Thursday, 17 May 2018

Correction in Revealed

A reader has contacted me to inform me that I have made a factual error on page 167 of Roswell Revealed. It concerns the nature of thermite. I examined this claim and found that it is true. I will correct my mistake in the next edition of the book. A few readers have also contacted me because they suspect that some of the non-historical characters in both Revealed and Rising are based on extant people. This is not the case. All the characters, with the exception of historical figures, are purely fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Roswell Redeemed- Sample First Chapter

I have started writing a new book that will probably be entitled Roswell Redeemed- Humanity After Disclosure. It is a sequel to Roswell Revealed- a World After Disclosure, which means it will be the third part of a trilogy. I've decided to do the same thing as I did with Rising and Revealed: put up a sample first segment online beforehand. This will hopefully give readers an idea of what the book is about and encourage them to purchase the complete book when it become available. For those of you who have not read the first and second novels, I advise you to do so before reading this sample because it is a continuation of the same story and also contains a few spoilers about the first book.
See here for details on how to buy Roswell Rising: http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/roswell-rising-is-here.html.
See here for details on how to buy Roswell Revealed: http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/roswell-revealed-is-here.html.
I hope you enjoy the sample below.


Roswell Redeemed- Humanity After Disclosure
by Ben Emlyn-Jones
Brendan Quilley opened his eyes. It was morning and light glinted off the walls and ceiling of his bedroom. There was a brightness and texture to the sheen that was different to the usual. He hardly dared hope as he got out of bed, but when he looked out of his bedroom window his hopes were confirmed and his heart soared. The world outside was blanketed in snow. Almost before he knew what he was doing he had dashed out of his bedroom and was thundering down the stairs. His father was already waiting for him, stood at the bottom of the stairs holding Brendan's winter jacket and woolly hat. "You'll need these, son." he said with a wry smile on his face.
    "Thanks, dad." He bundled into his warm clothes as quickly as he could.
    His mother called from the kitchen. "Brendan, what about your breakfast?"
    "Can I have it later, mom?"
    She chuckled. "Okay."
    Brendan pushed the front door open; immediately he was met with resistance. He pushed harder at the drift blocking the door. The sound of the snow being displaced by the door was like a smoother version of the rustling of leaves. He stepped outside and his feet were enveloped in the chilled caress of fresh powdery fall. The sky above was almost as white as the ground and the overcast was featureless. He took a few steps, relishing the obstruction the snow caused. He could feel the popping, crackling sensation of the snow compacting under the soles of his feet, through the thick material of his boots. The chilled air on his face made his cheeks glow. Condensation formed on his eyelashes. His father had already retrieved his sledge from the garage. It was a wooden one that the two of them had built the previous spring and this was the first time he had used it. Brendan dragged the sledge behind him by a loop of blue nylon cord as he clumped down the garden path and out into the street. There were only a few rows of footprints at this early hour on this small residential road. They were neat foot-shaped depressions in the fall that resembled cookie-cutter holes in the pure, smooth icing whiteness. The beds of the spoors were compacted down without melting. He reached out and pulled a clump off the top of a garden wall. It felt soft and fluffy through his insulated mittens. He chided himself for spoiling the immaculate perfection of the fallen snow, that magical substance. He looked behind him and saw his own footprints filing between the lines made by the runners of his sledge. He reached the main road and there were a few more footprints. There were places on the pavement where they merged to create irregular patches of trodden snow where it was easier to walk. The wheeled snow-mountains of cars trundled past, their engine sound muted by the acoustics of the snow. The low rumble of petrol engines, the roar of diesels and the high-pitched warble of Digby Carrousels sounded more alike today. A snowplough was working its way down the carriageway. It was a large yellow council vehicle with a rotating scoop at the front. It excreted a prism of broken snow behind it in the gutter. There was a bleeping sound from Brendan's roamphone. He took of his mittens and pulled the device out of his pocket. There was a cascade of social media posts from his friends; they were all heading for the golf course. He seethed with excitement. It was just perfect for him that the snow had fallen today. It was a Saturday; that meant no school and no church. He was completely free to have fun all day.
    The Red Gate Golf Course enjoyed a mystical status in the culture of Brendan and his friends. It was private property and access was strictly forbidden, which was one of the factors that most drew them towards it. There was a high fence around the course but it was full of rusty holes so that it was not hard to squeeze through. Once inside there was no end to the supply of amusements; climbing trees, rolling down the fairways, games of soccer and baseball, hide-and-seek; and, their favourite, dodging the groundsmen. Today, however, there would be nobody there and it was safe to enter through the main gate. The view of the open spaces drenched in pure white took his breath away. Snow turned familiar surroundings into another world. He began trudging over the clean unbroken cover as if he were an arctic explorer. He knew where everybody would be; the seventh hole. The fairway was a steep concave drop from the line of trees in the rough to a row of bunkers at the bottom of the hill. A perfect place for sledging. As the location came into view he saw that a number of boys were already there. Many of them had shop-bought sledges injection-moulded from brightly coloured plastic. As he approached, one of the bigger boys straightened up and stared at him. "Hey, Quilley! What are you doing here?"
    Brendan pulled up dead in his tracks. Because of their winter clothing he had not recognized any of the boys ahead of him. The one who had challenged him was Walt Nomatski, a sixth-grader at the new junior high school Brendan had started attending at the start of the last term. There had been an instant mutual dislike between them; indeed Walt seemed to enjoy that hostility. He felt it for many fifth-graders, especially those who were considerably smaller and less aggressive than he was. If Brendan had known Nomatski was there he would have given the place a wide berth.
    Nomatski sneered. "Quilley, this hill is for cool kids with cool sleds only, not dumb kids with stupid sleds made of sticks their dads built for them. So scram!" A few of Nomatski's big ugly friends were standing at his shoulder, glaring at Brendan from under their woolly hats. Their mouths were hard thin horizontal lines above their scarves.
    Brendan turned around and walked away; there was nothing else he could do. He felt no anger or humiliation at his dismissal by Nomatski's gang; this was just normal life for him. He pulled his sledge over the rise through some more rough, and the fairway beyond was empty. He knew from his roam that some more likeable companions were congregating on a neighbouring hole, but he was quite happy to have some time to himself first. He watched the fragments of snow being kicked up by his boots as he plodded along. He stopped. He kicked a big clod across the surface of the fall and it rolled into a small ball. He suddenly had the desire to build a snowman, but then a noise in front of him made him stop. The noise was coming from the tree-line ahead on the next rough at the side of the fairway; it was the beehive buzzing of a flyer engine. For a moment he was worried that it might be his father, come to take him away from this ice crystal idyll; but when he saw the vehicle he relaxed. It was a far bigger craft than his father's. The flyer rose above the treetops, interlaced for a moment with the skeleton of winter branches. It was a blank grey coin-like disc against the steely miasma of the sky. In moments it had vanished into the cloud base. A new text message appeared on his roam: "Bren, I'm by the fourth green. Dave." Brendan smiled to himself and changed course; his trail of footprints banked to the left. His heart soared; Dave was his best friend. All adversity would be forgotten when he managed to reach Dave's side. He was heading right towards where the flyer had taken off.
    Dave looked very small. He was hunched over, hugging his knees, on the slope at the edge of the green. In the snow of the flat surface of the green was a circular depression where the flyer had landed. "Who was that?" asked Brendan.
    "Who was who?" Dave was wrapped tightly in tartan-coloured winter clothes. His dark face was framed by the lace edges of his hood.
    "Who was in that flyer?"
    Dave stared hard at him. His chestnut eyes seemed more intense surrounded by the snowy landscape. He gave a very long pause. "Friends."
    "Dave, are you okay?" Brendan sensed that something was on his friend's mind."
    "Just thinking how much I love the snow."
    Brendan sat beside him, the fall on the berm through his insulated trousers making a most comfortable seat. "Me too... Do you want to do some sledding?"
    He hesitated again, failing to meet Brendan's gaze, making his friend feel more awkward. "I'll miss the snow. I won't be seeing it again most likely."
    "What do you mean?"
    After Dave explained, they felt uncomfortable with each other. They made a pretence of play for a while, taking it in turns to drive Brendan's sledge down the slopes, but it was a relief when Brendan managed to think of an excuse and say goodbye to his friend. As he walked back across the golf course, following his own approaching footsteps from earlier, tears budded in Brendan's eyes. He looked around himself, hoping that the old Indian was there, but there was no sign of him; and Brendan dared not contemplate the other friend he had recently lost because if he did he would simply break down and cry all day in the snow. He headed straight home as quickly as he could, hoping he could get there before the dam broke. Tears were rolling down his face as he ran up the garden path as fast as the snowfall allowed. He left his sledge by the door. "What the matter, honey?" His mother ran forward as soon as she saw him come in.
    "It's Dave... He's moving away! I'm never going to see him again."
    "Oh, baby!" His mother put her comforting arms around him and gathered him up onto her lap in the armchair.
    "He's my best friend." Brendan sobbed.
    "Where's he moving too?"
    "Africa."
    His father came into the room. "I'm sorry, son. I had heard rumours about this, but didn't want to say anything till I knew for sure."
    Brendan looked up at him. His vision was warped by tears. "Why, dad?... Why's he moving to Africa?"
    "His dad's a physician. The word's got round that he'd signed up for the Return to Africa programme."
    Brendan had heard that term before on TV, but didn't know what it meant. "What's 'Return to Africa'?"
    "A few countries in Africa have asked for Americans, especially those with skills and education, to go and live and work there."
    "But why Dave's dad?"
    His father paused. "Because he's a black man."
    Brendan frowned in confusion. "What does that matter?"
    "Black people in America all come from African families."
    "Dave doesn't! His family come from Baltimore."
    "Back to his granddad or great-granddad's time maybe, but what about before that?"
    "Who cares who was before that? It's too long ago."
    "Some people do care about that, Bren... I'm sorry." His father reached down and patted his head.
    Brendan started weeping again. "He was my best friend."
    "You can stay in touch." said his mother. "Talk to each other on the Mesh. We can even take you to visit him now we've got flyers."
    "Dr King is black; why is he not moving to Africa?"
    "Dr King is the president-elect." said his father.
