What Happened to the Indians
by Terence Shannon
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE INDIANS is a sci-fi thriller that makes an analogy between Europeans coming to the Americas and aliens coming to earth.
Aliens make themselves known only to the United States government through a small series of hostile acts. They shoot down a couple of fighter jets and kidnap a commercial airliner packed with passengers. The one communication they offer is a request for an earth base in an isolated canyon in New Mexico. Whether the aliens have come in peace or not is up to the president to decide. The president's advisers split. The hawks say not to give up any territory without a fight, what the American Indians should have done with Columbus. The doves say let them land, that it's insane to start a shooting war with a superior power. The doves hope to deal with them, for the secrets of their technologies.
"Over there," Margolis said from his copilot's chair in the sub-hunting S-3 Viking. He motioned toward the right. "See it? I bet that's it."
Rizzo looked in that direction. The sun was casting an afternoon glare on the cobalt blue water, except for a wide patchy area that was dull as dishwater. It was the first unusual thing they had seen in two hours of looking. He banked the plane sharply.
As they came closer to it, Rizzo could see from their altitude of three hundred feet it was fuel, oil giving off an unmistakable sheen, a dingy lifeless slick that in places reflected green and yellow. "We're lucky the sea's calm," he said. "On a rougher day, it would have dissipated before now."
"What the hell could have happened?" Margolis asked. "An F-16 fighter jet is just sailing along on a clear blue day. The pilot's talking on the radio about nothing. How can there be no indication of trouble right up to the end?"
Rizzo had an idea or two as to what might cause an explosion, but he didn't get to offer anything. Before he could speak he spotted something floating in the water, the end section of a wing, maybe ten feet long. They both saw it. A wing was one of the few parts that would stay afloat due to its hollowness, Rizzo knew. "You see any numbers on it? Anything?"
"No," Margolis said. Rizzo hadn't either, nothing that would confirm it belonged to an F-16.
Just seconds after they saw the wing they flew over something else, a bright orange survival raft. The raft was only partially inflated. "Looks like it's still hung to the ejection seat," Margolis said, turning to him.
Rizzo nodded, but reluctantly. The condition of the raft was strong evidence the pilot hadn't made it.
They saw no sign of a body. Even if the pilot was killed instantly, his survival vest would automatically inflate when it hit the water.
After a few minutes of seeing nothing more Rizzo decided it was time to turn around for a second pass. Margolis did the mark on top, determining the precise longitude and latitude of their position, then radioed the information.
Rizzo found the sight of the wreckage more sobering than he was prepared for. He empathized as one pilot for another, a sense that but for the grace of God it could be him. Margolis showed no effect. He went back to a conversation they'd already had twice. Margolis had met a woman who was visiting San Diego for the Republican National Convention. He was trying to figure a way to sneak her and this plane for a midnight ride.
"You'd have to get the duty officer and a maintenance crew to go along," Margolis said, without a prompt. "It doesn't sound so outrageous, when you say it like that."
Rizzo thought it was tasteless under the circumstances, and he didn't try to hide his irritation. "Why would a bunch of guys who don't know you- what they know of you they don't like. . . Why is anyone going to risk a career, just so you can get laid?"
"What do I have? What would a group of guys like that want?" Margolis sometimes lived in a fantasy world. He tilted back his long face. His eyes seemed to bug-out as he thought it over.
"Charm them," Rizzo said. "If you had any charm at all, you woldn't need an airplane to get this woman in the sack."
"You have to see her. That's all I can say. You have to see her. Know what I mean?"
Rizzo heard the question. As he was hearing it, though, he saw something that drew him far way from it. Out the left side of the plane he focused on something his eyes were temporarily unable to transmit to his brain. It was at least a second, or two or three, before what he was seeing truly reached his mind.
About a hundred feet off the left wing a small silver disc was pacing them. "Three o'clock," he said in a clipped voice. He was trained not to panic. "We've got company like you wouldn't believe."
Rizzo had no idea from what direction it came. It was oddly familiar, almost exactly as he expected a flying saucer to be, thin and round with curved edges. It was solid silver, no windows or markings on it of any kind. The skin appeared to be perfectly smooth.
"Look at that thing," Margolis said in astonishment. "It's beautiful. It looks like it's floating on a cloud."
"How big do you think it is?" Rizzo asked.
"Maybe thirty feet wide, about seven feet high."
Rizzo stayed on the course he had intended without thinking about it. When they were headed toward the wreckage in the water again he leveled his wings. All through the banking the disc remained in the same spot at the same distance away, as if it were stuck there alongside them.
When they were fully leveled out, the disc pulled out slowly ahead, then it slid over about a hundred feet directly in front.
"Does it want us to follow?" Margolis asked.
"Is that what we're going to do?" His tone was agitated, but it didn't indicate that he wanted him to follow or not.
After just a few seconds they had to choose. The disc descended slowly lower. When it reached an altitude of one hundred fifty feet it stopped dropping. Rizzo made the decision not to follow it down. They remained at three hundred feet.
