Kathy W--Shapeshifters Series--Completed Fics

Authors can start their own thread with all their work here. Many authors also keep their readers informed on when they have updated a fic on their thread here.

Moderators: Anniepoo98, ISLANDGIRL5, Hunter, Forum Moderators

User avatar
Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
Posts: 690
Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Alien Sky--Part 11

Post by Kathy W » Fri Jun 20, 2003 12:59 pm

PART ELEVEN

Dee happily held James’s hand as they walked through the Fourth of July festival, one of her favorite times of the year. It was popular with more than just Corona residents, as evidenced by the number of out-of-towners here. This event was one of the few times of the year where she could wander for quite awhile without seeing anyone she knew.

She had been a little worried at first about wandering around so openly with an alien. But no one reacted strangely, and she relaxed. To all appearances James was human, as human as anyone else there.

But even if James didn’t look like a visitor from another planet, one could argue that he behaved like one. His head twisted from side to side as Dee led him through the throngs, and questions spilled from him at every booth.

<What is this?> he asked as they approached the dunking booth. Dee opened her mouth to answer him, then realized he had used his “mind speech”, and resolved to not answer until he had spoken out loud. No sense in everyone thinking she was crazy.

When she didn’t answer, James looked at her quizzically, then realized his mistake. “What is this?” he asked again, craning his neck to see over the crowd at the booth. “I’ve been watching this for some time now, and I can’t figure out the purpose of this activity.”

Dee watched the latest customer throwing baseballs at the target, trying to send Sheriff Wilcox into the vat of water just below his seat. The Sheriff was dressed in an undershirt and his bathing trunks, and looked to be having a whale of a time.

“People pay money so they can try to throw the ball at that target,” she said, pointing. “If they hit the target just right, the person sitting on the platform falls into the water. The money is usually used for something we need, like the new library they want to build in Roswell.”

James looked from Dee to the Sheriff in obvious confusion. “But why? Why would an enforcer take part in such an embarrassing ritual? Why would your fellow citizens want to humiliate one of their own in such a fashion?”

“It’s not humiliating,” Dee protested. “The Sheriff wouldn’t do it if he thought it was humiliating. It’s just…..fun,” she ended awkwardly. Now that she thought about it, it did look very strange. She wondered what else she was completely used to that would be strange when she tried to explain it.

Suddenly a ball hit the target, and the Sheriff dropped into the water tank amid much cheering. He climbed out, dripping wet and smiling gaily, waving to the crowd. “See?” Dee said. “It’s fun.”

James shook his head, obviously not seeing at all. They moved on.

The next stop was the dart booth. Airmen from the Army base in Roswell were still playing darts, just as Dee had seen from the top of the Ferris wheel. One airman smiled and nodded as they walked up. “What is this?” James asked.

“It’s a game,” Dee explained patiently. The airmen listened, amused, as she went on. “You take the dart—that’s this sharp, pointy thing here, and throw it at the board. The closer you get to the middle, the higher your score.”

One of the airmen good-naturedly handed Dee a dart. She was no good at darts, but for the purpose of demonstration she tossed it at the board, managing to land it on the outer rim. “I see,” James said.

“Care to try your luck, Mister?” the booth operator asked. Dee watched the operator and a nearby airman exchange glances. Clearly they thought James would be an easy target. Dee fished around in her pocket. She had a little bit of money left, but she had wanted to save it for a ride they could both go on, and a snack. Still, a nickel would get James three darts, and Dee suspected he might be a good dart player.

But James, of course, had no idea he was supposed to pay. He promptly picked up a fistful of darts lying nearby and began throwing them at the board. Whap! Whap! Whap! Whap! One by one each dart landed neatly, expertly, right in the center of the dart board.

Everyone gaped, Dee included. There was a virtual bouquet of darts sticking out of the very tiny circle in the middle of the board. James turned to her and asked, “Is that all there is to it? Not a very challenging game.” The booth operator and the airmen were still staring. Dee squirmed, smiled sheepishly at everyone, and said, “My uncle. He’s new here.” She took James firmly by the arm, and steered him away.

“Did I do something wrong?” James asked, twisting to look back at the dart booth as she led him away.

“No, you did something right. Too right,” she added, casting a nervous glance behind her at the booth. Its occupants were still staring. “It’s not a good idea for you to call that much attention to yourself, James. Remember what you said earlier about not wanting to stand out? Throwing that many darts so perfectly is a good way to stand out. Humans can’t do that. Not very many, anyway. Let’s go look at something else,” Dee said, starting off with James trotting amiably behind.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



“What are these creatures?” James asked, eyeing the ponies as they came to the pony rides.

“They’re ponies,” Dee answered. “Horses—baby horses. People like to ride them.” She pointed to a nearby tent. “That’s where they keep the ones they aren’t using now. Maybe we can sneak inside.”

They did. There was no one in there; just ponies, eating, sleeping, looking bored. They shuffled as James and Dee walked around, admiring them.

“What an interesting animal,” James said patting the head of one of the ponies. It chuffed softly, unafraid of him. Dee patted another, wishing she could ride one. “I like to ride these, but you’re too big,” she said to James, still patting the pony. “Why don’t we ride on the Ferris wheel? We can ride on that together, and I think you’d li…..James? James?”

She had turned around to find him gone. Anxiously scanning the tent, she didn’t see him anywhere. Where’d he go? she thought frantically, getting down on her hands and knees to look under the ponies, wondering if maybe he was on the floor.

<This is a curious shape,> came a voice in her head.

Dee jerked her head up. “Where are you?” Getting to her feet, she looked around and soon realized her eyes would not help her. None of the ponies looked markedly different from the others.

<Over here.>

“Over where?” Dee asked in exasperation. “They all look alike; I can’t tell which one’s you!”

One of the ponies stepped forward. <I saw this animal in the database, but I was under the impression it was not found in large settlements.>

“What are you doing?” Dee said incredulously. “You can’t just go around turning into things!”

<Why not?> James asked, puzzled. Dee opened her mouth to answer him, then closed it. Well, of course James went around turning into things. Because he could. “What if someone saw you?” she said, looking around nervously. “What would I say?”

<No one else is here,> James said calmly. <I checked.> He stamped his feet a bit, and pulled his lips back from his huge horse teeth. <We have a similar animal back home, but it has an extra set of legs,> he commented, sounding like a teacher in a classroom. He lowered his head and looked down between his legs. <What is all that?>

Dee followed his gaze and pinked. “That means you’re a boy horse, James.”

James raised his head and managed to adopt an expression of consternation in his horsy eyes. <Does the male of every species on this planet suffer from this same design flaw?>

“Missy!” a voice called, making both of them jump. Dee turned to see the pony man poking his head inside the tent. “If you want to ride, little girl, you need to pick a pony out here. These are resting.”

“I’m sorry,” Dee said. She patted James on the nose. “I just wanted to look at the other ones.”

The pony man smiled. “Here,” he said, taking a carrot out of the pocket of his apron. “Give him a carrot. He’ll like that.”

I doubt it, Dee thought. But she took the carrot and held it out to James with mischief in her eyes. “Here, horsie!” she called in a singsong voice. “Want a snack?”

<Why are you speaking to me in that ridiculous tone?> James sounded offended.

“Take the carrot!” she singsonged, waggling it under his nose. When he backed up a step, she commented, “Real horsies like carrots.”

<I’m not a ‘real horsie’,> James announced petulantly.

“Then you shouldn’t be looking like one!” she hissed under her breath. “Now eat it, before he gets suspicious!”

Too late. “They usually love carrots,” the pony man said, walking up to James with a look of concern on his face. “I wonder if he’s sick.”

“Maybe you should take him to the horse doctor,” Dee said impishly. James shot her a withering look, and promptly chomped on the carrot. He looked so silly standing there with the carrot hanging out of his mouth like a cigar that Dee had a hard time holding in a giggle.

“He’s still not eating it,” the pony man said, sounding genuinely worried now. He reached for James, who obediently started munching. “Ah...there he goes,” the man said happily. “I hope he’s okay. Maybe I should keep a closer eye on this one.”

“I know I should,” Dee muttered, drawing a <Mmph!> from James, who was still chewing. Serves you right, she thought severely. Still, she allowed herself a moment’s pity for him. She hated raw carrots. Too hard.

“Come on out,” the pony man was saying. “Children shouldn’t be in here.” He held open the tent flap, ushering Dee out. She looked back once at James, who was still chewing with a flinty look in his eye, and followed the man outside. As she left she heard a familiar noise behind her, and smiled. James had spit out the carrot.

A line had formed, and the pony man scurried off to tend to his customers while Dee waited impatiently for James to come out. He was there in less than a minute. <That wasn’t very nice of you,> he said reproachfully.

“It wasn’t nice of me? What about you? You say you don’t want to call attention to yourself, and then you go and turn into the first animal you see? What if someone had seen you? You have got to be more careful!” she finished, realizing that she sounded an awful lot like a lecturing parent.

James looked at her a long minute, then looked away. <I’m sorry. I was just….curious. And your horse reminds me of our kumini. I used to take that form and give the Princess rides on my back when she was little.> He looked—and sounded—so wistful that Dee felt her anger evaporating.

“Look, let’s just go find something we can do together. I saved some money—currency—for a ride. Let’s go on the Ferris wheel. It’s one of my favorites.”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



When they reached the Ferris wheel, James studied it for several minutes in silence. <This is the device on which I saw you earlier,> he said at length. <What is its purpose?>

“It’s a ride,” Dee explained, hanging over the fence that had been erected around the Ferris Wheel. “People like to ride on it because it’s fun.”

James studied the wheel again. <It goes around in a circle,> he announced.

“Yes.”

<And that is fun?>

“It goes around fast, James. That’s the fun part.”

James looked confused, but joined her in line. It was short, and they were heading for a car in no time. The previous occupants exited looked greener than Rachel had earlier. <Are they ill?> James wondered, watching them leave.

“Some people get sick on rides like these.” The ride operator who was latching their car gave her a funny look.

<And that is fun?>

“No, of course that isn’t fun,” Dee said impatiently. “I don’t get sick, so it’s fun for me. And James,” she added, suddenly realizing something. “I told you not to talk in my head.”

The ride operator gave her another, longer funny look before heading back to his controls and advancing the wheel. It gave a lurch and sent their car soaring into the air, prompting the usual screams from the other riders. James looked around in surprise.

<Why are they screaming? Are they frightened?>

“A little,” Dee yelled over the wind of the Ferris Wheel.

<So they’re not having fun?>

“Yes, they’re having fun!” Dee squealed, as the wheel made another dizzying descent. “Sometimes people like to be scared, James. That’s part of the fun.” She realized she wasn’t making sense, and didn’t much care.

<Do humans always emit such noises when they are having fun?>

“James?”

<Yes?>

“Just shut up and enjoy the ride!”

He was obediently quiet as the wheel spun. The operator once again had it going at a good clip, so she was almost weightless as their car plunged downward. She closed her eyes, reveling in the sensation, and was genuinely sorry when the wheel stopped and began unloading passengers.

<Now I see why humans like this,> James commented, watching people climb off.

“Oh? Why?”

<It is probably the nearest you will get to flying.>

Dee smiled, knowing he must be right. He could be a bird, so he would know what flying felt like. “James?”

<What?>

“Don’t talk in my head.”

When their car approached the bottom, James pointed. “What is that? Is that another ride?” he asked, remembering to use physical speech for once.

“Yup. We call that a merry-go-round.”

“A horizontal circle this time,” he observed in a wondering tone. “Aren’t those horses?” Their car reached the bottom, and the operator started to unlatch the door.

“Uh huh. You sit on the horse and it goes up and down and around and around.”

“Why would someone choose to ride a synthetic horse when real horses are only a short distance away? And why are they so colorful? Are their natural colors not sufficient?” The ride operator raised an eyebrow.

Dee sighed. She was getting tired of explaining human fun to James. She had wanted to show him the American carnival experience, but dunking booths, dart games, and rides all sounded so stupid when she tried to explain them. Time for a snack. I know,” she said, eager to change the subject. “You asked about colorful food. Let me show you some. But you have to promise,” she said, hopping down from the car. “No more turning into something else.”

“I promise,” James said solemnly, as they walked away from the wheel with the ride operator gaping at them.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


James tagged along, still looking this way and that, until they reached the nearest cotton candy stall. “How about this?”

Cotton candy in every conceivable hue was arrayed at this stall, which was Dee’s favorite every year. The woman who ran it mixed her own colors and flavors, and even created stripes and polka dots. She was peering down at both of them now, a massive woman who looked like she spent a good deal of time sampling her own wares. “Back again, are you Dee?” she asked, eyes twinkling. “What’ll it be this time?”

“Just one cone this time, Mrs. Avery,” Dee said politely. “For my friend.”

“A friend, eh?” boomed Mrs. Avery. “Well, any friend of yours is a friend of mind.” She leaned in and whispered confidentially, “You’re one of my best customers, y’know.” Mrs. Avery grabbed a cone and held if aloft. “A free sample for Dee’s friend,” she said to James, smiling. “What’s your pleasure?”

James turned, confused, to look at Dee. “She wants to know what flavor you want,” she whispered to James. When James didn’t respond, Dee made a command decision. “He’ll take blue, regular flavor,” she announced.

Mrs. Avery obligingly stirred a small amount of cotton candy onto the cone and handed it to James, who looked at it curiously. “Thank you,” he said, bowing slightly. Mrs. Avery looked amused. She was used to people thanking her, but not bowing. “My pleasure,” she said. “You both enjoy yourselves now.”

Dee pulled James over to a nearby picnic table and sat down. He was staring at his candy, clearly not sure of what to do with it. Dee pinched off a piece and put it into her mouth. “See? Like this,” she said. “It’s sweet; it’s good. And you don’t have to chew it. I think you’ll like it—try some.”

James copied her, pulling off a piece of the stuff and warily placing it in his mouth. He looked surprised, pulled off another piece, and ate it. “It just melts,” he said wonderingly.

Dee nodded. “Isn’t that cool? I love this stuff. Doesn’t it taste good?”

James shook his head. “I wouldn’t know.”

“Why not?”

“We cannot taste,” James said, finishing off the candy as he spoke. “I shall have to rely on your opinion of what it tastes like.”

Dee looked at James, horrified. “You can’t taste anything? You come from another planet where people can change their shapes and build spaceships, but no one can taste anything?”

James shook his head again. “Most of the people on my planet can taste, just not my race. Our organs are constantly changing shape, so the nerve pathways for some of our lesser senses never do become patent.”

Dee wasn’t quite sure what all of that meant, but at the moment, she didn’t care. “Lesser senses? I can’t imagine even being interested in eating if I couldn’t taste. But you needed food, so you do have to eat, right?”

“We get hungry, just like you do,” James confirmed. He smiled at her. “Do not feel badly for us. We have never been able to taste, so we do not feel we are missing something. There are compensations to being who we are.”

Behind them the band stopped playing, and the lights began to dim. Dee stood up. “They’re almost ready to start the fireworks. I’d love to watch from up on the hill, but I think it’s pretty well packed now. Let’s see if we can find another good place to watch from.”

“Where will these ‘fireworks’ be?”

“Over that way, toward the open end of the field,” Dee said, pointing.

“I know the perfect place from which to watch,” James said, in his textbook perfect English. He strode off confidently, with Dee scrambling to keep pace behind him, finally stopping when he reached the wall of the school where she had first called up to him.

“James,” Dee said, panting. “We can’t see anything from back here.”

“Not here,” James said. “Up there.” He indicated the roof he had recently occupied as a hawk.

“All well and good for you,” Dee said, annoyed. “I can’t get up there; there’s no ladder, no stairs, no anything.”

James smiled. “Remember I mentioned ‘compensations’?” He passed his hand over the bricks on the wall, and the bricks began to move. One by one they protruded from the wall, some horizontally to form steps, some vertically to form hand holds, all the way up to the top.

Dee’s mouth dropped open. James looked pleased. He motioned for her to go first. “I’ll go behind in case you slip.”

Dee grinned from ear to ear. This was so neat. Compensations, indeed. Knowing a space alien had to be the neatest thing in the world.


******************************************************


Urza followed the child up his makeshift ladder. She was a good climber, agile and strong, and she made it to the top without incident. He retracted the bricks, and they settled down on the roof facing in the direction she had indicated earlier, far enough from the edge that they would not be seen from the ground. They could see most of the crowd, however. Everyone was moving to whatever spot they had chosen for watching the fireworks.

As Urza scanned the throng below, he caught a glimpse of something he did not expect. It was fleeting, disappearing almost as soon as he’d seen it, but unmistakable nonetheless. The faint, yet obvious trace of a fellow Covari out there in the crowd.

Urza sighed. Most likely it was Jaddo, come to check up on him. Let him look. They’d see if Jaddo, the great strategist, would think to look on the roof. Urza was enjoying himself far too much to let Jaddo irritate him tonight. He settled down to watch, unaware of what had passed so closely below, and how lucky he had been that it had not thought to check the rooftops.

User avatar
Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
Posts: 690
Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Alien Sky, Part 12

Post by Kathy W » Sun Jun 22, 2003 1:46 pm

PART TWELVE


Dee sat cross-legged on the roof, watching the fireworks burst in the sky. When she was little she had been terrified of the noise and smoke. She remembered clapping her hands over her ears and crying, just as she could see some younger children doing down on the lawn.

She cast a sideways look at James. He had copied her cross-legged position, and was gazing with rapt attention at the colorful bursts, as though expecting something more to happen. Come to think of it, fireworks might be pretty boring for someone who could travel between planets.

The booms and bangs continued. The crowd oooohed and aaaahed. Dee noticed that James spent as much time watching the people below as he did watching the fireworks. Perhaps more.

<What is the purpose of this display?> he asked suddenly, reverting to the mind speech that he preferred. Dee didn’t mind. Up here there was no one to wonder why she was talking to herself.

Where to start? Dee could hear her teacher now: Explain the American Revolution to a space alien in ten sentences or less. That might be easier than some of the homework assignments she’d received.

“Well, first of all, a long time ago there was a war.”

<Ah. And this display commemorates the war?>

“No. It co…commem…it’s in memory of what happened after the war,” Dee said, marveling once again at James’s English. If “scanning” their language had taught him to talk like that, then she wanted him to teach her how to do that. She could skip English classes for the rest of her life.

But then she remembered that the Declaration of Independence was signed at the beginning of the war. “No, that’s wrong,” she corrected herself. “It reminds us of something that happened right before the war started.”

<So this display commemorates the beginning of a war?> James sounded mystified.

Gee, this was hard! Dee made a mental note that the way to see if you truly understood something was to try to explain it to someone who had no idea what you were talking about. “No. See, we were part of another country. Do you know what a country is?” Thankfully, James nodded. “The people who lived here didn’t like the way the king was treating them, so they split off and formed their own country. The king didn’t like that, so there was a war, and we won. We formed our own country. But right before the war started, the people here wrote a paper telling everything they thought the king had done wrong, and why they thought they had the right to form their own country. And that happened about 170 years ago today. That’s what we’re remembering.”

James was nodding. <I see. You formed your own group with your own king.>

“Nope. We don’t have a king.”

<You mentioned that earlier. Do you have a different title for your king?>

“No. We don’t have anyone like a king.”

<Then who rules?>

“No one rules. Well, no one person, that is. We all rule.”

<That is impossible. There can be only one ruler.>

“We have one president. He’s very important, but he’s not a king. He can’t just do whatever he wants.”

<Then who makes decisions?>

“We do. The people of our country do. We pick the people who will go and speak for us. And those people get together and decide what to do.”

