Friday, November 30, 2012

Roswell or Bust - Part 22 of 43

© 2008 by Henry Melton

Everyone in the plane felt the talkie come on during take-off and then stop a minute later. Carl yelled at the pilot. “Circle the town!”
BellBoy had just taken off, and it had to have been dumb luck to be close enough to have sensed the missing talkie.
Whitfield doesn’t have it? Then why was he here?
It was important to track it down. Perhaps more important than trying to chase him back to Roswell. There had been thirteen talkies originally, taken from aliens that had survived the crash back in 1947. But repeated efforts by Whitfield’s team to understand the technology had cost them too many of the units. Winston knew about them, of course. As the courier, he regularly rotated the three free units among the five bases so that their special Guests would feel less like prisoners when they were given periodic visitation times among the others at their base.
They were imprisoned, of course. No one was deluded there. Even as the injured and traumatized alien scientists had been taken from their wrecked spacecraft, they had insisted that their presence be kept secret. They had come to study the humans of Earth, not to destroy our culture by contaminating humanity’s view of itself and its world.
Carl held the talkie in his hand, staring out the window as the plane banked over and headed in the direction of the Boar’s Tooth rock pinnacle visible far to the north. Once they passed the ranch, they continued to turn in a broad circle of the town. If the talkie was still turned on, they should pick it up.
By the time they were headed south again, Carl knew it was hopeless.
I need more men. With the talkie turned off, the only way to find it was to find the person who had it. He dared not risk letting his talkie out of his possession, not now.
“Head back to Roswell Base.”
He hadn’t the resources to pursue it. The Trust had been rotting away since before he’d taken it over. It was starving.
President Truman had been notified of the crash in 1947, and the Trust was established under his authority. But Eisenhower was only told part of the truth; that a crash had happened. He never knew there were survivors.
When, after years of effort, no one was able to make the alien technology work, the story was buried even deeper. Nixon knew a little of it, but no president after him knew anything. The Trust dropped entirely out of the government and had become an entity unto itself. The only connections left were a few ancient memos left in the FBI, and the military, ordering that aid be given to anyone with the right code phrase, with no questions to be asked.
Luke Morris shaped the organization, using deep Cold War paranoia as its guideline. No one knew more than a little bit of the secret. Even the fact there were five bases was restricted to just a few. Carl knew, and his personal assistants, and of course his father and his personal assistant, Whitfield. There were few others.
Kenneth Winston, like his father before him, knew more than most. A typical member of the Trust knew only about a home base and was kept in the dark about all the others. If Kenneth Winston had to be replaced, Carl would have to train a new courier personally.
There were no Truman Trust training manuals. There were no records—nothing that could be leaked. There were no video tapes of the aliens to tempt a hungry worker into peddling secrets to the magazines. The Trust had always relied on trustworthy, personal contact. That had worked well, until the rot began.
Luke Morris began training him as a replacement from birth. Carl had been born in 1949 and had always known he was part of something special. The Trust was a protector—a protector of the stranded aliens, as Guests on our planet. And a protector of humanity from the destabilizing news that there had been visitors from the stars. His father’s vision formed the organization.
Under his leadership, the aliens had been treated reasonably well. In spite of considerable pressure at the beginning, none had been killed or tortured for their knowledge. There had been bodies enough from the crash site to dissect, and although they seemed very long lived, some aliens succumbed to age after a while, enough to keep the exobiology medical research going for decades.
Their alien Guests had cooperated, much more than humans would have in their place. They had the patience for years of imprisonment, and took their restrictions with no complaint.
The Trust had begun well, with high ideals, and good people. When it became clear that due to the longevity of the aliens, the Trust had to last not just many decades, but possibly many lifetimes, many workers began training their own children to replace them. It should have lasted.
Carl watched the land below grow indistinct as the plane gained altitude. His own way had become unclear. He suspected he knew what was wrong, but not how to fix it.
Money caused this rot. It was easy for people with resources to be patient. My belt-tightening efforts were necessary. But they might have been the spur that triggered the defections. It was certainly a burr under Whitfield’s blanket.
Fifty miles down the road, Joe felt confident enough to turn the talkie back on.
“Call me Bob Four. There are others of my species you are likely to meet.”
“Oh, how many are there of you?”
“Five remain, I hope. I haven’t seen any other Bob in many years.”
The alien fingers reached up to the car’s map screen and began tapping through all the options. He was checking all the screens and checking all the variations. Joe had been wanting to do that too, but hadn’t had the time.
Bob Four said, “The Trust has been honest with us for many years, although there are disturbing developments recently.”
“Like what?”
“There is only one triad of Sam left. This imprisonment has been the hardest on the Sams. They are a hive species, and the Trust’s policy of keeping us as separate as possible from others of our kind has placed extraordinary psychological and physiological stress on them.
“There had been three triads on the ship. One individual died in the crash, and the other two of his triad could not survive long. Some years ago, there was another problem with an exchange, and the second triad died.”
“Yes, you saw the pod?”
“No. Judith was careful to keep all this alien stuff out of sight. What was it?”
Bob Four zoomed the map out until all of North America was visible.
“I don’t know, exactly. But a Sam triad exchanges these pods regularly, and it is the key to their vitality. Triads have lived thousands of years if nothing disturbs the exchange. The Trust has never quite understood how important it is to them.”
“They’ve been told?”
“Of course. We’ve told the Trust many things over the past few decades. Some they believe, some they don’t. And now it is happening again. The Sams’ exchange has been delayed, and if what Judith said is accurate, some members of the Trust have been actively trying to prevent it. If they succeed, the last Sams on Earth will die.”
“That would be a shame.”
“It would be worse than that.”
“What do you mean?”
But Bob Four declined to talk about it any more. He climbed back under the covers and slept.
Duke Seager lifted his head from his desk, a little groggy from his nap.
Ring! He picked up the phone. “Hello, Bekker Ranch. This is Duke speaking.”
“Hello, Duke.” The voice was faint, with a lot of background noise. But Duke recognized it at once.
“Yes, Boss. What can I do for you?”
“How are things going there at the ranch?”
Duke was puzzled. Nothing new came to mind. “It’s pretty tame here, Boss.”
“No problems? No visitors?”
He laughed, “No, Boss. There hasn’t been as much as a new prairie dog mound in the place. Unless you want to talk about the new television shows?”
