Chapter 1: And So It Begins
This is Fiction. Any resemblance between the content of this story or any of the characters depicted herein and real persons or events is highly unlikely and purely coincidental.
Staring at the vertical red, blue, and white stripes caused him to wonder why they called it the Green Room. Colonel Philip Reynolds wondered whom he had pissed off to wind up here. He sat on a large overstuffed divan; it was the one piece of furniture there that could carry his enhanced frame. Somebody above him in rank thought it would be a good idea to dispel the out-of-control rumors about what really happened during an extraction. After a few phone calls to the World News Network, Philip found himself as a guest on the show, Exposé International.
Philip was not alone. He would be appearing with Marsha Powers, the emergency spokesperson for Mentis in Deum, a religious group who proposed that man alone existed as the dominant species in God's cosmos. They believed wholeheartedly that the Confederacy in its entirety was a front. Mentis in Deum believed this situation was a sign from God to bring together all the Christian churches to counter this secular threat.
When Marsha entered the room, she would not make eye contact with Philip. When she did sit down, she placed herself facing him across the Green Room, very close to the exit. Any time he made a move, even crossing or uncrossing his arms or legs, she watched him. The royal blue dress she wore did not show her figure. It did project a sense of conservative strength. Her dark tresses were drawn softly back, falling down her back.
Philip noted that she took short breaths. He could see small beads of perspiration dotting her forehead. Her eyes were partially dilated, indicating she was a bit nervous. Years of experience assessing individuals as a revenue agent caused Philip to slide Marsha into the 'I do not want to be here' category.
Sub-vocally he made an inquiry. "Can I have an abbreviated resume for Marsha Powers?"
The AI spoke softly into his implant. "Marsha Powers possess a Master's Degree in Communication from UCLA and a Bachelors Degree in American Literature from Arizona State." Marsha patted her nose and forehead to remove the excess moisture. "Upon graduating, she received a job offer from KSWB Fox 5 in San Diego. She worked in the research department before becoming involved with Mentis in Deum. Predominately she works for them now as a speech-writer and researcher for the movement." The less Philip moved, the more Marsha's tension visibly eased. "Today due to her superior's emergency root canal, she is representing the movement. Ms. Powers has not taken a CAP test."
The door opened, and the young woman dressed in a blue t-shirt emblazoned with the show's logo stuck her head in the room. Her jeans framed her legs. Close-cropped hair framed her delicate face. She placed her right hand over the microphone built into her headset. "I'm the assistant stage coordinator, a.k.a. flunky; please follow me to the set." She pushed the door wider and smiled.
Philip stood very slowly. His movements seemed to freeze Marsha in place. The girl in the headset rolled her eyes and sighed. She looked at Philip, then at Marsha. The way the flunky's eyes jerked prompted him to act. Philip reached forward toward the sitting woman. He held his palm up and curled his fingers, offering a handhold.
Marsha blinked. Looking at the girl and then at Philip, she tentatively reached up and grabbed the offered hand. She pulled herself into a standing position. "Thank you, Colonel." Her voice hid most of her embarrassment.
Deciding to keep the advantage, Philip held the door. "After you," he gestured, giving her enough space to not crowd her. Politely, she tilted her head in a mute thank you. Having her see him as a decent man, rather than as a member of a conspiracy, would help to chip away at her façade.
"Thank you." Marsha's voice was a bit stronger.
The flunky led them down the hallway to a very large door. She stopped and turned to face Philip and Marsha. "I need to turn on your mikes and have you perform a sound check." First, she reached around toward Marsha's back and touched the box on her hip; then followed the same procedure with Philip. "Marsha, please say hello and your name."
The process repeated three times. Each time Marsha sounded different. Each time she tried, her blush changed. Philip felt a bit embarrassed in that he had no additional issues; he was a one-take wonder.
Other than the advice to be calm, Philip ignored the flunky but followed her onto the set. Marsha sat on the right of the conservative commentator Ellen Berkowitz. Philip was at the other end of the kidney shaped table, sitting next to the ultra-liberal Albert Khan.
Philip took the time to straighten his dress uniform as he sat down. He had been informed earlier that the table and chairs would be adjusted so that no one would be physically sitting higher than anyone else. That placed the bottom part of his sternum level with the table. Looking to his right, each person had a bit more torso exposed above the table. He figured the top of Marsha's belt might peek over the edge. He removed his hat placing it on the table. Fortunately, he could discreetly scope himself out in the monitors. His hair remained in place. Sub-vocally he left a message reminding himself to thank Corporal Bradshaw's concubine Julia for the bulletproof hair.
