Chapter 17: One Last Appeal
Copyright© 2016 by Vincent Berg
The Tonight Show audience was led into the studio, only to be searched and extensively questioned. The guest star arrived with an entourage, not unexpected, but came in disguise and with little warning. The participants were a bit paranoid, but felt they had reason to be. By the time of filming, word had spread across the Internet. After the monologue, the host began the warm up.
“We’ve got a fascinating program tonight. Like Salman Rushdie, he’s been in hiding for years—confronted with frequent death threats. Instead of terrorists, it’s members of a discredited faction of the CIA who’s after him. This man travelled further from the Earth than any other human, by several orders of magnitude. He’s just returned from a trip to the site of his disappearance, two years ago, and he’s here to explain what he’s learned about the aliens who rescued him. Ladies and gentleman, allow me to reintroduce you to Eric Morgan, our modern day Superman.”
He walked on the stage with the dramatic “2001” soundtrack in the background. The audience erupted in applause. Eric blushed, but waved. The crowd ate it up.
“So any new superpowers?” the host teased as he sat down in the guest’s chair.
Eric laughed easily, relaxing in his seat. “If I did, I wouldn’t admit it. That’s why I’ve become a target. But seriously, there are no new powers. Instead, NASA locked me into another tin can and transported me back to the site of our last fiasco, where I communicated with the aliens for the first time.”
“Wow! That’s astonishing. What did they say?”
Eric chuckled, waving his hand. “They didn’t technically speak, since they’re composed of energy, but they reached out and touched my mind.”
The late night host cocked his head. “Does that mean you’re now ‘touched in the head’?”
Eric waited for the laughter to die down before responding. “It means they don’t understand our language, and aren’t physically equipped to speak it. Yet they have other tools at their disposal. What’s more, I’ve done research into the relationship between one’s soul, which consists of the same energy, and the human brain. I’ve learned a tremendous amount. Between us, we managed to cover a lot of territory on my short half-hour flight.”
“Uh, I thought there was some invisible planet, like Wonder Woman came from? Who was this solitary alien?”
“No, she had an invisible plane but was from the Amazon, where given her outfit, she’d be ravaged by bugs. Luckily for me, there aren’t many blood-sucking mosquitos in outer space.”
The joke went over like a lead balloon, so he kept going. “On my last mission, we stumbled into the middle of their world, injuring hundreds. To rescue those I’d unintentionally injured, one alien was assigned to help me. As my body dissolved before my eyes, he stepped in and eased my transition, allowing me to survive. My mind couldn’t deal with the change from a physical to an energy-based existence, so they sent me back. Since he was familiar with me, he was selected to be my contact on this mission.”
“Whoa! That opens so many questions. What was this guy’s name, and how do you know he’s a man if he has no body? When you say your ‘body dissolved’, does that mean you became one of these energy creatures yourself?”
“That’s precisely what I meant. At the time, all I remembered were dreamlike images. I wasn’t sure they were real, but they were so detailed, they seemed more authentic than real life. This time, he explained how they transitioned me from a physical being into one of them. By the way, they don’t have males or females of their species. I simply assigned him a random sex to make it easier to discuss.”
“Is that how you came by your ability to turn the lights on and off?”
Eric chuckled, remembering how much trouble those simple tricks created. “Yeah, though I prefer to downplay those moments now.”
“So what have you done for the past two years?”
“Obviously, I’ve been in hiding, and for good reason. I’ve had several run-ins with rogue CIA operatives. They’re not particularly fond of me.”
“I can understand why. You’ve crippled their once essential government institution.”
Ignoring the topic as potentially touchy, Eric continued. “While traveling incognito, I did research in how to use my new skills to treat people. The energy I have access to can mend wounds faster, but it’s particularly effective with mental health issues. By repairing people’s souls, I heal their minds. At the same time, I’ve come to understand the relationship between our souls and our brains.”
“Okay, let me stop you there. You stated, during congressional testimony, that you rejected your belief in God because you doubt he exists.”
