THEM MEAN OL', LOW-DOWN LANDO CALRISSIAN BLUES
Toby, C.J., Josh and Sam all stared at Leo. All of them were gaping, struggling for words, utterly failing to find them. Finally, Toby managed to say, "Okay, on the off chance that I've misheard you, that perhaps there is a merciful God and my cold medication is just creating auditory hallucinations, let me repeat -- You're saying that Crackpots Day is only a cover for the clandestine supernatural and paranormal activities of the government?" Leo nodded. Toby sighed. "Not the DayQuil, then. Well, that's -- something."
"This is insane," C.J. said.
"This is unreal," Sam said.
"This is so COOL," Josh said. "Is this where I get to ask about what really went down at Roswell? I've been dying to ask that since day one."
"Josh, you NEVER ask about Roswell," Leo said sternly. Josh's face fell. "Crackpots Day is when we let the -- more extreme elements of the body politic come in and plead their cases. But it's also the day we're able to meet with people, deal with projects, that we can never publicly admit we're involved with. Normally, the president, Vice-President Hoynes and I handle all of these .But we have several important cases in today, and we need you guys to sit in."
"Hey, should make a nice change from the appropriations bill," Josh said with a smirk. "So, what are we dealing with?" He whistled a quavery, 50s-sci-fi movie sound. "Killer androids?"
"Hoynes is handling that," Leo said. "He's also talking to Knight Industries -- something about sentient sportscars --"
"COOL," Josh breathed.
"Also talking with the OSI people; they're trying to jack up their budget. I remember the day when you could get a decent bionic man for no more than $6 million."
"I assume, as usual, you've palmed the least important stuff off to Hoynes," C.J. said. "If the -- just going to say it out loud now -- killer-android situation went to him, then what is it you want US to deal with?"
"You have a choice between two. First, we have Lionel Luthor from Kansas --"
"That guy's our biggest fundraiser out there," Sam said. "Wait -- people with MONEY are involved in this?"
Leo continued, as though Sam had not spoken, "Luthor's here with a kid who appears to be a teenager from outer space. Also with his son, who seems attached to the kid somehow."
"A teenager from outer space?" C.J. asked with a wince. "What's the other project?"
"A psychic, a vampire and an Englishman who are here to warn us about the apocalypse."
"I'll take the teenager," C.J. said.
"I'm with you," Toby said. "I have nightmares about them. Their teeth --"
"Vampires?" Sam said sympathetically.
"Englishmen," Toby said.
"That leaves us with the vampire," Sam said. Too late, he seemed to have caught the seriousness of the whole thing. "Wait, wait, wait. Am I the only one who knows the vampire basics?"
"Just what I've seen in the movies," Josh said. "Drinking blood, turning into bats, disco-dancing --"
"Disco?" Leo frowned.
"-- in Love at First Bite," Josh said. "I'll just be quiet now."
"Is this guy going to have us all for lunch? Including the president?" Sam ran one hand through his hair. "Are you sure Hoynes didn't send this guy?"
"The vampire checks out," Leo said. "Josh, Sam, you'll be with President Bartlet and me in the Oval Office. Toby, C.J., we'll send the alien and the Luthors to the Mural Room."
"I never thought anything would make me envy lobbyists," Sam said.
"This is going to be so COOL," Josh said.
"Clark, man, I don't know." Pete frowned as he glanced over Clark's shoulders at the Luthors.
"Pete, really, it's okay," Clark said, smiling ingenuously at his friend. "Lex is my friend."
"And that's why he's got the handcuffs on you," Pete said.
"Just to reassure the White House staffers that I'm not dangerous," Clark said. "And see? They're velvet, so they don't hurt. And lined with fur."
"Uh, yeah," Pete said. "That's -- considerate -- of Lex."
"It was good of you to insist on coming this far with me," Clark said. "I'm glad you're concerned for my safety! But Lex and his dad don't want you in on the meeting, and besides, what could go wrong here? I'm in the center of the United States government."
"Ohh-kay," Pete said. "I guess I'll just -- run down to the cafeteria. Get a sandwich or something."
"Get me an apple if they have one!" Clark said. He waved goodbye as Pete went down the hall. The handcuffs clinked slightly, despite the velvet.
