The next morning, Bjorn was sitting at the table with his mom while Tim fixed breakfast. In his usual indomitable style, Bjorn was cheerful and grinning with a smile that can only come from the face of a child. He was happy. He was special. He had dem brainwaves! At first, Tim wanted to make Bjorn stop moving things around on the table, but Joanna, in her gentle way, relaxed the man, allowing the boy to play.
In so many ways, it was unreal to watch. Bjorn quickly figured out that he could manipulate more than one thing at a time. He lifted his spoon, then his fork, and then his knife and plate. With a giggle, he lifted the piece of toast that Tim had set in front of Joanna and dropped it quickly onto his own plate.
“I didn’t do nothing,” he declared, trying to look innocent.
“Ladies first, young man,” declared Tim, in a mock voice of authority. “Serve your mom before you serve yourself.”
The three of them laughed, and Joanna said, only half-jokingly, “You know what would be impressive, Bjorn, is if you could butter the toast for me.”
Bjorn’s smile widened, and his brow furrowed as he focused. At first, he focused on trying to mentally grip the handle of the knife, but it clattered to the table. Before anyone could react, it was in the air again, with Tim and Joanna mostly ignoring the profanity that had slipped from the boy’s lips. Relaxing, Bjorn focused again. In his mind, he told himself not to focus just on the knife, but rather focus on what the knife needed to do. He took a deep breath, and the blade slipped through the butter, cutting a perfect pad.
He breathed a “yes,” and then the knife flicked the pad of butter sending it through the air. Reflexively Bjorn reached for the butter, even though it would sail past his hand by a few feet. It stopped in midair, not far from his fingers, but the knife clattered to the table again.
“Not bad, kiddo,” Tim noted. “Alright, let’s just eat now.”
“I’m not done,” replied Bjorn stubbornly as he moved the butter through the air. He closed his eyes for a moment, then waved his hand, with the palm down in the same motion that a knife would make to spread butter. The butter, having hit the toast, spread itself across the slightly brown surface.
Joanna picked up the toast and regarded it. “Perfect,” she exclaimed, as she nodded to Bjorn and bit into it.
Mr. Freeman’s knock on the door awakened Dylan. He had slept late, after having serious issues falling asleep the night before. On her way to bed, Joanna had checked on him and found him struggling to get to sleep. She sat on his bed for some time, trying to get her oldest son to understand that he couldn’t save the world. But the weight of the day had fallen heavily on Dylan. He hadn’t been able to protect his little brother. In so many ways, Dylan was a genuinely amazing big brother for Bjorn. That was impossible to deny, but for Dylan, having his brother snatched away was more than he could handle. He didn’t know how, but he swore that he would do everything he could to protect the little guy, especially when the invasion began.
It was hard for Joanna to watch her son be so hard on himself, but she understood. He loved Bjorn with all his heart, and, with a heart as big as Dylan’s, she was sure that he would do everything in his power to take care of his younger sibling.
“Good morning, Dylan,” said Mr. Freeman, as the teenager walked into the kitchen, still in his t-shirt and underwear with his hair completely a mess.
“We have to stop that return vessel, Mr. Freeman,” Dylan announced.
“Oh, I wish we could, but I don’t know what we could do,” replied Mr. Freeman.
Before he could continue the conversation, Dylan’s phone rang.
“Whoa!” exclaimed Tim, “a phone call and not just a text. Probably a telemarketer. I’m not sure teenagers know that those devices also make calls, not just texts.” All of the adults shared a chuckle that quickly evaporated as they watched the concern grow on Dylan’s face.
“Have any of you guys seen or heard from Hector this morning?” Dylan asked.
None of the people in the room had heard a thing from him. Everyone just assumed that they might see him later, perhaps even go scuba diving.
Dylan, setting the phone on the table, sat down. “He’s gone. Adelita and her aunt went out for breakfast this morning. The aunt’s debit card was denied. They paid with cash and went to the bank. Hector cleaned out the account while they were eating. They rushed home, but he and a bunch of his stuff is gone.”
“Did they check his work?” asked Tim.
“Yes. Video from the marina shows that he took off in one of the company’s boats early this morning. Either the GPS tracking that the company uses failed, or he disabled it. His cell phone is also just rolling to a prerecorded message. Adelita’s sister is a wreck. It looks like he has skipped out.”
Joanna looked accusingly at Mr. Freeman again, and the older man felt around for his cane. He would often roll it in his hands when he was thinking, but, of course, the Mexican police had taken it.
