“There should be affiliates from all the major news outlets there when we arrive.” Captain Liakos said. He sat across the table from Zao. The room was packed with Zao’s command team who’s number had grown rapidly. Around the table, and aboard Prime One, as Zao had begun to call the former Coast Guard ship, eleven captains of other ships loyal to the cause were gathered.
“They are calling it Mutiny. It’s possible that we will be met by the Italian Military when we pull into the port.” Admiral Kalfas said. Zao gave the Admiral his attention. Kalfas had done well. He had left on a helicopter with a team of four, and returned with eleven other ships. One by one Zao had converted each ship’s crew from their former loyalties to his own. Zao leaned back in his chair and considered what Kalfas had said.
“The world is at nuclear war, Gentlemen. The Italian military will be occupied. They are no obstacle to our mission.”
“And, what is our mission?” A voice came from one of the new Captains that most recently joined the force. Liakos tried to remember his name, but it wasn’t coming to mind. The dozen uniformed men and their first mates all seemed to lean in. All eyes fixed on Zao, interested to hear what was next.
“The time has come that we step out of the shadows. The world is waiting. Until today, it did not know what it was waiting for.”
The men had no response, but instead sat silently considering his words. Liakos thought back through the last few days of his life. He ran his palm over the hard surface of the desk; feeling the texture of the heavy wood. Zao looked around the room making eye contact with each of the men there. Liakos was the last before Zao spoke once more.
“So, each of you is familiar with our strategy. Each man has a part to play and all of you will have a seat of honor in the new world order.”
A metallic knock came at the door. The officer standing nearest the hatch twisted the latch and allowed a slight opening. Captain Liakos’ helmsman stuck his head through the narrow opening and said, “We are approaching Civitavecchia Port, Sir.”
Zao clapped his hands as he stood, followed by the rest of his command team. He wore a stripped down uniform, the Coast Guard insignias had been removed, but it was otherwise recognizable. He stepped briskly toward the hatch as his commanders parted to let him through. The rest of the men followed him through and out onto the deck.
They stood at the railing of the ship and watched the port of Civitavecchia grow closer by the second. The day was hot and the air felt sticky. There were no words, shared by any of the two dozen men. Zao’s full naval force flanked his ship, Prime One, in nearby waters. All twelve boats moved resolutely, leaving a massive wake behind.
The port was bustling with activity. Other ships of various sizes moved about as Prime One glided into the port past the ocean break. Apparently Rome had not been bombed, but that didn’t mean that it was impervious to the economic disaster that had gripped the world almost over night. There was the wreckage of cruise ships left dead and broken in the water of Civitavecchia. The cruise industry, no doubt, had dropped off as soon as atomic bombs began to fall on various cities. Rome didn’t need to be bombed, the vacuum that the tourism industry left would do more damage.
Liakos wondered if he should step away from the other commanders and join his crew in the bridge, but decided to stay put. He didn’t want to miss whatever was about to happen. The familiar scent of diesel fuel filled the air of Civitavecchia. He scanned the docks attempting to pick out any indication of police, military, or rioters. Although there didn’t seem to be any, there was an army of news cameras waiting on an open dock. Behind the cameras, thousands of people. The news of what was happening in the Mediterranean had obviously spread. This enigmatic character would finally show his face to the world.
The ship’s crew rushed around the deck, each man doing his duty to prepare for docking. Liakos split his attention between the scene before them and his crew. He was, after all, responsible for the crewmen and women aboard. They seemed to know what they were doing so he stayed his place among the other commanders.
Two helicopters whizzed overhead. Exactly to plan they took up a holding pattern above the port. There role was to provide quick evacuation of Zao if he needed it. Zao had insisted that he would not, but agreed to allow the choppers anyway.
Once the ship was tied off and the ramp was in place. The parade began. One hundred and twenty armed men, ten from each ship, had come aboard Prime One. They were now disembarking from the ship with an impressive show of force. Each was uniformed, and carried an automatic weapon. They were no longer Coast Guardsmen, but had become Zao’s personal guard. Once the one hundred and twenty had cleared the ramp they fanned out and stood sentinel. The two dozen news cameras panned over the scene with enthusiasm. Even from the ship, Liakos could hear news commentators giving reports of what they were seeing.
Now that the guard force was free of the ship, it was the commander’s turn. Zao waited on board as the dozen commanders and their first mates stepped slowly down the ramp. It was like a military processional, except that Liakos and the others were not part of any nationally recognized navy. He hoped that they would not be shot on the spot, but decided to push the thought from his mind.
The commanders also fanned out spreading themselves among the 120 evenly. They took their spots near the men from their own crew. The enormous semi-circle was in place on the dock for a long few minutes as cameras rolled and news personalities gave their reports.
