Chris Burke attends his first presidential press briefing.
Chris Burke adjusted his orange necktie as he marched toward the checkpoint outside the West Wing of the White House. After thousands of ignored letters and calls, somebody had finally listened. He'd worked toward this day for twenty years, ever since his medical discharge from the army. This afternoon he would prove they were all wrong to call him crazy.
A policeman approached in a short-sleeved, white shirt. Of course, he wasn't really a policeman. He was a Secret Service agent. So was the lady selling ices from a nearby van, not to mention the “Japanese” tourist sweating in the summer sun. Chris understood this because he wasn't as oblivious as the average Joe. Thousands of Secret Service agents blended into the DC crowds, watching and waiting, poised to strike at a moment's notice. Just like the aliens.
The policeman looked Chris up and down, then raised an eyebrow. “And you are…?”
Chris tapped the White House Correspondents Association accreditation badge pinned to his shiny aluminum jacket.
“Ah, yes. Mr. Burke. You are expected.” The policeman frowned. “Do you really intend to wear that to the press conference?”
Chris touched the steel colander on his head to ensure it was straight. It did tend to slip on his bald pate. “Yes. It's just as much a symbol of my beliefs as the cross you wear, officer.”
The policeman nodded. “We aim to cater to all faiths at the White House.” He gestured to the path. “If you'd like to follow me, I'll escort you to the press briefing room. The President will issue her statement at three p.m. precisely.”
Walking toward the familiar, white structure, Chris couldn't help but feel awed. He'd never been to DC before, and there were no grand buildings like this where he lived in rural Pennsylvania.
“So,” ventured the policeman as they entered a cool, air-conditioned corridor, “you're a magazine editor?”
“Founder, writer, and main contributor.”
“And what kind of magazine is Ufology For Real?”
“It does what it says on the tin.”
“So you really believe in UFOs?”
“Don't you, officer?”
Chris shook his head. How much more evidence did these folks need? The sooner the President stamped her presidential seal of approval on ufology, the better. Then people would be forced to take the clear and present alien threat seriously.
The policeman led him through a double-door into a crowded room. Fifty journalists sat in chairs facing a podium, all wearing smart suits and press accreditation badges.
“You're in the front row,” said the policeman, “between CBS and ABC.”
As he took his seat, Chris beamed. He'd finally made it.
The middle-aged, Latino lady to his left smiled. Her wavy hair and caramel eyes looked attractive, and her candy store scent was delicious.
She extended a hand. “I'm Angela Webster, CBS.”
“Chris Burke, Ufology For Real.”
“I must say, that's a fantastic marketing gimmick.”
She gestured to his clothes. “The crazy, aluminum foil getup.”
“I always dress this way.”
Her brow furrowed. “You mean, you really believe in little green men?”
“Well, I don't know that they're green, but I know they're real.”
“What makes you so sure?”
He winked in a knowing way. “Well, if you'd ever been abducted by aliens, you'd understand.”
Angela blanched and shuffled her chair further away. Placing a hand over her ear, she acted as if she were focused on her earpiece.
He mentally kicked himself. Naturally, she didn't believe him. Nobody ever did. That army shrink claimed it was a side effect of the drug cocktail they gave him in Iraq. Just because the damned aliens had become more visible, didn't mean people would immediately accept the truth. It took lots of hard evidence to chip away decades of denial. Chris knew all about aliens, but he wished he didn't. An alien abducted him and performed strange, cruel experiments. He screwed his eyes shut. Chris had no idea what the monster actually looked like. The inside of its ship was dark, and it constantly shone a light into his eyes while enjoying itself. Even now, he had nightmares every night.
Hail to the Chief blared from the room's speakers. Everybody focused on the podium, where a bespectacled man fumbled with the microphone.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.”
He stepped aside, and a now familiar young lady stepped onto the podium, flanked by six burly men in trench-coats. It appeared President Moore was taking this potential threat seriously. Wearing a pink polka dot mini-dress, and with her short hair dyed blue, she made an odd-looking head of state, but she always spoke sense. How a woman barely into her thirties had swept to such a swift and stunning victory to become the first female President was a mystery. But after that suspected ISIS terrorist attack wiped out the entire preceding administration in one swift strike, Chris supposed the voting public yearned for someone young and decisive in power. Certainly, this was good for Chris. He couldn't imagine Trump ever inviting him here. Not after what he'd posted about the former President on his Twitter feed.
“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen.” She paused to glance at her notes. “I'm sure you're aware of foreign media reports from Asia and Africa over the past few days concerning the alleged arrival of alien spacecraft in remote locations. Today I want to set the record straight.”
Chris raised his hand. “Madam President, if I may—”
Angela trod on his toe, interrupting his train of thought.
“Wait until she opens the floor to questions,” hissed Angela.
Chris became aware of everyone glaring. His cheeks burned, and he shrank into his seat.
