KnoxZine
KnoxZine

The Hannaria Series is for sale on Amazon.com.

Introduction by Rica Miller

 When I was five years old, my adoptive mother told me fairy tales to help me fall asleep. In them, who was right and wrong was always clear-cut, and good always won in the end.

In reality, a lot of people walk a gray line, believing it will keep them safe. Some stay on this line for so long that they forget who they are—sometimes for the better but more often for the worse.

You see, the gray is nothing more than an illusion. Whether you know it or not, your decisions slide you in one direction or the other. Then one day something wakes you up, and you realize where your choices have taken you.

Whether good won out or not will be a matter of perspective. The truth is choices were made on both sides to get us to this point, and harder choices will have to be made to determine what happens next.

Whether you decide to trust me or not, you still need to get out of the gray fog of indecision that clouds your thinking.

If you don’t, we are all going to lose.

 

Introduction by Alex Verin

 My grandfather once called Hannaria’s Ambassador a million-armed devil strangling the planet. I hid under chairs at diplomatic meetings for weeks—terrified blue tentacles would burst out of the Ambassador’s human shell and kill my dad. After a few debates, I learned to control my fear in public—but it never left.

As I got older, my fears changed. I learned that humans were once capable of living a hundred years—that something in the past two centuries had cut our average life spans in half. Some people said it was increased disease and EIP violence. Others claimed it started when the Hannarians arrived.

Our ancestors formed the Earth Independence Party with good intentions—to protect us from negative alien influences. They had no way of knowing what it would later become and how many people would die. The Hannarians are capable of taking over Earth, but there’s something I now fear more than them.

What if we’ve become something worse?

 

Chapter 1

Johnson Building

Washington, D.C.

November 9th, 2300

“You offer us these medical scanners—wanting nothing in return—and they have the ability to create detailed images of our anatomy right down to the genetic level,” Dad said as he crossed to the center of the floor and faced the Ambassador. “Our only assurance that this information won’t later be used against us is your word. I’m sorry, but how stupid do you think we are? I want real answers for once and not some act that you’re doing this out of the kindness of your Hannarian hearts. What do you hope to gain from this?”

Several spectators in the balconies and a few on the floor clapped as Dad sat back down, but they were restrained claps like people weren’t sure if they wanted the Ambassador to know their position. Out of all the EIP senators and representatives in the room, Dad was the only one who ever talked to him like this.

Still seated at his table, the Ambassador’s eyes flared to a bright blue—something that always happened when Dad hit a nerve with him. Instead of responding however, he leaned forward on his elbows until his eyes faded back to normal again. The silence in the room lingered to the point of being awkward. Dad’s friend Fred Keller coughed to clear his throat, but he also smiled at the Ambassador’s reaction.

“Can I please just get out of here?” I asked my mom, but she nudged me hard with her elbow and gave me a warning look to be quiet. “I’ve heard them argue back and forth so much it’s like watching the same rerun every year. They should just prerecord themselves and send in the videos so we can all go home and be done with it!”

It could’ve been my imagination, but the Ambassador smirked right at that moment—like he’d somehow heard me even though Mom and I were in a balcony. I shuddered.

“Just make it back before the recess,” Mom said, and I stood to leave but waited a moment.

The Ambassador started to say something then looked over at Dad. He blinked, making his eyes glow bright again as he stood. Silently, he walked to Dad’s table and leaned forward on top of his files—causing a few to close and disappear from the screen. Several news photographers moved in closer, but I froze in place because this was something I’d never seen the Ambassador do before. Dad seemed kind of shocked, too.

“If getting this passed through deception was my goal, don’t you think I’d have come up with a much better lie?” the Ambassador asked. “You say you want answers, Verin? How about I’m getting tired of coming back year after year—decade after decade—and watching millions of your people suffer and die! Now I’m not going to stand here and try to extort Earth out of something we don’t even need so you and your party can make us out to be monsters! We just want to offer our help—nothing more, nothing less. You need to start paying more attention to the people outside these walls that you’re paid to represent—while you still have time!”

More people clapped for him than they had for Dad, but most of them were confined to the same

balcony section. It made me wonder if his bodyguards were required to do it.

As the Ambassador sat back down, I took my opportunity to exit. I was careful not to let the large wooden door slam behind me—a mistake I’d made once and never heard the end of—and walked quietly my first few steps down the hallway. Then I slid down the wide polished stair rails to the basement break room used by the maintenance personnel and security guards.

When I reached the bottom, the room was empty with the exception of a lanky blond-haired boy at one of the tables. He glanced up at me then went back to what sounded like a game on his handheld DMR—short for Digital Matrix Relay. What caught my attention was the device was either a prototype or a knock-off, considering the latest version wasn’t supposed to be released yet.

“At least I’m not the only one skipping out,” I said, feeding two dollars into a drink machine before I turned around. “Are your parents here for the diplomatic meeting, too?”

“Yep,” he replied, not bothering to look at me.

I fed the final dollar into the machine, but it shot it back out before I could select a button. I tried to smooth it out on a corner of the slot, but the machine spat it out again. Then I pushed the change button to get my first two dollars back so I could try the next machine, which of course didn’t work either.

