Sunday, December 26, 2021

Free Read! BLOB, Part 1


The story of BLOB has been percolating in the back of my mind for many years.  For most of my life, I’ve been concerned about the human race becoming too dependent on technology, as well as the long-term impact of artificial intelligence (AI).  When the pandemic struck, it gave us all a harsh preview of what our lives would be like being confined to our homes and living a totally online existence.  This, in conjunction with dire warnings about unbridled AI development from Elon Musk and other notable technology pioneers, told me it was time to sit down and bring BLOB to life.

Like my last book, I’m writing this one in parts and publishing it on my website, free, as I go, as well as part of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited offering.  Shortly after it’s finished, I will publish it on all the other retail websites, as well as my online bookstore.

Each part will be a 60-90 minute read.  I don't know how many parts there will be yet - probably around five.

Note:  Each part is a 60 to 90 minute read.  Genre:  light science fiction/romance similar to #TheTwilightZone

I hope you enjoy the story!


When the world receives its first visit from an extraterrestrial, it’s a life-changing event for Dr. Aurora Manotti, a beautiful Stanford astrobiologist, as well as everyone else.  The urgent message he brings to the human race is even more shocking than his unexpected arrival:  

“You must stop all development of machine intelligence immediately, or face dire consequences.” 

The alien, who calls himself “Blob” and speaks through a human-looking avatar, claims that his home planet has become totally dominated by machines and everyone lives in abject misery.  He says that if we don’t stop the development of artificial intelligence (AI) right now, we will be doomed to the same fate.

This bleak warning quickly spreads around the world.  Chaos ensues.  Blob quickly becomes a hero for the common people. Massive protests take place demanding that all AI development be made illegal.  But large technology firms rail against it.  The military says without AI, the Earth will be more vulnerable to attack, and they question the alien’s story and his motives.

Aurora  is caught in the middle of the conflict, desperately trying to find a compromise.  She develops feelings for the alien, in his attractive humanoid form. 

The situation soon turns dark. A faction from the AI business community and the military launch a clandestine mission to silence Blob at all costs.

Ultimately, Aurora faces the most difficult challenge in her life.  Can she somehow save the alien, who she’s grown to love, without destroying the entire human race?

Chapter 1

On Tuesday, September 22nd, at exactly 11:22 Greenwich Mean Time, a text message suddenly appeared on every cellphone in the world, as well as every device with a digital screen.

A guava farmer in India received it on his old, mud-smeared Nokia.

The Prime Minister of Australia received it on his government-issued, secure sat-phone.

A two-year old boy in Oslo, Norway received it on an electronic toy he was playing with on his parent’s living room floor.

A well known Brazilian soccer player received it on his TV game console at his office.

An engineer at a recording studio in LA received it on his console computer.

The text message itself was grammatically perfect, composed in the local language and dialect.  Devices displaying the message were completely frozen for a couple of minutes, and then the message disappeared, leaving the device unaffected.

Well over three billion people on the planet read the words in that fateful moment, with the vast majority of them staring at their screens with disbelief.

Chapter 2

Stanford, California

When Dr. Aurora Manotti’s phone received the message, she was in the middle of teaching her Astronomy II class.

This morning’s topic was the mathematics of black holes. 

“So,” she said, indicating a point on the current slide behind her, “the event horizon is defined by the Schwarzschild Radius.  For a static black hole…”  She hesitated, glancing out at the students.

They were all looking at their cellphones, whispering to each other.

She loudly cleared her throat, but nobody paid her any attention.  

With annoyance, she said,  “Are we going to have to adopt a high school policy and forbid you to bring your phones to class?”

Incredibly, not one of her students looked up at her—they were completely taken with whatever was on their phone screens.

“What the hell is going on?” she said.

“We all got the same message, ” a girl on the front row finally explained.  “It’s really strange.”  She turned her phone towards Aurora.

I am an intelligent being from a distant galaxy.  I will arrive on your planet at exactly 06:00 GMT, one week from today. I am traveling alone. My spacecraft will land on the roof of the United Nations Building in New York City, the United States of America. I will address the General Assembly shortly thereafter.  I have urgent information that every member of the human race must hear.  I implore all world leaders to be there, in person, and to pay close attention to what I have to say. Do not fear, for I come with only the warmest intentions and the highest regard for your civilization.

Aurora smiled. “Okay, very funny, guys.”  She was considered one of the world’s leading experts on extraterrestrial life—aliens, in other words.  Which was itself ironic, since not a single alien had ever been proven to exist.  Her students often teased her about this fact, and she figured the text message was their idea of a good joke.

After laughing it off, she moved back to the podium, prepared to continue her lecture, but then she noticed that the same text message was on her phone, too, which was sitting on the podium. 

Then she noticed something else that was odd.  There wasn’t a sound in the building—it was as if all the other professors had stopped lecturing, too.  

Aurora glanced towards the far window, behind the last row of students. It afforded a clear view of Campus Drive, which was usually quite busy at this hour.

The four-lane road was completely devoid of traffic.

Aurora stepped down the aisle to the window and put her forehead up against the glass, so she could look up and down the street. 

A half dozen cars were pulled over to the shoulder of the road.  Several drivers were standing outside their vehicles, staring at their phones or looking as if they were trying to call someone.  One man appeared to have swerved his car onto the sidewalk and leaped out, the door wide open—he was staring at the automobile as if he thought a dangerous creature had materialized in the back seat.

“Is it okay if I leave class?” one of the female students asked nervously.

“Me, too,” another one said.

“Over this?” she said, exasperatedly.  “It’s just some hacker playing a hoax.”

“I need to go home, Dr. Manotti,” another one said nervously.

There was no dissuading them—all the students began quickly packing up their backpacks and heading towards the door.

In less than a minute, Aurora found herself standing alone in an empty classroom.

Chapter 3

How can people smart enough to be studying at Stanford University be so freaked out over a stupid prank like this? Aurora thought.

She had just stepped out of the front door of the building.  People were running across the lawn in all directions.

So much for classes today, she thought.

Nearby, there was one girl walking along slowly, her eyes glued to a TV station on her tablet, with a bright red BREAKING NEWS box along the top of the screen.  “At this time,” the announcer was saying, “we’re not sure what’s happening.  Reports are coming in that the text message was not only received all over the United States, but all over the world.”

For the first time, Aurora began to panic.  Not about the text message, which she was sure was a hoax, but for the safety of her own children. Monica was in the first grade, at one school, Lillian was in pre-school, at another, in a different location.

Aurora began moving faster, headed towards her car, with people now sprinting past her, looking anxious and distracted.  A few cars sped down Campus Drive, the traffic starting to pick up—it seemed there was a mass exodus from campus.

She pulled out her phone and called the pre-school, but nothing happened—there were only clicking noises.  She tried several times and had the same result.

“They shut down the phone network,” a male student gasped.  He was holding his cellphone in his hand, staring up at the sky.

