02: A Somewhat Friendly Chat

Stranded

02:  A Somewhat Friendly Chat

 

Pulling up at the McCreary’s house, Josh steeled himself for what he had to do and the likely difficulties involved. Combing his hair, he tried to make himself more presentable. Josh had always been intimidated by Becky’s father, Jonathan McCreary (who always insisted on Josh calling him by his full name). As a retired military man, he was a difficult task master and he’d ridden Josh hard, measuring him against an imaginary role he couldn’t match. This was not going to be an easy discussion.

The McCrearys moved in shortly before Josh and Becky started high school. Becky’s mother, Susan, insisted she remain in the same school throughout her high school years. Her father had taken that as a subtle hint and decided to retire shortly thereafter. He’d married late, being married to his job, and his younger wife didn’t have the same dour mindset as her husband.

Josh approached the front door, swallowing the rising lump in his throat as he wiped his sweaty palms on his pants so he wouldn’t come off as nervous as he was. He was about to ring the bell when he reconsidered, knocking instead. Somehow ringing the bell seemed more impulsive, less ‘serious’, and he was concerned with sending Col. McCreary the right message.

“Well, hello, Joshua,” Susan McCreary said as she opened the door, smiling broadly. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen you around here. How have you been?”

“I’ve been fine, Mrs. McCreary,” Josh replied, smiling easily at Becky’s always friendly mother. “Is your husband home?”

“Yes, Becky told us to expect you. He’s waiting for you in his den,” she explained, welcoming him into the house. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“No, thank you,” he responded nervously. “I’m in a bit of a rush and really can’t spend a lot of time.”

“Very well…, uh, may I ask what this regards?” she asked curiously.

“I’m sorry, but this is private between Jonathan and me and I really can’t discuss it,” Josh answered, feeling even more awkward. “What’s more, it’d be better if you didn’t press him for any details.”

“I see,” she said simply, giving him an odd appraising look. “Becky wanted me to tell you that she’s unavailable and locked in her room upstairs,” she explained, smiling sympathetically. “She says that if you try to disturb her she’ll be listening to her music, unable to hear your pleas.”

Josh shrugged. “This really isn’t about her, but she doesn’t seem to be willing to accept that. I’ve learned my lesson. I’m not about to bother her anymore, but you’d think the friendship we had for so many years before we got involved would allow for a little hospitality.”

“She’s been a little funny concerning you since before you broke up,” Susan whispered, glancing upstairs as if she might catch Becky listening in. “I’ve never been able to figure it out myself.”

“Well, as I said, I really need to talk to your husband and I don’t have much time, so if you don’t mind?” he asked, politely tipping his head and extending his hand as if asking for hers.

“No, no, go ahead,” she answered nodding. “I understand. Business before pleasure. I’m used to that from my many years as an Army wife. You go ahead. You know where his den is. I suspect you’ve spent enough time in there listening to him lecture you about one thing or another.”

Nodding to her again, he walked to the sliding wood door leading into Col. McCreary’s personal office. Pausing a moment, Josh knocked sharply twice and waited for Jonathon to answer. It was a longstanding rule in the McCreary family that no one interrupted him while the door was closed.

Jonathon slid the heavy door open. “Ah, Josh. Come on in. I’ve been expecting you.” He wasn’t a big man, but was no less imposing. He was older and no longer bore the close-cropped hair of his military career. When he found himself losing much of his hair in his later years, he shaved the remainder off. He now sported a Van Dyke mustache/beard combination which make him look a more like a grizzled professor than a military man.

As he stood aside, Josh entered without a word. Jonathon slid the heavy door shut, effectively marking their conversation as private—the solid door efficiently deadening any sound emanating from the room. The office was Spartan, filled with metal filing cabinets, ribbons and photographs of comrades in arms in foreign lands on the walls. Jonathon had painstakingly paneled it in oak so it would reflect his previous position. He considered it a place for important business, although he was hardly involved in anything that pressing since retiring several years ago. When he turned back, Josh offered his hand for a handshake, a custom the Colonel had always insisted on before. This time, the older man surprised Josh by wrapping his arm around his shoulder—something he’d never done while he and Becky were dating.

“I assume Susan explained about Becky?” he asked, not elaborating.

“Yeah, it seems she doesn’t want anything to do with me,” Josh lamented. “She thinks this is some elaborate ploy to win her back.”

