October 5, 2009

Chapter 1: Contact



Beep! Beep! Beep!

The alarm clock on the bed stand insisted, announced the beginning of a new day. Jake pounded his fist down on the device, silencing its incessant tone as he squinted at the neon numbers slowly shifting into focus.
6:45 - time to get up and ready for the day. He stretched and rolled over in his bed, his left arm came to rest on the empty pillow beside him. He did the same thing every morning and, as soon as he did, was immediately reminded of its emptiness. He tried to remember why it was always empty, and every morning he was reminded as soon as he put his feet on the floor.
Work.
He sat up in bed, allowing his head to clear as it began to slowly reconnect with reality. A dim blue light shone through the tinted window - which automatically toned down the light to the brightness he preferred. The sun was not visible yet, but an orange glow traced the peaks of the mountains above the San Fernando Valley.

He pulled back the bed sheets and threw his legs over the side of the bed, feeling the cold wood floor beneath him. He stood and walked over to the window to inspect the world as he always did. The vibrant lights of downtown Los Angeles sparkled like fireflies – a true triumph of human creativity and accomplishment. For a second he was in awe of the beauty of it all - but a nagging reminder of the time interrupted him and urged him away.

He turned gradually, and shuffled his way out of the room and down the hall towards the shower.

“Lights.” He said in a croaky voice.

The hall lights turned on as he walked down it. He grabbed a towel from the closet on his right just before the bathroom with a sigh. The lights flicked on as soon as he entered the bathroom; as was their pre-programmed morning routine. The shower began immediately and a projected image began playing automatically on the wall as the volume auto-adjusted to audible levels over the running water.

He paid little attention to it as the program already on air continued,

“After all of our attempts and the obviousness of life that we’ve projected into the cosmos it is conceivable that a technologically advanced alien race must have detected us by now. The only question we as a species should be asking now is a simple one; when?”

He discarded his clothing, kicking them across the floor as he stepped into the warm downpour of water before him. The holographic curtain turned on, shielding his naked body from prying eyes – not that there a high chance of anyone else seeing him naked. It had been years since he had first moved to the north side of town and in that time he hadn’t made any lasting relationships outside of work. Sure, there were a few flings in bars but nothing more serious than the typical one night stand. He didn’t know if it was because he just wasn’t interested or if there was something about him that just came off as weird.

He closed his eyes and let a small groan escape as the water caressed his skin like a thousand tiny fingers prodding him awake.

The program on air continued,

“Our planet gives off more radiation than a star – an unnatural anomaly in the normal universe that surely points to our little blue planet and says ‘Here we are!’. It’s a mathematical probability that several hundred intelligent alien races exist within our own galaxy and many of them are at least as technologically advanced as we are. The only thing stopping them from getting here is the vast distance between us...”

Jake rubbed his eyes and focused on the screen, intrigued. He continued listening as he scrubbed his body with a bar of soap.

“Light travels at 186,282 miles per second. It takes light from our own sun about eight minutes to reach us here on Earth. The nearest star to us is four light-years away. That means that if we were somehow able to travel at those speeds, it would still take an incredibly long amount of time to get there. Our galaxy is approximately one-hundred thousand light-years across. So if Einstein was right, that would mean that if we were to broadcast a signal to the ends of the galaxy at light speed, it would take one-hundred thousand years to get there, and another hundred-thousand years for us to get a signal back. Again, this is assuming that nothing can travel faster than light like Einstein theorized.”

“That’s one hell of a long time,” Jake replied to the program in mock-conversation.

He had always been interested in science and technology, finding them to be very thought-provoking and healthy things to think about and discuss with other people. He knew it was human nature to fear the unknown and to rationalize it by creating something to explain it. That was where he assumed the ‘gods’ of old had come from when the human race was younger. It was all nothing more than an explanation for things beyond their limited understanding like weather, prosperity and disease.

But no longer; now humanity sought real answers – and science was the key to finding those answers. It had taken thousands of years and millions of lives for humanity to finally begin questioning the world and themselves again without fear of persecution. Religion had been the archnemesis of science for decades with the two constantly butting heads and inciting violent arguments. It had taken countless religious wars and disputes that nearly brought them to the brink of destruction before the two finally put aside their differences and begin working together towards a higher understanding. No longer would killing in the name of God be an acceptable reason for war.

