Holy crap on a cracker, am I having a tough time writing! The days are flying by and at the end of each one I look at my output and tally what I’ve done . . .
Number of photos processed . . . zero.
Number of words written . . . many, most of them crap.
Number of blog posts . . . zero.
I do chores, take care of important stuff, and then I sit down at the computer and try to write. After a few hours, I give up and look for photos I might want to process (I have thousands to choose from). After a few more hours, I give up. By then it’s time to head to bed, but my brain is swimming with ideas . . . but the bastards are fast swimmers and slippery.
I eventually drift into uneasy sleep, unable to lock into anything. Wake, get up, go to the gym, eat, repeat.
Here’s the thing; I did write a lot. A lot of words I threw away. I added words to existing projects, ongoing stories, but nothing I’m especially proud of or that is even close to finished.
I forced myself to finish the story below, the fifth short story out of a planned effort of ten short stories for the month of September. I’m not going to make it, of course; there are only a few days left in the month.
This fifth story . . . I have ten different versions. None of the versions felt quite right, and what I’m presenting is the one that feels least wrong. I probably wrote the equivalent of three complete short stories, and each of them with at least three versions. Even this version had a high percentage of wasted creative effort. The last two chapters originally were four chapters. Too much wordiness, too much narration, too much trying to pare down a saga into a short story. In the end, I threw them away and wrote what you read below. Not saying I’m happy with it, but it finally allowed me to put a “THE END” at the bottom of it.
Here’s the thing . . . I’m no good at multiple rewrites; it’s not in my nature. I start writing, inspiration hits me, I go like the dickens, and I have 90+ percent of the finished product. I might make small revisions here and there, tweaking a few things, but for the most part, I’m done in one pass.
This one had many false starts. I would write a couple of thousand words and at the end of them all I only saw problems; character problems, plot problems, structure problems . . . problems problems.
I think I know why. I think this was meant to be a novel, and I tried stuffing it into a short story. Why, you ask? Because I was getting desperate to write something and all my other ideas were also ideas for novels.
Before I continue, I need to tell you about Angry Blueberry Muffin.
The above was not intentional. I got this one out of the freezer and left it on the counter to thaw. Some time later I went to check on it, and person unknown had taken a small bite out of it.
I immediately saw the potential for more food faces . . .
Even here, I was less than satisfied with the results. I took a more aggressive-looking photo . . .
. . . and tried to capitalize on the evilness of it . . .
Anyway, back to the story . . .
The previous four stories were offered in a password-protected posts, leaving open the possibility of submitting them to a paying market.
Not so this story. I’m not even sure if I should present it here, let alone submit it. But, after discarding so many of my written words, I figure the ones that are left should at least be given a chance.
Here they are.
Working Title: Hens (7,035 words)
Copywrite 2015 E. J. D’Alise
The Sepras’s colony ship had crash-landed in the plains of Colorado and the military had been quick to respond. Per protocol, the first wave of human troops and equipment came with weapons trained and armed. The troops were armed but less trained. Someone fired a shot, killing one of the Sepras. The response had been immediate and deadly. All the troops and equipment were destroyed, as were planes, helicopters, and tanks that pursued the retreating Sepras. The die had been cast; war it was.
As technologically superior as they were, the Sepras faced the largest and most advanced war culture in history. It took time for cooler heads to prevail, but the negotiated peace came too late for many individuals on both sides of the conflict.
Calling them Hens is a slur. Sepras don’t look like hens; if one squinted a bit they looked humanoid; bipedal beings with two arms and averaging about six-foot-four, with flat facial features and distinct sexes, they are long limbed and solidly built. The Hens nickname came from the comb-like fleshy ridge atop their skulls, likely used to radiate excess heat.
Humans had never captured a Sepras alive or dead, so that was just conjecture. Based on their skull size and assuming it was all brains inside, their brains were about twenty percent larger than the average human. Most people forget they are fierce, proud, and honorable, and see them as no more than conquered aliens. In actuality, it was the Sepras who refrained from the wholesale slaughter of the human race.
Their technology and weapons are that good, and had the situation been reversed we humans would not have shown similar restraint or have been willing to sacrifice as many of our own for the sake of not wiping out a species of sentient beings.
Most people do not see Sepras. Similar to negotiated American Indian treaties, the terms of the peace agreement specified they would live in reservations, each reservation limited to only so many individuals and located in remote places rarely visited by anyone but truckers. Truckers like me.
