Disclaimer: I own nothing you see here. While Congressman Lewis is a figment of my imagination, the other characters are a figment of Aaron Sorkin's. Which must make this some kind of mass hallucination.
Chapter 1 – Monday
"How'd it go?" Donna asked as Josh entered the bullpen.
"Fine," he replied as he took the offered message slips from his assistant. Donna followed as Josh walked into his office to put down his backpack.
"Is Hoynes on board?"
"Umm...yeah. Kinda" Josh answered, distracted by the message slips in his hand.
"Is this about the SLP?"
"Yeah," Josh threw the messages onto his desk and took his coat off, "Sorry, what did you say?" He seemed to realise suddenly he'd been partaking in a conversation.
Donna sighed, "I asked if this was about the SLP."
"Yes, it is. Is this mine?" He gestured to the container from the mess that was on his desk.
"Yeah. Josh, what's the SLP?"
"It's the Scientific Literacy Program." He pulled up his chair and opened the container. "Are you sure this is mine?"
Donna reached across the desk and plucked the box out of Josh's hands, "No, this is mine. I got you a chicken salad sandwich. Hang on."
Josh stole some chips while he watched her retrieved an identical container from her desk. As she handed it to him, he indicated to the chair opposite. Donna sat and moved her lunch out of Josh's reach.
"I know what it stands for, Josh. I've been fielding calls about it for days. I want to know what it is."
"It's a pilot program we initiated two years ago. We want to expand it to seventeen other states and we need $80M to do so." Josh explained around a mouthful of sandwich.
"Yeah, but what does the program actually do?" Donna had been arranging meetings and listening to Josh expound his theories on the politics of the issue for the last few weeks but this was the first chance she'd had to find out what the SLP was about.
"It's designed to improve the level of scientific literacy in mid-ability high school kids. It's part of our plan to..." He stopped as he realised he was about to go into his re-election based spiel. "Anyway, the idea is that kids are put off science by the perception it's too hard..."
"It is hard, Josh." Donna broke in. "I took biology at college, Josh, it is hard."
"Yeah, but a lot of kids don't try to understand it because it's perceived as a hard subject and they don't think they're clever enough. Also kids don't see how it's relevant to their lives. The SLP is basically a new way to teach science aimed at those kids."
"At the mid-ability kids?" Donna asked sceptically.
"So, we're just going to teach the mid-ability kids? What about the bright kids? The ones who already like science?"
"The ones that like science don't need to be encouraged to study it." Josh replied.
"Okay, then what about the kids that struggle? They surely need the most help, don't they? What are we doing to help them?"
"We'll get to them..." Josh paused contemplating the enormity of the task ahead, "but until then, this is a relatively cheap way to help a lot of kids. Plus it'll play well in the State of the Union. If we ever get the money!"
"I thought you said Hoynes was on board?" Donna watched as Josh picked the lettuce out of the second half of his sandwich.
"He is. Kind of, anyway." He sighed in frustration. Donna paused in her eating and raised an eyebrow at her boss. "He agreed, in principle at least. He wants to see details and evidence that the program works before he goes to Cryer. He said he'd judge it on the merits of the program." He sighed again.
"Isn't it kind of admirable, that he doesn't want to fund a program unless it works?"
"Yeah, it is but I don't have time to pull all the...." A light appeared in Josh's eyes that some would describe as an evil gleam. He stood and located a bound report several inches thick. He dropped the file in front of Donna before retrieving two folders from his bookshelf and handing them to her.
"You want to know more about the SLP?" He asked, "Well, here's the report and some supplementary information. Knock yourself out! Oh and while you're at it the Vice-President needs a summary of this by 10 o'clock tonight. No more than twenty pages please."
Donna stared at him, not believing the amount of work that had just been offloaded onto her shoulders. The smirk Josh was sporting would have been grounds for divorce if they were married. As it was she reckoned she could probably make a good case for beating him to a pulp. She put her empty lunch container in the trash and gathered up the reading material.