James shook his head, obviously perplexed. <I do not understand how such a system could work. The resulting disagreements would bring chaos.>

“It works,” Dee said, shrugging. “It’s worked for almost 200 years now.” She looked at James, sitting so straight and tall, looking almost like an Indian. “You have a king. How does that work for you?”

James face darkened. He didn’t answer her.

“Something must not be working very well if you had to run to another planet to hide,” Dee noted.

<There was a war. Our king was—injured. We need to hide until the king is strong again.>

War. Here she was, talking to someone from another planet, maybe a whole different galaxy, and it turned out the one thing they had in common was war. It figured.

“You already know about the war we just had. It was a big one,” Dee said, tracing circles in the dust on the rooftop with her finger. Overhead the fireworks continued to burst, lighting the night sky. “My daddy fought in it. So did my Uncle James.”

<Is that why you call me ‘James’?> he asked, turning to look at her. She nodded.

<Did this ‘James’ die in the war?>

“No. He died because of the war.”

<I do not understand the difference.>

Dee pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them. “He didn’t die until after the war was over. He was so upset at what he’d seen and had to do over there that he—he killed himself.” Her voice cracked as she spoke. The fate of Uncle James was still a very sore subject in the Proctor household. The only reason she knew as much as she did was due to her top-of-the-stairs eavesdropping. “How long ago did your war end?”

<It has only just begun. We left just as it started.>

“Why?”

<To protect the king so he can return and win the war.>

“Why didn’t he stay and fight?” Dee wondered. “Kings aren’t supposed to run away when their kingdoms are under attack.”

James got that dark look again, and Dee was afraid she had seriously offended him. <He did not run. He fought. We have brought him to safety so that he may recover from his injuries and return to win the war.>

“Why can’t you win the war without him?” Dee asked. “A king is only one person. Isn’t there usually something set up so that when a king dies, someone takes his place? Why come all the way out here and hide?”



******************************************************



Urza looked at the girl’s quizzical face, and found himself at a loss for words. How to make her understand the importance of Zan, his father, their entire dynasty? If it had been only Zan who died, then Rath would have assumed the throne and likely put things right. The loss of the entire royal family was a devastating blow to a people who depended on their monarchy for structure, stability, and protection.

Protection. How ironic. It was the duty of the monarchy to protect, but they had been unprepared for this assault. The peace Riall had ushered in had a price: Complacency. Rath had railed against it at every opportunity, and Jaddo with him. They had gone soft, Rath argued, making them ripe targets for ambitious people like Khivar, and heaven knows there were enough of those. Zan frequently told Rath he was being paranoid, that no one wanted to break the peace, that continually preparing for war was a waste of time and energy. None of his rivals was strong enough to take the throne.

You were right, Your Highness. But it was not a rival that brought you down, Urza thought sadly. I wonder—did you ever suspect? Did you have any idea what was happening under your own roof?

“Oooooh, here comes the finale!” the girl was saying, sitting up on her knees and looking excited. “This is really cool. They set off lots of fireworks one right after another, and it is so pretty. Watch!”

Urza watched obligingly as a blaze of colors filled the sky, and a cacophany of noise filled the air. He had to admit, it was beautiful. These humans certainly liked their colors. His world was not half so colorful.

After the last firework had been set off, the crowd below cheered wildly. The lights came back on, and the band began to play again. The child stood up and stretched. “I should get back to my family,” she said. “Pretty soon someone’s going to figure out that I’m not where I should be.”

Urza led her over to the wall again, and made the bricks form the ladder. He went down first, with the girl following. When they reached the ground, he returned the wall to it’s usual state while the girl watched in amazement. Such a simple thing, possible only because of the human brain, and yet she was amazed.

<Goodbye,> James said. He paused. <That is the correct word, is it not?>

She nodded. “You got it right. Will I see you again?”

<Perhaps.>

“If I don’t, good luck with the hiding. I hope you get your king back to stop the war.”

<Thank you for your efforts on his behalf. They will not be forgotten. And thank you for your company this evening.>

The girl turned to go, then hesitated. Abruptly turning around, she grabbed him in a fierce hug. Urza hesitated a moment, then hugged her back.

She pulled away after a moment, looking up at him with tears in her eyes. She reminded him so strongly of Vilandra when she was young. Her intelligence, her tenacity, her willingness to argue a point….he sincerely hoped this human child would put those qualities to better use than Vilandra had.

“I’m really glad I got to meet you,” she said, wiping her hand across her face. “And I’ll always remember you.”

He smiled. <And I will always remember you.>

She nodded, attempting a smile. Then she gave a final wave, turned, and trudged around a corner of the school building, returning to her life and her world. Which was really better for her, Urza mused. She had been very helpful, but associating with him was dangerous. Her world—her “country”—was strong and at peace. A better place for her to be.

He walked into a shadowy corner, meaning to shift into his hawk form and return to the ship. Now that the festival was almost over, it was time to start dismantling the Granolith. It was too large for any of the transports he had found, so two trips would be necessary to move it. And he planned to have a word or two with Jaddo about following him here. He closed his eyes, mentally concentrating on the form he wished to take.

Then his ears pricked, his excellent Covari hearing taking over. What was that?



******************************************************


Dee rounded one of the back corners of the school building feeling very blue. Most likely she would never see James again, or his ship, or meet the others he came with. She had pushed that thought to the back of her mind all night so as not to ruin her time with him, but now it was impossible to avoid. Her grand adventure was over.

She was looking at the ground as she walked along, heading back to the festival and her parents. She walked right into him.

Rough hands grabbed her arms. She jerked her head up and looked into the triumphant face of Denny Miltnor. He towered over her, and Dee turned her face away, grimacing. Whoohoo, he smelled bad. He’d been hitting a lot more than the soda pop.

“Let go of me, you nitwit,” she barked, trying to squirm out of his grasp. When he wouldn’t let go, she landed a well-placed kick on his right shin, causing him to yelp in pain. He dropped his hands and nursed his leg, glaring at her. Dee gave him a “you had it coming” look and stalked off.

“I saw,” Miltnor called after her. “I saw everything. And I’m going to tell everyone.”

Everything? What had he seen? Dee turned around, rolling her eyes. “Denny, you’re drunk.” No surprise there. “What is it you think you saw, when you’re probably seeing two of everything anyway?”

Miltnor’s eyes glittered as he limped toward her. She must have whacked him good. “I saw you walking around with that freak. I saw those bricks pop out of the wall—twice. I saw plenty. More than enough to make life interesting for you.”

“And who’s going to believe that nonsense, Denny? Like I said, you’re drunk. You’re probably seeing angels dancing on the heads of pins. Go home and sleep it off. And leave me alone.”

Dee started to walk away again. “I saw more than that,” Miltnor continued, in the tone of one who has saved his trump card for last. “I saw you give him those pieces of metal Brazel said he found on the ranch the other day. He’s been yakking about those all night. There’s something out there, isn’t there?” He smirked at Dee’s wide-eyed expression. “When I tell everyone what I saw here tonight and Brazel finds those pieces missing, they’ll listen to me. They’ll want to know why a goody two shoes like you suddenly turned into a thief.”

The hair rose on the back of Dee’s neck. What on earth would she tell Mac if Denny ratted her out? Would Mac believe him? He just might, because she had been in his house earlier today, and he’d had those pieces just this morning. Mac would put two and two together fast enough to make life very uncomfortable indeed.

“Denny, you know very well that no one will believe you,” she said, trying to undermine his confidence. “You lie all the time. Why should this time be any different?”

Miltnor limped past her, heading for the festival grounds. He wasn’t smirking anymore; he looked angry. And dangerous. Frankly, she preferred him smirking. “I don’t need them to believe me,” he said sourly. “I just need to make them wonder, and their own imaginations will do the rest. They’ll find your freaky friend, and hopefully carve him up into little pieces to see what makes him tick. Not that he’ll be ticking for long after the Army gets hold of him,” he added with satisfaction.

Dee was genuinely frightened now. “What are you talking about? We’re not at war anymore. Why would they send soldiers? Police, maybe, but not soldiers.”

“Who’d you think they’d send after an alien spaceship? The Easter Bunny?,” Miltnor called back over his shoulder. He stopped, and turned back to look at her, smiling with nasty satisfaction when he saw how scared she looked. “War’s over, Proctor, but people are still scared. Hitler’s not out there anymore, but the Commies are. Wait’ll they hear there’s a spaceship on Pohlman Ranch. They’ll be out there lickety split. Like I said, they don’t need to believe me. They just need to think, maybe.”

Miltnor turned around and limped off determinedly, while Dee stood there shaking. The thought of the Army going after James and his ship with guns was horrifying. James could do things humans couldn’t, but she didn’t know if his people could hold off a whole platoon of soldiers for very long.

She had to stop him! Denny was almost to the far edge of the school building. Pretty soon people would be able to see him. Panic reared its ugly head, and instinct took over. With a running start, Dee launched herself at the town bully.

Her initial impact knocked him to the ground, but Denny was a lot bigger than Dee. A lot bigger. What am I doing? she thought frantically. There was no way she could keep him from talking if he wanted to. They scrabbled in the dirt, arms and legs flailing. “Gittof!” Denny hollered. Normally he would have been able to shake her easily, but he was drunk and unsteady. His arm hovered in front of her face for a moment, and she used one of the few weapons she had: Her teeth.

Miltnor roared with pain, and suddenly he wasn’t unsteady anymore. Suddenly he was on top of her, banging her head into the ground. BANG! BANG! BANG! Her head hit the hard, packed dirt, while pain exploded in her brain. Her vision started to blur, and she felt something warm and sticky running down her face. Everything started to go dark.

Just before her eyesight failed she saw it, what looked like a coyote sailing gracefully through the air. Denny saw it too, eyes wide with shock, just before it buried its teeth in his neck. Denny’s weight was pulled from her body, but Dee couldn’t move, couldn’t talk, couldn’t even breathe. Darkness fell like a curtain closing, sound faded, and she lost consciousness.

User avatar
Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
Posts: 690
Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Alien Sky--Part 13

Post by Kathy W » Fri Aug 15, 2003 9:17 pm

PART THIRTEEN


Brivari stood in the doorway of the lab watching Valeris working intently, so intently he had not even heard his approach. He’d been at it for hours, stopping only to eat and nap. Brivari came closer to see what was so important, peering over Valeris’s shoulder so he could see better. “I think you missed your calling,” he said with a perfectly straight face. “You really should have gone into portraiture.”

Valeris looked up briefly and smiled. “I’m a scientist, not an artist. This was the best I could do from the images we have of the donors.”

“Forgive me if this is a stupid question, but why have you suddenly decided to write a book?”

“Insurance, Brivari. I would love to believe we will be here when our Wards emerge, and that all will be well. But the last few days have brought home to me more than ever just how uncertain everything is. If we are not here to guide them, there should be instructions left for them.”

“What kind of instructions?”

“Who they are and where they came from. Why they find themselves here, and how to operate the Granolith and return home. Among other things.” Valeris kept writing as he talked.

Brivari pulled up a chair and sat down. “But won’t they know all of that already? Granted, only Zan would know how to operate the Granolith, but the rest should be common knowledge to all of them.” When Valeris did not answer, Brivari picked up a page and read it. “This is written as though the reader knows nothing,” he said slowly. “Almost as if you’re speaking to a child.” He paused. "You’re worried, aren’t you. Worried they won’t remember.”

Valeris sat back in his chair and sighed. Setting his stylus down on the table, he rubbed his eyes with huge, gray hands. He looked exhausted. “It’s all in there, Brivari. I promise you that. All of their memories were transferred. But they will be stored inside a human brain, the architecture of which is somewhat different from ours. That shouldn’t make a difference, but we’ve never tried this before. I’m trying to prepare for what could go wrong.”

“Such as?”

“Such as an early emergence, which would compromise their memories just as it does when we emerge before our time. In that case, some prodding might be necessary to access them. Seeing their own language might do that. Or, worst case, that we will not survive until their emergence. Having written instructions would then become a necessity. It is important that they not go home too soon.”

“Too soon?” Brivari asked, puzzled. “If their memories are intact, how could they go home ‘too soon’?”

“They will need time to become accustomed to their new forms and new abilities. They will be able to do so much more than us, but they will need training and practice. And I imagine there will be questions asked all around about what happened. They—we—need to settle all of that before they return. ”

Brivari shuffled through the writings. “Frankly, I am more concerned with the incubation period. What do the rest of us do if something happens to you? You are the only knowledgeable one here on the subject of cloning. Is there anything in these instructions that will help us in case we lose you?”

Valeris shrugged. “With the exception of my current task, my work here is done. Once the process is past the beginning stages, it cannot be altered in any positive way. Certainly it can be interrupted, as when the incubators lost power. Or the pods could be damaged. Other than keeping them warm and protecting them from damage and discovery, there is little else to tell. But I can write something down if you wish.”

Brivari nodded. “I would appreciate that.” He smiled. “This is almost over, old friend. We will begin moving the Granolith tonight—first, as you requested. We will need to move it in two sections; the transport vessels Urza located are too small to take it in its entirety.”

“Couldn’t you alter the size or shape of the transport?”

“That would make it look odd. We must remain as inconspicuous as possible. Even so, we should have everything moved within 48 hours.”

“Good,” Valeris replied. “I grow increasingly uncomfortable sitting here so exposed. I realize the area is remote, and we have been fortunate so far. But the sooner we are all safely hidden away, the better I’ll feel.”

“Agreed.” Brivari stood up to leave. “With any luck, the worst that will have happened is that child stumbling upon us.”

As if on cue, Urza burst through the door of the lab, panting heavily. “You,” he said sharply to a startled Brivari. “You must come now. The child has been injured; she may be near death. We must act quickly.”

Brivari and Valeris stared at him a moment. “Urza, slow down. What happened?” Brivari asked.

“There is no time,” Urza said urgently. “She retrieved the ship fragments for me.” He held out the parcel, which Valeris took from him and began inspecting the contents. “She was injured in the service of the King, and she is entitled to the King’s protection.”

“Says who?” said a voice behind him.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Urza turned to face Jaddo, who was standing in the doorway. “The King says,” Urza replied. “He has always granted his protection to those who risk their lives in his service.”

“I fail to see how the retrieval of a few ship fragments constitutes a risk of life.”

“She attacked a human male at least twice her size when he threatened to expose us,” Urza said icily. “She lies injured and unconscious as we speak, awaiting with breathless anticipation, no doubt, the outcome of this fascinating discussion as to whether or not her service was worthy.” Uncharacteristic sarcasm dripped from Urza’s voice.

Jaddo’s eyes narrowed. “And how could this human male have exposed us? What did he see that placed us in danger?”

Urza dropped his eyes, and his voice faltered. “He saw…..he was following us, and he observed me using my abilities. He saw the child giving me the ship fragments. He is the same male I fended off earlier today.”

“So,” Jaddo said pointedly, “it is not this human who has placed us in danger, but you, with your gallivanting around human gatherings.”

Urza’s face darkened. “I gather that’s why you followed me tonight, isn’t it? I saw you there. I was up on the roof of the nearby building. You, who fancy yourself such a brilliant strategist, and you didn’t think to look up?”

Jaddo’s face wore an expression of absolute astonishment. “What are you talking about? Follow you, to this….this…..waste of time the humans call a ‘festival’? Why would I do that? Honestly, Urza, I think your fascination with this race has begun to cloud your vision, not to mention your judgment. Assuming you had any of that to begin with, of course.”

“That’s enough!” Brivari barked. He cast a dark look at a smoldering Jaddo, and turned to Urza. “Urza, once more. You said the child attacked another when he threatened to expose us. Where is this human now?”

“Dead,” Urza replied. “I assumed the form of an earth animal known as a ‘coyote’ to dispatch him. They are common in these parts, and capable of killing a human. I moved his body to a more remote area on the outskirts of town on the way back here.”

Brivari nodded. “Good. And the child?”

“She lies bleeding and unresponsive behind the building near which the festival is being held. We should move quickly if we are to save her.”

Brivari looked at Valeris, who had been considering all this in silence. “Those who imperil themselves in the service of the King have always been granted the King’s protection,” Valeris said slowly. “This would seem to be the case here.”

“I simply cannot believe you are even considering this,” Jaddo said incredulously. “This child has no concept of serving our King, no knowledge of our world. The King’s protection is extended to his own subjects, not aliens.”

“Which would arguably make her service all the more remarkable,” Valeris commented. “She is of this world, not ours. Yet she assists us, not knowing for certain our origins or purpose.”

“Not very intelligent of her, if you ask me,” Jaddo said sharply.

“I didn’t,” Urza said coldly. He looked from Valeris to Brivari, apparently assuming that any hope he had of making his case lay with those two. “If we do not move quickly, the child may die.”

“Good,” Jaddo said bluntly. “One less human to expose us.”

“Bad,” Urza said just as bluntly. “One less human to help us, as she has already done and will likely continue to do in the future—if we let her live. Brivari,” Urza said, facing his fellow Warder squarely, “is it not our duty to form alliances that will protect our Wards?”

“Of course it is,” Brivari answered, “but….”

“If we are to survive here,” Urza interrupted, “hide here for decades, we will need the assistance of humans. Whether we like it or not,” he added, with a pointed look at Jaddo. “The whole purpose of an alliance is mutual assistance. Unless both sides are willing to help each other, there is no alliance. If we fail to help her, she may very well die. Even if she lives, she will likely decline to help us further.”

“She has no idea that we are even capable of helping her,” Jaddo countered. “And I have already pointed out that it was you who put us in danger. Perhaps if we make you stay home, we won’t have these problems in the future.”

“So you want someone to blame, do you?” Urza seethed, advancing on Jaddo so quickly that the senior Warder actually backed up. “Then find a mirror and take a good, long look, Jaddo. It’s true the male saw me use my abilities, but no one would have believed such a fantastic story. He also saw the girl give me the ship fragments, and overheard our conversation about them. He would have alerted the one she took them from that she was the thief, and that would have caused all manner of uncomfortable questions. So tell me—why were there any ship fragments available to collect in the first place? Weren’t you supposed to dispose of them all? Whose fault is it that there is anything for us to retrieve?”

“Why you…….!” Jaddo flared. He raised his hand, palm forward, at Urza, who did the same.

But Brivari was quicker. Before they could attack, his own hand shot up, sending a shimmering green wall between the two furious Covari. “ENOUGH!” he roared. “Both of you, back off! Now!” Reluctantly, Urza and Jaddo lowered their hands.

Brivari let his shield hang in the air for a few more seconds as if to make his point that he would tolerate no violence among them. When he finally let it drop and spoke to them, his voice was strained, as though it took effort to prevent himself from doing to them what they had just tried to do to each other.

“Urza, you have no business chiding Jaddo. He did his best to either destroy or bury any debris. This ship slid for at least one Earth mile; there is bound to be some debris out there, despite all his efforts. And you,” he continued, turning to Jaddo, “have no business blaming Urza. We will need to use our abilities in order to survive here. There is always the risk that we may be seen.”

“Granted,” Jaddo replied coldly, “but Urza was not using his abilities in our defense. He was indulging himself, satisfying his own curiosity about this weak race. To think,” he breathed, “that my Ward and yours were to be married. It boggles the mind.”

“It only boggles your mind,” Urza retorted. “Rath had good taste.”

“Rath was a blind fool,” Jaddo whispered. “She did not love him. But you already knew that, didn’t you?”

An uneasy silence filled the lab. Urza and Jaddo glared at each other, neither yielding. Finally, Valeris spoke.

“I am curious, Brivari. If Zan were here, what do you think he would have us do?”

“Zan is not here,” Jaddo said testily. “It is for us to decide.”

