N.E.O. – The Entire Story

Well, as entire as it is for now. I probably will pick this up again, but these are all the chapters that were published, and it stops at a convenient point.

 

N.E.O.

By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright  2013 – 2014

Chapter 1 – Discovery

It was close when it was noticed.  An amateur astronomer from Sweden first cataloged it, and then contacted everybody he could think of, as right he should have for an object estimated at nearly 5,000 feet in size, and heading for a collision course with Earth.  

Most Near Earth Objects initially show a high probability of crossing Earth’s orbit, and subsequent calculations drop that probability to zero.  This object’s probability of intersection increased with each observation, and within a few weeks there was talk of it hitting the Earth.

Near Earth Objects, or NEOs, had become all the rage a few years back.  People – well, not all people, but enough important ones – realized something big would eventually hit Earth.  Humanity was not currently equipped to do anything about it, but maybe they could predict ‘when’, and if ‘when’ was far enough in the future, maybe Earth would rally and at least try to do something.  

Many thought that a few close calls might generate enough fear to push ahead plans for preventative measures.  That was not the case of course; there were too many earth-bound problems to give the average person more than a passing thought to something coming from outer space.

And now it was here.  Larry half smiled.  He called the object Neo, after the character from the movie The Matrix.  In the movie, Neo was The One; the one who would destroy reality, or at least what most thought of as reality.  This Neo had the same potential.  

His musings did not keep Larry from heading to his job.  The world may be drastically altered within the year, but Larry still got up, grabbed a couple of bagels, and headed in.  

His job was to search for earlier evidence of Neo on archived astronomical plates.  Because of more accurate orbit calculations, one could narrow the search by looking at plates (photographic or CCD) covering only the predicted orbital path.  And if confirmed, this earlier data would serve to further refine the orbit, and hence give a more accurate prediction of impact probability.

It wasn’t that easy, of course.  Just a few degrees off the mark, and the object could fall outside a plate’s coverage area.  Because of that, Larry worked with a fudge factor.  When a group of plates were marked as likely candidates, he would also pull other plates based on assumed errors margins.  To minimize duplication, Larry coordinated his efforts with others doing similar work, and that also served to ensure overlapping coverage.

Precovery, as it was called, involved lots of tedious work and a bit of luck.

His latest batch of plates had helped locate a couple of new objects, but not Neo.  He had forwarded the data for the new objects so that others might confirm and refine his preliminary calculations; calculations showing these new objects did not pose a threat of collision.  Before moving on to his next set of data, he decided to pull observations from the past month.  Although not widely reported on the media, there was an anomaly with regards to Neo.   When people first backtracked its orbit, they ‘lost’ it four weeks back.  It was as if, out of nowhere, it had suddenly appeared on its current orbit.   As Larry started reviewing the data, he had no idea he was about to throw the world for a loop.

Chapter 2

Kevin scanned the long conference room table for the plaque with his name.  He found it, but hesitated.  The woman sitting on the chair next to his had been on a few talk shows, but he could not recall her name.  He strained to remember as he took the long way around to his seat.  With inward embarrassment, he realized all he had to do is look at her nameplate.  Fudge!

Here he was, invited to this exclusive think tank, and already showing his limitations.  

Making his way around, he scanned other nameplates.  Attendees included prominent figures in various scientific fields, religious leaders, military personnel, and a few unknowns.  Kevin classified himself as a cultural anthropologist, but it was his articles on extraterrestrial contact that got him to this chair.  He sat next to the woman, trying not to stare as he realized just how attractive she was.  She glanced over, smiled, and introduced herself.

“Hi, my name is Kalea Satou, but everyone calls me Kal.”

“Kevin . . . Kevin O’Connor.  Pleasure to meet you Kal.” Kevin was mesmerized by her smile.  He wanted to keep the conversation going, but all he could do was look back at her.  Realizing he was staring, he looked down at his notes and tried to recover.

“Unusual name.  Is it Hawaiian?”  He asked while fighting the urge to stare at her again.

“You know your names.  Hawaiian first name, and Japanese surname.  My mother was Japanese, and my father a Navy officer stationed in Hawaii.”

Out of the corner of his eye Kevin noticed she had shifted towards him, and he tried not to look at the knees that were peeking up at him from under the table.  Women, especially beautiful women, had always made him nervous.  Luckily, or unluckily, he was seldom around them.  He had few female friends, and all of them were either married or otherwise attached.  At thirty-two, Kevin was still searching for his soul mate.

Kalea tilted her head, trying to catch his attention as he busied himself with his notes.  She would have been surprised to know just how much attention Kevin was paying her.   He was extremely aware of her proximity, her slight perfume, and every little movement she made.  He was about to break out in sweats when she unwittingly came to his rescue.

“You wrote the paper on possible contact with extraterrestrial civilizations.” Kevin finally turned to face her.  Kalea sat back, and continued.  “I was especially interested on the parallel you drew to European contact with cultures on Hawaii and other Pacific Ocean islands groups.”

Kevin was elated she knew of his work, but quickly realized biographical information on all attendees had been made available when the group was called to meet.  Still, she must have read at least part of the paper, probably because it related to her birthplace.  But her question had successfully derailed his panic attack, and he shifted into his lecturer mode.

“There is a lot of history to learn from.  Many cultures were radically changed, and some wiped out, as European pushed their medicine, technology, and religion on to . . .”

“Attention, please!”  The speaker was Dr. Miller, appointed by the President to head the US Alien Contact Task Force.  As a prelude to a global task force being set up, similar meetings were going on in other countries around the world.  Dr. Miller continued.  “The press will be present for the opening remarks.  The rest of the meeting will be conducted in private.”  As he spoke, television cameras swung back and forth, and some still photographers snapped a few pictures.

People settled in their chairs, and turned to face the podium.  Kalea leaned over touching Kevin’s arm.  “I’d love to talk with you about your paper.  Are you doing anything for dinner?”  She asked while flashing her pearly whites.

“. . .err . . . no, I’m free . . .” Kevin’s heart rate jumped, and his hands were suddenly clammy.  Panic and flight response reaction had almost made him turn down the invitation, but some part of his brain managed to do the smart thing.

“Great!  It’s a date.” Kalea flashed him one last smile, and then settled back turning toward the podium.

Kevin missed the first few minutes of the opening remarks.  His head was swimming, and his imagination was working overtime.  Within a few minutes he was thinking about where they would live, and how many children they would have.  Slowly, he came to his senses.  A business dinner; that’s all it was.  He tried to concentrate on the speaker, and slowly his mind cleared.   He had read the pre-release of the opening remarks, but Dr. Miller brought the words to life, and effectively conveyed the importance of this event.

“. . . subsequent to the discovery of what we presume is the mother ship, we are now tracking both mother ship, and the object that is still heading our way.  The original estimate had put the intersection within the year, but accounting for subsequent reductions in velocity, we estimate the object will reach Earth’s orbit fourteen months from now.