The human race was out of its infancy now and slowly beginning to walk. It was a new age for the world; every effort was focused on reaching the stars and leaving the problems of our little blue planet behind. Maybe if we looked beyond ourselves and gazed upon whatever mysteries the vastness of space held for us, we’d finally find an escape. Maybe we’d realize we’re not alone…

The water stopped suddenly. It happened sooner than it had yesterday. Jake pounded the shower wall in frustration.

“Come on! There’s an entire ocean a few miles away – what’s the problem?” he yelled at the shower head as the last precious drops of water fell from it in a trickle, mocking him.

It was times like this that the hardships that had fallen on humanity in the second half of the 21st century were blatantly apparent. Humanity’s evolution from its’ infancy had not been without a price. The beginning of the 21st century presented the trials it would face before it would be allowed to grow out of its infancy. Petty wars over religion, resources, and territory that had plagued the otherwise-innocent blue gem floating in space had finally taken its toll. Throughout history, it was said that the worst of times brought out the best in people. The dawn of the new age had proven those words to be complete bullshit.

Humanity had nearly exhausted Mother Earth and now they had no other choice but to share her or be destroyed. Resources were a luxury now; maintained and shared on a global market and rationed fiercely. Oceanic desalination and energy technology had only advanced so far in the wake of the wars that had plagued the introduction to the new millennium before funding had to be forcibly reallocated to support the wars that followed. Food, water, and energy – once easily-obtainable commodities- had quickly become the most desired and expensive on the planet.

They now found themselves thrust into an ongoing war for resources that threatened to topple governments and their very way of life. Life, which now seemed so luxurious in the first half of the 21st century, would never be the same… no matter what the outcome of the wars would be. The victor would decide the fate of humanity.

Jake cursed and exited the shower. The curtain deactivated as he stepped over the threshold and into the cold air outside of it. He quickly dried himself off and walked back to the bedroom to put on his uniform - standard issue for the Los Angeles Police Department.

He gazed into the mirror mounted on the wall to the right as he re-entered his bedroom. The holographic blinds on his curtain activated, blurring his private parts from the outside world. He looked over himself, assessing the condition of his body to make sure he was still in good shape. Not shockingly, he was in as good of condition as the day before - but in his line of work it was necessary to be at the top of your game. He looked up at the set of hazel eyes in the mirror staring back at him as he ran a hand through his damp and darkened hair; his best feature, his mother had always told him.

Still beautiful. He thought amusingly to himself. The smile quickly faded as he the man continued to stare back at him, forcing him to ask himself the same question he did every single day:

Who are you?

It was a question he was never able to answer. His sense of self had been gone for years – ever since he had finished school and moved out on his own. He knew he should be happy having a family that cared about him and a job that kept him off the streets... but he wasn’t. He felt lonelier every passing day and with a sense of displacement that continued to amplify with every passing day. It felt like time was just moving around him and he was more of an observer than an actual participant. He almost felt like he was just born at the wrong place in the wrong time and life just didn’t know what to do with him. If there was something he was supposed to be doing with his life, it didn’t feel like he was doing it yet.

He finished dressing and appraised himself in the mirror as he placed the authoritative badge of the LAPD on his lapel. Being a police officer was a lot different than it had been a few decades ago, before the United States was forced into a Police State. It was an affront to everything the county had been founded upon and stood for, but it was necessary to end the corruption that the previous government had been rife with. Capitalism was no longer a sustainable form of government with the current economic situation, so it changed, shifting to the current resource-based trade system under strict government control. It was his job to keep people calm and in check, ensuring that crowds were kept orderly and riots were dealt with.

This was his job. The fates of countless faceless people rested on his shoulders as the decisions he made on a daily basis could affect whether they lived or died. It was something he had come to terms with, knowing that it was a desperate time. Humanity could no longer afford to make the mistakes it had made decades ago. There had been countless opportunities for the nations of the world to prevent the current state of things but it happened anyway, and now his job paid higher than most.