"Okay, getting totally overcome with awe here," Cordelia whispered as they approached the security guard. "I mean, this is IT. This is what you read about in the history books. This is the place where Jacqueline Kennedy redefined American chic."
Gunn rolled his eyes. "Try to contain your civic pride."
"I have bags of pride," Cordelia insisted as Wesley, then Angel passed through the security check. "I mean, I'm not a social-studies nerd or anything, but it is cool. Two-hundred-something years of history, here in this building."
"Two hundred years," Wesley sniffed. "In Great Britain, that's not a historic building. That's a sufficiently aged port."
"Yeah, your government didn't set up anything new back then," Cordelia said as the security staffers gave her a cursory check. "You were too busy being run into the ground by insane syphillitic kings."
"And you elected Bill Clinton," Wesley said. "I say we call it a draw."
Gunn sighed as he came up to the security check. But instead of treating him as he had the others, the security guard took a brief look at Gunn's papers, punched something in the computer and shook his head. "Sorry. Can't admit you."
"Can't admit me? Did you get the memo where I'm here to save the world?"
The security guard stared beadily at Gunn. "This isn't a racial thing, sir."
"Uh-HUH," Gunn said. "How come I don't get into the Very White House?"
"I'm showing an arrest for assault," the guard said.
"Well, yeah, that happened, but -- did you guys run a background check on Angel? Did the phrase 'Scourge of Europe' appear in your Google search?"
"Sir, please calm down."
"Did you catch the part where Angel's a vampire?"
"Gunn, please," Wesley said. "Let's not have a scene."
Gunn pointed at Angel. "Or the fact that Angel's carrying a double-bladed Merovian battle ax?"
"This is just for show," Angel said modestly, shouldering the ax.
Wesley stepped toward the guard. "We can vouch for Gunn's character. He's an important part of this mission."
"Sorry," the guard said unapologetically. "These are the rules."
"Hey, no big, right?" Cordelia said with a big grin. "Who wants to sit in the Oval Office and redirect the fate of the world anyway?"
"I shoulda stayed home with Fred," Gunn said.
"Gunn, I'm terribly sorry," Wesley said. "But surely there's something you can do here while we speak."
"There's a cafeteria downstairs," the guard said, as if eager to get Gunn as far away as possible.
"Great," Gunn muttered as he turned to go. "Audience with the president, assembly-line mashed potatoes, what's the difference?"
"Leo, this is more than a little peculiar," the President said. Leo sat across from him on the other side of the desk. In the corner, Charlie balanced precariously on a stepladder as he tried to draw shut the curtains of the Oval Office, curtains that had apparently remained untouched for quite a while, curtains that proved how heavy velvet actually is.
"What's that, sir? The vampire? The apocalypse?"
"Well, I suppose both of those things count as being somewhat outside the norm," President Bartlet said. "But mostly I meant the vampire. Be careful you don't fall, Charlie!"
"You keep saying that, sir," Charlie said, standing on one foot as he attempted to tug the drapes firmly shut. "But you haven't sent anyone in to help me -- maybe be a spotter --"
"Nonsense! Healthy young man like you? I never needed a spotter back in my day."
"I hadn't realized that the typical New England prep-school experience included making rooms vampire-safe, sir," Charlie said, gripping the wall as best he could.
"Damn straight it didn't, which brings me back to what I was saying." President Bartlet shook his head. "Vampires, Leo. I pride myself on being able to deal with the unexpected, and Crackpots Days gives up plenty of examples, but vampires? That's out there. Way out there. Outside any of my considerable fields of expertise."
"They're apparently a lot more common than most people would like to think, sir," Leo said.
"I'll believe that when I see it," President Bartlet said. "I know for a fact that there are no vampires in Neosho."
Charlie lunged, tugged the last recalcitrant curtain hook across to block the sun -- but only had time to start smiling in satisfaction before he felt the ladder take an ominous lurch to the right. Arms pinwheeling, he grabbed for any bit of purchase he could find; his hands grabbed onto thick velvet, just as the stepladder fell. Instead of crashing to the ground, Charlie was lowered slowly as the velvet tore away.
President Bartlet went pale. "Charlie! The curtains!"
"Sorry, sir, I --"
"Mamie Eisenhower put those up! These are historical drapes!"
"Sorry, sir," Charlie said, tugging the shredded curtains closed enough to block the sun.
"Never mind it. Damn ugly things anyhow."