“Oh, come on!” I yelled, pounding the change release button with my fist.

“Do you need another dollar?”

I turned around to see an amused expression on the boy’s face.

“Sure—if you have one.” I stepped away from the machine.

He put down his DMR, walked to the machine, and ran a keychain debit card through the reader. I pushed the button for an energy drink called Brio, and a plastic bottle rattled into the tray below.

“Thanks. Here, you can have this one. It’s kind of wrinkled but still good.”

“Keep it,” he said, shaking his head at me as I continued to hold my dollar out to him. “Really, man–don’t worry about it.”

I nodded and shoved the dollar back in my pocket. After I reached to get the drink, I caught a glance at his card’s remaining balance. It read $39,674.81—panning across the display twice since the machine didn’t have enough digits to show the entire amount at once. I realized he was probably a senator’s kid—or he was secretly tapping his college fund. Even with all the power and influence Dad had, I had a grand total of sixteen bucks in my pockets—including the dollar he’d just told me to keep.

“So, what’s your name?” I asked.

He put down his DMR again and held out his hand. “Andrew Wallace.”

“Alexander Verin,” I replied, noticing as I shook his hand that my last name seemed funny to him. “I take it our parents know each other?”

“Yeah, they do,” he said then shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know if either of our fathers would approve of us talking to the other side—but hey, I won’t tell if you won’t. It’s a free break room.”

I remembered Dad mentioning a senator from Ohio named Mark Wallace in a negative light because he’d sided with the Ambassador on the Destiny space station project. He was about the same

age as Dad, so it fit that Andrew looked my age if not a little younger.

“Commerce Alliance?” I asked, knowing that would confirm it, but Andrew shook his head.

“Let’s just say Dad is very much in favor of this vote going through, and I agree with him. What about you? What do you think?”

I took a drink to stall then twisted the cap back on the bottle. I knew what I thought, but I didn’t want to start an argument with him.

“It’s complicated. I mean, part of me wants to trust the Hannarians, but there’s just so much they haven’t told us. I don’t think we should just rush into things.”

“You’ll be a great politician,” he said then looked back down at his game. “That sounded good as opposed to just saying you’re unsure.”

He wasn’t the first person to tell me I’d be a natural politician, but I wasn’t exactly happy that my future seemed so predictable, even to people I’d just met.

“The last thing I want to do when I get out of school is go into politics,” I replied, and judging from his expression this made him my friend again. “It’s just a lot of talk and nothing getting done.”

“Tell me about it,” he said then rolled his eyes. “I know because of my family I’m going to be more involved, but I’m not looking forward to it either. Dad doesn’t even like it, but he cares enough about Earth to put himself through the motions.”

“Same here,” I replied. “My parents keep dragging me to these things thinking I’m going to carry on the fight against the Hannarians. I don’t think we even have a chance with the way things are going now. Why even bother when the other guy will have a two century head-start? The Ambassador doesn’t even have to outdebate us. He just has to outlive us until he gets what he wants. That’s unfair if you ask me, but I guess that helps your dad’s side, right?”

Andrew paused for a second and pushed the button to turn off his DMR. Then he laid it on the table and looked at me with furrowed eyebrows.

“Is that why your father doesn’t trust Hannarians–because of the lifespan difference?”

“No,” I said, thinking he knew nothing of the real situation. “Dad doesn’t trust them because they’re powerful enough to take over Earth if given enough cooperation. It may not be his generation or ours, but that’s what will happen if we don’t keep blocking them. It’s like the vote today over the medical scanners. Yes, they can maybe detect some diseases early and help us create better medications, but they could also be a step needed for them to take over—like a Trojan horse. People on your side aren’t thinking about that.”

“I don’t think Hannaria’s government is ever going to take over Earth,” he said as he stood, walked back over to the drink machine, and ran his debit card through again. “If they did, it would’ve happened a long time ago—trust me.”

“How can you be so sure they’re not just tricking us and biding their time?” I asked.

He reached down and took his drink.

“Because we just know,” he replied. “It was nice meeting you, Alex. I have to go. I want to see how the vote goes this time.”

It was then that he smiled for a second—smirked—and my brain pieced together what he’d been

trying to tell me the entire time. By the time I had figured it out, he was almost out the door.

“Hey, wait!” I said, running to catch up to him. “What I said before—I didn’t mean I—”

In mid-sentence, I grabbed his shoulder to get him to stop and found myself whirled around and pinned against the corner of the stairwell. The jolt knocked the air out of me, and I couldn’t breathe.

He was holding me at least two feet off the ground with only one arm, his irises burning blue behind what looked like black contact lenses. The overall effect somehow made him look more demonic than his father, who at that point I feared more than anyone or anything else in the universe.

My entire body froze. All my brain processed was that I was going to die the next move or breath I took. My heart made up for it—pounding so hard I thought it would shoot out of my chest and take off without the rest of me. I wanted to beg him not to hurt me, but the words wouldn’t come. So I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable.

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