The Subject-Interview

CR Interview 8:00 AM MST

DATE: October, 28th, 20XX

(AS BROADCAST WORLDWIDE)

FEINBERG: Morning. I’m Debra Feinberg but the thing everyone is talking, texting, tweeting, and posting about was the footage we just watched. One of the two people featured in that clip, Mr. Charles Ramirez, is here with me now. Thank you for joining us, Mister Ramirez.

RAMIREZ: Please call me Charlie, Mr. Ramirez makes me feel like I’m in trouble in school.

FEINBERG: Okay Charlie, you can call me Debra.

RAMIREZ: Deal.

FEINBERG: So Charlie, people are calling you a superhero, how do you respond to that?

RAMIREZ: Well, I’m not wearing a cape.

FEINBERG: Ha! Cape or no cape, you do have some extraordinary abilities.

RAMIREZ: That’s true.

FEINBERG: Can you tell us what you can do?

RAMIREZ: Okay, I’m stronger than most people.

FEINBERG: That’s a bit of an understatement. There is only one other person who’s in your bracket, strength-wise and you fought her to a standstill all over Arizona.

RAMIREZ: You don’t pull punches. When they last tested me, I dead-lifted about ten tons.

FEINBERG: Wow.

RAMIREZ: The problem is that holding up that much weight from two points, like my hands, whatever I’m lifting can buckle and break.

FEINBERG: That makes sense. When you said they tested me, you meant Sanderson Industries, correct?

RAMIREZ: Yeah, they’re the ones who were running the show.

FEINBERG: In what other ways were you enhanced?

RAMIREZ: Excuse me? Oh… Well, my skin is kinda like armor now.

FEINBERG: I personally saw you ignore small arms fire like it was nothing.

RAMIREZ: Handguns and rifle rounds do just bounce off me.

FEINBERG: Does it hurt?

RAMIREZ: No, it’s like a light tap. But getting used to being shot at was not easy.

FEINBERG: I can only imagine. Did they test anything larger?

RAMIREZ: Oh yeah, the last one they tested on me was a tank round.

FEINBERG: Did that hurt?

RAMIREZ: It did, but only for a moment.

FEINBERG: That’s… amazing.

RAMIREZ: I know.

FEINBERG: You have other abilities, can you share them with us.

RAMIREZ: I feel like I’m bragging.

FEINBERG: If it helps, you’re the most humble super-powered person I’ve ever met.

RAMIREZ: Have you met a lot of super-powered people?

FEINBERG: So far, just you.

RAMIREZ: I’m happy to give a good first impression.

FEINBERG: Your other abilities?

RAMIREZ: Right. I can run about a hundred and twenty miles an hour, leap about a quarter-mile. My muscles and skeleton are, I guess you’d say reinforced to allow me to do all that stuff. My sight and hearing are enhanced. I can read a book about a mile away. I have very keen hearing, based on heartbeats, I’d say there are seventeen people, not including me in this studio.

(FEINBERG listens to an earpiece.)

FEINBERG: Seventeen exactly.

RAMIREZ: You’re wearing a self-winding watch.

FEINBERG: I am. It was my grandfather’s.

RAMIREZ: That’s cool, not many people wear watches anymore. They just look at their phones.

FEINBERG: Thank you.

(Three-second pause.)

FEINBERG: All those sounds must be overwhelming.

RAMIREZ: It was at first. But I learned to focus on one sound at a time, which was not easy. But eventually, I was able to filter each one.

FEINBERG: Do you have heat-vision? Can you see through things?

RAMIREZ: God no! Both of those sound horrible. The Sanderson folk explained it to me this way. “You can do what everybody else can, just better.”

FEINBERG: That’s underselling it.

RAMIREZ: I guess so.

FEINBERG: I’d like to ask you about the woman who attacked you. Was she part of the same program as you?

RAMIREZ: No. No, I don’t think so.

FEINBERG: She seems to have the same enhancements as you.

RAMIREZ: She does, doesn’t she.

FEINBERG: So you have no idea where she got those abilities?

RAMIREZ: I don’t. When I was at Sanderson, there were no others going through the program.

FEINBERG: The program?

RAMIREZ: That’s what they called it.

FEINBERG: You were the only one.

RAMIREZ: As far as I know.

FEINBERG: Doesn’t that seem odd?

RAMIREZ: No more than the rest of this.

FEINBERG: Did she say anything to you?

RAMIREZ: Who?

FEINBERG: The woman who attacked you.

RAMIREZ: It’s funny.

FEINBERG: She said something funny?

RAMIREZ: No, more funny weird. She didn’t say anything.

FEINBERG: Did you say anything to her?

RAMIREZ: I tried to talk to her, but she started to destroy things. Like buildings and cars.

FEINBERG: A lot of people owe you their lives.

RAMIREZ: I just wish that their lives weren’t in danger.

FEINBERG: Do you think she was testing you?

RAMIREZ: What do you mean?

FEINBERG: Was she trying to gauge how powerful you were? Or maybe what you’d do in an extreme situation.

RAMIREZ: That’s horrible!

FEINBERG: It is, but horrible things happen every day.

RAMIREZ: That’s… Yeah, I guess they do.

FEINBERG: Do you have any idea about her motivation?

RAMIREZ: No. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

(Seven seconds of silence.)

FEINBERG: Do you need a moment?

RAMIREZ: No, I’m… I’m Fine.

FEINBERG: Did you want to be a superhero when you were a child?

RAMIREZ: Sure, what kid doesn’t?

FEINBERG: Is that why you entered the Sanderson program?

RAMIREZ: Oh no. I had no idea this would happen.

FEINBERG: Then why volunteer?

RAMIREZ: Well, they came to me in the hospital and told me they had an experimental treatment. I figured, what do I have to lose?

FEINBERG: You might’ve lost your life. Experimental treatments can be very risky.

RAMIREZ: You’re right, but I was already dying. Cancer.

CUT TO COMMERCIAL

To: Grandmother

From: DK

Date: October, 28th, 20XX, 09:15:33 WST

Subject: Family News

It seems Margaret and Sam are fighting. Not unexpected, given their temperaments. These sorts of quarrels makes things complicated for everyone.

Having family squabbles in public is upsetting to me as I’m sure it is to you. But these things have a way of working themselves out.

I was hoping that we might have our family get-together locally but I think the weather is against it. I’ll be in touch soon so we can reschedule.

Perhaps the mountain house?

Thanks,

DK

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The Subject-REDACTED

A.E.G.I.S. REPORT # 89H6-76H

LOCATION: XXXXXXXXXX-XXXXXX

PROJECT: November Delta Alpha

DATE: October, 27th, 20XX

(Portions of this conversation have been redacted for reasons of security)

BROWN: Good morning REDACTED.

X: Is it?

BROWN: All things considered, I’d say yes.

X: You are unusually sanguine given you have done the polar opposite of what your assignment was. Were I in your shoes, I might be more penitent.

BROWN: Clearly things have gone in a different direction than anticipated.

X: Indeed.

BROWN: However, given the circumstances, I think that this was the best possible outcome.

X: I’m curious how you came to this conclusion.

BROWN: Well sir, once the footage was posted it was a choice of denying what everyone could see or embracing it.

X: you should have employed the REDACTED Protocol.

BROWN: That option is no longer viable given current technological and societal factors.

X: That is a shame.

BROWN: It’s a different world, sir.

X: Nonetheless, you were sent to control this fire and you have thrown kerosene on it instead.

BROWN: While I have not doused the flames, I believe I have contained it. Once something had been posted on the internet, it is virtually impossible to delete it.

X: Had you asked, I would’ve authorized a REDACTED.

BROWN: The estimated death toll would’ve been in the thousands. It seemed too high a price. Additionally, it would’ve made the job exponentially harder.

X: Very well, but making this public will make it more complicated.

BROWN: It sped up the timeline to be sure, but having enhanced individuals was never going to be a secret for long.

X: Very well. Did you acquire the female enhanced as well?

BROWN: We did, though I don’t know if she’ll prove to be as agreeable as the male. Preliminary psych evaluations indicate dangerous and severe sociopathy.

X: Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

BROWN: Thirteen agents were killed before she could be sedated.

X: Acceptable losses.

BROWN: As you say, sir.

X: What about the other one?

BROWN: He’s proving to be very cooperative. The perfect face for the future of enhanced individuals. He’ll make an excellent first impression.

X: What about this journalist?

BROWN: Debra Feinberg, she’s very well regarded in her field.

