Link to Chapter 4
The news that the Arvenoid were on their way kicked things into high gear… eventually. At the moment, however, I was sitting in yet another interminable meeting. This one was about setting up a press conference to reveal Xav’s existence to the world. It was going about as well as the last meeting I was forced to attend. After close to an hour of bullshit, I lost it. I managed not to shout but that was about all the control I could muster.
“Are you people fucking serious?” I said. Gail Whitethorn, the president’s press secretary, reacted as if someone had hit her with 110 volts.
“What do you mean,” she said. Her eyes still wide from my outburst. Apparently, there weren’t many “F” bombs got dropped in these meetings and she didn’t know how to handle it.
“I mean,” I said, working hard to hold my anger in check, “that an alien invasion fleet is heading our way, will be here in about 6 months, and you people are arguing over who’s in charge.” I smacked the table and a couple of the attendees jumped. “We don’t have time for this!”
“Well,” she said, a bit huffy, “How do you propose that we move forward?”
Are you fucking kidding me, I thought. “Pick. Somebody.”
“That was what we were trying to do before you interrupted us,” snapped Marcus Brill, head of the House Press Gallery. Most of the bickering that had triggered my ire had been between him and Whitethorn. Both wanted the prestige of showing the world we weren’t alone in the universe. The venom that passed between them, however, said there was more than just the desire for glory at stake. But that was an issue for another day.
“No,” I shot back, “You were neck-deep in a pissing contest, both of you ready to burn shit to the ground if that’s what it took to keep the other from getting all the publicity.” I looked around the table, hoping against hope that I was getting through to these idiotic bureaucrats. “You all know this is the easy part, right? It only gets harder after this.”
“What do you mean?” asked Charity Thompson. She was chief of staff for the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee and probably the closest thing I had to a friend in the room.
“I mean we’re going to have put together a worldwide alliance, under one government, with one military, and one objective,” I said. “Considering the problems we’re having right now, I’d say that’s a tall goddamn order. And, the more time we give ourselves to work on it, the better.”
Thompson nodded in agreement. Several others did, too. Good, I thought, maybe I’m finally making a goddamn dent. Then, she surprised me. “Who do you think should run the press conference?” Shit, I thought. Talk about being put on the spot. There were really only two candidates, Whitethorn and Brill, and either way I went, I knew I’d be making another enemy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t dither after I’d just laid into them for wasting time.
“You,” I said, pointing at Whitethorn. “You’ve got the most experience at running these things of anyone in this room, so you head it up.” I looked over at Brill. “You coordinate with her and make sure we have as many reporters as we can get.” Brill started to protest and I cut him off. “I know you don’t like it but I don’t give a shit.” I looked around the table again. “We’re all going to be doing a lot of shit we don’t like for the foreseeable future so we’d better get used to it.” Everyone, even Brill nodded. I had a feeling his acceptance of this new normal was conditional at best, but that was Whitethorn’s problem. “Now that we’ve settled that, let’s move the hell on.” I looked over at Whitethorn. “Can you have things set up by this afternoon?”
She thought for a moment and said, “It’ll be tough, but yes. I believe I can.”
I nodded. “Okay, you two get together,” I motioned at Brill, “And make this happen.” I stood up. “I think that’s everything we need to cover, so meeting adjourned.” Everyone stood up and began filing out. I couldn’t believe it. Had I just gotten away with telling off all these high-ranking officials and taking charge of shit? Me, a lowly intelligence analyst? It sure seemed that way but I suspected it would come back to bite me in the ass. God only knew what form that might take.
Like a Big Alien Toddler
Surprisingly, things went smoothly for a change. Whitethorn got the press conference set up for the next day. That wasn’t what I wanted but my displeasurew was offset by the healthy amount of commitments of reporters to show up. And, wonder of wonders, Brill didn’t attempt to sabotage her (in an obvious way, at least). As we got into the agency Suburban for the trip to the Capitol building, I prepped Xav for their big reveal. I wanted them to understand what was coming, but they didn’t seem concerned.
“Is all this really necessary, Robert? Once we can operate openly, the tasks before us all will get exponentially easier and we can help Earth prepare for the coming onslaught.” Their naivete about humanity would’ve been cute if we weren’t staring down an invasion from a technologically superior race.
