Become a Fan
Smoke Filled Room
By George C Anderson
Friday, May 24, 2002
Not rated by the Author.
What if man did have a natural enemy...and it was smarter than he was?
The Smoke Filled Room
Bud sits behind his father in a row of chairs that skirt the perimeter of the long hall. A huge rectangular conference table dominates the center of the room where people sitting across from one another are still separated by a distance of almost ten feet.
Bud knows everybody in the room on a first name basis. Heís met every one of their families and has even dated some of their daughters. While Bud may know all of the players, this is the first time that heís been invited to the meeting.
Heís not the only one seated in the back row, he recognizes many a school chum that he hasnít seen in years seated behind their fathers. They are all here for the same reason, to learn how things get done so they can take over when the old man steps down.
While Bud is excited about finally attending his first meeting, he knows that itís no big deal. A quick glance around the back row confirms that the rumors are true , some guys sit in the back row well into their sixties before getting a shot in the drivers seat.
Bud is a little better off than most in this department. His father married several times but only succeeded in producing a slew of female heirs. I wasnít until dad got one of his personal assistants pregnant that he came along.
To hear his mother tell the story, his dad had no interest in marrying her until he was presented with proof positive that she was carrying a male child. Once this was known, wife number six was out the door so fast that she never knew what hit her and mom moved in to become the new ruler of the roost.
Bud is impressed to see that his dad occupies the number three spot on such a long table of worldwide notables. He knew instinctively that his father was a powerful man by the way almost everyone else kissed up to him all the time. His dad seldom talks about the family business for good reason.
There is little conversation going on at this end of the table but Bud can overhear a lively discussion taking place at the far end where the lesser luminaries sit.
"Jojo, if you donít knock it off with the shenanigans on my freight charges, I swear to God Iíll hire gypsies to move the product!"
"Calm down Miko! Iím just taking the edge, thereís no rule against a fella taking the edge now is there?"
"Your definition of edge is my definition of extortion! Weíre all rowing the same boat here! Weíve got to help each other out if we ever hope to see the other end of this table!"
"I donít know about you Miko but Iím gonna be sittiní up in the big chair some day and I donít care if I have to crawl over every one of these motherís dead bodies to get there!" Jojo replies, waging his finger at everyone further up the table.
Bud knows that this is just tough talk, the higher up the table you go, the more powerful the man sitting in the chair.
The Ďbig chairí is currently unoccupied although all of the other attendees are present and accounted for and have been for the past twenty minutes. Budís heard that these meetings sometimes last for days so twenty minutes are no big deal.
Suddenly, Bud detects the scent of sweet incense filling the room. He glances about casually and notices that a fine patina of smoke is filtering in through the roomís ventilation system. A few minutes of breathing this sweet smelling substance causes all conversation in the big hall to cease. Everyone gathered around the big table suddenly looks wise and very serene in the dim light that shines from overhead.
Budís heard his dad complain about this in the past. Apparently the fog has an effect that can linger for up to a few days depending upon the length of the meeting. Once everyone is adequately sedated, a dark cloaked figure enters the room.
While some of the men around the table talk and act like Mafioso, they do in fact represent the whoís who of earthís economic power.
The dark figureís face is hidden in the shadow of the roomís dim lighting and no matter how hard Bud strains his eyes he fails to get a good look at the new arrival.
"I call this meeting of the board of governorís to order!" The dark figure intones with a voice that sounds like it comes straight from the grave. Even in his current sedated state, the voice sends a primal chill up Budís spine. The voice strikes a chord within him that is not unlike hearing the roar of a hungry lion that is too close for comfort. His predator alert instinct tingles within him, warning him that he in the presence of mortal danger.
"The Empire is satisfied that phase one of the consolidation is now complete. You are all ordered to begin implementing phase two." The rasping, gravely voice commands.
Bud watches as his father kneads his brow and takes notes on the legal pad in front of him. No one around the table speaks unless spoken to by the creature in the big chair.
Because of his schooling, Bud is privy to a bit of history that isnít taught in public schools. Earth is just one of the many colonies of the galactic empire. Budís dad is one of the men who oversee things here for the galactic overlords, a job that heís being groomed to take over once his dad dies.
Even Budís knowledge of the nature of things has not prepared him for the fear that he feels in the presence of the alien. He instinctively knows that the alien is a brutal, powerful creature whose will can not be denied. If there is any such animal as manís natural enemy, this is it!
"Once phase two is underway the empire plans on increasing the harvest. Earth has one of the largest herds in the sector and the lowest production of any colony in this half of the galaxy. I intend to turn that around."
