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Gabrielle Ashe sat in the darkness at Senator Sexton’s desk and gave his computer a despondent scowl.

Invalid Password—Access Denied

She had tried several other passwords that seemed likely possibilities, but none had worked. After searching the office for any unlocked drawers or stray clues, Gabrielle had all but given up. She was about to leave when she spotted something odd, shimmering on Sexton’s desk calendar. Someone had outlined the date of the election in a red, white, and blue glitter pen. Certainly not the senator. Gabrielle pulled the calendar closer. Emblazoned across the date was a frilly, glittering exclamation: POTUS !

Sexton’s ebullient secretary had apparently glitterpainted some more positive thinking for him for election day. The acronym POTUS was the U.S. Secret Service’s code name for President of the United States. On election day, if all went well, Sexton would become the new POTUS.

Preparing to leave, Gabrielle realigned the calendar on his desk and stood up. She paused suddenly, glancing back at the computer screen.

Enter Password:_

She looked again at the calendar.


She felt a sudden surge of hope. Something about POTUS struck Gabrielle as being a perfect Sexton password. Simple, positive, self‑referential.

She quickly typed in the letters.


Holding her breath, she hit “return.” The computer beeped.

Invalid Password—Access Denied

Slumping, Gabrielle gave up. She headed back toward the bathroom door to exit the way she had come. She was halfway across the room, when her cellphone rang. She was already on edge, and the sound startled her. Stopping short, she pulled out her phone and glanced up to check the time on Sexton’s prized Jourdain grandfather clock. Almost 4:00 A.M. At this hour, Gabrielle knew the caller could only be Sexton. He was obviously wondering where the hell she was. Do I pick up or let it ring? If she answered, Gabrielle would have to lie. But if she didn’t, Sexton would get suspicious.

She took the call. “Hello?”

“Gabrielle?” Sexton sounded impatient. “What’s keeping you?”

“The FDR Memorial,” Gabrielle said. “The taxi got hemmed in, and now we’re‑”

“You don’t sound like you’re in a taxi.”

“No,” she said, her blood pumping now. “I’m not. I decided to stop by my office and pick up some NASA documents that might be relevant to PODS. I’m having some trouble finding them.”

“Well, hurry up. I want to schedule a press conference for the morning, and we need to talk specifics.”

“I’m coming soon,” she said.

There was a pause on the line. “You’re in your office?” He sounded suddenly confused.

“Yeah. Another ten minutes and I’ll be on my way over.”

Another pause. “Okay. I’ll see you soon.”

Gabrielle hung up, too preoccupied to notice the loud and distinctive triple‑tick of Sexton’s prized Jourdain grandfather clock only a few feet away.