“Zan is here,” Urza insisted. “He is simply not in a form that allows him to make this decision. And until he is, until they all are, we speak and act on their behalf. Tell me,” he said addressing all three of them, “of what use is all this effort to save our world, our way of life, if we refuse to uphold its precepts? Service to those who aid the King has always been a given. Why is it not now?”

“Surely our experience with Orlon has taught you that the old ways no longer apply,” Jaddo said.

“They apply to us,” Urza argued. “We believe in the ‘old ways’. We seek to restore them. We must act as we believe.”

“If the two of you can manage to be quiet, I’d like an answer to my question,” Valeris said dryly, looking at Brivari.

Brivari was silent for a moment, pondering. “Zan would have helped her,” Brivari finally answered. “He was never shy about making allies of other races. I see no reason why he would hesitate to make allies of humans. Urza,” he continued, “remain here. Valeris, Jaddo and I will find the child, if someone hasn’t already, and see what we can do for her. Valeris can shield us if need be. Then Jaddo and I will continue on to procure the transport. Get the stones.” Urza nodded gravely, and left.

“Brivari, do not be so foolish,” Jaddo pleaded. “This will only expose us further. What if someone sees us using the stones? Do not allow nostalgia to put us all in more danger than we already are.”

“It is not ‘nostalgia’, Jaddo,” Valeris said quietly. “It is a matter of principle. The child has rendered assistance to us; whether she fully comprehends her actions is irrelevant. She has placed herself in harm’s way on our behalf, and in doing so, has protected our Wards. Our code clearly says we owe her assistance and protection, that she may continue to serve our Wards. And if we are not willing to abide by our own codes of behavior, then I must ask you, what are we doing here, trying to save a way of life we refuse to live by?”

“And if that ‘way of life’ places us in danger?” Jaddo challenged.

“We can debate this later,” Brivari said abruptly, cutting off Valeris’s reply. “I have decided we will attempt to help her. After that, you and I,” he said to Jaddo, “have work to do. We must remove ourselves from this area as quickly as possible.”

Jaddo sighed. “On that, at least, we agree.”

“I will not force you to participate in the healing, Jaddo,” Brivari said. “Unwilling participants only impede the process. If you seriously object, you may withdraw, and I will not seek to change your mind.”

“You feel this is what the King would have wanted,” Jaddo replied, though in a doubtful tone. “I am the King’s servant, as is my Ward. I will participate, with the understanding that I feel this is absolute folly.”

“Noted,” Brivari said. “And I am grateful,” he added, with a small smile. “I appreciate your support, even if the path is not of your choosing.”

“Definitely not,” Jaddo said sharply, as if that point needed further clarification. “I will scan the area for humans before we leave.” He snapped into bird shape and flew out the door.

Valeris was shaking his head. “Charming to the last, isn’t he?”

Brivari shrugged. “He has a point. He usually does.”

“What was all that about Vilandra not loving Rath?”

“Jaddo never liked Vilandra,” Brivari said. “He was always unhappy with that union. Although, frankly, I think he would have been unhappy with any marriage Rath made. Jaddo is of the opinion that attachments are a weakness, especially for soldiers.” He looked Valeris up and down. “So, old friend. Are you up to this?”

Valeris smiled. “It will be good to fly again. I’ve been too much of a homebody recently. I really should get out more.” Then he became serious. “Did you notice something about Urza?” When Brivari looked at him questioningly, Valeris continued, “He called you by your name. Instead of ‘Master’. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him do that.”

“Nor I,” Brivari replied, as they walked down the corridor. He did not bother going into anything else he had recently noticed about Urza. The increasing confidence. The willingness to argue, even with Jaddo, who had always intimidated him. The curiosity about humans, which could very well get them into trouble.

“Do you suppose Urza imagined seeing another Covari tonight?” Valeris asked. “The three of us were here all night. What could he have seen?”

“I have no idea,” Brivari answered. He would love to be able to convince himself that Urza was merely imagining things, but Covari could always spot other Covari, even from considerable distances. They had been purposely engineered that way, to deprive them of the ability to hide from each other. The odds of Urza being mistaken about seeing another Covari were practically nonexistent.

They reached the outside of the ship just as Jaddo came gliding down from the sky. “There is no one for miles, as usual,” he reported.

Brivari nodded and turned to Urza. “In the unlikely event anyone approaches this ship, you know what to do.”

“Of course.” Urza handed Brivari the healing stones. “There are woods behind the building. Take her there to heal her. You should be unobserved.”

Brivari took flight, grateful for the short time the journey afforded to reflect on what Urza had told them. His long-held suspicion had just been verified. He had a good idea who it was that Urza had seen earlier, and of how narrowly they had missed true disaster. Contrary to Jaddo’s opinion, Brivari knew that their chief enemies on this planet were not human.

They were Antarian.

User avatar
Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
Posts: 690
Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Alien Sky--Part 14

Post by Kathy W » Fri Aug 15, 2003 9:22 pm

PART FOURTEEN


Dee Proctor shifted uncomfortably. She was lying on something hard, and her head hurt like the dickens. She heard leaves rustling in the wind, wind that smelled of trees, dirt, and humid summer air. Gingerly, she cracked an eyelid.

What she could see in the moonlit darkness was not helpful. Tree trunks. Grass. Leaves. This looked like a forest. She was lying on the ground, and she had no idea how she had gotten here.

She moved her head a tiny bit, and was instantly sorry. Pain exploded through the back of her neck up into her head, throbbing, causing her already compromised vision to blur further still. She closed her eyes and held perfectly still, waiting for it to pass, praying it would pass.

<Will she live?>

It was an unfamiliar voice, and there was something odd about it that Dee couldn’t quite put her finger on.

<She will. It will take a few minutes for her brain to process the fact that she is no longer injured.>

The pain was fading. Dee experimentally cracked an eye again. Not much; just enough to see something. This time she look upward, toward the source of the voice.

There were three men gathered around her, each holding a glowing rock of some sort. They were looking down at her with varying expressions. She mentally labeled them from left to right: Interest, disdain, and sympathy. She liked that last one. She could go for some sympathy right now.

<What shall we do with her now?> This from the disdainful man.

<I will sit with her until she is ready to rejoin her family. It should not be long. You two go on about your business. It will soon be late enough to begin.> This from the sympathetic man, who collected the various rocks which were no longer glowing.

Now she understood what had been odd about the voices. Dee heard the voices clearly, as clearly as she heard anyone’s. But the men’s mouths were not moving.

This was the speech James used, that peculiar form of “mind speech” that, for some strange reason, she could hear. Which meant that these men were not men at all, but aliens. James’ people. And they were standing around her while she lay on the floor of a forest she had no memory of entering.

Instinctively she remained motionless, giving no indication that she had heard or understood them. For some reason she felt it best to keep that particular piece of information to herself at the moment. She studied the men through her ever-so-slightly open eyelids. At first glance they looked unremarkable. Neither their faces nor their clothes seemed out of place. Yet there was something in the way they stood, they way they carried themselves, that spoke of….. power. Position. Importance. And danger. Definitely danger. No question about it—these could be dangerous men.

<So this is the child who attacked a human twice her size?> the disdainful man was saying, though not quite so disdainfully as before. He studied her for several moments, as Dee withered inwardly under his gaze. <They are braver than I thought,> he grudged.

<She managed to surprise you. That’s something.> the interested man said with a look of amusement.

The disdainful man shot him a miffed look, while the interested man and the sympathetic man exchanged glances that made it clear they were both making an effort not to laugh. Do aliens laugh? she wondered groggily. So far, James hadn’t. I’ll bet that one doesn’t, she thought, observing the glare on the disdainful man’s face.

<We should leave. We have spent enough time healing aliens,> said the disdainful man. It took Dee several moments in her confused state of mind to realize that by “aliens”, he meant her.

Indignation surged through her, which she instantly regretted; it caused her slightly fading headache to resurge. Who was this…..this…..person, to call her an “alien”? This was her world, and he had intruded; he was the alien here. Yet even as she thought that, Dee realized the disdainful man had a point. She was every bit as much alien to him as he was to her.

She shifted her gaze to the sympathetic man, and was startled to find him looking right at her, one eyebrow raised. Had she moved? Had she said something? She didn’t think so. Had he been able to hear her thoughts the way she heard theirs? She suddenly realized that she had never tried to talk to James that way. She had just assumed that wouldn’t work. It was entirely possible he had heard every single word she’d thought.

What followed was a confusing conversation between the three men, but Dee could only hear the disdainful man and the interested man. These two were clearly responding to the sympathetic man, but Dee could not hear his thoughts; it was as though he had shut her out. She tried to reason all this out, but her head hurt too much, and it took too much effort to keep her eyes just a little bit open. She closed her eyes completely and listened to the bits she could hear. Something about moving something, something else about fuel cells (whatever they were), and more that she couldn’t begin to fathom.

Then—silence. She waited a few moments, then cracked her eyes again. The two men she had been able to hear were gone, and she was glad. They had frightened her; even when silent, they had made her skin crawl. She was feeling much better now, and she opened her eyes all the way and twisted her neck, looking around.

The sympathetic man was sitting cross-legged on the ground not three feet from her, watching her with an expression of amusement. Dee met his gaze and held it. This man was not frightening. He projected an aura of knowledge, confidence, and above all, humor. Dee was absolutely certain that this particular alien knew how to laugh.

<These are pretty,> he commented, with a nod toward the trees. <I’ve noticed most planets seem to have some large, indigenous plant form, but these ‘trees’ are more attractive than most.>

He waited for her to answer. When she didn’t, he tried a more direct approach.

<I know you can hear me.>

No point in hiding it. She decided to try an experiment. “Can you hear me?” she “thought” back to him.

No reaction. So much for that. “I can hear you,” she admitted. “But why can’t you hear me when I ‘think’ back at you? And why couldn’t I hear you just a few minutes ago when you were talking to those other two? And…what are you doing here, anyway? What am I doing here?”

The man chuckled. “Let’s get you sitting up,” he said in perfect physical speech, “before we start getting all philosophical and scientific.” He slipped his hand under her and slowly, carefully, raised her to a sitting position. She has horribly dizzy for a moment, and she clutched him for support. He felt perfectly normal, no different from anyone else she had ever touched. In a few seconds her dizziness passed, and she was able to seriously look around her for the first time.

She was in the woods behind the school. From the sounds floating by, the festival was still in full swing; the band was playing, lights were glowing, and the happy babble of voices filtered through the trees. She remembered going to the festival, riding the Ferris wheel, and Rachel almost getting sick. She remembered meeting James, giving him the ship pieces, showing him around. They had watched the fireworks from the roof of the school, and then they had climbed down that amazing ladder he had made and….and then what? She had said goodbye, walked away, and…….oh.

It all came flooding back, leaving her cold in the summer night. Denny threatening to tell. Him being so cold, so angry. Her running at him, and...ouch! Not a good memory. She gingerly put her hand on the back of her head. There was a lump there the size of New Mexico. And her arm hurt. She hadn’t noticed that before.

“You are no longer injured,” the sympathetic man assured her. “You had a fractured skull, a rather severe one, but we repaired it. Also a broken arm, also repaired. Both places will be sore for a while, though.” He raised a hand as if to feel her injured head, but then checked himself. “May I?” he asked.

Dee nodded. “You won’t hurt me,” she said.

“You are certain of this?” he asked seriously.

Dee considered. “I have a feeling, I guess. Besides,” she added, “it wouldn’t make sense to help me and then turn around and hurt me.”

“True,” the man agreed. He carefully felt her injuries, then sat back, satisfied. “The swelling is going down. How do you feel?”

“Better,” Dee replied, carefully assuming a cross-legged position. “Good enough to ask lots and lots of questions.”

The sympathetic man smiled. “Ask away. And when you’re finished, I have a question for you.”

Dee nodded. Fair enough. She had at least a half a million questions, many of which she was fairly certainly the man would not be willing to answer. But like her mother always said, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

“Okay; first question. What’s your name?”

“My name?” the man said, surprised. “Well, I must say I wasn’t expecting that. Something about telepathic speech, perhaps, or how we healed you. Why is that so important that it merits first question status?”

“James wouldn’t tell me his name,” Dee said simply, “and I really, really want to hear what an alien name sounds like.”

“James? Oh, I see. That’s what you call….one of my companions,” the man said. Drat. She had been hoping he’d let James’s real name slip. “I take it he wasn’t willing to share, but I see no reason not to. My name is Valeris.”

Valeris. Dee rolled it around on her tongue. She was a little disappointed; she’d expected an alien name to be more exotic.

“And, now, I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage,” Valeris prodded.

“Huh?”

“You haven’t told me your name,” he pointed out.

“Oh! I’m sorry. I’m Dee Proctor. Nice to meet you, Valeris.” She offered her hand, wondering if this one knew how to shake hands. He did. “Next?” he asked.

“Why couldn’t I hear you a few minutes ago when you were talking to those other two? I heard you before, but not then. And why can’t any of you hear me unless I talk out loud?”

“That’s two questions,” Valeris said, smiling. “But no matter. Telepathic speech can be directed at one or more individuals, or broadcast widely to anyone within hearing distance. My companions were not aware you were awake enough to hear them, so they did not bother being careful.”

“But you knew,” Dee pointed out.

“I suspected,” Valeris corrected. “Besides, ‘James’ had already told us that you could hear telepathic speech.”

“Do you ever talk out loud? You know, like we do?”

Valeris shrugged. “Sometimes. Not often. We find telepathic speech to be more efficient. For example, we can talk and eat at the same time.”

Dee tried to imagine a whole planet full of people talking to each other with no sound. “Wow. It must be really, really quiet back where you come from.”

“Not to us,” Valeris noted.

“And not to me either,” Dee said. “Why can I hear you? No one on my world talks like that.”

“They could, if they knew how,” Valeris said. “It’s all there”— he tapped her head with his hand—“if you know how to use it. And for some reason, you do. It might have something to do with you being a child. That might also be why I almost lost you yesterday, when you briefly saw our ship through my deception.”

“So that was you,” Dee said. “That’s a neat trick you have there, making things disappear.” Valeris smiled, but said nothing. “I did see it for just a second. Why?”

“You knew it was there because you had already seen it. That made you harder to deceive. Now it’s my turn,” he said, eyeing her. “Why did you help us?”

“Why did you help me?” Dee countered.

“You first,” he answered. “It’s my turn, remember?”

Dee sighed. This guy drove a hard bargain. She mentally sifted through her reasons and chose the easier one.

“No one here has ever met someone from outer space. It’s exciting, and I wanted to be a part of it,” she answered. It sounded lame, even to her.

Valeris raised an eyebrow. “I see. And for this ‘excitement’, you almost got yourself killed?”

Well…….no. That wasn’t it. Images came to mind: Her father crying out in the middle of the night from yet another nightmare. Standing at her Uncle’s graveside. Her father telling her that someone—something—like Hitler could happen here.

“I….I’m afraid of what they will do to you if you are caught,” she confessed, not certain even as she spoke who “they” were. “We had a big war on our planet not too long ago, and horrible things happened to people. I don’t want that to happen again. To anyone.”

“You are referring to the conflict you call ‘World War II’? I have heard of this,” Valeris said.

“You have?” Dee was surprised. “How? Have you been here before?”

“Me? No,” he answered. “But I keep up with the news. I educated myself on your planet, your race, on the way here. I learn quickly,” he added, smiling.

You certainly do, Dee agreed. Right down to knowing how and when to shake hands, and what it means to “keep up with the news”. “If you know about the war, you know what I’m afraid of,” she said.

Valeris nodded. “Only too well.” He looked up at the sky. “There is neither a race nor a world out there that hasn’t committed atrocities, against their own kind or others. My own world is not blameless in that regard.” He looked down at Dee, who was making a mental note to look up the word “atrocity”. “Still, that was a foolish thing you did. You were unprepared to fight one so strong. It was a good thing my companion had not yet left.”

Dee was silent. He was right, of course. She hadn’t thought about it—she had just done it. If she’d thought about it, Denny would have gotten away, and the police might be combing Pohlman Ranch this very minute.

“And you?” she asked him. “Your turn. Why did you help me? That other one sounded like he didn’t want to.”

“There was some disagreement about that,” Valeris admitted. “But our law is clear—we protect those who protect the King.”

“I wasn’t protecting your King. I was protecting James,” she pointed out.

“True. But in protecting James, you allow him to continue protecting his Ward, and all of us, in the end, serve the King.”

“I didn’t like those other two,” Dee said, frowning at the memory of the cold stare from the disdainful man. “They’re scary.”

“They guard powerful and important men,” Valeris pointed out. “They are supposed to be scary.” He let her ponder that for a moment before rising to his feet. “We should get you back to your family. How are you feeling? Can you walk?”

Dee would have dearly loved to sit there and talk to Valeris all night, but it was quite clear the interview was over. She rose carefully to her feet, waiting to see if her head would spin or her legs give out beneath her. Neither happened; she felt fine.

“I’m fine,” she said. “And….thank you.” Valeris gave a little bow. “Will I see you again?” she asked.

Valeris smiled. “I should like to see you again, but I sincerely doubt that will be possible. We will be gone soon, the sooner the better. But we will always remember the assistance you gave us.” He patted her shoulder, the very image of a kindly grandfather.

Dee had intended to wave goodbye and walk away. But for some reason, she pulled Valeris forward into a fierce hug, which he gently returned. I’m hugging an alien, she said to herself, for the second time tonight. He didn’t feel the least bit alien. But then, just as she thought that, she heard his voice inside her head. <Take care of yourself, little one.>

She pulled away, and noticed, for the first time, the condition of her clothes. She was an absolute mess. Getting thrown on the ground, bleeding all over yourself, and lying on forest floors could do that. “What am I going to tell my parents?” she said, more to herself than Valeris. “I look like I’ve been through every single thing I went through tonight.”

Valeris said nothing, just passed his hand in front of her from her head down to her toes. She felt a tingling sensation, then looked down to see her clothes perfectly repaired. Everything was neat and clean; even the blood was gone from her hair. She looked up at him, open-mouthed, and he gave a little shrug. For him, no doubt, this was small potatoes.

She slowly started to walk away, then turned. “There’s one more thing I never asked.”

“Only one more thing?” Valeris teased.

“This is serious,” she said, walking closer. “What happened to Denny?”

Valeris’s face grew somber. He didn’t answer her. He didn’t need to; his silence was an answer in itself. After a moment, he said, “He likely would have killed you, you know. He may or may not have been successful at reaching us, but it is quite possible you would have died.”

Dee nodded. She turned numbly and walked toward the festival, which was still going full tilt. When she reached the edge of the school grounds, she turned around. Valeris was gone.

She walked the rest of the way, watching the lights on the rides blinking, listening to the babble and chatter of happy people, and thinking that it all looked so bizarre. After what had happened to her tonight, this world, her world, was strange.

She headed for the spot where Rachel and her family had set up their chairs and picnic basket. Rachel came running up when she spied her. “Where have you been?” she called. “We’ve been looking all over for you! Hey—are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Dee stared at her friend and realized she could never tell her what had happened tonight. She could never tell Rachel—or anyone—that she had watched the fireworks with a visitor from another planet, that she had almost died helping an alien king, that there was one less person in Corona tonight because of her. She would probably spend the rest of her life not being able to talk to anyone about what had happened here tonight.

She had come to the festival so excited about having a secret, never realizing just how lonely—and how dangerous—having a secret could be.


******************************************************


Nathan Pruitt groaned as he rolled over in his cot. God, his head hurt. He shouldn’t have had so much to drink. Too late now.

He propped himself up on one elbow and looked at the clock on the bedside table; 1:37 a.m. it declared, officially the middle of the night. And here he was, awake with a throbbing head. He absolutely had to get some sleep. He had hundreds of miles to cover tomorrow in order to be eligible for the Trucker of the Year award given at the end of the year.

