Laura Roslin was standing at a window on Colonial One listening to Billy read off the latest supply figures and population statistics. They were always variations off the same tone, limited water, limited food, limited medicine, a few deaths, and fewer births. She'd started to think of it privately as the butcher's bill. How much did humanity have to pay for its sins before the gods decided they had paid enough?
She really should have been listening more closely. For all she knew Billy could have been telling her a giant space dragon has eaten the Rising Star and she probably wouldn't notice. A few times her aide had said something similar just to see if the President was paying attention, a tactic Laura guessed Billy had picked up from Tory Foster. Still, she could see the Rising Star out the viewing port and it seemed to be intact so she did not need to worry about that particular crisis. In the distance at the edge of the fleet, she could see a flash of light and just make out the outline of a returning scout Raptor.
It never ceased to amaze her that she had gained enough understanding of military hardware that she could now tell a Raptor from a Viper from a refrigerator at this distance. Richard Adar would have found the thought amusing, yet something else to tease her about after an evening making love. She had begun to wonder near the end if he really did think very highly of her, or if he was simply humoring her for political advantage, or to just get her into his bed. Those thoughts were some of the things she kept locked deeply away in the quiet recesses of her mind, along with long forgotten lesson plans, and scores to all those Pyramid games the President had made her watch; artifacts of another life, which now did not even feel as if it was her own.
Turning around when she heard Billy stop speaking she smiled at the young man, half her son and half her aide, still the only family she had in this sad and unreal world. "Can you arrange for Captain Thrace to meet with me?"
Billy had a sudden look of near alarm. Laura had to chuckle herself at what she knew he must be thinking. "I'm not plotting anymore covert military operations, I promise."
He nodded, as he stood, still so earnest. "Of course, Madam President. I'll do it right away."
She shook her head, "No, have my shuttle prepped; I'll go to her this time."
After all, there was a reasonable chance the Viper pilot would turn her down. After all, the last time she'd made a private request of Starbuck it had cost the young woman more then either had anticipated at the time.
"Isn't Advent a penitential season?" President Josiah Bartlet said while still stooped over the Resolute Desk flipping through a stack of papers that CJ knew included the presidential declaration of National Federal Reserve Day and Choking Hazard Awareness Month.
The White House Chief of Staff smiled, but groaned inwardly. CJ glanced back to see where a chair was, she suspected she was about to be regaled for at least twenty minutes about something to do with the upcoming holiday season - perhaps some element of the economics would be involved… or there was always the off chance he was going to tell a story about how Ellie had like to swallow Legos as a child. Regardless, it was never a good sign when the President asked questions he already knew the answers to.
The President had been in a dismal mood all morning, in part because his oldest daughter Liz had announced that her husband Doug wanted to take the family to Aruba over Christmas. The family's patriarch had been muttering all morning about how Christmas was not really Christmas if there wasn't even the slightest chance of there actually being snow. Or if the president wasn't going to see his grandchildren…but that was another issue entirely.
"Why can't I skip at least seventeen of the thirty-five Christmas parties that are on my schedule for the next month and tell them I am at home alone pondering the myriad of my sins?"
"Because most people don't know the definition of the word myriad, sir? I'm also afraid they might believe you. I think there is still time to change the White House Christmas card though… a nice image of self-flagellation perhaps?"
He stared at her over the rims of his glasses. "Claudia Jean, has anyone ever told you sarcasm can be dangerous to your employment?"
"Many times, Mr. President, many times." The Chief of Staff shot a sassy grin at the President.
"And yet you persist?"
"My father always said I had a strange fascination with banging my head against walls as a child."
"Pardon me, Mr. President, CJ" a head popped in the door of the Oval office. The head belong to Charlie Young, the one time assistant to the President who now worked in CJ's office. "Commander Harper says she needs you in the Situation Room."
The President glanced over at CJ as he began rounding his desk. "Saved by the crisis."
She smiled and as they passed by Charlie she whispered, "I owe you big time."
"Don't you always?" Charlie smiled knowingly as she left the Oval office.
CJ fell into step behind the President. It always amazed her how in this bustling and busy building everyone stood as the President passed. Jed Bartlet attempted to smile, nod, and greet every passer by even as he walked briskly towards what was certainly a serious military situation. Not that he got any of the names correct, but several were close and that was part of his charm.
"ATTEN-HUT!" The voice of a Marine lieutenant bellowed as they walked through the situation room door, but Jed Bartlet waved them off. Whereas the rest of the White House felt like an overcrowded office space or a neo-classical southern mansion, the situation room always reminded CJ of the Starship Enterprise, especially now that there was giant map of the northern hemisphere including earth orbit on the big projection monitor. The situation room was dark, with computer monitors and military aides bustling about all under the direction of Commander Kate Harper, the deputy national security adviser.
"What's going on, ladies and gentlemen?"
