Draft 2/20/2018


Zeke watched as the familiar landmarks drifted by below. Danil was piloting the shuttle, Dev and Sephen were also on with him as they descended towards the small town just now visible in the distance.

The landscape here wasn't as barren of structures as Anyar, but it was different from the cities he'd spent the last weeks visiting. From above the landmarks were familiar. The lakes he'd fished with his grandfather were the home he'd known his entire life. Now they were faintly surreal as they hovered over them, Zeke pointing out the places he fished and played as a kid.

He was both eager and anxious about returning to his hometown, his old friends. He'd grown accustomed to being the center of attention, but this was a place with memories, mostly happy ones, of a quiet and simpler life where he'd been an inconsequential guy in an small town.

It was no use denying it. He was an influential person now, famous on Anyar and now on Earth. It still seemed crazy to think about. He wondered how everyone would look at him.

Mostly, he wondered what Suzanne would think.

They circled as they descended towards the gravel lot by the track, the only place the shuttle's thruster's wouldn't damage anything. Zeke could see a crowd gathered in the grass lot south of the school. The whole school --and most of the town--must be there.

He'd gotten use to many things, but he never tired of seeing the wonder on the faces of people seeing an Anyari ship for the first time.

The shuttle's thrusters kicked up dust and rocks as it landed. Danil killed the thrusters and it was suddently quiet. The crowd, maybe a hundred feet away was still.

The side hatch of the shuttle lowered and Zeke stepped out into the sunshine on a clear blue, fall day. He was, for once, dressed in the blue and grey uniform he'd become accustomed to, until recently. Back on Earth, til now, he'd worn Earth clothing.

Mr. Thompson led the crowd, followed closely by Rick. Zeke and Rick had, he realized, spent too many nights playing Counterstrike.

As they got closer he looked at Rick who broke into a trot, jumped over the low stone wall that separated the gravel lot from the drive, and reached him first.

"Holy shit, Zeke! Where's your space helmet?"

Left it in the trunk," Zeke came back quickly as they clasped hands and gently bumped chests.

"It is good to see you again Rick...really good."

"Until a few weeks ago..." Rick replied, his meaning clear. Zeke had disappeared without a trace and everyone believed him gone for good, probably dead.

Mr. Thompson strode up and Zeke extended his hand, "It's good to be back, Mr. Thompson, if only for a little while. I've seen a lot, as you can imagine, but not enough where I don't miss home."

"I'm glad to hear it Zeke. You've put Council Grove on the map. You were a good kid, and I can see you've become a good man--earlier than I expected. After you get a chance to talk with your friends, we've planned an assembly in the gym. I expect you have some stories to tell, and we'd all like to hear them"

Zeke nodded, then turned around to Danil, Dev, and Sephen waiting on the shuttle's ramp. As he did, they walked forward to join them.

"Mr. Thompson, Rick, I've spent a lot of time with these three since I've been gone," and he introduced each of them. The rest of the crowd moved closer and around them and Zeke again introduced his three companions to the group.

"It's not every day you get to meet aliens from another planet," Zeke raised his voice so all could hear. Don't waste your chance today. They haven't eaten anyone."

After a momement he added, "That I know of."

The Anyari were a perplexed by this, but the crowd laughed.

"Mr. Thompson told us, yesterday, that you'd be visiting, but he didn't say why," Rick said.

Suzanne walked toward them as he answered Rick, "To visit home, to show some of my new friends where I'm from, and mostly, to tell you about what's coming."

She was close enough to hear the last and her eyebrows rose slightly as she bent forward to hug him. Something that had never happened before.

"I've missed my lab partner," she said sincerely. "And I didn't expect to see you again."

"To be honest, neithere did I. I'm sure you've read the story, it's been a litle complicated."

"Yeah, it is quite a story. Not what we expected from someone we all knew and ...liked," she paused at the end.

"I hope I haven't changed too much," he responded. "It's the events that have been amazing, I'm still the same old Zeke."

"After landing in that," she said, pointing to the shuttle, "that line won't work anymore."

Melissa, with the shyness that only the really bright must bear, stood back behind a group of kids talking to Dev.

She wasn't the prettiest girl in the school, but she was the smartest and, probably, the nicest. Zeke found her and gave her a hug, something he'd never have been comfortable doing before.

"I'm glad you're back," she said, her face bright.

"It is good to see you," he replied. "I didn't realize how much I missed this place til now."

Zeke knew that Melissa liked him. And he liked her, too--just not in the way he knew she wanted. But she is who he'd have asked to prom. Suzanne, as friendly as she'd always been, was, in the social hierarchy, out of his league. Things had changed, and it wouldn't matter anyway, but he was determined to be the same guy he'd always been. He had enough complications with girls anyway.

As they walked back towards to school, he shook hands with the guys he'd known. Mrs. Johnson was waiting by the entrance to the gym, and extended her arms to hug him.

"We are very, very proud of you," she beamed.

Zeke just smiled and wrapped his arms around her, not knowing how to answer.

"Thank you, Mrs. Johnson," he finally managed to say.