Time for drugs. He swung his legs to the floor, waited a moment for the rockets exploding in his brain to subside at least a bit, and then staggered toward the nearby table. No aspirin. Damn. He must have left it in his rig. These bunks the truck stops set up for truckers were more comfortable than sleeping in your rig, but it was damned inconvenient when you needed something in the middle of the night.

He fumbled under the cot for his boots. He desperately wanted the cash prize that came with being named Trucker of the Year, and that meant covering a heap of ground tomorrow. Which meant he needed to get some shut eye tonight, which meant he needed to trek out to the truck and fetch the aspirin. He stumbled into the door frame as he left, causing himself to wince, and several of the other truckers in the dormitory to shift in their sleep.

The moon was just a tiny sliver as he trudged across the parking lot, trying to clear the cobwebs from his head. It was still sweltering out, but at least it wasn’t raining. The few lights in the lot cast long shadows, and the night was absolutely still. The rubber soles of his boots made no sound on the pavement.

He spied his rig in the distance, and his mouth fell open. The back doors were open and….it was completely empty. All his cargo was gone. He looked around wildly, sending waves of dizziness over himself as he moved his head too quickly from side to side. He checked again, just in case he was seeing things. No…nothing in the truck. Nothing around the truck. He had a huge, 18-wheeler, filled to bursting. Where was everything? Moving all that should have caused a huge ruckus. Why hadn’t anyone heard?

A sound toward the front made him pause. He knew that sound—it was the sound of the cranky shifter moving. Someone was in the cab.

Nathan Pruitt suddenly felt very clear-headed, probably the fastest he’d ever sobered up in his life. He crept quietly toward the back of the truck, hesitating just before he reached it. He heard no voices, but he could hear the sounds of controls being moved, and that tiny creak the steering wheel always made ever since he’d rammed into the back of that car two years ago. Someone was in there, all right.

Moving silently to the back of the truck, he reached underneath near the back doors and pulled out the crowbar he kept there for just such emergencies. When one drove all over the country and stayed in strange places like he did, it paid to be prepared.

Crowbar in hand, he crept toward the window. Rage boiled over in him. Only three hundred miles away from making the short list for a two hundred dollar prize, and some goons were trying to screw it up for him. When he was finished with them, they were going to need a lot more than aspirin.

He paused just before the window, his back pressed against the side of the truck. The sounds inside had stilled. Pruitt got the uncomfortable feeling that whoever was in there had heard him, was waiting for him. For a moment, he pondered calling the police. But if he did that, they’d get away, and there was no way in hell he was going to let that happen.

Three, two, one………gotcha! “Get the hell out of my truck!” he roared, swinging himself around to face the window, “or I’ll beat the tar out of you!”

What he saw made him gape.

“What the…..?! What……? Who……? Hey! Everybody! HEL…..”

Inside the dormitory, a few men stirred. One of them half sat up, looked around, and saw Nathan’s empty bed. Probably out puking, the man thought. God knows the idiot had enough to drink tonight. He rolled over, and plopped himself down on his pillow again.

Nathan Pruitt never did get the Trucker of the Year award, but he did gain a distinction of a sort. That night, Nathan Pruitt became only the second person to die in the name of an alien king.

User avatar
Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
Posts: 690
Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Alien Sky--Part 15

Post by Kathy W » Fri Aug 15, 2003 9:27 pm

PART FIFTEEN

July 5, 1947

Proctor residence, Corona, New Mexico




On her hands and knees on her bedroom floor, Dee reached under her bed. She stretched her arm as far as she could, pressing her face into the mattress as she gingerly felt the floor, mindful of the time she had encountered that half-eaten bologna sandwich. This time her fingers only grazed cast off toys, a few pieces of clothing, and plenty of dust before finally coming to rest on what she was looking for.

She pulled it out, turning around to lean her back against the bed frame, and placed the object in her lap. She had been careful to sit on the side of the bed that faced away from her bedroom door, just in case anyone walked in. Dusting off the object with the tail of her bedspread, she peered at it closely.

It was every bit as shiny as the day she had found it. Dee felt a little guilty that she hadn’t told James that there was still one piece of his ship that she hadn’t given him. She was loathe to give up her treasure; it was her one souvenir, the one tangible piece of evidence that her adventure had actually happened. Years from now, when she would have no doubt convinced herself that it was all a dream, she could take this out and reassure herself that it was all true. Besides, she certainly would never show it to anyone. She wouldn’t use it to endanger James or his people, like Mac would have unintentionally been doing if he’d taken his pieces to the Sheriff.

She crumpled it into a ball, and held her breath to see if it would smooth out like it did before. The ball obediently flattened, and as it did so, the summer sunshine streaming in the window illuminated something Dee hadn’t noticed before.

There was a string of tiny symbols, so faint they were almost invisible, running along one edge of the piece. Dee counted six different symbols, but one was repeated over and over: A set of swirls with a triangle in the middle. It reminded her a little of a hurricane weather symbol she had once seen. An alien hurricane, she thought. How appropriate.

Her bedroom door opened. Dee whipped around, slipping the ship piece under her bed as she turned, to see her father standing in her doorway, looking at her curiously.

“Is everything all right?” David Proctor asked.

“Sure. Why wouldn’t it be?” Dee answered, hoping he couldn’t hear her heart pounding.

“I didn’t mean to startle you like that.”

“You should have knocked, Daddy,” Dee pointed out.

“Oh. Sorry.” Her father looked embarrassed. “I keep forgetting that you’re not a tiny little girl anymore.” Dee nodded gravely, and her father smiled. “You probably want to keep your under-the-bed treasure secret, right?”

Dee’s heart almost stopped. Had he seen? Or was he guessing? Her “secret hiding place” wasn’t exactly secret. “Was there something you wanted?” she asked, trying to change the subject.

Her father nodded. “Mac wants you to stop over next door. Seems he’s lost something, something he collected the other day when the two of you were on the ranch. He didn’t say what it was, but he was wondering if you knew anything about it.”

Boy, do I. Dee let out a long, slow breath. She’d been rehearsing what to say ever since last night. Showtime.

“Okay,” she said, trying to keep her tone casual. “I’ll be over in a couple of minutes.”

Her father nodded, and turned to go. He paused on the way out. “I imagine you’ll want this closed, right?” he asked, indicating the bedroom door. Dee nodded, and her father closed the door with a knowing smile.

She quickly reached under the bed and pulled out her ship piece. It wasn’t safe to keep it there anymore; it was too important that no one find it. She scanned her room, mentally ticking off the possibilities. The closet? No, too obvious, just like under the bed. At the bottom of a drawer? Possibly. Under the books on her bookshelf? No, the sun shone on that shelf, and the metal would gleam unless the books covered it perfectly. Her gaze swiveled slowly around the room until it stopped right in front of her.

Perfect. Dee slipped the paper thin piece of alien metal between her mattress and the box spring. She made her own bed, so it was highly unlikely that anyone would stumble upon it there. She smoothed out the sheets and her bedspread, arranging her stuffed animals neatly on top. Stepping back, she cast a critical eye on her handiwork, and then knocked a couple of animals askew. Her bed might draw attention if it looked too perfect.

Straightening up, she steeled herself against the conversation that lay ahead. Meeting people from another planet had been quite an adventure, but the one part Dee didn’t like about it was all the lying. She had lied more in the last two days than she ever had in her entire life.

And that wasn’t the worst of it, Dee thought, as she left her bedroom and headed down the stairs. Not only was she lying, but she was getting better and better at it. The lies were coming easier now, giving credence to the old adage that practice made perfect. That was one of her grandmother’s favorite sayings, but Dee seriously doubted her grandmother would find lying to be a good example.

As Dee headed out the front door, she shoved her hands in her pockets to head off the shaky feeling she was getting, and went over in her mind once again what she was going to tell Mac. With any luck, this would be the last time she would have to lie for a good long while.



******************************************************



Pohlman Ranch


Jaddo lay curled on the floor of his sleeping compartment, completely exhausted. It was getting harder and harder to resume his normal shape after working all night. He almost hadn’t made it this time.

Something clinked on the floor beside him, and he opened his eyes. It was a cup, full of hot liquid by the looks of the steam rising from it. Valeris must be tending the infirm. It looked inviting, but he was still too tired to raise his head and drink it. In a few minutes, he thought, although his stomach was growling with hunger.

Valeris apparently disagreed. Jaddo felt his head being lifted, and saw the cup moving, aimed squarely at his mouth. Ordinarily he would object to being treated like an infant, but this time he was too tired and hungry to care. He drank obediently, then sank back onto the floor, only to be lifted up a second time to polish off a second cup of……whatever it was.

Whatever it was, it worked. A few minutes later, he felt better; stronger, less shaky. He raised himself slowly to a sitting position without bothering to open his eyes. “Thank you,” he whispered to Valeris.

“You’re welcome,” Urza replied.

Jaddo’s eyes snapped open. Urza was sitting calmly, watching him, holding the now empty cup in his hands.

“Where is Valeris?”

“He is with Brivari,” Urza answered.

It took a few minutes for it to sink in that it had been Urza holding his head, Urza pouring a drink down his throat. Jaddo was surprised this timid creature was willing to get close enough to render such aid. Or was willing to render aid in the first place. He wouldn’t blame Urza for wanting to keep his distance after the way he’d treated him.

“No doubt you are furious that I took the liberty of feeding you,” Urza was saying, “but you are hardly in any shape to protest. You and Brivari are dangerously weakened by constantly using your abilities. You should let me go instead tonight, so one of you can rest.”

Jaddo sat, speechless, as Urza waited patiently for a reply. Speechless partly from exhaustion, partly from true confusion over how to proceed on this unfamiliar territory. Urza was changing. In the past he rarely dared address Jaddo at all, and when he dared, he did so with obvious fear. Now Urza not only addressed him with confidence, but chided him as well. For the first time, Jaddo was uncertain of how to reply. This was untred ground.

“I will be fine,” Jaddo finally replied. They sat in awkward silence for a moment. “Thank you for……what is this?”

“The humans refer to it as ‘coffee’,” Urza said. “Would you like some more?”

Jaddo nodded wordlessly. “I will get you something to eat, as well,” Urza added, rising to leave. “If you intend to go back out tonight, you will need to rest and eat all day today. I still wish you would let me go. I dislike the thought of two of us being so drained.”

“Urza……why are you doing this?”

“Do you mean, why am I bothering to help someone who has rarely been anything other than cruel to me?”

Ouch. Jaddo felt a retort rising within him, but held it back. Much as he hated to admit it, Urza was right.

Urza crouched down so he could look his fellow Warder in the eye. “Would you like the truth, Jaddo? Or would you prefer a platitude that would be less likely to set off that legendary temper of yours.”

Jaddo almost smiled in spite of himself. First, fearlessness; now, sarcasm. Urza was full of surprises today. “The truth,” he whispered, not bothering to add that he was much too tired to indulge his temper.

Urza settled down on the floor, mere inches away from him. Apparently the truth was going to take awhile. “I feel sorry for you, Jaddo.”

“Sorry…..for me?”

Urza nodded. “You expect too much of yourself, and chastise yourself when you fail to meet your own sky high expectations. You have no friends to speak of, no one to talk to about your fears and worries. You work yourself to exhaustion, and no one is likely to help you because you are so difficult to approach. For a long time, I thought you made it hard for others to approach you because you liked it that way. But I know better now.”

Jaddo sat, stunned, at this barrage of philosophy from such an unexpected source. He tried to feel insulted, tried to work up a blistering reply. The most he could muster was sarcasm.

“You ‘know better’? And what conclusion has Dr. Urza reached?”

“You’re scared,” Urza replied promptly. “Anger is how you express fear.”

“And what have you decided I fear?” Jaddo asked.

“You have been having nightmares,” Urza said.

Now Jaddo’s anger did rise, sweeping over him with a feeling of violation. “You didn’t,” he breathed. “How dare you!”

“No!” Urza said hastily, raising a hand as if to ward him off, as though Jaddo had the strength to do anything more than merely protest. “I did not need to. You…….talk in your sleep. I have listened to you since we left Antar. I know what you fear the most.”

Jaddo looked at the floor. He had had the same nightmare every night since their world fell apart. Over and over, he watched Rath walking to the palace gates, walking with a certainty he should not have had. That sight haunted his every moment, waking or sleeping. How did he know?

“Good for you,” he said sharply. “So you think you know what I fear. And now you help me because…..why? You feel sorry for me? You wish to use this against me?”

Urza shook his head. “I wish to set your mind at rest,” he said. Leaning in closer, he whispered, “Rath did not betray us.”

For some strange reason, Jaddo began to laugh. He leaned against the wall and chuckled, weary even from that little effort. “And how do you know this, Urza? Have you received a message from the great beyond? Shall we add communing with the dead to your impressive list of accomplishments?”

Urza was unfazed by his sarcasm. “Rath would not betray us,” he said. “He did meet them at the gate. He knew they were coming, but betrayal is not the reason he knew.” Urza rose to his feet, and laid a hand on Jaddo’s shoulder. “Rest easy. Rath did nothing wrong.”

“But how do you know this?” Jaddo asked, mystified, briefly entertaining the notion that Urza had perhaps taken leave of his senses.

“That is irrelevant,” Urza said. “All that matters is that I know Rath did not betray us.”

“It is not irrelevant to me,” Jaddo pointed out, wondering if Urza really did know something he didn’t, or was merely trying to make him feel better. “Without evidence to back up your claim, this is nothing but one of those platitudes you mentioned earlier.”

To Jaddo’s surprise, Urza smiled. “You will find out someday, Jaddo. But not today.” He turned to leave. “I will bring you more of the ‘coffee’, if you like, and something to eat.”

“Urza?”

“Yes?”

“I……I said something cruel to you yesterday. I…..,” Jaddo stopped, at a loss for words. Apologies were not his forte.

“To which cruel thing, exactly, are you referring?” Urza asked, in such an even tone one might think he was merely discussing the weather. “Perhaps the ‘Vilandra’s pet’ remark? Or the assertion that she did not love Rath?”

“Very well then, I said several cruel things,” Jaddo replied, with a touch of his usual testiness. “I am trying to apologize. And she did not love him,” he added sourly.

“No,” Urza said calmly. “She did not.”

Jaddo stared at him, surprised. “You admit it?”

Urza hesitated before replying. When he did, he seemed to be weighing his words carefully. “Vilandra was….confused. Her mind was being twisted. But she was fond of Rath. I think, in time, she would have come to love him.” He turned to leave.

Confused? Twisted? Jaddo had no idea what Urza was talking about, and he was too confused himself to pursue the matter now. “Urza?”

Urza stopped again, looking at him questioningly.

“Thank you,” Jaddo whispered.

Urza inclined his head slightly, and left.

Jaddo watched him go with the most mixed feelings he had felt in a long time. Initially he had thought Urza was merely trying to make him feel better; now he felt a tiny, but growing, suspicion that he actually might have some information he was keeping to himself. Where had Urza been that day, that awful day that now seemed so long ago? Jaddo had mentally been over everything that had happened dozens of times, and he had no memory of Urza’s presence until the end, when they were running. But he usually ignored Urza so completely—had he missed something?

A wave of dizziness washed over him. Jaddo leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. He would think about this later, when he was feeling better.

He wondered why Urza had not asked the obvious question: Did Rath love Vilandra? He may be momentarily plagued by guilt for the way he had treated Urza, but it would take something very drastic indeed, something far more shattering than mere guilt, to induce him to admit his Ward’s greatest shame.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Urza walked away, wondering if his attempt to quell Jaddo’s fears had done any good. He had thought long and hard about whether to chance even this small revelation. It had not been necessary to invade Jaddo’s dreams to find out what was bothering him; his nightmares had been growing longer, interfering with his sleep, and leaving him dangerously depleted. They could not afford even one of them being so exhausted. They were so few, and so vulnerable, despite their heightened abilities; they could not take the risk of being down by even one man. Perhaps now he would be able to sleep.

Besides, Urza felt badly for Jaddo. He did not know what had happened, thus it fell to his imagination to fill in the considerable number of blanks. Rath had known at the end, but clearly had not elected to take his Warder into his confidence. Jaddo had been left in the dark by all of them; he deserved this small bit of light. Urza hoped he had not broken his promise to Vilandra by attempting to set Jaddo’s mind at ease. As usual, I walk the edge of a knife, Urza thought ruefully. Even in death, her mistakes haunt me. Haunt us. Rath was not at the gate because he had betrayed us.

He was at the gate because I sent him there.




******************************************************



Dan’s Truck Stop, Roswell, New Mexico.



Helen dragged the garbage bag toward the dumpster behind the truck stop, reminding herself once again that she had meant to look for a better waitressing job in Roswell. Or someplace. Anyplace where her duties did not include taking out the trash.

She swung open the heavy metal door on the side and immediately stepped back, covering her nose and mouth with her hand. Whew! What a stink! Granted, the dumpster was pretty full, and the heat had made everything awfully ripe. Even considering that, though, this was bad. Much worse than it had ever been before.

She threw the bag in, slammed the door shut, turned to leave, and almost tripped over a pile of refuse on the ground. Damn! What was it going to take to convince everyone here that they had to shut the door on the dumpster every time they put something in it? Squirrels got into it, birds got into it, dogs got into it. Hell, one time she’d looked out the back window and seen a coyote digging in the open door of the dumpster. And once anything was out and in the open, it was like sending a radio signal to every critter for miles that there was an all-you-can-eat buffet behind Dan’s Truck Stop.

She sighed, and started scooping up the mess. It was already picked over, which was good, in a way; that meant less to clean up. She gathered the refuse as best she could, grimacing as her hands got all slimy from the grease and the bones. Must be chicken bones; that was the only type of meat they served with bones that small. She grabbed a handful of bones, meaning to shove them into the dumpster, but her hand froze halfway there.

These didn’t look like chicken bones.

She studied them a moment, then looked at the dumpster, horror growing in her. Abruptly she dropped everything, bones and all, and ran back into the diner, heading for the phone, not even bothering to notice how her greasy hands were leaving a mess on everything they touched.



******************************************************



Brazel residence




Dee’s hands shook as she took the glass of milk. “Thank you, Mrs. Brazel,” she said, hoping the woman wouldn’t notice how rattled she was.

“Certainly, dear. Would you like some chocolate in it? I know how much you love chocolate milk.”

“I’d love some. I’ll get it,” she added, eager for something to do that might occupy her shaking hands. Mrs. Brazel pointed in the direction of a cupboard, and Dee opened the door. The Ovaltine was on the top shelf. She would need a stool.

She still didn’t understand why she was so rattled. By any measure, things had gone quite well. Mac had accepted her explanation without question (“Gee, Mac, I don’t know where the metal pieces are. They were right here yesterday.”), and that was that. Of course that was that. Had Dee ever been known to lie? Of course she hadn’t. Mac had promptly set off looking again, leaving Dee imagining her conscience wagging a disapproving finger at her. Maybe I can tell him, after the aliens are gone, she thought, dragging the stool toward the cupboard. Someone’s bound to find the ship anyway. The thought of that possibility cheered her up, and her hands started to calm down.

The doorbell rang. Mrs. Brazel scurried to answer it. “Well, hello Sheriff,” Dee heard her say. “Come in, come in. Mac? He stepped out, but he should be back soon. Why don’t you come in, and I’ll get you something while you’re waiting.”

Dee looked up to see Sheriff Wilcox and one of her favorite deputies, Deputy Woods, walking into the kitchen. She had gotten to know both of those men pretty well last spring when her father had taken her along on one of their fishing trips. Fortunately, her parents did not suffer from silly notions about what girls should and should not do.