“It’s not, is it?” Jonathon asked, glancing at him to gauge his reaction. Before Josh could respond, he continued. “No, of course it isn’t. I hadn’t thought you’d try anything like that. You’ve always been very upfront with me, and while we’ve had our disagreements, I’ve always respected how direct you are. Whenever you’ve thought I was in the wrong you didn’t hesitate to call me on it, even when I made it difficult on you. Even more, you always treated my daughter well, despite how she chose to respond.”

He paused as he stepped behind his desk, motioning for Josh to take a seat before him as he sank into the office chair and leaned forward, speaking quietly of personal family matters.

“Personally, I’ve always felt terrible about how things worked out between the two of you. Both Susan and I liked you very much, even though I never showed it. We felt for you, but you understand how we couldn’t take your side and reach out to you. This was between the two of you, and Becky has to learn to live her life by her own decisions.”

“Yes, Sir, I understand the difficult position she put you in,” Josh responded, confused by the direction this conversation was taking. “Since she was the one who broke the whole thing off, and especially how she chose to do it, I can’t understand why she continues to be so resentful.” Josh was willing to drop the whole discussion there, but apparently the Colonel wasn’t.

“How a person responds speaks louder than the actual words they use,” he advised. “The fact you provoke such intense emotions shows you continue to mean a lot to her. Thus she couldn’t take the breakup simply. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. If you don’t care for someone, you simply don’t care. Instead hatred, like jealousy, is a close cousin of love, one which people often court when their first love doesn’t pan out.”

“Maybe so, but we were friends for much longer than we ever dated. I was willing to let bygones be bygones when she…, when we broke up. She’s the one who seems to be harboring the grudge.”

“That she does. You should see her mother when she gets a bee in her bonnet. There’s nothing you can say to dissuade her, even if she knows she’s wrong. That simple fact won’t budge her. It’s best to address the issue head on.”

“It’s a little hard to do when she won’t speak to me,” Josh pointed out. He noticed his sweaty palms seemed perfectly dry now that they’d maneuvered the conversation onto a side discussion of Jonathon’s daughter.

“No, I’m not saying there are any easy solutions, I’m just trying to explain why she feels as strongly as she does. She needed a clean break, otherwise the pull was too strong. I’m guessing she was afraid she’d get sucked back into your orbit unless she stayed out of your path.”

“Look, Jonathon, I’m sorry if I’m being rude, I appreciate the candor, but I didn’t come here to discuss Becky. I’ve made my peace with what’s happened and I consider it old news.”

“Ah, yes,” The Colonel said, becoming all business as if he’d somehow flipped a switch. “Becky said you had something ‘important’ to discuss. Was there something I could help you with?”

“Yes, Sir,” Josh began, once more feeling ill at ease. “This is a bit unusual and I really can’t explain it, but I need some potential contacts. I figured with your extensive background in the Army you could speak to some people for me.”

“Uh…, if I remember correctly, you were never very big on the military service before.” The Colonel sounded nearly as confused by Josh’s question as he’d been by his daughter’s response to him earlier.

“Actually, I never had a problem with the military itself, just how the civilian command has applied it over the years,” Josh reminded him. He didn’t think it would help his case, though.

“Yeah, I remember,” the Colonel scoffed. “So what is the infamously anti-government Josh doing calling me, looking for assistance with the military?” he asked, clearly intrigued.

“I’ve got a bit of a … situation,” Josh began, struggling to find the right words. “It’s hard to explain, but I’ll give it a try. Imagine a team was lost, out of contact with their superiors in a foreign land with no resources and in dire straits. As a military man, you’d never abandon a man in need, would you? Well, I’ve got a similar situation. I’ve got a group of people who need help, and I need to do it without involving the local authorities, so I wanted people familiar with—”

“Now wait a minute, son,” the Colonel cautioned, glaring at him. “What have you gotten yourself involved in? Who are these people you’re helping that you don’t want anyone to know about? Are you trying to hide some Arab insurgents and you’re asking me to help you circumvent my own government?”

“Please, it’s nothing like that,” Josh hurriedly explained. “But it’s not something I can freely discuss. After all, if you decide you don’t trust me, I’m not about to compromise those I’m trying to protect by revealing their details. I’d have asked you over the phone, but I didn’t want to chance anyone listening in on our conversation and having a stray word kick the conversation upstairs.”

“You do realize those procedures only apply to foreign nationals, don’t you?” Jonathon asked, looking askance at Josh.

“I’m aware that’s the limit of their legitimate use, but I also don’t doubt factions within the organization use it for more than its intended use. There may actually be no one in the Government who would misuse it, but I really don’t want to take that chance. After all, when you grant hundreds of thousands of private contractors top security access to people’s private data with little oversight, there’s no telling how seriously they’ll take the responsibility.”