Our attempts at communicating with it, or the mother ship, have produced no results.”

Dr. Miller paused, sipping on a glass of water, then continued.  ”Still, this group is charged with exploring various contact scenarios, and to formulate corresponding plans.  Our findings will be shared at the meeting of the UN Global Task Force.”  Dr. Miller paused to take another sip from a glass of water, and then resumed, “We will take a short break as the press leaves the room.  Please take care of any last minute business you may have.  Lunch will be brought in, and we’ll have periodic breaks.”

With that, Dr. Miller walked off the podium, and headed to an aide that had been patiently waiting for him to finish.  As he did so, the press began filing out, some snapping a few last minute pictures.  As the last few left the room, Dr. Miller stepped back up to the podium.  He waited for the doors to close, and then turned to face the group.

“Please switch off all electronic devices.  Recordings and transcripts of our meeting will be available on secure web sites at the end of each day.  You have all signed confidentiality notices,” Dr. Miller paused for effect, scanning the room, “and I want to stress very strongly the following: anyone making comments to the press prior to the release of our final report will be dismissed from further involvement with these, and future, proceedings.” Again he paused and looked around.

“Fine, let’s proceed.  I’m dispensing with introductions, but please state your name when recognized by the chair.  Before we get to work, I want to share our latest detailed images of what’s heading our way.”  As he spoke, a screen slowly dropped from the ceiling.  The projector turned on before the screen concluded its descent.

A fuzzy picture of a box appeared on the screen.   It was hard to gauge its size without a frame of reference, but the estimates put the length at about 4,500ft.  Kevin had seen 1,000ft freighters on the Great Lakes, and he tried to visualize something four times as big.

“Not a planetary re-entry craft . . .” “ . . .would need anti-gravity to slow descent without burning up . . .” “A force field would do the same . . .”  Kevin caught bits and pieces of the simultaneous comments coming from various people.  It was not his field, so he did not voice his opinion, namely that the vehicle could go into orbit, and a smaller craft could descend to the surface.   That’s what European explorers had done; they anchored their ships in deep water, and sent smaller boats ashore.  He assumed someone else would forward that particular option.

“OK.  Let’s get to work.  We’ll break up in smaller discussion groups.  The first effort is plain brainstorming.  The groups are as follows . . .” Dr. Miller pointed up at the screen.  A roster of eight groups had replaced the picture of the space box.  “. . .  We’ll meet for one hour, break, and then reconvene for a preliminary summary.  Remember; the goal is to come up with ideas.  We’ll discuss them later.”

Kevin found his name, and was disappointed Kalea was not in his group.  Still, she smiled at him as she got up and headed to her group.  He tried to clear his mind so that perhaps he could contribute something, but his immediate plan was to listen.

Chapter 3

It had been a good plan . . . had he only followed it.  For the first thirty minutes he sat and took notes.  Two earnest, if dissimilar, individual dominated the discussion.  One was a retired Army Colonel, now consulting at the Pentagon.  His interest centered on remaining vigilant to possible hostile intentions by the aliens.  His suggestions all steered to being cautious in all dealings and communications.  The other was a physicist, who argued the opposite, citing the tremendous benefits to mankind that may be made possible by knowledge the aliens may share.  Then he made his mistake.

“It could be they have no interest in us as either friends or foes.”  Kevin spoke while still writing, and it took him a moment the conversation had stopped.  

“What do you mean?” asked another member of the group.  

Kevin recognized him as Theodore Johnson.  Theo, as he liked to be called, was a well-known religious figure, appearing on weekly television broadcasts, and heard on radio stations around the country.  Kevin could not remember the exact denomination, but then his own interest in religion was only that of a researcher.  If hard pressed, he would have admitted to being an atheist, but always found the label somewhat odd.  After all, he held no belief in lots of things, and there were no labels for those lacks of beliefs.

Kevin cleared his throat, looked around, looked back at Theo, and then spoke, addressing no one in particular.

“Many explorers arriving to the new world from Europe were not so much seeking to contact new civilizations, but rather to expand land holdings and claim associated natural resources.” Putting down his pen, and shifting into his lecture mode, Kevin continued. “The natives were, in the eyes of the Europeans, inconsequential and inferior beings, to be used if needed, dismissed if not.  Indeed, native populations were often enslaved, and European culture and belief systems forced upon them, often by literal force.”

“Do you believe a similar situation may exist here?” Theo’s voice was restrained.  Had Kevin been attuned to his surroundings, he would have been more careful with his response.

“Only in generalities.  Like explorers of old, these aliens may be stopping to pick up supplies.  They may see us as a primitive society with quaint ideas of self-importance, simplistic beliefs systems, and limited armament.  They might grab what they want, and ignore us.  And that, in comparison to mid-17th Century European contact with native populations, that may not be a bad thing.”  Even as he spoke, Kevin sensed a shift in Theo’s demeanor.  He stopped, unsure how to proceed.

“Simplistic belief systems?”  Theo’s voice had an icy tone to it.  “Do you think these aliens may have something better to offer?”

Kevin knew he should have let it go.  But his lecture mode was still active.  “Not at all.  I am saying it is possible the relationship between us and these visitors may be similar to that of Pacific Island natives and the technologically superior European.  As far as religion is concerned, Christianity was forced upon the natives, and was used as justification for conquering land and people.  The aliens may not have the need for similar justification”

Theo sat up straight and lifted his chin, striking a defying pose as he addressed Kevin.  

“The explorers and missionaries brought the Word of God to people who were ignorant of it, and who accepted it because of its inherent truth.  Are you questioning the validity of the message?”

“No.  I was merely drawing a comparison in situation, not specifics.  Personally, I would hope that an advanced race would be above the arrogance of foisting their beliefs onto others, no matter how well intentioned.”  As soon as he said it, Kevin regretted it.  

There is no arguing with people of faith, but more important, there is no questioning their faith. But Kevin was now determined to make his original point.  He pressed on.

“Whatever their religion, or lack thereof, it could be these aliens are not the least interested in us, but merely require some raw material for their journey.  I’m saying that may not be a bad thing in itself.  Actual contact with a space faring race could do irreparable damage to the development of our societies here on earth.” Kevin felt good about what he considered a save.  His elation was short lived.  Theo was not about to let his remark go unchallenged.

“Arrogance?  You believe it is arrogant to spread the word of God?” Theo’s features may have been unreadable, but the tone of his voice was unmistakable.  To describe it as indignant would be a kindness.

Kevin realized he needed to diffuse the situation and try to melt back into the background. 

“I’m sorry.  I did not mean any offense.  I’m just saying these aliens may not have any intentions for prolonged interaction.  That could be inferred from the fact the mother ship, as we call it, is continuing on its course.  Our visitors may only be coming to get some supplies, and that is a good thing.”  Kevin wanted a sip of water, but did not want to stop.  

