“What’s happened to Sam Five?” Judith was staring into space, reacting to the just-discovered memory, feeling the fear as if for the first time.
Bob Four took her human hands in his thin fingers. “It’s okay, Judith. We have him with us now. We’ve got to get him to Sam Four in Kingman. Only the Sams can heal themselves.” She could remember the echoes from the first time, when he had told her what had to be done.
“What is Mr. Whitfield up to?” She shook her head. “When I went out to talk to him, I had no idea he would inject me with rollback. Dad talked about Oscar Whitfield with respect. He was the most important man in the Trust, under Luke Morris. Why would he do that to me?”
Joe finished playing with the map screen in the front seat as he drove. “You said Kingman? Kingman, Arizona? I thought we were going to Santaquin, Utah.”
Bob said, “Wait until she finishes.”
She shook her head. “That’s about all, I think. I remember the needle prick. I smelled lavender. What happened then? How did we end up in the car together?”
Bob Four picked up the story. “They carried you back to your car and left your outside the base while they removed all signs that they’d been there. With Sam Five still unconscious, and seeing my tourist doll appearing asleep in my bed, they thought I had slept through it all. They hoped no one would notice they’d even been there.”
“But the cargo. What happened to the ice-chest?”
Bob Four shook his head. It was clearly not a natural gesture for him, but one he had learned from long exposure to humans. “It was in the way, when I hoisted you out of the driver’s seat. They had already replaced the pod with a plastic replica. I moved it to Duke’s pickup, under the tarp.
“Then I drove the car into town.”
Judith tapped her forehead then made a hand gesture. “Why? Bob Four, that was an incredibly dangerous thing to do!”
The large alien eyes looked at her. “But it was your idea.”
“Yes. Several times, as we hurried to get ready while Whitfield approached, you said we needed your friend Joe who you’d left in town.”
“I said no such thing!”
“Well, perhaps you just thought it. The talkie was still on then.”
Joe adjusted the rear view mirror. It wouldn’t help anything if she could see the grin on his face.
Blake walked into Carl’s office. Carl looked up and immediately forgot the paper in his hand. Blake was a perfect assistant, and they’d worked together for years, well before he became director. Blake never cracked a smile, never frowned. It took long experience to read his expressions.
Blake had bad news for him, and it was plain on his face.
Luke Morris, his father, had gone into a coma.
Carl dismissed his assistant and stared at the wood grain of the desk’s surface. Dad was in Pleasant Valley Hospital, only forty miles south in Roswell proper. When his health deteriorated last year, he’d found the closest high quality private care facility he could afford. He’d talked to the doctors three days ago—this change hadn’t come as a surprise.
It just brought a regret that he hadn’t had the opportunity to talk to him about this latest crisis. No one could have given him more insight into Whitfield’s motives than Dad. He’d been as close to Whitfield as he himself was to Blake.
He wanted to drive down there right now, to be with him, but he knew what his father would tell him if he could. “You’ve got a job to do, quit wasting time.”
He picked up the report and found the place where he’d been interrupted.
Judith tapped Joe on the shoulder, “We will need to go to Santaquin.”
He nodded. “Fine, that’s where we’re headed. Now will someone tell me why?”
“We need Fred Four to help us get into the Kingman Base.”
“Fred? Tell me he’s not another alien.”
“I can’t do that for you.”
Joe sighed, “Bob Four, is she telling the truth?”
“How many kinds of aliens are there?”
“Yes. That’s all I can handle right now.”
“Just four kinds—Sam, Bob, Fred and Human.”
Joe’s mind twisted around the fact that to them, he was an alien. Maybe his question just translated into ‘how many kinds of people there were on Earth?’ The talkie was great for revealing meanings, but how good was it at relaying the precise meaning the speaker intended? It was a safe bet that the words didn’t translate one for one. They didn’t between human languages, why should they between a random Earth language like English and whatever the aliens spoke. The very existence of the translator suggested that the aliens spoke multiple languages as well.
He shook his head. Too much to think about.
“If my brain weren’t so fried, I’d ask the details of your plan, but as for now, I can barely concentrate. Judith, are you able to drive?”
She shook her head. “I’m still unsteady, probably from the rollback. I could use some sleep, too.”
Bob Four said, “I could drive.”
“No!” Both Joe and Judith said it at the same time.
She said, “One of Dad’s motel stops is just a few miles up. Let’s break for a few hours. We can’t get into the Santaquin base in the night time anyway.”
They pulled into town and Judith pointed out the motel. Joe stopped the car and looked at the lights coming from the office.
“Uh, Judith? Do you have cash?”
“I’ve got the credit card. It’ll be enough.”
