Title: 'Should We Tell the Vice President?'
Series: 'Air Force One - Part III' <airforceonevote@yahoo.co.uk>
Author: Anna Rousseau <annadelamico@yahoo.co.uk ~ AOL SN arousseaufic>
Fandom: The West Wing
Genre: INTERACTIVE Drama/Action-Adventure
Category: Cast
Rating: PG-13
Archive: Please, just tell me where.
Spoilers: Season one, up to 'Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics'
Set: Alternate Universe, season one finale. 'What Kind of Day Has it Been' never happened, so Josh's chest is scar-free.

Summary: General overview on Part I. As news gets to Hoynes on the situation aboard Air Force One, the staff and President are faced with more than a few difficult decisions.

Disclaimer: Though I'd love to have the genius of The Sork, I don't and I'm just borrowing his characters for a while. 'Air Force One' belongs to the big movie guys, and I don't own that either. Dammit. I'd like to now add that I am a 'qualified' writer- I passed my GCSE English Language and Literature papers both with A* grades, and that has made me very giddy.

Political Disclaimer: See previous parts, but I'm just gonna reiterate that I'm a Brit and I'm just getting to grips with American politics...everything political I have learned came from Encarta and the old World Almanac I have from when I got 'Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego' when I was 10.

How to Vote: Details on Part I, basically put your vote in a review or e-mail (subject heading 'AFO 3' so I know what part you are voting for) it to me at <airforceonevote@yahoo.co.uk> ASAP. Part IV is out in 10 days (hopefully), so you have a week to vote. No chads involved, so it should work out OK!

Votes For 'Bad On So Many Levels': Since fanfiction.net has been down, I had to wait for those votes, so this is why it took so long to get this part out. I hope you still vote; I need you guys on this! Exit poll is at the end.

'SHOULD WE TELL THE VICE PRESIDENT?'
===================================

10:25 EST
AIR FORCE ONE, CARGO BAY

Footsteps were falling more frequently and with greater volume from behind them as the President stopped dead in the middle of the cargo bay shaking his head. "I can't."

"Mr. President!" Gina Toscano exclaimed softly. "You have to get off this plane."

President Bartlet shook his head firmly again and looked at his daughter. His words were rushed and short: "I can't leave your mother on board, Zoey. For that matter, I cannot abandon my whole staff and forget about this situation." He turned to Charlie and the Secret Service Agents, "I don't know what these people want, but I'll be damned if I'm going to ignore my duties and turn my back on a plane full of American-"

Charlie Young jumped in front of the President as three shots were fired, the sound reverberating in the enclosed space. Two men lay dead a few yards away from them. David Gawinski's arm was still poised in front of him, his finger slowly releasing the trigger of his handgun. There was a prolonged moment of silence as they all looked towards the male agent as he lowered his gun.

"Mr. President, if you're staying on board, you've gotta move," Gawinski said, his breathing slightly heavier than usual.

President Bartlet's face showed his decision. "I'm staying."

Gina looked at Agent Gawinski who gave her a small nod. "OK, Mr. President, but I have to inform you that if you fall into these peoples' hands they can use you as a hostage and that could ultimately make the situation far worse than it is."

"Well that's a chance I'll just have to take," President Bartlet replied.

Looking into Zoey's eyes, Gina took a breath. "There's space for one in the Emergency Deployment Pod. Zoey, you can leave the plane, if you want."

Gawinski shot Gina a look. Gina knew this look; it was the one that told her that her heart was getting in the way of protocol. Not only was she letting the President stay on board when she should be pushing him out of danger as soon as possible, but she was willing to let Zoey take her father's place and risk the President's life by not leaving this option open to them.

Gina ignored the look from her fellow agent and turned to the President. Nodding slowly, President Bartlet put a hand on Zoey's forearm. "Zoey, what do you want to do?"

Zoey looked from Gina's face, to Charlie's, then back to her father's. She took a breath and tried to calm her rapidly beating heart. "I want to stay, Dad."

The President gave her a small smile and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "Well, I can tell you I wasn't too keen on dropping you a few thousand feet out of an airplane, either."

Zoey grabbed Charlie's hand and squeezed it, needing the reassurance that this contact brought.

Gina took then gun from her waistband and checked everything to see that it was ready if she needed it. Looking down the cabin, she motioned to Gawinski who pointed to something at the other end of cargo bay.

President Bartlet looked at the two agents and then his daughter. "So, I'm gonna propose that we get our asses out of here before someone comes to find the guys you just shot."

"Yes sir," Gawinski replied, leading the way back down the cabin.

Looking over at his daughter's pale face, the President raised his eyebrows. "And behold, the girl who told me only last week that the in-flight entertainment on Air Force One was boring."

"Not funny, Dad," Zoey said, a scornful look crossing her face.

"I don't know," her father replied with a half-smile, "seemed pretty amusing to me."

***

10:29 EST
AIR FORCE ONE, SITUATION ROOM

Leo McGarry's eyes widened and he looked at the tall European woman pleadingly after he saw her gaze come to rest on his daughter Mallory.

"You can't," Leo exclaimed hoarsely, shaking his head.

The woman never looked away from the red-haired young woman in front of her. "Of course I can."

