The Lad Who Poked the Devil in the Eye
Chapter 16: Final Stand

Copyright© 2016 by Vincent Berg

"Otis? Are you alright?"

His eyes flickered, parting gradually. His entire body ached, probably from clutching any available surface during the descent. The extended lack of oxygen didn't help either.

Remembering his fall from the heavens to terra-firma, Otis's eyes popped open. When they did, he observed Ger prodding him with Natalie hovering behind her.

"Wha ... What happened? Paul, Fred?"

"They're fine. They limped back, but unlike you, their ship is functional, just shot the heck up. Now be quiet a moment and follow my finger."

With his initial panic abated, Otis did as instructed.

"Good, he seems fine," she told Natalie. "We were worried, fearing you'd been injured or suffered from oxygen starvation."

"It was ... close. Didn't know if ... I'd make it or not."

She laid her hand on his chest. "Relax. You're not up to snuff yet. Allow your body to recover on its own."

Natalie considered her. "Where did you learn that? You seem a little young to know about concussions."

"The girls on my cheerleading squad got them, so I copied what the nurses did. Given some rest he'll be fine, which he needs for his exhaustion anyway."

Relieved, Natalie knelt beside him. Otis glanced up, recognizing the spare room in Joseph Whitetail's house.

"There are several items requiring your attention. First, the President sent this message." She fumbled with her recorder, pressing play.

"I can't possibly thank you and your team, enough. We're guessing their main ship is low on energy, and they no longer have any attack craft left. We spotted one drifting in space. We suspect it lost containment and the pilot suffocated when he lost oxygen. The other appears to have returned to the ship, but no one's seen it. We believe it's damaged and inoperable. It may still be a problem, but at the moment, they don't seem to be preparing any attacks.

"Even if their threat wasn't eliminated, it's substantially diminished. Luckily for us, the explosions happened far enough from the Earth there was no EMP related damage. Our nuclear missiles aren't normally designed to travel so deep into space, but ... given the Wi'Tibold restrictions on space flight, for the last twelve years we've been retrofitting them to venture farther out, a missile at a time. Those which they shut down, they fried their electronics, so they didn't explode when they fell back to earth. However, now we have bits of nuclear debris scattered across a swath of countries.

"The warrant for your arrests has been revoked. I've also granted citizenship for Peter and Paul. After what they sacrificed, it's the least we can do. Once this is over, I'd love to declare a national day of recognition for each of you, but at this point, we don't know when it'll be safe enough."

When the recording ended, Otis grumbled. "That's ... terrific, but it won't save any more lives.

"About that," Natalie responded, biting her lip and clenching her hands. We..."

He held one hand up, while grasping his temple with the other. "He was right, the last fighter is disabled with a fuel leak and a containment breach. He's correct about the other one too. Since it's still functional, it didn't self-destruct. They're debating whether to try recapturing it, or blow it out of the sky."

Natalie tried to respond but he wasn't finished. "They're in bad shape. The combined nuclear explosions closed off whole sections of their vessel. They were short staffed to begin with. They're discussing their options."

"If it's possible to reach the abandoned ship, maybe Paul can use his ship. If they see us taking an interest, it might force them to destroy it. If not, we'd gain another weapon to use against them."

Ger glanced up at Natalie. "Have you considered what happens if they decide to abandon ship, launch escape pods and hide out here on Earth?"

"Everyone is livid at their actions. I doubt there's a person alive who doesn't know what they planned. Everyone wants to kill these aliens. I wouldn't give them much of a chance, especially if we can track where they land."

Otis leaned up, still holding the side of the bed. "If it comes to it, I can locate wherever they come down. As for their last ship, I'm not willing to bet our lives by trying to recover it. Besides, I don't trust our government any more than I do theirs."

"Well, that's another bit of news. There's been no information concerning the president's son. He's taken his children's death hard—especially given the role he played by not accepting the truth sooner. He told me, off the record, he's not only stepping down, but is discussing with Congress changing how elections are held."

Otis sat up, waving his hand. "I'll believe it when I see it. The people in power won't release it until it's wrest from their grasp. As Charlton Heston says, they'll give up control when we pry it from their cold, dead hands."

Ger considered him. "You've always been a bit odd, but you've become ... cynical."

Otis shrugged. "I've learned what power does, not just to those in charge, but to entire societies. The Wi'Tibold are correct. We won't be safe until we dethrone the powerful and find a better way to control our ambitions."

Natalie interrupted, smiling. "Once people discover your role in this, you might be just the man to spearhead the effort. Few know of your performance at the moment, but with a few interviews, you'll be the best known expert on the planet."

"Sorry, but I'm not cutthroat enough to go toe-to-toe with snakes. They're too close to the ground and live in the muck."

She laughed. "A bit of a mixed metaphor, but I get your drift." She turned serious. "Can we get estimates on their condition, and how many are left?"

Otis was quiet and Peter entered the room, answering his unspoken question. "I not sure. I like asking if any more help, but no trust anyone else. They sympathize with us, but not speak up."

"Well, now's the time to test the waters. If nothing else, we'll discover whether they can turn the nanobots in my head against me." Holding his hand up again, he remained silent as his eyes glazed over.

He frowned, leapt up and grabbed his clothes. "That could have gone better. I sent a message to the surviving Ti'chrk. There are only eighteen, by the way. Before anyone could respond, the head honcho launched into a tirade. He says they'll never allow barbarians like us to issue commands. He then started issuing orders to initiate 'Tiblk', whatever that is."

Peter frowned. "That discuss earlier. They sacrifice ship, plunging into Earth to eradicate all life."

"That doesn't sound good," Natalie said.

Otis headed out, trying to slip his shoes on as he walked. "No, it doesn't." When he stormed out the door, they all followed. Natalie trailed behind, making an emergency call to her contact, Walter Phelps.

"What's wrong?" Fred asked.

"Their gambit is to destroy the Earth. If they can't have it, no one else will. What's more, no one will hear of their failure, so the xenophobic, malignant part of their society won't suffer the consequences."

"Is there any way to stop them?"

Otis motioned behind him. "You'll have to ask Peter and Paul, but I doubt it. Despite the damages they suffered, they're largely impervious to a single fighter." When everyone stopped to stare at the two Ti'chrk aliens, Otis continued. "They say there's not much we can do. Although the ship is large, if they ram us now it wouldn't obliterate us. To achieve the complete annihilation they want, they have to back up, reverse course, and accelerate to get maximum impact. Once they draw away, there's no way we can catch them."

He waved at the sky over them. "Tell your contact they've removed the anti-surveillance on their ship. We should be able to observe it now. They want us to witness what's coming."

Mary Whitetail showed up at the door to the house. "Them aliens is on the TV and radio again."

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