How far would you go to save an enemy from assassination?
CHAPTER 1--ALEX VERIN
NOVEMBER 9th, 2300
ONCE A YEAR, MY SCHOOL REQUIRED US to watch a video of the Hannarian delegation’s first contact with Earth.
Even by 2113 standards, most people initially believed it was a hoax. The aliens appeared too human—producing ‘uncanny valley’ unease at certain camera angles.
It turned out Hannarians were like that in person, too.
Today wasn’t part of an assignment, but my parents had permission to pull me out of school for educational purposes.
“Can I please take a break—get something to drink and stretch my legs a little?” I asked my mom. We were seated in a balcony section overlooking the debate floor. “I promise I’ll be back before the vote.”
“Are you bored already?” She sounded more curious than upset. “You’re not even taking notes this time.”
I sighed and shook my head. “It just bothers me once they start to work each other up now…not sure why…”
My dad’s voice rose as he walked to center of the debate floor and faced Hannaria’s Ambassador. “You insist you want nothing in return, but these scanners could store billions of human medical profiles. Our only assurance that this data won’t later be used against us is your word. I’m sorry, but how stupid do you think we are?”
There was mild applause as Dad returned to his seat. I stood, anticipating Mom giving me permission to go, but then hesitated.
The Ambassador approached Dad’s desk and leaned on it—causing half the files to flicker and disappear from the display. Three photographers and a small hovering camera drone moved in closer.
“If getting this passed through deception was my goal, don’t you think I could have come up with a much better lie?” His eyes flared bright blue, but he released the desk when Dad glared back at him. “It’s tormenting to return here year after year—decade after decade—and watch millions of people needlessly suffer and die. You can overanalyze my motivations, Representative Verin, but it’s as simple as looking up for five seconds and seeing what’s happening outside these walls!”
No one moved or said anything until the Ambassador’s eyes had faded. He noticed me standing petrified in the balcony—smirked as if it amused him—and then returned to his seat.
I shuddered and then looked at Mom.
She nodded toward the exit. “It’s okay. Go on.”
I was careful not to let the large wooden door slam behind me and walked down the hallway. Then I slid down a set of wide polished banisters and entered a break room used by the maintenance personnel and security guards.
When I reached the bottom, the room was vacant with the exception of a lanky blond-haired kid at one of the tables. He glanced up at me and then went back to what sounded like a game on his handheld DMR. What caught my attention was the device was either a prototype or a knock-off, considering the latest version wasn’t due to release for another month.
I fed two dollars into a drink machine before I turned around. “Are your parents here for the vote, too?”
“Yep,” he replied, not bothering to look at me.
The machine returned my third dollar before I could select anything. I tried to smooth it out on a corner of the slot, but the machine spat it out again. “Oh, come on!” I pounded the change release button with my fist.
“Do you need another dollar?” the kid asked.
“Sure—if you have one.”
He walked to the machine and waved the back of the DMR in front of the reader. I pushed the button for an energy drink called Brio, and a bottle rattled into the tray below.
“Thanks. Here, you can have this one.” I held out my dollar to him. “It’s kind of wrinkled but still good.”
“Keep it.” He shook his head. “Really, man—don’t worry about it.”
I nodded and shoved the dollar back into my pocket. As I reached to get the bottle, I noticed his account’s remaining balance. It read $39,674.81, panning twice since the machine’s display couldn’t fit it all at once.
“So, what’s your name?” I asked, thinking he had to be a senator’s kid or raiding his college fund. Maybe both.
He held out his hand. “Andrew Wallace.”
“Alex Verin.” His expression turned disgusted when I said my last name. “I take it our parents know each other?”
He nodded but then shrugged. “I don’t think they would approve of us talking, but I won’t tell if you won’t. It’s a free break room.”
I remembered Dad mentioning a senator from Ohio named Mark Wallace who had sided with the Ambassador on the Destiny space station project. “Commerce Alliance?” I asked, knowing that would confirm it, but Andrew shook his head.