In her previous position, CJ had never actually been in the situation room. It's very purpose was the have all of the available information at the command of those around this table, but as Press Secretary she had had to be purposely ill informed. She still felt a bit like she didn't belong in this room. It had been the domain of her predecessor Leo McGarry, especially given that, CJ noted as she quickly scanned the room, there were precisely three women around the table; her, Harper, and a navy lieutenant who looked all of twenty years old standing against one of the walls—not yet important enough to make it to the table.
"Mr. President," Kate Harper began, "Approximately twenty minutes ago North American Aerospace Defense Command out of Cheyenne Mountain began picking up an unusual track coming in from just inside the orbit of Mars."
As she spoke, on the center monitor behind the blond naval officer, displayed a small representation of the solar system. Suddenly CJ was struggling to remember whatever basic astronomy she knew that didn't involve a papier-mâché model of Neptune made when she was eleven, or the fact that Pluto had recently been downgraded to junior-petite-not-quite-planet status by a group of scientists with way too much time on their hands.
"Are we talking about a near earth asteroid? I didn't know we had sensors looking out that far." Jed asked. CJ was momentarily thankful for his above average geekyness.
A man in a bad suit halfway down the table leaned in. "They are experimental satellites that only came online in the last two weeks. We were hoping to use them to map all the earth crossing asteroids as part of an early warning system."
"And you've found your first? If it's near Mars orbit shouldn't that qualify as worrying and not a crisis?"
This time Kate piped up, "It would be sir, except this object came in towards Earth at a high rate of speed and than pulled into orbit, making several course corrections that the boys at NASA who know a lot more about orbital physics than I do assure me aren't natural."
That really got Jed's attention, and CJ's as well. "So we are talking about a UFO?"
There was some uncomfortable shifting around the room, and one of the Air Force generals spoke up. "We don't like to use that term, sir."
"But it's an essentially valid one, Mr. President," Kate added in after glancing at the general. "Once in orbit the contact made five rotations. We were about to get a visual identification from the International Space Station crew when it disappeared."
"Disappeared as in crashed?"
"No sir, as in disappeared."
"CIA and the National Reconnaissance Office agree that it has the profile of a surveillance or recon mission." Kate said, putting a heavy weight into her tone. The tone was the one she had learned to communicate in with the President when she really wanted him to hear what she was saying.
CJ spoke up for the first time, "Could this have been a computer glitch, or something of ours that NORAD just didn't know was in the air?" She shot a hard look down the table at the Air Force Chief of Staff. CJ had learned not to trust certain parts of the Department of Defense to be forth coming with information about classified projects.
"No ma'am, it's not our bird."
The President tapped his pen absently on the table. "Opinions?"
The silence around the room was deafening, as not a single officer wanted to be the first one to say what was on everyone's mind until the blond NSA deputy spoke up again with the weight of knowing she was saying sounded crazy. "Aliens, sir. I'm pretty sure this was aliens."
Laura Roslin sat in the wardroom on the Battlestar Galactica with her eyes closed, listening to the hum of the great ship, and taking the briefest of moments available to her to center her thoughts. The heavy pressure door opened, Captain Kara Thrace stepped in looking a bit more the worse for wear in a flight suit half-unzipped, and her hair brushed back. The pilot appearing like she desperately needed a shower.
"You wanted to see me, ma'am?"
It was obvious to Laura that the younger woman remembered as well as she did the last private conversation they'd had in this particular room, and what it had cost her. The young warrior looked almost like she wanted to run away from the President's gaze as if it was a flight of oncoming Cylon raiders. Except Starbuck didn't run from a fight. "Yes, please take a seat. I'll try to be brief; I understand you just got off duty."
The Viper pilot sat down, still obviously wary of the President's gaze and what she might want.
"Captain Adama's duties here on Galactica have made it very difficult for him to work as my military adviser." She made a vague motion towards no direction in particular, "And I think he's not very happy with that job anyway. Unfortunately I still rather desperately need someone to keep me from tripping over military protocol and affairs…"
Starbuck's eyes grew wide and she laughed as she answered, "And you picked me to help you understand military protocol? You've definitely got the wrong girl, ma'am."
Laura smiled and nodded, having expected that reaction. "I know you like to flaunt the rules from time to time, but you are smart and loyal and you speak truth to power. That is something more valuable to me than anything you can imagine."
"Have you talked to Lee about this, ma'am."
"I will, when the time comes."
Just then, the phone on the wall rang and Roslin got up herself to answer it, waving off Starbuck back to her seat. "Yes, this is me, Admiral."
"Madam President, there is something up here you should see. One of our recon missions found a planet. An inhabited planet."
William Adama raised an eyebrow when Roslin and Starbuck arrived in CIC together, but let that bit of curiosity rest for the moment, sorting through yet another stack of reconnaissance photos taken by the returning Raptor. As the President and his young protégée stepped down into the well of the great battlestar's control center, he passed a set of photos over to Roslin. "One of our fleet recon missions' checking out new jump coordinates stumbled on this system: Eight planets, only one in the inhabitable range, with a large mineral rich asteroid belt. Our pilot thought that it would make a good mining stopover when she picked up low band radio traffic coming from the inner system."