There was a pause.
“Duke, I know you’re due to have a few days off, but I’d like you to walk the fences once more before you do. Could you do that for me?”
“Yes, Boss. Certainly.”
“Good. Call me at home once you’re done.”
Duke hung up the phone with a puzzled look on his face. Why in the world would Carl Morris call him to do an extra bed check for his basement Guests?
There was noise from the back seat. Joe leaned to see Judith in the rear view mirror. He adjusted it so he could see her easier. She was stretching, just waking up. She saw his face and smiled.
“What time is it?” The talkie put a little slur into her artificial voice. She looked outside, trying to understand why it appeared to be afternoon. “I should probably be driving.”
“It’s okay. I think I’ll drive for a while. The drugs and all, you know.”
“Joe Ferris! I just told you we weren’t shipping drugs.”
Just told me? That was early this morning.
“Not that! Your drugs. The ones that knocked you out.”
She started to get angry. “What in the world are you talking about?”
“You were drugged. You’ve been unconscious for hours.”
From his view in the mirror, she looked at him as if he were crazy.
Then, the blanket began to move. Bob Four pulled it aside and said, “It’s true, Judith.”
Joe suspected there was no sign language gesture for a shriek, but the talkie found something it interpreted that way.
“Bob! How did you get here? Joe! What have you done? The others are never supposed to leave the ranch! Turn around, turn around! We’ve got to get Bob Four back immediately.”
Joe snapped, “Hey, I didn’t do a thing! This is your mess. You dumped me back in Rock Springs before you went to the Ranch. This is all your idea.”
He liked her better unconscious. Everything was always his fault.
“You’re crazy, I did no such thing!”
Bob Four was the only one talking quietly. He said, “The Trust uses a memory drug. I believe Judith was given it.”
It stopped her dead.
“Rollback?” It came out a whisper. Joe looked up at the mirror. Her face had gone white.
“What’s that?”
“Daddy mentioned it. It’s the drug they use when someone sees something they shouldn’t.”
“Something like Bob Four?”
She nodded.
Bob said, “I’m familiar with it. I’ve seen it used a couple of times. Human memory has short term and long term forms. This drug removes the emotional hormones used when memories are set into long-term storage. The facts are still there, but without the emotional kick, they are relegated to the routine, facts you never bother to recall, like whether you scratched you arm an hour ago.”
Judith was silent for a moment, trying hard to remember what she’d been doing last. There’d been a talkie contact. Then Joe argued with her.
“I did dump you!” Judith put her hand to her head. “I remember. You were pestering me about Trust secrets and I decided I had to let you out of the car before I went to the ranch.”
Bob Four said, “Judith, until you can recover most of your memory, your opinions are suspect. Something important has been hidden. Joe, talk her through the day, step by step. Human memory gives you a second chance to re-live the events and re-feel the emotions. It’ll never be a complete recovery, but you need to do it now. Judith is part of the Trust. She knows valuable facts, but until she remembers what happened, we’ll be working at cross-purposes. I can help, but until we reach that part of her memory, I need to stay quiet.”
Joe nodded. “Okay, but first, I gotta know—is this rollback something you guys invented? I’ve never heard of it.”
Judith said, “It’s a Trust invention. Nobody’s ever gotten any technology from our Guests.”
Bob nodded. “This is true.”
“Okay. I’ll do it, but where do we start? Judith, do you remember which gas station we pulled into, once we entered Rock Springs?”
“Yes, it was an Exxon station. I asked you for a muffin. I had to get you away from the car. I’m sorry, Joe. I know it was a rotten thing to do, but it was a Trust secret I was trying to protect.”
“Yes, Duke.”
There was hesitation on the other end of the phone call, as Duke tried to put the unexplainable into coded words. His voice was shaking.
“You had me check the fences, and I... the cattle are missing. Missing! But, Boss, I can’t find a hole in the fence anywhere!”
The news that both aliens were missing was like a kick to his stomach, but it wasn’t totally unexpected. Whitfield was breaking decades-long Trust protocols, and nothing could be beyond him.
“Duke. I understand, and I don’t blame you. The fence is probably defective. What I want to do is for you to wait until Jerry shows up to relieve you. Have him show you the pancake recipe. I think you’ll enjoy it.”
“Pancake.” Duke was suddenly serious. He knew what that meant. The rollback recovery protocol was serious business. Restoring memories needed a helper to make sure the victim stuck to the timeline as the misplaced memories were uncovered and re-lived with proper chronological impact.
Duke was no dummy. If he’d been affected by rollback, it couldn’t be some simple accident. That wouldn’t explain the missing aliens.
It had to be some faction of the Trust working against the rest of them.
“Boss. I’ll call you back as soon as I find out anything.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Roswell or Bust - Part 21 of 43

© 2008 by Henry Melton

Joe parked beside the old pickup. Bob Four was out the door the instant he stopped the car. Joe checked Judith’s breathing, then followed.
Instead of walking up to the door, Bob dashed around to the side of the ranch house. In a pile of rocks, the alien pushed aside some rubble and began crawling down into a hole in the ground.
Joe came up to the rocks just as his feet vanished into the opening.
“That’s small.” It looked like a rabbit hole, or maybe some other animal’s burrow. No matter, it was far too small for him. With the size of Bob’s head, he wondered how the alien had managed.
There was no sound.
Joe stood up and walked back to the car. He opened the back door and pushed Judith back into a more comfortable position. With a little experimentation, he found how to make the rear seat recline.
He brushed the hair out of her eyes. Her skin was warm to the touch, but there was no hint of a fever. He stroked her forehead.
With no frown or worry lines on her relaxed face, she was remarkably pretty. He was tempted, just a bit, to steal a kiss.
But before he could make any move in that direction, there was a sound at the door.
Joe hurriedly closed the car door and jogged up to the house. Bob had opened it from within. Dust covered his clothes.
Bob gestured, and Joe followed.
At first glance, Joe felt he was invading someone’s house, until they walked into the pantry.
A secret base. So, this is where they keep the alien stuff. So much for Area 51.
Joe looked at the security cameras and jumped when he saw a man sleeping in a chair.
There was no response. Just like Judith.
What had gone on here?
Bob led him to the elevator and produced a magnetic card from his baggy pants pocket. Joe felt a thrill of the mysterious as they descended into the lower level. What would he find there?