“The other scenario is they may in fact be the equivalent of past earth explorer, coming to claim this ground as their own.  The object heading our way may represent a permanent settlement preparing for a more extensive presence.  And yes, as part of that scenario, they may have some belief system they would introduce, but that’s an inconsequential aspect of the larger problem.”

Theo glared at him for a few seconds after Kevin finished speaking.  

“It may seem inconsequential to you, but rest assured that it would not be inconsequential to the billions of people with what you label as ‘simplistic beliefs’.”  Theo looked around the group, and back at Kevin.  “I question the wisdom of inviting you . . .”

“OK.” The general interrupted, “I believe this discussion has degenerated past the stated purpose of this meeting.  I propose we leave religion out of it, and include Mr. O’Connor’s two options in our summary.”  

He looked up at the clock, and continued. “Our time is nearly up.  I suggest we finalize our notes.  If no one minds, I can present our summary to the larger group.”  

No one objected, and a few minutes later the groups broke up, and everyone returned to their seats.  Kevin was glad to get away from Theo, and hurried to his seat.  

“You look shaken.” Kalea’s statement shook him out of his internal musings.

He managed to smile as he answered. “Oh, it’s nothing.”  He turned to look at her. “How did your discussion go?”

“Nothing more than what many sci-fi fans are probably postulating on the various online chat rooms.  Frankly, I’m not sure what we are trying to accomplish here.  I suppose the Government wants to show they are on top of it.”  Kalea smiled, and then shifted her attention to Dr. Miller as he stepped up to the microphone.

Chapter 4

The day had dragged on, with much discussion, more meetings, and the paring down of various ideas.  He was surprised his two comments made the final list.  One was presented as the aliens coming to re-supply, and likely to avoid contact.  The other broached the possibility of an outpost.  

Along with other ideas, his contributions were scheduled for discussion on the following day.   Dr. Miller dismissed the group, reminding them of a 7:00am starting time for the following day.  Kevin gathered his stuff, and waited for Kalea to get back.  She had excused herself and had gone to speak with an older man that had been in her group.

She came back a few minutes later, and asked him if he was still up for a dinner.

“Sure,” he replied, “any ideas where we might go?”

“The restaurant downstairs is pretty good.  Let’s meet there in a half hour.” She smiled and continued, “It will give us a chance to freshen up.”

“Half and hour it is.”  Kevin smiled back and then watched her leave.  Getting up   and checking to make sure he had grabbed everything, he too headed for the door.  Halfway there he noticed Dr. Miller waving to get his attention.  Kevin changed direction, wondering why he would be of any interest Dr. Miller.   He stopped a few feet away from the man just as one of the aides approached and diverted the Doctor’s attention away from Kevin.  Dr. Miller held him off, holding up his hand, and addressed Kevin without giving the aid another look.

“Mr. O’Connor, sorry to detain you,” Miller’s tone actually gave the impression that it should be Kevin who should be sorry to have taken Miller’s time. “I understand you had a run-in with Theodore Johnson.”

The statement took Kevin by surprise, and all he could do was to stammer out a questioning “Sorry?”

“Theo complained you were disrespectful and offensive.” The words left Kevin speechless, and he stared open-mouthed at Miller.  Before he could respond, Miller continued.  “Now, knowing Theo, I suspect he’s blowing things out of proportion.  Still, keep in mind we are not here to argue the merits of one worldview versus another.  The pressing matter is the possibility of alien contact.”

Kevin had recovered; unlike dealing with women, he was not a person prone to kowtowing to authority figures, superiors, or anyone, especially when on solid, and in this case, righteous ground.

“I spoke only in generalities,” replied Kevin, “and of matters which are pertinent to the discussion at hand.” Fully into his lecture mode, he once again forgot to pay proper respect to the person he was addressing. “I don’t think we should limit the exploration of our options for fear of offending any one individual, especially one who examines the world through what is arguably a very limited filter.”  Even as he said it, Kevin once again realized his words were too much of a challenge to Miller.

“Mr. O’Connor, I am not here to handle petty ideological squabbles.  My interest is to guide this conference to producing worthwhile ideas aimed at dealing with something the human race has not experienced before.  Within that scope there is also the consideration the world will not only have to deal with First Contact, but also deal with the reaction of six billion people to that contact.  Theo is here because he loosely represents the beliefs of about a third of them.”  Miller was now stiff-backed, and sporting a challenging pose, chest out, chin raised, and looking down at Kevin as Zeus might have when dealing with mere mortals. “It is in the best interest of all that a third of the world population does not come to believe these beings are here to personally challenge them and their beliefs.”

Kevin tried to speak, but Miller raised a hand, palm facing Kevin, and continued.  “I am sorry to do this, as your ideas have merit, but as the scenarios you present are rather benign, I ask that you resign from further participation in this conference. Thank you for your time.”

With that Miller turned, and walked away, already in conversation with his aide.  Kevin stood there flabbergasted.  “What just happened?” he thought.

Chapter 5

Kevin looked around. The area was empty, and he stood alone for a few minutes after Miller and his aide turned at the end of the hall. Their voices faded into nondescript echoes, and then were gone.

All his life he had struggled to get recognition for his work. Membership to this conference validated some of the personal sacrifices he had made. Now he stood poised to receive a lot of unwanted attention and notoriety; the first, and probably only member to be expelled from arguably one of the most important conferences in the history of mankind.

Nice.

Suddenly remembering Kal, he glanced at his phone to check the time. He was not sure what kind of company he would be, nor if he should even meet with Kal since he likely would leave for Michigan tomorrow, returning home with a big ole black mark in his resume, but the idea of passing up a chance with Kal outweighed the difficulty and potential embarrassment of breaking the news to her. He turned and headed toward the restaurant.

At the entrance, as he waited for the couple ahead of him to deal with the hostess, he scanned the room looking for Kal. He saw her just about the time a tall handsome man bent toward a seated Kal and kissed her on her cheek before sitting next to her. He noticed their ease with each other; he could almost feel the love across the room.  No way could he deal with this now; dinner with Kal and her boyfriend was going to be too much.  

Kevin thanked the hostess, now asking him if he was here for dinner, turned, and headed back to his room. Maybe he could catch a late flight home, and avoid, or at least delay, the inevitable questions by a press eager for any news relating to the conference.

Within three hours Kevin was trying unsuccessfully to nap on the flight back to Detroit. He had already decided to head up to his cabin in the U.P., and wanted to be rested enough to at least get out of the city before the light of day and the curious press found him. As he closed his eyes he replayed the scene of Kal and her boyfriend comfort and ease with each other, and bitterly though he would likely go the rest of his life not knowing what that was like.

Chapter 6

Over the next few weeks, Kevin followed the news from his cabin on Lake Huron. Save for the occasional trips to town, he spent the time reading, doing research, and writing opinion pieces about the aliens. His agent had taken a completely different tact in interpreting his dismissal from the conference. She had smelled money, and wanted Kevin to pen his ideas about the alien in a series of articles, and to hit the talk circuit as someone a cut above the usual “expert” sought out by the 24-hour news networks and various talk shows.

