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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2005 10:31 pm 
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PART SEVENTY-ONE



July 11, 1947, 9:30 a.m.

Corona, New Mexico





Jim Valenti plopped the binoculars down in his lap and sighed. Nothing. The Proctor’s house was as quiet and peaceful as any other house in the neighborhood on this fine summer morning that for once wasn’t sweltering. He’d been out here for an hour and a half, having already moved his car once to fend off suspicion. His stomach was starting to grumble, and his head was still complaining.

Wincing, Valenti reached under his hair and felt the lump on his forehead where his head had hit the steering wheel. Or at least he thought that’s what had happened. He had no memory of the time that had passed between seeing that huge gray head with the dark, pupil-less eyes in his rear view mirror and being shaken awake by his own co-worker. It had taken him a few minutes to get his bearings, after which he had given a detailed report to Deputy Donniger, who wrote it all down with a straight face and wide eyes that had strayed to the empty beer bottles on the floor of his car. Valenti had followed his gaze to those bottles and realized belatedly that he had made a horrible mistake.

I thought I was safe, he thought bitterly. I thought my own wouldn’t turn on me. He was still smarting from that charming altercation with his boss. Hemming had been as good as his word, ripping up the report, giving him the day off, and apparently silencing Donniger, who had given him a “get well” handshake on the way out the door. They would cover for him. They would pretend it hadn’t happened. Unfortunately, they were covering for the wrong people.

Valenti was now convinced that the alien who had attacked him had been protecting the Proctors as they had done whatever they had been doing down at Warner’s Creek in the wee small hours of the morning. He was further convinced that the coyote was also alien or controlled by aliens, which either meant these aliens could change their shapes—or at least appear to—or control wild animals. Both were frightening prospects, to say the least. Couple that with the excellent frame up it had pulled off—hell, it even got the brand of beer right—and it was clear these people were smart, cunning, and very hard to track.

Fortunately, Valenti knew right where to start looking, and had the leisure time today to look. He picked up his binoculars and trained them again on the Proctor’s house.

“Hello.”

Valenti jumped, almost dropping the binoculars. A boy stood on the sidewalk, watching him curiously. He looked to be about nine or ten, with sandy hair and glasses.

“Hi,” Valenti called.

“What are you doing?”

Valenti responded promptly with his prepared excuse. “Bird watching. Always best in the morning. That’s when the most birds are out.”

The boy turned his head and gazed in the direction in which Valenti had just been looking. The Proctor’s side door and backyard were visible through a gap in the trees.

“If you’re bird watching, don’t you think you’d be better off looking up at the trees instead of straight ahead?”

“You have to look where the birds are,” Valenti said, with a bit of an edge to his voice. Little smart aleck. Leave it to a kid to pick up on what he was doing.

“How can you just sit in one place and bird watch?” the boy asked, unperturbed by Valenti’s tone. “Don’t birds move around? Don’t you have to move with them?”

“The one I’m watching is staying quite still,” Valenti replied in his best law enforcement “drop it” tone of voice.

“Then why were you watching on the other side of the block earlier this morning?”

“What are you, kid, some kind of private investigator?” Valenti demanded, not even trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice.

The boy shrugged. “No. Just curious.”

“Well, go be curious somewhere else. Talking scares off the birds.” Valenti raised the binoculars, careful to aim them at the trees this time. When he lowered them a few seconds later, the boy had left.

He raised the binoculars to his eyes again. He would sit here all day if he had to, nosy kids or no nosy kids. He was tired of people telling him he was crazy, or drunk, or blind, and it was clear that was exactly what was going to happen until he came up with solid, irrefutable proof.



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



Proctor residence



Emily Proctor sat at the kitchen table, nursing her third cup of coffee that morning and watching her daughter carefully scrape all the maple syrup off her plate. “I’m surprised to see you up so early,” she said to Dee. “I thought you’d sleep in after all the shenanigans last night.”

“You were up earlier than I was,” Dee commented, scraping her plate one last time in a vain attempt to capture more syrup.

“I had to get up with your father. He still has to go to work, you know, even if he does spend his nights playing Superman.”

Jaddo, who was sitting next to Dee eating breakfast, flicked his eyes in Emily’s direction. He still had said nothing to her about what had happened last night. Emily meant to end that silence. She had a few questions to ask that she’d been nursing ever since finding out what was in those sacs.

“I’m done,” Dee announced. “Thanks for the pancakes, Mama. They were really good!” She planted a sticky kiss on her mother’s cheek.

Emily smiled, and Dee smiled back. It was so good to see her smile. It seemed like weeks since her normally cheerful daughter had been so happy. That talk last night had done some good.

“I’m going to go look at the babies again,” Dee said, carrying her dishes to the sink.

“Wash your hands first,” Emily called after her as Dee practically ran out of the kitchen, leaving Emily alone with their alien guest.

“Her mood has improved,” Jaddo said quietly after Dee had left the room.

“Yes, it has,” Emily agreed. “Ironically, giving her all the gory details actually made her feel better.” She paused, mulling over whether it was wise to continue, and ultimately deciding that confession was good for the soul. “You were right about not being able to keep the world away from her.”

“Of course I was. That was merely common sense,” Jaddo said dismissively.

Emily raised an eyebrow. Given how insulting these people could be when they weren’t even trying, it would be interesting to see sometime how insulting they could be when they were really making an effort.

“I didn’t mean that the way it sounded,” Jaddo said quickly, noticing her expression.

“Yes you did,” Emily replied wryly. “But that’s okay. You’re just like that. I’m getting used to it.”

Jaddo stared at her a moment, then dropped his eyes. “I am grateful you moved so quickly last night. It was fortunate that you found the hybrids before your soldiers did.

Emily smiled behind her coffee cup. Was that actually a ghost of a ‘thank you’? Perhaps there was hope for this one yet.

“Actually, we didn’t,” Emily said. “A soldier found them at about the same time we did.”

Jaddo’s head jerked up. “What?”

“Apparently you’ve made a friend,” Emily observed, swirling the coffee in her cup. “He said he was going to hide them himself, but when he found out we were there to get them, he steered the rest of the soldiers elsewhere to give us time to get away.”

“Who was this?” Jaddo demanded.

“A ‘Private Spade’. You know him?”

“I do,” Jaddo said coldly. “He helped us in our first, failed rescue attempt.”

“That explains it,” Emily murmured.

“He was also the one who apprehended us last night. He fired the drug-laden darts. If not for him, we would have escaped. He is not to be trusted.”

“That doesn’t explain it,” Emily said, frowning. “Why would he flip like that?”

“You can’t trust humans,” Jaddo said sharply. “They aid you one moment, and turn on you the next.”

This time Emily raised both eyebrows. “I didn’t mean you, of course,” Jaddo said quickly.

“Of course you didn’t,” Emily said with a sigh. “Look, if you keep issuing disclaimers every time you insult me, we’ll be here all week. Why don’t we just agree that you’re socially challenged, and leave it at that?”

Emily smiled slightly as Jaddo looked daggers at her. What she had said hadn’t exactly been tactful, but then he wasn’t exactly a model of tact himself. “So…” Emily leaned forward and folded her elbows on the kitchen table. “Let’s move on to more interesting subjects.” She paused for emphasis. “They look human.”

Jaddo gave her a wary look and said nothing for quite some time. Emily waited, watching him half glance at her, knowing he was trying to decide how much to tell her. He won’t answer me, she thought as she watched him struggle to make a decision. He doesn’t trust me.

“Yes, they do.”

Emily blinked. Every so often, it was wonderful to be wrong.

“Why? Why make them look human?”

“You should already know the answer to that,” Jaddo said, somewhat impatiently. “You’ve already seen your people’s reaction to our native forms. The hybrids will need to gestate here for many years; their human forms give them some measure of protection.”

“Okay,” Emily said slowly, digesting this information. “I’ll buy that. But why us? Why humans?”

“Our enemies cannot live in this environment, so they will not be able to follow us here,” Jaddo answered. “The hybrids will be safe from them at least until they reach maturity, at which time they will return home.”

Okay. That made sense. Surprised that she had gotten even this far, Emily sipped her coffee and tried a different tack. “I’m told these will be the same people that died, even though they look different.”

“Yes,” Jaddo replied. “Each one’s essence—their memory and personality, what you would call their ‘consciousness’—was transferred. They will be the same people, but in different bodies.”

“So…”—here was the million dollar question—“how do your people know how to grow a human-looking body?”

“We have our ways,” Jaddo said shortly.

“I’m sure you do. Care to share?”

“No.”

Emily leaned in closer across the table. “You’ve been here before, haven’t you?”

“I have never been to your world,” Jaddo replied promptly.

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

The doorbell rang. Both Emily and Jaddo cast cautious glances in the direction of the door. It was a measure of just how much everything had changed that a simple ringing doorbell would put her on high alert.

“Excuse me,” Emily said. She left her cup on the table and headed for the door, wistful for the days when she would have merely opened it with nary a second thought. Peeking through the curtains on the side window, Emily heaved a sigh of relief. No Army officers out there, just a familiar face.

“George!” Emily said as she opened the door. “This is a surprise. What brings you here at this hour?”

Sheriff George Wilcox politely removed his hat. “Mornin’. I was wondering if I could have a word with…the little one?”

Emily laughed, and stepped aside so George could come in. “ ‘The little one’? Don’t let Dee hear you calling her that. I’ll go get her. Would you like some coffee?”

“I’d love some,” George replied, closing the screen door behind him. “But I only have a minute.”

“I’ll get you a cup to take with you. Be right back.”

Emily headed toward the back porch, oblivious to the way the Sheriff’s gaze followed her as she left, and the hungry look in his eyes.




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



Dee was watching one of the little girl babies sucking her toes when her mother appeared in the porch doorway.

“Sheriff Wilcox is here. He says he wants to talk to you. He’s at the front door.”

The Sheriff? Dee stared at her mother, who headed back for the kitchen; after a moment, Dee followed her. Jaddo was still at the kitchen table, and her mother was pouring a cup of coffee.

“Me?” Dee asked. “Why does he want to talk to me?”

Emily shrugged. “He didn’t say.” She looked at her closely. “I didn’t say anything about all this, of course,” she added, with a nod toward the back porch. “Anyway, he already knows the basics.”

Dee’s heart began to pound. The last time “Sheriff Wilcox” had been in her house, it hadn’t really been Sheriff Wilcox. Who was out there now? She listened hard for mind speech, but heard nothing. Perhaps she was just being paranoid. No one had seen or heard anything from the other aliens since they had left.

“Is something wrong?” her mother was asking with a concerned look on her face.

“No,” Dee said quickly. A little too quickly. Her mother didn’t catch it, but Jaddo did. He raised an eyebrow, but remained silent. “I’ll be right there.”

“I’ll tell him,” Emily said, giving her one more curious look before leaving the room, coffee in hand.

<Is anything wrong?> Jaddo asked her, his eyes piercing.

“No,” Dee said, trying to sound confident. “I just get nervous now when I see any police or soldiers, or anyone like that. It’s just everything that’s been happening.”

Dee walked toward the living room, taking the long way around, feeling Jaddo’s eyes on her the whole way. She knew she hadn’t fooled him. Hopefully he would accept her explanation for her alarm, which was partially true—she did get nervous now whenever she saw anyone in a uniform. And if it was one of the other aliens, she might be able to get rid of him without him finding out that Jaddo was here. The one didn’t know she could understand mind speech, and the other had seemed sympathetic. She might be able to throw him off.

Dee rounded the corner of their “L” shaped living room and saw Sheriff Wilcox standing in front of the open front door, talking to her mother. He looked like the Sheriff, but that didn’t mean anything. She kept her mind tuned for telepathic speech. Still nothing.

“Here she is,” Emily said when she saw her. She was smiling, oblivious to the fact that the man standing beside her might not be who he appeared to be.

“Hi, Sheriff,” Dee said cautiously, standing well back from him and watching him closely. She wasn’t quite sure what she would do if it turned out to be one of the aliens. She might be able to call to Jaddo with the mind speech, but it was so unpredictable. She still wasn’t certain exactly how to do it, and she was positive that she couldn’t direct it only to Jaddo, so whatever she said would be overheard.

The Sheriff’s eyes swung round to hers. His expression was pleasant, not predatory. He looked perfectly normal, and Dee began to relax.

But then the eyes swung upward, over her shoulder, and adopted a look of satisfaction. Her mother’s eyes grew wide, and Dee turned around.

Jaddo was standing there, rigid, hands twitching at his sides, his eyes as cold as ice. And as Dee looked at him in astonishment, surprised to see him show himself like this, she heard it; just a whisper really, but a silent whisper. A hiss of triumph. Of success. A mind whisper.

It was one of them.

Before she could react, three things happened simultaneously: The front door banged shut all by itself, she and her mother were thrown to the ground and held there by invisible hands, and the fake sheriff was hit with a blast of energy that knocked him to the floor, sending the coffee cup he’d been holding flying.

Dee tried to move, but couldn’t. Across the room she saw her mother make a similar effort and fail. The fake sheriff was writhing and twisting on the floor. “What are you doing?!” her mother shouted at Jaddo, who had both hands raised, his eyes ablaze with fury.

Dee watched in horror as the Sheriff’s form contorted in what looked like agony. Had she been wrong? What if it really was the Sheriff?

But then the Sheriff’s form began to change. Her mother was closer, and Dee saw her eyes widen in horror as the Sheriff’s body melted to a faceless mass. It partially reformed into something Dee didn’t recognize, then melted again, then reformed again. The next time it reformed, it looked familiar: Small, gray, large head, huge black eyes.

Jaddo lowered one hand a bit, halting the energy blast that had made the alien shift, staring at the panting gray figure on the floor with a mixture of curiosity and repugnance. Her mother lay transfixed, eyes locked on the alien lying only a few feet away from her.

Dee still couldn’t move. Then a voice erupted inside her head; it was Jaddo’s voice, but she couldn’t understand him. He was speaking another language that sounded like nothing she had ever heard before. An alien language.

But the alien on the floor understood. It gave a short, clipped reply in the same incomprehensible words, then literally melted into the floor.

And then things really got weird.



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

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



Emily watched in fascination and horror as the floor where the alien had seemed to dissolve began to move. A broad, flat lump, like a puddle of water, only a bit thicker, was moving across the floor, a lump that looked exactly like the wood planks that made up the hardwood floor. When it reached the small rug that marked the entrance to the kitchen, the lump changed so that it looked just like the rug. It was a moving chameleon, taking the appearance of anything it passed over.

Jaddo aimed another blast of energy at the lump, but it was too quick for him. Emily twisted her head around—the only part of her body she could move—and watched it skitter into the kitchen. Now it looked like the kitchen tile. It slithered up the bottom cabinets, taking on the hue of the cream colored paint, and over the counter, morphing to the pattern on the Formica. It moved so quickly that Jaddo’s energy blast caught it only a couple of times, making it shiver and thicken slightly each time before it oozed out of the way.

The lump slithered behind the sink and up the short bit of wall to the windowsill. Here it paused, coalescing into the shape of a bird. Jaddo hit it with one last blast, making it squawk, before it zoomed unsteadily out the open kitchen window.

Jaddo didn’t miss a beat. He lowered one arm, and Emily found she could move again. Simultaneously, the house shook as every window and door slammed shut, seemingly of their own accord.



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




Jim Valenti held the binoculars so tightly to his face that his eyelashes brushed the lenses. The most incredible thing had just happened at the Proctor’s house.

First, a bird, another bird, had flown out of the kitchen window. What was it with the birds? Did they have a goddamned aviary in there? Too bad that kid wasn’t here now that he really was bird watching.

Then it occurred to Valenti that aliens who could look like coyotes might also be able to look like birds. He was just digesting this amazing thought when every single window he could see simultaneously slammed shut.

Valenti’s eyes popped. It had happened so quickly that he would have missed it completely had he not been looking at the exact moment it had happened. Every window had just descended as though someone had flipped a switch. It was downright bizarre.

They’re in there, he thought triumphantly. They’re in there right now. And I’m going to catch them.

Valenti continued to peer avidly through the binoculars, blind to the bespectacled face nearby watching him just as closely, and following his gaze through the gap in the trees.



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



Jaddo moved swiftly to the other side of the living room, looking back toward the porch. Emily watched him from her spot on the floor, knowing that he was checking the sacs.

“Stay here,” he ordered, heading for the back of the house.

“What?” Emily cried in disbelief. She clambered to her feet, shaking like a leaf and madder than a hornet. “I will not ‘stay here’! And don’t you dare hold me down like that again!”

“You have no idea what you’re dealing with,” Jaddo snapped.

“Oh, don’t I?” Emily snapped back, her voice rising. “That was one of yours, wasn’t it? Big head, big eyes, tends to melt into a puddle of goo and turn into something else?”

If Jaddo had taken umbrage at her description of his people, he didn’t show it. “Listen to me,” he said severely, stepping closer to her. Emily backed up. “That was indeed one of my race, and you are helpless against him. We can make ourselves look like anyone or anything. Our hearing, eyesight, and reflexes are all superior to yours. We are invisible. When he strikes, you will never see him coming.”

Emily paled at this description of what sounded like the perfect killing machine. “If that’s true, then it’s better that I not stay here,” she protested. “It’s harder to hit a moving target.”

You are not the target,” Jaddo said impatiently. “The hybrids and myself are the target. I doubt he has any interest in you or your child, but he will kill you without a second thought if you get in his way. Stay here. He cannot move through walls—he will need to open a door or a window.”

“Thank God for small favors,” Emily muttered.

“Call the moment you hear anything,” Jaddo continued, ignoring her. “I will know exactly where to find you, because you will be here. Right?” he challenged.

“And where are you going?”

“To look for him, of course.”

“I thought he was ‘invisible’.”

“Not to me,” Jaddo said, eyes darting around the room. “We are visible to each other.”

“So he can see you?”

“And I can see him,” Jaddo confirmed. “We are even.”

“There were two of them,” came a small voice from across the room.

Emily and Jaddo turned to look at Dee, who was still on the floor, her back against the living room wall.

“What did you say?” Emily asked incredulously. Jaddo was staring at Dee intently, eyes burning.

“There were two of them,” Dee repeated breathlessly. She looked frightened, but her voice was steady. “Last week. Two of them came here looking like Sheriff Wilcox and Deputy Woods. They were looking for the ship fragments Mac and I found.”

Emily gaped at her, but Jaddo wasted no time on surprise. “Only two of them?” he demanded.

Dee nodded. “That’s all that came here. I don’t know if there are any more.”

Jaddo nodded curtly and started for the kitchen door.

“Just a minute!” Emily protested. “What do you mean, ‘there were two of them’? They were here before? Why didn’t anybody tell me this? How.....”

“Later,” Jaddo interrupted her sharply. “Not now.”

Emily opened her mouth to protest, but Jaddo cut her off again. “Emily Proctor, do you want to live?”

“What? I…”

“It’s a simple enough question,” Jaddo said severely. A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice. “Do you want to live?”

“Of course I want to live!” Emily replied angrily.

“Then do as I say!” Jaddo ordered, in a tone that brooked no argument. “At the moment, I am your only defense.”

That’s a frightening thought, Emily thought to herself. But what could she do? She had no idea what was going on here, and if this other......person.....was truly invisible to her eyes, no way to fight back. Reluctantly, she nodded.

Immediately, Jaddo literally melted into the wall he was standing next to, forming a chameleon-like, vertical puddle identical to that of the other alien. Emily’s skin crawled as she watched the puddle slide away, taking on the appearance of anything it touched. The other alien had done exactly the same thing, but it was ten times more unnerving watching someone she knew, someone she was used to seeing in human form, doing the same thing.

If Jaddo’s words had not convinced her, seeing him transform like that did. Emily sank back down onto the floor and leaned against the couch, looking furtively around the room as though expecting the very walls to attack her at any moment.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2005 10:31 pm 
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PART SEVENTY-TWO




July 11, 1947, 10 a.m.

Proctor residence





Dee and her mother sat in silence across from each other on the floor for a long minute before Emily clambered to her feet.

“Jaddo told us to stay here,” Dee reminded her mother nervously.

“I am staying here,” Emily answered crossly. “Staying here doesn’t mean I have to sit on the floor.”

Dee bit her lip and was silent as her mother began pacing the room, arms crossed tightly as though she were cold, eyes darting left and right as though expecting every piece of furniture to erupt into an alien at any moment. Through the closed windows she heard the sounds of children playing, cars driving by, birds tweeting. It was strange to think that no one outside had any idea of the crazy things going on inside her house.

Jaddo returned in minutes. “He is gone,” he announced. “For the moment, at least. And there is no sign of any other.”

“How did you know?” Dee asked. “You couldn’t see him from the kitchen.”

“You were unusually apprehensive,” Jaddo replied, eyeing her closely. “I have learned to trust your instincts.”

“What—I mean who—the hell was that?” Emily demanded.

“I have no idea,” Jaddo replied. “But she apparently does.”

Jaddo turned to look at Dee, eyebrows arched in an expression that clearly said, Well? . Her mother followed suit. Now they were both staring at her.

Dee looked down at the floor. It was always easier to tell someone something they didn’t want to hear if you didn’t look directly at them. “One of them is called ‘Malik’. I never heard the name of the other one.”

“ ‘Malik’,” Jaddo repeated, frowning. “I know of no one by that name.”

“Would that it had stayed that way,” Emily said with feeling.

Jaddo ignored her. “When were they here?”

“Last Saturday. The day after the festival. They looked like the Sheriff and one of his deputies, and they were after the pieces of your ship that Mac had found, the same ones I stole....uh....took.... from him and gave to Urza at the festival. They went to Mac’s house first, then they came over here.”

“They were in the house?” Emily asked faintly.

Dee nodded. “I told Daddy that they weren’t who they looked like, but I didn’t tell him how I knew. They weren’t acting like the people we know, so Daddy was suspicious. He gave them some old bit of metal and told them that’s what I had found. They believed him, and they sounded like they were going away to look somewhere else.”

Jaddo knelt down so that he was level with Dee. “You could hear their telepathic speech?” Dee nodded again. “What did they say?” he asked intently.

“They were after all of you and the babies. Somebody wants one of the babies to grow up so he can kill them.”

“Charming,” Emily muttered.

“That is precisely why we are here and not on our planet,” Jaddo said, twisting around to look at Emily. “We knew the hybrids would not be safe there.”

“They don’t appear to be very safe here either,” Emily remarked.

“I share that sentiment,” Jaddo admitted, “although I wasn’t expecting this. This is an unforeseen development.” He turned back to Dee. “What else?”

“I got scared when they started talking with the mind speech, and they thought maybe I could hear them.” Dee deliberately left out the part about her saying Valeris’s name with the mind speech. That’s what had set them off in the first place, and she was still feeling guilty about that. “I think I convinced one of them that I couldn’t hear them, but not Malik. He told me he wanted me to take a message to all of you.”

“What message?” Jaddo demanded.

“That you were all in danger because the enemy was already here. And he wanted me to tell Brivari that, ‘Malik is loyal still’.”

“And?”

“And…then they left. I haven’t seen them since.”

“Did Brivari know about this?”

Dee swallowed hard. “Yes. That’s the night he came to my house. I told him everything that happened.”