He walked back into the hall, continuing past the bathroom towards the kitchen to inspect the contents of the refrigerator. He opened the door and scanned the labeled blocks of food presented before him. Most food these days came in dehydrated, compressed form – looking more like dried, crusty bricks than food. He couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten real meat or fruit and drink pure, fresh water – but doing so without authorization was a serious offense. These were the facts of life that he had had to come to terms with just like the rest of the world.

He selected a particularly-unappealing brick of food with a grunt, figuring if he ate the most disgusting ones first he could save the good ones for a rainy day. He shoved the entire brick into his mouth with a cringe and walked to his apartment door. He opened it slowly, using his free hand in an attempt to jam his shades on before the morning sun hit his eyes. It greeted him abruptly before he could cover his eyes, momentarily blinding him as he looked for the first stair down to the ground level. The front door locked behind him as he found the first step and started down them.

Once he had reached ground level he pulled his Kinetic Interface Device from his pocket and pressed a few buttons. Moments later a Taxi descended down the hill in answer his hail. He opened the back door closest to him and hopped inside.

“Destination?” a feminine voice asked him.

“Los Angeles Police Department - Downtown.” He replied.

“Very well, sir.” The voice replied as the cab departed down the road southbound.

He chewed the brick of food, trying his best to ignore the taste as it went down. Once he was sure that he wasn’t going to vomit, he set the Kinetic Interface Device (or K.I.D., as most people nicknamed it) on his lap and pulled up the latest news reports for the day.

“What do you do for a living, sir?” the robotic voice of the automated taxi asked before he could begin reading.

He muttered an undecipherable response as he continued to chew the brick.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you. Did you say ‘Nursing Home’?” the voice said in a confused tone.

He shook his head and spewed another undecipherable string of words.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you. Did you say ‘Livestock’?” the voice asked again in the same tone.

He quickly swallowed the chunk of food in his mouth painfully and snapped,

“I said I don’t want to talk.”
“Very well, sir. I shall remain silent for the remainder of the trip.” The voice responded apathetically.

He sighed and sat back in the seat, watching as the skyscrapers of downtown LA drew closer. HoloAds advertised the latest and greatest products to help manage peoples’ hard-earned resources or enhance their quality of life in some way. But little cost when it came to a necessity turned out to be a lot, most of them would eventually realize. These things were only for the more well-off; people like him. Though most people saw K.I.D.s as one of those necessities - a way to keep up on world news, keep in touch with their loves ones, or do a plethora of other things. The limits of such technology were only bound by a person's’ imagination.

The roads became more and more crowded with cars and increasingly popular personal transportation units as they drew closer to the city center.

“Would you like to listen to the radio, sir?” The cab spoke again.

“No thank you.” He responded.

“Perhaps you’d be interested in listening to a brief adverti-“

“NO!” he insisted harshly. “End routine.”

The program halted, finally giving him the silence he wanted... he hoped.

The sun was now clearly visible in the east, reflecting off of the sea of glass now towering above him like diamonds. He looked up and down the sidewalks at the sea of people walking by on their way to complete whatever tasks that day held for them. Most looked driven; more or less content with their lives while others looked like him; dissatisfied and lost. Some desperate. A particularly large group of people drew closer as the Taxi came to a stop in front of a large building he had seen nearly every day for years.

“You have arrived at your destination,” The voice announced. “Your fee will be automatically deducted from your account.”

A small tone played from his pocket as the cab fare was automatically deducted from his account through his K.I.D., which was scanned as he entered the vehicle.

“Great.” He replied, hurrying to exit the vehicle before the next dreaded words could be uttered from the cab’s artificial mouth.
“Have a nice-“

The voice was cut off as he slammed the door and stood in front of the administration building, which controlled the central bureau of the LAPD. The building that was the Parker Center occupied an entire city block, its triangular architecture and reflective glass exterior appealing to the eye. He looked up and down the building, taking in its authoritative stance against the slowly-brightening sky with respect. A crowd of protesters was gathered before the building, protesting some new law that gave the police more control over them... or something to that effect. He had started to ignore scenes like this over time, after he had heard it all. It was the same thing day after day; they wanted freedoms that were impossible to have and had all the time in the world to make their voices heard. They were calm now but that could change in a second - a fact his job had taught him all too well.