His only child was at this moment brushing Sam Seaborn's hair back from his damp forehead, oblivious to their captor's predatory stare. Leo hadn't imagined Mallory and Sam to have been this close just hours after they were mortal enemies, but there they were in each other's arms and Leo knew that they had fallen for each other. A pain in his chest gripped him for a moment as the reality of his dilemma faced him for the first time. He either had to let his only daughter be taken hostage, and be subjected to whatever cruel and torturous plans the hijackers had formulated, or Sam's health would deteriorate so much that he could possibly die. It was a decision nobody should have to make. His daughter, or one of his closest co-workers whom had become as much family to him as his blood relations. Leo seemed not to have a choice, though, as he was in no position to argue with armed terrorists.

The woman clicked her fingers and the man at her side strode over to where Mallory was sitting in front of Sam, her arms around him as she tried to keep the Deputy Communications Director conscious.

Leo was on the woman's heels and soon CJ had joined them to see what was going on.

"Come with me," the woman ordered, her face straight and void of emotion.

Mallory turned her head to the woman, not letting go of Sam whose head was thrown back as he grimaced with the pain that his wound was causing him. She looked to her father and saw the desperation he was feeling: never had he been so powerless and sober at the same time. "Daddy?" Mallory asked, her eyes searching for some indication of what was happening.

Leo took a breath. "They'll only let the First Lady treat Sam if you go as a hostage, baby."

Sam raised his head and winced as he tried to gather enough strength to protest. "They can't..." he looked to Leo and saw the pain in his eyes. "Leo, you can't let... them take her."

Pushing his distress to the back of his mind, Leo watched as Sam collapsed under the exertion of speaking, knowing this had to be done. "Sam, they can do this... I can't do anything to stop it. Mallory, Sam, it's your call."

"Come with me," the woman repeated, her face showing how tediously boring this little family discussion was becoming.

Mallory looked from her father, to Sam and then to the woman. "You don't understand, I have to stay with Sam," she protested, giving her a pleading look. They were gathering an audience of staffers and reporters who were watching Sam, Mallory and Leo intently: some were scrawling down notes, and a few bulbs flashed. CJ gave the press a glare, and they remembered that this wasn't the time for photo opportunities.

The woman nodded. "Well then, I guess he'll gave to do without the help of a doctor." She turned on her heel and started to walk back to the door.

"No, I'll go!" Mallory exclaimed at the same moment that CJ grabbed the woman's arm and pulled her back.

"Take me instead."

Leo, Sam and Mallory looked over to CJ, who was hanging on to the woman, trying to appeal to the compassionate side of her nature. CJ's face was determined and her voice was soft, "I'll go, just let Mallory be with Sam."

The woman took a moment to mull over this notion. She conversed with her colleague for a moment, then nodded. "Fine."

Looking over at the Press Secretary, Leo gave CJ a look that expressed his gratitude for the self-effacing act that had just taken place.

"Okay then, people," CJ nodded, gulping slightly. "Get the First Lady down here, Sam's not doing too good."

That was true, Sam was being faced with the threat of going into extreme shock. His eyes were glassy, his skin was grey and beaded with perspiration, and blood was flowing freely from his shoulder despite Mallory's best efforts to apply adequate pressure to the wound.

The woman pursed her lips and cocked her head to one side in deep thought, then looked back at the group decisively. "She's still coming, though."

Mallory looked up at the woman who was pointing at her. "What?"

Leo had gone from being in awe of CJ's selflessness to being amazed by how idiotic she could be in a few moments. She hadn't made the situation any better; she'd made it ten times worse.

CJ's mouth opened and closed until she was able to vocalise herself, which she did with great volume. "The deal was that you'd take me and leave Mallory alone. I don't know what you're trying to pull, but it ain't gonna work with me." CJ was practically shouting and Josh Lyman put a hand on her arm to calm her.

"I don't think you're in the position to be in control of any 'deals', Ms. Cregg," the woman replied, haughtily. "We are releasing the First Lady of the United States, neither one of you are as important as her. However, the Chief of Staff's daughter and the Press Secretary together is a completely different matter."

CJ looked at Mallory, who simply stood up and kissed Sam softly, tears falling slowly down her cheeks. Sam reached up to Mallory and drew his thumb over her face, wiping away her tears as his own threatened to spill. Her voice was barely a whisper, "Take care, Skipper. I love you."

Sam's lips moved and the quietest sound came out as he brushed his fingers over her cheek. "Love you too, Mallory. Thank you."

Mallory straightened up as they let go of each other reluctantly. She turned to her father. "Daddy, I'll see you in a while." She gave him a peck on the cheek and then Leo folded her into his arms, feeling his daughter's small body shake under the violent tremors of her sobs.

"Hey, baby," he whispered, kissing her head as he squeezed her tight, "you'll be fine. I'm so proud of you, you're so brave."

"You chose me over Uncle Jed," Mallory choked into his shoulder.

Leo rubbed Mallory's back remembering how he had grabbed his daughter when the initial shots had been fired instead of covering the President. "Yeah."

"Thank you." Mallory drew back and looked at her father, wiping her eyes. "Look after Sam for me, Dad."

Leo was about to nod as the man with the gun by the tall woman's side grabbed Mallory with one hand and CJ with the other, leading them out of the room.

"Hey!" CJ protested at the roughness of the man's grip. "Ease off, would ya? I'm not exactly gonna go anywhere far."