“Again, if you’re that worried about attracting someone’s attention, it sounds like you’re already feeling guilty. If you don’t think this ‘mission’ is valid, then why would you expect me to put myself out on your behalf?” Jonathon asked, trying to get Josh talking. It was clear Jonathon was reluctant, but he knew Josh was an upstanding guy—even if his mind operated on some weird level the Colonel couldn’t comprehend. But he wanted to get a better idea of what had the young man so concerned he’d risk his own future.

“It’s not guilt, Sir,” Josh answered. “It’s concern. This is a potentially explosive situation. Rather than risking it becoming a political football and becoming bigger than it really is, I prefer handling it myself as delicately as I can. But this situation is nothing like you’re imagining. These people are not a part of any organization the US has any issues with. However, that said, they’d rather remain under the radar. If you decide to put me in contact with anyone, they can come fully armed if they want, and if they think I’m trying to pull anything, they’re free to arrest me and anyone with me. I’ll go willingly, but I just ask that they hear me out first.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Col. McCreary asked. “You’re willing to put yourself at personal risk based on the word of someone you’ve never met, just to help someone you don’t personally know?”

“I never said I didn’t know them,” Josh pointed out, “but you’ve hit it on the head. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. This is very important, and I need people who appreciate the seriousness of the situation, and know what to do in this kind of circumstance.”

“The thing to do would be to ask for help, probably by calling the damn police,” the Col. replied, scowling across the desk.

“I’m sorry, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Again, I’m not willing to reveal the specific details, but I’m willing to discuss it with whomever you recommend. But time is of the essence. I’m on my way to meet them right now, so you’ve got time to make arrangements. Ideally it would be someone who’s already out of the military, experienced in desert terrain and has some history surviving off the radar in a hostile land.”

“How about if I meet them myself first,” he asked pointedly. “After all, I’m better equipped to evaluate whether someone is being honest or not.”

“Sir, no affront intended, but you’re getting on in years and you’ve got responsibilities, principally those of your daughter and wife. I think it would be better if you stayed out of it so you and your family won’t be implicated if anything happens. I need a few people who can hit the ground running and who can adapt to the situations on the ground. Most of all, I need someone who knows enough not to use force. We’ll have to avoid anyone who’s suffered any post-traumatic events. It’s possible someone may take shots at us, and I don’t want anyone getting over excited and returning fire with the boys in blue if we can avoid it.”

“Thanks for that, son, but despite how the media paints us, not everyone in the military suffers from PTSD,” the Colonel pointed out.

“I understand that, Sir. But I recognize we may be in a compromising position and I want you to be aware of that fact.”

“All right,” Jonathon conceded with a heavy sigh. “I can tell you’re serious about this, even if I have no clue what you’re involved in. Against my better judgment, I’m going to take a chance on this and take your request seriously. Despite my doubts about you in the past, and your unfortunate history with my daughter, I’ve always respected your sincerity and willingness to stand up for what you believe in. Even though you usually piss everyone off with your idealistic notions and fancy talk, you stand by your beliefs. I’ve observed that in many of the men that I’ve served with, and I know what an effective force it can be when applied in the proper direction. That said, just be warned that if you’re taking me on some wild-goose chase, or getting involved with anything questionable, I’ll make sure you NEVER see the light of day again, even if I have to bury you in the woods myself! Understood?”

“Absolutely, Sir. I’d expect no less,” Josh answered, meeting Jonathon’s gaze without hesitation. He knew he was taking a big chance, but he realized he needed more help than he and his few friends could accomplish. He needed very specific skills he hadn’t been trained in, but those skills would come at a cost. Anyone the colonel sent would be conflicted about acting against the interests of their previous employers. It was going to be a very hard sell!

“And we can forget this ‘Sir’ nonsense. You’ve never been military and you’ve never reported to me. I always gave you a hard time because I was afraid you were likely to run off half-cocked and get my daughter into trouble, but for now you can just call me by my name, which is Jonathan.”

“Yes, Sir, Jonathan, Sir,” Josh teased, hoping he’d see the humor in it, but knowing he was treading some very delicate water.

“Very funny, smart man,” Jonathon replied, though he couldn’t keep the smile off his face. “I’ll make some phone calls. Where are you going to be and where can they reach you?”

