February 7, 2029, White House, Washington, D.C.
“Are you sure we have the right people in charge while we are in D.C.? This new administration is under the microscope of the United Nations—we don’t have the luxury of making a mistake.” Janet continues to talk as she closes the briefing folder on the desk in front of her.
“Have you been pretending to read that brief this entire flight?” asks Benjamin. “You know you have a problem with fake reading, right?”
Janet ignores his comment. “I know we have staff in place to meet the mandatory 24-hour coverage with the U.N. Security Council, but I didn’t choose these people, and I’m not comfortable leaving them at the helm. And, while we’re discussing the United Nations, I want to add that though the actions of this entity have been categorized as ‘unenforceable’ and as ‘having little power,’ I’m convinced the U.N. wields much more influence than most people know. I had no idea that decisions for world events are sometimes made casually in the General Conference Room.
“And, what is up with these Thirteen Mandates for a United World? Adopting them would be like putting Planet Earth in a giant snow globe and shaking it a few hundred times.”
Benjamin nods from across the aisle of the private plane provided for them by the U.N. Security Council. Janet is one of five Ambassadors supplied a jet for their term in office. The other four are from the nations who also hold a permanent place at the Security Council’s voting table—Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom.
“Yes, we have the right people in place. They’ve been doing this for years. You’re the newbie, not them. Plus, you have your ‘eyes and ears,’ aka, Gloria, standing by to alert you of anything that needs your attention. You’re only a phone call away, so stop worrying. Gloria is your second-best team member.”
Janet smirks at her assistant. “Should I assume that makes you the first?”
“JJ, as I see it, I’m on a private jet sipping a mimosa with my boss while Gloria is watching her backside in the U.N. Tower. Of course, I’m first.”
“Is everything a competition with you?”
“Hey, I didn’t make up the rules. But yes, I believe everything is a competition. Life is one giant game. I was just telling James over breakfast, ‘if you’re not going to play—don’t confuse the issue by showing up in the uniform.’”
“Meaning, don’t wear a suit, heels, and pearls to the White House if you don’t intend to stand your ground.”
“That poor kid! He will be on anti-anxiety medicine by the time he’s eighteen—just like his daddy.”
“Hey, hey—stay above the belt there, Rocky.”
Janet laughs. “Okay, okay, point taken—all three of them. So, how is the brightest of the Hume men doing these days?”
“James is doing really well. He made the first string of his baseball team. He’s adjusting to the new school, which is tough for a third-grader. It’s especially tough for a third-grader who lost his mother last year. But, hey, he’s a survivor. He’ll go on to do great things.” Janet nods in agreement.
“I like that he’s still coming to me for advice. I do what I can. If anything goes over my head, I refer it out. Friday night, I told him he would have to talk to Jesus about the ‘mean lady’ who made him leave his friends and is making him find new ones.”
“What’s going on? Why didn’t you talk to me about this earlier?”
“Because… you’re the ‘mean lady.’”
“Yes, you are the newly-elected Ambassador who told his daddy that she can’t manage her professional life unless he also relocates to NYC.”
She smiles. “Well, what would James say if I used my connections to get him some box seats to the season opener of the Yankees? He could take his daddy out.”
“Hmmm…an attempt to buy my son’s love in the middle of his pre-teen crisis. I say, throw in some team hats, and you have a deal.”
“Deal! Not too shabby for a mean lady, eh?”
“Not shabby at all.” Benjamin looks down and carefully picks off two small pieces of white lint that have landed on his Kiton suit. He straightens his tie (which was a quarter of an inch off-center). He then takes a quick look at his wrist to collect his fitness numbers for the morning.
As Janet watches her persnickety executive assistant, two thoughts run through her mind: “One, you have too much talent to be living your life in my shadow, and two, you are right—I cannot run my professional life without you.” She can’t deny that over the years she has been leaning heavily on this jittery, well-dressed, fitness-obsessed, “Catholic boy.” Together they have proven two wrongs can make a right.
Benjamin’s abundance of energy expresses itself as both verbal chatter and physical fidgeting. Somehow, his restlessness has a calming effect. When he’s in the room, she can better handle the massive amount of reading and research that comes with her job.
From across the aisle, she looks him up and down from his colorful argyle socks all the way to the top of his white collared buttoned-down shirt. She has always admired his impeccable, albeit, conflicting style. His dark suits and black-rimmed glasses may say “Strategist” but, his bright socks and expressive ties say “Idealist.”
“What are you looking at? More importantly, what are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking I’m happy you’re here.”
“I appreciate that. And, thank you for taking me along on the next adventure of your crazy life.”
Janet laughs. “Are we prepared for today?”
“I’m not sure I’m following you. We can’t really prepare for a briefing with a President—especially this President.”
“I get that, but I thought you might have some sources inside the White House who might have heard something and were willing to share. Your wife was a highly-regarded Chief of Staff under the last administration. I was thinking maybe one of her friends might have a soft spot for you and be willing to fill us in.”
Benjamin says nothing. He begins spinning his pen on his plane desk.
She recognizes his familiar nervous tick. “Okay, let’s have it, what are you keeping from me?”
Benjamin stops spinning the pen and looks up at her, eyes partially hidden behind his glasses.
“Janet, we land in twenty minutes. It’s a thirty-minute ride from the hangar to the White House. It will take ten minutes to clear security and be seated. That’s a total of sixty minutes. You are asking this question fifty-two minutes too early.”
“Oh? Is that so? I apologize for pushing you off your printed schedule—which is probably laminated by now.”
Benjamin lets out a small puff of air. “Yes, expect to see the do-over on my expense report his month. Alright, I’ll tell you what I know. We are meeting in the Roosevelt Room. As you know, there are sixteen seats at the conference table. All seats will be filled, plus one.”
“Wow. Who’s attending?”
“The President invited the Director of NASA and one of its scientists, Director and Deputy Director of Space Force, one scientist each from France, Russia, China, and the U.K., the Vice-President, Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Associate Deputy Director of the CIA, Secretary of State, a noted Astrophysicist from California Institute of Technology, and a Theoretical Physicist from Princeton.”
“So, everyone except the Pope?”
“It’s funny you asked. The Pope was invited, but won’t be attending.”