By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: You have been elected president of the United States. When you get to the White House, you find out that there’s a note from your predecessor. The note says “Good Luck,” but when everyone else leaves the room the words on the note disappear and new words appear: “Look in the bottom drawer of the desk. There’s a hidden compartment. You will find more instructions there.”
I strode across the seal woven in the carpet, and a little shiver traveled down my spine. I still couldn’t believe I had reached the Oval Office. The events that had brought me here still confused me a little, but I didn’t want to question them in front of the staff.
“Of course,” my personal assistant said as she followed me, a tablet in hand, “you’re welcome to order another desk if you’d like. The previous president replaced his predecessor’s desk. It’s completely your choice, sir.”
Sir. I liked the sound of it. The Secret Service agents stood on either side of the door and didn’t say anything. I’d almost gotten used to them.
“I’ll think about it,” I said, trying to sound presidential. I walked around the desk and put my fingertips on it.
“Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?”
I looked at Jackie, her short bob, the starched white shirt, the straight skirt in a dark color—navy? Black? I couldn’t really tell—and the short heels. She looked back at me, deference warring with curiosity on her face. I couldn’t blame her. The hurried congressional meeting had shoved her into her current position like it had ensconced me into mine.
I barely knew the woman, but after a week as the president of the most important country in the world I had already figured out that I should never take an offer of help at face value.
“I think I’m fine for now,” I said. “If I need anything I’ll call.”
“That’s fine, sir. My number is 203 on the internal network.”
I nodded and watched her leave. Not bad. Definitely better than Lewinsky.
The agents stayed by the door, staring straight ahead. I had a ridiculous urge to do a monkey dance, just to see if it would evoke a reaction. The idea made me smile, and to fight the urge to laugh I sat at the desk and pulled open the top drawer.
A piece of paper fluttered. “Good luck,” it said, and my predecessor had signed his name. I allowed the smile to appear and picked up the paper to toss it in the trash. Just as I touched it, the words faded. Within seconds new words appeared.
“Look in the bottom drawer of the desk. There’s a hidden compartment. You will find more instructions there.”
I dropped the note and watched it float to the floor. My heart started drumming. I glanced at the Secret Service agents, but they hadn’t moved. I wondered whether they’d seen even stranger behavior from previous presidents.
I looked at the note again, but the paper appeared blank. My heart skipped a beat and then started thumping harder. I picked it up and the words slowly came back, like an old Polaroid photo developing right in front of my eyes.
My hand started to shake, making the paper flutter. I put the sheet on the desk, and once again the words disappeared.
This time I reached for the bottom drawer, trying to look like I did this every day. I put my hand in the drawer, which appeared empty, and started pressing on the bottom of it. The bottom of the drawer slid back at my touch without making a sound, and a white envelope sat there. Waiting.
I picked up the envelope, heavy and thick, and I saw the panel in the drawer slide back into place. I’d managed to control the shaking of my hands, but I had a harder time slowing down my pulse. What was going on?
I opened the envelope, pulled out a sheaf of papers, and unfolded them.
“If you’re reading this, that means the congressional push to get me impeached worked. I’m sorry. Sorry because what you’re about to find it is way over your head. It was definitely over mine. That’s why they managed to kick me out.
“Oh, make no mistake. All of the charges brought against me were false. They were fabricated because I refused to comply with the latest plot the CIA and the FBI have hatched. Don’t believe those ridiculous media reports. They’re fabricated too, so the CIA and the FBI can work together without anyone finding out.
“Before I get into the details of why this happened—why I got impeached and you were elected—I wanted to reassure you. You don’t have to worry about anyone else finding this report. The paper has been treated and coded to your fingerprints. If anyone else touches the paper, the words will disappear. If anyone tampers with the paper, it will burst into flame.”
I glanced at the Secret Service agents. No movement. No reaction. I leaned back in the chair and tried to look casual.
“The security agencies of our country have undertaken a dangerous task, and they’re not going to stop no matter what you say. Their plot involves drones and A.I.—artificial intelligence. You can’t trust anyone. I mean it—no one. The FBI doesn’t trust anyone anymore. That’s why they’ve started replacing the Secret Service agents with robots.”
The skin on the back of my neck started to crawl, and more than anything I wanted to look at the agents on either side of the door. But I fought the urge. The words on the paper got cloudy for a moment, and I realized I’d spaced out. I brought myself back to the present and forced myself to keep reading.
“Be careful. I realize all of this might sound crazy. But you have to find a way to get in touch with the VP without anyone knowing it. He’s the only other person who knows about all this. Talk to him, and he’ll tell you about this plot. It’s bigger than anything anyone could ever imagine.”
I stopped again. Talk to the VP? He hated me. He had actually given me a death glare during the swearing in ceremony. He probably thought he should have gotten my job, but when a president gets impeached and his vice president gets assassinated in the same day it kind of throws the government into a little bit of chaos. I still didn’t understand how Congress managed to vote me in.
But they had. And now I had to talk to the person who didn’t want to have anything to do with me. All because of some sort of plot.
What was going I going to do? And were those Secret Service agents really real?