Wednesday, January 21, 2037

The White House


At first glance, the two generals seated in the middle of the Oval Office were near identical. Both wore the standard blue Army service uniform. Both bore four mirror-finished silver stars on their shoulders. Countless ribbons and medals adorned both men’s chest.

     The outgoing Defense Secretary, Craig Bolser, was dark-complected with short-cropped silver hair, and a steady gaze that reflected almost three decades of military service. Bolser had spent the last half hour briefing the President on a myriad of national security concerns. This was standard practice during the transition of administrations. Partisan politics took a back seat to national security during times of transition or threat. 

      During this time, it was obvious that the incoming Defense Secretary, Wilbert Knudsen, had something else on his mind. He was participating in the discussions and adding appropriate comments. Yet there was something about him that did not sit right with the President. He was not as focused as usual. He was nervously picking at his fingernails and continually scratching at the back of his rust-red hair. What’s more, he had glanced at the wall clock at least three times since the meeting began.

      Up until now, Knudsen had been complementary of Bolser and his staff for the way they were handling themselves during the handover. Knudsen had been working with the previous administration’s staff in an unofficial capacity until his official swearing-in yesterday afternoon.

      President Martin had talked with Knudsen at the first inaugural ball early last evening. Everything seemed fine then. Knudsen was leaving for “one more meeting with Bolser” before making the social rounds later that night. Come to think of it, Martin had not seen him again all evening.

     General Bolser was wrapping up the final agenda topic. It was apparent the security briefing was not going to take the full hour that had been allotted. Perhaps he would ask Knudsen to stay behind and give him a chance to talk more openly.

    “Mr. President, there is one more topic that requires discussion that does not appear on the formal meeting agenda,” said Bolser, reaching for his briefcase and punching a code into the keypad. Knudsen’s pale eyebrows narrowed as he fixated on the briefcase. His face reddened, making his freckles more prominent.

    “As you are aware,” continued Bolser, “there are certain matters of national security that require the attention of only the highest levels of our government.” He opened his briefcase revealing a second metallic cover and scanning screen. Bolser laid his left hand across the screen and leaned forward to allow his iris to be scanned. He then lifted the metallic cover and retrieved a large envelope and a pen-shaped device.  

     “With a couple of exceptions, what I am going to show you today is eyes-only,” said Bolser, aiming the pen toward the President’s PIB. “You may keep these documents.”

     Martin’s PIB glowed and displayed an icon. After a couple of seconds, another page appeared. Knudsen activated his PIB and retrieved the same document.

    “Secretary Knudsen received a similar briefing last night, with instructions to do nothing until after this meeting. From this moment forward, he will take directions on the matter directly from you and no one else.”

     Martin gave Bolser an affirming nod and looked at Knudsen.

“This is a list of every living person with direct and full knowledge of this matter,” explained Bolser. “The date next to each name is the last time they were briefed.”

    Martin read through the list, estimating that there were a few dozen names, mostly former U.S. Presidents and high-ranking defense staff. The last name on the list was Wilbert M. Knudsen with yesterday’s date.

    Bolser referred the President to subsequent pages with several more names. “This list contains the names of all people, living or dead, who have, or had, full knowledge of this matter.”

    Again, Martin noted mostly senior defense staff and former Presidents, including his grandfather. The first name on the list was Harry S. Truman.

    “This has been going for almost a century?” asked Martin, moving to the edge of his seat. “I’m intrigued to say the least.”

    “Are you familiar with the Roswell, New Mexico stories that were so popular at the end of the twentieth century?” asked Bolser.

    “Sure,” said the President. “Crashed UFOs, alien autopsies, Hollywood made a mint off of all that science-fiction hype.”

    “Indeed,” said Bolser. “There was a great deal of hype. But not as much fiction as you might think.”  He pulled several photographs from the envelope and passed them to the President. Martin sorted through the pictures, laying them one-on-top-of-the-other on the table in front of them. They were black and white glossies of wreckage, victims and landscapes, followed by a series of surgical close-ups taken in a medical facility of some sort.

    “These pictures have been in every documentary ever produced about Roswell,” said the President. “I could pull them up on the Internet right now.”

    “That’s true, Mr. President,” said Bolser. “With a few exceptions, these photos have been in the public domain for many years. Some right after the incident.”

    “But you are telling me these are real?” said the President. “These are photos of an actual crash scene, with an actual spacecraft and actual alien bodies?”

     “Yes, sir,” said Bolser.

The President tossed the final few photos on the table and sat back in his chair. He let out an audible breath, as his face grew noticeably redder. “Secretary Bolser, is this some kind of hazing or practical joke? Like when Clinton stole all the Ws from the White House keyboards on his way out of office? I’m all for a good laugh, but my schedule…”

     “Respectfully, sir,” interrupted Knudsen. “This is not a joke. There’s much more. And it’s very real.”

     Martin locked eyes with Knudsen. The focus had returned.

    Bolser pulled out the final item from the envelope, a dark grey metallic sheet roughly the size of a standard piece of paper. It was about an eighth of an inch thick and had a jagged tear across one side.