"You know, it's days like this I begin to reconsider my position on the second amendment."
"If you need any other information, just ask!" He called helpfully as she was leaving, prompting her to stop in the doorway.
If she had been able, she would have thrown a hand gesture in his direction, however with her hands full she had to settle for a verbal retort, "And I'm joining West Virginia White Pride!"
Josh's chuckle followed her to her desk.
Andrews Airforce Base
The plane sat on the tarmac, the lights of the motorcade piecing through the November gloom. The President walked down the stairs, accompanied by Leo and followed by CJ chatting happily with Abbey.
"Did you see the way the Chancellor looked at me when I asked for coffee?" Sam grumbled at the rear of the group.
"I did," Charlie replied humouring the speech writer.
"You would have thought that I'd just insulted the Queen,"
"It amounts to the pretty much the same thing..." Abbey called over her shoulder causing CJ and Charlie to chuckle, "Doesn't it, Jed?" the President and Leo ignored her, too engrossed in their conversation. Abbey looked pointedly in their direction then rolled her eyes at CJ, eliciting another giggle before they parted ways for their separate cars.
Chief of Staff's Office
"Good evening," Leo greeted as he entered the room.
"Hey! Welcome back, Leo." Josh replied with an over enthusiastic grin as he turned to face his boss.
"Hey! What about me?" CJ asked, indignant at being ignored.
"Did you go somewhere?" Josh's cheeky grin earned him a glare and a slap on the arm from CJ.
"I'd like to say 'I missed you', but..." Leo said with a vague hand gesture to the pair of them as Josh rubbed his arm in mock pain.
"How did it go?" Toby asked, eager to get to the point.
"Fine, mostly. We're still allies at least," Leo took his seat behind his desk and lent forward, resting his chin in his hands.
"We heard about the joke." Josh's grin returned full force as he bounced on the balls of his feet.
"Yeah, once again we find his sense of humour doesn't travel well..." Leo sighed, "They want us to re-examine our extradition treaty and look at removing the prima facie requirement. The President agrees so, Josh, I want you to start sounding out senators."
"What about China and G8?" Toby fidgeted, unnerved by the energy radiating off Josh.
"We're still discussing that...What's been happening here?" Leo glanced from Toby to Josh and back again.
"Toby's been working with Joey Lucas and Bruno on some new polling data," Josh responded.
"How's it look?"
Toby replied to Leo's question with a look in his direction and an eloquent silence.
"That good, huh?" Leo asked, "Have you got any good news?"
"The VP's agreed to look over the SLP package before he leaves for Vancouver," Josh had calmed slightly, realising his 'good news' barely constituted news but not wanting to disappoint Leo.
"Why's he going to Vancouver?" CJ deflected some attention away from Josh, sensing his mood change.
"Something to do with Urban Policy and the high standard of living there, I wasn't really listening."
Leo glared at him.
"Anything else?" Leo enquired, "No? Good. CJ, go home. President's orders. Josh, Toby, go do whatever it is you do."
Outside the Vice-President's Office
Donna looked around hoping to see Janeane, the Vice-president's secretary, so she could deliver the file in her hand. She'd spent a large chunk of her day working on the document contained within the folder and had been glad when Josh had asked her to drop it off. During the walk from the West Wing she'd tried to work out why she was pleased. She'd decided it was either because Josh wouldn't have the opportunity to ruin or loose it, as he surely would manage to do if he took it to the OEOB, or that she was just happy this was her last task of the day.
Now, if she could just find somebody to hand it to.
She heard voices coming from a little way down the hall and headed in that direction. The voice stopped before she located it, however. Seeing a partially open door, she peered in and found the room occupied.
Taking a deep breath, she knocked on the door and was waved in.
"Good evening, Mr Vice-President. I'm sorry to intrude, but Josh asked me to drop this off for you and I can't find any of your staff."
