Draft 2/20/2018

2 The Start of Something Big

Hushed oohs and ahhs escaped from the crowd gathered along the National Mall as a small craft flew slowly above them. It's streamlined, faintly organic shape gleamed white--almost iridescently so, in the morning sun. At each corner, a bright glow emanated from its engines. It flew quietly but emitted a humming crackle as it flew overhead.

Heading east, it made a graceful turn to the north near the Washington Monument. It gradually descended, approaching its destination--the White House South Lawn.

Inside this craft sat three men. One was barely out of his teens, the other, older, around retirement age. They were dressed in khaki pants and pullover shirts, obviously from Earth. The last, middle-aged, wore a strangely elegantly cut shirt and slacks of browns and greens.

John Taylor, the eldest, sat in the pilot's couch. Beside him, his grandson Zeke was speaking with Rolenil, the King of Anyar, who sat between and behind them.

The shuttle was much smaller than the large, impressive craft that had previously taken them to an introduction at the United Nations. Zeke and his grandfather had accompanied Rolenil, then, as they did now. The small group a contrast with the usual retinue that accompanied the President.

The White House staff had wanted a carefully choreographed agenda but Rolenil limited it to a few points in a meeting that would occur without advisors.

The President would not be waiting to meet them. His staff insisted that he waited for no one, but he would come out to greet them on the South Lawn. A large steel pad had been placed for their shuttle to avoid a burn pattern on the lawn.

Only under such extraordinary circumstances would they allow any flying craft to land on the lawn. John had spoken with the Secret Service representative, acknowledging his understandable concerns. In spite of his atttempts to avoid it, the conversation had become tense.

Habits die hard, and the initial Secret Service demands were specific and onerous in a way that was intended to demonstrate who was--to appear--in charge. He’d spoken with the head of security. They’d insisted on a meeting beforehand to examine the shuttle, which Rolenil had granted. That was the closest they would come to their standard procedures.

John, apologizing in as gracious a manner as he could, mentioned a few obviously secret details of the security deployed on the White House grounds that the Anyari had been detected with their standard sensors. It wasn’t to establish dominance, though he was sure that was how they would see it. It was to set the ground rules by which they would interact.

It was, he thought, easy to be patient when you held all the cards, and both sides knew it. He wanted, and he new Rolenil wanted, to keep that fact in the background. That was not the basis for the kind of relationship they wanted and needed.

Their destination and route were well known to the public in advance, so the crowds along their route were large.

With all he’d seen and done in the preceding months, it was still a thrill. Out of courtesy, and to reinforce their honesty and reliability, he followed their requested course exactly.

They looked down as they passed near the Washington Memorial and turned. Many thousands of people below looked up and waved. Ahead he could see the trees that lined the lawn. The black metal pads where the marine helicopters would normally land. It had a large “H” painted in the center.

Ran, the Machine Intelligence who provided the actual control of the shuttle based on John's inputs, confirmed their course. She displayed a virtual tunnel on the HUD that John just flew through. As they approached, John tweaked their course slightly.

Rolenil, in the seat beside him, commented, “White seems to be a common color for large homes? I like it—though it is still a little disconcerting to see buildings which stand out so much. A hard habit to break, I guess.”

John responded, “With all our problems, with all my personal disgust for many who have occupied it, the White House is a symbol of the country that has my allegiance. Not that I would put its interests before any others, but I did not expect to feel so emotional as I find that I do.”

“We must somehow be wired to hold some things and some places of special value,” Rolenil replied. “There are monuments to those who’ve died in ancient battles and in attacks by the Rogue. They give me the same feeling. We do not have religion as you know it, but we share an awe and awareness of special places and events."

Many people lined the lawn. More than Zeke remembered remembered seeing when Marine One landed or departed. The Anyari had guaranteed the security, though the Secret Service must be having fits. Even with the devices they’d provided to let them sense metal and explosives, John couldn’t blame them.

As with the visit to the UN, they could watch their approach broadcast on the networks from cameras on the ground. It had seemed strange and wondrous to Zeke and John then, and he hand't lost that sense of wonder. John brought the shuttle down, it’s thrusters rising on struts to the top of the small shuttle to minimize the damage to the landing pad.

Zeke, listening to a news broadcast, could hear the loud whoosh of the thrusters stopping, delayed slightly from when he heard it through the hull. The crowd outside, large though it was, was silent. They had seen this before on television, but the reality of an alien craft held them spellbound. The hatch rose almost silently. The bottom of the opening was just inches above the pad. The three of them stepped out, waiting for a guide to come. A young lady, with shoulder-length blond hair and form-fitting skirt, walked over to meet them. As had become their custom, John stepped forward first, his hand extended.

“I’m Mary Turner, Mr. Taylor," she said, "an assistant to the deputy chief of staff. It is a pleasure to meet you,” she said with an honest smile.

“I am glad to make your acquaintance, Mary,” John replied. “This is truly an honor for us, my grandson and I never thought such a day would come,” he said introducing Zeke as he stepped forward, to clasp her hand.

Rolenil had stood quietly behind them until John introduced him.