After her third attempt, she realized the local telephone networks, and perhaps even the Internet, were simply overloaded.

I’ve got to get my children, she thought, her heart beginning to pound.

She broke into a trot towards her car.

Chapter 4

One hectic, nerve-wracking hour later, Aurora had both her girls safely inside her SUV. Now they were heading towards their home in Palo Alto.

All around them, people were driving erratically, running traffic lights, speeding, and rolling over sidewalks to pass other vehicles.

This is crazy, Aurora thought angrily.  All this panic over a

“Why did we leave school early?” Monica said.

Aurora glanced at her daughter through the rearview mirror. She had two extra mirrors attached to the windshield so she could keep an eye on both kids while driving.

“They just decided to close schools a little earlier than usual, honey, that’s all.”

“But why?”

“I…it’s hard to explain.”

“Jason said aliens are coming.”

“Jason doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  It was just a hacker, honey.”

“What’s a hacker?”

Lillian, who was three, started kicking her feet against her carseat.  “Haaaack-er, haaaacker, haaaacker.”  She repeated everything anyone said.

How do you explain a hacker to a five-year old? Aurora thought. “A hacker is a person who’s good with computers and plays pranks on people.  You know what a prank is, right?”

“Of course,” Monica said.  “Like on Halloween.”

“Halloweeeen,” Lillian sang, “trickle-treat, trickle-treat…”

“So what prank did the hacker do?” Monica asked.

“Oh…he sent a silly message about an alien coming to Earth. But no ‘aliens’ are coming here, believe me.  It was just a joke.  He probably thought it would be funny, but some people got scared.”

“Are you scared, Mommy?”

“No, of course not.”  

Monica nodded, looking reassured.  She was aware that her mother knew a thing or two about aliens. 

But Aurora wasn’t sure she knew anything at all, to be honest.  Being an expert on aliens was like being an expert on Bigfoot.

“When they do come,” Monica said, “will they have three heads?  Jason says they’ll have three heads.”

“They won’t have any heads, or any other body parts, because no aliens are coming. Period.”

Her phone started ringing.

When she glanced at the screen, she saw that it was Brandon, her ex-husband. She felt a flare of anger in her gut.

She took the call in hands-free mode.  

“Are you alright?” he said.

“Of course I’m all right—why wouldn’t I be?”

“I’ve been trying to call you ever since that stupid message was sent out—the lines have been swamped.” He paused.  “I assume you picked the kids up from school?”

“Yes, I did,” she said, gritting her teeth.  “And I took them to school, too, this morning.”

“Oh.  That was this morning…? I thought it was—”

“Yes, this morning!” Aurora struggled to control her temper.  “I had a conference scheduled with two grad students and I had to cancel because of you.”

“I’m sorry, Aurora. I’ve been covered up at work, and now this ‘alien’ craziness.  Those goddam Russian hackers…”

This piqued her interest.  “Is that what they’re saying on the news?  It’s Russian hackers?”

“Who has time to watch the news? That’s my theory.  The factory floor is almost empty now—everyone went home in a panic.”  Brandon was running an automotive startup with a long-term plan of manufacturing driverless vehicles.  “Anyway, I’m happy to take the girls to school tomorrow morning—I won’t forget.  I promise.”

“Fine.  If they’re open.”

“Why wouldn’t they be open?  For god’s sake, surely this nonsense will be over by tomorrow…”

They were passing a supermarket, where Aurora saw two women rolling shopping carts overflowing with packages of toilet paper.

Aurora shook her head.  What did they think, that the aliens were going to give them diarrhea?  

“Aurora?  Are you there?”

“Yes.  See you in the morning. Hopefully.”  She cut the call.

She could feel a bad headache coming on.

Chapter 5

Aurora and the kids lived in a spectacular mansion in Woodside, only a fifteen-minute drive from the Stanford University Campus. The luxurious Neoclassical home was perched on a mountainside with unobstructed views all the way to the San Francisco Bay. Set on eight acres of landscaped, park-like grounds, it had a pool, entertainment room, outdoor kitchens, tennis court, and even a small vineyard.

Of course, on her professor’s salary, Aurora could never afford such a home.  Brandon had bought it after his company received its third round of venture capital, the year it reached coveted ‘unicorn’ status, which was a startup worth more than one billion dollars.  Brandon’s vision was to create the first ‘driverless version of Uber.’  Using your phone app, you would summon a self-driving taxi that would arrive at your home in minutes ‘almost like a magic carpet’ and take you anywhere you wanted.  To emphasize the magic carpet analogy, he called the company Solomon, in reference to the legendary king who owned such a carpet.  

Soon after Lillian was born, Brandon moved out and bought himself a plush condominium close to Solomon’s headquarters, where he spent every waking moment.  Brandon was the proverbial man married to his business.  Aurora had come to find out—far too late—that he was no more interested in spending time with his family, or helping her with the kids, than tending a vegetable garden or collecting stamps.  

Brandon Dekker was out to conquer the world.

Chapter 6

As soon as Aurora unloaded the kids from the car, she put Lillian to bed for her afternoon nap, closing the shades in the kids’ bedroom. Brandon had designed the entire house as a “smart home,” with room music, lighting, temperature, door locks, etc. that could be operated automatically and with voice commands. But after he moved out, she switched the system to manual mode and did everything herself.  A lot of the fancy gadgetry never worked right. Even when it did, it made Aurora feel lazy.

Monica immediately occupied herself watching children’s videos on a tablet computer that Brandon had given her, so Aurora decided to take a long, hot shower.  Then, she would nap for a while beside Monica until Lillian woke up from hers.  Aurora’s headache had gotten worse. Sometimes a nap would make one go away.

She left the bathroom door open as she undressed so she could keep an eye on Monica.  Aurora was a striking woman, with a supple figure, brown eyes with long eyelashes, and luxurious chestnut hair, which she often wore in a thick braid.  She knew that among the students at Stanford, she—Professor Manotti—was also known as “Hottie Manotti.” Rather than being annoyed by it, Aurora had reached the age where she was more concerned about when it would stop.

Her feminine good looks were deceiving for some people—Aurora had an incisive mind, and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. She had earned degrees in physics, anthropology, and astrobiology, from Stanford, Oxford, and MIT, respectively. All her studies had been completed under academic scholarships.  She had been the youngest person to ever chair the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project, a position she had held for three years.

There was a small TV in the bathroom. After her shower, she turned it on with the volume low, so that Monica couldn’t hear it.

The news stations were filled with nonstop coverage of the mysterious ‘message.’  Non-news was a better description.  After five minutes of watching, it was clear that nobody had any real idea who had sent the message out or how it managed to appear all over the world, on billions of phones, at exactly the same time.  In the US, there had been thousands of traffic accidents due to ‘panic driving,’ including a few fatalities. Everyone was being urged to ‘stay calm,’ that there was absolutely no reason to be alarmed. It was most probably an elaborate hoax.

Chapter 7

“Mommy,” Monica said, gently shaking her.

