The Lad Who Poked the Devil in the Eye
Chapter 6: Interplanetary Incident

Copyright© 2016 by Vincent Berg

David peered out from under their cover at the tableau laid out before them. "You understand, if anyone sees us, we'll be in a world of trouble. The secret service isn't fond of people pointing guns at the President of the United States."

"Don't worry, if we're discovered, we'll be dead before we realize it. We're more likely to vaporize than the secret service finding us. They've restricted air travel, so we don't need to fret about visual observation. The aliens have more advanced surveillance, but limited resources."

They were high in a tree, set back from the open field the White House's helicopters landed on. They were silent now—under the orders of the aliens—and they'd set up a podium and chairs for a media event. They'd even brought in members of the press, complete with film crews to record the United States' surrender. Now they were waiting for their arrival.

The Secret Service landed hours ago and checked the surrounding terrain, but David and Otis wore Army surplus ghillie suites—which had them sweating profusely. The suits made them all but invisible, while the elevation of the tree made it easy to observe what transpired in the middle of the open field.

The meeting place, suggested by the White House, was in a National Park in a secluded spot set aside for wildlife. The Secret Service was more concerned with clearing the area of animals than searching for snipers. After all, the meeting was arranged using their most secure lines, and they had no doubt the alien's communications were impregnable. No one suspected a young 14-year-old boy to be listening in.

"Please, don't worry about making me feel any more comfortable with what we're doing," David complained. "Your confidence is contagious."

"I'm not sure how their technology works. It's not like they gave me a science lesson in the few days I had access to them."

David cocked his head, his brow rising. "How is it you know all of this? I mean, it's not like they'd have told you what they were planning when they were first learning our language."

Otis grinned. "I ... hear things."

"A little detail wouldn't hurt, especially since we'll be sitting here for a while. Talking lessens the stress."

Otis shrugged, tapping his ear. "I can hear their conversations. They mention a lot of information without meaning to."

"And they laid out their plans to you? That seems a little ... hard to comprehend."

"They're unaware I'm listening in. It's not like I'm getting a clear signal. Imagine hearing a thousand foreigners speaking in a different language, much of it in an audio spectrum I can't hear."

"Then how do you understand anything?"

"I've learned to filter the information. I'll hear a phrase and zero in on it, minimizing the other conversations as I listen in. I don't comprehend it all, but it's amazing what you can pick up by listening to enough jabbering."

"Yeah, I noticed you staring into space the entire way here. You seemed so preoccupied, I was afraid to disturb you for most of the trip."

"It's difficult managing such an information overload. I'm terrified of missing something vital."

"So what do they talk about? Chasing alien tail?"

Otis sniggered. "Hardly. I'm listening to their communication channels, so think of it as you hearing everything the NSA gathers in a live feed."

"And you can make sense of that?"

"It's complicated, but there aren't as many aliens on their ship as there are people with phones in America. I've also been... enhanced, so I can better cope with it."

"You never mentioned that before. Do you mean genetically?"

"No, it's more subtle than that. They added something to my blood which allows me to internally translate what they say. It entered my brain and learned which areas are triggered by specific words. When the messages arrive, via these same ... entities, it triggers the same regions, producing internal sounds."

"It sounds like it's over my pay grade, but clearly it's more than that. You must have grown a full five inches in the last week, not to mention filling out. That isn't normal, no matter what age you are."

"No, you're right. You'll also notice I no longer wear glasses. The nanobots in my blood do more than read my thoughts. They monitor what's happening in my body. If they determine my hormones are out of whack, they adjust them on the fly. If I cut myself, they get my body to clot the blood near the wound. I have no clue what they did to my vision, since there wasn't any surgery on my eyes, but my vision is clear. In fact, I suspect I'm seeing better than twenty-twenty."

"Man, we could have used that technique during the war. But does that mean they know what you're thinking, as well?"

"No, there seems to be an internal control on the communications. Otherwise, they'd be overwhelmed with every stray thought from everyone on their ship. You've got to send a specific message. As it is, they're convinced I died, so they've never checked whether my communicator is still active."

"Until today, that is."

"I'm hoping to prevent that by keeping my my identity hidden. If they figure out I'm the same person they met before, they could probably kill me on the spot. But as long as they don't know how I come across my information, they have no reason to suspect a dead man."

"Still, it's a dangerous game we're playing. They could stumble across you at any moment."

Otis shrugged, unconcerned as he surveyed the clearing with binoculars. "It's not so obvious. I'm tied into a larger communal network. What's more, the nanobots in my brain don't send my actual thoughts. They translate what I say and send the translated speech. If I don't address them directly, thinking of a particular individual, I don't transmit anything."

"As I said, I can't hope to comprehend what you're dealing with. It sounds like magic to me. I suspect you don't understand much more than I do. You seem pretty glib for something you only learned about it by accident."

