Another Chase of the Same Alien Through the Same Town
Joe found a door that opened to a seedy back alley between the buildings. It was dimly lit, quiet, and filled with trash dumpsters. He cautiously walked toward the light of the busy street at the end of the alley.
He pulled his collar up and tucked his chin under it, hoping no one would notice an alien walking down the street.
They did. People pointed at Joe and shouted, “Earthling! Earthling!” They backed away, giving him a wide berth, thinking he was diseased. A nearby police officer radioed in the sighting. Then the tweet of her officer’s whistle rang out through the air, and everyone turned to see, even Joe. Joe realized the tweets tolled for him. He ran.
He was quick, running into the street and weaving between cars, dodging taxis and buses. He was fit, he was able. He knew he could go the distance, until he crashed into a bicycle messenger. They both fell to the ground. Joe, full of adrenaline, sprang back up and grabbed the messenger’s bike. “Sorry, man. I’m stealing your bike.” He rode off.
The messenger got up and brushed himself off. He turned to the officer who had just run up to him and said, “That was the politest bicycle thief I’ve ever run across.”
Not only was Joe a part-time bicycle repairman, but he was also an avid rider. He quickly got up to speed and made good time through traffic. Within moments, a squad of Ngorongoro Police Department vehicles found him and took up the pursuit. But traffic was heavy and a bicycle easily out-maneuvered the NPD.
Joe was quick and efficient on a bike, passing a few bicycle couriers as well. (They gave him a nod for his riding prowess.) He barreled down a street where an NPD bicycle patrol officer was stationed, on the alert for him. Police sirens wailed in the distance. The bicycle officer acquired her alien target and pursued.
Ahead at the next intersection, three police cars formed a roadblock. Joe swerved into an open plaza between the buildings and headed for a park at the other end. The police vehicles, thwarted at their roadblock, moved to intercept. The bike patrol was joined by two other bicycle officers, and they followed Joe through the plaza. Two vans from the disease control department weren’t far behind.
As soon as the first radio report of Joe aired, the media flooded into the city like a horde of hormonal teenagers chasing a pop star.
A television helicopter was immediately dispatched to this second chase of the same alien through Ngorongoro. “Joyce Bolan, reporting live via our eye-in-the-sky helicopter high above Ngorongoro. Boy, I hope we don’t have another run-in with that rude police helicopter that got in our way last time, right Bruce?” Her helicopter pilot responded with a thumb’s up.
Rowan, the news anchor, asked over her headset, “Can you see any activity on the ground?”
“Yes. I see an alien riding a bike, Rowan.”
A heavy moan was heard back over the headset, followed by, “Can you expand on that Joyce?”
“Yes, I can, Rowan. It is extremely hard to hail a cab downtown in the middle of the day. So, a bicycle seems like an appropriate choice.”
“No,” Rowan paused and took a deep breath. “I meant about the alien’s progress.”
“Yes, Rowan, I can do that too. There are police to the left of him, disease control to the right of him and pedal patrol behind him. And boldly rode on the Earthman.” She heard another heavy sigh over her headset.
“He’s at it again!” came the call-to-arms at the extreme sports offices in the Shooman Tower. Every employee raced to their stations, ready to capitalize on Joe’s current exploits. They had unfurled a banner down the side of the building that was a large electronic monitor embedded in a flexible fabric, and it replayed the events of Joe’s bicycle ride across Ngorongoro.
“Who knew you could do these things with a bike?” one person asked in astonishment.
“We have got to go to his planet,” another envious, young, upwardly-mobile executive replied.
“What should we name this new sport?”
“How about bike motocross?”
“You sutluts, bikes don’t have motors.”
Alfia’s attempts to console her mother were futile. And matters were made worse by the constant barrage of negative news reports.
“Newsflash!” the announcer yelled excitedly. “The Earthman Joe has contaminated the entire city. Citizens are warned to stay inside until this menace can be contained and sterilized. If you see the Earthman, please contact authorities right away.”
“I can’t listen to these lies anymore.” Marsha covered hear ears and turned from the television.
“We need to leave it on in case they find him,” Alfia reminded her.
“Newsflash!” the news anchor declared again. “The infectious alien has just been seen. He is traveling through the financial district on a pedal-driven recreational transport. He appears to be heading west. Local law enforcement and disease control are in pursuit.”
