“I’ve read your latest book, and I’m intrigued by the concept that we’re entering a post-employment era. I’m still not sure I understand how your ideas can be used to create a stable society in which work isn’t the basis for remuneration,” the Vice President-elect continued as we sat together in the library in Jitendra’s house.
“The sole basis,” I corrected him. “The idea of the job is central to the functioning of our society and the origin of money predates recorded history by thousands of years. Ever since the industrial revolution, the intimate relationship between employment and money has been unshakable. So, what happens when most work is done by machines and the only jobs are based on creative work? Not everyone can be an actor, a musician, a sports star, an engineer or a politician,” I added with a laugh. “How do you think the average Joe or Jane is going to feel if their only means of support is to rely on the scraps society provides for them?”
“They’re likely to turn to crime,” the Vice President-elect acknowledged. “That would be a recipe for the end of society as we know it. We already see this in many inner cities, where gangs rule the streets. It’s also true in large swaths of rural America, where the hopeless have turned to drugs. Entire countries in the Third World are overrun by warlords who rule by intimidation and fear, but surely that could never happen here. There’ll still be a need for farmers, teachers, barbers, doctors and nurses.”
“Yes, but those are all skilled occupations. Even so, something as essential as medical triage is now handled mostly by computer algorithms. The move to medical A.I. was necessitated by the physician shortage, but the technology has resulted in a permanent change, with implications that span multiple professions. Consumers actually prefer the new paradigm, as they can get quick answers to common concerns without having to leave their homes. It has been a game changer. With automation, the need for manual labor will become even more scarce, and at an accelerated pace.
“The current boom in infrastructure jobs is only temporary. Already, my foundation has developed a working prototype for a 3D printer that can print an entire building, or a highway, or a bridge at a fraction of the cost of conventional infrastructure, in much less time, using only a small crew of skilled workers. The beauty of 3D-printed infrastructure is that it’s seamless and can be made impervious to floods, fires and earthquakes. The energy costs are greatly reduced, and the structures are nearly maintenance-free. However, conventional construction has been a mainstay of the job market throughout human civilization. With the advent of automated methods, an enormous segment of the job market will become obsolete.
“Since you brought it up, let’s take a look at agriculture. Industrial farming has largely replaced the traditional family farm throughout the developed world. That trend began even before the Second World War and only accelerated as crop failures forced family farms into bankruptcy. Although much maligned, industrial farms are more efficient, more responsive to the changing needs of the market and better able to weather crop failures. However, they destroyed a centuries-old way of life and in putting profit ahead of the environment, they contributed to toxic runoff, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and unhealthful food. On the other hand, the family farm never really was the utopia people romanticize it to have been, and much of the world still relies on ‘slash and burn’ agriculture, with devastating environmental consequences.
“Thirty percent of the arable land in the world is devoted to feeding humankind; however, we long ago surpassed the peak capacity of the planet, and the result has been an environmental catastrophe in the making. We’re on the road to stabilizing the climate, but that’s only part of the threat faced by humanity. We’re still in the midst of a period of unprecedented species loss and if allowed to continue, we’ll face global ecosystem collapse. Until we allow the land and the oceans to recover, we won’t be out of the woods. When it comes to farming, we can only do so much to improve crop yields through the application of chemicals and genetic manipulation.”
“But the world population has leveled off and is in decline in much of the industrialized world,” the Vice President-elect related. “Won’t that make the whole discussion moot?”
“It will certainly take the pressure off from a global perspective,” I agreed, “but the mismatch between resources and population will only increase. The result will be unprecedented mass migrations the likes of which the world has never seen before. I wouldn’t discount the effect that China’s population implosion will have on the world either. By the end of the century, China’s population will be only half what it was at its peak, but their economy is built on the presupposition of an endless supply of cheap labor. When the incentives to have children fail, as they ultimately must, the logical thing would be to build robotic factories as we have, but that would cost them their current economic advantage. They’ll likely wage a propaganda campaign to draw their youth out of rural villages at even younger ages, but unless they embark on a course of massive agricultural industrialization, that could leave them a nation with three-quarters of a billion people who can’t even feed themselves. I don’t even want to think of where that will lead.
“At the other extreme is sub-Saharan Africa. With its continued high birth rate, Nigeria will surpass China as the world’s second-most-populous country. Religious extremism and nationalist fervor will only increase, and endless wars will continue to define the region. That, coupled with massive starvation, will lead to an overwhelming refugee problem that will flood Europe, the Middle East and, to an extent, western Asia. We either deal with the impending disaster now, or we’ll pay for it later – and catastrophically.”