Philip knew he had an unfair advantage. In his ear was not only the AI, but also the staff who worked under the Chief of Acquisition. They had access to the videos and typed notes of the Exposé International staff. His confidence remained at a high level. A piece of advice Julia had offered floated in his consciousness. "These people just want a sensationalized story and ratings."
"People," the voice came over the speaker system somewhere up in the overhead lighting. "We're going live in five, four, three..." There were six cameras across the table about twenty feet away. A man with a clipboard was marking the countdown with his arm. After the beat of one, he pointed at Ellen Berkowitz.
"Welcome to Exposé International, I am Ellen Berkowitz." She turned to look at her co-host.
"And I am Albert Kahn. Tonight as our guests we have Marsha Powers, from Mentis in Deum." Marsha tilted her head forward in aknowledgement. "And sitting next to me is Colonel Philip Reynolds of the Confederacy." Philip smiled slightly and likewise nodded.
Albert turned and looked at Ellen; she continued the show's opening. "Ever since the President's speech and the start of what are called 'extractions', there have been questions about how these extractions operate." The kidney shaped desk had a monitor built into the surface for each person seated. "For the majority of extractions, this is the view we have." The monitor showed an image of a medium-sized diner clouded by a gray wall. "Colonel," Ellen paused until Philip looked up at her. "If the idea is to gather volunteers, as the Confederacy calls them, why exclude any passersby who also might wish to volunteer?"
Philip put his elbows on the table and leaned a bit toward Ellen. "The ships at our disposal at the present time are not designed for mass evacuation. Though we have the capacity to take about five hundred people maximum per ship, logistically at this time it is difficult to process that many people in a quick manner." He shifted his eyes to Albert. "By restricting access, we hope to avoid any undue injury."
"It's what takes place inside those gray walls that generates the most interest." Marsha interjected herself into the conversation. "Affidavits given by survivors of these extractions color this activity differently. Forcible rape, families torn asunder, instant divorces, what happens to these people"
Philip countered factually, "Participation is voluntary."
Ellen slapped the table to refocus their attention, "I need to remind everyone that a treaty does exist between the United States and the Confederacy." She pointed at the large screen behind her and Albert. "This treaty defines the area inside the interdiction fields as temporarily under Confederacy jurisdiction."
Marsha cocked her head as a smirk flashed across her face. "Regardless of who has jurisdiction, it is what people are forced to do that we object to."
"No one is forced into service with the Confederacy." Philip made a conscious effort to keep from making a fist. "Anyone who has the appropriate Confederacy CAP card can choose, and I stress 'choose, ' whether to participate."
"Then how can you explain the piles of clothing left tossed about the floor?" Albert had turned to face Philip, his tone hinting at his present stress level. "And almost always, there are rejected victims left behind."
Marsha added a further condemnation. "Recovery for some of these people is impossible. The unwanted, instantly divorced, rejected spouses devoid of their significant other and their children are left to suffer alone."
Warnings buzzed into his ear via his implant. Philip paused, letting the tension build. "If a person chooses to volunteer or accepts becoming a concubine, the moment they verbalize that decision they enter into the Confederacy and become subject to the laws and regulations therein. Possessing a CAP card shows that you are willing to consider entry into the Confederacy."
"Colonel, presently the government is all but requiring people to be CAP tested." Ellen turned the conversation. "Are you saying that the United States Government is actively encouraging its citizens to abandon it?"
"This is a plot to destroy the United States," Marsha added. "Admit it, Colonel: you're part of a group that is seeking to control the world."
Albert broke the tension. "And at this point we must break for commercial."
Philip wilted under the assault coming to his implant. Sub-vocally he made a short plea. "One voice at a time, or change my name to Skitzo."
"I will filter and direct relevant comments to the colonel," the AI informed him. "Colonel, you need to stress the reality that Earth faces."
At his request, the AI took over control of the screen embedded in the table before him. Philip scrolled through the timeline of the Swarm's approach. On the screen next to the timeline, there were two columns. One column showed the average time it took to fill the ninety-six pods on an Aurora. The last column was a compilation of the basic instructions that the Marines running extractions found to be the most effective.
The director's voice notified everyone that the last commercial was ending. "We're coming back live in five, four, three."
