Bill Kowaleski, Brighter Than the Stars
Brighter Than the Stars
Date: March 20, 2015
Length: 292 pp.
ASIN : B00V17L9PG
Nigel Thacker, a surgically-altered Eridanean, has been exiled to Earth for a serious crime on his home planet. McDermott does not know yet that Nigel is not human. Meanwhile Jerry Landis, Keyshawn, and Elka are on Cygnus Prime to learn about fusion generation, but a group of political extremists, Green Band, has kidnapped Keyshawn and are holding him until the Cygnians kick all predator species off of their planet. Nigel is worried that Dr. Landis, who knows Nigel is an Eridanean, will blow his cover to McDermott.
“I’ve finally heard from Dr. Landis.” Nigel sat at the opulent oak desk in his oil company office, morning sun peeking through vertical blinds he had lowered with a flip of a switch minutes before. Located high in the Hancock building and occupying a suite of rooms electronically insulated from surveillance, it was really a secured safe-house for the Eridanean Earth operation. The east-facing windows provided stunning views of Lake Michigan, but their real purpose was excellent line-of-sight communication to the Eridanean’s invisible communication and transport satellite that hung above the wintry Chicago sky in geostationary orbit.
On the dark brown leather sofa opposite Nigel, Jason Wise sprawled in his usual slouchy way, sinking deep into the cushions. Sirians were experts at disguise and blending in, and Jason’s disguise hid his slight, alien body masterfully. His kind were usually content to quietly introduce new, not too disruptive technologies on Earth and earn dollars, yen, pounds, and euros that they used to buy things that wealthy Sirians coveted, things like fine wines, glass sculptures, and especially woods. Oak was particularly valuable — as valuable on their planet as natural diamonds were on Earth. But the characteristic that most distinguished the Sirians within the League of 51 was their intense, uninhibited sensuality. Sirians believed in immediate and frequent gratification of sexual urges and had no patience with prudish cultures. All but a very few of the other League members found Sirian sexual behavior at least shocking, dangerous and illegal at worst. For Jason, Earth’s variable moral climate was a challenge, a game he played expertly, almost always getting what he wanted.
“I imagine Landis is still a little upset about who you really are?” Jason asked.
“Oh, yes. He doesn’t want to deal with me at all. I think the Cygnians have him convinced that we Eridaneans are some advanced form of evil. But he’s willing to report in if I cc everything to McDermott.”
“He’s going to contradict your story about their being abducted.”
“I already thought of that. If he does, we’re going to say that he must be under some kind of mind control, or maybe they decided they like it there, or Stockholm syndrome, or some such explanation. At any rate, that’s a minor point. The important thing now is to slow down the introduction of the fusion generators. I got some data from the Eridanean Council and Galaxy Fusion Generation has quite an extensive line, from generators that could power a large city, to ones that could fit in a laptop. Really quite impressive. Humans will love them, and they’ll put every energy company and a host of supporting businesses into bankruptcy in a matter of two or three years if they flood those things in here.”
The Sirian was silent for a minute and then smiled. “Creative destruction.”
“Oh, don’t talk about that pseudo-scientific economics-babble that certain political factions here are always dredging up!”
“No, seriously, you’re not thinking about the upside of this. Wouldn’t this create all kinds of new possibilities? Free of the need for fossil fuels, energy incredibly inexpensive and non-polluting, what’s not to love about that? Couldn’t that open up a whole new world of businesses and opportunities?”
“Yes, granted, but with enormous upheaval, and lots of losers before the winners emerge. Our mission here is to promote stability so that the Earth can responsibly join the League of Fifty-One — I suppose it would become the League of Fifty-Two. We can’t have mass chaos, and possibly attempts to use altverse tunnels to invade other planets once they start doing business with the League. Peace and stability are absolute prerequisites for League membership. The damned Cygnians are so naïve, they just don’t understand the implications of what they’re doing. If only I could get them to have a civil conversation with me.”
“Not likely, based on what we know about them. Sirian society long ago learned how to manipulate their narrow-minded obsession with quotas to our advantage, but I’m not so sure the Earth will be ready for their blunderbuss approach to commerce.”
“And don’t forget the political upheaval that the public announcement of alien contact will generate. We need to manage that also. There’ll be a lot of people who will fight to the death to keep those fusion generators out. Others will want to keep the Cygnians from coming to Earth, or to harm them once they’re here. There’ll be some kind of anti-alien movement. We could get swept up in that, possibly exposed. Where would I go if I lost my Earth mission?”
“Ah, it gets personal, doesn’t it? You’re a dead man on your home planet, aren’t you?”
“Yes, if I go back, the death sentence must be carried out. I can’t go anywhere else because I’m surgically altered, and you can only have that done once. I’m stuck here. This is my home. My life depends on this plan working. So let’s cut the chatter about creative destruction and get going.”
