Chapter Ten

 The White House:
Arrival -42 minutes



Evacuating President Hayward and the rest of the occupants of the situation room followed a protocol and emergency plan standing since the Reagan administration. A second team led by the Vice President was en route to a similar bunker in the hills of West Virginia on Air Force Two, while a third team led by the Secretary of State boarded a military plane to an underground base in Nevada.

The Presidential group was the only one assured of safety within the time constraints. Under this same emergency plan the constitutional rules of succession were to be ignored, and if the President and Vice President were killed, the Secretary of State or any living Cabinet member would take precedence over the Speaker of the House or the President Pro Tempore of the Senate in order to more quickly re-create a working government. The fact that it was not constitutional would need to be debated by any survivors.

The first family was in the elevator that led down to the bunker, accompanied by three secret service agents. The President’s oldest daughter, Caroline, pulled on Thomas’ shirt sleeve, “Dad, where are everyone else’s families?”

The President held her hand and pulled her closer. He shook his head. There would be no other families in the bunker. He knew there would also be no time for warnings, announcements, evacuations, or press releases.

If or when the space ship hit, everyone else would find out at the same time, he thought.

Alan Kelly, Director Clark, and the three generals from the Joint Chiefs of Staff shared a second elevator. Everyone but Alan was on their cell phones, barking instructions.

The Air Force general was loudest, and Alan was terrified by what he heard.

“Major, this is a priority one-red order; scramble twenty percent of all planes as per protocol 11B563, code word ‘Lift’, command password echo, alpha, fourteen, foxtrot.  Confirm… confirmed. I need these planes airborne now!” The General held his cap between his elbow and his side. He stood tall and unmoving, the sharp edge of his hairline, pure silver, glistening with beads of sweat.

The Navy Admiral was quieter, but less still, his weight shifting from foot to foot with every sentence he spoke, “… set sail to all docked nuclear submarines - They are to head 150 miles from their bases and then drop all radio contact. They are not to come within 150 miles of any land mass and check in every twenty-four hours for exactly two minutes at fourteen hundred hours on special frequency ‘Larimar’. Do you copy? Repeat the orders back… Godspeed, William…”

Alan heard the Army General instruct all Special Army units to their bunkers or mountain bases and all blast doors ordered closed. This is real, he thought, this is fucking for real.

Director Clark noticed Alan’s obvious discomfort and leaned over and whispered in Alan’s ear, trying to help him understand what was happening, “In the case of a complete lack of communications, each individual station, sub, or airplane needs to act autonomously until contact is established with one of the three potential seats of government. They are to act under nominal DEFcon one parameters, enemy unknown, which means they have to consider everyone a potential enemy until told otherwise,” the Director paused, “even friendly forces.”

The elevator doors opened, and Alan walked out first, his legs unsteady. The Executive Briefing Room (EBR) sat adjacent to the bunker and was divided into six glass walled rooms, three containing conference tables and three containing communications equipment. He looked to his right just as the first family stepped out from their elevator. He caught Tom’s eye and the President nodded, his jaw set tight.

Alan was guided to the middle conference room by a military aide.

“Mr. Kelly, this will be your command center. Please let me know if you need anything, but the room is furnished with secure communication equipment, laptops, external feed TV monitors, and internal feed channel monitors,” the young woman was all business as she spoke, pointing to each piece of equipment as she ticked them off. Her short military bob was pinned to a tan Garrison hat, “The EBR was built to hold seventy-five people comfortably; we have cleared fifty-six total, so the quarters should not feel too cramped.”

Alan mumbled a thank you, but the woman had already departed the room.

Alan sat in the middle conference room with the rest of the civilian team he was supposed to lead. He recognized some of the scientists, as well as some of the political aides, that had been in the meeting upstairs. One monitor was set to CNN and muted, and the other was off. He wished he still had the input from Professor Michael Livingston; he seemed to have his shit together.  Alan assumed that the professor was finding a safe and quiet place to kiss his ass goodbye.

Every pair of eyes in the room was panic stricken, and focused on Alan. It struck him how much they looked like the Meerkats sensing danger.

He did not feel like a leader, and had no idea what he was supposed to do. What had Tommy been thinking when he asked him to take this roll on?

“Well…” Alan stammered, and decided that was a good start and why not quit talking while he was ahead. He was quickly saved by one of the “suits”.

“We need to come up with a plan in case they hit us and a plan in case they stop or pass us by,” Grey Suit With Red Tie began, “If they hit us at current speed and mass, does anyone have damage and life loss estimates?”

“They wouldn’t hit us,” White Jacket Dude With No Tie interjected.

This comment interested Alan.

 “They wouldn’t?” He asked.

“No,” White Jacket Dude With No Tie responded in a dry tone, never looking up from his laptop.

“Why not?” Alan asked, annoyed. What the fuck, do I have to spell out each question to get a full response?

The man looked up from his laptop as he answered, and Alan was shocked by how young he appeared to be. “They would never make it through Earth’s atmosphere. Even though it’s a large object, at the relativistic speeds it is traveling it would instantaneously explode as it enters our atmosphere.”

“So… that’s good news, right?” Alan said to his New Best Friend.

“Not exactly... let me try to explain,” White Jacket Dude With No Tie who is ruining his chances to be New Best Friend said, “Because we are talking relativistic speeds - speeds that can be measured as a significant percentage of the speed of light, in this case zero point five Cs - even a small object, say… a five kilogram steel ball… traveling at one half the speed of light, would vaporize in an explosion as large as the largest nuclear bomb ever created by man. We have no idea what the mass of this object is, but given its size, you are talking many magnitudes of order larger than a five kilo bowling ball. You would certainly release enough energy to destroy life on Earth many times over, if not the planet itself.”

Alan looked around the room to see if he should panic. He had no idea what White Jacket Dude With No Tie had just said. The Meerkats looked ready to shit themselves. That could not be good. He felt all the saliva in his mouth hide and his ass pucker up. He had always thought that was just an expression.

The President entered the conference room behind Alan at some point during the discussion and now spoke up, surprising Alan, who turned his chair to face him.

“They will miss us. I need you working on a plan for communicating with them.” President Hayward’s face was clearly stressed, but his eyes were clear and set.

No one said a word in the conference room. The President had spoken with such certainty that everyone accepted his words - everyone but Alan.

“I’m sorry sir, what do you mean? Have they changed course or begun to slow down?” Alan asked, licking his dry lips.

 “Not that we can tell, Alan.”

 “So how do you know, Mr. President?” Alan insisted.

 “Because it would mean traveling twenty light years on a suicide mission.”

Chapter Eleven