X: Her file shows a distinct lack of trust for authority.

BROWN: Her background in science has given her an analytical mind, and the subject requested her.

X: Did he? Make note of that.

BROWN: Already done sir.

X: Is she aware of Doctor Kim?

BROWN: No, and neither is the subject.

X: Where are we on locating Doctor Kim?

BROWN: Still working on that.

X: So you have no idea?

BROWN: We are following every possible lead.

X: See that you do. This whole affair is becoming far too public.

BROWN: There is one positive aspect to this.

X: Which is?

BROWN: The first enhanced individual the world will see is an American one.

X: Thank God for that. Now find Doctor Kim. Bring in REDACTED for support.

BROWN: Are you sure sir? REDACTED was responsible for REDACTED and REDACTED.

X: As I said before, acceptable losses.

BROWN: Yes sir.

END TRANSCRIPT

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The Subject Returns

A little over four years ago, I began this serialized story. For reasons I cannot remember, I never finished it. Perhaps I was blocked or found something else that inspired my imagination. Honestly, I can’t recall. But I have returned to this story and will finish it.

I’ve included the initial installments as well as a new installment. I hope you enjoy it.

-Leo Jenicek

A.E.G.I.S. REPORT # 89H6-3PH

LOCATION: XXXXXXXXXX

PROJECT: November Delta Alpha

DATE: October, 24th, 20XX

BROWN: Please state your name for the record.

FEINBERG: You know my name, you had me brought here. Against my will.

BROWN: While you and I may know things about each other-

FEINBERG: -I don’t know your name.

BROWN You may call me Mr. Brown.

FEINBERG: But it’s not your real name.

BROWN Let’s just get back on track, shall we?

(A moment of silence.)

FEINBERG: Fine. My name is Debra Feinberg.

BROWN And what is your job, Ms. Feinberg.

FEINBERG: I’m a journalist. I cover scientific news for NNS. (National News Service)

BROWN: You’re well regarded in your field, are you not?

FEINBERG: Depends on who you ask.

BROWN: (consults a file) You were the recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship.

FEINBERG: Yes, I was.

BROWN: As I said, well regarded.

FEINBERG: Fine, I have the respect of my peers.

BROWN: Where were you on October 23d of this past year?

FEINBERG: I was at the Sanderson industries facility outside of Santa Fe. They were announcing, as they said, a breakthrough technological invocation. They buried the lead.

BROWN: Please tell me, in your own words, what did you see?

FEINBERG: You’ve seen the footage.

BROWN: We’d like to hear your account.

FEINBERG: There weren’t a lot of us there, which turned out to be a good thing. Just myself and four other journalists, we were given a press kit, which was full of the normal sort of flack companies like Sanderson give out at these things. A little bit of real science covered with a big helping buzzwords and spin. Then they drove us out to the desert, to what they called the Testing Range.

BROWN: Is that unusual?

FEINBERG: For a company like Sanderson, it is. They, as I’m sure you already know, specialize in processors, semiconductors, in laymen’s terms, the stuff that makes your phone, computer run, along with just about everything else.

BROWN: Did this make you or your colleagues suspicious?

FEINBERG: Only that it might be a waste of time.

BROWN: Of course, it wasn’t.

FEINBERG: No, it was not.

BROWN: When you first saw the Subject, what was your first impression?

FEINBERG: The Subject? That’s not what every-

BROWN: Ms. Feinberg, let’s just call him that for now.

FEINBERG: Okay.

BROWN: Your impressions, please

FEINBERG: He looked like an ordinary man, Very fit, but…

BROWN: But?

FEINBERG: Well, he was… Let’s just say he had a certain charisma.

BROWN: In what way?

FEINBERG: in the way that you could not take your eyes off him.

BROWN: So you found him attractive? Sexually?

FEINBERG: Did you ask everybody if they had the hots for him?

BROWN: What was asked of your fellow journalists, is-

FEINBERG: Classified.

BROWN: Indeed. But I do not ask this of you based on your gender if that is your concern.

FEINBERG: Thanks, I suppose.

BROWN: We just need to understand.

(Ms. Feinstein laughs for a period of one minute and twenty-three seconds.)

BROWN: Are you ready to continue?

FEINBERG: Sure.

BROWN: Were you sexually attracted to the Subject?

FEINBERG: I… Listen, I’ve met more beautiful people than the Subject, but he was one of those people who have IT.

BROWN: It?

FEINBERG: IT.

BROWN: I see.

FEINBERG: I don’t think you do.

BROWN: Moving on. What did the Sanderson representative, Andy McCann say to you all?

FEINBERG: He said that they had created a technology that would change warfare for all time, given that Sanderson was not a weapons manufacturer, we were all skeptical. Then he had the… Subject stand about ten feet away from us, then pointed a gun at him and shot.

BROWN: Then what happened?

FEINBERG: Most of us screamed.

BROWN: What happened to the Subject.

FEINBERG: Nothing. At first, we thought it was some sort of new body armor. But it wasn’t.

BROWN: What was it.

FEINBERG: McCann called it an NDA, which he thought was pretty damn funny. It was an acronym for Nano Defense Armor.

BROWN: Mr. McCann is a marketing executive?

FEINBERG: Oh yeah.

BROWN: I see. What else did the Subject do?

FEINBERG: We all took turns shooting him. He was a pretty good sport about it, never seemed to get tired. The NDA also increased his strength and stamina.

BROWN: By what degree?

FEINBERG: He picked up a jeep with four people sitting in it with no visible effort on his part.

BROWN: That’s quite a feat.

FEINBERG: Doesn’t this freak you out?

BROWN: Would it comfort you for me to do so?

FEINBERG: No, it wouldn’t.

BROWN: Then let us proceed. The attack was at 3:17 PM, mountain time.

(Mr. Brown’s phone beeps)

BROWN: Excuse me. We will resume this later. Your country appreciates your cooperation and discretion.

END TRANSCRIPT.

Flagstaff Gazette

October 24th, early edition

SIX SURVIVE GAS STATION EXPLOSION

Bowen’s Gas station on US Route 89 exploded yesterday afternoon but miraculously, there were no fatalities or even serious injuries.

As first responders made their way to the site, they discovered six people a half-mile away from the station.

“They were just standing there, on the side of the road,” said EMT Jamie Stevens,

27. “Everyone was in shock.”

Those six people were later discovered to have been at Bowen’s when the blast took place.

Gary Brockett, 19, who was working at the station at the time, had this to say.

“There was this streak of light that headed right towards me. Then I felt like I couldn’t breathe none. Then, I was on the side of the highway and I sees this fireball on the horizon. It was crazy. Crazy!”

Firefighters were able to put out the blaze but the cause is still unknown and the ATF and local officials have issued no comment other than it is an ongoing investigation.

‘We’re all just so lucky to be alive,” said survivor Sally Martinez, 43, “We all have a guardian angel.”

A.E.G.I.S. REPORT # 89H6-3PH-A

LOCATION: XXXXXXXXXX

PROJECT: November Delta Alpha

DATE: October, 24th, 20XX

BROWN: Let’s continue.

FEINBERG: What’s going on?

BROWN: You were going to tell me about the attack.

FEINBERG: Why were you gone for, what I’m guessing was about two hours or so? Your people took my phone and this room doesn’t have a clock.

BROWN: Urgent matters needed my attention.

FEINBERG: That’s government talk for “Not going to tell you.”

BROWN: So what happened during the attack?

FEINBERG: Will my cooperation speed my release?

BROWN: Almost certainly.

FEINBERG: That’s as good as it’s going to get.

BROWN: The attack.

FEINBERG: Right. Well, as I said before, the Subject was showing off his, I guess you’d call them powers. It was pretty amazing, right out of a movie. Then it all went to hell.

BROWN: In what way?

FEINBERG: Suddenly there was dust everywhere, my ears were ringing, and we’re all knocked to the ground. Except for the Subject.

BROWN: He was unaffected?

FEINBERG: As far as I could tell. He didn’t get knocked ass over teakettle. Which was odd.

BROWN: Why do you say odd?

FEINBERG: It doesn’t matter if you are incredibly strong, or even superhumanly strong. That amount of force will push you over. It’s just physics.

BROWN: But the Subject just stood there.

FEINBERG: Yes. He would have an incredibly dense body or have some way to negate the force of the blast.

BROWN: Interesting. Could you gauge the Subject’s body mass?

FEINBERG: Not without knowing the exact force of the explosion, the distance from the point of impact, and if there was any damage to the Subject.