Jaddo was silent for so long that Dee began to fidget. “He knew,” he said softly when he finally spoke again. “Brivari knew. Urza must have seen one of them at your festival. He accused me of following him, but I had done no such thing. Brivari must have suspected something, and that’s why he came here.”

“But this was before your ship was found,” Emily said, confused. “I’m not surprised they’re here now, what with the papers and all, but how did they know you were here last Saturday?”

“They said something about a ‘transponder’,” Dee told her mother. “Something about losing the signal before they could really tell where the ship was, and they were complaining about all the searching they had to do, and….”

But Dee stopped, because Jaddo had suddenly gone white. He rose slowly to his feet and walked to the window, staring, silent and unmoving. Emily looked questioningly at Dee, who shook her head, just as baffled as her mother.

“They have com equipment,” he whispered, to himself more so than to them. “They’re not just stranded, or stowaways. Any signal from us would have rung like a claxon. No wonder Brivari ordered me not to contact home.”

“Did that communicator thing you had yesterday have anything to do with them being here today?” Dee asked.

Jaddo was still gazing out the window, still as a statue. “Most likely. I led them right to us. But I didn’t know!” he burst out suddenly, making Dee and Emily jump. “Why didn’t he tell me?!”

“I think he may have thought you were working with them,” Dee said carefully.

Are you working with them?” Emily asked.

Jaddo whipped around and glared at her, eyes glittering. “Does it look like I’m working with them?”

“It’s a simple enough question, really,” Emily said, her voice steely, “and a fair one. A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice.”

Dee watched nervously as Jaddo and her mother faced off, the former furious, the latter stubborn as an ox. Dee knew her mother could be the original immoveable object when she really got her dander up. Under other circumstances it might be interesting to see who would win a battle of wills. Under these circumstances, it was just plain alarming.

To Dee’s surprise, Jaddo caved first. Some of the fire in his eyes died, and he seemed to deflate a little. “No,” he answered, sounding calmer, but still miffed. “I am not working with them. I didn’t even know they were here. Had I been aware of that, I would have known to watch out for them. Brivari was wrong not to tell me.”

“Maybe the one that was just here was Malik,” Dee said helpfully, eager to bring the conversation back to something slightly more cheerful. “He said he was still loyal. He asked me to send a warning. Maybe we should have asked him his name, and…”

No!” both Emily and Jaddo chimed in unison.

“Why not?” Dee asked baffled.

Jaddo opened his mouth, but Emily held up a hand. “Let me handle this one.”

Emily sat down on the piano bench nearby. “This was why you made that stick picture in the backyard, wasn’t it?” When Dee nodded, Emily continued, “Honey, this ‘Malik’ could have been using you to draw them out. It could have all been a set up.”

Dee’s mouth formed an “O”. Good Lord—she had never thought of that. She had merely taken Malik at his word and dutifully delivered his message like some pint-sized Western Union delivery girl.

“But it wasn’t a set up,” Dee said, turning it all over in her mind. “I made the picture, but the bad guys never came. So maybe Malik is telling the truth.”

“Maybe,” Emily agreed, “and if he is, it’s really important we not give him away to anyone else he’s with. If they knew he was sympathetic to the other side, what do you think would happen to Malik?”

Dee closed her eyes and silently thanked God that she had not asked the alien his name. She had seriously considered doing just that, and if it had not been Malik, but the other one, or some other alien entirely, she would have been advertising both the fact that she could hear their thought speech and the fact that she knew Malik’s name, which meant she had spoken with him directly. Depending on who had just invaded their house, that could have been a disaster. It was scary to think there were all these angles she’d never even thought about.

“But if it wasn’t Malik, then why didn’t he attack you?” Dee asked Jaddo, confused.

“He is likely unable to attack me,” Jaddo replied. “We Royal Warders have abilities that others of our race do not.”

“Okay, so where did these people come from, if they didn’t come with you?” Emily asked.

“One of them said they’d been on our planet a long time,” Dee said before Jaddo could answer.

Emily raised her eyebrows. “So. I was right. You—that is, your people—have been here before, haven’t they? And it sounds like they left a few things behind. It also sounds like it’s not only humans you have to worry about ‘turning’ on you.”

Jaddo looked irritated and uncomfortable at the same time. “They are likely rogues—traitors,” he said shortly. “There are those of my race who wish to depose the King.”

“He’s dead,” Emily pointed out dryly. “I’d call that ‘deposed’, wouldn’t you?”

“He is not dead,” Jaddo said firmly, “and you have seen that yourself. He will live again—and that is what they fear.”

Emily sighed. “Okay. Fine. What now?”

“We need to move the hybrids at once. They are not safe here.”

“Right now?” Emily was astonished. “In broad daylight?”

“I have been discovered,” Jaddo said tersely. “Much as they would love to capture me, it is the hybrids they want the most. I must get them to safety immediately.”

Emily looked doubtful. “One of those sacs can go in the trunk, but not both. This is a small town, with the usual metric ton of nosy neighbors; I think they’ll notice if I drive off with a huge lump in my back seat.”

“I’ll drive,” Jaddo announced.

“Wonderful. They’ll be much less likely to notice a strange man driving off in my car with a huge lump in the back seat,” Emily deadpanned. “Wait a minute—you know how to drive?”

“Your daughter taught Urza, and Urza taught me,” Jaddo said, heading for the back porch. “Internal combustion engines are primitive and easily controlled. Can you pull your ‘car’ around to the back door here? That will minimize the amount of time the sacs are in the open.”

But Emily was looking at Dee. “You taught one of them how to drive?”

“Well…I just kind of showed him what stuff did, and then he figured the rest out for himself,” Dee answered, squirming under her mother’s gaze.

“Is there anything else you haven’t told me?” Emily asked in an exasperated tone. “An alien hit squad, my 8 year-old daughter is giving driving lessons—what next?”

“What’s next is that we need to leave,” Jaddo said impatiently. “Now.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Emily said. “You’re taking an awful risk doing this in the daytime.”

“At this point, the hybrids are in more danger from my people than from yours,” Jaddo pointed out. “And don’t forget they will come after me wherever I am. If I am here, they will come here. It is safer for you if I leave as soon as possible.”

Emily still looked skeptical, but she nodded. “Okay. I’ll pull the car around. Dee, get your shoes. We’re leaving.”

As Jaddo walked away, Dee pushed herself to her feet. “What you said to him,” she called after his retreating figure, “…is that what your language sounds like?”

Jaddo paused for a moment, his back to her. Then he walked out, leaving her standing there in the living room with her question unanswered.



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




Jim Valenti’s heart was beating so hard it was nearly popping out of his chest. Several uneventful minutes had passed after all the windows in the Proctor’s house had mysteriously and simultaneously lowered, and Valenti was beginning to doubt what he had seen. He had kept his eyes glued to his binoculars out of sheer stubbornness, and that stubbornness had just been rewarded.

Emily Proctor had just pulled the family’s car around to the door of the back porch. She was maneuvering something into the trunk, something large and wrapped in blankets. And Valenti was willing to bet very good money that something was whatever they had pulled out of Warner’s Creek last night.

With difficulty, Valenti suppressed the urge to run right over there and confront them on the spot. He was already in trouble with Hemming, so this had to be by the book. He didn’t have a warrant or any good reason to ask for one, so he would have to wait until they were on the road before he could conjure an acceptable excuse to stop them.

He settled back into the seat, binoculars raised, biding his time. He had waited this long. He could wait a few more minutes.



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



There was a soft knock at the door as Dee hurried down the stairs. For a brief moment she was afraid the alien had returned, although on second thought an alien would be unlikely to bother knocking. She peeked out the window beside the door and heaved a sigh of relief. It was only Anthony, the new kid from down the street who had stopped by yesterday evening.

Dee looked nervously back through the house. Her mother and Jaddo were moving the blanket clad sacs into the car. If she didn’t answer the door, he’d probably go around to the side door, or even the back door, and that would not be good. It should be safe to answer the front door; the back porch wasn’t visible from this side of the living room. Cautiously, Dee opened the door a couple of inches, planning to tell Anthony that she was busy and couldn’t play.

“Someone’s watching your house,” Anthony announced by way of greeting.

“What?”

“I said someone’s watching your house,” Anthony repeated. “Some guy over on the other side of the block. He’s got a pair of binoculars, and he’s been watching you for a couple of hours at least.”

Dee’s throat went dry. “Was he wearing a uniform?”

“No,” Anthony replied. “But I’m almost positive he’s watching your house.”

Dee cast an anxious glance over her shoulder. Whoever it was, he wouldn’t be able to see anything, binoculars or no; Jaddo had made sure of that. Last night they used a set of blankets to hide the sacs, one on top, one on the bottom. They’d done the same thing now, but Jaddo had fused the edges of the two blankets together with his glowing hand, making a blanket sack for each sac. Still, it was alarming to know someone might be watching them. What if they were followed?

“Why would someone be watching us now?”, she muttered under her breath.

“He probably wants whatever you’re loading into your car,” Anthony said.

Dee jerked her head around to look at Anthony, who looked calm as could be. “I take it that guy isn’t the only one watching us,” she said tartly.

Anthony shrugged. “I see things.”

Dee’s eyes narrowed. “What things?”

“Well, I saw you leave in the middle of the night last night, and come back about two hours later.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Dee said quickly.

“Didn’t say there was,” Anthony said, pushing his glasses up on his nose.

Dee decided to end the conversation before it strayed further into dangerous territory. “Thanks for telling me, Anthony,” she said hurriedly, with another glance toward the back of the house. “I have to go now.”

“Do you want me to get rid of him for you?”

“Get rid…what?” Dee asked, her eyes widening.

“Well…I was just thinking that maybe now isn’t a good time to have someone watching you. Maybe it would be better if Mr. Nosy were looking somewhere else when you drive away,” he finished, watching her carefully.

Torn, Dee hesitated. Anthony obviously suspected, but right now, that wasn’t her biggest worry. They needed to get those sacs safely hidden. They had all gone through so much to retrieve them; the last thing she wanted was for them to fall into the wrong hands, be they human or alien. If anyone followed them, she was sure that Jaddo could deal with them, but that might attract unwanted attention. But accepting Anthony’s help was basically admitting that she was up to something. Could she afford to do that? And what did he mean, anyway, by ‘get rid of him’? Get rid of him how?

“I won’t hurt him,” Anthony said quickly, as if reading her mind, “and I won’t ask questions. It’s your business, not mine. If you want, I’ll just go away, and we’ll pretend we never talked.”

When Dee didn’t answer, Anthony took a step closer and put his face close to the door. “I want to help,” he whispered. “Let me help.”

Their eyes locked. Dee reached a decision. “Okay. Get rid of him.”

Anthony’s face broke into a huge smile. “Give me ten minutes. Wait for the noise!” Then he bounded down the walk and took off at a run.




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




“I’m driving and that’s final,” Emily said firmly.

“I am perfectly capable of piloting this vehicle,” Jaddo objected.

“Maybe so, but you’re big on ‘invisible’, remember? I’m the one with the driver’s license and the driving experience. I’m the one who owns the car. I’m the one all the nosy neighbors are going to be looking for. I’m the best one to make us invisible.”

Standing between her mother and Jaddo at the door to the back porch, Dee looked back and forth from one to the other. Part of her wished they’d hurry up and settle their ever-growing list of differences, and part of her actually hoped the argument would continue long enough for Anthony to do whatever it was he was going to do.

“You don’t know where you’re going,” Jaddo said impatiently.

“I will if you tell me,” Emily countered.

Jaddo sighed with exasperation. “Fine. In the interest of accomplishing my task, we’ll do it your way. I’ll take the passenger’s seat.”

“You can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Look, I don’t know how things work on your planet, but here it’s going to look mighty weird if I drive off in the middle of the day with a strange man in my car.”

“What does gender have to do with it?”

“It has everything to do with it!”

“Humans,” Jaddo said with disgust.

“Aliens,” Emily echoed, with equal disgust. “Can’t you just melt into the dashboard, or something?”

Jaddo gave her a withering look. “If I’m going to give you directions in physical speech, I’ll need to have a form with a mouth.”

“Must you?” Emily asked innocently, as Dee suppressed a smile. The idea of Jaddo not having a mouth probably sounded like a great idea to her mother right about now.

“This is not the time for jokes!” Jaddo scowled.

Emily gave him a level stare. “What makes you think I’m joking?”

The two adults glared at each other as Dee stood between them, looking from one furious face to the other and wondering who was going to bend. Because someone would have to if they were going to take advantage of Anthony’s ‘noise’, whatever that was.

Apparently it was her mother’s turn to bend. “Just get somewhere out of sight, will you?” Emily said crossly. “The last thing I need is the whole town talking about me having an affair or something. We can….”

Her mother was so busy ranting that she missed what happened next. Dee giggled and tugged on her mother’s sleeve. “Mama? Mama? Mama!

Her mother stopped short and looked at her. Dee inclined her head toward Jaddo, who had silently assumed the form of a rather attractive woman. She could still tell it was Jaddo. His form may have changed, but the look in his eyes had not.

Dee watched her mother swallow hard as she looked Jaddo up and down. He had done an excellent job. He was even wearing jewelry.

“Does this form satisfy your gender and neighbor requirements?” Jaddo asked, in a perfectly pitched, but nonetheless sarcastic female voice.

“I’d lose the earrings,” Emily replied in a slightly unsteady voice. “They’re too much with that blouse.”

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’,” Jaddo declared. “May we leave now?”

At that precise moment, all hell broke loose on the other side of the block.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2005 10:32 pm 
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PART SEVENTY-THREE


July 11, 1947, 10:45 a.m.

Proctor residence




Frozen to the spot, Dee watched her mother and Jaddo fall silent, their argument forgotten, as explosions erupted on the street behind them. “Wait for the noise!” Anthony had said. Boy, he hadn’t been kidding.

“What was that?” Jaddo asked sharply, his woman’s voice sounding very strange to Dee’s ears.

“Just firecrackers,” Emily replied, breathing heavily. They were all rather jumpy; the noise had severely startled them, even Dee, who had been waiting for it. “All the kids have firecrackers left over after the Fourth of July. They spend the rest of the summer setting them off in inconvenient places at inconvenient times.”

“But this isn’t inconvenient for us,” Dee said happily. “Look at all the kids who are going over to look!”

“She is right,” Jaddo replied, watching the neighborhood children gravitate toward the other side of the block. “This is an excellent distraction. We should leave now.”

For once her mother didn’t argue, climbing into the car and starting it without comment as Dee and Jaddo climbed in the other side. Squashed between her mother and Jaddo, Dee twisted her head around to look behind her, grinning broadly. Firecrackers. What an absolutely brilliant idea. Thanks Anthony, she thought sincerely, as they drove away unnoticed by the neighbors, whose eyes were all aimed at the other side of the block where a fresh round of explosions had just erupted.



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



Deputy Valenti was staring so avidly through his binoculars that he was literally leaning out his car window. Every now and then someone would walk through his field of vision and give him a curious stare. Previously, he had attempted to be careful about how many people saw him; now he didn’t care. Emily Proctor, her daughter, and another woman had just climbed into the front seat of the Proctor’s vehicle. As soon as they were on the road, they would be fair game. And as soon as he caught them red-handed, it wouldn’t matter who had seen him out here watching. He would be vindicated.

Suddenly a series of explosions rocked the car, followed by loud, crackling noises. Instinctively, Valenti ducked, dropping the binoculars as he did so and cursing when he heard the sound of breaking glass as they hit the ground.

When the noise stopped, Valenti cautiously raised his head. Smoke was wafting all around the car, and people were starting to come out of their houses to see what was going on. Shit! The last he needed right now was an audience.

Valenti opened the door and stepped outside, his shoes crunching on the glass from the broken binoculars. Peering around the end of his car, he saw the telltale paper wrappers—firecrackers. Someone had set off a mess of firecrackers right behind and underneath his car, including one in the tailpipe from the looks of things.

Fuming, Valenti turned around. He didn’t have time for this; the Proctors were leaving, and he fully intended to follow them. He didn’t even manage to take two steps before a fresh wave of explosions sounded, this time from the front of the car. Ducking again, he hunched down beside the left rear wheel of his car, and his mouth fell open.

His tire was halfway flat.

Damn it! Valenti hissed, rising to his feet after the noise subsided. Several adult heads poked curiously out windows, only to disappear when they realized it was just another post-Fourth of July firecracker attack, an extremely common event this time of year. But there was a ring of children around him now, most of whom were laughing. Many were throwing admiring looks in the direction of a sandy-haired boy with glasses, who was wearing a maddening smile of satisfaction.

Valenti headed for the boy. The crowd backed up a bit as he strode angrily toward him, but the boy stood his ground. When Valenti got closer, he recognized him: This was the boy who had earlier asked him what he was doing.

“Did you do this?” Valenti demanded when he reached the boy.

To Valenti’s surprise, the boy nodded. “Yep. Maybe that’ll teach you not to be a peeping Tom.”

A murmur rippled through the children. Valenti swore again, silently this time; the last thing he needed besides an audience was a bunch of nosy kids all telling their parents there was a peeping Tom in the neighborhood. “I told you I was bird watching!” he said angrily, loud enough for everyone to hear.

More murmurs. Dubious murmurs. The sandy-haired boy was still regarding him skeptically, and the ring of children pressed closer, staring. Prior to this, Valenti wouldn’t have believed a group of children could look so accusatory. He risked a glance in the direction of the Proctor’s house; even from this distance, he could see the car was gone. He was too late.

Grabbing the sandy-haired boy by the collar, Valenti pulled him away from the throng. “You’re in big trouble, kid,” he said grimly. “I need to speak to your mother.”



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



Pod Chamber




“Stop the car over there,” Jaddo said pointing.

Emily gazed out the window at the huge rock formation looming ahead. They were miles into the desert, miles off any road. This would make a good hiding place. No one in their right mind came out here.

“Are you sure one of your ‘friends’ didn’t follow us?” she asked nervously.

“He is not my ‘friend’, and I am sure,” Jaddo replied. “We are alone.”

Emily glanced over at Jaddo, who had resumed his male form. His people may not have a specific gender, but she had to admit the male form suited him better. His personality was definitely what one would call “male”.

Jaddo’s pique at her various concerns had softened and eventually disappeared after they began nearing what passed for a downtown in tiny Corona. About a dozen people had waved or called to Emily; a few had approached the car when it was stopped at a light and peered inside, inquiring after her ‘visitor’, whom Emily had introduced as a friend from out of town. Way out of town, she’d thought silently, suppressing a smile. Vindicated, she’d driven in silence until they reached open desert.

“Now do you think I’m stupid?” she’d asked Jaddo.

“I never said you were stupid,” he had replied, with only a trace of his usual irritation.

Emily stopped the car at the base of the rocks, and waited while Jaddo got out and began removing the sacs. She watched enviously as he maneuvered the sacs through the air by merely holding his hand over them, in sharp contrast to all the tugging and lugging she and David had done last night. Telekinesis was a neat skill to have.

She was about to stick her head out the window and say goodbye when Jaddo’s face appeared at the passenger window.

“Follow me.”

“Follow….? Follow you where?” Emily asked. But Dee was already scrambling eagerly out of the car, apparently not interested in the details. Emily’s stared at the two of them as they began to ascend the rocks. Where the hell was he going?

Emily sat for a moment, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel and pondering. Finally, curiosity got the better of her, and she climbed out of the car and headed for the rocks, which her daughter and Jaddo were already halfway up.

It was quite a climb. The path, such as it was, was quite steep, and she wasn’t exactly dressed for rock climbing. Dee was wearing sneakers and scrambling up with no trouble at all, and Emily was willing to bet that Jaddo could have walked straight up the side of the rock formation if he’d wanted to. Her sandals kept slipping and sliding on the sandy surface, and it took several minutes of careful climbing before she reached the top, sweaty and breathless.

They were waiting for her, Jaddo looking grave, Dee merely excited. Emily looked around, expecting to see something that would indicate a hiding place, but there was nothing visible, either on the ground or the rock face. Where would anyone hide anything up here?

Then Jaddo passed his hand over the rock wall directly in front of them, and a shimmering silver handprint appeared. He placed his own hand on the handprint, and a door that had been completely invisible opened in the rock face, sliding aside much like the pocket door she remembered from her Grandmother’s cottage when she was little. Only Grandma’s had been made of wood; this appeared to be rock, several inches thick.

Emily closed her mouth, which had fallen open. Jaddo levitated the sacs once more and walked into the inky blackness of whatever lay within. Dee followed him, eyes shining like a kid on Christmas.

“C’mon, Mama! Don’t you want to see?”

“See what, exactly?” Emily asked. Her mouth had suddenly gone quite dry.

“See where they’re hiding them!” Dee answered, clearly enchanted with this alien hideaway, sight unseen.

Emily was about to ask if Dee really wanted to go in there, and then remembered that Dee had been on their ship. Trapped on their ship, actually, for several hours. To her, a huge hole in some rocks where no hole should be was probably small potatoes.

That settled it. If her eight-year old daughter could summon a well of courage that deep, her own mother ought to be able to do the same. Bracing herself, Emily followed her daughter over the threshold.

The door scraped shut behind her, making her jump. As soon as the door closed a light glowed, although Emily couldn’t see where the light was coming from. It seemed to come from everywhere, a soft, all-over glow that lit the room inside from every angle. Emily remained standing just inside the door as though someone had planted her there, taking in her surroundings.

They were in some sort of cave, from the looks of it. The walls were made of rock, the floor covered with a fine layer of sand. In the middle of the floor were four sacs just like the two she had helped rescue. Each was divided into four separate compartments; one of the sacs, she noticed, had split almost completely into four separate sacs, each no doubt containing a tiny fetus. Most of the sacs glowed brightly, but one in particular was barely glowing at all.

Emily walked carefully into the room and knelt beside the dark sac. She was reasonably certain what she would find. It was hard to see the fetuses inside without the glow, but when she looked carefully, she could see that two of the fetuses were twitching feebly, one was completely immobile, and one had clearly been dead for a while.

“They were supposed to stay in the incubators for several more days,” Jaddo said quietly, coming up behind and kneeling down across from her. “But the crash cut power for a time, and then your soldiers found us, so we couldn’t take the incubators with us.”

Emily looked over at Dee. She was bent over another sac a few feet away, poking at the tiny beings inside. “How many did you start with?” she asked, keeping her voice low.

“Fifty of each of the four members of the royal family; 200 total.”

Fifty of each? Good Lord. They were down in the single digits now. Way down. “You’ve lost a lot,” she whispered.

Jaddo nodded somberly. “There is always a high attrition rate in clones during the infancy stage, and that is with three times as many, all uncompromised. We have very few here, and all were removed from their controlled environment prematurely.”

Emily looked sadly at the dead fetuses, the obvious conclusion to Jaddo’s words hanging unspoken in the air: It was quite possible that none of them would survive. They couldn’t afford to let even one of them go, because that one might be the only one to make it. For the first time, she had an inkling of why this man—or whatever he was—was so single-minded and ornery. He was one of only four, now two, who were charged with an enormous task which had just gotten a hell of a lot harder. Add the additional insults of being hunted and possibly captured, as one of them already had been, and that was enough to make anyone disagreeable.

