The old man hunched over the laptop computer and struggled to read the screen. He closed his right eye and squinted with the left. “Damn it! Focus!” he shouted and pounded the desk with his fists. Then he took a deep breath, switched eyes, and squinted with the right eye.

His wife entered the room and set down a tray with two cups of tea next to his computer.  

“Jim,” she interrupted, “you’re too old for that stuff. It’s not your job any longer.” 

He ignored the tea and barked, “Shhhhhhh! Can’t you see? I’m trying to read something important!”

Sure you are dear,” she hesitated before walking over to rub his shoulders, “I’m sure it’s very important.”

“It is! Now just leave me be!”

“Ok! You win,” she assured him, “I’ll leave you alone with your VERY important work.”  She left and walked back into the next room.

Jim’s eye scanned the display on the screen, and he scrolled through many pages of data with the mouse. The computer he was using was ancient by current technology standards, but it’s what he was most comfortable using. When he reached the end of one particular chart his hand trembled because of what he saw. “What the hell?” he thought to himself.

Many floors below, a crowd had been camping in Times Square outside his penthouse for months. They were there to watch the live data feeds of the Battle of Oort. When James was a child, the buildings were covered in colorful animated billboards. But since the war started, only news reports from the front-line were shown. Four hundred and seventy-nine ships of various armaments and size were there at the start of the battle.  Few ships remained now.

The somber crowd erupted in an unusual chorus of cheers as the screens replayed the turning point of the war. The Chinese flagship had made a courageous attack and inflicted devastating damage to the invaders. Earth continued to lose vessels, but the news stream showed that the alien casualties were growing even faster.

His wife ran back into the room and opened the glass doors wide to listen to the cheers. “Jim! They are saying the last invading ship is almost destroyed. Our boys will be coming back to earth!”

Jim’s body was shaking as he strained to stand. He used all his strength to push himself up and walk over to join her by the balcony.

She cried tears of joy and hugged him, “It’s over.”

He pushed her affection away and took a step back, “How….Do we know how they did this?”

“Did what?”

“How did they destroy so many ships!?” he demanded. “Was it magic?” Jim mocked his wife’s simplistic views by making a magic-cloud motion with his hands.

Now she was frightened, “I don’t know how Jim…”

“How!!!” he screamed.

Scared for her safety, she ran back to the other room. Jim would never hurt her, but it was best to stay clear of him when he was in one of these moods.

Jim ignored her reaction and fixed his clothing as best as he could. He tried to smooth out the wrinkles and button all his buttons.  Then he moved his hands up to his thinning hair and combed it with his fingers – putting back the part on the side like he used to. When he felt he had made himself presentable, he raised his wrist and spoke into his watch. “Earth Command HQ”

The watch shot out a blue beam which formed a floating sphere a few feet in front of Jim. Words appeared and hovered just above the sphere:


He shifted his weight from side to side to stabilize his feet, and he flattened his back to stand straight. The sphere’s words changed:

Connected to Earth Command HQ

Then the sphere transformed into the shape of a military figure. He was about the same height as Jim, but 20 years younger.  As the hologram of the figure stabilized the man could be seen standing at attention and saluting.

Jim saluted back, “Admiral Lee.”

Admiral Fermi! It’s an honor to see you sir,” the man said.

“At ease, I’m no longer an admiral,” Jim barked.  Lee took a more relaxed posture but remained standing.

“Were you following the feeds sir?” Lee asked, “We’ve broken their backs.”

“Yeah, but how did you do it?” asked Jim.

I’m sorry sir, but you’re retired now. That information is classified.”

“Dammit Lee! I’m not an idiot! I’ve been studying the Snowden dumps out of Mars and I know what you did.” Jim approached the holograph so the two men were standing eye to eye, “Tell me I’m wrong!”

“I can’t sir, as I explained, that’s classified.”

Jim’s lips quivered, and his voice trembled as he screamed with anger, “YOU BROKE THE TREATY! I’m seeing elevated readings of radioactivity between Earth and Mars!”

Jim wished Lee would stop pretending like nothing happened. He had the data and he already knew what they did.