I went through the double gates. The armed guards, all human, looked bored and barely gave me a second look. Once into the reservation, I made my way to the central warehouse.
Turook was waiting for me. He sported scars from the last, and decisive, battle his race fought on Earth. A battle the Sepras had won. It had been the Sepras who requested reservations in exchange for a cessation of activities. It had been humans, fearing the idea of sprawling alien cities, who insisted on limiting the population of each reservation to no more than fifteen thousand. The Sepras sophisticated communication systems kept the reservations in touch with each other, and a regular and healthy exchange of individuals between reservations provided the genetic mix to sustain their numbers. In the fifteen years since the reservations were established, two new reservations had been added to accommodate the growth in Sepras population.
I waved and negotiated the trailer to the loading area. I brought raw material and food supplies. Once empty, I would load Sepras products for sale to a human population who already took for granted the technological wonders offered by the Sepras. Electronics, power cells, medical devices, get well pills, and weapons. Weapons the US military used to keep a firm grip on their superiority over any other military force on the planet.
Neither of us spoke as we watched the transfer of goods. The Sepras unloading the trailer suddenly stopped. To a man, they turned to watch something outside my field of view. I peered around the trailer.
I saw a squad of heavily armed human soldiers, armed with Sepras-designed weapons, marching toward us. The Sepras put down the goods they were loading and spread out. The farthest individuals moved to form a semicircular formation. Even without my long history with the Sepras, I knew a tactical formation when I saw it.
There were no weapons in plain view, but I was certain each of the Sepras was armed.
I looked at Turook. He motioned for me to step back. I stayed where I was.
The soldiers also fanned out stopping at a signal from the Staff Sergeant. The men did not have their weapons at the ready, but neither were they casually carried; they were ready for action. I wondered if they knew that if anything did break out, they would be as good as dead.
“Turook,” bellowed the Staff Sergeant, “We’re here for Sleith. She was ordered to turn herself in and she’s now twenty-four hours overdue.”
Turook’s one-word reply could be heard by all despite not being spoken very loud. It seemed as if the whole compound and everything in it had stopped. I became aware of the silence. It had a vaguely funereal feeling to it.
The Staff Sergeant looked around. He had to have noticed the secondary layer of Sepras that had joined the first. He did not seem concerned.
“Turook,” he said, “I’m asking nicely. If I have to come back in here, it will not be so nice.”
The word had everyone turn toward the speaker. Me.
I stepped around Turook, jumped off the loading dock, and strode up to the Sargeant. I noticed the soldiers repositioning, covering me from two sides.
I stopped in front of the Sargeant. He towered over me by at least six inches and I had to look up at him.
“Stand down, Sargeant, before you and your men get hurt.” I too spoke without much volume, but I know I was heard by all that were watching.
“On whose’s orders?”
“Mine,” I answered.
“I don’t take my orders from a truck driver.”
As he spoke, he put his hand on my shoulder, intent on moving me aside. I dislocated his shoulder. At the same time, ten near-silent spherical drones descended out of the sky. Eight parked themselves a foot in front of each of the soldiers. The other two hovered just off my shoulders, one on each side.
“You will this time,” I replied. I let go of his wrist at the same time that he made a strangled noise.
Before the man could answer, the sound of approaching vehicles broke the silence. Two armored vehicles and three personnel carriers stopped fifty yards from us. A staff car kept going, stopping not ten feet from where I stood.
The man that got out was used to throwing his weight around. I had read his file and knew him to be cautious and less than honorable. He was also in charge of all the Western Sepras reservations.
Forty soldiers in full combat armor and gear jumped out from the troop carriers, fanning out to encircle the area. Two remotely manned drones did a fly-by before stationing themselves above the warehouse roof, giving them a commanding view of the loading area.
I queried my implant. Four more long-range drones sat high up in the sky. I accessed their live feed. Two had me targeted. The other two drones targeted Turook.
I looked back at the uniformed man. He remained standing by his car after exiting the vehicle. He may have been fearless, but he was not stupid. He faced something he did not understand, and although he probably thought he held the upper hand, he was in no rush to test the matter.
“What have we got here?” His words sounded more like a challenge than a question.
“General Peters,” I replied, “I would advise you to order your men, including your six drones, to stand down.”
I made my words as much of a warning as a suggestion.
“Oh?” he replied. “And why would I do that?”
“Because I have jurisdiction, and you don’t. Also, I could kill you and your men before they get off a shot.”
