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President Gerald Ford was a lame duck and Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson wasn’t sworn in yet, so for the official transition photo it seemed fitting to have the two leaders seated facing each other at an oblique angle as symbolic equals. The massive desk built from the timbers of the HMS Resolute, gifted to President Hayes from Queen Victoria in 1880 was left unoccupied on the far side of the Oval Office, framed in the camera shot precisely centered between the two men.

After the official White House photographer had finished his work, after he had taken his leave, and the door to the Oval Office had been firmly closed, an uncomfortable silence settled on the famous chamber, for the campaign had been bitterly contested. The President-elect broke the partisan ice with a little joke. “I suppose this is the part where you break out a mysterious blue book and show me incontrovertible evidence that Earth really has been contacted by aliens.”

Ford grimaced, stood up, and invited Jackson to pull up a chair in front of the big desk. A book was pulled out of a side drawer and laid carefully on the desktop, and it was indeed blue, causing the President-elect’s grin to quickly fade away. “It seems there’s a grain of truth behind every urban myth,” the President said. “Here’s your blue book.”

Jackson paused for a bit, and met the President’s eyes with a searching glance, but the President merely returned the gaze with a slight shake of the head. No joke then. “Let me have the bad news first,” the incoming head of state said when the initial shock faded.

Ford said, “You will most likely find it impossible to sit on this information like my predecessors have, going back all the way to, oh, Truman.” He tapped the book. “It might be up to you to manage the rollout of this stuff. Obviously there’s been a deep and broad cover-up for years. Ever since Watergate, as you know, a cover-up has been considered to be a far worse offense than the original . . . thing. But this cover-up, at least, wasn’t mismanaged.”

Jackson asked, “And why was there a coverup in the first place? Was it the usual claim that society is just not ready to know?”

The President said, “There were anthropological considerations to take into account, at first. From the long, sad history of the collision of colonizing European cultures with the more primitive aboriginal cultures in the lands they invaded, one could easily imagine Earth itself, in the aftermath of the arrival of an advanced alien civilization, becoming a sort of galactic human ‘reservation’ utterly dependent on handouts. A cover-up could buy time to prepare the world for the inevitable shock to the collective ego and perhaps prevent a post-contact malaise from taking hold.”

“That would be a legitimate reason for a cover-up,” the incoming chief acknowledged. “Assuming you actually have been preparing the world to learn of it.”

With a shake of the head the President indicated that no such preparations had taken place. “It was not the main reason. It had to do with how the . . . evidence . . . was introduced on Earth. If it had simply fallen straight into our hands we would have made it classified, locked it away, and done. No coverup necessary. But the evidence came here a long time ago and has been continuously under the control of private American citizens and outside of government control.”

“What do you mean outside of government control?”

“This country is still a republic, you know. We’re not a dictatorship quite yet. Ever since the 1940s when we found out about everything, this group has resisted coming in under our umbrella. You might even say there’s been a quiet insurrection going on all this time, and the only real point of agreement we have with these folks is that we all need to keep it quiet. We’ve been far more concerned about covering up this insurrection than whatever they were sitting on.”

Jackson asked, “So is there any upside to all this?”

The outgoing replied, “Well, first of all, the aliens that this evidence points to are not unfathomably more advanced than we are. Maybe one or two hundred years down the time line from us, no big deal. They might not even be around anymore and we’re really just dealing with the machines they left behind when their civilization failed. At any rate, we aren’t taking about an invasion fleet or something like that. They don’t have warp drive like in the television shows and the distances between stars are just too great. The technologies they do bring have been filtering into the marketplace through this group I spoke of, to the general betterment of society, and in particular, American society.”

“Do you have any examples?”

“Does stealth ring a bell? Fusion? The Swarm? And a lot more stuff this group won’t release. But that just makes it all the more urgent we bring them in. Imagine what the enemies of this country could do to us if they had first crack at the new stuff.”

Jackson said, “There are folks among your own constituency, as you well know, Mr. President, who seek to steer America's schools away from teaching evolution and old earth geology and towards a curriculum of a special creation of the Earth by God just six thousand years ago. Your Blue Book raises questions that their closed, self-contained, strictly biblical theology could never answer.”