Admiral Lee dropped his guard, “It wasn’t us. It was the Chinese. We were out-gunned 2-to-1 and losing ships fast. I won’t say this on record, but we owe them a big one for firing those nukes.” Lee’s expression changed to a subtle grin, “we’re winning now. I only wish we thought of it first.”

“Please tell me you got them all.”

“Earth is safe. One ship came close, but the Tycho Brahe hit them hard and is mopping up as we speak,” reported Lee.

“Any further signs of a counter attack?”

“No sir,” Lee chuckled, “they managed to fire one missile. Fortunately, it fell into the Pacific Ocean. It was a dud.”

[alarms started sounding on Lee’s side of the call]

Jim saw a staff member rush up to Admiral Lee and hand him a tablet to read. Lee scanned the information and his face turned pale.

Jim,” Admiral Lee swallowed hard before continuing, “we’re detecting massive radiation spikes off the coast of California. Can you confirm?”

Jim moved back to the computer as fast as his aged body could carry him. He leaned over the laptop to change screens and squinted to view the data more closely.

“Dear god….Do you know what you’ve done?” 

Admiral Lee removed his cap, “I’m sorry sir. We didn’t expect the invaders to honor a treaty they never…”

Jim cut-off the Admiral off before he could finish, “You fired first!” His voice trailed off in a wail of tears. “You fired them first…” A blinding light filled the penthouse as a gust of wind tore apart the walls of the building.

The call went dead.

~ end ~

Image Source:

Balancer by Patrick WongWhat if you had the power to control Life? But in order to heal you had to harm to maintain balance in the world. Find out what happens to Nicole in The Final Deity Series. Available for sale at Amazon.

A suburban teen finds herself caught up in a series of inexplicable miracles, until she is forced to confront the startling truth about herself: She has the power to give life or take life from every living thing around her. As Nicole explores the extent of her powers, her activities attract the attention of government agents. The concepts of right and wrong will be blurred in this new urban fantasy novel as Nicole struggles to maintain her innocence in a fight for her life.

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Genre: Middle-Grade/Young-Adult, Urban Science Fiction, Coming Of Age

  • Caleb

    Great story — cool to see the perspective on the ground in the final moments. I noticed you changed Jim’s last name to Fermi. I like that it makes it clearer why he’s so concerned about the treaty. At the same time though, I liked the familiarity of the original last name (intentional?). I think I’ll name the hero of my next story Luke Skywalkerson.

    • PatrickW

      🙂 I was already on thin ice by using the name “jim”, and decided anything which sounded like Kirk would be crossing a line!

      • Ron Sparks

        This is definitely interesting! I always use the analogy when writing with other authors to make sure you’re explicit – it’s not any fun when you have a character named “Sam” who turns into Samantha when the next writers gets up to bat.

        That’s exactly what happened here – and I love it. You turned my reference to Enrico Fermi, the “architect of the atomic bomb,” into Jim Fermi, retired admiral and author/sponsor of a non-nuclear treaty in Earth space.

        • PatrickW

          Enrico Fermi and his wife Laura Fermi had two children – a son and a daughter. Laura was a peace activist. So its plausible, that Admiral Jim Fermi was a descendant

  • Ron Sparks

    So question: the line near the end.

    “Admiral Lee removed his cap, “I’m sorry sir. We didn’t expect the invaders to honor a treaty they never…””

    That had me scratch my head because I “read into” it this: the penalty for using a nuke in space is the destruction of your planet.”

    Is that what you meant?

    • PatrickW

      Using atomic weapons is a line that earthlings have agreed not to cross. The terminology may be different, but who’s to say that alien species beyond our solar system haven’t reached the same agreement. Once that line is crossed, the nuclear option is open to both sides and all bets are off.

      If the humans never fired nukes, would the Yralen have obliterated earth once they arrived? Or just enslaved it?

    • Caleb

      My interpretation of the aliens’ motivation for destroying earth is that the humans’ proved themselves a threat by defeating the invading fleet with nuclear weapons. Destroying Earth might have been the Yralens’ Plan B from the start, since a failed invasion would create an enemy. Perhaps they wouldn’t have considered humans a threat if the invasion had been repelled without nukes. On the other hand, the Yralens must have done enough reconnaissance to know humans are nuclear capable before the invasion.