Joe’s expectations kept changing as they drove through Utah. Salt Lake City was a desert place, wasn’t it—salty water, bare soil. That’s what he’d always believed. But the place turned out to be more city than desert, the biggest city Joe had ever seen. Leaving Interstate 80 and joining 15, he had to pay strict attention to the high volume traffic. By the time he was able to play with the map screen, the Great Salt Lake was long gone—their route had kept them well to the southeast of it.
No time to play tourist. Joe tried to stay content with that. Next time, I’ll see it.
This was the second time today he’d had major regrets about their route. Shortly after they left the motel, while they’d still been in Wyoming, he’d seen the highway sign that marked the way to Yellowstone. Just a little detour to the north, and one of his long time dreams would come true. But this wasn’t the right time. It wasn’t the right trip to be a tourist.
But then, as the city and the highway kept going south for mile after mile, he started worrying.
“Is the Santaquin Base in the city?”
“No, not much. We’ll get to the farmland soon enough.”
Farmland? The highway followed the base of a mountain range. It looked higher and steeper than he was used to. It didn’t appear like there were any foothills to separate the lowlands from the peaks. Up high, he could see patches of snow. That’s right, they had a Winter Olympics around here at one time, didn’t they. Snow meant spring runoff. He shrugged. Water meant crops.
Finally, he saw the exit that the map screen recommended and they pulled off into the small town. The change from urban to rural had happened quickly. Santaquin was a comfortable size for a small town. He approved.
There were two of the tall white spires he’d seen all the way down through Utah. Did the Mormon Church have a standard building design? If they did, why were there two of them just a couple of blocks apart. As they drove past, he saw enough to confirm that it was Latter Day Saints, but no details to answer his questions.
As Judith predicted, Santaquin was cropland. She directed him through a quiet neighborhood of small houses with lots of trees.
They parked at the edge of the town, next to a thick grove of sour cherry trees.
Judith explained, “We need to smuggle Sam Five into the Kingman base so Sam Four can do what needs to be done, and the only way we can do that is by hiding him inside a shipping crate. Luckily, Daddy ships crates back and forth between Santaquin and Kingman for the Trust all the time.”
“And you think you can just walk in? After the escape at Rock Springs, won’t they be on high alert?”
Bob Four pushed back his straw hat and said, “That’s why I sneak in first. It’s not certain that the Trust will have alerted the other bases. The Trust has split into at least two factions. Whitfield’s side drugged Duke and Judith. It’s not the Trust’s habit to tell one base what’s happened at another. I need to talk to Bob One and find out whether they have gone on alert or not.”
Joe had no better idea. At least Judith and Bob were on the same page. The best he could do was follow.
Bob Four slipped out of his red Hawaiian shirt and straw hat and opened the side door. Joe watched the street, but they were protected by the trees.
He kept low, his gray skin blending with the pile of old concrete rubble. Bob slipped between the cracks in the pile and vanished out of sight.
Joe shook his head. “This’ll never work.”
She signed, staring at the spot where he’d gone underground, “We don’t have much choice. We have to get the Sams together or they’ll die, and we can’t trust the Trust to do the right thing. It was criminal to try to steal their pod.”
“You can’t just walk in there, no matter what. It’ll be a trap.”
“You don’t understand, Joe. The Trust isn’t like the movies. There aren’t thousands of agents using the latest technology and monitoring everything. Maybe it was like that back in 1947, but our Guests haven’t tried to escape in all this time. They realized early on that the Trust was there to protect them. When government funding dried up, the Trust stopped recruiting. I’d say half are retirement age, and the other half are their kids. I would have been a third generation Trust agent. Rock Springs only has three agents. Same with Santaquin.
“Secrecy is an act of faith. If you can believe it. If you can act as if everything’s contained, you’re less likely to doubt and mess up. It would be out of character to put the whole Trust on alert.”
Joe followed her worried look at the concrete pile. “The aliens never escaped? Then why do they have these escape tunnels? And why would the Trust let them have such things?”
She shrugged. “The Trust doesn’t know about them. When I heard you talk to Bob about tunnels this morning, I was stunned.”
“So we’re working with aliens that have their own secrets?” Joe was amused, not that he’d say so out loud. These Trust people were having their own penchant for secrets turned back on them.
“I know, it worries me too. It worries me more that Bob Four didn’t try to conceal the tunnels from us.”
Joe kept watch for locals. This was a small town. From the looks of it, a lot of the people worked for the company that owned these extensive orchards. The closest large building was the shipping and packing facility.
Maybe Judith didn’t realize it, but their dented Lexus must stick out, parked here next to the trees. It was a good bet someone was watching from that row of houses across the street. Even if these people were used to a weekly visit by John Smith in his Lexus, they were acting out of character by parking here.
“Joe.” He followed her gaze.
Bob’s hand was waving from the rock pile. He gestured. The talkie translated, “Come to the door, both of you.”
Judith took in a sharp breath, a pleased glow on her face. “Bob Four knows finger-spell!”
Joe felt a brief stab of jealousy.
Cautiously, Joe drove the car into the driveway of the very normal looking brick-frame farmhouse. There were flowers in the garden and bird feeders on the porch.
Judith got out first and walked up to the door. It opened before she reached for the knob. She looked inside and waved for Joe to join her. Joe left the key in the ignition slot, ready to go. He went in.
Like the Bekker ranch, the above ground rooms of the house looked perfectly normal. They were waiting for him in the pantry. There was a familiar looking elevator to the underground levels.
Judith was flanked by two Bobs. Only the dirt and the Bermuda shorts told him which was which. Bob Four pressed B1. There was also a B2.
“You are a non-Trust human?” asked Bob One. “I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t in the Trust.”
“Yeah, I’m just along for the ride. What’s going on?”
Bob Four said, “They were alerted. Carl Morris himself sent out a warning that an attempt had been made to kidnap Guests, that’s us, and ordered them to send a message to headquarters before letting anyone in, even known Trust members. Whitfield was specifically mentioned. There was a list of people specifically banned from the base, even if they had the right codes.”
“So what happened?” The elevator door opened.
Bob Four pointed to the security office where a man was sleeping.
“We need your help.” Bob One said. “We’re not very strong and humans are heavy.”
“Aunt Billie!” Judith rushed up to the heavy-set woman lying in the corridor.
“She’s okay,” said Bob One.
The Bobs looked at each other. Bob Four admitted, “I raided the drug cabinet at Rock Springs. I have a small stash of rollback. I used it. Aunt Billie surprised me. Once I had her pass, I was able to surprise Effer in the office.”
“Now what?” Joe asked as he helped Judith carry Aunt Billie back up to the Security room and positioned her comfortably in her chair. Aunt Billie was a hefty woman. He could see why the Bobs hadn’t tried to move her.
Bob One said, “Now we all leave.”
Judith frowned. “What? We’re just here for a shipment of sludge.”
Bob Four shrugged, “Change of plans. Now that the Trust knows we’re out, we have a limited window of time before they track us down, and there will never be another chance to get free. You saw our tunnels. Escape was always an option, but we’ve waited decades for just the right opportunity. It’s now or never. I vote now.”
Bob One said, “So do I, and so does Fred Four.”
The burgundy-red, round footstool that Joe was standing beside suddenly walked toward the door. Joe jumped.
Judith nodded toward it. “Joe, meet Fred Four. He listens, just don’t expect him to talk.”