The following is an excerpt from Chapter Five:
Grace and Red Kearney entered the UN General Assembly Hall media center and looked around. A large, plate glass window dominated the room, offering a view of the entire hall from fifty feet above the floor. The speaker’s podium was directly ahead a few hundred feet away.
“Not quite in the action,” complained Grace to Red.
Kearney stood in front of several banks of monitors and production equipment, scowling.
“This isn’t exactly cutting edge tech either. This stuff looks to be twenty years old.” He looked over at Grace, smirking sarcastically. “I love a challenge.”
The Irishman sat down at one of the stations and contemplated the board. “This one looks to be the control monitor for all of the stationary cameras in the hall.” He paused. “I think this one is the live feed out.”
“Which you won’t be needing,” said Agent John Smith, walking through the door. Kearney glared at him, anger flashing across his face.
Smith smiled. “You don’t like me very much do you, Mr. Kearney?”
“Never did like spooks,” growled the big man. “They always manage to find a way to get good people killed.”
“Agent Smith!” beamed Grace, stepping into his line of sight. “To what do we owe the presence of your company?”
“In fact, Ms. Williams, I believe you owe me the very presence of your company,” deadpanned the government’s man.
Grace gave him a puzzled look.
“I was able to pull some strings to get you the pool reporter slot.”
“Now why would you go and do something like that for us?” asked Kearney.
Harriman looked over Grace Williams’ shoulder at him. “Because this way I can keep an eye on you.”
He returned his gaze to Grace. “Besides, you did me a favor once. I thought I’d return it. Frankly, you two are as good as they come. Why not Williams and Kearney? There’s just one catch…”
“Here it comes,” moaned Kearney.
“You can report what you want, say what you want but you can’t do it live.”
Grace spoke up. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why would you want us to delay the transmission unless your intent is to vet the facts for public consumption?”
“Ok, let me put it another way. It is not our intent to interfere with your reporting of the facts of the story, but we don’t yet know what the story is , do we? We don’t know what we’re dealing with and the last thing we want is to generate a global panic because of what might be said or done here in the next few hours. For that reason alone, we want to delay your transmission until after the event has taken place, whatever that event may be.”
An uneasy silence blanketed the room.
Agent Smith broke it. “Look, I don’t want you to go against your ethics. If you don’t want to do it, we can get another crew to act as the pool reporter.”
Grace didn’t appreciate being boxed in and this man had done it to her twice. Even so, she wasn’t going to pass up front row seats on what could be one of biggest moments of her lifetime. In human history, for that matter.
“We’re in, Agent Smith.” She looked over at her partner. Kearney nodded in agreement. ‘We’re in.”
The consensus at the UN had been that since New York was an American city, it would be the responsibility of the American mil itary to protect the UN complex; securing the immediate surroundings and to a lesser extent the city itself. The assignment had fallen to General Alexander Kurtz, a circumstance that John Harriman considered a blessing. The two men were close friends.
Kurtz was the United States Army’s youngest general, and the f act that he came from a century-old family tradition hadn’t hurt his rise. The Kurtz family had distinguished itself in every American war of the twentieth-century; beginning with a great-great-great grandfather who had marched into France with Pershing and had survived being gassed with the 9th Division at Belleau Wood. Successive generations of the line had lead men at Anzio and Pork Chop Hill. The running family joke was that a great-uncle had almost singlehandedly won Vietnam before the politicians stepped in and mucked it up.
Kurtz’s father had fought in Gulf 1 and done another two tours in Gulf 2. He returned just before Alex shipped out for Afghanistan as a 2nd Lieutenant, fresh out of The Point.
West Point was where John Harriman had met Alex Kurtz, he as a plebe and Kurtz a yuk. Being a year ahead usually meant little fraternization but both had been solid linebackers for the Black Knights and the team comradeship had quickly evolved into a friendship as well.
No two friends could be more different. Harriman’s six-foot frame, dark hair, and nondescript looks were ideal for his future life as a spook. They were no match for Alex Kurtz’ square-jawed, blond perfection. A female acquaintance of Harriman’s had once compared Kurtz to the visage of an Aryan god.
The only thing more godlike was his charismatic confidence. To Harriman, it was as if seven generations of selective breeding had brought forth the iconic military leader.
Harriman, in contrast, had been blessed with the ability to hide in plain sight. It was one of the reasons why he had elected for Special Operations after graduation.
Kurtz was the product of a large and boisterous military family. Harriman was an orphan, who had been sponsored by the Source Corp conglomerate. He had been selected for his intelligence and athleticism and given every opportunity to excel in his chosen field. The military had seemed a natural fit for him. The orphanage administrators agreed, and his dorm room at the home morphed into one at West Point almost overnight.