“So. What now?”

“Now we wait,” Jaddo replied. “It will take them about twenty years to grow to maturity.”

“That’s a long time to wait,” Emily noted.

“It is.”

Kneeling beside the dead and dying fetuses, Emily studied the individual across from her. Neither his face nor his voice betrayed the slightest hint of sarcasm, or disapproval, or any of the typical emotions she had come to associate with him. He was actually confiding in her.

“Why are you telling me all this?”

Jaddo was silent for a moment. When he finally spoke, he did not look at her.

“You have fought for these many times now. I thought you had earned the right to see what you were fighting for. And….” He paused, as though this next part was difficult to say. “And I have a great deal of respect for those who stand their ground in the face of opposition. As you have done,” he added, giving her a sidelong glance.

Emily allowed herself a small smile. This sudden burst of information was a blanket thank you, a mark of respect for her willingness to take him on, and, probably, an announcement that he trusted her at last. At least a little bit.

“What will you do now?”

“I will attempt to rescue Brivari,” Jaddo replied. “Give me one full day. After that, if one of us has not returned…” He hesitated. Emily looked at him questioningly.

“If one of us has not returned,” Jaddo continued slowly, “then I would ask of you yet another favor.”



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



1100 hours

Eagle Rock Military Base





“I don’t care who called him in—I don’t want him here!,” Cavitt barked into the phone. “I want it dissected, not diagnosed!”

Spade stood at ease in front of Cavitt’s desk, watching Cavitt turn several interesting shades of purple. The newly minted Major had taken the phone call a full five minutes ago, and the volume had been rising ever since.

“With all due respect,” Cavitt was saying in a tone that made it clear he felt nothing of the kind, “I’m afraid the General is a bit out of the loop on this one. It doesn’t have a psyche; it’s a weapon. They might as well try to psychoanalyze a missile!”

Spade’s jaw twitched. He knew perfectly well who Cavitt was talking about. There was only one living, sentient being on this base that was referred to with the pronoun “it”.

“Very well then, I will ‘think it over’,” Cavitt said impatiently. “Yes, yes, I have your number,” he added, wadding the slip of paper in front of him into a ball. “Of course I’ll get back to you if I change my mind.”

Cavitt slammed down the telephone and threw the wad of paper into the wastebasket. “Goddamn shrinks,” he muttered. “I can’t stand those people.”

Maybe because you need one? Spade thought caustically, sorry that the Major’s conversation had ended. He had been thoroughly enjoying his discomfiture.

Cavitt looked up at Spade as if noticing him for the first time. “Ah, here you are. My brand new Corporal. Under the circumstances, I felt it fitting to skip completely over Private First Class. How does it feel?”

Since I was promoted for betraying an innocent man, it feels like crap. “Wonderful, sir.”

Cavitt smiled. “You deserve it, Corporal. If it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t have a prisoner. And now I have another task for you.”

Cavitt leaned forward. He had stopped smiling. “The second alien returned last night,” he said grimly. “We think it took the form of one Corporal Darron, who was found unconscious in a lavatory. He claims he was attacked by…” here Cavitt paused “….by himself.”

Spade frowned. He was certain he had hit the escaped alien at least once. They knew the sedative they had used worked; it had obviously worked on the captured alien. How could he have been able to hide the sacs in that culvert, double back, and infiltrate the base?

“Ordinarily I would chalk up such a tale to excitement and lack of sleep,” Cavitt continued, “but under the circumstances, I find I can’t do that. I am convinced that thing came back here, knocked out Corporal Darron, and made itself look like him.”

“What happened?” Spade asked. “Do we still have the prisoner? Is anything missing?”

“Nothing happened that I know of,” Cavitt replied. “Perhaps it found itself unable to attempt a rescue while its companion is sedated. I imagine it would have had to carry it, and that would have been rather noticeable.”

“It managed to carry whatever it made off with last night,” Spade reminded him, smiling inwardly at the dark look that came over Cavitt’s face.

“Yes,” Cavitt said sourly. “I still can’t figure that one out. You’re quite sure you didn’t find anything? Anything at all? Even something slightly out of place?”

“Quite sure, sir,” Spade answered with a straight face.

“A pity,” Cavitt said. “Although this latest incident may shed some light on that. I had assumed the second alien would not make it far, but its reappearance here later last night suggests that the dosage of the tranquilizer in each dart was too low. You will recall that the one we captured was still conscious. We had to give it more in order to knock it out completely.”

Don’t remind me, Spade thought darkly. Cavitt mused silently for a moment before speaking again.

“Whatever happened, Corporal, I want that thing found. I am tired of these creatures sneaking onto my base, and now that I have one of them, I mean to keep it. You have spent the most time with them. I want you to devise a means of identifying and capturing it. Use whatever men or resources you need. I expect a report by 1700 hours.” Cavitt rose from his chair as Spade nodded. “Now I have some things to attend to. Dismissed.”

Spade saluted as Cavitt breezed past him, deliberately lingering behind. As soon as Cavitt was out of view, he leaned over the wastebasket and plucked out the wadded piece of paper Cavitt had thrown there earlier. Smoothing it out, he saw it contained a name and a phone number.

Spade walked to the secretary’s desk and gave her his most dazzling smile. “Major Cavitt wanted me to give this to you…Harriet,” he added, reading her name tag and handing her the phone number. “You’re to leave a message that the Major has thought it over and he’s changed his mind. Sorry I don’t have more details,” he added sheepishly. “I guess he didn’t feel I needed to know more.”

“That’s all right, Corporal,” Harriet smiled. “I know what this is about. I’ll call right away.”

Good, Spade thought, as he nodded goodbye to the secretary and walked away. He wasn’t certain exactly what he had just set in motion, but he was certain of one thing: If Cavitt didn’t want whoever would appear because of that phone call, then he did.




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




Malik fumed as he spied Amar in the distance walking toward him. It had been ten hours since they had gone their separate ways, and Amar had not shown up at their designated meeting place. <About time,> Malik commented, even though Amar was only halfway to him.

<Did you find anything?> Amar asked.

<No. Where have you been?> Malik demanded. Human soldiers milled around them, oblivious to the two aliens in their midst.

<Investigating,> Amar said curtly. His eyes were hard, his face set, and he was walking very fast. He came abreast of Malik, and the two started walking—or rather, trotting—together.

<So I hear,> Malik said. <Do you have any idea what a ruckus you caused?>

Amar stopped abruptly. <What do you mean?>

<It’s all over the base,> Malik said angrily. <A soldier was found unconscious; he claims he was attacked by a man who looked exactly like him.>

<So?>

<So you got careless,> Malik said accusingly. <You, who go on and on about being ‘invisible’. Is this what you call ‘invisible?>

<I didn’t expect him to look up when he did,> Amar said impatiently.

<You showed yourself!> Malik spat.

<It was an accident!> Amar spat back.

<Like hell it was!> Malik retorted. <You were in such a hurry to get inside and find out who they had that you screwed up!>

<What difference does it make?> Amar said irritably. <They already know there’s another one at large; they’ll just think it’s him.>

<Don’t bet on it,> Malik warned. <They know the one who escaped got hit with one of their tranquilizer darts—there’s already speculation that there’s more than one out there.>

<That’s speculation, nothing more.>

Malik gave Amar a severe look. <Has it not occurred to you that the humans could capture us the same way they captured….wait. Did you find out who they captured?>

Amar began walking again slowly; Malik fell in step beside him. <They have Brivari,> Amar said quietly, as though afraid someone might overhear his telepathic speech.

<You don’t look pleased,> Malik noted. <I would think you’d be thrilled.>

<I’d be thrilled if we had him,> Amar said crossly. <I’d be thrilled if he were awake and able to lament his captivity. They’re keeping him continuously sedated.>

<Amar, we have to be very, very careful,> Malik said earnestly. <The humans have intensified their efforts to catch whoever got away. They might very well catch one of us instead. They are clearly capable.>

<It’s not the humans I’m worried about right now.>

Malik’s eyes narrowed. <What do you mean?>

<I mean we may be in trouble,> Amar said tensely. <All those stories about Royal Covari may be true.>

<And to what do we owe this sudden revelation?> Malik asked skeptically. <You never believed the tales of what the Royal Warders were capable of, even after the reports from eyewitnesses to the coup.>

<I thought that was just the excitement of battle,> Amar said testily, <and I thought the humans I overheard were exaggerating, just like they always do. The humans said they had killed with a touch, burned a hole in a fence, threw people against walls without touching them; a veritable smorgasbord of idiotic claims.> Amar stopped, and his tone changed from derisive to alarmed. <I have reason to believe at least some of those claims are true.>

<What reasons?> Malik asked suspiciously. <What did you see?>

<Enough,> he answered shortly. <Enough to make me very, very careful. We’re going back to Copper Summit to pick up the device. It’s time to test it.>

<You didn’t bring it with you?>

<I didn’t think we’d need it!> Amar said angrily. <I never believed those tales. I’m not sure I do now. But I’ve seen enough to make me want to hedge my bets.>

Malik stopped. Amar continued a few steps more, then turned to face him. <What?>

<You’re afraid of them, aren’t you,> Malik said softly. <I never thought I’d see the day.>

Amar gave him a dark look. <If you’d seen what I’d seen, you’d be afraid too.>



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



“Unlock it.”

“Yes, Major.”

The guard complied quickly, and Major Cavitt stepped inside the room where the doctors had been working on the alien fetuses last night. “Dismissed,” he said curtly to the hovering guards, closing the door firmly behind him.

Once alone, Cavitt snapped on the overhead lights, donned a pair of gloves, and began a systematic search of the room. He carefully checked every drawer, under every table, behind every piece of furniture, pausing when he came to the opening through which the aliens had escaped, hastily boarded up last night. The concrete blocks had simply been sliced through, vivid testimony to the power of what had escaped. Make that only one alien that escaped, Cavitt thought with satisfaction. Disappointed as he was at finding no trace of the other, there was still the enormous satisfaction of having captured at least one.

There was something else his men had found no trace of—the human-appearing fetuses which the beasts had been rescuing. No one but he and the doctors had known what was being used as bait last night, and that explained his presence here now. Depending on what he did—or did not—find here today, he had a decision to make.

Throwing one last dark look toward the scar in the wall, Cavitt resumed his search. Fifteen frustrating minutes later, he paused in the middle of the room. Where was it? It had to be here. This was the last place he’d looked, having already ransacked both doctors’ offices and torn their quarters apart without success. Then something across the room caught his eye, something he’d passed over the first time, something black and charred and rectangular. Up close it had resembled a pile of burned debris, but from across the room, it resembled something familiar, and as he examined it now, he saw that he was right: It was—or had been, anyway—a briefcase. The hinges were intact, the lock blackened so that it was practically invisible.

Gingerly, Cavitt opened what was left of the case. Ash crumbled off as he raised the lid, forming little clouds of dust. There was nothing inside, not even the remnants of anything, and for a moment Cavitt thought he’d hit yet another dead end. But then he noticed the pile of ashes near the case, and the glimmer of a tiny fragment, which he picked up with his gloved hand and held up to the light.

It was the fragment of an x-ray.

Pawing through the pile of ashes, Cavitt found more fragments, growing more excited with each new discovery. So this is where Dr. Perkins had placed all the information on the alien fetuses—he’d been carrying it around with him. Everything he’d learned had gone up in smoke last night. The aliens had already done Cavitt’s work for him.

Cavitt picked out as many of the x-ray film fragments as he could find, dropped them into an envelope, and headed out the door, aiming for his office, walking fast. When he arrived, he marched past his puzzled secretary, barking, “Hold all calls, Harriet,” and locked his office door behind him. Then he pulled a folder out of the false bottom in his left hand desk drawer and set it on his desk, along with the envelope containing the x-ray fragments.

This was all the information that remained about the alien sacs and the fetuses they contained: A couple of photographs and the negatives they’d come from, a general description, and the x-ray fragments he’d found. Perkins had kept the lion’s share of the paperwork with him, which meant that ninety percent of the intelligence they’d gathered on the fetuses had been destroyed. All that remained was this paltry file, with its few pieces of paper and photographs which didn’t even begin to let on what was in those sacs.

Cavitt sat in his chair, his hands twitching on the arms. What should he do? He no longer had any evidence that the sacs had contained fetuses, nor that those fetuses had appeared to be human. He hadn’t even spoken to Perkins for any length of time yesterday, so busy had he been with setting up the trap; he had no idea what else he’d discovered, if anything. And now the sacs were gone, lost on his watch. If anyone were to believe him if he told what he knew, he’d likely pay a heavy political price for losing them. And if they didn’t believe him? Well, then the collective opinion would probably brand him nuts, and with no evidence to the contrary and no one to back him up, he’d have no way to defend himself. No matter how he sliced it, if word got out about those sacs and what they contained, he’d lose.

Reaching under his desk, Cavitt pulled out his wastebasket and emptied the contents onto the floor. He threw the skinny file and the envelope of fragments inside, lit a match, and dropped it into the wastebasket. The paper caught, orange-yellow flames curling upward, consuming it.

“Sir?” Harriet was knocking on the door. “Are you all right, sir? I smell smoke.”

“I’m fine, Harriett,” Cavitt called back. “Just one of those awful cigars General Gordon gave me awhile back.”

The last of the folder curled into the flames. Cavitt opened another folder on his desk, his report of the events of the night before. Under “items lost”, he wrote in, “unidentifiable items from the craft”. If Perkins had stashed copies of his work somewhere and it ever came to light, he could always claim no knowledge of it. And if the sacs were ever found and their contents came to light, he could still claim no prior knowledge of them. That would be easy since so few had ever seen them up close.

Smiling with satisfaction, Cavitt signed the report. He had just received a much deserved and long overdue promotion, he had an alien prisoner in his power, and now he had insured that his great victory last night would not be unfairly overshadowed by this loss. Things had worked out well.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2005 10:33 pm 
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PART SEVENTY-FOUR



July 11, 1947, 1730 hours

Eagle Rock Military Base





“Creamed corn?”

“Yes.”

“Chipped beef on toast?”

“Yes.”

“Not too particular are ya?” came a voice in Jaddo’s ear.

Jaddo looked to his right to find a human soldier bearing a look of disgust. He did not reply.

“Y’know, I can’t figure out how we’re supposed to fight the world’s wars and fend off aliens and all that happy stuff when they feed us shit like this.”

The eyes of the human serving the food flicked toward the disgruntled soldier with a look of irritation.

“I mean, can you believe this? This ain’t food!”

“If you don’t like it, I see no one forcing you to eat it,” Jaddo responded flatly.

“Hey,” the soldier replied, gesturing expansively with his almost empty tray, “a man’s gotta eat! But you don’t have to eat the worst of the worst, y’know what I mean?” he added, with a look at the contents of Jaddo’s tray.

Jaddo looked down at his packed tray. “I see nothing wrong with this food. And furthermore, I would be careful about insulting those who prepare and serve it. They are in a unique position to make you pay for such insolence.”

The server shot Jaddo a grateful look as he dropped a spoonful of indeterminate food on both trays. The complaining soldier made a face. “Ugh!” he said, ignoring both Jaddo’s warning and the dangerous look on the face of the server. “How can you eat this stuff? Don’t you have any sense of taste?”

“No.”

“Really?” the soldier said, not missing a beat. “Well, that would explain it. Especially if you eat that crap all the time. That’d kill anyone’s taste buds.”

“Look, buddy!” the food server exploded, “if you wanna try your hand at making dinner for thousands of people sometime, go right ahead!”

“Okay, okay, don’t get your knickers in a knot….”

Jaddo slid his tray further down the line, away from the argument. Some things seemed to be universal no matter where one found oneself, and the griping of armed forces about foodstuffs appeared to be one of those things. He remembered hearing similar complaints on Antar, and responding in a similar fashion. Of course he couldn’t taste a thing, so he was hardly in a position to judge.

Jaddo poured himself a cup of coffee and set it on his tray. After the human woman and child had left the pod chamber, he had taken the precaution of thoroughly walling off the entrance to the part of the chamber which contained the Granolith. The woman and her child had not even noticed the closed door in the wall, but should any rogue Covari somehow gain access, that would not escape their notice for long. And if that happened, the hybrids were, ironically, in less danger than one might think; Khivar would want them to grow, so they would not be harmed, and their incubation period was long enough that there would be plenty of time to rescue them. The Granolith was another matter. Once captured, it would likely be irretrievable, and it was now their only way home.

After finishing that task, Jaddo had spent the day at the base, locating Brivari and searching for a way to get him out. The first had been easy; the second was quite a bit trickier. Brivari was still being kept unconscious, so he would not be able to help. After a great deal of investigating, he had located a series of air ducts leading from the underground room where Brivari was being held that were too small for humans, but workable for their native forms. Brivari had been sedated while in his native form, so he was all set. Jaddo would have to take the risk of assuming that form as well in order to use the ducts as an escape route. The only remaining question was which of the many duct branches to use as a route to the surface. He planned to answer that after he’d had something to eat, which is how he found himself in this place the human soldiers had aptly named a “mess”.

Jaddo shifted his gaze around the room as he moved down the line. He had another reason for being here. A Covari had been following him all day, always appearing in the distance, close enough to see, but not close enough to affect with his powers or even catch up with when he tried to follow. After a few such fruitless attempts he had abandoned the effort, figuring they would make themselves known at some point. Whoever it was clearly wanted to be seen, and that, in itself, was telling; invisibility was the rule for any Covari, and repeatedly choosing to be visible, while making no obvious attempt to apprehend him, likely meant that the other Covari was attempting to contact him. Jaddo strongly suspected that it was “Malik” who was trailing him so brazenly, the one who had identified himself to the Proctor child as being “loyal still”, a claim which remained to be seen. He was hoping this noisy, crowded, public place would prove to be acceptable for contact. He needed whoever it was off his tail by the time darkness fell.

Jaddo reached the end of the line, where several containers of the substances humans seemed to love to put on or in their food were arrayed for the soldiers’ use. He recognized the substance known as “sugar”, and slopped several spoonfuls in his coffee. Humans seemed to be addicted to sugar, judging from the amounts both adult Proctors used in their beverages and the copious amounts the Proctor child always used on the food known as “cereal”. Jaddo had no idea what the attraction was, but he had figured out that sugar gave him extra energy.

<Take some of the red stuff. Humans love the red stuff.>

The voice came from somewhere to his right. He darted his eyes sideways, glancing down the long line of human soldiers. The Covari was the third one down, a young human male with a single Private’s stripe on his uniform, busily filling up his tray like he belonged here.

Ignoring the “red stuff”, Jaddo picked up his tray and located a seat at an empty table. A few minutes later the other Covari joined him, sitting on the same side of the long bench at the opposite end. Anyone passing would see two people at opposite ends of a bench, eating their food and minding their own business.

<You must be Jaddo.>

<What makes you say that?>

<Your rank. Only a general’s Warder would give himself such a high rank.>

There was a touch of amusement in the voice which Jaddo found irritating. <The rank I selected is in the middle of the human’s hierarchy.>

<Personally, I find it better to be a peon. Nobody notices the peons.>

<Is there a point to this conversation? I’m busy, and now I have to add killing you to my list.>

The Covari gave a small smile, although he did not look at Jaddo. <That’s why we’re here. You can’t kill me here.>

<Says who?>

The Covari was silent for a moment, scraping at his tray. Finally he said, <You won’t kill me.>

<You are certain of this?>

<You could have killed me this morning, and you didn’t.>

So. This was his morning visitor, just as Jaddo had suspected.

<You know, it wasn’t very nice of you to shock me like that,> the Covari noted.

<Forgive me. I am not accustomed to observing the niceties when dealing with enemies.>

<I’m not your enemy.>

<You could have fooled me.>

<Look, I just wanted to talk to you,> the Covari said in an exasperated tone. <Didn’t the child deliver my message?>

<What message?>

<I know she heard me,> the Covari said, after considering Jaddo’s denial for a moment. <And judging from the nerve she showed when I saw her, delivering my message should have been easy by comparison. You didn’t have to attack me. I would have followed custom and identified if you’d given me the chance.>

<Oh, please. You haven’t followed custom and served your King without treachery. I can’t believe this,> Jaddo muttered. <I’m being lectured on etiquette by a rogue.>

The Covari was silent for so long that Jaddo suspected he had given up on the conversation. At length, however, the other spoke again.

<I am Malik,> the Covari said quietly. <And I had my reasons.>

<I’m sure you did. I am equally sure that I’m not interested in hearing them.>

<Aren’t you even curious?>

<There are many reasons why people attempt to assassinate a King.>

<I didn’t want Zan assassinated!> Malik said hotly, stabbing at his food with a utensil. <I only wanted some changes made. I never dreamed it would go this far, and I’m not happy about it, believe me.>

<I don’t.>

Malik sighed and stirred his food with his fork. <Look, it doesn’t matter what you think about me. I wanted to give you a warning—don’t try to rescue Brivari tonight.>

Jaddo paused with his glass halfway to his lips. They knew one of them was held prisoner, which was not difficult information to come by. But they also knew that Brivari was the one held, which meant that someone had been inside the very well guarded area where they were holding him in his recognizable native form. Not a pleasant thought.

<You expect me to take advice from a rogue?>

<We know what you can do, and we have a way to stop you,> Malik answered. <Don’t make us use it.>

Jaddo’s eyes narrowed, and he turned to look at the rogue Covari sitting at the other end of the bench. <Who are you working with?> he demanded.

<That’s not important right now. What is important is that if you attempt to rescue Brivari tonight, you will likely wind up captured yourself.>

<Isn’t that what you want?>

Malik hesitated. <No.>

<No?>

<Like I said, I didn’t expect things to go so far,> Malik answered. <Things have gone too far; the pendulum is swinging to the opposite extreme, and neither extreme is good. I’m just trying to restore a little balance to the situation.>

<You want reinstatement. What is the human expression? Ah, yes... ‘fat chance’.>

<I do not,> Malik said firmly. <The reasons I left…>

<…don’t you mean ‘deserted’?>

<….are still valid,> Malik went on, ignoring the interruption. <I have no intention of going back to the way things were before. But now there is a chance to change things. With Zan gone for a time, we can plan for his return.>

<Planning for the King’s return is my responsibility. Mine and my fellow Warders.>

<You mean you and Brivari,> Malik corrected. <You are Jaddo, so Urza and Valeris must be dead.> He paused. <And I am sorry to hear that.>

<Do you honestly believe any of us, Urza and Valeris included, are the least bit interested in a traitor’s so called ‘sorrow’?>

Malik’s voice rose a notch. <I am not a traitor!> he said forcefully, slamming his glass down on the table so hard that several humans nearby turned to look at him.

<There were no Covari assigned to this planet. No one else should have been here. Explain your presence,> Jaddo demanded.

<I don’t have to explain anything to you,> Malik said firmly. <I have delivered my warning. Ignore it at your peril.>

Jaddo set his utensils down with a clatter. More heads turned to watch. <Silence! Or I’ll ….>

<Or what?> Malik challenged. <You’ll kill me? Isn’t that threat getting old?>

Jaddo smiled. <There are things worse than death, rogue. I hear they’re giving out commendations for capturing an alien. I know of one they can have.>

<You wouldn’t dare,> Malik said, eyes widening with alarm.

