Chapter Eight

The White House

The conference room within the five thousand square foot “Situation Room” under the West Wing of the White House was smaller than Alan had imagined. This left Alan, who did not generally suffer from claustrophobia, feeling cramped although the conference table could fit eleven comfortably. Another fifteen chairs skirted three walls. Every seat was full. Two twenty-inch LCD monitors were fitted into each wall, viewable by those occupying the out-lying seats. The fourth wall contained a larger fifty-two inch screen. The largest monitor sat at the end of the conference table.

Director Clarkson briefed the room in a steady tone as he stood by a chair on the left side of the rectangular oak table. Alan paid little attention to the words. He studied the men in the room. The President sat at the head of the table, and Alan was shocked by how much Tommy had aged in such a short time in office. His hair had grayed around the temples and frown lines were fixed on his brow. The Chief of Staff doodled on one of the pads that were placed in front of each chair. The pad was filled with perfect circles filled-in heavily with ink. An anxious looking NSA Lieutenant Coronel completed the right side of the table.  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sat directly across from Alan Kelly.  Straight from central casting, the CJCS stared at Clarkson, his features set in stone, his reactions unreadable. Alan wondered if the man ever blinked.

The rest of the room was filled with an amalgam, Alan thought, of “Suits” and “Brass”. He knew these weren’t clever terms, but he was tired after a long flight, and the terms fit, dammit. The main monitor showed the image of a man Alan did not recognize and who did not fall into either category. He decided the man needed a category all his own and created one on the spot: “Pseudo-Scientist”. He quickly changed his mind to the term “Astro-Nut” after seeing the picture of planets behind the man. Alan had also created a category for himself, and that had been easy. He was clearly, and quite simply, in the ‘Fuck If I Know What The Hell Is Going On’ club all by himself.

His attention turned back to the meeting as he noticed that Director Clarkson had stopped talking of aliens and Area 51 and other equally “I must be dreaming” stuff. He hoped he had not missed any secrets revealed about Big Foot. Big Foot he could believe. He needed to concentrate on the meeting if he was going to find out anything about Big Foot.

Astro-Nut was now speaking on the screen. “… totally impossible to attain those speeds given any known propulsion systems. The distance would mean either some form of suspended animation, generational turn over, or a very long life span. The size of the craft is very large, with an area covering over two square miles in the shape of a long rectangle. It is ten times as long as it is wide. The mass has not been ascertained. No light that is visible to us through our telescopes emanates from the craft. It can only be seen against stars and the reflected light of Jupiter. It is traveling at a clip of .5c or fifty percent the speed of light. The craft’s speed remains constant… and that is all I have so far.”

The President spoke next, “Thank you very much Professor Livingston, we appreciate your report on such short notice. Director Clarkson?”

"Yes, Mr. President.” Clarkson responded as he stood and continued to speak, “I do not need to repeat the level of secrecy attached to this situation. The President has asked me to lead this team in finding multiple courses of action in response to any risk or lack thereof with the approaching craft. The President has asked Mr. Kelly to join the team. He will lend us his expertise in constitutional law,” he smiled in Alan’s direction, “The law on presidential succession is not settled, and the Constitution allows for some wiggle room. The Reagan administration devised a detailed succession plan, to be used in case of a major catastrophe, which circumvents the standard process,” Clarkson paused and placed his hands on the table, “This plan is to be implemented only as a last resort, and Mr. Kelly will guide the civilian team in creating the applicable legal findings. General Pratt, as the CJCS, will lead the military team. Until very recently, we believed we had approximately one month to prepare.”

“Excuse me,” Alan raised his hand, remembered no one else had done the same to speak, and quickly lowered it before continuing, “What do you mean we believed we had one month? Don’t we have this calculated to the micro-effing-second? We believe? What does that mean?”

Director Clarkson remained standing and looked up at the large screen, “Doctor Livingston is the world’s leading expert in the field of Extrasolar planets. As I already mentioned, he is on loan to us from Cornell, but perhaps you missed that." He frowned at Alan and gestured at the screen, "Would you please explain, Mike?”

Mike cleared his throat. He had only received a bare-bones briefing prior to this meeting, and he was still trying to absorb what he had learned. He spoke in a slow cadence to allow his thoughts to form, “As Director Clarkson said, we have an object headed in our general direction. We have good reason to believe it’s not a natural object, like a meteor or a comet. It is most likely, if not definitely, a space ship.” He looked down at some notes on the table before him, “A space ship traveling long distances at near-relativistic speeds needs time to speed up and time to slow down. In the case of this vessel, it would need to begin slowing down quite far away and continue to slow all the way to Earth.”

His voice came through the monitor speakers clearly, but Alan was having trouble understanding what Michael Livingston meant.

“How far away should they begin to slow down? And when would they arrive if they don’t?” Alan said carefully, understanding dawning and fear rising.

Michael shifted in his chair and responded, “They should have begun to slow down well outside our solar system. That would have allowed the space ship to reduce speed sufficiently to stabilize in Earth’s orbit. Assuming the proper speed reduction, the vessel would have arrived in about a month.”

Alan looked around the room, perplexed. “I’m sorry, Professor, but I only attended Harvard, so I’m a little slow… what do you mean ‘should have’ and ‘would have’?” He asked, his shoulders raised.

“They passed Jupiter’s orbit a few minutes ago. The distance from Jupiter to Earth is approximately 35 minutes at the speed of light. As mentioned before, the object is traveling at half that relative speed,” Michael paused and looked away from the camera to some point off-screen. He looked back into the camera, “And they have not slowed down. If they do not slow down, to answer your question, they will pass or strike Earth within the hour.”

Alan hopped onto his feet. “Did I hear you say ‘within the hour’? What the fuck are we doing in this meeting then? Shouldn’t we be telling everyone? Running for our lives? Ringing the church bells?” Alan’s pitch rose with each question.

He looked to the president for a response, “Tommy?”


The President stood and walked over to Alan. He placed a hand on his shoulder, as if they were the only two men in the room, and said, “Alan, we never took into consideration the possibility that they would not slow down. Not until they entered our solar system and maintained speed. We have no time to evacuate anyone and nowhere to evacuate them to. We still believe they will fly by the planet, but for now… we have to assume the worst… and plan accordingly.” The words were measured, the tone soft, and they struck Alan like a thunderbolt.

Chapter Nine