"Let me see if I understand your proposal," said the
President. "You want immigration control to set up a division to deal
with people from another universe? And you want the port of entry to be
the New York City public library? And you want a certain wizard that you
know to be in charge of the operation?"
We were sitting at his desk in the oval office. Me on one side, him on the other in the big swivel chair.
"That is correct," I said.
"Well, this is, uh, extremely unusual. Not just the situation, but the fact that I'm taking direct suggestions from a member of the public. Not that I
mind...necessarily...I mean, I like to feel as though I'm connecting with the American people. But I can tell you, Congress isn't all that willing
to allocate funds right now. And if it were a suggestion from ME, well,
they'd hate it automatically."
"You don't have to ask Congress for anything," I said.
"Just tell the Secretary of the interior or whoever to set things up.
And you can cut Master Mazigh's salary out of the budget, because he
doesn't deserve a salary after invading an apartment block and being a
literal tyrant. He's got money to spare, anyway. He really needs to do
something constructive to make up for his misdeeds."
"That...makes sense. And what about your misdeeds, young
miss? I hear you broke federal law. Went on a bit of a rampage. Caused a
lot of property damage. The only reason you haven't been imprisoned yet
is because I find this whole immigrant situation...important. Important enough to take time out of my busy schedule. I am supposed to maintain the country's borders, after all. And I've got a hell of a lot to deal with, given the information you've relayed. The geopolitical implications of this are staggering. Your report, and your proposal, are what keep you here instead of in a cell. And you saw the guards outside."
"I know," I said, hanging my head. "That's why I'm
asking for a pardon. I thought, if I could demonstrate that I do care
about the lives of the citizens, and that I was willing to go to great
lengths to aid them..."
"Which involved a lot of panicked calls from London
about an hour ago. Something about "everyone in New York City is dancing
on the street and our stocks are falling like a rock, what the hell, have you heard anything from NORAD." That was your
idea? I'm impressed. A little shaken, really. Please tell me you won't gather 8 million people like that again. You might make everyone in the
government worry about violent revolution."
"I could only do it because my grandmother agreed, and she -- "
"Oh, right. old Mrs. King, I've heard of her. She said
she wasn't going to use that kind of magic again after...well, she'll
tell you in time. Now, why should I
grant you a pardon? You have helped the people of New York City, I'll
admit. And resolved a migration crisis. But, Pat, twelve police
officers! What were you thinking?"
"I was thinking...that the person I was listening to was
trustworthy. That everything I did was for the greater good because
otherwise something bad would...well, the Giant Rat thing was because I thought I was completely sunk anyway. And I see now that I was misled. Partly by Coyote. He didn't LIE to me, not completely...he might have been completely literal about the 'no ears and no hearts' bit while making me believe these people couldn't listen or understand me. And it was all easily
misinterpreted by someone who wasn't thinking of long-term consequences
and had certain goals in mind anyway. You know, I can't even tell if he
miseld me, or if I did. But he got me going, I'll tell you that."
"I see. And where is this 'coyote' person now?"
"Big Chief threw him into a garbage dump. So, what about it? Are you willing to pardon me?"
The president sighed. "Look, you're still a minor. Once
you turn eighteen your record is wiped clean. You'd only be in prison
for a year. But... given your behavior, they would decide to try you as an adult and send you to adult prison. Prison is a bad place, and given how you've treated it
the LAST two times...the last TWO times. Yeesh. They'd probably stick
you in a dark hole in the ground and give you a crust of bread every
other week. And when you emerged, who knows what rampage you might go
on? Chucking you in prison would only make your bad habits worse. And
you are young, Pat, and highly impressionable. Especially by people such
as this...'Coyote.' People you think are friends. People who guide you
into all the wrong places. I knew a few of those, when I was growing up
in Chicago. They sound nice and convincing and then you realize you've
done something Bad. The folly of youth. You'll learn to look into the
future as you grow older.
"For now....you'll need to calm your impulses and avoid
dangerous behavior. Because a pardon is a very serious thing, Pat.
Presidents usually grant them only when they're leaving office, because
there's no more political hay to be made then. I've got a few years
left! And you can be sure that my political enemies will seize on this.
'The president is Soft On Crime. The president grants pardons to
murderers. Oh, look, the President is favoring black people, I knew it
all along.' That kind of crap. Is what they'll be throwing at me. Were I
a more ruthless man, I would have no problem throwing you to the wolves
and saving my career. But...as I've said, prison would turn you into a
monster. Probably one that would be a direct threat to thousands of
people. And I have a soft spot for the young and the foolish."
"Does that mean you'll pardon me?"
"Only once," said the President. "Nobody gets two, not
ever. If I hear about you breaking federal law again, I won't bother to
intercede. I trust that will keep you out of trouble. The best person to
have working for you, after all, is the one who's made a big mistake once. Because they remember, and that keeps them motivated to do right."
"Wait, does that mean I'm working for you?"
"Not...necessarily. Whoever winds up running this new
immigration center of yours will be giving me regular reports of what
information the immigrants divulge about their circumstances. We'll make
that information a condition of their residency and citizenship. But I
would like you to find out what you can, on your own, about
this threat that sent people from on universe into ours. Send me a
report form time to time. That kind of thing. When you're not busy with
your schoolwork. I take it you're going to return to school and get your
"Uh...I kind of feel like that's out of the cards now. What with having to leave New York City and all that."
"Oh, surely not. The people there probably love you."
made a desperate bargain. The price was exile. If I go back, I'll break
my word, and no spirit will work with me there again. And what if a
police officer decides to "accidentally" let their gun go off in my
face? No, I made my choice, and all those I love agreed to come with me. My family and my fianceé -- "
"Oh, you're betrothed? You're a little young for that."
kind of an in-joke, at this stage. Anyway, they've all taken a
particular portal to a random location and they're going to call me from
there, and maybe I can pick up the last year of school there, or just
drop out and...do something."
"Funny. It's getting close to Passover, isn't it? What a time for you and your family to face exile."
The phone rang. "Excuse me for a
second," said the President. "Hello? Oh, Ms. Huntley. King family on
line 2? Send them through. Thank you." He waited. Then, "yes, Ms. King,
your daughter is here with me. She's realy -- yes, I'm giving her a
pardon...I've made it clear that she won't get a second one. Yes, good.
I'm sure she'll listen to you. Yes...signed up for what? Interesting.
Maybe it's the right environment for her. Just make sure she looks into
this alternate-universe business when she's not doing her homework,
alright? Good. Thanks." He covered the mouthpiece with his hand and
addressed me. "Apparently your friend accidentally signed you up for the
Wizard Academy of Chicago."