They went immediately to one of the doors. “BOB FOUR” read the name plate. Joe looked in. There was another alien, sleeping on a bed.
Bob Four pushed by him. He pulled the cover aside, and there was a hiss. Bob was letting the air out of a life-size blow-up Roswell Alien doll.
Joe could only watch with his mouth open as Bob worked. The place was a mess. Dad never let any of his kids leave their bedroom cluttered. He knew friends whose places might approach this level of junk, but Bob Four was clearly in a class all by himself.
Of course, if he’s lived here since 1947 and doesn’t get out much, I don’t blame him.
Joe looked at the photos on the walls. Maybe Bob was as much a frustrated tourist as he was.
Bob rolled up the inflatable doll and hid it under his bed, but when he came back out, he had a talkie in his hand.
“Great! Turn it on, so we can talk.”
Bob said, “No.” He stuffed it in his pocket. Joe was disappointed, but Bob was concentrating on throwing some clothes and other items onto the bed.
When he began rolling up the blanket, Joe realized he was packing.
Are we going somewhere?
Bob finished and then tugged Joe’s hand to follow him.
“SAM FIVE” said the sign on the door. They went in.
Expecting another guest room, he was thrown off by the decor.
Bob directed his attention to the large object resting on the pipes.
He backed away, up against the wall.
“That’s the biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen!” He had the urge to run. No way could he swat something that big.
Bob gestured. Come closer.
Hesitantly, Joe stepped up to the motionless insect.
Insectoid. A closer look showed differences. The torso was like a cockroach, but the head was proportionately larger, like a grasshopper. There were only four limbs, and they were unlike anything he’d seen before. The upper ‘fingers’ appeared to be able to move separately, but in this rest position, they interlocked together like a single curved blade. The curve appeared just right for climbing through this maze of pipes.
But Sam Five, if this was indeed Sam, looked as motionless—more so—than Judith or that guard upstairs.
“Oris. Help.” Bob tugged at Sam’s leg, pulling the unresisting body out of the structure.
Too many years of fighting insect infestations at the Railroad Motel made it difficult. He touched the body timidly. The leg was hard. Exoskeleton.
Together, they pulled him out. Bob gestured to Sam. “Help.”
“What do you mean?” He was certainly no doctor, and certainly no expert on alien insects.
Bob looked at his confusion. He dashed out of the room and returned with his bundle. Bob set it on the floor and then slowly picked it up and walked it out the door. Then he pointed to Joe and Sam Five. “Help.”
Okay. He reached down and grabbed the insectoid about the middle, and lifted. Sam wasn’t too heavy, no more than fifty pounds or so, but the body was a little awkward to carry.
“Yes.” Bob grabbed his bundle and led the way to the elevator.
Joe shifted the clumsy load. It was warm. Were insects warm-blooded? He didn’t think so. But this was an alien, not an Earth insect.
So, I’m helping a couple of aliens to escape. Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?
It was obviously an escape. The apartments were nice enough, but the locks were on the outside of the doors. There were plenty of electronic locks on the intermediate doors.
And was that an escape tunnel outside?
Bob stowed his bundle in the back seat and then went back to the ranch house to close up the doors. Joe opened the rear hatch of the Lexus, and checking for clearances, set Sam Five in the back storage area. With that exoskeleton, he didn’t imagine Sam would be worried about cushions. Not if he regularly rested on metal pipes.
Bob got into the front seat this time.
Joe checked again on Judith, and then took the driver’s seat.
“Where do we go?”
Bob looked at him and tapped the gearshift lever.
“Which direction?” Joe pointed in each of the four directions. “Where?”
Bob just pushed at the gearshift.
He backed out and headed towards town. The gas gauge looked low. He tapped the Info button. Definitely low.
He’d need gas before he left town.
“Bob, cover up.” With gestures, and a tug at the blanket in the back seat, the alien got the idea. He crawled back and covered Sam and himself with the blanket.
Where did she put the credit card?
He pulled into the nearest gas station and rummaged in the glove compartment where he’d seen her put the card.
He found it, and some kind of machine.
But the card looked fake. He’d handled hundreds of credit cards while working at the motel. This one had no embossed numbers. It had the magnetic stripe, and the decoration was vaguely generic Visa, but the name was missing, and there were other defects—no 800 numbers on the back side for credit card authorization, no security ID number written on the back, no signature line, no bank info. It had to be a fake.
But I saw her use it at the self-service pump in Frisco.
Maybe she could get away with it, but it wasn’t his card and he didn’t trust it.
He rummaged through his wallet. He couldn’t buy a full tank, but he could get them down the road.
Nervous at leaving Judith and the aliens, he went into the station and pre-paid for the gas. He was broke now.
As they got back on the road, Bob crawled back into the front seat.
“I still don’t know where to go.”
Bob just looked at him. The talkie was a bulge in his short’s pocket.
“Let me see the talkie.”
Bob picked it out. “No.”
Joe had enough. He snatched it out of the alien’s hand. He was stronger and faster. He pressed the buttons he’d seen Judith use. The buttons went white.
“Bob, I have to know where to go, and what’s happened to Judith.”
“She’s okay.” The talkie enhanced voice gave Bob a male voice with a little burr to it. Joe had wondered about the alien’s gender. He decided to trust the talkie.
“Whitfield drugged her. She’ll wake up in a couple of hours. We need to get to the Santaquin base as quickly as possible. Sam will die if we don’t.”
There was another base?
“Santaquin base? Where’s that?”
“Don’t you know? Aren’t you in the Trust?”
Joe laughed, not amused. “No, I’m just helping Judith. I didn’t even know aliens existed until I saw you. I have no idea what this Trust is.”
“Santaquin is in Utah, near Provo.”
Joe pushed the Map button. “I can find it.”
“Good, but we must turn off the talkie until we get out of range. It’s important. The others can track us.”
“What others? Other humans or other aliens?”
“Humans, of course.”
Joe turned it off, and reluctantly, handed it back to Bob.
Just great! The new info didn’t clear up anything, and now he was being chased. Was there a law about helping aliens to escape from custody?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Roswell or Bust - Part 20 of 43

© 2008 by Henry Melton

The Cottonwood Motel. Joe nodded. It was a nice place, a collection of small two-story wood-frame buildings circling a separate office building. It was a shady place, probably because the trees were a lot older and larger than when the property was put together. Two or three dozen units altogether, depending on whether there were some entrances on the back side.