“What?” Aurora said, suddenly raising her head from her pillow.

“Somebody’s ringing the doorbell.”

Aurora glanced at the clock on the nightstand—it was two-fifteen p.m. She had only been asleep for about twenty-five minutes.

She rose from the bed and slid open a wall panel that revealed the security center—there were, of course, dozens of CCTV cameras scattered around the property.

Two men in suits were visible outside the front gate.  

They looked like cops.

Oh no, Aurora thought anxiously.  Something’s happened to my mother.  Stephanie Manotti was a retired high school physics teacher and lived in a small apartment in downtown Palo Alto.  With all the crazy driving going on, she might have been hurt in a traffic accident.

On the security monitor, one of the men extended his arm to ring the bell again.

Aurora cleared her throat, braced herself for bad news, and pressed the TALK button.  “Can I help you?”

The man glanced up at the camera.  “Doctor Aurora Manotti?”

“Yes?” she said, her heart thudding.

“We need to speak with you.  We’re with the Central Intelligence Agency.”  He raised his other hand and held a CIA ID up to the camera lens so she could read it.

Aurora’s emotions shifted from fear to confusion.  “I don’t understand—what’s this about?”

“We need to speak with you, please.  It’s urgent.”

She couldn’t be sure they were with the CIA or not.  This house was isolated, up here in the woods, and she had two small children to protect.

She pushed the TALK button again.  “I’ll come out to the gate.”

Aurora slipped on some loafers and made her way through the huge house, carrying her phone with her, ready to call 911 if necessary. Monica followed along, asking her who was outside.

“It’s some men from the government,” she said.  

“What’s the gov-or-ment?”

Aurora was too preoccupied to answer.  

When she opened the front door, Monica said, “I’m coming with you.”

“No you’re not,” Aurora said firmly.  “You’re going to stand right here by the front door.  Okay?”

“No, Mommy—”

“I’ll leave it open, like this, and you can see me.  Okay?”

Monica sighed.  “Okay.”

Aurora walked the short distance to the gate, peering warily at the two men through the bars.  

“What exactly is this about?” she said, coming to a stop a safe distance away.

“It’s about the message we all received today,” the taller one said.  “You’re needed at the White House immediately.”

Aurora was stunned.  “The White House?”

“The President is putting together a team of experts to look into this matter, and you’re on it.”

Aurora stared at them with disbelief, and then let out something between a gasp and a chuckle.  “They’re actually taking this seriously?”

Neither man smiled.  “You need to pack your things—plan to be gone for a few days.  We’ll take you to the airport. A private jet is waiting for you.”

Aurora felt dizzy. This did not seem real—she half-wondered if she was still lying on the bed, dreaming.

She motioned over her shoulder to her daughter, who was still standing at the door, one foot on top of the other, looking spooked.  “I have two children to take care of.”

“Monica and Lillian can stay at your mother’s until you get back.”

Aurora recoiled.  These men know my kids’ names?

Chapter 8

Two hours later, Aurora was sitting aboard a US Government private jet, reading through a set of papers she had to sign. Her security clearance was being upgraded to Top Secret.  When she was doing her PhD research at MIT, she had been granted permission to study some US Air Force statistical data about UFOs that was classified, and she had been required to get a low-level clearance.

When she signed the papers and handed them back to the man who was doing all the talking, Agent Evans, he said, “Per this agreement, you’re not to discuss anything about this assignment with anyone, ever, and that includes your family. And Mister Dekker, of course.”

So they know my ex-husband’s name, too.  This wasn’t surprising, since they drove over to her mother’s apartment  ahead of her, without even asking where the woman lived.

Aurora sat there in the jet’s plush leather seat for a minute, sipping a glass of water she had asked for. “Can you tell me what they know so far?  I’m assuming they must have some reason to believe that the message was not just a hoax—”

“I’m not in the loop, ma’am. I’m just here to transport you safely to DC.”

Everything was happening so fast.  “Well, can you tell me who else is on the team?”

“That I can do.” He opened his briefcase, pulled out a piece of paper, and handed it to her.

There were five people on the list, total, all professors from prestigious American universities: electronic engineering, linguistics, psychology, sociology, and herself, with her specialty listed as astronomy/astrobiology. 

“And when will we all be meeting together?” she asked, handing the paper back to him.

“Hopefully at eight o’clock this evening, if we can get everyone there by then.  You’ll all be meeting in the Situation Room, with the National Security Council.”

Chapter 9

Washington, DC

Aurora had only been to the White House once, on a tour when she visited Washington in the seventh grade.

Needless to say, she was intimidated when she was ushered by a Secret Service agent into the West Wing of the sprawling, ultra-secure complex and down into the basement. She’d been served a sandwich on the jet, and it had not digested well.  At least her headache was gone.

When she entered the Situation Room, the President was not yet there, but some of the NSC members were already seated.  She recognized them from television. The Secretaries of State, Homeland Security, Defense, Energy, Treasury, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the Attorney General, and the Vice President. 

She actually knew the Vice President, Meghan Sharpe, in a roundabout way.  Meghan’s youngest daughter had gone to college with Brandon at UC Berkeley, before Brandon dropped out to launch his first startup.  Aurora had only met the tall redhead once, at a party, who had said, “Oh, you're the one who studies little green men,” in a condescending tone.  Politically, Vice President Sharpe had made it clear that she thought any and all space exploration was a total waste of time and money.  

Aurora couldn’t stand her.

The NSC members all sat around the near end, closest to the President’s seat at the head of the long, polished table. There were name cards to indicate everyone’s places. One of the big TV screens on the wall was tuned to CNN, but the volume was turned off.  News coverage seemed to be nothing but speculation about the origin of the mysterious message, and repeated calls by leaders all over the world for the general public to remain calm.

From their facial expressions and body language, Aurora sensed that some of the people in the Situation Room thought the message was absolute malarkey. But others looked concerned, as if they took it at least half-seriously.

Aurora sat down at her assigned place, next to the Defense Secretary. He gave her a cordial nod and moved his chair a little to give her more space.  He was a big man, with a leathery face and a gruff demeanor—he looked out of place in a business suit. A five-star general, he had spent forty years serving in the Army.

It was hard for Aurora to believe she had been invited here, to a meeting with the most powerful people in the country.  While it was true that she was an expert on extraterrestrial life, so were a lot of other experts on the subject, people who had far more credibility than she did. 

A few years ago, Aurora had made a serious career mistake. When she and Brandon had decided to divorce, things were very bad between them for a while. She was afraid that living on her own, she would not be able to support the kids and her mother.  So in a panic, she had quickly knocked out a mass market book called Probed: Is the Human Race Being Secretly Studied by Extraterrestrials? The book was based on a collection of unexplained break-ins that occurred in large libraries, television news archives, and other facilities all over the world, facilities that stored massive amounts of historical information.  The break-ins took place regularly from 1940 through the 1990s, stopping about the time the Internet blossomed, as if no longer necessary.