“Atticus, what aren’t you telling us?” she asked, even more bluntly than she meant to.
“There’s nothing more I know than you do,” Mr. Freeman responded as gently as he could. It hurt to feel the anger in her voice. She wasn’t hiding her feelings of betrayal as well as she wished she could. Mr. Freeman looked at Bjorn and Dylan. What mattered most to him was that the boys were safe. He didn’t know if he could protect them from the coming storm, but he would do his best. Hopefully, Joanna would eventually come to understand that he wasn’t the monster branded on the inside of his forearm, but he understood her concern. She was a good mom.
“Then why has he bailed out on everyone?” she asked again, almost sounding panicked.
“I really don’t know,” replied Mr. Freeman.
“Maybe he knows something about Mexican justice that made him run off,” added Tim.
“I doubt it,” said Mr. Freeman. “If he did, then he would have skipped out last night.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Bjorn, “I know where he might be! Chubby Butt Pond!” Everyone flinched as the plate Bjorn had been levitating crashed, shattering on the tile floor.
“Seriously, Bjorn!” snapped Joanna, “we’re going to need some ground rules around these abilities of yours, and number one is no messing with anything breakable.”
“Sorry, mom,” the boy replied sheepishly, “it’s just those guys only mentioned one place last night. Maybe Hector knows about it and is going to get them.”
“Chubby Butt Pond?” asked Dylan. “Where’s that?”
“I don’t know,” stammered Bjorn still feeling like he was in trouble for breaking the plate. “It was just the only place they mentioned that I can remember.”
Dylan looked at this little brother for a moment. The wheels in his brain spinning into overdrive. Of all the people in the world, Dylan knew the little guy best. He grabbed his phone and started rapidly tapping away with his thumbs. “Hector lied, Bjorn could be right,” Dylan announced.
“Okay, Dylan, slow down,” Mr. Freeman responded. “You’ve totally lost me here.”
Dylan picked up his brother’s tablet, tapped a few places on the screen, and then spun it around. “There’s no St. Julian Lake in the Appalachian Mountains. That’s where Hector said his return vessel was hidden. There’s no St. Julian Lake at all in the United States,” explained Dylan as he pointed to a map on the screen. “However, there is a Lago San Julian here in Mexico. He was lying last night. He needed a place but couldn’t think of anything off the top of his head in the US that wasn’t too obvious.”
“I’m a little lost here,” Tim admitted, “Catch me up.”
Dylan looked at Mr. Freeman. “All three ships from your planet went to the same place. That could be why Hector skipped out. He knows where the return vessel is.”
Dylan turned to Bjorn, “You heard them say the place last night, goofball. It wasn’t Chubby Butt Pond that they said.”
“Nope,” replied Bjorn smiling, “It was Fat Bottom Lake.”
They began hashing everything over. Dylan was probably correct. Mr. Freeman’s return vessel had been hidden in Fat Bottom Lake. The likelihood that Dylan was right about Hector continued to grow, as Tim searched online, trying to play devil’s advocate and disprove Dylan’s theory. Bjorn, having heard the men talking yesterday about a return vessel and Fat Bottom Lake, simply further reinforced the idea that all three mission had used the same landing place. More than likely, the return vessel from the latest crew was sitting at the bottom of that lake, but it would only be there for about twenty-four more hours before it departed Earth.
“This is all irrelevant,” declared Mr. Freeman. “Even if we weren’t stuck here in Mexico on travel restrictions, it would be impossible for us to get a flight and get there.”
“But we live in Denver, right at the base of the Rockies,” Dylan argued. “Certainly, there is someone that one of us knows that could help?”
Unfortunately, there seemed little that they could do, and the discussion turned to protecting Bjorn. He was less than impressed that everyone wanted to hide his amazingly cool new skills, but he mostly understood the danger. After yesterday, he didn’t want to relive anything like being kidnapped again. Dylan excused himself and headed out onto the deck. A gentle rain began to fall, and he just wanted to be alone and watch the ocean.
Tim’s face grew grave as his phone began to ring and vibrate. He picked it up, excused himself, and headed into one of the bedrooms, closing the door. He wasn’t sure how this would go, but he needed to figure out how to handle Sebastian and limit the damage that had been done to his company and career. He’d laid in bed the night before trying to sort out how on Earth he could compensate Sebastian. Without him, they wouldn’t have found Bjorn. More than likely, Bjorn would be dead. Tim may have been one of the founders of the company, but that really didn’t matter. There was no way he could give a known criminal access to their systems, without risking everything. The truth was, he was probably already at risk of losing his job, losing his company stock, and going to jail. It was worth it, but he wasn’t sure how to wrap this up.