“My dad doesn’t even like politics, but he cares enough about Earth to put himself through the motions.” He sat down again but put his DMR in his jacket. “To me, it just seems like a lot of talk and nothing getting done.”
“Same here.” I took a seat two chairs over from him. “My parents keep dragging me to these things—thinking I’ll carry on the fight against the Hannarians. I don’t think we have a chance now. Why even bother when the other guy will have a two-century advantage on me? The Ambassador doesn’t have to outdebate us. He just has to outlive us until he gets what he wants.”
Andrew’s eyebrows furrowed. “Is that why your father doesn’t trust Hannarians—the lifespan difference?”
“No,” I replied, beginning to wonder how much he knew of the actual situation. “He doesn’t trust them because they’re powerful enough to take over Earth. It’s like the vote today. Maybe the Hannarian scanners can detect some diseases that ours can’t, but they could be a step toward invasion—like a Trojan horse. People on your side aren’t thinking about that.”
“I don’t think Hannaria’s government will ever take over Earth.” Andrew walked back to the drink machine again and waved his DMR over the payment reader. “If they did, it would’ve happened a long time ago—trust me.”
I shook my head, trying not to sound frustrated. “How can you be so sure they’re not just tricking us and biding their time?”
He reached down and took his drink. “It was nice meeting you, Alex. I have to go.”
It was then that he smiled for a second—smirked—and my brain pieced together everything at once. By the time I had figured it out, he was almost out the door.
“Hey, wait up!” I ran to catch up to him. “What I said before—I didn’t mean I—”
In mid-sentence, I grabbed his shoulder to get him to stop and found myself whirled around and pinned against the stairwell. The jolt knocked the air out of me.
Andrew held me two feet off the ground with only one arm, his irises burning blue behind black contact lenses. The overall effect made him look more demonic than his father.
I froze. All my brain processed was that I was going to die the next move or breath I took. My heart made up for it—pounding so hard I thought it would shoot out of my chest and take off without the rest of me.
I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable.
CHAPTER TWO—ALEX VERIN
“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?” ANDREW SHOOK me until I opened my eyes again. “Hasn’t Adam taught you anything? If I wasn’t…”
He trailed off in another language, and I realized there was no way I was strong enough to fight him. So, I said the first thing that popped into my head.
“If you kill me, you’ll just prove my dad right.”
Andrew’s eyes dimmed, but he held me against the wall for almost a minute before he seemed to calm down. “Listen to me. Never grab a Hannarian from behind like that again. Do you understand? We can’t sense you like we can each other.”
He dropped me down to eye-level and picked up our drink bottles from the floor. He handed mine back to me. His was now only half-full, and he stood in the puddle it had made.
“I’m s-sorry,” I finally stammered, still afraid to make any sudden moves. “I didn’t know…”
“Just go.” He grabbed a towel off a nearby cleaning cart and placed it over the spill. When I still didn’t leave, he sighed and slowed his tone as if I was a five-year-old. “We have a biological self-defense system. Think glow-in-the-dark adrenaline, only it’s always flowing in a secondary bloodstream. When you grabbed me, you triggered that system. My reaction was involuntary. Do you understand?”
I pointed at the break room. “So you’re not angry? Even after what I said back in there?”
He shook his head. “I can stop myself once I realize what’s going on. As far as pinning you, I didn’t have time to think. My body just reacted.”
I relaxed, but something else didn’t make sense. “My father knows about this?” Andrew nodded. “I’ve asked him why your eyes glow, but all he’s ever told me is it’s a way of telling your emotions—that you’d all be horrible at poker.”
“I guess that’s a half-truth.” He frowned. “Look, I shouldn’t be interfering like this. He’s your dad—I get that, and I know why you think the way you do. I just don’t understand why he neglected to tell you something that could impact your safety—not to mention my family’s safety. That’s all.”