Probed was snapped up by a large publishing house and became an overnight bestseller.  It rocketed Aurora onto the national TV talk show circuit for a few months and brought in a ton of money.  But it had also almost gotten her fired from Stanford. The theory put forth in the book was based on anecdotal evidence and squarely landed her in “tin foil hat” territory, according to the higher-ups at the university. Her biggest mistake was the final chapter.  Based on a few “eye witness” accounts, she speculated that the break-ins might have been performed by highly advanced robots that were delivered by spacecraft which arrived and departed without detection. 

The career storm had eventually blown over, but it had hurt her credibility as a scientist, long-term, in more conservative circles.

Which was why being invited here made no sense to her.  Especially with Meghan Sharpe being the VP.

* * *

The other professors were ushered into the Situation Room one by one, and then the President of the United States finally entered.  

His face looked haggard to Aurora, but maybe it was because she had never seen him in person before, only on TV with lots of makeup.

He sat down at the head of the table, greeting everyone.  An aide stepped in briefly and set a file folder in front of him.  

“Thank you so much for joining us at such short notice,” he said to the professors.  He opened his file folder. “I’ll give a fast briefing of where we are now.  Firstly, I’ve spent much of the afternoon talking to the leaders of China, Russia, as well as the UK and many of our larger allies.  To put it bluntly—nobody seems to know what the hell is going on.  There’s the usual finger-pointing. China says Russia is behind it. Russia says we’re behind it.  We think China might be behind it, officially.  But unofficially—” he sighed “—we don’t know a frickin’ thing.”

No one in the room seemed surprised.

The President folded his hands on the table and glanced around at all the faces.  “Our task is to figure out if this message is real. Until we know that, I can’t proceed—I have no idea what to say to the media. I’ve been fighting them off all day, but I can’t hold out much longer.”

He paused and nodded to the DNI.  “Do you have anything new to report on the origin of this message?”

“I’m afraid not, Mister President.  Our people still can’t figure out where it originated, or how it appeared on billions of phones and other electronic devices at exactly the same time.”

The President gazed down the table at the MIT electronics professor. “Have your people come up with anything?”

The bald-headed academic adjusted his glasses.  “So far, no.  Frankly that kind of text messaging seems impossible—”

Meghan Sharpe laughed in a cutting way.  “It’s hardly impossible, professor.  It happened.  What are you telling us, that it was magic?”

“Not at all.  What I was about to say, Madame Vice President—if you would have let me finish—is that it’s impossible with today’s technology.  As Arthur C. Clarke put it, ‘Magic is just science that we don't understand yet.’”

“Well,” Meghan, scoffed, “I don’t see how anybody can take this seriously.”  She glanced at a paper in front of her and read part of the text message aloud.  “‘Do not fear, for I come only with the warmest intentions and the highest regard for your civilization.’ Is that what an alien would say?  It sounds like some stuffy member of the British Parliament speaking.”

“How do you think aliens would sound?” Aurora said, almost on impulse.  

Everyone around the table turned to look at her.

Meghan shot her a sharp glance.  “You tell me, Dr. Manotti. How do they sound when you talk to them?”

Aurora winced at this.  There was an awkward silence in the room.  She should have kept her mouth shut.

“Well, I have strong reason to believe it’s not a hoax,” a female voice broke in. 

It was the linguistics professor. 

Everyone looked down the table at her.

“As I told the President earlier today, the text message was composed in hundreds of different languages, including the smallest, regional and local dialects.  My whole department has been analyzing this message, nonstop, ever since it arrived, communicating with our counterparts all over the world.  From what we can gather, every single message received anywhere on Earth was grammatically and stylistically perfect.  Which means these messages weren’t just mechanically translated into all these different languages and dialects from one base language.  Each variant was composed, from scratch, so that they would all have exactly the same meaning and tone.”

The linguist glanced at the VP.  “For example, Madam Vice President, that ‘stuffy British Parliament member’ feel you were referring to, is perfectly carried through in every dialect, using exactly the right words and phrases to convey it.”  

The linguist paused, glancing around the table, concerned.  “Putting a message like that together in all those languages and tiny dialects is a gargantuan task, folks. It could be done with artificial intelligence, theoretically, but AI isn’t even close to that yet.  There are almost seven thousand languages in the world. Even for a couple of paragraphs, we’re talking thousands of man-hours by workers with a deep knowledge of languages from every corner of the planet.”

“I agree with that,” the DCI said.  “Our linguistic experts are telling me the same thing.  What hacker, or even group of hackers, would have those kind of resources at hand, and would go to such an extreme, just for a hoax?  I can only imagine that the government of a fairly large country could pull it off.  But what purpose would it serve?”  

He pointed to the TV set, which was now showing huge traffic jams in Russia and empty shelves of a supermarket in Moscow.  “The Russians would never do something so stupid—they would know it would blow up in their own faces.”

“Our analysis implies something more significant about this situation,” the linguist went on. “I believe that whoever composed this message is deeply knowledgeable about our civilization, cultures, behavior patterns, and so on.”  She glanced around the table.  “If—and I emphasize if—it was composed by an alien, it’s my opinion that said alien would need to have studied us extensively, probably over a long period of time.”

The President, and some of the others, looked at Aurora.

Now she understood why she had been called here.

Chapter 10

The meeting came to an end a few minutes after the linguist spoke—everyone was tired and further discussion seemed fruitless. They all agreed to meet at eight o’clock the following morning, with the big task being what to do about the supposed ‘landing’ that would take place at the UN Headquarters later in the day.  The message had given the time as 18:00 GMT, which converted to one o’clock in the afternoon, New York City time.

Aurora and the other professors were put up in a five-star hotel only a few blocks from the White House.

As she settled into the plush hotel room, the entire spectacle seemed so unreal.  Despite what the linguist had said, now that she had gotten away from the Situation Room and the White House, and back to the normal world, she was sure that it would all turn out to be a hoax.

Aurora called her mother and talked to Monica for a couple of minutes, and had a ‘conversation’ of sorts with Lillian.  Stephanie Manotti was sharp enough to understand why her daughter had been called to Washington and knew better than to ask any questions.

The same could not be said for Brandon.

He had called her phone about ten times since he’d found out, from her mother, that she had been called to Washington, DC “on business” and, via voicemail messages, demanded to know more.

When she was about to crawl into the hotel bed, while she was connecting her phone to its charger, he called again.

She decided to answer—she had to talk to him sooner or later.

“Well, hallelujah,” Brandon said.  “Haven’t you been getting my messages?”  From his voice, she could tell he more than a little irked.

“I’ve been getting them, Brandon, but I’ve been too busy to talk.”


“Well what?”

“What the hell is going on?  The only thing I can think of is that they called you to DC because of this ridiculous hoax.”

“I can’t talk about why I’m here.”

There was a long silence.  “You’re kidding me…”

“No, I’m serious.  I have a security clearance.”

