Outside, Nora raised her head quickly. Her arms were still wrapped around her knees as she tried to put things in their place in her head. With the benefit of hindsight this tragedy seemed inevitable - how did we let this happen? Her phone rang and it was Tommy’s mother, she answered it in a daze. It was basically no update at all, Conor was happy playing with Tommy and no need to worry about him. “Thanks” was the only appropriate answer, she only hoped he hadn’t been watching the telly. Nora ended the call and went back to her review. Tommy’s mother must have thought she was bit rude, but she needed to try and make sense of this. She thought about all the events chronologically and how she and her son were actually in mortal danger at each stage that they were in close contact. She thought about that first day and how all walked together and how they sat around in awkward silence in a circle. She castigated herself for not acting on warning signals, she knew how she felt but fell into the same sense of security that everyone else had.
Realising it was a futile task, she pulled herself up and shuffled towards her car. Head down, she barely noticed her shoulder brushing a man as she went past him. He turned sharply with quizzical annoyance.
Nora got into her car, turned the key and trundled off into countryside evening.
* * *
“Ok, JJ. What is it you have to tell me?”
“Not here” was his brief reply, “follow me”.
JJ walked along the corridor of offices which still contained some dignitaries. But most of them had drained out of the side doors in their various entourages with dark thoughts circling in their heads. Certainly not the kind of thoughts that the Taoiseach or Frank wanted them to leave with.
JJ pulled Frank into one of the empty rooms. Frank saw JJ’s laptop on the table.
“You’ll need to sit down” was JJ’s first words in the last minute or two. Frank nodded and pulled out a chair. JJ pulled out a USB stick from his inner suit pocket and before inserting it into the laptop he got up and closed and locked the door. This had the effect of making Frank nervous.
“What’s going on JJ?”
“Just take a look at this Frank” then JJ stuck the USB into the laptop and he opened a file on the screen. JJ swivelled the laptop around so that Frank could read it’s contents.
As Frank read through the stolen document slowly his face changed and blood drained out of him. He raised his now grey face to JJ, “It says here the military classified the safety of the Alien as ‘unknown’. With no response from JJ, Frank continued; “It says here that the threat from the Alien has yet to be determined and the internal recommendation is to keep the public away from it. This also says that the government asked them for three scenarios which needed to be drawn out. Each scenario has an increasing amount of exposure to the public with the counterbalancing effect of increasing revenue.”
Frank’s was confused: “I’m in the fucking government JJ - I didn't ask for these scenarios to be drawn up! Who asked for this?”
JJ could only shrug, “Someone above you I think”
“Fucking assholes. They knew what they were doing and I was the one who was gonna get the blame or the glory. But it would be shared glory, no? And blame eh? Blame is always borne alone.”
“I’m here aren’t I?” said JJ.
“Yea, but that won’t help my future. And anyway I got one big question for you JJ. Why the fuck didn’t you tell me this?”
JJ hesitated “I… I couldn’t. I could see how much this meant to you, I wasn’t gonna ruin all that. I thought, if today passed off ok then we would find a way around it, you know? It would've broken your heart Frank”
Frank slumped back in his chair. He could throttle JJ right now, but deep down he knew it was his own fault. If he hadn’t been so blind and so needy, JJ wouldn’t have acted like this.
Right now, he needed validation. Nora had taken him down so expertly, that she had shattered any husk of self worth that was left in him at that moment. He needed to show her this and try to redeem some of his dignity and integrity. He needed to show her that they were both fooled, he wasn’t such a bad guy! If he could convince this one person he could convince the Taoiseach, the public.
He barely knew her, but his scrambled mind was desperate. Nora was now the magnet in his moral compass.
“Where’s Nora again?”
JJ answered, confused by the direction Frank was taking “Emm, out the front door the best I could tell. Why?”
Frank stood up, “I just need to talk to her.”
Frank burst out of the double doors at the front of the building. He didn’t care if he was recognised or that he was wanted to discuss a classified document.
“Nora!” He looked around at the miserable faces.
* * *
The Burren was a quiet scene in the dwindling sunlight. The serenity was shattered by a 15 year old Corolla revving into view as Nora drove towards Conor in a dream like state. Then Nora stamped on the brakes.
She looked out the side window at the hills in the middle distance. A glow of light was emanating from one hill. Nora knew that caves were common in those hills.
Nora remembered the day they sat around in awkward silence in a circle on the ground. She remembered the Alien looking off into the middle distance. Gripping the steering wheel tightly she took off in a new direction.
She turned the key and cruised to a stop near a clump of rocks. She quietly opened her door and stood with one foot on the ground, one in the footwell. Her car door felt like a knight’s shield.
“It’s probably nothing” she said to nobody.