“But how do you help a region that doesn’t want to be helped?” the Vice President-elect asked.
“It’s not that they don’t want to be helped,” I replied. “They don’t want the kind of help we want to provide them. The way to the hearts and souls of the people is as it always has been – potable water and food – but they don’t want handouts. The people may be destitute, but they’re proud. Our farmers want noting more than to sell them our produce, which they can’t afford and which does nothing to make them self-sufficient. Their leaders, however, want weapons and massive investments in infrastructure. Iran has no qualms about supplying weapons and military expertise, and China is investing billions in infrastructure projects throughout the region, many of them environmentally ill-advised.
“Much of the developed world has already turned to the use of industrial greenhouses as the next logical step in food production. Greenhouses allow farming to occur year-round in any climate, avoiding the vagaries of the weather and requiring far less water. They virtually eliminate the use of chemicals, making widespread organic farming a reality and in locations never before thought possible. Hydroponic farms, powered by wind or solar energy, are even more productive and require a much smaller footprint. However, greenhouses and hydroponics are amenable to robotic farming, reducing the number of people needed to a handful of highly skilled professionals. We may need to change that model in the Third World, relying more on people and avoiding robots. Either way, the key is water. I propose to build massive wind farms all along the Mediterranean coast, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Guinea.”
“Why not solar?”
“That’s a good question. Our superconducting ceramic solar cells are 97-percent efficient and can generate a lot of power in equatorial locations where they get a lot of sunshine. Unfortunately, there’s an environmental cost to covering so much of the desert, which has a surprisingly complex ecosystem, and sandstorms take a toll. Wind farms have environmental impacts, too, but to a far smaller extent. The impact of wind farms lowers global temperature by less than one-tenth of one degree C – far less than the warming effect of urbanization. Truthfully, we may need both wind and solar power if we’re to make Africa self-sufficient. Desalinization is energy-intensive, but it’s the only practical way to bring water to sub-Saharan Africa, and water is the key to building a sustainable infrastructure for greenhouse agriculture in the region.”
“You want to build modern farms in sub-Saharan Africa?”
“And in Central and South America, too. It’s the only way to stabilize the Third World,” I replied.
“You do realize that building farms outside the United States would be an impossibly hard sell when it comes to American farmers,” the Vice President-elect countered.
“And making Africans pay for food from America is an even harder sell. They don’t want handouts, either; they want to be able to feed themselves. It has always been easier to build support for war than for foreign investment. The Chinese know what a false dichotomy that is, and they’re putting their money where they can buy the most influence. Unfortunately, that’s mostly in big-ticket items that do the populace little good.
“Instead of building massive dams that will flood what little decent agricultural land is left, we’ll do it the right way by setting up partnerships, building wind farms and desalination plants and massive pipelines to deliver water to where it’s needed most. You can bring our farmers onboard by making them part of the plan. Pay young farmers and their kids good money for spending a year or two in Africa building the massive greenhouses that will feed a continent. Besides which, our farmers will be facing problems of their own right here at home.”
“How so?” the Vice President-elect asked.
“Tell me, Mr. Vice President, do you like eating bacon?”
“Having grown up in Indiana, bacon is near and dear to my heart,” the Vice President-elect responded.
“Have you tried Impossible™ Bacon?” I asked.
“Of course. It’s hard to tell it from the real thing,” he replied.
“Exactly,” I agreed. “Its taste and texture are nearly the same, yet it uses a fraction of the resources of conventional bacon from pigs, and it’s a hell of a lot more healthful. Nothing is a more resource-intensive than raising livestock, which is why my foundation has been helping to fund the development of synthetic meat. We see it as a cornerstone of sustainable, environmentally sound agriculture. We are particularly interested in research on genetically engineered plants that can produce kitchen-ready meat. Imagine being able to extract a beef filet from a squash-like plant – or milk and eggs from a melon. We already have prototypes for all types of beef and pork as well as poultry, fish and seafood. We have excellent versions of chicken and turkey, and we’re working on salmon, tuna, haddock, scallops, shrimp and lobster, with many more varieties on the way.”
“How do you get past the Frankenstein factor?” the Vice President-elect asked. “How do you allay people’s fears that one of the plants will escape into the wild and grow unchecked, strangling everything else in the process?”
