|HOME DEFENCE by EW Farnsworth|
The blue skies of early August saw a country on war footing against the imminent alien invasion. Internment camps had been erected all over the country to house the masses of aliens already discovered. Those formally under arms had been increased fourfold from springtime when the initial roundups had taken place. The vetting of nearly every citizen was well underway in a process that was rendering new suspected aliens at a rate equal to those cleared of suspicion. Among the cleared persons was Fatty Millstone and his clones. Those wily aliens had become so enmeshed in society that they were considered trustworthy. As a result of their status, they could expand their criminal enterprises at will.
The liquor trade, which formed the basis for their financial wherewithal, had become the model for their trafficking in lesser drugs, like marijuana, prescription opiates and fentanyl. Aliens avoided human trafficking and prostitution rings like the plague, which was now ravaging humans worldwide in biblical proportions. Fatty and his gang stoked the wheels of enforcement as well as the yellow press. Who could doubt that the world had been polluted by ugliness, ungodliness and uniform ignorance—the litmus test for being human had become a low IQ and a penchant for grovelling conformity. A case in point was the lascivious woman whose dentures were always duck diving to the bottom of her pint in Fatty’s favourite pub on Picklock Lane.
“Imagine the indignity of what I have been through!” Harriet bawled to Colin the undercover policeman. She sipped her drink and let the tears pour down her cheeks. Fatty shook his head and endeavoured to be invisible. Today, the insufferable creature was looking for sympathy for her travails. Fatty felt what he thought was her stocking-covered foot rubbing his right calf under the table. Since Colin and she were now acknowledged lovers, the alien was mortified about her flirtations. If his primary protector should turn against him now, he and his gang would be lost—and the plans for the invasion likely would have to be refactored.
“There, there, my lovely. We of present company know how much you have suffered. But you are clear of all suspicion now. So calm down and enjoy your evening’s carousal. Be careful, though, about where your teeth might land.” Instinctively, her fingers found her dentures and pushed up and down so they might remain in place. She smiled sheepishly before returning to her favourite subject—informing on the evil ones hidden within society.
“As I was saying, I’ve made a new list of subjects for your ministrations. Their names and contact data should be sufficient to give your arresting teams what they need.” She passed a thick stack of hand-composed notes to the policeman, who eagerly stuffed the precious pile beneath this shirt while looking around to detect any untoward interest in what he was doing. Fatty reached down to remove the woman’s foot from the back of his leg. Instead of finding a stocking with a human foot inside, he found a writhing tentacle with suckers that searched for a hold on his hand.
Fatty was rarely surprised by anything in a city full of ambiguities. With that single touch, however, he had made contact with a certainty: the lady was an alien. He tried to make eye contact, but she would not meet his gaze. She withdrew her probe, knowing she had made herself clear. And because she had been brazen, she was also sure from her calm reaction that she had communicated with a kindred alien species, not a human. To this infernal dialog, Colin was wholly oblivious.
“Harriet and I must be going now, Fatty.” He continued sotto voce: “The things I do for national defence!” With a wink, he downed the last of his drink and gave his arm to his belle. She gave her glass a swirl to be sure no teeth remained in the bottom. Satisfied that she had not left her dentures behind, she sashayed out the back door. To Fatty’s eyes, her legs now seemed to be fully human again. She did not make eye contact with him, so for now their mutual secret was safe.
As he drank his way to Closing Time, Fatty reflected silently on the current state of play. Harriet is an alien. Somehow she slipped through the vetting process without lingering suspicion. I had no idea we had female-formed agents. She did not seem to have any way of communicating with me through her mind. That physical probe was her métier—but what comes next between us? She surely must know that informing on me would bring accusations back at herself. When I think that she actually accused me of being an alien at our first meeting! She was clearly using me as a distraction from herself.
Fatty was now used to bringing one of the daily tabloids to his table. He perused the rag while he sipped his pint. On the cover were aerial shots of concentration camps for aliens with an overlay of the Queen, who winked at the readers to confirm that she was in the know.
A fashionably-dressed man sat down at his table without ceremony. The tapster brought the man a pint with bitters. “Good evening, Sir. I hope you don’t mind my joining you. I am with Special Branch, and I’d appreciate your views on a number of matters regarding the aliens.”
Fatty nodded without smiling. He was used to being approached in the blind by officials of all stripes. “Fire away, Sir. I have nothing to hide.”
“These days, it’s wise to keep some things hidden. The innocent are falling as well as the guilty. Some think the nation has lost its bearings and gone adrift.”
“Sir, you speak of dark things. Let’s steer clear of such speculations. As for me, I’m a patriot.”
