Lesley took a deep breath, and said, “It might not look like it, but the cat’s out of the bag already. I’m sorry. I mean, people are going to learn that Susan and I are in the middle of this, regardless of what we do. Somebody, somewhere is going to get the records from the ranger station and put two and two together. Heck, our friends are probably worried it’s us right now! Our family is probably scared shitless for us.”
“Yeah,” Susan, her mind churning with the possibilities.
“I decided we should go with you into orbit to try to avoid this,” Lesley said. “Because if the authorities apprehended us, it could have ended in the same way. But, I think we just made it worse, especially for you! As far as they’re all concerned, you’ve abducted us!”
“And the conspiracy theorists are already having a field day, and it’s been less than a day” Susan gestured at the consoles. “If one of our friends or family doesn’t thoughtlessly mention our names, one of those people will dig us up. The government probably already knows, too. Checking the ranger station for hikers in the area would just be standard procedure. They’ve gotta be keeping quiet just to control the narrative.”
Lesley nodded, “So, we have to control the narrative.”
“And I don’t see how we can,” Susan sighed. “Whatever we say or do, there are several organizations from different countries with highly paid professionals already preparing to spin it for their benefit, and countless conspiracy theorists, science fiction fans, daydreamers, hopefuls, and bigots all waiting to misinterpret all of it. Loudly. Online.”
“Right!” Lesley responded, “But -”
Susan held up a finger and clenched her lips, furrowing her brow, and Lesley let her think. She really thought she had a good train of thought going, too. But it just wasn’t there. It had disappeared the very instant Lesley stopped talking. Still, Susan took a few moments to really search for it, to see where it had gone off to, but there weren’t even any tracks. Just one question, sort of floating in the middle of her mind, which she ended up asking.
“Molly? Why did you land on our planet?”
Molly took a deep breath and pulled the rest of her head under the crash gel. The stuff wasn’t designed to let you breathe in it, but it was also infused with nanites and was smart enough to not actually close over her nostrils. There was a tube of air that followed her movement and she needn’t have held her breath. But it was a reflex, like diving under water. And she felt very embarrassed by that question and wanted to hide.
But then she also had the weird sensation of watching her body do that from the perspective of the ship’s sensors, which she hadn’t disconnected from. To make matters worse, when Susan saw her do that, she looked up from where she was floating and glanced around the room until she recognized one of the cameras and speared it with a questioning stare.
When animals evolve to use their eyes as a tool to either search for food or avoid being food, they end up making certain expressions with those eyes. Maybe not a whole lot of expressions, if they don’t have visible brows for more detailed signaling and maybe use their ears instead. But there’s one very basic expression that’s universal to such animals, and that’s the stare. It means something. It could mean “I’m scared of you,” or it could mean, “you’re lunch,” but it universally means, “I’m paying attention to you.”
And it was really clear that Susan knew where to stare to let Molly know that.
Molly may have looked very, very different from Susan. She also may have been atypical of her own people, though on the Sunspot everyone is atypical. But even with the evolution algorithms generating exotic body types for each individual, ktletaccete brains have been kept remarkably consistent over the millennia, if only to keep the neural terminals functional for everyone, and if her ancestors on the Terra Supreme were any indication, she at least shared the eyesight thing with Susan. Not the same instincts, of course. They were aliens to each other. But very similar instincts.
Thinking about this was all a distraction from the question, though. Molly was trying to reassure herself that miscommunications weren’t happening, and feeling anxious about making more if they had. But, really, she could see from where she was curled up on her ship already that she’d made a big mistake by landing on the planet.
And she’d already said why, actually. That she was lonely and wanted to find a new people to live amongst. So, either Susan forgot that, or she was asking something more subtle. Like, why land instead of making radio contact first?
Both Lesley and Susan were silent, waiting for her to answer. Manifold wasn’t stepping in because it wouldn’t speak for her. Doing so would have trampled on her rights as an individual, unless she explicitly gave it consent to do so.
Which she could certainly do, but no. She wanted to be friends with these people, so being forward with them was important.
“I thought it was a good idea,” she said. “There is no manual, no wisdom, no instructions for how to contact another people. It is just not something we have ever done, because we have never encountered other people before, that anyone can remember. And I got to a point in my observations of your planet where I wanted to get samples from your world to see how compatible we were, before making radio contact. Also, I thought it might help me crack the language barrier faster, which it did.”
