First Chapter Chapter Fifteen
“Thank you, Ms. President, and Mr. Secretary-General. It’s my privilege to come and speak to everyone present during such a momentous time in human history. One which, I hope, will lead to a brighter future for us all…”
US President Correa’s boilerplate beginning flowed out as she scanned the room. Behind her rostrum sat a larger dais tiled with green marble, behind which sat the UN President, Secretary-General, and Under-Secretary-General. Two huge screens flanked the dais, and those screens now showed Correa’s face as she continued.
“…and we are committed to our country’s pledge to finding a peaceful and just way for Coalition technology to be incorporated worldwide, and to not attempt any reverse-engineering of our own. Make no mistake; we do not do this out of any sense of altruism or fairness, as pleasant as that may sound. We will hold this pledge sacred for the simple reason that, if the United States were
to attempt such efforts the rest of the world would, without a doubt, find out. That, of course, would lead to a great instability.”
‘Great instability’ was diplomatic-speak for ‘the rest of the world then gangs up on the USA and then everything goes to hell’.
“I know there has already been a great deal of debate in this august hall as to the best way to proceed forward, in a fair and impartial manner. We believe that we have found what one might call a ‘trial run’ which will allow us to work out such matters.”
The general murmuring from the many semi-circular rows of desks in front of her increased.
“To begin with, during the first weeks after first contact we wanted to make sure our guests from the Coalition would not starve to death. Much like humanity’s own ships during the Age of Sail, Coalition exploration vessels store enough provisions for years…but such provisions never last. They have very advanced recycling, but mostly for water and even that is only a stop-gap measure. It is unknown even at this time as to how long it will take to repair the Exultant Finger of Rithro
, and we did not want to risk the crew running out of food.
“Therefore, we undertook an emergency effort to have their ship’s medic examine various Earth foods to determine their compatibility with our guests’ varied biochemistries. I am pleased to report that there are quite a few Earth foodstuffs which are indeed compatible, although there are some specific items which act as allergens amongst some of the Coalition species. During these efforts, we did learn a bit about how their alien biochemistries work…information which has been duly published and is now openly available. We also began to get glimpses of something wonderful, and asked the Coalition crew for more details. They supplied us with some general ideas of what their medical technology can accomplish; I must emphasize that we do not possess any knowledge of how they can perform such miracles.”
Now the murmuring got quite a bit higher, but not quite to the point where they’d have to call for order.
“Yes, I use the word ‘miracles’ advisedly. For example, take Captain Sadaf. You have all seen her, and how she moves like a person in the prime of their life. Now. What if I told you that she is a little over four hundred years old?”
The murmuring died down into a shocked silence.
“Her species, the auhn, is no more long-lived than we are…but they are able to regenerate and remove the effects of aging. I hope the esteemed ambassadors can see what I am driving at. I propose that we set up a research institute, international in scope, to be placed at a neutral location which is still to be determined. The purpose of that institute will be to study and adapt Coalition medical technology for use in humans.”
Now the murmuring started again; she hoped they were actually listening instead of hatching side-deals with each other.
“You all have families and friends. I’m sure you have at least one family member, one good friend, who died of some horrible and unnecessary
affliction. Think of what this means to the world, to us. It is also an excellent way to determine the inevitable issues and frictions which will arise from such a concerted international effort, and that, in turn, will inform our efforts in mutual reverse-engineering of other Coalition technology.
“I know this is, in many ways, a frightening time. Change can be frightening. But I am convinced that you will all know the right way forward, and that you will all see the need for us to unite in this matter, even if others may not be so clear-cut. I thank you for the opportunity to speak.”
As she stepped away from the rostrum, the UN President cleared his throat.
“We will now begin the debate on Madame President Correa’s proposal. Paper copies, with specifics of the proposal, are now being distributed to you all. We’ll now begin the debate period…yes, the gentleman from Portugal…?”
Correa’s Chief of Staff was a shorter, tubby man with an olive complexion by the name of Pablo Rosas. He and Correa sat in a White House conference room, staring at a big screen which now showed the results of the UN vote. “Well, I suppose that went about as well as we could expect,” said Rosas.
“Yep. I was surprised they even agreed with our asking them to kick in some money.”
Rosas chuckled. “Keep in mind that all of this new medical tech will be available for anyone patent-free. Should be air-tight legally, since nobody here on Earth invented it; we’re merely adapting it. I think that was the sweetener we needed to get it passed.”
The president gave a brief nod, then tapped a few keys on the controls in front of her. The screen now showed a world map. “Now we just have to figure out where to put the damn thing without everyone getting butt-mad about it.”
“Hmm.” Rosas laced his fingers over his substantial gut as he regarded the map. “Someplace not ‘the usual’, then.”
Correa growled in frustration. “I keep thinking Switzerland, but I know there’s gonna be a lot of shit flung about that it’s too European-centric. Taiwan would be great; they’ve got both a good tech base and excellent transport infrastructure.”
“But way too controversial, for obvious reasons,” replied Rosas. “Japan?”
“China will, again, kick up a fuss. Huh. New Zealand?”
“That might work. They tend to be more neutral…but then again some might say they’re in too close with Australia, and that this whole effort is too Western-centric.” His eyes flicked back to north on the map. He was about to move his gaze elsewhere, but then he paused. “What about Iceland?”
“Iceland?” Correa almost scoffed, then looked more thoughtfully at the map. “Okay, they’re a NATO member which is a minus. But they tend to remain mostly neutral, which is a plus. Decent transportation infrastructure…don’t we have a naval air base there?”
