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34

“As intelligence liaison to the White House,” Rachel Sexton was saying, trying to keep her voice from shaking as she addressed the crowd on the screen before her, “my duties include traveling to political hot spots around the globe, analyzing volatile situations, and reporting to the President and White House staff.”

A bead of sweat formed just below her hairline and Rachel dabbed it away, silently cursing the President for dropping this briefing into her lap with zero warning.

“Never before have my travels taken me to quite this exotic a spot.” Rachel motioned stiffly to the cramped trailer around her. “Believe it or not, I am addressing you right now from above the Arctic Circle on a sheet of ice that is over three hundred feet thick.”

Rachel sensed a bewildered anticipation in the faces on the screen before her. They obviously knew they had been packed into the Oval Office for a reason, but certainly none of them imagined it would have anything to do with a development above the Arctic Circle.

The sweat was beading again. Get it together, Rachel. This is what you do. “I sit before you tonight with great honor, pride, and . . . above all, excitement.”

Blank looks.

Screw it, she thought, angrily wiping the sweat away. I didn’t sign up for this. Rachel knew what her mother would say if she were here now: When in doubt, just spit it out! The old Yankee proverb embodied one of her mom’s basic beliefs‑that all challenges can be overcome by speaking the truth, no matter how it comes out.

Taking a deep breath, Rachel sat up tall and looked straight into the camera. “Sorry, folks, if you’re wondering how I could be sweating my butt off above the Arctic Circle . . . I’m a little nervous.”

The faces before her seemed to jolt back a moment. Some uneasy laughter.

“In addition,” Rachel said, “your boss gave me about ten seconds’ warning before telling me I would be facing his entire staff. This baptism by fire is not exactly what I had in mind for my first visit to the Oval Office.”

More laughter this time.

“And,” she said, glancing down at the bottom of the screen, “I had certainly not imagined I would be sitting at the President’s desk . . . much less on it!”

This brought a hearty laugh and some broad smiles. Rachel felt her muscles starting to relax. Just give it to them straight.

“Here’s the situation.” Rachel’s voice now sounded like her own. Easy and clear. “President Herney has been absent from the media spotlight this past week not because of his lack of interest in his campaign, but rather because he has been engrossed in another matter. One he felt was far more important.”

Rachel paused, her eyes making contact now with her audience.

“There has been a scientific discovery made in a location called the Milne Ice Shelf in the high Arctic. The President will be informing the world about it in a press conference tonight at eight o’clock. The find was made by a group of hardworking Americans who have endured a string of tough luck lately and deserve a break. I’m talking about NASA. You can be proud to know that your President, with apparent clairvoyant confidence, has made a point of standing beside NASA lately through thick and thin. Now, it appears his loyalty is going to be rewarded.”

It was not until that very instant that Rachel realized how historically momentous this was. A tightness rose in her throat, and she fought it off, plowing onward.

“As an intelligence officer who specializes in the analysis and verification of data, I am one of several people the President has called upon to examine the NASA data. I have examined it personally as well as conferring with several specialists‑both government and civilian‑men and women whose credentials are beyond reproach and whose stature is beyond political influence. It is my professional opinion that the data I am about to present to you is factual in its origins and unbiased in its presentation. Moreover, it is my personal opinion that the President, in good faith to his office and the American people, has shown admirable care and restraint in delaying an announcement I know he would have loved to have made last week.”

Rachel watched the crowd before her exchanging puzzled looks. They all returned their gaze to her, and she knew she had their undivided attention.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to hear what I’m sure you will agree is one of the most exciting pieces of information ever revealed in this office.”