Interestingly, there was a ‘No Vacancy’ sign, here in the middle of the day, and few cars in the parking lot.
He hesitated, then walked up to the office. There was a large Harley-Davidson motorcycle, resplendent in chrome, parked inside the office.
The door opened at his touch.
“Yes, can I help you?” The lady at the desk asked.
Joe felt very strange to be on the receiving end of that phrase.
“Pardon me. I was just looking over your place.”
She was attentive and older than his mother. He flushed.
“I’m sorry, I was just in town and this place attracted my attention. I’m in the motel business myself.”
He strode up to her desk, “Yes. I’m Joe Ferris. I live in Las Vegas, New Mexico. My family owns the Railroad Motel there.” He shrugged, “I mind the office, do maid service, and general errands.”
“I’m Alice North. I’m the owner here. Nice to meet you.”
He succumbed to curiosity. “Why no vacancies in the middle of the day?”
“Things changed. There’s a building boom here in town, mainly due to the oil business. Currently all my rooms are on monthly contract to workers here.”
“That’s interesting.” He glanced around the office. It was pleasant. Not as big as his, but designed to make the guests comfortable.
“Could I sit here for a while? I’m waiting for someone.”
She gestured to the chair. “What are you doing in Wyoming?”
“That’s a long story.” He sat down where he could keep watch on the traffic. Maybe she’d never come back, but he had to be ready if she did.
Blake reported, “The tower at Rock Springs Airport reports that Valet is preparing for take-off.”
“Can they be stopped?”
“Not on our say-so.”
“How far are we out?”
“Thirty minutes yet.”
Carl fumed. They had to land BellBoy to refuel. There was no way they could chase the other plane, nor force it to land.
“Get them on the radio.”
Blake looked at him to confirm, then turned the frequency to 122.75. “Valet, this is BellBoy. Please respond.”
It was a couple of minutes before there was an answer.
“Who’s calling?”
Blake handed over the headset to his boss.
He pressed the push-to-talk button. “This is Carl Morris.”
There was another delay, and then a familiar voice came over the earphones.
“Hello, Carl.”
“I thought it would be you, Oscar. Although I can’t understand what you’re doing here.”
He released the talk button. He’d have to be careful. This was radio. Anyone could listen in.
“No, I guess you wouldn’t. Having fun flying around wasting the company’s fuel? I thought you were Mr. Economize.”
“Better than attempting to destroy everything in a bid for power. Turn back. We’ll be at Rock Springs shortly. Let’s talk this thing out face to face before something happens that can’t be un-done.”
“Sorry, Sonny. I don’t know what you think you’re doing, and honestly I don’t care, but I’m racing the clock.”
“There’s nothing you should be doing, Whitfield. I thought I was being kind putting you on retirement. But let me make it clear. Your department is SHUT DOWN. You are fired. I’ve already sent out the code. You and all your crew of traitors are banned from company activities.”
“Traitors, eh? Maybe traitors to you and your new generation, bean counter, shortsighted yes-men! Although why I should have any loyalty to someone who would sell out his own father, I don’t know.”
Carl clenched his teeth. Whitfield’s battle to reactivate the exobiology research group had been loud and angry on both sides. His claims for new breakthroughs in medicine were unsubstantiated and frankly pathetic attempts to keep his department alive long after the Trust’s dwindling resources couldn’t support it. And Whitfield’s claim that budget cuts would condemn Luke Morris to death had been the last straw. Carl wouldn’t put up with the dirty insider politics.
But Whitfield wasn’t finished.
“You’ve banned me, Mr. Junior Executive? How are you going to enforce that?”
The signal was fading. By now, the planes were separating at many hundreds of miles per hour, and they were using the aircraft version of a party line. Other conversations between pilots were breaking up the signal, and what was worse, the others were listening in to their private fight.
Carl didn’t bother to answer the jab. He signaled to Blake, who switched the radio off the air-to-air channel and took the headset back.
Better to stop talking now. They’d had this argument before, behind closed doors, which is where it belonged.
The problem was that Whitfield had a point. He had no way to enforce his ban. The Trust was built on loyalty. His father and his number one, Whitfield, had built the organization carefully, adding people only after long and careful screening.
When you were protecting the human race from the disruption of alien contact, and at the same time doing your best to put a good face before your alien Guests, you needed good people who took their duty seriously.
He couldn’t go to the police, not even for something as blatant as the theft of an airplane.
They began their descent into the Rock Springs - Sweetwater County Airport.
“Blake, did we get a direction finder on Valet?”
“Yes, the plane did some weaving when you were talking, but I still think they’re on route back to Roswell.”
Whitfield had been arrogant, confident. He’d gotten what he came to Rock Springs for.
“Get us refueled and turned around as fast as possible.” He needed to be ready for the next twist in Whitfield’s power grab.
“You mean you’re here alone?”
Joe looked sheepish. “Yes, Ma’am. My ride... left.”
After a nice long talk, where Alice told him all about the town, the motorcycle in the office, and the motel business in Rock Springs, she’d finally uncovered why he was sitting in her chair. He had nowhere else to go.
She was concerned. “Have you called your family?”
Joe rubbed his nose, “Ah, not yet. She might come back for me.”
“Joe, your girl friend dumped you a thousand miles from home. You have to call your family.”
He shook his head, “Not yet. It’s not like you think. We’re not like ‘romantically involved’ or anything. It’s not even her that asked me to come. Her dad asked.
“You might even know him. A regular. About once a week. John Smith is his name. Drives a silver Lexus SUV. He had an accident. The car’s all scraped up, but it was a nice one. Ring any bells?”
Mrs. North shook her head. “We’ve had several John Smith’s, of course, but I don’t remember the car. Not that it means anything. No overnight business lately, remember.
“Joe, you can use my phone. Your parents need to know you’re okay.”
“It’s not that. I’ve got phone money. I’m just not ready to give up on her yet. Really. She’s got her own reasons for how she does things.”
Joe looked toward the street again.
“If I call home, Dad will make a fuss and try to send money for a bus ticket or something. If I can just wait it out, and she comes back, then we’ll be able to drive back and it’ll be okay.”
“Joe! You think you’re old enough....”
He jumped to his feet. “Hey! There she is!” He dashed out the door.