I stared at him, debating on how much I should say. I shouldn’t have been talking to him at all, but part of me wanted to understand.
“I’m not exactly like my father.” I started up the stairs sideways, keeping my attention on him as he followed behind me. “He wants me to be like him, but we’re different. I’m not saying I fully trust you, but I think your father at least seems sincere in what he says. Your emperor and government may be a different story but…”
Andrew was shook his head as if my theory was way off. I had no plans to mention the other main EIP theory—that his father was a spy sent to discover and exploit Earth’s vulnerabilities.
The resemblance between the Ambassador and Andrew was strange, even with knowing they were father and son. After almost two centuries of contact with Earth, the Ambassador still appeared in his early twenties for a human. Minus his contacts and spiked hair, Andrew looked like a younger version of him. I began to wonder if he could be a clone, like maybe Hannaria’s government was growing the same guy over and over again.
“As far as Hannaria’s Council and the Emperor,” Andrew said, snapping me out of the thought, “you’d be surprised just how indifferent they are towards Earth. Why do you think our grand invasion force is about thirty of us visiting every few years?”
He sounded sarcastic, though I now wondered how many Hannarians could be on Earth pretending to be human.
“So if the medical scanners have nothing to do with what Hannaria’s government wants, why is your father pushing them?” I asked. He didn’t answer. “The majority of the time, he just sits and listens as if he’s bored. The only sessions I ever see him try to sway votes involve the Destiny project and the medical scanners. Is it personal?”
Andrew smiled. “You’ve picked up on that faster than most of Earth’s officials, including your father.”
“But why? I get that Destiny will cut your travel time, but I don’t get the medical scanners. What does your father have to gain from them?”
He stopped as we reached the top of the stairs. “I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but Dad cares about the people here.” He took his DMR out of his pocket and glanced at it. “We’d better go. They’re going to vote soon.” He began to walk away down the hall, and I didn’t try to stop him.
“Yeah?” He turned around and continued to walk backwards. His shoes squeaked on the floor.
“What’s your real name?”
“It’s Andrew. I’m named after a human doctor who delivered me. Plus, it’s easier to say than…”
He rattled off something very fast in his language. I walked to the wooden door that led to my family’s balcony.
“Andrew?” I yelled down the hall.
“Yeah?” he replied again, this time sounding annoyed.
I looked to make sure no one else was around. “Tell your father I said good luck—just on this one.”
“Thanks.” He turned the corner. “Sorry for not wishing your father the same!”
When I opened the door to the balcony, the floor was still in recess. Dad was there, leaning against the railing and talking to Mom. He smiled when he saw me.
“Better not let security catch you with that drink in here,” he said and shook his head at me. “I take it you didn’t want to watch your old man in action? You know we don’t pull you out of school to wander the halls all day. You need to be getting something out of this, Alex, or we need to stop.”
Dad was forty-three, but the stress of heading three major sub-committees had made him go gray early. He told people it made debating the Ambassador feel as if he was going up against an eighteen-year-old. Sometimes, this even seemed to work.
“Sorry.” I sat in one of aisle chairs. “If it makes you feel better, I already have the arguments memorized—and I’m learning how to observe the Ambassador’s behavior. I don’t think he has a real pattern to what he tries, though.”
“You might be right.” Dad looked toward the debate floor. “He debates better when he’s frustrated, but I may be able to use that next time.”
To Dad, debates were both a sport and obsession. He studied opponents beyond what they believed and how they voted—their mannerisms, personality, and even the wording they used. Whether it was a natural ability or something I learned from him, I could also pick up things about people if I watched them long enough.
“I thought you’d be back a lot sooner.” Mom turned to look at me. “Where did you go?”
“I ran into Andrew Wallace downstairs in the break room,” I replied as casually as I could. “We talked a little.”