Mr. Freeman watched Dylan as he leaned on the railing of the balcony. He knew Dylan well enough that he didn’t need Joanna to tell him that the teenager was struggling with a tremendous amount of guilt over what had happened to Bjorn. Mr. Freeman excused himself and headed out to the balcony, leaning on the railing next to Dylan.
“I love watching the rain on the ocean,” Mr. Freeman confided, “It’s mesmerizing.”
“Will it still rain like this after your planet invades us?” asked Dylan.
“When I left Koranth, we had some ability to modify the weather, but not as much as some would like. As far as I remember, it wasn’t something that we messed with on other worlds.”
“I won’t be able to protect my brother when they arrive, will I?”
“If he keeps his abilities hidden, they’re unlikely to find him,” Mr. Freeman assured him.
“There’s no way that Bjorn can keep this under wraps. I’d bet within a couple of years that he’s on TV doing tricks. It’s just too tempting for him. He’ll be famous before they get here, and it won’t take anything to find him.” Dylan sounded both defeated and angry.
“We don’t know what the future holds, Dylan, but we can only do what we can do,” Mr. Freeman shared, trying to sound compassionate and understanding, but knowing he probably sounded more patronizing than anything. “Many things could delay or maybe even stop the Donovackia Corporation from coming here. There is only so much we even know. Try not to worry, son.”
“You’re right, Mr. Freeman,” Dylan agreed, looking more optimistic than he had before. “We only know certain things, and we can only do what we can do. We have to stop that return vessel from leaving this planet.”
“Dylan, there is nothing that we can do,” replied Mr. Freeman sympathetically.
“Oh yes, we can,” the teenager asserted, as he turned and ran back inside.
As Tim closed the bedroom door, he reluctantly answered the video call, and Sebastian’s face appeared on the screen. “Hello Rudianos,” said Sebastian smiling. “I am delighted that you were able to find the boy.”
“I’m not sure how to thank you, Sebastian –” Tim began, but before he could finish his thought, Sebastian interrupted.
“Please, it has been an honor to be a part of saving the boy. Now that the boy is safe, I can only imagine that you are worried about my compensation.”
“Yes, I don’t know how to go about compensating someone like you, for something like this. It’s just …”
“Tim, let me explain a few things first,” interjected Sebastian, “and as you said, let’s not dance around. I am an internationally wanted criminal, or so various governments would like everyone to believe. Money for me is not an issue, so don’t worry about that.”
“Okay,” replied Tim, “I had a feeling that we wouldn’t be talking about money. I can only imagine that you want ongoing access to my company’s aggregated social media feed, but I don’t know how to accomplish that.”
Sebastian shook his head in agreement. “Even if you left the pipe open for me, eventually you’d be caught, and more than likely, you’d end up in some dark room being interviewed by people claiming to have nothing but ‘national security’ interests at heart, as they repeatedly violated your civil liberties and perhaps tortured you.”
“Yes, those thoughts have certainly gone through my head. At this point, I am not sure that something like that might not happen anyway,” Tim admitted. “What I’ve already done is unlikely to go unnoticed.”
“You’re completely safe at this point, Tim. Let’s make this simple. All that you owe me is a favor,” Sebastian told him.
“I’m not sure what you mean, Sebastian. What favor do you want?” replied Tim, both confused and grateful.
“I’m not sure. Just a favor in the future when I need it,” Sebastian explained. “No one will ever know that I was in your systems. Your server logs have been cleaned. All of your monitoring systems, from bandwidth to performance metrics, have been reset to show no additional activity while data flowed into my network. We even hacked into your dark fiber provider and erased all traces of the additional data flow.”
“Holy shit,” replied Tim as he stared at the phone, almost unable to believe what Sebastian was saying. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe Sebastian’s group could do what he’d said; it was that Sebastian did all those things to protect Tim. For all practical purposes, Sebastian had helped find Bjorn for little more than a promise. “I don’t want to appear ungrateful at all, sir, but –”
Before Tim could finish his thought, Sebastian interrupted again, “You could have fired Kaylee. You could have even had her arrested. But honestly, this isn’t a tit for tat. A boy’s life was at stake, and you and I had the means to make a difference and do something right. Not every hero wears a white hat, my friend.”
Tim looked at the image of Sebastian on the screen. He was a daunting character that was beginning to become larger than life to many people in the world while, at the same time, he was being more and more vilified by those governments whose dirty secrets he was exposing. It was daunting to know that he would owe this man a favor, especially one that could be anything. However, Bjorn was alive, and that was good enough. He would just hope that the favor wouldn’t “cost” too much in the future.
