The Lad Who Poked the Devil in the Eye
Chapter 3: Repercussions
Copyright© 2016 by Vincent Berg
Otis eased the front door open, glancing about while lifting it to prevent the old hinges from squeaking. Noting nothing out of the ordinary, he stepping inside and nestled the door closed.
"Mom, Dad, Otis is home!" he spun around, seeing his sister grinning at him from a chair in the corner.
He stood straight, squaring his shoulders and swallowing, as both parents entered the room.
"Otis," Liam said in a calm, quiet voice, "you've got some explaining to do."
His mother, Kelly, peered over Liam's shoulder. "Where have you been? We were worried sick about you? You missed dinner, didn't call or leave a note. You could have been lying dead in a ditch and we'd never—"
Liam raised his hand, silencing her. "Well?"
Otis swallowed again, steadied himself and spoke in a low voice. "I was at Ja—"
"Oh, please," his mother interrupted. "Don't tell us you were at Jayden's. Who do you think the first people we called were? He says he never saw you today and had no clue where you were."
Otis swallowed as his father stared at him. "Um ... As I was saying, I was ... I spent the day at the police station."
"The police station?" his mother asked. "Why woul—?"
"I was curious about the accident and rode my bike there." Otis hesitated a second, but decided he was in so deep it was worth taking a calculated risk. "They hadn't investigated yet, so he drove me there. He had me walk him through the entire scene. It took us a long time to find the right spot, though. After we finished, he took me back and had me write a statement." Otis held his hands out, facing out in either direction. "After that, he told me about the police and asked if I was interested in becoming an officer."
There was silence as everyone studied him until Kelly broke the quiet. "And you said?"
"I said I was more interested in the analytic end of police work."
Liam chuckled. "Jacob must have loved hearing that."
Otis cracked a smile. "Well, he laughed, but he showed me all kinds of things. Including the holding cells where they lock people up. I was there for a long time before he asked when I was supposed to be home. Panicked, realizing I was late, I made my apologies. As I rushed out the door, he asked if he should call home for me."
When Otis didn't continue Kelly cocked her head. "And?"
"I told him, no. I didn't want to get him in trouble for keeping me so late. I told him ... not calling was my responsibility, not his. I'll deal with the repercussions."
Liam studied his reactions while Otis stood ramrod straight. "So why are you telling us this now instead of allowing him to?"
"You asked me where I was. You taught me to always tell the truth. That's what I'm doing."
Silence descended again as everyone considered this. Otis began twitching.
"So what's my punishment?"
"For not calling and worrying you. I said I'm responsible. I'm willing to accept my penalty."
Liam glanced at his wife. "Uh ... I'll tell you what, help me clean out the garage this weekend. Your mom's been after me to do it and I could use the assistance."
"That's enough," his father insisted, his voice firming up. "Now get cleaned up."
As his father backed up, Otis stepped forward, dropping his voice. "Dad, if you could, don't mention this to Chief Thompson?" Liam raised his eyebrow, scowling at his son. "I don't want him to feel embarrassed for not chasing me home sooner. He looked guilty as I climbed on my bike. As I said, the fault is mine. I'd hate to make him feel worse. If he asks, just tell him I fessed up."
His father cocked his head, studying Otis before nodding. "Sure. I can do that." Kelly shifted over, hugging her husband.
As Otis moved towards the stairs, his mother motioned to the kitchen. "We tried to keep your dinner warm, so it's probably hard as a rock by now. You're welcome to it if you're hungry."
"Mmm. Thanks," Otis mumbled, trying to constrain his triumphant grin.
Otis finished scrubbing his hands. He hesitated, then splashed water over his face, enjoying the shocking cold. That was the first time he'd openly lied to his parents while looking them in their eyes. Otis knew his father would freak if he found out, but then, everyone would if they learned about what he'd discovered.
Drying his hands, he opened the door to encounter Ger, leaning against the wall, grinning at him.
"So what were you up to?" she asked, keeping her voice low so their parents wouldn't overhear.
He glared at her, but realized she wouldn't respond to a simple look. He shrugged, closing the door behind him. "I told you. You heard exactly what happened."