“It is interesting that you brought up religion,” President Ford put in. “When I got this same talk from Nixon it made me wonder what a coincidence all of this was. The aliens stumbled on to us precisely when we were ready to understand what they had to say and had the capability to put it into action? What are the odds? Could it be that the burning bush Moses saw was just an earlier contact? Or that the Greeks and Egyptians had contacts that were mistaken for gods? The Blue Book hints as much. But we know a bit more about the current contact sequence. So it’s a good thing we are doing this presidential transition early. This is going to take quite a bit of time, and the alien thing is only part of what I need to pass down to you.”

“As long as we’re finished by noon on January 20 I’m all ears,” Scoop Jackson said.

The President pushed the book across the desk. “Here’s your homework.”

“You’re going to let me walk out of here with this?”

“Why not? The Blue Book is nothing more or less than the sacred scriptures of this group I’m talking about, which now calls itself the Church of End Dome. It’s sort of like their Holy Bible or Book of Mormon, except with plenty of third party support. In a few days it will be entirely up to you what to do with the book and what to do the people who follow it, although I suspect you will only just get to manage the fallout when they come out and spill everything. Welcome to the top job.”

The University of Maryland, College Park, was only eight miles northeast of Washington DC, but considering security logistics at the Presidential level it was more practical to get there aboard the Marine One helicopter. On the morning of the day following the Oval Office photo op the President and the President-elect were taken directly from the White House lawn to McKeldin Mall in the heart of the campus. On the flight, the President asked, “How far did you get in the Blue Book?”

Scoop Jackson said, “I read a cowboy story dressed up like a book of the Bible with chapters, verses, and footnotes. That’s not evidence, you know. Anyone can spin a tale.”

“I absolutely agree,” the President replied. “But right now I’m taking you to meet Dr. Antonio Mossi at UMD. I’ve asked him to try to debunk a piece of real evidence and he’s been giving that his best shot, but without much luck, it seems.”

The helicopter landed just west of the reflecting pool, on a piece of grass that looked like it had seen many such landings recently. From there it was a scant quarter mile on foot to the library, escorted by a dozen Secret Service agents, where they were greeted by Dr. Mossi and taken into a large workspace in the basement of the library.

On a long blue table that nearly filled the space from end to end, a white scroll lay completely unrolled. Dr. Mossi turned to the President-elect and said, “We call this the Scroll of Lael, based on the name of the author who claims to have started to pen it. Please give me your first impression.”

Jackson said, “It looks fake. It doesn’t look like any scroll I’ve ever seen. It’s white as a wedding dress for one thing, and the thing’s shiny, like a sheet of plastic.”

Dr. Mossi said, “Yet it is not plastic, it is biological in origin. Under the microscope we see plant cells, but we have not identified them. And we have cut off a corner of it about the size of a postage stamp for carbon-14 dating and three different labs tell us it’s 2,600 years old, plus or minus fifty years. Please take a closer look here.”

The professor steered them to a section of the unrolled scroll in the middle of the long table. He said, “Most of the scroll is written in Paleo-Hebrew, from before the Babylonian Captivity, when it was just a variant of the Phoenician alphabet without contamination from Aramaic. And yet there is a smooth evolution of the characters consistent with a natural progression across many centuries. We cannot even detect Samaritan influences. If it is a forgery, it us one of exquisite subtlety.”

The President said, “Dr. Mossi, please direct the President-elect to the section that is titled ‘Radix.’”

The professor indicated a part of the scroll a little more than a quarter of the way from the left end and gestured for Jackson to look. It was that cowboy story with Chief Malekwa and Mark Lange, written in English in a neat hand. “Mystery of mysteries,” Dr. Mossi said. “Embedded within this document, which may be the most important find in archaeological history, is a piece of what can only be called western pulp fiction. Unless it’s true.”

The President-elect was incredulous. “The Golden Gift? That reads more like science-fiction than a Zane Gray yarn. Or maybe it’s a mash-up, like The Haunted Mesa by Louis L’Amour.”

“The Golden Gift appears throughout this scroll,” the professor countered. “One might almost say the Golden Gift is the true protagonist of this very long story.”

“Okay, but who ever heard of a scroll that was more white than printer paper? What kind of plant looks like that?”

“If you were a shrub on a dog-eat-dog planet that was all ice and snow,” President Ford said, “and you didn’t want to be dinner, what color would you be?”

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