Chapter 2

Dr. Howard Berger, his wife Melissa, and their three small boys were spending a quiet evening in their comfortable Seattle home, when the FBI agents broke in.
"Dr. Howard Berger?" Agent Wilkes asked.
"You and your family are under arrest. You must come with us right now."
"But why? We haven’t done anything wrong."
"You’re from Kennewick, aren’t you?"
"Yes," the doctor explained. "But when the Minervans showed up, I thought it might be best to leave. I had a job offer here at the University Hospital, and Melissa had an offer from the Seattle Public Schools, so what with the probability of trouble and three boys to think of, we thought…"
"That’s enough. You are a Kennewickian, and must be transported back to Kennewick at once."
Melissa cut in. "But I thought the Minervans are not letting any Americans back into Kennewick."
Wilkes nodded. "That’s right, they’re not."
Melissa’s face showed her alarm. "But then, where do we go?"
"Until the aliens are driven out, you and your family will be housed in a refugee camp on the border of the Minervan occupied zone."
"But it could take years before they are made to leave," Melissa cried. "It could take forever."
The agent was unsympathetic. "It will take as long as it takes. The cause of Holy Kennewick must not be given up."
The doctor’s bewilderment was equaled only by his outrage. "Now see here, officer, there is no need for this. In this family we all support the war effort against the Minervans, of course, but there is no need for us to live like refugees. Melissa and I both have jobs here in Seattle, and a house, and the boys are doing well in an excellent school. It would be crazy for us to leave here to go and live in a tent camp."
"You have no choice. You are Kennewickians, and can only live in Kennewick." Wilkes pointed to the door. "Now stop arguing and get in the van. We have other refugees to pick up."
Melissa was desperate. "You want us to leave right now? Can’t we at least pack some possessions?"
Agent Wilkes shook his head. "No, certainly not. Possession of property by refugees is counter-productive. We need you to be as miserable as possible, so as to elicit the maximum amount of pity from Galactic observers."
The Bergers were aghast.
Wilkes turned to the couple’s three boys, aged 8, 10, and 12. "Hi boys, ready to fight the Minervans?"
Tommy, aged 8, held up his hand with his fingers shaped to suggest a six-shooter. "You bet mister. Bang! Bang!"
The agent smiled. "That’s the spirit son, you’ll make a wonderful martyr."
Melissa quickly snatched her smallest son way from the government man. "What are you talking about, martyr? He’s just a child. If you want to fight the Minervans, send soldiers, grown men."
Wilkes shook his head. "We tried that. It didn’t work. We’re sending children now, because it makes the Minervans look really bad when they kill them. But don’t worry, as soon as each of your boys is martyred, the government will send you a handsome cash bonus, guaranteed, within 10 business days of the event."
Melissa stared at the agent in silent horror. Then she felt a shove from behind, as strong arms pushed her and her family out of their door.
Hamilton looked around his prison cell. He had to admit to himself that for a prison it was very nice, far nicer in fact than any home he had ever lived in. The room was large and airy, with bright sunlight shining in through the bullet-proof windows. There was plenty of comfortable furniture to sit on, a fountain in the middle of the room, music, movies, and books were available through touch-screen computers on demand, and the food was great. Still, a jail was a jail. He longed for freedom.
A knock on the door provided the briefest of warnings, and then it opened, revealing his captress, Priestess 4th-class Aurora, who had now apparently become his case-officer.
Aurora was pretty, as most Minervan women were, in an outdoorsy, girl-next-door kind of way. She was also quite witty and could be charming when she wanted to. Under other circumstances. Hamilton would have found her company quite enjoyable.
She favored him with twinkling eyes, as if somehow she found his appearance amusing. "Ready for your walk, Sergeant Hamilton?"
He nodded. Anything to get outside. She turned, and he followed her. For the briefest of seconds the thought crossed his mind that he could tackle her and make a break for freedom, but he discarded it, having observed the powerful electric shock Minervan clothing could give to any terrestrial assailant.
Suddenly Aurora stopped and looked at him. "Smart boy," she said, with a hint of a laugh. "Maybe you can learn something." Then she turned and continued forward into the garden.
For a moment, Hamilton froze. Could she read his mind? It was very disconcerting. But there was nothing for it. Picking up his pace, he was soon walking by her side.
