Sneaking into the White House used to be so easy. And for Mom, it’s usually no trouble at all. But it’s a tiny bit more difficult to sneak into your glass office in the West Wing, with all those panicky people in it, especially when, as far as they know, they were talking to you the whole time.
First, you have to test, one last time, the integrity of your Shroud. If there’s any trace of tampering, go to Plan B. The Shroud was still sealed and secure, so Mom felt safe to reappear. Anything anyone else hears or sees is still just a figment of her imagination.
“Hey,” Mom said to Leia. “Having fun?”
“Tons. Thanks for leaving me here to deal with all these whiners while you’re at home doing magic tricks with the kids,” Leia said as she stood up. She walked up to Mom, gave her a hug, and disappeared.
“I’m welcome,” Mom replied.
“I’m sorry, you’re what?” asked an aide who thought he was talking to Leia, while Leia converged with Mom.
“I’m bacon,” Mom said, as she stood up to go. “This is going to be the worst day ever.”
The security detail snapped to attention as Mom entered the final screening room. “Hi guys,” she smiled. “And good to see you back, Toni. How’s Tony?”
“Much better, thank you ma’am.” The body scanner did its thing, and opened the door only when it confirmed Mom’s identity half a second later – the fifth scanner to do so in the three minutes it took to walk from her office to the Situation Room.
Mom stepped inside, the blast door sealing shut behind her with a hiss. “Madam President,” she nodded a bow to the President, neither of them smiled.
Teresa Lee was the first Asian-American President of the United States, and the first woman ever to lead the Republican Party to victory. Also the first Confucian. An Air Force brat, she grew up all over the world. Her dad was stationed in the Philippines during the Vietnam War and the Second Indochina War, first doing intelligence work for the United States Air Force Security Service at Clark Air Base, then doing intelligence work at the US Embassy in Manila, ostensibly as an Information Officer, but actually as an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Teresa’s mom was born in Beijing, grew up in San Francisco, joined the State Department, and was one of the translators who accompanied President Nixon in that historic visit to China. Zhou Enlai himself had given her a Zhongshan suit – complete with Mao jacket and cap – and it was this suit that she was wearing when she first met Teresa’s dad, at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, on the way back from Beijing to DC.
Teresa had been mayor of San Jose, where she first proved to a national electorate that she could bring people of all shades – Liberals, Conservatives, Liberal Conservatives, Conservative Liberals, The People’s Front of Judea, The Judean People’s Front, the oddest sorts of people – all together in projects that made San Jose one of the best places to live in America. Even for the homeless. Her portable Homey Homes (lovingly nicknamed Homie Homes by its primary customers) still appeared and disappeared like mushrooms along the banks of Guadalupe River, giving shelter to the homeless who detested shelters and preferred to live outdoors.
The activists and billionaires that her Silicon Valley base comprised then propelled her to Sacramento, where quick wits and a kind heart, with a little help from two very sharp elbows, transformed California into the most ethnically diverse, wealthiest, and most advanced state in the world. In the incubators of California, Governor Lee prepared the revolution that was to mark her first 100 days as President of the United States.
She almost lost the Republican nomination to Texas Governor Jack Ashcroft, and it was only Mom’s last-minute “negotiations” before the convention that averted that defeat. So Mom may have been ultimately responsible for putting herself in this situation, in this room, right now.
“Mr Vice President,” she nodded to the only other person in the room, and smiled.
John Herbert Williamson Ashcroft, scion of two of America’s richest and most powerful dynasties, and of two US Presidents, lived a charmed and happy life. Both the Williamsons and the Ashcrofts go all the way back to when Europeans first discovered that America was already occupied. They sailed for the New World, fleeing the oppression of the Old – full of hope, and afire with a sacred mission to free the natives from their heathen ways, and also some, then all, of their land.
The Williamsons and Ashcrofts hadn’t always agreed. They were on opposite sides of the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American war, the Philippine-American War, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Proxy Wars, Afghanistan I, Iraq I, Afghanistan II, Iraq II, the War on Terror, and the War of War. They were also on opposite sides of the War on Poverty, the War on Gangs, the War on Drugs, the War on Cancer, the War on Christmas, the Culture Wars, Water Wars, Flame Wars, and Star Wars. But they all made peace to have Jack’s back.
