by Bill Kowaleski
Creative Destruction is a sequel to the novel Brighter Than the Stars, in which Earthlings meet technologically advanced space aliens. The Cygnians come only to do business, but their schemes to sell fusion-powered generators become contentious and competitive.
Many human and alien characters return from the previous novel, including Jim McDermott and his team, who try to reduce the risk of societal upheaval that the new technologies threaten. Meanwhile, many different groups are either plotting to steal the technical advances for their own purposes or trying to destroy it and drive the Cygnians off of Earth.
|Cast of Characters and Species||Table of Contents|
Chapter 5: Andrew Comes Out
Mary Steenman had, in just two years, grown her TruthNoBull blog into a significant force. She worked in a way that hardly any news organization did any more: she dug beneath the surface, humped hard to get the facts, went where the truth led, never just looked for information that supported one or another point of view. She’d made more than a few powerful people angry and ruined several careers, but she was stronger than ever and, energized by a large, growing, fanatical following, she continued, ignoring the inevitable counterattacks that the influential could mount.
As she’d grown in confidence, she’d come increasingly to trust her instincts. So when Upper Zion Power Generation sent her a release promising major announcements, she felt certain that the press conference was worth attending, even though many colleagues warned her that what constituted a major announcement at UZPG was often nothing more than a boring project plan.
She’d never been to the facility before and didn’t much like having to check all her electronics, getting x-ray scanned, and being forced to sit for an hour while they ran a background check on all the reporters in attendance. But she’d been warned about that, and so she still walked into the spartan press room with plenty of time to spare. She sat on a folding chair near the back of the room, a long, narrow space, about twenty chairs wide, with a small raised stage in front.
A photo of the huge generation towers rising starkly out of dark blue Lake Michigan like five gray grain silos, UZPG’s trademark, filled the wall she faced, creating a backdrop for the stage, empty except for a podium holding many microphones. Behind her was a kind of balcony sticking out from the back wall bristling with electronic equipment.
Two pudgy young males were working intently on keyboards, probably, she thought, preparing to make a full record of the event. She certainly hoped they were recording, because her own recording equipment was sitting in a locker outside the security area. She always studied event recordings carefully; they revealed more each time she listened. She’d been promised a copy of the entire event and had signed up for the recording during the security check.
Ten o’clock arrived and only half the seats were filled. A Caucasian man in his early fifties, ramrod-straight, proportioned like a quarterback, wearing a smart charcoal business suit, his hair grey thinning at the temples, walked through a door beside the stage, strode up the stairs two at a time and grabbed a microphone on the podium.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m James McDermott, Executive Manager of the government side of this joint venture with private industry. I am here today to make two announcements. These may be the most important, world-changing announcements you will ever hear, so I’d suggest that you direct your full attention to this stage.”
The reporters quieted a little, though one animated, three-way conversation in the back continued.
“As all of you know,” McDermott continued, “The breakthrough discoveries that led to this large-scale fusion power production plant came very, very fast, and seemingly out of nowhere. There’s a good reason for that. Those discoveries have been widely attributed to Dr. Gerald Landis, but he will now explain to you that that assumption is not completely true.”
A slender, middle-aged black man, wearing black-rimmed glasses and a scruffy brown sport jacket approached the podium. So this is the famous Gerry Landis, she thought. I sure wish I had a camera right now.
“Hello, reporters, and all of you who will watch this video. Eighteen months ago, I was a tenured professor working in the field of nuclear physics. My research had been funded by a major oil company that wanted to diversify its portfolio, hedge against the day when oil might not be a viable business any more.
“One day, a student uh, ‘encouraged’ me to come to his father’s house to see a most incredible furnace. It was the strangest device I’d ever seen in my life. I met the people who had installed it and, after pushing myself on them, demanding to know more, managed to discover that they were not really people at all.”
The conversation in the back came to an abrupt end. All eyes now focused on the podium.
“Yes, they were not people, they were an incredibly intelligent species from another planet. I subsequently went to their planet and learned the information about fusion power that I presented in my papers. You see, the furnace in that basement was a home fusion generator, manufactured by Galactic Fusion Generators Corporation of Cygnus Prime.”
He stopped a moment, surveying the audience for their reaction. Mary jumped to her feet. “Do you have any proof of this, Dr. Landis? It sounds preposterous!”
“Thank you, Ms. Steenman, for that excellent segue. I’d like to introduce you now to my good friend and Cygnian, Sociologist-Andrew. I should explain: Cygnians know each other only by their function; the name Andrew is something we add to their names to allow us to talk about them as individuals.”
He stepped aside, and Andrew walked out onto the stage on all fours, trotted down the steps, and circulated with the reporters, followed closely by an armed guard. Gasps and murmurs filled the room. “Please, feel free to touch Andrew’s fur gently, but stay away from the eyestalks; they’re very sensitive. Please also hold all questions for the end, as many of them will get answered in the course of our presentation.”
When Andrew approached Mary, she reached out and touched his fur. It felt wiry and coarse. Could this be someone in a very sophisticated animal costume?