“I’ll be on the road and unreachable for some time,” Josh informed him. “What’s more, I’ll be disabling my phone just in case you decide to report this conversation. However, I’ll be in Clearance Wood in two days’ time. If whoever you find can meet me at the Denny’s there at approximately five p.m., I’d appreciate it. Otherwise I’ll contact you about making other arrangements, but if I don’t see anyone there, I’ll assume you’ve changed your mind. I hope you don’t object, but I’m assuming that if anything goes awry, that you aren’t on board with this.”

“Not a bad assumption,” the Colonel agreed. “I’ll try to arrange it, but since we’re talking civilians and none of them know any more about this than I do, I’m not sure I’ll be able to arrange anything that quickly.”

“Just stress that there are some very sick people who need our help and who are in a foreign land with no resources. Surely they can appreciate that situation. Again, I’ll give them a complete explanation when we meet, and if they don’t want to become involved I’ll respect their decision. But I can’t really say any more until I can explain everything in detail.”

“When you say they’re sick, just what are we talking about? Were they injured, or do they have something more serious? And could that present yet another risk you haven’t admitted to yet?”

“Alas, I’d like to explain, but I’m not able to at the moment. I should have more information when I meet whoever you send in a few days, but for now let’s just leave it as ‘very sick’,” Josh carefully phrased his explanation, unsure how to explain aliens suffering from an unknown disease. It was possible they contracted a common earthbound disease, like the alien attackers in “War of the World’s”. Otherwise they might infect anyone coming into contact with them. But in either case, it wouldn’t be a problem by the time he had to confront anyone over it. Either he’d be dead, or those he was attempting to help would be.

“All right, I’ll accept that—for now—but just be warned that I may not be able to find anyone willing to take this much of a risk over something I can’t explain.”

Josh considered again just what he was getting himself involved with. Jonathan, had enough reasons to dislike him, as he’d admitted. It wouldn’t take much for him to either ignore the whole thing or turn it over to the established authorities and let them handle it. He hoped the man would respect him enough not to set him up, but he planned to approach his meeting with the utmost caution.

Meanwhile there was a lot to be done before then, and without much assistance it would be up to him to do it. If he eventually got some help, great, but the assumption until he did was that no one was going to believe this, and even fewer would want to get involved once they knew what was involved. But Josh also knew there was no way he’d be able to handle this on his own. There were just too many small details and too many potential complications for him to manage alone.

“Then at least I can say I tried,” Josh responded, finally standing up and offering Jonathon his hand. The man stared at him one more time, trying to size him up with an intimidating look, but when Josh didn’t crack he finally shot Josh a sidelong, half-hearted grin.

“I certainly hope this works out for you, and I look forward to finding out what this is about, though it sounds like you’ll never tell me either way. About all I can say is good luck and don’t go getting yourself or anyone else killed. You may want to consider how much saving these people is really worth. Is it really worth risking your own life or that of innocents rather than simply letting nature take its course? But in either case, that’s up to you now. I’ll see what I can do. And of course, I can’t guarantee anything.”

“Thanks, Si…, thank you, Jonathon. I appreciate you’re willing to take a chance on me, given how little you have to work with. I promise you, you won’t regret helping me, although others might question that decision. If nothing else, I’ll try to let you know how it all works out. Now if you don’t mind, I’m really late for a previous appointment, so I’ll see myself out. Thank you for listening to me.”


Josh greeted his three closest friends at their rendezvous at the Clovis McDonald’s. “Hey, glad to see you guys could get here on such quick notice.”

“You said it was important. You definitely piqued my curiosity,” Peter replied, eyeing his friend warily.

Peter Wyans was a tall thin nerdy guy who always acted smarter than everyone else. But as much as he’d bitch about it, he’d come through in the end, no matter how outrageous the request. That was why he and Josh were such good friends. Josh could get him to do things he’d never do otherwise. Things he considered stupid and irresponsible, but which he enjoyed once Josh talked him into letting his hair down. While Peter was well aware his association with Josh could get him in trouble one day, he figured the experiences would make him more rounded. And if he did get in trouble with the law, maybe those experiences would allow him to talk his way out of it.

Peter was dressed to fit the part—not that of outlaw, adventurer or defender of poor and oppressed space aliens—but instead that of nerd! He wore a worn bright red Megatron t-shirt with a spiked collar, a black fedora and a heavy black leather trench coat. To top off the whole image, his straggly hair stood out in a fringe around his head and his wire-rim glasses sat lopsided atop his nose. He certainly wouldn’t attract any undue attention, Josh reflected with a silent groan as he rolled his eyes.

“Peter didn’t say much,” Fred Wolf said, edging closer. “What the heck is this all about?”

