Alternative History

November 21st,1963

Aboard the Coast Guard cutter USCG Brubaker, somewhere off the coast of Louisiana

"All hands on deck!"

The helmsman had been the first to spot the fiery comet-like streaks plunging through the early morning sky; he immediately notified his captain, who in turn contacted federal aviation authorities. Now Brubaker's crew was racing to reach the spot where the huge jet had gone down. Without even looking the captain knew the wreck was going to be a bad one.

He would find out just how bad all too soon ...

CBS News studios, New York City

Walter Cronkite looked and felt like a man who'd just been handed a death sentence. All morning he'd been praying that the bulletin out of Dallas would be wrong, that in those last few seconds before he went on the air some intern would breathlessly rush up to him to deliver the word that it had all been a mistake, that Air Force One had in fact safely reached Texas and President Kennedy's visit to Dallas would proceed as scheduled.

But no such reprieve would be forthcoming, he realized now, and with a maximum effort at self-control he faced the camera to read the bulletin he knew would plunge an entire nation into grief: "We have received confirmation within the last few minutes that Air Force One, carrying President Kennedy and the First Family, and Air Force Two, with Vice-President and Mrs Lyndon Johnson on board, have crashed in the Gulf of Mexico ... While the full details of the accident are still not yet known, it has already been verified that no one survived the disaster."

The U.S. Senate Building, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC.

"Son of a bitch." whispered a shocked Barry Goldwater to no one in particular as he watched Cronkite's newscast on a black-and-white TV in his office. The idea of a sitting President dying before his term of office had ended was disturbing enough, but for one to be killed in a plane crash was unthinkable.

A few doors down, Speaker of the House John McCormack wept, not noticing or caring whether anybody heard him. He then nearly croaked from a heart attack when he was told that he was about to be sworn in as the new President.

The Kremlin, Moscow, USSR

Nikita Khrushchev gaped at the images on his television screen and wondered if the world were coming to an end. Never in a million years would it have occurred to him even in his wildest imagination that the President of the United States could perish in such a horrific fashion. Whatever one might think of the Americans' political philosophy, the CPSU First Secretary thought, one certainly had to admire their engineering skill. It simply wasn't possible this could have happened by mere chance. Either Kennedy's plane had been sabotaged in some fashion or it had been fired on ....

No. 10 Downing Street, London, England

"Bloody hell." said Alec Douglas-Home, and it was impossible to find anyone in the Cabinet Room at that moment who didn't share the British prime minister's sense of horror at the news of the American president's demise. As the BBC newsreader recounted the initial reports of the air crash that had killed Kennedy and Johnson, Douglas-Home felt a creeping feeling of melancholy overwhelm him; the idea of a head of state dying under such horrific circumstances was appalling. His Home Secretary, Henry Brooke, was already on the phone to Buckingham Palace ...