Prologue and Chapter 1
Don’t tread on me is a saying assigned to the great state of Texas. However, it’s about to start applying to Earth in general.
There’s never been a more exciting time to be living on Earth, by which I mean never have so many different alien species of varying intelligence and talent levels been more interested in our lonely little blue marble. It’s as if Earth just became the galactic vacation hot spot, formerly only known to a select few but now offering special getaway packages on the cheap.
Of course, it’s also nice that we’ve been invited into the galactic community as a whole. We’re getting help with interstellar ships and all sorts of weapons and other really cool stuff. I’m certain there’s going to be a price to pay that we can’t afford down the road, but right now, it’s all great.
Well, other than the fact that all the anti-alien hysteria is really ramping up. And, seeing as I’m married to the current Alien of Aliens – aka my husband, Jeff Martini, whose parents were born on Alpha Four of the Alpha Centauri system and who is now, despite his wishes, the President of these United States – that means we have a whole lot of hysteria going on worldwide.
On the plus side, much of that hysteria is focused on the Z’porrah, our very own dino-bird boogeymen from far, far away. They’re real, they hate us, and they make great fall guys. Of course, I know the price for this is also going to come due later on, right when we least expect it and can’t handle the balloon payment, but, as with so many other things, that’s a worry for another day.
On the not plus side, the rest of the hysteria is focused on us, on American Centaurion, Centaurion Division, and all of our various allies, especially those allies from other solar systems. So, you know, business as usual.
On the other plus side, we’re certainly living in interesting times. Yeah, I know, it’s a Chinese curse for a reason. But, as experience has enthusiastically taught me, things can always get worse.
In other words, once again, I should probably strap everyone in for another bumpy ride. And cue up some music. “Ready, Steady, Go” by Meices sounds about right. Though Panic! At the Disco’s “Ready to Go (Get Me Out of My Mind)” might be more appropriate.
Because any version of “Leave Me Alone”, be it by Shaggy, Jewel, Pink, or The Veronicas, is not a song that anyone – friend, enemy, frenemy, or uninterested casual bystander – ever pays attention to in my particular patch of the multiverse.
“Is it a good day for America and the world at large? In addition to the Stars and Stripes, we now have a flag from an alien nation flying at the White House. Does this mean that President Martini values an alien planet more than Earth?”
The newscaster had a total Serious Face on. Which was hilarious in one sense, because when said newscaster had been live at our scene, he’d been pretty darn thrilled.
“It’s not ‘flying’,” my husband, Jeff, aka the President of These United States fumed, as pictures from the treaty signing we’d done the day before flashed onto the screen. “It was in one room and it was standing there. And since when have I not valued Earth? I’ve risked my life to protect Earth!”
Managed not to say that I’d mentioned that the flag’s photo op might be problematic. I’d been overruled, my first career being in marketing or no. Now wasn’t the time to toss out a big Told You So to the room.
“Not only is the flag of Alpha Four flying at the White House, but it’s also been added to the United Nations,” our Serious Newscaster shared. The image changed to the outside of the U.N. Sure enough, there was the black and white flag of our people flapping in the wind, right next to the American flag and the Australian flag. I had no idea if this was a new position for the flags or if ours had just been inserted into the regular line-up, but it probably didn’t matter.
“It’s not even the flag of Alpha Four,” Christopher White, Jeff’s cousin, added, while glaring at the TV monitor. “It’s our flag, the flag of our people, and a flag we created when we exiled here, so it’s the flag of the A-Cs of Earth.”
A-Cs loved their black and white so much that not only did they wear it practically 24/7 in what I called the Armani Fatigues – black Armani suits and ties with crisp white shirts for the men, black Armani slim skirts with crisp white oxfords for the women – but their flag was black and white, too. Sometimes wondered if they couldn’t see colors, but experience showed me that they could.
The flag was definitely an homage to the Stars and Stripes. It was set up in a similar fashion, with thirteen alternating bands of black and white with a square in the upper left-hand corner that had one large gray star on a black background, with twenty-one white stars superimposed over this big one and going from smaller to larger in a spiral pattern. The stars were to honor the original families who’d broken off from the main Alpha Four religion way back when. For a monochromatic theme, it was quite attractive.
“Who approved that?” Jeff asked the room at large. “I didn’t approve that! I haven’t even heard from the UN!”
“No one at the White House approved that,” Rajnish Singh replied. He was Jeff’s Chief of Staff and, like Jeff and Christopher, talented above the norm.
Jeff was an empath, most likely the strongest one in the galaxy, meaning that he probably had his blocks set to high so that he didn’t collapse from feeling all the tension that was currently in the Large Situation Room. Unless people in here were wearing emotional blockers or overlays – created by our enemies to keep Jeff and all the other empaths in the dark about bad guys and their plans – which I doubted.
Christopher was an imageer, meaning he could touch a picture and know everything about the person in the picture. Or he could have, before our enemies snuck in a virus that had dampened or destroyed the talents of most of our imageers.
Raj, however, was a troubadour – someone who could affect people with his voice, facial expressions, and body movements. Early on in my time with the Gang from Alpha Four I’d been told that troubadour talent was useless. I’d found out, however, that it was the best stealth talent around, and since our enemies were indoctrinated into the mindset that troubadours didn’t matter, no one had attacked their talents yet. I hoped that would last.
Since Raj was a troubadour, I normally expected him to sound soothing in stressful situations like this one. But he was clearly upset because he wasn’t trying to exert any talent at all and sounded as pissed as Jeff and Christopher.