"Welcome back to Exposé International." Albert turned to Philip. "Colonel, we had two questions proposed to you." He held up two fingers emphasizing questions. "First, can you respond to Ellen's question about the government encouraging its citizens to abandon it?"
Philip smiled, and took pains to maintain a calm visage. "One of the founding documents of the United States clearly defined the role of government: it should promote life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For lack of a better term, a plague is coming to deny you life, destroy your liberty, and rain sorrow across the globe." He studied the others on the panel, watching his words sink in. "What I believe the United States government is doing is preserving some of her citizens by encouraging them to emigrate to new planets." He looked directly at the camera. "Those becoming soldiers are also following the American traditions of the Lafayette Escadrille from World War One and of the Eagle Squadrons and the Flying Tigers from World War Two. Once again, volunteers are being sent to meet a foe in a distant place."
There was silence. Neither of the commentators had a quick response. On the screen behind them, appeared images of P-40 War Hawks flying in formation with painted shark teeth. Philip decided to continue his point.
"Unlike the Axis Powers, the Swarm have nothing in common with us. They do not negotiate." On the set's main monitor, a short video showed Swarm Troopers attacking a forested area, in their wake the aliens left only upturned dirt and stacked cubes. "They do not give up, and they seek to dominate and consume. Our only recourse is to destroy them."
"Other than CGI doctored videos," Marsha interrupted, "there is no proof that such creatures even exist. Mentis in Deum is confident that no such threat exists."
"Why do you claim the videos are doctored?" Phillip pressed the point he was making. "Just what exactly would you consider proof?"
Marsha did not respond. She appeared to be flustered.
"Marsha, are you familiar with the story of Gideon?" Philip paused a moment, waiting until she nodded her head in answer.
"Yes," she finally verbalized, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
"CAP testing is a way for the Confederacy to find those who drink water, from their cupped hands."
Philip could see Marsha grimace.
Albert ended the growing silence. "What then does the Confederacy do with those abandoned family members?"
"If by extraction potential hardships are fostered upon the family or an individual left behind, the Confederacy has, and will continue to provide financial support." Philip sat up a little bit straighter. He placed his palms flat on the desktop. "We are in a race to both save as many people as we can and to provide as many individuals who have the capacity and potential to stand up and fight here on Earth."
They broke into a commercial. Philip perused the set as the AI relayed congratulations. Looking at the forum members, he could tell everyone but Marsha was listening. The countdown began signaling that they were about to go live again.
After welcoming the viewers back, Ellen turned to Philip. "Colonel, exactly what is expected during an extraction?"
"There is no set script or step-by-step instructions." Philip lifted his left arm and swept it from one side to the other before him. "I can give you an analogy that you and your regular viewers will understand better, I hope." Philip took calming breath to center his thoughts.
"Our viewers, especially the regular viewers, are quite interested." Ellen's comment caused Albert to chuckle.
"If you look at your show as an example, no two shows are the same. Sometimes you have a wonderful show, where everything goes right and you are nominated for an Emmy." The AI provided Philip with the date the show's last Emmy was awarded on. "Sometimes a guest may never arrive, the power is cut, or the president decides to address the nation. When this happens you have a show that does not meet your expectations."
"So you're making the excuse that sometimes bad things happen," Albert paraphrased.
"Albert," Ellen offered. "I think he's trying to tell us that every extraction is different."
"No one has published a guideline for how to behave at an extraction," Albert shot back.
Ellen rolled her eyes in an exaggerated manner, "Albert, that's why he's here today: to answer some of these questions."
"There still is no definitive proof that this threat is real." Marsha now sat with her arms crossed. "This is nothing more than a shared delusion."
"What about the evidence presented by Exposé International, here today?" Phillip asked.
Ellen, Albert, and Marsha dominated the next five minutes of the discussion. Philip did not add his voice to the resulting shouting match. The director almost had to enter the set to get them to break for commercial. Albert finally followed his lead. Turning to the camera, he announced, "We'll take a moment to settle things down. Meanwhile, here's a word from our sponsor..." During the break, the frazzled director admonished both Ellen and Albert, reminding them to be civil. The director also suggested strongly that Philip be encouraged to discuss extractions.
"At this time, we need to request the good colonel to impart some behavioral expectations for an extraction." Albert was a bit persistent after the end of the break.