Officers greeted him as he walked through the crowd and marched up the steps, doing his best to acknowledge them all as he entered the building out of politeness. He pulled open the doors and entered the typical chaos taking place within. Just another day at the office. He continued through the hustle and bustle of the lobby, tuning out the hundreds of voices talking over headsets, arguing in side-rooms, and socializing.

“Jake!” a man decades older than him approached from down the hall. Chief Harper usually approached him this way on days that were crazier than normal, so Jake braced himself for the worst.

“What’s the damage, Boss?” Jake replied in favor of the false pretense of wishing him good morning.

“Hell, as usual,” Chief Harper replied. “It’s a damned catastrophe today.”

“So what else is new?” Jake replied sarcastically.

The Chief paused, looking at him incredulously, “Haven’t you read the news?”

“I can’t say that I have…” Jake trailed off, remembering his attempt on the cab ride over. “But I have a feeling you can fill me in.”

“Not here - my office, stat!” Chief Harper ordered. Jake acknowledged the order with a salute and continued past him to the lockers to get his gear.

Well, at least it’ll be a busy day.” he thought to himself, hopeful.

He entered the locker room where several other officers were already gearing up hurriedly for whatever assignment they had been assigned to that day. He moved past them, eventually stopping at his locker. He pressed the numbers of the keypad sealing away his gear. After he’d entered his code, the locker unlatched, revealing his body armor, helmet, and weapon. He took out his body armor – his call sign “Spider” displayed on the front - his helmet, and an old Colt M16A2 assault rifle. He pulled the body armor over his head and fastened it around his body, then placed his helmet on his head, securing the strap below his chin. He did a quick check of his gear to make sure everything was in order before he finally grabbed his weapon and turned to exit the locker room.

He suddenly imagined himself firing into a crowd of helpless people - pushed to their limits by the hard times that had befallen them. He hoped he wouldn’t be forced into such a terrible situation, but he had to be prepared in case the order was issued. Most days he was just assigned to keep the peace and use words to try and calm the angry mobs that were assembled, but there had been incidents. There were those who were desperate enough that they were willing to die - or worse - kill for what they wanted and he had been forced to take them down to protect others. What bothered him the most was that they were just people like him, trying to make a living in these hard times. He understood the reasons for their actions completely. He almost felt like every time he pulled the trigger, it was him who he was killing. Maybe one day, he would find himself on the other of a gun barrel.

“There’s my man!” a familiar voice greeted him.

His friend Max - AKA Blondie - approached him. He did a light jog from the other side of the locker room to catch up with him and turned to match his speed and direction. He greeted him with a smile that lit up his face and light blue eyes. His suave, blonde hair seemed to shine from the light reflecting off of his pearly, white teeth. How anyone could be as happy as he could be on a daily basis was beyond him, but it always made his day better.

“Hey Jake! Sounds like it’s gonna be one hell of a day!” He said anxiously as they continued to walk briskly through the lobby.

“When is it not one hell of a day around here?” Jake said, half sighing and half smiling. “The boss is talking about something big going down – you hear anything?”

“I’ve heard some rumors floating around - the guys are saying we’re on the brink of civil war… maybe worse.” Max replied. “Whatever it is, it’s going on all over the country - maybe even the world.”

“Shit… has it gotten that bad?” Jake pondered, deep in thought.

Jake knew that the media had a habit in recent years of desensationalizing the wars, calling them “isolated incidents” and “terrorist attacks” but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the world was slowly crumbling, and that a lot of the attacks happening on American soil were the result of desperate militias forming in an attempt to overthrow local governments. As far as he was concerned, the United States as well as other countries had been in a civil war for years, they were simply trying to retain the facade of control over the populace.