BROWN: Would you like to hazard a guess?

FEINBERG: A lot.

BROWN: A lot?

FEINBERG: Without any data, that’s the best I can do.

BROWN: Very well. What happened next?

FEINBERG: After the dust settles, there’s a crater, a big one, don’t ask me how big, I’m confident your people have already measured it, the Subject is just standing there, fists on his hips. Oh yeah, just like a su-

BROWN: Just stick the facts, please.

FEINBERG: Fine. Here’s a fact, another one came out of the crater.

BROWN: Another one?

FEINBERG: Like the Subject.

BROWN: What makes you think it was like the Subject?

FEINBERG: They jumped out of the crater, about a hundred-foot leap, right in front of the Subject with no visible effort.

BROWN: That tracks. What happened next?

FEINBERG: They disappeared with a sonic boom.

BROWN: Did they vanish or-

FEINBERG: Given the second cloud of dust, it seems likely, if anything about this is likely, that they took off at a very high velocity.

BROWN: I see. Did the second Subject resemble the first one, in general build, height, dress?

FEINBERG: No. No, she didn’t

Office of Governor Jillian Dubois (R-AZ)

October 25th.

BROWN: Governor, thank you for seeing me on short notice.

DUBOIS: Why do you need me to order an evacuation of everyone in a hundred-mile radius of Flagstaff?

BROWN: There was an incident at a research facility near that city that might prove a danger to the citizens.

DUBOIS: What sort of incident?

BROWN: I’m not at liberty to say, but it would be best for people to leave, just for a short while.

DUBOIS: That is not an answer.

BROWN: Surely you trust the government.

DUBOIS: Do not be clever with me Agent Brown, Federal personnel have invaded the area around Flagstaff and no one seems to want to answer a straight question. So, I need to know why I shouldn’t just call a press conference to call all of you out.

BROWN: That would just cause panic, and panic can endanger people’s lives.

DUBOIS: Ignorance can do that just as well. I need to know what is going on. Sonic booms happening outside of air corridors, buildings being destroyed but no one is hurt, a locomotive engine falling from the sky into the Agua Fria River.

BROWN: The Federal government would appreciate your cooperation in this matter.

DUBOIS: I’m going to need some details before I upend the lives of all those people.

BROWN: Governor, I understand. If I were in your place, I’d be asking all the same questions. But honestly, if I told you what was really happening, you’d think I was crazy.

DUBOIS: You’ll pardon my language but that sounds like bullshit.

BROWN: I know, but I’m going, to be honest with you, this is going to happen with or without your help. The real question is, are you going to be the Governor who refused the outstretched hand of federal aid in a time of crisis or the one who saved the lives of her constituents with decisive and swift action.

DUBOIS: God damn you.

BROWN: You should arrange that press conference; FEMA is ready to begin coordinating with your people.

DUBOIS: People are not going to be happy.

BROWN: That’s not my job.

DUBOIS: What is your job?

BROWN: Making sure they can still have the option.

A.E.G.I.S. REPORT # 89H6-7Y4

LOCATION: XXXXXXXXXX-XXXXXX

PROJECT: November Delta Alpha

DATE: October, 26th, 20XX

BROWN: Doctor Edgar Corta, thank you for your patience.

CORTA: What is going on here?

BROWN: I need to ask you some questions about project Durendal.

CORTA: What is that?

BROWN: Doctor, let’s not waste each other’s time. We know that you were working on that project.

CORTA: Whatever I worked on, I’m not at liberty to say. I signed an NDA when I began at Sanderson, so I can’t speak about any work I did or did not do.

BROWN: Full disclosure, the board of directors at Sanderson Industries have been currently indicted on a long list of charges, not the least of which are illegal human experimentation and treason.

CORTA: But they…

BROWN: Yes?

CORTA: The subjects signed releases, we were told that it was all legal.

BROWN: A corporation putting potential profits above the law? Shocking.

CORTA: I want my lawyer. I have the right to legal counsel.

BROWN: Indeed you do.

CORTA: I’m not saying another word without my lawyer present.

BROWN: Doctor Corta, I completely understand your concerns, and you will be given the opportunity to contact an attorney. I should tell you that Byer, Randall, and Moskowitz, the legal firm that represented Sanderson, and by proxy, you, have terminated their relationship with that company and chosen to cooperate with us in this investigation.

CORTA: I have no lawyer?

BROWN: You will have access to a public defender.

CORTA: This is a joke!

BROWN: I assure you, both myself and my superiors are treating this whole affair extremely seriously.

CORTA: I don’t really have any choice, do I?

BROWN: Of course you do. You can help your country in this time of crisis and earn the gratitude of this nation and perhaps the world. Or you can invoke your Fifth Amendment rights and hope for the best.

(At this point there was a ten second pause.)

CORTA: I’m going with the first one.

BROWN: A very wise choice. Now, I need you to tell me everything you know about project Durendal.

CORTA: It was a next-generation quantum-scale technology project. Do you know what nanotech is?

BROWN: I have a general idea.

C: Most companies have barely scratched the surface of nanotech. Well, this is next-level stuff.

BROWN: In what way?

CORTA: Do you have multiple degrees in physics and engineering?

BROWN: Let’s assume I don’t.

CORTA: Okay, nano-machines can directly attack cancer cells or clean up an oil spill or make odor-resistant clothing.

BROWN: Handy. And what can quantum-scale technology do?

CORTA: Theoretically, it can change things on a sub-molecular level.

BROWN: Meaning?

CORTA: As an example, we can take anything and make it virtually indestructible. A coffee mug, a building, anything. But that’s just the beginning. Theoretically, it means you can rewrite the laws of physics.

BROWN: That’s quite a breakthrough.

CORTA: I know.

BROWN: I wonder why you wouldn’t publish your findings. This would win you a Noble Prize, wouldn’t you say?

CORTA: Of course it would. I wish I came up with it.

BROWN: You are the Project Manager on Durendal.

CORTA: Yes, I am.

BROWN: But you didn’t bring this to Sanderson?

CORTA: Like I told you, I wish. Someone else came up with the actual physics.

BROWN: And who did come up with the actual physics?

CORTA: Upper management referred to her as a consultant but everyone, including me, had to defer to her. I mostly did the paperwork, I didn’t do any of the actual science.

BROWN: Does this consultant have a name?

CORTA: We called her Doctor Kim. I never learned her first name.

BROWN: Thank you for your cooperation.

CORTA: Am I free to go now?

BROWN: For the time being, consider yourself under protective custody.

CORTA: How is that different from being under arrest?

BROWN: The food is better.

A.E.G.I.S. REPORT # 89H6-76H

LOCATION: XXXXXXXXXX-XXXXXX

PROJECT: November Delta Alpha

DATE: October, 26th, 20XX

BROWN: Ms. Feinberg, thank you for speaking to me again.

FEINBERG: I didn’t realize I had a choice.

BROWN: Apologies for my lack of contact. I hope you’ve made comfortable.

FEINBERG: It’s the cleanest prison I could imagine.

BROWN: This is not a prison Ms. Feinberg.

FEINBERG: Then I’ll be on my way.

BROWN: I’m afraid that’s not possible, given the current situation.

FEINBERG: I don’t believe you’ve ever been afraid.

BROWN: You’d be wrong.

FEINBERG: Hmmm. So, what is the current situation?

BROWN: Complicated.

FEINBERG: As much as I enjoy our banter sessions, if you’re not going actually tell me something, I’d like to go back to my cell.

BROWN: We have the Subject.

(MS. Feinberg stared in silence for sixteen seconds)

FEINBERG: How did you manage that?

BROWN: He asked for our help.

FEINBERG: Really? How did that work?

BROWN: When he encountered the National Guard troops who were deployed in downtown Flagstaff.

FEINBERG: That raises so many other questions.

BROWN: I have a briefing for you to read. If you’ll do something for us.

FEINBERG: Not for “Your Country?”

BROWN: Ms. Feinberg, neither of us are naive.

FEINBERG: Clearly. So what do you want me to do?

BROWN: Your job.

FEINBERG: Huh, okay. What am I covering?

BROWN: You’ll be interviewing the Subject.

FEINBERG: Are you f—— with me?

BROWN: No I’m not.

FEINBERG: Why are you doing this. Transparency is rarely the first choice for governments. Or corporations. Or people.

BROWN: Honestly, footage has leaked. It’s of poor quality but it is out there.

FEINBERG: You want to control the narrative.

BROWN: Very much. We’re setting up a studio and we have a full crew standing by.