The creature begins to issue quotas to each of the governors and everybody takes notes so they donít mess this up. As the creature continues to talk, it becomes clear to Bud what is meant by the word Ďharvestí. The herd that he refers to is mankind and the harvest is nothing less than capturing humans for consumption on the capitol planet.
This bit of information is something they donít teach you even in the private schools established specifically to train young future governors. The schools are co-ed and not everyone who attends is being groomed for positions of power and responsibility like Bud.
Bud glances nervously around the room at his fellow humans and is surprised to see that all present are taking this horrific news in stride. At the worst, one would think that the group had just been advised that their dividend checks would be less than expected this quarter.
Bud freezes in his chair when he notices that the alien has ceased talking. Bud can feel the weight of the predatorís stare upon him. He steals a glance in the alienís direction and the alien resumes handing out orders for the governors to execute.
Bud knows that heís been bagged but has no idea what will come of it. Budís father neither turns to look in his direction nor utters a sound to his son. There will be time for talking after the meeting.
The swirling mist in the room thickens visibly and it is all that Bud can do to keep his eyes open. The last thing he remembers is the sound of faint snoring coming from the far end of the long table.
When Budís eyes pop open after what seems like only a few moments, all traces of the heavily scented mist are completely gone.
Budís father turns to see that Bud is awake, he smiles at his son appreciatively and holds a finger to his lips to indicate that he should save the ten million questions that are on the tip of his tongue until later.
From the far end of the table, Miko addresses Budís father.
"Well media boy, you sure have your work cut out for you! This latest production boost is almost fifty percent more than our old goals."
Bud is mildly surprised to hear someone from the far end of the table speak to his father in such a way. What surprises him even more is that his father says nothing in response. Bud is uncertain if comments from the peanut gallery are merely ignored at this end of the table or if there is more truth in the words spoken than one can readily reply to.
It takes Budís dad a few minutes to get his legs back under him. Repeated exposure to the mist is unhealthy for humans and itís beating the life out of Budís already aged father.
They exit the meeting site via a waiting limousine that takes them directly to the airport and their private jet. Budís father is still too out of it to talk so Bud orders his thoughts to keep the multitude of questions that are begging for answers to a minimum.
When Budís dad finally does speak, he cuts right to the point.
"You did me proud son! Most men are reduced to gibbering idiots the first time that they hear the voice of an overlord. You did a great job in there today and you should be proud of yourself! I know that you have a ton of questions but now isnít the time. Weíll talk again about the meeting later, right now I need to rest."
Bud fails to conceal his disappointment from his dad but all his father can do is smile at him knowingly and recline the seat back so he can take a nap.
Two agonizing days pass before Budís father finally sends for him. By this time the meeting itself has taken on a dreamlike quality in Budís memory and heís no longer certain if he didnít imagine the whole thing.
Budís father has returned to his vigorous self and Bud enters the office to find his dad busy editing copy for the worldís press corps.
"This will only take a moment son." His father reassures him as he expertly types corrections into a press release. Bud watches as his father hits the send button and waits expectantly.
"Brace yourself, this is going to smart a little."
Budís dad hits a switch on his desk and Bud instantly feels like heís receiving a low voltage electric shock to the back of his skull.
"The aliens can read our minds. This is the only way we can speak in private. We only have a few minutes so Iím going to do all the talking and youíll have to be happy with what I tell you for now.
First, you need to know that we humans are food and the aliens are the farmers. There are ranches like this all over the galaxy but earth is unique for reasons we can only guess at.
As close as anyone can figure, humanity arrived on this planet about nine thousand years ago as a food shipment that crashed. About a hundred years ago, the aliens turned up demanding that we allow them to harvest our planet or they would destroy us.
We think that the population on their home planet has become so robust that they canít afford to destroy this much food out of hand. Several attempts have been made by some very brave individuals to stop the aliens, you remember the Sharpís and the Dunleavyís donít you?
To the plus side, we have learned that the aliens are deathly allergic to dandelions and for some unknown reason they are also natural ant magnets. Put an alien anywhere outdoors and in five minutes it will be covered with ants.
We cooperate with the aliens only because they have the technology to wipe us out in a heartbeat. It wasnít until recently that someone figured out a way to mask our thoughts from them. We are working on a way to destroy them but it wonít be easy. If we fail to kill them all in a single stroke then payback will be unbearable."
Budís father turns off the switch that activates the electronic shield and his face relaxes visibly. Bud stands to leave but his father motions for him to remain seated.
"Our job on the board of earth governors is to mask harvest operations from the general public." His dad commences in a business like tone. "While many people die every day, the bulk of the worldís natural disasters and wars exist only to mask the harvest."