Coming down the street at a snail’s pace was the travel-worn Lexus. There was a squeal as the tire scraped up against the curb. The vehicle jerked and the tire jumped up on the concrete. The car behind it honked and passed by.
Joe ran out into the street, waving. He couldn’t see inside, due to the tinted glass, but raced around and grabbed the passenger side door. It wasn’t locked.
Across the street, he noticed that Alice North had come to the door to watch.
He jumped in. “Judith, where....”
It wasn’t Judith in the driver’s seat.
Joe stared at the large dark eyes of a three-foot tall alien. A Roswell Gray in a dusty polo shirt and baggy shorts was driving the car. With both hands, it shifted the car into park. The car lurched to a stop in the middle of the street.
A thin voice like a parrot’s croaked, “Help.”
Joe just froze, staring. The alien climbed up, standing on the seat and pointed long thin fingers to the back.
Judith was sprawled out, sleeping, in the back seat. She’d slid into an uncomfortable position.
“Help,” the alien pointed to her.
“Judith?” Joe reached over and shook her. She was warm, and he could see her breathe, but she was unconscious.
“I need a talkie.”
A lot of pieces came together in one second—decades old secret organizations, mysterious men dressed in black, strange cargo that must not be seen, Roswell, and most importantly—a gadget that translated between different people, even different species. It was like a bad movie come to life.
The alien watched him. “Help.”
“Is... is Judith okay?”
The alien blinked. He pointed to the map screen. A line traced the path of the car. The alien moved its finger from their current position north to the place where the car had been. “Help.”
Joe checked Judith again, but there was nothing he could do.
Out the window, he could see Alice North walking his way.
“Get in the back seat.” He said, pointing. Hesitantly, the alien did so.
Joe climbed over the center console and put the car into drive. He pushed the window button. He waved and smiled to Alice, but drove off before she could reach them.
He closed the window and glanced at the rear. The alien was struggling to get Judith back upright in the seat.
Honk. Joe snapped his attention back to the road.
He glanced at the map and turned to the north. The first empty parking lot he could find, he pulled in and stopped.
The alien looked at him expectantly. He was sitting in the seat, his seatbelt properly strapped in place.
Judith’s hair was a mess and obscured her face, but she had been strapped in place as well. She’ll have a neck cramp when she wakes up.
If she woke up.
“Who are you?” He didn’t know what else to say. Could the alien even talk, other than to say the one word, “Help”.
With an exaggerated gesture, thin fingers pointed at its chest. “Bob Four.” It was still parrot-like, but clearly recognizable.
Joe nodded, feeling a little on familiar ground. “My name is Joe Ferris. Nice to meet you.”
Bob Four tapped the side of his head, where there should have been an ear, and tried to repeat his name. What came out was like, “Oris.”
Joe pointed to Judith. “What’s wrong with her?”
Bob tapped his head. Stiffly, he shook his head. “No.”
What do I do now?
The alien Bob seemed to be waiting for him.
Judith was unconscious, but Bob’s reaction was reassuring. He’d made sure she was safe, but once he did that, there was no sign of concern.
Of course, he couldn’t read an alien’s body language, but if she were in danger, wouldn’t he do something?
Things Judith had said now made more sense. The cargo had to have been something important for the alien. She had been concerned. It had been something more than just a duty. She cared about the alien. Hopefully, the alien cared about her too.
Bob pointed past his head. Joe looked. The navigation map.
“Come up here and show me.” Joe gestured an invitation. How much English did he know? He couldn’t say many words, but he seemed to understand more.
Bob Four scrambled up into the front seat, his long arms and legs giving him motion more like a large spider than a monkey.
Bob made sure he had his attention, and then slowly and carefully traced the line from their current location to that destination a few miles to the north. Bob tapped the gearshift lever.
“Okay. We’ll go there.”
Bob scrambled back to his seat and clicked himself in.
Joe circled back to the route Judith had taken north, and Bob had retraced.
If he drove her into town, why does he want to go back now? He wished hard for the talkie.
Driving with the map, he set the scale so he could see every street and every turn. At close zoom, he could see that there were two traces, and he had no doubt which was Bob’s. One was direct. The other wove all over the place, taking side roads, backtracking in illogical ways.
The guy was only three feet tall. How could he have kept his feet on the pedals and looked out the windshield at the same time? Maybe he hadn’t. The thought gave Joe the shivers.
Driving, his mind was a whirlwind of speculation. The Roswell story was true? He’d never have believed it. Tall tales were a staple of the Southwest, and when he heard a new one, he could usually tell when one was based on history and when it was wishful thinking by a tourist bureau. Dad had even said how much he wished they had something like Roswell’s UFO Museum to draw people to the town.
Guests had talked to him about Roswell plenty of times. The town had all the markings of a place that knew how to milk a gimmick. The museum there was on his personal to-do list.
Had the government been able to keep a lid on this all these years by making it look ridiculous?
That didn’t feel right. How could the government keep it a secret? There were too many people who’d blow the whistle.
I’ve even got the urge to get out of the car and run around screaming, myself.
He moved his head and saw the mop of Judith’s hair. “Secrecy is a big part of our family job,” She’d said. “Even if Dad hadn’t made me promise to keep this delivery run a secret, I’ve grown up with secrets.”
Was that how they did it—people growing up with the secret, never letting outsiders know anything?
“Oris.” Bob pointed.
Joe nodded. The track on the map took a sharp turn. Joe followed the way onto Bekker Ranch. What in the world would they find here?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Roswell or Bust - Part 19 of 43

© 2008 by Henry Melton

Blake was on the radio. In the plane, cell phones were erratic as they passed through the parts of the country least served by cell towers.
“Sir, Samuelson has located Valet.”
“Where?” The Trust had no high-tech database; no Internet search grid to detect a citizen’s every movement. But it had good people. Samuelson with a stack of phone books was worth a dozen search engines.
Blake was listening to his earphones, with one cup lifted to pay attention to his boss. “Canon City Airport, but it’s already left.” He listened carefully, then raised his eyes to Morris. “They took off about ten minutes before we did.”
So, Whitfield was hundreds of miles ahead of them, with a head start and a faster plane. He’d been ready.
He’d stationed an agent in Rock Springs, waiting for this. How many others does he have out there?
It was obvious he had more helpers; otherwise, he wouldn’t have waited at Canon City, a small airstrip, but an obvious central location. From there, he could get to any of the Trust’s five bases in short order.