Susan scrunched up her lips and twisted them to the side, and then said, “So you’re not a scout for an invading force.”
When Molly figured out what that sentence meant, she was absolutely horrified by it. “Does that sort of thing actually happen?” she asked.
“On our planet? Between our countries?” Susan asked. “Yes. I felt really awkward asking you that, mind you, because it’s so cliche. In nearly every story we have about first contact with aliens, that question comes up, even though this is it! This is our first contact! Like you, we only have experience with each other. And they’re not great experiences.”
Molly wanted to respond to that, but the human kept talking.
“Look,” Susan said. “There aren’t any do overs. You can’t go back and contact us differently. And now you’ve got two lesbians on your ship and you’re in trouble. A good thing, and a bad thing. The bad thing is that you look like one of our most ancient predators, which is more than a little scary, and there’s a part of my brain screaming at me that I should never trust you because you’re going to eat me. But we got this far, because we can think and we can talk to each other! And that’s really amazing!”
“Right!” Lesley said.
“So, we’ve got a whole bunch of people down there who want to hear from you, Molly, because they’ve dreamt for generations of this day. But they’re also absolutely terrified of you, and will be even more so when they see you. The bubble helmet on your spacesuit, heck, the whole suit might help, because it’s so corny and cute, but there are a lot of instincts and chaos to overcome,” Susan explained. “And really, frankly, it might just be better for all of us, but especially for you, if you put Lesley and I back down somewhere obscure but near a road, and then left our solar system. Or, we’d hate it, but take us with you.”
“I’ve got nowhere else to go,” Molly said, really hoping that wouldn’t bring the conversation to her past and her reasons.
Susan and Lesley glanced at each other and then both looked back at the camera they’d decided Molly was looking at them through.
This time Lesley took a deep breath, preparing to talk, but then she had to swallow forcefully to put her stomach in line again first. That was followed by a gasp before she said, “One problem we have to deal with, Molly, is that even though you and Manifold are alone, and not being followed by the rest of your people, you still represent your people and their presence. You are a technological and cultural influence that is being imposed upon our planet and our people. That’s going to have consequences. It’s going to hurt people.”
“Oh,” was all Molly could say.
Lesley grimaced in a way Molly couldn’t interpret, “You sort of didn’t follow your own rules, either. You didn’t ask us permission to land on our planet. Not that any one group of us owns it, or any individual for that matter. But even saying ‘hi’ via radio and confirming for all of us that extraterrestrial life exists would have altered the direction our entire world history would take from that point on. Which would hurt people. Even if that’s all you had done.”
“Susan and I cannot speak for our planet, and our planet is not obligated to take you in,” Lesley said, with a finality of tone.
For a while, it seemed that no one wanted to speak after that. Molly certainly felt that even another “oh” was utterly inappropriate. She felt hollow and devastated, and totally at a loss as to what to do.
Manifold finally broke the silence to say, “I am by far the eldest in this vessel, and I am absolutely mortified that I didn’t think of that line of reasoning when talking to Molly about what to do when we arrived. It is my job, my purpose for existing, to help my students avoid these kinds of mistakes. I am so sorry.”
“How long have your people been traveling through space and never seeing other people, other civilizations?” Susan asked pointedly.
“Eons,” Manifold answers. “The Sunspot alone is older than I feel comfortable enumerating. And its parent ship is even older by now. And we have lost count of the number of Exodus Ships there have been.”
Susan gestured, “That’s why you didn’t think of it. It’s not in your evolutionary background at this point.”
“You call them Exodus Ships. Why is that?” Lesley asked.
“All we know,” Manifold admitted, “is that we must have left a planet at some point, and that whenever one of our ships is created it travels at a perpendicular path to its parent, so they’ll never meet again. Why we do that is no longer known. But it is an exodus.”
“Even more why you didn’t think of it, then,” Susan said. “You’ve evolved to avoid each other!”
Lesley looked down at the egg shaped pilot seat where Molly actually was and asked, “Is that why you left the Sunspot? You’re having your own exodus?”
“Yes,” Molly said as quietly as she could while still being heard.
“So it wasn’t just something like me being trans or autistic and needing to get away for a bit,” Lesley said. “Maybe it was triggered by something like that, but you’re following your own instinct? Did it feel like something you just absolutely had to do, no matter what reasons were presented to you not to?”