"Do you know in advance how many will be harvested from a given area?" Bud asks tentatively, unsure if this is an appropriate line of questioning.
"Everybody has their quota to meet but no, the harvest just happens and we have to generate a news story to cover it after the fact."
"What if somebody finds out?"
"People find out that the news is a lot of baloney all the time but there is no place for them to report their findings. All of the worldís governments and all of the media outlets are in lockstep with one another. The news is what we say it is regardless of the facts.
Bud chews on this fact for a moment. As his dad mentioned earlier, some of his schoolmates and their entire families had disappeared while Bud was growing up with no mention of it ever being made in any media. He wondered about this mystery then but now it made a strange kind of sense, step out of line and the aliens ate you for dinner!
"What do you suppose the ramp up in the harvest means?"
"Well for one thing, Iím going to be spreading some pretty insane stories. At the last meeting the overlord reported that there is a growing problem with poachers raiding the farms.
Optimists think that this means our enemy has an enemy, pessimists like myself believe that a black market for food has sprouted up for some reason."
"Class warfare amongst the aliens, how ironic!"
"The overlord does not permit us to ask him questions but we have learned from the way he speaks that there is definitely a monarchy back on the home planet andÖ they prefer to eat us alive!"
Budís stomach churns at this news. His mind balks at the idea of an alien chewing your limbs off one at a time while you writhe desperately attempting to escape.
"What do they look like dad?"
"Iíve only seen the overlord without his cloak once and I hope I never see it again. The aliens are insectoid; the best way to describe them is they look like an overgrown black praying mantis.
"Can they fly?"
"I donít have the answer to that one son, no oneís seen them fly but that doesnít mean that they canít."
"Isnít there some way that we can let people know whatís going on?"
"Iím afraid not. The Zirht have followers amongst the humans who believe theyíre the single greatest thing that ever happened to mankind. Some of those people sit on the board with us and you shouldnít have too hard a time spotting them if you keep your ears open at the meetings."
"Dad, just the sound of their voice makes my blood run cold! How could anyone believe that creatures who openly admit they eat us alive are good."
"Opportunists are everywhere son. The people Iím talking about slip false information to the overlord about their competitors.
The next thing you know thereís an empty chair at the end of the big table and the sleaze ball has moved up a spot."
"Does this happen very often?"
"I sit directly across from one of them!" Budís dad snorts "He was sitting across from Miko three years ago."
"So watch Mr. Cataldo then huh?
"Heís not the only one, that loudmouth Jojo Hines is following in Cataldoís footsteps."
"Is there anybody else I should look out for?"
"Well, I canít prove anything but donít trust Bleekman or Chalmers with anything you donít want the whole group to know, including the overlord."
"So whatís this phase one, phase two deal all about dad?"
"The aliens want us to add another layer of government. Weíve been writing free trade agreements with each other left and right so the worldís economies would homogenize, paving the way for a single world government, that was phase one. In phase two thereís going to be another world war for control of the planet, resulting in a harvest bonanza for the aliens."
"Well, thatís one way to address the over population problem."
"We donít have an over population problem son! Things should be getting better with all of the workers available out there but the aliens force us to limit our production, keeping a majority of the people in poverty. The aliens prefer Ďfree rangeí humans, ones that donít eat what we call a Western diet, they say we taste funny!"
"Eureka! All we have to do is distribute free snack cakes and potato chips around the world and our problem is solved!"
"Have you ever noticed how I maintain a strict diet and exercise regimen? I do that for a reason. The aliens want us to lead by example. Everybody else on the board does it and youíre going to have to do it tooÖunless you plan on becoming a midnight snack for some Zirht watchman. The overlord is adamant on this subject: no overweight, flabby human leaders!"
Bud will be thirty in a few days but he still lives at home with his folks and half of his stepsisters. All of the meals served by the kitchen here at the mansion would make a fitness nut think they died and went to heaven. Not to be mean, but Budís pretty sure that most of the Guatemalan staff couldnít spell ring ding never mind find him one.
"If thatís all son, I have to get busy." Budís dad says as he looks at his watch and winces to see how much time has passed during the meeting with his boy.
Bud doesnít know what to do with himself. Once you attend your first meeting you have to make them all regardless. Bud had looked forward to the day that he would follow his father into the meeting chamber and start his life as an associate governor on earthís imperial board. With luck his dad will hold the seat for another ten years but Bud isnít sure ten years is long enough to get used to the idea that the people you work for also consider you an appetizer.
Bud is at his best solving problems and he sets himself to the task of solving the alien problem either with ants, dandelions or both.
