This story was written for NPR’s Three Minute Fiction Contest round nine.  The prompt was to write a story about a real or fictional US President.  I didn’t place, but I hope you enjoy it.

I looked up. “How sure are we?” My eyes swept the room. The whole cabinet was exhausted. Everyone here already knew the answer. I wouldn’t have woken them up at 2AM for a hoax, nor would I have them sleep through history. But the question had to be asked. The director of NASA cleared his throat.

“Well, 95% certain, Mr. President. We confirmed as well as we could, but would have had to contact teams in other nations.” A 5% chance that these images were fakes, that the data was not what it indicated. A wide enough margin to make me a laughing-stock if I choose wrong.

“I see. And you’re certain the data is contained?”

“It is for now, Mr. President. No one else in the hemisphere has the tech to find it, but we have a rapidly closing window before the sun sets in Asia and Europe. We have maybe a six hour head start on China.”

“Alright. What are your opinions?” I looked around the room again. The Secretary of Defense, in her prim blue uniformed skirt spoke first.

“If this is genuine, we cannot be assured of peaceful contact,” she said. The Secretary of State scowled under his bushy mustache.

“But we cannot assume they are hostile. We may only provoke a war,” he said. “We may also insult our allies if we aren’t careful.” He was right of course. We had front row seats to this show, and every other world power would complain they weren’t consulted. I would, if the situation were reversed. Now all the Secretaries were talking at once. The Secretary of the Interior was concerned about possible resource contamination, and the Homeland Security Chief was insisting that there would be riots, at least across the Bible Belt and most major cities. He was probably right, too. I thought of a thousand dominoes. Each one a problem, potentially a catastrophe. And each of them would fall based on what happened in this room in the next five minutes. This was the defining moment of my administration, and everyone in the room knew it.

“It’s a hoax,” said the Vice President. “You move forward with this, and you are going to make Carter look like Lincoln. Let it go, John. Let some other world leader make an ass of themselves on the morning news.” I could, of course. I could step back, and by doing nothing, let the cup pass from my lips. I could let history happen somewhere else, and say, ‘I wasn’t sure.’ And history would forgive me for it.

But I already knew that I couldn’t. This was America. Americans were the first men on the Moon, the first people on Mars. We were explorers. It was our duty, my duty, to lead. I shook my head.

“How soon can you get an Orion prepped?” I asked the NASA chief.

“Uh, it’s incredibly complicated, Mr. President. Setting the safety systems alone…”

“You have five hours. Pick a team of your three best people. Vince, I want your pick of a diplomat to go with them, just in case. Georgette, name a military advisor, too. Have their names on my desk in an hour, and get them to Houston by 10AM. I don’t think this is a fake, and I don’t think it’s hostile, but I’m not going to take chances. Press conference at 6AM. The rest of you, get reports to me on the potential fallout. None of us expected this, but we’ll be making first contact with that ship, wherever it came from.”

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