    Brendan went to his bedroom and lay down on his bed. Snow was falling outside his window again, but all the wonder it had filled him with that morning was gone. He felt a stab of anger for his parents. The heartbreak he was feeling was one he had had to deal with many times because his family were always uprooting themselves and moving. Each time he expected it to become easier but it never did. He had been born in Ireland and had moved to New York City when he was four. He had started kindergarten there and had experienced the newfound joy of extra-familial relationships with the other children. These relationships were instantly and totally cut off when the Quilleys packed up and moved to Las Vegas where he went through elementary school making new friends; Harry, John, Marcus, Pete, Charlie and many others. He enjoyed a certain status among the other boys there because his adult sister Siobhan was on television; she presented the news on CBS. He was growing bigger, stronger and happier every day, but then everything went wrong and his life fell apart. His father had a stroke and almost died; and then a sinister old lady entered the household and arranged medical treatment for him... Brendan stomped on the brakes of his train of thought. There were some things he could not allow himself to think about.
.............
The following morning the family got into the ground car and, like they did every Sunday morning, drove to church. Sometimes when the weather was warm they walked together along the streets of Rockville, Maryland, their hometown; but usually they drove or flew. Mass began at ten AM sharp, although sometimes they would attend the later short masses without music or the other frills. The church was a strange dome-shaped structure with a thin central spire and high narrow-arched gables for the windows and main door. Next door was an older chapel of a more traditional architecture that was only used for special occasions. There was a life-size white marble statue of Jesus Christ in the driveway. They walked into the narthex with the other parishioners, saying hello to familiar faces. Brendan kept a lookout for his own acquaintances among the younger members of the congregation. He dipped his finger in the holy water and crossed himself, feeling revolted as he always did. The water in the pot might be holy, but it looked very dirty and usually had slime floating in it. After all the fingers that were stuck in it there were probably all kinds of bacteria and viruses in suspension. The family tended to sit in the same pew, as all the regular congregation did, even though there was no official seat allocation. It was just mutually-agreed habit. They sat quietly while they waited for the mass to start. The organ played soothing ambient music. A few people were kneeling and praying. Brendan's parents sometimes sat quietly, muttering the rosary. Then the organ music would change to a grander tone and a server would ring a bell. Everybody stood up and sang the opening hymn as the priest walked in from the sacristy. The parishioners' attitude to the local clergy was very paradoxical. They regarded them with reverence, as vicars of Christ ordained by the holy sacraments from God. At the same time they often made affectionate fun of their quirks and mannerisms. Several of them had humourous nicknames. When a priest appeared that they had recently been lampooning Brendan's father would often nudge his son and look down with a smile. Brendan would return his gaze and giggle.
    Today it was Father Costello, a tall and extremely thin Jesuit with a highly-set nose and sunken cheeks. His vestments hung off his ancient frame as if he were a coat hanger. Behind his back he was sometimes called "Dr Relic". His physical opposite, the chubby young deacon, carried the liturgical texts behind him. As the music stopped, Father Costello took his place at the front of the nave. "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." He said in his high-pitched nasal Southern accent.
    "Amen." everybody replied in unison. Then there followed the rites of penitence and then the Gloria. After that the children would leave the nave for a small room adjoining the sacristy where they would receive the children's liturgy; bible stories told by a teacher from the local elementary school in a manner intended for children to understand and enjoy them. Here finally Brendan was able to interact with his friends. At the end of the children's liturgy they all returned to the nave for the Eucharist, the principal part of the mass; then the priest would end the service with a blessing and they headed for the church hall for tea and biscuits.
    There was a burst of excitement from his parents and several other people there when Siobhan arrived. There was the humming sound from outside and people rushed to the windows to see a dark blue flyer descending into the carpark and his parents bubbled over with delight as Siobhan decamped from it. Brendan's sister was seventeen years his elder. She was an adult; and this felt strange from the point of view of his friends whose siblings were all just a handful of years' difference in age. They often talked about their brother or sister in the grade below or above them. Brendan found it normal to have a sister who was out of school and in the same alien world of adulthood as his parents. He remembered lying in her arms as much as he remembered doing so with his mother. Often she used to pick him up and cuddle him when he cried. She looked very like his mother, with a similar face and hair; she always had. He had not seen her for a month and he was surprised how much she had changed. Her hair was cut shorter and she had put on a lot of weight. Her abdomen was swollen like a beach-ball. Accompanying her as always was her best friend Jenny, a bright-eyed older woman with unkempt greying hair and a lively intelligent face. The whole family walked home from church together and gathered in the lounge to talk. Jenny drove Siobhan's flyer over and was waiting for them in the driveway. Brendan was given the job of fetching tea and biscuits for everybody. When he came back into the room they all turned and stared at him with quizzical smiles on their faces. "Brendan." said his father. "We have something to tell you... You're going to be an uncle."
    "Eh?" Brendan shook his head in confusion.
    "Siobhan is having a baby, honey." added his mother.
    Brendan stared at Siobhan. "Really?"
    Siobhan nodded her head almost imperceptibly.
    "But... how?"
    They all laughed.
    "What's so funny?"
    "It's nothing to worry about, Bren." said his mother. "It's just Siobhan's time to have a baby, just like it was my time to have you when you were born."
    Brendan sat down, his mind churning. "I'm a... an uncle?"
    "Yes."
    "But I can't be! I'm a kid. Uncles are all grown up."
    They chuckled again. "Not necessarily, baby." said his mother. "To be an uncle all you need to do is have a brother or sister who has a child. I've heard of uncles and aunts who are younger than their nieces and nephews."
    He nodded his head after processing this information.
    "And I'm going to be a grandpa." said his father with a rueful half-smile.
    "When will be baby come out?" asked Brendan.
    "The end of February." said Siobhan. "Also it's not just one baby; it's two."
    His parents' and Jenny's heads swung away from Brendan and focused on Siobhan like a trio of high-speed lighthouses. "What!?" exclaimed his mother.
    "It's twins, mom."
    "Are you sure? Have you been tested?"
    Siobhan shrugged. "Kind of."
    His father whistled in surprise. "Wow!"
.............
Brendan felt perturbed as he trudged through the ageing snow to school the following morning. He met up with his friends and put on a good act of being his normal self, but inside, his mind was in turmoil. The bell rang in the playground; he dropped the snowball he was about to throw and headed inside to his locker to collect the books he needed. He sat at his desk in his classroom in silence, staring at the Stars and Stripes hanging above the waxboard. The girls on the row of desks to his left were turning to face each other and talking. They giggled inanely at some joke that was both inaudible and incomprehensible. Girls, Brendan mused, were surely the most repulsive creatures in all of God's creation. Their obsessive vanity, their banal chatter about irrelevant subjects, their fixation on their clothes, their hair and cosmetics; their propensity to play with dolls, meaningless objects that were good for nothing except targets on a catapult range... However they were essential for human reproduction. For some reason, known only to Himself, God had made humanity with the inherent burden of a degenerate lower half. Brendan had known about the facts of life for quite a while. It was the previous year that a seventh-grader he knew had shown him a biology textbook he had just borrowed from the senior library all about "the birds and the bees". It was entitled Sex and Childbirth- an Introduction. Brendan had pored through its pages with a mixture of fascination and horror. It had taken several weeks, but he had managed to put this upsetting reality into the slow oven of his mind for long-term integration; however the announcement of his sister's pregnancy brought the whole sordid quandary crashing down on his head again. The process involved unthinkable acts, such as inserting parts of a male body into parts of a female body, the emission of substances and objects that he couldn't even have imagined existing. The engendering of evil-looking piscine mutants with ropes of flesh sprouting from their navels that unbelievably took on human form and eventually squeezed their way out into the world and became a baby. He still could not accept that he, like everybody else, had begun his own life as one of those deformed homunculi... He shivered and a wave of nausea passed over him. He knew that he could never become a father. How on earth was any baby ever created when adults were forced to perform such disgusting actions? Is that the best method God could come up with? It amazed Brendan to think that his own parents had had sexual intercourse, not just once, but twice; in order to create both himself and Siobhan. How did they achieve this feat while keeping their mental health intact?
    Brendan's first class of the day was art, one of his favourites. The main reason he liked it was that he got to sit next to Dave, however when they sat down together his friend was strangely distant. He greeted Brendan far more formally than usual and declined to enter into their usual conversation. To begin with Brendan felt hurt by his reticence, but when he looked at Dave's face, and realized how sad his friend was, he understood. Dave was as heartbroken at the prospect of being parted from Brendan as Brendan was from him. Their mutual company had now become painful with the knowledge that it was finite and leading up to an appointed permanent end. Dave just wanted to get it over with now.
    "Now then." said Miss Spreale, the art teacher. "Today I'd like you all to produce a picture of a friend you have not seen for a long time and really wish you could. Somebody you really miss badly."
    The class nodded their collective head. The teacher placed a sheet of paper and a jar of coloured pencils and crayons in front of them and they got to work. Brendan looked at the jar closest to him. His hand reached out and picked up the blue and green crayons. He had a strange feeling while he did so, as if he knew something terrible was about to happen, he was the one doing it and he still couldn't stop himself. He drew a line of green across the paper and then drew a line of blue on top of it. He stopped and stared. The two superimposed crayon marks mixed like paint. The resulting purple colour made his breath catch in his throat and tears fill his eyes. He felt as if he had split into two separate entities locked in combat. One half of him yelled at him not to risk it; these were forbidden fortresses within his memory. The other urged him on. He carried on drawing, his hand moving automatically. It took him twenty minutes to complete the image. Miss Spreale walked over to his desk. "Oh Brendan." she shook her head sadly. "Why do you always have to be difficult?"
    He didn't dare look up at her. He hoped his voice would not betray his emotions. "Miss?"
    "The assignment I set you, like I set this whole class, was to draw a picture of a friend, one you haven't seen for a long time and one you miss. All you have done is drawn some kind of cartoon character."
    Suppressed sniggers broke out from around him; the entire class were eager spectators to his reprimand.
    Brendan felt his cheeks blazing like radiators. He wished badly that he had been able to stop himself drawing that picture. He shrugged evasively.
    "I'm waiting for an explanation, Brendan." growled the teacher in a threatening tone.
    "He is a friend, miss. His name's Boggin."
    His classmates burst into raucous merriment.
