“None of your weird stuff today,” Candace instructs Phineas sternly.
“What weird stuff?” Phineas asks.
“You know what I mean,” she says. She gets down low to look him in the eyes. “Weird stuff. Normally I can deal with it, and I’d relish the chance to get mom to bust you for it, but not today. We’re in the White House!”
Phineas looks across the room. There’s a Presidential seal over the lobby desk. “Yes,” he agrees. “We’re definitely in the White House.”
Isabella bounces on the balls of her feet. “Fireside Girls, are we all ready to earn our ‘meeting a national leader’ badge?” They chorus ‘yes’ back at her.
Baljeet looks at Buford. “How did you get security clearance?”
Buford says, “I know people.”
The security guard looks at their letters and gives each of them a pass saying that they’re guests and allowed to be here. They’re collected by one of the President’s assistants and taken to the waiting area outside the Oval Office. It’s very nice – they get cookies.
The nice assistant says, “Charlie, would you tell the President that the children who won the competition are here?”
Charlie says, “We’re running a little behind schedule this morning, Mrs Landingham.”
“Well, when aren’t we?” She smiles at them. “Never mind, I’ll send someone to get you some juice. Or would anyone like some chocolate milk?”
They nod, and say thank you, and she goes to get them the drinks. Phineas looks around. “Hey. Where’s Perry?”
Candace squeaks, “You brought your platypus to the White House?”
Phineas looks at her. “Of course.”
The chute takes him deep below the White House.
Major Monogram appears on the television screen, looking awkward. “Apologies, Agent P. Someone reported that there were unused offices under here. Instead, it turns out to be the- what is this, Carl?”
“The steam pipe trunk distribution venue, sir.”
“The steam pipe trunk distribution venue. Anyway. Dr Doofenshmirtz has infiltrated the White House, armed only with a large supply of helium balloons. Find out what he’s up to, and put a stop to it.”
Perry nods sharply, and goes on his way.
The President walks out of the Oval Office; he seems in a real hurry. Baljeet stands up as the President walks past them, and then sits down again when he realises that it isn’t their turn yet.
Mrs Landingham smiles at them. “I’m sorry, the President was just called into an urgent meeting. I promise, as soon as he’s done, he’ll be able to come and meet you all. Charlie?”
“Do you think we could find somewhere for these young people to wait while the President is in the Situation Room?”
Charlie thinks. “There’s no one in the Roosevelt Room?”
“Well, okay then. Would you like to take them there?”
Charlie leads them away to the other room. He looks at them, seated in the high chairs around the table. “I’m sorry, guys, it’s like this sometimes. The President’s really busy today. I can get you some books or something maybe? There’s always a pack of cards somewhere, but that’s about it. None of you have your parents with you?”
Candace says, “They were supposed to meet us here this afternoon, but there’s been a problem with the traffic. Or the weather. Maybe both.”
Charlie nods. “I have to go back to the office, but there’s someone just outside the door, and you can ask if you need anything.”
He goes away, but a few minutes later another assistant comes in with some magazines and a lot of blank paper and pens. Plus the pack of cards. Everyone here is really nice.
Isabella says, “President Bartlet must be a very busy man. He looked tired.” Isabella looks sad, and the other Fireside Girls nod.
Phineas thinks that anyone who has to be responsible for a whole country would probably look tired. There’s all those meetings, plus being on TV and on the radio, and deciding what to do about armies and global warming and the weird traffic today. It’s a tough job. He wonders if there’s anything they could do to help.
Candace looks at him. “No. Noooo. No. Phineas. Whatever you’re thinking, stop it! Now!”
“Ferb, I know what we’re going to do today.”
Perry finds Dr Doofenshmirtz in the pressroom, masquerading as a journalist. He’s wearing a brimmed hat with a card that says ‘press’ stuck into the band.
There are no real journalists there, but there is an extremely tall woman, and a harried looking man.
Dr Doofenshmirtz is saying, “-and then I thought, what about a secret plan to use inflation! See, see? With all the balloons.”
The woman says, “Josh, didn’t I tell you this was going to come back and bite us?”
He rubs his hand over his head. “It already came back and bit us. I’m pretty sure it coming back to do it again is cheating.”
“Yes, because the press are always so willing to forgive and forget the nonsense that comes out of your mouth. Seriously, Josh, you’re never allowed into my press room again. Also,” she turns to Dr Doofenshmirtz, “are you honestly wearing your credentials in your hat?”
Dr Doofenshmirtz starts pumping the helium canisters and Perry decides to make his entrance.
“Perry the Platypus!” Dr Doofenshmirtz says, “how completely and totally unpredictable, and by unpredictable I mean, no, really, unpredictable, you followed me out of the Tri-State Area? Really? Did Francis swing for the airfare?”
