The Peacemaker Incident
by George S. Karagiannis
A high-ranking diplomat named Zoonoo and nicknamed “Peacemaker” is negotiating a treaty with space aliens called Zotras. U.S. intelligence agencies have gotten wind of a plot to assassinate the diplomat and start a war with the aliens. Agent Aidan Reed is recruited to use his telepathic powers to uncover and foil the plot.
The night was intolerably hot. Humidity made it harder for Aidan’s dehydrated body, and resting his elbows on the edge of the desk made the skin around the bone crack as if he had psoriasis. Aidan’s face was feverish, but he still gulped down more than two glasses of his favorite bourbon.
Aidan had already exhausted all his energy in studying thoroughly all the details behind the Brigwood Case. It didn’t make sense. Brigwood had been phenomenal in his investigations but acted like an amateur the moment he tried to assassinate Zoonoo. He was a first-class FBI agent and had worked for the Bureau for more than ten years. He had two wives and two estranged children. What was his possible motivation for getting allied to the Flame Core and endorsing their propaganda?
I could dummy him now, if he were alive, thought Aidan.
The stereo was now playing “Illusions Within Ourselves,” the best piece from an ambient electronic compilation. Jenna had carefully assembled it for Aidan’s birthday last year. This disk had real soul; it could fill in the emptiness of the room and the void of his heart perfectly. All these hours of driving, target surveillance, information retrieval and data gathering, witness protection, counterfeiting, espionage training... He would be very lonely if it weren’t for her.
“Illusions within ourselves! How true...” He looked out the window. The twilight of the moon was intermixed with the naked trees and created a palisade of shadows around the house. He could listen to the caressing tune, the soft bassoon enhanced with the creaky violin and the random piano keys that unexpectedly helped him bring back memories of Jenna’s pancakes drenched with maple syrup.
Somehow, the air in my room has always been more human and refreshing when Jenna is there. Of course, she’s away and she’s never coming back. This is the cliché irony of all CIA agents: somehow we always get the girl at the very beginning, but the crazy enthusiasm is soon wrung out, the passion is squeezed, the mutual trust progressively diminishes and the relationship ends in disaster for both.
Aidan sighed twice in a heartbeat, only to realize he should immediately put her back in the closet and get back to his computer screen again.
He logged in the corporal intranet to access the Intelligence Network Database and typed in ‘Flame Core’. He had to learn as much as possible about these xenophobe freaks. Apparently they were self-proclaimed ideology warriors, but Aidan soon realized that some members had convictions or were primary suspects in various felonies, including murder.
A dummy’s work depends a lot on homework; you do your homework, everything goes according to plan. Be frivolous and you end up wasting time and resources.
The leader’s name was Jay F. Compostian, and his name was associated with a disturbed childhood. He claimed his sister had been abducted by aliens when they were young. During his undergraduate years, he formed a sociopolitical group called Abductees to protest against the symbiotic relationship of humans with aliens.
As an invited speaker at international conferences, he lectured on the socioeconomic crisis that an alien race can bring to the human community. His book Aliendity Crisis described how humans would forget their nature and origins if they lived in fusion with the alien Zotras and how individualism would go extinct and be replaced by generalism.
This is quite a portfolio! This guy could for sure be motivated in terms of social beliefs and public awareness. The only thing that matters now is to prove a solid motivation, an intended assassination plan carved in the hidden depths of his sick mind.
My job reminds me what Alison McCoy used to say, back at the Academy. Alison, the best CIA forensic toxicologist, with at least one Nature a year in her publication history, loved her research. She was always telling me that 99% of her time would be devoted to reading. The remainder would be xperimental design and bench work!
You need to do a lot of thinking to plan the course of your actions.
“For the time being, set aside your bench work Aidan, Alison would say.”
* * *
The morning glory of the sun extended a glistening ladder through the window, reaching all the tables inside the small café. The street-corner café served as a cozy businessman’s hideout and an alternative lounge-style cafeteria for people listening to ambient tunes, including artists worshiping the new wave of isolationism.
“I will go for the chocolate croissant, the cheese burrito and the fried ice cream with the caramel sauce. Does this also come with the whipped cream cherries?”
The waitress only nodded.
“And coffee, lots of coffee please,” Ripley added.
“And you, sir?” the waitress asked with a crackling smile. She had black circles below her eye sockets.
“Black coffee for me, nothing else,” replied Aidan.
“I can’t imagine eating all that crap for breakfast,” Aidan said as soon as the waitress was out of sight. “Honestly, how do you do it?”