<Try me.>

<You would turn over one of your own to the humans?> Malik said in disbelief. <This is a Covari matter; it has nothing to do with them.>

<This is not a ‘Covari matter’,> Jaddo replied angrily. <This is a matter of treason. You, or whoever you work for, threatens me, and in the present circumstances, whoever threatens me threatens the King. It’s that simple.>

<I do not threaten you,> Malik responded just as angrily. <I have approached you twice today for the express purpose of warning you. I would hardly call that a threat!>

<You have deserted,> Jaddo said stonily. <That is treason, all your noble ‘reasons’ notwithstanding. You ran. You refuse to name the one you serve.>

<You are in no position to make demands!> Malik spat. <You are alone and hunted, and too damned stupid to figure that out!>

<Who are you working for?> Jaddo shouted, rising to his feet.

<None of your goddamned business!> Malik shouted back, rising to his own feet.

Several people stopped eating and turned to stare at them.

Furious, Jaddo threw up his hand, palm forward; Malik flinched and closed his eyes. Several humans rose from their seats and surrounded them.

“Uh….guys,” one of them said uncertainly. “Ease up a little.”

<You fear me,> Jaddo said softly, ignoring the humans. <Good.>

Jaddo’s hand was still extended, his eyes hard. Malik opened his eyes, his chest heaving.

<You won’t kill me,> he said. <Or expose me. You can’t afford to.>

<And why is that?>

<Because I have information you need. Because I’m willing to talk, and you need to know what I know. Let me know when that fact manages to penetrate your thick skull.>

Slowly, Jaddo lowered his hand. The two Covari continued to stare at one another, surrounded by humans who saw only two men glaring at each other in total silence.

“Guys,” one of the humans said again in a pleading voice. “Look, I know it’s been tense around here lately, what with all these weird things going on. But we have to stick together. You know, united we stand, divided we fall—all that stuff.”

“You’re right,” Malik said softly in physical speech. “We should stick together. A pity some people can’t see that.”

Then he turned on his heel and strode out of the mess hall.



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


9:30 p.m.

Corona, New Mexico





Dee Proctor scrabbled in the dirt for a pebble. It had to be big enough to make noise, but not so large it would crack the glass. She’d done that once to Rachel’s window, and she’d gotten in a lot of trouble.

There! Perfect. Dee squinted up at her target, took careful aim, and fired.

It worked. A few seconds later, a sandy-haired head appeared at the window. Anthony looked down at her with surprise, then leaned precariously out his second floor bedroom window.

“I can’t come down,” he called softly, so softly Dee could barely hear him. “I’m grounded.”

“I know,” Dee called back just as softly, because the windows were always open in the dog days of summer, and even though Anthony’s parents were in the living room at the front of the house, voices could still carry. “I’ll come up.”

“Come up?” Anthony echoed. “Didn’t you hear me? I’m grounded. They won’t let you up.”

Dee shot him an exasperated, “how-stupid-do-you-think-I-am” look and shook her head. “That’s not what I meant. Just stay put, okay?”

Anthony shrugged. “Okay. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.”

Dee turned her attention to the massive tree in Anthony’s backyard. It was a huge maple with stout branches, stout enough to support a sizeable tree house. She tucked that thought away for future reference and focused instead on only one of those stout branches, the one that ran tantalizingly close to Anthony’s bedroom window.

Five minutes later, she had scaled the tree and was scooting along the branch toward Anthony, who was still watching from his window with a look of mingled surprise and interest. When she finally reached the window, she carefully leaned one hand on Anthony’s window frame and even more carefully stood up on the branch. It dipped under her weight, but she quickly put one foot on the windowsill and hauled herself inside, landing on his bedroom floor with a thump.

Dee brushed a leaf out of her hair and flicked it out the window. The lights were off, which was weird, because it was almost completely dark outside. Anthony was openly staring at her.

“What?”

“Wow,” Anthony said, impressed.

“ ‘Wow’ what? Haven’t you ever seen someone climb a tree before?”

“Course I have. Just not a girl.”

“You think girls can’t climb trees?”

“I think you’ve settled that one,” Anthony said. “And no, I don’t think girls can’t climb trees. I just think they don’t climb trees. Probably because they’re usually wearing dresses.”

Dee uttered a soft snort. “I hate dresses. They’re the most useless pieces of clothing ever invented.”

“You’ve never had to wear a necktie,” Anthony countered.

“Okay, I’ll give you that one,” Dee said. “But at least with a necktie you can still play ball, or climb, or ride a bike without worrying about your dress blowing up.”

“I guess,” Anthony said doubtfully. “Of course, when you wear a necktie you can’t breathe. But who needs air?”

Dee broke into a smile, which Anthony returned. Then her eyes lit on something behind him, and he turned to follow her gaze.

A telescope was parked just to the side of the open bedroom window. That must be why the room was dark; he must have been looking through the telescope when she’d first arrived, and moved it aside to let her in.

“Neat!” she said, stepping around him to look at the telescope. “I love to look at stars, but I’ve never had a telescope. I’ve never even seen one up close.”

“I got it for my birthday,” Anthony said proudly. “I can’t see much from the window except the moon, but it’s pretty clear tonight. Want me to set it up for you?”

“Yeah,” Dee said gratefully. “I’d like that.”

As Anthony moved the telescope back to the window, Dee looked around the room, visible now that her eyes had adjusted to the dark. The first thing she noticed was a handmade mobile of the solar system hanging from a lamp. Shelves were lined with books, and sitting on the bottom shelf was something fascinating: A wooden model of the solar system, with all the planets on little rods. She stared at it wistfully, remembering her trip with Urza in his ship, gazing out the window as Jupiter and Saturn went by.

“That’s called an ‘orrery’,” Anthony said behind her. “It duplicates the way the planets move. Here…watch.”

He turned the handle of a crank that Dee hadn’t noticed, and all the planets began to revolve around the wooden sun, with Mercury in a tight, fast path, and the planets further out in larger, slower orbits. Dee watched, mesmerized, as all the planets rotated simultaneously in a smooth dance.

“Did you make that?” she asked, astonished.

Anthony nodded. “Took me weeks. I know I didn’t get all the orbits right, but I think it’s pretty close.”

“It’s beautiful,” she said sincerely. “You’re really into this, aren’t you?”

Anthony nodded, staring out the window at the night sky. “There’s something out there. I know there is.”

“Something out….where?” Dee asked hesitantly.

“Other worlds,” Anthony answered. “Other people…maybe people like us. There has to be someone else out there. The universe is so big; it just doesn’t make sense that we’re all alone.”

His tone was earnest, but he wasn’t fishing. Dee felt a lump in her throat. “I think that amongst every people, every race, there are those whose curiosity outweighs their fear.” Valeris had said that shortly before he died. Anthony was clearly one of those people. She wondered what he’d think of her pitiful little “star collection” on her shelf in her bedroom. Probably not much, given all the wonderful things he had in his room.

“So,” he said, sitting down on the bed. “Don’t you want to hear what happened this morning?”

“We heard the firecrackers go off, and everybody saw what happened afterward,” Dee said, curling up Indian fashion on the other end of the bed. “You’re quite the hero now.” Anthony blushed, and Dee smiled. It was true—pulling a stunt like that on a grown-up earned one lots of points in the eyes of one’s fellow children. “And your parents said you were grounded when I rang your doorbell—that’s why I came around back.”

“Confined to my room for the rest of the day,” he said matter-of-factly. “But if it worked, it was worth it.”

“It worked,” Dee said gratefully. “Who was he?”

Anthony shrugged. “Don’t know.”

“You’re sure he wasn’t wearing a uniform?”

“Nope. No uniform. No name tag, no nothing.”

“What about his car? Did you notice anything on his car that would make you think he was from the Army?”

Anthony’s eyebrows rose. “Why would he be from the Army?”

“I…I don’t know,” Dee stammered, mentally slapping herself. “It was just….wondering if he was someone official. Like a soldier, or a policeman. That’s all.”

Dee stopped talking before she dug herself an even deeper hole. Her excuse sounded lame even to her, but Anthony accepted it without further questions.

“It was just an ordinary car. No writing on it, or anything like that. He didn’t have a gun that I could see. Just his binoculars.”

“Anthony….what if he was just a guy bird watching?” Dee asked, biting her lip.

“Maybe,” Anthony said doubtfully. “But I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“Well, at first my mom was all mad at me about the firecrackers, and letting the air out of his tires….I didn’t hurt the tires,” he added hastily, as Dee’s eyes began to pop. “I just jammed twigs into the valves to let the air out. I didn’t want him following you. If he was going to follow you, I mean.”

Dee couldn’t believe it. She never would have thought of something so simple.

“Anyway, when mom finally calmed down a little, she heard me saying that this guy had been sitting in his car for a couple of hours and staring through his binoculars. And she started asking him all these questions about why he was doing that, and he told her he was bird watching, and I could tell she didn’t believe him. I guess he could too, because he changed his tune after that. Went on and on about how he was going to let me off the hook this time, and we shouldn’t overreact to a ‘child’s prank’, and all that. He left in a big hurry.”

Sitting there, listening to all of this, Dee was seized with a powerful urge to tell Anthony the truth. She didn’t know if the man in the car had truly been after them, but the odds were good that he had. Anthony’s instincts had been good, and he hadn’t been afraid to act on them. He deserved to know.

Anthony was looking at her with concern. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Dee said sincerely. “Everything’s right. I don’t know if that guy was really looking at us, but even if he wasn’t…well…it just wasn’t a good time for anyone to be looking our way. Anyone at all. And I really want to tell you why that is, but….I can’t.”

“That’s okay,” Anthony said easily. “I told you I wouldn’t ask, and I won’t.”

“I know,” Dee said, “and you haven’t. It’s just that…I think you deserve to know. But…”

“….but it’s not your secret to tell. Right?”

“No, it isn’t,” Dee admitted. “And not only that, knowing is dangerous. If I tell you, and anyone finds out......” She stopped, leaving the rest of that thought up in the air. “But I’m really, really grateful for your help

“You’re welcome,” Anthony said simply. “I told you I wanted to help. Anytime. Just yell.”

“Do you mean that?” Dee whispered soberly. “Because I might take you up on that.”

“Course I mean it,” Anthony said promptly. “I meant it today, didn’t I?”

“Anthony?” a sharp voice called through the bedroom door, making both of them jump.

Instinctively, Dee scooted off the bed and behind the door so that if Anthony’s mother opened it, she wouldn’t be visible.

“Anthony Maximillion! Are you in there?”

“Yes, Mom,” Anthony called wearily, as Dee giggled behind her hand. Anthony Maximillion? That was a mouthful.

“You should be getting ready for bed,” his mother called, sounding cross.

“Okay, Mom,” Anthony called back. “I’ll be right out.”

Footsteps moved off down the hallway. Dee let out her breath.

“Anthony Maximillion?” she said teasingly.

“Yeah, I know,” Anthony muttered. “Maximillion was my grandfather’s name, but I guess my mom and dad weren’t brave enough to actually name me that, thank God. She only calls me that when she’s mad.” He looked pleadingly at her. “Don’t tell anyone, okay? I get teased enough because of my glasses and because I don’t really like sports. I don’t need anyone knowing I’ve got this ancient middle name. ”

“Wanna know what my middle name is?” Dee asked.

“What?”

“Isabel,” Dee answered, making a face. “From what Mama tells me, Great-Grandmother Isabel was this very proper lady who wouldn’t approve of me climbing trees.”

“Good thing she’s not here then,” Anthony said, smiling, and Dee smiled back. He liked to look at stars, thought there was life on other planets, and he had a middle name he hated. What else did they have in common?

“That was smart, hiding behind the door like that,” Anthony was saying. “Do you sneak around a lot?”

“You might be surprised,” Dee answered seriously. “I’d better get going in case she comes back. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to look through your telescope.”

Anthony shrugged. “No problem. It’s a waxing moon, so it’ll only get bigger.”

“We have a really clear view from our backyard,” Dee said, moving to the window. “Fewer trees. Bring it over when they let you out, and we’ll look.”

“Okay.”

Dee climbed onto the windowsill, preparing to step out onto the tree, still wishing she could tell him something, anything, as payment for what he’d done that day. Just as she was about to swing her other leg over, her eyes fell on the beautiful wooden orrery.

“Anthony?”

“Yeah?”

“I can’t tell you what I know you want to know, but I can tell you this,” she said, leaning in toward him. He leaned in also, their faces almost touching.

“Saturn isn’t the only planet with rings—Uranus has them too, and so does Neptune. And Jupiter has a lot more moons than we know about.”

Anthony’s eyes widened. He said nothing, just stared at her.

“And one more thing,” Dee added, deciding to take at least a small risk. “I think you’re right—there must be other people out there.”

Dee swung her other leg over the windowsill and eased out onto the branch. Climbing down was always easier than climbing up, and she was on the ground in only half the time it had taken her to reach the bedroom. When she hit the ground, she turned and waved at the sandy haired boy with the glasses, who was leaning out his bedroom window and waving with a huge grin on his face because his world had just gotten a whole lot bigger.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2005 10:33 pm 
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PART SEVENTY-FIVE


July 12, 1947, 0200 hours

Eagle Rock Military Base





Head down, Jaddo scrabbled forward through the air vent. He had developed a new appreciation for the way in which the over-large humans were forced to move about his ship. While the vent was far roomier for him in his native shape than it would have been for a human, he still had to be careful not to bump his head against the vent walls.

Jaddo had seen no sign of any Covari since his encounter with the one in the mess hall, despite keeping a careful watch. If they were here, they were staying well hidden. He himself had made no effort to hide, knowing full well that he was more powerful than any of the other Covari who happened to be on Earth. All Royal Covari had been enhanced recently with the latest developments from the project, so he had nothing to fear. He didn’t give a moment’s credence to the rogue’s claims that they had a “way to stop him”. They had no resources here with which to do such research, so that claim was no doubt a bluff, one which Jaddo intended to call quite forcefully if any of them were foolish enough to interfere with him tonight. After he rescued Brivari, they could decide together how best to deal with the rogues.

He was quite close now to the room in which they were holding Brivari. This part of the human military base had been closed off to form a separate compound, and Jaddo had recently risked a foray inside in order to ascertain where they were holding Brivari, how many soldiers were on duty at this late hour, and what exactly needed to be done to affect their escape.

As he crawled along the metal duct, Jaddo mentally went over the several things he would need to do in rapid succession. The first would be to eliminate any guards that happened to be in the room with Brivari, although there hadn’t been any there a short while ago. The second would be to seal the door, and the third to opaque the window set high in one wall through which the humans observed. Then he needed to pull Brivari into the air vent, making certain to close the grille behind them.

The tricky part would be to do this without being seen in his native form. He was planning on seeping through the openings in the grille of the air vent and assuming human form, underneath the window so no one on the other side would see him shift. He had obtained information about the uniform and appearance of an enemy known as a “Russian”. If any humans saw him, hopefully appearing in that guise would prove distracting. And if any unfortunate humans did happen to be in the room when he entered….well, no matter. They wouldn’t live long enough to be a threat.

Jaddo rounded the last corner that led toward his destination, and froze. Something was up ahead, lying on the floor of the vent, a gray lump with the unmistakable infrared signature of a Covari. It moved slightly at the sound of his approach....and it looked familiar.

“Brivari?” Jaddo whispered.

“Jaddo,” came a weak reply. “Help…me.”

Jaddo crawled closer. It was Brivari, curled up in a ball and barely conscious.

“You escaped!” Jaddo said, astonished. “How?”

“Drug…wore….off,” Brivari answered, each word an effort. “Vent…only…way….out.”

“Yes, I know,” Jaddo replied grimly. “I’ve been searching for a way out all day, and this was the best I could come up with. Do you think you can hang on?”

Brivari nodded slightly. “Good,” Jaddo said, hoisting him onto his back. “I thought you’d be unconscious, but this will go faster.”

Jaddo began crawling back the way he had come. This was turning out to be much easier than he had thought. Surely the humans would miss their prize, but at least they hadn’t seen a second alien, or even anything unusual. They might assume Brivari couldn’t get far and spend more time looking around the room he had just escaped from, at least initially.

Brivari was trying to speak again. “Hy…hybrids?”

“They’re fine,” Jaddo said shortly. “Save your strength. Don’t try to talk.”

“Where…..hybrids?”

“Right where they should be,” Jaddo said, with a touch of irritation in his voice. “The hybrids are not the ones in danger now—we are.”

“See…others?”

Jaddo slowed slightly as they rounded a bend. “What others?”

“Rogues….traitors….here?”

“I have seen no one,” Jaddo answered. “Be quiet. Save your strength.”

Brivari fell silent, and Jaddo headed for an intersection up ahead where the vent branched off in four different directions. He eased Brivari off his back and laid him on the floor of the vent in the intersection, where there was more room to maneuver.

“Why…stop?” Brivari asked.

“I need to make certain the humans have not thought of these vents as an escape route. I’m going up ahead to make sure the way is clear.”

Brivari nodded slightly and closed his eyes. Thus he did not see Jaddo advance a ways up one of the vents, then turn on him with eyes of steel.

Jaddo’s hand came up, palm out, and hit Brivari with a blast of energy that slammed him against the wall of the vent. Brivari let out a howl, and his form began to change.

“What are…you…doing?” he spat at Jaddo.

“False!” Jaddo hissed furiously, his hand still up, attacking relentlessly. “Identify!



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


Amar was caught off guard by the blast which pinned him to the wall and made him shift furiously in an effort to escape the pain. He shouldn’t have been—he had seen for himself what Royal Covari were capable of when he had managed, with great difficulty, to gain access to the autopsies the humans were performing on those who had been killed last night. Two burnt to a crisp, two with fried internal organs; Amar had been sickened to see it. He had not even told Malik what he had seen for fear it would make him lose his nerve. No one should have that much power, and what was happening to him now was a perfect example.

Still, he wasn’t dead yet. And this was Jaddo, Rath’s Warder, a military general’s guardian; no doubt he wanted information, which is why he hadn’t fried Amar as soon as he had figured out his deception. A fortunate decision for Amar, but one he intended to make Jaddo regret.

Amar shifted to his native form; the blast stopped instantly. Jaddo crouched, hand raised, eyes glittering, and stared at Amar, who was panting heavily.

“Is this how you treat your fellow Covari, Jaddo?” Amar said through clenched teeth. “You attack me as a hunter would.”

“You are false,” Jaddo snarled. “You deserve to be hunted. How dare you lecture me about my “fellow Covari” when you take the form of another? Identify!

“Why haven’t you killed me yet?” Amar asked, hoping to keep Jaddo talking and buy some time for recovery. “I’ve seen what you and yours can do. Why are you waiting?”

IDENTIFY!” Jaddo roared, starting the energy blast again.

“Amar!” Amar shouted, writhing again through the pain. “I am Amar!”

The blast stopped. Amar was panting even more heavily, and sweating profusely. God, that hurt.

“Continue,” Jaddo said guardedly, his hand still held at the ready.

“Amar, late of his Highness’s science division,” Amar said, pouring as much hatred into his voice as he was able.

“You worked on the project?” Jaddo demanded.

“More like I was worked on by the project,” Amar said angrily. “If only you knew what….”

“I haven’t the slightest interest in your undoubtedly noble reasons for going rogue,” Jaddo said sarcastically. “I only wished to know the name of the traitor I am about to execute. The real Brivari will want that information when I rescue him.”

Amar watched in horror as Jaddo began to glow. Every part of him was glowing, the very air around them crackling with energy. This must be how they do it, Amar thought frantically. He tried to shift, tried to escape, but he was still too weak from Jaddo’s previous energy blasts. There was only one option left.

Amar reached around and shifted slightly to withdraw the device. He had not wanted to use this unless absolutely necessary because he was still uncertain if it would work. It was as yet untested, which is why he had chosen to assume Brivari’s form and wait for Jaddo in the vents near which he had seen him earlier, hoping to garner some information while Jaddo thought he was Brivari. But Jaddo had figured it out quickly, and much as Amar was forced to admire that, business was business.

Raising the device, he pressed the button.


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


Power built within him as Jaddo prepared to strike. He had no compunctions whatsoever about executing this traitor, who had also committed the unpardonable sin of taking Brivari’s shape. He would gladly have executed the other one earlier had it been convenient, but at least that one had not been false.

Jaddo had known just as soon as “Brivari” had mentioned the rogues that the individual he carried was not really Brivari. The real Brivari had been careful to keep the existence of the rogues from him; he would never divulge such information in a situation like this. It had been all Jaddo could do not to chuck this disgusting traitor off his back the instant he had realized the truth.

He was almost ready when Amar reached behind his left shoulder and pulled out a small, five-sided device. Was this the “way to stop him” the other one had mentioned? It looked extremely unimpressive; probably an explosive Amar meant to hurl in his direction. Of course, that would also take out Amar, but then he didn’t seem to be too bright. Jaddo slowed his power build momentarily and aimed his hand at the device, meaning to dispose of it before it could be thrown.

But Amar didn’t throw it. Instead, he pressed a button on the front. Jaddo’s power suddenly feedbacked, throwing both him and Amar back against the walls of the vent.


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


Private Spade moved along the corridors, checking on his men and taking stock of the situation. Everything had been quiet so far, for which he was grateful. He was still smarting from the knowledge that West and Belmont had died by human, not alien hands, and that he had been manipulated into helping capture the alien now held prisoner. He fully intended to do everything in his power to make certain the other alien wasn’t captured and effect the escape of the one who had.

Spade hadn’t had much luck with the second goal. He’d had very little time today, what with Cavitt putting him in charge of the detail to capture the second alien, so he’d been unable to even find out where the first was being held. Still, he was reasonably sure he was being held on the base. It was only a matter of time until he discovered where.

At least he’d had better luck with the first goal. Cavitt’s earlier order to identify and capture the second alien had met plenty of snags, as Spade knew was bound to happen. There was simply no way of identifying one of these people—they could look and sound like anyone. Until one of them made a move or stood right next to someone they had copied, they were virtually invisible. And that worked out just fine for Spade, who had spread his men as thinly as possible over as large an area as he dared in the hopes the second alien could slip through the cracks with less difficulty. All of the men were outfitted with tranquilizer guns on Cavitt’s orders, but hopefully they wouldn’t have anything to shoot at.

“Prentis…anything?” Spade said, coming around a corner.

“No, sir,” Private Prentis replied. Spade shook his head, and walked on by. He still wasn’t used to this “sir” bit, especially since, as a Corporal, he wasn’t even an officer yet.

A sudden trembling shook the building, accompanied by a low boom. Turning in surprise, Spade saw the grille of an air vent on the wall near the ceiling blow off, coming to land with a clatter on the floor near the startled Prentis. The lights dimmed, flickered….and went out.

Prentis snapped on a flashlight. “What the hell was that?”

“I have no idea,” Spade said, “but the back-up generators should kick on in a minute.”

He started forward, and his foot kicked the grille that had fallen off the air vent. Spade stopped in his tracks and looked up, taking in the size of the opening, remembering that those vents went everywhere on the base. Everywhere. Assuming, that is, that one was small enough to make use of them.

“Holy shit,” Spade said softly.