Built like a quarterback, tall, blond, tan, and blue-eyed, Jack cast a dazzling smile. And if that wasn’t enough to charm you, his southern gentility would do you in. He could melt the heart of the coldest polar bear hugger, the way he touched your arm as he shook your hand; the way he looked straight into your eyes and spoke to you as if you were the most important person in the world.
But even if you were a heartless, soulless Econ, you’d still have to admire the stats. His brand of Compassionate Conservatism and Communitarianism brought Texas the biggest boom it had seen in decades. And it wasn’t just the economy. Jack made Texas cool again.
He made true on his pledge to “get Government out of our lives,” and this involved, much to the dismay of his base, the decriminalization of many sins which, they were sure, should be punished right here and now, on Earth, not at some future date in Hell. But the base stuck to Jack because of his pedigreed Faith. He was a true believer, a fundamentalist evangelical, a preacher, and a deacon of the largest megachurch in the Americas, which he, of course, had built in Texas, mainly with family money. “If it ain’t big, it don’t belong here,” was one of his favorite quips.
Jack Ashcroft smiled back at Mom, then addressed the President. “Can we cut to the chase, Teresa? We all know why we’re here. I had no doubt that you and The Witch” – he winked at Mom – “would figure it out soon enough.”
“We prefer the term Wizard-Americans, but I shall be sensitive to your fear of hyphens,” Mom said. “And if you wink at me one more time, I’ll set your wig on fire.”
“That was hurtful, but I’ll turn the other cheek. You ladies were pretty quick, quite frankly, to be totally honest with you. For ladies, I mean. But still not quick enough to stop us.”
“That’s a bit cocky, Jack, even for a jackass like you,” Teresa said.
“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘dick’,” Mom suggested. “I’m not saying he’s not a jackass, just that “dick” goes better with “cocky”. And he certainly is a bit of a dick. A leeetle dick. Teeeeny. Tiiiny.” By way of illustration, Mom had raised her index fingers and held them a millimeter apart by the tip her nose, so her eyes crossed.
“Jackass goes better with Jack, though, no?”
“You could be right. I mean of course you’re right, Madam President.”
“Are we done here?” Jack pushed back his chair.
“Almost. Just a min,” the President said. Then turning back to Mom: “Are you saying you’ve … seen his … thing?”
“Ew gross no of course not. But clearly he’s been compensating for something. For the longest time, he’d been covering up the shortest thing.”
“You guys are hilarious, but I’ve got work to do,” Jack stood to go. “I am so behind with work, I can work 24 hours straight and still have work to do.”
“Just one more question,” President Lee said to Vice President Ashcroft, rising and turning dramatically, one finger in the air, in the worst impression of Columbo ever. “You’re under arrest.”
“Dude, that’s not even a question.”
The girls laughed. It felt good to laugh again.
“Nice catch, Jack. Grammar was never my forte,” Teresa said. “So what makes you think I can’t stop your “Apocalypse”?”
“Because even I can’t stop it now,” Jack smiled a saintly smile. “It’s all in the hands of God.”
“Well that’s a relief,” the President said. “At least we won’t have to torture you to make you confess your crazy plans.”
“Why not?” Mom asked, disappointed.
“Since there’s nothing we can do to stop his ‘Apocalypse’, I guess all we can do is sit back and listen to his prepared speech about his brilliant unstoppable plan to destroy the world, how he duped us all, why he did what he did, how it’s God’s will, and all that. That’s in the Master Villains Playbook, right?” Lee turned to Ashcroft and leaned back on her chair. “Carry on then, Jack.”
“I brought popcorn, want some?” Mom offered Teresa and Jack a small bag of wasabi peas. Teresa took it.
“First of all,” Jack said, “Yours Truly is not the bad guy here.” He reached into his coat pocket. “I don’t have my speech committed to memory … I hope you ladies don’t mind that I read it.”
