Blake was on the radio. In the plane, cell phones were erratic as they passed through the parts of the country least served by cell towers.
“Sir, Samuelson has located Valet.”
“Where?” The Trust had no high-tech database; no Internet search grid to detect a citizen’s every movement. But it had good people. Samuelson with a stack of phone books was worth a dozen search engines.
Blake was listening to his earphones, with one cup lifted to pay attention to his boss. “Canon City Airport, but it’s already left.” He listened carefully, then raised his eyes to Morris. “They took off about ten minutes before we did.”
So, Whitfield was hundreds of miles ahead of them, with a head start and a faster plane. He’d been ready.
He’d stationed an agent in Rock Springs, waiting for this. How many others does he have out there?
It was obvious he had more helpers; otherwise, he wouldn’t have waited at Canon City, a small airstrip, but an obvious central location. From there, he could get to any of the Trust’s five bases in short order.
Carl closed his eyes and tried to tune out the noise and confusion. Whitfield was ahead of him every step. This had been planned. It was a direct, overt challenge to his leadership of the Trust, and threatened to split the organization in two.
Why? Whitfield doesn’t want the destruction of the Trust any more than I do. He’d spent his entire life in the service of their ideal. Why risk it all now?
Joe finished up his hamburger and counted his cash again. He didn’t really have enough to get home on his own, and certainly not enough to wait here in Rock Springs for more than a day.
Home was just a trap from which he’d escaped—when he was on the road. Now, it suddenly seemed an important refuge. He needed money to live—money for food, money for a place to sleep. How long would it take to find a job, here in this strange town?
At home, he did his part, but his family was there to watch out for him, and to take care of him.
He sat in the restaurant at a table where he could watch the street. If she came back, she’d have no way of finding him. He would have to constantly keep watch. Of course, if she never came back, he’d have to call home. He counted out how many coins it would take to make a collect call to Las Vegas, New Mexico, and put them in a separate pocket. He didn’t want any chance of accidentally spending it.
The town reminded him in some ways of home. The terrain was different—no friendly mountains in the distance, nor any sign of the adobe construction that was common down south.
But there were familiar touches. Across the street were old vintage motels, with railroad tracks over that way, and an interstate bypass routing all the traffic away from the old highway.
He looked at the closest motel across the street. It was different in so many ways from the Railroad, but it was the same vintage. It had a homey and friendly look.
I wonder, where does John Smith stay when he’s in this town?
The reports were still coming in. Carl had taken Blake’s seat and was listing to the doctor on the radio.
“He’s unresponsive. I thought at first he was ignoring me, you know the way he gets. But, it’s worse than that. I fear he’s slipped into a coma.”
“That’s enough, Doctor!” Carl had to stop the man before he revealed too much. “Check with the rest of your team. Relay a report through Samuelson. I’ll be back soon.”
The Trust exobiologist wasn’t used to open code, and seemed perilously close to revealing the presence of the alien Sam One on an open radio signal.
But the report was disturbing enough already. Sam One in a coma! When had that happened?
Carl handed the radio headset back to Blake and returned to his seat and strapped himself back in.
None of the aliens were monitored constantly anymore. After decades, their habits and activities were as repetitive as anyone’s. The struggle to gain advanced technologies from the Roswell crash survivors had been given up as impossible. There were daily checks on them, but the Sams in particular were prone to stay motionless for hours, days on end.
Harris. He’s the last one to report Sam One active. And I can’t trust that.
He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. Less than a year on the job, and I’m already losing one of them. Maybe he should have let Whitfield run the Trust.
Judith knocked on the door marked “BOB FOUR”.
She opened the door. “Bob Four, I’m so glad to see you.”
His room was cluttered. Every available inch of the walls was decorated with images—cities, landscapes, starscapes, and a dozen other themes. Stacks of magazines six feet tall were stacked against one wall, most of them with missing pages, having contributed to the wall decorations.
Judith thought of her own bedroom. It was much alike. Even the closets were open, showing an untidy collection of stuff.
Bob Four got up from the bed, where he’d been reading. Other than the tan polo shirt and blue-flowered Bermuda shorts, he was every inch a Roswell Gray, the only one of the alien species to have been described. There was even a big section on the walls with images from science fiction and TV fan magazines showing Hollywood-ized versions of himself.“Judith! Come sit down. I wasn’t expecting you. What’s wrong?”
“Bob, I need your help. Dad sent me. He had an accident. But something’s wrong with Sam Five.”
Peeking out into the corridor, just from habit, she led Bob Four to his neighbor’s apartment.
