Chuck Wendig, that little mold-breaker he, has broken the mold this week in his Flash Fiction Challenge. Instead of a randomly being given a setting or a title or a set of words to weave into our art, this week we’ve been instructed to write “1,000 words or so” about this (read the article):
As always, comments and constructive criticisms are appreciated.
“Madame President, there is a Colonel Weiss calling from the Pentagon. He says that it’s extremely urgent.”
“Thank you, Robert.” The intercom clicked off. The President paused briefly to close the file she was reading and place it in the secure drawer in her desk, although she left the drawer open for now. She took a deep breath to calm herself before picking up the phone. What had been a quiet evening suddenly wasn’t.
She hit the blinking button on the phone.
“Colonel Weiss, this is President Darby. What can I help you with?”
“Ma’am, I have to notify you of an extremely serious situation which is an immediate threat to our country, our society, and perhaps our continued existence on the planet. Trust me, I know exactly how extreme and insane that sounds, but I assure you that I’m dead serious and I have proof to back up that claim.”
There was dead silence for several seconds. The President leaned forward onto the desk and collected the thoughts that had been scattered by the outrageous statement.
“Colonel, where are you at and what unit are you with?”
“Ma’am, I’m a team leader for a Special Ops unit. I came up through the Rangers and saw service in Kuwait, Iran, and Afghanistan. I’m alone in my office at the Pentagon right now. If you wish to send the MP’s to have me locked up I won’t give them any trouble, but I would ask you to listen to me first. I’m not insane, drunk, or deluded and I have evidence that we’re in a lot of trouble.”
“Very well, Colonel. I’ll assume for the moment that you’re serious. You’ve got about two minutes to convince me you’re not nuts. What are the high points?”
“Thank you, ma’am.” The relief heard in his voice was palpable. “The short version is that I have solid evidence that there are technologically advanced creatures here on Earth with us. Signs of them were discovered by accident a couple of years ago. No one knew what they had found, but as people started to investigate those people started to disappear. The NSA and FBI stumbled onto the disappearances and their investigators began to disappear. We finally got Covert Ops involved and we’ve put all of the pieces together. I thought it best to let you and know ASAP before it gets any further out of hand.”
“Aliens, Colonel? Really? As they say, extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. What do you mean by ‘disappear’? Is this an invasion? Are we under attack?”
“No, ma’am, I wouldn’t characterize it as an invasion, more likely some sort of evasion. I believe that we found something we weren’t meant to find and now that discovery is being erased and buried. And when I say ‘disappeared’, I mean much more than just killed. Somehow everyone who has gotten too close to this has ceased to exist, like they were erased.”
“Are we talking about the plot from a bad ‘Twilight Zone’ episode or something?”
“Yes, ma’am, that’s exactly it. It looks like a small group was systematically erased from almost every single data system. Almost all physical evidence of their existence disappeared. Everyone who ever knew them somehow had their memories altered. That’s what we’ve discovered.”
“Colonel, this isn’t getting any easier to believe. Folks vanishing like magic, as if some evil wizard altered reality. But if somehow everything was altered to make these folks disappear, how do you know about them?”
“I don’t believe we’re talking about magic, ma’am, just some very advanced technology. I don’t know if it’s ‘aliens’. I don’t have any idea who or what is doing this.
It’s an extremely advanced technological attack, so we fought it by going extremely low tech, figuring that maybe that would be overlooked by the bad guys.
“NSA’s got some very sophisticated software on some very big, fast, and secure data systems, all designed to find terrorists. They started noting unexplained discrepancies between real time data sets. When the FBI investigated, they started finding people with signs that their memories had been altered in an extremely complex way, far beyond what we are capable of. Then most of those FBI investigators started to vanish in the same way. That’s when my Special Ops unit was brought in.”
“Where is this happening, Colonel? Somewhere here in the United States?”
“The trail seems to have started in Peru, at a site a long way from anywhere or anything out in the Amazon jungle. Some graduate students were there in 2013 looking for new insect species and found a handful of odd spider web structures, like a central tower with a fence of twenty-nine posts around it, less than an inch across. They reported it, the story went viral for a week or so, but then the story died.
“When the NSA and FBI started investigating the data discrepancies, they thought that they were chasing down hackers. But the level of sophistication in the techniques they found was unprecedented. They finally figured out that early last year a group from USC decided to follow up on that initial mystery spider-web discovery in Peru. Except that everyone in that group was a phantom, non-existent, almost no trace at all in any system.
“Our guys finally managed to rebuild enough information to figure out who was in that group. In Peru they had found a site with billions of these web-towers. They got off one satellite call and uploaded a few pictures, then went silent. That’s the point where something started erasing them from reality, as well as everyone who tried to follow up on it.”
“Why is this being done, Colonel? Do we know who’s behind it?”
“I don’t know, ma’am, I can only guess. That place in Peru is something that has hidden from us for a long time, and whether it’s aliens, wizards, or gods, they don’t want us to know about it. They may be as far ahead of us as we are ahead of Neanderthals, or they may be as far ahead of us as we are ahead of bacteria.”
“Very well, what do we do about it? I’m assuming you have a suggestion?”
“Yes, ma’am, I…” The line clicked and there was silence.
The President hit the intercom button. “Robert, we got cut off, please get Colonel Weiss back on the phone for me immediately.”
An ice cold chill ran down the President’s spine as she calmly picked up a pen and scrawled on a piece of paper. She dropped it into the desk drawer for top secret documents before slamming the drawer shut and locking it.
A few minutes later her aide came back on the intercom. “Madam President, the Pentagon is telling me that there is no Colonel Weiss currently on duty there. Was he calling from someplace else?”
“No, thank you, Robert. That will be all.”
The next morning when her secure document drawer was opened the President was surprised to find a single page lying loose on top. In her handwriting were the words “Peru”, “Spiders”, “Colonel Weiss”, “Pentagon”, “Special Ops”, “NSA”, “FBI”, and “DON’T FORGET!!”
She had no idea what it referred to.
======================================================= Author’s Afterthoughts: I really liked the central idea that I came up with, but I’m not thrilled with the execution. At 1,200 words it’s longer than the “1,000 or so words” and it’s too much exposition, just two people talking on the phone. It did get better with a couple of drafts, and I strongly suspect that it could get better still with a few more. It might be too complex a plot to fit into 1,000 words, although it could just be that I’m not skilled enough yet to pull that off. And it’s really, really late.
Any thoughts would be appreciated.