Molly hadn’t really thought of it like that. The reasons she’d left had felt like they were more important and more reasonable than anything anybody said to her to try to get her to stay. In the end, the others acquiesced and helped her to leave because it was her right to do so. And now she was just realizing that maybe it hadn’t even mattered to them what her reasons were. They’d given her a way back if she wanted it, just like they did with every Exodus Ship they’d created. They’d just created an Exodus Ship for two, her and Manifold, with her alterations to its drive systems, and solemnly let her leave, instead of populating a full sized one with half their Crew. Just her and Manifold.
And a copy of Phage.
“I think you might be right,” Molly said, still quiet. She could feel tension building in the ship as if it was her own body.
“I think we’ve got something to work with,” Lesley said.
“Oh, yeah,” Susan agreed.
“What do you mean?” Manifold asked.
“You’re not only refugees, you’re following your species’ instincts,” Lesley declared. “I mean, I don’t know how that’s actually going to fly with anyone else, but!” She slapped her hands against her thighs, which caused her to start spinning slowly, so Susan had to grab her again, with her foot still hooked in Lesley’s unoccupied harness.
“We have to help you,” Susan said, grinning.
“Yeah, it’s our code,” Lesley said. “The lesbian code.”
“Also,” Susan said, face suddenly very serious again. “There’s that thing that supposedly helped us that you called Phage. With the body of nanites it took. Can those things replicate?”
Molly felt as if the entire ship was suddenly awash with ice water. Fortunately the ship didn’t react to that, it was just her psyche processing Susan’s words and simulating a common feeling with the body she sensed she had at the moment. But she found herself amazed that the others didn’t shiver and react to it.
“They can, but they don’t. They are not autonomous. It takes a command to make them do anything,” Manifold said.
“So, there’s a powerful alien being on my planet with the power to consume everything on it,” Susan said.
“It won’t do that,” Manifold said.
Susan kicked off from the floor toward the ceiling camera that she had decided was Manifold and slowed herself down carefully with both hands until her face was only centimeters from the lens and said, “We have to make sure that it doesn’t.”
Susan let the others converse about that on their own for a while. She felt like she’d dropped a bomb in the cockpit, and she felt drained and in need of time alone. Also, she needed to find the toilet and figure out how to use it in microgravity. So, she let Lesley know where she was going, and then asked Manifold to show her the way.
The toilet was behind one of the hatches in the short hallway just forward of the airlock, of course. Manifold told her it operated via vacuum and nanites, of course. It would do almost all the work, and she’d just have to maneuver herself properly to use it. It would even conform to her anatomy.
She found herself hesitating outside of the closed hatch to it, afraid to open it.
She had the nanites in her nasal passages already, but she found herself really unsettled by them now. She had been before, this whole time, but it just got markedly worse when she came to the toilet.
She had a sense of what they were, because her own people had dreamed of something like them and then written all sorts of horror stories about them. Even when they were the miracle technology that Molly and her people seemed to treat them as, they had a habit of becoming deadly eventually.
“They’re just a tool,” she told herself. “Like a saw or a hammer. Like a bunch of little tiny, microscopic drills. Oh, no.”
If they could replicate, that meant that they could deconstruct other matter and repurpose it. They had to be able to do that. There was no other way to replicate. And that made them deadly.
With the way that they could sense things and help analyze and replicate her cellphone without damaging it, that also made them truly excellent for disposing of waste safely and carefully, without harming any other surfaces or, perhaps, cells that they might come into contact with.
But a tool was only as good as the instructions given to it. And how would they know? Without Manifold there to correct their little tiny actions, could Susan trust the toilet’s algorithms not to consider her alien body to be waste?
Manifold hadn’t seemed worried about it, but it had made the mistake of letting Molly land on Susan’s planet and make first contact. And they had both let Phage out of its cage. If it had been in a cage.
They’d seemed surprised and unsettled by its presence, and the conversation taking place in the cockpit seemed to be confirming that.
But Susan’s body was really becoming insistent that it was done with lunch, and there really wasn’t an alternative. Just like the larger situation they were all in. No choice, really, except to accept the consequences of it.
Well, she could defecate in the cabin, but that would not be diplomatic.
She eventually sighed and went about her business, purposefully turning her mind to the lightest matter she could think of.
The whole endeavor of using the toilet turned out to be painless, surprisingly comfortable (especially after researching her own people’s zero G toilets), and hardly noticeable. She had no physical sensations to tell her that the nanites were doing their job except that she felt rather more clean when she was done than when she started.