“I am sure you are what you say. Now those two who were drinking with you—of them I am not sure. Particularly the female, who seemed to be reaching a tentacle out to you specifically.”
“Do you think she was a wanton?”
“I would not be surprised. I’d like to enlist your help in determining just what she is and whom she works for.”
“To do what you ask, I might have to become intimate with the lady. Why don’t you ask the policeman who left with her tonight?”
“Was that man a policeman? Dragging that trollop around the city streets?”
Fatty shrugged and drank from his glass. “I’ve heard from good sources that the woman has been vetted and cleared very recently.”
“Is that so? Well, I’ll see about that. Here is my card. If you see anything suspicious, just be in touch with the specifics. I’ll take things from there.” He passed his engraved business card to Fatty, who read it carefully before placing it with reverence into the pocket that normally held his watch.
The government man was not finished. “Have you heard that a new alien camp has been established in Ipswich?”
“In fact, I had heard that—from one of my helpers. Just how many aliens are there in the country?”
“We reckon half of those who appear to be of voting age are aliens. Our problem is to winnow out the true aliens from the seeming aliens. The task is extremely difficult.”
“I can imagine. What I cannot fathom, though, is how you are going to handle your case load. Are you planning to summarily execute all those proven to be aliens, or what?”
The government man shook his head solemnly. “We’re not at all sure. And our problem is compounded by the fact that other nations don’t acknowledge the truth of our predicament.”
“Can the media help?”
“Lord, no. Consider how many reporters and commentators are themselves aliens or alien sympathizers.”
“Are the politicians complicit too?”
“Half the population of Parliament are aliens, but we are having a hard time telling which half is which.”
“And the royal family?”
“You’ve heard about the Great Division, haven’t you?”
“Has that been decided along alien lines?”
“Now I have to be discreet. You might be an agent of the royals. Then where would we be?”
Fatty nodded sagely. “So that’s how things are.”
After he completed his drink, the government man stood to his full height to test his sobriety. He looked around at the customers who thronged the Cracked Bell Pub. Visibly he shuddered. “All I see are alien creatures. Is it just me?”
Fatty’s brow furrowed at this weighty question. He said, “Hmm,” and scanned the faces within his line of sight.
“Goodnight, then. I’ll look forward to your reportage.”
Fatty did not know what to say, so he remained silent. The man slipped out the back door into the night.
Fatty scanned his tabloid until he found the small notice about construction having begun at Ipswich. He resolved to enter the location on his country-wide map, which lay on his home dining room table. He had designed the annotated masterpiece to deconflict his business efforts from the enforcers of the law. Quotidian criminality was overlooked by the police, who had been directed toward the alien invasion. It was high time Fatty took full advantage of the time.
At home, Millstone called a meeting of his five best clones. He explained the situation and listened to their observations and reactions. The most intelligent among them asked, “Mr. Millstone, what do you want us to do?”
“Campion, first, don’t panic. Our position is relatively safe. Second, have our associates keep doing the flawless work you all have been doing. Third, keep the information flowing about future opportunities to leverage while the officers of the law are busy working current issues.”
Late into the night, Fatty brooded over his map. With an ink pen, he made a notation about the Ipswich camp. An idea came to him near daybreak. “Why not invent a special service for the concentration camps?”
The next day, Fatty Millstone made the rounds of known camps. At each, he gave the persons responsible for logistical support his business card. Two individual logisticians invited Millstone to visit later that day. Thus his new initiative took root. Within a month, Millstone had a thriving trade selling goods into the camps and, in return, opening a window on grassroots intelligence that spanned the nation.
When he next met Colin and Harriet, he could see the couple were healthy and happy.
“Fatty, I’d like you to be the best man at our marriage.” Harriet grasped her fiancé’s arm and leaned forward to gauge Millstone’s reaction.
“Colin, congratulations. Congratulations to you, too, Harriet. I would be delighted to serve as best man. Just let me know the details and give me any special instructions.”
“I have only one instruction: keep the aliens away from my marriage. The last thing I need is to be dragged down by doubtful associations.”
“Do you think I could enlist the capabilities of the police home defence team? I’m not a qualified vetting person. I know how difficult that process can be. If the team can work on the names, I can be sure to fend off wedding pirates and phonies.”
Colin turned to his future bride and said, “Didn’t I tell you Fatty would know what to do?” Then he beamed at his friend and said, “Fatty, you need only ask, and I’ll give you access to the people you’ll need to do your job.”
So Millhouse began in earnest to deploy the vetting team in all directions. Two lists derived from this collaboration. One list was of “pure” citizens with nothing against their inclusion among the guests for the wedding. The second list was of suspect citizens, who may or may not have been aliens but who were definitely not to be included. Fatty was happy to be included on the first and not the second list.