Before the announcement was over, Alfia and Marsha were out the door and heading downtown with a media entourage in their wake.
“Evinrude!” rang out so loud that Evinrude, sitting in his embassy office, wasn’t sure if it was his intercom or Drakewood yelling through the building.
He decided it was the intercom and answered, “Yes, sir.” But there was no answer.
“Evinrude!” the distressed ambassador called out again.
Evinrude decided it wasn’t the intercom and got up to walk down the long hallway to Drakewood’s office. He knocked as he opened the door and entered. “You wanted to see me, sir?”
Drakewood pointed at the television.
Evinrude took a moment to watch and comprehend the full extent of the situation, then asked, “Mind if I borrow your car?”
Drakewood gave him the nastiest look Evinrude had ever seen.
“Fred, Frank, come look at this!” Ambassador Calloway called to them over the intercom. When they arrived at his office, their attention was immediately drawn to the television screen mounted on the wall, as the report kept repeating.
“Newsflash! The infectious alien has just been seen. He is traveling through the financial district on a pedal-driven recreational transport. He appears to be heading west. Local law enforcement and disease control are in pursuit.”
“Macideneb!” Frank exclaimed. “When did all this happen?”
“The Earthman Joe has contaminated the entire city. Citizens are warned to stay inside until this menace can be contained and sterilized. What kind of suhton would transport a diseased alien halfway across the galaxy without going through any quarantine, trade procedures, or protocols? There appears to be no documentation or registration of any kind through any government agency. Who has allowed it to run loose among the general population?”
“That is an unmitigated fabrication!” Fred yelled back at the TV, defending Joe. “He’s not contaminated. We’re not sick.”
“I knew it.” Ambassador Calloway’s arms flailed as he paced around his office, more animated than usual. “I just knew it! I knew this would come back to bite us in the sunisa.”
Flying over Joe’s head, two helicopters vied for the best angle to record Joe’s progress. “G’day John,” The media helicopter pilot’s decidedly Down Under accent came across the police helicopter’s radio.
“Bruce!” John’s reply was short and terse with implied disdain for his fellow pilot. “You cheeky devil, you stay out of my way, or I’ll give you what for. This is official police business.”
“No worries, mate. You’ll never know I’m here.” Bruce flew across John’s path, causing the police helicopter to reel back.
Joe flew down a flight of stairs with three bikes in hot pursuit. Up another short flight, and then a hop onto a wall that bordered a river. The cops were fearless and followed him without hesitation. He sprang off the ledge, landing on a stair railing and sliding down it to the bottom. He bounded off the railing and continued to ride.
The pursuing officers merely rode the stairs down — they didn’t seem to think much of his trick — and ended up on the streets again. The police cars were bogged down in traffic and losing ground, but the bike patrol was gaining on him.
Joe turned down a small lane.
“Joyce Bolan reporting. The Earthling Joe is chased by cops down the lane. Then passing through a tunnel to emerge again, under the trees at the turn of the street, finding a bridge and crossing a creek and he on the opposite side
“Thank you, Joyce, for that descriptive play-by-play.” her anchor winced.
“Anytime, Rowan,” she replied gleefully.
Evinrude, Frank and Fred, and Alfia and Marsha (who had lost their media caravan along the way) all arrived downtown in record time. Each party had a handheld police scanner to listen to, and each party decided on a route to intercept Joe. The three cars pulled up to the same intersection, just missing Joe and his pursuers. After a momentary pause to watch Joe cycle away, the three drivers took off in opposite directions.
Fred belabored his frustration with Evinrude’s decoy. “I still can’t believe that Henry Streator’s disk had that Ullamaliztli game on it!”
“Evinrude said he’d get me a copy.” Frank struggled to maneuver through the heavy traffic. “Now we know why it took so long to download.”
“Yeah, but how did he know we would steal it?” Fred asked.
“He’s Evinrude.” Frank smiled as he gained a favorable position in the traffic.
“Aren’t you angry that he played us like a couple of rubes?” Fred was a little perturbed that Frank seemed okay with the whole situation.
“Oh sure, at first I was disappointed,” Frank explained. “But it’s the nature of our business. A little cat and mouse, spy versus spy. If we didn’t eliminate the potential for this to have been the genuine article, we would’ve been severely remiss in our duty. And it was. A great. Game! You should’ve watched it.”