“I think so, let me check…” Rosas tapped at his phone. “Hey, Jack? What can you tell me about any US naval air bases in Iceland? Just the highlights.” After a couple of minutes, he responded with a curt, “Okay, that’s enough, thanks.”
He put his phone away. “We kinda-sorta have one, at a place called Keflavik. The base there used to be a lot bigger during the Cold War. Then we shut it down after the Soviets were no longer a going concern. Iceland uses it now, and they allow us to fly submarine-search aircraft out of there, but a few years ago they nixed the DOD’s request to rebuild it into a more permanent base.”
“That does work in their favor. It makes for better optics if they’re known for keeping NATO at arm’s length.”
Rosas sat up. “Think the UN will go for it?”
“We can only try. I’ll have our ambassador in Reykjavik make some discreet inquiries, let’s see if they’d be okay with our proposing them as a candidate.”
The Chief of Staff smiled. “If it goes through, this institute will be pumping well north of a billion dollars per year into their economy. That should make it more than ‘okay’.
Agent Cécile Savoie sat in a secure-location breakroom, silently grumbling as she held an as-yet un-drunk mug of coffee in her hands. As the agent-in-charge of the security detail during the Camp David incident, she’d been put on administrative leave, right alongside every other agent who’d been there. But it wasn’t like she had much down time; the inquiry board into that incident now summoned her damn near every other day for yet another round of tedious questioning.
“Hey,” said Hanson as he strolled in, looking just as sour as she felt.
She looked up in surprise. “Hey yourself. I thought you were assigned to the alien detail.”
“I was,” he said as he seated himself across the circular table from her. “Guess being in Alabama when the shitshow went down wasn’t far enough away to be completely out of suspicion. I just finished running my own gauntlet. But the rumor is, I’m getting it easy compared to everyone who was at Camp David, including the special forces people. Especially you.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty much a colonoscopy every day,” she muttered. “Going over the timeline, where I was at which times, who I had direct line of sight on, who I was in radio contact with.” She finally sipped her coffee.
Hanson’s sour expression deepened. “Do you really think it was one of us?”
She sighed. “It has to be. My gut tells me that there’s more than one mole and I told the inquiry board as much. The fuckers who got in knew too much about our patrol patterns, where everyone was, when they’d have a clear shot at an infil. That means someone with access to our methods and comms, and as to the latter we don’t use CB radios.”
The other agent leaned back. “Fuck. I wish I knew why any of us would do that. We’re supposed to be quiet professionals, not frothing radicals.”
Savoie turned the mug in her hands. “Not to tell tales out of school but, through the whisper network, they’ve been leaning hard on the captured dudes from the attack. Apparently one of their main ‘objections’,” and here she made some one-handed air quotes, “is that they think the whole Breaker thing is a ruse. It’s all smoke and mirrors, so that we’ll beg the Coalition to come and save us. And then…well, it gets vague after that but I guess they claim that at best we’ll get turned into the galactic equivalent of a Native American reservation. Worst case, we all get harvested for our precious bodily fluids.”
Hanson stared at her for a moment in disbelief. “That is, if you will forgive the uncouth term, utterly retarded. For chrissake, the Hubble got some beautiful shots of their ship once they’d spun that shield around to reveal it to us. I mean, I’m no spacecraft expert but even I could tell it had gotten the shit pounded out of it.”
She responded with a shrug. “Hey, Flat Earthers are still a thing.”
“Flat Earthers don’t stage FUCKING mortar attacks in our nation’s capital,” snapped Hanson. Then he subsided and spoke more softly. “Sorry, I shouldn’t be so on edge. This whole thing just pisses me off.”
“Join the club,” said Savoie as she sipped more coffee. “I just don’t get it, though.”
Hanson made a gentle ‘continue’ wave of his hand.
She leaned forward. “Okay. Our comrades in the CIA managed to identify the four who made it into the compound. They were all mercenaries, each with at least ten or fifteen years of experience in kicking ass around some of the worst hot spots in the world. Syria, Burma, bunch of places in Africa. One of ‘em even turned out to be ex-Wagner group.”
“Okay?” It was a leading single-word question, but not an unkind one.
“So why was the rest of the attack made up of nothing but a bunch of goddamn shit-kickers? And that includes the aborted attempt in Decatur. I’ve seen the files of those we rounded up in the Camp David attack. They were all low-life idiots just banging around, maybe they might have once held a gun in their lives. Hell, from what I’ve heard, the shootings that triggered the alarm at Camp David were an accident; those intruders were supposed to sneak around
that patrol, not kill them. They all had the same top-of-the-line kit, so we know whoever is behind this has deep pockets. Why not hire an entire bunch of competent people instead of doing it onesy-twoseys?”
“It is a puzzle.” Hanson got up and set a styrofoam cup of water into the nearby microwave. As the cup turned within its electromagnetic prison, he leaned against the nearby counter and pondered her question. “Maybe the team in the woods was intended just as a distraction?”
“That’s what I thought at first, but then I reconsidered. I mean, what if the four who went in failed? You’d still need a proper backup plan. Same thing with the Decatur bunch. By the way, did they ever catch them?”
Hanson let out a dark chuckle. “Decatur PD found a pile of vests and rifles, hastily wiped down. They were able to pull a few partial prints off of ‘em. My guess is they’ve fled to the proverbial four winds, hoping to lay low for the rest of their lives. We’ll nab ‘em eventually.”