The garden was filled with strange beautiful plants from faraway planets, with different ones every day. How the Minervans accomplished this was a mystery. Aurora was happy to talk about the garden, but while her discussions of the plants themselves were fascinating, her explanations of Minervan gardening technique were simply incomprehensible.
Whether through telepathy, or more conventional observation, Aurora clearly knew she had lost him. Without warning, she changed the subject to more serious matters.
"You know, Hamilton, you can leave here any time you want. All you have to do is admit what you did was wrong."
"You’re asking me to make a public denunciation of my country? I’ll never do that."
Aurora smiled. "Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t need you to make a public broadcast. All you need to do is tell me that you know you were wrong."
"That’s it? Just tell you I was wrong, and you’ll let me go?"
"That’s it. Say it right now and you’re a free man."
Hamilton found the offer astonishing, but he was not about to turn it down. "OK. I was wrong. Can I go now?"
Aurora frowned in disgust. "Don’t be ridiculous."
"What do you mean ridiculous? I said what you asked me to."
Aurora folded her arms and looked at him severely. "But you didn’t mean it."
Hamilton shook his head. "Look, I said exactly what you wanted."
Aurora’s eyes went dark with fury. "But you lied. Admit it. You still think you were right in murdering six peaceful Minervans who were out in the country for a picnic."
Now Hamilton was offended. "I didn’t murder anyone. I was a soldier, doing my duty by following orders, engaging armed combatants in the open field in wartime."
"So you believe that the fact that someone ordered you to kill Minervans absolves you of all responsibility to use your conscience?"
"Those Minervans were armed…"
"Only defensively. And what would you expect, with thousands of crazy savages like you running around trying to kill people?"
"But you killed thirty-six of my men."
"We certainly did not. All we did was destroy their weapons."
"Killing my men in the process."
Aurora shrugged. "It was their choice. If they had been willing to use their minds, they would have let go of their instruments of murder, and none of them would have been hurt."
Hamilton suppressed his rejoinder. It was obvious that the Minervan’s view of things was totally one-sided.
Aurora continued; "You let go of your gun, which shows that you possess at least a small spark of Reason. That is quite interesting given your otherwise psychotic belief structure. Of course, if you are going to ever go free, you are going to have to use your mind to overthrow much more of your programming. None of my friends think you can do it. But I find your attempts fascinating."
Hamilton was struck by a sinking feeling. "Aurora, just what is my status here? Aren’t I a prisoner of war? And won’t I be released when hostilities end?"
Aurora laughed. "Now look who’s having delusions of grandeur. Prisoner of war, indeed. Hamilton, you are so silly."
"But if I’m not a prisoner of war, why is the Minervan government keeping me?"
"The Minervan High Council has no interest in you."
"Then who is holding me?"
"I am, of course. I collected you, so naturally I own you."
Hamilton was astonished. Aurora went on; "And you’re certainly not a ‘Prisoner of War.’ That’s the most preposterous thing I ever heard. You’re a…"
"I’m a what?"
Aurora closed her eyes and put out her hand, waving it over his forehead, as if she was searching his mind for the right term. Evidently she did, for after a moment she opened her eyes and looked at Hamilton with an amused smile.
"You’re a lab specimen."
Observing the crushed look on Hamilton’s face, Aurora said; "Now don’t pout. You’re being treated well, aren’t you?"
Hamilton said nothing, but gave the 4th-class priestess a sulky look.
Aurora nodded. "I’ll take that as a yes. And you can take pride in the fact that you are contributing to the advance of Minervan science. You know, I was just told this morning by a representative of the Lower Council, that as a result of my studies of your outer mind programming, I will be promoted to Priestess 3rd class at the next full Moon."
She beamed at him proudly.
"Well, aren’t you going to congratulate me?"
Not knowing what to say, Hamilton just said, "Congratulations."
Aurora looked at him keenly. "You know, Hamilton, if you were willing to let me into your inner mind, I could find out so much more. Priestess 2nd class would not be out of the question."
"What’s in it for me?"
"Well for one thing, as Priestess 2nd class I would have many more resources at my disposal. I could take care of you much better."
Hamilton was unimpressed. "My existing cell is nice enough."
"I don’t just mean more creature comforts. I’m talking about scientific resources. And with those, plus full access to your inner mind, I could remove your mental programming blockages. You could become fully human."
