Ambassador Ashley Loren
It just occurred to me that I have taken up fishing. Fishing for expats. Seriously. I started trying to go find them. Things are just so crazy right now that it’s been nearly impossible to find any of them, and even harder to nail them down for half an hour of tea and chatting. I am probably picking the very worst time to take up this expat interview project. Compounding the difficulty is the conflict happening here in the Cooperative, and the war finalization happening on Earth.
I got a taste of the consequences of the conflict here in the Cooperative just today when I got the opportunity to interview Ashley Loren, former sheriff’s deputy from Washington and current ambassador to the Cooperative here on Endard. I was fishing in the lobby of the apartment building that the embassy occupies and hooked the ambassador. Little did I know, there were some security protocols in place.
While I gathered my notes together in anticipation of a lively discussion on how the Earthling government policies were meshing with that of the Cooperative, I felt like a steel vise had grabbed my shoulders. I mean, it utterly immobilized me. A Keratian had restrained me. It was actually my first time to be touched by one. I’d had discussions with Aradia and got the opportunity to touch her skin. It was like touching a marble statue. Absolutely freaky.
This time, a much larger statue was gripping me. Aradia was fairly petite, very deceptive because there wasn’t anything Earth could throw at her that would give her a problem. But the guys, they are decidedly NOT petite. And this guy looked like, I don’t know, like he was about to squash a bug. I caught his eyes and all I saw was that I had zero value to him other than a quivering pile of flesh.
Before I could digest what was happening, I felt a hand on my face and was instantly reminded of the days of my youth when I used to play with my uncle’s electric fence. I swear, even my hair hurt. Seriously, I tasted colors and smelled sounds. I looked around and a furry lady looked back at me, appearing like she was ready to jump back at a moment’s notice. I felt like my sinuses all cleared at once. Then she vanished and the Keratian walked away. Not a word. Really?
What a start to my interview.
~ ~ ~
ME: What the hell?
Ashley: Sorry about that. Just making sure you’re Terran.
ME: Last time I checked. Look, five fingers per hand. What gives?
Ashley: The Venda raids are hitting core worlds. So, we’ve been screening everyone. I got it too.
ME: At the risk of repeating myself, why? I’ve seen Venda. They are definitely not human.
Ashley: According to Aradia, they have the ability to take on the shape of other creatures. Like human. They actually prefer human because it’s easier for them.
ME: You’re kidding, right? Shapeshifters? That’s like fantasy book crap. Cheesy science fiction. Please tell me that’s not a thing.
Ashley: [laughs tiredly] No. From what I understand, they have actual technology. But Mark, it’s really, really sophisticated. It may as well be cheesy science fiction or sorcery. The Elves have to dig really deep to tell.
ME: That’s what she did? Ashley, I was hearing colors. I still taste metal. That was… horrible. And they’re doing that to all the expats?
Ashley: Everyone who loses accountability with someone. Would be helpful to pair up with one of the locals, I think. Like an Elf. They don’t copy Elves because of their mind thing.
ME: Are they really that hard to detect? I mean, look at me. Who the hell would want to make a copy of me?
Ashley: Anyone who wanted to disrupt things here. You’re talking to me, right? Assassinating me would be right in their playbook. Mark, the Venda are not capturing ground. They’re hitting then leaving. And when they hit, all hell breaks loose. It’s been like whack-a-mole for Aradia’s forces.
ME: I had no idea they were that close to us. Am beginning to think Earth would be safer. Except for those damned arrest warrants, I might actually go back.
Ashley: Mark, you can come up to the offices. We are not set up to arrest anyone here.
ME: I’ll take my chances down here in the lobby, thank you very much.
Ashley: If you ever wanted to go back, we have gates to India, China, and Japan that may be options for you.
ME: I’m pretty sure Interpol has some influence and we know how chummy they are with the FBI and CIA.
Ashley: [shrugs] All I can do is make some calls. There’s no guarantee of anything. They’re still pretty ticked that you went around their censors and just published the video.