“This is,” he continued, turning and stepping back to allow her to shake hands with Rolenil, “who we’ve brought to meet you.”

Rolenil was a personable man. Few who had held his position were not. John and Zeke knew his smile and words to be genuine. Soon, they hoped, the rest of Earth would come to the same conclusion

“Miss Turner? Excuse me if I err, we don’t make the same distinctions with honorifics.”

“It is,” she answered with a suddenly a shy smile directed at Zeke. “Please come with me; the President is waiting. I think he came out to see you land and I don’t blame him a bit.”

They followed her across the lawn to the South Portico. There had been little time to walk through real grass these last few months.

John was not quite as steady on his feet as he’d been in his youth. Zeke touched his elbow as they strode towards the portico. The President was easily identifiable by a cluster of people near him and the space they afforded him.

As Mary led them forward, David Kirkman, stepped forward. Tall, youthful, and more than moderately liberal, Kirkman reflected the wave of America’s youth that had elected him just after Zeke had left with Danil. His early days in office, opposed by entrenched political leaders, promised little hope of seeing the changes he’d promised. He reached John first.

Speaking above the noise of the crowd he said, “It is a pleasure to meet you, sir.”

“Thank you. It is an honor to be here,” John replied, shaking the proffered hand. He turned and Zeke stepped up to shake hands. Again waiting behind them, Rolenil had been watching President Kirkman intently. Now he stepped up and firmly clasped his hand. “We have much to do. Let us hope we can find a way to turn turn fate into destiny,” he said, cryptically.

Only the four of them were close enough to hear. Zeke and John, remained silent.

“I thought destiny led me to this place,” Kirkman replied, keeping hold of Rolenil’s hand. “This last year has disabused me of that notion. If you are the means that allows me to achieve the dreams that brought me here, I believe supporting you in your endeavors will be easy.”

With a nod, they separated, and Kirkman stood beside the king. Photographers quickly moved in.

“This is a beautiful, peaceful place, despite the noise and crowd,” the king suggested.

“I haven’t taken much time to appreciate that. They keep me busy,” the president replied.

“Keep you busy?” Rolenil’s eyebrows raised slightly. "I know what it's like to have responsibilities, but how you keep things in perspective without time to contemplate, I think your word is meditate on all the daily details and complications?"

“My schedule is kept full. I meet a lot of people, few for long, in-depth conversations,” he answered, a trace of dismay in his voice. "Contemplation has not been on the schedule..." his voice trailed off as he thought.

“Then I hope we can change that, or at least give you a break in the routine,” the king said with a faint twinkle in his eyes. Standard protocol would have been to give a speech, but the staff and press core knew that the meeting from the Oval Office would be followed with a broadcast to the world.

The president walked beside the king through the South Portico. John and Zeke followed, eyes wide as they looked at the historic setting they’d only seen on television.

The president stopped and stood beside them, “There was a time when I was amazed to be able to walk in here. Familiarity, though, has kind of diminished the wonder.”

“Yes,” John replied. “I know what you mean. Having cake every day...”

In the Oval Office, the cameras for the speech were already ready. The president dismissed the staff, “Give us a few minutes; then you can come back when we’re ready. No one was surprised. The Anyari had “suggested” this and the American president had agreed, overruling his advisers.

He turned to Rolenil, “I’ve heard a little bit of privacy is a possibility?”

“Yes, openness is a cornerstone of our culture, but getting to know each other is not something you do comfortably in front of millions.”

“Even if I order it, I doubt that we’ll have complete privacy.”

“Oh, we’ll have as much privacy as you want,” Zeke announced quietly, his hand resting on his comm bracelet.

Kirkman smiled, “Perhaps you can come more often?”

He motioned them to chairs, and they sat informally around the fireplace.

“I have a list of topics to discuss,” he continued, “but I don’t suffer from the illusion of control my cabinet expects me to pretend I have. Where should we start?”

Rolenil got straight to the point, “Danger looms. We have much to decide and the faster we can do so the safer our two worlds will be,” Rolenil answered.

The young president looked intently, nodding his head.

Rolenil continued, “We will--or at least we hope--to take volunteers back to Anyar, some will go through are Academies and other training, depending on aptitude. We want to start Academies here, with the permission of your government, one in the United States with others in Europe and China. That will surely be a learning experience for us all.

"We know there will be resistance to this and many other things. Chen He may have little influence over the Chinese government, but I understand he has great respect among most."

The president nodded agreement.

"The routine we have on Anyar will not be suitable here,” he said, looking at John and Zeke Taylor, who nodded agreement. “We have transports on the way with more medical systems and the first of our fabrication and manufacturing units.

"You know that I’ve emphasized our determination that it not be used to serve the needs of individuals. With everything controlled or monitored by MI’s, that shouldn’t be a problem, but we won’t underestimate the ingenuity of some people to turn things to their own ends.

"In fact, it is that ingenuity we're counting on," he said with a smile and a nod towards Zeke.

“No doubt there will be problems we need to deal with,“ President Kirkland acknowledged." I trust those from my country more than the other nations, but even here there will problems.

