1st Place – January 2022

Breaking Rules

By

JJ Rushmore

I couldn’t change his mind. I wanted to, but we had rules.

The person in question was Colonel Mason X. Barker. He was the chief of a minor sub-office of the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group. Congress had authorized this group to study Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs), better known as UFOs.

Yesterday Barker texted me one of his typically terse commands.

My office. NOW.

My role as Barker’s aide-de-camp was to do his bidding. I was free to disagree with him, but as a lowly major I was obliged to obey his orders whether I agreed or not.

I entered his office in the Pentagon’s “B” Ring. Barker yearned to advance in the Pentagon’s ring system to the coveted windowed offices in the outermost “E” Ring. To achieve that he needed his star and a promotion to brigadier. To do that he needed to excel in his current assignment.

Barker didn’t look up. I saluted and waited. He chewed on the stub of an unlit cigar as he worked.

I made eye contact with Old Sarge. Sarge sat there with a contented smile, his colorful service bars proudly displayed on his vest. Technically, his ribbons were meant only for full dress occasions, but people cut Sarge a lot of slack because of his status as a wounded soldier and as a retired K-9.

Barker had rescued the German Shepherd from a farm and enlisted him as his emotional support animal. The Colonel also expected Sarge to protect him from Them.

Barker looked up. “Major, I need a sitrep on Thursday’s briefing.”

As Chief of the UAP Consequences section, Barker’s career was on a knife edge. With the Army’s penchant for pronounceable acronyms, UAPC didn’t cut it, so the section colloquially became known as the UFO Consequences section, or UFOC. The abbreviation alone tarnished whoever sat in the chief’s chair.

The Colonel was to testify before a Senate subcommittee on intelligence. He had tasked me to prepare his opening statement.

“I’m working on it, Chief,” I said.

“I want to hit a home run with this briefing, Major. I need to show Congress the alien threat is real. UAPs have been here for decades, and we can’t explain them. I think they’re extraterrestrials. In fact, I think they’re already here. And don’t call me Chief.”

“Okay, Chief, but we need to tread lightly. We don’t have any evidence. You don’t want to undermine your credibility this early in your tenure.”

I gestured toward the pile of stuffed toys and plastic figurines on his credenza depicting little green men and other assorted aliens. They were gifts from his green-suit friends, poking fun at his efforts to find the aliens among us. Barker did not find them humorous.

“You’re wrong, Major. I do have evidence. I’ve seen one!”

I looked at him and blinked. Old Sarge looked at him and grinned.

“You saw a little green man?”

“No, you fool,” he growled. “I saw a large pimply red-haired man. In the second-floor food court. In uniform, no less—a lieutenant. He looked like one of us.” Barker paused. “He moved things,” he whispered. “A spoon. His phone. Without touching them. He waved at them, and they slid over to him.”

This was disturbing. “When did this happen? Did anyone else see it? Did you get an ID? Did you follow him?”

“No, no, and no. It was yesterday afternoon. I was alone. A meeting ended next door, and a large crowd came in. In the confusion he disappeared. I need you to find him.”

“Yessir. I’ll try and find him.”

“No! Don’t try—execute! This creature wears our uniform. He’s fifth column! An infiltrator! A spy! You must find him!”

I knew where to look.

***

I found him in Logistics.

He scowled at me and said, “What?”

“You were seen, Murphy.”

“Yeah? So what? People see me every day.”

“No, you were seen,” I said. “Doing your telekinesis thing. I warned you.”

“Shit. Sorry, man. It just comes so easy I do it without thinking.”

“You’ll have time to think about it at Fort Richardson.”

What? You’re sending me to Alaska? C’mon, man!”

“You knew the rules. It’s done. Gather your gear, Lieutenant—you leave tomorrow morning.”

Murphy was unhappy, but so was I. This made dealing with Barker more difficult.

***

I stood in Barker’s office, waiting for his attention, while exchanging commiserating glances with Old Sarge.

Barker raised his eyes.

“Well? Did you find him?”

“Yessir,” I said. “I did. In Logistics.”

“And…?”

