Kyle Dunbar poured the dark, aged rum into a small glass, and when he lifted that glass from the bar, for a moment, he only paused to stare at it. “This is as precious as water now,” he mused, just before taking a swig. Then he turned to his two visitors standing on the far side of his study. “I am sorry. Where are my manners? Can I offer you some?”
Thirteen years in software development and robotics helped to hone the brilliant, young man’s relentless attention to detail, and so, it obviously did not escape his attention that his guests were dressed in finely-tailored business suits, an oddity in times like these, when the whole world seemed to be just getting itself back together.
After looking at the man to his right, the older of the guests, a grey-haired, slender black gentleman, declined Kyle’s offer. “That won’t be necessary. Thank you.”
“That’s just as well, Mr. Mouton. I don’t think I was up for sharing, anyway, with only two bottles left in my cabinet.” Kyle paused to take a sip. “You know, of all the things from the old world, I think I am going to miss this the most—this rum. I heard that Puerto Rico never got hit, though, so maybe the distillery that makes it is okay. But it just might be years before we can get it here, in the States, again.” Then he took a longer look at the glass before taking another sip. “Have you had a drink since everything happened?”
The grey-haired gentleman smiled. Though he was becoming impatient, he was too courteous to give his host any indication of that. “Well, Kyle, I did not drink before The Arrival. I guess I never had much of a craving for alcohol.”
“Right. Your addiction was business,” Kyle joked.
“Ha! It is business."
“It is, huh?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Well, let me ask you: how is that going right now?”
“I think that will be partly contingent on the results of this discussion.” Following a gesture from his host, Philip decided to join Kyle in taking a seat. “Kyle, help me understand something. Is this drinking a problem for you?”
Kyle Dunbar’s work ethic may have made him an obsessive worker in the lab, but outside of it, the thirty-one-year-old came across as far too laidback, preferring videogames over people and casual conversations over anything serious. Unfortunately for him, Philip Mouton was not cut from the same cloth. Kyle knew that things were about to get heavy in a minute. Consequently, he downed the last of his rum, and decided to answer the question. “No, it’s not, but I’ll be honest. Since those sons of bitches came down and everything turned to shit, it’s been helping me deal. Sometimes, I don’t know what to think anymore, you know, because nothing is the same. Nothing, at all. So it’s just easier to deal this way.”
“Would you be willing to put it down?” Philip asked.
His host put aside the glass, and nodded affirmatively.
Philip was pleased. “Good. We will need your best effort to do what we’ve got to do.”
“’What we’ve got to do’, huh?” Kyle sighed. He got up from his seat, and walked over to the third gentleman in the room, from whom he readily accepted a tablet PC. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen one of these.” Kyle started reading and scrolling through the pages. “This is a very complicated manifesto, Mr. Mouton. What makes you think that this will work? What makes you think the government hasn’t already got things figured out?”
“What government, Kyle? Have you been outside since the…Well, I mean, really outside? What could they possibly have figured out?” Philip asked, sitting back in his seat, and speaking calmly. “Kyle, there is a hole in the Earth where Washington, DC, used to be. New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Houston are all in ruins, as well. Our military is nearly gone after all of these months of fighting. And millions are dead, here, in our country and around the world. I have heard horror stories about what’s happening in Europe...”
“Yeah, I heard the same things. Very sad.” Kyle returned to his seat with the tablet PC in hand.
“When we thought we won this war, people celebrated. Humanity would live to see another day, they said. Sadly, though, reality is cruel, and it is beginning to set in. Winning the war was a Pyrrhic victory, and we are about to lose the peace.” Philip went on in an analytical manner. “The country’s infrastructure is wrecked. There are food riots everywhere, from San Diego to Chicago. People are migrating by the thousands to Texas, convinced that our new seat of government will help to lead the way. Unfortunately, we have no real leadership. Our new President, George Harper—he is quite compromised.”
“Compromised? I do not understand,” Kyle replied.
“He will not save us, Kyle,” Philip explained. “That I am even speaking to you about this attests to the fact that there are certain individuals very close to the President who are also concerned and ready to act.”