“I have a security clearance, too—have you forgotten?” Brandon had a clearance for some government AI technology that he had gotten permission to use in his self-driving cars.

“Well, your clearance isn’t as high as mine—I was ‘upgraded’ yesterday.  Anyway, I was told specifically not to discuss it with you. Or my mother.  Or anyone.”  She was sure the NSA or CIA was already monitoring her phone calls and may have even bugged the hotel room.

“Jesus Christ,” Brandon muttered. “They are taking this seriously.”

Aurora just sat on the edge of the bed, picking at lint on the fluffy hotel bathrobe she was wearing.  She could almost see him gritting his teeth on the other end of the line.  Brandon could not stand anyone having power over him, or access to information that he couldn’t access himself.

She half-expected him to angrily hang up, but he said, “Okay, you’re not going to say anything.  Fine.”  He paused.  “Did your mother tell you they cancelled both the kids’ school tomorrow?”


“You know why?” he cackled.  “Everybody is planning on watching the alien’s speech on TV.”  

Aurora had to laugh, too.  It really was unimaginable.

Chapter 11

Aurora was awakened the next morning by the alarm on her phone, and then a moment later, by a wake-up call from Reception.

After showering, getting dressed and having a quick breakfast in the hotel dining room, two Secret Service SUVs picked her up, along with the other professors. They were shuttled over to the White House for their meeting with the NSC.

When Aurora entered the Situation Room, the same seating cards were set around the table as in last night’s meeting. But this time there was a large envelope in front of each place, with each attendee’s name on it and a TOP SECRET/EYES ONLY seal.

After only two or three minutes, everyone was seated and the President entered the room.

“There has been a development since our meeting last night,” he said, as he sat down at the head of the table.  Aurora thought he looked even more haggard than he had yesterday.  “Open your envelopes, please.”

With a feeling of trepidation, Aurora tore open the seal on hers.  She found a single printout inside.

“This text message was received last night by about a thousand people,” the President explained.  “The United Nations officers and the delegates from each of the one hundred and ninety-three Member States.

Aurora was already reading it:

When I arrive tomorrow, you need not worry about your safety, or the safety of those present. There is no need for personal protection equipment. My spacecraft is hermetically sealed and will remain so during my visit. Also, its outer surface is made of a material that eliminates any microbes that might be carried in from my planet or outer space. 

I will give my speech to the citizens of Earth, from the rostrum of the United Nations General Assembly Hall, using virtual projection technology which is beyond your scope of understanding. There will be no physical contact between me and your people.  

I know that the United Nations is currently in session and that my visit will interrupt your important General Assembly meeting.  I apologize for this in advance. I promise not to take up more than one hour of your time. I will speak for approximately forty-five minutes and then have a brief Q&A session, which I can moderate myself. 

Also, a little more technical information about my spacecraft: the vehicle is small enough to safely land on the UN helipad. It’s fully-loaded weighed is well within the structural limits of the platform and roof, which I have studied.

Thank you for accommodating me on such short notice. I sincerely hope what I have to say is worth the interruption.

I look forward to my visit to your amazing planet! 

The Situation Room was silent as everyone finished reading the missive.

“Well, he’s certainly a very polite extraterrestrial,” the Secretary of State quipped.

“Very well bred,” the AG said.  “Good alien genes.”

The Defense Secretary loudly scoffed, “This is obviously a hoax.” He read from the printout “‘… using virtual projection technology which is beyond your scope of understanding.’ Ha! It’s a bunch of technical trickery.  First the text messages on the phones, and then a drone that’ll land on the UN roof, and then a holographic projection of some ‘alien’ speaking to the general assembly.”  He paused.  “Impressive trickery, I’ll give you that.  But nothing more than smoke and mirrors.”

“I agree,” the Secretary of State said.

“Me, too,” the Energy Director said.

“Well,” the President said, “the auditorium has been thoroughly searched, and no unusual equipment was found.”

The President peered at the professors, waiting for additional reactions.

The Defense Secretary only grunted.

After a long silence, the linguistics professor said, “I’m still not convinced it’s a hoax.”  She glanced at the Defense Secretary.  “I see your point, if you look at everything one way, but if you look at it another way, this could all be real.”

“How so?” the President asked.

“Granted, this message is polite and respectful. And very thorough—everything has been well thought out, well planned.” She motioned to the President. “Isn’t this exactly the kind of letter you would send if you were traveling, say, to a foreign country, uninvited, to deliver important information?”

He considered this.  “Yes, I suppose it is.”  He looked around the table.  “Anyone else?”

“I don’t know,” the psychology professor muttered, looking uneasy as he glanced back at the printout.  “I have to say I’m getting a strange feeling about it.”

Aurora was, too.  It was either the biggest hoax that had ever been pulled off by the human race, or the biggest thing that would ever happen to the human race. Right now, the TV on the wall was showing video of immense crowds already gathering around the United Nations Headquarters.  More than half a million people had flooded onto Manhattan Island since last night. It was impossible to get anywhere near the UN Headquarters right now. And the rest of the country—and the world—was practically shut down, waiting for the earth-shaking event to take place at one o’clock this afternoon.

The President gazed at Aurora for a few seconds, and she fought the urge to fidget in her chair.

“Doctor Manotti,” he said, “Would you mind summarizing the premise put forth in your book?  I haven’t had the pleasure of reading it.”

Meghan rolled her eyes.

Aurora had figured this would come sooner or later, and she was prepared.  “Well, there have been a number of break-ins at various historical archives around the world which show a similar pattern, and—”

“What pattern?”

She shrugged.  “Always late at night, nothing taken, nothing disturbed, no evidence of a break-in.”

“Then how do they know any break-ins even took place?”

“The electronic security systems were mysteriously disabled for about an hour, all at the same time of night, between three and four a.m., local time.  All the CCTV recordings were nothing but blank screens during that interval.  The individual archive management always chalked it up to a glitch.”  She paused and said, “I wasn’t the first person to put this together.”

“No, there were other tin-foil hatters who beat you to it,” Meghan said.

Aurora ignored this.

“There were no actual sightings of any kind?” the DNI asked Aurora.

Here we go, Aurora thought, but plunged ahead.  “Yes, there were a few sightings, and the descriptions were similar.  At the National Music Archive in Moscow, for example—”

Music archive?” the President asked, surprised.

“Correct.  That facility specializes in classical music, the largest such music archive in the world.  The break-ins were at all kinds of different storage facilities—art, music, cultural history, science, languages…”

“Interesting.  Go on.”

“Well, there were only a few eye-witnesses.  They all reported seeing an orb, or sphere, a foot or so in diameter.  They say it seemed ‘almost invisible’ at times and floated quickly down corridors, just above the floor.  It also generated a loud ‘hum’ or vibration when it passed.”  Aurora paused.  “I should say that these witnesses were not very credible.”

“That’s an understatement,” Meghan said.  “Wasn’t one a janitor who was a drunk and a known UFO fanatic?”

