Carl unlocked the long-unused maintenance stairway with a brass key so old it had turned nearly black. It had taken them five minutes of rummaging in his father’s desk by the light of a Zippo lighter to find it.
“Get candles. There should be some in the house kitchen. I think there’s a hurricane lantern that probably works in the living room as well.” Two men nodded and headed up the stairs in the darkness.
Carl waved the rest of the team with him, as he took the steps downward. He needed to get to the apartment level. The pitch was steep; a circular stairway never intended for regular use. The emergency passageway hadn’t been opened since the construction days.
The door to the lowest floor was stiff. The lock worked, but the hinges had rusted shut. Carl called for a crowbar.
Once they were in, he began opening doors to the apartments.
Everyone was gone. The only one breathing on this level was the unconscious medical technician in Sam One’s room.
Carl fingered the dart they’d found in his neck. He held it to the light.
This isn’t human manufacture. He’d seen more alien artifacts than any man now alive, even a few his father had kept secret from his trusted aide Whitfield. It was a simple pointed shaft, ‘feathered’ with a transparently thin substance he knew Freds could grow from sludge.
He sighed. An escape then, not a kidnapping.
He’d resisted the idea. He’d shoved it into the back of his mind. Much better kidnappers. But this was too much evidence.
“Men. Begin looking for hidden doorways and tunnels. Take apart every room where Guests have stayed. Peel the walls back to the bare rock, if you have to.”
“Sir!” A man stumbled through the dim, flickering light, his hand on the wall. “Word from on top. Two guards chased them until their tires blew out. They have a good ID on the truck. There were two men and a girl.
He paused, and then added, “And the aliens were helping.”
He was half way back to the stairs when a worker yelled.
Carl paused to look at it. It was clearly old, and the work of a small race. How long had that been there?
As he reached the surface, vehicles were arriving. There was only one live cell phone among them. Anything electronic that went into the base shorted out. There was something in the air. Samuelson took possession of the phone and walked a few dozen yards away from the ranch house.
Carl tried to put an organized face on what was total chaos. In the whole fiasco, only one thing had gone right. Whitfield and his crew were still locked up tight. They’d been kept in a holding cell, not one of the apartments. And it had a mechanical-only door lock.
He gave more orders. They had to try to locate that blue pickup. They had to try to locate the Guests.
But there was turmoil in his head. All his life he’d believed the Trust and the Guests were working together for a common goal. They couldn’t go home again, and they were trying to make the best of it. The Trust was working to make their life better.
He’d trained a dozen new Trust agents over the years. The question had come up, time and time again. “How do we know they’re okay with being kept as prisoners? I’d go stir crazy.”
And he’d said, with total confidence, “So would I, but we’re dealing with non-humans here. They have their own sense of space and time. Maybe this stay means little to them. I know they have their own sense of ethics. Staying out of the public eye was their very first priority, even as their crewmembers were being pulled from the wreckage.”
He’d repeated the story his father had told him—all about the crash and how Sam One with his talkie had struggled to make it clear what needed to be done.
I believed it, too.
Now little items, like the protocol that separated the members of each race, and rules the kept certain kinds of information, like television, away from the aliens—how could those things reconcile with the paternalism he enforced. A paternalism he believed in an hour ago.
Samuelson began walking his way. Carl looked up, and his face lost all expression. He didn’t need to be told who was on the phone.
It was the doctor. His father had just died.
Joe parked the blue pickup at the address he’d found in Greg Anderson’s wallet. He hadn’t asked, but he suspected the man had been hit with rollback, in which case he’d wake up innocent.
But Joe’s mind puzzled over where to find a bus station. He had to get back to Las Vegas, where he’d sent the RV.
There was clean-up to do. He found the dart and carefully stowed it in his shirt pocket. In the back of the truck, he found the backpack Judith had used, and when he found a talkie inside in the bag, he made sure it was shut off.