The first idea that pops into his head is mixing dandelions into the worldís water supply. The unknown here is that thereís no way of knowing what component of a dandelion that the aliens are allergic to. Mixing dandelions into the water supply is a hit or miss proposition at best. Our own bodies may filter out the allergen making the tactic futile.
His next brainstorm is to somehow trick the aliens into transporting huge quantities of ants back to their home planet. Bud rejects this idea on account of there being no way to tell how long the journey to the capitol planet takes and if the aliens only eat live prey, transporting any quantity of ants to the alien home planet was going to be tricky at best.
One thing Bud does know for a fact is that the overlord lives on board a huge alien warship thatís been in orbit around earth for the past hundred years. It seems to Bud that capturing this ship holds the key to solving the alien problem and he sets his mind to achieving this goal.
His dad is his best source of first hand information. Bud catches up with him later that week to find out a few crucial pieces of information. Budís dad activates the shield and both men grimace from the effect of the apparatus.
"Dad, how does the overlord travel between the warship and the meetings?"
"Energy-matter transfer, the writer for that popular space show got the idea from the aliens."
"What was he doing on the board of governors?"
"The old overlord liked to have a cadre of intellectuals in the mix, gave him ideas on how to better exploit humans. It was this same group of intellectuals that tried to take over the orbiting ship. All they succeeded in doing was to get the old overlord killed and the intellectuals permanently banished from the meetings."
"Do they keep a transporter here on earth?"
"No, they do it all from the ship. What kind of a scheme are you cooking up here son?"
"Just researching some possibilities. If they have transporter technology then we can build one too."
"We did build one but the aliens destroyed it before we could use it and then they ate everybody associated with the project!"
"Thatís a bummer!"
"I know. Great pains were taken to keep the project secret from the aliens but they found out anywayÖhow remains a mystery although many seem to think that treachery was involved."
"That ship is key, we have to capture it to know what weíre really up against!"
"If itís any comfort to you son, thereís been an all out effort to find the original transport ship that brought humans to this planet for the same reasons that you want to get on board that orbiting warship, to find technological clues to help us beat them. The problem is the ship didnít crash on land as far as we can tell and finding it on the bottom of the ocean is going to take a real long time."
"What are the chances of building another transporter?"
"A month ago I would have told you zip. Now that the aliens want us to start this war so they can step up the harvest, chances are looking a lot better."
"Thanks dad, now how do I get started?"
"Leave the details to me son, I have more experience in playing Ďtrick the aliensí than you do." Budís dad smiles.
The next dozen meetings are a virtual hell for everyone on the board of governors. The overlord is less than pleased with the progress that the governors are making in implementing his plans and he lets them all know about it.
During this twelve-month period, Mr. Hines, Bleekman, Chalmers and Cataldo all meet untimely deaths. Their replacements all sit down at the far end of the long conference table where all newcomers start out.
Work on the transporter moves along swiftly as the technology to create this device has improved greatly since the last attempt made in the Sixties. The new design is disguised as a prototype MRI machine so the aliens wonít know what theyíre looking at even if they go hunting for it.
The plotters know that solar flares interfere with the alienís communications just as they do with earthbound equipment. They wait until a period when solar activity normally peaks before making their move. On meeting day, when all of the governors are assembled at the conference room, the humans go on the offensive.
The first attack is to pepper the alien ship with a dozen hundred pound bales of fresh cut dandelions. They follow this up with the contents of a half a dozen angry fire ant nests.
The alien overlord arrives for the meeting with the board of governors as scheduled which places him on earth moments before the human attack on the ship.
The room is thick with swirling mist when the overlord enters to take his place at the head of the table. This time the mist is nothing more than the fog made from dry ice.
"Humans, what is the meaning of this! You have been warned repeatedly about the consequences of treachery against the empire and now you will pay!"
Budís dad takes a Taser from his briefcase and lets the overlord have it. Unfortunately the unit isnít powerful enough to take out the massive insectoid and the overlord flies around the room in a rage. Bud produces a can of Wasp and Hornet killer from his briefcase and douses the overlord with it liberally, causing the alien to assume the fetal position moments later.
"Have you two lost your minds! The aliens will wipe out the planet for sure when they learn of this!" Governor Chin screams at the father-son team.
"Sorry gentleman but weíve already gone way beyond what you have witnessed here. We launched an assault on the alien warship just moments ago. I strongly suggest that you all make you way home immediately to prepare to defend your nations to the best of your ability." Bud tells the dumbfounded group.
Half of the governors cheer the news that mankind is finally making a stand while the others blankly try to absorb the implications of this sudden shift in the balance of power.