“It’s always amazed me how people will only buy food labeled as non-GMO,” I countered, “even though there isn’t a single thing we eat that hasn’t been genetically modified by centuries of cultivation. Obviously, gene editing is a game-changer. We can do things that nature couldn’t do in a thousand years, but when you taste something like Impossible™ Bacon, it’s hard to believe it isn’t the real thing. The fact is, it’s far better for the environment and for your health. Yet, people are more willing to eat it when it comes from a factory than from a genetically engineered plant. That’s crazy! The way we get around the ‘Frankenplant’ perception is to make all genetically modified plants sterile, and dependent on nutrients not found in nature.”
“You build in a key,” the Vice President-elect stated for clarification.
“Exactly,” I replied, “but we use a minimum of two keys – two missing nutrients, with frequent monitoring to minimize the risk of nature finding the missing genes on its own and bypassing the keys.
“Once perfected, plant-based meat will significantly improve the quality of life for everyone but at the cost of jobs. Only a handful of people would be needed to run a plant-based meat farm. You might be able to feed the masses, but unless they have a source of income, they couldn’t afford to eat what we produce. Unless we adopt new strategies by which people can afford food, clothing, shelter and technology, ever increasingly, America will become a nation of haves and have nots, which is a recipe for political unrest and future insurrection.
“The effect on the third world will be even worse, where cheap produce and plant-based meat will go head-to-head with the subsistence farming that’s critical to their economies. Don’t get me wrong. For the sake of the planet, subsistence farming must end, but the transformation of Third World society away from its agrarian base to sustainable agriculture and industry will be highly destabilizing. If we don’t provide for the people, they’ll turn to growing and using drugs, and children will be recruited into criminal endeavors and to fight endless wars for the sake of war.”
“So how does society deal with that future?” the Vice President-elect asked. “Your book was long on problems and short on solutions.”
Laughing, I replied, “As is the world. We’re already dealing with mass migration, primarily as a result of war and the climate crisis. Contrary to common belief, people don’t abandon everything they know and travel thousands of miles at great risk to themselves and their children, simply because they desire a better life. We have to start thinking globally rather than nation by nation. For now, we can create jobs in environmental restoration, much as we did with infrastructure. We’ve done a hell of a lot of damage to the planet, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to clean it up.
“There’s also the notion that just because we can use robots doesn’t mean we should. There are places where it may be better to hire human beings, at least for now. Governments can play a role in leveling the playing field between humans and machines. Machines don’t get sick, but they don’t buy the products they make, either. That’s a good place to start, but it still relies on the concept of the job as the basis for the economy.
“That’s not to say that there won’t be a role for work, but it will only play an increasingly smaller part, as the cost of employing robotics becomes ever more trivial. What may replace work is open to debate, but in the absence of a plan, what replaces it will be war.”
“But hasn’t history shown that increasing levels of productivity result in higher wages and a better standard of living?” the Vice President-elect asked.
“That may have been true when there were strong labor unions to fight for a shorter workweek and fewer work hours. Increasing hours of leisure resulted in stronger consumer demand and steady growth. The experience was quite different in post-industrial Japan where, thanks to the ‘job for life’ business model and the inability to shed unneeded workers, increasing productivity resulted in stagnation. Shorter work hours were anathema to the Japanese psyche and although it was great to be able to promise full employment, Japan couldn’t compete with countries such as China, Korea and Vietnam, which replaced the U.S. and Japan as the world’s industrial powerhouses.
“But the population’s decreasing,” the Vice President-elect reiterated. “We’re already seeing worker shortages in critical fields.”
“And most of those shortages are in fields that cannot be automated, such as nursing and education. Remember when there was a shortage of long-haul truck drivers?” I asked. “No one talks about that anymore, now that automated trucks have proven to be both safer and more reliable than their human-driven counterparts, and that’s the key, Mr. Vice President. No matter how much the population falls, thanks to automation, the employment rate will fall even faster.”
“But in the industrial age, automation and assembly lines lead to the growth of new jobs that were never conceived of before,” the Vice President-elect countered. “The same was true of the information age. Why won’t that happen again?”
Taking a deep breath, I explained, “Henry Ford mass produced cars that everyone could afford, in effect, creating demand for his own product. Previously, the automobile was a niche item, built by a team of skilled artisans for wealthy customers, one at a time. Not only was the assembly line much more efficient, but it was labor-intensive, creating jobs on a massive scale.