ME: What about you?
Ashley: I think it was irresponsible to do. Not without some sort of oversight.
ME: The worst thing the people could have is their unrestrained imagination in a complete void of information. What do you think of when you think alien? Now they see the natives here as actual people. They have families, they eat, and have fun. They work. They bitch about stuff. Like us Earthlings.
Ashley: [nods] Yeah. I am going to have to stick to the official line though. I get your reasoning, but you may have just fed their imagination rather than corrected it. There are a lot of anti-alien organizations popping up on Terra and now you have put a face on their enemy.
ME: Okay, I think this interview has been utterly hijacked. I’m still hearing smells. I was all set to grill you about the communication and shipping limitations you put on us expats. Among other things. I’ve not heard from my brother or mother in days and I still have five bars on my phone.
Ashley: You are aware that there was a global war on Terra, right? As a war correspondent, surely you are familiar with just how disruptive that is?
ME: Most of it was way above Earth, right? In space? How bad is it on the ground?
Ashley: Bad. Some nukes went off. Craters from asteroids. Everything in orbit was demolished too. Secretary Stern told me we are having to rebuild our communication networks almost from scratch. Aradia said their ships are loaning us bandwidth until we get back up and running, but the lag is hell when it comes to our technology having to convert to theirs.
ME: Oh. I’ve been so out of touch since I’ve been here. I just know I’m having trouble keeping contact with my family back home. I mean, I’ve had to deal with that latency issue in Iraq. This is almost a complete blackout. I had no idea things were that bad.
Ashley: I have not seen the damage either. Regarding communications, I’m just parroting what was told to me. I have no idea how they’re applying this bandwidth, so don’t quote me on the technical stuff. I’m lucky I am able to turn the computer on.
ME: Still using Earthling computers? The Cooperative computers are spectacular.
Ashley: And yet you have your laptop there.
ME: Well, it’s easier to set up a podcast since Earth is so backward. Getting that video of mine published was brutal. I mean, it lost a LOT in the translation from their technology to something I could send to Earth. But wow, I am blown away at just how powerful their computing is.
Ashley: Their cores are supposed to be organic. Alive. Kinda creepy, if you ask me.
ME: Little brains, connected to millions of other brains. All in a little brass tube that fits in my pocket. I am floored. We really need the, um, the cerebral stimulated interface I think, we need that back home too. I get claustrophobic on my small laptop screen and keyboard.
Ashley: I have one of theirs, but I don’t use it much. I mean, it interfaces with stuff I need to use, like Mom’s new stove. You can actually feel the buttons. That still bothers me a bit. They’re virtual, and I can press on them as if they were solid.
ME: Uh-huh. We so need that back home.
Ashley: I’m happy with what we have now. Every time they change something I have to learn it all over again. I’m half tempted to break out my notepad again. Pencil and paper.
ME: [laughs] Good ol’ days. Okay, I think I’m getting my mojo back. Seriously, if I didn’t know you better, I would say you did that on purpose. Just scrambled my brains. You could weaponize that back home. Get the interviewer totally discombobulated, man. Brutal.
Ashley: [chortles] I’ll take that under advisement. It is a good idea.
ME: Right. That was nuts. There has to be a better way to detect these fellas.
Ashley: They are masters at infiltration, it seems. Sorry. I have to go through the same thing if I go unaccounted for any length of time. Personally, I still prefer here to Terra. Nadine does too. She’s like a whole new woman.
ME: That segues perfectly to one of the topics I wanted to discuss. You had your mother brought here. How and why?
Ashley: Nadine was dying there. After Dad died, she just seemed to hole up in her house and wait for death. No one should live like that. She’s not that old. And suddenly I am gone too. Not a good situation for her.
ME: Sorry about your father. That happened while you were in Iraq?
Ashley: Yeah. I, um, took it kinda hard. But I was busy getting my ass blown up and shot at there. So, I wasn’t around for anyone when they needed me the most.
ME: Raw deal, man. So you rescued your mother.