    "Quiet!" snapped Miss Spreale at them. "Brendan." she began is a gentler tone. "Was this your imaginary friend?"
    "He wasn't imaginary. He was real." He sniffed loudly.
    There was a long pause. "Alright, Brendan. Carry on." The teacher moved to the next desk. Brendan looked up at her departing back.
..............
"How does it feel to be ten years old?"
    "Cool, mom." A couple of years earlier Brendan's mother would have scooped him onto her lap, but today she merely embraced him as he stood in front of her. He felt nostalgic regret about that. It struck him very much at that moment how much he had grown. He really was significantly bigger than he had been on his previous birthday. His eyes were on a level with his mother's shoulder and she looked diminished in size. In a world where every adult previously appeared like a giant, he began to perceive scale among them. It actually felt very odd to be ten years old. For the first time ever there were two digits associated with his age. He recalled being six or seven and thinking how ancient ten years old appeared; but now he was there it was unearthly. Time seemed to be passing so quickly.
    "Happy birthday, son." His smiling father clapped him hard on the shoulder. "Ten years; it's quite a milestone."
    "I guess so." Brendan replied.
    "Have you given any thought to your outing?"
    "Not really, dad."
    "We should make it a special one this year." Every year on his birthday, Brendan's parents took him and a handful of his school-friends, as many who could fit in the car, out for a day trip to somewhere he choose. Sometimes his father would help him by suggesting a place. His previous birthday his father had been recovering from a stroke and so they had had a trip in the spring and Brendan got the feeling his dad felt that was insufficient. Sometimes his friends asked Brendan if he minded his birthday being so close to Christmas. Brendan had never given it much thought seeing as it was when his birthday happened to be, and he knew of no other. He got the feeling his friends who had birthdays at other times imagined that the significance of Brendan's birthday was diminished because Christmas was only two weeks later, but he didn't feel that way. In fact he regarded his birthday as a happy prelude to Christmas; both festivals each enhanced the other. He regarded New Year the same way. "Look at this." His father was sitting at the kitchen table with his matchbook computer open in front of him. "A place has just opened in London called 'the London Planetarium'. Shall we go there?"
    A thrill rose within him and he jumped in the air. "Yeah!" He had no idea what a planetarium was, but the thought of going all the way to London was delicious regardless of the purpose of the adventure.
    "London?" his mother frowned. "London, England?"
    "That's the only London I know of." His father grinned at his wife sardonically.
    "But, Clane; it's not safe."
    "It's perfectly safe."
    "It's a war zone!"
    "No it's not, Gina." he scoffed. "Not any more. It's under full LoW control these days. I've seen travel brochures urging people to go to England."
    "Of course; they want people's hard American money... Clane, I don't feel comfortable with Brendan going to England. There are plenty of other planetariums you can go to. There's a very neat one in Chicago."
    Brendan stared at his father in fear, silently begging him. His two parents had a debate for about three minutes. When he was younger they used to get angry and shout at each other, but they had mellowed in the last couple of years; probably because they had both suffered serious illness. In the end Brendan could bear it no longer. "But please!" he interjected. "Mom, dad; I really want to go to England!"
    They both turned their heads in unison and looked at him blankly.
.............
The evening before the outing Brendan's father went to pick up the flyer. Brendan stood in the driveway, the slush soaking into his slippers, waiting for his father to come back. The vehicle was a large sleek black object with tinted windows. It descended over the treetops in the garden opposite and settled gently on the tarmac, buzzing smoothly. Like most flyers it resembled a large family car without wheels. "Wow, dad!" exclaimed Brendan.
    "Pretty hot, huh?" His father got out and ran his hand along the shiny roof.
    "Can we keep it?"
    He guffawed. "Oh, I wish!... No, we have to take it back to Jenny's factory when we come home. We're only borrowing it."
    "It's way cooler than our flyer, dad."
    "Damn right; she's got a lot more power. Twin disc, forty-seven lateral G's. Very sexy! We could have done the trip in our own, but it's only got five seats. You couldn't bring as many friends. Also this baby has a life-raft which we should have really." His father opened the luggage hatch at the rear and showed his son a bright yellow box attached to the sidewall.
    "Why do we need that?"
    "In case we have a breakdown transatlantic."
    Brendan found it difficult to sleep that night. He lay in bed seething with anticipation. He got up before everybody else and ran downstairs to make breakfast. His parents rose from slumber in more leisurely manner. They snapped at their son a few times as he tried to cajole them along. Eventually, after enough cups of coffee, they both stopped yawning and the bags under their eyes retracted into their faces. They returned to their bedroom to put on their clothes and finally they were ready to leave. The interior of the flyer was immaculate and smelled of rubber like a new car in a showroom. It had a similar layout to a car, with a driving seat and front passenger seat at the front; then a row of three seats in the middle and two seats at the back. "Don't make a mess back there!" warned his father. "I promised Jenny we would bring this thing back in the same condition we took it. She has to sell it to somebody next week." He started the engine and the vehicle drifted upwards. He moved uncertainly to begin with, getting used to the unfamiliar controls. "Jeez, the pitch lever on this bird is heavy." he muttered. After a few minutes of circling over their street at about two hundred feet he set a course for Henry's house. Brendan relished Henry's gaping face as he looked up at their flyer in awe as it descended elegantly into his back garden. After that they went and picked up Chris, Pete and Albert. Brendan was enthused by the presence of his friends and they all eagerly stared out of the windows as his father drove the flyer higher and faster. Soon they were breaking through the clouds and the sky above was vanilla blue.
    The flight to London took an hour and a half. They traversed the eastern seaboard. New York and the snowy backdrops of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland passed below them. Once over the Atlantic Ocean his father brought them down to four thousand feet so they could watch the sea scrolling beneath them like an old movie. They passed a few ships; coloured blobs that whipped below their undercarriage before they had a chance to have a good look at them. A haze appeared ahead of them that solidified into a green landscape free of snow. His father eased back on the throttle and the vehicle slowed so that they could see more of the fields, rivers, roads and towns that they flew over. "Welcome to England." he said.
    "Have you been here before, Mr Quilley?" asked Pete.
    His father's face became grim. "A long time ago, before Saucer Day."
    The countryside below them grew more built up and soon they were flying over a huge city. A wide meandering river flowed through the metropolis. Some boats floated along it, looking like twigs from this altitude. Brendan recognized many of the buildings because they were famous historical and tourist attractions, Big Ben, Tower Bridge and St Paul's Cathedral. He and his friends had their noses pressed to the windows. "Wow!" "Look at that!" and other exclamations were their only words.
    "Where can we land?" asked his father.
    "Not sure." replied his mother. She was studying the navigation display in front of her seat. "I can't see any official flyer pads listed."
    "Damn it! I'm going to put down where I can and hope the LoW don't give me a ticket." He dived towards a triangular patch of green, a verdant wedge among the grey rooftops. He levelled up and slowed until he was hovering above a small park in the middle of a busy urban district. He landed the flyer on the grass and they all eagerly decamped. The air was warmer than at home. The sky was blue with small clean clouds. A road lay beside the park with a wide pavement on the far side. Multiple vehicles drove past including a very tall red bus with two floors like a moving house. "Stay close to me, everybody." commanded Brendan's mother. "Clane, where do we go from here?"
    "To the nearest subway station; they call it the 'Underground'... There." He pointed to a sign which showed a thick red circle with a blue equatorial line overlaying it. "Now be careful, all of you! Especially when crossing the streets. They drive on the wrong side of the road over here. We need to get a move on; it's already mid-afternoon here." They walked along the wide pavement, looking at the shop fronts that skirted the tall grey-brick buildings. When they got closer they saw that the Underground station was called Shepherds Bush. "Shepherds Bush?" They all laughed. "Do shepherds have bushes?... What a crazy name." The adults bought tickets for them all and they descended via an escalator to the subterranean platforms. It was very similar to the New York Subway only more compact. The trains were cylindrical in shape and the carriage roofs curved in overhead giving the interior a suffocating atmosphere. At one point on the journey the train was so full of people that they had to stand; their shoulders, chest and back pressed against other passengers. They had to change trains at one point and walked along passageways and escalators to another platform. It was quite a relief to climb back up onto another bustling city street. "Ladies and gentlemen." announced his father grandly. "We are now on Baker Street. This is where Sherlock Holmes lived."
    "Hey!" "Neat!" "Wow!" they all called out in unison. "Is he still there, dad?" asked Brendan. "Can we go visit him?"
    His parents laughed loudly.
    There was some commotion at the junction as they walked towards their destination. Traffic was at a standstill because of it and some of the drivers were sounding their horns. A squad of riot police with light blue helmets were holding back a crowd of angry people who were blocking the road. Brendan recognized the uniforms as the League of the World Peace Corps. The crowd was a political demonstration; the people held aloft placards that read: ELECTIONS NOW!, LoW OUT! and FREE BRITAIN! "They want their own government." explained his father. "They've been under LoW occupation for a long time now. A bit like our own Provisional Government, except so far there are no plans to change that situation in Europe..." He cut off and gasped. "Look!" He pointed at a banner sporting a strange emblem, a red oblong centred by a blue circle inside a white circle. A white jagged line, like a bolt of lightening, cut the blue one in two.
    "What's that, dad?"
    "Mosleyites!"
    "What are they?"
    "Fascists!"