“Sir?”

They were in the vents.



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


Jaddo looked around in confusion. What had happened? His energy had been thrown back at him like a shockwave, and all attempts to produce more proved fruitless. Amar was staring at the device in his hand with a look of utter surprise on his face; for a moment Jaddo thought he had been injured. But then Amar started to laugh, slowly at first, then rising to a crescendo that had him doubling over with laughter and gasping for breath.

“It works!” he gasped between spasms of laughter. “Amazing! It works!”

“What is that?” Jaddo demanded, pulling himself up.

Amar stopped laughing and smiled at him, a nasty smile of triumph and superiority. “This,” he said, brandishing the pentagonal device, “is our insurance against you. Against the abomination you’ve become. It blocks just the sort of energy output you were about to use on me. In affect...it pulls your plug,” he ended, obviously enormously pleased with himself.

“Where did you get that?” Jaddo demanded angrily. “You don’t have the resources to construct something like that!”

We don’t,” Amar agreed. “But the Argilians do.”

“You expect me to believe you’re working with Khivar?”

“Well, not personally,” Amar said. He was positively jovial now that he had the upper hand. “Unfortunately, me and mine are not important enough to warrant personal interaction with Antar’s next King.” Amar smiled at the scowl on Jaddo’s face. “But that may change, now that he knows this little beauty works.”

“That couldn’t have come from the Argilians!” Jaddo protested angrily. “They’re not involved in the project! They can’t even breathe the air on this damned rock!”

“Agreed on all counts, especially the ‘damned rock’ bit,” Amar said, still smiling. “No, the Argilians can’t live in this atmosphere. Which is precisely why they needed…..us.”

Jaddo’s breath caught. It was starting to make sense now, and he didn’t like the image his logic was conjuring.

“Do you really think Khivar would let Zan reap the rewards of the project and not share them?” Amar demanded. His voice was stronger now; he was apparently recovering from his earlier insults. “Do you really think the Argilians would stand idly by while Zan constructed a super race without attempting to find some way to guard against it?”

Jaddo said nothing. Amar’s eyes gleamed.

“I was on the science team,” Amar went on. “The Argilians couldn’t move freely on this planet, and we had access to the data, so we fulfilled two of their needs.”

“And in return?” Jaddo growled.

“Oh, it was a fair trade, don’t you worry,” Amar assured him. “I was scheduled for alteration, along with four of my colleagues. We’d already seen how the last batch of alterations had turned out, and we had no intention of letting that happen to us.”

“What are you talking about?” Jaddo said angrily. “You know perfectly well that subjects for alteration…”

“…volunteered?” Amar interrupted. “Is that what you believe? Well, I’m certain some of them did. But what happened when the bioengineers wanted a particular ‘specimen’, as they so politely called us? Or when there weren’t enough volunteers? What then? Care to guess?”

Jaddo’s eyes hardened. “It doesn’t matter what happened. You betrayed your King, and went over to the enemy. That makes you a traitor, no matter your reasons.”

Amar smiled, and held the device aloft. “May I ask what you intend to do about it?”

“I will begin by destroying that weapon you hold.”

“Weapon?” Amar echoed. “Weapon?” He shook his head firmly. “This is no weapon, Jaddo. It didn’t hurt you—it merely took away something you should never have had in the first place. It evens the score, levels the playing field. You can still shift. We are the same, you and I, like we were meant to be.”

Amar’s form began to melt, but his smile stayed in place. “Care to duel the old-fashioned way? Do you even remember how? Or have you gone soft, with all of your ‘special’ powers, and your….”

He never finished. In a blur of motion, Jaddo launched himself at Amar.



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



“Sir?” Prentis repeated, staring up at Spade.

Spade’s mouth had gone dry; he had to swallow several times before he could speak.

“Private, why don’t you run along and find out what you can about this blackout. I’ll take your position.”

“Yes, sir,” Prentis replied, and hurried off.

Spade watched him go, his heart pounding. He was hearing sounds now from inside the vent, thumping, scrabbling sounds. What the hell was going on in there? The prisoner must be guarded around the clock; if the one had managed to rescue the other, why wasn’t the base in an uproar? And if there was a rescue in progress, why were the aliens making all that noise?

Emergency generators kicked on, bathing the hallway in low, soft light. The sounds in the vent grew louder. Instinctively, Spade backed up, as the noises became more distinct. Horrible, screeching sounds echoed along the vent, amplified by the metal walls. Whatever it was was coming closer.

Spade started to fume. Damn it! He was busting his butt to fix his mistake, to make certain that none of the rest of them got captured, and here they went making all this racket. If they kept this up, they were going to get caught despite his best efforts. Right at this moment, he would dearly love to get his hands on one of their scrawny necks and teach them a thing or two about the concept of being covert.

The volume doubled, and Spade flattened himself against the wall. Something was coming down the air shaft, something furious, and loud, and very, very close. A second later, Spade’s mouth flopped open as something from hell burst through the vent opening and landed on the floor.



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



Malik was outside the base watching one of the exit vents when the power died. He immediately knew something was wrong. They had watched Jaddo inspecting these vents earlier, and guessed what he was doing. The only thing they didn’t know was which branch he would use to escape to the outside. Which is why Amar had gone ahead to find out, so they could follow Jaddo and intercept him elsewhere, away from human threat. Something must have gone awry.

Malik bent down by the vent. At first he could hear nothing; then a sudden burst of noise told him exactly what was going on. He hurried inside, moving through the darkness, past the throngs of human soldiers rushing about trying to determine the cause of the power drain. He and Amar had studied those vents quite thoroughly earlier, and he had a very good idea of where they would be.



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



Private Spade backed up until he bumped the wall, trying to put as much distance as possible between himself and the thing on the floor. It was a shifting, twisting, amorphous mass of….something, whirling across the floor and bouncing into walls like some maniacal ball gone out of control. Wild screeches erupted from it, not as loud as in the vents, but loud enough to attract attention. Occasionally the ball would pause and almost separate into two pieces; then the pieces would join again, flinging themselves all over the hallway, while Spade watched in horrified fascination.

Footsteps came pounding around the corner. A human soldier came into view, a Private. He stopped when he encountered the apparition on the floor, but to Spade’s surprise, he did not look frightened, or shocked, or any of the normal reactions Spade would have expected. If anything, he looked angry, glaring at the writhing mass on the floor as though furious with it.

Spade’s eyes moved from the soldier’s inexplicably stern expression to the mass, which had now definitely separated into two distinct pieces. The pieces slithered like huge blobs of jelly, moving several feet apart before rising off the floor and coalescing into shapes.

Spade blinked. Where before there had been two blobs, now there were two men, two human men, hands and feet on the floor, one knee raised like a sprinter about to take off from the blocks. Both were glaring furiously at each other, but what caught Spade’s attention was that one of the men was familiar—the second alien from Monday night, no doubt here to rescue the first.

But then who was the other one? And why were both staring so fixedly at the other soldier?



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


<I warned you!> Malik barked only to Jaddo, leaving Amar out of the loop and ignoring the gaping human soldier nearby. <I warned you not to try this!>

<He was false!> Jaddo growled, glaring at Amar, who cast a wary glance at Malik.

Malik turned an astonished face to Amar. <Is this true?>

Amar didn’t answer. He glanced back and forth from Malik to Jaddo, then launched himself at Jaddo again.



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


Spade’s mind was working furiously. He had no idea who this other alien was or why they were fighting. He did know that if they kept this up they would be discovered and captured, and Spade did not intend to let Cavitt expand his zoo.

Spade took a step away from the wall, uncertain of how to interfere. He couldn’t even tell which was which. Watching them, he was forcibly reminded of cats fighting; the only thing missing was the flying fur. Could he just call to the alien he knew? Would he be able to hear over the din? Should he wade into the fray and give the mass a kick?

That last sounded like the best option. Spade took another step forward.

But the whirling mass had separated again, coalescing once more into the two human forms. It was hard to see in the dim emergency lights, but it seemed the new alien was getting the worst of it. He didn’t look angry anymore, just defiant and exhausted. When Spade’s alien lunged, the new alien did not dissolve as before, but merely bared his teeth and backed up. Spade braced himself, waiting for the killing strike, or whatever passed as a killing strike with these people.

But there was no killing strike. Instead, as the two aliens grappled with each other, something flew toward Spade, clattering to the floor and skidding to a halt at his feet.

Silence descended on the hallway. All three of them, two aliens and one Private, were staring at Spade’s feet, beside which lay a black pentagonal device about three inches across with strange symbols arrayed around the edges.

“Destroy it!” Spade’s alien shouted, looking directly at Spade.

No!” shouted the new alien in a ragged, panicky voice.

The next instant, Spade’s boot came down on the device, crushing it to pieces.



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


The lights in the hallway flared to life, and Jaddo’s power roared free as the dampening field disappeared. He was absolutely furious, and intended to put that anger to good use. He wasn’t able to control the initial release of energy, resulting in several, good-sized explosions that sent chunks flying from the ceiling and walls. Reining in his energy, he flung up his hand to send Amar flying against the wall, pinning him there like a rag doll.



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


Spade ducked, throwing his arms over his head as the hallway exploded and debris rained down all around him. Lights which had just come on popped and sizzled, their bulbs shattered. The noise was deafening, equal to that of several grenades exploding.

When the dust had begun to settle, he cautiously raised his head to see his alien standing, grim-faced, his hand extended—and he was glowing. Brilliant white light emanated from every part of him, illuminating the hallway, the new alien pinned helplessly to the wall, and….and the other soldier, who had grabbed Spade’s tranquilizer gun, and was aiming it squarely at Spade’s alien.

The first dart hit squarely in the leg; the second was deflected when Spade’s alien moved his hand to intercept it, causing it to explode in mid air in a shower of sparks.

Spade’s alien reached down to pull the needle out of his leg, but he was already beginning to fade. Spade remembered Cavitt saying something around increasing the dosage in the new darts, and he watched in horror as his alien sank to his knees, then slid gently to the floor.

The new alien, released from the wall when the dart was intercepted, began to crow in triumph. Even though he was obviously injured and panting heavily, he struggled to his feet with a gleam in his eyes and started for Spade’s alien.

He never made it. Another dart, the last of the three, whizzed through the air, catching him in the back. Spade jerked his head over at the other soldier, still holding the now empty gun with a grave expression on his face. The new alien stared at him in disbelief, then crumpled to the floor to join the other.

Deathly silence fell over the shattered hallway. The few lights that hadn’t burst illuminated the mess as Spade leaned against the wall, shaking. It had all happened so fast; no more than two minutes had passed since the aliens had tumbled out of the air vent. The other soldier stood holding the empty gun, looking slightly nonplussed, as though he couldn’t believe he had just done what he’d done.

“Good shot,” Spade said, trying to sound sincere. He couldn’t afford to let anyone suspect that he sympathized with the aliens.

“Thanks,” the soldier answered in a toneless voice. He managed a small smile. “We got’em, didn’t we?”

“We sure did,” Spade answered, his mind racing furiously as to how he was going to get out of this. “Say, what’s your name?”

“Johnson, sir.”

“Look, Johnson, why don’t you go get help?” Spade said to the other soldier. “They won’t be waking up for awhile; I’ll stay with them until someone comes.”

Johnson left, setting down Spade’s gun and backing away from the scene as though he couldn’t bear to tear his eyes away from it. Spade waited until he had disappeared around a corner before making a mental sweep of the immediate area. He needed to hide the bodies somewhere—fast. He’d never get them off the base without being seen, so his best bet was to hide them—preferably in separate places given that these two didn’t seem to get along—and wait for the drug to wear off. With any luck, his alien would wake up first; he had managed to remove the needle, so he hadn’t gotten the full dose like the other one had. The only problem was where to put them.

Spade decided to move the bodies to another section. Bending over, he grabbed the feet of his alien, preparing to drag him along the floor into another corridor. Just as he started to move, he noticed something.

The new alien was missing.

Spade dropped his alien’s feet and hurried toward the spot where the new alien’s body had fallen. There was no trace of it. Where could it have gone? It was highly unlikely that the drug hadn’t worked. He jogged up the nearby hallway. Nothing. It had simply vanished.

Finally, Spade abandoned the search. It was far more important to get the other one’s body out of reach. He ran back down the hallway and rounded the corner toward where he’d left his alien, and as he did so, his eye fell on the spot where he had destroyed the five-sided device. Sifting through the rubble with his foot, he couldn’t find it. He bent down and searched more thoroughly, to no avail. The device was missing too.

A missing body and a missing device? What had that thing been, anyway? Had it been some kind of bomb? Then why hadn’t it hurt him? And why had the lights come back on when he had destroyed it?

Footsteps sounded in the distance. Oh, no! He had wasted precious time looking while his alien’s body lay right out in the open. The footsteps were running now; he wouldn’t be able to move the body to another section. He’d have to stash it in a room nearby and hope for the best. Grabbing his alien’s feet, he began dragging the body down the hall toward the nearest door.

A crowd of people abruptly rounded the corner. Major Cavitt, with Private Prentis close behind, and about a half dozen other soldiers stood gazing, aghast, at the destruction in the hallway.

Jesus!,” one of the soldiers muttered.

Cavitt’s eyes raked the damage and finally came to rest on the body. His eyes widened, and an extremely satisfied smile spread across his face.

“I knew it!” he purred softly. “I just knew they had something to do with this. Well done, Corporal, well done!”

“Sir, are you okay?” Private Prentis asked Spade in a concerned voice. “I told everybody about you staring at the air vent, and all, and then the Major got all worried about you.”

“It occurred to me that they are just the right size to fit in those vents,” Cavitt said, obviously pleased with himself.

Great minds think alike, Spade thought sourly. Why, oh why had he wasted so much time? You could have gotten away, you idiot! he chastised himself.

“Are you injured, Corporal?”

“I’m fine,” Spade answered through clenched teeth, unable to believe that after all his efforts, it had still come to this

“You can set it down,” Cavitt said to him. “I realize you caught it, and I promise you you’ll get proper credit, but there’s no reason to drag it all the way into the base.” The soldiers behind him chuckled.

“Sir, is that…is that an….an alien?” Prentis asked warily. “It looks human.”

“But it’s not,” Cavitt said firmly, glaring down at the body. “It merely looks human. Look at that, gentleman,” he said, giving the body a shove with his foot. “Look at the damage here.” Every head swiveled to the ruined hallway. “Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that these creatures pose an unacceptable risk? That they are incredibly destructive and dangerous? That they must be stopped?”

Every head but Spade’s swiveled “No”.

Cavitt turned to Spade. “We are in your debt, Corporal Spade,” he said, smiling broadly. “At the moment, you undoubtedly hold the title of the “World’s Best Alien Hunter.”

The other soldiers laughed and began clapping Spade on the back, congratulating him.

“Nice going, man,” one of them said.

“I bet you’ll get another promotion!” Prentis added, shaking his hand heartily as Spade winced.

“All right, men,” Cavitt said briskly. “There’ll be time for celebration later, after we have this….thing safely stowed away. We can rest easy now—we have them all.”

No, you don’t, Spade thought wearily, leaning against the wall. Not by a long shot.


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PART SEVENTY-SIX


July 12, 1947, 2 p.m.

St. Bridgit’s Catholic Church, Corona, New Mexico





Father O’Neill finished arranging his vestments and reached for a handkerchief to mop the sweat off his brow. God, it was sweltering in here. He walked to the window, intending to crank it open a bit more, but it was already opened as far as it would go. There was, however, a faint breeze wafting through, and he lingered there a moment to enjoy it, reminding himself to thank God for even these small favors.

A number of cars were already parked outside, and as the priest stood at the window enjoying the breeze, even more pulled in. People dressed in black climbed out, looking sticky in the oppresive heat even from this distance. A long black hearse appeared, inching its way toward the door, where it parked and disgorged a beautiful mahogany coffin. He watched sadly as a small crowd gathered around the coffin, filing along behind it as the pallbearers made their way inside. That would be Joan’s husband and her four children.

Father O’Neill sighed heavily, and leaned his head against the window. Funeral masses were his least favorite of all his sacred duties. They were tolerable when the deceased was old with a full life behind them, or very ill, with the prospect of release from suffering. Joan had been a mere twenty-nine years old and in perfect health when she had dropped dead this past Thursday afternoon. The doctors said she’d had a massive heart attack which killed her instantly. She didn’t suffer, O’Neill had overheard the somber doctors say to Joan’s grief stricken husband. Be grateful for that.

And O’Neill, eavesdropping from a distance, had wondered how anyone could be expected to feel grateful about anything at a time like this. And wondered what he would say when the time came to stand in front of Joan Wentworth’s family and friends and attempt an explanation for the death of a relatively young woman with a husband and children who must now face life without her.

Why does God let these things happen?, people would ask. Why would he leave four children without a mother? Why would he take someone in their prime? Good questions all, and O’Neill did not have good answers for any of them. If he said that bad things simply happen sometimes, that implied God had no control over the events in people’s lives. If he said it was God’s will, that implied that God was capricious and cruel. He believed neither, yet that still left him without an explanation for the tragic events that befell people like the Wentworth family.

There was a knock at the door. Father O’Neill reluctantly left the breeze at the window and went to answer it. Probably a family member seeking solace before the funeral. He smoothed his vestments, tugged a bit at the always-too-tight-in-this-heat Roman collar at his neck, and opened the door.

There was no one there. O’Neill looked left, then right in confusion.

“Hello, Father.”

O’Neill looked down to find young Deanna Proctor standing there wearing a dress, white ankle socks, black Mary Jane’s, and white gloves. Both her presence and her appearance were a surprise. Deanna was usually to be found in shorts and sneakers hanging from a tree branch.

“Deanna! This is a surprise! What brings you here?”

“Call me Dee,” she instructed seriously.

“Right. You told me that before and I forgot. My apologies—Dee,” O’Neill added, smiling.

“I’m here for Mrs. Wentworth’s funeral, and I have a question before it starts,” Dee announced.

Ah. That explained the dress. “Come in, sit down,” O’Neill said, stepping aside and gesturing her toward a chair. “I didn’t know your family knew Mrs. Wentworth’s family.”

“We don’t know them well,” Dee answered, sitting primly in a chair and folding her hands in her lap. O’Neill smiled. Anyone walking by would never guess this was Corona’s resident tomboy.

“It isn’t necessary to know someone well to mourn their passing,” O’Neill observed.

“No. It isn’t,” Dee agreed seriously, as though she knew this from personal experience.

“You said you wanted to ask me something?”

“Yes. I want to know if God is the God of everyone.”

“Of course,” O’Neill answered promptly.

“No, I mean everyone,” Dee said. “No matter who they are, or where they come from, or what they look like. Everyone.”

“I assure you, God is not interested in any of those things you mentioned,” O’Neill said confidently. “The Apostle Paul wrote, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ That’s from…..”

“…Galatians,” Dee finished for him. “I did my homework,” she added, when O’Neill blinked. “But..” Here she hesitated, as if uncertain as to whether she should elaborate. “But what if someone isn’t human? What then?”

“Not human?” O’Neill echoed.

“Yes. Someone else entirely. Like…someone from another planet.”

“Been reading the papers, have you?” O’Neill smiled.

“Hasn’t everyone?”

She was watching him closely, suspiciously even, as if expecting him to laugh at her, and O’Neill quickly dropped his smile lest she think just that. He never laughed at earnest questions from his parishoners, be they tall or short. He usually found the short ones asked better questions.

“I read the Bible,” Dee went on, “and it kept going on about humanity, and humankind. It only talked about humans.”

“That’s because humans were the only species the writers of the Bible knew about,” O’Neill said reasonably. “And that’s still the case—at least as far as I know,” he added.

“But what if that changed?” Dee asked.

O’Neill looked out the window a moment. “Well, I imagine that would cause quite a stir. You’re absolutely right that the Bible only talks about humans. Meeting someone who wasn’t human would mean we would need to reassess everything we thought we knew. Some people would be willing to do that…and some people wouldn’t.”

“So, some people wouldn’t think that God was the God of someone who wasn’t human?”

“And some would,” O’Neill said.

“What do you think?”

O’Neill returned the child’s steady gaze. Why was it always the children who asked such questions? Penetrating questions, questions that pushed the boundries of even his faith. He pulled up a chair and sat down facing her, leaning forward, clasping his hands, his elbows resting on his knees.

“I think,” he began slowly, “that people fear that which is different. There are good reasons for that, of course; sometimes what is different is bad, or dangerous. But sometimes it isn’t, and we do ourselves no favors if we automatically assume the worst.”

Dee nodded gravely, and said nothing.

“I also think,” O’Neill continued, “that people like to classify everything, stick everything in its own little box, as it were, be it things, or animals, or other people. We make labels for everything, and from those labels we make assumptions that aren’t always true.”

The child nodded again.

“But the most important part of your question is not what I think,” O’Neill continued, “but what God thinks. And I believe God is much bigger than we are, and infinitely more wise. I don’t believe He needs boxes, or labels, or assumptions. I believe He is above all of our petty jealousies and fears, our racism and our craving for sameness. I don’t think He would have any problem being the God of someone who wasn’t human.”

“So God wouldn’t mind if someone who wasn’t human came to church?”

“God wouldn’t,” O’Neill answered. “The Church might,” he added wryly, “but God wouldn’t.”

“In catechism class, Mrs. Andrews told us God and the Church are the same,” Dee announced.

“And do you believe Mrs. Andrews?”

“No,” Dee said firmly.

“And why not?” O’Neill asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Because the Church is run by people, and people aren’t God. People screw up. At least that’s what my Mama says.”

Father O’Neill had to work hard to suppress a smile. Emily Proctor was well known for her habit of saying just exactly what she thought, no matter how unwelcome the sentiment or inconvenient the venue. The fact that she was usually right made that habit all the more annoying. Dee was her mother’s daughter, through and through.

“I’ll tell you a secret,” O’Neill said, leaning in close to Dee, who leaned in as well. “I don’t think God and the Church are the same either.”

“Really?” Dee looked surprised.

“Really,” O’Neill said. “I don’t think God needs all the things that make up the Church, the buildings, and the ceremonies, and the rules and regulations. He doesn’t need them—we do. We need them because…well, because deity is a hard concept for us to understand. We humans understand something best when we can see and touch it. God isn’t something we can see or touch, so we have the Church, with its rituals and holy objects, so we can try to make sense of something that is very hard to make sense of.” He paused. “Does that make any sense?”

Dee broke into a broad smile. “Yes, it does. And I promise I won’t tell.”

“Tell?”

“Tell Mrs. Andrews that you don’t think God and Church are the same.”

“Oh. That. I would appreciate that,” O’Neill said sincerely. “There will be hell to pay if she hears that.”

Dee rose to her feet. “Thank you, Father. I appreciate you talking to me and taking me seriously.”

“I always take honest questions seriously,” O’Neill said. “You run along, now. The funeral will start soon.”