"Oh, puh-lease! I know you better than that. The day you volunteer to talk, I know something's up. Where were you all day? What are you hiding?"
Otis stepped around her, brushing her with his elbow. "I don't have any idea what you're talking about. I was at the police station all day."
"You realize I'll find out. I always do. You're an open book to me. You can lie to Mom and Dad, but I understand you better than anyone else." She cocked her head. "But that last bit—where you convinced Dad not to talk to Chief Thompson—was genius. You're learning, but you're not there yet."
Otis, as usual, didn't bother to respond as he headed to the kitchen.
Jonathon Taylor entered the West Wing Situation Room. Everyone sat up, turning to face him. He took his seat in the center of the table, taking his time, not speaking. The other members of the Security Council squirmed. They were familiar with emergency sessions and being rushed to the White House in the middle of the night. But they'd never had their electronic devices removed, nor had the entire Situation Room been stripped of electronics. Normally, these rooms buzzed with the latest in technology as intelligence officers received reports from sources all over the world. Now, it felt like they'd been transplanted back to the nineteenth century. They were wondering what justified such caution.
President Taylor glanced around the table and cleared his throat. "Gentlemen, we've been ... visited from the stars, again."
The others in the room stared before the room erupted in discussion. Expecting this, Jonathon raised his hand, silencing everyone. "Yes, I know. We've expected this. What's more, there's nothing we can do to stop them while they've got full access to their technology. However, I've got a plan to ... frustrate their attempts to isolate us here on Earth."
That ended the frittering. They listened to his every nuance. "I want every nuclear weapon, every guided missile we have remaining prepped for a deep space location to be determined later. I also want all the available astronomy telescopes searching the skies for alien ships. Keep in mind they have a spectacular anti-surveillance systems, so search for things not seen, rather than glowing balls of flame. If stars disappear, it may be a sign of a passing ship.
"These ... aliens will be installing a weapon designed to shoot down and disable any vessel leaving the Earth's surface. They can easily disable our best technology. However, even the best systems can be overwhelmed. Once we locate where this satellite is located, we'll take action. If we can't find it, we'll launch several empty vessels and observe where they are shot down from. I have no doubt they'll utilize redundant systems. When we're sure they've left the solar system, we'll initiate a massive attack. Each missile will be delayed by seconds, taking a separate trajectory. Their satellite will be so overwhelmed shooting down multiple missiles; it can't possibly disable every one.
"All we need is a single missile reaching the satellite, but we'll need to hit the target simultaneously. If one nuclear weapon explodes near it, it should incapacitate and destroy them. To prevent an electro-magnetic pulse, or EMP, from damaging the Earth's electrical systems, we'll have to shut down the entire grid. If we can't access the electrical systems of certain countries, they'll likely lose much of their technology and communications. By powering down the systems in the developed world, we should minimize the effects. I'm certain these systems are far enough away and should reduce the damage suffered. Since we can't eliminate the secondhand effects, we should begin shielding military gear. If we do, we'll get our large urban areas functioning rapidly."
The Secretary of Defense held his hand up. "Mr. President, surely we're talking about substantial negative effects from such a massive EMP blast."
Jonathon held both hands palms up. "Not really. I'm assuming the majority of the weapons will be inactivated and fall harmlessly to the earth. If there are a minimum of active weapons, triggered at a considerable distance with shielding protecting significant systems, I believe we'll be covered."
"That's based on a whole host of assumptions. Do you have any evidence supporting your ... conjecture?"
"I'm talking about human liberty. Our ability to lead the world and advance science, and you're questioning whether I can line up a series of liberal professors to parrot a siren call? Sometimes, in the face of adversity, we have to take risks. These threats are not as broad as it first appears, but it's still a threat. I believe they're worth it for what we stand to win."
"If I may, Sir," interrupted Vice President, Walter Baker. "It's a question of proportionality. We're discussing crippling the world economy and the networks keeping hospitals, dams and sanitation systems intact. All to gain what: the ability to launch another couple missions to Mars? You're debating paying a massive bill in human capital, to achieve an unattainable objective, and we haven't even discussed how the aliens might respond!"