Ashley: [nodding] Yep. I got Aradia to set it up. Steven moved her houseboat to Legracia. Freaked out the paparazzi. It was a big operation. They still think Nadine is dead from the fake houseboat we demolished.
ME: Seriously? Oh man, I would have loved to see that. That’s awesome. How is she doing now?
Ashley: Like she’s a new woman. Heck, she looks as young as I do now. Cooperative medicine is like magic. That was my one big regret coming here. Leaving her. Now she’s got friends and a life.
ME: Are the Venda a threat to Legracia?
Ashley: They’re a threat everywhere. But I think the defenses are pretty robust there. You’ve seen the gunships we have here. Scary as hell.
ME: Plus the Keratians. But I worry a little. I’ve been embedded with bands of guerilla fighters. They can really pack a punch then just vanish into the wind.
Ashley: Thanks. I really needed to hear that.
ME: Sorry. I just, we don’t need to get over-confident. That’s all. I’m a little worried with this project of mine. Am hoping to travel a bit for my interviews.
Ashley: Stick to the core worlds, and major population centers. And be prepared to be screened often. I would hook up with an Elf if I were you. They can help get you through those screenings.
ME: I may do that. If I can find one that’s not in the middle of the crisis.
Ashley: We do have a new arrival. From Terra, no less. Ma’ya and her daughter Eve. I… here, let me see if I can find them [fiddles with computer].
ME: No, not that. This one. Move it, yeah. Now that list. Wow, you have a lot of contacts.
Ashley: Not really. Here. Bring up your profile.
ME: [fiddles with my computer] I’ve never done this before.
Ashley: It’s just like casting back home.
ME: And you thought you didn’t know anything about computers.
Ashley: My ex-wife showed me. On my phone.
ME: That was a problem?
Ashley: It became one. Explains the Ex in Ex-wife. There. Contact her. She’s a new arrival so will probably not be up to her eyebrows in work just yet.
ME: Cool. I tried Aileen but she was running around in circles. The only other Elves I know are part of her group and busy as hell.
Ashley: You picked a bad time to do this project, Mark. I would have waited.
ME: Well, I considered that. I may. We’ll see what this Ma’ya girl says.
Ashley: [laughs] Ma’ya girl. Yeah, she’s over three thousand years old.
ME: I will never get used to that. How do they remember stuff? That’s crazy.
Ashley: Yeah. We may have some benefits from the treatment their physician gave us. Ryan told me to expect a few hundred years. Heck, wait until you see Nadine. She looks amazing.
ME: You’re kidding. I haven’t noticed a thing.
Ashley: You’re only, what, thirty-five? Give it a few years. I noticed.
ME: Wow. No kidding. Man, I feel even better about being stuck here.
Ashley: You’re not really stuck.
ME: I am not going to India or China. Just not on my bucket list, thanks. Get your boss to kill those arrest warrants and I’m gold.
Ashley: Yeah, Secretary Stern isn’t… yeah, no. He’s not going to. Maybe the next administration.
ME: Then I guess I’ll have to endure being here. [melodramatic sigh]
Ashley: [laughs] Oh the suffering. My lunch break is about over so I gotta run.
ME: This was your lunch break? You haven’t eaten a thing. I’m so sorry.
Ashley: Oh, they bring me something up to the office to snack on. Don’t worry about it. I spend most of my day talking policy. It was nice to just chat.
ME: Okay then. Perhaps we can chat again sometime. Maybe over dinner.
Ashley: My ex-wife likes to drag me to Mori’te. You’re welcome to come.
ME: [laughs] Three’s a crowd dude.
~ ~ ~
So, I ended up sucking up all of Ambassador Loren’s lunch time. That’s going to look good… NOT. As it stands, I did end up going to Mori’te with him and his Ex. Ashley’s mother was there and we set a date to interview. And I am telling you, she does NOT look like his mother. Her hair may still be gray, but she looks amazing. I am looking forward to the next ten years or so to see how I hold up here. Anyway, on to the next victim.