“Funny—he was Andrew Reynolds when I first met him,” Dad said in an amused tone, but Mom seemed upset. “Steph, we can’t keep babying him. Do you realize how much I knew by the time I was his age? Within reason, he needs to know as much as—”
“We need to discuss this,” Mom interrupted. “Maybe if they don’t believe he’s a problem, they’ll leave him alone.”
Dad shook his head. “Alex, what exactly did he say to you?” he asked, but then his alarm beeped before I could answer. “I have to go back down there. We’ll talk when we get home, all right?”
I nodded, and he patted me on the shoulder on his way to the door. I walked down the balcony stairs to a front row of seats. From that angle, I could see almost the entire floor and most of the other balconies. I managed to spot Andrew and a woman who might have been his mother sitting in a balcony closer to the East entrance. She had dark brown hair and physically appeared to be in her twenties like the Ambassador. There were other people surrounding them. I wasn’t sure if they were Hannarian, but they didn’t look like bodyguards.
Down on the floor, the Ambassador was in his chair with a DMR in his hand. I was too far away to see any text, but I recognized from the colors on the display that he was bringing up transport shuttle schedules. I thought this was strange. “Mom, didn’t the Hannarians bring their ship here?”
“I saw it on the way in,” she said. “Why?”
“Just curious,” I said and left it at that, thinking maybe they were having mechanical problems.
The Ambassador was the first to announce his vote, something that was allowed since this was a diplomatic meeting and not an official U.S. House or Senate vote. The way these things worked was the President would be notified of the results and the final details of any agreement would be passed through a second Congressional vote a few weeks later. Though still slow, this seemed to resolve issues faster than in the past.
Other Hannarians were negotiating with countries in the SCAA, Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Australia—but the Ambassador was still present at any major votes. At least on an official basis, no country wanted to be the first to give in on the medical scanners—though rumors of secret deals with more desperate nations were developing.
The representatives voted after the Ambassador. For the first half, it looked as if the deal would pass. The Ambassador put away his DMR and leaned forward in his seat in anticipation. By the time Dad’s turn came, he voted against—creating a deadlock. It was a similar situation with the senators—a near 50-50 split until almost the very end. It came down to three votes.
Knowing what I did, I felt somewhat bad as the Ambassador leaned forward in his seat and hung his head down. On the other side, people shook Dad’s hand and congratulated him.
About a minute later, Dad walked over to the Ambassador, who still had his head resting in his hands.
“Better luck next time,” Dad said in a loud voice.
Then I watched in horror as he slapped the Ambassador on the back—hard.
CHAPTER THREE—ALEX VERIN
I JUMPED OUT OF MY SEAT.
“What’s wrong?” Mom asked, but I had no time to answer.
The Ambassador bolted from being seated to standing two feet behind Dad within a split-second. By the time Dad turned around, however, the Ambassador’s eyes had faded. He said something to Dad and then walked away, meeting two armored bodyguards at the exit door. Dad didn’t move until another representative got his attention to shake his hand.
“I’ll be right back, Mom,” I said. “I’m going down to see Dad.”
She nodded. “Be careful. Let him know I’ll meet you at the car.”
I exited our balcony as several people were filing into the hallway to leave. Instead of going downstairs however, I ran around the corner to where I’d last seen Andrew. I counted to the sixth set of doors that I hoped would get me to their section. I opened the door just as Andrew and his mom were leaving.
“You’re Representative Verin’s son.” Andrew’s mom gave me a confused look. “What are you doing here?”
At that moment, everyone in the section stared at me. Two women wore scarves on their heads, and a frail bald man had a baseball cap on his lap. They weren’t Hannarian. They were human cancer patients and their families. My heart dropped into my stomach.
“Yes, I’m his son,” I replied nervously, “but I just wanted to tell Andrew—tell all of you—that I had nothing to do with what my father just did to the Ambassador down there. It wasn’t right, and I’m sorry if—”
“You must get your integrity from your mother’s side of the family,” a voice said behind me. “Thanks for wishing us luck, by the way. I appreciate that, especially coming from a Verin.”
