Every presidents transition into the White House involves a private tour of three heavily guarded warehouses containing priceless collections of past White House furniture: desks, silverware, bureaus, beds, and other items used by past presidents as far back as George Washington. During the tour, the transitioning president is invited to select any heirlooms he likes and use them as furnishings inside the White House during his term. Only the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom is a permanent White House fixture. Ironically, Lincoln never slept in it.
The desk at which Zach Herney was currently sitting inside the Oval Office had once belonged to his idol, Harry Truman. The desk, though small by modern standards, served as a daily reminder to Zach Herney that the buck did indeed stop here, and that Herney was ultimately responsible for any shortcomings of his administration. Herney accepted the responsibility as an honor and did his best to instill in his staff the motivations to do whatever it took to get the job done.
Mr. President? his secretary called out, peering into the office. Your call just went through.
Herney waved. Thank you.
He reached for his phone. He would have preferred some privacy for this call, but he sure as hell was not going to get any of that right now. Two makeup specialists hovered like gnats, poking and primping at his face and hair. Directly in front of his desk, a television crew was setting up, and an endless swarm of advisers and PR people scurried around the office, excitedly discussing strategy.
T minus one hour . . .
Herney pressed the illuminated button on his private phone. Lawrence? You there?
Im here. The NASA administrators voice sounded consumed, distant.
Everything okay up there?
Storms still moving in, but my people tell me the satellite link will not be affected. Were good to go. One hour and counting.
Excellent. Spirits high, I hope.
Very high. My staffs excited. In fact, we just shared some beers.
Herney laughed. Glad to hear it. Look, I wanted to call and thank you before we do this thing. Tonights going to be one hell of a night.
The administrator paused, sounding uncharacteristically uncertain. That it will, sir. Weve been waiting a long time for this.
Herney hesitated. You sound exhausted.
I need some sunlight and a real bed.
One more hour. Smile for the cameras, enjoy the moment, and then well get a plane up there to bring you back to D.C.
Looking forward to it. The man fell silent again.
As a skilled negotiator, Herney was trained to listen, to hear what was being said between the lines. Something in the administrators voice sounded off somehow. You sure everythings okay up there?
Absolutely. All systems go. The administrator seemed eager to change the subject. Did you see the final cut of Michael Tollands documentary?
Just watched it, Herney said. He did a fantastic job.
Yes. You made a good call bringing him in.
Still mad at me for involving civilians?
Hell, yes. The administrator growled good‑naturedly, his voice with the usual strength to it.
It made Herney feel better. Ekstroms fine, Herney thought. Just a little tired. Okay, Ill see you in an hour via satellite. Well give em something to talk about.
Hey, Lawrence? Herneys voice grew low and solemn now. Youve done a hell of a thing up there. I wont ever forget it.
Outside the habisphere, buffeted by wind, Delta‑Three struggled to right and repack Norah Mangors toppled equipment sled. Once all the equipment was back onboard, he battened down the vinyl top and draped Mangors dead body across the top, tying her down. As he was preparing to drag the sled off course, his two partners came skimming up the glacier toward him.
Change of plans, Delta‑One called out above the wind. The other three went over the edge.
Delta‑Three was not surprised. He also knew what it meant. The Delta Forces plan to stage an accident by arranging four dead bodies on the ice shelf was no longer a viable option. Leaving a lone body would pose more questions than answers. Sweep? he asked.
Delta‑One nodded. Ill recover the flares and you two get rid of the sled.
While Delta‑One carefully retraced the scientists path, collecting every last clue that anyone had been there at all, Delta‑Three and his partner moved down the glacier with the laden equipment sled. After struggling over the berms, they finally reached the precipice at the end of the Milne Ice Shelf. They gave a push, and Norah Mangor and her sled slipped silently over the edge, plummeting into the Arctic Ocean.
Clean sweep, Delta‑Three thought.
As they headed back to base, he was pleased to see the wind obliterating the tracks made by their skis.