As they were marched out of the door, CJ glanced over her shoulder at Danny Concannon and mouthed something at him that looked like 'HELP!' but Leo couldn't be sure. He was to preoccupied concentrating on his daughter's retreating back as she was led away still looking at Sam with a regretful expression and Sam still gazing back at her trying to fight against the waves of physical pain which relentlessly assaulted him.

Then the doors to the conference room closed, and Leo was left wondering what would happen to his daughter. Wondering what would happen to them all.

***

10:37 EST
THE CAPITOL OF THE UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON DC


Vice President John Hoynes was in a conference with the Governor of Maine, carefully sipping his mug of black coffee and trying to look interested in the issue they were discussing, when the door opened and his personal aide approached him. Hoynes did not flinch as a message was whispered in his ear that would make others in the same position sweat with panic.

He flashed a suave smile at Governor Karen Wade and excused himself from the room. He buttoned up his jacket as he nodded to the Secret Service Agents who were waiting for him in the softly lit corridors of the Capitol Building. He knew that they weren't at liberty to discuss the situation in the bustling thoroughfares of the Capitol, so Hoynes did not press them for all the details.

The National Security Advisor passed Hoynes a sheet of paper as they began to head to the motorcade that would drive the Vice President the short distance to the White House and its secure, underground situation room. Taking it, Hoynes heaved a large sigh and screwed his eyes shut, trying to clear his head before he concentrated on the matter at hand.

Passing congressional aides, couriers, senators, members of congress and interns, the group of dark suited agents escorted Hoynes through the corridors of the Capitol. Hoynes' eyes scanned the information on the piece of paper, his expression of laid-back capability never lapsing for a moment. Addressing the National Security Advisor in a hushed tone, the Vice President asked for details of the Air Force One passenger manifest. "Who's on board?"

That information was supplied promptly by a staffer carrying a clipboard flanking Hoynes on the right. "I have it here, Mr. Vice President. POTUS, FLOTUS, Zoey Bartlet, Leo McGarry, Joshua Lyman, Toby Ziegler, Sam Seaborn, CJ Cregg, Charles Young, Donnatella Moss, Delores Landingham, Mallory McGarry-O'Brian, the White House Press Corps... uh- Danny Concannon from The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune's Helen Greer, David Kennedy from BBC News 24, Sandy King-"

Hoynes rolled his eyes then shot the staffer a look. "I meant the First Family, I didn't need the name and birthday of every journo and secretary who's up there."

The National Security Advisor jumped in before the Vice President chewed the young staffer to death. "The Emergency Deployment Pod hasn't been deployed, sir."

"How long since it happened?" Hoynes asked as they exited the Capitol, noticing an increase in the amount of Secret Service Agents lining the steps down to the motorcade.

"We received a short distress call from Air Force One at 1022 hours," the NS Advisor replied, shielding his eyes from the glare of the morning sun that beamed down on the white marble, reflected with equal intensity into their down turned faces. "It was cut off abruptly six seconds into transmission. I think we're looking at a possible hi-jacking."

Hoynes clicked his fingers to summon his bodyman. "Get the Chief of Staff, would you."

"Mr. McGarry?"

"No," Hoynes said irritation apparent in his voice, "my Chief of Staff, Bill Holland Tell him to meet me in the Situation Room."

"I'll get to it immediately, sir."

Hoynes turned back to the NS Advisor as the door to one of the black presidential saloons was opened for him. "Who issued the distress call?"

The NS Advisor took a breath. "Agent Gina Toscano, Zoey Bartlet's-"

Hoynes nodded. "I know." He ducked into the car and sat down, taking a deep breath. A few other staffers, the National Security Advisor and the man the Vice President recognised as a colonel from the National Command Authority, climbed into the car after him and settled themselves in the seats opposite Hoynes.

Hoynes opened his lips to talk, then paused before leaning forward towards the NS Advisor as the car started to pull into the heavy morning traffic. The noise of sirens filled the still air of the summery DC morning. "Have you cancelled the codes yet?"

"Yes, sir. In fact, that is why Colonel Quinton is here," the NS Advisor said solemnly, rifling through some sheets of yellow paper.

Turning to the balding man by the NS Advisor's side, Hoynes noticed the black brief case that Quinton had been carrying for the first time.

As if in response to the Vice President's thoughts, Quinton extended his arm and handed Hoynes the briefcase. "Mr. Vice President, you have the nuclear missile launch sequence codes."

Hoynes grasped the cool handle of the case and took it from the colonel feeling happily empowered by the tactile nature of his authority as it manifested itself in the briefcase.

Settling back into his seat, Hoynes felt a strange lurch in the pit of his stomach as he realised that the fate of the nation rested on his shoulders that very day.

If President Bartlet did not make it off the plane, he-, well, he didn't want to think of that just yet. Still, that strange feeling did not pass as quickly as he would have wanted.

***

10:31 EST
AIR FORCE ONE, BARTLET'S STUDY

Gina was the last one through the door of President Bartlet's study after minutes of high-tension as they had edged their way along the upper gallery, ducking into offices and alcoves to avoid detection.

The room had been ransacked. Files lay strewn across the desk in the corner and throw pillows had been tossed onto the ground. Their voices were reduced to whispers as the door was shut and they began to voice their thoughts.

The President's eyes were wide as he surveyed the damage. "What were they looking for?"

Zoey picked up her purse from where she had left it on one of the couches to find it empty. Even her student ID had been taken. "Why would they want my stuff, anyway?"