The President responded with a cold stare, his brow furrowing and eyes squinting. Silence descended in the room, and the Chiefs of Staff eased back. After several seconds, Jonathon Taylor spoke. "It's thinking like that which continually threatens human survival. Did Franklin Roosevelt decide to follow the safe course laid out by Neville Chamberlain? Did Stalin conclude it was too cold to defend their Western Front? Did the Protestant leaders in Europe figure it was easier remaining Catholic, or meekly ceding authority to the established order for the same of continuity? Clearly, those in power decided it was simpler taking the easy route and not upset the apple cart under Hitler. Tell me, how has history recorded those decisions now? Are they pictured as wise council, or as criminals for not standing up against clear oppressors?"
Walter sat back, shaken by the vehement attack by the leader of the free world. He blinked rapidly, loosening his collar before sinking into his chair. "No, I guess they didn't," he mumbled.
"You can bet your sweet ass they didn't! Freedom requires bravery. Taking the safe course to preserve the stock market helps no one. Now, let's talk specifics." With that, Present Taylor laid out the rest of his plan, while the others in attendance kept their mouths shut.
Having learned his lesson, Otis waited upstairs until his father left for work before creeping downstairs. His mother spent mornings doing laundry and preparing for the day before waking Otis and Ger. He rushed to pack the variety of things he'd planned, tossing them into his backpack. He wrote a quick note for his mother, telling her he was investigating the crash site again, and left. He was so intent on peddling away, he never noticed Ger watching him ride towards the desert.
"Man, that's the first time you've lied to your parents." He was relieved to speak to himself again, out in the open where no one would overhear him. "Technically, I didn't lie about aliens. I ... alleviated their concerns, but my lying was essential. If I hadn't, they'd warn the authorities. Those old stories about Josh, the guy forced to flee the planet, every government agent across the globe was gunning for him. I doubt they'd be overly kind to anyone assisting the aliens again. They'd be more likely to silence them than look the other way. Once bitten, you don't ignore snakes. The next time, you blast it with a shotgun from a safe distance without getting close enough for it to strike. Josh and his crew only survived because they ran faster than the government agents." Otis continued peddling steadily along the lonely road. "Our best defense is for our friend to remain undetected. You could say we're saving everyone from their own better interests, at least if I didn't keep interrupting me."
"As for Ger, she realizes our parents won't respond to her accusations. We fight all the time. Unless she has something specific, rather than vague suspicions, she has nothing to offer, though she is suspicious," Otis reminded himself. "We need to watch ourselves and not accidentally say anything stupid where she might hear us."
"Careful crossing Old Sumner road," he advised, glancing both ways. "There's nothing beyond but desert. If anyone sees me heading there, it'll arouse suspicions. I'd be stupid not to be paranoid at this point. There's no traffic and no dust on the horizon, meaning there are no cars approaching. It won't take long to cross. By the time someone comes along, they won't be able to tell I'm on a bike. One silhouette looks like any other. Unless it has eighteen arms and hairy antennae," he reminded himself. "That they'd notice, no matter how old he is," he laughed.
"What do you think our friend is doing here?"
Otis considered it for a few moments. "Clearly, he's learning about us. That's why he's so interested in our language. That much is obvious, but is it for good or ill? If he wanted to eat us, we'd be digested by now. His teeth clearly mark him as a carnivore with no interest in fruit, vegetables or carbohydrates. At least he won't get drunk on the local beer and lose control."
"He's a fact-finding mission. He's determining whether we're dangerous. Something Josh proved the last time! I'm hoping he survived, because otherwise we're going to have to hide an eight foot alien somewhere it won't be discovered. Somewhere like a hidden cavern," he laughed. "If he died, all our effort were wasted, and we took a huge chance for nothing. In which case, we'll have to seriously reconsider our position. But it's time to shut up and peddle before we're noticed. Someone's life might depend on it!"
"You know," he said, "you're representing the entire human race and have no plans. If our friend is collecting information, if you screw up and leave him with the wrong impression, it might hurt all humanity."