An excerpt in “honor” of the NSA

In the wake of revelations about the NSA, here’s an excerpt from my book Stellarnet Prince, published in November 2012 by Carina Press. For those who haven’t read the series, a little context: The year is 2062, Duin and Belloc are the first aliens to visit Earth, and they are living in Washington DC. In this scene, they’re covered head to toe in winter clothing so they are indistinguishable from humans, and they are sitting inside the Jefferson Memorial. They refer to J’ni (Genevieve O’Riordan), who is not with them. She is the heroine of the series, a human news blogger who became involved with them in book one, Stellarnet Rebel.

* * *

They sat together, Belloc watching the people, Duin staring at the Great Jefferson. No one knew who they were. The FBI had given them fake proximity ID’s and private locators. Anyone viewing them through augmented reality would see pseudonyms above their heads. And unless white-listed, anyone trying to locate “Ambassador Duin,” “Belloc,” or “Genevieve O’Riordan” on any Net map would find the word classified.

But the Secret Service could still l’up their location, and would know they were not in their apartment. “You think they’ll be mad that we left without putting it on our schedule or having an escort?”

“We’re not alone. You see the man on the steps?”

Belloc looked.

“And the woman in the sunglasses, drinking from a travel mug? And the young couple with their arms around each other, on the other side of the statue?”

“’K.”

“I recognize them. I’ve seen them in the museum, below, or when I am walking among the war memorials at 2 a.m.” He rolled his head in the general direction of the National Mall.

“How often do you go out?”

“Most nights.”

“We thought you slept in the pool.”

He shrugged. “Sometimes I do.”

“They could be tourists.”

He made a disagreeing grunt. “The man near the steps followed us from Crystal City. He’s one of the agents who took us to the Senate after the arrival ceremony.”

Duin bent his knees and put his feet on the stone bench. From his mitten, he withdrew a scrap of hu’cric and a small, sharpened piece of metal. Cupping the Glinnish paper, he pierced his skin. With his own blood, he used the metal as a writing implement and created a splash of Glinnish.

Belloc leaned close so he could read the words. We are prisoners here. Belloc nodded, once, to indicate he got the message.

Duin ripped the hu’cric with his teeth, chewing the paper and swallowing. On the remaining scrap, he wrote, I don’t like being imprisoned. He murmured. “They watch everything we do, hear everything we say.”

“So did Hax.”

Duin stuffed the paper with the second message into Belloc’s mouth. “Hax was not…” Duin glanced around at their covert entourage, and didn’t finish the thought. He didn’t need to.

No, Hax was not. A powerful government. A collection of corporate and military scientists probing the secrets of their physiology. An ally who insisted on keeping them close to the Pentagon, in spite of Duin’s repeated requests to move to Embassy Row. A nation built on the promise of freedom and equality, which they could not move freely in unless disguised. Anything they said here could be heard by listening devices. If they tried to message each other, their digital words would be intercepted. The only way to speak freely was to write in blood and destroy the evidence. Belloc chewed the bitter fibers, tasted the unmistakable tang like mineral-rich silt in the splashes of blood, and swallowed.

“Nana-sim said that all of our incoming and outgoing connections at the apartment are monitored.”

Duin nodded. “And I’m beginning to think that some of our messages are being blocked. J.T. called yesterday to tell me that he had an email from Nish, forwarded by Hax to INC’s European offices. Nish has been trying to contact me, and I had no idea.” The Net was just that—it trapped them. Speaking in Glinnish provided no privacy, since every human had access to a translation app. These facts hadn’t bothered Belloc before but were an acceptable price to pay for living where he could play video games, eat enough food, become a citizen and be with J’ni.

But Duin’s words, written in blood, cast a sinister light on the situation, and Belloc possessed a well-honed ability to sense impending doom. Most of the time. There was probably much more that Duin wasn’t telling him—too much to write on a slip of hu’cric, even with all the blood in his body. Belloc made a calculated change of subject.

“J’ni and I are thinking about going to Ireland. I’ve been invited to perform in a few pubs and theaters. Brendan could see his family. You should come with us.” Belloc hoped Duin would understand what he was really saying. Can we leave the U.S.?

“I thought you were going to start training with the U.S. Olympic team.” Belloc interpreted this to be a question: What about your bid to become a citizen?

“They have water in Ireland.” Maybe I could become a citizen of the European Union, instead.

“Part of my understanding with the United States government and the Department of Defense is that we’ll remain here while they study us. Well, study you. And that I remain here, close to the military leaders and politicians who are helping our planet.” Duin sounded much less enthusiastic about that than he did when they’d arrived in the U.S. and had lunch with the president. He pattered his fingers over Belloc’s arm. “Tell me, do you think I’m doing the right thing, for Glin?”

Belloc couldn’t help barking a short, derisive laugh. “How do I know what’s right for Glin?”

“Exactly! How does anyone know? I’m forced to make sweeping decisions about everything. Not just obvious ones, like ‘Should we kill Tikati? Yes.’ But everything, from flags to anthems to which river is refilled first, where to put the next military base, whom will we trade bavat with, how the budget is allocated, writing a constitution…They won’t even wait for me to hear back from the Freedom Council. They want decisions now.” He sighed. “I need you, Belloc.”

“For what? I’m an ezzub.”

“You’re right. You’re an ezzub for thinking you’re an ezzub.” Duin placed a hand on Belloc’s healed thigh. “I need you because it’s hard for me to admit to J’ni that I am drowning in this endeavor. I know you don’t care about Glin, but do you care about me? Please say you do.”

He looked at Duin, United Nations Ambassador, INC Star 5 Blogger, Envoy of the Freedom Council, Elder of Lost River, Hero of the Uprising and Tikati Revolt, Savior of Glin, J’ni’s soulbound. And he was pissed at himself for not seeing Duin, the husband and friend who needed him.

His eyes blurred and he nodded. “Yes, Duin. I care.”

Copyright (c) 2012 by J. L. Hilton
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.

This entry was posted in Free to read, Science Fiction, Stellarnet Prince, Stellarnet Series and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.