Charlie glanced over at the battered desk drawers whose locks had been picked. "Confidential files, sir?"

"Well, they'd be lucky if they found any," President Bartlet replied, moving over to his desk and pulling out a drawer to find it empty. "I think the most interesting thing they could steal from here is polling data regarding opinions on polygamy in Utah."

"The launch codes," Gawinski breathed, his eyes travelling to Gina.

Gina shook her head. "The Pentagon must know of the situation. Disabling the codes is first on their list of priorities in the case of a hi-jacking." She looked to the President. "Sir, do you have keys for this door?"

Shaking his head, President Bartlet sighed regretfully. "There isn't a lock."

"Great," Gina said. She moved over to the door and examined it, and saw that this was the case. Looking out into the corridor, she could see a dark-clothed man wearing a bullet-proof vest marching up and down, a gun cradled in his arms. Gina recognised the man as a newly appointed member of the Air Force One crew. Obviously this attack had been planned for some time.

Gawinski went over to one of the plush sofas and tried to push it, giving up after it didn't move an inch. "All the furniture's screwed down, Gina."

She nodded and looked from Charlie to Zoey and then to the President. "We're gonna have to lay low for a while, sir."

"Right," he nodded, sitting down on one of the sofas.

Gina moved in front of where the President was sitting and looked at him expectantly. "What are you planning on doing, sir?"

***

10:38 EST
AIR FORCE ONE, FLIGHT DECK

Mallory's eyes widened as she felt a hand place itself on the small of her back then slide down even lower as she walked up the stairs to the flight deck. Stopping abruptly, she turned around and saw one of the men who had been in the conference room with a smile on his face. Mallory was so livid with anger that she forgot the implication of her actions and raised her hand, slapping him with all her force across the rough skin of his face then raising her leg and kneeing him in the groin.

"Don't ever touch me like that again," Mallory warned, her eyes narrowing as the man's mouth opened and he let out a curse, bending over in agony.

CJ, who had been walking in front, turned around at the sound of commotion and looked at Mallory's tear streaked face. "You alright?"

"He grabbed my ass," Mallory explained as they were pushed up the stairs, the man regaining his composure and proceeding with the task in hand.

"Well, I hope you hurt him," CJ replied, balling her fist up and shaking it in demonstration. "If you didn't, I will."

"Oh yeah," Mallory nodded and turned to the man with a smile. "Son of a bitch," she added for good measure.

The man must not have heard this expression before and smiled back at Mallory foolishly. She rolled her eyes.

A second later they emerged in the flight deck, where Dr. Abigail Bartlet was being released from the ropes that bound her to one of the chairs at the radar console. Toby Ziegler was sitting calmly in the chair next to the one the First Lady had occupied, swinging from side to side slightly on the swivel chair, a smile on his face.

Luis crossed over to the two new hostages and guided them to the chairs.

"Buenos Dias, senorita," Luis smiled, taking Mallory's hand and bringing it to his lips. "My name is Luis, welcome."

Mallory retracted her hand and fought the urge to hit this man as well. Instead she concentrated on not crying and tried to pull herself together. She ignored Luis, wiped her face and smiled at the First Lady weakly. "Hey Abbey."

"What happened?" Abbey asked the two women as she stood up and Mallory was forced down into the liberated chair by Luis, earning him a glare from the young auburn haired teacher.

"Ma'am," CJ said in way of greeting Abbey. She turned to Toby and stared at his smiling face. "Toby, has the altitude just got to you or are they making you swallow laughing gas?"

"They have a bomb," Toby replied with a laugh. "A huge, big, end-of-the-world sorta nuclear bomb."

"What?" Mallory and CJ shouted in chorus.

Toby's face fell, finding the situation neither ironic nor amusing for once. "We'll have plenty of time to talk about it, I'm sure, CJ. After all we are on the never-ending plane trip of doom." His voice was becoming sluggish and slurred.

"Is he drunk?" CJ asked the First Lady. "High on something, maybe."

"Sam should write a book about this... make a movie," Toby announced. He became very solemn and bowed his head. "Sam's a wonderful writer."

Abbey interrupted Toby's crazed ramblings and whispered to CJ, "He was getting vocally violent; they gave him a tranquilliser shot. He'll be out cold in a moment."

CJ was forced down into the chair on the other side of Toby and Luis began to tie the ropes around her wrists. Sure enough Toby was unconscious, his head buried in his chest, his lips parted slightly and saliva running from his mouth. CJ looked over at Toby and wrinkled her nose in disgust, "Delightful. That's definitely something I never wanted to see."

"I heard someone was hurt," Abbey said, pressing CJ for details.

Mallory who was taking deep breaths, looked at CJ and silently urged her to be the one to tell the First Lady. She didn't think she could stay composed if had to talk about Sam's less than wonderful condition.

CJ sighed and recounted the events that had brought them here. "Josh opened his mouth and got shot at, Sam being Sam jumped in front of him and took the bullet which is now wedged in his shoulder."

Abbey nodded, her eyes wide. "Well, I'll go see what I can do."

"He's got a fever," Mallory added, saying the only thing that she thought would be of use. Tears were threatening to spill down her cheeks again as she thought about Sam and yearned to be with him.

Gazing into Mallory's red eyes, Abbey read the younger woman like a book. "He'll be alright, Mallory." She paused and leant over to rub her arm, "I promise."