His three companions had strayed far and were each in friendly discussions with large groups. As they entered the gym, they joined Zeke who was standing by the stage. He was, despite his inclination, not a part of the school any more.

The students filled the bleachers along one side. Mr. Thompson walked over to him.

"I could introduce you, but why? he said smiling. "When everyone is seated, just go and tell them what you've come to say."

Zeke nodded and waited.

When they were seated, he walked out into the gym. The soft, Anyari shoes didn't almost silent on the hardwood floor. His classmates, his former classmates grew quiet as he stopped in front of them.

He stood, facing the gathering, and took a visibly deep breath, slowly letting it out.

"Anything new going on I should know about?"

His confident demeanor and deadpan deliver brought laughter that broke any ice that remained.

"You weren't that funny before," someone yelled from the stands.

"Trust us," Danil said loudly enough for all to hear, "he's still not that funny."

Zeke's smiled broadly as everyone laughed. It remaineduntil the crowd, again, quieted.

"We know each other pretty well. I won't pretend to be anyone, anything more than I was. Sometimes a chance comes along to do something important. That's what it was, chance. People tell me I didn't screw things up too badly and I'm trying to keep that streak alive.

"I'm here to tell you about what's going on, about the Anyar. Most of you have probably read a lot about them, about the Rogue, even about me. It's not surprising that many have doubts. It's a story I'd have trouble believing.

"What you think, what you choose to believe is important. If you don't believe me then why should anyone? I hope you'll believe me. I hope you'll convince your parents. I hope that some of you will apply to the Academies that will be built.

"And, I hope, that one day I'll see some of you on Anyar."

He was silent for a moment, letting that image sink in.

"Yes," he said slowly and deliberately. "I'm serious.

"You know I came back for my grandfather, and he has been there, too. Hard as it is to beleive, you can go there, too."

"It is amazing to think about, but it's not all roses and sunshine. I have seen the Rogue. I've seen what they can do. I'm not frightened, but I am determind."

"So much has happened, I'd love to take the time to tell you about all of it, but I'm better at answering questions, so hit me with your best."

Kirk Wheeler, a burly kid who was on the wrestling team and a lineman on the football team declared, "My old man said that it's funny the Anyari, just now decided to stop trying to hide from the Rogue. Why are they all hot go after them now?"

Sephen walked towards Zeke, holding his hand up to tell Zack to wait to answer.

"Zeke would do his best to answer that, but he wasn't born on Anyar, as well as he understands us, I think you should hear the answer from one of us.

"The first time they attacked was long ago. Many died and we just barely were able to defeat them, even though their force was small. For a long time, we didn't have anything to go after them with.

"Then, about a hundred years ago, we did have spacecraft and ships enough to give us the means to defend ourselves. But after we rebuilt, well, it is easier to believe it won't happen again. You've read our history. Maybe you would have done the same. Maybe not.

"Even after the last attack, the one where Danil and Zeke helped win by bringing back the Redun, our thoughts were on building our defenses, not going back out into the galaxy to look for them."

His serious expression lightened.

"Zeke likes to believe that the idea to put out probes was reached by everyone in our flight. We've let him continue to believe that. I think most in our flight believe it. But those of us who know him best," he paused for a moment to look over at Danil and Dev, "know that he was the guiding force behind that idea."

Zeke shook his head slightly, but remained silent.

"Zeke," Sephen continued, "Zeke is the reason we are going out to look for the Rogue. If he had not come to Anyar, we would be building our defenses, but we would still be 'hiding' on Anyar," he finished, looking directly at Kirk.

Zeke remained quiet, not wanting to openly disagree with his friend.

"Well, you can believe whatever you like. I disagree. We have plenty of time and I like to talk, so I hope there are more questions."

Several politely raised their hands, Melissa was one of them and Zeke called her name.

"I've read a lot of the information on the Anyari, but, not to be rude, but they wrote it. What are they like from the perspective of a Kansas boy?"

"That," Zeke began, "is easy to answer."

"They are like us in many ways, in most ways. At least, they are like those of us who prefer to get along and not cause unnecessary trouble. They aren't without fault. For them, it is more important to be respected than to have a lot of stuff.

"With MI's and robots, no one goes without food or medical care. There are some I like better than others. They don't have the problems we do. Let's face it, we have a lot. But they have problems, but they try to recognize and admit them.

"And, I trust them. I trust the King, he takes his responsibility very seriously. I've met him and had much more time to talk to him than I deserve."

From the crowd, an anonymous voice called out, "We hear you've met his daughter, too!"

Several in the crowd laughed. Zeke's flushed. He would have left it alone. He should have left it alone, but hearing Danil laugh increased the amusement of the crowd.

Zeke stammered, "She's just another girl I've met."

To which Danil responded, "And when I get a chance to tell her that, she will be just another girl you've met."

The caused the crowd to roar with laughter. Zeke stood, trying to maintain his composure, waiting for the crowd to quiet enough for him to speak.

"Well," he replied, "I also need to tell you that the Anyari are not as funny as they think they are."