“Come on, up!” There was a clunking and a woosh, and the smell of fresh coffee. Lillian Smith finally raised her head off her pillow, reaching for her glasses. The fuzzy shape of her girlfriend, Jessica, clarified as she placed them on her nose and struggled to get out of bed. Pulling her long jet black curls into her signature bun, Lillian padded out to the kitchen table.
“Fine, taskmaster,” she said, accepting the steaming mug. Jessica winked from the food synthesizer, where she was programming eggs and polenta. Lillian sat down at their small table and put her Heads Up Display (HUD) earring back in. Tapping it, she projected her email inbox and checked her new messages. A source had emailed her back regarding the new president’s stance on trade with Euro-China, and her videographer had confirmed their meeting for the next day.
“Anything new?” Jessica asked, pushing her hair out of her face. Lillian shook her head, closing her HUD. She watched her girlfriend move around their small kitchen, admiring how the morning light made Jessica’s dark skin glow. She would never get tired of this.
The two of them had been in this apartment for almost a year. In the past, it might have been one of the most expensive apartments in DC. Settled in the middle floor of a highrise, it overlooked the river and had a small balcony. They had two bedrooms, a tiny bathroom, and a full kitchen. Lillian and Jessica had been able to upgrade to this level when they moved in together. Both of them were very modest with their new status, however. They still remembered, as did most of the world, what happened when one wasn’t modest.
At first, the Crash was “nothing to worry about.” The Dow had taken a hit, but the skyrocketing tech market had been deemed unstoppable. The very first HUD tech had just come out, making iPhones and their ilk obsolete. The US was leading the way, as always, and foreign countries had been investing and borrowing heavily. It was a special, blinding sort of hubris. It was 2070, and America was yet again Number 1.
Then the New York Times broke with the actual story of the financial state. Bankers and Financiers had yet again hidden the speculative shakiness from the public. The market plunged. The country panicked, and called in its debts. The whirlwind caught many other countries by surprise, and with no warning, they too began a panic. They had invested too much in American markets. There was an immediate, world-wide state of emergency.
Finally, the American government went with the nuclear option. For the first time in millenia, an entire country would operate without a monetary system. Instead, your actions, occupation, family status, etc. would contribute to a score. This score was a marker of your standing in society and would give you access to different items. A job would pay in points; the best paid in a million points a year, the minimum points being 20 points/an hour. This system was originally forcing America into a closed economy, until a monetary-points conversion could be developed. For the last 20 years, America had begun to recover, and was in fact flourishing with their new way of life.
Jessica and Lillian had only recently moved to a higher housing level, hence, the new apartment. With their new living status, their household entitled them to two bedrooms and better tech. Jessica, being a huge fan of old sci-fi shows, was thrilled to have a food synthesizer. Lillian always teased her about it, but she loved her girlfriend’s enthusiasm.
Now, the machine beeped and materialized Jessica’s breakfast. Lillian never ate right away. The women sat at their table, silently enjoying each other’s company. Lillian closed her eyes and smiled.
Then her earring began to beep. “Damn it,” she muttered. Jessica chewed sympathetically.
“Hello, Lillian Smith here.”
“Smith. Good Morning.” Lillian’s stomach tightened. The Editor in Chief, Jared Johnson or JJ, was calling her at 7 in the morning. While she was now a senior correspondent for the Times at the White House, JJ still terrified her. A call from him meant her restful day was at an end.
“Mr. Johnson!” She said, sliding the call screen into the corner of her HUD and opening notes. A small keyboard projected onto the table. “Is something wrong?”
“Smith, please, call me JJ. Does my communication automatically instill fear?” There was a chuckle in his voice. It was a chuckle that said, Of course it does. “But in seriousness, Smith, something may be wrong. I’m going to need you at the office as soon as you can. And I would appreciate it if you told no one about this.” There was a warning in his deep, craggy voice.
