Nine American cities were attacked in the first hour. Among the rubble and twisted metal lay many thousands of corpses, all glowing an eerie pink from the Kilparkians’ quantum bombs. The aliens’ triangular ships hovered high in the air, waiting to send down more death. The allies tried to assist, but their weapons were swatted from the sky.
President Cooper had no choice but to unconditionally surrender. Lt. Donald Berkner sent the message skyward. It didn’t take long for the aliens to respond.
Mothar spoke for the group, his hissing, guttural voice filtered over a speaker in the situation room. “We will accept your surrender on one condition,” he said. What possible condition could there be for an unconditional surrender? the president wondered. “Bring us,” Mothar continued, “Freddy Stanton.”
Cooper looked at Berkner. “Who the hell is Freddy Stanton?”
“No idea, sir.”
“Anyone?” the president called to his assembled Cabinet members and advisors. None had a clue. Cooper pulled the mike towards him. “This is the president of the United States,” he began. “We have received your response, but have a problem. We request a dialogue.”
As everyone anxiously waited for a reply, Cooper vanished in a puff of green smoke.
“Yes, human?” The president recognized Mothar’s voice.
Cooper realized he had been transported to one of the triangular alien vessels, likely the one above D.C. The being before him looked like a black, eight-foot-tall slug standing upright on invisible feet. He periodically emitted noxious fumes from several holes in his head. The smell made the Earthman want to vomit. Though the president saw no mouth, Mothar had definitely spoken to him.
Other slugs passed as Cooper drank in his surroundings. Like Mothar, they were all black and emitted those fumes. Some moved slowly by, others glided. While they were all tall, none was taller than their leader.
“About Freddy Stanton. . .” Cooper began hesitantly, holding back the churning bile seeking to rise into his throat.
“Yes?” the alien asked.
“We don’t know which one you want.”
“There are dozens, even hundreds, of them.”
Angry, the slug ejected several plumes of green gas. “Ridiculous!”
“It’s the truth,” Cooper pleaded. “Fred, Freddy, Frederick. There are many possibilities.”
“You assign different humans the same name?”
“Not me. Their parents.”
“You are trying to deceive us!”
“Not at all! You’ve killed thousands of my people. Stanton may already be dead.”
“He is not,” Mothar said emphatically. “I can feel his life force. We all can.” Puffing, the slug slid forward, leaving a green, slimy trail behind him. He stopped within an arm’s reach of the president. “Bring Stanton to us!”
“What did he do?”
“He knows!” the alien answered, angrily puffing out a great jet which made the president turn away and cover his mouth.
“I’ll need some time,” Cooper choked.
“We should have a record of all the Freddy Stantons in the country, but your attacks have limited our computers’ powers to search for him.”
“Twenty-four hours. After that, the bombings will recommence until we have him.” And, with a puff of green smoke, he willed President Cooper back to the situation room.
“Twenty-four hours?” Berkner asked after the president told everyone what had just happened to him. “That’s all?”
“Uh huh,” Cooper answered. “After that, the Kilparkians will start bombing again.”
“How will we know that we’ve found the one they’re looking for?”
“One problem at a time.” Berkner removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes against a rapidly developing headache. “Can you do it – find him?” the president asked.
“I don’t know. The computers are hardly operating at peak efficiency.”
“Do what you can,” Cooper went on, sighing and placing a hand on the lieutenant’s shoulder.
“Yes, sir,” Berkner responded, putting his glasses back on and turning to his computer keyboard.
Cooper took only a few steps before Vice President Morganelli approached him. “What did Stanton do to them?” the older, bearded man asked.
“I don’t know, but he really pissed them off!”
The vice president lowered his voice. “Even if Lt. Berkner does find Stanton, what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know,” Cooper answered sotto voce. “Right now, I’m just hoping to stop more bombings.”
“You’re not taking this to the press, right?”
“Hell no! If Stanton finds out, he’ll bolt the country.”
“If aliens were out to kill me? Of course I would.”
“Do you know for certain they want to kill him?”
“Mothar never used that word, but – with all the aliens have done – it’s clear the big guy doesn’t want to take Stanton out for a nightcap.” Cooper rubbed his sore neck. “What the hell,” he asked his vice president, “could someone from Earth have done to an alien race that would make them come looking for his head?”