Sam Five was resting on the floor. Other than its large head, and disproportionately large legs, it looked too much like a dead cockroach on its back with its feet in the air. She’d fished him out of the metal hive that had been a Sam’s version of comfortable furniture.
Bob checked for breathing and circulation.
“Judith, did Kenneth send something... unusual... this trip?”
She opened the ice chest. The almond-shaped object was pale blue. “It was darker when I first saw it. Dad said it was important that it was blue. I don’t know what it is.”
Bob reached down and picked it up. He placed it on Sam Five’s thorax. After a long, tense moment, there was a shiver and a horizontal slit appeared in its ‘chest’.
Carefully, Bob Four pulled a second almond-shaped object from the body. This one was nearly colorless. He removed it, placing it in the ice chest. In one easy motion, he inserted the blue one into the chest cavity. The slit closed up tight.
Bob nodded. He looked at Judith. “For Sams, it’s life.”
“Do you know who I am?”
The two men stood at the entrance to the pantry, facing the anonymous security camera.
Duke spoke over the intercom. He spoke most respectfully. “Yes, Mr. Whitfield, but you know I can’t let you in. Without this month’s access card, I just can’t do it. It’s against the protocols.”
Whitfield frowned. “Well, I wrote those protocols!” He took a red notebook from his assistant Keys, a broad shouldered, six-footer with close-cropped blond hair.
He leafed through the pages. Everything was written in a practiced longhand. The original was kept in a place where there were no computers or typewriters. He knew he’d need it one day.
“Command code override. Prepare to copy.”
Duke’s uncertain voice replied, “Ready.”
Whitfield began reading, translating into the phonetic alphabet he’d learned in World War II.
“Roger, King, Sugar, Uncle, Baker, Four, Seven, Mike.
“Confirm,” he ordered.
Duke paused and said, “Confirmed, sir.”
The electric door lock clicked. The entrance opened and Whitfield strode in. Duke stepped out into the corridor to greet him. Before he could speak, Keys moved quickly, grabbing Duke’s arm and injecting him with a syringe.
Duke slumped immediately. Keys firm grip kept him from dropping like a stone.
“Drag him back into the office. And cleanup the records. Make sure there’s no mention of us.”
Keys lifted Duke and carried him away.
Judith struck her index finger across her palm. “What’s that?” She cocked her head, listening.
Bob Four asked, “What?” He could hear nothing. But that wasn’t a surprise, he’d known since 1947 that humans had more sensitive hearing.
“The sound. The elevator is going back to the surface. Someone is coming.”
Bob Four grabbed her arm in his thin fingers. “It can’t be Duke. It’s not his inspection time. Come with me.”
“What about Sam Five? We can’t leave him here like this.”
Bob thought for a second. “Get him back into his nest. He’ll be safe enough here.”
Together, they lifted the insectoid and rested him on the pipes.
“Quickly now,” he waved. “I need your lungs.”
Whitfield was a dynamic man for his 87 years. He had gray hairs instead of his assistant’s blond, but when the elevator door opened, they were alike, jogging from impatience.
He bellowed, “Kenneth Winston! This is Oscar Whitfield. I need to talk to you.”
Up ahead, there was movement at Sam Five’s door.
And then a girl stepped out.
Whitfield put his hand on Keys’ arm, staying his previous order to inject anyone they saw. He needed to question her.
“Who are you?”
The girl shook her head and waved her hands. Keys whispered, “Sign language.”
In an organization where paper or electronic records were forbidden, good memory was developed and trained. He’d bent a few of his own rules, but he was still very good with names and faces.
He nodded and smiled. “You’re Judith Winston, aren’t you. Kenneth’s daughter. We’re just here looking for him. He hadn’t reported in.”
She gestured again, and he held up a hand. “Wait a minute.” He pulled a talkie from his pocket and pressed a chord of buttons. The buttons turned white.
She gestured wildly. “Sam Five won’t wake up! I don’t know what to do.”
“What happened to Kenneth?”
“Car accident. He told me to come on in his place. I’ve been training.”
Judith knew it was useless to lie, so she concentrated on making her very real fears and frustrations vivid. Her arms swung in broad strokes as she told them an abbreviated version of the accident and how she found her father, even grieving anew over her lost motorcycle.
Winfield asked her, “Did you have a cargo?”
“Yes, I brought an ice chest. Dad said it was important. Come on, I’ll show you.” She walked them into Sam’s room and showed them the milky white pod.
“I don’t know what it is or what’s it’s supposed to do.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Just a few minutes.”
Whitfield nodded to Keys. Judith felt a needle and a smelled a whiff of lavender.