After a few tense minutes Zao emerged from the ship and walked slowly down the ramp. He looked impressive in his nondescript uniform; at least a head taller than anyone else there. He looked as if he belonged in an American movie. His advent couldn’t have been better orchestrated even if a Hollywood director had planned it. On seeing him descend the ship’s ramp, the gathered crowd erupted with cheers. He was the image of power, and as Liakos watched him step onto the concrete of the dock, he realized he was extremely proud to be part of Zao’s command team.
Zao paused and looked from side to side at his armed guard. He nodded first to the line at his right, they saluted. He then nodded at the line to his left, they did the same. Finally he looked to the hoard of news cameras, and the growing crowd beyond. As if it were the most normal thing in the world, Zao addressed the crowd speaking Italian. Liakos was not strong in Italian but he knew enough to get the gist of the speech.
“My name is Zao. I have a very important message for anyone who has ears to hear.” He paused for dramatic effect. He had impeccable timing. He let the moment grow pregnant with anticipation before he continued.
“As you are certainly familiar, many have asked, ‘are we alone in the universe?’ This question has been on the hearts and minds of scientists, storytellers, and dreamers for decades. I have come, not only to answer that question, but others. I have come from another world.”
The audience gasped in unison. A murmur swept over the crowd like a quick afternoon rain. Even Liakos stood stunned, not quite able to believe what he was hearing. Over the last few days, he had formed a number of theories on this tall stranger’s origin story, but alien seemed to be the least likely hypothesis. Zao went on.
“I have come from such a distance that it can not even be explained. I have made this journey for a simple reason; I love this world. I do not wish to see it destroyed. Even now you are at war with one another. You imagine that the current war is the destruction that I speak of. However, it is not. A greater threat than human wars awaits the race of men. I have come to teach humanity how to prepare and defeat this coming slaughter.”
Even the birds had grown silent. The sounds of the port behind them had become still. The smell of the oil and diesel fuel had faded. A heaviness hung in the air between Zao and all those who were listening. Liakos had been with him day and night since he fished him from the violent sea, but this was the first he was hearing about any of this. The mission, as Zao had put it, was more important than he had imagined. Zao continued in a slow methodical voice.
“I, therefore, invite the leaders of the world to convene here in Rome, In one week’s time. I will teach you what is to come, and what is to be done about it. Do not send ambassadors. It is imperative that the highest leader of each nation attend in person. Thank you.”
Zao, paused and then began the speech again in a different language. Even though Liakos had been told that this would be what came next, he was immeasurably impressed. It was Chinese, if he remembered the order correctly. Why shouldn’t an alien be able to speak multiple languages, Liakos thought. Maybe that is perfectly natural.
Regardless of whether it was natural or not, the news cameras continued to roll. They had not received an agenda and it was clear that they were stunned. One cameraman had begun to pack up, but as soon as the speech began again in the most common asian dialect, he reset his tripod frantically. Liakos scanned the faces of the crowd, noting their admiration.
In all, it took over an hour for Zao to recite his speech in the top twenty three most spoken languages of Earth. Although this impressive display of linguistic skill was something incredible to behold, Liakos was eager to see what would happen next. Zao had explained in their meeting that the commanders would never again return to the ships they had arrived on. This had raised some alarms in the meeting, but Liakos had already left his own ship for a larger one. He was confident that Zao had something better planned.
Once he was done with his speeches, Zao turned to his right as he had done before. He nodded to the line of guards. This time instead of salute they broke rank and closed into a tight formation behind their leader. Zao nodded to the left and the line of guards did the same. He then stepped forward and began to make his way toward the cameras.
He passed through the army of news reporters as they parted. With Zao at the head of the parade the massive crowd, which had to be thousands, squeezed in to see. The people pressed in around the extra terrestrial. Liakos and his men were flanked on all sides by a sea of eager Italians.
Zao went through the crowd touching those who reached out for him. He moved slowly through the mass of faces, seemingly unbothered by the throng. It was immediately hot, and the taste of a thousand stranger’s sweat forced it’s way into Liakos’ mouth. He did not like being surrounded. Captain Liakos stepped forward and shouted over the noise of the mob.
“Sir, do you want us to clear at path through the crowd?” He said to Zao.
“No, for this is why I’ve come.”
He tried not to be annoyed but the crowd was oppressive. Everyone was shouting and red in the face. Liakos fell back into the rank of guards moving slowly behind their leader. He watched as Zao spent time with individuals who stepped forward to see him. What he said in his speech seemed to be true, Zao had compassion on the people.
“I’ve been healed!” A voice rang out over the sound of the audience. “When he touched me, the pain in my back went away.” Liakos spotted the woman. Quickly the crowd enveloped the old lady and he lost sight of her. In other circumstances, Liakos would have considered a healing, wishful thinking but he had seen it for himself. He glanced down at his own knee, evidence that Zao had real power. He looked back to the crowd that pushed in tighter still.
Slowly Zao walked with the crowd, healing those who were ill, and touching those who reached for him. At the speed of chilled honey they made their way toward Rome.