The microwave dinged and he retrieved his hot water, then pulled a tea bag out of his jacket pocket as he re-seated himself.
Savoie smiled. “I never figured you for a tea guy.”
He unwrapped the bag and with a bit of ceremony dunked it into his cup. “Well, I used to be a coffee guy, but my gut doesn’t agree with the acidity.”
“We do have tea here, you know.” She pointed to the storage bins behind him.
“Yeah, but it’s cheap-ass stuff. The brand I like is expensive, but worth it…” Hanson’s eyes widened as he trailed off.
She raised an eyebrow. “Hanson? Do you smell burnt toast?”
“They couldn’t afford it,” he said in a near-whisper.
Savoie was about to tell him to stop being overly dramatic, then she realized he might be on to something and that she didn’t dare distract him. “Keep talking.”
He leaned forward, his forearms on the table. “Okay. Imagine you’re a hard-bitten mercenary. You’ve been in the literal shit, in every nasty conflict anyone cares to name. Somehow, someone finds you and comes to you. They say ‘hey, these aliens are bad news, do you want to kill them?’ Even if you, as the hypothetical mercenary, are down with the cause…”
“From what the intruders were yelling, they were,” said Savoie.
“Yeah but even then, our mystery financier is asking you to infil and exfil out of one of the most heavily guarded pieces of real estate on the planet. Oh, and kill a bunch of special-forces-maybe and aliens-definitely in between. What do you do then?”
She replied with a grim smile. “If I’m that mercenary, then I ask for a metric fuck-ton of money. And there were four of them, they would have all done the same. Hell, they must have been doing collective bargaining.”
Hanson dunked his tea bag as he thought it through. “Okay, so our mystery mastermind has a lot of money, but not billions on hand to hire a literal army of hard cases. Huh. So those other dipshits might indeed have been a distraction.”
“Maybe. They must have also spent quite a bit on the mortar attack. That wasn’t made by some hobbyist in their bedroom, they knew what they were doing. Given that nobody saw them set up the launcher or leave, they were more pro.” Savoie hoped that the FBI’s efforts to track the various mortar components turned up something soon. Thus far, those efforts were bogged down; as it turned out, quite a few companies had ordered the identified components, and tracking the subsequent second-hand purchases was time-consuming.
“And those mortar-making pros would be more expensive.” Hanson sipped a bit of tea. “Did they ever get anything off of the launcher itself?”
“Sadly, no. Turns out the whole damned thing was homemade, constructed out of tubing and other off-the-shelf components. It was also wiped down thoroughly, no prints. Like I said, pros.”
“But limited in resources,” said Hanson. “Which explains one of the things that’s bugged me
. Namely, that our OPFOR didn’t use some proper artillery. If they have a couple of moles in the Secret Service, then it should be easy to recruit and pay some military dudes to slip ‘em some gear and alter the logs. They could stow a howitzer inside a semi-tractor-trailer. You could park that thing anywhere up to 25 miles away. Use a single 155mm Excalibur GPS-guided munition, boom. That would have pretty much obliterated the stage and everyone on it. Then you just re-stow the howitzer and toodle off all innocent-like, right when everyone is freaking the hell out.”
“So they couldn’t afford that type of arty strike,” she said. “Or they simply didn’t have the contacts to pull that off. Hmm. I wonder if our moles are getting paid at all?”
Hanson resumed his thousand-yard stare. “The mortar attack must have been planned first. The other two attacks feel much more like rush jobs.”
“Eh? Oh, I get it. Sadaf’s speech was known well in advance. It was going to be one of her first big public appearances since the initial presidential speech. They were broadcasting it online to the world. Having her get turned into chunky red salsa, in real time, would be one helluva statement. So that’s what they focused on.” She drank a bit more coffee, and now it was time for her eyes to widen. “Our mole or moles didn’t arrive at Camp David until after
Sadaf’s speech was announced.”
“That…oh, yeah, that makes sense. Originally the mortar attack is the OPFORs’ only focus, but yet somehow they’ve suborned one or two Secret Service agents and they have ‘em in their back pocket. Then one, or better yet both, of the moles gets assigned to the Camp David detail, and they realize that now that they have a golden opportunity to get at the other aliens as well. So they go off and hire four pros for the actual attack inside, plus a bunch of chucklefucks to act as a distraction, because that’s all they can afford since the four pros are asking for some serious money.”
Savoie leaned forward. “When did Chao and Grakosh leave Camp David?”
“It was, ah, three? No, four days after we got everyone settled, both the aliens and the special forces types.”
“Okay, so then
the OPFOR gets word, courtesy of our moles, that one of the aliens is now heading to Alabama. But now they’re stretched so thin that they can’t afford anything other than to hire another bunch of dipshits to make a run at them and hope for the best.”
“And then the second bunch lets the FNG drive.”
They both laughed, but that humor settled down as they both thought through the chain of inference.
“It is pretty thin,” said Savoie at last. “There’s a lot of assumptions in there.”
“Yeah. But I do like the idea of our moles getting assigned at the last minute.”
She rubbed her forehead. “We had a bunch of new people come in when they decided to stow the Rithro crew there. Seven, no eight in all.”
“It’s a place to start,” said Hanson. He finished his tea. “C’mon, let’s see if we can get a meeting with the inquiry board.”