She actually wanted a book, but no way could one be released before the aliens arrived. The next best thing was to make the most of it before they arrived, because afterwards no one would pay any attention to Kevin.

The first reporter arrived three weeks to the day from when he had left the conference. At first he could not understand how they had found him, but soon it became clear his agent had selected a few friendly contacts to start the buzz about the upcoming articles. Predictably, after the first reporter published his short interview, the floodgates opened, and interview requests started to come in fast and furious.  

Theo had many friendly contacts; almost immediately his organization launched preemptive strikes on various talk radio and religion-friendly cable news channels.  Despite Kevin keeping his speculations to a minimum and carefully choosing his words, Theo’s smear machine spelled it all out in biased and gory detail, painting Kevin as someone welcoming the new alien overlords even as they sought to subjugate humanity to their will.  Kevin’s agent was in seventh heaven.  

On Sunday morning, as he listened to the rolling thunder of a passing storm, he contemplated calling his agent and telling her he was done.  He had never dreamed of this, and he was not prepared for targeted attacks.  Not only did he not have a way to respond to them, he also did not know how one might respond to them. 

A knock at the door shook him out of his introspection.  As he reached for the handle he was both annoyed to be bothered so early, and surprised Loner, the dog, had not sounded the “Hey! There’s a stranger here!!” alarm.  He was speechless as upon opening his door he faced Kal holding an umbrella over both her and Loner.

“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” Lost in the brilliance of her smile, mind reeling from the surprise, Kevin took a few seconds before even trying to answer.

“Never mind,” she said, “I’ll invite myself in.” Kal said as she turned her back to him, shook the umbrella as she closed it, and stepped into the small foyer.  Loner followed her in.  The dog rarely came into the house, but Kevin did not register the fact as he guiltily stared at her back as she steadied herself on the door frame with one hand, and with the other reached down to remove her shoes.

“So, how have you been?” she said as she turned and looked at him.

Chapter 7

“What are you doing here?” is all Kevin could manage as he struggled to fit her presence at his cabin with his understanding of how the world worked.

“Right now I’m cold, damp, and in need of using your bathroom.” She smiled, and looked around, but even in his confused state Kevin detected her hesitation in her demeanor, and maybe a hint at her nonchalance as a bit forced.

“Sorry.  You just caught me by surprise; up the landing and to your left.” He closed the door, turned, and asked “can I get you coffee, or some other warm drink?”

Kal was already heading up to the landing. “Coffee is fine.” She answered over her shoulder as she turned the corner and disappeared from view.

Kevin was left standing in the foyer. He looked at Loner laying by the fireplace, registering the dog was in the house. He could count on one hand the times Loner had come in, and those times usually involved extreme weather. The dog had showed up shortly after he bought the place, and ended up staying. It would go on walks with Kevin, sit by him as he watched the freighters make their way down the St. Lawrence Seaway, and stayed with the neighbor when Kevin was not here.

Whenever Kevin was at the cabin, Loner stayed around the cabin, making use of the doghouse Kevin had bought and set up beside the porch, and joining Kevin whenever he stepped outside.

Shaking his head, Kevin headed to the kitchen to get his guest, and himself, a coffee. The rain had stopped, and the sun trying to break through the clouds was lighting up the surface of the water, offering a great contrast to the still dark horizon.

He sat at the breakfast table next to the big bay window, and tried to get himself together as he sipped his coffee. Tried was the operative word. His mind swimming, all he managed was to focus on the freighter that had appeared on the horizon, and was making its way North. Grateful for the normalcy offered by the familiar sight, his mind was happy to let all else go, and concentrate on the slow progress of the ship.

“There you are; thanks for the coffee.” Her voice startled him, and all he could do was to blurt out the obligatory “Do you want cream or sugar with that?”

“It’s fine black, thank you.  Lovely view.” She said as she sat across from him and sipped her coffee.

“No offense, but what are you doing here?” Even as he spoke he realized he was being a tad rude, but damn it, this nonchalant act was beginning to wear thin.  

As he finished his question Loner got up and walked over to lie down near Kal’s feet. 

Surreal!!” he thought.  

Through his mind’s eye he could see the scene he was a part of. The table, the two coffee, a woman he had fantasized about, himself, and beyond the window the contrasting scene of calm after the storm, complete with rays of sunshine, and gentle waves lapping the old dock that years ago had fallen to disrepair.

Chapter 8

“I probably should have called, but I thought me showing up would be a pleasant surprise.”

Her smugness and casual tone was gone, replaced by a seriousness that while diminishing her youthful appearance, did nothing to dampen her beauty.  

“I’m sorry Kevin, I thought you liked me when we met, and when you did not show up at the dinner, I was a little hurt.  Then I found out the reason you left, and when the opportunity came up to mix business with pleasure, I jumped at the chance.”

Kevin looked at her dumbfounded.  

“Business with pleasure?”

“Do you know what I do?” Kal asked after sipping her coffee.

Kevin took a moment to rack his brain for buried memories before answering.

“Do? If I remember correctly, you consult for some government department or other, and sometimes speak for them. Talk shows, interviews, and the occasional quote for newspaper articles. Mostly stuff dealing with social implication of current events.”

“I’m a Homeland Security Analyst. Covers all manners of sin, but my main function is to not be the old-fat-white-bald man talking to the media. That, and I also try to head off potential PR disasters.” She looked out as a seagull glided by as it followed the coastline. For a brief moment it was almost as if the gull took note of her and seemed to pause, hovering, and then the gull caught an unseen air current, and was gone.

“Am I a PR disaster?” Kevin asked cautiously.

She sighed, and then shook her head as she answered.  “No; I’ve read your articles, and there’s nothing inflammatory, embarrassing, or damaging in there.  The concern is for when you’ll start the talk circuit.  The way the media works these days, you’ll have some of Theo’s spokespeople up against you.”

“You read my articles?  . . . they are not published yet.  Where did you read them?” Kevin question belied his concern they tapped into his PC and personal files.

“We, Homeland Security, monitor sensitive issues, and how they might be discussed in the press. In this case, the magazines called us to make sure there was no problem with presenting your stuff. They are not required to do so, but since you had been in the original panel, they were just covering their bases.”

“So much for freedom of the press.” Kevin was annoyed, but continued. “Look, I’ve already resolved to call my agent and have her pull me from the tour.  I’m not up for this kind of stuff, so you can tell your superiors I’m not going to be a problem you have to handle.”    

He regretted his words even as he spoke.  Her smile faded, a hurt look did a fleeting dance on her face, and then all emotion left her face as if she had slipped on a mask.

Chapter 9

Kal looked out the window, even as Kevin searched for the words to bring this back from the brink. The chance evaporated as Kal spoke first.

“Sorry.  I suppose I should have called instead.” She was still looking out the window as she spoke.

He could not read her voice, but knew enough to know he had royally blown this meeting.