“Actually, I said I lost faith in the accuracy of the biblical accounts, becoming an Agnostic, as I can’t trust what I know. After discovering this new society, so vastly different than our own, I’m no longer convinced our understanding of God is entirely accurate. These beings live for thousands of years. They’ve been around for a phenomenally long time, during which they continued to experiment and stretch the boundaries of science. I didn’t want to presuppose that our thousand-year-old religious texts are better informed than their beliefs. In essence, I suspended my assumptions until we can learn more about what others more experienced believe.”
“So what do they believe?”
Eric sighed, holding his hands up. “I have no idea. While we covered a lot of ground, the subject never came up. They’re good at transferring visual memories. It’s harder discussing abstract concepts like religion. Our techniques will improve, but for now, we’ve dealing with the basics.”
“This is fascinating, but we need to take a break, after which we’ve got another guest. You’ll have to come back and discuss this later.”
“I’m not sure that’s likely. Once again, my presence has drawn trouble. It seems members of the law enforcement community are sitting on your doorstep. I suspect they don’t intend to let me slip out the back door without a fight.”
The show’s host gasped, his eyes widening and his nostrils flaring. “Our audience won’t be impacted, will they? What are you planning to do?”
Eric shrugged. “I’m not sure. I’ll consider it while you take your break. I don’t intend to fight, so your fans are free to tag along. After all, it’s better if there are independent accounts of what’s about to occur.”
The host was at a loss for words. His eyes flickered from his stage manager to his producer, searching for a suitable response. The televisions screens switched to a commercial about deodorant sprays.
Eric allowed curious audience members and camera crews to precede him as he exited the building. He realized, without being warned, that every exit was covered. There was no skirting away and avoiding a confrontation this time.
“What’s outside?” the nervous host asked. Despite his fear, he couldn’t resist something this monumental.
Before he could respond, a member of the audience rushed up. “There’s a whole NYPD Swat team outside. It looks like twenty men in military gear and body armor!”
Eric shrugged. “It wouldn’t make any difference, but I’m not going to fight. I’ve never struck first, and I won’t here. They’re here to cast me in the role of a criminal terrorist. If I attack the police, it’ll feed their narrative. Certain people dislike my becoming active again, and want to sway public opinion against me.”
The producer, who’d been trailing them, wrung his hands. “Should people be outside, and not incidentally, will leaving my news crew there expose us to lawsuits?”
“The SWAT team is trying to remove everyone from the street,” the man who’d ventured outside said. “They’re anticipating a fight.”
“There won’t be any shots,” Eric assured them. “Despite the military hardware, these people are terrified. They understand I’ll respond before anyone pulls a trigger. This is a staged event. I don’t doubt they brought their own news team.”
“So what’s your plan?”
“I’m going to give everyone the show they came for, but beyond that, I’m not sure. They want to force my hand, so my future rests on the decisions of the people outside.”
“Surely it won’t come to that,” the producer said. “Between NASA and public opinion, if you go willingly, there shouldn’t be a problem. You’ll sit in the can for a few days, maybe as little as an afternoon, and come out a hero.”
His lip curled into a bitter smile. “If only it were so simple. After walking amongst the stars, I’m not sure I can survive in a cell—even overnight. Even now, my thoughts are with the stars, not here on Earth.” He paused. “I’m tired. I’m ready to be free.” Turning to the NBC officials, he waved them on. “Come on, you don’t want to miss this. Feel free to keep your distance, but this is ‘can’t miss television’.”
“Eric!” Sarah and Leslie cried, rushing forward, but he held them back with an upturned palm. “We can’t prevent this by dawdling. This will happen whether we’re willing to face it or not. I’d rather address the situation as a man than a mouse. Who knows, it may actually turn out for the best.”
Eric strode to the front doors and exited the building, the others using the side entrances. Outside, the SWAT team had abandoned their efforts to redirect traffic. They swiveled, large-scale automatic weapons at the ready. Eric mumbled to himself, knowing his microphone was still live. “If one man pulls a trigger, we’ll have a massacre. There are too many people here.”
“Get down, NOW!” someone shouted.
He raised his hands midway in a half-hearted attempt to placate them. “What are you charging me with?”
The officers surrounded him. If they opened fire, they’d shoot each other. Their body armor wasn’t designed to protect them against such heavy weapons this close.