Father O’Neill closed the door behind her and chuckled to himself as he finished his preparations for Joan Wentworth’s funeral mass. He had received dozens of frantic phone calls the day the story broke about the supposed flying saucer out on Pohlman Ranch. People were afraid Earth was being invaded, afraid the end of the world was near, afraid of catching alien sicknesses, afraid of no end of things. This had died down somewhat after the Army’s retraction, but there were still an awful lot of people who didn’t believe the Army’s story. Of all the questions he had been asked, and all the people he had talked to, not one had asked the question that Deanna Proctor had just posed. Perhaps children didn’t suffer from the need to label and classify as much as adults did? Perhaps that was more learned behavior than mere instinct? Or perhaps a child’s natural curiosity trumped their fears of the unknown?

Whatever the answer, it would have to wait. Father O’Neill spent the next hour and a quarter saying Joan Wentworth’s funeral mass, assuring her family and friends that God was good in spite of this tradgedy, that people simply didn’t know why these things happened. He spied Deanna and her parents sitting in the back row, well away from the other mourners. Deanna was holding a large paper bag on her lap, and every so often she would pat it gently as though it contained something very special.

Afterward, as O’Neill was shaking the hands of mourners filing out of the church, Deanna came up to him, placed the bag on the floor at her feet, and shook his hand gravely.

“Thank you, Father,” she said. “It was a beautiful mass. I know he would have thought so.”

“He?” O’Neill asked in confusion. “Whom do you mean??”

The child hesitated, glancing down at the bag on the floor. The top had unfolded somewhat, and inside O’Neill glimpsed a round metal container.

“I meant ‘she’ of course,” Dee amended quickly. “Mrs. Wentworth, you know.”

“Ah,” O’Neill answered, not entirely convinced, but unclear as to who else she could be referring to. “Will I see you at the cemetery?”

“No. We’ll be going someplace else.” As Dee spoke, she bent down and gathered up the bag tenderly, as though the contents were fragile. “Thanks again, Father. We really appreciate it.”

O’Neill stared after her as she walked away, oblivious to the people who approached after her departure. Someplace else? What did she mean? Who was she referring to when she said “we”? And why did he get the distinct impression that he had just said a funeral mass for two people instead of one?




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




4 p.m.

Pod Chamber



The summer sun beat down upon the sand and rocks, still blazing even though it was no longer high in the sky. Up above a lone bird circled, too high to identify. Dee Proctor looked out the window as her father parked the car at the base of the rock formation that hid the hidden alien chamber.

“This is it,” David said, leaning out his own window. “Looks different in the daylight.”

“I bet it’s pretty at night,” Emily murmured.

“Might’ve been,” David said. “I wasn’t much in the mood to notice ‘pretty’ that night.”

“Maybe we should wait,” Dee said hopefully. “Maybe they’re just a little late.”

“Jaddo said to wait only one day,” Emily said gently. “We’re doing exactly as he asked.”

Dee was silent for a moment. “Do you think they’ve got both of them now?”

David and Emily exchanged glances. “We don’t know,” David told her, “and there’s no way for us to find out. So let’s just do as he asked, and hope for the best.”

The three of them climbed out of the car, Dee clutching the metal container that held Urza’s remains. Dee walked to the base of the rocks and pointed. “We have to go up there.”

“Will there be enough wind up there?” Emily asked, trying to sound casual. Dee smiled. She knew her mother didn’t want to climb all the way up there again.

“I think so,” David said, shading his eyes as he looked up at the rocks. “The wind’s pretty stiff.”

“It’s pretty stiff down here too,” Emily noted.

“Mama, we can’t let him go down here,” Dee protested. “He wouldn’t be in the air long at all before he fell.”

“Okay, okay,” Emily said, admitting defeat. “We climb. I’m glad we went home to change.”

The Proctor family had stopped at their house after Joan Wentworth’s funeral and changed into more suitable, rock climbing clothes. They began clambering up the rocks, Dee in the lead, David next, Emily last. Dee and David reached the spot before Emily, who came panting up behind them a minute later.

“Are you sure this is it?” Emily asked in confusion, looking around. There was no clear path here, nor any clear level spaces along the way. She couldn’t remember exactly where Jaddo had stopped yesterday.

“This is it,” Dee said confidently. She pointed to the rock face on their left. “The door is there, but we can’t open it.”

David walked to the rock face and examined it closely. “There’s a door here?” he said wonderingly. “I’d never know. There are no seams, no hinges, nothing.”

Emily sat down on a nearby rock. “I don’t think it had hinges. It slid sideways, kind of like a pocket door.”

“And all the sacs are in there?”

Emily nodded. “Six of them, including the two we rescued. But some of the babies didn’t look very good. A few were dead.”

David turned around to see Dee removing the lid of the metal container near the edge of the rocks. “I’m amazed he actually brought you here,” David said to Emily. “He entrusted you with their actual location. That’s a lot, coming from him.”

“That’s not all he entrusted me with,” Emily said quietly.

“I’m ready,” Dee called. “Do you want to let him go, Daddy?”

“No. He was your friend. You do it,” David said, as he and Emily joined their daughter at the edge of the rock formation.

Dee looked over the edge toward the ground, a couple of hundred feet below. “What if the wind dies at the last minute and he just falls?”

“He’ll fall eventually anyway,” Emily pointed out. “Jaddo didn’t say he could never fall, just that he should be released with the wind. He just shouldn’t be dumped, that’s all.”

“Well, I want him to fly as long as possible,” Dee said firmly, “so I’m going to wait for a really stiff wind.”

David smiled encouragingly as Emily gave him a weary look. Waiting for a wind strong enough to satisfy their daughter could mean quite a bit of standing around in the hot desert sun.

But as luck would have it a stiff wind came around quickly, and Dee shook the contents of the container into the breeze as it flew past. Urza’s dust soared beautifully, sparkling in the hot, summer sunshine, swirling and dancing as it moved away from the cliff.

“What was the reasoning behind this again?” David asked Emily in an undertone, so Dee wouldn’t hear.

“He said it was the only way their people could truly be free.”

“Ouch.”

“I know,” Emily agreed. “It doesn’t sound like his kind have a very good life. Supposedly it’s the ultimate insult to dump their dust on the ground.”

The last of the dust swirled away, and Dee lowered the container. “Goodbye, Urza,” she said softly.

“I would have liked to have met him,” Emily said, putting her hands on her daughter’s shoulders. “Do you think he would have minded us taking him to church?”

Dee shook her head firmly. “No. He wouldn’t have cared. He liked us. Even at the very end when he was dying, he wasn’t angry, or scared, or anything I would have been.”

“I think he would have been honored,” David said to Emily, “although I’m a little surprised you proposed it in the first place.”

Emily gave him a rueful smile. Her problems with Catholic doctrine were many, and she seldom kept them to herself. “The church has a place,” she said. “It just oversteps its bounds.”

“Father O’Neill said he thinks God and the church are two different things, just like you do,” Dee announced.

“Really?” Emily said, eyebrows rising. “He’s smarter than I gave him credit for. I might actually go to church more often now.”

“He also asked me not tell anyone he said that.”

Emily laughed, put her arm around Dee, and steered her toward the way down. “I would imagine it would be best to keep that little tidbit to yourself—ourselves,” she amended. “It’ll be our little secret.”

As they started climbing down the rocks, David threw one last look over his shoulder at where Dee had told him the hidden door was. “I wish I could have seen inside.”

“So do I,” Emily said with feeling. “Believe me, I wish it had been you. Alien hideaways, alien hit squads. What next?”

David looked sheepishly at his wife. “I know, I know,” Emily said before he could speak. “You didn’t mention them because you didn’t want to worry me.”

“I didn’t think they’d be back,” David added, “at least not for us. I thought they left with no reason to connect us to any of this. I had no idea one of them suspected Dee could hear him. She conveniently left that part out.”

Emily watched their daughter scrambling down the rock face, several yards ahead of them and out of earshot. “It’s not her fault, David. She told me she felt terrible because she had been trying so hard not to react to anything they said. She had no idea what she was getting herself into.” She paused. “Do you think they’ll be back?”

“I doubt it,” David said. “According to Jaddo it was those sacs they wanted, and they’re safely stowed away now. Thank goodness.”

They had reached the bottom. Dee was waiting for them by the car, holding the metal container that had held Urza’s dust. Emily unlocked the trunk and pulled up the mat that covered the bottom. The container looked innocuous enough, but there were alien symbols along the bottom edge, and all of them felt better with it safely hidden from view.

“David?” Emily called. “What’s this?”

Peering into the trunk, David could just make out a glint under a corner of the mat on the far side. He shook his head. “I have no idea.” Reaching inside, he pulled out a flat object, gleaming in the desert sun.

Dee moved around to stand between her parents, staring at the thing in her father’s hands. It looked like a book, spiral bound, made of some kind of burnished metal. The cover was blank, but the thick metal pages inside were covered with odd looking symbols. Symbols that looked familiar.

“I’ve seen these!” she said excitedly. “This is their language! Some of these symbols are on my ship piece, and some are on Urza’s container.”

“This must belong to them,” Emily whispered, turning a page which was filled with more incomprehensible, picture-like symbols. “We’ve been in and out of this trunk a dozen times since then, and I never noticed this.” She turned more pages, drawing a collective gasp.

The page in front of them had only a few alien symbols. The rest held four pictures, etched in the metal. Four faces. Children’s faces. Human faces.

David, Emily, and Dee all looked at one another, each of them instinctively knowing what—and who—they were looking at. David turned another page to reveal four more etchings; the same faces as before, only older.

“It’s them!” Dee exclaimed. “This is what they’ll look like when they grow up!”

“Wow,” David whistled, looking at the girls.

“Wow yourself,” Emily said, looking at the boys.

“This must be the King, because he’s first,” Dee was saying, pointing, “and she’s next to him, so she must be his wife—the Queen. That means this is Jaddo’s general, and this…this is Urza’s Princess.”

The Proctors stood there silently, the late afternoon sun shining down on the book which had suddenly put a face on what they had helped to save.

“It makes a difference, doesn’t it?” Emily said softly. “Seeing them, I mean. Now they’re not just babies in sacs. They’re people. People who look like us.”

“They were all murdered,” David murmured, running his finger over the etchings. “All of them.”

“I hope we get to meet them,” Dee said wistfully. “I want to tell the Princess how much Urza wanted to be here to see her again.”

“So that’s who Brivari was so upset with,” David said, staring at the etching of the second female. “Supposedly this was all her fault.”

“She’ll get another chance,” Emily said, running her own finger over the pictures. “They all will. That’s more than most people can ever say.”


Last edited by Kathy W 2200 on Thu Jul 21, 2005 10:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PART SEVENTY-SEVEN



July 12, 1947, 17:30 hours

Eagle Rock Military Base





Corporal Spade walked in step with Major Cavitt, staring at the double doors ahead. He was facing what appeared to be a relatively small building, tucked away in a corner of the base. The base was huge, and there were several similar buildings, many of which appeared largely abandoned, and most of which were used for storage. The only indication that this particular building didn’t fit that profile were the two guards outside the doors, both equipped with tranquilizer rifles. He’d never paid much attention to any of these unused buildings. Perhaps he should start.

When they reached the doors, Spade and Cavitt both presented their passes to one of the guards, who checked them against a list of personnel allowed inside and waved them on. “Security is very tight,” Cavitt said, as they walked through the double doors. “This operation is so covert that it doesn’t even have a name. This,” he continued, gesturing back toward the doors they had just passed, “is the first of two major checkpoints. The second is located at the entrance to the basement. No one, not even a Brigadier General, will be allowed through unless they have proper clearance.”

Spade nodded wordlessly, looking down the long, perfectly normal looking hallway that loomed ahead. “What’s on the ground floor?”

“Offices. Quarters for the military staff. The mess hall. A recreation room. This section has been transformed into a miniature, stand-alone base.”

And no expense has been spared, Spade thought, as they passed the aforementioned recreation room, complete with a brand new pool table, ping pong table, several tables for card playing, and other assorted amenities. Most soldiers would die for a rec room like that. Spade had the uncomfortable feeling that it was little more than a gilded cage.

“It is important that the ground floor look perfectly normal, even to other soldiers on the base,” Cavitt was saying. “Anyone visiting, making deliveries, and so forth should have no reason to suspect what’s at the basement level.”

“Which is?”

Cavitt stopped walking and turned to look at him. “The fruits of your labors…Lieutenant,” he added, extending his hand. “General Ramey signed the papers only an hour ago. Congratulations, Lieutenant Spade, on a second, well-deserved promotion. Your assistance proved invaluable to apprehending these dangerous creatures. Keep up the good work, and I promise you’ll be rewarded further.”

Spade swallowed, staring at the proffered hand for a longer period of time than etiquette allowed before accepting the handshake. He felt neither valuable nor rewarded; sick to his stomach was a more accurate description. If he weren’t so determined to undo what he had done, he would have resigned his commission right then and there.

“Thank you, sir,” Spade said, managing what he hoped was a pleased smile. “I certainly will keep up the good work.” Even if it’s not what you’re expecting.

“I’m sure you will,” Cavitt beamed, resuming the hike down the hall. “You know, I had my doubts about you. Turns out I was wrong. I’m not wrong very often, but it was nice to be wrong this time.”

Asshole, Spade thought sourly. The problem was, Cavitt hadn’t been wrong, and that was mighty annoying.

They had reached the end of the interminably long hallway. Cavitt headed through another set of double doors and down four flights of stairs, Spade trailing behind. At the bottom of the stairs were another set of double doors, this one more heavily guarded than the first. Both Spade and Cavitt not only had to show their passes and have their photographs checked, they also had to answer personal questions before they were allowed to pass.

“Good thing I remembered my brother’s middle name,” Spade muttered as they were ushered past the doors.

“We added the personal questions after Corporal Darron was attacked,” Cavitt said. “Those things can look like anybody, so we must take the most stringent precautions.”

They had emerged at the end of yet another long narrow hallway. “The basement is naturally more secure, so the holding area and medical facilities are down here,” Cavitt continued. “This used to be a medical facility, so it was relatively easy to upgrade in short order.”

Spade’s stomach tightened as they passed several shorter hallways and rows of tiled rooms. What kind of medical facility would be in a basement? He’d heard tales of victims of atomic testing being carefully hidden from public knowledge in secret medical facilities, tales the Army always denied. He’d always dismissed them as bunk, but now he found he couldn’t. It would have been easy to hide such victims in an underground facility like this one, just like they were hiding the aliens.

Cavitt marched cheerfully along, oblivious to Spade’s mood. “We’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern for the past couple of days. Thanks to you, we were successful much more quickly than I had hoped, so we had to rush in the equipment and supplies. Now that the renovations are nearly complete and we’ve captured both of the aliens, our work can finally begin.”

“Both aliens.” Spade shot a sideways look at Cavitt. Spade had said nothing about the other alien, or about the curiously absent Private Johnson, whom no one had see hide nor hair of. He had cajoled Cavitt’s agreeable secretary into looking up each and every Private Johnson on the base under the guise of looking for a long lost friend; none of their photos matched the man he had seen last night. Personnel transferred in and out all the time, though, so that didn’t prove Johnson was an alien. Still, if he wasn’t an alien, why hadn’t he come forward? And if he was an alien, why had he shot both of the others?

“Did you ever find out why the lights went out?” Spade asked, wondering how much Cavitt had discovered about what had really happened.

“No,” Cavitt answered, “but we did discover there was nothing wrong with our generators. They were still operating; for some reason, their power output was being blocked. It’s a good thing it stopped when it did—much longer, and the generators may have exploded. Ah…here we are.”

Cavitt ushered Spade down a side hallway bristling with guards all equipped with tranquilizer rifles, through a door and up a small flight of stairs into a small room, one entire wall of which was made of windows. Walking eagerly toward the windows, he gestured to Spade, who followed more slowly.

It was some kind of observation room, looking down on what appeared to be an old operating room, dingy looking with its gray tile. Two figures were stretched out on two tables, one short and gray, one human, both strapped down, both stark naked. Various white clad medical personnel clustered around them, their faces hidden by surgical masks, busy taking various samples from the bodies judging from the needles and knives flashing in the glare of the bright lights overhead. Spade looked away, his stomach turning.

“They will have to work quickly,” Cavitt was saying, indicating the medical personnel below. “Anything taken from the bodies, blood, tissue samples, bone samples”—Spade blanched—“..disintegrates within hours, and we never know how many hours. We’ve had them turn to dust in little over an hour, or last more than thirty. Terribly inconvenient,” he added darkly. “We have to keep coming back for more samples.”

Cavitt stared eagerly down at the disgusting scene below with an air of triumph and satisfaction that made Spade’s hands ball into fists of their own accord. He leaned those fists on the windowsill, staring through the window as though he were watching when he was really staring at one of the floor tiles. He couldn’t bear to watch, either the goings on in the room below or Cavitt’s gloating. Even if someone were convinced that the aliens were dangerous, they still had no business taking pleasure in their torture. That wasn’t standing by the flag—that was just plain sick.

“We won’t be able to wake them, of course,” Cavitt continued. “Pity, that. I should have liked a chance to interrogate them, but they’re simply too dangerous to have conscious.”

“Then…what are you going to do with them, sir?” Spade asked. He’d been counting on Cavitt not being able to resist waking the aliens; he was fairly certain there world be no way to hold them if they were conscious.

“We’ll keep them alive and sedated as long as we can,” Cavitt said matter-of-factly. “Hopefully we’ll be able to get a good long while out of them using tube feedings before they die. We’ll have to be prepared to conduct autopsies immediately, of course.”

Spade could feel bile rising in this throat. What was he going to do now? How could he possibly help them escape when they were in this condition?

“Now for the best part,” Cavitt continued. “I’m sure you’ll want to be a part of the first experiments on extraterrestrial life forms ever performed on this planet. It’s an honor I’ve extended to only a chosen few….and an honor you have earned twice over,” he added, as Spade winced inwardly. “As of 1900 hours, you will be assigned to this operation. Your responsibility will be the guarding of this compound, and the oversight of the men who carry out that task. Congratulations, Lieutenant!”

Cavitt saluted, smiling broadly. Spade returned the salute, trying, and failing, to also return the smile. This is what you wanted, he reminded himself sternly. He was determined to free the aliens and bring down Cavitt, not necessarily in that order. The first task had just gotten harder, but it wasn’t over yet. They’re not dead yet, Spade thought grimly. This won’t be over until they’re dead.

Another soldier appeared at the top of the stairs.

“Major? You have a visitor.”

The soldier stepped aside for the man who followed him, climbing the stairs to the observation room with an easy, loping stride. He was tall, tanned, and handsome; his dark hair matched the dark sunglasses he wore. His shirt sleeves were rolled up to just beneath his elbows, and he carried his uniform jacket casually over his arm, his hat in his hand. He exuded an aura of easy confidence, and his arrival produced an interesting reaction in Major Cavitt. Cavitt had stiffened, his hands had twitching into something suspiciously close to fists. The tension was so abrupt and so palpable that Spade shot a questioning glance at the announcing soldier, who shrugged and left the room.

“Sheridan!” the newcomer said easily, ignoring Cavitt’s aggressive demeanor and holding out his hand. “Nice to see you again!”

“It’s Major, actually,” Cavitt said frostily, ignoring the hand.

“Really?” The man retracted his hand with the air of one who had expected it to be rejected. “That is news! Congratulations! Oh, and it’s ‘Doctor’, actually. But you already knew that.”

The doctor broke off, staring at the windows behind them. Brushing past both Cavitt and Spade, he walked to the window and stood gazing down at the scene below, mesmerized.

“Would you look at that!” he breathed. “Incredible!”

“May I ask exactly what you’re doing here?” Cavitt said caustically.

The doctor turned, surprised. “Why, I’m here at your request, Sheridan.”

Spade’s eyes flicked from Cavitt to the doctor with interest. Was this the person he had summoned by rescuing that wadded up note from the wastebasket? He hadn’t imagined Cavitt would be on a first-name basis with anyone but his mother.

“What are you talking about?” Cavitt snapped. “I specifically said I didn’t want you here!”

The doctor sighed, and shook his head regretfully. “I admit, I was surprised when I heard you’d changed your mind. But no matter.” He smiled broadly. “I’m the new co-commander of this operation.”

Uh-oh. Spade instinctively took a step backward as the color drained from Cavitt’s face.

“Co-commander?” Cavitt whispered.

“That’s right,” the doctor replied. “So—we’re working together. Again. Who’d have thought?”

“Who indeed?” Cavitt said contemptuously. “Obviously someone wasn’t thinking if they believe for one moment that I will share the greatest moment of my career with anyone, least of all you. These things are mine. I found them. I caught them. They belong to me!”

“I thought you might say that,” the doctor answered. Withdrawing a sheaf of papers from underneath his uniform jacket, he held them out to Cavitt. “General Ramey’s personal orders,” he said, and now his tone was not so casual. “Read’em and weep.”

Cavitt snatched the papers unceremoniously and read them, his face becoming whiter with each passing word. Spade took advantage of the break in the action to study the newcomer. He stood there, watching calmly as Cavitt leafed through the orders and transfer papers, outrage etched on his face more clearly by the second. The folded-over jacket obscured the doctor’s rank, but his manner suggested someone pretty high up there. And what did he mean about he and Cavitt working together “again”?

Cavitt finished reading, folded up the orders, and thrust them back in the doctor’s direction. “We’ll see about this,” he snapped.

“Oh, those are for you,” the doctor replied, “and you’re welcome to see about it all you want. I already warned the General you’d be this way. He’s waiting for your phone call. You really should do him the courtesy of not making him wait any longer.”

The doctor’s voice was still calm, but there was an edge to it now. A taunting edge, as though he were daring Cavitt to behave just exactly as he had predicted. He’d done an end run around Cavitt, and the look on Cavitt’s face made it clear he knew that.

“I believe the General may have misinterpreted what’s needed here,” Cavitt began, backpedaling as he realized he’d been trumped. “There is no need for you to replace….”

“I’m not ‘replacing’ anyone,” the doctor interrupted. “You remain the Chief Military Officer, in charge of security, technology, intel, and so forth. I am the Chief Medical Officer. It’s all there in the orders. Honestly, Sheridan, you can read, can’t you?”

“We don’t need a ‘Chief Medical Officer,” Cavitt argued. “I have several doctors here already….”

Had several doctors, you mean,” the doctor interrupted. “I understand they were flambéed from the inside out.”

“I replaced them….” Cavitt began angrily.

“….with ordinary Army hacks,” the doctor noted, “down there slicing and dicing. It should be obvious even to you that this calls for a certain level of expertise….”

“….which you obviously lack,” Cavitt finished. “You may fancy yourself a ‘doctor’, Daniel, but I know otherwise.”

“You know perfectly well that I’m board-certified in general medicine and neurology, among other specialties,” the doctor retorted. “I’m uniquely qualified for this position.”

“It’s those ‘other specialties’ that worry me,” Cavitt said icily. “And I find it telling you chose not to name them.”

The doctor smiled abruptly. “But that’s why I’m here. General Ramey wants a—how shall I put it?—a different type of approach to the one you’re currently using. A more.....balanced approach. So—in accordance with his wishes, I’ve dismissed your hacks, and assembled a team of the finest minds in the country. They won’t actually be stationed here, of course, given that it’s such an eclectic collection of people, both military and civilian, but they will be visiting, and I will be consulting with all of them regularly. Of course I wouldn’t expect you to know who to hire, given that you’re not a doctor.”