“One other thing, Tim,” said Sebastian. “Kaylee will no longer be working for your company. If you’re ever asked, please give her a positive reference.”
“That will be easy to do,” replied Tim, relieved that it wasn’t anything more significant than that.
As the men began to say their goodbyes, Dylan burst into the bedroom.
“Sebastian, we still need your help,” Dylan blurted out. “This isn’t over yet. Please.”
“Dylan,” snapped Tim, “Sebastian has done his part. We just need to say thanks and get focused on life.”
“Let the boy speak,” Sebastian demanded. “If his little brother is now safely back with you, why isn’t this over?”
Dylan sat down next to Tim, looking at the screen. The light was slightly better wherever Sebastian was calling from, and Dylan saw that Sebastian was very much what he expected. The man was the legendary image of an MI6 agent – handsome and rugged, with cold, steel blue eyes, and a strong jawline. It was almost as if you could see the experience and intelligence in his face. A small smile crept across Dylan’s face. Dylan had a mission and was about to talk to someone who knew real risk and how to get things done.
“I know you’re affiliated with GAPN,” began Dylan. “Do you have operatives in the United States, ones that could carry out a mission to stop an alien ship from leaving this planet?”
Sebastian looked at Dylan for a few moments without saying anything. Dylan realized that he probably sounded a little bit crazy even asking such a question, but it was the only way he could think of to get someone to Fat Bottom Lake to stop that return vessel from leaving Earth and bringing back a military force that would hunt his little brother.
“Kiddo, I’ve heard a lot of crazy things in my time, but –” Sebastian responded, hesitating before he completed his own thought.
“Mr. Twyman,” began Dylan again, “five years ago no one knew who you were. The news says you were an MI6 agent that went bad, but many people don’t agree. Maybe you did steal all the documents and other stuff, but something made you do it. You’ve gone from being super-spy, super-patriot for your country, to the top of the world’s most wanted list. You heard something or saw something that made you decide that things weren’t as they seem.”
Tim put his hand gently on Dylan’s shoulder. “Dylan, I think Sebastian has done more for us than we could ever ask. We need to say thank you and goodbye.”
“The boy’s right,” Sebastian affirmed. “Things aren’t always as they seem. Okay, Dylan, I obviously don’t know what all is going on, but let’s hear a little more before we say goodbye.”
Mr. Freeman, Joanna, and Bjorn had also slipped into the room after Dylan. Within a few minutes, they had outlined to Sebastian how a giant Corporation from Koranth and Zoranth had sent missions to Earth to see if it had advanced enough to invade. They explained that they believed that the latest mission was set to send its return vessel back to Koranth tomorrow from a remote place in the Rocky Mountains called Fat Bottom Lake. Most importantly, they emphasized that this return vessel would carry a report stating that Earth was now ready to be invaded. Of course, they left out the part about Transprophetics, and especially, the fact that Bjorn happened to be one.
“So, no little green men?” asked Sebastian when they finished. “They all look like this Atticus Freeman beside you?”
“No,” replied Dylan, “they look like all of us … Can you help? Please?”
For a few moments, the silence was deafening. Sebastian’s face revealed that he was lost deep in thought. “I am sure you all realize how fantastical this all sounds,” began Sebastian. “Alien invasions aren’t exactly my specialty. Not that long ago, I would have said you are all suffering from some group hysteria, but after what I’ve found in various documents that I have acquired from secretive governments, including your own, I am finding myself more and more open to things I once thought impossible.”
“So – you can help us?” Dylan inquired, again.
“Let me explain a few things first,” Sebastian answered. “GAPN, the Global Anonymous Pirate Network, is a very, very loose association of all kinds of people and organizations – hackers, militants, revolutionaries, criminals, and even teens downloading movies. The only thing that kind of binds everyone is a distrust of the status quo. While there is sort of a hierarchy and sort of a managing structure, it is very loose. As such, affiliations, partnerships, and projects dynamically happen, and often among people you would never associate with outside the Network.”
“Oh,” Dylan expressed, disappointingly, “so – you’re not the man in charge?”
“No, I am not; no one is in charge of GAPN. I have a few people that work directly with me, but I don’t have a global network of operatives like some news outlets might lead you to believe.”
Sebastian began to chuckle a little as he saw the despondent faces on his smartphone’s screen. “That doesn’t mean that I can’t help. It just means that I’ll have to do a little networking to see if I can find someone to help us.”
