Authors Note - Thanks for all the comments and reviews.
WHITE HOUSE PRESS BRIEFING ROOM
C.J. waited next in the wings out-of-site of the press corps settling down waiting for the conference to begin. Beside her was Carol, adjusting the tie of a US Army intelligence Colonel by the name of Paul Mitchell, who would be taking technical questions and who, if the fawning was any indication, had made quite an impression on Carol.
"Keep it simple, Colonel. This is the Washington press, they won't be familiar with complex military...you know...jargon. If you don't know the answer, say so. If you lie to them, they'll smell the blood in the water."
"It's fine, Miss Cregg. This isn't my first dance."
"Please don't call me Miss Cregg, it makes me sound like a spinster with too many cats." She batted Carol's hands off his tie. "Now, If my assistant can keep her hands to herself, let's get this going."
C.J. walked onto the podium and Mitchell stood at the back quietly.
"Ladies and gentlemen, shall we get started? There might be one or two of you who, contrary to all evidence, actually do have loved ones who don't just tolerate but actively look forward to your company on a Sunday." She waited for the last few to take their seats. "That's right Mark, take your time. The Raiders kick off in an hour but I'd much rather be in here waiting for you to find somewhere to balance your Mountain Dew."
Satisfied that everyone was ready, C.J. introduced Colonel Mitchell and set the parameters of the press conference.
"I'll start by reading a joint White House/DoD statement. We'll then take some questions. Please direct questions relating to military or strategic matters to Colonel Mitchell, and policy questions to me. As this is the Colonel's first time here, and he doesn't know and love you as I do, don't forget to preface your question with your name and media outlet."
C.J. paused a second before starting on the joint statement.
"As you will be aware, overnight, significant elements of the Russian Military, localised, we believe, in the Northern, Urals and Volga military districts, began the first stages of a military coup in Russia. The current situation is confused, as the rebel military units were successfully able to create significant interuptions in both power supply and Radio and Television broadcasts in major cities across Russia. Alongside this, there have been numerous acts of sabotage focussing on major east-west transportation networks, particularly road bridges and rail tracks. It is our initial view that these acts of sabotage were undertaken by elements of the Russian Spetznatz, their special forces, and demonstrate considerable forward planning and organisation by the leaders of the attempted coup."
"At the present time, Russian state Radio and TV are not broadcasting. The United States government, through it's embassies in Moscow, St Petersburg and Vladivostok, have been unable to speak to President Chigorin or elements of his administration. We have not yet heard from the organisers of the attempted coup. Fighting is currently confined to Perm, Makhachkala, Vladikavkaz and Saratov as far as we are aware, however there have been air attacks on other cities, including Moscow. These appear to be limited to military targets at this stage. There is evidence of major mobilisation of forces on both sides."
"The President has spent the morning consulting with military and national security advisers, and discussing the situation with NATO leaders and others. We continue to watch the situation closely. There is no evidence that this situation will spread beyond the borders of Russia, however in order to assist those NATO members with shared borders with Russia, The President will be discussing options with President Manyuev of Ukraine later today. He will also be making a televised address to the Nation at 8pm eastern tonight."
"The United States Government may have had criticisms of some elements of the recent Russian presidential elections, nevertheless, our relations with the Russian people in general and President Chigorin's administration in particular have been cordial and strong. Whatever flaws may have been identified during the Presidential Election, this democratic outcome is better by far than the imposition of military rule through violence. The United States wishes to make the clearest statement possible to those organising this violent uprising. We will not recognise you as legitimate, we will not work with you on international matters and we will do our utmost to ensure that nobody in the international community does so either. You face a stark choice - return to your barracks and cede control back to the proper civilian authorities, or face a future as an international Pariah."
CJ looked up from her notes.
"Colonel Mitchell and I will now take questions."
The room erupted in noise and hands thrust skyward. The din was incredible, and whilst Colonel Mitchell looked genuinely surprised by the commotion, CJ just shrugged.
"Wes, you first."
"Wesley Hampton, CNN. How did this happen under our nose without us picking up on it until it was underway?"
"Well Wes," CJ began. "Unless you have a Dacha in Rostov-on-Don, I'm not sure halfway around the world qualifies as 'under our nose'. This was and is a well planned and carefully executed operation. The German and French intelligence services and the British MI6 were in the same situation we were." She looked around the room. "Joanne."
"Joanne McMullen, New York Times. Have Russian nuclear weapons been compromised?"
Colonel Mitchell stepped forward to answer that one.
"There is no evidence of that. We have been monitoring Russian strategic assets and there is no sign of a change in alert status or operational activity."
"Laura." CJ indicated.
"Laura Smith, Los Angeles Times. Is the President discussing options for military intervention."
"Not at this time." CJ answered curtly. "Danny."
"Danny Concannon, Washington Post. Is there a direct link between the situation in Russia and the deployment of three E-4B command planes from Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska?"
Again, Mitchell stepped forward.
"There is not, it's purely coincidental, the E-4Bs are currently part of an Air Force command exercise."
CJ looked at Danny and recognised the look on his face, but she carried on regardless.
"O.K. one more. Mark."
"Mark O'Donnell, Dallas Morning News. Does CIA Chief George Rollie still enjoy the complete confidence of President Bartlet?"
