Xenophobic

This Science Fiction short story is a lead-up to the book titled, Onyalum Wars. The book is part of the Science Fiction Onyalum Series written by NB VanYoos.

Councilman Wo was worried tonight despite the sophisticated alarm system he’d had installed when first elected. As a sitting councilman on the planetary subcommittee for alien affairs, he’d been fearful of infiltration since the Issgire made contact four years ago. His planet, called Relim, had thought they were alone in the Universe much like other species first growing into their technology. But soon after achieving interstellar space flight, they soon met several species in nearby systems they now could reach.

It had all seemed so wonderful at the time, the realization that they were not alone in the vast Universe around them. The other species had been pleasant enough though cautious like themselves when first contact was made. And now, they traded and interacted as though they were longtime friends, never a thought of war between them. That was until four years ago when the Issgire landed on their world with a frightening tale of wars and invasions.

Many on the council weren’t sure how to take the information the Issgire professed was happening in the galaxy around them. Some were instantly afraid and ready to banish the Issgire from their world while still others insisted they should welcome the strangers and their technology to defend our world from the looming threat the Issgire assured was coming.

Wo had remained neutral letting the course of events unfold as they would. His had been a voice of reason and acceptance of the Issgire, at least for now. After their initial contact, the Issgire set up a small embassy on Relim to assist the locals with weapons fabrication and military training. It was new to the people of Relim to prepare for something their world hadn’t seen in several hundred years. Wo asked the same question every day, was it inevitable?

But now, as he went through his evening ablutions preparing for bed, he felt uneasy after being informed by the Issgire ambassador that credible intelligence had been intercepted that indicated the Leran, the race supposedly ready to invade, had a plot to attack and replace a councilman with a changeling as part of their initial invasion plans. It was frightening and brought fear into Wo’s mind that had never been there before. Suddenly, he didn’t trust any outsiders, even those they had considered longtime friends. All of this was being fed by the Issgire who assured them their world and all of their allies’ worlds were on the invasion list.

Did that mean any of the million aliens on their world could be Leran spies, changelings that had killed the host and took their shape? Hiding in plain sight with no reliable method of being weeded out from the real populace. It was distressing, and Wo yearned for those bygone days before the Issgire brought their horrific news to his world. They were all trapped with little else to do but trust the aliens.

Wo had always considered himself an enlightened man capable of looking past another specie’s appearance and strange customs to the underlying soul that resided within the alien body. It was one of the reasons he sat on the subcommittee for alien affairs, he was a reasonable and rational person, not some xenophobe wanting to close the doors to the Universe around them. But now, he was beginning to question that rational thinking. The thought of being replaced by a changeling simply made his skin crawl.

Nonetheless, it was only a fragment of intelligence and had always been in the background since the Issgire arrived. So why couldn’t he relax and get on with his life. Why did it freak him out and make him look at everyone like they were potential enemies? Why did it seem he was the most likely candidate for the Leran to target? Probably because of his reasonableness. He was able to sway people who trusted his instincts, so replacing him was a good step towards convincing the rest on the council that the Issgire were the real enemy, not the Leran.

He got into bed and turned out the lights, checking his alarm system was properly set by the blinking light across the room. When confronted with the intelligence report, he had assured the minister he was thoroughly safe in his own home, but now that he’d had time to think long and hard about the threat, he suddenly wasn’t so certain his electronic system was adequate. Perhaps he should have opted for the security person after all, but the thought of weapons in his house was hard to consider.

Still, he had acquiesced to some degree and accepted a small firearm from the Issgire that was lethal at close range. Unfortunately, he was nearly certain he couldn’t use it. Then again, if the threat was real, wouldn’t he protect himself from harm? He wasn’t so sure.

Lights outside indicated a vehicle had pulled into his driveway and he jumped out of bed to see who it was. He realized the news had him on pins and needles and he was letting the situation take over his better reason. He needed to see this for what it was, a threat and nothing more.

He donned a robe and headed downstairs as a dark figure walked up to the front door. As he descended the final steps he wasn’t certain his decision to live in the forest was such a great idea. His nearest neighbor wouldn’t even hear an explosion. At the time he’d thought he’d found a gold mine for such a nice house away from the hustle and bustle of the city life he was so intimately tied to. But now, it felt spooky.

He switched on the outside lights illuminating the entire front of the house in brilliant white light. He eyed the remote camera feed and looked into the face of an old friend. He panned the camera towards the car and spotted the diplomatic insignia. Har was from Mem and worked in the embassy for his homeworld. He had been a great confidante over many years and Wo owed him a lot considering the inside information he’d provided during crucial treaty signings.

Still, Wo felt vulnerable as he keyed the audio. “Har, what brings you way out here so late?”

Har bowed graciously. “Sorry to bother you, friend, but I just heard about the threat to the council and wanted to see if you were alright.”

His accent was familiar, but Wo wanted to be sure. “You been out chasing flight attendants like we did in Rora?”

Har looked confused. “When were we in Rora?”