A green light indicated to her that she could leave the cubical and pull her pants up. Another coincidental cultural similarity. Probably driven by common ancient instincts.
When Susan came back from the toilet, Lesley declared it was her turn and wandered back to it.
Molly took that time then to fill Susan in on what they’d talked about with Lesley, which was mostly just what they knew about Phage.
Susan, like Lesley, pointed out that the translator was picking an ancient word for “eat” as its name, a word that was now often applied to viruses. And Molly confirmed that it went by a similar name aboard the Sunspot, though the better translation there was “entropy”.
Susan indicated that that didn’t make her feel any better about it being on her planet.
And so Molly and Manifold both went over how it had apparently been invited aboard the Sunspot to help the Crew manage a kind of chaos that had been building up in its systems since its creation. That it had come through this thing they called “the Tunnel Apparatus” and that no one really knew what it was except that it seemed to be able to learn and genuinely wanted to help.
“It sounds like you treat it like a god,” Susan said.
“Every time someone brings up a word like that around it, it warns us not to think of it that way,” Manifold replied. “Strenuously. It will say that it is a law of nature, and then it will say that it is a person. And then it will say that the Sunspot records show that it is an emergent intelligence from the algorithms that controlled the construction nanites. But it refuses deification.”
“But it’s that powerful,” Susan said.
“How do we stop it?” she asked.
“We talk to it,” Manifold said. “We tell it what we think, and hope it agrees. That’s all anyone can do.”
“That’s the face I made when it told me that, too,” Lesley said to Susan as she awkwardly floated back down from the toilet.
Susan had adapted to microgravity remarkably well, while Lesley was still hesitant and overcompensating with her movements. So Susan showed her how to anchor herself when she arrived.
To Molly’s relief, Susan then said, “OK, well I’m done talking about that for now. I think we really have one more piece of business before we decide how to contact our planet.”
“Oh?” Lesley asked.
“Yeah. Molly’s name,” Susan said.
Molly was surprised by that. That was a direction she hadn’t expected the conversation to go, but it intrigued her as well. As she’d told them before, she’d grown to dislike her name and was trying to find a new one. This was enough of a change of mood and subject matter that she found herself coming out of the crash gel to look at Susan and Lesley with her own eyes. The gel wasn’t sticky or wet, and it came away from her scales without leaving a trace of it.
Susan shrugged and said to Molly, “The name you give to our world first is going to stick with you, regardless of what you name yourself afterward. It shouldn’t, but that’s how people here act about names. And you said you wanted a new name. We should help you pick one!”
“Oh,” Lesley said, “I agree! And choosing your own name is the best thing!”
“Our culture believes the same thing,” Manifold said. “Before a child picks their own name, they’re called ‘Student of their Tutor’. So, Molly is also known as Student of Manifold. And I chose my own name only a few years after I was conceived as well. I was simply known as Tutor before that, but it was understood that wasn’t my name.”
“Interesting,” Lesley said, then turned to Molly. “Well, Student of Manifold, what should we call you? Have you heard any names that are calling to you, that feel like you? Or would you like to hear some suggestions?”
“Well,” Molly gave it some heavy thought and sent a small apology to her Tutor for what she was going to say next. “I don’t really want to be called Student of Manifold anymore, either. Even though it is much, much older than me, and will always be one of my parents, I don’t think that should be part of my name. It is, in a way, part of why I left the Sunspot. The Tutor/Student relationship is assigned, and I don’t think it’s good for the Tutors.”
“It’s OK,” Manifold responded. “I was divided on the matter, and I am the version of myself that agrees with Molly. I am going to keep my name, but I don’t need to be called a Tutor anymore, I just don’t know what else to call myself.”
“Parent is good,” Lesley said. “If that’s what you two feel like you are to each other! Parent and child!”
Molly felt herself smiling at that, and wondered once again if her expression was being read as relaxed and friendly by the humans, or not. Neither seemed to react to it.
“I don’t want to distract everyone from Molly picking a name, but, ‘version of yourself’?” Susan asked.
“It is a thing that ktletaccete can do, whether we are a child with a body, a Tutor, or one of the Crew,” Manifold explained. “We can become two or more people. Sometimes it happens without us trying. Those who have a body share it until it dies, then they can go their separate ways using their neural terminal to ascend fully to the Network.”
“Oh, wow,” Susan said. “We have some friends who have experienced something similar. Only, when our bodies die, we die. So they’re stuck with one body their whole life. The government refuses to recognize them as anything but one person.”