"Yes Mark, he does. As I said earlier, this one went under everyone's radar. OK that's all folks. Go home to the loving arms of whichever bar you normally spend Sunday afternoon in."
CJ got back to her office only to find that Danny was already waiting for her.
"How do you DO that?" She brushed past him and went to her desk. "Did you dig a tunnel between the Briefing Room and my office?"
"I'm a manly man, CJ. I jogged."
"Please, you're like a ginger-haired Santa Claus in civillian clothes."
"O.K., that's a little hurtful, but I do bring joy at Christmas."
"What do you want Danny?"
"I'd like to know where Colonel Mitchell plays cards, he's got a lousy poker face. Did he really pull that 'exercise' answer and expect it to stick?"
"What do you want me to say Danny? I did warn him that he was heading into the shark tank."
"So the E-4 deployment is related to the Russian situation?"
"What do you think? And how did you know they were being deployed?"
It was Danny's turn to smile.
"They're 747s CJ, did you really think no-one would notice one landing in rural Delaware? Can I quote you on that last thing?"
"Can I say a White House source?"
"Knock yourself out."
Danny paused for a second.
"How bad is it?"
C.J. looked at him.
"Honestly Danny, I don't know."
ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, MARYLAND
Josh and Donna watched the large, white and blue painted converted airliner wobble out of a cool blue sky towards the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base. It taxied to the end of the runway and crawled slowly towards them, finally coming to a stop in front of a large hanger on a tarmac apron five hundred yards from where they were stood. As they watched, mobile staircases and an aviation fuel tanker busied themselves round the aircraft like worker bees round the queen.
The E4 looked a lot like a normal Boeing 747, but it's fuselage had a number of bumps and humps that were not present on the commercial version of the aircraft and these gave the aircraft an odd silhouette, that made both of them feel uneasy.
It was cool on the tarmac, not wintery, but cold enough to remind Josh and Donna that Christmas was only a month away. There had already been snow over the northern plains states and the low temperature was betrayed by the steam and noticable heat haze generated by the E4's engines. Josh stamped his feet and wished hed brought more than a topcoat with him.
Neither Josh nor Donna really knew what they were doing. Josh had flown frequently enough on Air Force One, but never without The President being on board, so he leaned over to Oscar Martinez, the Secret Service agent that Ron Butterfield had assigned to manage Roger Tribbey's new secret service detail.
"What happens now?"
"As soon as the ramps are in place, the flight commander will come down and meet us. We'll get back in the air as soon as we've refuelled and got everyone on board."
There were six secret service agents detailed to Daywatch and two of them were chatting to Donna as Josh looked at the big aircraft sat in front of them. He really had no idea what he was supposed to do. He'd already decided that Donna was going to liaise with the Secret Service detail, as well as manage the logistical parts of the flight, but his own background was in domestic matters and he always felt nervous and underqualified when he was asked to engage in matters military. He reminded himself that Kate Harper would be there to help him out, but even so, it was enough to make him jittery. So much so that he didn't notice the Air Force officer walk up behind him.
"Mr Lyman? You can board now, Sir. We're refueling at the moment, so no smoking on the apron, and please turn your cell phone off until you're aboard."
Martinez crushed his cigarette under his heel.
"Last smoke until who knows when." he said to himself as Josh, Donna and the Secret Service team picked their bags up and started towards the aircraft. As they approached Daywatch, the group were split up, with the Secret Sevice team directed towards the rear stairs and Josh and Donna hustled towards the front set of stairs. They were greeted at the top by a three star Air Force General who reminded Josh a little of Walter Matthau.
"Welcome to Daywatch, Mr Lyman, Miss Moss. I'm General Frank Robinson, I'm the ranking officer on board this afternoon Sir." He offered his hand, and Josh shook it. "We'll be refuelling for another 20 minutes or so, with wheels up at around 14:30 hours." He started showing them to the front of the aircraft and into a small office space. "This is the Secretary of Agriculture's office whilst he's on board. You'll be located on the deck above, but you can wait here until we're in the air." Robinson waited whilst Josh and Donna sat down. An air force officer stowed their bags. "I'll introduce you to the flight crew and the heads of operation when we're in the air. We'll be flying to Adams Field at Little Rock, rather than trying to land at Grider Field at Pine Bluff. The book says we could just about land daywatch at Grider, but it would be pretty tight, and they're not equipped to handle a mission like this. Secret Service agents from the Little Rock are taking Shepherd from Pine Bluffs to Little Rock as we speak."
Josh looked confused until he realised that Shepherd was the Secret Service code name for Tribbey. Inspite of himself, he caught himself smiling.
"Am I OK to use this now?" Josh waved his Blackberry at General Robinson.
"Mr Lyman, Daywatch was designed to fly between nuclear explosions, so I don't think a cell phone is a problem. Alternatively, you can use the satellite phone on the desk." Robinson moved towards the door. "I'll get one of the Stewards to bring a pot of coffee in before we take off. If you need me, pick the phone on the desk up and dial 1"
Josh nodded and Robinson left the cramped office in the nose of the aircraft, closing the door behind him. Donna and Josh sat staring at each other for a second not really knowing what to do.
"Now what?" Donna sighed, observing her surroundings nervously.
"Leo will know..." Josh replied, punching buttons on his blackberry.