“I exercise a lot,” Ripley snapped back and caressed his beard in embarrassment.
A dense knot of people, dressed in professional, garishly colored outfits, were placing orders at the front desk. Their noses and cheeks were raw from the chill morning air.
Ripley changed the subject. “I have set up everything for you. Your name is Travis Johnston, photographer and reporter for Alienation. You have a meeting with Jay F. Compostian at the main Flame Core headquarters today at six-thirty pm.”
“Alienation?” Aidan exclaimed. “The crappy e-zine that does little else than anti-Zotra propaganda? My God!”
“Listen, this is the best I could in the time I had; okay?” Ripley took a forged ID card from his pocket and placed it carefully on the table. Ripley had been the CIA expert in counterfeiting, and his service to Aidan had proven to be handy in the past.
They both sat silently for a while, entangled in the hallucinogenic dreamscape of the ambient musical waves. A modern Viking with long beard and grotesque facial expressions was sitting alone at another table, deeply absorbed in his elfish world, writing some Tolkien-style fantasy novel with a traditional ink pen.
The waitress soon appeared with the coffees and the assorted desserts. With a single mouthful, Aidan emptied his cup, no sugar or cream. “Enjoy the rest of your breakfast,” he said, stood up, and walked outside in a rush.
“I thought we were going to eat together,” Ripley yelled but received no reply. “Okay, we never talked, remember?”
* * *
The old district served as a bridge platform for exchanging cargo with the planet of the Zotras. An adjacent railway also made it a first-come first-serve depot for artillery manufacturers. The buildings situated in a row: temples for drug and weapon dealers heavily guarded by bouncers, which the Agency used to call crime syndicates.
The car stopped by the deep road cracks, avoiding them in time. The moment Aidan breathed in the air, its texture raw, he figured out there was something industrial about it. He gazed aloft. The afternoon sky was mixed with the pale of the clouds, forcing a grayscale gradient like a stage backdrop, the color of an artist’s crazy eye. Service mechanics patrolled the area, all set to take over their night shift, carrying loads of coffee supplies.
Aidan ran toward the Prominent Palace complex, and used his Travis Johnston property to make his way through the bouncers and up to Jay F. Compostian’s headquarters.
A family of miniature mummified cats was positioned at the edge of the desk, straightly staring at Aidan’s eyes. Aidan was resting his body on the leather couch in front of the wooden desk. He figured out the cat artifacts must have been deliberately placed there to cast a shadow of doubt and fear on any visitor so that Jay F. would have an advantage in the conversation.
Jay F. stood silently behind his chair, contemplating fighting his own ghosts. Tidiness in his desk, along with the strictly patterned tapping of his fingertips on the desk, betrayed he was an obsessive individual. Some extra seconds of silence passed, bringing in more embarrassment and awkwardness between them.
Aidan tried to be as calm as possible, neutralizing his opponent’s rays, which attempted to scan him through and breach all his defenses. Jay F.’s face was pale and anemic, his skin ashen, his outline skeletal, his frame supple; everything pointed to his being sick with a chronic illness.
Lupus erythematosus, maybe. Aidan threw a rough diagnosis on the table.
“Would you like an orange, Mr. Johnston?” Jay F. finally asked, using the same dull tone in every vowel while he ceremonially peeled the orange, trying not to leave any fibers on it.
“I’m not a fruit type of person,” said Aidan.
“I see,” Jay F. replied automatically. “How ironic you sometimes have to work on things you distrust, don’t you agree?”
That was a very random comment, Aidan thought, confused.
Aidan could now see what Jay F. was getting at. Apparently, Jay F. had also done his homework and dug up a little bit about Travis’ past. Aidan had only taken a very short glimpse on the life of the person he had stolen. Yet he could clearly remember Travis had been harvesting oranges in California last summer; he had borrowed a friend’s cottage by the Pacific and stayed there with his family on vacations.
“Please, I’ve already had enough of them; show some mercy.” He tried to cover up his confusion, but he had no idea whether his red herring was precise enough to distract Jay F.
“I will, Mr. Johnston,” Jay F. said, still retaining an aura of suspicion. “My apologies for being so sarcastic. You see, we have to be very careful with what we are trying to accomplish in here. We have lots of enemies that would be more than willing to destroy our little empire if they had the chance to.”
He was so lucky. He didn’t even want to think of the possible consequences in case he was caught in his own web. He realized the situation was a game of words with very tough and unstable rules.