FEINBERG: I’m a print journalist. A scientific print journalist, I’m not some TV flack.

BROWN: There are four reasons you are the best person to do this. You have an actual background in science, your writing is insightful and sharp. You also are attractive in a way that won’t upstage the topic.

FEINBERG: Wow! I feel so seen!

BROWN: So you’ll do it?

FEINBERG: I’d be a fool not to. But I won’t be censored.

BROWN: Of course. Thank you. Here’s the briefing and a pad, and pen for notes and questions. Hair, make-up, and wardrobe are standing by, just let the agent outside know when you’re ready. But we’d like to have this ready for the morning news.

FEINBERG: You said there were four reasons. You only listed three.

BROWN: The Subject requested you.

FEINBERG: He did?

BROWN: By name.

END TRANSCRIPT.

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The Cottage

This week I’m looking back in time, by sharing something I wrote for an English class when I was fifteen years old. If you enjoy it, you can thank my mother for saving this. If you don’t, blame me for writing it. It’s presented as I wrote it with no editing. I dearly wanted to make changes, it’s one looooooooong paragraph.

Did I have the glimmer of talent way back in the day? If not, I like to think I picked it up somewhere in my travels. Your mileage may vary.

The Cottage

As I stood int the driveway of the cottage that I stayed in as a child, many memories returned to me. The cottage was far from being luxurious, in fact it was ramshackle. Standing on stacks of concrete blocks it rather gave the impression that it might fall at any moment. The screens on the porch were filled with gaping holes that were patched with scotch tape. Paint decades old flaked off at the slightest breeze. But that is only the outside, I wondered, as I walked up the groaning steps, how much the inside had changed. The porch still had its decaying wicker lawn furniture. Pushing open the main door, whose lock incidentally did not work on a rainy day, I walked into the living room. I turned on the light and staggered back a step. It was as bad as I remembered it. The floor still had the rug, if it could be called that, made of shipping rope. Make-shift couches, that were in reality sagging cots, still lined that walls. The off-off white walls remained the same, including the tacky gold painted mirrors that hung at intervals. Then I entered the bedroom. It still had the twin beds with the molting covers and hard pillows. An ugly blue paint covered the walls and a bare light bulb protruded over the first bed. Turning around the I saw the kitchen with it’s rickety old center table the same as when I left it so many years before before. From what I have told you this seems like a sorry excuse for a cottage. Maybe in the physical sense, but when it was filled with good friends, it seemed like a palace.

P.S. In case you were wondering, the cottage I was writing about was real and it was a dump. That was accurate. Adding that last dollop of sentimentality made it seem less like what would now be a very harsh Airbnb review.

P.P.S. I don’t know what I got for this literary gem, the copy I have has no grade. Maybe a B? Let’s say a B.

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An Elusive Volume- A tale of the Arrondissement

It’s been about two months and somehow I find myself wandering back to the Arrondissement. I knew that I would return but not so soon. The metaphorical pen goes where it will. One of the wonderful things about creating a world is filling it with interesting characters, at least interesting to me. The sad part is not all of them get as much love as they deserve.

I was musing, as I am prone to, and I thought about my favorite fictional librarian, the lovely and talented Zsófia. What sort of challenges does she face in the world she lives in? Below is what occurred to me. I enjoyed spending more time with her and I hope you do too.

Alors allons-y!

Zsófia knew that most books are content to sit on a shelf, eager to be read. It is an arraignment that both parties have agreed to, if informally. At least in the case of Academy Library, as there was a steady flow of those who wish to read, and those who wished to be read.

However, some books were less patient. Those were kept in the protected section. This was as much for the preservation of rare volumes as it was to protect the unwary. The Chronicle of Allurement desired to be pored over and would open when those of an easily influenceable nature passed by. It had led to countless distractions until it was placed in a steel case under thaumaturgic lock and key.

The Book of Blades fed on blood, in the form of paper cuts. Not as deadly as swords or daggers but it made for a challenging read. Heavy gloves are advised. So many nibbles had been taken from the Culinary Compendium’s binding that a full three-course meal had to be eaten before any scholar could consult it.

All of these were troublesome but manageable, they just required some extra precautions. There was one that caused more trouble than the rest put together, and Zsófia was looking right at it. Or more accurately, she was looking at where it should be.

The Unbound Anthology, a collection of the techniques created by the Arrondissement’s greatest escape artist, Manon Aubert. All her secrets, in one bound volume, printed only once, after she disappeared.

Famously, she once was shackled, manacled, then blindfolded, and sealed in an oubliette in the lowest level of the Vicomte DuSanglant’s tower which was guarded by three Chevaliers. Aubert appeared at the First Minister’s gala one hour later to the delight of all that attended.

While Aubert loved to thrill crowds, the Unbound Anthology seemed to take a perverse pleasure in liberating itself from the protected section. For Zsófia, who delighted in keeping the library in order, it was particularly vexing.

She slid out to the front desk where her colleague, Madame Flagel was sorting returns.

“Did anyone request something from the protected section today?” whispered Zsófia.

“Yes, Professor Berteau took out the Volume of the Void,” replied Madame Flagel.

Hmmm…”

“What’s wrong?”

“The Unbound Anthology has escaped again.”

“Oh no! I was very careful.”

“It’s not your fault, that book was made to avoid being shelved.”

Madame Flagel took a look around to see anyone was listening, then leaned close to Zsófia and murmured, “Sometimes I just want to let it escape.”

“Me too,” she replied and they both laughed. Very quietly.

“I’m going to pay a visit to Professor Berteau and see if I can capture our wayward tome,” said Zsófia as she straightened her jacket.

“Bonne chance!”

Berteau’s office was on the third floor of the East-West wing, at the end of the hallway. She took a deep breath and knocked.

“Come in!” could be heard behind the wood and frosted glass door.

She entered the cluttered and narrow office. Professor Berteau’s area of expertise was the theoretical space inside solid objects, or at least that’s how he had explained it to her at the Academy holiday party several years ago.

Piles of books made a path to a smallish desk at the far end of the room where the scholar sat.

“Librarian Zsófia! Have I an overdue book?” he said with a smile.

“No Professor, your account is not in arrears.”

“Good, good, good.”

Zsófia smiled while looking at the stacks of books, hoping to spot the truant volume.

“Is there anything I can help you with?” asked the Professor.

“I’m afraid we’ve had a breakout,” she admitted.

“Ahh, the Unbound Anthology! Someone should really keep an eye on that,” he unhelpfully suggested.

“Thank you,” she replied with an outward sincerity, “But it excels in escape, which is it’s nature.”

“I suppose so.”

“You haven’t seen it, have you?”

“No! Do you think I aided and abetted?” he asked with a smirk.

“Of course not Professor. It’s just that it seems it may have slipped out when the Volume of the Void was pulled for you earlier.”

“I’m sorry to hear that though-”

“-Naturally no one thinks you’re responsible,” she interrupted, “I had hoped you might have seen something. I’m afraid that our services may be curtailed while that book is at large.”

“Oh, dear, there are several texts I need pulled!”

A shame. If you’ll excuse me, I must try and find my quarry,” sighed Zsófia as she turned to exit.

“Please wait! I believe that that the boy who was pushing the book cart said he was headed to the Phlogiston Department.”

“Thank you so much professor, I’ll head there right away.”

“Those books I need?” he asked

“I’m sure the library will accommodate your requests,” she said as she left.

Deep in the lower levels, the Phlogiston Department studied the nature of fire in a ceramic vaulted room filled with flame pits of varying sizes and heat levels. Because of the nature of their research, all their books were made of thinly hammered steel. They used to be clay but inevitable clumsiness made that impractical.

Removing her specially treated hood and visor to reveal a sooty and sweaty face, Doctor Enfer spoke to Zsófia.

“I haven’t seen any stray books. Paper doesn’t last long around here,” said the Phlogistonist.

“Of course.”

“Self-aware writings tend to avoid this part of the Academy.”

“I thought you might have seen something.”

Doctor Enfer scratched her nose and pondered this.

“Well, the book cart was headed towards the Acoustic Engineering lab.”

“Thank you,” said Zsófia.

Much of the morning and part of the afternoon was spent following the trail of the book cart. She considered returning to the library for the list of stops the book cart was going to make but she didn’t want to miss a chance to nab this runaway lexicon. For all her efforts, all Zsófia succeeded in was an erosion of her temper and fatigue.