Again he searched for words, but then wondered what he could possibly say that would make a difference. This was not a matter of friendship; he damn near loved this woman, and she was already taken. Friendship was not going to be a workable second choice here; it would be too hard a role for him.

She looked back at him, the mask still in place.

“The reason for us contacting you was not to keep you from appearing on your already-scheduled interviews, or discussing your articles. We wanted to offer help and training.”

“Come again?” Kevin thought he surely misheard.

“Theo is whipping up his listeners to the point that if there is any contact with the aliens, they are likely to be assaulted by some of his followers.  He’s labeled them as abominations, a threat, and intent on nefarious deeds.”

Kal was looking at Kevin as she spoke, the mask still in place. Well, almost. The eyes looked sad to Kevin, but he was unsure if it was his imagination or not.

Kal continued, “we would like to help you mount a reason campaign against that kind of talk.”

Kevin stared at her, lost in the confusion of conflicting emotions.

Chapter 10

She made a call, her coffee now forgotten and cold.  He heard snippets of the conversation, and heard mention “equipment” and “car”.  She ended the call, her back still to him.  He saw the shoulders straighten, a deep breath.  When she turned, the smile had returned, and she walked up to him.  No.  Something resembling a smile was in place, but it did not look right.  It did match the look in her eyes, though.  A glimpse of sadness is what he saw.

“My car will be here in a few minutes.  I’ll be out of your hair in a short while.” Her words stung, but she was already turning to grab her cup.  She continued talking as she walked it to the sink.

“My assistant, Jen . . . Jennifer will show up tomorrow morning.  She can brief you on the approach we are thinking of taking.  Naturally, we are not going to force you to do or say anything you don’t want to.  Or, if you prefer, you can suggest whatever is comfortable for you, and we can address our common concerns.”

It was all too fast.  She would be gone in a moment, and this other person, Jen, would be here tomorrow.  He needed to hold her here. He needed to tell her how he felt.  He needed to do all that.

“Our concerns?” Kevin asked, instead.  “Until a few moments ago, I did not have any concerns.  I wanted out.  Now you’re asking me to go head-to-head with a religious fanatic whose followers could potentially be dangerous!”  He had not meant to raise his voice, but that’s how it came out.  

It was almost palpable.  It was like watching a curtain come down, closing off the audience from the stage.  Only he could still see her.  But now, no smile, and no sadness.  

They looked at each other in silence for what seemed an eternity.  

“Give it some thought.” Kal spoke with her media interview voice.  Cool professionalism dripping into to an almost icy tone. “Call this number if you change your mind.  I’ll go wait for my car.”

Thirty second, in which he did nothing, said nothing to stop her, and she was out the door. Loner must have slipped out with her, because he was no longer in the house.

“What just happened?” Kevin spoke out loud, noting the whole incident had taken less than 20 minutes.  The silent house did not offer up an answer.

Kevin called the number late at night, an answering service taking his brief message of “I’ll do it.”

Chapter 11

Jen turned out to be a tall, very attractive young woman.  Any other time he might have been seriously distracted by her presence, but other than registering what she looked like, Kevin’s thoughts remained on Kal and the current turn of events.  Her driver brought in some equipment, of which he recognized a cable modem, a router, a couple of big-ass monitors, and a computer. The rest looked like professional quality audio-visual stuff.

The man busied himself with setting everything up, and then he then ran a line to a temporary satellite dish he set up in the yard.  Within the hour, his breakfast nook was transformed into a mini-media center.  

“It might be better if I stayed here for a few days. Would that be OK with you?”

Kevin nearly spilled his coffee as his foot slipped off the windowsill, and the chair he was on snapped back to having all four legs on the floor.

“Leaning your chair back like that is a bit dangerous,” Jen continued, “and I don’t have any medical training.”

“Sorry, I was lost in thought, and you startled me.” Kevin stood and turned to face Jen.

“Umm, yes, I suppose so. There are two extra bedrooms. Pick whichever you like, but the smaller one has its own bathroom. The other has a Jack-and-Jill bathroom adjoining to my room.” Kevin had walked to the sink, and emptied the now cold coffee. He hated wasting it, but hated more the taste of reheated coffee.

Jen smiled at him, and leaned on the counter. “Shared bathroom, eh? Could be interesting.”

Kevin had been concentrating at not looking at her now drooping neckline, and thinking that her easy smile seemed to multiply her good looks by a couple of factors. It took him a few seconds to register what she said, and when he did, he nearly dropped the tea can he had retrieved from the shelf above the sink.

“What? No . . . I . . . look,” he stammered, but did not get to finish, which was good because he was at a loss for words.

“Relax; I’m just kidding you, or rather, testing you. I read you file; shy, or maybe reserved, unattached, nice guy with no record of bad habits, no history of temper, no reports of improper behavior, not so much as even a traffic ticket.” Jen straightened, walked around the island, grabbed a cup from the cabinet, reached over and grabbed a tea bag from the open can Kevin was holding.

“I can take care of myself, but would rather not have to fight off some asshole with aspirations of getting into my pants. So far you pass, so I’ll risk spending a few nights here.” As she spoke, she grabbed the tea kettle, filled it with water, and set it on the stove.

As she turned the burner on, she continued. “Do you want to order out, or are you some kind of wonder-cook that can whip up a meal from scratch?”

“Are you always this direct?” Kevin wanted to irritated, but had to admit her demeanor, tone, and casualness had evaporated his usual awkwardness with attractive women.

“Only girl in a family with six kids; I learned quickly to pull my own weight.” Jan sat at the breakfast table, moving one of the keyboard to make room for her cup. She wrapped the string of the teabag twice through the handle before continuing.

“What’s the deal with you and Kal?”

Kevin’s dark mood returned in an instant, and he turned sideways to shield his eyes from a direct gaze.

“Deal? There’s no deal. She has a boyfriend. Even met him, and everything.” Not strictly true, but good enough, he thought, and hoped  Jen would not pick up on the slight bitterness that came through despite his effort to keep his tone neutral. He continued before she could press on.

“And no, not a cook. There’s a couple of options for takeout, but the best bet is to head down to the Bayview. They have a salad bar, and a pretty good menu.” He opened the drawer next to the phone and retrieved the menu for the restaurant.

“They open in an hour and a half; if you don’t mind being seen with a shy guy devoid of improper behavior, we can head there before the evening crowd hits, although ‘crowd’ might be a stretch in this case.” He wanted to keep on talking, but ran out of stuff to say. Jen resumed her line of questioning.

“Hmm . . . I would have bet on you being the mystery boyfriend. She’s showing all the signs of having found someone. Her personally reading all your stuff, and her deciding to come here in person both seemed like confirmation of my suspicions you were the guy” Jen looked like a person trying to readjust her understanding of facts, and was not really looking at Kevin; more like looking through him, and thus missed the pursing of his lips and turning toward the window and the view beyond.

Kevin did not answer, lest his voice gave away the hurt he felt. He thought back at their meeting, remembering now how cheerful she had been, how friendly she had seemed . . . apparently it comes easy to people in love. It was not coming easy for him. 