“As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted,” continued President Moore, “I called this press briefing to assure the world this is a giant hoax—a clever fabrication by YouTube pranksters, who have enlisted the help of thousands of fans to make this fake event appear real.”
Chris straightened in his chair. This wasn't what he'd expected.
“The CIA assures me that operatives on the ground have visited these locations and not seen a single alien craft. Also, SETI has failed to pick up any radar signals that suggest alien spacecraft have ventured near our planet. I'm sorry if this comes as a disappointment to many of you, but we are still—to my knowledge—very much alone in the universe.” She put down her notes. “Now, any questions?”
Angela raised her hand.
President Moore ignored her and fixed her gaze on Chris. “Mr. Burke, I presume. I believe the first question is yours.”
As he stood to speak, Chris held onto his colander so it wouldn't topple off in front of all the TV cameras swiveling around to point at him. Now his big moment had come, he trembled. “M-M-Madam President, how can you say this is a fabrication when respected NBC, Reuters and BBC journalists have broadcast live from each of these locations.”
She barked a laugh. “You seriously believe a bunch of journalists are a more reliable source of information than the CIA? Most of those 'respected media professionals' are freelancers. Their opinions along with the 'facts' they present are hardly objective. Sensationalism and outlandish headlines sell news stories.”
“I do beg your pardon, Madam President, but this morning Christiane Amanpour recorded an interview beneath one of the alien spacecraft. Are you suggesting that CNN's Chief International Correspondent is unreliable?”
President Moore's black lipstick lips curled up into a smirk. “Yes.”
A young man burst into the room and sprinted over to the President. He handed her a red envelope.
“Thank you, James,” said President Moore, and put the envelope down on the lectern unopened.
“B-but—” began the harassed looking man.
“That will be enough, James.”
His eyes widened, but he turned around and left.
Chris felt a tugging at his sleeve. He turned to glance down at Angela, still seated.
“There's news,” she whispered, her hand clamped over her earpiece. “The BBC report an alien ship appeared over London.”
Chris gasped. “Er… Madam President, if you'd like to check with the CIA now, there's some interesting activity in England.”
The President waved her hand dismissively, a flash of bright green nail polish. “Oh, I've heard.” She gestured to her own earpiece. “The BBC aren't what they used to be.”
Angela coughed. “The Vice President just issued a statement. He demands the President calls a state of national emergency.”
Chris took a deep breath. “Madam President, have you spoken with the Vice President today?”
President Moore grinned like a cat with a feather hanging from its maw. “We briefly exchanged words. He's a fusspot, you know.”
Chris took a step forward. “Madam President, it seems clear you're allowing prejudice against the media to cloud your judgment.”
President Moore clenched her fists. “How dare you? I am the President of the United States.”
A man near the windows jumped from his seat and pointed into the sky. “Look! An alien spaceship is hovering over the Capitol Building.”
President Moore shook her head. “Don't listen to that fool. He's clearly on drugs.”
Several journalists left their seats and joined the man at the window. “It's true. There's a huge flying saucer out there.”
The double-door burst open, and a lady and gentleman that Chris would have never imagined would one day walk side-by-side entered: General Janet Tyrone, the recently promoted Afro-American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Forrest Macintosh, the extreme right-wing Secretary of Defense. Flanking them were a dozen marines carrying semi-automatic rifles.
“Madam President,” said Macintosh. “I am concerned there is a clear and present danger to the security of our great nation. Will you or will you not accept there is a state of emergency and declare martial law?”
The President stuck her chin in the air. “This is preposterous. There is no danger. This whole thing is an elaborate hoax, and you two are idiots.”
Macintosh turned to the General. “You'll have to take it from here.”
General Tyrone straightened her shoulders. “Miss Candice Moore, I judge you unfit for duty as Commander in Chief and hereby relieve you of command.”
The President laughed and nodded to her bodyguards. As one, her guards drew their weapons on the General and Secretary of Defense, cutting them down in a split second of rapid fire.
The marines dove for cover and returned fire with their semi-automatics. A near transparent bubble appeared around the President and her men, and the marines' bullets bounced off its surface as if the bubble were armor plating.
Screams rang out from the seated journalists as ricocheting projectiles tore into the unprotected civilians. The stench of spent cordite filled the air, taking Chris back to his days in Iraq. The colander flew from his head, victim to a bullet that had narrowly missed him, and he ducked low to avoid anymore. He put his hand out to steady himself and found the still warm but silent and broken body that had once been Angela.
The bodyguards continued to shoot indiscriminately, and from the screams, it appeared the bubbles didn't stop bullets leaving. Then the gunfire ceased, and only the cries of wounded and dying soldiers and journalists could be heard.
As the smoke cleared, the President laughed and walked toward Chris. “I'm so pleased you're still alive, my old friend. You might not remember me, but I remember you fondly. We last met twenty years ago, and I enjoyed our time together very much. I so look forward to renewing our acquaintance.” She smiled and blew him a kiss. “I've missed you!”
WORD COUNT: 2000