I had to hand it to the man; he asked the right question.
“And you are?”
“Someone you should listen to; someone who is trying to save your and your men’s sorry asses.”
I accessed the drones through the implant and had them crash into the surrounding desert. I did not look at corresponding balls of flames as they impacted the ground.
As I stepped toward the General two of the soldiers swung their weapons at me and were immediately taken down by my drones. They would wake up dizzy and disoriented; focused sonic weapons did that to humans.
Before I could speak to Peters, tactical informed me of a shift in the positions of the surrounding Sepras. I stopped and turned toward Turook.
“Call them off; my warning goes for you as well,” My voice carried as I added one word in the Sepras language, “Xithx.”
The Sepras word translated into something like “with respect, I warn you.” I even pronounced it correctly. The Sepras stopped.
Turning back to Peters, I spoke in a low voice as I flashed my red-framed ID showing my name and rank in the Extraterrestrial Treaty Enforcement Organization.
“Matters of treaty violations are handled by ETEO. We’ll discuss later why you circumvented our authority, but right now you are going to turn around and drive out of here.” I motioned toward the Sargeant and his squad. “And take them with you. Also, move all perimeter guards to the outer positions. I want no humans within the confines of this reservation until I square this out.”
I did not wait for an answer. I turned and walked away. My two defense drones held their station. The soldiers began retreating before I had walked all the way back to Turook.
“Turook; we need to talk,” I said. “We need to talk about your daughter, Sleith.”
We sat in a semicircle. Turook, his daughter Sleith sitting between her father and an elder Sepras I knew as Duria but whose hierarchy in the Sepras culture I did not know, and me, the ETEO enforcer.
We did not speak as we watched the small fire at the center of our semicircle. We would not look at one another until we reached some agreement about the current situation.
I summarized it.
“Many Sepras young venture outside the reservations. Some are smart enough to keep away from humans. Others let their curiosity overcome their caution. A very small number interact with humans. One, Sleith, had that interaction end in murder.
“She needs to surrender to and cooperate with, ETEO. We will then investigate and determine what happened.”
I finished speaking. I had heard Sleith’s sharp intake of breath at the word “murder”, but I did not look at her.
We sat in silence for a bit longer before Turook spoke.
“How did you come by the Sentinels?” he asked.
The Sentinels were exclusive to high-ranking Sepras; very high-ranking Sepras, and exclusively female. To witness the Sentinels do the bidding of a human, even if a female human, must have caused quite a stir among the Sepras. I knew for a fact it caused quite a stir in the US Military; it was abuzz with the news of me commanding a good number of them. I monitored communications following the earlier confrontation and nearly every branch was clamoring at ETEO demanding access to the technology.
They were in for a big disappointment.
“For service to the Chirco,” I answered. It was a deliberately cryptic answer. The Chirco was the current ruling coalition directing all Sepras affairs.
Duria spoke next.
“Are you acting as an ETEO agent or on behalf of the Chirco?” he asked.
A very astute question, and one I also skirted.
“I act on behalf of a murdered human,” I replied. Not strictly true, but close enough.
More silence. Sleith finally spoke, her voice failing to hide the angst behind the question.
“What is the identity of the murder victim?” she asked.
In different circumstances, I might have softened the blow, but the current setting did not allow for much latitude in answering the question.
“You know him as Frank. His full name is Franklin Porter.”
There was no hesitation.
“I will accompany you,” Sleith said.
Both Turook and Duria spoke the same word, nearly simultaneously.
I waited the minimum amount of time before answering.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “Sleith has spoken. She does not have the full rights of an adult, but she is past the age where others may speak for her.”
I did not wait for a reply. I stood, bowed to Turook and Duria, and headed for the exit. Sleith followed.
She stopped beside me as soon as we exited the structure. A large party of Sepras blocked our way.
I waited, holding off from calling the Sentinels.
Turook and Duria walked around us and went to stand between the Sepras mob and us. They turned to face us and I learned Duria had the higher rank.
“Deidra,” Duria said addressing me, “there is much hidden from me and much I don’t understand. Still, you are about to cross a line that could trigger grave consequences, the least of which is the threat to the current peace.”
Duria was referring to the portion of the treaty that unequivocally gave jurisdiction to the respective races in judicial matters. Sepras took care of Sepras matters, and Humans took care of Human matters.
“That line was crossed when the Sepras allowed, and perhaps encouraged, repeated treaty violations.” I was referring to the practice of looking the other way when Sepras ventured outside the reservations.