“Hi, Sheriff, hi Deputy,” she called as they came in. Both looked her way, but neither responded. Instead, they turned to Mrs. Brazel.

“We don’t need to wait for your husband, ma’am,” Sheriff Wilcox said.

Dee swiveled her head to look at them. ”Your husband”? Why so formal?. Mac and the Sheriff had been on a first-name basis as long as she could remember. And “ma’am”? Sheriff Wilcox never called Mrs. Brazel anything other than “Rose”. Weird.

Dee found the Ovaltine on the top shelf, and set it on the counter.

“If you could just show us those strange pieces of metal your husband was talking about last night, we’ll be on our way,” Deputy Woods said.

“Yes, that’s what we’re here for,” the Sheriff chimed in. “No need to bother your husband, Mrs. Brazel. We’ll just collect the pieces and be on our way. For analysis, of course.”

Dee felt a prickly feeling, like the hair on the back of her neck was beginning to stand up. Why was the Sheriff interested in the fragments? Sheriff Wilcox had been quite exasperated with Mac over those pieces. Mac had tried to interest him in seeing them a second time yesterday, at the festival last night. That time the Sheriff had gotten this “don’t bother me with this nonsense” look, and told Mac to bring them in later in the week if he must, after everything had calmed down from the festivities and the storm. Why was he so interested now?

“I’m sorry, Sheriff,” Mrs. Brazel was saying, “but those fragments Mac found are missing. He’s out looking for them right now.”

“Missing?” the Sheriff said sharply. “When did they go missing?”

Dee dumped some Ovaltine in her milk, not even noticing that she had spilled some on the counter. Her feeling of unease was growing. What was going on here?

“We had them yesterday evening, but they seem to have vanished,” Mrs. Brazel said.

“We’ll start an investigation, ma’am,” Deputy Woods said promptly, causing Mrs. Brazel to burst out laughing.

“You can’t be serious,” she said, chuckling as she walked back to the sink. “It was just a few pieces of metal, and I’m sure they’re just misplaced. There’s been no theft, gentlemen—this hardly warrants an investigation.”

“Ma’am, we have reason to believe those fragments constitute a threat to national security,” Sheriff Wilcox said gravely. “We must locate them.”

The look on Rose Brazel’s face changed from amusement to astonishment. “National security? A few bits of metal? Honestly, George, what’s this all about?”

Yeah, what?, Dee wondered. The Sheriff was acting all weird, both of them had totally ignored her, and they were talking like they’d never even met the Brazels. And what was this about national security?

Then she stiffened as Mrs. Brazel continued, “I hear Dee picked up a piece herself. Perhaps she could help you. Do you still have it, dear?” she added, turning toward Dee.

Three sets of eyes locked on her. She looked from one set to the other, wildly searching her mind for an answer. Mrs. Brazel looked merely curious, but the looks on the faces of the two men standing in front of her were anything but; they looked hungry, like wolves stalking their prey.

“Why do you want it?” she asked, and was instantly sorry she’d said that. Why did she say that? She should have said she didn’t have it anymore, or that she’d left her piece with Mac’s, and now they were all missing.

Sheriff Wilcox turned to Mrs. Brazel. “Could you tell me where I could find this girl’s parents? I need to see what she found immediately.”

“Why, Sheriff, you know very well the Proctors live right next door,” Mrs. Brazel said, with obvious confusion.

Dee stood there, holding her glass of chocolate milk, her mind racing. What had happened? Had they found them? No, that couldn’t be it; the news would be all over town. And why hadn’t the Sheriff or Deputy Woods even spoken to her? They were acting like she didn’t matter, like she wasn’t even there. Neither had ever treated her like that before.

This had to be very bad news. Someone must suspect something, and Dee knew that James and his people were not through moving…..whatever it was they were moving. She had to let them know that somehow, someway, the Sheriff was on their trail. <I need to warn James and Valeris>, she thought.

Both the Sheriff’s and the Deputy’s heads spun around, their eyes boring into her. Voices erupted in her head, alien voices she had never heard before.

<What did you say?>

<Did she just mention Valeris?>

And time stopped, as the glass of chocolate milk crashed to the floor.

User avatar
Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
Posts: 690
Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Alien Sky--Part 16

Post by Kathy W » Fri Aug 15, 2003 9:29 pm

PART SIXTEEN


July 5, 1947

Brazel residence, Corona, New Mexico.




Mrs. Brazel was clucking. “Oh, dear, what a mess! Dee, is anything wrong? You look terrified!”

Dee stood, speechless, watching the puddle of chocolate milk widen. It took real effort not to stare at the men she had thought were people she knew, in spite of what she was hearing. Unbeknownst to Mrs. Brazel, another conversation was taking place only inches away.

<Didn’t you hear her say something?> Fake Sheriff said suspiciously.

<Impossible. Humans are incapable of telepathic speech,> Fake Deputy replied.

<They’re supposed to be. But I would have sworn she just said the name ‘Valeris’.>

<Why would she know Valeris? Of the four, he’s the scientist. He’d be sequestered in his lab producing hybrids, not out and about. You’re hearing things.>

<Then why did she act so startled and drop the glass?>

<It’s a long way from dropping a glass to comprehending telepathic speech.>

<We’ll see. I’ll test her.>

It was a short exchange, but long enough for Dee to gather what remained of her wits. Her eyes darted around the kitchen looking for something to point to that was worth a dropped glass. An eight-legged critter came to her rescue before the false Sheriff was able to apply his test.

“M-Mrs. Brazel,” Dee stammered, pointing. “Look!”

Rose Brazel turned around, following Dee’s pointing finger to a huge spider crawling up one of the kitchen cabinets. “I hate spiders,” Dee whispered, sounding genuinely frightened. She was being half honest. Spiders didn’t bother her one bit; she kept them as pets sometimes. But she was absolutely terrified.

“Oh, horrid!” Mrs. Brazel exclaimed, snatching the dishtowel from its rack and swatting at the spider.

The fake Deputy visibly relaxed. <See? She was only looking at the insect.>

<Maybe.> Fake Sheriff wasn’t so easily convinced.

Dee moved fast. “Let me wipe up this mess, Mrs. Brazel. I’ll get the broom and sweep up the glass, and then I’ll wipe up the milk. Where’s your broom?” She was practically babbling, but Dee knew what was coming. They were going to talk to her using the mind speech, and she was going to have to pretend she didn’t hear them. Better to be occupied.

“Thank you, Dee,” Mrs. Brazel said, still trying to kill the maddeningly nimble spider. “Mind the glass. Don’t cut yourself. It looks like mostly big pieces, so you should be fine if you’re careful.”

“I’ll be careful,” Dee promised. Boy, won’t I be. Then she caught herself, remembering that they had heard her when she thought to herself before. How had they heard her? It hadn’t worked last night when she tried it on Valeris. Could it have something to do with them healing her? But she had tried the mind speech with Valeris after they had healed her, and it hadn’t worked. Perhaps it took some time to kick in?

Dee walked down the hallway to the closet Mrs. Brazel had indicated. She only had a minute; if she stayed away too long, they would be suspicious. She opened the door, blocking anyone’s view of her from the kitchen, and leaned against the wall, allowing herself one blessed moment of pure panic.

What had Valeris said about mind speech? “Telepathic speech can be directed at one or more individuals, or broadcast widely to anyone within hearing distance. My companions were not aware you were awake enough to hear them, so they did not bother being careful.” So she must have “broadcast” to those two in there without realizing it. But how? How did one choose whether to speak to one person, or more than one, or, more importantly at the moment, none at all? She had no idea.

Dee was willing to bet these two were like James’s people; they used the mind speech, and they obviously could change their shapes. But she was absolutely certain that neither of these men were any of the aliens she had met. She wasn’t quite certain how she knew this; she hadn’t exactly “met” the interested man and the disdainful man. But she had “heard” them speak, and the voices of the two in the kitchen were different from any of the alien voices she’d heard thus far. And far more frightening. The two that Valeris had referred to as “guarding powerful and important men” had been scary, but not this scary. These two were worse.

Dee picked up the broom and closed the door. They didn’t seem to have heard her just now when she had thought about spiders or being careful, so it didn’t happen all the time, thank God. She would have to extra careful not to think anything specific. Or think anything at all, just to be on the safe side.

She plastered a smile on her face and went back to the kitchen. Fake Sheriff was asking Mrs. Brazel if she minded if he had a look around. Mrs. Brazel said no, she didn’t mind, and bustled off to get some rags for mopping up the milk, leaving the two men alone with Dee in the kitchen.

Dee started sweeping, focusing on the swishing sound the broom made as it slopped through the milky, glass-filled puddle. Fake Sheriff and Fake Deputy milled around, trying to look like they were inspecting the kitchen, but Dee knew better. They were there to inspect her.

<Have you seen Valeris?> The voice rammed into her head, loud and demanding. Amazing how “loud” one could be with no sound. She ignored it, and went on sweeping.

<What about Brivari? Jaddo? Urza?> The list stopped there, so that must be all of them. Fake Deputy had mentioned “the four of them”, so Dee must have met or seen all of them already. She started to wonder which of the three unfamiliar names was James’s name, then caught herself. She didn’t want to accidentally broadcast anything.

<Where are the Covari?> That was easy to ignore. What was a “Covari”?

<Do you know where the ship landed?> Sweep. Sweep.

<Have you seen the hybrids?> Sweep. Sweep.

<Where are they hiding them?>

Darn. She’d forgotten the dustpan. Can’t sweep up glass without a dustpan. She headed back for the broom closet.

<If you don’t answer, me I’ll kill your family.>

At that, Dee almost faltered, reminding herself just in time that she wasn’t supposed to be hearing them. She tucked away the anger that rose within her, to be indulged another time. James and his friends had saved her life. Reluctantly, perhaps, but they had. They had certainly never threatened her family.

She returned to the kitchen with the dustpan and started sweeping up the glass.

<She can’t hear you.> This from Fake Deputy.

<She could be bluffing. We have to be certain. The transponder signal was weak.>

Tinkle. She dumped the glass into the wastebasket and set down the broom and dustpan just as Mrs. Brazel returned with the rags. “Oh, good. I was just ready for those,” Dee said, taking the rags from her and starting to mop up the floor.

Mrs. Brazel turned to Fake Sheriff and Fake Deputy. “Are you finished, Sheriff? I’ve already told you, the metal pieces are missing. I’ll tell Mac you stopped by. Do have yourself a good day.” Dee could tell that Mrs. Brazel was losing patience with Sheriff Wilcox’s strange behavior.

“I’d appreciate that, ma’am,” said the fake Sheriff, adding, <Answer me!> in Dee’s direction. Odd, how one could have two completely seperate conversations at the same time. She kept on mopping, staring at the wet floor like she had to take a test on it.

<Answer me, or I’ll kill this woman.>

Dee put the soggy rags in the sink. She hoped her hands looked steadier than they felt. “I got most of it,” she told Mrs. Brazel, trying to keep her voice from shaking. “But the floor still needs washing, and so do the broom and dustpan. Would you like me to do that?”

“No, Dee, thank you. I’ll take care of that. I appreciate you cleaning it up. Why don’t you run along home now. It’s almost dinnertime.”

<We should follow her. The woman said this child had one of the metal fragments,> said Fake Sheriff. He turned to Mrs. Brazel. “Thank you very much for your cooperation, ma’am.” Fake Sheriff gave her an ingratiating smile, unaware that he’d just irritated Mrs. Brazel further by continuing to call her “ma’am”.

Dee slipped away while they were still talking. She waited until the side door of the Brazel’s house was closed safely behind her before breaking into a run. Those fake people were coming to her house, and because they looked like trusted friends, they would be accepted with open arms. She could not let that happen. She had to convince her parents that these men were not who they claimed to be. She had no idea how to do that, but she had to try. Their lives might depend on it.




~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~




Dee literally flew into her house, banging the door open and not bothering to close it behind her, both of which were definite no-no’s in the Proctor household. Her father poked his head around the kitchen doorway, looking none too pleased. “Dee, go back and close that door. You’ll let mosquitoes in. And you know very well we don’t slam doors in this house.”

Completely ignoring his reprimand, Dee ran up to her father, panting, and grabbed him by both arms. She figured she had five minutes, tops, before they got here. Probably less. “Daddy, we have a problem. Wait……where’s Mama?”

“She’s across the street. What problem?” her father asked, closing the door with a disapproving look.

Dee pulled her father into the kitchen. The door was the least of their worries now. “Daddy, listen to me. I have to warn you, and I don’t have much time. This is going to sound crazy, but promise you’ll let me finish. If you interrupt me, I may not get to finish, and that could be very bad.”

Her father stared at her like she had snails coming out of her ears. But he nodded, like she knew he would, because some part of him deep down would know that she wouldn’t say something like that unless it was really, really important.

Dee took a deep breath. “Daddy, there are two men on their way over to our house who look like Sheriff Wilcox and Deputy Woods. But they’re not. They’re……..other people. They just look like the Sheriff and the Deputy. They’re coming to get something, something Mac picked up on his ranch. They mustn’t think I have it, or even that I ever had it. You can’t tell them anything. They’re dangerous. If they think I have what they’re looking for, I don’t know what they’d do to us.”

Dee held her breath and watched her father’s face. It was an incredible tale, an unbelievable tale. Dee wasn’t certain whether her father had seen what she had been holding in her hand earlier that day up in her bedroom. She hadn’t shown her piece to anyone because she’d promised not to tell. But Mac had no such compunctions, and her father must have heard Mac talking about what they’d found, although he hadn’t actually seen the fragments. Her father probably had heard enough to pique the interest of the aliens coming their way, and Dee was willing to bet that piquing the interest of those aliens was a very bad idea.

Her father glanced out the kitchen window, and Dee followed his gaze. The fake Sheriff and fake Deputy were almost to their yard. Her father looked back at her, suspicion growing in his eyes. Obviously, he was seriously considering the notion that she was putting him on.

She gripped her father’s arms tighter. Tears welled up in her eyes. She had to make him believe, even if only a little bit. “Daddy, please,” she whispered. “I know it sounds crazy, but they’re not who they look like. If you’ve ever believed me before, believe me now. Do I make things up? Do I? Do I?” She had asked that same question of Mac only the day before yesterday when she had first laid eyes on a crashed alien ship, not realizing it would turn her world upside down inside of a couple of days.

The doorbell rang. Dee’s father had still said nothing, but he extricated himself from her grasp and moved to answer it. Dee grabbed his arm again. “Test them,” she said fiercely. “Ask them something only they would know. Ask them about the fishing trip we took together, or how many kids they have, anything. They won’t know because they’re not who they look like. And don’t tell them about what Mac found. Please Daddy,” she whispered, as the doorbell rang a second time. “They’ll hurt us if they find out.”

The doorbell rang again. Dee’s father looked from the door, back to her, and then to the door again. Impulsively, Dee stood on tiptoe and kissed her father’s cheek. Then she headed into the next room.

“Where are you going?” her father asked.

“I shouldn’t be here while you talk to them,” she said, wiping the tears off her face. “It will be safer if I’m not. And Daddy? Be careful.” She turned and walked away, as the doorbell rang yet a third time, accompanied this time by loud knocking.

Dee scooted into the living room and stationed herself behind the piano, close enough to hear conversation from the kitchen, but hopefully not visible if anyone walked in. She wasn’t certain how far telepathic speech carried, but she was fairly sure she’d be able to hear the two aliens from an adjoining room. At least if they didn’t know she was there, they wouldn’t be talking to her, testing her. She had to be careful to just listen, and not to think anything they might hear. If they knew she could hear them, it was all over.

But if they threatened to kill her father while he stood mere feet away from her, she wasn’t certain she’d be able to stop herself from answering back.




~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~




David Proctor headed for the door in a daze. That was the oddest conversation he had ever had with his daughter. That, coupled with the disturbing news he’d heard today from Rachel’s father about Dee’s whereabouts last night during the festival, made him worried. It wasn’t like her to lie to them.

He hadn’t given a moment’s worth of credence to her insistence that the two men at the door were not who they seemed to be, but one thing was clear: She was frightened. Badly frightened. That much, at least, was real.

“Hello George, hello Tom,” he said, opening the kitchen door.

George Wilcox removed his hat, as did Tom Woods. “Good afternoon, sir,” the Sheriff said. “We need to speak to you on a matter of utmost importance.”

David hesitated. He couldn’t remember the last time George had addressed him as “sir”. “Of course,” he replied, ushering them inside. “What’s up, George?”

“It has come to my attention that your daughter is in possession of some metal fragments that she and Mr. Brazel found out on the ranch on which he works. We need those fragments. Would you get them for us please?”

The phone rang. “Excuse me a moment,” David said, grateful for the interruption. It gave him a moment to think. He went into the living room to answer it.

“David?” Rose Brazel’s voice came over the line, sounding agitated. “Did George and Tom show up at your house?”

“Yes,” David replied, his feeling of unease growing.

“Well, be careful, David,” Rose went on. “George was acting very strangely over here just a moment ago. Kept going on about those pieces of metal Mac found, insisting he needed to find them. And he acted like he didn’t even know me, or Mac…..or you, for that matter. He was quite rude, if you ask me. Perhaps he had too much to drink last night? Although I’ve never known George to imbibe while on duty.”

David’s heart started to pound. They’re not who they look like, Dee had said. She had also said the Sheriff and his Deputy were looking for something Mac had found. And David knew very well that George Wilcox would never touch a bottle of alcohol while on duty, so that couldn’t be an explanation. What the devil was going on here?

“Thank you,” David said as casually as he could manage. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the Sheriff—or whoever he was—watching him closely. “I’ll keep that in mind. Goodbye.” He put down the phone, hoping poor Rose didn’t think he was hanging up on her. They would have to compare notes later.

He went back to the kitchen, and eyed the two men closely. They were dead ringers for George Wilcox and Tom Woods, both of whom David knew well. The details were perfect, right down to the gold tooth that George had to replace the one he lost playing college football, and the prominent mole on Tom’s upper lip. If these were disguises, they were damned good ones.

Test them, Dee had said. Ask them something only they would know.

Very well, then. Let the games begin.

“George, Tom, sit down,” David said amiably. “Let me get you some coffee.” He pulled two cups out the cupboard and filled them from the pot on the stove.

“Sir, we don’t have time for coffee,” Deputy Woods said. “We’d be much obliged if you would hand over whatever metal pieces your daughter found. It’s very important.”

“Oh? Why is that?” David asked, taking the cream out of the refrigerator and adding some to both coffee cups.

“It’s terribly important we retrieve them,” Sheriff Wilcox said. “They could be dangerous.”

“Dangerous?” David repeated. “How?”

“I’m not at liberty to say,” the Sheriff replied.

“That so? Well, George, I don’t know anything about any fragments, so I’m afraid I can’t help you there.”

“Sir, if you can’t find them, I’ll get a search warrant and find them myself,” the Sheriff announced.

David stared at the Sheriff. It would be a cold day somewhere before George Wilcox would threaten him like that. And what was up with the “sir” bit?

“Tell you what,” David said. “Why don’t you two stay here and drink your coffee, and I’ll go upstairs and see what I can find in my daughter’s bedroom. Perhaps what you’re looking for is up there.”

“We’ll go,” the Sheriff said promptly. “Which room is it?”

“No, I’ll go,” David said firmly. When the Sheriff started to protest, David said casually, “What on earth has gotten into you, George? You’re acting mighty strange. Calling me ‘sir’ instead of by my first name, like you always have. Is anything wrong?”

That did it. The Sheriff retreated, accepting the cup of coffee and indicating with a look that Deputy Woods should do the same. “Of course not. We’ll wait here.”