“I don’t know… but what I do know is that we have one hell of an angry crows out there.” Max said as he charged his rifle.
As they reached Harper’s office Jake opened the door and Max followed behind him as it closed. The chief paced the floor, pointing to a couple of chairs as they walked in. Jake had never seen the chief like this before. Usually he was what Max liked to call a “ball-buster”; collected, driven - a no-bullshit kind of guy. But the look on his face as they took their seats reminded Jake more of the desperate, hopeless look he had become accustomed to seeing on the faces of the crowds he was assigned to. The chief stopped suddenly, scanning the floor in thought. His eyes gradually came to rest on them, a look of anger crossing his face.

“There’s been an incident.” the final word had more weight on it than the entire city his office overlooked. “Sometime late last night an event occurred that has resulted in a blackout. The US government has ceased all communication with the media.”

Jake looked at Max who returned his confused gaze. A blackout? Could this be the start of a full-blown civil war... or even World War III? The thoughts went spinning through his head as he tried to make sense of the situation evolving.

“The military has been given orders to lockdown every major city. As far as I know, no new regulations have been imposed - they are simply here to ensure the ongoing safety of the government.” Harper continued.

“The military?!” Max shot out of his chair in protest. “We don’t need them! It’s our job to keep those people in check!”

“Stow the attitude, Carter! I’m in no mood for it today!” Harper shouted back at him. Max slowly sank back down into his chair, clearly not satisfied with the military encroaching on their territory. Once we had sat back down, Harper continued.

“You’ll be working with the military to help keep the people calm. I’ve been in touch with a Sergeant Jenkins - my orders are to have you report to him.” The chief sighed, placing a hand on his hip while he dragged the other slowly down his face in a show of distress.

“I don’t get it...” Jake began, trying to make sense of the situation. “What could be so serious that the government would intentionally leave you in the dark and make you attach us to the military. Isn’t that exactly the kind of thing that would cause unrest in the first place?”

“Look, I don’t like this or understand it any more than the two of you, but my hands are tied.” The chief responded as he crossed around his desk and plopped down in his chair, defeated.

None of it made any sense. For years, Jake had taken his orders, completed whatever assignments were given to him and, at the end of the day, the chief would pat him on the back, then he’d go home and do it all again. Why was this day so radically different? It was like the world had finally woken up from a long, stagnant slumber and had decided it was time for change. He wasn’t sure whether to feel scared and helpless or exhilarated.

“What are our orders?” Jake asked, the same way he had done every day for as long as he could remember Harper being his boss.

The chief lifted his head, the familiar phrase returning him to partial-normality as a look of confidence crossed his face.

“Right outside,” he responded and pointed out the window. “Sergeant Jenkins is already set up in a command tent downstairs with a platoon at the ready. Your job is to help suppress the crowd before things get ugly.”

“What if things do get ugly?” Max asked with a mischievous grin.

Harper regarded Max in shock. His stupid remarks had gotten him in trouble before and it became immediately obvious to him that he had just screwed up. It was no secret to many of their fellow officers that Blondie was a little trigger-happy. It was understandable that some officers were a little jumpy since their job often-times did lead to life or death situations, but some of them had come to label Blondie “nazi” due to his German heritage and claimed that he had massacred crowds of people just for fun. Jake knew this wasn’t the case and, in fact, trusted Blondie with his life - but when his temper flared or he was thrust into a stressful situation he became more of a monster than a man, and that intimidated a lot of people.

When the look of shock had subsided from Harper’s face, Jake braced for the shit-storm that was surely about to hit Max but it never came. Instead, Harper’s face became deathly serious and he spoke slowly and concisely to get his point across.

“Then the military has orders to open fire and the blood of innocent people will stain the streets that are our job to protect.”

Max lowered his head, immediately regretting his lack of seriousness on a very serious matter.

“You’re both dismissed.” The chief waved them out, then rested his elbows on the desk and lowered his head into his hands.

Jake got up and exited the room, Max following just behind him.

“This is bullshit.” Max said in a hushed tone as he came up beside Jake.

“I know, but you heard what the Chief said. If we don’t do our jobs innocent people could be killed.”

“Yeah - by our own guys! That’s the part that’s bullshit. We handle this kinda stuff everyday! Who are they to come in here, set up camp on our territory, and then threaten to fire on people if we don’t do our jobs!”

