The Stupidest Invasion Pt. 2 Chapter 9

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The next morning, I eased out of the tent after what might have been the most amazing night of my life. My mind was reeling and I needed some alone time to process everything. I hoped to make it back to my tent without seeing anyone. Maybe it was stupid, but I didn’t want anyone to know. It’s funny. Nobody bats an eye about same-sex couples anymore. But an interracial couple? That shit is still kind of taboo and I wasn’t sure I wanted to bring Zoe into that. But when I looked up, there stood Hurtado. Oh shit, I thought, he’s going to say something. This is not good. But, to my surprise, he gave me a smile and a fist bump and continued on his way. And, all I could do was stand there.

They Knew

Later, I saw him coming out of the mess tent and caught up to him. “Hurtado, you got a minute?”

“Absolutely, LT,” he said, slowing so I could catch up.

“About this morning,” I began but he cut me off with a chuckle.

“Yeah, we been wondering when you two were finally gonna hook up,” he said with a huge smile.

“Wait, what?” I said, stunned. “You knew? Like before I even did?”

“Well, it’s not like either of you were hiding it very well. All those ‘training’ sessions? Geez, you cut the tension between you with a fucking knife.”

“Wow,” I said. “I didn’t realize.” Then, “And, everybody’s okay with it?”

“Sure,” he said. “Why wouldn’t they be?”

“Well,” I said, hemming and hawing, “I mean, Zoe’s white, and I’m… not.”

He stopped and looked me in the eyes. “LT, nobody cares about that. Well, nobody that matters, anyway,” he added with a shrug. I wondered what that meant but before I could ask, he went on. “We had a couple of officers before you and, well, let’s just say they didn’t pan out too good. But, you? You’re good and the troops will fight anybody that tries to fuck with you. Okay?” I nodded and that was pretty much that.

They Have Our Back

I know it doesn’t sound like it but I did have a reason to be worried about my relationship with Zoe. The systemic racism that had been part and parcel of the Western world for the last 500 years was mostly a thing of the past but the individual variety still lived on. It was always pretty stupid, but in the world that was uniting to fight the Skinnies? It was utterly ridiculous. But, people kind of suck, so it was still an issue. Later, when I talked to Zoe about it, she said not to worry, that not only did the platoon have our back, but so did Powell and the rest of D-7. That didn’t completely allay my fears but it pushed them back to a manageable level.

What Are We Doing Here?

We continued training and I have to admit, my “situation” with Zoe (I was hesitant to say the “r” word out loud) made things a bit nicer. Hey, I like training as much as the next grunt, but I had no idea what we were training for. Early on, I had asked and was told I didn’t have the “need to know” right then. And, while I get OPSEC, it’s kind of hard to train for a mission when you don’t even know what the hell it is. The few times I got anything more than that “need to know” bullshit, it was so vague it was laughable. I finally got tired of feeling like a mushroom (kept in the dark and fed a bunch of shit) and confronted Powell.

“Chief,” I said one day, after a particularly grueling session, “What’s all this about?”

“What do you mean, Lieutenant?” he said, seemingly puzzled.

“I mean, our training regimen doesn’t seem to make any sense. It’s all over the place. Hell, I know more about what an armored platoon’s going to be doing than whatever the hell it is I’m supposed to accomplish.” He started to say something but I cut him off. “And, don’t hand me any more of that ‘need to know/OPSEC’ crap. I need to know what my platoon’s mission is if I’m going to prepare them for it.”

He opened his mouth to say something a couple of times only to close it again, before finally saying, “Yeah, you’re right. Let me see about you getting you read in.”

You Gotta Be Shitting Me

It took almost an hour before Powell came back to me. “All right,” he said, “It’s been approved, pending a final security eval.”

“Okay,” I said. It sounded like overkill to me but that kind of shit is an ingrained part of military life, and it was useless to complain.

“Follow me,” he said. “I think you’ll find this interesting.”

He led me over to the G-2 (intelligence) shack where there was what looked like a camouflage shipping container sitting right in the middle of everything. We headed over to the tent right in front of it and passed through a couple of security checkpoints and over to the door to the container where we were met by a civilian Powell introduced as Bob Burchmann. The man would have been utterly nondescript except for the fact that he was so obviously autistic. Or at least it was obvious to me. But, I grew up with a brother who is on the spectrum and I probably pick up on things that others might miss. Burchmann held my gaze for a moment before speaking.

“Okay, Lieutenant, what you’re about to see in this SCIF is highly classified. If word got out, it could royally fuck things up. Any leaks will be punished severely. And, by ‘severely’, I mean the leaker will never again see the light of day after we find them. Understood?” I nodded. “All right, then,” he said, opening the door.

Did Not See That Coming

I’d seen Llesote in broadcasts before. Hell, my friends and I had a watch party for the U.N. speech—we were nerds, okay? But, I don’t care how often you see pictures or videos, it doesn’t prepare you for meeting them up close and personal. They were tall and slender but not in the gangly out-of-proportion way the Skinnies were. They had a grace that made everything… fit. That includes the odd grayish-blue hue of their skin. As I took them in, Burchmann said, “Xav, this is Lieutenant Janie Lawson. She’s working with Chief Powell.”

“Ah, yes,” they said, the esses having a slightly hissy sound, “We have heard about this being.” They gave me a smile that was comforting while being really weird. Sort of like the uncanny valley meets your hometown. “The Chief has been very complimentary of you, Lieutenant. That speaks well of your character.”

“Okay, Lawson,” Burchmann said, “Powell wants you in the loop on this mission and to do that, we need to let Xav read you. Do you understand what that means?”

“No,” I answered. “Should I?”

“No, not really. I was just hoping we could skip over the explanation.” He looked at the Llesote. “Do you want to tell her or should I?”

“I will explain,” Xav replied. “Lieutenant, we Llesote are telepathic, meaning we can… read your mind, for lack of a better phrase.” I felt a mild twinge of discomfort that apparently showed on my face because they immediately followed up with, “Do not worry, we will never do that without your explicit consent. Do you give it?”

I thought about it for a moment. My mind was the one place where I never had to worry about other people judging me. It was the place where all my secrets were safe and I could be fully myself. What would happen to all that if I let someone else in? Did that even matter considering the stakes, though? I mean, I was in the middle of a fight to save humanity from marauding, if inept, invaders from outer space. Shouldn’t I be willing to make a few sacrifices? It sounds way longer than it actually took before I finally said, “Yes, I consent.”

“Excellent,” Xav said. They reached out and I felt their fingers touching the sides of my head. After a second, there was a weird feeling of a connection being made, almost like when someone answers your phone call. After another second, I felt this incredible calm fall over me. I didn’t know what it was or how it happened but I liked it. Then, the connection terminated and Xav removed the fingers. “She is clear,” they said.

“Okay, then,” Powell said. “Let’s get down to business.” He looked over at me with a grin. “This mission we’ve been training for? It’s to steal one of their ships.”