Her adventurous steak and simmering anger would not let her drive away now. She shut the door and clambered closer to the mouth of the cave. The opening could not be seen easily from the ground due to it’s angle, only a local would know that it was a cave. Slowly she crept up to the opening itself and tip toed into the cavern, her eyes as wide as they had ever been in her life. As she made her way round the bend in the cave wall the scene slowly unfolded in from of her.
She could see the Alien standing there. He was sightly hunched over a tablet-like device which seemed to be making status noises and beeps. The device was placed on a rock in front of him at about hip height, that is - if it had a hip to speak of. He seemed to be talking or motioning to it; some sort of communication device maybe, she thought. It had a dent in the side of it. Nora assumed it had been in the crashed ship.
Now that her eyes were used to the cave light she let them wander the expanse of the the cavern. She then noticed other devices placed around the floor and some were even installed into the rock walls. She had no idea what they were for exactly, but there was no way that he had done all of this work just now.
Anger boiled over into action as she forgot herself. She emerged from her hiding place and defiantly walked into the middle of the space in front of her.
“You’ve been here before!” She called out.
The Alien stopped his fidgeting and became unnaturally still. She strode forward now, no point in turning back.
“I knew I’d find you here!” She called.
The alien did not move.
“What is all this stuff for? What are you planning?”
The Alien dropped the slim tool it had in it’s hand and turned to face her. It took a step forward and was only a few feet away now.
Nora didn’t know what to do next, she opened her mouth to talk but stopped when she noticed something.
The Alien tapped something on his arm and then a rotary graphic appeared in the lower corner of his eye. With a combination of arm muscle flexes, pulses up the side of it’s neck and slight changes in eye colour - the dial seemed to turn and stopped on a symbol.
Then the alien slid open a grill on his lapel.
«W.o.man…». «Hooman», it corrected itself «Human Wo-man».
Nora could understand the words, but didn’t know how she did so. The sounds were not of a voice box, but more a series of strategic clicks combined with air passing over a comb or a semi-inflated bag pipe.
“Who….. who are you?” Nora ventured.
«Deziknay …. Designation is Unpronounceable using this method»
“Well, if you won’t tell me your name, tell me why you are here?”
Before Nora could be answered a noise came though the communicator on the rock table, it also came across like breathy clicks and echoed easily throughout the cavern.
The alien started to make a gesture over screen’s device but stopped to turn his face towards Nora. Instead of completing the motion he tapped the screen and pressed two of its side buttons before sliding his claw along the top of the screen.
He then stood up straight and waited for the message again. The distant alien repeated itself through the communicator - Nora could tell this, because the clicks arrived at the same cadence as before and the sentence was the same length, but this time words formed part of the noise.
«Have you completed the assessment yet?»
The Alien, still facing Nora, rested its hand on the reply button on the device. It clicked.
«The assessment is complete»
The disembodied voice returned, encouraged by the reply, «Is the level of effort greater or lesser than the estimated valuation?»
«The populace are greedy, divided but energetic. They are of median physical strength and have a level-two order of intelligence. There are precious minerals in abundance below the surface and a generous supply of water. The organics are carbon based and could be utilised as either workers or potential energy»
Nora felt defensive listening to this cold assessment. She also noticed how the speech program was evidently self-learning, as each word uttered vastly improved the subtleties of the previous ones.
«The likely resistance, while pregnable, would eat away at any gains from local extraction. Project secrecy at this point is highly desirable. I recommend a remote syncing and extraction. The lower yields are still calculated to be higher than if we engaged the humanoids locally»
“You can’t do this!” Nora pleaded. “We have built up this world, this civilisation, for thousands of years. You’d be wiping us out, we could not survive on a desolate planet.”
The other voice returned «Recommendation?»
Nora was panicking now, “We are not as advanced as you. But maybe we are more advanced in certain ways. Have you no heart? Have you no morality?
«Recommendation? Do we execute the remote extraction plan?»
Nora’s face was flush “Look into my eyes, is there not some connection on even a basic level? Can you not see other people’s perspectives? Can you not see that we….”
The Alien, in less than a second, has extended his sharp clawed hand and thrust the sharp point into Nora’s chest. Her mouthed open wide with shock and breathlessness, the only noise she could make was a tiny guttural exhalation. There was no indication that the Alien wanted to ponder the moment. He pulled the clawed appendage out just as fast and Nora slumped to the ground lifeless.
«Execute the plan» it replied into the communicator.
The Alien closed the thin cover over his device and tidied up the bits and pieces it had brought into the cave earlier that evening. It methodically walked over to each of the installed monitors and panels that were installed into the rock face and placed a small tracker device on each one. The tracker devices would be used to pin-point the stream that extracted the equipment spread through that cave.
With his work done the alien walked towards the entrance of the and took one last look to make sure nothing was left behind. In a matter of hours the Earth would be stripped of all perceived valuable assets. The Alien looked at his activity co-ordinator on this forearm and daydreamed what the next assignment would be.
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