David eyed the two familiar-looking men. “Drink up, gentlemen. You wouldn’t want your coffee to get cold.” The Sheriff and the Deputy exchanged glances, then obediently took sips of their coffee. And that told David Proctor all he needed to know.

He smiled at the intruders, then began climbing the stairs to the second floor. He didn’t know why those two strangers were standing in his kitchen impersonating friends of his, but he was going to find out. And he had a good idea of where to start looking.

User avatar
Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
Posts: 690
Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Alien Sky--Part 17

Post by Kathy W » Fri Aug 15, 2003 9:31 pm

PART SEVENTEEN

July 5, 1947, 4 p.m.

Proctor residence, Corona, New Mexico



David Proctor opened the door to his daughter’s bedroom. Ordinarily, he would feel badly about snooping. But after Rachel’s father had told him that Dee hadn’t been with them for a large stretch of time last night at the festival, he had the uncomfortable feeling that something was going on. It wasn’t like Dee to lie. Of course, it also wasn’t like her to insist that people weren’t who they looked to be.

He inspected the shelf where Dee kept what she called her “star pieces”, not really expecting to find anything. He hadn’t actually seen the metal pieces that Mac and Dee had found, but he had heard Mac talking about them. Mac was so excited that he wanted to bring them to the Sheriff, but George had looked none too pleased last night when Mac pressed him on the subject. Which made it all the more odd that George would be standing in his kitchen at this very moment, threatening him if he didn’t produce the very same pieces he wasn’t interested in last night.

David got down on his hands and knees and rooted under the bed. A thorough search turned up nothing unusual. He pulled out drawers, looked behind books, overturned stuffed animals. He wasn’t quite certain what he was looking for, but from the way Mac had sounded, whatever it was, it was pretty unusual. He should know it when he saw it.

Finding nothing, he tried under the bed once more, just in case he’d missed something. That was Dee’s usual hiding place. He felt the bed slats, wondering if she’d tucked something up there. Still nothing.

Where had she been sitting today when he’d come into her room and startled her? She’d been facing the window with her back against the bed, and she had been holding something, something that she didn’t want him to see, judging from the way she’d spun around when he’d come in. But when she’d stood up, she hadn’t had anything in her hands. Where could she have put it?

David replayed the scene himself, sitting down on the floor against the bed, then turning to face the door. She must have hidden whatever it was from this position. The logical choice would have been under the bed, but that wasn’t it. Where else?

Then his eyes spied the crack between the mattress and the box spring. He lifted the mattress with one hand, feeling around with the other, until his hand closed on something solid.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Dee pressed her back against the living room wall, scarcely daring to breathe lest the two aliens in the kitchen hear her. She silently thanked God she had moved her ship piece earlier today. Her father would look under the bed, and on her shelf full of star pieces, but he wouldn’t find anything. She could tell he was suspicious, as well he should be. The pretenders were behaving with the same stiff formality they had displayed at Mac’s house, apparently having no idea, or perhaps not caring, how desperately out of place that was. Hopefully her father would report back that he had found nothing, and they—whoever they were—would be on their way.

<Do you think the girl can hear us?> Dee tensed as she heard Fake Deputy “thought” speaking.

<No. She would have reacted to what I said to her in the other house. We must have been hearing things.> Fake Sheriff gave a silent snort. <Wouldn’t surprise me. We’ve been on this godforsaken planet long enough that we should be nuts by now.>

Dee was not comforted by the knowledge that these two had been on her planet for a while. But fortunately, her little game of “ignore them” had convinced them that they couldn’t be heard. And that meant they weren’t being careful with their mind speech, which further meant that she could eavesdrop. She listened carefully, willing herself to remember everything.

<Do you think she has anything?> Fake Deputy again.

<I doubt it. We’ve been combing the area for a couple of days, not to mention hanging around that outlandish event last night, and we haven’t found a thing. No unusual deaths, no sightings, no wreckage, nothing . This was a weak lead, but we had to be certain.>

No unusual deaths? I guess they haven’t found Denny yet, Dee thought. Then she remembered that James had taken some animal form when Denny had been hurting her. An animal attack wouldn’t be exactly typical, but it wouldn’t be unusual either.

<I wish we had a better idea of where the ship landed. This could take weeks.>

Fake Sheriff mentally sighed. <I know. We have a two hundred square mile area to search. I lost the transponder signal as the ship entered the planet’s atmosphere.>

<He wants Brivari alive, right?>

<He wants them all alive.>

Fake Deputy adopted a tone of exasperation. <These aren’t just any Covari; they are Royal Covari. How are we supposed to prevail against their superior abilities?>

<Superior,> snorted Fake Sheriff, his voice dripping with so much disdain that he made the “disdainful man” Dee had seen last night look positively cheerful. <Yes, I’m certain they fancy themselves better than the rest of us. I have my doubts about how ‘superior’ they actually are. But just in case, we have a way to even the score, if that should be necessary. It hasn’t been tested yet, but they’re fairly certain it will work.>

<And what of the hybrids? Surely they know we are incapable of killing the King.>

<Of course they know that,> Fake Sheriff answered impatiently. <It doesn’t matter. He wants the hybrids to mature. She will live again, and the others will be treated to a glorious public execution.>

Curled up in her hiding place, Dee shivered. James had said they were “hiding from their enemies”. These must be some of those enemies. She didn’t understand it all, but she did know about the King. It sounded like the King wouldn’t live long even if he did recover from his injuries.

<Why would he want the hybrids to mature?> This from Fake Deputy. <There’s always the risk that someone will spirit them away and allow them to live.>

Dee could hear the nasty satisfaction in Fake Sheriff’s voice as he answered. <He wants the people to know for certain that Zan is dead. And he wants Zan to be himself when he is executed. Where’s the fun if Zan is merely a fetal hybrid who doesn’t know what’s happening?>

An icy feeling of dread washed over Dee. Who was this person, who was so twisted that he would wait until the King had recovered to kill him? That was just sick.

She heard her father coming back down the stairs. Thank goodness. Now maybe these awful people would go away. She started to relax.

Only to stiffen when she heard her father say, “I found something in her room, George. Is this what you’re looking for?”



******************************************************


Dan’s Truck Stop, Roswell, New Mexico


Roswell Deputy James Valenti stared at the body laid out before him in total disbelief. This made no sense. The body was completely burned, charred and blackened. The wedding ring and belt buckle that had survived the fire had enabled him to make a tentative ID: Nathan Pruitt, a truck driver who had turned in late last night after allegedly having too much to drink. But, last Valenti had checked, drinking didn’t make one spontaneously combust. There was no sign of fire anywhere in the parking lot or the dormitory, where a baker’s dozen people had seen Pruitt turn in, or anywhere in the surrounding area. A fire hot enough to do this should leave some evidence.

Another deputy came walking up with a note in his hand, wrinkling his nose against the smell. The odor was overpowering, although much of it could be blamed on the ripe garbage in the nearby dumpster, simmering in the summer heat. Whoever did this might have gotten away with it if someone hadn’t left the dumpster door open, allowing the animals to have their way.

“Anything?” Valenti asked the other deputy. “Anything at all?”

“Well……yes,” the deputy replied. “But I’m afraid this information isn’t going to shed any light on the subject. We found Pruitt’s truck, about twenty miles east of here, sitting in a parking lot, looking like he’d stepped out for a cup of coffee.”

“Damaged?” Valenti asked.

“Nope. Not a scratch on it. Almost out of gas, but that’s it. No cargo, though.”

Valenti nodded. “Burglary, then?”

The deputy shook his head with obvious confusion. “We found Pruitt’s cargo in the woods nearby. We checked with the trucking company—it’s all there. Nothing’s missing. It’s damn strange, if you ask me. The truck is intact, the cargo’s all there, but he’s dead. Weird.”

“More than weird,” Valenti said. “We can’t figure out how he died. He’s burned, obviously, but nobody has any idea how a human body could burn this way without leaving any marks elsewhere, or making a terrific noise. We know he went to bed in the dormitory. One of the other truckers said he noticed Pruitt was missing during the night, but figured he’d just gone out to puke or pee. He couldn’t tell me what time it was.”

“Perhaps he was killed somewhere else,” the deputy suggested.

“Maybe. But why?” Valenti asked. “If the motive wasn’t theft, than what? And how?”

Another patrol car pulled up. “Another body’s been reported,” the deputy who was driving called through the window. “Looks like an animal attack.”

Valenti gave a long sigh. Now what? “Keep this quiet,” he ordered the other two as he walked to the patrol car. “I don’t want everyone poking around here until we’ve had a chance to look around more. And throw a tarp over that thing,” he said, indicating the charred remains with disgust.

Valenti jotted down the information on the new body with a heavy heart. This had turned out to be one hell of a deadly Fourth of July.



******************************************************



Dee held her breath as a million questions whirled through her head. Had her father found the ship fragment? How? What was going to happen now that the fake sheriff and deputy had it? And why wasn’t anyone saying anything?

She listened hard, with both her ears and her mind. Nothing. No one said a word, and after a few more seconds she just couldn’t take it anymore. She shot out from behind the piano, catching herself just in time before she ran into the kitchen like a lunatic. That would not do; it would look suspicious. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to walk casually into the kitchen.

It was the longest walk of her short life. What would the aliens do to them? What would they do to James and the others? Why hadn’t she done the right thing and given that piece back to James last night, so it wouldn’t be here to find today?

As she rounded the corner she saw the three men, heads bent over something the Fake Sheriff was holding. They looked up as she approached. “Hi, Daddy,” she said, trying to sound cheery. “What’s that?” She came closer to get a better look, reminding herself that she needed to act like she knew nothing about that fragment’s unusual properties. Time for more lies.

Or not. Dee had to stop a huge smile from spreading over her face as she got a good look at the what the Fake Sheriff was holding. It was not her piece of the ship; it was something else entirely. It was metal, yes, but it was twisted and bent, definitely not her ship piece, and definitely not anything that had been in her room. She looked up at her father, and he gave her a warning glance: Don’t give it away.

“The Sheriff needs this, Dee,” her father said, jumping into the silence. “I don’t know why, but I don’t want to hear any whining from you. It has to go.”

Oh, her beautiful, brilliant father! This was worlds better than simply saying he hadn’t found anything. Now the aliens would think this was what she had found, and be thrown off the trail. Eager to help, she promptly started whining. “Daddy, that’s mine! I found it! I don’t want the Sheriff to take it!” She plastered a pout on her face, thinking to herself that if she had to keep this up much longer, she’d make herself sick.

“Now, Dee…..,” her father began warningly, only to be interrupted by Fake Sheriff.

“That’s okay, sir. This isn’t what we were looking for. Your daughter can have it back.” He handed the metal piece back to Dee, who was careful to look appropriately delighted. “Thank you for your cooperation. We’ll be on our way now.” He nodded to Fake Deputy, and they both headed for the door.

Dee followed them, listening carefully for mind speech as her father blathered the usual farewell routines. She heard it just as the door closed behind them.

<Nothing,> said Fake Deputy. <I wonder why that other guy was so excited?>

<Humans,> Fake Sheriff said with disgust. <Never can tell what will interest them. Let’s go.>

<Don’t you want to check the ranch?>

<The ranch is huge. I’m not wasting any more time here when there’s so much more ground to cover.>

Dee and her father watched both men walk down the sidewalk toward the patrol car parked out front. “How did you know?” she asked quietly.

“The coffee,” her father answered just as quietly. “George Wilcox can’t abide cream in his coffee. And Tom Woods won’t touch the stuff; he’s a tea drinker, gets ribbed about it endlessly. He even brought tea with him on our camping trip, and George had a good time teasing him about it. And,” he added, looking down at his daughter, “that was Rose Brazel on the phone. She said these two were acting strangely, just like you did.”

“That was brilliant, Daddy,” Dee said, smiling up at her father. “Throwing them off like that. What was that you gave them?”

“Something from the attic,” her father answered. “A bit of the fender from that bike I smashed last summer. I figured it was better to show them something, rather than nothing at all.” He paused, as if weighing his words. “Dee……why do you suppose those two imposters were so interested in the those metal pieces you and Mac found?”

She shrugged, trying to look baffled, but noted that her father was watching her carefully. A little too carefully for comfort. She turned back to the door, and nearly jumped a foot. The Fake Deputy was only a few yards away, clearly on his way back to the house.

Her father saw him too, and turned to face the screen door. “Sorry, I forgot my hat,” Fake Deputy called.

“I’ll get it for you,” her father said amiably enough, but Dee knew he didn’t want to let the man back into his house. “I’ll be right back.”

Dee opened her mouth to excuse herself, not wanting to be stuck here at the door with the Fake Deputy. But before she could say anything, his voice clanged inside her head.

<You can hear me, can’t you?>

Involuntarily, her head jerked up, and their eyes locked. Oh no! She’d given herself away! Quickly she looked at the floor, but the damage was done.

<I heard you say the name “Valeris”. You know where they are, don’t you?>

Dee started to walk away. If she wanted to look like she couldn’t hear him, she couldn’t very well stand there gaping while he silently talked to her. But she didn’t get two steps before he started again.

<Wait! I have a message for them. A warning. Will you deliver it?>

She paused. It was too late now. He knew she could hear him, but she still couldn’t bring herself to turn around and look at him. So she just stood there, with her back to the door, waiting.

<Tell them they are in danger here, from more than human discovery. They must hide themselves well, and stay hidden. The enemy is already here.>

Dee remained motionless, her back still turned. She must look ridiculous standing there like a statue, but for some reason, she couldn’t summon the wherewithal to either walk away or turn around.

Fake Deputy wasn’t done yet. <I also have a message for Brivari. He would be the leader; he Wards the King.>

At that moment Dee’s father returned, holding the Fake Deputy’s hat. “Here you go,” he said, opening the door and handing over the hat. “It was hanging on the back of one of our kitchen chairs.” He looked at Dee, standing so still and so backwards. “Is everything all right,” he asked warily, looking from her to the Fake Deputy.

Slowly, Dee turned around. She stared straight at her father, willing herself not to look at Fake Deputy. “I’m fine, Daddy.”

<Tell him that Malik is loyal still.>

Dee’s mutinous eyes flew to the alien’s face against her will. They stared at each other a moment before Fake Deputy plopped his hat on his head and smiled pleasantly at her father. “Thank you, sir. You have yourself a good evening, now.”

Dee watched him walk away, belatedly realizing that she was shaking. She felt her father staring at her, and looked up at him out of the corner of her eye. He shifted his gaze to the Fake Deputy, then back to her, obviously sensing that something was going on here. Her father didn’t miss much.

Both of them watched Fake Deputy get into the patrol car and drive away with the Fake Sheriff.

“Dee?” her father said quietly.

“Yes?” she answered, swallowing the lump in her throat.

Her father turned to her and took her by the shoulders, like he did when he wanted to be sure she understood something. “You and I need to have a long talk.”

User avatar
Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
Posts: 690
Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Alien Sky--Part 18

Post by Kathy W » Fri Aug 15, 2003 9:33 pm

PART EIGHTEEN


July 5, 1947 5 p.m.

Pohlman Ranch



Brivari bent over the open lid of the incubator, gazing at the hybrids as they stretched and tumbled in their sacs. Their eyes had not yet opened, and Rath, in particular, seemed to have taken up the habit of thumb sucking. The sacs were quite large and the hybrids quite small, yet still they gathered in a tight knot, pushing against one another in a bid for space. How typical, Brivari thought ironically. There never was enough room for all of you, was there?

He experimentally pushed against the foot of one of the Zan hybrids, and was surprised when it reflexively pushed back—hard. Brivari continued to push, and the Zan hybrid continued to resist, until finally, exhausted, it sank back down into its sac, leaving Brivari to reflect that, no matter how bizarre the circumstances, some things never changed.

****It was a great day on Antar—Riall had a son. Vilandra’s birth had been welcome, but the arrival of a son and heir was cause for jubilation. Brivari, as Riall’s Warder, had carried the infant prince to his father while the child cried, and kicked, and arched his back; a harbinger, as it turned out, of things to come.

Fifteen years later, Zan disappeared after an argument with Brivari. He was missing for two full days, causing a palace-wide panic before he was finally discovered, not even slightly repentant.

Ten years later, Zan was twenty-five, and sat upon the throne only recently vacated by his deceased father. Against Brivari’s specific recommendations—or, perhaps, because of them—the newly minted King made several sweeping changes before the crown on his head had a chance to settle.
****

“Did you count all their fingers and toes?” a voice asked.

Brivari turned to see Valeris, standing in the blasted lab doorway with a look of amusement on his face.

“Count their….what are you talking about?”

“As I understand, it’s a human custom,” Valeris replied. “New parents are said to count the fingers and toes of their newborn children.”

“I’ll leave that task in your capable hands,” Brivari said, stroking the portion of the sac where the tiny copy of Zan lay. “Look at this. He fights me still, even in this state. Unbelievable.”

Valeris came to stand beside him. “This is our best set so far,” he said. “The others are not as far along developmentally, and not as vigorous. That may change, of course, but at least we haven’t lost any more. We still have six complete sets, all doing reasonably well.” He smiled at Brivari. “Would you like to play with the others, too?”

“No,” Brivari replied shortly, closing the lid of the incubator. “One Zan to fight with is enough. Six of him……” He shuddered dramatically.

Valeris laughed, and sat down at his work table. He was still working on his book, pages of which were spread all over. “Is it finished yet?” Brivari asked, picking up a page.

“Nearly. We should keep it in the pod chamber—or what will very soon be the pod chamber—in case the hybrids emerge while we are not present. I’m not certain exactly what shape they will be in, but language is a general memory, so they should be able to read it fairly quickly. It’s the specific, personal memories that can take time to resurface.”

Brivari nodded. “We move the rest of the Granolith tonight, and the hybrids tomorrow night, plus anything else that needs to go. The ship will be discovered eventually, but no matter. We’ll be long gone.” He sank wearily into a chair, and noticed Valeris eyeing him skeptically.

Valeris set down his stylus and looked his old friend in the eye. "Take Urza tonight, Brivari. You and Jaddo are both becoming dangerously fatigued. I’m not foolish enough to suggest that you send Urza with Jaddo, but you and Urza make a competent pair. Let Jaddo rest.”

“Don’t you think I would if I could?” Brivari said. “Jaddo would have a fit. And I wouldn’t envy you, being left behind with him.”

“I can handle Jaddo,” Valeris smiled. “Oh, certainly, he’ll argue, and storm around, and rail against your incompetent leadership. Or Urza’s incompetent anything. But eventually he’ll pipe down, and get much more rest than he would have if he’d gone out.”

Brivari shook his head regretfully. “I can’t. Jaddo would never forgive me if I pushed the issue. He’s driven, Valeris. As though he wants to make amends for something, some mistake he thinks he made.”

“I believe we all feel that way,” Valeris said quietly, eyeing the incubators. “We just express it differently.”

“Exactly. And working himself to the point of exhaustion is how Jaddo expresses it.” Brivari rose to leave. “Did the child recover last night?”

“Completely,” Valeris replied, adding, “I wish the rest of us had your facility with the healing stones.”

“Will Zan be able to do that as well?” Brivari asked, staring at the nearest set of sacs.

“Zan will be able to do much more than you,” Valeris said, “and he will not need the stones to do it.”

Incredible. Brivari had given very little thought to how much more powerful Zan would be when he emerged. In some ways, it was not a pleasant thought. Zan could be so arrogant, so pig-headed sometimes. “Did the child say anything we need to know?” he asked Valeris, glad to stop thinking about the prospect of having to deal with an even stronger Zan.

“She did far more asking than telling. A very strong personality, that one, and brave—foolishly so, perhaps.”

“What did she want to know?”

