“E.L.I.”


While Celeste and I finish up our current project entitled Salome’s Charger, I am dabbling with a universe I am in the process of creating for my next book, Deal with the Devil. As with a lot of my books, it skirts the boundary between science fiction and Christian suspense. What I have here isn’t an entire short story, but rather just a treatment that gives me–and you–an idea of the world and characters I will be working with. Enjoy.

Rob Escobar pushed through the glass doors on the street level of the Federal Building in downtown Dallas, looked at the electronic register on the wall and headed for the elevator. The building had eighteen stories, but only two were occupied. There was no federal government, so why would a federal building be needed? Instead, he headed for the Dallas Regional Office for the F.B.I., formerly the Federal Bureau of Investigation, now simply the FBI. Pundits said it stood for Finding Bodies Interesting, or Foolish, Big Imbeciles, and half a dozen other uses for the acronym. But Rob didn’t care. Many thought the FBI lost its credibility when the agents stopped carrying weapons. But then, on the other hand, nobody carried weapons anymore.

The elevator opened on the seventeenth floor and Rob stepped out into a very large room with about 20 desks. Three of them were occupied; the other seventeen were simply gathering dust. A black woman in her 40s sat at a larger desk in the corner, typing on her computer. A big Hispanic guy was standing at the window, looking out on Dallas. And then a white kid about 24 sat at another desk, reading the newspaper. Since it was Rob’s newspaper, he thought the kid would be the place to start.

“Can I help you?” the kid said to Rob as he walked up to him, not bothering to look up from his newspaper.

“Family Circle must be exceptionally intriguing these days,” Rob said, and a scowl came over the kid’s face. It was obvious they hadn’t had much work for a while, and so his priorities had changed. The kid looked up, and realizing that Rob was new to the building, his tone brightened.

“Hey, I know you,” the kid said.

Rob nodded. “Rob Escobar, Dallas Daily. Formerly investigative reporter for The New York Times, now relegated to covering dog shows and cotillions here in the great state of Texas.”

The kid shook his head. “No. You were the guy. Three years ago at O’Hare. On Thirty Minute Day. Remember me?”

Rob’s memory flashed through all the events that happened on that day. The millions on the east and west coast who died in a nuclear flash. The EMP. The planes falling of the sky. Rob and a hundred other people had been crossing from one terminal to another on the underground walkway when the lights and ventilation suddenly went out. A moment later, there was the sound like a missile exploding as an airliner filled with fuel fell out of the sky and rammed into the terminal they were headed for. The tunnel had collapsed, with most of those in it crushed by the falling concrete. Rob and a dozen other had survived the next three days without ventilation, food or water. He remembered the despair that came with sitting in the dark, not knowing what was happening outside, and wondering if anyone would come for them. He remembered the kid too.

After three days, the world was a different place. The Thirty Minute War had altered the world, but what came after it had changed it more. For when Rob and the other clawed their way out of the collapsed tunnel, they found that what had rescued them was not construction workers, EMPs or disaster relief officials. The debris had been pulled away—magically it seemed—by something that looked like it belonged in a comic book. The aliens had arrived.

Rob took another look at the kid. He nodded.

“Lee Seeker,” the kid said, standing and holding out his hand.

Rob shook it. “Rob Escobar. How’s the knee?”

Lee shrugged. “Nothing that a few nanites couldn’t fix. Good as new in just days.”

Rob shook his head. “Whoever talked about the miracles of modern science had no freaking idea.”

Lee smiled. “Tell me about it. It isn’t our parents’ world.”

“That’s for sure. Say, what I’m here about is someone you’ve probably heard of. Goes by the name of E.L.I. Remember him?”

Lee laughed. “Do I? I did my senior thesis on him. Guy shows up out of nowhere, hacks the entire world media, and announces that the world as we knew it was coming to an end. Then disappears without a trace.”

Rob smiled, but not as broadly as Lee. “Looks like he was right. How many years ago was that?”

Lee looked up. “Let’s see, it was two years before Thirty Minute Day, so I guess that makes it five years.” He turned to Rob. “So why the sudden interest in someone who’s been gone for five years? A lot has happened since then.”

Rob shrugged. “News is slow these days. I long for the times when everything wasn’t as cut and dried as it is today. Back when I had some pride in what I was doing.” He looked out the window at a glowing, silver sphere suspended over the evening skyline and shrugged again. “I thought there might be a story there somewhere.”

He paused and looked into Lee’s eyes. “To tell you the truth, Lee, I read your senior thesis. You wrote it early enough that it wasn’t lost in Quantico with everything else. There’s a digital copy in Chicago. I read it, and realized you probably know more about the hacker than anyone else alive. How about I buy you a coffee and we talk about it?”

Lee looked around him, then at the black woman at the desk in the corner, who looked up.

“Go ahead,” she said, sounding more bored than tired. “It’s not like you’re going to miss anything.”

He nodded. “I’ll bring you two back a coffee. You want an espresso, Adrian over there likes it strong and black. Right?” The tall Hispanic man waved at Lee without turning his eyes from the view out the window.

Lee turned and headed for the door, Rob right behind him. He pushed the elevator button outside.

“So what is so interesting about this E.L.I.?” Lee asked. The elevator doors opened in front of them.

Rob sighed. “If you have to ask, I think you’re in the wrong business.”

The two of them entered the elevator and headed for the street.

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