“You....dismissed!….” Cavitt was so angry he could barely speak. “We are in the midst of very delicate and time-sensitive experiments! You had no right to….”

“On the contrary. I had every right,” the doctor answered, all traces of geniality gone from his voice. “I am the Chief Medical Officer now, and I will make all the medical decisions from here on out.”

Cavitt finally snapped. “I cannot believe that Ramey would be so stupid as to put you, of all people, in charge of so much as mopping floors!” he raged, his face moving swiftly from white to purple. “If you think for one minute that I will stand by and let you make a mess of the most important event to ever occur in this country, never mind on this planet, then…”

The doctor sighed and plopped into a nearby chair. “Is this tirade going to take long, Sher? Because I had a long flight, and I’m beat.”

Cavitt stopped. Spade could see the vein in his left temple throbbing.

“I am well aware that, for you, the military was merely a way to bankroll your tuition,” Cavitt said, disdain dripping from his voice. “I regret to inform you that, contrary to what you seem to be thinking, this is a military operation. That means that you do not sit in the presence of a superior officer unless invited to so, and for the love of God, stop referring to me by my first name!.”

The doctor’s eyebrows rose. “ ‘Superior’ officer? Well, I suppose we haven’t kept up with each other the way we should have.” He stood up and unfolded his uniform jacket, shrugging it on, buttoning it. The lapels were adorned with golden oak leaves.

Spade’s eyes widened. So. The doctor was a Major. Just like Cavitt.

Cavitt’s complexion had turned white again. “They made you a Major?” he whispered, as though he just couldn’t believe it.

“Two years ago, actually,” the doctor replied, donning his hat.

Cavitt said nothing. His throat did not appear to be working.

“I have people unpacking my things upstairs,” the doctor continued. “My office is down the hall from yours. I plan on getting started tonight.” He cast one last, longing look at the observation room window and headed down the little staircase that led to the hallway.

“Oh, and one more thing,” the doctor added, pausing about halfway down. “Congratulations on your promotion, Sher. Nice to know you finally caught up with me. Even if it did take you two years.”

And then the doctor was out the door with a smile and a wave, and Cavitt was left staring mutely after him. Spade waited in uncomfortable silence for Cavitt to regain his senses. After a full minute passed, he tried an experimental cough. Nothing.

“Major?”

“What?” Cavitt snapped back to reality, staring at Spade as though he had forgotten he was there. And he probably had, consumed as he was with the man who had just walked out that door.

“Who was that?” Spade asked.

Cavitt’s jaw tightened. “Get your things, Lieutenant,” he said, ignoring Spade’s question. “If you need me, I’ll be in my office upstairs making a few hundred phone calls. I have a lot of favors due me, and I’m about to call them all in.”

Cavitt marched out, leaving Spade alone in the darkened observation room. Spade watched him leave, wishing he could be a fly on the wall and overhear the power plays that would inevitably go down, wondering if this new card in play would mean good news or bad for the aliens. General Ramey was either very wise or very foolish to put those two pit bulls in the same pen.

Before he left, Spade risked another look down into the room below. The doctor had been as good as his word; the personnel below were indeed packing up and leaving. Curious as to where the entrance to the alien’s “cell” was located, he skipped down the stairs and found it, just one door down from the door to the observation room. The medical personnel filed by, pulling off caps and masks, obviously disgruntled at having been dismissed. And then his eyes fell on one man’s face, still obscured by a surgical mask, and he froze.

The man walked past. Spade came to his senses and bolted, reaching the man just as he neared the main hallway, planting himself squarely in front of him and staring into his eyes, the only part of his face visible between the mask and cap.

The man stopped, startled. He returned Spade’s stare, and then his eyes widened in…what? Shock? Recognition? Without a word, Spade reached up and ripped off the man’s mask.

“What are you doing?” the man spluttered, backing away.

“I…I….I’m sorry,” Spade said lamely, feeling the color rise to his cheeks. “I thought I recognized you.”

“You know you could have just said ‘hello’,” the man retorted, snatching his mask from Spade’s hand. “Or tried the old, “Do I know you from somewhere?” line. Or is attacking people typical for you?”

“Sorry,” Spade mumbled. “I was wrong.”

“Hmpf,” the man muttered, brushing past Spade and stalking away. Spade watched him go, his embarrassment warring with the uneasiness stirring in the pit of his stomach. He looked around for other medical personnel, but they had all gone on ahead. There was no one around to verify the man’s identity.

Maybe I was wrong, Spade thought. He will still weary from last night, and racked with guilt. Maybe he was seeing things. Was it even possible for them to change that fast? He really didn’t know.

Just for a moment there, Spade had been certain he’d seen a familiar face staring at him over that mask. He sincerely hoped he was wrong. Because if he wasn’t, the mysterious “Private Johnson” was not only an alien, but had just walked away after gaining access to both prisoners despite all of Major Cavitt’s security precautions.




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



“Where have you been?” Amar demanded blearily, struggling, and failing, to pull himself into a sitting position. “You’ve been gone for ages!”

“You’re awake,” Malik said approvingly, closing the door behind him. “I didn’t even realize you knew I was gone. I was at the base—you know yourself how difficult it was to get in, and it’s even more difficult now. It takes awhile.”

“Did you find him? Do they have him?”

“Yes,” Malik said quietly, “they do.”

Amar was silent for a moment. He had been drifting in and out of consciousness all afternoon as the humans’ sedative began to wear off. They had been hiding in this abandoned farmhouse ever since last night, waiting for Amar to recover so they could return to Copper Summit. This was the first time Amar had been able to do much more than grunt.

“Tell me again,” Amar said thickly, “why you had to shoot me.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Amar!” Malik said irritably. “I’ve already explained that! There was a human there! It would have looked suspicious if I’d used the weapon on only one of you.”

“But why didn’t you shoot the human?”

“You don’t think they would have noticed a human shooting another human? Do you really want them to figure out there are more aliens out there? I sent him off to find help. I figured I could get you both out of there while he was gone.”

“But you didn’t,” Amar said accusingly. “And now the humans have both of them.”

“A thousand pardons,” Malik said sarcastically. “I removed you first, and it’s a good thing I did. When I went back for Jaddo, he was gone. If I’d left you there, the humans would have you now, and from what I’ve seen, you wouldn’t be having a very good time.”

“Why not? They’re sound asleep, aren’t they?” The bitterness in Amar’s voice was so thick you could cut it with a knife. He still found it annoying that the Warders did not know their fate.

Malik shot him a scathing look. “Would you like a rundown of exactly what the humans are doing to them?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Amar said flatly. “They can’t keep them out forever without killing them. And once they wake up, they’ll never be able to hold them. But we can.” He paused, smiling broadly. “It worked, Malik! The device worked!”

“Oh, yes, it worked beautifully,” Malik said with mock admiration. “It created such a large dampening field that it nearly caused a backwash of power in the humans’ own generators. Do you realize you nearly blew us all up?”

“So it needs a little tweaking,” Amar sulked. “It still worked.”

“But it’s not covert,” Malik argued. “Don’t you think humans will notice if we keep turning that thing on, and everything they have that uses power doesn’t work? At this point, we can’t hope to hold the Warders in Copper Summit. The dampening field would knock out a huge area of the town.”

“I’ll work on it,” Amar said angrily. “Just as soon as I can. It just needs a little fine tuning.”

“Why did you have that thing on, anyway?” Malik demanded, plopping down on the ground beside Amar. “You were supposed to follow him, not attack him inside the vent.”

Amar twisted into a different position. He was very weak, so the effort was costly, and he slumped against the wall when he was finished. “He found me,” he said shortly. “He attacked me. I had no choice.”

“You allowed yourself to be seen?” Malik asked incredulously. “Honestly, Amar, that’s twice in two days! You’re losing your touch.”

“There isn’t much room inside those vents,” Amar said testily. “It’s not my fault there aren’t many places to hide!”

“And what was he saying about you being false?” Malik fixed a hard stare on his companion. “What did he mean?”

“How should I know?” Amar said sullenly. “He’s lying, of course. You know perfectly well we never take each other’s shapes. He was just trying to rile you.”

Malik knelt down in front of Amar and looked him in the eye. “Tell me that you did not take Brivari’s shape to lure him out.”

Amar was silent, his mouth set in a hard line. The two stared at each other for several long seconds until finally, Amar spoke.

“I was not false.”

Malik held Amar’s gaze a moment longer before backing away. “Good. Because if I ever find out otherwise, I’ll turn on you in a heartbeat.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Amar said, with more than a little asperity. “We may need to steal a shape at some point, you know. These are not ordinary Covari. They wouldn’t hesitate to use their “special abilities” against us; why should we hesitate to use every weapon in our arsenal against them?”

“Being false is not a weapon, Amar,” Malik said firmly. “It is a cowardly act against our own people.”

“So you think the Warders wouldn’t ever be false with us?”

Malik hesitated. After a moment, he shook his head.

Amar snorted. “You give them more credit than they deserve.”

Ignoring him, Malik rose to his feet.

“Where are you going?” Amar asked.

“Out,” Malik replied. “From the looks of you, we’ll be here for awhile. We need food, and I’d like to learn as much as I can about where they’re holding the Warders before we go back.”

Amar muttered something grumpy and incomprehensible. Malik headed for the door.

“Malik? Wait.”

“What?”

“There’s one thing I can’t figure out,” Amar said slowly. “How did you know it was Jaddo?”

Malik tensed. “What do you mean?”

“We knew Brivari had been captured,” Amar said, struggling to think, something he had trouble with on the best of days. “We knew two died, but we didn’t know which two. I didn’t know who was still free until I met him in the vent, and I never told you it was Jaddo. I know he was shifting while we were fighting, but that’s too fast to see. How did you know it was Jaddo, and not one of the other two?”

“I…I did manage to see enough of him while the two of you were fighting,” Malik said. “Just barely.”

“Really?” He cast beady eyes on Malik. “I didn’t think you knew Jaddo. How would you know what he looked like?”

“I saw him once,” Malik said shortly, “a long time ago. What difference does it make?”

Amar considered a moment, and then said, “None, I suppose. I was just wondering, that’s all.”

Amar slumped down on the ground again, exhausted from all the chatter. Malik walked out of the house, closing the door behind him, leaning against the outside wall and breathing heavily.

That was close, he thought nervously. Too close.




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




10:00 p.m.

Proctor residence




“So it’s always the same side of the moon that’s facing us?” Dee asked, peering through the telescope’s eyepiece.

“Yep,” Anthony answered. “The other side is always in darkness. And we can’t always see the side facing us, especially when the moon is lined up between the Earth and the Sun. Then the moon seems to disappear—that’s called a ‘new moon’.”

Dee thought of the night the Army had come, and how dark it had been. That had been a “new moon”, and it couldn’t have picked a better night to “disappear.”

Dee and Anthony were sitting on the Proctor’s back porch steps with Anthony’s telescope as, Anthony showed her the finer points of the quarter moon glowing in the sky above them. She had been pleasantly surprised to find Anthony on her doorstep after dinner, released from his punishment and toting his telescope. The night was still warm, as usual, the crickets were chirping, and Dee felt more peaceful than she had in a long time.

“We’ll go there someday,” Anthony was saying, looking up at the moon. “The moon is the closest thing to us, so when we manage to build a ship that can leave Earth’s gravity, that’ll be the first place we stop.”

Dee smiled. “You’ve thought about this a lot, haven’t you?”

“I love to wonder what’s out there,” Anthony said. “I always have. And now….well, let’s just say that now I’m wondering all the more.”

Dee cast a sideways look at him without looking up. She had to admit, it was exciting to know there were other worlds, even if they did have fighting and wars just like Earth. Her sheer awe of the fact that there was life out there had not dimmed in spite of everything that had happened.

“You must wonder too,” Anthony was saying. “That’s why you have your star collection up in your room.”

Dee lifted her head from the telescope. She’d shown Anthony her collection of “stars” earlier, shyly, afraid he would laugh. Thankfully he hadn’t, nor had he disputed her title of ‘star collection’. But he hadn’t needed to, because she knew better now; they weren’t stars, just meteors. That particular bit of romance had been squashed by recent events.

“I shouldn’t call them ‘stars’ anymore,” Dee said glumly. “I should call them what Mac always told me they were—meteorites, bits of rock that fall from space.” As she spoke, she cast a sad look in the direction of Mac’s still empty house.

“But people call those meteorites ‘falling stars’,” Anthony pointed out. “You’re not the only one who likes to think of them as stars. And who knows? Maybe, at some point in the past, that little bit of rock was part of a star.”

“Maybe,” Dee said doubtfully.

“So what did you think of Mac’s radio interview?” Anthony asked casually.

Dee whipped her head around to stare at him. “What interview?”

“Mac gave another interview at KGFL this afternoon,” Anthony said. “Didn’t you hear?”

“We were gone all day,” Dee said excitedly. “What did he say? The Army’s been holding him—no one’s seen him since Monday. Is he coming home?”

“I don’t know,” Anthony said. “Mr. Joyce—he was the one who did the first interview, too—said that the Army escorted Mac down there, and took him away afterwards.”

Dee swallowed hard. That did not sound good. “So…what did he say?”

“He took it all back. Said he’d just found some bits of an old weather balloon, and that it had been on his ranch since last month.”

Dee was silent for a moment. It was an outright lie, of course. No doubt the Army’s doing, since it matched the Army’s story perfectly. And perhaps it was better this way, given the reactions she had seen around town. Perhaps it was better if people didn’t know.

“Mr. Joyce got pretty mad,” Anthony went on. “He asked Mac why this new story was so different from the other one, and Mac wouldn’t say. And then he said something about little green men, and Mac said, ‘Well, they’re not green’.”

No, they’re not, Dee thought. But now everyone would think Mac was crazy because he’d flip-flopped. Either that, or he’d get in even more trouble for making even that one little comment.

“I’m sure they made him do it,” Anthony continued. “That’s probably why they were keeping him—I’ll bet he had to agree to take it all back before they’d let him go. Mr. Joyce made sure everyone knew the Army had brought Mac there, and that they’d been holding him for the past week. People will fill in the blanks,” he added, as though reading her mind.

Dee stood up and walked across the yard, staring at the Brazel’s empty house. For the past several days, one thought, one horrible thought, had dogged her mind, waking or sleeping, and it was this: If she hadn’t dragged Mac out to the ranch the night after the storm, he wouldn’t have found the ship fragments. If he hadn’t found the ship fragments, he wouldn’t have brought them to Sheriff Wilcox, who wouldn’t have called the Army, who wouldn’t have found the ship. Despite her father’s assurances that none of this was her fault, every awful thing that had happened recently could be traced back to one person—herself.

“This is all my fault,” she whispered.

“What?” Anthony said behind her.

Dee turned to look at Anthony, who was still sitting on the porch step, his hand on the telescope, looking at her quizzically. She still hadn’t told him anything. It was too dangerous to tell him anything. But her guilt was so strong, and her need to confess, to confide in someone who wasn’t just going to automatically defend her like her parents would, was overwhelming.

“This is all my fault,” she said repeated miserably.

“What’s your fault?” Anthony asked, surprised.

“Everything. Mac getting in trouble, then having to lie. And….everything else,” she finished lamely. “If I hadn’t seen what I wasn’t supposed to, none of this would have happened.”

If Anthony had noticed that Dee had just branded Mac’s new weather balloon story a lie, he gave no sign of it. “You mean if you hadn’t seen what no one expected to happen in the first place, don’t you?”.

“It doesn’t matter,” Dee said in an anguished tone, not caring what she said now. “I led Mac there. He wouldn’t have gone there if it hadn’t been for me. If I’d just minded my own business, everything would have been fine.”

“Maybe,” Anthony said slowly. “Or maybe it would have been worse.”

“Don’t try to make me feel better,” Dee said crossly. “I’m not in the mood.”

“I’m not trying to make you feel better,” Anthony said calmly, unperturbed by her temper. “I’m just saying that you don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t seen…whatever it was you saw,” he finished diplomatically. “Things might have been better, or they might have been much worse. There’s no way to know for sure.”

“Mac wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for me,” Dee insisted. “The ranch isn’t using that pasture this year—he wouldn’t have gone out there.”

“No,” Anthony agreed, “but he might have done something, or said something, that made someone else go out there, and then what would have happened?”

Dee considered this for a moment. If she and Mac hadn’t removed the few ship pieces they’d found, someone else might have found them. That someone would probably have handed them over to the authorities right away. Urza and the others might have been discovered several days sooner.

Or—now that she was warming to the subject, she may as well continue—if she hadn’t helped Urza that first day, showing him how to talk, how to dress, and how to drive, they might have attracted suspicion. They might have been caught trying to obtain food, or they might have exposed themselves some other way. There was really no way to tell what would had happened had she not been looking out the window that fateful night.

“I suppose things could have been worse,” Dee said slowly. “But we’ll never know for sure.”

“No, we won’t,” Anthony agreed. “There are too many people involved, and too many different choices they could have made. So since we can’t know for sure, I prefer to think it was a good thing you did….whatever you did.”

Dee smiled in spite of herself. “You’re what my Mama calls a ‘glass is half full’ person.”

“You know, I never understood that glass business,” Anthony said, “because when a glass is half full, it’s also half empty.”

“That’s the whole point,” Dee teased. “The glass is the same either way; it’s how you look at it that matters.”

“Exactly. Which is why I think you should look at it like what you did was a good thing, in the long run.”

Dee felt a lump growing in her throat. She felt better now, in spite of herself, and it was all because of Anthony. He had kept his word about not asking her questions and just helped, whether by getting rid of nosy people, or just assuring her that she wasn’t as awful as she felt. He deserved something in return.

“Mac was right. They’re not green,” she said suddenly.

Anthony looked up from the eyepiece. “What?”

“They’re gray,” Dee said quietly, speaking quickly so she wouldn’t have time to think about it and change her mind.

Anthony’s eyes gleamed for a moment, like they had the night before when she had told him about all of Jupiter’s moons, but he said nothing. He just smiled at her, and she smiled back, wrestling with how she felt about her first time ever voluntarily telling someone about the aliens. It felt good to tell, she decided. It felt good to share it with someone she thought would understand. More like knew would understand. She knew deep down in her bones that Anthony was okay.

The sound of a ringing telephone drifted from the house. A moment later, Dee’s father appeared at the door of the back porch. “Anthony? That was your mother. She wants you home now.”

“Okay,” Anthony said, as her father disappeared back inside the house. “Want to do this again tomorrow night?” he asked, opening the carrying case for his telescope and packing it up, acting like she hadn’t just confirmed the existence of aliens on the planet.

“Are we always going to look at the moon, or do you know a thing or two about stars?”

“Stars?” Anthony asked in surprise. “I know every constellation there is to know.

Every constellation?”

“Okay, maybe not every constellation,” Anthony allowed. “But I know an awful lot of them. Star tours begin tomorrow promptly at 9:15.”

“I’ll be here,” Dee promised.

“G’night,” Anthony called, walking out of the backyard, his telescope case banging against his leg.

Dee wandered inside and found her father reading the newspaper in the living room. “Who was on the phone?” she asked, secretly hoping someone had heard something else about Mac.

“Mrs. Evans.”

“Who?”

“Mrs. Evans,” her father repeated. “Anthony’s mother. She asked me to send him home.”

Evans, Dee thought, heading out to the kitchen for a drink. She’d never asked Anthony what his last name was. She smiled to herself as she pulled a glass out of the cupboard, putting it all together.

Anthony Maximillion Evans. That was an even bigger mouthful than she’d thought. No wonder he didn’t like his middle name.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2005 10:36 pm 
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PART SEVENTY-EIGHT


July 12, 1947, 10:30 p.m.

Pod Chamber




Earth’s single moon shone in the night sky, a thin crescent in a field of stars, as a lone bird circled a huge rock formation in the desert. Spiraling downward, the bird landed at the foot of the rocks; a moment later, a man stood in his place.

Staring up at the rock formation, Malik shook his head in admiration. He would never have thought of this place, never have thought of anything so simple, so obvious, had he not followed the human girl’s family wherever they went. It was fitting, really, that Zan should seek shelter in one of the places where the knowledge necessary to make him live again was gleaned in the first place. Fitting…and ironic.

Malik began climbing the rock face, keeping a sharp eye out as he ascended. It had been so long since he had visited this particular laboratory chamber that he wasn’t quite certain exactly where it was. Earlier today, he had circled above the human family in the form of a bird as they stopped a little more than halfway to the top and emptied the container the child carried, the dust of one of his people drifting away on an alien wind. Not the best ending for a Covari, but Malik could think of worse.

A flat rock face loomed to his left, and he stopped to examine it, passing his hand over the surface, searching for the handprint. Nothing. There was no way of knowing for certain whether the humans had stopped where they did randomly or because they knew where the chamber was, but he suspected the latter. The human girl and her parents had yet to lead him astray. He resumed climbing, heading for the spot where he had seen them.

Malik had first thought of the human child two nights ago when Brivari had been taken captive. His instincts had been correct; he had arrived at her house just as she and her parents were leaving, unusual given the hour. The unconscious figure he had found slumped on the floor of a second story room was definitely Covari, but his human form made him impossible to identify. So Malik had followed the human family, who had led him right to the hybrids, which they were obviously rescuing. He had allowed them to continue, knowing they had already given shelter to the unconscious Covari in their house, and had almost intervened when a human soldier stumbled upon them, refraining just in time when he realized the soldier was an ally.

The real threat had lain close by, in the form of an enforcer who had proven reluctant to give up the chase. Hopefully the containers he had planted in the enforcer’s car would invalidate any story he told. Malik had no idea why the humans had such a preoccupation with the beverage they called “beer”, but he had seen enough to know what affect the substance had on a human’s cognitive abilities. One would think they would know enough to avoid anything which made them act in the ridiculous ways that Malik had observed, but no matter. This time, at least, “beer” had served its purpose.

Malik reached the approximate spot where he had seen the human family earlier today and paused, fingering the vial in his pocket. He himself had only been here a few times, delivering human subjects for testing, but this spot looked familiar. This was it. This was the place. And much as he longed to see what was inside, this wasn’t where Malik wanted to be. He had hoped that either Jaddo would succeed in Brivari’s rescue, or if it failed, that he would accept a private offer of assistance. Why couldn’t you have listened to me? Malik thought fiercely, mentally cursing Jaddo’s stubbornness. If Jaddo hadn’t ignored his warning, he would not now be a prisoner.

But Jaddo had ignored his warning. And that had left Malik scrambling to figure out a way to throw Amar off the trail, a scramble proved worthless by Amar activating the device prematurely. He had watched Amar and Jaddo fight with a feeling of absolute helplessness, and had prevented the human soldier, whom he recognized as the one who had saved the hybrids the previous night, from interfering and losing his own life. The Warders needed someone among their captors as an ally, and Malik had no intention of removing one of the few people who seemed to fit that description.

He had shot Jaddo with the tranquilizing gun when he realized that Jaddo would kill Amar if he didn’t. Malik was not ready for that. He was not entirely happy with the deal he had made five years ago, nor was he happy with the circumstances which had induced him to make that deal in the first place. He was seeking a different solution than that which was offered by either side of the current dispute, and he needed to keep all of his options open. That meant not killing parties on either side.