    “Much of the additional evidence that you will want to review is housed at the Pentagon,” said Bolser. “We can arrange for you to view the items at your discretion. This is a small sample.”

     Bolser held the sheet in both hands, and with some effort, began to crush and crinkle the item. He held the ball between his cupped hands a few inches above the table, then dropped it. The ball immediately began to unfold and unwrinkle. Within a few seconds, it had regained its original shape and lay unblemished, except for the jagged tear, in front of the President.

     Martin carefully picked up the sheet. It was about the size of one of the photos, but weighed much less. In fact, the weight was imperceptible. Several symbols and markings had been etched into the sheet. They almost glowed from within, making the symbols and words appear as a hazy purple light on the dark grey page. He turned the sheet over to reveal more markings.

     “Is this metal or paper?” asked the President, straining to repeat the same crushing procedure as Bolser; dropping the ball on the table with the same result.

     “We don’t know,” answered Bolser. “We have been studying that material for almost ninety years and we still know nothing about it.”

    Martin again picked up the sheet and began to fold it end-to-end using the table top to crease each edge. After several folds, he laid the sheet on the table. The sheet immediately began to unfold itself, again appearing perfectly smooth except for the jagged edge.

     “And the tear?” said Martin.

    Bolser picked up the sheet. “It appears there is a four-to-five inch section of the sheet missing. It was never found.” He pulled hard on the tear. “We have tried everything from diamond blades to lasers to continue that tear. Nothing.”

     “How much of this stuff exists?” asked Martin.

     “Quite a bit,” answered Bolser. “It appears that both the interior and exterior of the craft was made from the same material. We have several very large pieces and many pieces this size and smaller. All of it is housed at the Pentagon.”

     “Have we put any of it back together?” asked Knudsen. Apparently, the conversation had gone down a different trail than the one he heard the night before.

     “We’ve identified which pieces should fit together, but we have not found a way to reattach them,” said Bolser, handing the piece back to the President. “It does not respond to welding or riveting. While we’ve never been able to separate a piece, or alter its form, we can’t find a way to put it back together, other than with a computer simulation.”

      Turning his attention back to the symbols, the President moved the sheet to-and-fro in front of his eyes, like someone trying to get used to new bifocals. Not only did the symbols come in and out of focus, they appeared to move around on the page, and in some cases, change completely.

      “What about the markings?” asked Martin. “Has anyone been able to get them to hold still long enough to decipher them?”

    “We have made some progress in that area,” answered Bolser. “There are some people at the Pentagon who can explain that better than I.”

    “I have some briefings scheduled at the Pentagon early next week,” said the President, handing the sheet back to Bolser. “Let’s make sure we add this to the docket.”

     “Actually, Mr. President, you may want to fast-track this,” said Bolser, returning the sheet and photos to the envelope and repacking his briefcase. “What we have been able to learn, thus far, suggests that we could be in imminent danger.” Bolser paused briefly to let his words sink in. “The general belief is that this craft was on a mission to deliver a message.”

     Knudsen and the President exchanged glances, both sensing a change in Bolser’s tone of voice. “Go on,” said the President.

     “Several sheets such as this one, along with other pieces of equipment found within the craft, have led us to believe that this craft was one of many,” said Bolser. “Further, we believe those craft were intent on returning, in the future, with the goal of habitation.”

     “Habitation?” said the President. “As in, invasion?”

“Yes, sir,” answered Bolser. “There were a number of materials that clearly show these beings had a thorough understanding of the Earth’s geography and atmosphere. It’s evident that they had long term plans for extensive habitation.”

     “You can tell all of that from symbols like the ones you just showed me?” asked Martin.

    “Yes,” said Bolser. “Symbols like these and other pieces of equipment. It can be better explained at the Pentagon facilities.”

     Martin leaned back in his chair and ran a hand through his hair. He understood that Bolser’s objective in this meeting was to get his attention, which he most certainly had done.

      “I don’t suppose we have been able to come up with a timeline for this habitation?” asked the President.

      “Actually, sir, we have,” said Bolser. “August.”

      “August?” repeated Martin.

      “August of this year, Mr. President,” said Bolser.

     “Let me guess,” said Martin. “I’ll need to go to the Pentagon to better understand how we came up with August of this year?”

      “That would be best, sir,” answered Bolser.

     Martin stood and walked toward the glass door leading to the Rose Garden. After a moment of looking outside, he tapped his PIB and fingered to the “GH” icon. “Ms. Hardin. Please find a couple of hours for a trip to the Pentagon this afternoon. Move whatever you need to move. This is priority. Coordinate with Secretary Knudsen and General Bolser.”

       Knudsen and Bolser stood and walked with the President toward the main Oval Office door.

     “Secretary Knudsen,” said the President. “I need you to learn as much as you can, as fast as you can, from General Bolser and his staff. Start building a list of people you need to bring onboard, but talk with me before briefing anyone else.” The President turned to Bolser. “Obviously I’m going to need some help with this. I think your list is going to grow.”

     “That is your call, Mr. President,” said Bolser. “I’ll play whatever role you wish. I’ll see you this afternoon.”