"That's alright, come in. What do you have for me?" The Vice-President seemed unconcerned about his staff's absence.
"It's the summary of the SLP that you asked for, sir." Donna approached the desk and handed him the folder.
"That I asked for..." the Vice-President sounded slightly puzzled, "Oh, yes, I remember. Josh's pet project. I was running late for a meeting and he wouldn't let me leave until I agreed to consider it." He smiled almost wistfully at Donna before opening the folder. "It's...umm...Hanna, right?"
"Yes, of course, I'm sorry. Anyway I didn't expect....." Donna never discovered what was unexpected as something caught Hoynes' eye, "To challenge the perception that science is hard? Am I reading this right? Josh wants to spend $80M on telling people that science is easy?"
"Not quite, sir. The money is used, predominantly, to retrain teachers. A new syllabus and teaching methods combine to encourage kids who believe science is too difficult for them. Did you know, sir, that over 40 percent of science teachers didn't major in a science?" Donna suddenly found herself wondering if she had overstepped the mark as she was confronted with the piercing gaze of John Hoynes.
"You've read this?"
"I wrote it, sir." Donna shrugged.
The Vice-President looked back at the folder in front of him before returning his gaze to Donna.
"Do you think this is a good idea?" He asked, gesturing to the folder.
Hoynes nodded, then looked at the clock on the wall.
"Okay, you have half an hour to convince me. Grab a seat." He moved toward the more comfortable chairs behind Donna and dropped the folder on the coffee table. "Would you like a drink? I don't have any coffee this late at night, but I have soda and I know where my Chief of Staff stashes a bottle of whiskey, if you're interested."
"A soda would be nice." Donna replied, not really wanting anything but she felt she was about to do a lot of talking. She took a seat on the couch as Hoynes handed her a can from the mini-fridge he was rummaging in.
"Okay, so tell me more about this program." Hoynes instructed as he took the chair next to her.
"Well, sir, the Scientific Literacy Program has several aims. Firstly, to improve the level of scientific understanding in high schools for its own sake. But this in turn will impact test scores and encourage a greater number of students to pursue science in college." Donna began. "It does this by making the teaching of science more relevant to everyday life and simpler to understand."
"So we're making the tests easier, is that what you're saying?"
"No, sir, we're just making science a little less daunting."
"But this aimed predominantly at mid-ability students? Why is that?"
The conversation between the Vice-President and Donna had been ongoing for some time and had overrun the thirty minutes Hoynes had originally set aside, however, the end didn't appear to be insight as Hoynes' interest remained undiminished.
"If you think of a typical class, it's student's ability can be represented as a bell curve," Donna quickly flipped to the relevant page, "with the top ten percent being classed as gifted and the bottom ten percent as requiring special attention. We have a lot of initiatives in place for the bottom ten percent but relatively few aimed at the 80 percent of kids in between those two categories. This is a cheap way to help a lot of kids." She finished by appealing to his political side, unknowingly echoing Josh's reason from earlier.
"Hmmm, what about the gifted students?" Hoynes pounced on the one group of kids Donna had left out.
"General thinking is that they don't require much help."
"You don't agree?"
"I think the gifted kids get neglected in favour of their classmates, yes, but I believe this program helps them as well, albeit indirectly."
"What makes you say that?" Hoynes pulled the file toward him and flipped through the pages, trying to find the relevant section. Donna shifted uncomfortably in her chair causing Hoynes to stop his reading and look at her.
"Ummm, you won't find it in there, sir." This caught the Vice-President's attention.
"So where is the data then?" he asked with a smile, enjoying the sight of an embarrassed and slightly flushed Donna.
"It's mostly anecdotal," she began, pushing her hair behind her ear to avoid meeting his eyes, "I, umm, called a couple of teachers involved in the pilot program and some of the students too." Donna felt herself blushing as she said this but a quick glance at the smiling Vice-President reassured her. She continued, "The students basically said that the faster their classmates understood the topic, the quicker they could move on to a new one so they spent less time being bored. The teachers said they could use the old teaching material to supplement the new syllabus when needed."