“I understand,” Aidan said. “Don’t worry; we are both runners in the same marathon, you and me, Mr. Compostian. May I get directly to the point of my visit now?”
“Of course you may.”
Aidan attempted a mind invasion on his victim, but for some unknown reason he was unable to achieve it. Either Jay F. had a very strong intellect that could resist dummying and had already built a neuronic palisade around his brain core, or simply the cat mummies were so spooky that they had totally distracted Aidan from his mind control endeavor. Maybe I’m not focused enough, he concluded.
“The life of a reporter is full of surprises. I happen to have lots of acquaintances at my disposal to help me cope with my challenges; an anonymous one has recently informed me the peacemaker might be targeted for assassination. You should expect the media circus to bump into you from time to time, Mr. Compostian.”
“Oh really,” said Jay F. without evident signs of worry. “I have always thought the Flame Core is the scapegoat for all evil. It turns out I’m not wrong after all. We’ll have to go through a second round of losing our dignity, I’m afraid.”
There was a strange calmness in his face that Aidan could not rationalize. He seemed to be very well-prepared for such frustrating news. Well, on one hand it wasn’t strange, since he was most probably planning the assassination. Still though, Aidan expected to hit a nerve, but Jay F. hadn’t moved an inch from his position.
“Mr. Compostian. This time, my source says the threat is pretty damn serious. This is not like the weak link between the Flame Core and Brigwood that happened in the past...”
Behind Jay F., Aidan could picture the dark clouds preparing for impact. During the last couple of days, the weather had persistently been dull and rainy and the current pattern signaled it would remain so over a long period.
“I am particularly aware of this, Mr. Johnston. Let me ask you one question, though. What do you think that really happened to Brigwood? People frequently go frenzy and start running around, killing aliens, don’t they?”
“I guess not,” Aidan simply said.
He then attempted to dummy him again, but the leader of the Flame Core proved to be a rabbit-proof fence. Strange, he is totally immune to my willpower, thought Aidan. Somewhere inside, an alarm started beeping, for Aidan felt something was not right and he must have been exposed to his enemy. He urged himself to pretend everything was running smoothly, he faked a cough to distract attention, but deep inside he knew Jay F. was too intelligent to bite so easily.
“Brigwood knew very well, Mr. Johnston. Have you ever heard of the ‘wise’?”
“The so-called dummies, you mean?” Aidan asked, not sure if he managed to hide the trembling tempo in his voice.
“The dummies, yes! This is what happened to Brigwood, Mr. Johnston. He reached a point where he could feel the motivations of the Zotras. We, the Flame Core, believe Brigwood had dummied the peacemaker and became aware of his agenda. Brigwood had to face the ultimate truth: the aliens are trying to conquer humanity. Brigwood, unfortunately, found himself in the terrible position of having to take important and life-risking decisions. Brigwood had to accept his destiny as a dummy!”
That, I don’t like, thought Aidan. That comment was too clever to simply fall into the coincidence side. He knows! He knows I’m a dummy, damn.
“How does this relate to the current threat assassination?” Aidan asked.
“You’re not listening to me, Mr. Johnston. I think you have misunderstood me. Brigwood’s failure unfortunately brought me to the frontier of all succeeding investigations. I do pose a threat for the treaty, their treaty. Right now, I’m being framed for my beliefs and my causes,” said Jay F.
“Who do you believe is trying to frame you?”
“I think this is out of the question. I’ve been notified the CIA is trying to prevent this. Mr. Compostian, I might be working with a magazine that hates the Zotras, but I am trying to find out the honest truth out there.”
“I think your rat is not as reliable as you think. You have been misled Mr. Johnston. I have concrete evidence for this. That, I can assure you of,” Jay F said.
“Evidence? What kind of evidence?”
“Three weeks ago, Mr. Johnston, I had a visit from the peacemaker, in this very room. The peacemaker was sitting exactly where you are now. The purpose of his visit? Simple. He came to see if I wanted to write history as a war criminal. He wanted to personally ask me if I wished to be responsible for the blood and put my own signature to the monstrosities my actions would bring. You think if I wanted to kill him, I didn’t have the chance to?”
“So, where is the evidence?”
“Oh I praised the Lord, for I saw the window of opportunity for the first time in my life. The mouse just walked towards the cage alone, it wasn’t forced to, not even fooled by a piece of cheese... I dummied him, Mr. Johnston, I got the answers I’ve been seeking for so damn long,” he paused for a second. “I dummied the peacemaker, exactly as I have dummied you right from the start, Aidan.”
* * *
Copyright © 2013 by George S. Karagiannis