    His father led him swiftly away from the protesters. "God, I thought all that was over." he muttered uneasily. A few hundred yards down the road they came to a dome-shaped structure neatly embedded into a street corner like an eyeball in its socket. It had a signboard above its entrance that said LONDON PLANETARIUM. "A show is about to start." said his mother. "Come on in, kids." They bought tickets and entered the softly-lit auditorium. The place resembled a cinema except the seats were arranged in a circle around the centre. The space in the middle of the dome, right under its apex, was taken up by a strange machine that looked like a robot or a spacecraft mounted on a stand. When he sat in a seat Brendan was surprised at how far back it was reclined. It was more like a bed than a seat. The room darkened and the done above their heads lit up. The device in the centre was a projector and it beamed a realistic image onto the curved ceiling. "Welcome to the London Planetarium..." said a deep masculine voice through a loudspeaker. The voice gave a running commentary as the concave screen displayed very vivid images of the night's sky. Planets came into close view, stars wheeled around the zenith; constellations were highlighted and described. To Brendan the display looked as if the roof had been lifted off and they had moved forward six hours in time. It was as if he were looking at the real night's sky. A yellow globe appeared and the commentator announced that they were looking at a diagram of the sun. "The sun is a star, a luminous globe of gas producing heat and light by nuclear fusion. It was born from a nebula and consists mostly of hydrogen and helium gas. The brightest stars have masses one hundred times that of the sun and emit as much light as a million suns. They live for less than a million years. The faintest stars are the red dwarfs, less than one thousandth the brightness of the sun. They can live for hundreds of billions of years. Towards the end of its life, a star like the sun swells up to become a red giant. Eventually it explodes with enormous force. This is called a stella nova. It loses its outer layers and these become a planetary nebula. Finally it will shrink to a fraction of its former size to become a white dwarf. During this process, the earth and most of the planets will be completely destroyed, but don't worry. The scenario I have just described will not begin for at least six billion years..." The show ended soon afterwards and the lights came on. The audience got up out of their couches to leave, including his parents and friends. "Hey, what's the matter with Brendan." Henry said. Brendan couldn't move. He was totally paralyzed. He lay in his couch staring at the white dome above his head. His heart was pounding; his mouth was dry. He heard his mother's voice: "Brendan?... Brendan!... BRENDAN!... Brendan, what's wrong!?" Brendan couldn't reply. All he could see was the blazing fiery sphere of the swollen sun engulfing the planet earth. Everything around him was bursting into flames; the trees were igniting like matchsticks, the mountains were melting, the oceans were boiling.
............
He couldn't remember how he left the London Planetarium. He had some vague recollection of his father coaxing him to stand up onto his feet. He was being half-carried down the London street they had walked along earlier. It was now dark and the shop windows were glowing with electric light. He was trying to walk, but could not support is own weight; his legs felt like noodles. Henry and his father had a hand each under his armpits to support him. "We need to call a goddamn ambulance!" he heard his mother yell.
    "No!" his father retorted. "We need to get him home!"
    "I told you we shouldn't have brought him here!"
    "How the hell was I to know this would happen!? Are you saying in Chicago it wouldn't have!?" They travelled on the Underground back to Shepherds Bush and returned to the flyer. Brendan lay on the back seat, his eyes out of focus, as they flew back across the Atlantic as fast as they could. Slowly the sky lightened as if at dawn. When they arrived home they were back in the US Eastern Time zone and it was still early afternoon. After dropping off Brendan's friends, his parents took him to the doctor. The family's GP was an old man with wispy grey hair and a long pointed nose. He looked very much like a creature from a science fiction film Brendan had seen a few years ago. He examined Brendan as the boy lay on his examination table. He took his temperature, blood pressure and listened to his heartbeat. While he was doing this Brendan's parents told him what had happened. The doctor looked down his throat, in his ears and shone a light in his eyes. "Well, Mr and Mrs Quilley, I can't find anything wrong with him. His observations appear normal; although his heart-rate is up a bit."
    "But there is something wrong with him!" insisted his mother. "He can hardly walk! He hasn't said a word for hours. He's in some kind of trance."
    "I think he has suffered some kind of emotional trauma. I'd like to treat him for shock. I'll also make you an appointment with the child psychiatrist."
    His parents gasped. "Emotional shock!?" shrilled his father. "Why!?... How!?..."
    "Dr Flynn, we were having a day out in London for Christ's sake!" said his mother. "Nothing, absolutely nothing happened that could cause Brendan emotional trauma. We were having a lovely day..."
    "Mrs Quilley, I can only address this case based on the symptoms I observe." The doctor shrugged. After the appointment was arranged they went home. By now Brendan could walk properly, but he still had not spoken. When they got home he collapsed onto the settee. His father went to the kitchen and came back with a tub of chocolate ice cream. He held it in front of Brendan's face. "Look at this, son. Can I interest you in a scoop or two?"
    "No thanks, dad. There's no point." Brendan's voice cracked slightly as he spoke. He coughed.
    His father leapt back and yelled: "Gina! He said something! He spoke!" There was the clatter of feet on the floor and in moments both his parents were crouching in front of him. "Brendan!" His father stared hard into his eyes. "Can you say something else? You said there was no point eating ice cream. What did you mean, son? Why is there no point eating ice cream?"
    "Because we're all going to die. The whole world is going to die."
    "What do you mean?"
    "What do you mean, honey?" chimed in his mother.
    "The sun is going to blow up and destroy the earth. It said so in that planetarium place."
    They both gasped; then they almost laughed. "Son!" said his father. "Is that it? Is that what has been bothering you all day?"
    "Baby!" his mother leaned forward and caressed his shoulders. "You don't have to be concerned about that. It's not going to happen for millions and billions of years!"
    "That's true, son." said his father. "I had no idea you were so upset by this. I'm so sorry. I should never have taken you there... But you must know, we could never have guessed such a minor thing would distress you so much."
............
Brendan felt a bit better the next day. It was Sunday so they all went to mass at church as always. Then they spent the afternoon visiting a few family friends. They got home when dusk was falling and Brendan went out for a walk. He strolled along the streets to Rock Creek Park where the dregs of the snow were most abundant. It lay in crusty, granular patches, vitrified by a week of partially melting and freezing every day. He walked along the pathway through the trees until he came to an open patch of grass with a number of logs one could sit on. The overcast was breaking up and the sun peeked through a gap between two thick clouds. It glowed red like the eye of Satan; Brendan glared at it hatefully. The same sun which gave life to the earth would eventually take it, destroying everything it had sustained throughout the history of the solar system in a bath of fire. He then noticed that there was a man sitting on one of the logs on the far side of the glade; Brendan had seen him when he'd sat down. The figure was the size of an adult man and was clad in a parka and Wellington boots. There was something wonderfully familiar about his posture. Brendan stood up and walked over towards him, hardly daring to hope. The man lifted his head and smiled from beneath his hood. Brendan's heart leaped for joy. "Indian!"
    "Hello, Brendan." said the old Indian.
    Brendan threw his arms around his friend as far as they would go and squeezed his insulated body. "Indian!... Indian!"
    "It's good to see you, Brendan. I'm sorry you did not have a happy birthday this year."
    Brendan looked at him hard. "Is it true, Indian? What they said at the Planetarium?" The brief pause that followed before the old Indian spoke was like an adrenalin-soaked temporal singularity. Brendan felt like the defendant in the dock waiting for the forum of the jury to say guilty or not guilty. At that moment he would have given everything he had, or would ever have, to hear the Indian say no.
    "Yes."
    A second eternal moment passed as Brendan dug his nails into his sanity to stop it falling away. "So it's true? The sun will one day swell up and burn up the earth?"
    "Yes it is, Brendan. I'm sorry... But it will not happen for eight and a half billion years. Astronomers have underestimated the sun's life cycle by two-point-five billion years... Do you know how long a time that is? How long do you think a billion years are?"
    "I don't know. Will it happen after I've died as an old man?"
    The Indian chuckled. "Oh yes... A billion years is a thousand times one million years; and a million years is a thousand times one thousand. And that has to happen more than eight times. You will not live more than just over one hundred years, if you're lucky; and that is just one tenth of one thousand years. An event that far in the future? For practical purposes it might as well be never. The earth is only about five billion years old; it's barely middle aged. You know how old the dinosaurs are? Well they never even appeared until about a quarter of a billion years ago. So you have no cause to be concerned, Brendan."
    Brendan had buried his face in the Indian's jacketed lap. "Why, Indian?"
    "Brendan, look up at the sky."
    Brendan raised his head. The sun was now just a smudge on the horizon, filtered by the leafless undergrowth, and some of the stars were visible in the lavender zenith.
    "Do you know how many stars there are up there, Brendan? More than anybody could ever count. More than anybody could even imagine... But one day, all of them will be dead; in the same way one day, far sooner, all the people alive in the world today will be dead. But when that time comes, there will still be stars in the universe; in the same way when all people today are dead there will still be people on earth... Everything dies, but everything also carries on. When stars explode they release a huge quantity of material that eventually transforms into new stars and new planets. This is the same as people having children who grow up and outlive their parents, and eventually have their own children who outlive them in an everlasting cycle."
    "Why did God make the universe this way? Make it so that everything has to die. Why couldn't he just make it so that everything lasts forever?"
    He felt the Indian shrug inside his winter jacket. "I don't know."
    Brendan gasped. "Why not? I thought you knew everything!"
    "I don't. I am not God... No more than you are anyway."
    "I thought you knew all the things God knows."
    "I do not... The only reason I know more than you is because I have a better view. I'm like a man standing on a high mountain. I can see far more than a man standing in a valley, but it doesn't make me any smarter than the man in the valley."
    Brendan sat next to him silently, mulling over this concept. He felt the weight of misery that had been crushing his shoulders for the last twenty-four hours lift slightly.
    "Do you feel better now?" asked the old Indian.
    "I guess. A bit."
    "Good. You will continue to recover your spirit, young Brendan. It will take a long time, but it will happen; slowly but steadily."
    "Thanks, Indian." Brendan leaned forward with his face on his knees and his eyes squeezed shut. "How's Boggin?"
    The Indian began stroking his head as if he were a cat. "Very well. He sends his love as always. He watches you regularly."
    "Does he have a new friend now?"
    "Yes."
    "Who?"
    The Indian paused. "A young girl."
    "Who is she?"
    "I can't tell you. She lives a very long way from here."
    "Where?"
    "She doesn't live on this earth."
    Waves of curiosity and envy flowed though him. "How many earths are there, Indian?"
    "More than there are years before the end of the world... Be patient, young Brendan; one day I will tell you all about it." He stopped stroking Brendan's head.
    "Why not tell me now?" He waited for the old Indian to reply and when he didn't Brendan raised his gaze and saw that the Indian had gone. Brendan was sitting alone on the log. He shrugged to himself. The Indian always vanished into thin air like that, but usually less suddenly; usually he said goodbye first. It was almost dark now and thousands more stars shone from between the clouds. He stood up and went home, feeling a lot better.
...............