She took her mid-day meal (a bit later than she normally did) in a secret room above the main library. Zsófia had discovered it years before, it was a small garret chamber just off the topmost level of the stacks. Spending time there let her think and, right now, cool her temper which had been sorely tried.

As she nibbled on her lunch, she stared out the window and thought. Usually, she could find this wayward book, though it would take some effort. That was the issue with self-aware books, they would inevitably act according to the nature of their subjects. The Unbound Anthology was not only acting as its essence demanded but it seemed to be learning. That would increase its value but also its propensity for mischief.

Wiping crumbs off her mouth, she gazed out the window at the many towers, platforms, balconies, and walkways that crisscrossed the Academy’s campus. Students and faculty moved about. It was a brisk, clear autumn day so there was little dillying or dallying going on. One unfortunate student tripped and the folder he was carrying exploded in a flurry of paper. He desperately attempted to recover as many as he could but the cold wind was not in a generous mood. His work escaped as he watched.

Zsófia sighed, it seemed to be that sort of day. One moment later she smiled.

Standing on the tallest tower of the Academy, the Tour Du Ciel, Zsófia scanned, using the opera glasses gifted to her by her drágám, the multitude of roofs that covered the grounds. A lost book more times than not would be found on the floor, so if it’s not down, it very well might be up. For an hour, she got to appreciate another point of view of the Academy. Some came up for experiments, others to be alone, a solitary kite pilot, and more than a few trysts.

Her patience was rewarded. Sliding along a nearby rooftop was the Unbound Anthology. With a wild grin, she attached the rope to the crenelations of the Tour Du Ciel, borrowed from the Department of Orology, and swung out and around towards the errant book.

Landing about ten meters behind it she moved as fast as she could while Unbound Anthology headed for the edge. She grinned as it was stopped by the wrought-iron filigree at the edge. Just then, the book flipped over, aided perhaps by a gust of wind. Perhaps not. There was only one thing she could do.

Pierrick Aubertin sat in an empty classroom, working on his thesis. Being alone helped him think; or more accurately, he was easily distracted. This was the dullest classroom he knew about, the walls were painted a grey that didn’t suggest a mysterious fog so much as a numbing void where nothing was likely to leap out and make things interesting. Perfect for getting work done.

Until he heard a tap on the window, one that only showed the bricks of another building, nothing to catch the eye. He reluctantly looked at the window. Nothing. Back to work. Yet another tap. Feeling his focus slipping away, he moved to the window.

“Could you please open the window?” asked Zsófia, who was holding onto a rope with one hand and the Unbound Anthology clasped tightly by the other.

With some effort, he was able to help her inside. Using one hand, she straightened herself out and said, “Merci young man.”

Feeling more distracted than he thought possible, Pierrick inquired, “What the hell were you doing out there?

“Library business,” she replied with a smile.

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A Long Time Ago…

Last week it was May the Fourth, the official/unofficial Star Wars holiday. To honor this, one of the holiest days in the nerd calendar, I rewatched Star Wars. By which, I mean Episode 4, A New Hope. This addendum was added in 1981 for the theatrical rerelease.

When I first saw that movie, in the distant past of 1977, we only called it Star Wars. To also add, IT BLEW MY MIND! I had never seen anything like this. Of course, no one had, but I can only speak for myself.

As anyone who has read my work knows, I am quite the nerd and have been for the entirety of my life. So seeing Star Wars was like being given a gift of something I didn’t know I wanted in the deepest, secret, and unplumbed depths of my soul. Given the overwhelming popularity of this franchise, I was not alone.

Like countless others, I wanted to live in that universe, to fly an X-Wing or the Millennium Falcon, be best friends with a Wookiee, and wield a lightsaber while I let the Force flow through me. I bought the soundtrack and listened to it over and over, picturing accompanying the scenes in my head.

My Friends and I bragged about how many times we had seen it. One kid had been twenty times and we envied him. Remember, this was pre-streaming and even pre-VCR(Google it), so it was confined to theaters. It was in theaters for over a year, a feat that the most popular blockbusters of more recent times cannot match.

For Christmas that year I received a lightsaber. To clarify, it was an orange flashlight with a white, opaque plastic tube attached to it that when turned on, glowed like a lightsaber. Obviously not officially licensed, I think had a sticker on the grip that read, Star Sword or maybe Laser Sword. As cheap as this was, it delighted me. It also looked VERY cool when you ignited, with a vocal ‘snap hiss’, in a dark room.

It is easy to see what excited people worldwide, good versus evil, amazing setting, fantastic aliens, a wide variety of droids, space ships, and high adventure. Naturally, there were sequels, comics, novels and novelizations, toys, cartoons, games, then prequels, more cartoons, and more sequels.

These answered a lot of questions we all had, even if the answers were not the ones we wanted. In the interest of transparency, not every bit was lore was top-notch, and much was discarded after Disney took over. This made some people very angry and others not at all. Just like everything ever done.

While I’m delighted by the proliferation of Star Wars content, back in the day, all we had was the one movie, and any bit of lore we might glean as we poured over articles in Starlog. It was a science-fiction magazine. Printed on paper, once a month. Because that’s how we rolled back then.

Besides all the obvious reasons, why did I love Star Wars so much? After watching it for the umpteenth time (way more than twenty, so suck it childhood friend whose name eludes me now), something occurred to me. What intrigued me was what we didn’t see.

Now to be sure, we saw a lot of stuff, but we only visited two planets, the desert world of Tatooine and the jungle moon of Yavin 4. For a setting for a galactic struggle, that’s not a lot. Sure we saw Yavin Prime, a crimson gas giant, and Alderaan from a distance. For very clear reasons, we don’t get to visit them. R.I.P. Alderaan.

There is a lot mentioned that we don’t see and is not explained. What were the Clone Wars all about? How does the Force work? What is a Womprat, other than being a little bigger than two meters? Where does blue milk come from and what does it taste like? How can you make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs when a parsec is a measurement of distance and not speed? What do Jawas really look like under the hood?

Lots of these have been answered with varying degrees of satisfaction. While I have spent quite a lot of time seeking details about the Star Wars universe, watching the original made me long for the time when a lot of mysteries still existed. Given the time I’ve spent watching movies and shows, to say nothing of the many, many books I’ve read, it seems contradictory.

Truth be told, it is. I want to know everything and simultaneously don’t. In a way, the more I know about the Star Wars Universe, the smaller it seems. When all we knew was what we saw in one movie, it felt… infinite.

One of the highest bits of praise I can give a fictional world is that feels as though there is something around the corner, even if we don’t see it. Star Wars has that and then some. In my mind, every one of the stars we see at the opening has a unique and intriguing world. Some even have more than just one. What are they all? We’ll know when some creative force, no pun intended, reveals it to us. If they don’t, that’s okay too.

The younger version of me would not agree. He’d want it all and he’d want it right now. I can’t blame him, even if he wouldn’t love it all. Probably.

Maybe what I want is to return to a time when the world seemed undiscovered and full of possibilities, at least from a certain point of view. I’d be lying if that doesn’t hold a very powerful appeal. Impossible of course, we all must move forward.

While I can’t go back to that state of innocence of Star Wars lore, I can bask in the memories of a time before knew what Midi-chlorians were and the arguments that they created. Before the dark times, before the Empire. Not the Empire Strikes Back, that was awesome.

Excuse me, I need to stare off at the horizon at the setting twin suns and reminisce about when I took my first step into a larger world.

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The Most Dangerous Challenge

“My Prince, the Dread Masters have arrived,” said the majordomo as he bowed.

Straightening his abnormally high and over-embroidered collar, the Prince of Highlandia gestured that the unpleasant guests should be shown in.

Clad in black armor that somehow also glowed black, the Dread Masters entered the throne room. Their leader, known as the Most Dread Master, and his lieutenant, the Lesser But Still Very Dread Master strode in followed by the other Dread Masters. Their names all indicated where they all stood in the hierarchy of Dread, but since they only got longer, we will not list them here.

“The time has come, oh Prince,” sneered the Most Dread Master, “The three moons of fate have eclipsed the seven suns of destiny.”

Sighing, the Prince of Highlandia replied, “Yes, yes, it’s pretty hard to miss.”

“Are you prepared for the Challenge That Will Shape The World?” asked the Most Dread Master just as he had rehearsed with his Dread Acting Coach.

“ARE YOU?” added the Lesser But Still Very Dread Master.

“I thought I said to just glower, menacingly,” the Most Dread Master whispered at his lieutenant.

“Just thought it would help,” sullenly replied Lesser.