"Well, you certainly do your research, don't you? I wish I had someone that thorough on my staff. I don't suppose you want to work for me, do you?" Donna smiled brightly at the compliment. "What made you?....Why?.....If it's not in the report?"
"Why did I ask the students' opinions?" Donna attempted to clarify the question. "It was for personal reasons. I was dubious about a program that seems to ignore the bright kids. My nephew is always complaining that he's bored in class or that he's finished his work long before everyone else but the teacher is too busy helping them to give him anything else to do. I know the value of first hand experience when it come to schemes like this, but after speaking to a few participants, I was reassured."
"Why didn't you include it?" Hoynes asked, becoming more intrigued with the woman in front of him.
"It was hardly a comprehensive study, Mr. Vice-President, I just made a few phone calls and talked to some people."
"Oh, I think you undersell yourself, Donna."
"Thank you, sir." Donna began blushing again, unused to the extra research she did being appreciated.
"Have you ever been to the Naval Observatory, Donna?"
"No, sir." Donna was puzzled by the sudden shift in the conversation.
"Would you like to? My wife is away tonight, I could give you a tour...."
Donna stared at the man next to her, trying to work out if she had misheard the Vice-President. A hand on her knee convinced her she had neither misheard nor misunderstood. She froze for a moment, her mind blank. As the hand inched upward her brain kicked into gear, or more accurately, overdrive as she considered the political implications associated with both accepting the offer and declining it. Settling on the more prudent course of action, she gently removed his hand from her thigh.
"Thank you, Mr Vice-President. That's a very nice offer, unfortunately I can't take you up on it. I don't think it would be a good idea." She smiled at him, taking note of the fact he looked chastened but not offended, much to her relief.
She looked at the clock on the wall as she stood, "I should probably be going. You said I had half an hour to convince you and I've taken much longer than that so I'll just leave the file with you. It's a good program, sir and I hope you choose to support it. Thank you for your time and the soda."
She began walking toward the door but stopped as she heard Hoynes' tired sigh. Turning back into the room, she saw him pick up her file before collapsing back into couch.
"Good night, Mr Vice-President," she said before exiting.
She only received a vague wave in return.
Donna walked quickly through the bullpen to Josh's office. The lack of activity was normal this time of night and so not an indication of whether Josh was still in the West Wing. Josh's empty office, on the other hand, was.
"Typical," thought Donna, "he works 'til midnight more often than not, yet the one night I need him, he's left already." She surveyed his office for his bag which was also missing. "Great, just great!"
She stood in the doorway, hands on hips, regarding the bullpen. Several interns were performing tasks unknown to her and it was only as a low level assistant scurried passed that Donna realised she was glaring at the room and it's occupants.
The calm confidence she had displayed in the Vice-Presidents office had deserted her as soon as she left the room. Furthermore, the walk from the OEOB had proven to be just long enough for her to work herself into a state of near panic.
She needed to talk to someone about what had happened tonight. Preferably someone with a higher security clearance than the interns that currently surrounded her. Someone that could be trusted. Someone that understood the unwritten rules of the White House. Someone that heard about everything that occurred in the building.
Two names sprung to mind.
She walked down the corridor to CJ's office to be greeted by a dark room and a locked door.
"Right, Margaret it is," she thought as she headed toward her friend's office.
"Where is everyone tonight?" Donna's panic was beginning to turn to anger as she failed to locate any senior staff member or friend. She kicked the chair next to Margaret's desk, feeling lost and desperate. Mindful of the level of trust Josh placed in the older man and the fact he practically lived in his office, she entered Leo's office.
"Seriously, where is everyone?" Donna addressed the vacant room, having completed a full circuit to ensure Leo wasn't hiding.