"Yes, sir," Charlie sighed.
"Good work overall, Charlie. Why don't you take a few minutes off, get yourself a soda from the cafeteria or something?"
Charlie got out while the getting was good; he was eager to leave before the vampire arrived, even more eager to leave before the president got more bright ideas about testing Charlie. As he went out through the front office, he passed Josh and Sam. Sam's eyes were wide, and he looked both faintly delighted and very dazed. Charlie shrugged in his direction. "Guess he just found out about the vampire, huh?"
Josh shook his head. "He just got a look at the psychic."
And that sounded more interesting, but Charlie still didn't feel like hanging around to see it. Instead, he loped down to the cafeteria -- and froze in shock.
Gunn looked up from his plate of mashed potatoes. "What's the problem, man?"
Pete paused from polishing the apples. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," Charlie said. "Sorry. Just haven't seen this many black guys in the White House since the President ordered a command performance from the Harlem Boys Choir."
"I heard that," Gunn said with a half-smile. "Gettin' tired of being edged to the sidelines, huh? Because I damn sure know the feeling."
"Yeah," Charlie said, just being polite. Then he thought about it for a second, "Hell, yeah."
"I don't know about you, but I could stand to blow off some steam before they come out of their lily-white tower and notice I'm alive again," Gunn said. "You in?"
"You know it," Charlie said, taking a seat at the table. "What about you?"
Pete shrugged. "I don't think I have a lot of repressed anger."
Gunn frowned. "Good for you if it's true, but what do you mean, you don't think?"
"I haven't been encouraged to be very introspective," Pete said. "I pretty much just comment on what's going on, leave it at that. I'm okay with it, but -- it IS kind of dull."
"Well, take a load off and see if we don't give you something else to comment on," Gunn said.
"There's Fresca in the fridge," Charlie said helpfully.
"And with our supply of grapefruity soda guaranteed, I hereby call to order the first summit of unfairly ignored black guys," Gunn said. Then he paused. "Hey, they got Snickers back there?"
"Mr. President," Wesley said, leaning forward intently. Every muscle in his body, every word he spoke, testified to his incredible concentration, his desperation to convince the President of the United States of the truth of his words. "Unless you place the Majestic Crystal of Emen-Reth-Va atop the Washington Monument during the six weeks when the demon Algorep could break free -- the entire world is DOOMED."
For a moment there was silence. Then President Bartlet shrugged. "Done."
"Done?" Wesley looked vaguely taken aback.
"What should we tell the tourists, sir?" Leo said. "A four-foot high, glowing-pink crystal -- seems like the sort of thing folks might notice, if they're sharp."
"Ahh, put some scaffolding up. Tell 'em it's for repairs, let them go up on the inside. They'll just buy extra postcards." President Bartlet smiled.
Angel was looking over his shoulder dubiously at Josh, who was staring at him, openmouthed. Cordelia was looking over her shoulder dubiously at Sam, who was staring at her with much the same expression, but for very different reasons.
"Are you certain you're not the slightest bit doubtful?" Wesley said hopefully. "Because I've got a whole bit prepared where I reveal other times the earth's hung in the balance, and then there's this very impressive reading from the Scroll of Aberjian that talks about rivers of blood, and the world being DOOMED."
"Scroll of Aberjian? Sounds ancient. Sounds -- interesting." President Bartlet's eyes lit up with the kind of zealous fascination normally reserved for national-park data.
Leo interrupted as quickly as he could. "I'm sure this ancient scroll of whatsit is very interesting, but we do have a time constraint, sir." President Barlet leaned back, apparently resigned, and Leo sighed quietly in relief.
Wesley still looked disappointed. "I know how you feel," Sam confided. "One time, I'd written this speech about welfare reform that would have made Ralph Reed weep. And then there was a school shooting, knocked the issue totally off the radar --" At Leo's glare, Sam quickly said, "And of course was tragic for many other reasons."
Angel, apparently eager to escape from Josh's gawking, said, "Well, that was quick. I guess we'll be going. Thanks for covering the windows."
Leo sat up straight. "Nobody leaves the Oval Office until the President excuses him."
"Sorry," Angel said, settling back onto the couch. "I haven't visited with a head of state since Emperor Hirohito."