“But he wasted our time!” Fred argued.
“Let it go. We should’ve used our brains instead of our feet.”
Inside hangar eighteen at the spaceport, just before 2 o’clock, Ambassador Calloway and Ambassador Drakewood pondered where their guest of honor could be. Both ambassadors wore the traditional bowler hat, dark suit, white shirt, and thin black tie. As they stood next to each other, they vaguely resembled an alien-looking Laurel and Hardy. Ambassador Calloway noticed that Mayor Nehru was suspiciously absent. “I’m surprised Mayor Nehru hasn’t arrived.”
“I spoke to him earlier today,” Drakewood confided. “He seemed concerned about Ladascus’ new role with the new peace accord. I tried to assure him that nothing would change, and that, in fact, the economy should improve. But he still seemed apprehensive.”
Joe decided he needed to lose the helicopter and other vehicles. He entered the lobby of a large building by riding through the revolving door, a trick that impressed the police cyclists.
The building was part of a mall with shops and restaurants and was rather crowded during lunch. Citizens in his path fled at the sight of him. Others pointed and recorded it on their phones.
He rode across the open expanse of the lobby to an escalator and went up it. At the top, he followed a walkway that bridged across the street and into a parking garage. The bicycle squadron lost some ground but kept reporting his position.
On the third level of the parking garage, Joe headed for the spiral exit ramp. He could see that a disease control van blocked the exit at the bottom, and a police car was parked behind it. Two men in orange hazmat suits and two police officers stood in front of the van. As he rolled down the ribbed surface of the spiral exit ramp, his bike made quite a clatter. The experience wasn’t very good for the rider either.
Below, the authorities could hear him approaching, the excitement of their impending collar rising every minute. Suddenly the sound stopped. They were perplexed.
A boom resonated from behind them as Joe landed on the top of their van and the suspension recoiled. From the roof of the van, he rode to the roof of the police car, caving it in slightly, and then to the ground.
Joe sped away.
“He flies through the air with the greatest of ease. He’s quite a daring young man. But those landings must be tough on his knees. His movements are graceful. It’s such a burly grind. This is Joyce Bolan reporting.” Her voice was almost melodious with admiration.
People on the streets outside the Shooman Towers thought they heard a faint chant of “Go, Joe, go!” descending from the extreme sports offices far above them. And every time Joe evaded capture, united voices cried “Excelsior!” and startled pedestrians below.
At another intersection, Frank and Fred, Alfia and Marsha, and Evinrude met again from different directions. Frank pulled up alongside Evinrude’s car, rolled down his window and said, “Hey, thanks for the copy of the game. I cannot begin to describe how good it was.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it.” Evinrude nodded.
They were joined by six NPD squad cars, all hoping to intersect the wayward alien traveling west on Crestview Street.
The NPD didn’t worry about infection. They didn’t worry about their own safety. They would be the first to run toward danger at any moment. They were Ngorongoro’s bravest and faithful till death.
Out of every police car, a radio blurted out, “Joe has just passed the intersection with Shirley Drive, still proceeding west on Crestview Street.”
He was already another block beyond them. Everyone turned to look westward and watched Joe ride away.
Nine cars feverishly tried to untangle themselves and pursue. The bicycle patrol easily glided through them and continued after their prey.
Inside Alfia’s car, Marsha commented, “You know, once you get used to him, Joe’s not that ugly.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Alfia looked at her mother suspiciously.
“You should keep an open mind. You’re not getting any younger, you know.”
“He’s a client, mother…and an alien!”
“And yet he’s the nicest young man you’ve ever brought home,” Marsha pointed out.
“You’re only saying that because you spent two nights with him. If you’d paid any of my other boyfriends half the attention you’ve given Joe, you’d like them, too.”
“They never seemed to make themselves available. It was always, drive up to the house and honk the horn. They never came in to sit or talk. And besides, he can cook.”
“Mother!” Alfia exclaimed.
“I’m just saying.”
Alfia came to a stop behind Evinrude and Frank and Fred at the next intersection where they hoped to head Joe off. “No! I’m not going to date Joe!” she yelled at her mother.
Frank, Fred, and Evinrude all turned to stare.
Realizing they had heard, Alfia froze. The awkward moment ended abruptly when three squad cars roared up to join them. Alfia silently thanked them.
Joyce Bolan reported, “Once more unto the breach, dear Earthling, once more.”