“He’s under surveillance. He admitted his talents, or powers, whatever, but that’s all. He’s agreed to appear at the hearing tomorrow. I can’t guarantee he’ll cooperate, but he’s aware of what’s at stake if he doesn’t.” Lies, lies, and more lies.

Barker smiled in satisfaction.

“Outstanding! We’ll have that—thing—on display as proof. Don’t damage him. We don’t want any sympathy for him.”

“We don’t know he’s an alien, Colonel. He may be a human with special abilities.”

 “Bullshit! He’s an extraterrestrial—I’m sure of it. I don’t want any of that don’t-ask-don’t-tell crap applied to this guy. Our forces are weak enough with all that rainbow alphabet soup we’re forced to accept these days—and that’s not even counting the foreigners and the distaff. Now get me that briefing!”

I saluted with a “Yessir,” and left.

***

Colonel Mason X. Barker, striving for his first star and the rank of Brigadier General, marched into the briefing room in full dress uniform. Old Sarge obediently padded by his side.

Barker had approved the introductory remarks I had prepared for him, and I had distributed copies to the subcommittee members. The two versions weren’t the same, but no one knew that.

The subcommittee waived Barker’s reading of his opening statement since they all had read them. Or thought they had.

“Colonel Barker,” the Chairperson began, “are you prepared to clarify your opening remarks?”

Barker rocked back on his chair’s two rear legs when the Senator spoke.

“Certainly, Senator.” He rocked forward onto all four chair legs when he replied.

“I’m particularly interested in the extraterrestrials in your office.”

“Senator?”

A happy dog will wag his tail, and a canine’s mind is wide open to suggestion. I entered Sarge’s mind and infused him with thoughts of bones, fire hydrants, and female Shepherds.

“Your comments say that there are little green men in your office.”

Barker rapidly flipped through his copy of the briefing.

“What? Where? I didn’t—I saw one in the cafeteria—a lieutenant—but…”

“You’re saying you see little green men in your office and inthe cafeteria?”

Barker’s chair rocked back and forth as the conversation progressed.

“Yes. No. I mean the green men in my office are stuffed, but the one in the cafeteria was real. And he was red, not green.”

Sarge’s rapidly wagging tail was out of synch with Barker’s chair rocking.

“You have stuffed aliens in your office?”

“No! Well yes, but they’re toys. Look, that’s not why I’m here. Our armed forces are in jeopardy from infiltration. They’re vulnerable and weakening.”

The inevitable happened. Barker’s chair leg landed on Sarge’s tail.

Sarge yelped in pain. In that instant I implanted a suggestion in his mind. A dog seeks to please. He responded to my suggestion and grabbed Barker by his testicles. Hard.

“Ow!” Barker shouted. “What the…”

Barker’s primal fear of losing his masculinity caused his natural mental defenses to weaken just long enough so I could enter his mind and adjust a neuron here, a synapse there. The changes were minor but effective.

“No! Sarge no!” he said. “Leave it, Sarge! Leave it!”

The dog put his ears back and released his hold.

Barker stood and brushed at his slacks with his hands, vainly trying to wipe off the perfectly symmetrical wet stain of a German Shepherd’s dentures on his crotch. He gave up, sat down, and glared at Sarge, all with a measurable loss of dignity.

The Chairperson restored order and continued.

“Colonel, you testified our armed forces are vulnerable and weak. You mean from aliens?

“Yes!” Barker said. His voice changed. “But that’s not all. We’re weak from all the females and the fruitcakes and the foreigners enlisting in the Service. Congress needs to take action and return us to a more homogenous fighting force.”

Subcommittee Chair Pauline Wu of California, the first openly transgender Senator of color, stared at Barker. She abruptly banged her gavel and terminated the hearing.

The subcommittee later recommended defunding UAPC, alias UFOC. This action effectively ended Colonel Mason X. Barker’s military career.

I had stretched the rule preventing me from directly changing someone’s mind. I just reduced Barker’s inhibitions against speaking openly about things he already believed. His innate fear of anyone not a White American male like himself did the rest.

I might end up in Alaska with Lt. Murphy, but I had protected my brethren from exposure. We would live on undetected among the humans.

Writers’ workshop and writing group