“Yes sir,” Lillian said. “I’ll be there in 30 minutes.”
Lillian leapt up from the table, and raced into the bedroom. “What’s going on?” Jessica called.
“JJ wants to see me,” Lillian yelled back, pulling on dress pants. “In secret. Have you seen my black blouse? The one with the white roses?”
“Hanging up between my robe and your denim jacket. That’s really ominous.”
Lillian pulled the shirt on, grabbed her purse and hopped on one foot out to the kitchen while putting her shoes on. Jessica handed her the blazer from the hall closet. “Thanks love. I know, I hope I won’t have to carry out a hit, these are my nice pants.”
Jessica rolled her eyes. “What a dork.” Lillian laughed as she pulled her girlfriend in for a kiss. “Whatever you say, Captain Picard.”
Jessica walked over to the synthesizer, pressed order, and looking Lillian dead in the eye, proclaimed, “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”
Lillian was still grinning when she caught a cab.
“Ah Smith, excellent,” JJ said as she came in. “please, have some.” He offered her a basket of croissants. Lillian took one and shook his hand. He seemed to be at ease, but Lillian noticed the tightness in his face and that he didn’t recline in his chair like he normally did. Something was definitely up.
“Mr…JJ, what’s going on?” She said, trying to be as straightforward as possible.
“I’ll get right to it then,” JJ said. He twisted his mustache, his eyebrows knitting together. He reminded Lillian of the Editor demanding pictures of Spiderman. “What do you know about Compass Consulting?”
Lillian frowned. Compass Consulting was the President’s personal foundation. They were a tech consulting company, that ran a program to support children interested in technology and science. It was a fairly large foundation, with many locations around the country. “Quite a bit, I covered it when the President was elected. Why?”
JJ continued to twirl his mustache`. “We received a tip that the foundation is a front. Came in late last night. It had Foundation points records, interactions, and investigation reports. But the claim is that the President is using the Foundation to hide money.”
Lillian choked on her croissant. “Money, sir?”
“But where would-”
“The source just sent records and their theory. But it’s a serious claim. They have inside access and clearly know what they’re doing.”
“But, sir,” Lillian said, “How do we know they’re credible?”
JJ’s lined and weathered face broke into a smile. “Well, I would say the First Lady of the United States is a pretty credible source, wouldn’t you?”
Lillian sat back in stunned silence. Money being hidden, the President running a false foundation and all the evidence coming from the First Lady. This was not how she had expected her morning to go.
“Sir, I don’t really deal with financials. Why are you assigning me?”
“To be honest, Smith, you’re my best reporter. I trust you, and I can’t say that about everyone in this office. You’ve been in dangerous situations, you handle yourself well, and never reveal a source. I would fire myself if I didn’t pick you.”
“Do you see this being dangerous?” Lillian said warily.
JJ finally released his mustache. “I can guarantee it, Smith,” he proclaimed. “See what you can get me by Friday.”
Lillian recognized her cue, thanked her boss, and left for her own office.
She sat at her desk, slowly swiveling in her chair. What could be the motive? Where would the money even be coming from? What would the president gain by hoarding money when there was no market?
She brought up her HUD and searched for news from the campaign. President Filmore had his fair share of scandal, though less than his opponent. There were rumors of overly generous favors to powerful friends, the usual gamut of affair accusations, and a complete evisceration of his married life.
Lillian was beginning to give up on this angle for the moment when a small piece caught her eye. Candidate Filmore had been very vocal on his foreign relations policy, and this reporter had noted that he had consistently compared the economy to Russia’s communist state. He had spoken favorable of the Russians, but not excessively so. The reporter also noted that the First Lady’s family was from Russia.
This was interesting. Perhaps it was nothing, but Lillian had a hunch. The relations with Russia had warmed since the last Cold War-situations. Still, the history between the two countries meant that there was always an arms-length relationship. There were several US big-shots who had defected to Russia before the points system came into effect, and rumors circulated that they were feeding Russia information about weak points in American politics and business.