Evinrude’s, Frank and Fred’s, and Alfia and Marsha’s three cars, six police cars, and three bicycle patrol officers gathered at the end of a narrow street. The police cars were pointed into the street, and the civilian cars lined up behind them. Finally, a disease control van squeezed behind all the other vehicles, sealing off the intersection. No alleys or hidden sidewalks separated the buildings.
Scanners confirmed that Joe was headed directly toward them. An air of confidence permeated the crowd for they were sure Joe was cut off this time.
But Joe was nowhere in sight.
The radio again announced Joe’s location and the anomalous posse double-checked the street signs against their electronic trackers to make sure they were on the right street.
The radio now claimed that Joe had just passed the cross street everyone was parked on. The united front dissolved into a mob wildly searching for Joe.
Evinrude noticed the shadow of a bike rider on the wall next to him and looked up to see Joe, riding on the rail of the elevated monorail train.
Flabbergasted, Evinrude breathed a heavy sigh. Alfia and Marsha were frustrated beyond reason. Fred worried, and Frank laughed at Joe’s ingenuity. Joe prayed no trains were coming. The police, disgusted, aimed their weapons toward the sky and opened fire.
“Oh, bloody anneheg!” John bellowed over the police radios, his accent even more pronounced. “There be helicopters up here, you twits.”
“I like this bushranger,” Bruce declared.
“You would,” John replied.
Oemay, Arrylay, and Urlycay, disguised as technicians in white lab coats, entered hangar eighteen. They removed the podium, took down the PA system, and began folding up the chairs.
Drakewood was immediately upset. “What are you doing? We’re going on air in a few minutes.”
Without pausing from his work, Oemay responded, “Everything’s being moved outside in front of the hangar doors.”
Drakewood argued, “Why? I didn’t authorize this!”
Arrylay carried the podium past them. “The crowd is too big.”
The two puzzled ambassadors walked over to the partially-opened hangar doors to find the entire tarmac packed with people. A stage had already been erected in front of the doors. Evinrude’s golden ship was displayed nearby, a ladder beside the golden craft for spectators to climb up and look into the open canopy. Several television news vans stood out like islands in a sea of people, and media helicopters flew overhead. Police and military had been drafted for crowd control.
The crowd itself was divided into two groups. An anti-Joe camp held signs, wore surgical masks, and chanted “Joe go!” and a pro-Joe camp held signs and chanted “Joe no go!” The two groups inadvertently chanted in rhythm with each other, “Joe go! Joe no go! Joe go! Joe no go!”
Calloway and Drakewood saw their constituents and other powerful people out front and went to greet them.
While everyone else was distracted, Arrylay had time to set the bacterial bomb into the base of the podium without anyone noticing, just like he practiced in front of Joe.
The three assassins finished their work and found the ambassadors. “You’re good to go, gentlemen,” Oemay informed them.
“Thank you,” Calloway gestured with an apathetic, politician-like, bow trying to hurry them on their way.
The three gangsters left.
This time they were ready. Four squad cars and two disease control vans blocked the intersection. The bicycle squad and two police cars herded Joe toward the waiting ambush. Alfia, Marsha, Evinrude, Fred, and Frank pulled in behind the blockade. Joe was within sight. No side streets or alleys. No monorail.
Joe was swift. He wove in and out of traffic. He hopped onto the sidewalk and disappeared.
“Where did he go?” an astounded officer asked. “He was right in front of us?”
Murmurs seeped out of the posse, “Is he capable of interdimensional travel?” “This ain’t no ordinary Earthling.”
An observant officer said. “He went down the subway stairs.”
“He’ll never make it through the turnstiles,” another predicted.
Everyone turned to see if he emerged from the other subway access behind them, only to see one hundred bicycle messengers filling the street.
Despite the negative hype, despite the fact that he stole a bike from one of their own, and actually because he was hated by the cops, Joe had inadvertently become their icon. They felt they had a common bond with him.
Joe came out of the subway and noticed the obviously large number of cyclists surrounding him. He stopped. He didn’t know what to do. One of the cyclists leaned over to Joe and whispered, “It’s cool. We’re antiestablishmentarianists. We’re with you.” And he placed a hat on Joe, trying to disguise the alien in their midst. “Where do you need to go?”
“The spaceport,” Joe cautiously replied.