A little while later and not very far away, three people sat in a well-lit but otherwise deadly dull room. At least the chairs were somewhat comfortable. Matt and Martinez sat at two chairs against one wall, while across from them McCoy sat sprawled sideways on another with a foul look on her face. She glowered at the far beige-painted wall. “This completely sucks. Why can’t we have our phones? I could at least play some mahjong.”
“This is a secure location, Corporal,” replied Matt. “Ixnay on the onephays.”
Martinez’s leg jittered. “How long are we gonna sit here? They said they’d call us in, like, an hour ago!”
“Dunno, it’s some kind of last-minute interview thing,” replied Matt with Zen-like calm.
The corporal looked over at Matt. “I don’t get you, man.”
Matt grinned. “Nobody gets me. I’m like the wind, baby!”
“That’s not…I mean, I watched you open up a dude like he was a bag of fuckin’ Doritos using nothing but a fuckin’ knife. Now you’re being all Caine from ‘Kung Fu’.”
“It’s good to know that the classics are still appreciated,” said Matt.
Martinez pointed at him. “If you start calling me ‘Grasshopper’ I will
McCoy turned her glare to the ceiling. “Maybe it’s a psychological test. They want to see if we crack under pressure and start yakking secrets.”
“I mean, I’m sure they’re recording us right now,” replied Matt. “But it’s merely as a precaution. I am also five-nines certain that none of us are suspects. We weren’t integrated into the compound’s overall security, and thus it would be unlikely that we could have let our four attackers in.”
“Not to mention, we were the ones to kill ‘em,” added Martinez. “Well, except for the one that Takh took care of.”
“Yep. This is…I won’t call it a formality, but the board just wants to know where you were and what you saw. Walk them through your personal timelines, understand? Tell them only what you know. If you don’t know something, then say so.”
McCoy turned herself around so that she now sprawled the other way. “This whole bullshit just bugs me. Takh and the others are off with a bunch of strangers and I…I mean, we aren't there to help protect them.”
Matt and Martinez shared a meaningful glance. “From what I heard, Takh is quite capable of taking care of himself,” said the latter with a grin. “You told me he pitched that one dude across the room like he was throwing a softball.”
For once, the petite corporal looked a bit flustered. “Yeah, but, I mean, what if some other potential bad guy gets the drop on him with a gun? I don’t like not being there. I just wanna know that he’s okay. I should be there, just to make sure.”
The smaller man snapped his fingers in the face of the taller, who sighed and took out his wallet. With great ceremony, Matt pulled out a five-dollar bill and placed it upon the now-upraised palm of Martinez.
“Told ya,” said Martinez with a grin.
She sat up and glared at them both. “That doesn’t mean anything! Takh is a good guy!”
“Nobody said he wasn’t,” replied Matt as he stowed his wallet. “He is indeed a good guy.”
“Yeah, seriously, we’re glad you two hooked up,” added Martinez. “Takh’s solid. Hell, I’d let him date my sister.”
“I. Am. Not. Hooked Up. With ANYONE.” McCoy now looked furious enough to chew nails.
Martinez stroked his chin. “Kissing might be a problem, though.”
Matt performed a similar chin-stroking action. “Hmm, indeed, Corporal, I do believe it might be a serious issue. One has all of those mandibles to contend with.” He hooked his fingers next to his mouth in an approximation of an udhyr’s face. “Still, I think that, with enough will and effort, one could figure it out. Like the man said, life finds a way.”
“But how much tongue is he packing?” posed Martinez. “You know what the man also says. Big dude, big tongue. Could make things more interesting, all around.”
The woman did not look amused. “Martinez, Toke? You are now both officially gigantic flatulating assholes.”
“C’mon, McCoy!” protested Martinez. “Think of it this way. A few years from now, let’s say we filthy humans are now part of the Coalition and I’m at some meet ‘n greet, and I just so happen to spy me an oh-so-very-fiiine udhyr mamacita from across the room. Now, I wanna do my bit for my species and approach her, and get some good old inter-species cultural interaction going on. But there’s all sorts of questions. How do I compliment her without insulting her culture? How am I supposed to get in good with her? How do the mechanics work? How do the various bits line up? We need details! You’re at the tip of the spear, we all need good intel!”
McCoy slumped back into her seat. “Over seven hundred billion Dimmadollars of defense spending, and yet somehow I wind up stuck in a room with you two fuckos…oh, by the way, Toke
,” she added, pointing a finger at Matt, “why the hell can you and Sarge never go back to Okinawa?”
“Nice distraction, McCoy,” said Martinez. “My guess is some sort of wet-work shit.”
Matt just smiled. “Oh for fuck’s sake, I don’t kill everyone
I meet. I was a Second LT at the time, managed to somehow leapfrog my way into officer ranks all the way from enlisted. Anyways, the Okinawa affair was merely a case of, well, one particular case of rye whiskey. The good sergeant…was he a sergeant then? Oh yeah, we had done some other stuff I can’t tell you about in someplace I can’t tell you where, and we were celebrating Shaw getting his third stripe. We’d got ahold of the previously-mentioned case of whiskey and then we began toasting to each other’s good health. We did a lot of toasting. Quite
a lot of toasting. As you can imagine, the toasting went on and on until we, um, well we did some unwise things. It started out with us sparring-for-fun with each other in public and escalated from there. No locals were harmed, and nothing we did was hella illegal, or I would’ve never made Captain. Buuut the local government would definitely throw a shitfit if me or, God forbid, both of us set foot back on the island.” He chuckled. “Hell, the Okinawan customs people probably still have both of our pictures taped up inside their booths with a big old sign saying ‘DO NOT ADMIT THIS PERSON, YOU FOOL’ written above them.”
