Bartlet Goes To Mars by Stuart Atkinson

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SUMMARY: Hope THE WEST WING writers don't sue me for this, but I couldn't help wondering what President Bartlet would make of a personal appeal to start a manned Mars mission program from an unexpected lobbyist...

BARTLET GOES TO MARS

Everyone in the room froze as a horrified scream cut through the children's laughter. Secret Service agents, White House staffers and reporters alike could only look on in horror as the President touched his fingers to his chest and stared at them with disbelief; they were red, bright red, just like the stain which was spreading quickly through and across the front of his shirt.

"He got me Leo," Bartlet grunted to his stunned Chief of Staff who had been standing mere feet away, so close his own white shirt had been splashed with crimson. "He got me..."

Everyone held their breath. The only sound was the clicking of camera shutters and the pop-popping of flash guns as the press photographers fought back their own disbelief to record the scene, record history-in-the-making, as they were paid to. Watching the proud, dedicated Bartlet on his knees, fingers slick with red, face pale with surprise, they knew their pictures would flash around the world within the hour.

Fighting back tears, the First Lady pushed her way through the crowd to her fallen husband's side. He looked up at her imploringly, began to reach towards her with a scarlet-stained hand -

"Don't you DARE get that paint on me Jed Bartlet!" Abby Bartlet laughed, taking a step back, almost knocking the stunned McGarry off his feet.

In front of the stricken President seven year old Lewis Murry was not moving, hardly breathing. With the can of red poster paint still clutched incriminatingly in his hand, he was convinced he was about to be shot by the Secret Service agents who were surrounding him. After all, that's what happened when people tried to kill the President of the United States, as he'd just done.

Dabbing at her eyes as the tension around her began to ease and people dared to release coughs or sniggers, Abbey Bartlet added: "And stop being such a drama queen, can't you see you're scaring the poor child?"

"Mr President? Should I inform the Vice President?" a voice asked gravely from the side, and Bartlet looked around to see his usually stoney-faced Communications Director struggling to contain his own laughter.

"That won't be necessary," Bartlet replied, staring Toby Ziegler straight in the eye, "but you can tell Sam Seaborn he's just been promoted because his boss cruelly and unnecessarily mocked the President of the United States."

"Yes sir, I will sir, just as soon as he's stopped laughing at you himself," Ziegler said, glancing over at his Deputy, who was, wisely, covering his mouth with his hand.

That did it. Within a few moments everyone was laughing- everyone except Lewis Murry, who was still frozen to the spot, wide, terrified eyes fixed on the starburst of bright red paint he had splashed across the President's chest, tripping whilst carrying the pot back from the supply cupboard. Bartlet smiled at the young boy in what he hoped was a reassuring way, but the gesture only pushed the child over the edge: he started to cry. More cameras clicked, more flash-guns flashed.

"Get him up off the floor," Ziegler commanded his Deputy, quietly but forcefully, sensing a PR disaster, imagining the "President Makes Child Cry" headlines on the Washington Post's next cover, "and get that poor kid out of here too.

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