“Well, it didn’t!” spat the Most Dread Master, “Did it?” he then asked the Prince.

“Not really.”

“I prepared a song. A very scary song,” Lesser said hopefully.

The Most Dread Master pushed down his disappointment. Just because someone is excellent in martial arts, doesn’t mean they had any sense of theater. He had to take care of this before it became a ‘thing.’

Lesser’s face lit up. “Really?” 

“Listen, I asked you to glower because you’re so good at it. The best, in fact.”

“Absolutely! You are my best glowerer, hands down.”

“I think I need to hear that. It’s been a rough week. My girlfriend-”

“Let’s talk later, okay? After the Challenge That Will Shape The World.”

“You got it my Most Dread Master!”

Turning back to the Prince of Highlandia, the Most Dread Master intoned, “So my Prince, are you prepared for the Challenge That Will Shape The World?”

“You already said that.”

“Well, it’s literally the event that will determine the fate of every being in the realm for all eternity. It deserved to be said twice! Maybe even three times!”

“Would you like to say it again?”

“Twice, I think imports the gravity of this event,” declared the Most Dread Master in a tone he felt was both wise and threatening.

“Agreed,” nodded the Prince as he sagely stroked his beard. The beard stroke really sold the sagacity.

“As was written in the scrolls of sacred conflict, let the champions present themselves!” declared the Most Dread Master as he stepped forward.

The Prince, who was in his late middle age and had what could be accurately described as a ‘Dad Bod’, stood up.

“You? You are the champion?”

“I am,” he said with a shrug.

The Most Dread Master waited for a ‘mere jest’ or a ‘got you’ or even a ‘psych!’ It did not come.

“What happened to your loyal cadre of warriors? Johnny Lightning Hands? Myka Mistress of the Razor-Whip? Mysteroid, the Living Smoke? The Mongoose Twins, Ebi and Abi? Bunfar, the Guy with Swords for Feet?”

“Oh, they’re up there,” the Prince said pointing up a balcony. 

All his champions waved and cheered, which resulted in some clanking in the case of Bunfar who stomped his feet swords with great enthusiasm. 

“Are you not going to take this seriously?” asked the Most Dread Master with unmasked irritation. 

“Of course I am, this will shape realm forever.”

“So you think you can defeat me?” 

“I don’t think that.”

“Haha, you will-”

“…I know it.”

It was a classic burn. The Most Dread Master was rapidly losing the mystique of menace that he had spent years cultivating. Time to make some big power moves.

“Okay, Prince ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’ Check this out.”

With a flicker of darkness, the Most Dread Master teleported about the throne room, shattering vases on plinths with masterful kicks and strikes. Appearing and disappearing into and out of puffs of oily black smoke, which he thought was extremely cool. The fact that the smoke smelled of potpourri was perhaps less cool than he wanted it to be.

“And that’s just the tip of the dark iceberg of my martial arts techniques!”

The Prince applauded and said, “Impressive. Very much so. I enjoyed the potpourri.”

“It’s not potpourri, it’s the scent of dying springtime!”

“Sorry, it just reminded me of potpourri.”

“Well, you were wrong!”

“Would you like to hear the challenge?” stated the Prince in a serious manner.

“Indeed I would!”

Carrying the scrolls of sacred conflict, the majordomo entered and unrolled them to a specific spot.

“I’ve been reading over the scrolls and I discovered something of great interest to me.”

“Do you think you’ve discovered some loophole that will allow you to avoid this?”

“Not at all. But listen to this, ‘The challenged, in this case, me, may choose the nature of the conflict, and the challenger must abide by this or forfeit on pain of disintegration.’”

“I know, I know! It’s a proviso so you can choose where and how we fight. It could be in the Ice Volcano on the edge of the Sea of Fire, or on a Dragon-Owl’s back in a lightning storm, or if we both are blindfolded and have to compose haiku while leaping from branch to branch in the forest of very slippery leaves.”

“Yes… And no.”

“What the hell does that mean!”

“The thing is, the challenge doesn’t have to be a fight,” the Prince offered with a smile.

“Don’t be absurd! That’s what we do! Our whole way of life is based on superiority through martial arts! You can’t just go changing it!” sputtered the Most Dread Master.

“The scrolls do not specify the challenge needs to be one of fighting.”

“Where is my Dread Litigator?” 

There was a great deal of reading and arguing between the Master and his attorney. Part of it was why their copies of the scrolls were on black parchment with purple lettering. It had seemed so very metal when they were made but turned out to be extraordinarily difficult to read. Finally, the Most Dread Master spoke.

“On advice of counsel, I accept that the challenge need not be one of the martial arts. Even though it makes a mockery of everything our most sacred and profane traditions stand for.”

“Very magnanimous of you,” said the Prince.

“I thought so,” replied the Most Dread Master.

There was a dramatic pause.

“Now, and only now, will I reveal my challenge to you, my foe.”

“It better not be trivia! If it’s trivia we should have teams!”

“While that might’ve been entertaining, I had something else prepared.”

At that, servants set up a long table and placed cloth-covered trays upon them. A distinctive acidic smell wafted across the throne room.

“By the sightless eyes of the Iron Crone… No.” 

“Hot wings. Marinated with the essences of one hundred different peppers. Including the feared Pandemonium Pepper which only grows in the darkness of Valley of the Mad. Whoever can eat the most, will mold the world for evil or good.”

While the Most Dread Master enjoyed things that would make the hardest hearts weep, he could not stomach spicy foods. Even black pepper was too much for him. But the challenge had to be met.

He took off his cape with a flourish to show he still had style, and also to prevent it from being stained. As he handed it to the Lesser But Still Very Dread Master, he said quietly, “Send a dark crane to the Dread Gastroenterologist. Tell him I will need his services very shortly.”

Sitting across from his ancestral foe, the Most Dread Master looked at this, his final battlefield, and uttered these words.

“So, no blue cheese dressing?”

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Keep Watching, True Believers!

Disney+ Marvel spinoffs

With the last episode of Falcon and the Winter Solider out, we will need to wait till next month for M.O.D.O.K. and till June for the Loki show. But never fear, Marvel and Disney are hard at work with other shows, that they know you will love. Check out what’s in store.

Hawkeye’s Old House– With his wife and children returned to him, Clint Barton sets his sights on renovation of the family home. Episode One is how to build an extension using only trick arrows. Episode Two, marriage counseling. 

HULK… SCIENCE! Bruce Banner hosts an educational show about the careful application of super science with a special focus on Gamma Radiation. Filmed in front of a live audience, who may or may not get superpowers.

Wong Between the Bread– Master of the mystic arts and sandwich aficionado, Wong, sling rings himself across the globe searching for the perfect tuna melt. After an exhaustive, world-wide search, it ends at a dinner near Mahwah New Jersey at Benji’s Twenty-Four Hour Diner when Wong achieves lunch enlightenment.

MCU Odd Couple– Neil Simon’s classic TV show gets an update when Korg and Miek are cast as Oscar and Felix. The Pigeon sisters are played by actual mocap pigeons and voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Jodie Comer. CGI hilarity ensues.

Super Villain Shark Tank– Mordo, Justin Hammer, and Doctor Arnim Zola host this pitch show for aspiring supervillains. Those who impress will receive funding for their evil schemes, everyone else will be dropped into a literal shark tank. Serious contenders only please.

Coulson Lives!– Phil Coulson, or the LMD version on him, meets each week with another MCU character to tell them that he is actually alive. He also attempts to weave the events of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into the main continuity.

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You Think So?

“It’s not that difficult,” he insisted.

She took a large potato and began to slice it.

“Isn’t it?” she replied.

He sighed and said, “It is if you make it that way.”

“Hand me that bowl.”

She swept the potato pieces into the bowl and then seasoned them.

“I think you can do this.”

“You think so? How encouraging.”

“I know you can,” he corrected himself.

She regarded him for a moment. Then said, “Please dice up this ham.”

“You’re changing the subject.”

“We still need to eat.”

“Fine,” he said and started to dice.

She turned on the radio. Loud and discordant music filled the kitchen.

“Could you turn that off? Or change stations? Or just turn it down?” he shouted.

Shrugging, she moved to the light switch. Flicking it back and forth. Shadows appeared and disappeared in rapid succession.

“What the he-”

“KEEP DICING!” she shouted.

She then picked up a bunch of grapes and started to fling them at him.

“Hey, knock it off!”

“I don’t hear dicing!”

“How can you hear anything at all?”