“What did you do?” asked Martinez. His eyes were big and soulful, like a kid asking for yet one more story before bedtime.
Matt shrugged. “I mean, I don’t remember much for obvious reasons. I’m almost sure we didn’t piss on any monuments, that would have definitely been cause for a serious demotion. We did do a number on some shrubbery, that I do remember. We decided it needed to be trimmed back, and so we did so. Using our bare hands. Seemed like a good idea at the time.”
A fearsome light came into McCoy’s eyes. “Martinez, do you know what this means?”
He looked at her all uncertain. “Um, Toke and Sarge have cast-iron livers?”
“No, you fool. Blackmail material
Matt pointed back at her. “Hey, now, I told you that in confidence. Besides, Shaw has a lot more to contend with right now.”
The reminder of the sergeant’s current crippled state brought the elevated atmosphere of the room back down. McCoy nodded as her smile faded. “Right. Hey, did you see the Prez’s speech at the UN?”
“Yep,” said Matt. “From what I’ve read, the political wrangling after it seems pretty tame compared to the usual.”
Martinez snorted. “No shit. Did either of you see the laundry list of shit that we might be able to do? Anti-aging, limb regrowth, cancer treatments which work well and which don’t
half-kill the patient…hell, maybe even Alzheimer’s could be in our rear-view mirror. The grand high muckity-mucks are falling all over themselves to get that out into the world, for themselves if nobody else.”
“You’re way too cynical, Martinez,” said Matt.
“Oh fuck off. What if…okay, I know this sounds like a cheesy sci-fi concept, but what if they hoard all of the good shit for themselves and we peons get just the crumbs?”
Matt lapsed back into his meditative demeanor. “In that case, my dear corporal, you or I or McCoy or someone like us will show those hypothetical elites that, while they are indeed long-lived, they are not in fact immortal.”
The trio fell into silence for a few minutes. Then Martinez leaned over towards Matt. “Ah, a little birdie told me you were involved in questioning the prisoners we nabbed at Camp David.”
“I merely facilitated certain conversations,” replied Matt.
Martinez sighed. “What the fuck does that mean?”
“Ask me no questions and I will tell you no lies…Corporal.”
McCoy let out a growl. “Well, I
heard these terrorist assholes are saying that the Breakers aren’t real, that it’s all fake videos from the Coalition.”
“Just to play devil’s advocate,” said Matt, “our AI image and video generation is already getting to the point where, soon, we puny humans could manufacture such evidence.”
“What?” Martinez looked as if he was about to launch himself at Matt.
Matt held up a calming hand. “I’m not saying it is
fake. The Hubble pics are damned convincing.”
Martinez hiked up one foot to place it on his seat, then rested his chin on his knee. “Fuck. I guess it didn’t convince everyone.” He mused for a few moments. “Wait. What if we made it even more convincing?”
“How?” asked Matt.
“We send some humans up to the Rithro
. Two or three at least. The boats can still make it up to the ship, right?”
For once Matt looked uncertain. “I think so? Dunno how many times they can come and go without recharging, we’ll have to ask ‘em.”
“Right, so we set up an even better publicity stunt than the Hubble pics. Choose a few people, from all over the world. We have ‘em travel up to the Rithro
, take pics and video up close showing the damage. Even take ‘em inside the ship and get a full tour, maybe…if the crew is okay with that, of course.”
“Huh.” Matt sat back and pondered the idea. “That’s a really good idea, Martinez. I guess you aren’t as dumb as you look.”
The corporal responded with a slight smile at the verbal jab. “We’d need to choose the right people, though.”
“They’d have to be trustworthy…or at least someone that the entire world will consider trustworthy,” said Matt.
“Well known,” added McCoy. She no longer looked vengeful. “With recognizable faces and voices, and then they can go on all the talk shows after and say that, yes indeed, I got a tour of the ship and it is indeed quite banged up.”
Martinez stared at the far wall. “Some kind of celebrity? Heh. You think Tom Cruise would be up for it?”
Matt laughed. “That beautiful maniac? Hell, he’d insist on shooting an entire movie up there, with at least one action scene where he’s hanging off of the outside of the ship.”
They all smiled at the resulting mental image.
“Chao could work,” said McCoy into the silence. “She’s kind of a celebrity now. After all, she was the first human to come into contact with aliens, eh?” She gave Matt a big and very un-subtle wink.
To skirt the rather…unconventional methods used to achieve a positive First Contact, Matt’s role had been very much demoted in the official story. Now every recounting of the tale included a bit of ‘…oh, and there was also another person who stumbled across our brave woman in the midst of her attempts at informational exchange with the aliens…” His exact identity was also not published, under the screen of ‘he wishes to remain anonymous’.
“Oh bite me, McCoy, it’s fun,” replied Matt. He waggled his eyebrows. “Besides, I work better in the shadows!” He threw his forearm across his face like a half-assed Count Dracula trying to hide behind his cape.
Then he dropped his arm. “Yeah, Chao would be good as a current social-media darling. Of course, she might not want that. She strikes me as more of the wallflower type, for the most part.”
“We need more people,” said Martinez, as he stared at the floor. “Chao might be good on her own, but she’s got that motor-mouth talking thing when you get her going. It’s one or the other. Either she’s trying to shrink into a corner and take up as little space as possible, or suddenly you’re getting pulled into another corner for a doctoral dissertation on how minimal-energy transfer-orbits work.”