Perry kicks over the helium canisters and karate chops the balloons loose.
The man says, “Is that a platypus?”
Two men walk into the Roosevelt Room and pull up short. The older one turns to his friend and says, “Sam, why is the room full of children?”
Sam shrugs. “Oh, wait. The President had that thing today. With the science fair winners and their class.”
“And so we left them in here with construction paper and scissors to see if Lord of the Flies would eventually unfold?”
Phineas says, “The President had to go to a meeting. Mr Young told us to wait here.”
Sam whispers, “Sit Room.” Then he says, louder, “Okay. Well, I’m Sam, and this is Toby. We work in the Communications Department.”
Baljeet coughs, “Permit me to say, but the section of the last State of the Union about the importance of mathematics in middle school education was inspired.”
Sam blinks for a moment. “Thank you.” He elbows Toby. “You see.”
Toby coughs. “Fine. We’re going to go now, before anyone gives Sam any more ideas.” Then he looks over the table, at what they’re building on the floor. “That’s not going to explode, is it?”
“No, sir,” Phineas assures him. “We’re trying to help the President.”
“Okay… Aren’t you a little young to be helping the President?”
Phineas considers this. “No, no I’m not.”
Buford says, “It’s every citizen’s duty to help their country in its time of need.”
They all stop to look at him for a minute. Then Phineas nods. “Exactly.”
Sam smiles brightly at them. “Yes. Exactly. We’re going to go and find out if the President will be much longer, okay? You just… just keep doing what you’re doing.”
Perry is now being buoyed along just under the high ceiling of the corridor, following Dr Doofenshmirtz. There are only five balloons left. Not enough for any secret plans to use inflation to take control of the White House, but he likes to be thorough.
The Presidential Generator is almost ready. It’s going to create a full-size, completely lifelike holographic projection of the President, perfect for those photo opportunities he doesn’t really want to go to.
“And that’s going to leave him much more time for important meetings!” Phineas says. “And, of course, a little more free time for himself. It’s important to take a break every now and again.” He presses the button.
Candace flaps her hands at him. “Turn it off! Now, Phineas, so help me or I’ll…”
It’s working beautifully. The President looks just like he does on TV.
There’s a knock on the door. Mrs Landingham calls in, “Kids, the President is ready to see you now.” She opens that door at the same time as the one on the other side opens with a gust of air. There’s a flurry of balloons and a sudden crash. Also a sudden scream, somewhere down the corridor.
“Oh,” Phineas says, “there you are, Perry.”
President Bartlet walks into the room. “We really need to do something about the draughts in here. Well. Hello. I’m sorry to keep you all waiting. I hear you’re all scientists in the making.” He looks over Phineas’s shoulder.
Candace says, hurriedly, “Mr President, I’m so sorry about all of this, they’re just kids, they don’t know-.”
The President is looking behind them. Phineas looks too, but the hologram machine is gone.
Candace looks at the space where it was – there’s just some drinking glasses and construction paper now. That’s unfortunate.
President Bartlet says, “Well, at least you all kept busy. Should I ask what you were doing, or is it better left a secret?”
“We were trying to think of ways to make your job easier, sir,” Phineas says, “but it doesn’t seem to have worked very well.”
President Bartlet laughs. “Well, if you ever think of one, do please let me know.”
“Can I ask you a question, sir?”
“If you could have something to make things easier, what would it be?”
The President bends down closer to Phineas; he looks to be thinking about it. “Well, more hours in the day couldn’t hurt. I don’t know, Phineas – it is Phineas, isn’t it? – I’m not sure that this job should be easy. If it was, we might forget how important it is to do it right. But I suppose the thing I would like – the thing I pray for, every day – is more wisdom. The wisdom to make the right decisions, at the right time, in the right way. Does that make sense?”
Ferb says, “Education is the single most important domestic issue facing the country today. However, you are a Nobel Laureate in Economics with a more progressive record on education and technology issues than any President in recent history. I think the country elected you because you had that wisdom. Sir.”
President Bartlet stands up, smiling. He doesn’t look so tired now. He shakes Ferb’s hand. “Thank you for the support. I don’t suppose any of you kids are looking into politics when you grow up?”
Ferb shakes his head. Phineas thinks about it for a second and says, “I’m not sure we’re really thinking that far ahead yet. At the moment, we want to do everything. There are a lot of options – I think we’re trying to keep them open for the time being.”
The President nods. “That’s extremely sensible. Now, I hear there’s a man outside with a camera who’d like to take a photograph of all of you.” He pauses. “And I see you brought your platypus with you. Now, did you know that the platypus is the only…?”
Phineas already knows, but you do have to admire a President who knows his platypus trivia. He doesn’t understand why the other adults are groaning.