By Brian Dobbins
They had just been notified by the town west of them that a storm was on the way, and they’d better look out. Sure enough, just as people were gathering, the clouds started rolling towards them in great, black waves. Obviously one of the big government ships was displacing the atmosphere, and would be appearing any minute. Somebody had to do something.
The center of town used to be a square for community meetings, but now it was just a wide, dusty spot between Main Street and the park. The greenery and landscaping had given way to brown, dead weeds. Benches and gazebos had fallen into crumbling disrepair. The community was sure meeting now, though, looking up at the impending crises from the Main Street side like so many frightened sheep.
But all was not lost. Out from the park came four men, walking with a resolute step and gripping small launchers in their firm grasps. They were serious men, hard as steel and ready to deal. Hell, Bill had even closed the hardware store to be here.
They were The Secret Society TSS.
They stopped in the middle of the dusty expanse, and looked to the heavens. A deep red glow was showing through a cleft in the dark roiling sky. In another instant the ship rumbled into view, a monstrous shiny beast with an enormous U.S.A. printed across the center.
Bob spoke first, since he was the Grand Master for the month of October. “Okay, boys. Keep your heads now”, he said in a low voice. “Let’s see what they do.”
“Well, you know what they did in Bingham last year. Blasted the Liberty Men to dust”, Bill put in nervously.
“Just let ’em try that weak shit here, boy. We’ll show those bastards what it’s all about”, Ed offered in his usual hotheaded way.
“Slow down, Ed”. Bob was trying to maintain control. “Let them make the first move.”
Ed rolled his eyes. “Well Jeez, Bob. If their first move happens to involve huge guns, we don’t get a move at all, do we. I say we strike first, with all we got!” He looked at the others excitedly.
“Since you mention that, Ed... has anyone else here noticed that all we got is a few little launchers that won’t do squat against that ship?” Fred said, fear creeping into his voice. “I mean, I’m as game as the next guy, but I really think we’re toast here, ya know?”
Bill looked at him hopefully. “Wanna give?”
Ed nearly lost his mind at that. “Aw, come on, you guys! I got my launcher here and everything! I mean, this is what we’ve been waiting for, right? Are we The Secret Society TSS or a bunch of wussies?”
“Bite me, Ed.”
“You bite me, Bill!”
“Hey! Enough with the biting, already!” Bob was getting a tad edgy. “Nobody’s going to give. And keep your voices down, or The Secret Society TSS won’t be too damn secret.”
“Wussy,” Ed said to Bill under his breath. At a look from Bob, he spoke up again. “Look Bob, I’m just sayin’ we gotta take some action here. After all, we are The Secret Society TSS, Those Who Move in Darkness to Fight Oppression, and Those Who None Know the Names Of.”
“Actually Ed, we do know you,” put in some guy in the crowd across the square. He looked at an older lady next to him, who nodded in earnest agreement. “And isn’t it a little redundant to always say ‘The Secret Society TSS’?” She asked. “Don’t the letters in TSS stand for ‘The Secret Society?’.” People around her nodded and mumbled at one another, and someone mentioned that the name TSS wasn’t even a word, and sounded pretty silly anyway.
For a moment The Secret Society TSS looked at her. Then Ed said to the rest of them in a quiet voice, “You know, Miss James has been a pain in my ass since seventh grade English. Let’s blast her, and say the ship did it.”
“Very funny, Ed. Do you guys think we can act like adults here, or...hey look!” Bob pointed to the ship, which had been hovering ominously above them, about a half mile west of town.
Following Bob’s finger, the rest of The Secret Society TSS spotted a tiny glint of light in front of the giant U.S.A. on the silver-grey cruiser. A small round ship had emerged from the larger craft, and seemed to be hanging in front of the blue letters.
“It’s an attack sphere!” Bill shouted.
“Oh no!” wailed Fred. “Those little ships took out the Liberty Men!”
“Okay, men. I guess they mean business,” Bob said firmly through thin lips. “Load your launchers.”
At that, the handful of men attached shells to their launchers, while the crowd of onlookers ran for cover. Taking careful aim at the tiny target, they waited for the next command from Grand Master Bob. Bill’s launcher was shaking visibly, and a small noise from Fred’s direction sounded curiously like whimpering.
The air was deathly still. Then Bob quietly said a single word. “Fire.”
The launchers went off nearly simultaneously, with extraordinary explosions. Shaken by the recoils, the four men lowered their weapons and, wide eyed, watched the seeker warheads rocket skyward. In the distance, one detonated against the giant cruiser with no effect. Two blasted into the tiny attack sphere, which wobbled from the explosions, then again hung motionless. Bill never had mastered his quivering aim, and it was later determined that his warhead had wasted WGAT’s radio tower in Tylersville, right in the middle of the top forty countdown.