"Hirohito! Now, see, that's fascinating," President Bartlet said. "I imagine you've seen quite a bit of history. And I'm quite the history buff. Love to talk with you a while about it."
At the word "fascinating," Leo's face fell. He quietly went to the door and motioned to a nearby staffer. "Get Margaret to cancel my afternoon," he whispered.
"Now, where in popular culture, or for that matter real life, are these people gettin' the message that black people are boring?" Gunn said through a mouthful of Snickers. "I mean, who's more interesting -- Christian Laettner or Shaquille O'Neal? Jay Leno or Chris Rock? Celine Dion or Macy Gray?"
"You've got a point there," Charlie said. "I mean, I don't think that's a universal rule. If I were looking for somebody to throw down at a party, I'd probably look to Kid Rock a long time before, say, Admiral Fitzwallace." Gunn nodded, acknowledging this. "But it's not like you have to choose between two options -- personality OR melanin. What do you think, Pete?"
Pete looked shocked, then bewildered. "I -- I --"
"What's the matter?" Gunn said.
"Nobody ever asked me a question like that before," Pete said. "I mean, sure, simple stuff, like 'Where's Clark?' or 'Where's Lana?' --"
"But they never ask you the real questions, do they?" Gunn said. "The hard questions."
"Well, sometimes they ask, 'Where's Chloe?' And that's hard. But, you know, opinion stuff --"
"Take your time," Charlie said, patting Pete's shoulder. "We'll ease you into it."
"Now, let's take you," Gunn said to Charlie. "What is it you do for the President again?"
"I'm his body man," Charlie explained.
Comprehension dawned on Pete's face. "Oh! I think that's what Lex wants Clark for!"
Gunn and Charlie stared. Gunn said, slowly, "Amazing. First words outta your mouth, and we're already in the too-much-information zone."
"So. You're not from earth."
Clark smiled. "No, sir."
Wishing violently that the day were already over, Toby said, very slowly, "Where are you from then?"
"I don't know yet, sir," Clark said helpfully. "My parents have the spaceship I arrived in buried under the barn. Maybe you could have NASA scientists check into it."
"The spaceship's under the barn?" Lex said. "You never told me that."
"Excuse me, but how do the two of you come into this again?" C.J. asked.
Lionel Luthor gave her a too-friendly smile. "I have substantial interests in that area of Kansas. Including, I should add, exclusive mineral rights to all the meteorites you might want to study, which are available for a licensing fee --"
"That's great," said Toby. "You -- Lex, is it? How do you come into it?"
"I'm Clark's friend," Lex said smoothly.
"And this explains why you're here," C.J. said. "Though I'm a little confused about the smoking jacket you're wearing."
Toby added, "I, for one, am almost certain that President Bartlet did not install a bearskin rug in the Mural Room. Nor any President before him."
"Teddy Roosevelt might have --" C.J. began, then hushed as Toby gave her a look.
Lex shrugged lazily, swirled a snifter of cognac. "Clark was tense about all this," he said. "I was hoping to have a chance to help him -- relax."
"Lex is a great pal," Clark said. He smiled cheerfully. "He's been really supportive."
"Since when does the staff serve cognac to guests?" C.J. hissed to Toby.
"From the looks of things, right around the time they put Barry White on the sound system," Toby whispered in reply.
Lionel said, "The scientific knowledge to be gained by studying Clark's origins promises to be fascinating. And lucrative. The lucrative part is key."
"Right," Toby said. "So I guess we should begin working out some details there."
The door swung open, and Ginger poked her head through. "Sorry to interrupt, but you're going to have to take Leo's meeting for him in about thirty minutes."
"What -- I mean, who are we seeing then?" C.J. said.
Ginger checked her note pad. "Something called -- the X-Files." C.J. looked at Toby, who shrugged.
Lionel's eyes went wide. "Ah. Yes. Right. Hold on just a moment." He got up, seized the shoulder of Lex's jacket and said, "Hallway. Now."
They went through the door as Lex grimaced. "Dad, the jacket. Silk wrinkles --"
"Lex, I have something very important for you to do," Lionel whispered. "It's about the X-Files."
"What about them?"