Matt pondered for a moment. “Wait, when did she do that? I never sat through one of those lectures.”
Martinez looked away and…well, Matt hoped that their supposed overlords were indeed recording this particular moment in time because the hard-bitten Hispanic special-forces corporal actually blushed
McCoy, of course, realized a golden opportunity for payback and immediately pounced. “Why, Corporal
Martinez,” she purred. “Doooo tell us. When did Chao Me Chu, heh, pull
you into a corner? Hmmm?”
“She’s…she’s just real nice, that’s all,” replied Martinez. “I asked her a couple of questions, and she answered them. That’s all. We both love classic sci-fi, like Asimov and shit. I guess we bonded over that.”
Matt cleared his throat. “Aaaaand may I remind you two and
everyone listening in that we have all been cooped up nuts-to-butts for awhile? Don’t mistake familiarity for romantic bullshit.” He pointed over at Martinez. “But you. If you can follow at least half of what she talks about, then you are absolutely without-a-single-fucking-doubt wasted
as a corporal, even if you’re in a low-drag high-speed outfit like this. You hear me?”
“Um, yes sir.” It was the first time in McCoy’s memory that anyone had addressed Matt as befitting his perhaps-former rank.
“Good. You get your ass into college, somehow. You’re a smart guy, you’ll figure all that shit out. And as for Chao? Just give it room to breathe. Let her know you’re interested, but don’t press the matter.”
“Let her know?” For once Martinez looked completely lost. “How do I…” he trailed off. “I mean, I like her…and yeah, I mean I like her in that
way, but she’s so damn smart and pretty and I’m just some dipshit meathead.”
“Hey, don’t sell yourself short,” said Matt. “You’re our
McCoy’s vengeful smile faded. “Martinez…no, Luca.”
Martinez looked up in surprise at her use of his first name.
She continued. “Just talk to her. Neither of you have any clue as to what ‘normal’ social interactions look like. In your case, it’s because you’ve been a soldier for all of your adult life. In her case, it’s because she’s, well, because she’s Chao. So just walk up to her and be straightforward. Trust me, it’ll be like a breath of fresh air for her to not have to navigate social cues. Just say something like ‘Hey, I really like you, do you like me and do you want to go get a coffee sometime’? Start with that. Chao’s good people, the worst thing she’ll do is say no. She won’t yell at you or talk shit about you online. Buuuut, some sixth sense is telling me she won’t say no to getting some coffee with ya.”
Matt smiled. “McCoy, I think you might have a calling after you leave the military.”
She snorted. “Oh yeah, I’ll hang up my match-making shingle on the internet and start raking in the big bucks. Martinez is right, though. If we try to do a publicity stunt up at the Rithro
, then we’ll need somebody alongside Chao to win the world over. Somebody well-known, but preferably someone not in the traditional Western pop-culture sphere. That’ll make it more palatable…”
Her voice trailed off and she stared into space. The two men now looked at each other in genuine concern until she spoke again a few moments later.
“Guys? I think I just had the best idea ever.”
The building had a reputation for being haunted. Kids would dare each other to go inside, but unlike other places around town, they would actually see something- or at least claim that they did.
Little Jamie Curry, 9-years-old, went into the basement of the abandoned Leatherman’s complex on a dare and saw a zombie. He said he knew it wasn’t just some guy in an outfit because the zombie had a grapefruit-sized hole in its chest, and he could actually see right through the middle of the thing. He had run right past his group of friends who were patiently waiting outside, screaming and wetting himself as he went.
Another young kid from my town, Alicia DeSilva, 11-years-old, said it was all a bunch of garbage, that she wasn’t afraid of a run-down factory building, except for maybe the asbestos which her uncle told her “rots your lungs from the inside”. She had said she would even go inside it at night. Why not? After all, there were no such things as ghosts or boogeymen.
One of her friends told Alicia that if she went inside Leatherman’s main building at night, grabbed something from the basement and brought it back out for their mutual inspection, the friend would pay Alicia five dollars. Alicia had gasped. Five bucks was a good amount to someone like her. With five dollars, she could even get a kit so that she could finally fix her bike tire. They all met in front of the building, and Alicia disappeared into the dark fire doors on the side of the building, full of bravado and still laughing as she went inside.
Except unlike Jamie Curry, Alicia never came back out screaming and wetting herself, never had a chance to tell some unbelievable story about what she encountered in the fetid basement of that place. Her body was never found. The police were called after a few hours, and they searched the entire building from top to bottom. They were able to follow some fresh footprints in the dust that might have been Alicia’s, but when they got to the basement, the prints just disappeared- as if the person making them had simply gotten sucked up into the ceiling. And yet they did find one thing, the only real evidence left in the entire building that night. What they found still gives me nightmares sometimes.
One of her eyeballs was inside a snowglobe. The glass and foundation of the snowglobe were all intact, and there were no signs of foul play anywhere on the decoration. It was as if it had been manufactured that way- with that blue, staring eye floating lazily next to plastic mountains and white glitter snowflakes.
In my nightmares, I often see an old woman shaking that snowglobe, an old hag who cackles and whose split lips form into a dreadful smile as she stares directly at me. The eye and the glitter all hang suspended in the water for a moment, then begin to fall slowly, the eye spinning rapidly as it drifts down the front of the globe. And when it’s stopped, I see it is looking directly at me, and it still looks frightened.