Chapter 12

Kevin had been silent for what seemed like a long time. Even a minute would have seemed a long time, and he thought it might have been longer. He put on a smile, turned, and asked the first thing that came into his mind.

“You two must be close; doesn’t she share all her romantic conquests?” He had not meant it to, but that came out with an edge.

“You have a thing for her, don’t you?”

Jen continued before he could answer. “Man, I’m sorry; this can’t be pleasant for you, and I am an insensitive jerk for pressing it.”

Kevin considered denying it, but instead sighed, and just nodded.

“That sucks. To answer your question, we are very close, but Kal is a very private person when it comes to relationships. Not that she’s had many; it’s been a few years since she’s been involved with anyone, and even then, that had been nothing like this. I have never seen her like this; I’ve never seen her this hap . . . sorry; you probably don’t want to hear this.”

Kevin straightened and smiled a genuine, if sad, smile before answering.

“I had made my peace with it, but seeing her here rattled me, more than I would have suspected.” The kettle whistled, and Kevin walked over to Jan, grabbed her cup, and walked back to the stove before continuing.

“Not only that, because of it, I was also not very nice; I probably hurt her feelings, and by the time she left she was rather curt and detached.” Jan sat silent as Kevin paused to pour the water into the two cups.

“Sugar, cream?”

“Level teaspoon of sugar, thanks.”

“Anyway, she had been interested in my writing about the Pacific cultures, probably because it related to her roots, and we might have been friends over that, but I think that ship as also sailed. Just as well; it’s hard for me being around her and not . . .” Kevin was extending the tea cup to Jen, and she reaching for it, when he paused.

“You’re . . . you can’t . . .”

“Don’t worry,” Jen interrupted as she leaned forward on her chair to grab the cup, “Kal would kill me if she found out I’m noseying in her affairs.”

“Thank you.”

“You are welcome.” Jen took a small sip from the cup, and then turned toward the mass of computer equipment in front of her.

“I need to do some prep work.” She started waking the two monitors up as she spoke.

“How about you give me an hour , and then we’ll head out for dinner?”

“Fine,” Kevin replied, “I’ll go find Loner, and go for a walk.”

“He’s not outside,” Jen answered as she absentmindedly pointed toward the living room, “he came in with me, and is laying down by my bag.”

Kevin, peered around the corner and sure enough, Loner was laying down next to what looked like an overnight bag, his head resting on a corner of it. Loners eyes shifted to look back at Kevin, but otherwise he did not move.

“What is it with this dog and women,” he murmured.

Kevin checked outside, and as the rain had stopped, grabbed his rainproof jacket, walking stick, but left his umbrella where it was.

Loner stood and was already waiting at the door as Kevin yelled back at Jen.

“I’ll be about an hour. Shorter if it rains again.”

Without waiting for an answer, he opened the door, waited for Loner to head out ahead of him, and stepped out into the cool UP air. He loved it up here . . . even if he was alone. In fact, it was the perfect place to be alone.

Chapter 13

After a few weeks they settled into a routine. Kevin  got up early, eat breakfast, and be already writing by the time Jen came down. Around mid-morning they reviewed any news about the ship, and particularly alarmist opinion pieces, and then they spent the rest of the morning practicing mock interviews based on what they had heard, Jen playing the role of host or adversary, as needed.

It was aimed toward Kevin gaining confidence and being comfortable in front of the camera. They had set up a small studio, really nothing more than a camera and an interchangeable backdrop, and played with different backdrops for atmosphere.

Most evenings they went out to eat, although sometimes they would have leftovers, and a few times they ordered out. Kevin would head off to bed early, while Jan was up until the small hours of the night.

As they approached the publication date for the first of his series of articles, they added  practice hookups with a few of the talk stations. It was not with the actual host, but otherwise it got Kevin familiar with the procedure, and helped iron out technical issues with the link-ups..

For Kevin the most uncomfortable part turned out to be the ten minutes Jen would spend applying make-up. They were in good terms, and approaching genuine friendship, so she laughed when he finally asked her to wear less revealing tops, but she did comply.

On Fridays Jen would leave Kevin on his own. It turned out Jen too had someone, and flew back to Washington to spend the weekend with him. As much as he was glad for her, it also served to remind him of his own unattached status. Not that he felt like doing anything about it.

The publication of his articles and opinion pieces reignited interest in what had now become a side story. Strange that; even with as big a news as aliens coming to Earth was, people had quickly tired of it. They were still ten months out, and reporting on them had settled into a daily update as to their position and speed. The only notable new fact was that the ship was slowing, and the geeks were in full speculation mode as to how they were doing it.

That changed the same day his first article was published, basically a summary of possible scenarios much like he had outlined at the conference but with more references and case studies, Teo’s organization put out a full-court press, attacking him with everything from semi-thought-out rebuttals to rabid vitriolic rants, usually not very flattering toward his persona and lineage.

The first live interview was scheduled for the weekend talk shows, and Jen informed him she would be here, but staying overnight with her boyfriend in town. Kevin offered them the use of the cabin, but Jen thought it would interfere with her work hours if he was around all the time.

A day before the interview, Jen asked a question while they were at dinner.  

“I don’t know if I should tell you something.”

“This is not about broccoli again, is it? I just don’t like them; they are green, and all bumpy and stuff.” Kevin smiled as he referred back to an earlier conversation on the merits of something disliked by even an ex-President.

“No,” Jen replied, her face serious, “it’s about Kal.”

Kevin’s fork momentarily stopped halfway to his mouth before deliberately continuing.

“Oh?” He finally asked.

“Look, I know you’ve worked to hard at not thinking about her, but something’s wrong.” Jen was uncharacteristically serious, and seemed earnest in her concern.

“What’s wrong?” Even as he asked, Kevin realized it was a stupid question, but Jen understood the meaning behind it.

“I don’t know; she’s not sleeping well, that’s obvious, but she’s also moody. I don’t think her relationship is going as well as it was.”

Kevin’s first instinct, for which he was instantly ashamed, was one of joy at the news. Not malicious joy, but joy at the idea she might be available. Then he thought of his own hurt, and he did not wish that on anyone.

Chapter 14

Kevin sighed, put down his fork, wiped his mouth, and grabbed the glass of wine. He sat there a moment, sipping his wine, and thinking about things as Jen watched him. He thought of all the angles he could, and none pointed him to anything to do with him. He finally spoke.

“Jen, I feel terrible for her, but I’m not sure what I can do.”

“You could talk to her.”

“Doesn’t she have friends or family for that?”

“To a point; as I said, she is a very private person.”

“I don’t see how I qualify as someone she would open up to. Outside of a few formal-sounding e-mails, we’ve not spoken since she was last here.” Kevin took another sip of his wine. “As I mentioned, we did not leave in the best of terms.”

“I think she still thinks highly of you. She still reads everything you write, and personally reviews the test videos.”