"You don't understand," Lionel said urgently. "Everything that happens in Smallville -- and I mean everything -- is determined by the X-Files. No event, no matter how small, fails to be influenced by them. By their records. It's as though it were destiny --"
"Is this about our destiny AGAIN?" Lex said. "The Luthor tradition, the honor of our family, our ultimate purpose? Because I'm really just about sick and tired --"
"-- of your trust fund?" Lionel said. "I somehow doubt that. Anyway, I'm not talking about someday. I mean, the X-Files shapes every move we make. We NEED those files. We need to find out what's just happened to them. Because, no matter what it was, sooner or later it will happen to us
"What? You're kidding," Lex said. He thought about it for a moment, then said, "Is there any precedent for a love affair between a bald man and a younger, more idealistic brunet?"
"Depends on who you ask," Lionel said.
"What I want to know is, Where are the black WOMEN?" Gunn said. "Hell, where are ANY women that want to go out with us?"
"They're not in Kansas," Pete said glumly. "That's for sure."
"Well, I've got a girlfriend," Charlie said. "She's the president's daughter, so -- she's white, but she's cool."
"Cool, as in she's really down with your interests and scene?" Gunn asked. "Or cool, as in she read the Autobiography of Malcolm X in paperback during her freshman year and now thinks she's enlightened?"
"More the latter," Charlie admitted. "But I bet it's more action than either of you guys are getting. Am I right?"
Both Pete and Gunn sighed. Charlie smiled slightly in satisfaction before remembering to look sympathetic. "So what's the problem? You never get to meet girls?"
"I met a girl once," Pete said. "She seemed really nice, too, and she was always cute, but she'd recently lost some weight and was feeling good about it. So she bought this great dress for the big dance, and we were all set to go --"
"Then what?" Charlie said.
"She kinda turned into a meteorite-radioactive devourer of human flesh," Pete said.
"I HATE it when that happens," Gunn said. "Caught up with this girl this summer, major hottie, thought she was being all helpful with our latest case. And then she goes and turns me into this iguana-god of the ancient Incas. I mean, the god part was cool, movin' shit around with my mind and all, but the iguana factor wasn't working for me."
Charlie stared at him. "She turned you into an iguana?" When Gunn nodded, Charlie said, "I know I'm stating the obvious, but you're not an iguana now."
"Got better," Gunn shrugged. "Cordelia had to do some ritual with marmot innards that she's still giving me hell about. As for the girl -- after that, relationship over. I mean, the trust is gone."
"You're the lucky one," Pete said to Charlie. "You and your girlfriend probably have some really wild times together, huh?"
Charlie, instead of bragging, looked slightly disappointed. "I'm not really sure. I don't get to see her a whole lot. When I do, it's usually in the room right off the Oval Office, which isn't exactly ideal for romance." He sighed. "Sometimes we go see movies with her dad, which usually means 1950s musicals and a lot of him talking trivia during the whole damn thing. About the last time something 'wild' happened was when white supremecists shot at us, which only counts as excitement in the most literal and least enjoyable sense of the word."
"See, it can't ever be easy," Gunn said. "It's always gotta be complicated." He pointed at Pete. "He's got a radioactive girl chowing down on his pals, you're gettin' shot at, I'm being turned into a telekinetic iguana. Ain't none of it good."
President Bartlet grinned. "So Spiro Agnew was a demon after all?"
Angel nodded. Leo said, "Sir, was there ever any doubt?"
"Not really. But amazing to get confirmation on that. Just amazing. I have got to tell Lord John Marbury about all this," the president said. "He'll always said Agnew was -- what?"
Wesley's eyes had gone very wide at the mention of the name. "Lord John Marbury?" he repeated, as if unable to believe it. "You -- know him, sir?"
"You mean, you do?"
"I do," Wesley confirmed, somewhat reluctantly. "That is to say, I did. He was still a member of the Council of Watchers -- a group devoted to battling occult or demonic forces -- while I was young. He's since been dismissed."
"Surprised you two don't get together for coffee and bitch sessions, then," Cordelia said. "Ex-Watchers' support group. All the tweed and misery anyone could ever want, and then some."
"Marbury knew about all this?" President Bartlet looked amazed, then considered. "Well, he was always talking about demons, but I just thought the man had issues."
"Those he has, sir," Wesley said.
"So what did he get dismissed for?" President Bartlet asked.
"Essentially, extreme eccentricity," Wesley said. "Keep in mind that this was 'eccentricity' by the standards of an organization that counts among its members two werewolves, a genie, eight persons who've admitted to succubi addiction and a poor fellow who's convinced his mother was reincarnated as a Pekingese."