“Just checking, old friend, this threat has me on edge.” Wo responded as he unlocked the front door. “Come in, I am glad you stopped by.”

Har removed his coat and stepped into the foyer. “I guess so if you are asking silly questions of old friends.”

“Sorry,” Wo said genuinely, “I am suddenly seeing spies in every shadow.” He opened his arms and indicated they should move into the kitchen. “Something to drink perhaps?”

Har moved past him as he answered with a laugh. “Sounds like you could use it, but sure, I’ll take a drink.”

They entered the kitchen and Har sat his tall frame in the relatively small chair around the small table. Wo moved towards a cupboard where he kept all his good drinks. He pushed a few bottles around and finally settled on an old bottle of the Polem distilled from a root that was toxic to Har.

He turned with the bottle in hand. “Some Polem to take the night chill out of you?”

Har didn’t smile. “Don’t you mean the life out of me?” He grinned. “You really are freaked out about this threat. It may be a good thing I am here.”

Wo dropped the bottle to his side and frowned. “Yes, I am very freaked out about this. I am so sorry, friend, I am just so jumpy. Please forgive me.”

Har smiled. “I forgive you, but please, get me something I can actually drink. What about that fermented Eire juice you used to foist on me? Got any left?”

Wo relaxed as he realized this was his friend. “Yes, I think I have some.”

He fished out two glasses after locating the Eire wine and poured healthy amounts into each. He handed one to Har who quickly took a drink. Wo took a small sip and set it down as he took a seat.

“How did you find out about the threat?” He asked. “You still spying inside our chambers.”

Har laughed lightly. “Yes, but that isn’t how I found out. The Issgire sent someone over to inform us. I just happened to be there with the ambassador when they arrived.” He said as he took another drink. “You know they have been telling us about the same threat for years now.”

“Do you believe them?” Wo asked, curious how his friend had handled such a threat.

Har shrugged. “Who knows? I am one to question the Issgire’s motives in all things, especially this.”

“Why?” Wo said.

“Look at the evidence.” Har said. “After years listening to their tale of galactic war and intrigue, what evidence do we have other than their word?”

Wo nodded. It was true, little evidence of this massive war had been presented other than holographic video of battles on distant worlds. Even Relim could fake such things. “I see your point, but wonder what their game is if it is all fabricated?”

“Who knows, maybe they want to invade our worlds?” Har laughed.

Wo shook his head. “Hardly, old friend, they could have walked all over us when they first arrived. Have you seen their ships and the massive weapons they employ? We were like children before gods.”

“Perhaps.” Har admitted. “But something about all of this doesn’t feel right to me.”

Wo sat up and held up his hand. “Wait here, I have to show you this.” He ran from the kitchen and back upstairs to retrieve the weapon the Issgire had given him. He doubted Har had ever seen one. At least none of the Issgire military Wo had seen carried them.

He carried it gently into the kitchen and set it on the table. “The Issgire gave me this.”

Har eyed it suspiciously. “What is it?”

Wo picked it up and turned it for Har to see. “This is a personal weapon. It is lethal at close range and debilitating from further out.”

“It is so small,” Har observed, “what does it fire?”

Wo shrugged. “I’m not sure. I am not even sure I remember how to fire it.” He said as he placed it gently back on the table.

Har leaned forward to look at the device more closely. “Would you even use this?” He asked. “I have never known you to have a shred of violence in your body.”

Wo laughed. “You’re right, I don’t know if I could fire it or not.”

“Well, you got to say this for the Issgire, they sell a story quite well.” Har said as he raised his glass in a toast. “To the Issgire!”

Wo picked up his glass and took a long drink. He put the glass back down as he noted an odd flavor from the Eire. Perhaps it had turned over the last year since he had bought it.

“How does your Eire wine taste, Har?” Wo asked curious.

“A little flat from a fresh bottle, but overall quite satisfying.” He said as he picked up the Issgire weapon and turned it in his hands. “Why do you ask?”

Wo shrugged again. “I don’t know, thought maybe it was turning on me.”

Har laughed as he continued to eye the small weapon. “Isn’t it funny how things can do that on you?”

Wo wondered what he had meant as his head suddenly swam with spots in his eyes. His stomach quivered visibly as his body rejected something within the wine. He was about to say something when Har stopped laughing and turned the weapon towards him.

“How do you feel, old friend?” Har said seriously.

“I..I’m not sure.” Wo stuttered as the room began to spin along with his head. “Wha…what is hap…happening?”

Har sat back in his tiny chair and smiled. “That would be the poison entering your blood stream. At this point, you should be experiencing extreme disorientation and intestinal distress as the poison makes its way to your nervous system. From there, it will disable your muscles and shut down your brain functions.”

Wo was shaking as he eyed his old friend with fear in his eyes. “Wh…wh…why?” He could barely stammer.

“Because, you were the target of the threat, old friend.” Har said as he slid the weapon back over to Wo.

Wo picked it up feebly and tried to aim it at Har, but his arms were beginning to fail him. He finally mustered enough strength and fired, but nothing happened.