OK, so that last paragraph was pretty dark. But what I’m trying to communicate is just how terrifying that place is. The kids in school know what’s going on, though, at least in a general way. After all, Alicia and Jamie came from among them, and they’re not the only ones. Others have gone into the building before. And Matt wants me to go with him tomorrow to look at it.
Maybe that’s why the dreams are getting worse. Maybe that’s why I’ve woken up screaming twice in the last few hours. Because there was something else, too, something else I saw in my nightmares. In that building, around the back walls, there were dozens of kids. Their skin was chalk-white, their hair and eyes all pure black. They were dead. And then thousands of “Missing” posters started to fly down, all of them of smiling children. I looked between the ones surrounding me and the posters and noticed that some of them showed these same kids. I turned to run but little rotted hands started pulling me down and then, I was sitting straight up in bed, yelling and pleading.
I really don’t want to go in that building tomorrow.
OK, so Matt and I went inside the doorway. No way was I going in the basement. But just the front doorway… well, that wasn’t too bad. I even stuck my head in and looked around inside.
Matt didn’t see it, but I did. There was something huge in the front hall. It wasn’t much more than a silhouette. It looked like a very tall, very thin man in a suit whose neck was all twisted and strange. It came off his chest like a snake’s, turning and curling back on itself, and at the end it had this reptilian face. Everything about the man was hairless and slimy. I could smell the strange stuff on his skin.
But by the time I had gotten Matt’s attention and pointed it out to him, the guy was gone. I don’t know how he disappeared so fast.
Matt was making fun of me as we walked home afterwards, pointing at random alleyways and asking, “Do you see him there, too?” and then laughing. It wasn’t that funny. I’ll prove to him there was someone in there.
I convinced Matt to come back with me. I need to see what’s in there. He wasn’t thrilled about it, but I told him an older kid offered to pay $10 for a souvenir from the place, and that I’d split it with him if he went with me. All of this was total crap, of course. But I want to see what was in there, and I definitely want these dreams to stop.
“You know, you’re lucky you have a friend as brave and manly as me,” Matt said, puffing up his little bird-chest. “After what happened to those other schmucks, everyone has been avoiding this place like the plague.”
“Yeah, but unlike all of them, you know it’s just a building,” I said. He gave me a funny look then.
“It’s just a building, but you know something actually happened,” he said. “I was talking to my dad about it, and he said maybe a homeless guy was living there, totally deranged, and maybe he cut out Alicia’s eye and kidnapped her.” He stated this was the seriousness of a news anchor recounting bits of total bullshit for the audience. I smiled at his grave expression, repressing an urge to laugh. He looked over at me disapprovingly. “It could have happened, you know. Homeless people are homeless because they’re crazy. My dad says so. Maybe one of them just went really crazy and started taking souvenirs off of people’s bodies.”
“I guess,” I said. We were most of the way through the old industrial part of town now. Shuttered factories and condemned buildings stretched out on both sides of the street. A fat, limping raccoon walked lazily out of a nearby alleyway. He gave us a sideways glance, stopping for a moment, then kept on maneuvering his round frame forward. Something that Matt had said had given me pause.
“You know,” I said, “it’s kinda weird that we don’t have homeless people out here. We have all these empty buildings, yet most of them camp out on the sidewalks on Main Street. I’ve never seen a single homeless person sleeping in one of these buildings, and I’ve never seen one even close to the Leatherman building. It’s like they have some sort of sixth sense to avoid the place.”
“Clearly they’re smarter than you and me,” Matt muttered. We were walking past the rusty metal chain link fence around the property. He looked pale and his eyes were wide. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Right then, my instincts screamed at me to run.
“Yes,” I said simply, walking in first, taking the flashlight out of my pocket. “I need to know. For sure. Either way, I’d like evidence. Either it is my imagination, or something supernatural actually exists within and around this building.” An old, musty smell permeated the huge hallway. I looked up and down it, wondering what was missing. Then I realized- it had no graffiti. It had to be the only abandoned building I’d ever been in without tons of graffiti scrawled on the inside.
In some places, the walls had begun to buckle, and whole sections were crumbling and coming down. Farther ahead, the ceiling had collapsed inwards, blocking half of the main hallway off. Downstairs, lights started turning on, and the entire building started to come to life. I looked at Matt, who was looking dazed.
“Bro, what the hell is that?” he asked. I had no idea.
“Someone’s in here with us,” I said. “Let’s go check it out.” He looked at me like I was insane.
“Are you mad? What if it’s cops? What if it’s tweakers pulling out all the metal?”
“We’ll be quiet, and just peek around the corner,” I said. “I think we’re meant to see this. Don’t you want to know what’s going on here?” He scowled.
“I’d much rather get home alive,” he said, but he followed me reluctantly. There was a rhythmic hum coming from the floors now, as if machinery were coming to life. A sign, dirty and covered in spiderwebs, pointed to a staircase on the right. I looked down it, seeing bright light flood into the stairwell corridor, despite the fact that there was no electricity running to this building. We started down the staircase to the basement level. There was a smell of ozone in the air, a cyclical rhythmic humming that popped and buzzed. I took a deep breath, wondering what I would see down here. Then I poked my head around the corner.
There were conveyor belts stretching against the basement, their legs embedded into the cracked concrete floors. Beams and pillars ran up from the floor to the ceiling every ten feet or so. And it looked like there were countless workers just sitting on each side of the conveyor belts, sitting in crooked wooden chairs with splintering legs and backs. But it was the workers who caught my attention most of all. They looked… strange.
