Joe got into the car. “Thanks Dad, for coming to get me.” It had taken his father three hours to get here, and it would be at least that long getting back home. They would have plenty of time to talk.
His father’s face was grim. “Well, I’m listening.”
Joe had three hours to practice his next line.
“You know Dad, how you talk about how I should always go the extra mile for our guests. I think I’ve put in a couple of thousand miles on this job.”
There was no change on Abel’s face. After a few minutes, he said, “Granddad Jose is home from the hospital, but he and Grandma Mary don’t know anything about your escapade. I want to keep it that way.”
“Your Mother is a nervous wreck. I’m going to have a hard time forgetting what you’ve done to her. She had a father in the hospital and a runaway son to deal with, and it tore her up inside.”
“Apologize to her, not to me.”
The first hundred miles was difficult. Neither of them said much.
How can I tell him about the aliens? But nothing makes sense without them!
He also found out that he would need to explain to the State Police where he’d been.
Maybe the story of running off with Judith on a romantic whim is the best idea after all. She’d hate it, but what can I do?
But I can’t tell that lie to Dad.
Judith pulled into the Las Vegas Municipal Park, near the locomotive. Joe’s description of the place had been short and sparse, but the steam engine was distinctive.
Joe, I hope you know what you’re doing. His instructions had been hurried. Okay, I’m here. I’m waiting. Now what?
Joe acted as if he had a plan, but sitting in the park with the engine running, she felt like an open target. Interstate 25 was right over there, plainly visible. The park was at the intersection of two major streets in town, and there was a State Police patrol car in the gas station across the way.
At least, all eleven of her Guests were clear that their job was to stay out of sight. They had achieved something they’d thought impossible—to escape from the care of the Trust. It was critical that neither that escape, nor their greater goal of preventing harm to human culture, would be compromised.
Judith felt that weight heavy on her shoulders. She was here alone, the only human in the world who could hold it together. It wasn’t even something she could hand off to Daddy. A lot had changed over the past few days. Would he even understand why she’d acted against the Trust?
A few minutes later, a dark-skinned boy walked up and gestured for her to open her window. She flipped the latch and slid the glass aside.
“You are Judith?”
He grinned. “I’m Sandeep. Joe called and made a reservation for you. Follow me.”
He walked away. She put the RV into gear and crept along behind, up to the edge of the park. He waved and then jogged across the street and into the parking lot of a large motel, the Inn of the Valley. He turned back and waved her on.
She checked the traffic and pulled out onto the road and up the driveway into their parking lot. Sandeep was ahead of her, heading around behind the building.
Judith held her teeth tightly together. She could imagine that this could be a Trust ordered trap. Behind the motel, would be out of sight, where they could capture everyone without making it public.
But Joe had mentioned Sandeep’s name a couple of times. He was the other ‘motel kid’. She followed around the corner.
Sandeep was removing several orange traffic cones put out on the parking lot. A space had been reserved for her. She edged the vehicle into the space, backing up twice to get within the lines marking three regular parking slots. When she cut the engine, Sandeep came back to the window.
Judith waved to the other side. She went to the door to meet him.
He handed her a card key. “It’s a larger room, with extra beds and bedding. There will be no housekeeping calls. I’m not supposed to ask any questions, and Joe will take care of the bill. He also said that you were not supposed to use the telephone.” She nodded, not daring to use the talkie with a human who wasn’t expecting it. She could only smile.
“I’ll expect a good story from Joe when he gets into town.” He made a polite bow, and his face still in a grin, walked away. They were settled, and out of the public eye.
She tried to stop worrying about what Joe’s friend thought about her and concentrated on the job at hand.
Good, a big room, eleven aliens and one human is just too crowded in the RV.
Judith held a conference and shuttled the Bobs inside under a blanket, one by one. The Sams and Freds elected to stay in the RV with all the drapes and blinds secured.
Bob Four had the television turned on before she had a chance to sit down.
Watching the Bobs chatting and arguing over the television remote was entertaining for a few minutes, then she began to settle into depression.
Of them all, she was the only one alone.
“Nothing happened, really!” They had finally begun talking. It wasn’t fun.
