Excerpt of "The Voyage of the UnderGod"
Evor concluded his introductory remarks.
“Luther is a great American. Like many great Americans he is a maligned American. We need to show personal qualities of bravery and integrity. The kind of man people want to follow. And it wouldn’t hurt if the whole thing is done with a little environmental sensitivity.”
“Fine,” says Max, who’s given himself an orange juice mustache, “so what do we do?”
Saul nods to Evor, who signals Desmond, who fingers a button.
Shades lower. Lights dim. Evor begins a thoughtful pacing.
“What is an American?” he asks. “What is unique about America? Not our form of government. There are other constitutions. Other democracies. Even Europe has them.
“I ask if there is not a deeper truth, a prior experience, more fundamental than the Founding Fathers. More uniquely American. I’m thinking of the Puritans. The Puritan experience is the seminal American experience. It reaches to the roots of our national psyche and is an underutilized source of national identity and pride.
“Who then were the Puritans? Underdogs. They crossed an ocean in tiny vessels, threatened by shipwreck and disease. They had to be shown how to plant corn. They battled the wilderness and starvation and hostile natives. In many different ways they waged war on superior forces.
“Now let’s think about warfare at this moment in our history. The market for it is saturated. ‘Too many wars’ comes up again and again in our polling. ‘I lost my son.’ ‘I lost a neighbor.’ ‘My child’s teacher is dead.’
“A new way is needed. A way for a candidate to emulate the Puritans. Demonstrate his bravery, integrity and faith. In the role of an underdog, with the trappings of war but without actually waging war.”
From modest but powerful speakers comes the sound of trumpets: muted, filled with longing, unafraid.
“What if we could fuse Luther’s personal destiny to the country’s as a whole—while he’s not even holding office!—by having him lead a diverse group of Americans on an adventure of heroic proportions?
“Cue the violins,” Lark commands. Lush strings invoke the solemnity of distant vistas.
An image projects onto a lowered screen: the ocean’s waves, the unending sea. Words are superimposed: ‘U.S.S. UnderGod.’ They fade, replaced by a sailing ship: tall, draped in chalky-white canvas. A flag flaps from the mizzenmast in stripes of red and white and a corner-square of navy blue filled not by stars but a circle of crosses. Below the flag: black-tarred rigging, varnished railing, polished brass work. Snub-nosed carronades peek from the upper deck portholes, and from the decks below the menacing thrust of the twenty-four-pounders, the long guns. Off the bow a figurehead carved into the oaken hull: an eagle clutching in its talons two crossed arrows as it scans the horizon for enemies with a gaze both fierce and uncomprehending.
“Gentlemen,” Evor continues. “This is the U.S.S. UnderGod. A meticulous reconstruction of a nineteenth-century frigate of the United States Navy, the current property of a group of patriotic naval retirees and Mexican War enthusiasts. The UnderGod is being offered for sale at a price substantially below retail and the Precepts Corporation has obtained an exclusive option to purchase over the next thirty days.
“Our proposal is nothing less than this,” Larks says, his grip tightening on his laser pointer just a little. “At a time when America is being urged to withdraw, stand down, to mind our own business, we propose the UnderGod be sailed under God Almighty and the leadership of Captain Luther Bernard Dorsey”—the ship morphed now into a map of the globe and Lark’s pointer went to work—“out the Beaufort, South Carolina harbor, down the South American coast, around Cape Horn and across the Pacific past this little dot here which is called Christmas Island—how great is that?—then across this other ocean, around the Horn of Africa through the southern Atlantic back to the harbor in Beaufort. From where—“
“Evor! I love it!” Blaze’s voice leaps into the room.
“Blaze! Let me finish!” Lark protests. “From where, minutes after it docks with what we expect to be saturation media coverage Luther announces he will again seek his party’s nomination to be
President of the United States.”
“We can do this Luther!” Blaze again. “We can do this!”
Cymbals crash, then sizzle to silence.
“We?” says Luther, weakly.
“Let’s not get carried away,” says Max. “We need to hear a lot more detail.”
“Absolutely,” says Saul. “That’s why we’re here. Evor, great presentation. Let’s open up to questions from Team Dorsey.
“When do we sail?” asks Blaze.
“Whoa! We’re getting way ahead of ourselves,” says Max.
“Luther?” says Saul.
“The sea has always been kind to me.”
“For starters,” says Max, “Luther would be out of the public eye the entire voyage. The whole concept violates the first law of political marketing, which is to get coverage for your candidate.”
“Evor?” says Saul.
“Max, I don’t know how closely you follow the financial press but the Precepts Corporation last month acquired a controlling interest in the Opticon Television Network. And only this morning we concluded an agreement in principle with our global affiliates under which they will televise what we think will be the mother of all reality TV shows: The Voyage of the UnderGod.”
“What’s the brandscape?” Max demands.
“Desmond?” says Lark.
Desmond reads from a list: “UnderGod wine, UnderGod calendars, UnderGod flag football leagues, UnderGod underwear, coffee imported from UnderGod-approved shade tree plantations. Key chains, cologne, and an energy drink-malt liquor tentatively called UnderGrog. That’s it so far.”
“That cologne should do well,” Luther remarks.
Max says, “I admit there’s an appealing conceptual sweep to it. But doesn’t it all hinge on there being an element of real danger? If the ship merely sails the globe followed by a yacht full of reporters drinking Heinekens, who’s going to care?”
“Exactly,” says Lark. “It would be another trashy reality show. That’s why we’ll have one hundred percent historical accuracy. Historically accurate food, clothing and navigational devices. No support ships. No contact with other ships of any kind. The dangers will be real. And I can name them. Disease. Shipwreck. Mutiny.”
Blaze gives out a gasp.
“Remember the premise we started from,” says Lark. “Luther is serious—dead serious–about another shot at the White House. How do you dislodge a sitting President during a time of wars? You have to take chances.”
“Who still knows how to sail these?” says Max.
“You’d be surprised. Clubs and maritime societies in port cities all over the world do this sort of thing, though on a smaller scale.”
“And the crew?”
“That’s a concern I have,” the speaker phone breaks in. “That the crew would be,
ah, amenable to my leadership. After all as you’ve pointed out we wouldn’t want to have a, well, mutiny on our hands.”
“That’s the last thing any of us wants,” puts in Saul. “The crew will be fully vetted. No malcontents.”
“They’ll be ordinary Americans,” Lark says. “From all walks of life. We’ll give them a crash course in sailsmanship then off we go.”
Saul says, “Luther, where are you on this?”
“I’ll have to pray. Do some fasting. Listen to the Lord.”
“Sounds like a great plan. Evor will stay in touch and we’ll see where this idea goes. You know it’s too bad you couldn’t make it this morning because if you could see this ship, this UnderGod, it really is a thing of beauty.”
The voice emerging from the speakerphone contains a guarded enthusiasm as it references a cherished line of movie dialogue:
“Just one more question: Do we get to win this time?”
Evor breaks into hoots: “Rambo! Rambo! Rambo!”
“That’s it Luther,” says Saul, intense, envisioning. “Keep that edge. Your team needs you. We all need you. Now more than ever.”