“FASTER AND SMALLER PIECES!!!” she screamed.

It was then, he cut himself. Profanity followed. She stopped the grape bombardment, turned off the radio, and led him to the sink. After cleaning the cut and dressing, it was not too deep, she looked him straight in the eyes.

“That is why.”

“It’s that bad?” he asked quietly.

“Worse.”

They stood in the kitchen, the only thing heard was the occasional and distant sounds of passing cars.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“Me too.”

“Can I help?”

“I’m not sure anyone can.”

“I’d… I’d like to try.”

“Okay. There is one thing you can do.”

“Anything.”

She whispered something in his ear. He nodded. Only then, did she speak in earnest.

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First Contract

It is a known fact that humanity made first contact with extra-terrestrials on June 13th, 20XX when an enormous spacecraft appeared over the United Nations Secretariat Building, and a group of twelve alien delegates spoke to the Earth, inviting us to join the Galactic Commonwealth.

This was inarguably the most historic moment in human history. The day we stepped over the threshold to a larger, more advanced civilization.

Except it’s not true. First contact happened about a year before. At a secret meeting at an abandoned military base in Utah.

This is what really happened.

The US President arrived surrounded by a cadre of Secret Service agents and Marine Special Forces. Each group eyeing each other, confident in the fact that they were best suited to protect POTUS against any danger from beyond the stars. In retrospect, this was adorable. 

POTUS strode into the hanger that the meeting was to take place.

“Mr. President, the Secret Service has secured the area, all clear,” said the Lead Agent.

“My people have made the area even more secure, sir,” added the Marine Major who wanted to make sure her people were represented.

“How can an area be even more secure?” hissed the Lead Agent, “An area is either secure or it’s not!”

“If you were in the Corp, you’d understand.”

“That’s just bullsh-”

“Alrighty!” said POTUS with a smile, “I know you both have done outstanding work. Just keep your eyes peeled and your ears open and we’ll come through this right as rain!”

Inwardly, POTUS was not as confident. This whole business was making his ulcer act up. If this went well it would cement his legacy. But if it didn’t, he might be the last president of the U S of A. He chewed an antacid and ran his hands over his hair.

He stood there and listened to the low wind that made the hanger creak. It occurred to him, and not for the first time, that this might be a prank.

Suddenly, with a burst of bright green light, three figures appeared along with a massive table, a tall robed insect figure with the octopus arms, an undulating pillar of luminous pink sparkles, and a creature that might be described as a muscular centaur with a Tiger-Man upper body and reptilian back half.

The distinctive sound of automatic weapons being cocked was heard.

“Everyone stand down,” said POTUS, and weapons were lowered.

Stepping forward, POTUS held his arms open and said, “Greetings, beings from the stars. From all the people of the United States of America, I welcome you to our planet.”

“Hey Mr. President,” said the Octopus Bug, “How ya doing?”

POTUS did not react immediately. Partially because the tone was so… casual. That and the fact this alien sounded a lot like Jon Hamm.

“I am doing well. Thanks for asking?” he replied.

“Let me introduce myself, I am Bahb Smisss, from the planet Gorbo,” said the Octopus Bug.

“Excuse me, did you just say your name is Bob Smith?” asked POTUS, “Are you yankin’ my chain?”

“No, no, no! It’s Bahb Smisss,” the alien repeated slowly, “It sounds a lot like a Human name but it’s spelled differently.”

“Uhuh.”

“Back to introductions, to my right is Luuuupppurrrn, she’s from the planet Suvooooooo.”

“Nice to meet ya!” purred the column of rosy-colored lights.

“And last, but certainly not least, Mung-Torp of the planet Ventahkus.”

“Charmed,” said the Tiger-Lizard Centaur.

POTUS looked these aliens straight in where he figured their eyes would be and stated, “You all seem to know who I am, so let me say again, welcome to Earth.”

This made the aliens laugh. 

“What the H E double hockey sticks are you all playing at?!” said POTUS who was not at all comfortable being on his back heel.

“I apologize,” said Bahb Smisss, “It just that… WE’RE ALL FROM EARTH!”

“Are you Planet of the Apeing me Jack?” sputtered POTUS.

There was a pause, followed immediately by gales of laughter from the ETs.

“It’s kinda an inside joke,” Luuuupppurrrn said as she tried to stop laughing.”

“The name of everyone’s planet translates to ‘Earth’ in their native language. An odd universal truth.”

“That is odd,” added POTUS who felt as though he was not just on his back heels but tumbling ass over teakettle.

“Usually, it gets a bigger laugh,” added Bahb Smisss, “I think my timing was off.”

“Ooo!” warbled Luuuupppurrrn, “I totally spaced on the refreshments.”

With a smaller green flash of light the table filled with food and drink.

“Let’s sit and chat. Sounds good?” inquired Bahb Smisss.

They sat. POTUS sniffed the food, it smelled delicious. He was about to take a bite when the Lead Agent leaned in.

“I wouldn’t advise it sir. We don’t even know if these things eat the same food as us.”

“Nothing to fret over, it’s Earth food,” interjected Mung-Torp.

“It smells like chicken pot pie,” said POTUS who found himself getting hungry.

“Allow me to taste it Mr. President,” said the Major who leaned in on POTUS’s other side, “Just to make sure.”

“Back off Leatherneck! It’s our job to protect the President!”

“Isn’t there some counterfeiting you should be dealing with?”

“That’s only one of the areas the Secret Service covers! If anyone is going to get poisoned by aliens is us!”

“It’s not poisoned,” stated Luuuupppurrrn.

“No disrespect, but that’s just what a poisoner would say,” disrespectfully said the Major. 

“I hate to agree with her but she’s right,” grudgingly added the Lead Agent.

“You think we traveled hundreds of light-years, set up a secret meeting with your president, just to poison him?” asked Mung-Torp.

“That’s a long way to go to spit in someone’s soup. Agent, Major, relax.”

They did so. Reluctantly. POTUS picked up a fork and took a bite. It was…

“Delicious!” exclaimed the leader of the free world.

“So glad you liked it! We’ve been working on Earth recipes and we knew chicken pot pie was your favorite!”

“How did you know that!” shouted the Lead Agent and the Major at once.

“That interview you did with Robin Roberts,” said Bahb Smisss.

“I just adore her,” burbled Luuuupppurrrn, “So charming!”

“But she’s also an excellent journalist,” commented Mung-Torp.

The three aliens agreed.

“So you’ve been monitoring us?” asked POTUS.

“Ever since you started radio broadcasts,” remarked Bahb Smisss.

“Those early broadcasts were so creative! You all did so much with just sound!” Mung-Torp said with reverence, “That War of Worlds broadcast was outstanding. Thank Glorp that we didn’t show up right after that!”

POTUS wiped his mouth and said, “That’s some top-notch chicken pot pie, tasted like it was made by someone’s momma.”

“Please Mr. President,” said Luuuupppurrrn, whose pink sparkles got brighter, “You’ll make me fulgurate.”

“But I have to ask you, why are you here?”

“That is an excellent question. There is something that your Earth has that we very much desire,” said Bahb Smisss, “A particular resource.”

“Water,” said POTUS.

The ETs tittered.

“No, we don’t need water.”

“It is one of Earth’s largest natural resources. Heck, seventy-one percent of our surface is water!” declared POTUS.

“Please don’t take this as a knock but we have faster than light travel,” stated Mung-Torp, “We know how to make water. All it is two hydrogen and one oxygen. It’s pretty basic.”

“Then what? Minerals? Petroleum? People?” demanded POTUS.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Slow down there. We don’t want any of that stuff!” said Luuuupppurrrn in a soothing tone.

“Why the heck not?”

Bahb Smisss held his tentacles and said, “First, we no longer use petroleum. Haven’t for millions of years. It’s rife with problems. Second, we don’t eat people. Well, the Zorrbinians do. But only other Zorrbinians. It’s a cultural thing.”

Leaning in, he whispered to POTUS, “Everybody thinks they’re weirdoes, but it’s none of our business.”

“Okay. But what about minerals or metals and that sort of stuff?” asked POTUS who was curious why they breezed past that part.

With patience, Luuuupppurrrn explained.

“Mr. President, do you know how many uninhabited planets there are, just chock full of iron, heavy metals, and Delvinte?”

“What’s Delvinite?” he asked.

“Oh, you haven’t discovered it yet. It’s a very versatile element, you’ll find near the core of a planet. Sorry, I got a little off track here. There are literally billions of worlds that cannot sustain life. Invasion is not cost-effective.”

