Quinn was all nerves. She was on a private jet with the president of the United States.
Of all the White House interns, she had been handpicked to accompany the Commander in Chief to a special summit. Quinn could only guess where the summit was located and what it was about. They weren't even taking Air Force One so know one would know the president was gone. Up until the airplane doors were shut, President Meier had been very hush-hush about the whole thing. Now that they were taxiing down the runway, however, the graying middle aged woman sat down with Quinn, ready to talk business.
"I know you must be eager to know where we are off to. We are off to meet the President of the United Nations General Assembly as well as the three heads of the European Union."
"Foreign policy related?"
"That would be the understatement of the year."
"You have been focusing a lot on foreign policy in the latter part of your term."
"One of my political science professors said that it is pretty normal for presidents to shift from a focus on domestic affairs to foreign policy because it is so much easier for them to make changes to foreign policy."
President Meier laughed, but her gray curls, and even her eyes, seemed a bit more lifeless than usual. "Your professor made a good guess, but that is not the real reason for the shift."
Quinn noticed lines under the President's eyes that she hadn't noticed before.
"Let me tell you about the other people we will be meeting. You might want to hold onto your socks for this tidbit."
Quinn sat up a little straighter.
"We are going to be visited by His Chief Excellency, Ququmatz, the ruler of Ch- Ch-- Forget it. I can't even spell it, much less pronounce it."
"Can you show me on a map?"
"You won't find it on any map. It is a different planet."
Quinn stared at the president, trying to discern if she was joking, but she appeared to be as earnest as ever.
"It is imperative that no news media catch wind of this. It would cause pandemonium and chaos unlike this world has ever seen."
Or else it might cause Madame President to be removed from office, Quinn thought. The national leader seemed to be losing touch with reality.
"Earth is in a precarious position. Ququmatz has been coming annually to pick up a quota of precious metals and diamonds, and return they have agreed not to take over the planet. The United States has been funding the collection of most of these materials because the UN and EU can't afford to contribute as much, which is why it has been nearly impossible to reverse the national debt. Every year, it seems, he demands something new in addition to all of the others. One year he wanted mango trees. The following year he required cats."
"What is he asking for this year?"
"Too much," President Meier muttered.
"Assuming this was all true, couldn't we just fight them?" Quinn asked. "I mean, our military technology is unbelievable nowadays."
"Their technology is sophisticated beyond anything we have on Earth," President Meier said.
Quinn raised an eyebrow.
"I understand your skepticism. When our former president first told me, I was outraged. I thought he was nuts before, but this made me so concerned that I made plans to expose him and appeal for an amendment to the Constitution that would require that presidents be screened for mental health disorders before being allowed to run for office. But then, he accompanied me to the annual quota meeting to introduce me to Ququmatz. What I saw in that meeting shocked me. I could no longer doubt. Just wait. You'll see." President Meier ran a hand through her hair. A few strands fell out. "The stress of bearing this burden is almost too much," she said. "You may have noticed that most presidents come into office with one color of hair and turn gray by the time they leave. This is why. Even my gray hairs have gray hairs. No dye job can hide it. It is the nature of the work. Imagine having the lives of over seven billion people in your hands, and they don't even know it."
After they landed on a private airstrip in the countryside, Quinn and President Meier were transported to Rome. The secret meeting was held in the Colosseum. The structure had signs about, stating that it was closed for maintenance and repairs. There was a strong police presence nearby. President Meier and Quinn were smuggled into the Colosseum via the back of a work truck that was made to look like it was carrying building materials. A plethora of other vehicles had already arrived.
President Meier said many of those vehicles were carrying the goods for Ququmatz. Pallets and crates had been unloaded. There were a surprising number of young women about, all of them quite tall like Quinn. Before long, a strange hum began, growing gradually louder, vibrating in such a way that Quinn's ears began to itch.
Some officials directed the young women, Quinn included, to stand in a group near a mound of wooden boxes, while President Meier took her place in a group with the EU and UN leaders.
Quinn didn't feel good about this. Wasn't she supposed to be assisting the President? Why was she being sent over here? Why had the President chosen her, of all interns, to come today? She wasn't nearly as skilled as some of the others, so what had she been chosen for? If the group she found herself in was any indicator, she was chosen for her height. But why?