I shook my head and said, “Yes, it’s necessary. And, no, it won’t get easier. Not right away, at least. People are going to lose their shit when they find out humans aren’t alone in the universe. You’re going to be inundated with requests for interviews, audiences, and god knows what else once you’re out in the open.”
“We will take your word for it, then,” they settled into their seat and surveyed the interior of the truck.
“Taking my word for it isn’t good enough, Xav. I need you to understand the avalanche of attention that’s headed your way. Will stop that and pay attention?” I snapped as they actuated the door locks repeatedly. Like a toddler, they had to touch and/or inspect everything and it was getting a little irritating.
That finally got through to them. Chagrinned, they said, “We are sorry, Robert. It is just that we have never traveled in one of your vehicles before and are excited about this new learning experience.”
I sighed. “No, Xav, I’m the one who’s sorry. I shouldn’t have barked at you like that. It’s been a crazy few days dealing with all these government idiots.”
“We have noticed you are much more tense than when we first met. We may be able to help a bit. May we touch you?” If there was one thing that Xav understood better than most humans, it was my touch issues. I don’t necessarily mind being touched, I just need to have some control over when and how it happens. While I wasn’t in the best place for it, I didn’t feel I could say no to their offer to help after I’d been kind of assy. “Okay,” I said, shrugging, “I probably shouldn’t be around people wound as tight as I am right now.”
“Excellent,” they said, reaching out. I felt their fingers lightly touch my forehead and temples as they closed their eyes. For some reason, mine closed too and after a moment, I felt a calmness descend over me like a warm blanket and all my stress and agitation melted away. I felt their hands move away and I opened my eyes to see them smiling at me. “How do you feel?” they asked.
It took me a minute to find some words to respond. “I don’t know what you just did but I feel better right now than I can ever remember. It’s like I just woke up from the most relaxing, refreshing nap in the world.”
“Good,” they said. “That was our intent. As to what we did, we are not sure how to describe it other than to say we ‘reordered’ your thought pattern to more closely align with your brain’s construction.” They resumed their exploration of the vehicle’s interior and it wasn’t nearly as bothersome as before. “We also picked up a bit about what you were trying to explain to us.” They stopped fiddling with their seatbelt and looked at me. “We understand now.”
Meet the Press
Xav and I were sequestered in a tent, just behind the podium where Whitethorn was warming up the audience for the big moment. She had originally thought about having the president speak at the conference but the ever paranoid Secret Service put the kibosh on that idea. Apparently, they felt Xav was too big of a security risk. The president, however, was eager to meet with my friends and had told his people to “make it happen”. As we waited, I was so nervous I could barely keep from visibly shaking. So much rode on this moment and so much could go wrong. Xav, on the other hand, was cool as a cucumber, humming the tune to Veruca Salt’s “Volcano Girls” — they had recently discovered ’90s grunge and were big fans. “How can you be so calm,” I said.
They looked over at me. “We do not understand,” they said. “Would being apprehensive improve our chances of success?”
I shook my head, laughing. “No. Not even a little bit. Hell, it might even make them worse.”
“Then, why would we choose to be anxious when it would not benefit us?” Every now and then, I could almost forget that Xav wasn’t human. Then, they’d say something like this.
“Nobody chooses to be anxious, Xav. It just happens.”
“Ah, yes. Sometimes we forget that humans do not always have full control of their emotions.” Apparently, I made a face because they said, “Do not take offense, Robert. That condition is one of the things that make humans so interesting. And, it can be beneficial.”
“Really?” I said. “How so?”
“Oh, the ways are too many to list.”
“Oh, come on. You can’t just drop a bomb like that and say ‘The ways are too many to list.’ You gotta give me something.”
They thought for a minute and said, “We have observed numerous instances throughout your history when emotion has pushed a being to take necessary action in spite of the fact that said action would be harmful to them. For example, a parent plunging themselves into a perilous situation without regard to the own safety in order to rescue their child.”
“Huh,” I said. “I guess you—” Before I could finish that thought, one of Whitethorn’s assistants stuck their head through the flap in the tent.
“30 seconds,” he said. He looked back over his shoulder, waiting for the signal. “Okay, you’re on.” Xav stepped out of the tent and up to the microphone and the world utterly and absolutely changed.