“However, if you visit one of the old assembly plants today, you’ll find buildings filled with robotic machines, with virtually empty parking lots outside. A good example is the Delco plant near Cleveland, in which the parking lot has been repurposed with solar panels to provide power to the plant. The, next generation of automobile factories are being built around massive 3D-printers, in which raw materials are turned into fully-assembled cars, trucks, vans and SUVs. I can foresee a time when dealerships themselves will have their own 3D printers and manufacture the cars they sell on demand, on site.”
“Can the Star Trek replicator be far behind?,” the Vice President-elect asked.
Laughing, Henry answered, “We’ve already built one, but it’s definitely not ready for the mass market just yet. It costs millions and takes up as much space as a two-car garage. Also, since matter-energy-matter conversion hasn’t been invented yet, unlike with the TV version, you have to supply the raw materials yourself. And while our printer can make clothing, smartphones and small appliances, it can’t make anything remotely edible —”
“When we get to the point of replicating food, you can throw my ideas for greenhouse agriculture out the window,” I interrupted. “You’ll need software to control a 3D printer, though, and that means making use of intellectual property. I don’t foresee a time in the 23rd century or otherwise when we won’t need money. Replicators might be able to make everything we need on demand, but someone will still need to design the blueprints they use.
“What I’m getting at, Mr. Vice President, is that you can’t rely on economic precedent because there is no precedent for the massive automation we’re witnessing today. Never before has tremendous economic growth come at the expense of jobs. The goods and services will be there in abundance, but short of a massive redistribution of wealth, not the money with which to buy them.”
“So how would a post-employment economy work?” the Vice President-elect asked. “It doesn’t sound like a problem that capitalism and the marketplace can solve.”
“History has shown that socialism doesn’t deal well with it, either,” Henry interjected. “Self-interest has always provided a stronger incentive than the common good. What we often end up with in trying times is fascism, which is something no one wants to see. We came far too close to that a dozen years ago.”
“It will probably take some form of a combination of capitalism and socialism, but not the democratic socialist model of Northern Europe that failed under the onslaught of immigration,” I suggested. “Perhaps something on the order of a guaranteed universal income or a negative income tax, but we’ve already seen what happens in a welfare state and that’s a recipe for trouble. What I propose is a voluntary program of national service after high school or college. The longer or more dangerous the work, the larger the lifetime pension one could earn. It would provide an incentive to give back to society and even more importantly, it would provide the justification some people seem to need to provide everyone with food, clothing and shelter, regardless of their ability to learn a trade.”
“That’s not a bad suggestion, assuming military service would be an option,” the Vice President-elect responded.
“Of course, it would,” I replied, “as would roles in law enforcement and fire control.”
“What I fear is that, even with a lifetime pension, in the absence of work, people will look for other things to do, and that will lead to gambling, drugs and crime.”
“The best way to combat that is to make sports, recreation and entertainment available and affordable to the masses,” I countered. “People can be creators or recreators, but either way, they’ll be busy. Just ask any retired person.”
Then sitting up in his chair a bit straighter, the Vice President-elect began to speak again. “Gentlemen, it’s not every day I have the chance to speak with two dual Nobel laureates in the same room at the same time. The work you’re both doing with your foundation is extraordinary, and it’s amazing to think what you gave up to bring it all about. How would the two of you like to be in a position to do even more good for the world?”
“Mr. Vice President, what are you saying?” I asked.
“As you know, the President’s cabinet plays a pivotal role in setting national policy. Dr. Jeffries, you, in particular, would be eminently qualified to fill any number of posts, including Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, my old post in Transportation and in particular, Energy. In a way, I think all of those posts would be beneath either of you as you have skills and knowledge that span many fields. Besides which, we already have short lists for all of those positions. There are a couple of Cabinet-level posts for which I think the two of you are eminently qualified. If you agree, you’ll have to be interviewed by the President-elect of course. She’s aware that we’re meeting today and considers both of you to be on her short list for the two positions. Both of you, and it’s currently a very short list. You’d also have to go through the Senate confirmation process, and that can be unpredictable.”
“Don’t you have to be at least 35 to be a Cabinet member?” Henry asked.
I knew the answer to that, so I answered, “In theory, only if you’re in the presidential line of succession and only upon succession. The V.P., Speaker of the House and President pro tempore of the Senate would all have to be bumped off before you even get to the Secretary of State. I seriously doubt we’re being considered for that post. Nowhere in the Constitution does it actually say anything about a minimum age for Cabinet members.”