“Like any good leader, I prefer peace to war but-”

“You don’t think it’s actually possible,” speculated Bahb Smiss.

“A hard lesson from our history,” POTUS grimly said.

“Let me put it this way, let’s say you want a…” Luuuupppurrrn looked around the table, “A pizza. So you have two ways of getting it. You could go to the place where pizza is. You call them pizza parlors, right?”

“I do,” said POTUS who was a bit on the old-fashioned side.

“Great! Now you could either go to the pizza parlor, where you can get as much pizza as you like, for free. OR you go to your neighbor’s home to take his pizza, which he does NOT want to give you. In fact, many beings will die before you get his pizza and many ask, ‘Why didn’t we just go to the free pizza parlor in the first place?’ That’s why no one invades anyone else anymore. At least in the Galactic Commonwealth.”

“So, if you’re not here to invade, what exactly are you here for?” asked POTUS who was wondering where this all was going.

“Yes!” exclaimed Bahb Smiss, “Let’s get to the hearts of the matter. We want Beyoncé.”

Whatever POTUS thought they were going to ask for, it was not this.

“What kinda malarky are you shoveling?” shouted POTUS.

“It’s just that we all love Beyoncé,” sighed Luuuupppurrrn.

“Everyone loves her!” declared Mung-Torp.

“The United States of America does NOT trade human beings! I oughta take you behind the gym and woop your keister for suggesting it!” said POTUS as he took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves.

“Hold on! I think we weren’t clear about what we meant!” hurriedly said Bahb Smiss, “We don’t want Beyoncé the being. We want her music.”

“Are you telling me that you came halfway across the universe for music?”

“Not that far exactly, more like three hundred and fifty-seven lightyears, but essentially… Yes,” replied Bahb Smisss.

“That sounds like grade A bullplop!” insisted POTUS.

“Remember how we said we first intercepted your broadcasts?” said Mung-Torp.

“Yes.”

“Well, we were very impressed by your planet’s creativity. For years we listened and watched your broadcasts. Such remarkable and innovative artistry,” said Luuuupppurrrn with absolute sincerity.

“That’s why you’re here? Because you like our TV shows?” sputtered POTUS.

“And your music,” said Mung-Torp.

“Animation, movies, and even your commercials,” said Bahb Smisss, “That old lady who was looking for the beef! Classic.”

POTUS looked at these ETs with disbelief.

“Are you all serious?”

“Hundreds of civilizations can travel faster than light. Only you, had a Lucille Ball,” reverently intoned Bahb Smiss.

Tapping his fingers on the table, the President considered this.

“So, what do we get from all this?”

“Of course the artists will be compensated,” interjected Mung-Torp.

“But everyone will benefit. We can supply you with advanced technology,” suggested Luuuupppurrrn.

“What? Like space ships and ray guns?” asked POTUS.

“Maybe work up to that,” chuckled Bahb Smiss, “But for a start, we can offer cures for all diseases.”

“All diseases?!”

“We’ve had that worked out a long time ago,” said Mung-Torp casually.

“Free clean energy as well,” mentioned Luuuupppurrrn.

“Now that is something twice over,” said POTUS.

POTUS was grinning. This would not just cement his legacy, it would be carved out of diamond. Then it occurred to him.

“What about everyone else? I pretty sure the Russians won’t be tickled pink about America getting VIP tickets to Future World!”

“Representatives are conferring with other world leaders as we speak,” said Bahb Smiss.

“Well… That makes sense,” POTUS admitted. “I sincerely hope they take you up on your offer.”

He could share credit.

“We’re pretty confident they will,” said Mung-Torp with assurance.

“Are you in, Mr. President?” asked Bahb Smiss.

POTUS stroked his chin. If this was on the level, it would change everything. The Joint Chiefs would have puppies over this. Congress too. But the public would support the end of all disease and free energy. It was, as his grandchildren would say, a no-brainer.

“I’m in like Flynn!” 

A series of pings were heard and each of the aliens looked at their devices.

“It looks like everybody is in!” said Bahb Smiss.

“That’s amazing!” said POTUS, “Even Pu-”

“Yep, even him!” confirmed Luuuupppurrrn.

“Well if don’t beat all,” murmured POTUS.

“Now comes the boring part. The legal stuff,” said Bahb Smiss.

“You have lawyers?”

“They are inevitable, like the heat death of the universe,” snarked Mung-Torp.

“Be nice!” chided Luuuupppurrrn.

“I was,” insisted Mung-Torp.

“Moving on,” said Bahb Smith, “Tomorrow we can begin the, what you like to call the ‘paperwork.’ But tonight, we can celebrate!”

“I don’t suppose you brought any bubbly?” asked POTUS.

Another green flash and iced buckets appeared on the table. POTUS popped a bottle open and poured two glasses for the Lead Agent and the Raider Major.

“Here ya go, drink up you two!”

“We’re still on duty sir,” said the Lead Agent.

“Better to keep sharp Mr. President,” whispered the Major, her eyes darting around the room.

“This is a presidential order, have a drink, eat some food and enjoy yourselves,” POTUS said as he handed them glasses.

“With all due respect-,” began the Lead Agent.

“Son, if these folks were gonna do anything, it would already happened. So make a few memories, you’ll tell your grandchildren about this moment.”

POTUS moved off and began talking to the ETs.

“We might be out of a job soon,” said the Lead Agent as he took a swig of champagne. It was good.

“I think you’re right,” replied the Major who drained her glass.

“I’ve always wanted to learn how to bake.”

“Maybe I can be a barista.”

Both took in the scene.

“You want to make out?” asked the Major.

“Like in high school?”

“Yeah.”

“Why not?”

POTUS was speaking to the aliens, who had an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture.

“You all really like Beyoncé?”

“No. We all LOVE Beyoncé,” corrected Mung-Torp.

“She’s worshiped on a number of worlds,” revealed Luuuupppurrrn.

“Here on Earth too. Sorry, our planet too,” said POTUS catching himself.

“It’s alright, you can still call your planet Earth. It would be weird if you didn’t,” said Bahb Smiss.

“That makes sense,” replied POTUS as he nodded his head. “Do you mind if I ask you one more question?”

“Ask as many as you like,” said Bahb Smiss.

“You said you’d been observing us for years. Why come here now?”

“Very insightful question Mr. President,” said Mung-Torp, “The fact is since many of your entertainment outlets have gone digital, we’re getting less content.”

“And since you are going digital more and more, it was an indication that you would be at the proper level, technologically speaking, to be open to first contact,” elaborated Luuuupppurrrn.

“Are you saying Netflix is first step into galactic society?” asked POTUS.

“It sends a message,” intoned Bahb Smiss.

“And that brought you all a running?”

Bahb Smiss, Luuuupppurrrn, and Mung-Torp exchanged the briefest of glances and remembered a conversation.

Read the report again,” said Mung-Torp.

It hasn’t changed,” sniped Luuuupppurrrn, “The Earth is screwed.”

Let me see that,” said Bahb Smiss as he expanded the holo-report.

The human race will survive,” he said as he scanned the formulas, “They will likely be reduced to a pre-industrial level of technology in… Ten to twenty years. Give or take. There’s also a nineteen percent chance of extinction. Yeah. That’s bad.”

Bad is we have to make a short detour to avoid a singularity. This is a disaster!” Yelled Luuuupppurrrn, “If their society collapses there are going to be a lot of unresolved plot lines. A LOT!”

I know!” Bahb Smiss spat back.

Do you know how many billions of beings are waiting for the next season of the Bachelor? I do and it is TERRIFYING!”

It’s not like it’s going off the air right now,” said Mung-Torp.

But it’s coming,” said Bahb Smiss.

They all sat in silence.

We have no choice,” said Bahb Smiss.

I’m not sure they’re ready,” observed Mung-Torp.

This is a species that bought rocks as pets. They were just rocks. Not alive. Like the ones they had all over the planet,” said Luuuupppurrrn, “They clearly not ready.”

Then they better get ready,” said Bahb Smiss.

It’s going to be very tricky,” warned Mung-Torp.

If we wanted to live forever, we wouldn’t have gotten into programming,” sighed Bahb Smiss, “Let’s get ready for first contact.”

“It’s all it took,” amiably said Bahb Smiss.

“If that don’t beat all,” said POTUS with a smile.

“Mr. President, as a sign of friendship between Earth and the Galactic Commonwealth, how would you feel about us fixing that little hole in your ozone layer?”

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