“Follow us.” The crowd of bikes began a series of complicated synchronized maneuvers in the street. Ninety-six of the cyclists created a diversion with their razzle-dazzle, while Joe and the remaining four raced to the spaceport.
“O Earthling! My Earthling,” Joyce lamented. “Our fearful trip is done.”
“I’m not following you, Joyce,” Rowan said over her headset.
“We lost him, Rowan.”
Oemay, Urlycay, and Arrylay got into their white panel van and drove away.
“You gave us plenty of time to escape the blast, right?” Oemay asked Arrylay.
“It’s set to go off in fifteen minutes. That should put the explosion at ten minutes into their speech and give us plenty of time to clear out of here.”
“Hey. That’s that Joe guy,” Oemay said, recognizing Joe as he rode past them and into the spaceport with four other riders.
“How’d he get out of my knots?” Urlycay fumed.
“I told you, we should’ve popped him in the head,” Arrylay formed a gun with his fingers and mimicked shooting Oemay in the head.
“We’d better get him, he could ruin everything,” Oemay started to turn the van around.
“Wait, look at that,” Urlycay pointed out the front window.
A stampeding herd of police vehicles, disease control vans, Evinrude, Fred and Frank, and Alfia and Marsha barreled down the road, with helicopters overhead and bicycle patrols behind, all following Joe. The van was blocked by the onslaught of vehicles passing through the gate.
As the traffic thinned, Oemay, Arrylay, and Urlycay were caught in the gaze of the largest, meanest, most intimidating bike messenger they had ever seen. Their deer-in-the-headlights trance was broken when the engine sputtered and died. A second messenger appeared in front of them, holding a crucial ignition part. They attempted to exit the van only to find the doors blocked. Two more bikers appeared before them, their bike lock keys waving tantalizingly in their fingers. The four messengers turned their backs to the van, setting themselves up for a selfie with their captives. They waited for that crucial moment with the priceless expressions that could only be obtained the moment the stooges saw four police officers step into view. Click.
Up on the stage, Calloway and Drakewood were about to address the multitude of people. “It’s after two,” Drakewood complained. “Where is Evinrude? Joe is a critical part of our presentation.”
Calloway nudged Drakewood. “We should start. If they don’t show, they don’t show.”
Drakewood stepped up to the podium, straightened his posture, and began, “I am overwhelmed by the number of people here today….”
Joe had a good lead on the pursuing horde, but they were closing fast. He could hear Drakewood’s first words over the PA. He knew he had to hurry.
The sea of people parted as Joe entered. If he was or wasn’t infectious, they weren’t taking the chance. Yet, like any accident, everyone still wanted to see. They chanted loudly, “Joe go!” and “Joe no go!” The third camp of extreme sports fans also joined in, chanting, “Go Joe, go!” The chant quickly became a complicated muddle that sounded like, “Joe go go Joe go Joe no go Joe go go Joe go Joe no go Joe go go Joe go Joe no go Joe go go Joe go Joe no go!” It grew so loud that Drakewood was forced to stop speaking.
Joe rode up, dropped the bike, and leaped onto the stage. He ran to the podium, pushed Drakewood aside, opened the compartment in the base, and pulled out the bomb.
At first, Drakewood and Calloway were appalled by his rude behavior and were about to verbally thrash him, until they noticed the bomb. They scurried away.
Evinrude, Frank, Fred, Alfia, and Marsha abandoned their cars behind the crowd and ran toward the stage.
Joe couldn’t tell how much time was left, only that the counter showed double digits. Alone on the stage, looking at the ticking bomb in his hands, Joe panicked. Now what? He looked around. He saw the crowd. He saw his friends. He saw Evinrude’s ship. “An indestructible ship, perfect,” he declared. All he had to do was climb up the ladder, drop the bomb in, and close the canopy. And he knew how to do that. Everyone will be safe!
Joe cradled the bomb in his arm like a football and raced for Evinrude’s ship. Running through the crowd, Joe dodged and evaded police, security, fans, and a mime. He bounded up the ladder, slipped on the zero-coefficient-of-friction fuselage, and fell into the cockpit, with the bomb. The canopy slammed shut. Joe looked up from the floor of the cockpit, the bomb sitting on the seat, the digital readout in single digits and still counting down.
