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One for the Aegis

Marcus Vance is a full-time father; part-time writer, line editor, and weapons consultant for TV. You can connect with him on Twitter (@MarcusCVance) where he discusses the writing craft, swords, and bad jokes at length.

"You said the sequel was still in its first draft, right?"
"Yes," I said, nodding.
"Then how could you lose money on it already?"
"I... I bought the cover yesterday."
"That's your worst financial decision ever, Tay," Iris said in a way that reminded me of my mother. "A huge waste, what with that thing here now." She raised a slender olive hand and pointed out the cafe window. We both stared at the hulking alien ship. It landed in the city park a month ago, and hadn't done anything since.
I couldn't meet her gaze, so I looked at the milk swirling in my latte. "You're right. It was an impulse. But the cover just looked so perfect! It had two ships dogfighting over a blue planet. Jade green energy blasts bouncing off hybrid electron shields. It captured everything about the sequel, everything about the big book two war I had foreshadowed in Aegis Sea. I snagged the rights before anyone else."
"Nobody else would have wanted it. Will you even finish writing the book?"
Iris always asked the tough questions.
"I'm not sure. Would anyone want to read sci-fi anymore? Maybe I should drop it and pull out some of my old urban fantasy stuff. People still like vampires, right?"
"You only have one choice left." Iris paused. Dramatically. "Alien erotica."
I spat out my coffee.
"Hear me out," she continued. "If you can put something out quickly--even using those aliens you have in Aegis--it'll sell. Any time some huge thing happens, erotica floods the market. Remember the 2008 election? And this... this is huge. You'll double your sales. Trust me. Besides, your aliens have four arms and two mouths. Who wouldn't want to read some steamy scenes making use of those?"
I wanted to argue, but couldn't. Because she was right, and also because the sound of a military convoy pushing through the street drowned out all thoughts of alien-on-human action.
They parked outside our cafe's window. One of the larger armored vehicles opened and a dozen soldiers spilled out like clowns from a tiny car, clattering clowns armed to the teeth. Behind them, a lone man stepped out. His gear looked newer and cleaner, not nearly as battle-worn as the vigilant soldiers'. He was tall and fit, with deep bronze skin and thundercloud gray hair.
The leader.
He stood in the road and looked around casually like he had all day, then strode into the cafe.
"I'm looking for Taylor Hyde," he announced. "Can anyone point me to him?"
I gripped the table.
Iris chuckled softly and whispered, "Did he just call you a him?"
Soldiers swarmed the place, guns at the ready, shiny boots squealing across the faux wood floor. The barista gulped and caught the leader's eye. I was a regular, so she pointed my way with a shaking finger.
"Excuse me, folks," he said as he walked toward us. "I'm General Foster. Can either of you point me in the direction of Taylor Hyde? The author of this book. It's a matter of national security." He pulled out a copy of my book, Aegis Sea, with its wonderfully crafted cover of a white monolithic spaceship, and placed it on our table.
No sense in lying with all the guns in the building. "Yes. That's me."
The general raised an eyebrow, so I opened the book to the back flap where there was a picture of me. I held it up to my face and struck the same "I'm a fancy professional thinker and philosopher" pose.
"My apologies, Ma'am. Would you please come with me?"
I hadn't done anything wrong, at least nothing worth sending a military general over, so I hesitated. However, his brown eyes were convincing and confident. No wonder he was a general.
"Please. It's a matter of national security." He looked over his shoulder. "Possibly even global security. We need your expertise, and want to hire you as a consultant."
"A job? That would have been a good opening hook."
That was how I ended up in the city park, right next to the gray monolithic alien ship.
I felt like an ant standing beneath a World War 2 aircraft carrier. Both from the sheer immensity of it, and because my little ant brain couldn't even comprehend what it could do.
"Haven't your people analyzed it?" I asked.
"My techs have. Nothing."
"What do you mean 'nothing'? Have you used mass spectrometry or Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy?" I researched analysis methods to figure out the Aegis's sensor system.
"Ma'am, I don't know what those are. But my lab troops did everything. We don't even know what it's made of. And the vessel hasn't sent any signals out at all. However, they did give us this a few hours ago through some form of teleportation." He held up my book.
"We thought they might want to talk to you," General Foster said. "But we don't even know how to tell them you're here. No doorbell."
I looked at the glinting metallic slab in front of me, so much like the Aegis. Without thinking, I reached out to touch it. "This thing is a lot like the ship I wrote about. Maybe it works the same, maybe it's all a door--"
I wasn't there anymore. General Foster wasn't there anymore. The park wasn't there anymore. Instead, I found myself sitting in a large, spartan room. Aside from the stark gray vastness that matched the hull, there was a simple table with two chairs on either side.
Having seen enough cop dramas to recognize an interrogation room, I turned around frantically, looking for a way out.
I tried to get up from the chair, but couldn't. Some invisible force held me. I started to sweat and tremble, and weighed the pros and cons of screaming for help inside an alien ship.
Minutes passed, or maybe hours, before a light erupted. A figure stood behind the other chair, but I couldn't quite see it before my eyes adjusted.
Two arms pulled out the chair, then another arm threw a well-worn copy of my book on the table. A fourth arm scratched at a featureless silver chin.
The thing spoke, its mouth a slit on a smooth head. "So, tell me, Taylor Hyde." The diction was textbook BBC English. Then its head swiveled around like an owl and it spoke with another mouth on the back of its head. "How did you know?"
I had just made first contact and wasn't expecting an inquisition. Eloquence and diplomacy were far from my mind.
It picked up my book and thumbed through its yellowed pages with a three-fingered hand. "Our first scouts found this as we assessed your planet for resources. It is an exact chronicle of our war with the Zi'ga. Complete, even, with our finding your planet. This has led to a certain cult arising that worships Earth, with you like some prophet."
Its face was eerily vacant save for the full pouting lips snarling on either side as it spat out the last word.
It slammed three of its fists against the table. "This is unacceptable! We need Earth's resources to fuel our war! But half of my soldiers have been indoctrinated by this." It hurled Aegis Sea across the room. "How can we beat the Zi'ga without Earth metals? Without human dopamine for our combat drugs?"
Rhetorical questions, right?
The alien paced and it mused to itself with each mouth.
"Why shouldn't I just kill her now? She'd become a martyr to those Hydeians, but I have the strength to squash them. Don't I? I can afford to kill her."
Self-preservation kicked in. "That would be a bad idea," I said grimly (with only a little trembling).
It was facing away from me, I think, but the rear mouth snarled. "How would you know!"
With cold, serpent-like precision, it slid behind my chair. Three-fingered hands gripped me from all sides as it hissed with one mouth close to my ear. "If you are a prophet, then tell me how to win. I've done everything I can think of, what choices do I have left?" It added the last question with desperation.
War and betrayal was what I had planned for the sequel. Betray the humans, only to have Earth gain the upper hand at the end of the trilogy. But I couldn't say that. Would any answer keep us from annihilation?
The alien gripped my shoulders tightly, reaching for an answer.
Wait. Didn't humans produce dopamine when they-
No. Iris couldn't be right. Her dumb joke couldn't be the answer.
But it was worth a shot to save humanity....
"Have you tried kissing?"
"What's 'kissing'?"
The End
This story was first published on Friday, October 23rd, 2020
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