I could sense the mood of the crowd shifting toward hostile in response to my accusation. Sepras had insisted on separation and isolation because of a little-known fact. They are intensely xenophobic. Not in a hateful way; more of a conceited way. They saw other living beings as inferior and I had just implied their young had more interest in the outside world than their own. Worse, that this was somehow encouraged.
My link with the Sentinels also gave me a facility with the Sepras language. I heard the equivalent of worm, speck of nothingness, and dung digger. A few other epithets directed my way don’t translate as well as they referenced descriptions of lineages I did not have and anatomical feats not applicable to human physiology.
The thing with my Sentinels is that they are not on loan or subject to Sepras control. Once assigned, they formed a physical link; they are mine and serve only me. They are also semi-autonomous. Regardless of my desires, they would intercede if they believed I was in danger. My standing order was to employ non-lethal means of neutralizing threats, but this was by no means written in stone. If the Sentinels assessed a great enough threat, they would do whatever it took to keep me from harm.
Although I had not summoned them, the Sentinels descended, forming a perimeter around Sleith and me. Eight more slowly rotated above us, giving them the high ground as it were. Had I ordered it, they would employ non-lethal sonic blow or electromagnetic burst to clear the crowd, but when the Sentinels acted autonomously, their default was to be on the safe side; the default was a literal interpretation of the words ‘eliminate a threat.’
The crowd, now silent, parted when I started walking, Sleith following close behind. We made it to my truck undisturbed and drove off the reservation. Sleith let our a very human sigh of relief as we passed the gates.
We rode in silence. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Sleith occasionally turn to look at me. Finally, I looked back.
“You have questions?” I asked.
Sleith nodded. The protocol when dealing with individuals high in the Sepras hierarchy was to wait for permission to speak. Sleith deferred to my assumed high rank. The presence of the Sentinels probably influenced her assessment of where I stood in the order of things.
“Sleith,” I said, “when you are with me, feel free to speak as you would your equal.”
She only hesitated for a few seconds.
“You’ve been driving this supply truck for over two months,” she said. “It coincides with about the time I met Frank.”
I did not reply as there was no question.
“Was it because of Frank and me?” Sleith finally answered.
“Two reasons; Frank belonged to a vocal group asking for integration of the Sepras into human society and he’s also . . . was also the son of an important politician.”
“A Senator,” Sleith said.
“Yes. Those two facts bring a lot of focus to his murder.”
I looked at Sleith. Sepras are difficult to read, but not Sleith on this moment.
“You cared for Frank.” It was not a question. It was a statement of fact.
“Yes,” she answered, “and he cared for me.”
“Not yet,” Sleith answered, “but heading that way. He was at the very least a great friend.”
“I doubt that,” I said without thinking, and not just because of the physiological differences between the races.
Sleith reacted at the insult, for to her it was an insult.
“You dishonor his memory and you dishonor me by insinuating otherwise.”
I waited the required amount of time after an accusation. Finally, I answered.
“Sleith, you come from a culture steeped in personal honor and integrity. Know and understand that humans are seldom as honorable.
“Frank was using you and two other Sepras contacts to achieve his personal goals, honorable as those goals might have been,” I said.
Were I speaking to a human I might have softened the statement, but the Sepras demanded complete honesty and frankness from one another. My role demanded no less when dealing with them.
She too waited the required contemplation time before answering.
“No. He was concerned for our well-being. He spoke of similar internments of populations in your history and the decline they suffered in both stature and influence relative to the society at large.”
I sighed. “Sleith, the internments he spoke of were involuntary. They bear no resemblance to the conditions of separation set forth by the Sepras themselves with regards to humanity at large.”
“In fact,” I continued, “there are many interested human parties who would welcome the integration of Sepras into the human world. But their interest is borne out of greed, and not out of concern for the Sepras. Companies and individuals would profit by announcing a business agreement between themselves and Sepras, especially if it included transfer or application of Sepras technology.”
We drove in silence for a while before asking the next question.
“Indications were that Frank was murdered at one of your regular meeting places, yet you were not there.”
“I was unable to leave, and neither were the others from my group. It was as if someone told. We were always with someone, unable to slip away.”
“Why do young Sepras seek out human contact?” I asked.
Sleith took a few moments to formulate the answer. It was a short one.
“Not long ago, our frontier were the stars. Now it’s the walls of a compound.”