“Yes, that’s true,” Aurora said, determined not to let the obnoxious woman get under her skin. 

Most of the others around the table looked more than a little skeptical.

The President said, “Thank you, Doctor Manotti.”   

* * *

The TV monitor caught everyone’s attention.   Now there was a story about how the mainstream media was selling the most expensive advertisements in history—five times the price of Super Bowl ads—to run during the globally-televised ‘Alien’s Speech’ this afternoon.

“Unbelievable,” the Secretary of State muttered.

“I can’t fathom how nutty people are acting about this,” the DNI said.  “It’s insane.”

The President watched the TV for a few seconds, and then said to the group, “Regardless of our personal opinions about this, I think it would be prudent to suspend disbelief for a few minutes and assume that this situation is real, for planning purposes.”

“Must we?” Meghan sighed.

“I think that’s a good idea,” the Secretary of Energy said.

“I agree,” the DNI said.  “Be prepared for all possibilities.”

“Good,” the President said.  “What I would like for us to do is try to imagine what this ‘visitor’ would travel all this way to tell us.”  The President paused and glanced around.  “Any ideas?”

The room was quiet for a moment.  Nobody seemed confident about speaking first, perhaps because it would make them look like ‘believers.’

“Well,” the Energy czar finally said, “the most obvious thing would be a warning for us to stop polluting our planet.”

“That was the first thing that came to my mind as well,” the President said.  There were some nods from the others.  “What else?”

“A warning to stop fighting among nations?” the Secretary of State said.  “To bring all military conflict to an end?”

“Maybe to fully eliminate nuclear weapons?” the AG suggested.  “Or all nuclear technology?” 

There was another moment of silence, and Aurora mustered up her courage to speak. She had already made a fool of herself, so she figured things couldn’t get any worse.  “I have a few ideas.  Three, actually.”

The President nodded.  “Great—let’s hear them.”

“First, this traveler could be coming to give us a heads-up about some catastrophic cosmic event, like a comet hitting the earth, for example.  The threat could be a long time off, something that we could prepare ourselves for, or even avert.”

The President nodded.  “That’s intriguing.”

A few of the others nodded. 

“Hadn’t thought of that angle,” the psychology professor admitted.

Encouraged, Aurora continued.  “Second, it could be an invitation.  Maybe to join some sort of intergalactic government, or an allegiance against a common foe. That would explain the desire to communicate through the United Nations.”  She paused.  “Or, it could be an invitation to trade goods or resources.”

The Defense Secretary grunted, giving her a derisive glance.  “You want to talk about ‘invitations’?  How about ‘Roll over and play dead, Earthlings—we’re taking over your goddam planet.’  He motioned to the President. “I say the moment we detect any unidentified object entering the upper atmosphere after twelve noon today, we take it out with a tactical nuke.  At high altitude, the blowback will be minimum.”

There were some shocked looks around the table.

“That’s a lovely welcome greeting,” the Secretary of State said.  

“Well, you all sit around here assuming the best intentions.  It’s my job to expect the worst. If it does turn out to be a real alien, which I simply cannot believe, the creature could be traveling all this way because they’ve got their eye on our planet—they’ve ruined their own, or overpopulated it, or stripped it of all its natural resources.”

Aurora saw an opportunity.

“I agree with you,” she said, gazing evenly at the Defense Secretary.  

He looked taken aback.  

“It would be naive of us to assume an extraterrestrial would travel such a staggering distance for only altruistic purposes. It could be a different kind of invitation—the kind that can’t be refused.  Such as ‘Hey folks, there’s a new sheriff in town, and it’s me.”

The President narrowed his eyes.  “What do you mean?”

“Annexation of our whole planet.  Installing a dictator who tells you and all the other leaders what to do.  Could be automated, a robotic overlord, so to speak. We could pay ‘taxes’ in the form of resources they need—precious metals, food, and so on.”

The President sighed.  “If that’s what’s about to happen, God help us.”

Chapter 12

After spending a few more minutes discussing possibilities, the group’s attention was called back to the TV monitor. The news was reporting that now, even the boroughs of New York City were becoming impassible.  It was as if Jesus Christ himself was about to make an appearance. In fact, the TV had been showing large crowds of  people carrying signs that said IT’S THE SECOND COMING! and THE RAPTURE IS UPON US!

“Are any actual world leaders coming to listen to this supposed speech today?” the Secretary of State asked the President.  “Or will it only be the official UN delegates…?”

“No way are any world leaders coming,” the President said, chuckling.  “First, all of them, including me, consider it too dangerous.  If a bomb or some other weapon were set off there, thousands could be killed.”  

“Absolutely,” the Defense Director said, nodding. “Can’t take any chances.”

“On top of that, the general consensus is that it is an elaborate hoax.  Period.   Even if it wasn’t dangerous to go to the UN today, no world leader wants to scramble overseas to New York only to be humiliated by a hoax.”

“Are you sending anyone from this group?” Aurora asked.

The President raised an eyebrow.  “Are you volunteering?”

With a smile, she said, “Yes I am.  I’d like to be on the roof for the ‘landing,’ too, in the unlikely event that it takes place.”

“Me, too,” the Defense Secretary said.  “With a bazooka.”

Everybody laughed.

“Of course we’ve had people from Homeland at the UN ever since the first message was received,” the President said. “Now we’ve got heavy military firepower up on that roof for what I hope is an underwhelming non-event. Despite what the second message said, all will be wearing HAZMAT suits.”

There was some chuckles, and the President glanced around the table.  “Seriously, though, if anybody else wants to go, we can get you past all the crowds in a chopper.”

Everyone was quiet.  Aurora got the impression that even though most of them believed it was a harmless hoax, they weren’t sure enough to take any risks.

“Oh, hell, I’ll go to the ‘landing,’” the Defense Director said.  “With your permission, of course, Mister President.”

“Fine with me.”

“I want to go, too,” Meghan piped in, gazing at Aurora warily, as if she thought Aurora might be in on the ‘scam.’

That’s all I need, Aurora thought.  She was sure the VP wanted the pleasure of laughing in her face when no alien showed up.

* * *

Three hours later, Aurora was aboard a government helicopter flying across the Hudson River, heading towards the UN building.

An awe-inspiring view of Manhattan was visible out the side window, skyscrapers all the way to the horizon.   The Vice President and Defense Secretary were sitting adjacent to her, both of them texting on their phones.

The fact that it was a clear, sunny, typical September day made Aurora feel better about what she was doing.  She’d called her mother and the kids before she’d left Washington, “checking in,” but did not mention the fact that she was going to NYC.  She couldn’t have done it if she’d wanted to, due to her security clearance.

She told herself that there was a minimal risk with this, because, as the President had said, the entire UN complex had been put under super-tight security ever since the first text message had been received.  No bomb could have been planted there. She also knew that air traffic was being routed well clear of the area and that fighter jets were circling, ready to intercept any type of aircraft that entered the no-fly zone, including the smallest drone. The helicopter she was aboard now was the only aircraft that had been approved to land there since six a.m. this morning. So she really wasn’t worried about being in physical danger.  Any danger posed by human beings, anyway.