Lillian dusted off her memory and researched the names. Most of them had nothing tying them to this story; all were Ivy League grads, who had made their millions ripping off the American people. When the public had turned on them in the Crash, they were to be imprisoned. Russia had no extradition laws to the US, and thus a private plane and a lot of threats got them to Russian soil.
But one had an interesting background. Timothy Frederick had the same education and background; Harvard, Summa Cum Laude, and vice president of the exclusive Porcellian club. The Graduating picture from 2060 of the Porcelain was the hint Lillian needed; Third Row – Vice-President Timothy Frederick and President John Filmore.
Lillian saved that picture, encrypting her folder. She understood why JJ thought this was dangerous now; Russia tended to protect its interests. If Timothy Frederick was still close with President Filmore, and those in the Russian government were using Frederick as an insider, President Filmore may well be a pawn in an international game.
Lillian’s HUD pinged. JJ had sent her the original message he had received. Lillian would need contact with the source to pursue this story. She put the message in the same file and called the press office at the White House.
“Hi Jerry, it’s Lillian Smith. What’s the first lady’s schedule like? Really. Well I have a story that I would like to discuss with her. Yes I – No, it’s on the women’s foundation she’s been speaking about – yes. No I need to see her before Friday. Well today is no good, what’s Wednesday like? 8:00 is fine. Thanks Jerry.” Lillian clicked off, eternally grateful that she was the “nice” White House reporter. If there was a story she wanted to write on the White House, they usually squeezed her in. But now, all she needed to know was when the First Lady would be free.
She opened up the message JJ had forwarded. The email address was completely fake, but she replied to it anyway. “Tonight. 7:00. Lincoln Memorial. We believe you.”
“Are you sure everything is alright?” Jessica asked Wednesday night. “I know you can’t discuss it, but you’re very jumpy.” Lillian had only just gotten home, but she was still typing in the living room, organizing her notes and beginning her story. Her rendezvous with Mrs. Filmore had been illuminating. The First Lady had, in quick and hushed tones, that her husband had become convinced that the points system would fall. The Russians had bribed him; give us information, and when the money system comes back, you will have enough for a lifetime, they said. “My husband is a wonderful man,” she said sadly, “but he is weak. I suppose that comes from being a man, but what can you do?”
“Rat him out to the Times, apparently,” Lillian said dryly. “Why are you doing this? What proof do you have?”
“I….I’m doing this because I’m afraid.” the First Lady had looked down at her feet. “During the Campaign, I found out what he was doing. I wanted to divorce him. He asked me whether I thought I would be safe if I left. And our daughter, he would win custody of her. I can’t lose my daughter, and he wants to take her to Russia.” She looked Lillian in the eye. “He may be President of the United States, but I’m a mother. Let him fucking try.”
Back in their apartment, Lillian looked at Jessica and sighed. “I’m fine right now. But I’m worried about this story. It involved dangerous people, Jess. I’m scared about what comes after.”
“Is JJ going to protect you?”
“As much as he can,” Lillian sighed. “He can make my name anonymous, and we can hide our sources, but that’s about it.” She glanced at her watch. It was late. She had one more interview with the Compass Foundation tomorrow, and then she had a deadline. She had already contacted their Chief Manager, and he avoided her questions about the president’s involvement with Russia. Mrs. Filmore had told her that the Russians were sending money to a Points Moderator (which would have been an accountant 100 years prior). The money would be logged as points donated by the president, while the money was in a Russian account in his name. In reality, no points were ever donated, and the foundation had no actual basis for the business it ran.
Jessica bit her lip and picked at her food. Lillian knew she was worried. Jessica always worried, but there had never been true danger before. “Hon,” she said, taking Jessica’s hand, “I’m always going to come home, you know that, right?”
Jessica smiled shakily. “I know. I just worry for you. What if they decide you’re more of a threat than they need?”