Luis coughed and the three women looked up. His voice was smooth and his accent was nearly flawless, "This is truly touching, but I must remind you that I have not all day. So Dr. Bartlet, please come along."

As he moved over to the stairs with the man who had brought Mallory and CJ, Abbey followed Luis assuring Mallory that she would send Sam her love. Luis paused before descending and let two more men come up the stairs. He turned to CJ, Mallory and the now sleeping Toby, flashing them a suave smile. "If you need anything..." he indicated to the two men, "Roberto and Michel will gladly oblige."

With that the First Lady and Luis left the flight deck, a moment later they could hear Abbey threaten Luis with violence unless he removed his hand from her arm. CJ leant forward in her chair and tried to see down the cabin into the cockpit. Finding this impossible, she addressed the two men in dark clothes before her, "Are the pilots still alive?"

Roberto smirked and moved over to CJ and placed a hand on her neck. "Don't worry your pretty little head with that, me amor."

CJ recoiled at his touch and shot him a look that could have induced death in another realm. "I'm twice your size, short ass, just be glad I'm incapacitated because otherwise I'd beat you until you're small enough to send home in a match box."

Roberto and Michel broke into raucous laughed and joked about something to each other in a foreign language which Mallory knew was not one she had ever heard before. She looked across at CJ in despair and the older woman rolled her eyes at the two men. Mallory could tell she was thinking of something acidic to reprimand their captors with.

CJ was like that and now Mallory knew that the Press Secretary would put her own life on the line to help Sam, that's how close the Senior Staff had become.

***

10:39 EST
AIR FORCE ONE, BARTLET'S STUDY

"Shhh!" President Bartlet hissed, signalling to the others in the room to quieten down. He moved towards the door and pressed his ear to it. "I think I just heard Abbey's voice."

"Mom?" Zoey's face relaxed in relief at hearing this. She immediately joined her father at the door tried to listen to what was being said by two male voices only yards away from them. "What language is that?"

Gina had been standing by the door the whole time. She was getting very worried about the President and the First Daughter standing so close to the exit. Extending her arm, Gina waved President Bartlet away from the door and back over to the sofas where Gawinski was sat, trying to access the passenger manifest from the President's laptop computer.

"Any luck yet?" President Bartlet asked, sitting down next to the agent.

Gawinski shook his head. "No, sir. The whole network seems to be off-line."

Zoey flopped back into her chair and sighed. "They looked Spanish to me."

Suddenly stopping her pacing the length of the room, Gina looked at Zoey and then to the President. "Sir, I may be wrong, but from the look of these people, and the language they were speaking... You might be looking at Basque separatists."

"Eta?" President Bartlet asked, his eyes widening.

Gina nodded her voice a soft as it could be before it became inaudible. "Eta, or maybe some other small Basque extremist faction. They've been stepping up their bombing campaigns in Spain's tourist areas recently; hi-jacking Air Force One will give them all the publicity they need. A forum for their demands, not to mention the power that having the President of the United States as a hostage brings."

"My God."

Zoey looked at her father, whose eyes were closed shut and whose fingers were drumming on the table next to him. Clearly he was devising some plan of action in his head. After a while, he opened his eyes and looked from Gina to Gawinski, a look of resolve in his eyes.

"I'm going to talk to them," President Bartlet decided, standing up and heading for the door.

"Mr. President!" Gina whispered loudly, catching him before he turned the doorknob.

President Bartlet looked back at Gina. "I can't hide in here like a coward. Something's happening out there, and possibly I can end whatever act of terror these people are planning."

Gina and Gawinski looked at each other, realising that morally the President was right, but knowing that this was the absolute worst security decision he could make.

"I know what you're thinking," President Bartlet said softly, examining their faces. "Ron would push you overboard without a parachute for ignoring protocol," he smiled sadly, looking to the ground and recounting what he had heard about Ron Butterfield's death. He looked back at the remaining two Secret Service Agents, whose faces were set in grim resolve. "Don't worry, I'll be careful."

"OK, sir," Gawinski nodded, moving over to the door. "I'm coming with you, though."

"I want you to look after Zoey," the President protested, his voice hushed but still insistent. "I can take care of myself."

"Charlie and I will stay with Zoey, Mr. President," Gina replied, looking back at Charlie and Zoey who were stood together a few feet away, showing their age by the look of fear that had taken control of their faces. "David's going with you."

"Fine," the President replied grudgingly, looking up at the tall man who was standing next to him.

Gawinski nodded and started explaining to the President what he should do to avoid putting his life at risk, things not to say and things not to do. President Bartlet quickly interrupted this: "Thanks, but can we just go and get this over and done with, you think?"

Opening the door as a sign of acknowledgement, Gawinski led the President into the hallway.

***

10:47 EST
AIR FORCE ONE, MEDICAL ROOM

Sam caught his lip between his teeth as Abbey applied a liquid that bit into his skin with neither compassion nor remorse. She looked up over the top of her tortoise-shell glasses, saw the grimace on his face and stopped irrigating the gunshot wound, "Stings, huh?"

Letting out a small chuckle, Sam let his head fall back on the pillow of the gurney in the medical room. "Well, you could say that, Dr. Bartlet, but it would be like describing being run over by a herd of stampeding buffalo as 'slightly painful'."

Abbey let herself smile and began to squirt the contents of the syringe into his raw flesh at a slower rate. "I'll ease up, Sam."

"How's Mallory?" Sam asked, his voice breaking slightly.