Bud and his dad rush out to their waiting limo and head for the airport. Budís dad checks in with NORAD to see what the alien warship is doing. His contact at the missile command center advises him that everything looks normal from where heís sitting. The huge mother ship has not launched any craft or deviated from its usual course in the past twenty minutes.
The next call is placed to the radio monitoring operation at SETA to determine if the aliens sent out a distress signal. Their contact there advises them that all is quiet from the alien ship.
"Well, they havenít attacked nor have they sent out a distress call, what do you think we should do next son?"
"Send in the Marines! I think we have them on the ropes!" Bud answers confidently. Heís pumped that the simple can of bug killer worked, proving that the aliens were vulnerable.
Budís dad dials the number that will transport waiting Special Forces onto the alien ship. This is the riskiest part of the mission as they can only transport three men at a time. They are capable of transporting a group every second but three at a time is as good as it gets.
The next ten minutes hang like hours as those on earth wait to learn the fate of the men who boarded the alien ship. The leader of the expedition reports his findings once the radiation from a solar flare subsides in the area.
"Mission successful, I repeat mission successful, all aliens on board have been neutralized. Our forces are moving now to secure the command center. Request that the specialists be transported up as soon as possible."
This is the final phase of the operation. If the plan succeeded there was a team of specialists standing by to begin deciphering the alien technology as quickly as possible. There was no way of telling when the next ship from the capitol planet was due here to make another pick up.
Both father and son are elated at the news but one tiny planet armed with ants and dandelions wasnít worth much against a whole alien empire.
Nothing succeeds like success. When the next alien transport ship pulled into orbit it was peppered with dandelions and the now experienced Special Forces transported aboard to mop up. In the span of three months, earth had itís own small fleet of alien ships and a rudimentary understanding of their operation.
It was determined from the mother ships memory banks that the capitol planet was a two month journey from earth and the first transport ship would soon be overdue.
Planets capable of sustaining human life were few and far between. The alienís empire, according to their own records, consisted of just six nearby star systems. Not nearly as formidable as the words galactic empire implies.
It was decided to wait until the aliens came to us rather than attempt an assault on the capitol planet not knowing what to expect.
Apparently the dandelions did their work quickly as none of the transport ships got off a distress signal before being overwhelmed. It took six months for the aliens to dispatch just two warships to investigate why the transports from earth had failed to return.
Earthís growing space fleet bushwacked the intruders and dandelioned them both before you could say Ďhelpí. In the face of the alien threat, a world government became a reality with Bud being elected as itís first commander-in-chief.
President Bud commissioned the first transport ship to be loaded with ants and dandelion seeds. The plan was to fly over the capitol planet and disperse the deadly cargo upon the unsuspecting aliens.
To Budís surprise, the transport ship returned four months later to report that the mission was a total success! It was widely agreed at the onset that this mission would likely turn out to be a one way trip.
The people of earth were so excited to learn of the missionís success that Bud declared a holiday in honor of the heroes who successfully brought the war back to the enemyís home planet.
Less than a month after the return of the seed ship, the enemy launched a counter attack. Six warships attacked the earth fleet at the edge of our solar system.
The human engineers were not idle and the transport ships had been outfitted with earthís nuclear arsenal. This turned the tide of the battle in favor of the humans as the alien ships were incapable of harming each other. The alienís shields were more powerful than their weapons but neither was a match for a close quarters nuclear detonation.
(This battle was a ship to ship slugfest because everyone knows that you canít use the transporter if your shields are up!)
Information gained from the alien shipís computers confirmed humanityís overall victory. There were still some alien transport ships that were unaccounted for but the all of the known alien combat ships had been defeated.
President Bud sent ships to the other alien controlled planets to seed them with dandelions and provide them all with armies of industrious ants. That done, he proceeded to send his three warships back to the alien home planet to see what effect the seed mission had upon the alien population.
The warships returned four months later to report that the alien home planet had been abandoned. There was nothing there now but seas of dandelions and a bunch of hungry fire ants.
It would seem this tale had a happy ending but human nature being what it is, this story is actually the beginning of how humanity took to the stars after a hundred years of being eaten alive by mankindís only known natural enemy.
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|Reviewed by Mayakis
|Needs fleshing out.
Detail is important to making it experiential.
Fewer pronouns and more names.
Characterization missing, need to make us care, or better love the character(s).
Sentences should be illustrative.
Dashell Hammett is the best person to read to learn how to make every sentence evokes an image, or picture.
Forget Hammett's Novels. DH writes totally differently for the short story, than for the Novel.
In his short stories, every sentence paints a picture.