“Don’t even consider it,” Lillian said firmly, squeezing her hand. “We’ll deal with it when it comes.”
But later that night, as she typed out and finished the last of her story draft, Lillian did consider what would happen to Jessica if she were killed or somehow taken out of the picture. She would probably file to move back with her family, and everything that was Lillian’s would go to her. Lillian shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. She adjusted her shoulders, attached the story to her message to JJ’s private email, and almost pressed send. At the last minute, she added an addendum; “If this is destroyed, or something happens to me, extra napkins are in the glove compartment.” JJ would understand.
Outside, the black Cadillac circled the block for the fifth time. When the light in the middle floor went out, it was time to move. Dmitri was used to this work. It was not uncommon for Russia to require dirty work to be done to protect the state. He was just a soldier, a tool for his superiors. That was just the way he liked it. Unfortunately, the look of the black Cadillac with its tinted windows and repeated circles were not to the liking of Mrs. Lallyhood, who was the concierge of the building. She telephoned the police, describing a “suspicious black car, yes, very vulgar.”
The desk sergeant was reluctant to heed the word of a oversensitive snoop, but they had to inspect all calls. Thus, a patrol car was sent to pull the Cadillac over.
The next morning, Washington DC awoke to find that police standoff had ensued in the River District, the President was being questioned, and a journalist named Lillian Smith had narrowly escaped being assassinated by a Russian spy. Mrs. Lallyhood had never had such a morning flow of gossip.
In JJ’s office, Lillian and Jessica were sitting with their suitcases, both deshevilled and shellshocked. Dmitri Peskolov had been arrested and while he had not confessed, he was a known assassin to the government and was circling their building. They had been woken by a police patrolman, who had climbed up the fire escape and broken their window. He told them to pack a bag and come with him. JJ had contacted the desk sergeant when he found out what was going on and explained that Lillian needed to be gotten to safety.
JJ was enraged, but thrilled with Lillian’s work. The amount of publicity that the article had gotten since just 8:00AM was astounding. The President was already under intense questioning by the Department of Justice, while the First Lady was nowhere to be found.
“It’s recommended that you two go away for a while,” JJ said to them as he handed Lillian a cup of coffee. “I don’t recommend it, I demand it.”
Lillian started to protest, but Jessica cut her off. “Lils, please. He’s right. If that horrible concierge hadn’t been so nosy, we might have died. You did your part. Let JJ do his.”
Lillian sighed. “Alright. But where do we go? We only have the credits for the West Coast, maybe Canada.”
JJ gave her a rare smile. “But the paper doesn’t. You’re on temporary travel assignment. As it happens, the tourist season is kicking off in Venice.” He pulled open his desk drawer and handed an envelope to Jessica. “You flight leaves at 9:00 tomorrow. You come back in two months. I expect in-depth articles; food, wine, culture, people. Jessica is your new videographer.” The women stared at him, open-mouthed. He laughed. “Ciao, mis amice!”
Jessica and Lillian greatly enjoyed their time in Italy. The travel section of the New York Times had never been so popular. When they returned home, they had received enough recognition and credit to move to a luxury apartment. They opted to take their extra points and buy a small cottage along the Cinque Terre. They spend two months a year there.
JJ propelled the Times through the rough waters of the article’s release. He won a lawsuit by the President’s office, and he navigated the press’s questions with practiced ease. He kept Lillian updated on the article, and she sent him pictures of Venice. He and his wife come for some weekends during Lillian and Jessica’s vacations.
President Filmore was resoundingly impeached by Congress 18 months after the scandal broke. The American defectors were forced to come home by the Russian government, who were frantically cleaning house. Dmitri Peskolov was never heard from again.
Mrs. Filmore retired from political life. She now runs a women’s foundation in Connecticut, with her second husband, who has adopted her children.
Mrs. Lallyhood continued to monitor the comings and goings of her building, with a newfound vengeance.