“Does something look off to you?” I whispered to Matt, who had been standing behind me only a moment earlier. But I got no reply. I figured he was too engrossed in the bizarre nature of what we were seeing to respond.
The workers, if that’s what they were, looked blurred, as if in an overexposed picture with a long shutter speed. Their skin appeared to writhe and crackle, some of their heads constantly turned from side to side, and their limbs… all of them appeared to be missing limbs. I saw pale, white bodies without arms, without legs, even without heads, but they all still continued working in unison, moving in that jerky, blurred way.
“Jesus, Matt, do you see?” I asked suddenly, my eyes widening. “Do you see what they’re doing?” I looked forward in horror as I saw human bodies rolled down the conveyor belts. The people were still alive. They were naked, many of them crying and covered in blood. As they passed by the workers, the blurred hands quickly took pieces of their skin off. Glistening sheets of it were raised by other workers walking along between the lines, and they would give an admiring look at the large pieces of skin, smiling eerily as their heads writhed from side to side and blurred in my vision.
And I saw the kids from my dream, the kids from the missing persons posters, all in the corner. They were huddled, emaciated, with wide, staring eyes. They trembled and cowered as some of the workers came over to grab them and throw them on the belts.
I turned to get the hell out of there, and that was when I realized Matt was no longer behind me. I caught a glimpse of something dark and massive moving at the top of the stairs, disappearing around the corner. I was alone. I know I should have stayed and looked for Matt, but instead, I ran. I got out of that place and went home and hid under my blankets.
I thought 13 was old enough to deal with this, but it has gone way beyond what I thought.
Matt’s parents are calling. My parents stand at the bottom of the stairs, my mother holding the landline in her thin hand, my father looking disturbed. They tell me that Matt is missing, that he never came home last night. What should I tell them? Certainly not the truth. If I started talking about the things in that building, I would be forced into a psychiatric ward before the week was up.
The police stopped by and asked me a few questions. I told them all straight-up lies. “No sir, I haven’t seen him, and I have no idea what happened to him.” But what else could I say? That he was taken by something from a nightmare?
I have to go back. I have to try to rescue Matt. I shouldn’t have ran like I did, but seeing those things cutting up people like that… it scared the shit out of me. Tonight, once my parents go to sleep, I’m going to sneak out, and everyone will think I’m a hero if I bring him back. If I don’t, I’ll probably end up as just another stupid missing kid who ended up way over his head.
I went back. I made it out, but I think they’re coming for me. There was something in the basement.
All of the conveyor belts were gone, the lights were off, the rhythmic hum had disappeared. It was as if the other night was all a hallucination- except for, of course, Matt is still missing. His parents are freaking out, and I can’t even tell them I know what happened to him, kinda.
Going into the building alone was terrifying. My legs felt like wood, and I kept glancing behind me every second as if I were hearing imaginary pursuers. But I walked through to the staircase, and I saw nothing.
I went down to the basement, peeking my head around the corner. It was just a mostly empty basement, some broken furniture and old boxes stacked in one corner. I shone my light all over and saw no one. But there was a light coming from the far corner, a faint, glowing, orange light. A feeling of dread came over me.
I crept slowly forward, trying to find the source of that light. A faint smell of smoke and roasting meat seemed to creep through the air. Off past the last line of boxes, I saw what looked like a small crater on the floor. There was a hole there with glowing fire underneath. Cracks spiderwebbed out from it in all directions for a few feet. More curious than afraid now, I peered forward and looked down.
Beneath the abandoned building, there was another world. It had fire licking the walls and ground, and in the middle of this inferno, I saw Matt. His face was a map of blackish-purple bruises, his head was cocked at an unnatural angle, and I saw blood pouring out of his ears and nose. He looked up at me, and the bones in his neck grated together. I saw his spine was broken and his entire throat was crushed inwards.
“Help me,” he croaked. “You brought me here, now help me. You can’t leave me. They’ll come for you next…” All around him, I saw hands reaching up- the pale, jerky hands of those strange workers. They grabbed Matt and dragged him back down to the fire. I saw other horrid creatures in the flames, some laughing and insane, others shrieking in agony. Large, black insectile silhouettes moved through the smoke and flames. And then, like one, they started coming up towards the hole, coming up to the building where they would be free.
I ran then, and I never went back. I know now that Matt is dead. I can’t sleep. Every time I look out the window, I see shapes in the front yard- blurred humanoids with missing limbs, hiding in the bushes and trees, and constantly inching closer.
I need labels for my 12 pack drinks and can’t seem to find them anywhere on my planogram list, can anyone help?
Linked my account yesterday and I'm just wondering how long it takes for the 5k to be added to my account, also I'm totally new so any beginner tips are appreciated, especially because I keep getting killed and I'd like to be good before I hit rank 11 and start losing things, I've survived 2 games and am rank 7
I'm planning to sell most of my index fund capital soon to put the money into buying an apartment. But I still wish to keep some passive exposure to the market and not miss out entirely on what I expect to be a bull run for more or less the rest of the year.
My idea is that I'll use a much smaller dollar amount and put it into 2-3X SPX mini futures and hold for at least the rest of the year until I've accumulated more capital from my salary income.
That will give me similar leverage as my current index fund hodings and no fees (except the bid/ask difference when I enter and exit). Obviously I'll lose money faster if I'm wrong on my general prognosis, but are there other downsides to using mini futures in this way?