“There are more features to the talkie than humans know. You can sense another talkie in range, but we are able to communicate over that link.”
Joe was intensely aware that Judith had unconsciously gripped his hand as they listened. By the grip, it was clear that she was frightened by how much the Trust had been fooled.
“We’ve talked with Bob Seven and Fred Two. Sam Four is comatose just like Sam Five, which is what we had expected. The idea of knocking at the front door with a crate of sludge wouldn’t have worked. There are five Trust agents at the Kingman base, armed and expecting an attack. They’ve been alerted to our presence by the talkie and the base is locked down. They’ve reported the fact to Trust headquarters, so we can expect reinforcements as soon as a plane can arrive. We don’t have much time.”
Joe asked, “What can we do?”
“Drive up to the base. We have more resources than you believe.”
Joe sighed and reluctantly pulled his hand from her grip. He strapped the seatbelt.
“Get ready to move!” Everyone moved to a seat. They drove into the town of Kingman.
Judith pointed to Highway 20. “Go north a few miles.”
The town artery gradually dwindled into a two lane rural road.
“Here.” She pointed.
There were several modern houses, each on two or three acres. Joe pulled to a stop on the shoulder, as close as he could get to the loose pile of stones, each eight to ten feet tall. A cedar tree grew up in the gaps between the rocks.
“Judith and Joe, be ready at the front door when I signal.” Bob Four slipped out the door. This wasn’t a ranch house out in the country. The town had grown and the base had been surrounded by houses. Bob Four had the pre-dawn darkness, but there were streetlights. He crept up to the tunnel entrance next to the cedar tree and waited. Joe turned off the engine. They waited in the darkness.
Inside the base, the agent watching the security monitors noticed headlights that slowed and went dark. He called out, “We may have something here.”
Down below, in Fred Two’s quarters, an agent babysat the non-humanoid alien, resting in a chair, reading People magazine. Suddenly, the reading lamp flashed, and he slumped, motionless.
Fred Two, three feet away, settled into an inert lump on the floor. Everyone, human or alien, in the Kingman base, collapsed.
Bob Four signaled to the humans and vanished underground.
Joe whispered to Judith, “Okay, I wish I knew what we’re up to, but here we go.” He opened the side door to the RV and everyone but Sam Five left under the cover of darkness.
The humans ran up to the door. Judith used her card on the hidden lock, but nothing happened. “This should work.”
“What do we do now?”
Joe waved. Bob One and Fred Four hurried over.
“The door lock won’t open.”
“Let Fred Four work on it.”
The mobile footstool extended delicate tentacles and fished into the crack. Shortly, there was a click, and the door opened. They went in.
Three men in the blacked-out security office were slumped at their stations. Joe checked the first one’s pulse. “He’s okay.” He looked at Judith. “Did they get rollbacked?”
“I don’t know.” Fred Four worked on the controls and shortly, consoles lit up. Just then the elevator motors started.
Bob Four arrived. “Everyone is unconscious. Joe, Judith, we need your muscles.”
Bob One stayed put, but everyone else went down into the apartment level. Judith picked up the unconscious Bob Seven and headed back to the elevator.
Joe picked up Fred Two, carefully. Collapsed, the red mass was very heavy and hard to carry—and he was frightened he would squeeze something wrong. He was waiting for the elevator when Fred Four walked up and extended its tentacles, lifting Fred Two out of his arms.
“Thank you.” He turned back and found Bob Four extracting Sam Four from its cage.
“Take him to the RV and then come back here. There are a few pieces of equipment we’ll need to take, too. And hurry. We don’t have much time.”
Joe felt a little queasy with the insectoid, but he put it out of his mind. He met Judith as the elevator opened. “Bob Four has more stuff to carry.”
At the RV, he passed the Sam to Bob One and headed back. Judith was already loaded with a set of metal rods.
“Take these.” She headed back into Fred Two’s room and returned with a couple of boxes. They went up in the elevator together.
Joe asked, “Should we take their talkie?”
Bob Four shook his head. “No time to find it. They’re already starting to stir. Get out.” He went into the control room and flipped a circuit breaker. Everything went dark.
Joe was the last one out, and looked around the RV, taking a head count before closing the door.
As planned, Judith settled into the driver seat, adjusted the steering wheel and pulled the RV into the driveway to turn around. She backed out onto the road, bouncing through the soft shoulder, but that couldn’t be helped. It was tight quarters. She headed for the highway.
“Three bases down, two to go.”
Samuelson rushed into Carl Morris’s office, not waiting for acknowledgement.