Then I continued, “Mr. Vice President, there are only two Cabinet-level posts that I’m aware of that might be appropriate, and those are the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors —”
“A post for which you’d be an exceptional candidate, Dr. Jeffries,” the Vice President-elect interrupted.
“How’s that?” I asked. “Just because I wrote a book doesn’t make me an economist. How can I expect to gain the trust of the members of the council when I don’t have the credentials?”
“There’s no doubt that you’ll need to earn their trust,” the Vice President-elect responded, “but we have every confidence that, in time, you will, particularly if the rumors are true that you’ll be next year’s recipient of the John Bates Clark Medal. Besides which, it’ll largely be up to you to choose the membership of the council. I can assure you that Amy will respect the choices you make.”
“The other Cabinet position I believe you’re talking about is the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy —”
“Who’s also the science advisor to the President,” Henry interrupted.
“I can’t think of anyone better suited to that role than you, Dr. Gonzalez,” the Vice President-elect responded. “I hope you’ll both agree to allow me to set up interviews with the President and to allow her to submit your names in nomination for the two posts.”
“I… I don’t know what to say,” Henry responded. “We’re both so young. How will anyone respect us?”
“I was about your age when I ran for mayor of South Bend, as was AOC when she became a congresswoman,” the Vice President-elect replied. “Joe Biden was 30 when he became a senator. The two of you have more experience than most people acquire in their entire lifetimes, and you’re both dual Nobel laureates.
“Amy and I have discussed it, and we both feel the two of you would make outstanding additions to our administration. Since you’ll need a bigger place anyway, you could buy a large house in Georgetown or duplex in the Watergate or maybe a penthouse on Connecticut Avenue. There are limitless possibilities, and there are outstanding schools available, too. Cabinet members have a tradition of sending their kids to Sidwell Friends, or you could live in Bethesda, Potomac or Arlington, which have some of the best public schools in the nation. Of course, you could and probably should keep your current place in New York as I’m sure you’ll always have business there.”
“And we’ll want to return there in four, or maybe eight years,” Henry added.
“I’m a bit concerned about the Senate hearings,” I related. “I have a rather complex past.”
“We’re well aware of it, and the appropriate members of the relevant committees would be made aware of it, regardless,” the Vice President-elect explained. “All members would be privy to your FBI file, which includes everything about your past in detail, including the rather clever approach you used at the age of twelve to forge a new identity for yourself. I would recommend you volunteer that information as part of the vetting questionnaire you’ll need to fill out and when questioned by the committee and the full Senate. I’d also volunteer that you shot and killed your kidnapper in self-defense. We have a thorough report on the incident that will be introduced, in any case.”
“But why, when you don’t have any hard evidence and it’s all just conjecture,” I countered. “You don’t even have the gun —”
“Actually, it’s in the evidence vault at FBI headquarters along with your blood-soaked underwear, where it will remain indefinitely.” I was shocked by the Vice President-elect’s revelation “It seems there’s quite a network of caves under the shack where you grew up. The Biden Administration ordered that it be found. He didn’t want to take a chance on it falling into local law enforcement’s hands and forcing us to acknowledge we knew of your history. Now, ten years later, it’s pretty much irrelevant. I won’t say there isn’t any risk of disclosure, but I have the assurance of Indiana’s governor that she’ll pardon you should it come down to it.
“So, what do you think?” the Vice President-elect asked.
“Of course, I want the chance to speak with the President-elect first,” Henry interjected before I could reply. “It’s as much my interview of her as hers of me. If it all goes well, I want to do it.” Whoa. Turning to look into his eyes, I could see a sense of determination I hadn’t seen since the day he told me he loved me. In that instant I understood. All his life he’d been in my shadow. This was a chance for Henry to step out into the spotlight on his own and to prove his worth independently from me.
Nodding my head, I replied, “Yeah, count us both in.”
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Unable to leave Seattle for fear that Jitendra’s kids could be kidnapped while we were away, the President-elect agreed to interview Henry and me by secure videoconference rather than ask us to travel to Minnesota. It was an experience, to be sure – and on my thirtieth birthday, no less. The President-elect seemed so gentle and unassuming in her public appearances, so I was totally unprepared for the grueling questioning that ensued. Her questions were incredibly insightful, and it was evident that she’d undergone extensive preparation rather than relying on simple briefings. She forced me to justify my opinions with citations and actual data, which of course I did. Recalling such things has never been a problem for me.