"Better that than a car," Sam said. When Wesley looked at him blankly, Sam said, "TV show. Bad TV show. Not that I ever saw it, because it aired before I was born, and there's not a whole lot of rerun market for that."
Cordelia smiled at that, and Sam took it as a hopeful sign. He leaned closer. "Now, you can see the future, right?"
"Sometimes," she said, dimpling up at him. Next to her, Angel scowled.
Sam leaned closer still. "So, if we were to give you some polling questions -- a few general things, you know, not really sophisticated demographic analysis --"
"You know where the word 'poll' originated?" Angel said, running a finger along the blade of his ax. "From an old Anglo-Saxon word for 'head.' As in, separate from the body."
"That thing's not just for show, is it?" Sam said, looking at the ax. Angel shook his head and moved a little closer to Cordelia, who rolled her eyes. Sam backed off.
"Can I ask about Atlantis?" Josh said. "I know it sounds way out there, but Plato seemed so sure --"
President Bartlet said sternly, "You NEVER ask about Atlantis."
Josh's face fell, until Angel looked over at him and mouthed, "Later."
Leo said, "What about Nixon?"
"He petitioned the Underlords of Quellenox for membership once," Angel said. "But he was refused. Not evil enough."
"Those guys are way picky," Cordelia said. "I mean, they turned down Leona Helmsley, too. And you'd think she'd make it if anyone would."
"I can respect high standards," President Bartlet said. "Even in a demonic legion. Now, tell me: Is there ANY explanation for how Strom Thurmond's hung on this long?"
Angel paused, then said, "This goes no further than this room --"
"Of course not," Leo said. Even Cordelia and Wesley looked intrigued.
Angel said, "Have you ever heard the phrase -- 'There can be only one?'"
Skinner stared across the hallway at Kersh. "You think you've won, don't you?" he growled. "You've spent years grinding us down, tearing at everything we've ever done when all we wanted was the truth. And now that you've taken this to the White House itself, you think you've finally done it. But let me tell you -- you haven't won. As long as there's even one man or woman in the Federal Bureau of Investigations who wants the truth -- you'll never win."
Kersh held up his briefcase. "We're here to petition for a budget increase for a new Bureau parking garage."
"Parking garage," Skinner said with a sneer. "Like we're supposed to believe that."
"There are blueprints in here!" Kersh said. "What the hell is it with you people? You come in filing expense reports for rental cars that were -- what was the last one -- 'sucked into a magnetic tidal pool generated by asteroid radiation.' Then when I dare to question that, you start yelling conspiracy. Let me tell you one thing --"
A young bald man in a smoking jacket came around the corner, grabbed the briefcase and ran. Kersh and Skinner both stared.
"Thief!" Kersh yelled.
"Alien!" Skinner yelled, grabbing his weapon and running after the robber.
"Hell," Kersh swore, grabbing his own weapon and running after Skinner.
"Uhoh," said Lex, running in what was, unbeknownst to him, the general direction of the Oval Office.
"You know what it all goes back to?" Gunn asked, finishing his Fresca. "Empire Strikes Back. Namely, Lando Calrissian."
"Oh, yeah," Charlie said. "I almost forgot about him."
"Can't imagine why," Gunn said sarcastically. "Who finally blew up the Death Star? That would be Lando."
"But that was Return of the Jedi," Pete protested.
"Work with me here," Gunn said. "Star Wars is generally your classic yin-yang mythos. Folks are really good, or they're really evil, and when they switch sides, they do something really obvious."
"Like wear a big black helmet," Charlie said. "Or change their name to something real friendly-sounding, like Darth Maul. Nobody's going to trust a man named Maul. Anyway, I wouldn't."
"That was Phantom Menace --" Pete saw the expressions on the others faces and was silent.
"So who provides the only shades of moral gray in those movies?" Gunn said. "Lando Calrissian, that's who. He's the only guy who comes on friendly and then does something terrible. And he's the only guy who does something terrible and then tries to make it up just because he feels bad about it. Don't even give me that Darth Vader crap, either. That guy had to get shot through with lightning bolts about ninety zillion times before he thought, 'Hey, maybe the Emperor kinda sucks.' That's not a moral awakening. That's just common sense. Plus, Lando wore a cape. The brother was just cool."