“Fascinating,” Manifold said.
“Frustrating,” Susan corrected it.
“So, it sounds like you’re having trouble thinking of a good name, though,” Lesley brought the conversation back to Molly, who was thankful and nodded.
“I was thinking I would give myself a name that would fit my new life, wherever I found a new home,” Molly said.
Lesley tapped her pursed lips a few times, which Molly took as a thinking gesture, and then suggested, “What if you chose a name that’s like the kinds of names my family chooses?”
“What kinds of names are those?” Molly asked.
“Campy ones,” Lesley grinned.
“Such as for going camping?” Molly asked.
“Oh, no, sorry! Another idiom! Wow, those are subtle sometimes,” Lesley said. “Campy is usually used to mean something fun, stereotypical, clichéd, really obvious, stylish, obviously contrived, and overall, most importantly, queer. Like, a campy name is the kind of name you give to an action hero. Or it is also the kind of name a stage performer will give themselves so people will recognize them instantly, remember it more easily, and get in the mood for a good time. But our campy names, our family’s campy names, are meant to tell the rest of the world we’re done with its bullshit, while making us happy at the same time.”
“Oh! So, Lesley is a name like that?” Molly inquired, genuinely expecting the answer to be yes.
“No. But Lesley Chairthrower is!”
“I still can’t believe you legally named yourself that,” Susan exclaimed.
“Whatever, Susanophonic Blaster,” Lesley retorted.
“Listen,” Susan said in a very reasonable tone. “At least my name is descriptive of what I do.”
Lesley broke out laughing so hard she started doing full summersaults.
Molly was very confused and didn’t understand what made these names “campy”. However, the way the two of them regarded their own names and were making fun of each other over them clearly indicated that they did. She tilted her head and watched, trying to figure it out.
“I’ve compared your names to child and family names as listed on your internet,” Manifold said. “They do seem unusual, at least. Can you explain further?”
“Oh my god,” Susanophonic Blaster said, as she grabbed Lesley Chairthrower and helped her to stop spinning. Then she glanced at the ceiling and turned to Molly, smirking, and said, “I can’t believe I’m going to explain this, because these are actually embarrassing stories. But Lesley threw a chair once, at a man who was harassing her. And I fart a lot. We took these names to show the world we don’t care if it judges us for these things. But also because the two of us just can’t say them without cracking up laughing, and we really need to laugh sometimes.” Susan sighed and shook her head, her smirk softening, “You don’t have to do that, though. You could pick a couple of words that feel like they go well together. Or you could name yourself after something you feel proud of. Actually, Manifold already has a kind of name we’d call campy. It’d be campier and even funnier if it was something like Manifold Density.”
Lesley chortled again, but managed to catch her foot on her harness.
“Was that a pun?” Manifold asked. “I just searched for that name, and your search algorithm asked me if I meant ‘Manifest Destiny’.”
“Yes!” Susan said, pointing at the ceiling. “Puns aren’t necessary, but they’re great! You have puns?”
“Yes,” said Manifold.
“You are an advanced civilization,” Lesley said. “Anyway, Molly, if you want one of our names, you could just search our internet name websites for suggestions and see which ones look good to you. They’re unfortunately divided by gender, so you should check both boy names and girl names, unless you really want to stick to one set. Names shouldn’t be gendered, but people will gender them anyway.”
Molly nodded and said, “OK’, and then started doing just that.
She quickly found that Lesley and Susan were considered girl names, and she decided to stick to girl names herself based on that. She also decided that she wanted a two syllable name, like Susan or Lesley. Their official names were longer, but they obviously preferred to go by the shorter ones. And she did like the rhythm of Lesley Chairthrower, so she thought about making up something campy for a second name, like Susan had suggested. Two syllables and then three syllables. It felt good.
The translator was taking her thoughts and turning them into text for her, and then also reading back the text she was searching and turning it into Inmararräo, so she was getting the supposed meanings of the words. But then, also the name listings described the meanings of the names, so she could double check her translation against them.
When she found something she liked the meaning of, she flagged the word or name and told her translator to pronounce it in Susan and Lesley’s language.
She found a nice first name first. Like a lot of other names here, it was somewhat hard for her to pronounce with her own mouth. It only had one sound in it that she’d never made in her life, but she still liked it. And she also really liked its ambiguous and mixed meaning. So she silently practiced the alien phoneme with her tongue a few times, before trying to say it out loud with her own vocal cords. She knew it came out heavily accented, but she was proud of her effort.