The house was full of people; some were neighbours, some were his father's friends and colleagues from Washington DC. Siobhan and Jenny had also turned up. There was loud friendly chatter from downstairs in the kitchen and lounge. Brendan sat on his bed reading a comic book under his bedside lamp. Outside his window the night was as black as oil. He knew it was almost time for bed and, as always, the soothing canon of adult voices downstairs would lull him off to sleep. The New Year party would still be going strong long after he had dropped off. He heard his mother's footsteps coming up the stairs and put the comic down, preparing himself to wish his mother goodnight. There was the standard evening knock on the door and his mother poked her head round. Normally she just walked in and kissed his cheek. "Brendan... Brendan, honey."
    "Mom?"
    "Would you like to come downstairs?"
    "What?"
    "You're ten years old now; old enough to see in the New Year... Put on some nice clothes and join us in the den."
    Brendan felt excited as he slipped on his black terylene trousers and a white shirt. He descended the familiar stairs of his home into the alien world of adulthood. All the strangers in the lounge greeted him. The men were in suits and women were in low-cut gowns glittering jewellery shone from their wrists and earlobes. His father was rosy-cheeked and smiling. He thrust a glass into Brendan's hand. "There you are, son. Get that down your neck!"
    "What is it, dad?"
    "Blue Nun."
    Brendan sipped. The drink's taste reminded him slightly of the shampoo the school nurse had once given him to treat his head-lice, but it was much more pleasant. He circulated, moving from the lounge to the kitchen, but he was disappointed to find there were no other children there. The forest of adults towered over him and their arcane conversations bored him. The television was on in the corner of the lounge and he found a fairly good view of the screen; only once every few minutes did somebody walk in front of it. It was showing the standard New Year variety broadcast with locations shot in Times Square. A rock and roll band played; a journalist gave a political commentary of the year about to end. A giant clock on the wall of the square counted down the minutes and seconds to midnight. His glass was almost empty. The drink was making him feel strange. His head was dizzy and sounds were muted, but he felt abnormally relaxed and content.
    "Have some more, son."
    Brendan jerked slightly with shock as his father poured some more drink into his glass. "Thanks, dad."
    "It's almost twelve." The adults gathered around him to watch the TV. Their trouser legs and skirt hems brushed against Brendan's shoulders. The TV announcer chanted excitedly and the adults copied him: "Ten... nine... eight... seven... six... five... four... three... two... one... ZERO! Happy New Year!" Fireworks cracked and flashed on the screen. The illuminated numbers "1963" lit up above the streets in far off New York City. Outside the window Brendan heard more fireworks from elsewhere in the neighbourhood, booming like distant thunder. The adults all linked arms and sang Auld Lang Syne above Brendan's head. Their voices were raucous and amplified with alcohol so he plugged up his ears. The quiet then allowed him to ponder. So this was now a whole new year, 1963. He wondered what came next, presumably 1964. What happened when they got to 1969; would the year after that then be nineteen-sixty-ten?
    "Come on, Bren."
    He started again as his mother laid a hand on his shoulder.
    "You've seen in the New Year now, honey; time for bed."
...............
Brendan woke up feeling ill. He had a pounding headache and an unpleasant taste in his mouth. He could tell by the quality of the light in his bedroom that he had slept in late. "Mom?" He got out of bed and went downstairs. A twinge of nausea passed through him as he walked. His surroundings spun around him as if he were on a merry-go-round. His mother was in the kitchen mopping the floor. "Mom, I don't feel too good." he said.
    "What's wrong, Bren?" She sat down at the table and pulled forward a stool for him to sit on.
    When he described his symptoms he was astonished and annoyed to see his mother laugh. "Why is that funny, mom?"
    "Brendan, you've got a hangover."
    "A what?"
    "I'm sorry to laugh, honey. It's your dad's fault. He shouldn't have given you a second glass of wine... Whenever somebody drinks too much liquor they get a hangover; but don't worry, it won't last long." She got up and poured him a large glass of water. "Here, honey. Drink this. You'll feel better in a couple of hours."
    Sure enough, Brendan's hangover had eased by midday. He read some comic books and looked at a few Meshboards on his matchbook for a while; and then he began to feel his familiar craving for a sugar rush. He went downstairs and approached his mother again. "Mom, can I have some money for candy?"
    She scowled at him. "After all the candy you got over Christmas? You must have eaten your weight in chocolate. God help your teeth!"
    "Please, mom."
    "No. You can have some more candy when school starts again." She went back to her chopping board.
    Brendan knew from her gestures and tone of voice that her decision was non-negotiable. He returned to his bedroom growling to himself in disappointment. He lay down prostrate on the carpet to pull out some old comics from the archive under his bed. A cloud of dust was kicked up as he removed the ream making him cough slightly. Along with the old comics came a few fragments of loose crumpled paper. One of them made Brendan stop and look more closely. Its texture and dark greenish-white colour was familiar, and it filled him with a wild hope. He unravelled it and saw that, sure enough, it was a one dollar bill. His heart leaped. He looked over his shoulder at the open door to his bedroom, making sure nobody was watching him, and then he slipped the banknote into his pocket. He put on his outdoor clothes and walked down the stairs as calmly as he could so as not to arouse suspicion. "Mom, I'm just going out for a while." he called.
    "Okay." his mother responded from the kitchen.
    It was a cold and dry day with no snow, so Brendan got out his bicycle for the journey to the market square. He locked it up at a rack by a shopping centre. There had been a lot of development in Rockville during the last few years including a network of pedestrian malls in the town centre. Brendan had explored them all thoroughly and had a very accurate mental map in his head of all the best places to buy sweets. There were a number of supermarkets with confectionary aisles, Giant Eagle, Walmart and K-mart; but Brendan's favourite was Melissa's Candy, a small independently-run shop on a corner Gibbs Street. "Hi, Brendan. Happy New Year." The rotund but pretty young woman behind the counter greeted him as he walked into the shop.
    "Happy New Year, Mel." he smiled back at her.
    "I've got some Mini-Bristols in, 'specially for you." she grinned. "Your favourite."
    "Cool! Thanks!"
    "How's your ma and pa?"
    Brendan conversed with Mel as he stocked up from the shelves, his mouth watering. He took them over to the counter and produced the repossessed dollar bill from his pocket. Mel froze and gasped as she took it from his hand. "Sweet Jesus!"
    "Is there something wrong with it, Mel?"
    "Brendan, where did you get this?"
    "It's mine."
    She handed it back to him. "I can't accept this, Brendan. I don't know where you got it from, but you shouldn't have it."
    "What are you talking about?"
    "Get it out of my shop!" she yelled at him. Her rosy cheeks were now glowing crimson with rage.
    He paused and then opened his mouth to speak; unsure of what to say.
    "GET IT OUT!" Mel shouted.
    Brendan backed towards to the door and fled. He felt tearful as he dashed into a nearby public garden and crouched behind a shrubbery. He had never seen Mel so angry. After taking a few minutes to recover, he walked back to where he'd parked his bicycle, his brain churning with upset and confusion. He sat on his saddle and took another look at the dollar bill. It looked completely normal; it had the usual portrait of George Washington on one side and the Great Seal on the other. What was the problem? He rode his bicycle northwards through Rockville along the main road. It had a wide cycle track which made the journey safer and easier than usual. After several miles he came to Johns Hopkins University where he knew there would be the traditional New Year American football game; something he hoped would take his mind off his troubles. As soon as he arrived he saw that something strange was going on. The stadium was in the grounds of the new campus and on a bowl game day it would normally be bustling with students, fans, cheerleaders and family members cheering on the players as they walked out onto the gridiron. Astonishingly it was almost empty. Only a few gloomy-looking groundsmen wandered around. Brendan went and double-checked and there was still a banner above the gate that clearly said: "Johns Hopkins Montgomery New Year1963 Bowl. January 1st, 3 PM". There was no mention of a cancellation. He left the campus and rode back into central Rockville. In doing so he realized something that he had noticed subconsciously on his journey out, but it had not registered at the time. There was very little traffic on the roads, even for a public holiday. He passed an occasional car, but far fewer than normal; and there were no busses or lorries. When he arrived back in town he saw a group of people standing on a street corner. They were clustered close together outside the door of a solicitors' officer. Brendan thought there was something wrong about their posture. He slowed down to listen to their voices. They were all weeping. Their heads were bowed, they were covering their face with their hands and they wailed pitifully together. Brendan pedalled harder and sped away from them, feeling afraid for some reason. He turned his bicycle onto Park Road and followed it under the railway bridge into a residential district. He then spotted four people sitting in a front garden outside a house; three men and five women. They were crouched on the grass crying. Brendan was so surprised that he pulled up by the kerb and stared. The people didn't notice him; they never looked up. They stayed where they were, half-sitting on the grass with tears dropping from their noses. Brendan rode on. Less than a minute later he passed an old man walking down a lane crying openly. Then he saw a married couple whom he knew by sight, but whose names he couldn't remember. They were also weeping profusely. Brendan was unnerved so he headed home as quickly as he could. On the way he encountered a number of other people all in tears. It was as if the entire town had turned into one big funeral. When he got home he left his bicycle in the garage and entered his home. "Mom, dad, are you there?" He walked into the lounge and saw his mother and father hunched forward on the settee watching television. "Mom, dad, why is everybody crying...?" His words caught in his throat as he saw tears in his parents' eyes. They were clutching each other's hands as if seeking support from each other. His eyes moved to the TV screen where a narrator was speaking in a sombre voice: "...the true magnitude of what has been done for more years than we currently know..." His mother leaped for the TV remote control in a panic and almost threw herself on top of it. The screen went blank. She got to her feet and faced her son, her face trembling. "Brendan, go to your room now."
    "Why? What's going on?" Brendan asked as a very half-hearted interrogation. He knew he had no choice but to obey. As he reached the top of the stairs he heard her bark behind him: "Wait!" She ran up the stairs and pushed past him into his bedroom and came out carrying his matchbook.
    He reached out for it. "Oh no, mom!"
    "Go to bed!" she responded in a tremulous voice and pointed at the door.
    "It's only four o'clock!"
    She slammed the door of his bedroom behind him as soon as he was inside.
    He passed an anxious evening reading his books, cut off from the outside world because of the loss of his matchbook. He stared out of the window as the sky darkened. He went to the bathroom a few times and tried to overhear the conversation or TV dialogue from downstairs but was unable. He changed into his pyjamas and got into to bed early; he struggled to fall asleep.