That is something I could understand since humans were in a similar situation. In
I had one more question.
“You left the compound multiple times. It would be easy to slip by the human guards, but not the Sepras perimeter monitors. Did you have help?”
“What Sepras perimeter monitors?” she asked.
I did not reply. I got the answer I was looking for.
There was a welcoming party at the ETEO regional headquarter. Not a friendly-looking one. The Army had set up a perimeter, complete with barricades and automatic weapons typically only used in warfare situations. I stopped the truck well before the barricades and waited.
My comm unit chirped.
“What’s going on?” I asked expecting to hear Jenny, my supervisor.
“Agent Chaste, ETEO has been placed under the direction of the Department of Defense. You are to come in and surrender your prisoner and personal weapons.”
I hung up. That was General Peters. I was pretty sure he could care less about Sleith but was very interested in the Sentinels. The Sentinels and the individuals who wielded them had made all the difference during the war and were the main reason humans agreed to a truce and eventual peace. It was not unlike the deployment of the atomic bomb at the end of WW II.
Someone must have thought they were the equivalent of a gun, capable of being wielded by anyone, and seeing a human with them must have them salivating at the prospect of getting their hands on them.
The comm unit chirped again. I let it ring a few times before answering and used the time to work out a few scenarios.
One, Peters was acting on his own trying to score points with his superiors by spinning some yarn and asking for expanded local authority. That was bad but easily remedied.
Two, he was being directed by his superiors. Depending on how many levels above him those directions came from, that was much worse.
I answered the comm.
“General Peters,” I said before he spoke, “order your men to pack up and leave and tell the Defense Department that ETEO needs to remain autonomous or the Sepras will stop playing nice.”
The comm was only silent for as long as it took Peters to get his pride into gear.
“Agent Chaste,” Peters said with what I assumed was his version of the ‘do you know who I am tone’, “Do not make me repeat myself or force me to come and get you.”
I sent the command to the Sentinels. Every soldier’s and officer’s comm unit switched on as I spoke.
“General Peters, before you send your men to a useless death, know this: you are now my primary target. Your officers are my secondary targets. In two minutes, sooner if I detect any hostile action, you will lose your left arm. Two minutes after that you will lose your other arm. Two minutes after that, you will be dead. I will then start with your next in command. I will not kill any soldiers unless they take the initiative to attack me.” I spoke slowly and clearly.
“That is an act of war,” Peters said.
“No. ETEO is charged with enforcing the conditions and provisions of the treaty with the Sepras. You are currently in violation of it. You now have a minute and a half left.”
I cut the communication link and contacted ETEO headquarters, calling the Director’s emergency line.
“Deidra, what . . .”
“No time; is ETEO still autonomous or is it true the Department of Defense taking over?”
“I . . . it’s true; I just got the notice.”
“Assholes!”, I said. “They are going to get us all killed.”
This was a more dangerous and much scarier situation than I had feared, and something that must have been in the works for a while.
“Director,” I continued, “contact the Secretary of Defense and tell him to monitor the situation in Colorado. Tell him he is next on my target list unless they stand down and rescind the order.”
I did not wait for an answer. I hung up as the two minutes were almost up.
I called Peters.
There was no answer. The seconds ticked down to zero. I gave the command as I let the comm ring. The General was now minus his left arm. The fact he was housed inside an armored carrier made no difference to the Sentinel that executed the order.
The comm picked up ten seconds later. The person at the other end was obviously in a rage.
“Jesus Christ! You’re going to fry for . . .”
“Wanna die?” I asked. The person on the comm went silent.
“Whom am I speaking with?” I asked.
“Lieutenant General Jones,” the voice answered. I once again pinged all the comms.
“Remember, you are next, and then every officer under you. Remind Peters, he has about a minute and a half to comply with my request.
“His right arm is next, and then he dies. I then start over with the next in the command chain. That would be you, Jones. I’ll keep going down the line until I find someone willing to listen.”
I purposefully dropped the military rank when addressing them; a subtle reminder they were being treated as individuals and that I did not regard the military they served of concern to me.
“You now have about a minute to comply with my request.”
I hung up. General Peters was easy. He was an asshole drunk on his position of power. No family, no kids. The rest would give me greater pause and I hoped they would not call my ultimatum. Literally, the fate of the world depended on it.
Lieutenant General Jones called with thirty seconds to spare.
As I watch the barricades being dismantled, I got a call from the Director of ETEO.