Philip smiled. "Thank you. Shedding light on what is hidden is part of the responsibility of the press. In an effort to make extractions easier for the Confederacy, potential sponsors, potential concubines, and disinterested parties, we have prepared a short presentation." Philip pointed to the screen; the AI queued up the words 'How to Survive an Extraction'. "Our first concern is safety. If you find yourself inside an interdiction field, trust me, instructions will be delivered. Initially, anyone who has a weapon will need to temporarily surrender that weapon."
Ellen interrupted Philip. "Some people have the right to legally carry weapons. Aren't you violating their rights?"
Philip softly shook his head no. "As you've agreed, inside the field, you're under Confederacy law. Under that law, only members of the Armed Forces of the Confederacy are allowed to carry weapons."
Ellen added a follow-up question. "What if someone ignores this request?"
"Everyone will be disarmed, either voluntarily or by being rendered unconscious." Philip's tone implied that he was stating a simple truth. "To help maintain order, a nonlethal stunner may be used on such a person who ignores that request."
"What if someone should be injured during an extraction?" Albert asked as Philip took a breath.
"If someone becomes medically distressed, we are within a minute of being able to place that person in expert medical care." The AI relayed an example to Philip. "There have been instances where individuals have been injured in accidents. Last week in Bonn, Germany, a startled cook dropped a cleaver, almost severing four of his toes." The image on the screen switched to the outside of the 'Glashaus', a resturant. "Quick response by the Marine in charge of the extraction allowed the cook to be treated. By the time the extraction was over, his toes were as good as new."
When Albert asked about the speed of medical response, Philip advised them that he was not a doctor; he wasn't qualified to answer questions on medical subjects. When Ellen asked if this could be the subject of another show, Marsha harrumphed. Albert segued back to the extraction procedures.
"Generally, the ranking Marine will ask for all CAP qualified people who wish to volunteer to come forward with their cards. Once this is done, an area is assigned for those who do not wish to participate and for children to move to." Philip paused to frame the next statement. "Once the sponsors have accepted service in the Confederacy, the Marine in charge will invite those who wish to become concubines to disrobe."
"This is a matter of contention," Albert spoke clearly and distinctly. "Some individuals who were not extracted have stated they were ordered to disrobe, told that they would need to remain nude from that point forward."
"I need to be honest; individuals who do not have qualifying scores have two basic functions. One of these functions is to serve as companion and comfort to their sponsor. Under Confederacy law, they have very few rights. It is a person's choice whether to be subjugated and to give away those rights as the price for leaving Earth or not." Philip hoped they could read between the lines. He was advised not to use the word slave. "The second function is to increase the potential pool of sponsors by producing offspring."
"I have here," Ellen held up sheet of paper, "a signed affidavit from one Desmond Howard. In this affidavit, Mr. Howard swears that three weeks ago his wife Latisha was forced to disrobe and engage in sexual acts against her will. Does the Confederacy have a response?"
"Colonel," the AI covertly advised him, "paraphrase the following information. The necessary footage collected by drone will be shared."
The large monitor behind them changed to display the inside of a Big Valley Steakhouse. "Ellen, isn't this the place, date and time in the affidavit made by Mr. Howard?"
"Yes, Colonel, it is."
"As you can see, the seven potential sponsors are standing next to the ranking Marine. At this time, the Marine calls for anyone wishing to petition to be a concubine. Please note in the right-hand corner. Latisha has begun to walk across the room to the group of sponsors." Philip watched as the woman began removing her top as she walked across the screen. "As you can see, Desmond has grabbed his former wife and spun her back around to face him." The image on the screen showed Desmond striking his wife twice on the face. "As you can see, this video evidence differs substantially from Mr. Howard's statement." A Marine approached Desmond and Latisha quickly. He pushed the two apart. Desmond threw a haymaker, landing it on the Marine's chin. At this point, the video froze. "What you're about to witness next is what happens to individuals who interfere during extractions." There was a quick flash of light coming from the Marine, engulfing Desmond. Desmond crumpled to the floor. The Marine grabbed Desmond by his belt and carried him out of the frame. "As you can see, Mr. Howard attempted to interfere with the choices being made by Latisha. Latisha was accepted as a concubine by one of the sponsors. She was able to take her two children with her."
"How does splitting up any family help?" Marsha inquired before either of the hosts could speak.
Philip replied immediately with a question. "What are the prospects of children who grow up witnessing spousal abuse?"
Both of the hosts turned to look at Marsha. Her silence was her answer.