The men looked at each other, crushed by the futility of their attack. “Huh,” said Ed.
“Oh well, this is just some real pretty shit, isn’t it,” Fred cried. “Our tits are really in it now, aren’t they!”
“Shut up, Fred,” Bob reprimanded him, and snatched away the second shell that Ed was loading.
“Uh oh,” said Bill, staring upward.
The others looked also, and saw the little attack sphere heading towards them.
“Steady men. Hold your ground.” Bob was trying hard to stay in control, but his voice was as shaky as Bill’s aim. Fred was definitely whimpering now, no doubt about it.
The ship came very near, eventually hovering above the center of the square. It really was small, just big enough for the pilot, but everyone knew what massive firepower it had. Slowly, the silvery craft lowered itself to a few inches above the ground. Three stabilizing feet popped out from the bottom, and settled on the dry ground. Maddeningly, the ship then did absolutely nothing.
Hesitantly, the crowd began showing itself. Curiosity, it seemed, was stronger than fear. They watched from the edge of the dusty square, much farther away from the metallic intruder than the knot of men carrying launchers.
Finally, when the anxiety had become almost too much to bear, a release of air was heard from the attack sphere. A hatch facing The Secret Society TSS cracked open, and slowly rose to the low sound of hydraulics.
Ed reached for another warhead, but Bob stopped him with a cautionary elbow to the ribs. Bill looked at the launcher in his own hand, and quickly tossed it on the ground next to Ed. Fred, staring at the opening hatch, unconsciously dropped his weapon while quietly soiling himself.
A seated pilot was gradually revealed as the hatch door raised higher. He was dressed in a blue uniform, with the badge of a government cop on his carefully pressed shirt. Suddenly, his face leaned into view, peering out from under the rising metal.
“Helloo,” he called out with a guarded smile.
The four men in front of him looked at each other nervously, then back at the now fully revealed cop.
“All done shooting out there?” the newcomer asked. The men nodded dumbly.
“Great,” the cop continued amiably, as he unstrapped harnesses and began unfolding himself from the small quarters. “I’m dying to get out of this thing. Look how cramped it is in here. You ever seen anything so cramped? I’m talkin’ small here, you know? You’d think they could make these things a little roomier. I guarantee you that the guy who designed it doesn’t fly it, know what I mean?”
He climbed out and stretched. He was tall, tan and athletic looking, and appeared to be about thirty. He took off his blue cap, rubbing his close cropped dark hair before replacing the cap. A particularly lethal looking weapon hung from his belt.
“So,” he said, “which one’s Bob?”
Bill pointed to Bob, who croaked out a sound that might have been “Me”.
“Hey, glad to meet you,” the cop came forward and pumped Bob’s hand. “I understand you’re Grand Master this month. You know, you look a little different in person. Did you just get a haircut? Looks good short.”
“You know about The Secret Society TSS? And our names?”
“Sure. You boys just call me Officer Dwayne, okay? No need for formalities, right?”
“Officer Dwayne?” Bill questioned meekly.
“Huh,” said Ed.
Officer Dwayne looked around appreciatively. “Nice town. I see they painted the municipal building. That’s nice. Civic pride, right? Hmm. Looks like the Square’s gone a little to pot, but a coat of paint, a few nails...”
“Why are you here?” Bob suddenly blurted out.
Officer Dwayne laughed, and rubbed his brow. “Sorry, guys. I do tend to stray sometimes. Captain says I should have been a salesman, the way I go on. Anyway, we just thought it was time for a courtesy stop. I got to tell you, you really shook me up with those warheads! Were those the Morton C-19’s you got from Ortega last year? I’m surprised they still work. They were pretty old when he got them. Listen, a guy a couple of years ago, he blew himself up with one of those puppies. His whole house went up. Those things are dangerous, you know.”
“They know about Ortega, too,” Bill whispered to Fred. “They must know everything!” Fred didn’t answer. He just continued to watch the cop’s every move with a dismal look on his face.
“Courtesy stop? You mean... see, we thought you were gonna...you know...blast us.” Bob stuttered.
“Blast you? Why would we do that? We just thought things were developing here that we should clear up. Kind of chew the fat with you. Speaking of chewing the fat, I’m a little hungry. I hear Kate’s Cafe is pretty good. Why don’t we talk about all this over lunch?”
“Now, hold on here,” Ed began. “You mean you’ve been monitoring our every move, and now you want to slap some police brutality on us, right?”