“Isn’t that part of her job?”

“Yes and no; it’s mostly my job. She does not normally get involved in the mechanics of the projects we work on. She’s usually more removed, looking at the big picture. Plus . . . “ Jen hesitated.

“Plus? Plus what?”

“Plus . . . she asks about you.”

“ She asks about me?”

Jen leaned forward, and continued in an almost conspiratorial tone. “She casually drops questions, and I casually answer as if I did not know you . . . I mean . . . “

“I get it; no need to spell it out.” Kevin thought for a few moments.

“But still; what do I say to her? And how am I supposed to help fix her relationship?”

Jen picked up a roll and threw it at Kevin. He caught it before it bounced off his chest.

“You don’t fix her relationship, you idiot; you offer her something in its place!”

Kevin took a bite of the roll as he considered that angle.

“No, I can’t do it. For one, I would be hitting her at a vulnerable time; I would feel like a vulture swooping in. For another, if anything is to happen between us, it has to be something deeper and more meaningful than me trying to cheer her up. Besides,” he said, leaning back on his chair as he grabbed the glass of wine, “as I said, we’re not in the best of terms.”

“No wonder women end up with jerks,” said Jen, grabbing the remaining roll and angrily tearing it in half, “the nice guys are all idiots!”

“I gather that be one of them there left-handed compliments?”

Jen reluctantly smiled.

“Kevin, it’s not a matter that Kal would be ‘settling’ for you. No matter who this guy was, if he hurt her, he’s not a tenth of the guy you are, and if I weren’t in love, I could see me trying to lasso you.”

“Uh . . . thank you?” Kevin joked, but was genuinely flattered. But he was also still a shy insecure mess, and did not take Jen’s comment at face value, chalking it up to friendship.

“Look, I’ll try reaching out to her via e-mail, but can’t promise anything. And no, I’m not going to make a move on her.”

“Idiot!”

“Thank you. Now, what time am I supposed to drop you off at the hotel?”

“Actually, I forgot to tell you; Rik won’t be coming. I got a text he had some kind of family matter, and postponed.”

“Sorry to hear.” Kevin hesitated before continuing.

“Look, I’ve an aversion to prying, but we’re friends, and friends show concern for each other. You’ve shown interest in my situation, and I’ve never even asked how you are doing with . . . Rik, is it?”

Jen eyed Kevin before answering.

“Too nice . . . “

“What?”

“Nothing; Rick may be the one I finally settle down with. He’s kind, has a great sense of humor, and very laid back . . . a perfect complement to my Type-A personality. Right now he’s consulting in Japan, a liaison between a Japanese company and the US government, but by the end of the year he’s supposed to transfer to a permanent post in Washington. I might ask him to marry me.”

“Wow . . . have you two talked about it?”

“We’ve spoken around it. I get the feeling he’s a bit insecure about my looks.”

Kevin replied with mock seriousness.

“Yeah, it sucks to be so beautiful!”

“Shut up!” Jen’s smile acknowledged the compliment.

“Look,” she continued, “when you first met Kal, what was your first thought?

“Er . . . oh, I get it.”

“Most nice guys have a low opinion of themselves, which is why they are nice guys. Because of it, they assume beautiful women are not interested in them.”

“Sometimes they are right . . .” Kevin spoke on automatic, and there was an awkward pause during which neither spoke.

“Uh, yeah,” Jen waved her hand in dismissal, “I like Rik, but I don’t want to play that game. I think we know enough about each other for this next step.”

“Sincerely,” Kevin spoke with gravity, “I wish you the best of outcomes, and for both of you to have a long and happy future together.”

“Why, thank you . . . would you be my maid of honor?”

“As long as I don’t have to wear pink. I don’t do pink well.”

They had a good laugh, bantering back and forth a few more times, and then headed back to the cabin. There was still work to do before the interview.

Chapter 15

“Are you aware of what Theodore Johnson has been saying regarding your speculation of the upcoming encounter with the aliens?”

The interviewer was reading the canned questions portions of the interview. These had been supplied and agreed upon before hand, and the answers worked out to something that while not rehearsed, leaved little chance of surprises.

“I’m aware he’s consistently twisting my words to say things I’ve never said.”

“So, you are not of the opinion the aliens pose a threat to the established religions and way of life of the people of Earth?”

“Well, the mere knowledge of the extraterrestrials, I don’t like the term aliens, raises the possibility there will be changes to how people see themselves, and by extension, their place in the universe, and by extension to that, the beliefs that shaped humanity’s understanding of their place in the cosmos.” Kevin paused to take a sip of water before continuing, while Jen gave him the thumbs up from off-camera.  

She was recording the raw feed for upload to the web. This minimized the possibility the interviewer might resort to creative editing to present a different view of what Kevin said.

“However,” Kevin continued, “ that is not predicated on the extraterrestrial themselves. Knowledge of their existence is sufficient to trigger that evaluation irrespective of actual contact.”

“Yes, but do you agree actual contact poses additional dangers?”

“Well, based on the few examples we have, fundamental and quick changes to a society’s established self-understanding can lead to a collapse of said society, but the comparison is not exactly clear cut, and may not be applicable at all.”

“In what way?”

“We live in a time where the human imagination often far outpace existing technological capability. That imagination might also outpace the technology of the extraterrestrial visitors. As a society we might not be as impressed with the capabilities of the aliens as ancient islanders were with European technology.”

“We now break for a short message. When we return, we’ll continue our interview with Kevin O’Connor, author on many interesting and in-depth articles speculating on the impact of the upcoming meeting of civilizations separated by both distance and technological capability.”

“. . . and cut! Back in seven.”

Jen paused the feed, and came in to touch up the make-up.

“How am I doing?”

“Well, we were all scared shitless you would just babble on and on about all the stuff you know, but so far you’re holding back pretty good.”

“Wise-ass.” Kevin smiled, and even though he knew the remark was designed to calm him, he let it do exactly that.

“But, seriously, how am I doing?

“You’re doing fine. You’re hitting the talking point, and keeping the conversation to discussing extraterrestrials as opposed to aliens, gives a different perspective for people to consider. You know what’s coming next, right?” Jen closed her case, and stepped back to look at her handiwork through the monitor.   

“Yeah, I get asked about religion itself, as if I knew what the heck the aliens believe in!”

“Extraterrestrials, not aliens. Don’t change between the two, or you’ll slip up on camera.”

“Right; sorry.” Kevin made a mental note to change his very thought process to exclude the word ‘aliens’.

“Kevin, you’re smart, and this is your third friendly interview. The next few will be as well, and it gives you practice for when the questions are not going to be friendly. Capture and remember you mode of answering, and try to maintain that no matter what.”

“Alright. Oh, I meant to tell you; I e-mailed Kal, and we’ve exchanged a few more e-mails after that. She seems OK to me, but then I don’t see her face to face.”

“She seems a bit better, but that could just be the passage of time. Did you ask her about her boyfriend?”