“Deidra, I sure hope you know what you are doing. These people have a lot of pride, and you just kicked them in the balls and you did it in a very public way.”
“I had no choice,” I replied.
“You mutilated a person. A general, no less. They are not going to let that slide.”
“They also have no choice,” I answered.
“Set the other agents on high alert,” I continued. “These next twenty-four hours or so are going to get touchy. Also, notify all perimeter guards at the reservations to pull out.”
“Are you sure? That will leave the Sepras reservations without protection,” she said.
“Believe me, Director, they can protect their own.
“Director,” I continued, “Tell the Secretary of Defense it might be a good idea if he comes to the Colorado Office for a face-to-face. Senator Porter might also want to join us. I’ll contact you again from the command room.”
After the army had left, we made our way to the ETEO building. There was always a chance Peters had left some loyal sniper or two behind. Worse yet, some local might take it upon themselves to right the perceived wrong to the US Military. Lots of armed forces personnel retired to this area.
We got to the building without any incident.
Jenny, my supervisor in name only, Sleith and me were in the communication and command room. Two other techs manned the electronics and stole the occasional nervous glances to the four Sentinels stationed along the walls. Two more Sentinels were outside. The rest were patrolling the skies and grounds. Nothing was going to get through to us. I doubted it, but I was not entirely sure that some asshole somewhere or other would not think lobbing a few missiles our way might be a viable option.
“We’re playing a high stake game here,” Jenny said. We went back a ways, and her outranking me was, as I said, in name only.
“We knew this was coming,” I answered. “We are as prepared as possible. Perhaps better than we could have ever hoped,” I finished, glancing at the Sentinels as I spoke.
“Yeah, I meant to ask you about those,” she said.
“Sorry. Had to keep them secret as long as possible. They are as much a distraction as they are an asset.”
“Mind telling me how you came to them?”
“It turns out Sepras are a matriarchal society. The only reason they sent males to negotiate the peace treaty was because we are not,” I answered.
“That is also why ETEO personnel are overwhelmingly female, exclusively so at the higher ranks.”
Sepras had negotiated first right of refusal of ETEO personnel during the selection process. They gave up representation in ETEO for that right.
“I recently had a long meeting with Chirco and met the females in charge. They have immediate concerns and long-term vision. They also thought I shared that vision and gave me the tools to make it a reality,” I answered.
Jenny looked at the Sentinels.
“Just how powerful are they?” she asked.
“Individually, pretty scary. In aggregate with the orbiting support platforms, terrifying,” I answered.
“What orbiting support platforms?”
“The ones that have been up there since the Sepras ship crashed. In full stealth mode, and covering pretty much the entire globe.”
Jenny involuntarily looked up, even though all she saw was a ceiling. Not that the ceiling would have stopped the platforms from reaching out to her, as it were.
Sleith had been listening to us and signaled for attention.
“Really, Sleith, you need not ask for permission. If you have a question, ask it,” I offered.
“You met with the Chirco?”
“Do they know about me? About Frank?”
“How long have they known?”
“They were the ones who contacted me about it.”
Sleith went silent, mulling things over.
The console in front of one of the techs pinged and he turned toward us.
“The Director is online,” she said.
The big screen lit up, the face of the Director looming large in front of us.
“Director. Thanks for joining us.” I nodded to the other tech before continuing.
“I’m sending a list of people and their locations. About a third are flagged as foreign nationals working for their respective governments with the intent of securing a line of communication with the Sepras. The rest are mostly well-meaning humans who think we are treating Sepras unfairly. Among them, I flagged a few more. Those are people representing corporate interests intent on obtaining access to Sepras and their technology.
“There are also a few infiltrators from our various security agencies. They are also flagged, and if they are not recalled, they too should be rounded up.”
The image on the screen widened to include two other people. One was in uniform, and one was not.
The plain-clothes man on the screen spoke.
“Agent Chaste. I am informing you that ETEO headquarters is under my control and that you hold the fate of everyone in this building in your hands.”
“And you are?” I asked.
“The name is not important,” he answered. “What is important is that you negotiate with me if you value the life . . . “
He dropped to the floor without speaking another word. I heard an off-screen exclamation and two people rushed to him. A third person rushed to the director’s side and pressed a gun to her head. An instant later he too dropped to the ground as did two other armed guards who had raised their weapons.
The room was quiet. A scan of the room told me the remaining people were not moving. The Sentinel’s sensors were better than had been described to me.