I knew I had to turn around at some point, but my legs wouldn’t move.
“I-I should go.” I avoided making eye contact with the Ambassador behind me. “If my parents find out I’m even talking to you, I’ll be grounded for the rest of my life—if they even let me live.”
“They’re on the first floor near the parking garage,” he said, apparently able to hear them. “They’re wondering where you are, so you should go. We need to go, too.”
My legs finally cooperated, and I ran up the stairs toward the door.
I forced myself to turn around, and the Ambassador stood next to his wife and Andrew. Instead of his metallic red and blue uniform, he wore jeans, a blue t-shirt, and a black hooded jacket. His hair was spiked, and I had to depend more on their clothes and height to tell him and Andrew apart.
“Yeah?” I felt more confident now that I had one hand on the exit door.
The Ambassador took a couple of steps toward me and forced a smile. “I know your father and grandfather have made me out to be the Bogeyman your whole life, am I right?”
I nodded. “I even had nightmares about you taking over Earth when I was a kid.” I neglected to mention the most recent one had been about a week earlier.
“Well, I’ve had a few of those myself.” He glanced down his hands. “I end up buried alive in notifications just before I wake up. The logistics of being an evil alien dictator are much worse than people imagine. I don’t understand why anyone would want the job.”
I went quiet, caught off-guard. My whole life, the Ambassador had been like an urban legend to my family—a villain so formidable and intelligent that it would take every ounce of our short lives to save Earth from his clutches. Now he stood in front of me—an actual person—and I didn’t know what to think.
I let the door shut, not caring if Mom and Dad had to look for me. “Ambassador, I honestly don’t know whether we can trust you or not.” I pointed to the debate floor. “I just don’t want to wake up thirty years from now and be the one trying to set you off in front of a bunch of news cameras. I’m tired of being afraid—and not just of your people. The EIP has become—”
“Yeah, I know,” he interrupted, giving me a look as if I shouldn’t say anything else. “It took courage to come over here. You just keep on that track, and you’ll be fine.”
I shook my head. “My parents plan to tell me everything they know soon. Is there something they’re going to say that will make me hate you, too?”
“Maybe—if you choose to let it.” He looked back at the people standing behind him. “Hey, could you hold that other door open?”
He walked up the rest of the stairs and pushed open the door beside mine. We held both doors for everyone in the section, who politely nodded to me and shook the Ambassador’s hand as they exited. I noticed one man carrying a little girl about four or five lingering behind. A faint ring of blue light appeared around the Ambassador’s contacts when he saw them.
“I know you have to leave, but do you have a minute?” the man asked and then nodded at me. “No offense, but I don’t want to say this in front of Representative Verin’s son.”
The tiny girl wrapped her arms tighter around her dad’s neck and stared at me before she closed her eyes. As she moved to lay her head on his shoulder, I noticed her curly brown hair shift. It was a wig.
“I can go—no problem.” I backed away and held up my hands. “Ambassador, it was nice meeting you and your family. I should go.”
“Stay, Alex,” the Ambassador said in a firm tone and then turned to the man, who now seemed stunned. “Anything you want to say to me, say in front of Alex Verin. I trust him a lot more than his father.”
The man hesitated, darting his eyes to me and then back to the Ambassador. “I didn’t want to mention this before the debate, but Katie’s doctors have done everything they can for her.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “She’s running out of time, Jernard. This vote was close, but you and I both know that close isn’t good enough when it’s your own kid’s life! She can’t wait another year for this to come up again.”
The Ambassador nodded and reached into the interior pocket of his jacket. He brought out a small card and pen and then used the door as a surface to write down a phone number. I’d only seen this done in movies when spies didn’t want a contact packet traced back to them.
“Call from a clean DMR, listen to the message, and destroy everything as soon as you can.” He stuck the card in the man’s shirt pocket.