"A distress signal? A Cylon base?" Roslin took the photos and started holding them up to the light. He knew she was seeing what he did. The photo was taken on the dark side of the planet, and the continents were lit up with activity in mostly coastal cities.
"No, Madame President, much heavier volume than just a distress signal. There is an entire civilization down there, though Racetrack did say she had to dodge a great deal of space junk in orbit and primitive artificial satellites."
Laura Roslin looked over her glasses, and not for the first time, Bill Adama thought she was communicating something to him that he could only half read. "I assume you have launched another recon mission to get a better sense of the planet?"
"Two Raptors are taking off as we speak to do a couple of more close flybys and hopefully land."
Laura tapped the photos between her hands, processing the information. "We should send one to check out the asteroid belt as well. We still need the mineral resources desperately. Tell your people good hunting, and be careful." She nodded and held his gaze.
The Admiral returned her nod. "They will."
For the second time in a day CJ followed the President into the situation room, this time much more crowded with Air Force blue uniforms including a few she only vaguely recognized. At one end of the room General Casey, the head of US Space Command, was talking in hushed tones with the NASA administrator, and on one of the video monitor screens was the commander of the International Space Station whom CJ had met when the woman was testifying on Capital Hill two years before. Also joining them was Dr. Nancy McNally, the National Security Adviser and an elegant looking black woman in an evening gown, who it seems, had cut short a formal affair.
"Why is it that you always seem to make me feel under dressed at international crisis, Nancy?" The President teased.
"Because I want to look like an idiot if the world ends, Mr. President." She said it deadpan and CJ wasn't sure she was joking.
After most of the people sat down at the table with the President, Kate Harper remained standing by the giant briefing screen. "They are back. Approximately half an hour ago, US Space Command began tracking two new contacts acting similarly to the first one. This time they did fly past the ISS, and Dr. Jordan's crew were able to make visual identification. We are dealing with an artificial craft somewhere between ten and twenty meters in length. There is some evidence that they are communicating with each other but the frequency spectrum they are using is not something we have a capability to pick up."
"I assume someone is working on that now?" The President asked mildly. "Not that we'll likely to be able to understand them, but still."
McNally nodded, "NSA is working on it, Mr. President."
"I suppose it's too late to suggest that this might be the NORAD Santa tracking program?" CJ said almost desperately, but more as a joke, though her eyes were focused on Kate Harper who had just picked up a phone and was talking quietly.
The feeble joke got at least one smile though, the Air Force Chief of Staff shook his head, "Santa doesn't take off for several weeks."
Jed Bartlet looked over at CJ with a mildly chiding look, "So we can agree it's not Father Christmas, and we already know Commander Harper thinks it's little green men… are there any other thoughts at the table as to what this might be?"
Nancy nodded her head back at the blond naval officer still on the phone. "I'm afraid I agree with Kate, this doesn't look like anything the Chinese or the Russians could pull off and they're the only other candidates. In fact the flights of our mystery contacts have taken them over sensitive instillations nearly all over the globe."
"Is this the point in our little story when Jeff Goldblum is supposed to tell us that he's hacked into the alien's computer system?" Bartlet asked in mild frustration.
"It scares me that you've seen that movie, sir," CJ put in.
"I had a fourteen year old daughter at the time."
Harper had hung up the receiver by now and stepped closer to the table. "We might know sooner than we thought, sir. NORAD has just reported that one of the contacts collided with a dead Russian weather satellite over Greenland. It seems to be falling like a stone."
"I really have to stop volunteering for these missions, sir!" Chief Galen Tyrol shouted as the rest of the survey team braced for impact as Racetrack was trying desperately to regain some semblance of control over the falling Raptor.
Apollo was desperately calling up their survey photos looking for a place to make an emergency landing. "There is an air base on the east coast of the continent; it looks like it has enough of a runway for us to make a hard landing."
Lieutenant Margaret 'Racetrack' Edmonson shook her head, "Ain't going to be any other kind right now, Captain." She was using all her strength to hold the Raptor steady and on the track Apollo had set into the computer. In the approaching darkness, she could see a long runway lit up by lights. The space ship touched down hard and skidded sideways for a thousand feet. "OH FRAK!"
Through the front windscreen were the lights of a plane moving straight at them from the other end of the runway, its pilot desperately trying to pull the heavy atmospheric fighter into the air. Everyone in the Raptor ducked instinctively, though it wouldn't really matter much if the two vehicles collided. Each of them felt the crashed Raptor rock as the fighter just barely cleared top of their heads.
In the distance, Apollo could see the headlights of trucks and the forms of troops running towards them.
"So much for subtly."
… to be continued.