“Well, sure we’ve been monitoring you, Ed. We watch everybody. But the only police activity we’re going to implement is to communicate a little. We should get to know each other. The truth is, we’ve detected a little paranoia developing around here...”
“Oh, so now I’m paranoid, huh!?” Ed snapped back.
“Well, that might not have been the best way I could have phrased it. What’s that smell?”
“I’ll be back,” Fred muttered, and headed for home.
“Don’t make us come get you,” Officer Dwayne called after him, laughing. Fred walked even faster.
“Officer Dwayne,” Bob spoke up, “We’re a little confused here. Please tell us what’s going on.”
“Well, we noticed a certain lack of community spirit developing. For instance, look at your town square. It’s practically been abandoned.”
“That’s because public gatherings have been banned.”
“Public gatherings for the purpose of insurrection have been banned. That’s a good thing, right?”
“Insurrection!” Ed was feeling a little bolder, and was about to get on a roll. “There has to be insurrection! You’ve set curfews, disbanded local government, and keep twenty-four hour surveillance of people. Anyone who speaks out disappears! We’re being oppressed, damn it!”
“Ed, I can tell you’re a thinking man. I’ll change that in your file. But first, let’s examine a few things. I know we were a little rough on people when the Civic Order Act was first initiated. Oh, there were killings and torture, and we did have to put down a few radical elements. But those were the old days! When was the last time any citizens were killed by the police?”
“What about the Liberty Men?”
“Bill, that was the darndest thing, and I’m glad I have this chance to clear that up with you. We didn’t actually fire on them. Their own C-19’s went up. I told you those things are dangerous, and there’s a perfect example. Scared the daylights out of me!”
“But the fight was recorded. Everyone watched you blow them away!”
“It may have have looked like that, but you know that stuff is all about angles and lighting. I have a digitally enhanced copy in the pod where you can see things in better detail. We wouldn’t shoot at anyone. Truth is, I hate guns.”
“What do you call that cannon on your hip?” asked Ed.
“This? Why, this is our standard regulation Jansen Diplomat stun gun. Did you think this was a real gun? Heck no! Cops don’t carry guns anymore. Somebody could get shot like that!”
“Stun gun? Maybe you can set it to stun, but that’s a damn gun!”
“See, this is the kind of dialogue we need. In just the last few minutes you’ve found out that we didn’t hurt anyone in Bingham and we don’t carry guns. Isn’t this great? Now let’s move on. I know you men have your reservations concerning our government, but think about how much better life is since the Civil Order Act. Hardly any crime, even though you almost never see government cops, isn’t that true? And towns have less operating costs, since they no longer maintain local police forces or government. That means more money for a higher standard of living.”
“There’s no crime because everyone is terrified,” Bob put in. “Your eyes are everywhere. People committing any infractions are always caught. After that, nobody knows what happens to them. They just disappear.”
“Yes, lawbreakers are always caught. That’s good, right?”
“Of course, but I still...”
“As for what happens to them, well gosh, Bob, I thought everyone knew that. They’re put in comfortable, effective rehabilitation programs, of course. And I’m proud to say these programs have a 100% success rate!”
“I’ll bet,” Bill whispered to Ed.
“But some of them aren’t criminals! They’re just social activists!” Bob answered.
“And some of their points are well taken. Just look at us, Bob. I’m a cop and you’re an activist. I’m not arresting you, I’m exchanging ideas with you. I’m really very interested in your point of view.”
“I don’t believe any of this,” Ed said. “It’s all propaganda. You’re just waiting to let somebody have it with that attack sphere there.”
“Attack sphere? I’ve never heard it called that before. We call these things Visiting Pods.”
“Look,” Bob said, “despite your words, we’re being oppressed. The government has taken away our rights to privacy, free speech, and independent thought!”
“Hmm. And even though we replaced those things with order and prosperity, this makes you unhappy?”
“I see. So you’re saying that we’ve lost sight of the things that are really important, and that basic undeniable rights have been forgotten”.
“Bob, I think I see what you’re saying. Maybe a great barrier has been broken down today. Maybe everything can be resolved with a little compromise, a little dialogue.” Officer Dwayne looked at the hopeful crowd, then up at the mighty ship. His face radiated inspiration and enlightenment. “Maybe right here, in this wonderful little grassroots town, we can see the dawning of a new era!” He paused, deep in thought. Then he shrugged, drew his gun and zapped the three remaining members of The Secret Society TSS silly. As they lay there unconscious and twitching, he turned and headed for Kate’s Cafe.
“Or I could just have lunch,” he said.