“Director,” I said, “inform the person in charge that I want to speak with them.”
The Director did not answer but did look to someone off-screen.
Another man came to stand next to the Director.
I cut him off before he said a word.
“Before you speak, know this: if you are not the one that can make decisions, I will end you. So, if you answer to anyone, they better be the ones standing in your spot before any additional negotiations take place.
“Understand, I don’t like to kill, but I don’t have the time for pointless conversation and I’m not opposed to killing my way to the top. I also have no qualms about ending anyone who is not interested in moving the process forward. Finally, I will not tolerate any more threats of any kind from anyone. Do we understand each other?”
The man looked lost. He was not the decision-maker.
“Who is running the show?” I asked.
No one spoke for a good ten seconds, and then his comm ringed.
I did not wait for the man to answer it. I tapped the link and put it on speaker. I also got the location of the man making the call.
“Mr. Secretary,” I said, “if you are counting on your bunker to protect you, you are very much mistaken.”
“Young lady,” the man said, “I also don’t tolerate threats, and I am not afraid to die for my country.”
“Mr. Secretary,” I answered, “are you sure you would be dying for your country?”
Eight hours later, the Secretary of Defense, me, Sleith, a representative of the Chirco, and Senator Porter were all sitting in a conference room. The directions I had given to the Director were still being carried out. Some of the people had gone underground, but there was no doubt they would be rounded up in short order. Like I said, the Sentinels had amazing sensors and were helping with the roundup. They even knocked them out if they threatened violence.
“First of all, Senator Porter,” I started, “you should know Frank was acting in good faith, and not involved with any foreign agents. He genuinely believed in the cause he had taken up, to free the Sepras and integrate them into the human world.
“Unfortunately, he assumed all Sepras reflected the desires and will of the Sepras who regularly left the compounds.”
“Who killed him?” Porter asked.
“Senator Porter, my name is Setile,” the Chirco representative said. “Frank Porter was killed by a Sepras. He will be dealt with by us, per the terms of our treaty.”
“Why?” he asked.
“The usual reasons,” I answered. “Money and power mixed in with various degrees of nationalism.”
I did a small bow of the head toward Setile. She answered in kind, giving me permission to speak on her behalf.
I then addressed both the Senator and the Secretary of Defense.
“This whole affair is the confluence of politics and money,” I said. “Political interests in the Sepras hierarchy, and political and money interests both inside and outside the US government agencies.
“The Sepras are of two minds. There is a traditional faction who has an interest in establishing a footprint in a new world and resume their old way of life. They are not interested in sharing said world with other races. But, the Sepras have been traveling for a long time, and the two generations who were born on the colony ship seek not isolation, but exploration. They rather look to the stars than the safety of a planet.”
I pointed at Sleith.
“Sleith and others like her from other compounds organized Sepras interested in outside contact and in broadening their experience. In the short term, they have no objection to, and even welcome, the opportunity to integrate into the human world. In the long term, they wish to return to the stars.”
I looked back at Senator Porter.
“Your son headed a loosely organized multi-state underground aiming to offer willing Sepras the opportunity to achieve their short-term goals.”
I then turned to the Secretary of Defense.
“Unfortunately, this is where greed and conspiracies took over. Frank’s group was infiltrated and aided by foreign interests who were interested in the weapon technology that the US Military has been hoarding all these years.
“Yet another group was interested in the same technology for business applications. This other group consists of a coalition of large companies, including those with military contracts. They were actively pushing for luring willing Sepras away from the reservations.”
I looked back at Setile as I continued.
“Certain factions of Sepras saw the opportunity to play all these interests for their own ends. They wanted, in fact, for competing governments to obtain advanced military technologies. They correctly surmised war would be inevitable.
“They also facilitated the movements of younger Sepras in and out of the compounds, keeping the movements from showing up in the surveillance systems.”
I looked back at Sleith. There was no way to spare her from this.
“Your unwitting part in this was providing a wedge in Sepras and Human relations. Once groups like yours drew enough interest from companies and competing governments, the Sepras knew it was just a matter of time before some of the Sepras would be kidnaped and possibly even killed. Your father, Turook, realized he could speed things up and get the results he wanted by instead killing Frank, the son of an important politician, and escalate the ensuing response by the military.”
I turned to the Secretary.
“Mr. Secretary, you suffer from the same illusion of all men in positions of power. You assume you know what is going on.”
He started to speak, but I held up my hand.