“I just don’t understand you, son. If you really had nothing to hide, why didn’t you call? It was five days! Five days you’ve been with this girl. John Smith’s daughter!
“He called here, and I could tell how worried he was.”
Listening to his father, it did sound strange, but there was so much he didn’t know.
“You can always come to me for help, son, but I need the truth from you.”
Joe thought about that. He reached into his pocket. “Dad, I do need your help.”
He pulled out the talkie and turned it on. They were half way to Las Vegas. It was unlikely the Trust could detect them.
“This thing, Dad, is a universal translator for talking to aliens. They call it a talkie.” His Dad looked at him strangely. Joe knew the feeling. Dad could tell that he was telling the truth, even though the words were unbelievable.
It was after midnight when there came a knock on the motel door. Judith peeked out of the spy hole. Joe! He hurried inside and they closed the door. He looked over the collection of Bobs. Ten large eyes had looked his way and then turned back to the television show.
“Where are the others?”
She explained about the crowding.
“I should have predicted that. I’ve never seen the whole group together at one time.
“Did Sandeep handle the check-in okay?”
“Yes, but he’s really curious. What did you tell him?”
Joe smiled. “Last week, we’d argued about which were the most hospitable innkeepers. I just gave him the opportunity to take first bragging rights for the Hindus.”
He turned to the Bobs. “Everyone! My Dad is outside, waiting. I’ve told him a little of the truth. I had to do it. I’m a minor, legally under his control. For what we need to do next, we need his help.
“I’d like to introduce you to him, but I don’t want to do it without your permission.”
Judith asked, “How will he take it?”
“I’d trust him to be hospitable to anyone, no matter where they came from.”
Joe took her hand. “You know what people have been thinking about us?”
She blushed. “Not just your people either. Remind me to tell you what the Bobs thought.”
He frowned, but continued with his thought. “The only way I was able to convince Dad that I hadn’t... ah, you know... was to use the talkie.”
“Oh, no! You didn’t!”
He grinned. “You bet. And I had to explain what the gadget did, and why. You should have seen his face when we pulled off the side of the road and the cows came up to the fence line asking for food!
“Dad’s a little shaken, but I think he can handle a few aliens.”
The Bobs discussed it for a minute, and then invited him in.
Joe opened the door and waved to his father.
Abel Ferris stopped mid-stride at the sight, right in the doorway.
“Come on in, Dad. We need to keep the door shut.”
Joe made the introductions. “I would have put you all up at our motel, but the Trust knows my name and where I live. I just hope that they weren’t tapping the phone when I called Dad for help. I knew Sandeep would keep quiet, but we’ll have to come up with a story for him and his family soon.”
Abel asked, “Why are you all named Bob?”
Bob One gestured puzzlement with his little hands. “An unimaginative Major gave up trying to pronounce our species names when we first arrived and just assigned comfortable names. We don’t blame him. We can’t pronounce most of your words either.”
Abel nodded. “It’s happened to us humans as well.”
Joe asked the Bobs, “Are you guys still on with the plan to contact your space-ship?” It was strange to have his father sit in the background and let him take the lead.
Bob Four said, “Yes. I’ve been arguing that we should take over a TV transmitter, briefly and send our signal.”
Joe laughed. “You’re watching too many action movies. There are easier ways to get our message on the air.”
Judith nodded. “Right! There’s public access TV. Anyone can make a show and have it shown.”
Joe shook his head. “Never work. That’s cable. We need a broadcast station.”
“You’re right,” she admitted.
“But the basic idea is simple. Do we still have that video camera? Let’s make a television advertisement and pay to have it shown. Dad? Will you pay for it?”
Abel Ferris nodded, with no argument. For Joe, that was a private marvel.
“When’s the best time of day and how often do we need to show it?” The question was the first sign that Abel was paying attention, and not just bedazzled into silence.
Bob One said, “If I were lead investigator, I’d have an all band matrix running.”
“And what does that mean?”
Bob Four explained, “They’ll be recording all shows on the Earth simultaneously. Something like your computers will notice our message if it appears. They would react quickly.”