Stanton nervously paced the bedroom rug while Meg, his wife, sat fidgeting on a corner of their mattress. “What are you gonna do, Freddy?” she asked.
“How the hell should I know?” he barked.
“You don’t have to bite my head off!” she yelled back, her eyes welling.
He stopped pacing, sat down beside Meg, and gently touched her arms. “I’m sorry, hon,” he said. “I. . . I don’t know what to do.”
“They’re definitely the same. . . ‘people?’”
“Oh yeah. Those ships are a lot bigger than before though.”
“They’re after you?”
“Why else would they have come here?”
“All this trouble is. . . is because of you?”
“I think so.”
“Thousands of people!” Meg was aghast.
“Don’t remind me!” Stanton sighed and ran a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair. “I can’t believe they found me.”
“How long has it been?”
“Almost fifteen years,” Freddy answered. He sprang to his feet. “What can I do?”
“To where? The Kilparkians tracked me down from who knows how many – what do you call them? – ‘light years’ away. I don’t think they’ll have much trouble finding me on one planet!”
“But they must not know where you are.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Why would they do what they’ve done? If they could pinpoint you, they would have just taken you.”
“I didn’t think of that.”
“Would the federal government turn you in?”
“They might. If Cooper’s faced with the choice of more bombs or giving me up, well. . . let’s just say that I don’t like my chances.”
“He doesn’t know what happened fifteen years ago. Maybe if he did. . .”
“You think he’d help me?”
“If he knew the story – how it wasn’t really your fault – he might.”
Stanton hurriedly parked his Toyota on the dirt road and ducked into the copse of trees to take a leak.
He first heard the odd hum as he was finishing up. Done, he zipped his fly and followed the noise. At the edge of the trees, he saw the spaceship. It was shaped like a triangle and was gleaming in the afternoon sun. Small, multicolored lights blinked all around the hull. At first, he thought it had crashed, but then he saw some landing struts. The ship had intentionally parked there.
He shielded his eyes with one hand and squinted. That looked like an open door in the front of the ship. It was much larger than he. The pilot, he reasoned, must need that amount of space to exit comfortably.
Thoughts of fame came to Freddy’s mind. He would be the first Earthman to make contact with aliens. He would be on all the talk shows. Journalists would clamor to interview him. He could write a book!
One question: Were the aliens friendly? A dead man can’t be interviewed on 60 Minutes.
He approached the craft slowly, darting his eyes about for its pilot with every step. Had the alien even left the ship? As he walked through the large entryway, thinking about what he would say to the alien if it was inside, the door slid shut behind him with a loud clang. The spaceship rose into the air slowly. What have I done? Freddy wondered as he clawed at the hatch. He realized he must have triggered the autopilot.
He ran to a small porthole on the far wall and looked down at the trees. There was. . . something standing not far from where he had peed – a tall, black, lumpy something that was probably very angry now. Stanton anxiously scanned the plethora of unmarked buttons and switches on the control panel before him, hoping against hope to find one that would take him back down to the Earth. Before he could raise a finger, the ship bucked violently and shot up to the stars. The sudden motion threw Freddy against a bulkhead, knocking him unconscious. He fell to the deck face first.
The Earthman awoke groggily. His head throbbed from the hit it had taken, and he had no idea how long he had been unconscious. Shaky, he rose to his feet. The ship was traveling very fast. Stars zipped by outside the porthole.
The ship’s interior wasn’t large. Stanton imagined how cramped it must have felt to the thing he had left behind. In the middle of the floor was a padded chair meant for the pilot. Freddy sat in it and immediately felt like Lily Tomlin portraying Edith Ann.
Maybe he could explain things to the aliens? He didn’t know that walking onto the ship would trigger a launch. If he couldn’t be celebrated as the first man to make contact with an alien race, then he just wanted to go home.
The ship slowed, tossing Stanton back and forth a few times in the pilot’s chair. When it was safe to do so, he arose and looked out of the porthole. He was orbiting another world! He could make out land masses and seas, all different shades of green. When he looked to the left, he saw them: Three triangular ships approaching him.