“Don’t bother.” Har said. “I know how to disarm all Issgire weapons, especially a toy such as this one. Please don’t take this personally, I really do like you since we met all those years ago, but the reality is, there is too much at stake in this conflict for me to succumb to sentimentality.”

Wo began to slump in his chair as he felt the muscles in his back begin to disconnect from his conscious mind. The poison was killing him, and there was nothing he could do about it. He simply stared at Har who continued to talk casually.

“You know, it has been so wonderful to be your friend, to get to know you so well. In fact, I know you so well, I could almost be you!” He smiled an evil grin that Wo could not respond to. “It will be a pleasure being you.” Har finished as he leaned in close with a smirk.

Wo was about to fall to the floor when a large explosion in the foyer made Har jump from his seat in surprise. Wo watched slowly as Har turned to flee amid shots fired from the front of the house. His body was riddled in bursts of bright light. Issgire weapons for sure, Wo’s dying mind concluded as he began to shut his eyes and succumb to the darkness that beckoned with sweet relief.

His head bent over the kitchen floor and his eyes saw the mess of Har’s body falling dead in a bloody heap as Issgire soldiers fell on top of him. Someone grabbed Wo from behind and lifted him up, his head flopping backwards away from the sight of Har and into the eyes of a reptile monster holding a large needle. As Wo’s eyes finally closed, he felt a small, distant prick on his neck.

***

Wo came back from the darkness to the vision of his living room ceiling lit bright. Sounds throughout his house indicated he was not alone. It took a minute before he remembered what had happened. He shot upright and screamed. “Har!”

A high pitched voice came from his right and Wo turned to the visage of the reptilian monster who had appeared before he had fallen unconscious. “Har is dead. How do you feel?”

Wo turned his feet to the floor and sat forward holding his head. “I have a massive headache.”

The reptile grinned. “That is the remnants of the poison being cleared from your system. You are lucky we arrived when we did. Another minute and you’d have been dead.”

“How did you know?” Wo managed between clenched teeth as the full realization of Har’s betrayal sank in. His worst fears had come to pass.

“About Har?” The reptile asked in a lilting tone. “We have suspected for some time now, but were never certain enough to take action.” He paused. “My name is Quiss and I work for Issgire Intelligence. Needless to say, my specialty is rooting out Leran spies.”

“You suspected and never told us?” Wo asked now angry at this alien spy. “You used me as bait!”

“Yes, quite right.” Quiss said casually. “We would never tell the intended target or we might never catch the damned worm.”

“Damned worm?” Wo shouted as his head felt ready to explode as his blood pressure shot through the roof. “Damn you!”

Quiss laughed lightly. “You’re welcome.”

“How long have you suspected?” Wo demanded.

“Several years.” Quiss said. “He was replaced before he ever came to your world to work in the embassy. His mission was to infiltrate your world as Har’s world had already been compromised.”

“Then you know who is Leran on Mem?” Wo asked calming down as he realized the scope of this possible invasion.

“We do not.” Quiss said. “If we did, we would have destroyed them long ago. At best, we can only watch and hopefully learn. Mem’s ambiguous attitude towards us has shielded whoever has infiltrated their government. They will not tip their hand lightly, and you can imagine why we can’t go in with guns blazing.”

“It didn’t stop you here.” Wo said looking at the riddled walls of this home. “How did you finally know it was him?”

Quiss held up the small firearm that Wo had been given to protect himself. Fat good it had done him as he realized the folly of giving it directly to the very enemy it had been supposed to protect him from. “There is a very distinct way of disarming this weapon, and we rigged it to send out a signal if it was disarmed. You never could have done it accidentally, so it was obvious when we got the signal that our hunch had been correct.” He paused. “Sorry about your home, but a small price to pay for your life.”

Wo groaned. “Are there others?”

Quiss laughed again. “There are always others.”

Wo stood up on shaky legs. “You wouldn’t tell me even if there were.”

Quiss stood up. “No, I suppose I wouldn’t.” He handed Wo the small firearm. “It has been reset for actual use, so be careful.”

“So this is it, I will always be in fear of invasion from these worms?” Wo said grimly.

“Welcome to our world.” Quiss said with a reptilian grin. “We warned you and now you have finally seen it firsthand. Your reality will never be the same.”

Quiss moved into the kitchen and towards the front door as Wo followed close behind. The bloody remnants of Har were gone, but the red stains were still covering the tile as they walked past.

“Will we get to examine the body?” Wo suddenly asked. “It would go a long way towards convincing my people of the threat.”

Quiss paused in doorway. “It has been destroyed.”

“Everything?” Wo asked hopeful.

Quiss turned serious and the look was that of a true predator eyeing his prey. “Protocol!”

Wo stood in fear as the reptile closed the door behind him. He had never been so shaken in his life. A friend he’d known for years a Leran spy. The Issgire telling him about Mem being infiltrated. What about his world? What guarantee was there they had not already been infiltrated? He had nearly been replaced but for the help of the Issgire. What if someone else was less fortunate? What if the Issgire already knew or suspected someone? No one could be trusted.

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