"Yes, we are an independent bunch. That can be a strength and a weakness. Our grandparents united when there was need, and I know we can do so again. But you must understand that you come with only a story and your word, even if Zeke is one of our own.”

“Rolenil and Zeke and been through Rogue attacks. I have not. We knew doubters would exist. Given the situation, it not even unreasonable. If there is not some sign of the Rogue, that doubt will grow, but until then, the wave of support we have seen will carry us through. What we have to offer: technology for all, adventure for some, should have significant influence--or so we hope.”

“Let's hope you're right. I am struggling to believe. The few protests and demonstrations are far less than I would have expected and what my advisors predicted. Where will you located these Academies?” the president asked.

John smiled, “In the most neutral places we can find. Here in America, I confess that I’ve influenced the decision to favor my gut. The coasts have most of the population, but I think the center of the country would avoid favoring either coast. It will increase the need for a tube system, which is the something we are prepared to begin as soon as Congress approves, and we assume you will sign?” he looked at the President for confirmation.

“Of course. It will certainly disrupt our transportation industries, but that will hopefully be offset by those selected to train on Anyar and in the new Academies here.” Everyone nodded agreement. I’ll announce the Academy and my support that it be located in the Midwest, presumably Kansas I assume,” he said with a smile directed at John. “And I’ll bring in senators and congressmen from both parties to see that bills are written and submitted to Congress without delay.”

They discussed the upcoming speeches the President and King would make. Rolenil would, as was Anyari custom deliver his remarks without a prepared text. The President would make notes from the prepared speech his aides had written, on Rolenil's advice. It was harder, he said, to deceive when you don't practice.

They called the news crews back in, one of Kirkman's aides hurried to his side and whispered in his ear. The President frowned and shook his head. The aide, surprised, stood up and backed away.

Rolenil would speak from a chair beside the fireplace. Kirkman would end the session with remarks from his desk.

"Good evening," Rolenil began. "Much has happened since our arrival here--a few short weeks ago. Although we have done what we could to be open and transparent, we can't share what we don't know. This meeting is the first we hope to have with all of the leaders of your world. It should not be perceived as a preference for dealing with the United States. It is, I admit, influenced by the importance that I place on my two trusted friends, John and Zeke Taylor.

"No one, no nation should doubt that we will shake any hand extended in friendship. We will partner with anyone willing to agree to the fair and straightforward conditions we have set. Other meetings have already been scheduled and will occur in the next few days.

"There is little new that I have to say, but I will repeat what is most important. We've come to you with a story that is new, and I'm sure, difficult to believe. Even with the video recordings you've seen, you have reason to doubt. We would in your position, but we have no story we can tell but the truth, as fantastic as it may seem.

"The only real proof is to encounter the Rogue. That leaves us--with you--an unfortunate conundrum. We of Anyar must trust you and your judgment.

"Even now, a few representatives from Earth are accompanying our military patrols as we search your solar system. That number will increase, and I envision a day when you will do that without our help.

"I look forward to meeting more of you. The combination of our cultures will be better than either alone."

With that, the red light on the camera went out and the light on the camera on President Kirkman came on.

"My fellow Americans," he began, then paused. "or, I think I should say, my fellow citizens of Earth. Although I speak now to my countrymen, all that I say is also meant for every person on the planet.

"First, let me open with my firm intentions: We will work with our brothers and sisters from Anyar. I believe what they tell us. If they can cross the gulf between solar systems, then it is foolish to think that other beings cannot.

"To that end, I will do all in my power to see that an Academy is built here in America, in our heartland. I encourage other leaders of other nations to do the same, not in competition with us--those days must be left behind--but in partnership.

"I am asking Congress for the authority to build this academy. If they do not consent, I will make calls. I will meet with as many of you as I can in town halls and local schools. I will knock on doors if I must, to see that we pursue a path to guarantee our safety.

"Perhaps, though, in spite of all we do, it will not guarantee our safety, but I know our parents and grandparents came together when their country called, and I assure you we will do the same!"

His voice had started softly, but slowly the emotion and determination became evident in his voice.

"I intend to follow the custom of openness we have seen in the Anyari. That is what I promised when I ran for this office and I see this as an opportunity to more fully keep that promise.

"The future will not be simple. We have been divided and closing those gaps will surely not be easy. You know, and I know, that we must unite behind this cause. I choose to believe this is the beginning of a brighter future and I will do all I can to see that happen."

With that, he paused before continuing.

"It is a time for leaders, and I intend to lead. I ask for your support. Most importantly, I ask for your trust. No great endeavor was accomplished without risk and we will not ignore that risk. We will be as prudent as we can and as daring as we must.

There is no power stronger than our determination. That power does not come from the top, it is is bestowed by you on those you trust. Now, like no other time in our history, we must use the power you have bestowed upon us. I promise you that we will use it as wisely as we can."

With that, the red light went out and President Kirkman exhaled a sigh of relief. He looked at Rolenil who returned an approving smile.

Rolenil and the president walked down to the press briefing room to take quesitons from the press.

As they stood on the dais, the president selected reporters with questions.

"How did you pick the center of the country as the sight for this new academy?" the CNN correspondent asked.