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Zach Herney, like most presidents before him, survived on four or five hours of sleep a night. Over the last few weeks, however, he had survived on far less. As the excitement of the evening’s events slowly began to ebb, Herney felt the late hour settling in his limbs.

He and some of his upper level staff were in the Roosevelt Room enjoying celebratory champagne and watching the endless loop of press conference replays, Tolland documentary excerpts, and pundit recaps on network television. On‑screen at the moment, an exuberant network correspondent stood in front of the White House gripping her microphone.

“Beyond the mind‑numbing repercussions for mankind as a species,” she announced, “this NASA discovery has some harsh political repercussions here in Washington. The unearthing of these meteoric fossils could not have come at a better time for the embattled President.” Her voice grew somber. “Nor at a worse time for Senator Sexton.” The broadcast cut to a replay of the now infamous CNN debate from earlier in the day.

“After thirty‑five years,” Sexton declared, “I think it’s pretty obvious we’re not going to find extraterrestrial life!”

“And if you’re wrong?” Marjorie Tench replied.

Sexton rolled his eyes. “Oh, for heavens sake, Ms. Tench, if I’m wrong I’ll eat my hat.”

Everyone in the Roosevelt Room laughed. Tench’s cornering of the senator could have played as cruel and heavy‑handed in retrospect, and yet viewers didn’t seem to notice; the haughty tone of the senator’s response was so smug that Sexton appeared to be getting exactly what he deserved.

The President looked around the room for Tench. He had not seen her since before his press conference, and she was not here now. Odd, he thought. This is her celebration as much as it is mine.

The news report on television was wrapping up, outlining yet again the White House’s quantum political leap forward and Senator Sexton’s disastrous slide.

What a difference a day makes, the President thought. In politics, your world can change in an instant.

By dawn he would realize just how true those words could be.