Outside the ship, time had stopped. Joe’s five friends skidded to a halt. The audience became deathly silent. Everyone stood motionless, waited, and watched. Then came a flash of blinding light, a deafening explosion, and an indestructible ship shook violently, the cockpit filled with smoke.
No one could have survived, especially an ordinary Earthling.
Evinrude stood, staring at his ship.
Marsha broke the silence as she screamed in agony, Alfia trying to console her.
Fred also screamed in agony, but Frank didn’t console him.
And then, quietly, a foot reached down from the front wheel well of the golden plane, looking for a foot peg. Slowly, a second foot lowered to the next peg.
This time, Joe, hadn’t forgotten about the disappearing panel in the floor.
Evinrude spotted Joe’s quivering legs and started toward his ship. The crowd slowly grew aware of what was going on. The solemn moment gave way to a roaring cheer and thunderous applause as they watched Joe lower himself to the ground from beneath the ship, unharmed.
Even though the explosion had been contained, Joe was still shaken by the noise and a concussion. Evinrude went out to escort him back to his friends. Fred fell on Joe, hugging him until it seemed awkward, which was immediately.
“Um, thanks, Fred,” Joe said, as he awkwardly man-hugged him back. “I’m alright. The ship protected me from the blast. I wish I could say the same for my ears.”
They badgered him with questions, Are you okay? Where were you? What happened? How did you know about the bomb?, overwhelming him with the well-meaning attention.
By this time, the ambassadors had worked their way back to the small group. Drakewood, all business, piped up, “If the reunion is over, we are in the middle of a press conference, and the cameras are rolling. I took the liberty of having your part drafted for you. We’ll go first and introduce you shortly.” He handed Joe an electronic notecard and then returned to the stage.
Calloway motioned to some empty seats. “If the rest of you could take seats over there, we’ll get underway immediately.” He then joined Drakewood on stage.
Joe stared at the notecard and then at his friends and complained, “I was just blown up. Quasimodo’s ears don’t ring as bad as mine, I can’t deliver a speech.” They all took their seats near the stage, and the ambassadors began again.
Joe looked again his prepared remarks again — they were written in Quesonte. He held out the notecard to Evinrude. “I can’t read this.”
Evinrude glanced at it and instantly realized why. He grinned, amused. Checking through the programs, he found it couldn’t translate to English or any other Earth-based language. Not that it mattered; being American, Joe only knew one.
Evinrude skimmed through and translated for Joe, “‘In short, we, the Quesonte and the Soufte governments, are giving the bunkers of munitions to the Ladascan people as a peace offering. This ship,’” Evinrude pointed toward the Boulougante Bullet, “‘is the crown jewel of the bunch.’ Or was, until you destroyed it.”
“I thought it was indestructible.”
“On the outside. Anyway, ‘We, the Quesonte and Soufte governments, feel that Ladascans are a great and proud people, and deserve the right to govern and protect themselves.’”
Joe listened intently. “Okay. So, I’m basically on my own.”
“No pressure.” Fred chuckled. “It’s only a matter of galactic peace.”
Joe struggled to memorize what Evinrude had just said. His mind wandered to the famous addresses that he had learned during four years of high school and two years of college. “Why’d I make history my eight o’clock class?” He sighed. He tried to recall the Ladascan history channel’s mega-series about the Disturbance that he had watched while in the hotel. He hoped he could pull this off.
At the podium, Drakewood and Callaway were, again, giving their rehearsed rhetoric to the crowd, explaining the incidents over the last week and how they were doing their level best to do right by Ladascus. The ambassadors assured that Joe had been brought through proper diplomatic channels and was not diseased or contagious in anyway.
Frank leaned over to Alfia. “The Esprit is next to hangar seven, fueled and ready to go.”
“Well, I’m ready anytime Joe is.”
“Joe.” Frank knew the answer but enjoyed asking anyway. “Ready to go home?”
“Yes! Yes, I am!” Joe said gleefully. “But I have a few souvenirs in my hotel room I’d like to keep.”
“We can have them brought over,” Frank assured him.
“I have a small bag already packed, if they could just bring it over. That’d be great.”
Calloway and Drakewood simultaneously introduced Joe. “And now, with no further introduction, we present Joe, the man from Earth.”
“You’re up, Joe.” Evinrude prodded him away from Frank and Alfia.