Nevertheless, she was extremely nervous.  She couldn’t decide which she was more afraid of—the whole thing turning out to be a hoax, or an actual alien showing up.

The truth was, in her heart of hearts, Aurora didn’t believe there were any aliens.  The only person she had ever shared this secret with was Brandon, who had recoiled in surprise.  “The world’s expert on aliens doesn’t even believe they exist?”


“Despite the overwhelming mathematical odds to the contrary?”

She shrugged.  “Maybe I’m just too afraid of them to admit it to myself.  Honestly, Brandon, the idea of actually coming face-to-face with a conscious being from a different world, with a much higher intelligence level than our own, is truly terrifying.  To them, we might be little more than insects.”

Chapter 13

New York City

The United Nations complex was located on the East River, on the far side of Midtown Manhattan.  The helipad itself was on top of the thirty-four story of the international organization’s Secretariat Building.

As the helicopter began to descend, Aurora could make out a river of people on every street, the same kind of overflowing crowds that descended upon the city on New Year’s Eve.

When the chopper touched down on the helipad, men in HAZMAT suits, minus the helmets, helped the three of them step down from the aircraft.

The entire roof of the building was packed with soldiers and government technical people, all wearing the protective suits, along with a massive amount of sophisticated data gathering equipment and weaponry.  The gear was arranged in a tight circle around the helipad, with only a few feet of space in between.  A dozen tents had been pitched around the perimeter, up against the railings. 

“T-minus thirty-two minutes,” one of the men said, with a glance up at the blue sky.  “We’ve got to get the three of you suited up.”

Well, Aurora thought, they’re certainly taking it seriously here.

The new arrivals were given UN Visitor’s Passes and led across the roof, through all the equipment and troops, towards the tents. The Defense Secretary was guided over to one tent, and Aurora and Meghan to another.  

Two female soldiers were waiting inside to help both women change into the three-layered HAZMAT suits.

Aurora was glad she was wearing a light pantsuit—Meghan was wearing a skirt and had to take it off before she donned the first layer.  She did nothing but complain.  “It’s pinching my side.” “I feel claustrophobic.”  “These boots are too small…”

When they were both fully dressed in the cumbersome suits, the Defense Director’s voice crackled over the internal speakers. “Can you hear me, Madam Vice President?  Doctor Manotti? I’m suited up.”

“I copy you loud and clear,” Aurora said.

“Too loud,” Meghan snapped.  She turned to one of the soldiers and frowned through the face shield.  “Can’t you turn the volume down a little?”

* * *

A couple of minutes later, the Defense Director, Meghan, and Aurora were standing at the farthest point from the helipad, with the roof railing behind them and all the heavily-armed soldiers and equipment in front of them.

One of the secure Army communication channels had been patched into their speakers, and they could hear chatter as the soldiers checked telemetry equipment as well as devices to test for radiation and other possible biohazards.  A small robot, equipped with probes, was also there for that purpose.

12:55, a large digital clock on a tripod read.

Everyone nervously waited.  

Aurora felt like she was dressed up in some crazy Halloween costume.  It was stuffy inside the outfit, and difficult to move around.  The mid-day sun was beating down on her, and on everyone else.  The air was unusually still today—even up this high, there was only a slight breeze.

Many of the soldiers were gazing up at the clear blue sky, their weapons in their hands.  The telemetry system was now pointed skyward, ready to pick up and track the object.

The minutes ticked by:  12:56…12:57…12:58…

Aurora stood sweating in the uncomfortable suit, the sound of her own breathing in her ears. All the chatter from the speakers had ceased.  

In two short minutes, an alien spacecraft was supposed to descend from the heavens and land right in front of her.

Is this really going to happen? she thought, with disbelief.  She felt as if she were in a theater over on Broadway, filled with an audience waiting for a performance that would never take place.  When the cast didn’t show up, everyone would want their money back.

“Both NORAD and NASA have positive contact with a fast-moving object that just entered the upper atmosphere, seventy-five miles AGL over the mid-Atlantic Ocean,” the army commander’s voice said through the speakers.

The coordinates were read off and the telemetry dish swung around.  

Monitors showed a deep blue, almost black sky.

Aurora couldn’t see anything on the screen, but her heart had started pounding.

It was happening!

“Object velocity, sixteen thousand miles per hour, decelerating.  Current trajectory is for the greater New York City area.” 

There were some cheers from some of the soldiers, but others looked anxious, staring skyward, holding their rifles tighter.

Aurora glanced at Meghan, having to turn her whole body to do so.

The VP stood there with her head tilted back, her mouth open, staring upwards, her chest heaving up and down.  She looked utterly out of place, and as if she sorely regretted her decision to be here.

“Still decelerating…now moving at fourteen thousand miles per hour…”

“It’s coming in way too fast,” someone over the radio said.  “It’ll burn up.”

“Deceleration has stopped at twelve thousand miles per hour.  Current trajectory has narrowed to Manhattan Island.”

“Good lord,” somebody said over the radio, alarmed.  “If it hits this building at that speed…”

Aurora kept gazing up at the sky and saw nothing.  But now the video monitor from the telemetry system showed a shiny dot in the middle of the deep blue background.  It looked like a faint star, shifting around in the frame as the telescopic camera stayed focused on it.

“Object appears to be spherical in shape, around two feet in diameter,” the commander said.

“Two feet?” someone else said over the radio.

Another voice:  “It hasn’t slowed down at all—it’s only four miles up.”

The soldiers had started backing away from the helipad…as if that would do any good.  Aurora knew that if a heavy, basketball-sized object hit at that speed, it would smash right through the helipad, roof and probably half the floors of the building.  The upper stories might even collapse.

“Two miles and still at twelve-k,” the commander said, his voice revealing panic.

Is this a trick? Aurora thought, her throat dry with fear.  Had the Russians or the Chinese set this up, to destroy the United Nations, or was it a terrorist attack…?

“It’s decelerating very rapidly,” the commander said, with some relief.  “Ten-k…seven-k…two-k, eight hundred miles an hour…four hundred…two hundred…my god, the G-forces would have killed anything inside…”

Now it could be seen with the naked eye, a silvery dot against the blue sky, hurtling straight down.  It looked like a shiny balloon or maybe a bright meteor with no tail.

Incredibly, it slowed even more as it hurtled towards the helipad, and then came to a near standstill, perhaps fifty feet in the air, almost hovering.

It was not much larger than a basketball. Aurora was sure of that now.

She blinked a couple of times—it seemed like her eyes were playing tricks on her.  How could that little sphere be a spaceship, unless the alien inside was the size of a mouse?

Of course, that was certainly possible…

The surface of the object was reflective, a perfect, spherical mirror.  Now there was a low hum in her ears, and a steady vibration that she could feel in her body.  