On the day of the wedding, three hundred police with their spouses turned out to participate in the celebration. The gala went without incident though the tabloids printed all sorts of rubbish about the selection process that had been used to sort potential guests. Fatty’s name was dropped as being in charge of vetting. As a result, he became the target of hate mail. Pickets marched outside his apartment complex. Rowdies crowded into his favourite pub to demonstrate.
Things might have gone easier on him if anyone had seen the bride slip her tentacle around his calf while he minded the two wedding rings. He could not shake her off him for fear she would be detected as what she was. When the wedding pair cut their cake, she was similarly attentive to the best man’s fly, but she lost her teeth while eating the first bite of the cake. She could not keep her tentacle where it was while she searched through the crumbs and icing for her denture. The danger was not over even after she had her teeth back in place. Fatty had led the charge to decorate the wedding vehicle—a Rolls Royce special—with a tentacle theme that brought the bride to tears of mingled wrath and pain. Colin had to restrain his lovely lady while she edged toward Fatty with the intent to unmask if not kill him.
Some enterprising tabloid photographer, however, did take a snap of the car as it passed under the arch of flowers and into the highway. It seemed that a tentacle was reaching out of the passenger-side window to smear off the tentacle figures on the glass and chrome of the car. This photograph was so popular, it was clipped from the paper and placed in frames throughout the city. Even the tapster at the Cracked Bell Pub mounted the trophy because it also featured an image of the best man, above whose table the prize photo was mounted.
As if by some magic, the wedding marked the high watermark for the alien invasion craze. The yellow press needed a new subject to sell its papers. Right away, yesterday’s news became boring. Work on the camps subsided. Those who had been interned were freed. The headline of the leading tabloid gave the whole story in a headline: “Alien Invasion a HOAX!”
After Colin and his bride had returned from their honeymoon, they returned to their routine, including their weekly Tuesday meeting with Fatty Millstone. The three laughed about the mounted picture of the tentacle reaching out of the Rolls Royce. Harriet was absurdly red with shame at the thought that she had been caught doing her erasure. Since Colin was convinced that the tabloids faked the picture for their own devices, no harm was done.
So Harriet’s tentacle crawled up Fatty’s leg below their table while they drank. Colin was explaining how his promotion to chief was being held in abeyance since its raison for being no longer applied.
“Don’t worry, darling, you can always go back to tracking down the illicit liquor villains and the illegal drug purveyors.”
“Those pursuits will not lead to the high office of chief. I’ll have to put my mind to a better cause.”
Fatty, seeing that he had to provide a ready alternative, said, “Why not prosecute those who promoted the hoax? After all, citizens’ rights were trampled underfoot. No true aliens were ever discovered. Enormous wealth was committed to the system’s pursuit of the wicked.”
“Say, Colin,” Harriet said, “he’s onto something. Fatty, let’s discuss this at length right now. I’ll go to the ladies’ while you order another round of pints with bitters. I’d also like biscuits, please. I only ask that this time you keep your tentacles to yourself!”
Fatty looked pale. Colin looked suspicious. “Haha. I caught you both,” Harriet said. She was not away long before she returned with a look of disgust on her face. She definitely smelled of sewage.
“Don’t tell me. The loo is overflowing, again.” Harriet nodded, on the verge of tears.
“Excuse me while I remedy the situation,” Fatty said. He avoided looking at the woman’s soiled dress. He did hear her tell her husband, “I opened my mouth when I fell on that messy floor and lost my denture.”
The hoax about the alien invasion did serve Colin and Harriet well in the end—in fact, it was more rewarding than the alien invasion itself. He was appointed Deputy Chief of Police, and she took charge of the city’s social roster.
As for Fatty, his new business venture of supplying concentration camps was curtailed summarily, but not without significant profits. He and his gang returned to their usual exploits with liquor and drugs.
Once the “hoax” stories faded, the police would gradually return to doing their business of arresting criminals. By then, Fatty hoped to have enough dirt on the social elites to have a whole new ball game playing. Fatty’s only remaining problem was Harriet, whose insatiable lust showed itself in full tentacle whenever he was within striking distance. He therefore convinced Colin that he and his wife should stop visiting the pub since they had to be careful of their image so he could rise to the rank of Chief.
Harriet saw the wisdom of this strategy as she was a climber of the first rate. Fatty’s advice to her confirmed her conviction as he reminded her that if the tabloids should ever find out about her losing her denture in the shit of the ladies’ room, she would earn herself a front-page story in every rag in the city.