.............
The following morning Brendan awoke while it was still dark outside. He poked his head out of his bedroom and heard somebody moving about downstairs. He descended to the kitchen and saw his father sitting at the table eating a bowl of cereal. A coffee mug sat at his elbow. He was dressed in a well-ironed white shirt and tie. His suit jacket hung on the back of the neighbouring chair. His work identity photo badge glinted in the piercing glare of the neon lights on the ceiling. The window blinds were raised and the darkness outside reflected the interior of the room on its panes like a heavily-tinted mirror. "Morning, dad." said Brendan.
    His father looked up sharply, a trickle of milk running down his chin. He wiped it away with a serviette as he stared at his son, appearing not to recognize him. It reminded Brendan of the heart-rending days when his father had been incapacitated by a stroke. "Hello, son." he said breathlessly. "It's only six-thirty. What are you doing up this early?"
    He shrugged. "Because I went to bed early I guess."
    His father chuckled sadly. "We can't keep you in bed forever can we?"
    "What's going on, dad?"
    He sighed tremulously. "Sit down, Bren."
    Brendan poured himself a glass of orange juice from the fridge and took his place on a stool opposite his father.
    "We didn't want to expose you to what's happened. It's too horrible. The reason I'm up so early is I'm heading into DC to deal with it. I've got a meeting with Jack scheduled for eight AM."
    Brendan felt adrenalin surge through his body. His father looked genuinely perturbed, more so than he had ever done before. "What's going on, dad? Why was everybody crying yesterday?"
    "Jack told the country something awful yesterday afternoon, some really bad news. He's been holding it back for a long time; keeping it secret, just like in the old days... He never even told me. I was pissed off at first, but now I understand why. I know why Jack made sure nobody could know; and anyway he's told the nation now."
    "Told the nation what?"
    His father bowed his head and raised his hands to his brow, as if experiencing a headache. "It's... it's all to do with children."
    "What about children, dad?"
    "Before R-Day... in fact even before Saucer Day, the government kept children prisoner. Some were children taken away from their moms and dads; some were children who never had a mom or dad. Some were only part human; they were hybrids."
    "What's that?"
    "Kids with one parent who is human and another who is ET; like Kerry, Siobhan's friend... There were millions of these children, mostly living in the underground bases. And..." he shuddered. "And the government did some really cruel things to them."
    "Like what?"
    "I can't tell you; you're too young to know." he tittered ironically. "I think we're all too young to know."
    Brendan gazed at him curiously.
    His father looked up with a different expression and said in a stronger voice: "Right, I've got to go to work and you should go back to bed till your mom wakes up. She's still asleep but she'll be up soon."
    "Dad, can I come with you to work?" Brendan blurted out the question before he knew why he was asking it.
    His father made the facial expression he did just before he said the word "no"; then he paused. "You really want to come with me into DC?"
    "Yeah."
    "You'll get bored."
    "Can't I go off and explore while you work?"
    "I guess so. And your mom's going to be out all day so you'll be stuck on your own otherwise." He looked sad again. "And... I could well do with your company."
    Brendan smiled. "So I can come?"
    "Yeah, why not; but I'm leaving in a minute so go get your clothes on now."
    Dressing took Brendan about thirty seconds; he simply tore on the clothes he had been wearing the day before which he'd left lying on the floor. He reached the bottom of the stairs as he father was buttoning up his jacket and picking up his briefcase. "Right, let's go." said his father. "Your mom needs the flyer today so we'll have to take the ground car."
    The air outdoors was cold, damp and fresh, and the sky was as dark as night. The streetlamps bathed the silent pre-dawn street with a carotene glow. His father drove the ground car out of the garage and Brendan got in. To his excitement he was allowed to sit in the front passenger seat. The Digby-driven car accelerated slowly along the lane, lacking the power of the petrol engine saloon the family used to drive before they sold it. There was more traffic when they reached the highway into Washington DC. His father sat hunched forward in agitation, cursing other drivers for minor mistakes. "First thing I've got to do is go through some of the arrest warrants with Jack." he muttered. "He's ordered the FBI to start rounding up some of these folks."
    "The ones who hurt the children?"
    His father nodded. "We don't know where they all are; there were too many to monitor. Some of them might work out what's going to happen and split."
    "Jack's the president. He'll find them."
    "He's not the president." His father's voice was deadpan. "He's head of the US Provisional Government; that's not the same thing. The United States doesn't have a Federal executive at the moment. It won't get one till Dr King is inaugurated in a couple of weeks... This is the last thing Jack needs right now. He's up to his ass in the transitional process with MLK." he chuckled. "Funny how practicalities still rear their ugly heads, even during incidents like these."
    Brendan nodded, not understanding.
    The traffic became thicker and the buildings grew taller as the car approached the US Capitol. The line of cars and other vehicles grew slower and slower until it eventually ground to a halt. "Shit!" His father thumped the steering wheel with the palm of his hand.
    Brendan felt his cheeks redden at his father's exclamation. "Dad! Mom says it's bad to cuss." he reproached.
    His father laughed. "You're a good boy, Brendan... Sorry, it's just annoying. It's seven thirty and we've got a gridlock."
    Brendan looked out of the window. A man on a motor scooter pulled up beside the car. He looked down and his eyes met with Brendan's. He smiled. He appeared to be sucking something in his mouth, a toffee or gobstopper. Brendan looked away. He recalled the incident the previous day in Mel's sweet shop and related the story to his father as they waited stationary in the traffic jam.
    "Have you got the dollar on you now?"
    He reached into his pocket and found it there. He pulled it out and handed it to his father.
    "Ah! No wonder. This is a pre-Disclosure bill. It's no longer legal tender today."
    "You mean it's not proper money anymore?"
    "Unfortunately not. You can't buy anything with this."
    "But I didn't know that. Why was Mel so angry with me?"
    "A lot of people feel really uncomfortable about the old single; look at this." He flipped the note over and pointed to the motif on the right hand side of the reverse. "Do you know what that is?"
    "Looks like a pyramid, one of those big stone things they have in Egypt. I've seen it on TV a few times."
    "It's the reverse of the original Great Seal of the United States. The people were told the eye in the capstone of the pyramid was supposed to be the eye of God watching over the nation. What it really means is the Illuminati own the nation."
    "I thought the Illuminati was supposed to be secret. That's what they told us in school. Why would they leave clues like that on our dollar bill if they didn't want us to know?"
    His father pondered for a moment. "I'm not quite sure. Perhaps they just liked to laugh at us for being too dumb to see what they were showing us. Maybe they felt that if they showed us they were the real boss and we did nothing to stop them, then it was kind of our own fault."
    Brendan nodded, this time he understood perfectly. He recalled that a few months ago one of the sixth-grade bullies at school has assaulted him in the toilets and told him that it was his own fault for not being able to stop him. It was a moral equation that everybody at school was very familiar with and accepted.
    "So these days when some people see that symbol it upsets them a lot. Mel must be one of them. It's like in Germany after the war; people burst into tears if they saw the Nazi Swastika. Here." His father leaned over to pull his wallet out of his pocket and extracted a banknote from it. He handed it to Brendan.
   "What's this?"
   "The new dollar bill. If you feel like some candy today go buy some."
   "Thanks, dad." The new dollar was very different to the old one. It was not made of paper, but instead felt more like plastic. It was also slightly larger and was a different colour and shape.
    "It's made of polymer instead of paper; that means it won't turn to mush if you forget to take it out of your pocket when you put your pants in the laundry."
    The obverse looked fairly unchanged, with the portrait of George Washington in the middle, but on the back there was no reverse of the US Great Seal. Instead there was simply the obverse Great Seal on the left and on the right was a circle of glinting shiny yellow material. Brendan pointed to it. "What's that?"
    "Gold." his father grinned. "One dollar's worth of gold leaf, straight from the reserves at Fort Knox. Jack is changing the monetary system back to the gold standard. What better way than to put the gold itself inside the bills. Of course when you get up to the Benjamins you have a problem. Jack is currently getting the Treasury to design a bill with a hundred dollar's worth of gold in it. It'll probably end up being some kind of hard plastic thing, like a credit card... Oops, we're moving!" The queue of cars ahead started trundling forward in a caterpillar-like undulation. By the time the crest of the wave reached their car his father had the Digby rolling and the vehicle in gear. They drove the rest of the way to the Capitol in ten minutes. The glowing dome appeared ahead in the distance as they turned a corner onto a long straight boulevard and it grew bigger and bigger as they approached it. They parked the car in his father's reserved space and walked across the lawn towards the grand building. The sky was beginning to brighten and the overcast was now lit dark grey by the invisible sunrise. The Capitol was illuminated by hundreds of lights. In daylight it was ivory white. To Brendan it resembled an enchanted castle from a fairytale. They climbed a long wide stairway up to the entrance. A single Stars and Stripes hung from a pole in front of the doors. Brendan looked behind him and saw the National Mall stretching all the way to the obelisk of the Washington Monument; looking as if some giant pharaoh had lived in Washington long ago and that was the remains of his palace. At the entrance, a uniformed policeman greeted them. "Morning, Mr Quilley."
    "Hi, Eddie. Long night?"
    "Almost time for bed now, sir." The officer examined his father's ID badge and then smiled down at Brendan. "And who's this young man?"
    "This is my son, Brendan. I thought I'd show him round."
    "By all means, sir; so long as you let the security chief know... Hi there, Brendan."
    "Hello." Brendan returned the man's greeting blandly.
    They were then allowed under a classical portico and through a pair of black wooden doors. They walked down an echoing marble corridor with a spotless shining floor that emerged into a huge circular open space stretching upwards like a cathedral. Brendan craned his neck to see the space above him, which he guessed correctly from its shape and size must be the interior of the dome. "Wow!" he exclaimed.
    "Pretty neat, huh?" His father grinned at him proudly. "Welcome to the Rotunda."
    A stiff-looking man in a suit approached them. "Mr Quilley, sir. Chief Executive Kennedy is in the House Speaker's office and will receive you now."
    "Very well." His father led him along an opposite corridor and turned a few corners before coming to an archway where he had to be vetted by another security guard. Beyond that was a surprisingly small and cosy room with several settees and a low table. Jack sat in an adjacent armchair. "Clane, how's it going?" he waved as they entered.