Andrew paused, seeming to understand her doubts, and put on quite a show right in front of her, rising up onto his hind legs and wiggling his tentacle-like front fingers, sticking out his thick, pink tongue, showing off his flat, grinding teeth, letting her smell his grassy breath, and even encouraging her to lay an ear against his belly and hear his stomachs in action.
If this is a hoax, it’s a damned good one, she thought with growing astonishment.
Andrew worked the room a few more minutes and then trotted back up onto the stage, his hyena-like, swaying walk further convincing Mary that he was authentic.
Gerry introduced him, saying, “Andrew will now address you through a translation device. He cannot speak our language, but the resourceful Cygnians have devised a wonderful translator that allows him to talk to you and understand what you say.”
Gerry pulled the podium aside and Andrew, standing on four legs, began. “It is a great pleasure to address all of you here in the room and the people of Earth. I am just one member of my herd, not a great leader on our planet, a place that has no kings or presidents, just herds where we each fill our role, so I’m as good a Cygnian as any for you to hear from.
“I met Dr. Landis and several other humans three of your years ago, when they came through something we call an altverse tunnel. It’s a distortion in the space-time continuum that allows us to travel quickly all over the galaxy. Our planet is fifty of your light years away, yet it takes only about a minute to get there through one of our tunnels.”
How can I verify all of this? Mary wondered. And why don’t I hear the creature make sounds? I hear the English words as though they are being spoken by someone else. Have to get one of these critters into a more unstructured situation.
He talked for a half hour, explaining more about life on Cygnus Prime, why the Cygnians had decided to trade with Earth, and what it was like for him to live on Earth. Then he opened the floor for questions.
“Are you planning to send an army and conquer us?” asked a reporter from a right-wing web site.
“We have no armies nor need for armies. Our defensive weapons are immensely effective, and an altverse tunnel allows the passage of only a very few individuals at a time. We would not be able to mass an army here, nor would you be able to send an army to our planet. Our intent is trade only.”
“Could you bring fatal diseases through from your planet? What precautions are you taking?” a network reporter asked.
“We wear effective nanotechnology filters which are invisible even at close inspection. At any rate, our scientists tell me that micro-organisms on our two planets are so dramatically different that cross infection is an extremely remote possibility.”
“Do you believe in God and Jesus Christ on your planet?” asked another reporter.
“We do not have religions in the sense that you have. But we honor our past, and the brave herd members who came before us in our First Stories. We also take part in ceremonies and celebrations much like your religious services. We do not believe in any supreme universal power. Only hierarchical species have such beliefs.”
Mary rose and asked, “I don’t believe you’re really talking to us. Prove to us that it is you who are communicating, not someone behind the scenes talking into the microphones.”
“Mr. McDermott, please advise me as to how best to answer this question,” Andrew responded.
McDermott appeared from the door behind the stage and ran up the steps. “OK, some of you may have noticed that no sounds are coming from Andrew. Cygnians communicate with thought waves, and those are going to a special translator that turns them into speech that you can hear. I’m not sure how we could convince you that it’s really Andrew’s thoughts you are hearing. What kind of demonstration would you like, Ms. Steenman?”
“I’m not sure, something that convinces us this is not just some odd animal you found and trained.”
Andrew responded, “A trained animal would not understand complex commands. Ask me to do things like stand on three legs or roll on my side or turn an eyestalk in one direction or another.”
And so they did, for several minutes. Finally, Mary said, “It’s clear it can understand us, but I still don’t see the evidence that it came from another planet. How does it breathe our air, for example? Wouldn’t it need to wear a spacesuit or something like that?”
“The answer to this and many other questions you may ask is nanotechnology,” Andrew responded. “We have seen the images of your spacemen in those cumbersome suits walking on the moon. Our technologies are thousands of years ahead of that, highly miniaturized, yet providing complete environmental support and protection. For example, molecular-sized devices in my lungs adjust your air to my needs.”
The questions went on for an hour. Mary was impressed with Andrew’s patience, and every answer made sense. It was either an incredibly well-rehearsed show or the real thing. She asked one more question. “When can we visit your planet, Andrew? Only then would we be convinced that you’re really not a hoax.”
McDermott had already returned to the stage, and he stepped forward to answer. “So glad you brought that up, Ms. Steenman. We’re in the process of arranging a little journey to another planet right now. It’s not Andrew’s home — that presents too many problems for us at this moment — but it is a place where you’ll be able to see over twenty different intelligent species and maybe have some fun, too. But we can only accommodate at most thirty people, and believe me, there’s no more difficult task than choosing those thirty. Everyone who thinks he or she matters in this world wants to go!”
Mary smiled. That was easy to believe. After all, she wanted to go, too, wanted to go in the worst way, and even though she knew well that nobody considered her to be someone who truly mattered in the world, she had certain advantages that she figured she could turn into a way to muscle onto the list. She had solid evidence about certain important people, evidence about things that might make them willing to give her their place on the list, things that powerful people tend to do, things that powerful people would never want the world to know that they did.
Copyright © 2019 by Bill Kowaleski