"It's not reflecting light," Margolis said. "You notice that?"
Soon after the disc had settled on its new altitude it flipped, end over end, just once, left end over right end. Rizzo didn't realize it as it was happening, but immediately afterward he did: The disc was over the wing in the water when it flipped. There was absolutely no doubt about it. As it was passing over the wing in the water, the disc rolled once end over end.
"A victory roll?" Rizzo said.
The disc accelerated at an impossible rate of speed as he was saying it. In about the time it took to blink his eyes the disc zoomed out of sight.
In its wake Rizzo sat there dumbfounded. He needed time to get used to it. He was passing through a mountain range of amazements. It was hard to know which peak was the highest.
"They might as well have talked to us," he said at last in a quiet voice.
Margolis stared straight ahead.
"You saw it," Rizzo said, his voice insistent. "That disc gave a victory roll. He was taking credit for the kill."
"It rolled over," Margolis said. "Does that make it a victory roll?"
"Yes, it does." Rizzo turned toward him. "When it's done right over the wreckage, there's nothing else you can call it."
"Probably they don't even know about victory rolls." Margolis laughed. "An alien thinks he's the Red Baron?"
"That was a clear communication. We're reporting it, Margolis. If you're thinking otherwise, you can put it out of your mind right now. We're reporting this, everything exactly as it happened."
Margolis shrugged. "All I saw was a UFO. You want to talk about victory rolls, that's your business."
"There's no other way to interpret it." He was getting upset now. "An F-16 explodes on a clear calm day with no indication of trouble. Then we get buzzed like we did as we're spotting the debris?"
"We saw a flying disc," Margolis said. "That doesn't mean it shot down anything."
"We're supposed to report it. The aliens want us to. A guy lost his life today in the cause. That's what I think. You and I are witnesses to. . ." He was struck with awe. "Don't you realize what just happened? If it was a victory roll, the aliens are communicating with us. Maybe they're trying to get our attention for something. It could be the same thing as dialing us on the phone."
"A caller like that, it's best not to answer."
"Margolis, we're reporting it."
Margolis took a moment to breathe a weary sigh, then said in a threatening tone, "This better not screw up my night."
Warm air rushed out of the two-story house. A very cold wind jolted Charlie Doyle on the short walk from his car to the door. It was the kind of bitter blast when all you could think about was getting out of it.
"You're late," Katie Clages said, standing with her hands on her hips blocking the doorway. Her hair was honey blonde, shoulder length. She had big green eyes. She'd had another baby since he had seen her last, but it didn't show an ounce, still a fine figure in denim jeans.
He shrugged. "Got stuck on the Beltway."
"Don't give me that Beltway garbage. Someone like you should have made it to Washington about five years ago."
"Maybe I knew the reception I'd get," Doyle said. "Can I come in?"
Doyle was thirty-six years old. At times he had a hard time believing it. Growing up, even in his twenties, he never really thought about it, ever getting this old. He was often mistaken for younger due to his Irish white skin. It was his deep brown eyes that set him apart- steely, clever, penetrating- the kind that let people know he had a mind that was always working. Thankfully, he possessed somthing to offset it, a small mouth that was given to an easy smile, and too often it did.
His body was lithe, athletic. In spite of a fondness for Scotch, he made sure he kept in shape. It wasn't that he was so interested in his health. It was more a matter of self-interest. Extra pounds looked particularly bad in uniform, especially at promotion time. And he liked attracting women.
In the kitchen Katie fixed him Scotch on the rocks without asking. Mike was upstairs giving the kids their baths, she volunteered. Doyle sat at the kitchen table while Katie buzzed about getting dinner ready. He looked around. The refrigerator was plastered with pieces of children's art work. He could see into the dining room, where there was a baby swing and a playpen. Every room he saw was cluttered with domesticity.
"There's someone I want you to meet," Katie said. "A woman friend of mine."
"Yeah?" He was circumspect.
"Yeah. Her name is Ava."
"What's she look like?"
"She's just the way you like -em, Charlie, long on legs and short on morals."
"I thought so. You ever going to get married?"
"Maybe I'll marry your friend."
"Ha. I told her you're a good guy to go out with, but that's just as far as it goes. . . See, I already did your dirty work for you."
It had been a couple of years since he had seen Katie, or even talked to her. Her last baby was a boy, he thought, he wasn't sure. He hadn't sent a card or in any way acknowledged it, as he hadn't the previous two. The best thing about Katie was she expected so little of him.
This was his third day living in Washington. Saturday and Sunday he had spent setting up his apartment in Georgetown. Tonight he was invited for dinner in the suburbs. Mike had been his roommate when they were midshipmen at Annapolis. Katie had worked as a waitress at a tavern nearby. He and Mike had vied for Katie back then, or Doyle liked to think so.
Katie was standing at the sink, breaking up lettuce for their salad. "Mike says you're in a good spot, working for Thurman Mather. Somebody, somewhere must have noticed you."
