilith watched a piece of junk car pull up across the street. Two informally dressed longhaired men got out of the vehicle and entered the hotel. Neither Robyn nor Lilith realized they were plainclothes cops using an unmarked car, and neither did Alfred Baldwin, watching from the balcony right next door to them. Lilith scowled at the man, then went back inside the room.

Baldwin was more than a little nervous and felt like he had to say something to explain to Robyn why he was out on his balcony watching the Watergate. “Beautiful night.”

“You have no idea.”

It was getting late, but Robyn and Lilith watched the growing police presence at the Watergate complex from their balcony in the Howard Johnson’s across the avenue. Their funny neighbor Mr. Baldwin had to check out quite suddenly.

Lilith asked Robyn, “So did we do well?”

Robyn looked dreamy for a few seconds. “Oh yes. This bust right here isn’t enough to do in the President, at least until after the election, but he’s going to try to cover it up, and then he’s going to totally botch the cover-up, and that will nail him in the end. He will have no choice but to quit his job or be impeached.”

“What about the war in the Middle-East next year?”

“We still get that, and Israel wins, barely, but it doesn’t go nuclear. No one goes nuclear, in fact, until well into the next century.”

“But not far enough out for my purposes, I suppose.”

Robyn said, “We get more breathing room, but the space program just sort of peters out. The moon landings are never followed up. Then when they do start lobbing nukes around it’s too late.”

“Okay, who starts lobbing nukes around?”

“About ten years from now some Muslims in Lebanon start using suicide bombers. One guy goes out and takes hundreds of victims with him. They promise their soldiers lots of post-mortem sex. And it works! The US President pulls his Marines out, and this is seen by the terrorists as positive reinforcement for what they’re doing. So when the new century comes in America pretty much goes into a permanent war against them, and it’s a very strange war that mostly stays off the front pages. Mostly it’s a David verses Goliath story. But you can’t un-invent the bomb, and sooner or later these suicidal assholes start getting some nukes, and there’s no way to stop them. Eventually the West resorts to just sterilizing Islam from the entire planet but we take a lot of damage too, and after that the world is in no shape to do much of anything in the way of star travel.”

“So you’re saying we just traded a dark future for an even darker one.”

“Oh, it’s not all dark. There’s some good things that will happen too. Communism goes away. People get smarter about their health, there’s some traction on the war on cancer. People will carry around telephones with no wires, and they will use them to watch any movie or television show they want, whenever they want to watch them. These telephones will double as cameras. Movie cameras even. And all those pictures and movies and music and things they write about what they’re doing will go up on this big, connected . . . thing . . . so all their friends and anyone in the world can see them. And that’s how everyone will get the news or read books in forty years, even in the smallest villages of the poorest countries.”

“With all that going for them, why do they kill the space program?”

“It costs too much and there’s no more rivalry with the communist world to conquer space. Oh, they don’t kill it dead, they just switch to sending robots to do it instead, take pictures of all the planets, so people can see them on their little telephones. That doesn’t do us much good, does it?”

“No it doesn’t. We definitely must find a way to make the Americans reconsider rolling back their space program.”

“You should use reverse psychology, Lil. If they run into us up there telling them to go ahead and dial their program back, they’ll do precisely the opposite.”