Aurora didn’t notice the insulted look on Hamilton’s face. Her eyes were ablaze with enthusiasm at the boldness of her thought. "Think of it, Hamilton, human!"
"I am human."
Taken aback by this defiance, Aurora put her hands on her hips. "Potentially, yes. But don’t you see, that is what we need to prove!"
"I don’t need to prove I’m human to anyone. I know it."
Aurora snickered. "You know it? If you could only hear how ridiculous you sound. Look at you, with your stupid insane thoughts reeking out of your outer mind, annoying everyone in sight, and your horrible skin and teeth, and your stinky grotesque clothing." She shook her head.
Hamilton was taken aback by this sudden tirade. He knew the Minervan did not think much of his beliefs, and he was willing to accept that Minervans, who all had perfect health, might find tooth fillings and minor scars disgusting, but his clothes? The Minervans had given him clean cotton slacks and golf shirts to replace his ripped and bloody army fatigues, and as far as he could see, he was quite presentable.
"What’s wrong with my clothes?"
Aurora looked at him and shuddered, then threw up her hands. "Oh, forget it."
At that moment they left the garden to enter the square lodged between the four skyscrapers that comprised the Minervan 6th subsettlement. Despite the fact that the buildings were 300 stories tall and completely surrounded the square, sunlight illuminated everything. In the center of the square, a small phalanx of male and female Minervans was singing a rapid moving harmony, providing music to several hundred fast dancers scooting about the square on Minervan levitation skates. A group of small American boys moved among the Minervans on ordinary roller skates, serving snacks to the dancers.
"What’s going on?" Hamilton asked.
"It is the celebration of the birth of the Great Owl." Aurora smiled. "Do you want to dance?"
Hamilton was amazed at the offer. "Can I?"
"Sure." The priestess drew two golden plates from her vestment pocket. "Just put these under your shoes and follow my lead."
Hamilton took the plates. They had no adhesive, but when he touched one to his right shoe, it stuck firmly in place. "How did it do that?"
Aurora fondled her golden owl pendant and winked. "Don’t worry about it. Just put the other plate on and let’s dance."
Hamilton touched the other plate to his left shoe. Instantly, Aurora took his hand and started whirling him around. She laughed a mischievous laugh. "Are you dizzy?"
"Good! Let’s go!"
And with that, she took off with him in tow, pirouetting at about ten revolutions per minute while scooting in all directions across the dance floor at speeds greater than 60 miles per hour. At first Hamilton found it terrifying, but after a few minutes he started to get a feel for the skate dynamics, and was able to exercise some control. Soon the dance became exhilarating.
"Are we having fun yet?" Aurora laughed.
He nodded. In the distance, he saw a male Minervan jump in the air, taking his female partner up with him into a flying whirl that changed axes into a backflip that landed them both on their feet. The move seemed impossible, but somehow Hamilton felt he could do it. He resolved to try, and without bothering to warn Aurora, took off with as strong a jump as he could manage. The effect was dramatic. Soaring above the other dancers, they whirled halfway across the square, before doing a double backflip and landing on their skates.
The music stopped, ending the dance. Aurora’s eyes were bright with delight. "Hey! Not bad for an Earthling. We’ll make a dancer out of you yet. Now as soon as the next dance begins, let me show you…"
At that moment, Hamilton noticed something behind Aurora. One of the Earthling waiter boys was pulling an object out from under his shirt. It was a six-shooter, and he was raising it to point at the back of the priestess’s head.
Without thinking, Hamilton whirled her around, and sticking out his leg, kicked the gun out of the boy’s hand. But at the same instant, all the boys had their pistols in the open, and were blazing away at whatever Minervan was closest to hand.
The fight didn’t last long. In the blink of an eye, Minervan lightning bolts were flying in every direction across the square, causing all the pistols to explode.
When it was over, one Minervan was dead from a pistol shot through his brain, and another was injured with a neck wound. Three of the boys were also dead, while eight others had their arms blown off and were screaming in agony. The only uninjured boy was the one Hamilton had disarmed.
The boy looked up at the former Ranger. "Traitor!" he yelled.
The Minervans all clustered around their dead and injured, ignoring the bleeding boys.
Hamilton turned to Aurora. "Someone has got to help those boys!" he shouted.
Aurora looked at him curiously. "Why?" she asked.
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