Good thing I found it. They didn’t need to leave the pickup’s owner any mysteries when he woke up. He made sure the man was comfortable in the driver’s seat and shut the pickup door.
Inside, on the floor under the seat, a few sheets of paper fluttered. One turned over. On it, in clear printing was: “Rescuing aliens from secret base. Need your help. Please.” And then: “Rollback. Drug makes people forget.”
As Joe had driven south through town in Greg’s pickup, he’d been surprised that he didn’t see any alien tourist things.
Walking north at a much slower pace, the story was different. The McDonalds restaurant was built in the shape of a flying saucer. Arby’s had a big sign saying “Aliens Welcome”. There were even streetlights painted with large almond-shaped eyes to make them look like Bobs.
When he reached downtown, he walked through a two-block section that was deeply into aliens. There was a museum, several gift shops, and a variety of shops and clubs had adopted alien names and themes. Anything for a little additional tourist business, he supposed.
I wonder what’s in that museum. How much of it true? He paused only a few seconds to look at the posters at the front entrance.
One was advertising the “UFO Festival” with music acts, costume contests, and fireworks. The other had yellowed newspaper clippings from 1947, showing the stories of the event. There was the rancher complaining that he was sorry he’d ever reported the incident, as well as photos of men in uniforms smiling over what looked like a broken kite made from shiny foil—the famous weather balloon.
One of the men in the background of the photo looked a lot like that fake FBI man, Carl Morris, but there was no caption telling who the people were.
Could that be his father?
From what he’d learned about the Trust, they’d kept pretty much hands off, once the Roswell crash mythology had taken on a life of its own. They weren’t about to correct any mistakes, and it would even be dangerous to get too much into disinformation. But it was reasonable that the people who made the discovery might still be in charge, or at least their descendants.
He kept on walking. A few blocks more, he shook his head. There was a pay phone.
There was no reason to delay any longer. He walked up to the phone and fed in the coins.
“Railroad Motel. How can we help you?”
“Dad, could you send me bus ticket money?”
Frederica sat in the passenger seat. None of the others dared come up front with her. The time for the “Roswell or Bust!” signs was gone. They had to stay out of sight.
“Sams One is still weak, but he has woken.”
Judith shook her head. “I can’t believe the Trust would have done that.”
“The evidence is clear. After the 1968 incident where the other triad died, the Sams had to take action. Humans aren’t the first species to discover the unique characteristics of Sam biology. Others had considered imprisoning them and harvesting them to produce longevity medicines. For thousands of years, the Sams have had to deal with the issue. Modifying their pods to include elements poisonous to human biology is an efficient method of protecting themselves.”
Judith nodded. “Monarch butterflies. They do the same thing—make themselves bitter to the birds that would feed on them.”
She listened to the chatter behind her. All five Bobs and two of the Sams were together and a lively debate raged. She could hardly keep track of which subject was which. The main thread seemed to be how to present their findings to their fellow scientists, once they were reunited with their people.
Judith said, “Everyone expects the rescue ship to come.”
Frederica said, “Yes. What is the point of believing otherwise? My children will not grow up sane and intelligent if they are deprived of the...” there was a squawk of an untranslatable concept, “... that they can only have among our kind. If we are captured by the Trust again, then there will be years of imprisonment during which we can contemplate our failure. For now, we must contemplate success.”
Bob Four said, “What we need to do is capture a television station. We could send our call for rescue, and hold the humans as hostages until the ship arrives.”
Sam Five disagreed. “We do not believe that is viable. Many could be hurt. Plus our existence on this planet would be revealed, a significant disruptive influence on their culture.”
“We have to find some way to alert the ship of our existence. Can the Freds build a suitable transmitter for the VLA antennas we saw yesterday?”
“I still say that’ll never work. An array like that would tightly aim the signal to a degree or less. We wouldn’t know where to aim it. We need a broadcast signal.”
Judith was passed by another car, and she gave it a good hard look. Just an ordinary car. Just as ordinary as their RV was, she hoped.