Historical Note: In 1348, a great mind of the Florentine Renaissance, Giovanni Boccaccio, got to live The Black Death first hand. He survived and the muse sang to him dark music. So much so that he composed a work of short stories that were told over ten days while a fictional group of survivors self-quarantined to avoid Boubonic Plague. While I’m on exile from my office, I’ll see if I can pound out some stories of my own in honor of the scholar and survivor who, along with Geoffrey Chaucer, helped make the short story collection a staple of fictional literature.
Captain Edward Hollen tried to put the competitive Naval Officer part of his personality on hold. Every so often, even as the clever and accomplished JAG Attorney that he was, he walked into the courtroom knowing well that his jig was up before the pipes came out of the music case. The prior couple of occasions that this happened had also involved people even more Type A than himself. Once a sociopathic submariner, the other was a profile similar to the case he had just caught. A flyboy. Like Top Gun without the homosexual allegories to leaven all the deleterious testosterone poisoning.
Today, he was given the thankless task of defending Marcus Stratmore Benford. Like every fighter jet pilot ever, Marcus knew what he saw. If Hollen had a dime for every witness that he had ever dismantled right after they had known what they saw, he’d be farting through silk like His Majesty The King. Some guys knew what they saw when they needed to use personal demeanor to lie more effectively. Shooting down civilian aircraft and then claiming they appeared to be enemies was an occasional instantiation of this. But those dudes were just guilty. Marcus Stratmore Benford had dropped the evil brown acid and had been in close contact with The Astral Plane.
Hollen had heard some righteous ish in his career as an attorney. Heck, it was part of what made him take the Navy’s money for law school and then the job. But this? As his Supervisor on the case Admiral Ben Herzberg put it. “Oy, effing Gevalt! That’s one sad, messed-up goyim.” Herzberg had taken his pre-brief for defending Benford and had just sadly shaken his head. Wishing Hollen luck would have been a passive-agressive professional insult.
What bothered Hollen like a particle in the eye was that Benford didn’t play to type. There were aviation guys who totally bought into UFOs. They were typically low key nut-cases who wanted Spock to beam them up to the Enterprise. Guys who knew someone was out there – just looking for them. They also didn’t break too much on the way to SciFiCon that they couldn’t either eat or pay for. It usually wasn’t too hard to flag the sort of military personnel who fapped to old X-Files episodes instead of merely finding them entertaining.
Perusing a military personnel records jacket usually did the trick. The academic records were tarnished a notch. Not bad, but never quite Hahvad Material. The performance reports were never quite Admiralty. Nor was the cover picture. Put Scully and Mulder on Street-Level Reality, and they never could quite hang the uniform salad properly on the dress jacket of their Class A’s.
Benford didn’t match this profile in the slightest. He was 3.6 at Annapolis as a Double-E and had been loaned out to Fort Lee and Sam’s Army to attend ORSA-MAC. After that, he suffered the closest thing Hollen could find to a career hiccup in 13 years of service. He’d finished 3rd at Top Gun instead of Valedictorian. Hell, if that picture of Benford’s fiance’ on the Internet was even close to accurate, Hollen had to be professional not to hate the son-of-a bitch. This was a man tossing the American Dream straight down a waste chute. People who buh-lieved in UFOs didn’t typically come off as well-integrated personalities, who were walking IQ Farms, and who also, by the way; had reflexes like the guy at Short for the LA Dodgers.
These guys also didn’t cook up there own Black Book Joint Operations where they claimed to have impounded what was termed “a Non-Terestrial, Non-Reactive Propulsion, Aerodynamic Transport Vehicle.” Nor did they frequently claim to have recovered, medically treated; and then successfully interrogated a “non-terrestrial, sentient, communicative, carbon-based lifeform.” They furthermore never called up their chain of command and said “Hey Bubba, I think you really need to check this out.” Under the auspices of the sui generis Operation Powderfinger, Benford had managed to do all three.
Hollen wondered mordantly, just where they would lock a guy like this up? Maybe Pinochet had sold The Special Forces a few of his used helicopters. They were kitted out perfectly for just this sort of a mission.