He pulled it out of his pocket, “This credit card?”
He sighed. “It won’t work. It’s a fake.”
She smiled. “Well, I won’t say it was issued by Visa, but it works just fine. We bought gas with it several times.”
“I know that! What I’m saying is that it won’t work here. Pay at the pump gas stations are one thing. All you need is a card with a good mag-stripe.
“But any motel worker with any experience at all is gonna know it’s a fake the instant they touch it. I saw it at once. What is it? You’ve got a credit-card reprogrammer in the glove compartment, don’t you?”
She looked concerned. “Dad didn’t give me any directions. I’d done the reprogramming for him on other trips, but I didn’t know it looked fake. The numbers are good. I promise.”
Joe shrugged. “Did you ever see him pay for anything where he had to hand it to a live human? Motels, convenience stores, restaurants?”
“No. Most of the time, he paid cash. He’d use it in the ATM machines.”
Joe sighed with relief. “Okay, then. Let’s do that. Where’s the nearest ATM?”
The nearest bank had an ATM sign lit up near the drive-through.
Joe shook his head. “Let’s not drive in there. There’s a video camera. It might see too much on the inside of the car.”
Judith took the card. “I’ll walk it up.”
She came back to the car with $400 in twenties. That would be enough to keep them off the radar.
Joe was glad for the cash, but he was still worried about the card. “I’d hate to be caught with it if we’re caught speeding or anything. I’m serious. To anyone who’s worked in the marketplace, it looks very fake.”
“But it’s not, Joe. The numbers are all that’s important anyway, aren’t they? And the numbers are good.
“The reprogrammer has a chip in it that has about a million valid credit card numbers in it.
“Here let me show you.”
She reached up and pulled the gadget down to the console between the front seats. “All you do is turn it on. Press this button. When it turns green, swipe the card through. If the light goes out, you’re done.”
“But what about the numbers? You can have a number that matches the Visa algorithm, but doesn’t really have an account connected to it.” Joe could just imagine the hassle it would cause if the credit card charge bounced back at a store manager, or a motel owner, like his Dad.
Judith hesitated. “Okay, keep this secret. I’m really not supposed to tell you all this stuff.
“Daddy tells me that several years ago, back when Visa was getting started and the Trust realized just how easy it would be to track a person using their credit card purchases, the Trust used their government contacts to buy a huge block of numbers. They’re all good numbers, and the Trust has to pay the bills on charges made to any of them.
“But the deal is that no one can track what the Trust is doing by putting a trace on a single number. It was particularly important with the courier, who made regular stops at all the hidden bases. Any statistical study of the courier’s spending patterns would point out a lot of detail about the location of the bases.”
Joe nodded. “But the numbers are good? No one is being cheated?”
Judith gestured affirmatively. “No fraud here. In fact, the Trust has been on a tight budget for the last couple of years. Daddy had to argue long and hard for the Lexus.”
Joe took the cash and checked into the motel as Joe Smith. He carried Bob Four inside, bundled in the motel’s bedspread. Sam Five was left in the car buried under the blanket.
“First dibs on the shower,” Judith claimed and dashed into the bathroom, locking the door behind her.
Bob looked around, and asked, “What is this device?” It was the television. Joe looked it over. It was a newer model than they used at the Railroad.
“You’ve been here since 1947 and you haven’t seen television?” Joe turned it on and told Bob how to work the remote. Bob settled into the cushioned chair and looked every inch the couch potato as he was glued to the set, soaking up the shows.
“I’ve heard of TV, of course, but we’ve been deliberately isolated. The Trust tried hard to filter what information we ‘Guests’ were given. There was no live television or radio. Magazines were okay, if they were checked beforehand by your censors. I’ve read lots of things about television and TV shows, but I’ve never had the opportunity to see for myself.”
He flipped the channel again. Bob’s large eyes never left the screen.
“While you’ve been our hosts, it’s always been clear that you were our jailers as well. It made my job a little harder.”
“What’s your job?” Joe hadn’t given it any thought. They were aliens, after all.
“Anthropology, of course. All of the Bobs are scientists, studying your culture. That was the whole purpose of our trip here.”
“What are the Sams?”
“They’re anthropologists, too, only from a different perspective. Sams are a hive culture. They look at alien cultures as a study in engineering. We Bobs look at culture as an art form.”
“And the Freds?”
“Um. Well, Freds are a little different.”
Just then, Judith came out of the bathroom, wrapped in towels and smiling. “Your turn, Joe. And use lots of soap. You’ve been a little ripe the past few hundred miles.”
He couldn’t argue, but walking past her, a vision in white terry cloth, with more bare shoulders and legs than he’d dreamed for, there was little to complain about.