    "Hi, Jack. You're going downmarket a bit aren't you, meeting here?"
    "Ooh!" Jack hissed in mock-reproach. "Don't let Lennie hear you say that!" He moved his gaze downwards and slightly to the right. "Hey, Brendan. I heard you were joining us."
    "Hi, Jack." Brendan smiled at his father's friend. Jack was a lively and kind adult who often brought Brendan presents and told him jokes whenever they met. He had two children of his own whom Brendan had encountered a few times. One was a rather aloof girl called Caroline, a few years younger than him; and the other was a toddler called John Jr. Neither were much fun to play with. Jack's wife Jacqueline was a calm and maternal lady. To Brendan, the Kennedys were rather like a popular uncle and aunt.
    There were half a dozen other people on the settees, only one of which Brendan knew; Martin Luther King who sat at the end beside Jack's chair, his elbow propped on the velvet arm. Next to him was a thin and loose-limbed white man wearing a college blazer and brogues. His hair was smooth, dark brown and neatly parted. It seemed strangely unattached to his head as if it were a toupee. His facial expression was constantly changing and he responded to everything everybody else said with a sly half-smile, a half-wink with his electric blue eyes and an impudent flicker of his eyebrows as if teasing the person he was addressing. He spoke in a transatlantic upper class accent and radiated arrogance. When he was introduced to Brendan he merely responded: "Greetings, little boy!" before turning away and ignoring him. His name was William F Buckley and he was described as the "vice president-elect". Brendan assumed that this would make Martin Luther King his boss. Seeing them sitting together on the sofa, Brendan got the distinct impression that Dr King and Buckley did not like each other very much. He felt sorry for Dr King having to work with such an unpleasant man.
    The adult's conversation was very hard to follow and, as his father predicted, he soon became bored. He whispered in his father's ear that he was going off to explore the city and his father nodded. Brendan left the office and headed out of the Capitol building; before they'd arrived, his father had given him instructions to report back to the security guard at the entrance when he returned and his father would be informed to come and pick him up. Brendan wandered along an extensive road leading away through the Capitol with a leafy park on both sides with lawns as smooth and thin as baize. He crossed over at a set of pedestrian lights and beyond were the tall, oblong buildings of various Federal government departments and agencies; and then, further along, private banks, corporations, public buildings and grand hotels. There were few people around. Nobody was crying today, but the handful of passers by he encountered had gloomy and frightened faces. He arrived at a concrete corner block with the chrome-framed letters National Press Building above the door. He remembered his father talking about this place and so went in. He saw from a direction signboard that there was a "national Disclosure museum" on the sixth floor. He took the lift up and followed the arrows on the wall until he came to the museum. More plaques on the wall explained that this used to be the Charles Ross Television Suite, but had been converted into the museum. The TV studio had been preserved and Brendan was amused to see that there was a waxwork model of his father sitting in front of a TV camera facing another dummy of a man in a suit wearing glasses. The effigies were very lifelike and his father was easily recognizable, although he was clearly many years younger. All this happened before his son was born. Brendan left the National Press Building and continued walking along the street. He was lost, but quite enjoyed the thrill of that. He stopped at a supermarket to buy some sweets with the money his father had given him. An open space appeared ahead and the river Potomac stretched out before him. The far bank was thickly wooded, promising a rich opportunity for frolics. The shore was a spider's web of pale winter branches. He felt the urge to reach it and started looking for a bridge. Sure enough, there was one a short distance downstream to his left. It was a wide road-bridge, but there was very little traffic that day and there was a narrow pavement behind a row of crash barriers. At the crest of the bridge he got a much better view and could see that the forested far bank was actually an island and there was another reach of the river beyond it. Even better! He had to climb over the parapet and slide down a tree bough to reach the land; there was no official access from the bridge. He was disappointed to find that the woods were not as impenetrable as they had first appeared from a distance and there were many well-tended pathways and patches of mowed grass. It was more like a park than a jungle. He decided what was the most overgrown part of the island he could find and then crawled into the gap between three bushes where he settled down on a patch of leaves to eat his sweets. He could peek out from between the branches to spy on one of the green spaces and he saw an old man sitting on a bench nearby eating a sandwich and reading a newspaper. Brendan reclined back onto a patch of leaves to eat his sweets when he felt a jagged lump under his back. He sat up and turned round to remove what he suspected were stones concealed by the ground litter, but he saw they were bones instead. They were clean, dry white bones. He wondered what animal they had come from; they were quite large. He poked around, picking them out one at a time, until he came across the skull. He had been worried for a while that he might have found human bones, based on the size of them, but when he saw the skull he was relieved to find that this beast had been something very different. The skull was elongated and tapering. It had huge orbits and a nasal cavity at the very front. Its jaw was straight, its mouth very wide and it had fifty to sixty teeth all of which were the same type, long and jagged like a shark's.
    Brendan dropped the skull, his hands were shaking. He knew instantly what it was. He remembered R-Day as much as anybody else did; it was still less than a year ago. There were some facts of life his parents could not shelter him from and millions of people suddenly shape-shifting into reptilian humanoids was one of them; not least because his own family played a crucial role in making it happen. He found that out when the reptilians all suddenly dropped dead after his sister and her friends broke down the method by which the creatures disguised themselves and then destroyed the particle collider in Canada. Afterwards, Jack had ordered that all the rotting corpses be cleared up as quickly as possible, but naturally they would end up missing a few. This one must have died right here in Washington DC, just a short walk from the White House. Laying under a bush on this river island it went unnoticed and decomposed quietly while the world passed it by. Brendan climbed out from under the bush. The man who had been sitting on the bench had got up. He was standing by the bench examining his folded newspaper one last time; then he threw it down on the bench and walked away, perhaps because he had finished reading it and was leaving it for the next person who sat there. Brendan waited until he had gone then he went up to the bench and sat down. He picked up the newspaper. It was that day's edition of The Washington Post and the headline read: UNDERGROUND CHILDREN- MORE DETAILS EMERGE and underneath in slightly smaller lettering: PROV-GOV PUBLISHES NEW L.N.E. FILES. Brendan read the front page article and the inside features. The story carried on through half the pages of the newspaper, all the way to the centrefold. The paper was, of course, aimed at adults, so Brendan did not understand every word of it; but he managed to grasp the general gist. His father had told him the truth, but had omitted the devastating details. The underground bases that had been discovered after Disclosure, such as Area 51, were far larger and more extensive than had previously been thought. They existed in a massive network that covered the entire earth, like a secret rabbit warren of evil beneath their feet. The explorers who were sent in to survey the network after R-Day had come across many locations where crimes were committed against children on a horrifying scale and severity. These crimes included kidnapping, non-consensual medical experimentation, satanic ritual abuse, torture, mutilation, murder and many other atrocities that Brendan couldn't comprehend. Bodies had been found in their millions. Some were children who had lived their whole lives down in that artificial hell and others had been taken from human families on the surface world. They were some of the thousands of children who were reported missing every year. The Provisional Government had decided not to release this revelation immediately to the general public; partly because it was so appalling, but also because there was a criminal investigation involved. The FBI believed that there were a large number of people still at large, in other words they were not reptilians, but who had colluded with the reptilians and the Illuminati, to a greater of lesser degree, to aid and abet these offences. The FBI had begun arresting the suspects and so Jack had decided to publish the truth after the New Year... Brendan now understood why so many people had been weeping in the streets yesterday. He understood why a black cloud of gloom still hung over everything around him.
    He jumped to his feet and threw the newspaper onto the ground. He felt a sudden desperation to be with his father. He ran along the path looking for a way off the island. Eventually he had to use a footbridge on the far side of the island that deposited him on the right bank of the Potomac at Arlington, Virginia. From there he made his way along the riverbank to the bridge he had come over on so that he could cross back into the District of Columbia. He could see the Washington Monument poking above the treeline and so found it easy to navigate his way back to the Capitol. He walked along the Mall from the Lincoln Memorial but had to take a diversion to avoid a gang of rough-looking adults who had gathered outside the Smithsonian. They had the mien of protesters. Brendan had seen several street demonstrations during the turbulent years of his young life and subconsciously knew all the signs. He checked in at the security office and his father came to fetch him. Brendan embraced him wordlessly and hard. "Hey, Brendan!" His father hugged him tight back laughing. "Are you alright?"
    He nodded.
    "Cool beans. I'm nearly done here. One more hour and we can go home, okay?"
    It was still overcast as Brendan and his father headed back to the carpark. The January afternoon was dimming slightly as the clock's hand drooped below three PM. His father was talking on his mobile phone as they walked to the car. When he'd hung up he explained to Brendan. "That was the Secret Service. There's some trouble in Georgetown and they've recommended we take a detour."
    "What trouble, dad?"
    "Some people blocking the roads, yelling and throwing things around. Apparently they're targeting cars with Federal government plates."
    "Has our car got Federal government plates?"
    His father nodded grimly. "The police are dealing with it, but we should go home a different way just to be on the safe side."
    Brendan and his father drove slowly and steadily through the evening traffic, heading out of Washington. There were more police around than usual, and several helicopters and flyers hovered above the rooftops. His father kept pressing buttons on his sat-director to recompute a different route home. After a quarter of an hour they turned off onto a smaller road through a residential district of terraced houses and shops. It was much darker now and streetlights had come on. They pulled up at a red light...
    BOOM!... Both Brendan and his father yelped in shock. A large heavy object had just struck the windscreen. The glass was starred and warped. "What the fuck...!?" his father swore. A group of men had surrounded the front end of the car. They hammered on the bonnet and rocked the vehicle on its suspension. Their faces were contorted with hate. One of them was carrying a crudely-painted placard. In his state of adrenalin-washed terror Brendan's senses were enhanced and he noticed every detail. The words had been applied with a thick paintbrush, but they were still legible: STOP THE ARRESTS! KENNEDY OUT! His father shifted the car into reverse and backed jerkily; he swung round to look over his shoulder and swerved to avoid hitting the car behind him which was also backing. "Motherfuckers!" he yelled. The Digby Carrousel under the bonnet strained with the effort. His father shifted the gears again and the car leaped forward around the gang of troublemakers. It accelerated into the opposite lane until they had cleared the junction and were safe. Brendan stared at the damaged windscreen. "Dad! Why did they do that!?"