"You're right. Much of what I've figured out is simply my best guesses on the topic. I'm receiving constant information, but this is second nature to them. They don't bother discussing the science; instead it's like hundreds of simultaneous government reports. I've got to filter out the majority and pay attention to specific trigger words so I know which conversations to listen in on."

"Better you than me. It sounds like it would give me a splitting twenty-four hour migraine."

Otis shrugged. "It does. My head is constantly pounding, but I suspect the nanobots keep making adjustments to help me cope. But I don't dare turn it off, even if I could. I never know which piece of information will prove vital."

"OK, skipping the new technology lesson, what's the plan? I can't do anything unless I can determine distances and measure the wind."

"You can do that without aiming your weapon. If anyone sees the glimmer of sunlight off your gun barrel, they'll be on us like flies on poop."

"Sorry, but it doesn't work that way. From this distance, binoculars aren't much good. I have better vision with my scope. Beyond that, I need to sight the targets so I'll know where to aim. It's partial muscle memory, knowing how far to shift the barrel to see each target."

"There's time for that, but until they appear, there's no sense getting ahead of ourselves. They're descending now, so we don't want anyone to see the glitter of metal in the trees. Once they land and are focused on each other, we'll be safer. But there's a definite procession of targets, and it's vita ... hold that thought. They're landing. The ship is coming into sight now. They're descending fast. The White House and media people are on the ground, watching. It looks like they're setting down a short distance from the President. They must be sure of themselves."

"Yeah, I see them now. Damn, that's one plain looking ship for such advanced technology. It looks more Texas Instruments than Apple tech."

"They're not seeking to impress anyone. They're more concerned with remaining out of sight than making a big splash with how sophisticated they are. It's a personal command shuttle, rather than an attack craft."

"Melting Chicago caused a damn big splash!"

"Exactly, but once it was done, there's no need to do anything else. Everyone realizes what they're capable of."

"OK, explain to me how this is supposed to work. If we hurt them, what's to stop them from burning the entire forest, or taking out Manhattan?"

"That's the benefit to having intel," Otis said, taping his head. "The technique they used on Chicago is intended to freak out victims. It's not an efficient use of resources. It takes a huge amount of energy, and it trashes everything. They figure losing one city is worth the cost, but for every one they vaporize, it's another area they'll never be able to claim. With as much technology as they have, even they can't undo the effects of their weapon. Nothing will ever grow in Chicago again. It's a permanent mound of glass yards thick. Metal girders, plastic garbage bins and stonework are fused together with the soil into a solid impenetrable mass. It's melted at such a high temperature that the atoms merge becoming a huge conglomeration."

"There's no way you could know that. I can't picture them stating that in a standard report."

"No, much of it is conjecture, but they make quite a few jeering comments about its effects. Since they realize there's no way for us to listen in, they're not afraid to speak their minds."

"Which raises the topic, why are you able to?"

"Easy, there are approval handshakes in each message received. I suspect I was only authorized to get information from a single source, but before he died, he reconfigured it. Once he was gone, they deleted all records of me so now they have no reason to check whether I'm still certified or not."

"They're exiting the craft," David said. "They land hard and fast, yet they walk out like they're on a Sunday stroll. You can't underestimate their technology." He whistled while examining the aliens, whom Otis had never fully described. "Man, those suckers are fugly. You were right. They look exactly like eight foot cockroaches."

"Not so much cockroaches. They're shells are like an armadillo's. I have no clue whether your rifle can penetrate it or not. What's more, without knowing where their vital organs are, we can't risk a body shot. That only leaves one alternative. You've got to aim for their brains, just above their eyes."

"Don't worry, you told me what to expect and I located a cache of hollow point bullets. Once it penetrates their skull, the bullet shreds, sending metal fragments ricocheting around their brains. No matter how they're composed, there's no way they'll survive that."

"I hope so," Otis said, not taking his eyes off the figures exiting the craft.

"Can I use my rifle now?"

Otis glanced up, surveying the sky. "I guess we're safe. The American forces won't have anything aloft, and I doubt the aliens would be dumb enough to sit their main ship directly above their meeting. Once you fire, though, everyone will be searching for us."

"Then it's vital I plot every shot in advance," David explained as he moved his sniper's rifle into position. It was one he picked up on the black market, so he wasn't overly familiar with it. He'd tried it out in some empty fields to determine its firing characteristics, but he was afraid to take it to an official range. Not only might they ask about licensing, but they'd remember someone carrying such a weapon so close to what they were about to undertake.

"OK, the order of your shots is vital. They obey a strict social hierarchy. If you take out the head honcho, they'll take several seconds before they adjust to who's in charge again."

"And they just told you this?"

"No, but it's enough of an issue they set up redundancies. One they realize something's happened, they'll talk to each other through their internal communicators. After they determine the leader is gone, they'll test his connection. Once that's done, they'd get a signal concerning who's now in charge. Although that happens quickly, it'll give us time to operate. That's why it's vital we take out each target, one after another, in decreasing levels of significance. If you miss any single shot, we may not have time to take another."

"OK, who do I sight first?"

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