Jake shook his head as they approached the pane-glass doors at the entrance of the building. Beyond, Jake could see several police and military personnel hustling down the steps and walking hurriedly through the street just outside. He pushed his way out of the doors and into the sunlight. The noise hit him first, like a slap in the face. Police sirens wailed all over the city and military humvees thundered through the military checkpoints that had been set up on opposite sides of the street in front of the building. The roar of hundreds - maybe even thousands of unruly people echoed through the streets on either side of the blockade, seemingly threatening to topple the nearby buildings with their earthquake-like force. A large tent and several smaller ones were set up across the street. Soldiers flocked in and out of the tents in waves, looking rushed and uneasy. The chief was right; things were bad.

“That must be the one.” Max said, pointing towards the large central tent.

“This wasn’t all here when I came in.” Jake commented in disbelief.

He scanned either side of the road as they approached the main tent, assessing the situation. Barriers were in place, halting the advance of a large flash mob. Humvees with large mounted turrets sat just behind them, complimented by a large wall of police officers in full riot gear as well as a large, antsy group of soldiers just behind them.

As the two of them entered the main tent they were greeted by the glare of a man standing over a table in the center of the room – obviously the man they were looking for. He greeted them with an annoyed nod then motioned them forward with a wave of his hand.

“Well I’ll be damned! It’s about time you ladies showed up.” Jenkins grumbled, wiping the sweat from his dark-skinned brow. The room around him was alive with the bustle of soldiers hauling in computers and other equipment. It was obvious they were planning on staying for a while. As they approached the table, Jake could see several reports on the transparent screen in front of the man marked Classified. The screen blurred into indecipherable gibberish as he approached, as was typical of a secure station to prevent prying eyes.

“I was just reminding the newbie where his training wheels were, sir.” Max said with a half-assed grin. It was typical for him to use humor to alleviate the tension of a situation, and it was all he could do to not show his disgust for the man.

“And I was just telling Pretty Boy here that when the government starts rationing the time he spends in front of the mirror he’s going to be in a lot of trouble.”

“He does looks like the kind of guy who would be.” Jenkins let out a choppy laugh as Jake put his hand on Max’s arm to alert him to the joke he had just made… as well as to hold him back in case he decided to retort in a less-than civil way.
“Now listen up,” Jenkins said, raising his voice so they could hear him over the noise. “Let’s just skip the formalities for now; you know who I am and I know who you are. I’ve ordered the both of you here because my government has given me the power to use any and all means to maintain order. You two are are the first and last line of defence between those people and all those guns pointed at them. My orders are to protect this sector at all costs, and to do that I need assurance that my men will be able to do their jobs without needless interruptions.”

“Come on, what’s going on here?” Max butted in. “Why are you guys here, what’s your mission?”

Jenkins furrowed his brow impatiently. “That’s confidential… I instructed the chief to inform you of that.”

“He did,” Max continued. “But if I’m going to do my job the right way I need all the info… or at least enough that I’m not running around like a chicken with its head cut off.” He paused for a moment, waiting for his display of authority to have its effect on the sergeant. Jenkins became increasingly impatient as he continued, “What happened to cause all of this? Why is the military getting involved in our jobs?”

“I don’t know what’s happening, all I know is what my orders are and how important it is that I follow them. There’s no point in entertaining rumors.”

“What do you think is happening?” Max pushed, growing impatient with the man.

“I don’t get paid to think!” Jenkins shot back at him angrily. “I get paid to protect this country from all threats both foreign and domestic, and right now, you are the only thing stopping bullets from flying at those civilians out there. This is a military operation. If we are attacked, we’ll be forced to retaliate.” He responded, ending Max’s line of questioning. He walked back around the table and hovered over his work station, staring at them long and hard before continuing.

“I’m a simple kind of guy. I believe we live, we reproduce, and then we die. Think whatever you want to think, just know that I have my orders and I will follow them.”

“Understood.” Jake acknowledged for the both of them.