“Please, spare me. You don’t read field reports, you don’t speak to people at the forefront of events. You, instead, rely on summaries, condensed reports, and briefings by trusted advisors. Trusted advisors who were there long before you came into office and will be there long after you leave and who often serve their own agendas or the agendas of outside interests.
“Your decision-making process may seem autonomous, the decisions you make seem like they are your decisions, but they are decisions in name only; you invariably take the only seemingly logical course of action based on the information before you. Often, it’s not even logic, but a response to emotions.
“Senator Porter was approached by an FBI agent with information about Frank’s murder. Sketchy information, mentioning Sleith as a person of interest. Senator Porter, in turn, called his buddy, the Secretary of Defense. You in turn called Peters, the man responsible for the Western Sepras compounds. An ambitious man who saw his opportunity to be noticed. None of you gave ETEO a second thought.
“That,” I continued, “was what the Sepras conspirators wanted; a confrontation.
“Wiping out a platoon would force the Military’s hand, and even if it did not immediately result in a large scale conflict, the treaty would be in serious jeopardy. If necessary, additional incidents were planned for escalation of hostilities. Once the military moved on the Sepras, the Chirco would have no choice but to respond.
“They, instead, came to me,” I finished.
The Secretary broke the silence that followed by asking a question.
“So, now what?”
“Mr. Secretary,” I answered, “let me tell you a story.
“There was a little girl who came to this country with her parents. She was old enough to realize how much better this country was than the one she just left. Even so, she endured years of frustration watching good people work hard for a pittance while powerful people and interest groups literally played with the lives of ordinary folks for personal gain of power, privilege, and money.”
“Let me guess,” he said. “That was you.”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Am I supposed to be moved?” he asked.
“No. You are supposed to be scared shitless.” As I spoke, two sentinels flanked the Secretary.
“You see, Mr. Secretary, I can’t be bribed, bought, or coerced. Normally that would not mean anything to you or your friends because someone like me does not have the means to exert any power. The Sentinels change all that.” As I spoke, the two Sentinels flanking him gave him a mild shock.
I turned toward the Senator. The other two sentinels flanked him.
“You have my condolences, Senator, for the loss of your son. But at the same time I know you encouraged him, and did so on behalf of powerful contributors to your campaign funds. You may not have thought it through to the inevitable conclusion, but you still played with your son’s life.”
Both the Secretary and the Senator started to speak.
I sat there with my eyes closed and my hand up. “Stop,” I softly repeated.
“The Sepras are offering humanity a partnership with the goal of opening up the galaxy for exploration and colonization. They are willing to open up space as a new frontier for both Sepras and humans by fully sharing their technology. The catch is that the effort must be multinational and there can be no military applications. To that end, Sepras compounds will spread throughout the world.”
“It won’t work,” the Secretary said. “The military will object to it.”
“As will the House and Senate,” the Senator added.
“I really don’t care what you and your respective institutions object to,” I replied.
“There are many things wrong with the way things currently work,” I continued, “and what you two and all of your cohorts have forgotten is that you are supposed to serve the needs and wellbeing of ordinary people struggling to make do.
“I’m here to remind you,” I said, “the same way I reminded General Peters.
“You two will go back to your respective posts and pass along this message: I will personally meet with anyone who has legitimate concerns about this new direction and as a group we will work to resolve said concerns and arrive at compromises. If, on the other hand, I deem those concerns are motivated by greed, politics, personal benefit, or anything outside of the primary goal I already stated, I will end them. No elections, no recalls, no reassignments.
“That applies to both directions, up and down the chain of command,” I said.
“Speaking of which, inform the President that he begin contacting allies and enemies alike to set up meetings with Setile.”
“Are you setting yourself up as dictator?” the Secretary asked.
“I have neither the desire or ambition for it. I am, however, an enforcer of sorts. It’s a role I’m well suited for,” I answered.
“Nations will either see the benefits of a partnership with the Sepras and each other, or they will be left out of the loop and on their own. Literally.”
“I described a general framework. The goal is peace, prosperity, and exploration. If you two are not on board with achieving that goal, I’ll be more than happy to deal with your successors.
“Believe me,” I finished, “I have no illusions regarding the process of getting there, but you can think of me as a facilitator. It will be occasionally messy, and it will take a long time, but that’s always the case for worthwhile goals.”
It was, and it did, but to the stars the Sepras and we went.
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. . . my FP ward . . . chieken shit.