“Just make it quick, please, if you can,” Teresa said without much hope. Jack loved the sound of his own voice. “We still have our shopping to do for the Apocalypse.”
Jack cleared his throat. “Shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. I timed it myself.”
“Ain’t nobody got time for that,” Mom said as she snatched the sheet away from Jack, handing it to Teresa with barely a glance.
“Woah, bro, not nice to grab,” the President chided Mom as she began to read. “We the Crusaders, blah blah blah, Holy Crusade, yadda yadda, We call upon cliche, cliche cliche cliche …”
“I’m just gonna torture him for a sec, k?” Mom asked. “Just a little payback on behalf of the English language?”
“Uh, sure, I guess,” the President said as she read.
And with that Executive Order on file, Mom pulled out the “modified” VeriFide from her purse, and set it in front of Vice President Ashcroft. Particle streams of shifting colors rose like wisps of smoke from the base, forming a many-colored sphere the size of a pingpong ball. It shimmered and spun an inch above the table.
“We’re recording, I’ve sworn you in, any objections?” Mom asked.
Jack said nothing. The ball turned red. Jack screamed. His body was paralyzed, except for his face, which was contorted in horror.
“Just testing,” Mom sang, and the ball returned to its multicolor neutral state. Jack was soaked in his own sweat; his whole body shook from that very brief nightmare he had dreamed while awake, when VeriFide verified his intent to deceive. Teresa handed him some wipes. “At least she didn’t make you crap your pants – that would’ve been bad for all of us.”
“You know how this works, Jack,” Mom said softly. “It’s one of your most favowitest toys, memember?”
Jack nodded now. The ball turned green.
“We’re recording, I’ve sworn you in, any objections?” Mom asked.
“Yes,” Jack said. The ball stayed green. “This interrogation is illegal.” The ball turned a greenish red.”
“Your objection is noted, thanks,” Mom said. “This ‘Apocalypse’ plan of yours,” she continued, “is it based on The Book of Revelation?”
Jack nodded. Green.
“Is the English Standard Version okay? Just wanna make sure nothing’s lost in translation.”
Jack nodded again. Green.
Mom continued. “In your version of the Apocalypse, is United States president Teresa Lee the Whore of Babylon?”
Jack nodded. Green.
Looking up from Jack’s speech, Teresa said, “That’s not very nice, Jack,” as if talking to a very naughty boy. “So you plan to destroy America, along with the rest of the world?”
“Only if we have to,” Jack said. Greenish red.
“Who’s we?” Mom asked. Jack shuffled in his seat. The ball turned yellow.
“DaiDai,” Teresa called out, in sing-song notes. Daisy, the First Dog, materialized on the table in front of the President. As she always does when expecting an order she has no intention to obey, the Shitzsu lay completely prone, four legs splayed out on the mahogany top.
With her chin on the tabletop, not even bothering to lift her head to the Commander in Chief, Dai’s eyes darted warily to and from her mom’s. One eyebrow rose, then fell, as the other went up. Cupping Daisy’s face in her two hands, the President cooed: “Could you please fetch all the Vice President’s files, DaiDai dear, official and personal, open and secure?” Daisy barked a question, head tilted, looking askance at her mom, who replied, “Yes of course we do have the Vice President’s permission. Don’t we, Jack?”
“You have no right to do this!” Jack said, without much conviction. The ball stayed yellow.
“Jack, please give us your permission.”
Jack paused. “You have my permission.” Green.
“Go ahead then DaiDai, das a goo gerr,” cooed the President of the United States.
“Woof!” Daisy yelped a happy yelp as she vanished, leaving echoes of the scampering sound of a pup chasing a bone.
“Moving along,” Mom said. “Are you the founder and leader of the Crusaders?”
Jack hesitated for a moment, then said “Yes”. The ball turned green, then red, then shimmered various shades of yellow.
“Interesting,” the President noted. “Is there anyone above you in your ‘chain of command’?”
“Yes there is, of course there is,” Jack said. He paused, that saintly smile again gracing his face, you could almost hear the Choir of Angels Ah-ing inside his head. “I get my marching orders directly from The Lord God Himself.”
The ball turned a solid green.