This was a lot to chew on if you didn’t just make the easy logic decision and spit it right back out. His gut almost wanted to believe some of this gallimauphry of the highly improbable. When Hollen’s gut told him things like this, he typically decided it was time to knock out 50 more flutter-kicks. Hell, maybe every con-man had a bit of the pigeon within. Benford had sort of sold him until he said non-reactive propulsion.
Non-reactive propulsion was akin to Gnostic Theology or Scientific Socialism. It was the physics nerd equivalent to something for nothing. If anyone believing in Christmas still worked for Boeing or Lockmart, this is what they would ask for. Pace Sir Isaac Newton, all propulsion was reactive. Hollen was no Double-E like his poor, soon-to-be-fornicated legal client, but he understood enough to get that even the Meg-Lev anti-missile guns that DARPA shot off in New Mexico were reacting. They were reacting the way a basketball did when a younger and trimmer Shaquile O’Neal swatted some weak man’s lay-up into the 13th row over at The Staples Center.
It cost things to generate that field to send sharp, metallic objects flying at super-sonic velocities. The frictional heating involved with doing that to an aircraft in Earth’s atmosphere, for any measurable distance, would have cooked ET the way Hollen’s mom used to prepare corn or broccoli in the pressure-cooker. Hollen felt genuinely relieved that he had worked out a way in which Benford was filled with that stuff the Amish used fertilize their agricultural fields. He didn’t want to ponder the mass-production of non-reactive propulsion jets in Magnetogorsk or Shanghai. That would be game over like an Ovechkin goal in sudden death.
There was only one thing to worry about here. Career salvage and recovery. Defending Jeff Dahmer or Timothy McVeigh would be somewhat less conducive to winning. Just not by much than one of Benford’s fascinating theories on how to treat random alien life-forms with Advil and a canteen full of water. Was there anything Ranger Candy couldn’t temporarily fix? That and duct tape made America the greatest.
Like most successful practicing attorneys Captain Edward Hollen knew most of the guys he had to grind against when something came to trial. That way, most of the crap never really came to trial. Bad guys got punished, but never quite got it in the neck. People who did stupid things with complicated and expensive machinery owned by The US Navy got called to account, but never completely ruined. It was a basically congenial system where measured and prudent consequence occurred but never brought down Götterdämmerung. It was amusingly ironic that a command-and-control uniformed service came closer to Plato’s old “good to the good and ill to those who do evil” maxim than the civilian law system.
Hollen’s sparring partner was a congenial and well-liked screw-up named Eddie Blake. Blake had barely made Captain in an era where Above-The-Zone promotions were only somewhat more likely than swagging out with the Powerball Lottery. Blake, like he always did, had managed with a smile on his face. Though never exceptional at anything in his life, Blake was Good Southern People and was now on the glide-path to flunking that last PT Test and retiring in martial glory to a Gulf of Mexico beach near his hometown of Montgomery, AL. There were far worse Shangrilas for a tired old desk skipper to ascend towards.
So Hollen and Blake were engaged in one of Blake’s more enjoyable pastimes. They attached worms to the ends of hooks, that were tied to long mono-filament lines. They then trebucheted these lines out into the briny Gulf of Mexico and lined up the dead soldiers. The dead soldiers consisted of bottles of Modelo and no actual living things more vital to the ecology than three or four limes were taking actual harm. Most of the hooks came back empty of anything resembling a fish, but they did manage to catch one or two between them that they would fry over a beach fire while they got down to actual business.
The flames seemed cheery and hungry for the driftwood the two men had scrounged off the surf line. Drum Fish weren’t either guy’s favorite, but everything that you caught, cleaned, and cooked your own self somehow went down better. Hollen addressed the real reason the two men had gone fishing. “Is there a way to not put Benford in a Super-Max?”
“I kept hoping we would just fish this weekend.” Blake replied. “I’m not a guy that likes the ones that go flakey.”
“I’m willing to plea if he goes to a mental facility and gets declared cured before incarceration.” Hollen offered.