Or allowing them to be captured, Malik thought heavily. He had removed Amar first, believing the human soldier would help Jaddo, whom he seemed to recognize. And if that were not the case, Malik had planned to remove Jaddo himself and place him somewhere safe where Amar would not find him. But when he had returned, it was clear that Jaddo had been captured. He had managed to keep everyone alive, but had not managed to keep everyone free.

Malik turned back to the rock face. Hopefully the hybrids were safely hidden; that was why he was here now, standing high on a rock in the darkness. With both Royal Warders captured, it fell to him to see to the safety of the King and his family. No doubt Amar would take issue with that position, but Malik begged to differ. The survival of the hybrids was key; whoever held them held a priceless bargaining chip. And whoever knew where they were hidden possessed the next most priceless bargaining chip, something which might come in handy when the time came to confront Brivari, as Malik knew it eventually would.

Assuming they were actually here, that is, a question Malik intended to settle right now. He passed his hand over the rock, and a shimmering, silver handprint appeared. He pressed his hand to the print, and held his breath.

Nothing happened.

Malik had expected this. The lock would have been keyed to the Warders’ DNA to guard against any visitors from home. That was why he had taken a sample of Jaddo’s skin cells while he lay unconscious in the human family’s house. They had long since turned to dust, of course, but even dust still held the genetic code necessary to open this door.

Coating his hand with dust from the vial, Malik pressed his hand to the print once again. The door rumbled open, and as he stepped inside, a soft glow rose, illuminating the interior.

The sacs lay on the floor of the chamber. He counted, examining each carefully—there were six, each containing four hybrids, one of each royal. Some of the sacs had already broken apart into pods, while others were just beginning this process. In one sac, three of the four hybrids were dead, and another looked as though the hybrids it contained might suffer the same fate in the near future.

But the other four glowed brilliantly, the hybrids they contained stretching and tumbling inside. Malik passed his hand over the surface of one of them, reading the inscriptions Valeris had placed in the lower right hand corners.

Zan.

Ava.

Rath.

Vilandra.


“They did it,” Malik whispered. “They actually did it.”

Malik rose and stood among the pulsating, glowing pods, his feelings at war within himself. A terrible price had been paid for the knowledge that had given Zan’s family new life—he and Amar had been due to pay that price, as had the other three who had gone rogue with them, now dead. Still, the mere existence of the hybrids was a monument to centuries of Antarian bioengineering, and their survival to this point nothing short of a miracle given what they had already been through in their very short lives. Perhaps there was a reason for that. Perhaps this was meant to be.

“You have been granted a second chance, Your Highness,” Malik whispered to the nearest fetal incarnation of his King. “And I, for one, intend to see that you get it. Use it well.”

Making a slight bow, Malik turned and walked out of the chamber, the door rumbling closed behind him.




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




Eagle Rock Military Base



Lieutenant Spade headed down the hallway toward his new quarters. He had already moved his belongings into the compound, and was now on his way to get some much needed sleep. Soldiers he passed smiled and saluted as he went by, making him extremely uncomfortable. It was strange to be an officer, even a junior officer. And that wasn’t all—he now found himself up on some kind of pedestal for his role in capturing the aliens. In practice, this meant that he was constantly reminded of the fool Cavitt had rightly taken him for, the likelihood that his CO was a cold-blooded murderer, and the fact that the beings tied to the tables in that dingy old operating room were there solely because of him. Unpleasant thoughts, all.

Far ahead, a small group of people rounded the corner, two soldiers and one white-clad figure, by the looks of it. As the group came closer, Spade recognized the figure, and his eyes widened.

It was Yvonne White. Her expression made it clear she was just as shocked to see him as he was to see her.

I thought she was transferred to London? Spade thought. But then he realized he should have known Cavitt would never let her go. Hopefully he still didn’t realize that she’d had contact with live aliens, but she had assisted with the autopsies. That alone would make her valuable—and potentially dangerous to Cavitt.

“There he is!” crowed one the two soldiers as the little group came face to face with Spade. “Our resident alien catcher!”

“This is a treat, little lady,” the second soldier assured Yvonne. “This here gentleman’s the reason we all have such a plum assignment.”

“Can’t study aliens without aliens to study,” the first soldier added with a grin. “Gotta catch’em first!” He offered his hand to Spade.

But Spade wasn’t looking at either of the soldiers. He was looking at the expression on Yvonne’s face, a mixture of anger, disgust, and….and what looked disturbingly like betrayal.

Spade felt as though he had just been slapped, but there was nothing he could say to her here, in the middle of the hallway, in front of two soldiers who thought he was the keenest guy in the world. So he dropped his gaze and accepted the hand, shaking it vigorously, then shook hands with the other soldier, who had offered his hand also. He didn’t look at Yvonne again. That look had been so painful it had almost physically hurt.

“Congratulations, man!” the first soldier was saying. “Good going, getting both of those things.”

“Yeah,” the second soldier agreed. “That’ll teach’em to mess with Uncle Sam.”

Spade forced himself to smile and nod, but said nothing. He didn’t trust his voice at the moment.

The soldiers moved off, Yvonne between them. Spade watched them go, Yvonne’s white shoes making no sound on the floor as they walked, in sharp contrast to the clumping of the soldiers’ boots. First order of business tomorrow—find Yvonne and tell her what had happened, not only so she didn’t think he was a first class asshole, but so she could be on her guard. This “plum assignment” was headed by a murderer, and no one else here knew that yet.




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



11 p.m.

Proctor residence




Dee Proctor was kneeling on the bench beside her window when she heard her father come in. He crossed the room to stand behind her, both of them looking up at the clear night sky.

“Looking for falling stars?” he asked.

Dee twisted around and gave him a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding look. “No.”

“Bedtime, kiddo,”

Dee obediently climbed into bed while her father adjusted her fan so it would blow directly on her. As he bent to tuck her in, she turned sideways so she could keep looking out the window.

“They got them, didn’t they?” she whispered.

Her father looked at her gravely. “That would be my guess, but I don’t know for sure.”

“They must have. They would’ve been back by now.”

“They’re strong, Dee. As long as they’re not hurt, they’ll probably be able to escape. They can do a lot of things we can’t—most of us, anyway,” he added, and Dee knew he was thinking about how all of them had done things recently they didn’t know they could.

“And when they do escape, we’ll be waiting,” Dee said confidently, looking at her father.

David smiled. “Of course we will.” He bent over and kissed her goodnight. “Sleep tight, kiddo.”

Dee responded with a fierce hug that caught her father off guard, almost pulling him off balance. She was so lucky that both her parents had been willing to help her friends. What would she have done if either one of them had wound up being an ‘Ernie’?

“Where’d that come from?” David asked, steadying himself.

“It’s a lot easier to do hard things when you don’t have to do them all alone, isn’t it?” she whispered, clutching her father tightly.

“You bet,” he whispered back, ruffling her hair. He kissed her forehead again, and left.

Dee lay in bed, looking out the window and listening as her parents got ready for bed. After their light had been out for at least twenty minutes, she quietly climbed out of bed, located a few items, and climbed back in, pulling the covers over her head.

Under this makeshift tent, she carefully arranged her flashlight, her notebook, her pencil, and the alien book they had found earlier in the trunk of their car. The metal surface of the cover gleamed, almost iridescent in the flashlight’s glow. She opened her notebook, picked up her pencil, and began to turn the first page of the alien book. But just before she did so, she paused.

Something had flashed across the surface of the book’s smooth, empty cover. It had only been there for a moment, but Dee was certain she had seen a symbol appear on the cover, only to fade away a moment later. She studied the cover carefully for a minute, but the symbol didn’t return.

Slowly, Dee opened the book. The alien writing was etched into the surface of the page; she ran her fingernail over the depressions, listening to the faint click, click as her nail passed. She flipped back to the cover to see if the mysterious symbol had reappeared, but it hadn’t.

Dee opened the book again, picked up her pencil, and, starting at the top left of the first page, began to copy each symbol one by one.




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




July 13, 1947, 0130 hours

Eagle Rock Military Base




Lieutenant Spade walked the nearly empty corridors of the compound, nodding to the guards on duty at various places as he went by. Sleep had eluded him after his distressing meeting with Yvonne, so he had decided to walk a bit, hoping that sheer exhaustion would take over. Every guard he passed smiled at him, saluted, called him “sir”. Understandable, since as of 0600 tomorrow, he would be in charge of every guard in this compound, and the word was they were all thrilled to have the “alien hunter” as their commander. Too bad their commander wasn’t as thrilled as they were.

Spade paused as he passed the door to the observation room. He wanted to go in, but at the same time, he didn’t. He wanted to reassure himself the aliens were still unharmed, but every time he looked at them, he was reminded that he was the reason they were here, and that they were here because of a lie.

Might as well get used to it, Spade thought, as he opened the door and climbed the steps that led to the windowed room. If he was going to get them out of here, he need to know everything about this place: Every nook, every cranny, every door and window—everything. Including now, in the middle of the night.

The observation room was dark, the only light being that from the room below. A single figure was seated in a chair, staring through the window at the scene below. Everyone does that, Spade thought, moving to the window and looking down at the room below, empty but for the two figures strapped to the tables, both unconscious. Everyone who came in here stood at the windows and stared, as though trying to convince themselves to believe their eyes.

“Soldier,” Spade said curtly, nodding briefly to the silhouetted guard as he passed.

“Good evening, Lieutenant,” came a smooth voice. “Or perhaps I should say, ‘Good morning’?” The figure consulted it’s watch. “Yes, it seems I should.”

Spade turned in surprise to find the doctor—the Major, rather—from earlier, the one who had needled Cavitt so effectively. His tie had been loosened, the top button of his shirt was unbuttoned, and he looked quite mellow. In his right hand was a glass of what looked and smelled suspiciously like scotch.

The Major followed Spade’s gaze. “Yes, yes, I know it’s against regs. But I’ve earned it, believe me. And I bet Sheridan’s back there drowning in his own bottle.” He twisted around to face Spade, giving him an appraising look. “You’re ‘Spade’, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Major,” Spade answered, wondering how the doctor had managed to read his name tag in the gloom. Certainly he hadn’t memorized everyone’s name and face already.

The Major leaned forward in his chair. “Call me “Doctor”. Someone should.” He downed the rest of his scotch, reached down toward his feet, produced a bottle, and poured himself another glass. “I owe you an apology for earlier today.”

“What for, sir?”

The Doctor shook his head. “You don’t have to append ‘sir’ to everything you say, Lieutenant. I know my own rank, and so do you. No need to remind either of us with every sentence. Besides, I find all that bowing and scraping really slows things down. Makes conversation impossible.” He swigged his Scotch. “I owe you an apology for making you watch my little… ‘discussion’ with Sheridan—excuse me, Major Cavitt,” the doctor amended sardonically. “Technically I should have dismissed you so we could have our little brouhaha in private. He won’t be happy that you witnessed his ‘humiliation’, as he so dramatically puts it.”

“So why didn’t you dismiss me?” Spade asked.

The doctor smiled. “I know what’s it’s like to work with Major Cavitt—I can only imagine what working for him is like. I also know how word gets around. Quite frankly, I wanted word to get around that I’m not like him. I was hoping you’d accomplish that for me.”

Spade stared at him, uncertain of how to take this admission. Superiors using inferiors wasn’t news, of course, but most senior officers were savvy enough not to admit it. Or to at least appear regretful when caught in the act.

“As I understand it, you have personal experience butting heads with Major Cavitt,” the doctor continued casually. “I’ve been doing a great deal of reading, and it seems you and he have very different versions of what happened with one of the aliens who died.”

Spade returned the doctor’s stare, but remained silent. He had never retracted his version of events concerning the alien who had surrendered, and he had no intention of doing so. Cavitt had stopped asking him to, no doubt busy basking in the glow of his new specimens. Still, it was bound to come up sooner or later, and Spade wasn’t at all certain he wanted it to come up with this stranger.

“Care to tell me what happened out there?”

When Spade remained mute, the doctor continued, “I assure you, anything you tell me is completely off the record.”

“You obviously read my testimony,” Spade said evenly, “and went out of your way to identify me. It’s all in the report—why would you want me to go over it again?”

The doctor swiveled his chair to look out over the room below. “You don’t trust me, do you?”

“Permission to speak freely…sir.”

The doctor raised an eyebrow and settled his glass of scotch on his lap. “Granted,” he said, eyeing Spade with interest.

“Trust is earned,” Spade said firmly, looking the doctor directly in the eye. “And what have you done to win my trust? You deliberately left me in what you knew was a compromising position to further your own ends. And I think those ends include something you haven’t mentioned.”

“And what would that be?” the doctor asked mildly, taking not the slightest umbrage at Spade’s tone.

“You knew Major Cavitt would be humiliated, and you knew it would be worse if I watched. You like working him over, and you used me to help you do that.”

The doctor smiled into his glass of scotch. “Very perceptive, Lieutenant. Very perceptive. And correct, I might add.” He raised a hand in mock assent. “Guilty as charged. But at least I get points for admitting it.”

Spade watched the doctor closely. There was no trace of remorse in his voice, only a faint amusement, as though having his motives discovered and exposed by such an unlikely source was somehow amusing. Did this guy really believe that simply admitting it made it all better? He glanced down to the half empty bottle of scotch on the floor. Was this the doctor talking, or the booze?

“Very well then,” the doctor was saying. “You say I need to earn your trust. Apparently the oak leaves aren’t good enough. So—how do I do that?”

You just made that job a lot harder, Spade thought. But if the doctor was willing to talk…..

“How do you know Major Cavitt?” Spade asked. “And why is he so upset that you’re here?”

“Ah. You want a story. Have a seat, son,” the doctor said, pointing to a chair, “and I’ll tell you one.”

Spade obediently sank into the chair, carefully avoiding the scene through the nearby window. He was responsible for this man’s presence here, and it was not lost on him that he might have made things worse by fishing that scrap of paper out of Cavitt’s wastebasket.

“Sheridan and I enlisted at the same time,” the doctor began, setting back in his chair and propping his drink on his knee. “He was all gung ho, fight for America, all that stuff. I, on the other hand, began to regret my decision. I wasn’t made to be a killing machine. So I took a different path.”

“You became a doctor,” Spade interjected.

The doctor nodded. “Right. But not just any doctor. I got my MD and became a neurologist, but I wanted more. I wanted to know what made people tick in more than just the physical sense, so I added psychiatry to the list. I’m a ‘shrink’, as you boys like to call me, probably the most feared type of doctor there is. When I show up, that means something’s rattling around up here,” he said, tapping his head with his finger.

“I want it dissected, not diagnosed.” So that’s what Cavitt had been talking—yelling—about. But why would the Army want a psychiatrist here if the plan was to keep the aliens sedated until they died?

“Sheridan looked down his nose at me from the moment our paths diverged,” the doctor continued, rising from his chair with scotch in hand, leaning against the window and staring down at the aliens strapped to the tables below. “Claimed that he was a real soldier, while I was just a wuss with stripes. Said I was soft, trying to avoid combat, you name it. He was always really aggressive, one of those who’d do just about anything to get his way. He never could understand what I’d chosen to do.”

“So what exactly do you do?” Spade asked warily. He’d met a few Army shrinks. Some seemed okay, but more than few appeared to be in need of their own services.

The doctor gave Spade a penetrating stare. “Why, I fix the killing machines, Lieutenant. Machines have a habit of breaking down, you see. Even the organic ones. Maybe especially the organic ones. I spend most of my time dealing with what’s called “real injuries”, physical injuries, head injuries in my case. But there are different kinds of injuries, not all of which leave a trail of blood. Anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t know his head from his ass.”

Spade was silent again, thinking of the soldiers he knew of who had snapped. Quite a few, actually. Most of them hadn’t fully recovered, and probably never would.

“Sheridan had a right royal fit this afternoon when he learned I’d gotten Major before he did,” the doctor continued. “I think that bothered him more than the whole co-commander bit. He couldn’t understand why a pill pusher like me pulled a higher rank sooner than a ‘true warrior’ like himself. Now he has his oak leaves too, but…”—the doctor raised a finger and pointed it at Spade—“he didn’t get his way.”

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean, Lieutenant, is that after hours of wrangling, still more hours of arguing, and even more hours of phone calls to General Ramey, I have not only managed to retain my status as commander of the medical half of this operation, but I shall soon have official permission to wake the subjects and pursue psychological as well as medical examination. I’m exhausted, mind you, and more than a little drunk, but I won. Much to Sheridan’s chagrin.” He gazed down at the captives below and spoke softly to the window. “They’re mine.”

Spade’s throat went dry as he moved from elated to alarmed in seconds. What have I done? he thought despairingly. The doctor wanted to wake the aliens—that was good, as they would likely escape. But his initial delight at hearing that died quickly when he saw the look in the doctor’s eyes. He had seen that look earlier today when Major Cavitt had stood in this very room and claimed ownership of the beings below, just as the doctor had now. The doctor’s tone was not quite as rabid, but the sense of possession, of triumph, was identical.

Still, the doctor was willing to at least attempt to do more than simply leave the aliens sedated and experiment on them. That had to be a good thing. Maybe this wasn’t a disaster after all. Maybe.

“Sir,” Spade began carefully, “Are you aware of what these…people can do?”

“I certainly am,” the doctor replied. “Sheridan’s right about one thing—these things are dangerous. I’ve read all the reports; impressive. Very impressive. Not to mention terrifying.” He paused. “I can’t wait to find out how they do it.”

“But…how can you hang onto them if they can blow holes in fences and kill with a touch?”

“That will be my first puzzle,” the doctor mused, “and I believe I have the answer. The General believes so too, at least enough to let me try.” He smiled. “Major Cavitt doesn’t, of course, but most of his mewling is just for effect. I know he’d love to interrogate those things. Without my expertise in that area, I daresay he wouldn’t have anything to play with.”

Spade swallowed. Play with. How could two little words be so chilling? “What do you intend to do with them if your idea works?” he asked, part of him dreading the answer.

“I’ll keep you up all night reading you that list,” the doctor chuckled, resuming his seat. He reached in a his pocket and pulled out a cigarette and a lighter. A flame burst to life, and a moment later, clouds of smoke rose into the air, eerie looking in the light from the room below. “I want to know everything about those creatures, Lieutenant. Everything. I want to know how they blow holes in fences and kill with a touch. I want to know how they change their shapes. I want to know why every wound that Sheridan’s merry band made today while they were taking blood and tissue samples has completely healed over. I have too many questions to count.”

“What happens if you can’t figure out a way to wake them?”

The doctor sighed. “Then we’ll have to go with Sheridan’s plan. Keep them sedated and alive for as long as possible. They’ll die eventually, of course, and that would be such a pity. But if we can’t safely hold them, we’ll have no choice. Can’t have things like that on the lose.”

The doctor’s casual tone floored Spade. He sounded like he was talking about putting down a dog, or culling some pesky wildlife. Even though the aliens now stood a better chance of escaping, Spade was having a hard time convincing himself that he’d done the right thing by fishing that scrap of paper out of Cavitt’s wastebasket.

“Sir, do we….do we have a right to be doing this?” Spade asked, suddenly overcome by guilt at possibly having made the situation worse…again.

“Of course we have the ‘right’,” the doctor replied calmly. “Why wouldn’t we?”

“It’s just that….well, we just got rid of Dr. Mengele. And now it sounds like you’re taking his place.”

The doctor’s eyebrows shot skyward. That went too far, Spade thought, but he was too upset now to care. Perhaps it was a bit over the top to compare what was happening here with the Nazi’s Angel of Death and his human experiments, but only a bit. The similarities were too close for comfort.

“Josef Mengele experimented on human subjects,” the doctor said evenly, the tip of his cigarette shining in the darkness. “These are not human, Lieutenant. You should know that better than anyone here, myself included.”

“With all due respect, sir…..does that really make a difference?”

“Of course it makes a difference. A big difference,” the doctor replied. “We experiment on animals. No one objects to that.”

“These aren’t animals,” Spade argued, “and you know that. That’s why you’re so eager to work on them.”

The doctor was watching him carefully. “You empathize with them, don’t you?”

“Not exactly,” Spade replied, weighing his words, “but I wonder: They didn’t attack us until we attacked them. Every single time they attacked, they were defending their property or their people, just as we would have done. Their reactions were no different than ours would have been, even if their methods were.”

The doctor appeared to consider for a moment, then shook his head. “You make a good argument, Lieutenant, if you were talking about humans. But you’re not. You’re ascribing human emotions to non-human subjects. That may or may not be accurate. It’s my job to find out.”

“And if it is accurate?”

“An interesting thought,” the doctor said, smiling faintly, “if highly unlikely. Relax,” he added when he saw the look on Spade’s face. “I’m not here to torture them. Why would I? After all we’ve gone through to capture them, and all we’re going to go through to keep them, what would be the point of damaging them? We don’t have the luxury of a never ending supply of test subjects like Mengele—we only have these two. It would be foolish to harm them.”

And what if you did have a ‘never ending supply’? Spade sat mutely in his chair, his mind churning, not knowing how to feel or what to make of this newcomer who left him alternately hopeful and chilled to the bone. His assertion that he would not harm the aliens was good news, but the envious, almost admiring tone he used when discussing Josef Mengele was not encouraging.

The door opened below, and a soldier skipped up the steps.

“Major Pierce? Orders have arrived from General Ramey, sir. The subjects are at your disposal as of your receiving this message.”

“That’s ‘Doctor’ Pierce, and you can’t be serious,” the doctor replied dryly. “After the fuss Sheridan kicked up, I can’t believe they didn’t at least make me wait until after lunch. Fine, fine, thank you,” he went on, waving a hand at the soldier who was busily protesting the accuracy of his message. “I believe you. I was only joking. Just between you and me,” he added in an aside to Spade, “I think Sheridan can’t wait to let me at’em if I can safely wake them up. That was his consolation prize.”

But Spade was lost in thought, staring at the doctor, searching his memory for any recollection of that name. Pierce. Nope. Didn’t ring any bells.

“Gracious, that’s right,” the doctor broke in suddenly, recognizing the look on Spade’s face. “We haven’t been properly introduced, have we? Where are my manners. I am Doctor Daniel Pierce. Daniel Pierce the third, actually,” he added genially. “Both my father and my grandfather carried that name. Hopefully someday I’ll have a son, and pass it on again.” Pierce rose from his chair, his cigarette and glass in one hand, the bottle of scotch in the other. “Lieutenant—it’s been a pleasure. You have some interesting ideas. Someday you and I will have to have a long talk about your impressions of these creatures.”

I’m not telling you a blessed thing, Spade thought. But he said nothing, merely standing and saluting as protocol required.

Dr. Pierce took inventory of his full hands and shook his head sadly. “I’ll have to owe you one,” he said to Spade, brushing past the other soldier who was staring curiously at the bottle of scotch. “I’d best be going. I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow.”

“Major….Doctor,” the soldier amended hastily at a warning glance from Pierce. “Your medical team has also been informed of the General’s orders. They want to know when you’d like to start the tests.”

“Tomorrow morning,” Pierce replied, yawning. “I need to get some rest.”

“Yes, sir, Doctor Pierce.”



THE END


TO BE CONTINUED IN COMES THE INQUISITOR


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