“Thank you, thank you!” Dylan exclaimed. “I knew that you would help us!”
“One thing, kiddo,” Sebastian added. “If we find this alien spaceship, you owe me something.”
“What?” Dylan asked.
“The truth. I can tell that you’ve left something extremely critical out of your story. Also, if we find this spaceship, GAPN keeps it, and you have to promise to tell me what it is you’ve left out,” Sebastian stated.
A dead silence fell over the condo bedroom, as everyone looked at Dylan. He stared directly at Tim’s smartphone, looking Sebastian directly in the eyes. “Deal.”
Twenty minutes later, Tim’s smartphone buzzed with a message. Tim grabbed his laptop, and everyone gathered around it as he logged into a private teleconferencing site. In a corner of the screen, Sebastian’s face appeared, with a slightly smug smile. Below him, a video feed opened showing a large man with a huge handlebar mustache, wearing a worn camouflage shirt.
“Major William Daniel Adams, Commander of the Fourth Brigade of the Rocky Mountain Freedom Militia, at your service!” announced the man in a rather gruff tone, with a slightly Southern accent. “My comm-patriot from the other side of the pond tells me that the United States government has been complacent in allowing aliens to use our mountains to hide their spaceships.”
Sebastian’s eyebrows visibly lifted as the man was talking, as if to say, “Just go with it.” Major Adams was obviously unimpressed with United States government in general, and the fact that it had failed to act on the potential of an alien invasion was more than the man could handle. He assured the group that his brigade could take care of the problem.
“Vern!” the Major yelled, as an aerial photomap of Fat Bottom Lake and the surrounding area filled the open space on the screen. “Explain to these good people what the plan is.”
Part of the face of an older man, obviously trying to use the mouse on the Major’s computer, filled a section of the video feed. “So, I understand that the ship is likely in the lake. When they bring it up, they’ll likely set it here, as that’s the end of the lake closest to the road and that old driveway. See here on the opposite side of the lake, that’s probably a duck blind. Leading away from it is probably a trail, maybe a game trail, but it looks big enough for a motorcycle or ATV.”
He went on to explain that the brigade had twelve men that would split up. One group would come up from the road while the other group would come up the trail on ATVs. They would surprise the aliens and have them pinched off.
Considering the options, everyone who was stuck in Mexico agreed with the plan. There just didn’t seem much else to do. Major William Daniel Adams, Commander of the Fourth Brigade of the Rocky Mountain Freedom Militia, assured everyone that he and his men would defend their country and planet. They already had men loading vehicles as they were speaking, and they would be able to make it to Fat Bottom Lake by mid-morning the next day.
Sebastian was rubbing his chin when the Major’s video feed cut off. His face filled the screen, and he was obviously trying to choke back a laugh. “Like I said, GAPN has all kinds of people and organizations. You don’t always work with the people you’d expect.”
“It’s better than nothing,” Dylan admitted. “Thank you.”
“Ya, thanks!” piped in Bjorn.
“Hello, Bjorn,” said Sebastian, who really hadn’t had a chance to even meet the boy that he had helped save. “I’m glad to see that you’re doing well.”
“I am. Thanks for the all the help, spy-dude!”
“It is my pleasure,” responded Sebastian with a chuckle.
“Can I ask you a question?” asked Bjorn. Everyone else in the room’s eyes got a little bit bigger. There was just no telling what was about to come out of the boy’s mouth.
“Of course, you may,” Sebastian assented, with a smile.
“Why do people in England like tea so much?” asked the curious boy.
Sebastian laughed. “That’s actually a much better question than most Americans ask me,” he replied. “It’s actually very ingrained in our culture. Hopefully, someday you can come to the UK and experience it yourself.”
“So, do you like tea?” inquired the boy.
“Well, not that much, to tell you the truth,” Sebastian admitted with a smile, “I prefer coffee.”
Bjorn scrunched up his face a little. It appeared he was sizing up the man on the screen who had held up a white paper cup with familiar green markings. “Well, do you have a Walther PPK?”
Sebastian smiled at the young boy again. “I hate to disappoint you, but I like the SIG Sauer P220, but if it makes you feel any better, you already know how I like my martinis prepared.”
Bjorn smiled, nodding his head appreciatively. There really wasn’t much else to do, but to wait until tomorrow. Hopefully, Major William Daniel Adams and the Fourth Brigade of the Rocky Mountain Freedom Militia would achieve some success.
• • •
|Chapter 39||Chapter 41|