Henry found the interview considerably more difficult, as his brain is wired much more for logical thinking than for recall. I thought he did quite well in showing the President-elect how well he’d be able to advise her on a wide variety of scientific fields, but of course, Henry was convinced that she’d pick someone else. He was thus shocked when she asked us both if she could advance our names in nomination to the Senate. Of course, we both agreed.
In the meantime, we settled into life in Seattle, working remotely from Jitendra’s house and conferencing over the internet as necessary. Worried that Trina and Will might be kidnapped from school or on the way to and from school, we arranged for them to do their coursework entirely from home. We just weren’t taking any chances.
We wanted Randy to go back to New York since he didn’t need to be in Seattle, but he insisted on remaining with us and continuing to do his coursework remotely. He argued that with their confinement and with their boyfriends back in school, Trina and Will needed another teen to keep them from going crazy. We kidded Randy that he wasn’t exactly the kind of teen to keep kids from going crazy – after all, he drove us crazy all the time – but in the end, he convinced us to let him stay. We conferenced every day with Terrence, Jake and Clark, and thankfully, they seemed to be staying out of trouble. Nevertheless, we had Gideon and Max looking after them too.
Thanksgiving and the Christmas season were upon soon upon us, and then Henry and I would need to interview with the Senate in early January, just after the swearing in of the new Congress. We’d already filled out and submitted our Congressional questionnaires, but we’d have to appear in person for the interviews. Because of the continued risk posed by Jitendra’s family, Henry and I scheduled our interviews separately, so that the kids would never be left alone. Thanks to supersonic travel, the flight time to Washington was only three hours and we were able return the next day.
With the reading of the will, Henry and I moved quickly to consolidate our control over the assets left to us by Jitendra. Since the children weren’t even remotely interested in running Pegasus when they turned thirty, we instructed Carolyn to proceed with negotiations with Jeff and Andy for the acquisition of Boeing, New Horizons and Gannet. So long as Henry and I controlled sixty percent of the Pegasus stock, we could act unilaterally to approve the purchase, but it would still need to be approved by the Board of Directors, and that could be politically contentious and would take time. However, should the family actually produce an alternative will, all bets would be off.
In the meantime, Henry and I acted swiftly to attempt to put our own shares out of reach of the family by gifting them to our foundation. We had to move quickly if we wanted to avoid paying taxes, however, as the end of the year was nearly upon us. With the children fully on board, we drew up the documents necessary to transfer the stock to the foundation.
As members of the foundation board, Henry and I would still have a say in how the stock was managed, but the dividends and any future sale of stock would help to support the goals of the foundation. Although we would meet the end-of-year deadline from the IRS’s standpoint, a provision for Henry and me to designate an external proxy to vote the foundation’s shares would need to be ratified by the foundation board, which couldn’t happen until after the first of the year. Such a move would be essential to any deal involving Jeff Barlow as the chairman of the enlarged Pegasus corporation.
That still left the matter of Jitendra’s other assets, which included his house, furnishings, vehicles and various liquid accounts valued at a few billion dollars, as well as an eleven-figure life insurance policy of which Henry and I were the sole beneficiaries. Although the insurance was the one asset that was safely out of reach of the family, I saw it as a potential bargaining chip that we might use to pay the family to just go away. It wasn’t nearly as valuable as the Pegasus stock, but it was money that could be given with no strings attached.
The other shoe dropped just a few days before Christmas, when the Moorthy family submitted another petition to freeze Jitendra’s assets based on actually having an original copy of an alternative will that they said superseded the one we had. Obviously, we knew it was a forgery, but proving it would take time. Because we’d already received assets from the will, the family asked the District Court to freeze not only what was left of Jitendra’s assets, but the children’s assets, Henry’s and my assets, and the foundation’s assets as well.
The forged will meant that the family was still intent on repatriating Jitendra’s children in order to gain control of their wealth, tied up mainly in Pegasus stock. We couldn’t allow the family to get anywhere near the kids, so we made plans to sneak out of the country, recognizing that we’d undoubtedly have to ask the President-elect to withdraw our nominations for the Cabinet posts.
The District Court had already recessed for the holidays and wouldn’t resume until after the new year, so we had a little time, but not much. It was as we were making the arrangements to flee that we got a call from a number in Minnesota I didn’t recognize.