“Then you are dismissed.” Jenkins said and waved them out, returning his attention to the classified document on the screen in front of him. Jake put his hand on Max’s shoulder, turning him around to leave. Max rolled his eyes, clearly annoyed with the sergeant and the lack of information about their current situation. Jake agreed with him fully and wished that they had been given at least a shred of information in order to do their jobs better - but regardless, he knew that if they couldn’t do it Jenkins would see a riot as a hostile attack and would defend his men, no matter who the aggressor.

They turned and left the tent, re-emerging into the outside air. The day had suddenly become overcast and a chill crept it’s way into Jake’s body armor. Normally a day like this in Los Angeles would be a welcome sight, but on a day like today it only added to the feelings of dread already building in him.

“So what’s the game plan?” Max asked, staring at the sky as he readied his weapon.

Jake followed his gaze towards the sky, getting lost temporarily in the flashing clouds headed their way. The wind began to pick up, blowing leaves and light trash down the street. As he followed it, his eyes became fixed on one end of the street where the crowd was getting increasingly violent.

“Time to go to work. It looks like they need us more…” he said, pointing towards the checkpoint at the north end of the street where the crowd was beginning to throw things at the wall of riot shields behind the checkpoint’s barrier.

“Let me at ‘em.” Max said with a mischievous grin.

“You know, I really don’t get you sometimes.” Jake said, half-jokingly half-serious. “Normally you’re all gung-ho, but today it actually seemed like you cared about your job… and now you’re right back to normal.”

“Am I now allowed to like my job? People die every day - we just make sure it’s the bad and stupid ones who do.” He said, snickering at his own warped sense of humor.

“Fair enough.” Jake said and joined Max as they jogged towards the checkpoint.

“Come on!” Max urged and then gave him a friendly slap on the back. “Let’s get some!”

As they came up to the checkpoint, they recognized the faces of fellow officers, looking uneasy and unprepared. The crowd continued throwing small objects at the line of police officers taking cover behind their riot shields. Behind them, the military continued to wait anxiously, weapons at the ready. An officer on a bullhorn addressed the crowd from a vantage point on top of a nearby police cruiser:

“THIS IS AN UNLAWFUL GATHERING. YOU ARE TO DISSIPATE AND RETURN TO YOUR HOMES OR LETHAL FORCE WILL BE ADMINISTERED. THIS IS YOUR FINAL WARNING.”

The crowd jeered at the officer, shouting and raising picket signs into the air that read things like “More food, not rules!” and “Rob the rich, feed the poor!” The officer dove from the car suddenly as a rock soared over his head and landed just in front of Jake and Max. They looked at each other and nodded in agreement.

Max rushed to help the officer who had just taken a dive while Jake grabbed the bullhorn and carefully mounted the car, resuming the officer’s post. He took a deep breath, drawing on all of his experience in situations like this to deliver a speech that would surely alert these people to the situation before them. The streets were packed with people - more than he had had to deal with before. He knew this was going to be a challenge.

“Can I get everyone’s attention please?” He began, in an attempt to show them that he was just a person like them and would not assume an authoritative stance, despite his badge. The crowd seemed to quiet a little, thrown off by his calm tone.

“My name’s Jake and I’m a police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department.” Good start Jake, you’ve got their attention. Now reel them in. He paused, allowing everyone in the crowd to focus on him.

“I know times are tough and everyone wants to be heard. Food, water, and shelter are hard to come by and you’re scared and angry. I understand that. You may think just by looking at me that I’m better off than you and wonder who am I to compare myself to you.” He paused again, analyzing the faces of the angry mob. Some of them began to slowly dissipate, truly interested in what he had to say.

“The fact is, I eat the same horrible ration bars, use the same terrible taxis and am just as unsure about what the future holds as anyone else.” A few snickers made their way through the crowd.

Suddenly an angry voice shouted out, “You’ve got a job! You’re set. Your job is to keep bossing us around while your house is filled with food and water as a reward. That’s your job, and this is ours. We want equality!”

The crowd cheered in agreement with the man, thrusting their picket signs into the air in agreement. Jake waited for them to calm back down and then addressed them again,

“I want that too!” he said, allowing the crowd to lower their signs so they could listen to him once again. “When I was younger I wanted to be an architect... but then times got tough and the police force was hiring so I took the job. This isn’t where I saw myself years ago and I’m very fortunate to have found a job that pays for my basic needs. That will happen for all of you too, it just takes time!”