The young man sighed, as his hope for the world faded. “I want another drink now.” He shook his head in disgust. “Where were you when The Arrival happened?”
“I was standing in the middle of a sugarcane field in Louisiana. It was just a quiet day with my grandson. I had no idea about any of it until we walked back to the house. That’s where I saw the news about strange ships showing up everywhere.”
“So you were not near the cities when the fighting began?”
“No, we were safe in bayou country.”
“I was at our facility near Chicago Midway. We were working on a new low-orbit surveillance drone. It was going to be a big deal. Then we got word of New York and DC, and we saw them coming in over the South Side. It was incredible---dozens of them. I never saw anything like it. And then they sat there for four days.”
“You must have left immediately.”
“No, at first, many of us were too fascinated to run. Perhaps, ‘too stupid’ is a better description. My parents were begging me to leave, and then I got word that our CEO was killed when the exodus from Manhattan turned into chaos. By then, I was convinced that the same shit was going to happen in Chicago.” Kyle lowered his head, while secretly acknowledging that he failed to mention anything about being highly intoxicated over those four days. “I remember when the first ship touched down in that park in Beijing. To see those things walk out—I did not know what to think. It was surreal.”
Philip nodded in agreement. “Of all the people to attempt to engage, I never would have thought the Chinese would have been humanity’s emissaries.”
“Maybe that’s the reason diplomacy broke down so quickly. After all, it was an hour before the Chinese fired on their ships first, right?” Kyle recalled.
“I’d like to believe that diplomacy wasn’t ever an option with those beings. The Chinese must have learned something about their intentions for coming here. Maybe the first strike was a signal to the rest of us.” Philip said.
Kyle returned to the document on the tablet PC. “Humanity just spent the last two years fighting off one set of world-conquering monsters from God knows where. What makes you think that they’ll sit back and let another group try to conquer them?”
“You must have misread the dossier, Kyle. We are not talking about world domination. Far from it, in fact. After all, who would want to rule this world at this dark time, in this ruined condition?” Philip replied.
“Then if you are not talking about world domination, what are you talking about?”
“Are you serious?”
“But you can’t…”
“Yes, Kyle, I can. We can, and we must.”
“Why must we do anything? I don’t understand that.”
Philip grinned and shook his head. After a glance to his quiet companion, he patiently elaborated. “We must, because without us, young man, we will lose the peace. Our world will collapse on itself, and more dangerous forces than those I’ve designed will arise to exploit this crisis.” He stood up. “Kyle, you may be young, but I am under no illusion that you don’t understand what’s about to happen in this country and around this world. The raw fear will transform into something else, something from which we will be unable to return. Right now, we have an opportunity to prevent that.”
“And make a profit while doing so?” Kyle laughed. He, too, rose from his own seat.
“Kyle consider this: what will happen if the innovative and most brilliant among us don’t take the time to act now? What will happen if the beings who came here are only the first wave of some invading force? Given the threats we face, here, on the ground and from the stars, it is clear that this is the time for action.” Philip saw that his host was sincerely pondering his words. “Our nation needs rebuilding, and in the wake of this war, we are left with an abundance of new technologies that can help us do that. All we have to do is harness it. Kyle, that’s where your brilliant mind comes in. You will help us rebuild this country in a way we could not imagine, making us a leader again, and your work will help us to not just touch the stars but build an army that can permanently protect us there.”
“So the summation is this: a nation rebuilt with alien technology, a private army in space—and all of it orchestrated by the Mouton Group, and all of it to create the greatest wealth grab in history. Did I miss anything?” Kyle handed the tablet PC to Philip.
Philip nodded respectfully. “I don’t hide from my motives.” He put his hand on Kyle’s shoulder. “None of that discounts the challenges we face, and none of it reduces the country’s need for your help. Please consider my offer.”
At first, Kyle did not say a word. He only looked down. “I don’t know how much I can help to rebuild anything if we cannot keep the power on.”
“Will you consider it?” Philip asked.
“Yes, sir,” the young technologist acquiesced, “I will consider it.”
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