Jason pulled himself to a sitting position. “OK, to work then, even though my nature is laziness and hedonism. The Council told me that you would only assign me tasks, that the overall plan was secret, so what are my tasks, Mein Herr?”
“Why in heavens name were you assigned to this if you’re a lazy hedonist?”
“Because I’m a really competent, smart, lazy hedonist. I think you’ll find that I meet your high standards.”
“Time will tell.” Nigel stood, pushed back his large leather desk chair, and paced. “Your first assignment is one of information management. You will first visit the two known generator locations and determine how best to secure them. They are already being watched by the US and UK governments, but I don’t trust either agency that’s conducting the surveillance. You will need to do a thorough risk analysis and determine what additional controls to avoid any disclosure might be needed. Remember that the Cygnians may have initially wanted to keep the furnaces secret, but now, their plan is probably to let the knowledge of their existence leak out, to become viral, to build anticipation and demand for their product. They are master marketers, and I don’t doubt that this is what they’re up to.
“The second part of your assignment is to monitor all communication to and from Cygnus Prime. That means the emails from the students and Dr. Landis. Watch them closely and suppress anything that hints at the existence of Sirians and Eridaneans. Landis’s emails are going to be cc’d directly to McDermott, but I don’t think he will expose me. It would ruin his credibility. However, you can intercept the students’ emails, so if there’s anything you see that’s even remotely suggestive of the Cygnian’s or our existence, show it to me immediately. We may have to edit those things out. Any questions?”
“May I ask what you will be doing while I’m doing all of that?”
“I’ll be working the government side. We’ve got to mobilize immediately at the first sign of any information leak or reappearance of the Cygnians. We also need to be on the lookout for a possible return of Landis and the students. They MUST be debriefed before they re-enter human society. There’s a lot more, but that’s all I can tell you.”
“OK, Nigel, I’ve got to be straight up with you here. I am thinking that we are being asked to do the impossible. How can we really suppress this much longer? There’s no way we can really know where those Cygnians are going to pop up next. They could be giving a product demonstration on Michigan Avenue right this minute for all we know!”
“I’m working that. We’re preparing official press releases, explanations, and so forth. As I said, I can’t tell you anything more.”
Jason stood up. Again, Nigel was impressed with how young he looked. The disguise was truly outstanding. He had to ask. “Jason, your disguise makes you look like a young movie star. You hardly inspire confidence in me. Please reassure me by telling me just a little more about yourself, like your age, experience, and so forth.”
“I really should have done that a long time ago. I am two hundred and forty-seven Earth years old, or in the prime of life by Sirian standards. I have the Earth equivalent of doctorates in the fields of nuclear physics, mathematics, and earth biology. I’ve been implanted with enhancements and protection systems that make me essentially immortal and invincible on this planet, and I am a senior officer in Sirian intelligence. Other than that, I’m pretty ordinary.”
“Tell me your real name, the one you use on your home planet.”
“My, that sounds a lot like the name of an ancient Egyptian,” Nigel mused.
“Yes,” Inkohatum agreed. “And there are very complete video records of Sirian contacts with primitive humans over several hundreds of thousands of years. It is likely that we influenced some Earth languages, and possibly more.”
“Continue, I’m intrigued.”
“Some say we interbred with humans or an even earlier species.”
“Astounding! But then Sirians are known to be very similar to humans physically. You mentioned that you are quite the hedonist. Does your hedonism include, you know, sexual aspects?”
Jason laughed; a strange, not-quite-human bark that startled Nigel. “What a question from that most prudish of all races, the Eridaneans! I’ll bet you’ve never even used your surgically created and perfectly functional sexual equipment on this planet. But I can assure you that I’ve used my equipment and continue to do so as often as I can. These disguises work well for me. I can be a dashing male or a ravishing female according to my preferences that day. It’s a good life here. I’m enjoying just about every minute of it.”
“I have equipment but no desire. Humans are really quite disgusting to us, you know, quite the opposite of your species’ tastes. I could take hormones to increase desire, but I never have. Maybe I should. It gets so lonely and boring here at times.” Nigel sighed and waved his hand dismissively. “But really, it’s nothing I can’t deal with.”
“You should enjoy this extra time given to you by the good graces of the Eridanean court system. If you change your mind, I could transform you into a guy that really gets the ladies’ attention. Just give me the word.”
Nigel said nothing more. He turned his attention to his desk, making it clear that the meeting was over. Jason stopped at the door and asked, “Do you have a particular risk assessment checklist you’d like me to use, or should I use our standard one?”
“I’m sure the standard one will be most adequate. Now please leave me, I need to get some work done.”
As the door closed, Nigel sank heavily into his chair, deeply depressed, almost insanely jealous of the Sirian, and wondering whether he should accept his offer.
Copyright © 2020 by Bill Kowaleski