“More lies!” the same voice retorted. “They paid you to say that. The government has all the power and they only give it to people who do what they say. How much did they pay you little piggy?”

The crowd roared in agreement once again, some began chanting the word liar and other, worse things. This was going to end badly unless he did something and did it quickly. He looked to Max in desperation to see if he had any ideas. Max was talking with the officer who had taken a fall, only looking up when he realized that Jake had stopped talking. His eyes locked with Max and, after a few seconds of thought, he held out his hand and motioned for the megaphone. Jake was hesitant at first - Max wasn’t exactly known for his expert negotiating skills - but he was running out of options quickly. He handed him the megaphone, reluctantly, sliding down to the hood of the squad car while Max climbed up top to try his hand.

“Listen - we’re just as much in the dark as you are. I don’t know what’s going on in the world today but getting angry about it won’t help anyone. It’s our job to ensure your safety… and if we can’t do it these soldiers behind me have orders to make sure this area is safe from threats. Think about your families!”

The crowd jeered and shouted back. Suddenly a Molotov cocktail crashed against the squad car, spreading a sea of flame over the front of it. Jake scrambled to get away, back-peddling until he could safely roll off the side of the car. Just as he did, a loud thunk reverberated around his helmet as a brick connected with it, knocking him flat on his back.

“Whoa! You alright buddy?!” Blondie yelled down at him as he readied his weapon and fired a few warning shots into the crowd. His shots were returned with a wave of Molotovs and heavy objects forcing him to jump from the top of the car and roll onto the ground in retreat.

Jake flopped an arm up in the air to prove his consciousness as he stared up at the sky, waiting for his disorientation to dissipate. The police officers and soldiers manning the barrier behind him begin shouting and moving frantically. He squinted and rubbed his eyes as the sky above began to blacken. What appeared to be a large, dark cloud moved slowly and precisely over them.

He sat up quickly, rocking back onto his hands and leaned to one side to get a look at the action going on behind him. Blurry figures were scrambling behind him. He looked towards the barricade to see the crowd become suddenly still. It sounded like most of the noise was coming from the soldiers behind him rather than the crowd at this point.

What the hell? He thought as he got to his knees and tried to shake himself out of his daze as the area around him began to dim alarmingly quick. He looked over at Max who was looking up at the sky as the roar of the crowd all but vanished. He began to point in confusion, eyes squinted and mouth agape. Jake looked back up at the sky inquisitively and began to realize that it wasn’t a cloud that was now looming in the sky above them.

An enormous, triangular object of some sort filled the sky above them, quickly descending over the city. It was huge - too big to be any aircraft he had ever seen. It seemed like it was miles in length from end to end. A dark metallic material covered the outside of it which reflected the city below it like a dark version of the scene he had seen earlier this morning, nearly camouflaging it as it drew closer. Any other details were nearly impossible to describe either because of his blurred vision or because of how alien they appeared
.
“Are… are you seeing this…?” he heard Max stutter from nearby.

The mysterious object slowed as it approached, coming closer and closer. As his vision began to return, Jake could see that the attention of the people on either side of the barrier was directed towards the object. They all looked equally confused and afraid by whatever that thing was.

As it drew closer, Jake could make out strange lights escaping the exterior in waves. The waves passed throughout the city, piercing buildings and people with ease. Nearby HoloAds suddenly went haywire, disrupted by the beams as they swept down the streets.

A sudden feeling realization and weakness came over him as the program that had been playing in the shower that morning began to replay in his head.

“Our planet gives off more radiation than a star – an unnatural anomaly in the normal universe that surely points to our little blue planet and says ‘Here we are!’”

He felt like he had just shrunk to a thousandth of the size he had felt only moments ago. No man had made this craft that now hovered over the city like a giant alien eye looking down at them like ants.

“Oh my God…” Were the only words he could muster as he stared in awe - not daring to look away from the giant alien space craft that had just answered one of the biggest and longest unanswered questions in humanity’s short history on the planet Earth.

We were not alone...

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