    "I don't know, son."
    By the way he avoided his gaze, Brendan could tell his father was holding something back.
............
Brendan woke up crying. He sat up in bed, shocked by the nightmare he'd just had. Along with the shock was the relief that it had not been real. He switched on his bedside lamp and looked around himself at all the reassuringly normal things in sight. He jumped out of bed and was about to head for his parents' bedroom so he could be comforted by them, especially by his mother, like he always did whenever he had a bad dream; but when he remembered content of the dream he stopped and returned to his bed to lie there alone.
    Like with most of his dreams, he found it difficult to recall individual details; however he was left with a very powerful sense of presence and ambiance. He had been back in his old home in Las Vegas during the terrible few months when his father had been in hospital recovering from his stroke. During this period his mother had brought home a very old and bad-tempered Scottish woman called Millicent. Millicent was a chain-smoker who filled their home with her noxious fumes, giving Brendan a continuous cough. Her mother had been obsessively devoted to Millicent calling her "the best friend I've ever had!" and wanting to spend every moment of every day with her. In doing so, his mother's personality radically changed. She had once been such an affectionate parent, yet now she paid little or no attention to her son at the best of times. During the worst of times she was openly hostile and cruel, especially when Millicent was in the house, as if his mother were showing off for her friend. It was as if Millicent were brainwashing his mother into hating her own children. It pained Brendan to recall even a moment of that period in his life, but now he had no choice. In the dream his mother and Millicent were both scolding him violently for some misdemeanour he had allegedly committed; he wasn't sure what it was. He either couldn't understand or failed to remember. He just stood trembling in front of the baleful glare of his mother and Millicent; two pairs of flaming eyes, two screeching voices and two wide open, sneering mouths. His mind churned helplessly in Kafkaesque bewilderment. The two women paused, panting with exertion and waited for him to reply. "But... but you haven't heard my side of the story yet." he protested.
    "I don't need to hear your side of the story!" Millicent shouted at him in her discordant Scottish growl. Then she turned to his mother. She produced a long silver butcher's knife from her pocket and handed it to his mother. "Gina, take your only son, Brendan, whom you do NOT love... and offer him up as a sacrifice to ME!"
    Brendan's mother obeyed without hesitation or question. She took the knife from Millicent's hand and seized Brendan by the scruff of his neck. It was a very vivid dream; he could feel her knuckles against his nape and his T-shirt collar tighten around his throat. She dragged her son over to the kitchen table. Brendan screamed and kicked in terror but his mother's hand was too strong. She hoisted him up onto the tabletop and pushed him flat onto his back. Her face was robotic, deadpan, totally devoid of all emotion and thought; a face with no humanity. She raised the knife above her head ready to plunge it into her son's heart... At that point Brendan woke up.
    He knew what part of this dream related to. When he was in first grade he had been mortified when he was told the bible story from the Book of Genesis- Chapter 22 where God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham is about to comply, but at the last moment the angels step in stay Abraham's hand. God reveals that His commandment was just a test of Abraham's faith and obedience to God. For days afterwards Brendan pestered his parents with the question: "Would you kill me if God told you to?" And he didn't stop asking until his parents had reassured him in the negative at least a dozen times.
    Brendan tried to return to sleep but couldn't. Luckily it was almost daybreak and soon the sky became lighter outside. He heard his parents moving about in their room followed by the sound of them descending the stairs. He got out of bed and followed them. The family drank coffee and ate breakfast together. His father straightened his tie. "I've got to go back to Washington today. Lots of mess to sort out following yesterday's debacle."
    Brendan's heart skipped a beat as he remembered their journey home the previous evening. "Will you be safe, dad?"
    "Sure. The police have regained their control of the streets."
    "But what if those men come back; the ones who tried to break the car's windshield?"
    His father grinned affectionately at him. "Are you really worried about me?"
    Brendan nodded.
    "What if I take the flyer?" He looked at his mother. "Do you need it today, Gina?"
    His mother shook her head.
    Brendan felt a wash of relief. "Thanks, dad." In the flyer, his father could soar over the ineffectual raised arms of the bloodthirsty mob, totally safe from harm. He went out into the front garden to see his father leave for work. His father waved and smiled as he closed the door of the flyer. The antigravity drive inside the vehicle activated and began buzzing with that familiar bees' nest sound. The craft rose slowly into the air and moved forward, accelerating in both speed and altitude until it was a black oblong against the early morning sky. It vanished behind the roofs of the houses opposite and Brendan returned into the warm interior of his home.
    He finished his breakfast, had a bath and then was about to go out on his bicycle, determined to enjoy the last few days of freedom before his return to school the following week. "Brendan!" his mother shouted. At the moment he heard her voice he also heard the sound of a flyer outside. He ran into the kitchen; his mother was looking out of the window, her head pressed to the glass to see upwards. "It's not your father. It's the police I think. It's coming down in the backyard... Oh my God!" She opened the backdoor and ran out onto the patio. The flyer was a large black vehicle with the words UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE on the flank. It settled down in the middle of the lawn and its humming dropped in volume. The door opened and a woman in uniform decamped. "Mrs Quilley?"
    "Yes." said his mother.
    "We need you to come with us."
    "Why?"
    "We need to take you to a secure location."
    "Why?"
    "Come now! We'll explain on the way."
    They gave Brendan no time even to collect a comic book from his room; his mother just had time to lock the back door and then they were soaring into the air. The two USSS agents in the front seats told them what was happening. "The rioting has returned this morning, Mrs Quilley. The gangs are deliberately targeting senior Provisional Government officials and their families. Your husband is the senior assistant executive to Chief Executive Kennedy; therefore we have reason to believe that you're not safe at home. We're therefore evacuating you to Andrews AAF Base as a temporary security measure."
    "What about my house? Will it be damaged?"
    "We will ask the Maryland state police to keep a lookout for it."
    His mother paused. "What about my husband?"
    "He is ensconced at the Capitol and we believe he is safe, ma'am."
    She sighed.
    The flyer landed outside a huge metallic building with a wide open door. Vast rivers of flat concrete stretched away in all directions and Brendan could see several aircraft parked at varying distances. H stopped to study them, but the Secret Service personnel urgently ushered him on until they were all inside the building. There were several dozen people inside the large empty room; one that he realized was an aircraft hangar. Almost all of them were women and children and they were clustered on a few circles of plastic seats, like the ones he sat on at school. He recognized some of them as family of his father's colleagues. Two women with a large steel urn on a trolley served the refugees coffee. They also had a luscious pile of comics that the youngsters quickly burrowed into, Brendan included. An hour later, a uniformed airman wheeled in a large television set and a shelf full of video-disks. After a brief dispute they all agreed to watch a new Disney animation. Within a few hours Brendan had made several friends and it was almost disappointing when the USSS crew came in to tell them that it was now safe to return home. To his mother's relief, the house had not been touched since they'd left. One of the Secret Service officers stayed with them.
    Twilight fell and before long a burring sound outside announced the return of his father. He came into the lounge and ripped off his tie. His face was creased and overwrought. "I'm afraid the Secret Service folks will be staying with us, for the foreseeable future at least... All of us."
    His mother sighed. "So they'll have to walk round the mart with me?"
    "Yes... And Brendan, one will have to accompany you to school."
    "What?" Brendan thought for a moment how that would feel. An armed man in a suit would be standing by the wall in all his classes. Was that a good or bad thing? It would give him a certain mystique among the other boys, but... maybe that could have a downside. "But dad, what if the other kids think I'm weird?"
    "I'm sorry, Brendan. It has to be this way for safety reasons... Hopefully it won't be for too long." He collapsed wearily into an armchair. His mother went and made them all coffee. He sipped it slowly like a sick man lying in a hospital bed.
    "Are you alright, Clane?" asked his mother.
    He gazed at her. "Oh, Gina... will this ever be over?"
    "What was it like in Washington today?"
    "Like the Siege of Yorktown."
    "Oh my God!... Why? We have Disclosure, goddammit! We've freed ourselves from the Illuminati! We've exposed the reptilians! In a few weeks a new president is going to be sworn in!... Isn't that enough? Why are people still not happy?"
    Brendan's father sighed. "I remember during the war. We'd taken the boat out of Pearl on an exercise. There was a westerly blowing, force seven. Just right for an underway line-handling drill. Anyway this guy called Hank fell overboard; a young guy straight out of New London, junior boatswain's mate. We put her about and started looking for him. He had his Mae West on so we knew he'd stay afloat. This was warm water too; central Pacific is like a Turkish bath that time of year. We were well away from shark waters too so we weren't too bothered for his safety. It took us three hours, then we saw him bobbing in the swells and waving his hands. We dragged him onto the casing and he was okay; swallowed a bit of water, sure, but nothing serious... But, I tell you; he was never the same again. He was alright at first; totally normal, but then he totally freaked out the following week and had to be sent to Bethesda. You see... those three hours floating in the sea destroyed him. He didn't know whether he'd live or die, he couldn't see anything but water and sky. No sounds but splashing waves, nothing solid under his feet... He was saved, he was rescued uninjured; yet he couldn't get over the shock. Trauma is a very strange thing. It often hits you much later than when you experience what caused it. Delayed reaction."
    "Why do you bring that up now, Clane?"
    He chuckled with bitter knowingness. "We're like Hank, all of us, as a people, as the whole of mankind."
    "You mean we've got trauma?"
    He nodded. "Did I really think it would be so easy? We got Disclosure, kicked out the reps, kicked out the Loomies... and then what, Gina? Everything in the garden will just be lovely forever and ever? We suddenly become like priests of High Atlantis or something?... No! The real problem is in here!" He pointed at his heart. "We're like... like a guy who's hooked on liquor or opium. It's killing him, it's breaking apart his very body and mind; but he can't stop. And if you take his habit away from him he loses his wits... You see, in the same way as a guy hooked on drink and drugs, mankind was hooked on the Illuminati. There are no rehab clinics for us to check into, no helplines we can call. We're going to have to do cold turkey."
    Brendan got up and wandered through into the kitchen. He found his parent's conversation extremely alarming. He looked out of the window. Flyers and helicopters were once again filling the sky. He felt an inexplicable sense of foreboding."