Carl closed his eyes and tried to tune out the noise and confusion. Whitfield was ahead of him every step. This had been planned. It was a direct, overt challenge to his leadership of the Trust, and threatened to split the organization in two.
Why? Whitfield doesn’t want the destruction of the Trust any more than I do. He’d spent his entire life in the service of their ideal. Why risk it all now?
Joe finished up his hamburger and counted his cash again. He didn’t really have enough to get home on his own, and certainly not enough to wait here in Rock Springs for more than a day.
Home was just a trap from which he’d escaped—when he was on the road. Now, it suddenly seemed an important refuge. He needed money to live—money for food, money for a place to sleep. How long would it take to find a job, here in this strange town?
At home, he did his part, but his family was there to watch out for him, and to take care of him.
He sat in the restaurant at a table where he could watch the street. If she came back, she’d have no way of finding him. He would have to constantly keep watch. Of course, if she never came back, he’d have to call home. He counted out how many coins it would take to make a collect call to Las Vegas, New Mexico, and put them in a separate pocket. He didn’t want any chance of accidentally spending it.
The town reminded him in some ways of home. The terrain was different—no friendly mountains in the distance, nor any sign of the adobe construction that was common down south.
But there were familiar touches. Across the street were old vintage motels, with railroad tracks over that way, and an interstate bypass routing all the traffic away from the old highway.
He looked at the closest motel across the street. It was different in so many ways from the Railroad, but it was the same vintage. It had a homey and friendly look.
I wonder, where does John Smith stay when he’s in this town?
The reports were still coming in. Carl had taken Blake’s seat and was listing to the doctor on the radio.
“He’s unresponsive. I thought at first he was ignoring me, you know the way he gets. But, it’s worse than that. I fear he’s slipped into a coma.”
“That’s enough, Doctor!” Carl had to stop the man before he revealed too much. “Check with the rest of your team. Relay a report through Samuelson. I’ll be back soon.”
The Trust exobiologist wasn’t used to open code, and seemed perilously close to revealing the presence of the alien Sam One on an open radio signal.
But the report was disturbing enough already. Sam One in a coma! When had that happened?
Carl handed the radio headset back to Blake and returned to his seat and strapped himself back in.
None of the aliens were monitored constantly anymore. After decades, their habits and activities were as repetitive as anyone’s. The struggle to gain advanced technologies from the Roswell crash survivors had been given up as impossible. There were daily checks on them, but the Sams in particular were prone to stay motionless for hours, days on end.
Harris. He’s the last one to report Sam One active. And I can’t trust that.
He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. Less than a year on the job, and I’m already losing one of them. Maybe he should have let Whitfield run the Trust.
Judith knocked on the door marked “BOB FOUR”.
“Come in.”
She opened the door. “Bob Four, I’m so glad to see you.”
His room was cluttered. Every available inch of the walls was decorated with images—cities, landscapes, starscapes, and a dozen other themes. Stacks of magazines six feet tall were stacked against one wall, most of them with missing pages, having contributed to the wall decorations.
Judith thought of her own bedroom. It was much alike. Even the closets were open, showing an untidy collection of stuff.
Bob Four got up from the bed, where he’d been reading. Other than the tan polo shirt and blue-flowered Bermuda shorts, he was every inch a Roswell Gray, the only one of the alien species to have been described. There was even a big section on the walls with images from science fiction and TV fan magazines showing Hollywood-ized versions of himself.“Judith! Come sit down. I wasn’t expecting you. What’s wrong?”
“Bob, I need your help. Dad sent me. He had an accident. But something’s wrong with Sam Five.”
“Show me.”
Peeking out into the corridor, just from habit, she led Bob Four to his neighbor’s apartment.
Sam Five was resting on the floor. Other than its large head, and disproportionately large legs, it looked too much like a dead cockroach on its back with its feet in the air. She’d fished him out of the metal hive that had been a Sam’s version of comfortable furniture.
Bob checked for breathing and circulation.
“Judith, did Kenneth send something... unusual... this trip?”
She opened the ice chest. The almond-shaped object was pale blue. “It was darker when I first saw it. Dad said it was important that it was blue. I don’t know what it is.”
Bob reached down and picked it up. He placed it on Sam Five’s thorax. After a long, tense moment, there was a shiver and a horizontal slit appeared in its ‘chest’.
Carefully, Bob Four pulled a second almond-shaped object from the body. This one was nearly colorless. He removed it, placing it in the ice chest. In one easy motion, he inserted the blue one into the chest cavity. The slit closed up tight.
Bob nodded. He looked at Judith. “For Sams, it’s life.”
“Do you know who I am?”
The two men stood at the entrance to the pantry, facing the anonymous security camera.
Duke spoke over the intercom. He spoke most respectfully. “Yes, Mr. Whitfield, but you know I can’t let you in. Without this month’s access card, I just can’t do it. It’s against the protocols.”
Whitfield frowned. “Well, I wrote those protocols!” He took a red notebook from his assistant Keys, a broad shouldered, six-footer with close-cropped blond hair.
He leafed through the pages. Everything was written in a practiced longhand. The original was kept in a place where there were no computers or typewriters. He knew he’d need it one day.
“Command code override. Prepare to copy.”
Duke’s uncertain voice replied, “Ready.”
Whitfield began reading, translating into the phonetic alphabet he’d learned in World War II.
“Roger, King, Sugar, Uncle, Baker, Four, Seven, Mike.
“Confirm,” he ordered.
Duke paused and said, “Confirmed, sir.”
The electric door lock clicked. The entrance opened and Whitfield strode in. Duke stepped out into the corridor to greet him. Before he could speak, Keys moved quickly, grabbing Duke’s arm and injecting him with a syringe.
Duke slumped immediately. Keys firm grip kept him from dropping like a stone.
“Drag him back into the office. And cleanup the records. Make sure there’s no mention of us.”
Keys lifted Duke and carried him away.
Judith struck her index finger across her palm. “What’s that?” She cocked her head, listening.
Bob Four asked, “What?” He could hear nothing. But that wasn’t a surprise, he’d known since 1947 that humans had more sensitive hearing.
“The sound. The elevator is going back to the surface. Someone is coming.”
Bob Four grabbed her arm in his thin fingers. “It can’t be Duke. It’s not his inspection time. Come with me.”