“Will other alien flags soon be flying all over our country?” the Serious Newscaster asked. “And are these aliens the reason the Z’porrah attacked our world again? Stay tuned for the first of our twelve-part investigative report: Aliens Among Us.”
Charles Reynolds cleared his throat as the show mercifully cut to a commercial. Chuckie was my best guy friend since 9th grade, always the smartest guy in any room, and also now the Director of the CIA. “It’s not an issue for us to share that the photos were shown out of context,” he said, sounding calmer than anyone else had so far. “And I’m sure we can get someone at the UN to share that the flag was their idea. However, this is highlighting one positive thing – the press and therefore the public at large have bought that the attacks at Camp David were caused by the Z’porrah.”
The Z’porrah were an ancient race of nasty dino-birds who had the longest running feud ever going with the Ancients, who were an ancient race of shapeshifters. The Ancients were on the side of Earth and the Alpha Centauri solar systems – and by “on the side of” I mean “had meddled with everyone’s evolution but because they cared” versus what the Z’porrah were doing out this way, which was still mourning the death of our dinosaurs and wishing the rest of us were long gone.
So, during our last frolicsome fun of less than six weeks ago, we’d taken the advice of the Planetary Council and had blamed the created in-control superbeing and android attacks at Camp David on the Z’porrah. That our spin for the events of Operation Madhouse had started biting us in our butts far sooner than expected was just par for our particular course. We were, as always, stuck in the sand trap with only a miraculous hole-in-one likely to save us.
Serene Dwyer, who was the strongest imageer after Christopher, a stealth troubadour, and the Head of Imageering for Centaurion Division, nodded. “That the press is attacking is no surprise. That’s what they do these days. However, what Alexander and our other galactic advisors told us is still accurate – LaRue Demorte Gaultier was, is, and always will be a turncoat Ancient and a Z’porrah spy, and every action against us can be traced back to her, directly or indirectly.”
“Can we honestly confirm that?” Jeff asked.
Serene nodded. “We can, Jeff. Believe me.”
I believed her, since I knew that Serene was also the head of the very clandestine Centaurion CIA made up of troubadours around the world. I was the only person not involved in their operations who knew they existed. Therefore, if Serene said she had proof, we had proof.
“However, some of that proof can never be shared with the general population,” James Reader said. Reader was the Head of Field, a former top international male model, and the handsomest human I’d ever met. In a room full of A-Cs he looked normal, because the A-Cs were truly the hottest people on Earth. So far as I’d seen, they were the hottest people in the galaxy, but I was prepared to find other alien races just as good-looking out there. That was me, always willing to take one for the team.
“Leave the spin to us,” Doreen Coleman-Weisman said. She was the current American Centaurion Ambassador, a job I’d done for what seemed like far too long and then, the moment I became the First Lady, far too short a time.
She’d grown up in the Embassy, and though her parents had been traitors, Doreen was loyal to Earth and the rest of us. However, she was the best qualified to be doing the Ambassador’s duties. Well, other than one other person.
Richard White was the former Supreme Pontifex for the A-Cs of Earth, meaning their Pope With Benefits. He’d retired to the active lifestyle when my daughter, Jamie, had been born, and he’d been my partner in butt-kicking ever since then. However, due to the events of Operation Epidemic, where one of our most virulent enemies had launched a bioterrorist attack that had killed half of our country’s leadership, White was now the Public Relations Minister for American Centaurion.
White nodded. “Yes, Jeffrey, this falls to us. Doreen and I have been preparing a statement to counter most of this. With the help of the Planetary Council, of course.” He nodded towards the other aliens in the room, of which we had a lot, since the Alpha Centauri Planetary Council had come to visit at the start of Operation Epidemic and literally hadn’t had time to finish their business and leave yet. We liked to keep our guests busy, go team.
The news came back on. “Welcome back. In a related story to the one about alien flags flying over the White House, our next story deals with the religious summit taking place in Rome right now.” We switched from the bald-faced lying Serious Newscaster to a shot of Vatican City. “We’ve learned that the Pope and religious leaders from all parts of the world are indeed in agreement that they will be encouraging their flocks to join together in order to face the ‘brave new world’ we find ourselves in.”
The Pope was outside along with a variety of other religious leaders, including ours – Paul Gower. Gower had been groomed by White for this position and he was reasonably comfortable with it these days. He was also Reader’s husband. The camera zoomed in on him. Sadly, it probably wasn’t because Gower was big, black, bald, and gorgeous, but because he was the A-C’s Supreme Pontifex and, therefore, the person getting all the “blame” in this situation.
Sure enough and right on cue, the Serious Newscaster shared his so-called thoughts. “Is the Pope being negatively influenced by the head of the aliens’ religion?”
“Where is this coming from?” Jeff asked. Though this time he wasn’t asking the room at large. He was asking the two members of the fourth estate who had unlimited access to us – Mister Joel Oliver and Bruce Jenkins.
Oliver had been the laughingstock of the media for decades, because he’d insisted that aliens were on the planet. He was and remained the best investigative journalist going, and these days, he actually had the respect of his peers.
Jenkins was known as the Tastemaker, and he had tremendous influence therefore. He’d been after us in a bad way during Operation Defection Election, when Jeff had been running as Vice President to the late Vincent Armstrong. But events of that particular frolic had made Jenkins switch sides in a very fast and permanent way. Discovering that one of the candidates you’re supporting is an android did that to some people.
“I believe that the answer is simple,” Oliver said.
Jenkins nodded. “Follow the money.”
“Excuse me?” Jeff asked.
The answer dawned on me. “Oh. This station is owned by YatesCorp, isn’t it?”
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