“Whitfield is in Roswell. We just located Valet. It’s at Roswell Industrial Air Park. According to the mechanic, it must have landed late yesterday.”
Carl was on the phone. He put it down. “Kingman’s been hit. All of our people were knocked unconscious and the Guests removed.”
He tapped the Santaquin number. “Blake, what’s the score?”
As Samuelson listened, Carl’s face didn’t change. It was already an uncompromising frown.
“Kingman has been cleaned out, too. Get back here.” He looked over the map. None of the bases were marked, except in his head.
“Samuelson, activate the phone tree. Call everyone. Have each report to their usual base and wait for orders. Get a response report. Find out who can’t be found.
“It had to be an inside job. Whitfield is involved, but how much of the organization is compromised? He couldn’t have arrived in Roswell and participated in the Kingman attack at the same time.”
Samuelson nodded and rushed out.
Joe was tired from the driving, and the excitement of their raid had faded fast. He wanted to go back and crash out on the bed, but it was taken. Both Sams were laid out side by side on the bed and the Bobs were positioning them.
“What’s going on?” Bob One put his finger in the shushing gesture, which looked odd. The other two Bobs pushed at the abdomens of the Sams, and a cavity opened in each of the insectoids.
Joe shuddered. It looked totally unnatural, even on giant bugs. From one of the Sams—Joe couldn’t tell them apart—a pale blue pod protruded. Bob Four gently pulled it out. From the other, another appeared, but it was a darker blue. The Bobs exchanged the pods and pushed them back into the insectoid bodies. In a fashion that strangely reminded Joe of a videotape being swallowed by the player, the pods vanished and the cavities closed off tightly.
Wordlessly, or at least to Joe’s ears, the Bobs worked in easy cooperation to strip the sheets from the bed. They folded them into a foot wide band and struggled to tuck the ends under the mattress.
“Hey, let me do that. I’m practiced.”
With an economy of motion, Joe tucked the band snug under the mattress. The Sams should be secure against the motion of the RV.
Bob One tugged Joe’s arm and closed the door connecting after them. “Sams have to exchange their pods to live. All we can do now is hope that we were in time. It really takes all three to do the exchange properly. We’ll swap them again, once we have Sam One.”
Joe nodded, “One last question, before I have to get some sleep. How were the Kingman people knocked out?”
“Fred Two did it. The Freds are very clever. Over a period of several years, a chemical has been released into the air and it penetrated throughout the base, collecting undetectably on every surface.”
Joe nodded, struggling to contain a yawn. He was familiar with cigarette smoke gradually staining the walls in the smoking rooms. He stretched out on the couch. “Go on.”
“On signal, a high intensity electromagnetic pulse was triggered, which caused the chemical to decompose into a fast-acting knock-out gas.”
“Wow.” He marveled at both the expertise and patience it had required. The aliens had been planning their escape for a long time. He looked around.
“Where are the Freds?”
Bob One paused before answering. “They’re in the closet, resting.”
Kenneth Winston, aka John Smith, picked up the new cell phone with his good arm. The old phone was destroyed, smashed when it hit something hard during the accident. He’d walked into the cell phone store a couple of blocks from his hotel room in downtown Taos, arm in a sling, and purchased a new one with the same number. He just hoped Judith would call soon. There’d been no messages on the home answering machine, and he knew that she’d have no way to leave a message with anyone else. No one would understand her tapping code.
I just hope Joe Ferris was able to find her. He toyed with the idea of calling the boy’s motel, but that would be awkward. He was limited in what he could do. Judith had taken the credit card and the car. What cash he had left was barely enough to rent a room and eat. He’d charged the new phone purchase on his regular phone bill.
The phone rang. He fumbled the slide open with one hand.
“Yes?” Habit kept him from spilling out questions, even though only Judith and one other person knew this number.
The caller id reported “Out of Area”.
“This is an automated message brought to you by the American Red Cross. Have you considered becoming a blood donor today? Please call your local Red Cross office and learn how you can help save lives.”
He recognized her voice. It was his control. The code phrase ordered him to pass the same command to anyone below him, report his current location to a memorized anonymous voicemail number, and then report to his standard work location as soon as possible.
Well, the only one under him was Judith, and he had no way to contact her, and no way to get back to his Roswell check-in point. Should he call in and report his situation?
He only had two choices. He could drop out of sight, preferably as soon as he connected back up with his daughter, and go into hiding. The Trust wasn’t as powerful as it had been in his youth. He could vanish where they couldn’t find him.
Or else, he could do as he was told.