“Don’t give this number out to anyone, or we won’t be able to help anybody else. Do you understand?”
“Yeah,” the man replied and hugged his daughter. “Do you think Katie can handle the trip?”
The Ambassador smiled. “It won’t be to our system—just out of Earth’s jurisdiction.”
“Thank you. If you ever need anything, I—”
The man hesitated again as if he thought I’d start pointing and shouting at the top of my lungs at any moment. The truth was I didn’t know what to do. Even if it wasn’t happening on Earth, humans being treated with Hannarian technology was a breach of multiple agreements with Earth’s governments. If the wrong person found out, it would cause them a lot of problems.
Katie looked at me again, and I realized I could never be that person.
“I hope they can help her,” I said. The man walked away without saying anything else.
Andrew and the Ambassador’s wife approached us. The Ambassador kissed his wife and hugged his son, and a twinge of jealousy hit me at how genuinely happy they seemed.
“See you around, Alex.” Andrew waved as he and his mom walked toward an exit.
The Ambassador and I followed them a few steps, but the Ambassador didn’t go with them. Instead, he made sure they made it downstairs to the guards waiting by the doors. One of the guards yelled to him in their language, and the Ambassador nodded. Then he turned and looked at me.
“I can tell that you’ll turn out different from your father for one main reason.” He gestured for me to go the other direction. “I watched Adam grow up the same as I’ve seen you grow up, Alex—and your grandfather Nathan and great-grandfather Lawrence, too. At your age, they didn’t ask questions. That’s important—that you think for yourself and don’t just take what’s told to you at face value, even from me.”
I’d never met my great-grandfather, and it made me wonder just how far back the political rivalry went.
“I hope you’re right.” I tried to keep up with his pace, but he got ahead of me. “How did all of this start, anyway? My whole family hates you, and I don’t even know why. I’m not even sure Dad knows why.”
He slowed for me to catch up and looked around us before he responded. “It was a big misunderstanding that I should have cleared up, but I thought I was doing the right thing at the time.” He frowned. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
I wondered if it was related to the medical scanners but shook my head. “I didn’t even know you had a first name until a few minutes ago. I heard that guy call you Jernard back there.”
He smirked and started walking again. “Outside of here and a few places on Hannaria, I don’t use my actual name anymore. It’s long, nobody from Earth can pronounce it, and I can’t find a good nickname out of it. I even have a bank account gaining interest for the first human who manages to get it correct.”
“How do you say it again?” I asked.
He said his name in his language. The problem wasn’t so much pronouncing it as it was remembering a minute’s worth of random syllables. I tried to repeat it back.
“Co-ro-bar-din-in-lee-may-ruse-tie…” I started, watching his expression until he cringed. “Sorry.”
“Not a bad first effort,” he said, but I could tell he was humoring me. “Closer than most people get.”
“Are there any consolation prizes?” I asked.
He shook his head as we reached the lobby. “Your parents are coming around behind us.” He gestured near the elevators. “Tell them you got sick from a vending machine sandwich, and you won’t get in trouble. Take care, Alex.”
Coming up with a lie that quickly didn’t help my trust level of him, but he was gone before I could say anything. Mom spotted me the moment I turned around.
“Alex, where have you been?” She ran to me and gripped both my shoulders. “We were about to contact security!”
“You all right?” Dad asked as he walked up behind Mom.
I nodded. “Sorry.” I drew a complete blank on excuses and glanced down at the floor. “I went downstairs to find you but started feeling sick. I think it’s the sandwich I ate earlier from the vending machine. I just want to go home.”
CHAPTER FOUR—ALEX VERIN
WE WALKED TO THE PARKING GARAGE, and Dad’s driver picked us up in a black limo. After what I’d seen Dad do to the Ambassador, I didn’t want to make eye contact. So I shut my eyes and leaned against the tinted window as if I was still feeling sick. I was about to fall asleep when Dad’s phone rang.