"By our records, twelve individuals did not participate in the extraction process. They were escorted to the far side of the restaurant." The image switched to a group of people sitting in a corner, their faces blurred beyond recognition. In and around that group, several children played, their faces also blurred. "These folks exercised their right to choose."
Albert took the opportunity, when Phillip paused, to break for a commercial. Several makeup people rushed in to make minor adjustments and remove what they referred to as shiny spots. Even Philip had his forehead dabbed a bit, removing the sweat caused by the oppressive lights.
For the next segment, the focus of the show switched to Marsha. Ellen set the stage for Marsha to present her agenda.
"Those of us at Mentis in Deum do not believe that individuals such as Colonel Reynolds are completely truthful." Giving the opportunity to state her case gave her confidence, which was reflected in Marsha's posture. "If we use the concept of Occam's Razor, we have two possibilities to consider. The first is that an advanced Confederacy of many alien races have become so pacified that they need proxy warriors from our Earth to save them. As opposed to that, a group of governments has conspired to perpetuate a hoax to gain control of the world." Marsha had both her fists clenched and held out before her. "The simpler of these two positions is that man is simply trying to control his fellow man by any means."
Albert turned slowly towards Philip. "Colonel, do you have a response?"
"Billions of people have seen 'Average Joes'. Billions have watched the live feeds from the International Space Station. There are thousands who have witnessed the interdiction fields that surround a pickup." Philip was glad that he had not taken Marsha's bait and raised his voice. "If you are right, where do the people go?"
"We're in the process of trying to discover just where you warehouse these poor unfortunate souls that your so-called Confederacy has duped," Marsha asserted, restating her group's beliefs again.
Philip decided to call her bluff. He sub-vocally made a quick request. "I will show you, if you, Ellen and Albert will accompany me."
"Colonel, are you inviting us up to a ship?" Ellen asked quickly.
"The Aurora-class ship, Kon Tiki, has just arrived in orbit. If your director can arrange it and cut to the next commercial break, extending it about three minutes, we will set up a transporter. I can give you a quick tour of the ship." Philip knew seeing would be believing.
The director signaled Albert to segue to a commercial. When they were no longer broadcasting, the director rushed onto the set. "You can do this?"
"Yes. I have permission." Philip stood and stepped in front of the desk. He paced back and forth a few strides and then turned to the director. "In two minutes a Marine will enter the lobby carrying a large valise. He will need to be escorted directly here."
The commercial break became extended an additional two minutes. A corporal entered with a three-foot-by-three-foot brown valise. Setting it on the floor, he opened it up to reveal a transporter locus. By the time the corporal stood, the center ring was glowing green.
The corporal approached Che, the lead camera operator. He removed a Bic-lighter-sized black box that had a three-inch industry-standard pigtail. "Plug this into your auxiliary jack. I have another one here for input at the studio. Once you're in orbit, you will be thousands of miles beyond your standard broadcast range." He then attached a small three-ring clip around the antenna on Che's headset. "This will keep you connected to your director." The corporal then walked up to the director. He handed him a similar box. "Connect this into your board. I can guarantee full audio and industry standard video."
Philip watched the flunky lead the corporal to the hallway and off the set. The camera operator stood next to the locus.
"Exactly what do I need to do, Colonel?" It was the first time the camera operator looked away from the eyepiece.
"Walk slowly onto the green circle." Philip replied.
Two other camera operators joined the group. One of them set a fixed camera to capture the locus and the area above it. The second camera was taking close-ups of the remote camera operator. Che's fingers were white, showing the power of his grip on the camera. Once the colonel gave the signal, the camera operator took a deep breath, walked onto the locus and disappeared.
"Damn." That audible whisper came from Ellen.
"We've just heard from Che, he is establishing a video link to the studio." The director touched his earpiece. "We're receiving his signal. Che says they are ready and waiting," the director announced. "Please look at the monitors." The image panned the interior transport nexus room of the Kon Tiki, showing that the camera operator was safely aboard the spaceship.
"The question becomes, do you want to follow me or have me follow you?" Philip turned to the three people now standing beside him.
Saving face while doing a good job of hiding his apprehension, Albert spoke for the group. "Colonel, if you will lead the way."
"Just remember to keep moving." Philip turned and winked at the three people. "There will be two naval ratings there as soon as you finish transport. Transporting tends to make me a little dizzy and I can't afford to fall flat on my face on live TV." Philip winked again. Turning, he stepped on the locus and disappeared.