Joe nervously stepped up onto the stage. The crowd roared and applauded as he sheepishly walked to the podium, his ears still ringing from the blast. He peered out into the audience. The protestors on both sides had calmed down and were eager to listen. He took a few deep breaths, faked some confidence, and began.
“I came in peace.” He paused when he noticed his arch-nemesis, the mime, holding up a sign with no words on it, but instead a picture of a mime gesturing “go.”
“I would like to leave in one…piece.” He paused again; to the audience it seemed like a dramatic pause, but Joe was desperately thinking of what to say next. “Two score and two years ago on this very day, a date which will live in infamy, Ladascus was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the forces of the Quesonte and Soufte Empires.”
“What’s a score?” the mime asked another spectator. The spectator just looked at him oddly.
“My esteemed colleagues refer to this attack as…the Disturbance. They asked me to read a speech that they wrote.” He showed the electronic notecard to the audience— “I’m rather confident you’re not interested in what they have to say.”—and then deliberately threw it over his shoulder. The crowd cheered.
Drakewood, visibly upset, almost rushed the stage, but Evinrude stopped him, whispering that Joe couldn’t read Quesonte. Drakewood buried his face in his hands, distressed by his simplistic oversight. Evinrude smiled, enjoying Drakewood’s anguish.
“Some of you may still remember the day the skies grew dark, as menacing machines crowded out the sun. A history of repeated injuries and usurpations brought about by the absolute tyranny of Ladascans’ rights and liberties, such has been the patient sufferance of Ladascus. Hopelessly outgunned and hopelessly outmatched, you flew your flag high above the Shooman Towers. The rockets’ red glare from the bombs bursting in air gave proof that your flag was still there. Now, forty-two years later, the Soufte and Quesonte governments have resolved that Ladascus is, and of right ought to be, a free and independent planet. And that all beings are created equal, and that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today they present you, the Ladascan people, with a symbol” — Joe gestured to the smoking spaceship, which seized upon that moment to make an unflattering sound. Joe stumbled on — “of self-preservation and self-defense, so that you may no longer be a second-class citizen on your own planet. Instead, now Ladascans will boldly go where no Ladascan has gone before. And so, my Ladascan friends, ask not what your nation can do for you; ask what you can do for your nation. My fellow citizens of all the cosmos, ask not what Ladascus will do for you, but what we can do together for the freedom of everyone, everywhere.”
That last line got the entire crowd cheering and roaring, so much so that Joe felt a little embarrassed and yet proud. I’m going to contest that C I got in history class last semester. Crowd control could barely keep them behind the barricades. Joe figured this was as good a place to end as any, so he waved to the crowd, walked off-stage, and sat between Alfia and Evinrude. Drakewood retook the podium to make a few final remarks.
When the event finally ended, everyone said goodbye to Joe. “Thank you, everyone,” Joe said, shaking each individual’s hand.
Fred took it especially hard and gave him one last, awkwardly long hug goodbye. The awkward moment lasted an awkwardly long time and was finally interrupted, to Joe’s great relief, by a bicycle messenger delivering Joe’s bag.
“It has been a pleasure meeting you all,” he continued. “I know we won’t meet again, but it’s nice to entertain the thought.”
Marsha sighed deeply as Joe hugged her. Alfia asked her mother, “Are you all right?”
“I like him,” she answered.
Joe and Alfia walked across the tarmac, the crowd flowing with them to hangar seven. Alfia commented on Joe’s bag, “You’ve got quite a load of souvenirs.”
“Yes, I do,” Joe gloated. “Don’t tell the hotel, but I stole a towel. I hear it’s the best thing to have if you’re traveling across the galaxy.”
“For someone who just got into town, you sure made quite an impression on everyone,” Alfia told him.
“I just didn’t want to screw up.”
The two climbed aboard a blue Esprit. Joe waved to the crowd and yelled out a final farewell. “Goodbye, proud world! I’m going home.”
The crowd gave another resounding cheer as he ducked into the ship.
Alfia powered the systems up. It sounded like a wonderfully powerful beast. The Esprit lifted effortlessly and gracefully moved past the crowd, and Joe waved at them through the cockpit windshield.
As soon as clearance was given from the tower, the Esprit shot out of the sky and into space. The crowd watched in awe as the ship disappeared.
Joe looked down at the planet. It no longer looked so alien, but instead warm, familiar, and welcoming, a contrast to his first observations.