Joe awoke with a headache. He blinked and stretched his arms. His left shoulder ached too. What had he done? Where was he?
The events up through the sting of a dart came rushing back. At least it wasn’t rollback. I wouldn’t have remembered getting shot.
The room wasn’t a motel room. He blinked his eyes clear. It was a Trust base ‘Guest apartment’. It smelled musty, long unused. It desperately needed to be wiped free of dust and the carpet needed to be steam cleaned.
He rolled out of the bed. It needs a new mattress. The door was unyielding in his hand. Locked.
Painted to match the walls, a security camera was looking down at him. Joe waved at it.
Two minutes later, he heard noises outside the door. He stood. Two agents in orange hazardous-material protective gear, complete with breathing helmets, came into the room. It was a man and a woman.
He laughed. “Hey, you’re the guys who drugged me. I hardly think the protective gear is necessary.”
“Come with us.” The man didn’t think it was funny. The woman looked at him as if he was the strangest thing she’d ever seen. Considering who was likely in the other apartments in this base, he was a little insulted.
This was a much larger base than the other three that he’d seen. There were twenty or so apartments and more floors on the elevator buttons. It had to be Roswell Base.
Well, I always wanted to see Roswell.
He was led into an office, and a familiar face nodded at him.
“Oh, it’s you. And this time I know you’re not FBI.”
Carl Morris tapped his fingers on the clean desk. “You may leave him.” His escort left and closed the door.
“I’m surprised you aren’t wearing a gas mask, too.”
“We don’t have protective gear for everyone, but considering what’s happened elsewhere, it makes sense to rotate the annoyance around. I’ll get my turn soon enough.”
Joe could read his worry. The talkie was on. It was to be another assisted interrogation. But two could play that game.
It was a dangerous position. This was a secret organization and if they wanted him to vanish forever, they could do it. Should he play dumb and hope they’d lose interest in him, or should he keep trying to help the aliens?
I’m just trying to be the Good Samaritan here.
He remembered the Good Samaritan story, and how the hero went far beyond what anyone expected. Okay, there’s no way to back out now. Go for it.
Joe pulled up a chair, not waiting for an invitation.
“So, have you killed Sam One yet, or are you just waiting out his coma?” He was rewarded by seeing shock and confusion on Carl Morris’s face.
“What are you talking about?”
Whitfield exchanged a hand gesture with a guard watching the security camera monitors that scanned the lower levels of Roswell Base.
The guard surreptitiously reached over and flipped a large red switch to the down position. Whitfield nodded and carried his leather bowling ball bag to the elevator and entered, pressing the button for the lowest floor. The elevator moved immediately, although he hadn’t touched the security keypad.
Samuelson opened the door, interrupting the boy’s interrogation.
“Whitfield is in the building.”
Carl was on his feet. The boy could wait.
“Where is he?”
“In the elevator. The guard let him through.”
Carl had put guards on the guards. It was bitter to be right.
He looked at the boy. “Stay put!”
Out in the hall, he slapped the door lock switch.
His specially trusted guards were already at the elevator and had frozen Whitfield’s downward progress.
“Bring him up.” They overrode the controls. The instant the door opened, guards quickly overpowered the man. Carl accompanied them to a nearby guard station.
“All right! I’ll have answers now. What have you done to Sam One and where are you keeping the other Guests?”
Joe heard the man’s command, but as soon as the door slammed shut, he was up. He wasn’t in the mood to blindly follow anyone’s orders right now.
He tested the door, and it wasn’t locked. Opening it just a crack, he watched the tussle down by the elevator. He waited until the shouting started down the hall, behind a different door.
Joe quietly slipped down the corridor, staying out of sight. The elevator opened at his touch. Could he make it to the top floor and past the guard station? Only if they were all engrossed in questioning that other man.
On the floor was a leather bag. What’s a bowling bag doing here? If it was left by the other intruder, then the guards would be back for it any second.
Joe picked it up. Something was inside. Unzipping it, his eyes opened wide. A Sam’s pod! It was just like the ones he’d seen exchanged in the RV, except this one was so pale, it was hardly blue at all. What was it doing here?
It needs to be inside Sam One. That’s clear. That’s what the Bobs said.
That decided him. He hesitated when he saw the keypad that looked like it controlled access to the apartment level. He pressed the button anyway, and the elevator moved. For some reason, the security locks were disabled.
That could be useful.
Whitfield sneered, “I would never put a Guest at risk unless it was absolutely necessary.”
“What’s happened to Sam One?”
The older man looked at the guards. “I’ll speak to you only.”
Carl waved the others back to their posts.
Whitfield struggled with himself and then said, “You were just an apprentice when we discovered the secret of the Sams’ pods. After that disaster, we erased all the evidence and took steps to see that no more experimentation would be done at the risk of the Guests’ lives.”
Carl was shocked. He put out a hand to the wall. In a low voice, he asked, “What did you do?”
Whitfield shifted in his seat. He straightened up and eyed Carl with an appraising eye.
“Back in the sixties, you were just a teenager—too young to be granted access to the exobiology reports, weren’t you? You were with the accountants, weren’t you—always off talking to Dow Chemical or Du Pont.”