Smiling at him, Abbey took a fresh syringe from one of the drawers in the crash cart next to her and filled it with anaesthetic. "She sent her love," the smile broadened. "I knew she had an itch for you."

Josh's lips curved upwards and looked at Sam inquisitively. Sam went slightly red, which the Deputy Chief of Staff took as a good sign that his friend hadn't lost too much blood.

"Now, Mallory said that too and I have no idea what you two are on about, ma'am," Sam said with resigned sigh.

"I talked to her the day Leo's thing came out and I knew she liked you," Abbey explained. A coy smile playing on her lips as she drove the needle into Sam's skin, "I knew you had a crush on her... and then I saw you two kissing in the Mural Room." She grinned as Sam began to blush profusely. "It was a just a matter of time before you two kids got together."

"Well I just hope Leo's okay with it," Josh added, with a slow smirk.

Abbey nodded, "I'm sure he'll be fine with it, otherwise I'm having words with him."

Sam smiled. "Thank you, ma'am."

"Abbey," the First Lady corrected.

"Yes, ma'am."

Dr. Bartlet had managed to somehow argue with the woman in the situation room so successfully that she had allowed the three of them to go to Air Force One's medical room, though they had not escaped the watchful eye of a tall, burly man introduced to them as Javier. Still, it was a relief to have a change of atmosphere; the panic of the staffers and the reporters in the situation room had made the air electric and unbearable.

At this moment Josh was sitting by Sam's side on a buffet, looking at the graze in his arm with wonder. He glanced over at Sam who was being given injections of local anaesthetic in his shoulder by Abbey.

There was a moment of silence as Abbey concentrated on preparing the wound, ready for extracting the bullet. Josh could also see Sam was pysching himself up for it. He thought about helping him out with it, to return the favour after the night Sam had psyched Josh up to tell the majority leader to take his legislative agenda and shove it up his ass.

He was about to open his mouth when the First Lady's voice cut through the silence, steady yet shaky at the same time. "Do you know where Jed and Zoey are?"

Josh rubbed his forehead and sighed. "Gina and another agent took them and Charlie to the cargo bay, ma'am." He looked at his watch. "They should have deployed the emergency escape pod about twenty minutes ago."

Abbey sniffed and smiled; "Well at least Jed didn't try any idiotic heroics. He's not exactly Harrison Ford, you know. The best thing he can do is get on the ground."

"I'm sure that's what the President has done," Josh nodded.

Abbey didn't reply she only took out a few sterile instruments from a sealed tray and looked into Sam's eyes. "Alright there, Sammy boy, I'm gonna get this thing out of you." She turned to Josh and motioned with a pair of forceps. "You distract him, Josh."

Josh grinned, "What, d'ya want me to strip, that's pretty distracting."

Sam groaned at his best friend and clamped his eyes shut, "I'm bleeding buckets of blood, Josh, I don't want to be vomiting as well."

"Hey," Josh replied patting his chest, "that hurt, Sam! Right here."

Abbey poked the forceps into Sam's wound, he grimaced slightly but the anaesthetic seemed to be working. She threw Josh a look which translated as 'why did you stop, you moron'.

Josh turned back to the Deputy Communications Director and placed a hand on the bed. "Sam?"

"Yeah," Sam answered, opening his eyes and looking at his friend.

Josh swallowed, knowing how he had felt when he had realised that Sam had taken the bullet with his name on, but not having an idea how to express himself vocally. Sam had always been the one with the command of the English language, and at this moment even Josh's 760 Verbal SAT score was letting him down. He sighed and gazed into Sam's watery, blue eyes. "You just..." Josh trailed off, and sighed again.

"What?" Sam asked, turning his head further towards Josh, oblivious to the surgical mining that was taking place in his shoulder at the hands of the First Lady.

Josh's eyes met Sam's and what he felt was communicated in silence, without the need of words. Their relationship transcended that and somehow the events of the past hour had deepened the mental link they shared. Josh smiled and reached out for Sam's hand and held it gently. Sam's mouth opened in surprise, and then he reciprocated and clutched Josh's hand with all the strength he could muster. Josh's voice was quiet even in the stillness of the room. "Thanks."

Sam smiled back at Josh and nodded, his voice just as soft, "S'okay."

Breaking the stillness of the room, Abbey let out a loud 'ah-ha!' and held the forceps in the air, a shiny, bloodied bullet held between the two prongs. She smiled at Sam; "You've been a brave boy, Sam. You can have a candy and I'll put this in a jar for you to keep."

"Thank you, ma'am," Sam replied sincerely. "I think it'll go wonderfully mounted in a display case next to the Laker's shirt in my office."

Josh let out a small laugh and released Sam's hand from his grasp. "If I were you, I'd put it on my mantle piece."

Abbey took out another sterile tray, "And now for the sutures."

Sam moaned and raised his hand to his head. "Please no!"

"Hey," Josh said, slapping Sam gently on the leg, "don't complain, man. Chicks dig scars."

Abbey raised her eyebrow. Sam looked at Josh incredulously, "Yeah. Right, Josh."

Josh nodded vehemently, "I'm right, aren't I, Dr. Bartlet?"

Keeping a straight face, Abbey pulled out the 2-0 nylon sutures. "Yeah, Jed's appendectomy scar always turns me on."

"Couldn't quite keep back the sarcasm there, could you ma'am," Sam replied with a smile.