Oh my god, she thought, her heart beating even faster.  It’s very much like the descriptions of the witnesses from the break-ins!

The orb slowly sunk in the air until it was only a few feet above the helipad. 

Every weapon on the roof was aimed at it, the soldiers’ fingers on the triggers.

Ever so gently, the sphere settled onto the concrete.

The humming stopped.

At the same instant, the silvery surface disappeared.  The entire object turned jet-black, and looked as smooth and dense as  marble.

It was exactly like the descriptions from the break-ins, Aurora thought.

“That’s it?” somebody said.

“How large are these creatures?” she heard the Defense Secretary say.  

The orb—the spaceship, if that’s what it was—just sat there, black and dormant.

Some of the soldiers tittered.  The laughter was a result of anxiety, Aurora thought.  But it was also because the scene was so anticlimactic that it was almost comical.  

The laughter was short-lived. The object may have been small, but it was clearly not manmade—anybody could see that.  From a distance, the surface looked as dark and foreboding as a black hole, as if not a single photon was reflected back.

“Sending in robot,” the commander said, breaking the silence.  “The object appears to be perfectly spherical, with a diameter of twenty-five inches, or about sixty-four centimeters.”

The box-like army robot rolled forward towards the sphere, probes extending.  All the soldiers still had their guns aimed at the object, ready to fire.

“No radiation detected,” the commander said.  “Not a trace.”

As the robot slowly rolled towards the object, it stopped with an odd bounce backwards.

The robot rolled forward again and the same thing happened.

“Something’s stopping it,” the commander said.  “Maybe a force field.  So far, no biohazards detected.  Unable to determine surface temperature—it’s not radiating any infrared light.”

One of the HAZMAT-suited soldiers cautiously followed the path of the robot, stepped around it, and then reached out with his gloved hand, but stopped.

“It’s a force field,” he confirmed, withdrawing his hand, and trying again.  “It feels spongy but firm.”

Aurora stood there, flabbergasted.  There was no question about it being of extraterrestrial origin now.

She glanced at Meghan, who was still standing beside her, open-mouthed, with an expression of absolute shock on her face. Aurora wasn’t sure if she had made the connection between the eye-witness descriptions she had scoffed at only a few hours ago in the Situation Room and what she was looking at now, but Aurora figured she probably had.

In fact, everyone else seemed to be in a similarly stunned state.  They just stood there, staring at the small black sphere with trepidation, waiting for something to happen.

Then a thought tore through Aurora’s numbed mind:

The alien said it was going to speak to the General Assembly, remember?  Get your ass down there!

Chapter 14

Aurora stepped into the tent, which was now unoccupied, and tore off the HAZMAT suit as fast as she could.  She knew there was a decontamination process she was supposed to go through, but she didn’t give a damn about that now. 

She tossed all three layers of the suit on the floor, along with the helmet and boots.

When she stepped back out of the tent, everyone was still in the same position they were before. Now, a soldier was standing next to the robot with instrumentation to measure the force field that surrounded the dormant sphere.

Aurora headed to the door to the stairway that led down to the top floor of the building, passing a HAZMAT-suited guard who barely glanced at her. Like everyone else, he was totally captivated by what was happening in front of him, looking scared.

She trotted down the stairs and took the elevator to ground level, then ran as fast as she could out the main door and over to the General Assembly Building.  Every one of the security guards and police officers she passed was glued to their phones, staring at the image of the strange black object that had landed on the roof, watching the soldiers study it and either listening to or reading whatever information the Army was releasing to the public.

Even the guard at the door of the auditorium lobby barely glanced at the UN visitor ID around Aurora’s neck as she entered—he, too, was staring at his cellphone, open-mouthed.

She banged through the nearest set of double-doors and entered the huge General Assembly Hall, stopping to glance around and take it all in.  The space was built in an oval shape, with a raised rostrum in the front, a gigantic UN seal behind it.  On one side wall was an electronic vote tabulation board. Higher up on both sides and the back, just below the ceiling, were tiers of windows which enclosed what she thought were television, photo and interpreters' booths.  All of them were packed.

In the front, high on the wall above the rostrum, was a gigantic TV monitor which showed the activity on the roof of the Secretariat Building next door. The eyes of everyone sitting at the rows and rows of delegate tables were either on the huge monitor, or on their phones.

The delegate tables were laid out in alphabetical order according to country name, with the ‘A’s’ on the front row:  Angola, Armenia, Argentina, Antigua…

The table for the United States was in the very back of the auditorium.

Aurora headed towards the table for Albania. The Secretary of State had pulled some strings and had arranged for the Defense Secretary, the VP, and Aurora to sit there.  The Albanian table was located front row, center, the best seats in the house, so to speak.

When Aurora reached it, she found only two delegates sitting there, with all the other seats around it empty.

Aurora said hello, but the two Albanian delegates didn’t even look at her. A gorilla could have sat down next to them and they wouldn’t have noticed—nothing would take their gazes away from the big TV screen and their phones.

Aurora seated herself beside them and glanced up at the rostrum, and at the raised, unoccupied podium in the center.

That’s where the alien is supposed to speak, she thought.  Is this really going to happen?  

Almost at the same second, there was a blinding flash of light.  A tingle of electricity pulsed through the air.

A few of the delegates screamed.

Suddenly there was some kind of fuzzy form flickering erratically on the rostrum.  

A human form.

Aurora tensed, her fingernails digging into her thighs.  Her first impulse was to run like hell. She was aware of more screams behind her, some of the delegates leaping to their feet, knocking chairs over backwards.

The flickering stopped.

Aurora found herself staring at a man standing at the podium. He looked like an ordinary, middle-aged, flesh-and-blood man—tall, dark-haired, with a neatly trimmed beard. He was dressed in a navy blue suit that seemed to be cut perfectly to his athletic body.  

He shimmered for a second, partially transparent, a flat, 2D image with the UN seal visible through him.  Then he became solid again.

He bent down to the podium microphone. “Sorry about that rough entrance, folks.”  His voice was strong and deep.  “I didn’t mean to scare anyone.  I haven’t quite mastered this projection equipment I brought along yet…”

His image started shimmering again.

He raised one hand in the air, reached out, and seemed to make some kind of adjustment to an invisible control panel in front of him.

His image settled down again, then became three-dimensional and stable.  “Ah, that’s better.”

The crowd in the auditorium was dead silent.  Everyone was flabbergasted, including Aurora.

She had seen this kind of thing in films, but she had to remind herself that this was no movie—it was really happening, right before her eyes.

The man gave a broad smile, his head slowly turning as he gazed out at the stunned crowd.  

“I’ve been looking forward to this for so long,” he said, “and have traveled such a vast distance.  I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to finally meet you in person.”

(End of Part 1)

A new part of this book will be released approximately once per week, as it is written.

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I hope you’re enjoying the story, and thanks for reading!

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