The two friends had remained in contact over the years, even so much as Harriman attending Alex Kurtz’ wedding and celebrating Kurtz’ promotion to general. Kurtz gleamed in the spotlight while Harriman moved in shadows.
In the now, as the two friends stood together in the command center just minutes before who knew what was going to happen, General Alexander Kurtz had no doubt about the chain of command.
Colonel John Harriman was his superior officer.
Harriman was the President’s man, and the orders had been clear. H e was to observe, advise and consult. His command was to provide tactical support to Harriman’s strategy.
The two men listened politely as one of Kurtz’ junior officers explained The Brain.
“… as the system taps into the entire metropolitan surveillance network. The Brain then sorts through hundreds of thousands of images and an algorithm helps it to determine and report any anomalies. The system cycles every seven seconds. So, if anything strange is sighted, we will know where almost immediately.”
“We also have standard surveillance from orbital satellites, drones, et cetera,” interrupted Kurtz. “The navy and air force are out there as well with their data streams integrated into the system.”
“Yes sir,” confirmed the captain. “We have the city and surrounding area so locked down that we should have a minimum thirty-
“Thanks, Bill. Keep us posted,” replied Kurtz. The captain turned and blended into the rows of monitors and observers.
The two men moved into Kurtz’ makeshift office. The building was a converted warehouse that had been transformed into the eyes and ears of the nation within hours. It was centrally located to quick transport routes but
“Make yourself at home, John.”
“Thanks, I’ll stand. Besides, I have to be getting back. We have maybe an hour until the deadline. I want to make sure I’m at ground zero.”
Kurtz’s face lost its smil e. “What do you plan to do?”
“What I always do, Alex. Blend into the background. I will be one of the security escort personnel.” Harriman looked around and opened his arms, palms up. “You have the macros covered. The devil is in the details. If I can get close enough to get something that might let us know who these jokers are, then maybe we can turn it on them.”
“The devil indeed!” chuckled Kurtz. “God help whoever has to go up against Hammerin’ Harriman!”
“Stop that. You know I hate that nickname,” countered Harriman.
“I know! Hits too close to home!” Kurtz replied. “Just be careful. We won’t screw the pooch on this end,” Alex Kurtz held out a hand to his old friend. “You make sure you don’t either.”
That was about as warm a goodbye between two career military men as Harriman could expect. It was all he needed. At the end of the day, it was about successfully executing the mission. Still, they had been friends long enough to know the sentiment behind the words.
“Don’t I know it, Colonel!”
Within forty minutes, John Harriman was discretely standing in the heavily secured United Nations Plaza before the Secretariat Building- waiting with the rest of the world for what was to come next.
In his earpiece, he heard Alex Kurtz’ voice, unusual ly tense. It set him on edge. “John, I don’t know how they managed it, but there is a craft of some sort that just appeared out of nowhere and is hovering over the East River behind the UN.
“And John, you aren’t going to believe this, but the damned thing looks just like a flying saucer!”
The object floated over the water, stationary and silent. Harriman got his first glimpse of it rounding the General Assembly building at breakneck speed with several dozen others close behind.
“General, are you reading it now?” asked Harriman into his mic.
“No, John. We only picked it up through visual observation,” replied Kurtz. “Maybe what we are seeing is an illusion. A 3D projection of some sort?”
“If it is, then these are the best magicians on the planet,” replied Harriman. “It looks pretty solid at one-hundred meters.”
Grace and Red Kearney saw it for the first time on the NNI network monitor. Audra Slagle was the correspondent assigned to the outer perimeter. As luck would have it, she had been using the East River as her backdrop when the object appeared suddenly behind her. The pair, who had been absorbed in their preparations, now stopped and gaped at the monitor.
“… and now as you can see, the saucer shaped craft seems to have two outer rings rotating in opposite directions. It’s silver, and it’s hard to tell from here, but it doesn’t appe ar to be very large, maybe thirty feet from end to end.” Slagle was good, but Grace could hear the tension in her voice as she lost control.
“Oh my god! It’s moving toward us!”
Harriman could tell who was civilian and who was military when the craft began approaching the UN complex. The civilians were running in the opposite direction.
Probably for the best, he thought. They’re just going to get in the way.
He determined that the craft was heading toward the gardens behind the General Assembly building and began walking in that direction.
It wasn’t a large craft, maybe ten meters across and four meters high. It did look just like the flying saucers he used to see in those timeworn movies he had to watch in Mr. Chaucer’s class. He remembered the movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still.
“How appropriate,” he said to himself.
In the General Assembly media center, Kearney and Williams watched the ship move vertically over the top of the concrete river wall and glide toward the UN gardens, floating just a few feet off of the ground. Seconds later, the monitor screen picture began to break down and snow out.
“See if you can get another feed,” she said.