“Hello J.J., this is Amy,” the call began.
“Don’t be silly, J.J. You and Henry are going to be on my cabinet, and regardless, I’d like to count you guys as my friends. I only call my friends by their first names. For you, it’s simply ‘Amy’. I won’t accept anything else, okay?”
“Sure, Amy,” I replied.
“So, I spoke with the Attorney General, and we got a copy of the will the Moorthy family is claiming to be the legitimate last will of Jitendra Moorthy,” she continued. “No one else knows we have it, and no one will. We got it from the original source, a Russian criminal organization, through channels no one else knows we have. We know for a fact that it’s a forgery, but we can’t afford to acknowledge that we have it without compromising critical intelligence, so we can’t allow you to use our background information in your fight with the family.
“You don’t have to answer this – in fact, it’s better if you don’t – but I have information that you intend to take the children to Canada to escape the possibility of the family getting custody of them. Working with the current administration’s connections in the Indian government and after showing the prime minister our copy of the forged will, we’ve managed to obtain some critical concessions that will preclude any possibility of the family acquiring custody of the kids, legally or otherwise. Should it become public, our copy of the forged will could do them a lot of damage – enough that they can’t afford to take a chance we aren’t bluffing.
“The Indian government’s eager to get on the good side of the incoming administration and they certainly don’t want to be seen as being a party to a kidnapping, not even one that brings substantial wealth to the country. They’ve therefore agreed to rescind the passports issued for the children on their grandparents’ behalf. Without those passports, the family will be unable to bring the children into India and should they even try, we’ve been assured that the children will be returned to the U.S. immediately and the family dealt with in the harshest possible manner. You’ll still have to battle the family over which version of the will is legitimate, but I understand you already have a plan in the works to prevent the family, from ever serving as trustees of the children’s Pegasus stock. In other words, you’re out of the woods.”
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I was surprised at how smoothly the confirmation process turned out to be. I’d heard such horror stories, but I’d already laid my life bare, and I had a history of discovery, leadership and publication, and I was well-respected in the business community and equally by labor. Past membership of the Council read like a who’s who of the Fortune 500 and included a number of individuals I’d come to know over the years. Not surprisingly, my father had been a member before he became a judge. Henry sailed through the confirmation process even more easily than I did, and thanks to the administration’s emphasis on investment in science, he stood to see the President far more frequently.
Although the Indian government had rescinded the Moorthy children’s passports, the family still stood to acquire a small fortune from the portion left to Henry and me, so they proceeded with their lawsuit to overturn Jitendra’s will. The forgery they submitted in its place was a good one that not even Shaun’s experts were able to discredit, even though we had proof that it was fraudulent – proof we couldn’t use. I asked Shaun to offer the family all of Jitendra’s liquid assets in return for a signed, notarized agreement relinquishing any interest in Jitendra’s remaining assets nor any right to custody of the children. In addition, the family had to have the agreement approved by the Indian high court.
Because the acquisition of Boeing, New Horizons and Gannet by Pegasus was proceeding quickly and because our share of the stock was now owned by our private, nonprofit foundation, they clearly understood that getting anything from us would likely be tied up in court for years. Given the opportunity to receive an eleven-figure payout with no strings attached, they agreed to our terms.
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We ended up buying a large duplex apartment in the Watergate complex. There were much newer buildings, but it was hard to beat the location right next to the Kennedy Center and within easy walking distance of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and the White House, not to mention all the famous D.C. landmarks. The views of the Potomac and the Mall were pretty spectacular, too.
Relinquishing our positions at the Center for Environmental Studies and Energy on Governor’s Island, the board quickly approved our recommendation for Max and Gideon to take over as the executive director and science director. Much to our surprise, Franklin applied to take over as the executive director of Max and Gideon’s foundation, and he received the unanimous approval of the foundation board. Apparently, Franklin was ready to settle down too. He even bought our old apartment, now that we’d bought the penthouse.
With a bit more time on my hands and now that everything was out in the open, I decided to finally publish my memoirs. It might have been premature to publish one’s memoirs at the age of thirty, but so much had happened in my lifetime, and it was a story worth telling.
Besides which, now that we’ve begun this new chapter in our lives, there is certain to be a second volume.
Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is unintentional. Although it takes place in actual locations, in no way are any official policies, opinions or events inferred. Some characters may be underage and at times engage in homosexual acts. Anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of material where they live. The author retains full copyright and permission must be obtained prior to duplication in any form.