“Basically everything,” Valeris said, smiling, “but I made her take turns. Let’s see…she wanted to know why we were willing to help her, and why she could understand our telepathic speech. And,” he added with a chuckle, “she wanted to know my name.”

Brivari looked up. “Your name? Why?”

Valeris shrugged. “She said she wanted to hear an alien name. It was the very first question she asked me.”

“Did you tell her?” Brivari asked sharply.

“Yes, I told her,” Valeris said, surprised by his companion’s concern. “Why not?”

“Never tell anyone your name. Anyone. We don’t want her repeating it to others.”

“To whom would she repeat it?” Valeris asked wonderingly. “There is no one here who knows us, no one to tell.” He raised an eyebrow. “Is there?”

Brivari was silent for a moment, considering. Then he smiled, and shook his head. “No, no of course not,” he said. “Just an old habit, that’s all. I had some questions for you,” he said, abruptly changing the subject. “These sacs are starting to glow. Is that normal?”

“Not only is it normal, it’s a sight for sore eyes,” Valeris said, clearly very happy. “That means the fluid in the sacs is beginning to generate heat. When the fluid is fully mature, it will generate enough heat that the hybrids won’t need the incubators anymore. Hopefully that will happen within the next two weeks.”

“How is each set of four going to fit in the sacs as they get bigger? They’re already elbowing each other; they look cramped.”

Valeris crossed to an incubator and opened the lid. “Oh, they have plenty of room,” he said airily. “They just keep gravitating toward the middle and kicking each other.” He smiled at the expression on Brivari’s face. “Still, they are getting quite active. I suppose it’s time for me to, how do the humans say, ‘send them to their separate corners’.”

“Corners?”

“It has to do with a sport of theirs, I believe. One that involves pummeling one’s opponent about the head.”

“Savage, but probably applicable in this situation,” Brivari said dryly. “So how, exactly, do you ‘send them to their separate corners’?”

“I will fuse each sac vertically and horizontally, making four compartments in each sac,” Valeris answered, drawing imaginary lines across the nearest sac with his finger. “Eventually they will break apart to form four pods. Each pod will then grow along with the hybrid, much the same way a human uterus does. I’ll be sure and mark each pod so we’ll know who’s who,” he added teasingly. “Just in case you’d like to play with the Zan hybrids in the future.”

Brivari smiled and shook his head. Valeris was amazing. No matter what happened, no matter how bad things became, he was still able to joke. It was a trait Brivari found inspiring, although it drove Jaddo crazy.

“I will let you know when we leave,” Brivari said, heading for the door.

“Good,” Valeris replied. “I’ll make certain I don’t give out my name to any more little human girls while you’re gone.” He waited to see if Brivari would take the bait, but his friend merely nodded, and walked out the door.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Brivari entered the control room and sank into a chair. He dearly hoped the child wouldn’t repeat what she had heard. She clearly knew how to keep her mouth shut, and apparently had some grasp of the peril of their situation, as evidenced by her willingness to help them. But now it wouldn’t take a dramatic story about aliens and crashed ships to garner unwelcome attention. All it would take was one word, one name, to prick the ears of those Brivari wished to avoid. For now, at least.

There will be a reckoning, he thought darkly. But it will be on my terms.



******************************************************



10:30 p.m.

Proctor residence, Corona, New Mexico.




It was dark as Dee Proctor carefully closed her bedroom door and crept quietly down the back stairs. Her parents had gone to bed. If she could just get outside without waking them, she’d be home free.

The side door was open, the screen letting in the summer night air, only marginally cooler than summer daytime air. Dee carefully opened the screen not quite halfway—any more and it squeaked—and squeezed through the opening. Good thing she was small.

She ran around the side of the house away from her parent’s bedroom. With windows open all around, she couldn’t take the risk of being heard. She’d slipped into shorts and a shirt just in case anyone saw her. She didn’t want to be caught skulking around the yard at night in her nightgown.

The symbol was still there. She’d made it out of sticks earlier that evening, fending off questions from her parents about what she was doing by telling them it was a game she and her friends were playing. A part of her was beginning to wish that were the case.

The “long talk” with her father had gone better than she expected. She hadn’t said anything to him about aliens, or shape changers, or anything else weird. The only things she’d told him were that the Sheriff and his Deputy were not who they said they were, which her father had figured out for himself, and that the two strangers were dangerous. This had been easily explained by merely saying that they had frightened her, which was the God’s honest truth.

She’d kept repeating these two things over and over, and eventually her father had just given up and headed off to call Sheriff Wilcox—the real Sheriff Wilcox—to report the incident. Dee was fairly certain the Sheriff wouldn’t find anything. The strange aliens, whoever they were, were probably long gone by now searching somewhere else. At least she hoped so.

That left her with the problem of what to do with the information she had. Who was this ‘Brivari’? She was fairly certain it wasn’t James; James didn’t seem like the leader type. And how did one contact a crashed alien ship? She had no way of getting out to the ranch, and she certainly didn’t want to ask Mac to bring her out there; he might find more ship fragments. She couldn’t just ring them on the phone, and she was willing to bet Western Union didn’t deliver to spaceships.

Then she had remembered the symbols she had seen on her ship fragment, especially the one that was repeated over and over. And she’d thought of their favorite form of transportation, and what time it had been last night when the two who had left—those that guarded “powerful and important men”—had gone off to do their business. It was a safe bet that they were working at night, when fewer people were around. And that worked out nicely for sending an alien telegram.

She settled down on the back porch steps to wait. Hopefully one of them would fly over, see her symbol, and come down to investigate. Hopefully that one would be James or Valeris. Dee wasn’t at all certain what she would do if one of the other two showed up. She had pushed that thought out of her mind all evening, afraid her fear would stop her. Now, sitting there all alone in the dark and quiet of the summer night with nothing to distract her, the fear came flooding in. For a moment, she considered destroying the symbol and keeping what she knew to herself.

But she just couldn’t. They had saved her life, and what she knew might save theirs.

Dee tucked her knees up under her chin, feeling suddenly chilly in the summer night.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



David Proctor heard his daughter creeping quietly down the stairs. She’s good, he thought. If he hadn’t been listening, he never would have noticed.

He waited a few minutes after she had left and then crawled out of bed, careful not to wake Emily, his wife. Noiselessly, he padded across the hallway to his daughter’s room, passing her empty bed on the way to her window, which looked down upon the back yard. Dee was sitting on the back porch steps, looking like she was waiting for something. Or someone.

David moved to the bed. He knelt down and slipped his hand between the mattress and the springs. Pulling out the metal piece he had found earlier that evening, he crumpled it in his hand, and watched it reopen and flatten, looking virtually untouched. He had done this at least a dozen times when he had found this earlier, trying to convince himself that what he was seeing was real. No wonder someone wanted this. Governments had killed for much less than technology like this. If that had been the real George Wilcox standing in his kitchen, David would have handed it over in an instant.

But it wasn’t the real George, nor did David have a good explanation as to how the imposters had pulled off such perfect disguises. Neither had the real George Wilcox when David had telephoned him earlier. George had confirmed that he and his deputy had not been there earlier and promised to look into the matter, but was obviously baffled. So David had remained silent, keeping this particular bit of the puzzle to himself awhile longer, and wondering if his daughter would admit to having this substance in her possession.

She hadn’t. Nor had she been forthcoming about how she had known the two imposters were not who they claimed to be, or why she had been so certain they were dangerous. Instead, she had retreated to the backyard after dinner and become absorbed in the making of a picture on the grass with sticks. Dee had declared it a game, but was curiously silent when asked how it was played. It was huge, easily covering half of their large backyard. Two swirls, something in the middle……where had he seen that before?

Turning the strange metal over and over in his hand, David noticed the symbols on the edge. He carried the fragment to the window and looked out at her handiwork. One of the symbols matched. And from where he stood, it didn’t look like artwork, or the game she had claimed it was.

It looked uncomfortably like a summons.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Dee sensed him before she could see him; she could hear sharp little noises of annoyance pinging in her mind. Somehow, she knew that the one who approached was not James, or Valeris. It was one of the other two.

Her eyes shifted wildly left and right, trying to find him. What would he look like? A bird? A man? Not being able to see him was maddening. Not to mention frightening.

She waited for what seemed like hours for him to say something. It was probably only about a minute, but finally she just couldn’t stand it. She got up and walked into the yard, opening her mouth to speak

Then a voice exploded inside her head. <SILENCE!>

She froze. Out of a copse of trees that separated her house from the Brazel’s, she saw a pair of yellow eyes, glittering in the darkness.

<How dare you summon me in this fashion?!>

User avatar
Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
Posts: 690
Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Alien Sky--Part 19

Post by Kathy W » Fri Aug 15, 2003 9:35 pm

PART NINETEEN


July 5, 1947 10:45 p.m.

Proctor residence, Corona, New Mexico.




The voice in Dee’s head was thick with indignation and fury. <Do you have any idea how dangerous this is? Foolish child! This is a deadly game you play!>

Dee’s mouth opened, then closed. She couldn’t believe it. After all she’d been through today, trying to keep her thoughts from obviously nasty aliens, being threatened, being grilled by her father—this was just too much. Her fear evaporated, and anger took its place.

The yellow eyes glared at her from the trees, unblinking, silent now. He wasn’t coming to her, and she couldn’t very well just shout across the yard with all these windows open. Very well then—she would go to him. She had a few things to say to this rude visitor, none of them good.

Striding across the yard, she reached the trees and followed the eyes. He was an owl, a very irritated one from the look of him. Fine, she thought crossly. He isn’t the only one who’s irritated.

“How dare I,” she spat without preamble. “How dare you yell at me without even hearing what I have to say! You think this is a game? Well, I don’t. They threatened to kill me today; kill me, my family, my neighbors. All because they thought I knew something about you. And I decide to warn you, and you act like this?” Dee was hissing, trying to keep her voice low so as not to wake anyone. She knew James had excellent hearing, so it was a good bet that the owl—whoever he was—was getting every word of this. “Honestly, I don’t know why I bother! Of all the rude, ungrateful……”

<Stop!> The voice rang inside her head with such authority that she did stop. <What are you talking about? Who threatened to kill you?>

“Someone named ‘Malik’ ”, Dee answered sourly. “Friend of yours?”

The effect of that name on the owl was electric. It immediately flapped down to another branch, low enough that it could look her straight in the eye. It was a little disconcerting to have what looked like an owl that close to her. Even in bird form, this one projected an air of authority and power. She was willing to bet that even if it turned into a fluffy bunny rabbit, it would still project that aura of danger.

<You saw Malik?> the owl said, in a deadly quiet voice. <Tell me what he said.>

It wasn’t a question; it was a command. A command from someone who was accustomed to being obeyed. And who likely worked for someone equally accustomed to being obeyed. Suddenly, Dee knew to whom it was she was speaking. “You’re Brivari, aren’t you?” she said. “He said you guarded—or “warded”—the King.”

The owl walked itself sideways down the branch, closer to her. <Tell me everything,> it commanded, ignoring her question.

“Or what?” Dee asked, tired of being ordered around. “You’ll kill me? Or my parents? My friends? That wouldn’t be very smart, considering I know something you don’t. Do you still think this is a game?” She glanced back at the house. If they were going to talk, it would be on her terms. She had leverage, and she intended to put it to good use. “If you want to talk, come into the house. I’m not going to stand around in the yard.”

<The house?> The owl sounded nonplussed. <I can’t go in the house; I’d be discovered. We will talk here,> it concluded, in a tone that brooked no argument.

It got one anyway. “We will not talk here,” Dee said in exasperation. “Humans do not stand around talking to birds in their backyards! Do you see all those open windows?” She pointed to her house and the Brazel’s house. “Someone’s going to hear us if we stand out here and yack. We’ll be safer in the house. My parents have gone to bed.” She started walking away.

When the owl made no move to follow, Dee said, “Fine. Suit yourself. You don’t live here, of course, so you don’t know what you’re talking about, but don’t let that get in your way. I just hope that James and Valeris won’t get in trouble because of your stubbornness.” She marched back toward the house, heading for the doors to their walk-out basement. The basement would be the safest place to talk, assuming Mr. High-and-Mighty would follow her.

She opened the doors as quietly as she could, taking one last look at the owl. It hadn’t moved. She went down the steps, leaving the doors open.

He had five minutes. That was it.



******************************************************



David Proctor stood at the guest room window and watched his daughter disappear into the trees that separated their house from the Brazel’s. Judging by the way she was pacing and flinging her arms around, she seemed to be arguing with someone, but he couldn’t see anyone there. Then he watched her cross the yard and enter their basement through the walk-out doors. He knew that walk. Whatever had happened in the trees had made her angry.

He watched the trees closely for any sign of movement, expecting to see someone step out at any moment. For a long minute, nothing happened. Then an owl flew out from the copse of trees, circled the open basement doors once, and, to David’s astonishment, flew down the stairwell.

David blinked. Owls? His daughter was arguing with owls?

He headed down the stairs, more determined than ever to get to the bottom of this.


******************************************************


Dan’s Truck Step,

Roswell, New Mexico



Helen looked up as the bell on the door of the diner jangled. The man who entered carried himself stiffly, pausing to look around before spying the counter straight ahead. He walked to the counter and sat on one of the stools, sitting bolt upright as though he were fresh out of charm school. Helen sighed, and pulled her order pad out of her pocket. These truckers were getting more and more strange the longer she worked here.

“What’s your pleasure?” she asked the stiff man cheerfully.

He looked at her uncomprehendingly. “Why would you be the least bit interested in my pleasure?”

Helen tucked her pencil behind her ear. “What I meant was,” she said carefully, “can I get you anything?”

“Like what?”

“Mister, what planet are you from?” she asked. The man looked at her sharply, causing her to regret the remark. “Look, I’m sorry,” she said quickly. This guy must be a foreigner, or something. “You’re not from around here, are you?” He hesitated, then shook his head, still looking suspicious.

Time for basics. “This is a restaurant,” Helen said, as if explaining to a small child. “People come here for food and drink. Can I get you anything to eat or drink?”

He seemed to ponder this a moment. “Do you have ‘coffee’?” he asked.

Helen stared. This guy was from another planet. What place didn’t have coffee? But all she said was, “Sure. Coming right up.”

She grabbed the pot off the warmer and poured a cup for him. “Careful, now, it’s scalding. Better let it cool….” She watched, open-mouthed, as the man took the cup and downed it in seconds flat. He set down the cup, looking satisfied, and pushed it toward her. “Another?” he said.

Helen stared. “Okay,” she said, pouring another cup. He didn’t appear to be burned, or in any kind of pain. Taking the newly filled cup, he drained it again just as quickly.

“Is something wrong?” he asked, noticing her staring.

“Oh, no, it’s just that….well…..I’ve never seen anyone drink something that hot without hurting themselves,” she said. She raised the pot. “Another cup?”

The man considered, then shook his head. “I require information,” he announced.

Helen smiled. This one was blunt. She could deal with blunt. “All right. Shoot.”

Another blank look. “You want me to fire a weapon?”

Helen smiled and shook her head as she set the down the coffee pot. “Y’know, it would help if you wouldn’t take me so darn literally.”

“What other way should I take you?”

Since Helen didn’t have an answer for that one, she decided to try being more literal herself. “Okay, let’s try this again: What ‘information’ do you ‘require’?”

“Why are there so many enforcers here?”

“Enforcers?” She followed his gaze to the parking lot outside, where police prowled. “You mean police?” The man nodded.

“That would be because of the dead body we found in the dumpster today—I found in the dumpster today,” she amended with a shudder. “Mighty strange, that was. A trucker, burned to a crisp. They found his truck miles away, and his cargo stacked in the woods outside.” She leaned in and whispered, “Everyone’s still a little nervous here. No one saw or heard anything, and I think they’re all a little worried they’re next.” She pointed to the booths that were full of truckers even at this late hour. “None of them will admit it,” Helen said with a satisfied smile, “but they’re scared. It’s kind of nice to see all the ‘Mr. Tough Guys’ scared for once.”

She stopped as the man abruptly rose. “I must leave,” he announced. “How much currency do I owe you?”

Currency? “Two cups of coffee, thirty cents,” she said, wondering now, more than ever, where this guy hailed from.

The stiff man reached into his pocket and pulled out a bill. He started to hand it to her, then pulled it back and hesitated, fingering it. Helen watched him with raised eyebrows. Finally he handed it to her, saying, “Is this enough?”

Helen stared at the bill in her hand. “It’s way too much,” she said truthfully. “Let me get you some change.”

“No,” the man answered shortly. It sounded like an order. “Tell me one more thing—how did the… ‘police’ know that the truck they found belonged to the dead man?"

“By the license plate, of course,” Helen answered, still staring at the bill in her hand. Receiving yet another blank look, she explained, “On the back of the truck. The plate with the letters and numbers? That’s how.”

“I see,” the man replied.

Then he turned and strode out of the diner without saying goodbye, leaving Helen standing there, open mouthed, staring at a fifty dollar bill.



******************************************************



Once again, Dee heard it before she saw it. She had turned on the one bare bulb on the basement ceiling, but it did a poor job of illuminating all the nooks and crannies. It was still hard to see.

She waited until the rustling behind her stopped, then turned around to face the owl perched on the back of a chair. “I take it you’ve decided I’m not playing games?” she said grumpily.

The owl shifted its talons on the chair. <I am sorry. I was hasty.> Its tone made it clear it was not accustomed to apologizing. <What do have to tell me?>

“This would be a lot easier if you would change into a human.”

<No.>

“Why not? What’s going to happen if someone finds me down here talking to a bird?”

<A lot less than what will happen if someone finds you down here talking to a strange human,> it replied levelly. Dee had to admit the owl had a point. It would be exceedingly odd to find an owl in the basement, but all hell would break lose if she were found with a stranger in the house.

<You may be the expert on the place in which you live, but I am the expert on the art of hiding. My life, and the lives of those I protect, depend on it,> the owl announced. When she didn’t answer, it continued, <I have abandoned my ‘stubbornness’. It is time for you to abandon yours.>

Ouch. It was not fun to have her own words thrown back at her. Dee sighed, and sat down. “Okay, you stay a bird. But I feel ridiculous talking to a bird.”

<Better you feel ridiculous then I wind up dead.> it answered tartly. <Besides, you spoke with my companion when he was a bird.>

“No, I didn’t,” Dee answered. “He became human to talk to me. My only problem with him was convincing him to talk with his mouth instead of his head.”

The owl’s beak twitched. Was he smiling?

<You said you were trying to warn me.>

Down to business. “I have a message for you from someone who called himself ‘Malik’, someone like you who can change shapes.”

<How do you know that?>

“Easy,” Dee replied. “At the time I saw him, your buddy Malik looked exactly like Deputy Woods. And his buddy looked like Sheriff Wilcox. Everyone thought they were who they looked like. Everyone but me, that is. They were looking for the ship pieces that I gave to James last night. I guess Mac was talking about them, and they must have overheard.”

<And how did you discover their deception?>

“I heard them using that mind speech you use,” Dee answered.

<They realized you could hear them?>

She hesitated. This is where things got sticky. “I…I must have said something in my mind that they could hear. I have no idea how I did that. I’ve never been able to do that before when I’ve tried. But for some reason it happened, and they heard me.”

<What did you say?>

Dee was afraid he was going to ask that. “I was thinking that I needed to tell Valeris that these others were here. They heard me say his name. I’m sorry,” she added, feeling as miserable as if she had personally directed the intruders to the ship.

The owl closed its eyes for a moment, as if composing itself. She dearly hoped he wasn’t going to get angry. She had never seen one of the aliens angry before, and was quite certain she didn’t want to.