Carl said nothing. That had been his first real assignment for the Trust, in a good suit, acting as if he were in his twenties. The government money had been drying up then, and their team had saved the Trust from shriveling up and collapsing. Besides, those actions were orchestrated by Luke Morris anyway. He had been a soldier, not the general.
“What’s your point, Whitfield?”
The man’s eyes lit up with enthusiasm.
“That’s when we discovered the Sams’ secret.”
“My group had been running tests on all aspects of the aliens’ biology. By separating the Sam triads, it gave us an opportunity to be in the middle of their pod exchanges. It gave us the opportunity to take a good hard look at one of those pods, without the Sams being aware of it.
“We used all the best technology of the day, all non-invasive, to find out what a pod was, and why it was so important to the Sams.”
Carl was putting some facts together himself, but schooled himself to listen first before he reacted.
“What did you find out?”
Whitfield leaned forward, gesturing with his hands for emphasis.
“Those pods aren’t part of the Sams. They aren’t a growth. They’re machines.”
“What do you mean, machines?”
“Oh, it’s incredibly sophisticated, no doubt about that. And they’re modeled after something, probably a Sam egg. If Sams are a hive insect, then they could be something like our ants, where the vast bulk of the population are non-fertile female workers.
“Sams aren’t ants, of course. But all of ours have the pod cavity, and I think they’re all morphologically females with the ability to carry an egg internally.
“But we know that all of our aliens are long-lived, and the Sams live the longest of them all.
“My group found out why.”
Whitfield leaned back, radiating satisfaction.
Carl knew he was just waiting to be asked, and information was more important than making Whitfield sweat.
“Okay, what did you discover?”
Whitfield nodded once. “The Sams are ancient. They’re a much older species than the Bobs or the Freds. We hadn’t thought so at first, given the claw-like hands, but that was just a superficial trait in a race that has stopped evolving, probably by choice.
“Somewhere in their history, they invented the pods. It works like this, we think:
“Newly hatched Sams grow in a hive, do their work, carry a queen Sam’s eggs to term and contribute to the species normally. But then, when they reach a certain age, three individuals separate and become their own mini-hive, a triad. They are given pods that must be rotated periodically. The pods monitor their physical health, among other things. Like a miniature chemical factory, the pods detect poisons in the system, and secrete the necessary correcting factors.
“Think of it! Normal Sams without pods probably grow old and die. That’s what happens in all species when they can no longer contribute to the propagation of the line. But an intelligent species would reach a population explosion as they tamed their environment. For the Sams, the eggs probably kept them alive, but to live longer risked overpopulation with too many eggs being developed.
“Sams with pods could live as long as the pods could cope with whatever biochemical defects that appeared.
“And we know that Sams can live a very long time.”
Carl nodded. “I can believe it. But this doesn’t explain what you’re doing now. You say you discovered all this in the sixties? All very interesting, but what did you do? A triad died back then, didn’t it? You messed up and killed our Guests.”
Whitfield didn’t meet his eyes. He nodded.
“It was a mistake. We were trying to learn how the pod did its magic. Was there a template for a standard Sam encoded in the pod, or was it more sophisticated? Could it actually read the host’s DNA and diagnose problems from that?
“So, we injected a trace of human DNA—a blood sample—into the pod, and checked to see what it would do. Would it treat the human DNA as a contaminant and remove it, or would it diagnose that DNA as well?”
Carl gripped the edge of his table. “What an incredibly dangerous thing to do! The Sams lives depend on those pods!”
Whitfield nodded. “Yes. I see that, now. But at the time, I thought we were staying within safe boundary lines.
“And it worked, Carl! The pod began producing a series of chemicals, enzymes, hormones—who knows what all. It had found errors in the human blood and produced the remedy to fix them.”
Carl felt a chill. “How do you know?”
“I tried it. It was my blood. I took the altered serum and injected myself with it.
“It corrected a dozen problems I was aware of; diabetes, blood pressure, etc.—as well as many that I’ve never been able to track down.
“Look at me. I’m 87 years old and fitter than you are. I have energy that puts my men to shame.”
He held up his finger. “One treatment, Carl. One treatment, years ago, and I know it’s lengthened my life and kept me relatively disease free for decades.”
“At the cost of a triad of Sams. Three lives for one.”
Whitfield shook his head.
“There was a mistake. The human cells contaminated the pod. When it was returned to the Sams, it set off a massive allergic reaction. Then when one died, the other two followed quickly.”
“And in spite of that, you wanted another dose of immortality?” Carl couldn’t contain his contempt.
“No! Not for me! It’s for your father!”
Joe found the door to Sam One’s apartment. It was not like the others. This room had been converted into a hospital room. Sam One lay on a bed, with diagnostic machines connecting to him. None of the machines made sense. They were designed to monitor Sam life signs, not a human’s.
Carefully, he duplicated the motions he had seen on the RV, triggering Sam One’s body to open up the pod sack. One of the diagnostic machines changed its beep to an alert tone. Hurriedly, Joe inserted the pod and Sam One’s body closed around it. The alert tone increased in loudness, and others chimed in.
An intercom called, “Is there anyone in this room? Stay put, we’ll be right there.”
The noises frightened him. What was happening to Sam One?