“No, and I’m not going to either.”

“Back in one minute,” said the voice from the box next to the computer, “testing feed integrity in ten seconds.”

“OK, You’re up a half minute after that. Drink some water now so you don’t have while speaking. If you have to drink, do so when the host is speaking.” Jan spoke quickly as she moved to the console. “Go get’em!”

“And we’re back with Kevin O’Connor. Kevin, the technological aspect of the upcoming encounter is one facet of what concerns many. The other is the possibility of a fundamentally different understanding of life’s place in the universe.”

The host was now purposefully avoiding the term religion, and Kevin would not name it either unless the host mentioned it first.

“Well, Brian, history has taught us some harsh lessons. Over and over we’ve seen examples of civilizations small and large either being forced to re-evaluate their understanding of their place in the universe, or having a new understanding thrust upon them from outside forces.”

“Which case do you think is likely in our own upcoming meeting with what might be a vastly superior civilization.”

“I would hesitate to speculate, but if called upon to do so, I would point at our own history as a possible example. What used to be state-approved, and in fact, state-endorsed practices, namely to forcibly implant the views of one’s society into a society often considered inferior, has given way to a more reasoned approach, one where the choice of the individual is given greater import than it ever has in the past. Not everywhere, and not consistently, but that seems to be the progression of our collective society. I would expect, and again I must stress this is pure speculation, that a significantly more advanced society has further come to grips with these questions, and has formulated protocols to that end.”

“But,” the host continued, “ it could be they may, in fact, be at a point where as part of their own understanding of their place in the universe, they see fit to force said understanding on others.”

“I suppose that is a possibility, Brian, but we must also remember the examples we have of such behavior were tied to the conquest of resource-rich lands. The extraterrestrial have the vast resources of the universe at their disposal. Whatever benefit could be conferred to them from either a philosophical or physical conquest of the Earth would be insignificant relative to the vastness if the universe.”

“Our time is up, and we thank Kevin for joining us today. His writing can be found both in the notes for this show, and at Kevin’s own website, also linked from the transcript of this show. Good night, and thanks for joining us today.”

“And we’re out,” the box spoke again, “thanks for a great show, folks.”

Chapter 16 

The interviews continued, sometimes three or four a week, and Kevin’s on-air confidence and poise grew in measure. His articles sold and were translated around the globe in multiple languages and he was making serious money. He was even in constant communication with Kal, and while they had not spoken or seen each other, their e-mails had grown comfortable, easily discussing both work-related issues, and everyday things.

Kevin studiously avoided personal questions or discussions, but the report he would get from Jen indicated Kal was more relaxed and both acted and looked better. Kevin could not imagine Kal “looking” better, but he knew what Jen meant.

Meanwhile, the timetable for the craft intercepting Earth’s orbit had changed, shortening it by five months. The original assumption had been for the craft to avoid a trajectory taking it close to the Jovian planets or the sun, but apparently the extraterrestrials were not concerned about gravitational effect, or had considerable power and fuel to overcome them.

The scheduled arrival was now a few months away. The good news was that Kevin’s efforts, combined with those of other scientists, has shifted the tides from mistrust and animosity to that of cautious optimism. Meanwhile, the now renamed US Extraterrestrial Task Force had been caught flat-footed. The massive PR campaign scheduled begin a few months ahead of contact was still stuck in committee.

That meant more in-studio interviews for Kevin, and he now traveled the better part of each week. It was grueling and tiring, but he could see an end in site. Once contact was made, his role would be relegated to history as other resources stepped in.

Chapter 17

The day had arrived, and the world watched as around-the-clock coverage showed both a real-time speck, and an animated 3-D representation of the craft’s approach to Earth. Kevin was back at the cabin, and Jen was on her way over with Rik. Jen had not waited for the end of the year, and the two were now engaged.

Jen and Rik were coming to watch the arrival of the extraterrestrial ship, and then spend the weekend with Kevin. Homeland Security had donated the computer equipment to Kevin, and part of the reason for Jen’s visit  was to get the backups, and to wipe the drives of things Kevin should not have, especially since he did not know how to use them.

He did not hear the car door, but Loner had stood up and walked to the door. The dog had taken to staying inside with Kevin, regardless of visitors, so he was now a proper pet.

Kevin did not wait; he opened the door just as the man outside reached for the doorbell button. He looked familiar, but it took Kevin a few seconds to recognize him. It was the man he had watched kiss Kal at the restaurant.

Kevin just stared at thim, ignoring the man’s outstretched hand. Kevin’s mouth might have been open, but he could not think straight enough to check. The man’s mouth was moving, but there too Kevin failed to register what he said.

Jen stepped around the man, and touched Kevin in the shoulder as she spoke. He turned to her, and registered the second time she asked the question.

“Kevin, are you alright?”

Kevin look at her, and all he could say was “He’s your fiance?”

Jen gave him a strange look before replying.

“Yes. Kevin, this is Riku Satou, Rik for short.”

Kevin looked back at the man, a horrible suspicion forming in his mind.

“Wait . . . Satou . . . you are related to Kal?”

“Guilty as charged,” the man replied, smiling. “I’m her brother.”

Kevin absorbed it all, relived the last nine months, reassessed conversations he’d had, and did so with a new understanding, and the realization he had made the most colossal mistake in his entire life.

“Shit, shit, shit, SHIT! . . . you’re her brother.”

“Uh . . . yeah.”

“You’re not her boyfriend.”

“Who?”

“Kal’s boyfriend; you’re not him . . . Shit, shit, SHIT! . . . I was her boyfriend!”

Loner chose that moment to shove his way outside. Rik stepped aside, and Loner went to stand at the side of the person behind Rik and Jen.

“You still are, you dope,” said Kal.

They missed the moment the alien ship landed on the Moon.

  The End for now.

As I mentioned, this story did not go the way I originally thought it would. I still want to expand the story, still want to redirect it to the original idea, but not right now.

The 17 chapters get the story to a point where the main protagonists are in a good place, and leaves open the possible exploration of what happens as humans and aliens have near-interactions.

Some readers might feel cheated. Because there is no clear-cut direction to it, the story might not deliver the appropriate satisfactory endorphin high that comes at the end of finishing a tale well-told.

It’s a lame payoff, I know, but it leaves me at a place where I can let this sit for a while. Hate me if you must, but a pretend writer must do what a pretend writer must do.

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Note: if you are not reading this blog post at Disperser.Wordpress.com, know that it has been copied without permission, and likely is being used for nefarious purposes, like attracting you to a malware-infested website.  Could be they also torture small mammals. 

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. . .  my FP ward  . . . chieken shit.

About disperser

Odd guy with odd views living an odd life during odd times.
This entry was posted in Fiction, Short Stories, Writing Stuff and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to N.E.O. – The Entire Story

  1. Pingback: NaNoWriMo No. 3 | Disperser Tracks

  2. Pingback: Disperser Writes Fiction — The First Four Years | Disperser Tracks

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