Doyle shook his head. "That's putting it in the best possible light. I'm a charity case." With more emotion than he intended, he said, "Thurman Mather wouldn't let me go to the grocery gfor him."
Talking with Mike over a bottle of Scotch was what he came here for. They finally got to it after dinner was over, the dishes were done, the kids were put to bed and Katie was asleep on the sofa.
"China is hurting just as much as we are," Mike said, his running shoes propped on a worn, straw-leaking ottoman. "The only difference is, the Chinese people have the brains not to complain so loud."
Mike was a big guy, tall with a thick body and a round pleasant face. As a detailee from the Navy he had worked for four years now at the Central Intelligence Agency. Unlike Doyle, he had a career going. Mike had risen in rank. His personality was suited for succeeding in a bureaucracy: steady, don't make waves, nose to the grindstone. He had a bright future indeed, especially with Katie pushing him.
Doyle was seated across from him on a cushioned glider, toys piled together at the side of the chair. "The president has to get to economy moving again," he said. "That has to be his number one goal. If it means giving in a little to China and Japan, he has to do it. One way or another, we have to get these damn tariffs lowered. They're killing us."
"They're killing everybody," Mike said. "China and Japan are inches away from crumbling. If the president can hold out about six more months, then we get them lowered on our terms. We might as well get something out of it, for the hell we've gone through on the whole deal."
"That's CIA's assessment?"
Mike tipped his head.
There was no doubt Doyle enjoyed hearing the inside dope, although it hurt his ego, too. He had graduated at the top of their class while Mike finished barely in the middle.
"What's the take on Chairman Li?" Doyle asked. "Don't you think China's overdoing it a little? We got the message already."
"No one knows what to think about Chairman Li. Will the unedrground testing continue? There's no way of predicting."
"I've lost count," Doyle said. "Is that ten bombs or eleven he's set off in the last six months?"
"Eleven. Of course there's more than scientific research behind it. It's also a psychological ploy. Chairman Li is announcing to the world China's willingness to defend itself."
For a long time they talked about China and Japan and their new strategic alliance. It was a concept that was hard to get used to. Eventually, though, the conversation turned inward. "I know the pro at a good course close to here," Mike said. It was after eleven o'clock now. "It's damn good to see you, Charlie." He was almost gushing, some of it having to do with the Scotch.
Doyle smiled. It was nice someone appreciated his arrival. He was feeling a little stoned himself. "It's good to be here, I guess." He picked up a Nerfball from the floor and started tossing it. "It's not exactly the way I had planned it. Instead of a big job at the Pentagon, I've got a small one at the White House." There wasn't the same edge in his voice as there had been when he had talked to Katie on the subject. "Hell, it's not even the White House. I'm across the street."
Mike tried to remain positive. "Plenty of people would kill to be working for Thurman Mather in this administration."
He laughed. "I work for Thurman Mather like a parish priest works for the Pope. . . You know what I found out? I got picked for the job on a payroll technicality. Because the Navy's paying my salary, I'm not officially counted against the White House staff. For that reason alone they tapped old Charlie Doyle to round out the bottom of the barrel."
Mike didn't offer anything to it. He couldn't disagree so he kept his mouth shut.
Doyle wadded the ball in his hand. "I brought myself down," he said in a philosophical tone. "I thought all you needed was ability to lift you in the ranks. That was my mistake. I didn't see you still have to play by the rules, too."
"It was a piece of bad luck, Charlie."
"That's not all it was. Guys have ejected and landed with their careers intact. I brought it on myself by having a reputation. I was always in such a big hurry, that's the joke of it. I've spent more time in the slow lane than anyone in the Navy."
It used to be if you cracked up a plane, you got the boot no matter what, but that was before cutbacks in the defense budget made fully trained fighter pilots not so easily discarded. "They're never going to let me get beyond it. If I had known five years ago what I know now, I would have resigned my commission and gone from there."
A home Congressional office had opened in the vacant building next to his parents' dry cleaning store, that was how he got his appointment to Annapolis. He'd had an unlimited career ahead of him. Anyone who knew him knew it, expected it. All his life he had been loaded down with cranial capacity.
"I used to think I wasn't giving up." He looked down into his Scotch. "It wasn't that long ago I was still optimistic. Now I think I'm just waiting around for my twenty years to be up. That's what I've been reduced to. Instead of achieving something,instead of making something of myself, I'm thinking about a goddamn pension plan."
"There's nothing wrong with planning for your future, Charlie. You're getting smart."
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His purchase price is 12:95, which is a good discount off the Amazon price.
There are currently four excerpts in the queue. I haven't been publicizing this program, preferring to see how it goes by word-of-mouth. I know there's some discussion of it at Authornomy, but I haven't obtained a login to see what it's all about. I'm going to start publicizing it this week, so if you've been on the fence, you might want to make a decision.
Here are the upcoming works, in the order in which they may appear:
- Gathering of Rain – Volume I of Tales of the Valla
- The Zambinos of Blue Hill: The Proving
Comments are welcome, but remember to be nice to my authors.