“What about Sam Five? We can’t leave him here like this.”
Bob thought for a second. “Get him back into his nest. He’ll be safe enough here.”
Together, they lifted the insectoid and rested him on the pipes.
“Quickly now,” he waved. “I need your lungs.”
Whitfield was a dynamic man for his 87 years. He had gray hairs instead of his assistant’s blond, but when the elevator door opened, they were alike, jogging from impatience.
He bellowed, “Kenneth Winston! This is Oscar Whitfield. I need to talk to you.”
Up ahead, there was movement at Sam Five’s door.
And then a girl stepped out.
Whitfield put his hand on Keys’ arm, staying his previous order to inject anyone they saw. He needed to question her.
“Who are you?”
The girl shook her head and waved her hands. Keys whispered, “Sign language.”
In an organization where paper or electronic records were forbidden, good memory was developed and trained. He’d bent a few of his own rules, but he was still very good with names and faces.
He nodded and smiled. “You’re Judith Winston, aren’t you. Kenneth’s daughter. We’re just here looking for him. He hadn’t reported in.”
She gestured again, and he held up a hand. “Wait a minute.” He pulled a talkie from his pocket and pressed a chord of buttons. The buttons turned white.
She gestured wildly. “Sam Five won’t wake up! I don’t know what to do.”
“What happened to Kenneth?”
“Car accident. He told me to come on in his place. I’ve been training.”
Judith knew it was useless to lie, so she concentrated on making her very real fears and frustrations vivid. Her arms swung in broad strokes as she told them an abbreviated version of the accident and how she found her father, even grieving anew over her lost motorcycle.
Winfield asked her, “Did you have a cargo?”
“Yes, I brought an ice chest. Dad said it was important. Come on, I’ll show you.” She walked them into Sam’s room and showed them the milky white pod.
“I don’t know what it is or what’s it’s supposed to do.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Just a few minutes.”
Whitfield nodded to Keys. Judith felt a needle and a smelled a whiff of lavender.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Roswell or Bust - Part 18 of 43

© 2008 by Henry Melton

Rock Springs
Joe woke when she slammed on the brakes and made a bouncy illegal u-turn across the interstate median and sped back the way they came. He blinked against the morning sun coming in through the windshield.
“What’s going on?”
They had been on Interstate 80 for over an hour, and she had been nervous about not following her father’s instructions to the letter.
Joe was less concerned. His own instructions were long obsolete, left behind with US 40 far to the south. The important thing was to get to their destination. They’d agreed the interstate was the only way to get to Rock Springs. John Smith had been paranoid. He had almost convinced himself of that.
Judith drove another mile, and then pulled over. She pulled out the talkie from the center console where Joe had left it.
“I sensed another talkie up ahead. I have to turn it off so they won’t know we’re coming.”
“Then I won’t know what you’re saying.”
“We’ll get by.” She reached for the buttons, but he grabbed her wrist.
“Hey, I’ve been patient, but you’re leaving me hanging here. Where’re we going, and what’re we doing? What’s the cargo you’re delivering? And why are people chasing us?”
He could see she toyed with the idea of lying to him. But she sighed, and her fingers moved. “Your family runs a motel. It’s the family business. You do what your father says.”
Not very obedient lately—and it’s a Friday no less.
She tried to explain. “Well, my family has a job too. My grandfather started it and Dad kept it going. Now that Dad’s in the hospital, I’ve got to do my part. But secrecy is a cornerstone of our family job. Even if Dad hadn’t made me promise to keep this delivery run quiet, I’ve grown up with secrets.
“When I lost my voice, it just made it that much easier to do the family job.
“So, I’m not going to tell you. I know you want to help, and you think you’d do it better knowing the facts. Maybe. But it’s not my secret to share. You already know about the talkie and that’s too much.”
She tapped the keys, and it was as if a fog dropped over them. She wiggled her fingers, and it meant nothing to him.
He shrugged. “I just hope you know what you’re doing.”
She pointed to her chest and nodded. He could read that—“I hope so, too.”
He watched her drive. During the night, she’d worked on her hair, braiding part of it into a roll that circled her head like a crown. He liked to look at her. He could do so for hours. The talkie was off. He could think what he liked.
She took an early exit off the interstate and drove into what used to be the main highway. Joe recognized the signs—old motels. No one builds motels inside the city, they build them next to the major highway, but when the highway moves, many fail, and rarely do they get modernized.
Judith pulled into a gas station. She scribbled on her notepad—“I’ll get the gas. Buy me a muffin.”
He checked his remaining cash and went in. He was barely at the door when she drove off. He watched helplessly as she U-turned back the way they’d come.
She dumped me again! He hadn’t seen it coming. Twice now, I’ve fallen for the same trick. He ran out onto the road and saw her head north out of town. I am stupid!
Now, what am I supposed to do?
Carl Morris sketched out his thoughts on a piece of paper. The fluorescent lights in his underground office gave him a headache. Next budget, he’d give replacement lighting a higher priority.
1. Harris was the anonymous tipster who fingered Kenneth Winston as the thief.
2. Harris does nothing on his own. He’s Oscar Whitfield’s number two. Why would Whitfield want the Trust to field an all-out search for Winston? Could it be that Oscar is the leader of this conspiracy?
3. Where is Winston? He’s regular as clockwork, but his controller reports that he’s getting nothing on either his cell phone or his home number.
4. Does Whitfield have a talkie? When he was Dad’s number one, he headed up the research arm. Supposedly, nine talkies were dissected in the attempt to find out how they work. Suppose only eight were destroyed?
5. How many non-Trust people are involved?
A. Mystery girl on motorcycle
B. Joe Ferris, Las Vegas NM Motel worker
C. Others?
6. Sam One can confirm or deny the talkie theft report, now that I’m here.
When he reached the end of the sheet of paper, he looked it over and dropped it into the shredder. It was sliced rapidly into millimeter square chads and blown down a conduit where it was incinerated immediately.
I don’t trust anything that has a touch of Whitfield in it. He wants Dad’s job, and I’ve never gotten a hint of support from him.
How many others in the Trust would rather have him in control, instead of me? For the first time, the shape of the events was becoming visible.
A light flashed on his desk. Carl pressed a button and Blake walked in.
“Sir. Samuelson on the tap. We’ve just had an outgoing report. The doorbell rang once near Rock Springs.”