“I like that.” Blake answered. “It’s a shame I’m not driving that train anymore.”
“I was told you caught the case.” Hollen remarked. He scratched some itch on his leg as a reaction to his sense of growing unease. “Do you have this or not, Blake?”
“I’ve got this, but I can’t bring a case.” He remarked with what seemed to be growing anger. “You’re gonna fucking win this one too. I can’t catch a break, Old Man.”
“FTW?” Hollen asked with the facial expression of a guy who just got told the improbable.
“You can’t convict a thief, if you can’t argue that the stolen property even exists. You also lose on kidnapping if the life-form in question cannot be proven to be alive.” Blake explained in deep frustration.
“That only leaves theft and misuse of government property and insubordination.” Hollen mused. “It’s crazy, Blake. I’m angry at you for not throwing the book at my guy hard enough. He actually needs treatment. This isn’t just a Public Defender Game here. The man has a bolt loose and its knocking around inside his skull.”
“You see that beach shack we’re crashing in later tonight? I lose that if I even say the word extra-terrestrial. They told me that if I even say ‘ET Come Home’ that I’m fvcked and fed to the maggots. And I thought my old lady was nuerotic!”
Hollen went a bit quiet and drank a bit more. Someone higher up had put the touch on Old Blake, but interrogating a frightened man caused bad things in the courtroom. Hollen went to Operation Plan B. He put a few more brewskis in Old Blake and suggested the two old navy comrades go sleep it off. Blake mumbled ascent and staggered off to his room to pine for the fjords of sweet sobriety.
Hollen then referenced his cell phone’s rolodex. Carter Grey knew everything and would know what was going on here. Nobody knew better where the bodies were buried than the guy in OPS who dug about half the holes. Grey’s personality matched well with his surname, but the guy was money and he and Hollen went back some years.
“Grey here.” He answered in a recently-disturbed pique. “Give that career a rest, Hollen.”
“I love you too, Brother.” Hollen answered. “And right now I’m wishing I could or I wouldn’t have interrupted your Beauty Sleep.”
“What do you need, Captain Hollen.”
Formal wasn’t good here, but Hollen needed the straight poop. “What’s up with the Benford Case? I’m supposed to defend the man, and I’m not getting all the facts.”
“Have you filed Discovery?” Grey asked in annoyed, get-him-off-the-phone voice.
“Blake seems to think that wouldn’t go well. I was discussing plea after he caught the case and he tells me he’s getting driven by higher up.”
Grey sighed. “Your damn right he’s getting driven. Blake couldn’t find his asshole with forty hours of remedial nav training. And if you weren’t on leave all of a sudden, you’d be getting driven too. How’s the fishing, since you left the cell phone locator on?”
“Fishing wasn’t great, but at least I caught one.”
“That’s what they all say, and don’t tell me how long it was. Admiral Herzberg is pulling your ass and will make you sign the type on non-disclosure paperwork you would be issued if you had walked into Fleet Headquarters with The Arc of The Covenant in a Radio Flyer Wagon. This one is going hush-hush. You should do likewise, Old Bean.”
And Hollen did go hush-hush. So did Blake. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Blake, who never intended to ride a boat again after he left the navy, capsized in the fishing boat he had never used. He just barely missed getting to enjoy the retirement that had become his overriding professional goal.
Interstate highways are typically pretty safe, but you have to keep the car in good working order. Always check the breaks. Officially, Hollen didn’t. His wreck was a quiet tragedy. The autopsy got snafued and never published. Sometimes people drive tired or something and can’t quite make it home.
Meanwhile, in a hot, dusty warehouse. Object Red was stashed inside a Milvan that in turn got loaded on a large mechanical contraption that resembled The Forklift of Thor. It was lowered into a hole and the operator drove off unaware how lucky he had been to be oblivious of what he had just lowered into a hole. The cement truck then churned until it vomited wet concrete. Then another truck disgorged to finish the job. A metal plate was lowered onto the wet concrete. Whatever Object Red was had just been quarantined until the end of time.