Charlie began to pick up the idea. "But nobody writes novels about Lando Calrissian," he said. "Nobody talks about whether or not Lando's origins are going to be explained in the prequels. Nobody cares."
"And his action figures sell for far less on eBay than Luke Skywalkers or Han Solos," Pete said. "He's usually priced about the same as a 'Hoth Ranger' or something." When Charlie and Gunn stared at him, he said, "I know I haven't developed much of a personality, but I think it's at least plausible that I -- I might be a sci-fi geek." Pete began to smile. "I might have other hobbies, too!"
"There you go," Gunn said encouragingly. "Now that you've started talking, you're actually starting to develop that personality."
"I am!" Pete said, his face alight with discovery. "I -- I think I'm really good at working on cars!"
"Let it out!" Charlie said.
"I think last year I had a huge crush on Chloe that left me with lingering resentment," Pete said. "And I'm secretly dreaming of going to college in Scotland. I think I even have an unresolved Oedipal conflict!"
"Keep it in!" Charlie said.
"This is crazy," Gunn said, slamming his fist on the table. "Are we gonna let ourselves go the way of Lando? I say we don't. I say we stop it right here. Right now."
"What do we do?" Pete asked.
"We go up there and tell them about it," Gunn said, pointing skyward. "Think we can get in the Oval Office to tell it my crew?"
"We can if I take you," Charlie said. "What about your friends, Pete?"
"I'll talk to them later," Pete said. "Sometime when Lex doesn't have handcuffs handy."
"Good thinking," Charlie said.
"I'm sure Mr. Luthor means well bringing me here," Clark said earnestly. "He only charges licensing fees for the meteorites to protect our rights in Smallville."
Lionel grinned and patted Clark's shoulder. C.J. leaned close to Toby and whispered, "Whatever planet Clark's from, I think it orbits a really dim star."
A Secret Service agent stepped through the doors. "Excuse me. Mr. Ziegler?"
Toby got up, listened to the agent, then turned and scowled at Lionel. "Mr. Luthor, is there any reason that your son might have stolen a briefcase from agents of the X-Files and taken off to the Oval Office?"
Lionel blinked. "I can't imagine," he said. "Why would he go to the Oval Office?"
"That's not Lex," Clark said. "Trust me. One time, we thought Lex had robbed a bank, but it turned out to be a shapeshifting girl in my class."
"The only shapeshifting girls in my class were just stuffing their bras," C.J. said.
"I suggest we go to the Oval Office and get to the bottom of this," Toby said.
"Wow!" Clark said with a grin. "The office of the President of the United States!"
Toby said, "If you don't shut up, I'm going to be forced to make you jaded before your time."
"So you spent time in Colonial New Hampshire?" President Bartlet grinned. "Don't suppose you met my illustrious ancestor Josiah Bartlett?"
Angel froze. He looked around the room, as though hoping for rescue. None came. Slowly, he said, "We might have -- crossed paths."
"Incredible! Just incredible!" President Bartlet said in delight. "So, what sort of fellow was he? Scholars describe his intellect, his acumen -- but it's different to talk to someone who actually knew him."
"Um," Angel began. "I should make a few things clear from the first."
"What's that?" The president was leaning forward in anticipation.
"I knew him only briefly," Angel said. "Which means the drinking could have been a temporary phase."
"Drinking?" President Bartlet's face fell. Josh covered his mouth with his hand. Sam tried not to smirk.
"Also, nobody really understood the full effect of coca powder at that time," Angel said. "And you would have been surprised by the era's acceptance of certain practices."
The president was beginning to scowl. "Practices?"
Angel looked dismayed, but kept on. "For instance, what we now call 'cross-dressing' was once thought of as --"
"Help!" Lex came bursting into the room. "I'm being pursued by two armed men!"
Skinner and Kersh came in and leveled their weapons at Lex. "Drop the briefcase now!" Skinner yelled.
"Do we have security guards just for show?" Leo said.
Through the other door came Toby and C.J., followed closely by Lionel and Clark. Lionel pointed his finger at Lex and said, "I am shocked, SHOCKED, that you would do something like this, Lex."
"You know I wouldn't have stolen these documents," Lex said smoothly. "I was merely concerned that they weren't in the right hands. I just checked their contents and brought them to the safest possible locations."