“Outgoing report?”
Blake nodded.
Carl was on his feet. A ‘doorbell’ report—an intermittent talkie detection—should have been immediately reported to him, not relayed to someone outside the base. But it wasn’t too surprising. Whitfield surely considered the base communications his own, as they had been for decades, especially if he had loyal people in place.
Carl had considered it a long shot to tap his own phone. It was disappointing to be right. “Details on the doorbell, identity of the reporter?”
“A few seconds. Samuelson wasn’t totally sure of the voice, but he’s going down the list.”
“Put Whitfield’s field men on the top of that list.”
Blake didn’t visibly react to that name, but there was a pause as he absorbed the idea. They might be facing an organizational coup, a mutiny in the Trust.
“It’ll be done.”
“Good. Get BellBoy prepped. We have to get to Wyoming immediately.”
Blake nodded and was out the door.
Do I have time for Sam One?
Carl pulled out his personal talkie and activated it. When his father, Luke Morris, was the leader of the Trust, he’d considered the director’s personal talkie to be one of his father’s abuses of power.
I was an innocent then. Yes, they were short of talkies, with not enough to go around to all the bases, but the leader of this kind of organization needed all the help he could get to maintain good communication with his people. If the Trust comes apart, then it will have all been for nothing.
Blake met him in the hallway. “The pilot was ahead of you. The plane is refueled and waiting.”
Carl nodded. “Let’s go.” They headed for the elevator.
With any luck, I’ll be able to get Winston’s story from the man himself.
In the elevator, the floors were numbered with ‘G’ at the top. They were on ‘B2’. The lowest, ‘B4’, was locked with an electronic code keypad.
How many people have that code? Certainly Whitfield does. I need to have it changed.
He pressed the ‘G’.
A black van rolled up to the tiny airstrip. A sleek Cessna waited. A large-framed gray-haired man jumped out of the van and strode purposefully to the open door of the plane.
“How long to Rock Springs?”
“Only a few minutes, Mr. Whitfield.”
“Make it less. The courier is already in the area. We have to beat him to the base.”
The engines were rumbling to life as the door closed.
Whitfield fastened his seat belt and yelled, “Keys! Get on the radio and have a car waiting for us at Rock Springs Airport.”
The gamble paid off. He hated letting his personal talkie out of his possession, but having an early warning system in place in Rock Springs had been critical. There was no way he could be stopped now.
Judith turned onto the dirt road with the rusted Bekker Ranch ironwork over the entrance. She drove a half-mile up a dusty canyon road through the sagebrush until she stopped at a ranch house. There was a corral and a water tank, just like thousands of other ranch houses in the western US.
She’d remembered the roads, which had been a worry. The other times she’d come here with her father, she hadn’t suspected that she’d need to memorize the route so soon.
Bekker Ranch was off the beaten path, at least for now. It was surrounded on three sides by Bureau of Land Management territory. However, the Rock Springs area was growing, and what had been a ranch far off any map was now just a few miles north of a new set of tract houses.
Judith parked next to an old pickup and unfastened the ice chest. It was large, but not heavy. She carried it up to the door, and fished out a credit card from her pocket. It looked similar to a visa card, but she slipped it into a crack in the woodwork and the door unlocked with a click.
Inside, the living room looked homey with a TV, well-worn chairs and a couch. A current TV Guide was open, face down on the coffee table, but no one was there. She gave it no thought as she walked directly through the living room to the kitchen. Behind the pantry door, she inserted a second card, and the shelves moved aside to reveal a lit corridor. For the first time, there was a security camera. She set down her cargo, stood there in front of the camera and waited.
After a couple of minutes, an old black man appeared. “Judith? What are you doing here alone?”
She scribbled: “Hello, Duke. Daddy’s had a car accident.” She described his injuries and a little of the detail, but nothing about the people looking for her, or the talkie.
“He had an important delivery for Sam Five, and it couldn’t wait, so he sent me.”
“Well, you’re lucky you arrived when you did. Tomorrow’s my vacation and the new kid was never here on your other visits. I don’t know what he’d a done if you showed up on his monitors. Your dad was up front about getting you a Trust authorization, but the paperwork’s never gone through. He was thinking when you’re eighteen.”
Duke led her through the corridors, past his office where the Today Show hosts were talking silently on the screen next to the security monitor. He paused in front of another door and fished out a card of his own.
“If you want, I can bend a rule or two and help you carry that thing down.”
She shook her head and waited while he opened the elevator. She pushed the ice chest inside, and then wrote, “Thanks for your help Duke. It’s an important delivery.”
“Always is.” He smiled and waved a hand as the door closed on her.
Judith pressed the ‘B’ and waited while the elevator slowly dropped a hundred feet to the restricted area below. The ranch house had been built up to the edge of the canyon wall and even the ground floor where Duke worked was underground.
She fished out the talkie, and when the elevator reached the bottom, she turned it on. Duke was far enough away so that he wouldn’t notice it, but the long-range signal of another talkie within ten miles immediately started the ringing in her head.
Stupid. But there’s no help for it. They have to know I’m here now. But it’s too late to stop me.
She carried the ice chest rapidly down the corridor, until she reached the door marked ‘SAM FIVE’.
She knocked, but there was no response. Judith tried the door. The locks were electric, and there was an easy access button.
The apartment inside was just as she remembered it. Other than a trio of chairs, there was no recognizable furniture. The bulk of the space looked like a chemical factory or a modern art sculpture—a maze of chrome pipes.
“Sam Five?” She stared into the maze. There was no response. She set the ice chest down and walked around the edge of the chrome jungle.
The brown curve of a giant shell, like the back of a four-foot tall cockroach caught her attention.
“Sam. It’s me, Judith.”
But the insectoid didn’t move. Its arms and legs were curled up close to its body and it gave no sign of hearing her.
“Sam, what’s wrong?” She reached into the maze.
It was hard to navigate the passageway, never meant for humans. It was like the climbing-jungle in the park, but she was so much heavier now than when she was eight. Putting her weight on the pipes hurt, but she pushed on, reaching close enough to touch the hard outer exoskeleton. There was a sensation of warmth, and the gentle rhythm of its breathing.
She shook him. “Sam?”
I’m too late. Dad said the cargo was to keep Sam Five alive, but he’s already gone into a coma!