“It looks as though anything close is out,” replied Kearney, already on it. After a few more seconds, another view of the craft came onto the monitor. It was very shaky, the vehicle coming in and out of view as the wind blew the camera. “Here’s an ABC feed from across the river but it isn’t great. I’ll keep looking. Any close-by cameras within the complex seem to be out.”
“Great! That means we have an exclusive,” replied Grace.
John Harriman and the craft made it onto the UN gardens at the same time. It wasn’t that big at all, his guess of ten meters from tip to tip looked to be right. It reminded him of a priest’s hat- circular, with a brim half a meter thick and flattened at the edges. A half-spherical center that was perhaps seven meters wide and four meters at the apex rotated opposite to the counter-clockwise revolutions of the brim.
The craft made no sound but did kick up a violent disturbance of the flowers around it as it floated a meter above the ground. It moved almost lazily over a small, grassy patch and stopped. A whining noise emanated from it as servomotors began to whir a tripod of flat-footed landing gear toward the ground.
Harriman had been unconsciously walking directly toward the silver craft, providing a detailed description to the command center. At ten meters, he heard the audio cut out. Simultaneously, his skin began to crawl as if he were covered with thousands of ants. A meter closer, the crawling became biting, and his skin felt as if it were on fire. He retreated a few seconds later when he could stand the pain no longer. At ten meters, the fire subsided back into the ant sensation. At twelve, all negative sensations receded.
“Colonel, are you alright?” he could hear Alex Kurtz in his ear. “We saw you fall to the ground and crawl away from the ship.”
Harriman couldn’t remember falling to his knees or crawling away. “It would seem that it has established a perimeter we are not to cross, General. I would say roughly ten meters. It felt as if I had been bitten everywhere by fire ants once I was inside that perimeter. Do you still have a visual?”
“We do but only from our drones. Anything closer is dead. We lost communication with you at ten meters as well. My expert is telling me that it might be some type of specialized, electromagnetic interference.”
“I’ve never known EM to have that kind of effect on the body, but at this juncture, I wouldn’t be inclined to disagree,” replied Harriman. He noticed that as the craft had become still, the plaza now began to fill with others. Some were bravely stepping in and out of the EM perimeter with the same result as he had come to moments ago.
“We still can’t get a radar read on it either,” Kurtz responded. “Uh oh! Do you see that?”
“Yes sir, I do! I would speculate that’s a hatch opening.”
The hatch was an iris-like opening in the side of the craft. Harriman saw it rotate open to reveal a light so brightly emanating from the interior that no detail could be discerned.
It also seemed to be floating. It floated over the brim of the craft and onto the grass in front of the ship.
Then it walked directly to John Harriman.
As it approached, he saw that it had a human face or at least the projection of one. It had a surreal quality, as if it was a three-dimensional copy of a young, Caucasian man, smiling and serene.
By this time, Tanya Vespers and a security contingent had arrived as an escort. Harriman looked at her and motioned for her to remain behind him. When he turned back t o the creature, its face was now that of a young, African man. It had closed the gap between them and stopped a few feet from him. The creature shimmered.
“Fear not, John Harriman, for we bring a promise of peace,” it said.
“You know my name,” Harriman said, startled.
“Of course. We know everyone’s name,” it said. Its voice was soft and light, layered as though a choir was singing through it. The face had become that of a young, Asian man.
“What should I call you?”
“We are Seraphim. Once, long ago, we were known by some of your kind as Gabriel,” it replied with the face of a young, South-Asian man. Its lips didn’t move when it spoke. Harriman speculated it wore the faces as a mask.
He took a step back and to the side. “We are to escort you to the General Assembly, Gabriel.”
“Please lead on. It is important that we speak to the people of this world.” The face had returned to that of the Caucasian man.
Harriman turned back to Vespers and her entourage and gave a nod. They fell into place, surrounding the creature but giving it ample space to move freely within them. Harriman took the rear.
It turned to look at him. “Please do not approach the Orphanum,” it sang, pointing toward the craft. “They don’t appreciate people the way that others of our kind do. It can be quite protective of itself, as you have already felt firsthand. Can you tell General Kurtz not to put anyone in danger unnecessarily?”
“Did you get that, General?” asked Harriman.
“Loud and clear,” replied Kurtz through the earpiece. “We will put a guard around the perimeter to keep away the curious.”
“Thank you, General Kurtz,” said Gabriel, still facing Harriman. It turned to follow Tanya Vespers up the steps and onto the main plaza of the General Assembly building.
The group’s progress was halted momentarily when the creature paused to take in Non-Violence, the sculpture of a handgun with its barrel tide into a knot that occupied a corner of the central plaza. After a few moments it continued across the plaza and through the entrance of the main building.
It knew exactly where it was going.