"Checked their contents?" Lionel said with a smile. "Good. Glad to see that's cleared up."
"Cleared up?" Everyone turned back to the first door, through which Gunn, Charlie and Pete were walking. Gunn continued, "Nothing's cleared up. We're only now getting started."
Wesley said, "Gunn?"
Clark said, "Pete?"
Sam said, "Charlie?"
"Sorry about all this, sir," Charlie said, addressing the president. "But it's high time you guys heard this."
Pete said, "It's time you all started listening to the black guys in the group. Started including us in your plans. Even the exciting ones!"
Clark shook his head. "Pete -- how did you do that?"
"You just -- talked," Clark said in amazement. "And nobody even talked to you first --"
"Get used to it," Pete said.
"There are intruders in the Oval Office," Skinner said, glaring at them. "We should escort them out."
"No," Kersh said, as though he were seeing something for the very first time. "No, I think we're going to hear them out." At Skinner's surprised stare, Kersh said, "What? You think I don't want a life of my own? Oppressive moral conflicts I work out late at night while lifting weights in a skillfully lit home gym? Love interests who bear an uncanny resemblance to Robin Givens? Think again." He motioned toward Gunn. "Keep going."
"We don't want to be pushed to the side," Gunn said. "We're tired of being the guys who stay behind to watch the car. We're tired of being the guys sent to get help long before the interesting stuff actually happens. We're tired of having girlfriends who either vanish after one week or just get mentioned from time to time without ever showing up, much less getting naked. This is no way to treat people! We want to be included, dammit!"
President Bartlet stood up. "You're angry," he said. "And I understand your anger. I don't blame you one bit. We have to resolve this -- all of us, together --"
The setting sun began casting a warm glow through the curtains, giving the room a sepia tint. A nearby lamp's light backlit the President so that his hair appeared somewhat like a halo. Everyone tilted their faces up to him and gazed in wonder as the President opened his mouth and said, "This email is sent to you for good luck. If you forward this letter to five friends within five days, it means you're a good friend. If you forward it to ten friends, it means you're a great friend! If you don't forward it to anyone, then the luck will stop and your friends won't be able to share. Please add your name to the bottom of this email and pass it on!"
Everyone smiled and sighed. "It all makes so much sense now," Cordelia said.
"How does he do it?" Sam sighed. Leo just grinned.
"Wow," Clark said. "I wish I had that engraved on something."
"I -- I feel better," Charlie said. "I mean, being the body man is a pretty important job, right? And at least Zoe visits sometimes."
"Come to think of it, the ones at the center of the action are usually the ones who end up getting cursed or impaled," Gunn said.
"Mom's just Mom again," Pete said. "That's a relief."
"I still hate you people," Kersh said to Skinner.
"We should get going," Lionel said quickly, steering Clark, Pete and Lex toward a door. "Thanks for hearing us out." To Lex he hissed, "What's happening?"
"Looks like we're getting a new parking garage," Lex said. "I realize this must have been very stressful, Clark. Do you need to maybe -- lie down somewhere?"
As they went out the door, the President said, "I suppose you fellows had better get going as well. When can we expect that crystal?"
"Very soon," Wesley promised as the Angel Investigations team began going out the other door. Then he turned to Cordelia. "Do you think UPS ships packages weighing more than two thousand pounds?"
"Well, now that this situation has simmered down, I guess the X-Files are next," Toby said. "What's this about a parking garage?"
"Parking garage," Skinner said with a sardonic laugh. "Likely story."
Kersh rolled his eyes and followed Toby and C.J. out. Skinner went after them, scowling all the while.
Josh looked disappointed. "Aren't there any other supernatural issues we can look at today?"
"Well, we do have a few," Leo said. "We have to decide where to shift the Invisible Man project next --"
"COOL," Josh said. Sam rolled his eyes.
"Ah, that's simple enough," President Bartlet said. "I think the Post Office would welcome a chance to work with the project."
"Very well, sir," Leo said. "But we do have -- this file you two could look into."
"Thanks," Sam said, taking it quickly and towing Josh toward the door. "This will be great. Just great."
As they went out, Josh said eagerly, "What did we get?" He looked down at the file. "Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters?"
Sam shrugged. "Sounds like a piece of cake."
All jokes can be explained by the person reading email at [email protected]