The vibratory buzz suddenly stopped. The silence that followed was almost painful. There was a slight whooshing sound, and suddenly, a mechanical door opened. It appeared out of nowhere. Quinn could not see the exterior of whatever flying craft had landed before her, but she could see the inside of the door. It was smooth and metallic. And now, she could see the man who walked out. She was surprised. Yes, it was a man. She didn't know what she was expecting, but if course it would be a man. President Meier's hours of crazy talk about aliens from foreign planets must have been affecting her.
But his clothing was quite unusual, with a peacock-like collar that rose up and fanned out behind his head. And he was quite tall and slender. Perhaps unnaturally so. Could it be?
He was followed out of the aircraft by several other men whose collars were also elaborate, but not nearly so much as that of the first man. These men were also unusually tall. Quinn, who was no shorty herself, had them pegged at around eight feet.
The man with the big collar, who Quinn assumed must be Ququmatz, approached the members of President Meier's group, who made a big show of bowing and paying homage to him.
Quinn felt lightheaded. Did I drink something weird on the plane? she wondered. Am I hallucinating?
"I see you have brought women of age to make child." Ququmatz could speak English.
Quinn felt sick. She and these other women were being offered as tribute? To make babies with these foreign beings? This was no less than slavery. She wanted to shake President Meier and tell her to wake up to what she was doing, throwing away centuries of essential progress. But if what the president said was true, about Ququmatz having so much power, then what could she do?
Ququmatz and his cronies approached Quinn's group, sternly looking them over like a rancher might look over cattle on an auction block.
No. This could not be happening. The woman standing next to Quinn began to cry. Quinn felt it welling up inside her too, but no. She could not allow herself to despair at such a time. She needed her thinking brain functioning at the highest level so she could process what, if anything, she could do to stop this madness. She put her arm around the shaking woman and took several deep, slow breaths.
Ququmatz started asking questions of some of the women. Most of his followers did the same, but one of them hung back from the rest. He looked a bit uncomfortable. Why? This one might be her best bet. It was worth a try. Instead of waiting to be approached, she went directly to him.
"What does Ququmatz need women for?"
He looked startled by her boldness, but then his face softened. "We last people left on planet because of big sick that kill everyone." His broken English and very strange accent was difficult for her to follow. She started to walk with him, steering him further away from the group. Others were pairing off as well, so it didn't seem to draw any attention.
"No any women now, so we no can grow more people. So Ququmatz want Earth women."
"How about you? Is that what you want?"
"No. Ququmatz not ask me what I want. I come because he say."
"What will he do if you don't obey him?"
"Hurt me long time."
"Don't go back with him then. Stay here. There are many, many countries in our planet where you are free to choose what you want to do."
"Is that invitation?"
"Yes. Do you need one?"
"Ququmatz say Earth people not want us here."
"Not if you mean to take away our freedom, we don't. But if you want to share in our freedom, you are most welcome."
"Thank you. I should like. You are kind. Do you have name?"
"Queen," he echoed, in that odd accent of his.
She couldn't help but smile.
"My name Cabrakan."
"It is very nice to meet you, Cabrakan. Welcome to your new home."
"Would you help us, Cabrakan? My planet's leaders believe Ququmatz has more power than we do, so they have been living in fear of your people for decades. Would you explain to them what you told me, about there being so few of you left?"
"Yes, I do it. I not should tell or Ququmatz mad. But I hate Ququmatz. He was marry my sister. Very bad to her."
They approached President Meier and the other world leaders.
"This is Cabrakan," Quinn said. "He just informed me that their entire civilization was decimated by a sickness. The representatives who came today are all the men they have left. We have nothing to fear from them anymore. Ququmatz means to continue the charade while they build their population back up, but we can put a stop to it all right now."
President Meier interjected. "Cabrakan, can you disable the aircraft?"
"Yes. I do it now." He turned and ran to the invisible machine.
The other world leaders were on their phones in moments, and suddenly several U.N. military helicopters came into view, descending into the Colosseum, Ququmatz and his men tried to run to their vehicle, but thanks to Cabrakan, it wasn't going anywhere. Within moments, Ququmatz was under arrest, and the crisis of the century was over.
For his heroic assistance, Cabrakan was awarded citizenship to the country of his choice. He chose the United States.
"Why the United States?" Quinn asked on their flight home.
"That your country," he said. "I change mind; maybe I do want Earth woman. As long as her name is Queen."