<What did Malik say?>

“He said to tell you that you are in danger from more than just us—humans, I mean. That you have to hide really well, because the enemy is already here.” She frowned, trying to remember it all. “He also said he had a message for Brivari, and that he would be the leader, the one who guarded the King. Are you Brivari?”

<I am.>

“He said to tell you that ‘Malik is loyal still’.” She watched for some reaction to this announcement, but there was none. As far as she could tell, anyway, given that owls did not have expressive faces.

<Did either of them say anything else?>

“Yes. Plenty.” She paused for a moment, organizing her thoughts. She had been ready to write it all down to help her remember it, but had thought better of it. If anyone found her notes…….

“They said they’d been looking in this area for a couple of days, and that they have a two hundred square mile area to search. There was something about a transponder, whatever that is, that shut off before your ship crashed, so they weren’t very sure about where it crashed. And they said someone wanted all of you alive, wanted to kill someone named ‘Zan’, and wanted someone else to live again.”

<Who?> the owl demanded.

“They didn’t say. They just said, ‘She will live again’. And there was something about a public execution, and this ‘Zan’ knowing he was being killed. It sounded really nasty,” she added, shivering.

<Indeed.> the owl murmured. <You said Malik threatened to kill you?>

“Not Malik,” Dee said, shaking her head. “The other one—I didn’t hear his name. When they heard me say something using the mind speech they started testing me, because they didn’t believe humans could speak that way.” And we shouldn’t be able to, she thought darkly. It gets us into all sorts of trouble. “The other one threatened to kill my family and my neighbor if I didn’t answer him.” Her lip involuntarily quivered at the memory, and her eyes welled with tears. She hadn’t let herself think about what would have happened if the aliens had made good their threat. If she had, she wouldn’t be here right now; she’d be curled up in a ball in the corner of her room, moaning.

<I take it they did not carry out their threats?> the owl asked in a slightly sympathetic tone.

She swiped her eyes with her hand, and shook her head again. “No. I ignored them, and the one, at least, believed I couldn’t hear them. But Malik knew.” She hesitated a moment, not certain if she really wanted the answer to her next question. “Why could they hear me? Did you….change me when you helped me?”

<No.> The owl blinked, and shifted it’s talons again on the back of the chair. <When you hear or speak telepathically, you are using a part of your brain that most humans don’t use. Think of it as being like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes.> He paused. <Malik did not tell his companion that you could hear them?>

“I guess not. They left thinking that they hadn’t found what they wanted.”

The owl fluttered closer to her, coming to rest on a nearby table. She drew back a little.

<If anything like this happens again, you must not contact us.>

What? Dee opened her mouth, then closed it, furious. <Oh, you’re welcome!> she thought sarcastically. <Really, it was nothing. Glad to help.>

<I heard that,> the owl said, sounding faintly amused.

Dee clapped her hand over her mouth, then realized her mouth wasn’t the problem. She’d done it again! This was so irritating, not being able to keep her thoughts to herself. “I did a lot for you,” she fumed at the placid bird. “The least you could do is say ‘thank you’.”

<I know you meant well. But you had no idea who would investigate the symbol you made outside. You could have made matters much worse for us.>

“Who would know what it meant? The others said they were leaving to look somewhere else. And the only other people who would have any idea what that meant are….” She stopped, understanding dawning. “You don’t want James and Valeris and the other one to know, do you? Why not?”

Now it was the owl’s turn to be angry. It glared at her fiercely, hopped to the floor directly in front of her, and began to change.

Dee watched in horror as the bird shot toward the ceiling, feathers melting, wings narrowing to arms, talons changing to feet. For one awful moment, she thought it was going to take its real form, its alien form, whatever that was. She didn’t think she could take that right now, and was almost grateful when it coalesced into the figure of a human man.

<You have no idea what you’re dealing with,> he said, in a tone that bordered on menacing. <This may be your world, but these are my people.>

“I…I wasn’t trying to cause trouble,” she whispered, genuinely frightened now. “I was trying to help you. I’m sorry I even bothered.”

His face softened slightly, and he answered in physical speech. “You have the King’s gratitude,” he said, sounding sincere. “But this is not your fight. It would be easy for you to make things worse without intending to. We will be gone after tomorrow night. Do not contact us again, and tell no one else what you have just told me. No one.

He turned and marched up the stairs and out into the summer night. Dee watched him go with a dozen protests ringing through her mind. She had only been trying to warn them. How supremely ungrateful could one get?



******************************************************



“You’re late,” Jaddo complained, as Brivari lighted on the branch next to him. “We need to look elsewhere for a source of transportation. The humans found the body.” He swung his owl’s head around to look at his companion. “What took you so long?”

“I was delayed,” Brivari answered shortly, not bothering to explain. He surveyed the humans milling around outside the truck stop even at this late hour. “Have we been compromised?”

“No. They can’t figure out how the man died, or why his belongings were not missing. Theft must be common in this culture.”

“Any ideas about where we can find another ‘truck’?” Brivari asked.

Jaddo nodded. “Not only where to find one, but how to make it difficult to identify.”

“Excellent,” Brivari said, and the two owls took flight.



******************************************************



Dee trudged up the stairs to the open double doors that led to the backyard and closed them. As she did so, she noticed that the symbol she had made in the yard was no more. The sticks had been blown away as if by a stiff wind.

Glumly, she climbed the stairs to her bedroom, intending to cry herself to sleep. But her night wasn’t over yet. She opened her bedroom door to find her father sitting on her bed, holding the ship fragment she had so carefully hidden.

“Close the door,” her father ordered.

Horrified for the second time that night, she obeyed.

“Sit down.”

Dee took a deep breath, sat down on the bed, and waited for it.

“Now,” her father said, leaning forward and fixing her with a “don’t mess with me” stare, “you are going to tell me everything. You are going to tell me where you found this,” indicating the ship fragment, “and what these symbols on it mean. You are going to tell me where you were last night when we thought you were with Rachel’s family and they thought you were with us. And most of all, you’re going to tell me who that man was who just walked out of our basement.”

Dee swallowed. This was going to be a very, very long night.

User avatar
Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
Posts: 690
Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Part 20

Post by Kathy W » Tue Oct 07, 2003 7:35 pm

PART TWENTY

July 6, 1947 11 a.m.
Pohlman Ranch

T minus 18 hours



Brivari rummaged underneath the panels in the control center, pushing aside wires, control chips, and all manner of other things. Urza and Jaddo had scavenged the control center for parts to keep the incubators running and repair the one remaining fuel cell, so the control center’s innards were a mess. But Brivari knew exactly what he was looking for, and he was willing to bet it was in here.

He searched for a few more minutes, than sat back, exhausted. Last night had nearly wiped him out, but they had managed to get the Granolith moved and powered up. No mishaps with the truck this time either; as far as he knew, no one had seen them take it or return it. This was all good news, but it had been hard for Brivari to concentrate on the work at hand, all the while knowing the hunt that awaited him upon his return to the ship.

He had to find that transponder. It was apparently not active at the moment, which could mean that it was damaged. Or it may merely be deactivated, which meant it could be reactivated at any moment. Not a pleasant thought, given who was out there.

Brivari resumed searching on the opposite side of the control center, looking for the familiar object he had seen often enough during Riall’s reign. Riall may have taken the throne bloodlessly, and ushered in an era of peace, but the price for doing so had been the practice of certain…..procedures……that were not exactly peaceful.

My father believed in negotiation, Zan had argued. He was right—but only half right. Riall had indeed believed that negotiation was a necessary first step. But he also believed that negotiation did not always work, and when it did not, he moved, forcefully and decisively. He realized that in order for negotiation to be successful, both sides must be willing to seek terms, and he was capable of recognizing when that willingness was absent in the other party. Unlike Zan, Brivari thought tiredly.

Still, it was hard to blame Zan. Zan was raised in a time of peace; he knew nothing of the unstable times of the past. His father remembered only too well, and was keenly aware of how quickly things could fall apart. He knew there were several keys to keeping the upper hand, and he used them—ruthlessly, at times.

One of those keys was information. Negotiations that were going nowhere often took a turn for the better after Riall made it clear that he had certain knowledge his opponents did not expect him to have. Riall tracked every single ship that flew on or off Antar. His operatives could tell from where a ship took off, where it had landed, and if it had deviated from its published flight plan. All ships were secretly fitted with transponders, without their owners’ knowledge or consent. “Why tell them?” Riall had asked, when Brivari questioned this. “If they are honest, they have nothing to hide. If they are not, well then……”.

Zan had halted this practice, arguing that it was an invasion of privacy their society should no longer tolerate. Brivari admitted he had a point. But Brivari had watched Riall skillfully use the information he had gathered to avert crisis after crisis. Antarians were still too new to the path of peace, still too accustomed to war, deception, and strife. There were still too many who needed firm guidance or an outright show of strength to keep them on the right path. A little knowledge could go a long way when one was forced to bargain with the shady types.

Brivari dearly hoped the transponder Malik had been referring to was simply a leftover from Riall’s day, but he had his doubts. Zan had not merely deactivated them, he’d had them all removed. If there was a transponder here, it was likely placed there by other hands—whose hands, exactly, Brivari did not like to contemplate.

And then there were the other puzzles formed by the child’s recounting of her conversation with the rogue Covari. “She will live again”—who were they talking about? They must have been talking about the hybrids, and there were only two female hybrids: Ava and Vilandra. Did they want Ava alive to watch her husband’s execution? Vilandra alive to watch her brother’s execution? But Khivar would have wanted that anyway; why would that merit special mention? He had no idea.

Malik’s claim that he was still loyal was even more puzzling. On the one hand, Brivari sincerely doubted he was anything of the sort. On the other, no one else had shown up last night in response to the child’s summons, which meant that Malik’s words to her were likely not just a ruse to draw them out. Malik had apparently kept his knowledge to himself, which tended to support his claim of loyalty. Still, that would be only a tiny down payment on a very large debt.

Brivari continued searching, still coming up empty. Exasperated, he moved to stand up and cracked his head on a console. ’Damn!”

“Lose something?” a voice behind him said wryly.

Brivari turned to see Valeris watching, wearing his customary amused expression.

“I don’t see anything funny,” Brivari said crossly. He was not in the mood for Valeris’s humor.

“You’re supposed to be resting,” Valeris said, ignoring Brivari’s temper. “I don’t suppose you’d tell me what you’re looking for? Perhaps I could help.”

“A transponder,” Brivari replied shortly. It was highly unlikely that Valeris knew anything about it, so there was no harm in admitting its existence.

“Do you mean a tracking device? Why would there be a tracking device on this ship?”

“That’s a question I’d like answered,” Brivari responded, “although I’m not sure I’m going to like the answer.”

Valeris nodded thoughtfully. “I see. Would another pair of eyes be useful? Just tell me what I’m looking for.”

Brivari gestured with his hands. “About this big around, this wide, this thick. It could be anywhere on the ship—anywhere. We may never find it.”

Valeris began searching, prying up the covers to control panels and looking underneath. “I’m glad we’re leaving tonight, Brivari. More glad than ever, now that I’ve heard this. We gone undetected for too long. I’m willing to bet our luck is running out.” He paused. “Could this be what you’re looking for? It doesn’t exactly match your description, but it’s close.”

Brivari turned, his stomach churning when he saw what Valeris was pointing to. Walking slowly to the innards of the navigation console that Valeris had uncovered, he followed Valeris’s pointing finger, and his heart sank. “I believe it is what I’m looking for,” he whispered. “And this is worse than I thought.”

“How so?” Valeris asked.

Brivari plucked the device from the navigation board. It was smaller than the ones he was used to, and differently shaped. “I had hoped it was merely a transponder left over from Riall’s day, when he had every ship tracked,” Brivari said. “But this is not Antarian. I am unfamiliar with this design.” He sank into a nearby chair. “It’s not one of ours.”

“Which means, I suppose, that ‘ours’ are not the ones tracking us,” Valeris said. Brivari nodded glumly. “Who then?” Valeris asked. “Argilians?”

“If we’re lucky,” Brivari muttered.

“Well, who else would be tracking us?” Valeris asked. When Brivari did not answer, he shrugged resignedly, and said, “Show it to Jaddo. Maybe he will recognize it.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Brivari said darkly.

Valeris’s eyes narrowed. “You think he had something to do with this? Why?”

Brivari held up the strange transponder. “Look at this, Valeris. Does this look damaged to you?” Valeris shook his head. “That’s because it’s not damaged. Yet I know this was active up until shortly after we entered Earth’s atmosphere. If it was not damaged, how is it that it is no longer transmitting?”

“Someone turned it off,” Valeris answered slowly.

“Exactly. Someone who knew it was there and, for some reason, deactivated it.”

“And why would someone place that device on our ship, then deactivate it at the critical moment when it would be delivering the most valuable information?”

Brivari shook his head. “I don’t know. But I don’t want anyone else to know about this until I’ve done a little more digging. After we’re all safely hidden away, there are a lot of questions to be answered by several different people.”

“I have a few questions myself,” Valeris noted, sitting down beside him. “How did you learn of this device? And how do you know it was active until we reached the atmosphere?”

Several seconds passed, until Valeris realized he was not going to get an answer. He sighed. “Look, I realize there are things you keep to yourself. That is understandable, given who you ward. But consider this: By not sharing certain information with us, you may be placing us—and our Wards—in greater danger.”

“Meaning what, exactly?”

“Meaning, I have remembered something of late, something from a long time ago.”

“Congratulations,” Brivari grumped.

“Don’t congratulate me yet,” Valeris said gravely. “I recall that one of your expeditions here returned minus five of its members. They were supposedly killed here.”

“So? Many Covari died on behalf of the project, and most did not die here—they died at home, in our laboratories, as subjects of our experiments.”

“So—what if they didn’t die? Their remains were never found. What if they were among the resistors who objected to the project, among other things? What if they’re still here?”

Brivari looked at him coldly. “Your point?”

“Is obvious,” Valeris replied, eyeing Brivari sharply. “If there are enemies here of other than the human variety, we should know that. You have no right to keep that from us.”

“And if the enemy is one of us?”

Valeris gave Brivari a long look. “All I’m saying is, be careful what you decide to keep to yourself. We cannot guard against something we are not aware exists. Your personal desire for revenge against defectors should not be allowed to place our Wards in greater danger.” He rose to leave.

“And what about you, old friend?” Brivari asked, with a touch more challenge in his tone than he usually used toward Valeris. “You have secrets of your own you have chosen not to share.”

“Such as?”

“Such as what you placed in Ava’s burial tube. I can’t believe you would become so attached to an embryonic hybrid that you would accord it the privilege of a royal burial.”

Valeris stood silently with his back to Brivari, not responding.

“You are correct, old friend,” he finally said, glancing over his shoulder. “I do have secrets I have chosen not to share.” He smiled. “A few, at least. But mine are personal, and have no impact on our safety or security. Can you say the same?”

Brivari watched him walk away, feeling simultaneously guilty and annoyed. Valeris was his oldest friend, the only one of the four he felt he could trust implicitly; he was not accustomed to feeling annoyed with him. And it wasn’t just Valeris; it was something the human child had said to him last night: “I just hope that James and Valeris won’t get in trouble because of your stubbornness.” She had been speaking of his reluctance to enter her dwelling, but Valeris would no doubt agree with the sentiment regardless. It was odd, not to mention irritating, that both his oldest friend and such a young human would judge him alike.

Brivari set the strange transponder on the table in front of him and contemplated it. Only two of them had had access to the navigation console when this was supposedly turned off: Urza and Jaddo. The latter knew of negotiations to place his Ward on the throne, and the former knew something he would not tell unless it became “necessary”.

“Let me make myself perfectly clear. I will decide what constitutes ‘necessary’. I will decide when it becomes ‘necessary’, and if you defy me, I will hold you as traitor—and I will kill you myself.”

“I have decided, Urza,” Brivari murmured to himself. “It is time.”




******************************************************



Roswell, New Mexico 11:30 a.m.

T minus 17 ½ hours





David Proctor sat numbly in the hospital waiting room, trying to decide which would be worse: His daughter being right, or his daughter being wrong.

He stretched in his seat, leaned his head back against the wall, and closed his eyes. He certainly hadn’t gotten any sleep last night, and he doubted Dee had either.

After making her tell her incredible story at least four times, he had finally given up and sent her to bed. He had inspected their yard, their basement, their entire house. Finding nothing, he had gone to bed himself, staring at the ceiling, going over the fantastic tale in his mind, and listening to his daughter’s muffled sobs through her closed bedroom door. They stopped eventually, so she must have fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion. But David had not, and by morning, he had decided on a plan of action.

His first of several phone calls that morning was to Bill Chambers, of Chambers Grocery Store. “Oh yes, I remember that handyman,” Bill had said peevishly. “Worked good that one day. Never saw him again. Can’t get good help these days.”

Bill had confirmed numerous details that Dee had given: The handyman’s reluctance to talk, the fight with Denny Miltnor, and the appearance of an extra key to his truck. “I guess I must have had another key made sometime,” Bill said, when David pressed him on the origins of the key. “There are so many keys lying around here, it wouldn’t surprise me.” Bill sounded completely unsuspicious; he was just upset he’d lost a handyman.

The second phone call was to Sheriff Wilcox, who was immediately unhappy that David knew about Denny Miltnor’s death.

“How did you hear about that?” the Sheriff demanded. “We haven’t released any information about that yet.”

“C’mon, George, things get around,” David said casually. “I heard he was mauled by an animal. Is that true?”

George sighed. “From the bite marks, it looks like a coyote, but there haven’t been any sightings recently. Look, Dave, the last time word of an alleged coyote attack got out, we had people all over the county running around with guns, claiming coyotes were everywhere. It was nuts. Let me work on this for a couple more days before you spill the beans.”

“No problem George. Just wondering if what I heard was true. Any luck finding out who was impersonating you yesterday?”

“No one down here knows anything about that,” George said. “Only you and Rose seem to have seen these ‘impersonators’. You said they had a patrol car, but the cars are all present and accounted for. I have no idea who would be going around pretending to be me or my deputy, or why they would be shaking people down for some scrap Mac picked up on the ranch. Frankly,” he concluded darkly, “I’m beginning to wonder if all of you haven’t lost your minds.”

You may be right about that, my friend, David had thought. You may be right. Because so far, Dee was batting a thousand, and that meant there were aliens squatting out on Pohlman Ranch. Which was only slightly more of a bizarre idea than that of his daughter being mentally unstable.

David’s last call was one he had hoped not to have to make. He knew from his war experience that doctors could tell when a bone had been broken and how well it had healed. For that one needed an x-ray machine, and Dr. Watson had told him to take Dee to the hospital, where he would meet them.

Which is how David came to be sitting on a chair in the hospital waiting room, waiting for their family’s doctor to come out and tell him that his daughter was fine, had never broken a bone in her life, and what on earth was he talking about. Or perhaps he’d show up and announce aliens had healed her. Wouldn’t that be a hoot. David started to laugh, a laugh of absurdity, desperation….and fear. Because he’d seen too much at this point to simply dismiss what Dee had told him. He’d seen and held that strange piece of metal that miraculously folded and flattened. He’d seen those two strangers, dead ringers for George and Tom, stand in his kitchen and threaten him in order to get their hands on that very same metal. He’d seen an owl fly down his basement steps, and walk out a man. Maybe it wasn’t Dee that was going crazy—maybe it was him.

“Mr. Proctor?” said a puzzled voice. David jerked upright to find a nurse staring at him with a worried look. And why not. He must look a fright, leaning against the wall, all disheveled and exhausted and laughing. “Yes?”

“The doctor has completed the x-rays. He’s ready to see you now. If you’ll come with me?”

David rose from his chair unsteadily. Whatever answer he received, he was willing to bet he wasn’t going to like it.

Post Reply