“Hello? Yeah, I’m in the car with Stephanie and Alex. We blocked the vote, but it was close. Well, if you have a solution I’m open to—no, I won’t be back in the office until tomorrow morning. Alex isn’t feeling well, and I have to make some calls. We’ll be home in about fifteen minutes. Stop by if you want, and we’ll talk. All right…bye.”
When we got home, the driver seemed to be watching his new shoes around me. We walked up a brick pathway, and Dad unlocked our front door using his thumbprint and a randomly generated word from the security company.
“Galahad.” Dad sounded annoyed even though it had worked. “I’m calling Ectotech tomorrow. Yesterday, the word was Guinevere—and Arthur before that. If thieves discover the passwords are themed, the whole neighborhood will be cleaned out by the end of the week.”
“You should go lay down, Alex,” Mom said once we were inside. “I’ll see if I can find something to help settle your stomach.”
“Thanks,” I mumbled. I started up the stairs a little slower than normal.
When I reached my room, I grabbed my DMR off my desk and checked my messages, which were mostly spam and game guides I never felt like reading anymore. Toward the bottom of the list, a message from ‘The Bogeyman’ caught my attention. Before I could open it, I heard Mom coming up the stairs and tucked the DMR underneath my blankets. She placed a box of saltine crackers and cup of clear soda on my end table and then felt my head with the back of her hand.
“You’re a little warm.” She frowned. “You shouldn’t eat anything out of those vending machines again. Who knows how long that stuff sits in there? If you don’t feel better by tomorrow, I’ll call the doctor’s office.”
“Thanks.” I forced a smile.
She smiled back, hesitating as she reached the doorway.
“Alex, when you feel better your dad still wants to sit down and talk to you about the Hannarians. We just want to make sure they don’t confuse you.”
“Sure,” I said, not wanting to argue that I’d spoken to Andrew first and not the other way around. As soon as she left, I took my DMR back out again and opened the message:
To: Alex Verin
From: The Bogeyman
Subject: (no subject)
Date: November 9, 2300 2:35 p.m.
Andrew just told me what happened today in the break room. If you want to know our side of things, I’m willing to discuss what I can. It’s just at your age I don’t want to put you in danger. I don’t believe your parents do either.
Contrary to what you may think, I respect your father. He’s been led to believe a lot of things that aren’t true, and part of it is my fault. I’ve allowed lies about us to go uncorrected to protect either myself or people I care about.
If you have specific questions or anything you’re curious about, send me a message. I have a long trip ahead of me, and I could use something to do to pass the time.
I reread the message, stunned that it was real. I decided to wait on responding and set a thumbprint lock on the DMR before shutting it. Then I hid it underneath my bed so I could think for a minute.
Until a few years earlier, I’d heard and repeated what my family said about the Hannarians without question. A small part of me was still like that—tempted to take this message to Dad and use it against them. I felt guilty the thought occurred to me, but I had to acknowledge that part of me was still there.
The sad thing was Dad would’ve loved me for it—been proud of me—and a void had been eating away at me to gain his approval. I realized however that the Ambassador had meant it when he said he thought I’d turn out different. Otherwise, why take the risk of trusting me with any information?
The doorbell rang, and I heard Dad greet someone at the front door. They walked upstairs and down the hall to Dad’s office, but I didn’t recognize the other man’s voice.
“So, did you catch the game last night, Adam?” the man asked. “I sent you a message to let you know I was in town and invited all of you to dinner, but I don’t think you saw it.”
“Sorry, I must have missed it.” Dad replied, though he sounded annoyed. “I was stuck in the office all night preparing for today. If this continues, the Ambassador will start getting anything and everything he wants no matter what I do. To be honest, I don’t understand how you can even be talking about games when—”
“Well, I hope I can give you some peace of mind soon,” the man interrupted. “Plus, I might be able to pull off a few Super Bowl tickets next year as a gift for all your efforts. Fred told me your wife doesn’t like football, but maybe you, Alex, and your father—”
The man’s voice became muffled as they shut the doors to Dad’s office. Trying not to make any noise, I walked over to my bedroom door and opened it. I could hear Mom downstairs watching the news, but just as a reporter mentioned a bombing she changed the channel to a cooking show.