"Am I given to understand that you are criticising my Chief of Staff's hours?" Came the voice from behind her. Donna turned, noticing for the first time the door to the Oval Office was open.
"No, sir, I would never..."
"That's quite alright, Donna, I do it constantly. As does Margaret, now I think about it. Although you seem to be the only one promoting longer hours for Leo. Did you want him for something specific?"
"No, sir, at least nothing that can't wait until tomorrow." Donna smiled at the President, somehow he had the ability to make almost anyone feel relaxed in his presence.
"Good, now, if you could just teach your boss that not everything needs to be dealt with instantly."
Jed looked at the young woman still stood in Leo's office. Something about her was off. Even if he hadn't seen her kick a chair, the lack of response to his last comment would have tipped him off. Jed didn't know her as well as he had when they were campaigning, that kind of camaraderie was hard to maintain off the campaign trail and even more so as the leader of the free world. Yet he could still read her well enough to know that she was upset.
"Would you like to join me?" Donna looked up sharply at the question.
"Are you busy?" Jed asked, slightly surprised by her reaction to his previous question. Donna shook her head.
"No? Good, come and keep me company for a while. I'm waiting for a phone call from Russia and don't have a lot to do while I wait. While some say that the telephone is a boon, I choose to disagree."
"Really, Mr President, why is that?" Donna asked as she walked through the connecting doors into the Oval Office. The President waved her into a seat as he fixed a couple of drinks from the cart.
"Before the telephone was invented, the business of governing was conducted mainly through the written word which took time to be delivered. The time scale involved in delivering a letter to, say, Russia was significantly longer than it takes to place a phone call. Meaning that it was not necessary to account for the time difference when dealing with foreign countries and Presidents like Jefferson and Madison could leave the office at a reasonable hour."
"Sir, I don't think I've ever heard you complain about your job before," Donna noted as she accepted a drink from her commander-in-chief.
"Oh, that wasn't complaining, Donna. No, no, that was nostalgia for a simpler time."
"Can you be nostalgic for a time you haven't actually experienced, sir?"
"That's a good question. And may I say, I appreciate the lack of witty remarks about me being around when the telephone was invented. I can name several members of my staff for whom, that would have been too good an opportunity to pass up." Donna giggled, thinking of exactly which senior staffer would make such a comment. Josh's name was at the top of her list.
"Perhaps it was just too easy an opportunity for me, there was no challenge." Her comment was rewarded by a relaxed and happy smile from the President. Jed was relieved to see Donna brighten and joke with him. Obviously whatever was troubling her wasn't so serious as to completely dampen her spirits.
"Now, there's the wise-ass remark I was expecting."
"Well, I try to live up to expectations, Mr. President."
"And you succeed on an almost daily basis."
"Thank you, sir." Donna was surprised and slightly uncomfortable at receiving a second piece of unsolicited praise that evening. She attempted to change the subject, "How was your trip, sir? I haven't had chance to ask CJ or Sam about it yet." Donna asked.
"It was fine, we got to stay in a castle."
"Yes, a real castle. It's the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. You should see it, Donna, it's beautiful. It's been in use for almost a thousand years. A thousand years. When we were declaring our independence, Windsor castle had already stood on that spot for 700 years. It was there before we even knew America existed! Can you imagine that!"
"No, sir, I'm still in awe of the history here at the White House. What's it like? I've never seen a castle. Unless you count the one at Disneyland."
"It's not even close." Jed peered at her over his glasses before launching into the conversation, glad to have a willing participant for a change, "You know, the word castle comes from the Latin castellum, which comes from castrum meaning 'fortified place'. Now, one of the primary fortifications in Windsor is the Round Tower which was commissioned by King Edward III in 1350...."
Donna settled back into her chair in anticipation of a long discussion filled with historical facts and trivia that would paint a detailed picture of a castle she would probably never get to see in person but would provide a welcome distraction from the evening's earlier events.