"You're a smart guy, Sam."

"And there it was again."

***

10:49 EST
THE WHITE HOUSE, WASHINGTON DC


Bill Holland was waiting at the North-West Entrance when about a dozen Secret Service Agents ushered the Vice President into the West Wing. The sound of their heels on the marble floor of the foyer filled the corridors as anxious staffers looked on, unaware of the seriousness of the situation.

Raking a hand through his greying hair, Holland stepped towards Hoynes and passed him a folder, noting the anonymous black briefcase that his boss was carrying in his left hand. "Sir."

"Thanks." Hoynes took the folder and tucked it under his left arm as he spotted General Fitzwallace waiting for him, a cigarette in one hand.

"Mr. Vice President," the general said with a firm handshake.

Hoynes gave him a grim smile, "General."

The foyer of the West Wing was bustling with activity as various figures from the Pentagon and their staff arrived to meet in the Situation Room. The usual occupants of the West Wing were either aboard Air Force One or being driven back to their offices by Secret Service Agents, none of whom answered the questions asked of them by various aides and assistants who stood at the edges of their bullpens looking on curiously.

"The Joint-Chiefs are waiting downstairs, sir," said Fitzwallace as they made towards the elevator.

"Let's just hope they have some good news for us," Hoynes replied as he stepped into the elevator.

Holland leant forwards to press the button for the basement when at that moment a man in a grey suit skidded into the elevator. "Henry Hanson, sir, Deputy Press Secretary."

"Why are you here?" Hoynes asked as the car lurched downwards.

"Pardon, sir?" Hanson said, his eyebrows raised.

Hoynes stared at the Deputy Press Secretary. "The whole of the White House Press Corps is on that plane; there's nobody to give a statement to. So, I'm asking, why are you here? The journalists already have the story and I'm sure CJ Cregg will answer any of their questions."

"Yes Mr. Vice President," Hanson mumbled quickly.

"When we need a statement, I'll tell you and I'll be giving it," Hoynes said coolly as the doors opened and they stepped out into the basement corridor.

"Yes sir," replied the Deputy Press Secretary, turning away red-faced, heading for the stairs.

"Hanson!" Holland called, leaving Hoynes' side for a moment to talk to the White House staffer.

Hanson rushed back to the Vice President's Chief of Staff. "Yes?"

"Is Toby Ziegler on that plane?" Holland asked, opening a folder and looking down some notes he had scribbled on the journey to the White House.

"Yes he is," Hanson replied, looking down a passenger manifest in his folder.

"And Sam Seaborn?"

Hanson nodded. "Yes, sir."

"Okay." With both the Communications Director and his deputy out of the picture it would be much easier for the Vice President to keep control of this situation without the White House taking over. Bill Holland rubbed his neck. "Tell the White House Communications Office that the Vice President's speechwriters will draft all the statements for the duration of this situation."

Hanson looked at Holland suspiciously. "Sir, our Communications Office is adequately prepared to handle-"

"I don't think so." Turning on his heel, Holland headed off towards the Situation Room. "The Vice President's staff will write his statements."

"Yes sir," Hanson replied grudgingly.

Passing a Secret Service Agent, Holland entered the Situation Room and sat down adjacent to the Vice President. Maps were displayed on large screens at one end of the darkened room; some showed Air Force One's present location, other images were of members of the Press Corps and flight crew.

"Have we heard from the hi-jackers?" Hoynes asked, settling back into his chair.

"No, sir, we're not even sure there was a hi-jacking, sir."

Hoynes looked at the man in military uniform that had just addressed him. "Are you suggesting that one of the Agents on board went crazy and shot their detail?"

The man straightened his back. "I meant, sir, that we haven't had confirmation that it was a hi-jacking. At this moment, all we know is that a distress call was transmitted to the Pentagon, that the Emergency Deployment Pod has not been released and we haven't been able to contact the pilots."

"Are they dead?" Hoynes asked, drumming his fingers on the desk.

"We don't know."

"Is there anything we do know?" Hoynes snapped. Holland shot his boss a glance and Hoynes looked down, biting his lip. "Has the plane changed direction at all; any loss in altitude; anything that would suggest a struggle in the cockpit?"

"No sir," another official replied.

"Well, let's take that as a good sign and be optimistic, shall we." Hoynes leant forwards and poured himself a glass of water. "It's days like these that you wish you hadn't got out of bed."


***

10:51 EST

AIR FORCE ONE, SITUATION ROOM

Luis was sitting at the conference table, pouring himself a glass of orange juice from the crystal decanter he had found on the sideboard, when President Bartlet was let into the Situation Room. The assembled hostages stood up, but then took their seats again as the President waved his hand. Striding over to Luis, President Bartlet folded his hands across his chest.

"What in God's holy name could you possibly want?" he asked, looking extremely disgruntled.

Luis pulled out his cigarette case and took out one of the long white tubes; the woman who had previously been reigning over the Situation Room pulled out a lighter and lit it for him. "Gracias, Paloma," Luis murmured around his mouthful of cigarette. He looked up to the President who had pulled a chair out and was sitting down. When he was seated, Luis' eyes met the President's across the table. Leo sat down next to the President and mumbled something that was incoherent to the others in the room.

"Mr. President," Luis started, breathing out a cloud of smoke. "I am part of a Basque separatist organisation whose name roughly translates as 'Basque Liberty and Equality'. Our principles are much like those of the United States, so I'm sure you will identify with our goals of freedom of activity, speech and religion."