Our guest bedroom shared a bathroom with Dad’s office, and I’d learned by accident that I could overhear his conversations from there. Moving to the bathroom door closer to the office, I cracked it open and sat down on the blue bath rug in front of the shower.
“—much as that’s an entertaining proposition,” Dad said. I couldn’t see him or the other man, but they couldn’t see me either. “How do you expect to pull it off?”
At first I thought they were still talking about the Super Bowl tickets, and I remembered Dad telling me to be wary of people bearing free gifts for no reason. What followed made me realize the subject had changed.
“We already are,” the man said. “In about fifteen minutes, he’ll be on a transport departing from Baltimore to Lunar 4—coming to the rescue, or so he thinks.”
“What about the woman and the girl? Can they be trusted?”
“That’s the beautiful thing about it,” the man said in an excited tone. “They don’t even know. He’ll be trying so hard to gain their trust that he won’t have time to focus on anything else. Once he’s dead, so is the scanner issue. It will take decades for Hannaria to send a replacement, if they even send one at all.”
I stood—not wanting to believe what I was hearing.
“Well, I guess the only question is where do I come in?” Dad asked. “It sounds as if you’re about to do us a very big favor, so I have to wonder what you want in return?”
“We’ll need you to be a calm voice amid the chaos when the time comes. In the morning, you’ll find all the financing you need for your campaign—not that you need it to win a Senate seat, but we just want to help. Be expecting more for your presidential campaign.”
“But I don’t intend on running for—” Dad started.
“Then you had better start thinking about it,” the man interrupted, but his tone smoothed as he continued. “You have talent, Adam. Other than your father, I can’t think of anyone else bold enough to hold their own against the Ambassador for this long. It will make this Senate race easy for you. You’ll have a great run if you stick with this—and Alex can follow right behind you once he’s ready.”
There was a long pause.
“I don’t know what to say other than thank you.” Dad’s chair squeaked as he pushed back from his desk.
“Thank you and Nathan for holding firm for so long. I need to go back to Arizona tonight, but Dermott will stay for another week to wrap up some things for me here. He’ll contact you in a few days.”
As I heard them exit, I started to genuinely feel sick. I managed to find my way to the toilet and threw up. For a few minutes, I was afraid to move—afraid to make any more noise than I already had. Then a knock on the door startled me.
“Alex?” Mom asked. “You all right?”
I unlocked the door and then returned to the toilet.
“We’ll have to take you to the doctor in the morning if this keeps up.” She patted my shoulder. “What kind of sandwich did you eat?”
“Ham,” I lied. “Can you just help me get back to my room? I feel like I’m going to pass out.”
“Why did you come in here instead of the main bathroom?” she asked. “It was a lot closer.”
“I didn’t want to do this then have Dad’s friend need to go in there.”
“Well, they’re outside talking right now, so you don’t have to worry about that.”
“Who is he?” I asked.
She frowned and shook her head. “Your father didn’t introduce us. I’ve never seen him before.”
I was shaking as Mom helped me to my bedroom door, and I leaned one hand on the wall as I made my way to my bed.
“Do you need us to take you to the hospital?” she asked.
“No, not yet,” I said. “If I don’t feel better by tomorrow, then yes. I think I just need to rest. I’m starting to wonder if this might be the flu instead of food poisoning.”
“Oh, I hope not.” Her eyebrows rose. “Is there anything else I can get you?”
“I just want to sleep and not move.”
When she left, Mom didn’t shut the door—and I didn’t want to attempt to shut it myself. I reached underneath my bed, unlocked the DMR, and began typing a reply to the Ambassador’s message as fast as I could.
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