There was a small crackle of static and then Freddy heard an alien’s voice over a speaker. “Kilparkian scout ship number 327,” the guttural voice said. “We read no signs of life on your vessel. There are indications of a potential danger – perhaps an infection picked up during your visit to that primitive world. Prepare to be boarded. . . or destroyed.”
Stanton tried to locate the speaker, figuring that the communications controls would be near it, but the message was over so quickly. He knew one thing: He had to blast this ship out of orbit and get away. . . fast. Desperate, he began randomly pressing buttons. The ship bucked several times against his contradictory commands. Then he heard a loud explosion and ran to the porthole.
The green planet was turning black, the darkness emanating outward like the Wi-Fi symbol. It reached the atmosphere and then the three Kilparkian spaceships, which exploded into shreds. Seconds later, Stanton’s ship blasted away at tremendous speed. Freddy was thrown violently into the pilot’s chair and quickly passed out from the g forces.
He awoke as the ship touched down. The view outside the porthole looked familiar. He stepped to the door, which slid open before him. He raced outside, sprinting through the trees back to where he had parked his car. How long had he been away? Would it still be there?
Stanton reached into his pants pocket for the keys, jumped inside, started the engine, and squealed away.
“What did you do?” the president asked from his seat at the situation room’s desk.
“I don’t know,” Stanton anxiously answered. “I wanted to get out of there before those other ships opened fire! I’m not sure what buttons I pressed.”
“Any ideas, Nick?” Cooper asked Morganelli, who was seated beside him.
“It sounds like he damaged their atmosphere.”
“So badly that it took them almost fifteen years to come looking for him?” Meg wondered.
“How did they find me?” Stanton asked.
“Assuming the first alien visitor got back on his ship and returned home,” the president suggested, “the Kilparkians could have scoured the craft for clues – like your DNA.”
“It could also be,” Morganelli said, “something as simple as a surveillance camera.”
“It doesn’t really matter, honey,” Meg went on. “They found you.”
“So,” Stanton asked shyly, “what’s to do?”
“I. . . I don’t know,” President Cooper answered.
“You’re not going to just give him up?” Meg asked.
“Like I said, I don’t know.” He looked at his wristwatch. “And I have an hour and forty-five minutes to decide.”
Precisely when the twenty-four hours were up, the president disappeared in another puff of green smoke.
“Do you have him?” Mothar asked.
“Yes. He turned himself in.”
“When may we expect him?”
“What?” the slug exclaimed, approaching and ejecting more vile fumes.
“Sending a citizen to his death is not the purpose of government.”
“Death? Who said anything about death? We want to put him on trial.”
“And if he’s found guilty?”
“Then death is a possibility. A judge will rule. We Kilparkians have long prided ourselves on our legal system.”
“What did Stanton do?”
“Surely he told you.”
“As much as he knows, but I’d like to hear the whole story.”
The alien began sliding back and forth on the triangular ship’s deck. The president took this as the Kilparkian form of pacing. “In his stolen scout ship,” Mothar explained, “Stanton somehow ignited our planet’s atmosphere. Three other ships in orbit were destroyed, along with their crews. Our air became unbreathable. We were forced underground, but thousands died before we could make the transition. All of our technology was destroyed. We lived as primitives for years – a once-great race sentenced to mediocrity. We could not even travel the stars!”
“Until now,” Cooper said.
“Yes. Our scientists were able to slowly reinvigorate the atmosphere, giving us the necessary space to work on our fleet.” Mothar slid to the president and got right in his face. “All the survivors swore that we would have our revenge on the human who caused our suffering.” He ejected a great plume of gas and shrieked, “Give him to us!”
“Where is he?”
“You dare to defy us? The bombing will commence again!”
“I wouldn’t do that.”
“You might kill him and ruin your. . . ‘trial.’ My people are under orders to kill Stanton if the bombing starts again. Your race’s feelings about his ‘life force,’ as you called it, aren’t the best or you would have taken him by now.”
“There is no way you will give him to us?”
Mothar seemed to shrug. “We will wait.”
“For a long time.”
“It is our time. One day, we will have him.” Mothar slid as close to Cooper as possible. “Know this, Mr. President,” he went on. “If Stanton dies before he can be put on trial, the punishment to your nation will be severe.”
The years passed.