“Molly? Molly,” she said.
Susan’s face lit up, “Oh, that’s a good one!”
“Oh, yes!” Lesley agreed. “It feels very you.”
“I want it to be Molly and a second name, like you both have,” Molly said, through the ships speakers. “But I am having trouble with that part.”
“Well,” Susan said, putting her hands on her hips and looking around. “How about a science fiction hero’s name? Something that tells people you’re ready to spring into action to do something good and daring and heroic.”
“I don’t feel heroic,” Molly said.
“Well, you should,” Lesley said. “I mean, you might not be a hero. But you should get to feel heroic when you hear your name. Everyone should.”
“You would think that, wouldn’t you, Chairthrower?” Susan ribbed her.
“Yes. Also, I get where Susanophone is going with this.”
“Your first name is the one you’re going to hear the most. It should sit well with you, and if you need it to be pretty, like Molly is, then that’s a good choice. But your full name is what you’re going to tell the world when you introduce yourself. It shouldn’t be something that makes you smirk or laugh.” Lesley explained. “You want to be able to keep a straight face. But you still want to communicate the kind of person you are. Which, I think, is a queer person. One of us. Right?”
“What is a queer person?” Molly asked. She’d gotten an explanation earlier that day when they’d first been trying out her translator, but she still didn’t feel like she really knew.
“Someone who doesn’t fit in in their own home, but feels proud of it,” Lesley said. “Someone whose very existence challenges other people to reconsider their worldview.”
It sounded like Lesley was describing exactly how Molly felt about herself, so Molly said, “OK, yes. I want to be known as a queer person, yes.”
Susan got another hard to read expression on her face. It looked kind of like a smile, but it only reached her eyes, which twinkled, and her eyebrows only lifted a little bit. Her mouth tightened just a little, like it was going to widen into a grin, but she kept it from doing so. And then she said, “I’ve got a good one.”
“What is it?” Molly asked.
“Can you come out of your flight chair so that I can see all of you and decide if it really fits?” Susan requested.
She finally felt calm and safe enough to do so, so Molly said, “OK,” and pulled herself out into the open, winding around the chair in order to anchor herself in place. She didn’t need to, she could have given the command over the network, but as sort of a gesture of readiness she used the tip of her tail to hit the off button on the console behind her, and the display went dark. This made it so that she wasn’t backlit, and instead easier to see by the others.
“Yeah…” Susan grinned. “You’ve got a spaceship and you’re a snake. Well, you look like a snake. And I told you I think it should sound like you’re ready to spring into action.”
“Yes?” Molly prompted.
It had been eight hours since Molly had first slithered out from her landing craft to meet Susan and Lesley. For many, many people it felt like a week had passed already.
For the average person, it had been a day of interrupted work, stopping to listen to the news if they couldn’t access the internet message boards.
It had taken an unreasonably long time by internet denizens’ standards for the news channels to start broadcasting anything confirming anything like a spaceship landing, but the word was getting around via word of mouth and the social media networks. So, most people’s initial reactions were to dismiss it, but they were subconsciously ready to hear it when their favorite anchorperson said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the human race has finally made contact with an alien species. Multiple observatories are now tracking what is clearly an extraterrestrial spacecraft as it orbits our planet. This development confirms the meaning of the presence of the new object at Lagrange point four. Government officials are urging us to remain calm and to wait until further word from them or from the spacecraft itself as to what this might mean for our daily lives or the future of our species. You can observe the craft yourself as it passes overhead tonight if you have a good pair of binoculars…”
Government officials in every country were furious that someone had leaked that much information to the press, and scrambling to figure out how to get ahead of the story and prepare for their own government to benefit from it, while minimizing the potential damage.
No one ever found the mole. Because there wasn’t one.
Later that night, at an abandoned and heavily cordoned off campsite in the middle of a national park of one of the world’s countries, while forensic investigators continued to pore over the scant and confusing evidence of the scene, a shadowy figure detached itself from a clump of bushes and walked out to the center of the nearby field to look up at the night sky. Agents, if they noticed, mistook it for one of their own.
Appearing to have its hands in a pair of pant pockets, its head swiveled above shoulders that looked squared off and padded as if in a suit jacket, tracking a faint speck of light as it passed steadily overhead.
It seemed very relaxed. Like it didn’t have a care in the world.