President Bartlet narrowed his eyes. "Of what I've seen so far, your principles are nothing like ours. You shot Sam Seaborn and killed most of my Secret Service detail."

Luis laughed heartily. "Your hypocrisy is quite amusing, this coming from the leader of a country where nearly every man, woman and child has a gun in their pocket. We have a cause, Mr. President, unlike the American people who wield guns because a document, written hundreds of years ago when armed protection was necessary, tells them they can. Your worship of this archaic document is, quite honestly, ridiculous."

"Ridiculous, maybe," President Bartlet said, sitting back in his seat, "but then I would tell you that I'm not a hypocrite. If you had paid any attention to my administration, you would know that I am as intolerant of firearms and violence as you can get."

Smiling, Luis took a puff of nicotine and tar, "It only took Britain months to ban handguns after Dunblane, a single tragedy when a man shot children dead at a school, Mr. President. There have been dozens of more serious incidents like this in the US. How many more children will die before you do something?"

"We have something called a constitution," the President said in a controlled manner CJ would be proud of, "and I don't think you're really in the position to lecture the United States on violence."

Luis bit back a chuckle and took a long drag from his cigarette. "And I don't think you're in the position to be arguing with me, but that's how it is." Leaning forward, Luis tapped the ash from the end of his cigarette into a glass ashtray. "Mr. President, our demands are quite simple. We would like you to endorse the Basque cause in your speech at the EU summit meeting tomorrow."

The President smiled blankly. "Now, why would I do that when my speechwriters have spent the past fortnight composing a beautiful piece of oratory about global co-operation?"

Returning the smile, Luis blew out a stream of smoke. "Because you are a super-nation and your support would make a world of difference, Mr. President. Other countries take notice of what the US does, I urge you to lead the way."

President Bartlet smile was wide and humouring, but soon disintegrated into a frown. "Since you asked so nicely, of course we'll do that. And while we're at it, I'll declare war on Spain and France... drop a couple of bombs, take out Paris and Madrid. They'll give you back the Basque Country in a blink of an eye."

"This is not a laughing matter." Luis' smile evaporated and he placed his hands on the table, leaning further in towards President Bartlet. "Mr. President, we're not asking for much. Just your goodwill and co-operation to give the separatist's cause an open forum at the EU summit and then your guarantee of alliance with the Basque people until the termination of your Presidency." He slowly ground his cigarette butt into the smooth wood of the conference table; right in the middle of the parquetry inlaid Presidential Seal. "Comply, don't play any tricks on us and I'll guarantee your family isn't killed, your staff aren't tortured and the nuclear bomb I have in Los Angeles will be safely disengaged."

Luis snapped his fingers and Paloma, his dark haired accomplice, dragged Donna Moss to the table. Whipping out a switchblade, Luis put his arm around Donna's waist and forced her into his lap where she rested uncomfortably with the knife to her throat. Her eyes screamed out for help as she scanned the faces of the staff and press, some of whose flash bulbs started to illuminate the cabin. A warning glare from Danny Concannon silenced the clicks sounding from the journalists' cameras. Donna's eyes came to rest on the President as she failed to pick out neither Josh nor Margaret in the sea of faces before her.

Luis watched the astonished looks which Leo and the President exchanged with a small smile playing on his lips. He pressed the gleaming blade closer to Donna's sensitive alabaster skin. Donna fought back a gulp, and instead stared at the ceiling trying to keep as much room between her throat and the knife as possible.

"This is not an idle threat, Mr. President, and I assure you I am willing to use Ms. Moss here as a prime example," Luis' eyes flashed darkly as he softly stroked Donna's cheek with his index finger. Turning back to President Bartlet, his voice calmed but the grip on his switchblade tightened. "I suggest you assemble your speechwriters right now, Mr. President."

***
To Be Continued
***
VOTE NOW!
On a review via www.fanfiction.net or by e-mail airforceonevote@yahoo.co.uk

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

QUESTION ONE:
BARTLET AGREES TO THE TERMS ONLY IF...
a) he is allowed to speak to the Vice President.
b) he has some sort of guarantee that the plane will land safely.
c) he can confer with the other European leaders first.
d) some other reason (please state).

QUESTION TWO:
DOES LUIS HARM DONNA?
a) Yes, he kills her.
b) Yes, he stabs her so she needs Abbey to treat her.
c) No, but he tells the President that he will kill Mallory, CJ and Donna if he tries to pull any tricks.
d) Other. Please state.

***
-THE EXIT POLL-
'BAD ON SO MANY LEVELS'

QUESTION ONE:
WHO IS TAKEN HOSTAGE?
a) Donna <8 VOTES>
b) Mallory <13 VOTES>
c) CJ <9 VOTES>

QUESTION TWO:
WHY CAN'T THE PRESIDENT LEAVE AIR FORCE ONE?
a) The emergency escape craft has already been deployed. <1 VOTE>
b) He won't leave when Abbey is still on board. <15 VOTES>
c) He doesn't think it's right to turn his back on the situation. <11 VOTES>
d) Other. Please state. <2 VOTES... the President has an MS attack/Gina pushes him into the pod>
***
All feedback which isn't a vote (i.e. archive info or constructive criticism) is greatly appreciated at my general address annadelamico@yahoo.co.uk

 

 

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