The Stantons lived a comfortable life in a Washington, D.C., safe house. The U.S. rebuilt, and its citizens became used to the sight of triangular ships in the sky. There were no further bombings and no communications with the Kilparkians. A new administration took over in Washington, then another, and yet another. During this time, stress took its toll on Freddy Stanton, and he became incurably sick.
President Robert Barnes was invited to meet with him at the safe house. Freddy had aged poorly over these many years of hiding. He spoke weakly from a motorized wheelchair, informing Barnes how long the doctors said he had left.
“Three months?” Barnes responded, surprised. “That’s all?”
“That’s the best-case scenario,” Stanton replied, his voice quavering.
“Why did you call me here?”
“I think,” Freddy went on, struggling to sit up in his wheelchair, “that it’s time I go with aliens.”
“It’s the only way they’ll leave. For everyone’s sake, we have to do this while I’m still alive.”
“But your so-called trial –”
“What does the verdict matter now?” Stanton asked after letting out a raspy cough.
“What about your wife?”
“She’ll support me.”
“You’re sure you want to do this?”
“I’ll get on the horn to the Kilparkians. The comm system hasn’t been used in years, but I guess it still works.”
The tears fought for position as they rolled down Meg’s cheeks. Her husband sat before her in his wheelchair, his head drooped.
“It’s the only way,” Freddy told her.
Meg leaned closer to him. “There’ll be no gravesite,” she said, “no marker. How will I remember you?”
Stanton uneasily raised a palsied finger to his wife’s right temple. “Here,” he said, tapping it a couple of times. “Remember me here.”
The departure arrangements were made. All the networks offered live coverage.
Meg wheeled Freddy into an open field and tenderly kissed him goodbye, running off before her emotions got the best of her. Within minutes, the triangular ship that had hovered above Washington, D.C., for years was overhead and shining a light down on its passenger. Squinting, Stanton painfully looked up at it and then, with a puff of green smoke, he was gone.
There was a loud clang as the ship set down on the green soil of Kilparkia. The slugs had barely said a word to him the whole trip.
Mothar approached Freddy. Two slimy arms popped from his torso. He grabbed the wheelchair handles and slowly pushed Stanton towards the airlock. Freddy steeled himself for what awaited him on the other side.
The large hatch slid open. Hundreds of Kilparkians were gathered around the ship’s extended landing ramp. A cry went up. To Freddy, it didn’t sound angry. It sounded like. . . a cheer. A half dozen slugs pulled some oddly twisted, multicolored metallic objects from silver boxes on the ground. They looked as if they had been taken from Whoville! The Kilparkians put the things to their mouths and began playing something they believed was music.
What the hell was going on?
After a brief musical interlude and a second cheer, Mothar spoke. “Welcome, Mr. Stanton, to Kilparkia.”
“Thanks,” Freddy answered uneasily, taking in the scene. “This is one weird trial.”
There was a murmuring from the crowd. Mothar emitted what sounded like a chuckle. “There will be no trial.”
“You didn’t know it back then, none of us knew it, but you did all Kilparkians a favor.”
“I don’t understand.”
“When you destroyed what we were, we were forced to rebuild. . . and we did so wonderfully. Looking back now on what was, I can’t believe we ever lived that way!” The assembled slugs murmured approval, and Mothar continued. “We were short sighted, violent, antagonistic. We never should have bombed your world. We built a better society, which only improved as we waited for you. Now, the finer things – art, music, culture – are revered above all else here.”
“But I,” Stanton said, “accidentally killed so many of your people.”
“And we revere their memories. However, without their sacrifices, we could not have built the exemplary Kilparkian society that we have today!” The crowd cheered again.
“So I won’t be tried?” Stanton asked cautiously.
“Then why am I here?”
“To share your thoughts with us. Your thoughts, your wisdom, your experiences. We hunger for them. They will make our new society even greater.”
“But I’m sick. I’ll be dead before long.”
“Our people have been preparing for that.”
“You have a cure?”
“No, but, upon your death, you will be honored as we honor all of our best, most intelligent brethren.”
Freddy swallowed hard. “Which is?”
“You will be stuffed and put on display in the Great Hall.”
Stanton unintentionally smiled at the irony. Meg was going to get that marker she wanted after all.
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Emerging Worlds is a Zealot Script Publication.