‘Wolf’ wasn’t Fred’s actual name. It was Fredrick Lee Woolith, but Josh and the others knew the timber wolf was his spirit guide, so they’d chosen the name as a way of both teasing him and honoring his beliefs. Fred, like many of the locals, was actually from the Navaho tribe. His family had moved from the nearby reservation in order to find work at a local farm. Fred’s family wouldn’t let him forget his rich cultural heritage, and though he’d only seen a couple of wolves from a distance his entire life, he still wanted to believe that he was tied to them.

Fred was at the opposite end of the nerd spectrum, as he actually appeared ‘cool’ instead of simply weird. He was clean-cut, wore his hair stylishly standing upright atop his head, and had a feather tattoo on his right shoulder. His chiseled features, clean looks and stylish dress marked him as a bit of a hottie, but it was something he didn’t rub in anyone’s face, being embarrassed by it more than anything else.

“Look, I’ll tell you everything, but we can’t do it here,” Josh insisted, waving them towards the door. “There are too many people who might overhear, and I’d rather keep this private. Grab your drinks and let’s head out to my truck and I’ll try to explain, though you’re not likely to believe it. Frankly, even though I saw it myself, I’m still not sure I do!”

“Peter thinks this is about some girl,” Cynthia Taylor said. She was another of Josh’s close personal friends, though they’d never quite hit it off. Josh had known her since they were young and attended the same grade school. They’d played together for years, since most of the girls in the area wanted nothing to do with her. Cynthia was very much a tomboy, and though she always denied it, Josh had always wondered whether there wasn’t more to it than that. She claimed she liked guys, but she’d made a point of never getting involved with any of them. They’d also never seen her dating anyone. Instead she’d sit around with the guys, shooting the breeze and even joining in their conversations about which girls they’d like to bang. She never pulled any punches, which is why the other girls never liked her and why she felt so close to this trio. They’d never try to pigeonhole her or force her to be someone she wasn’t.

She looked as odd as the others, making the group stand out that much more. Tall and thin like Peter, she had wild dark hair that tended to blow over to one side, making her head appear lopsided. She also bore plentiful freckles, a smug but playful expression, and a metal eyebrow stud over her right eye. She looked good anytime she took the time to fix herself up, but most of the time she simply couldn’t be bothered ‘looking girlie’, as she put it.

“Nah, it’s nothing like that,” Josh replied. “But it’s a story like you’ve never heard before.”

Outside, Josh directed them to his pickup, which he’d parked a ways from the cars parked in front the McDonalds. “Before I say anything, I need to show you something. Hopefully this will convince you what I’m about to tell you is real,” Josh explained as he rolled his sleeve up.

“What are yo…, holy shit, what the hell is that?” Peter asked as the metallic sleeve Josh now wore came into view. Once again, the strange nature of the device kept it from appearing too obvious when he’d first revealed it, but as they looked, it became apparent it was unlike anything they’d ever seen before.

“What is it made of?” Cynthia asked, tapping it with her hand. Despite its odd metallic look, it gave no sound when she struck it, but it didn’t feel like skin, though it seemed to be normal skin temperature. She brushed her hand over it, trying to figure out what it was made from.

“Careful,” Josh warned. “It’s got specialized controls all over it, and you don’t want to activate any of them since I don’t know what it’s capable of. I’m almost afraid to rub my arm against my side for fear of what it might accidentally do.”

“Where the hell did you get it?” the normally laconic Fred asked.

“This is the part you won’t believe,” Josh told them, covering his arm again so no one else would notice it. “It’s not human. It was made by another species from a different world.” Josh quickly recounted the brief story of how he’d observed the strange ship landing on his farm and set out to rescue the sick creature, and how she’d given him the odd device. “It actually wrapped itself around my arm,” he exclaimed, “and I’m not kidding you, it literally bit me.”

“What, you mean it drew blood?”

“No, I didn’t bleed, but it hurt like it sank its teeth into me here and here,” Josh said, indicating the fore and aft areas of the device. “But when it came off, her arm was bleeding, so I assume it was deep enough to draw blood.”

“Maybe that’s how it attached to your arm?” Cynthia guessed. “Maybe it’s holding on by latching onto your flesh?”

“I have no idea, but check out this next part,” Josh said, exposing the device once again. “See these markings, the ones which sort of fade into the design. They each stand for something, and by hitting them in the correct sequence,” he said, doing just that, causing the lights he’d been using to track his prey light up again. The three kids gasped, taking a step back before edging forward to study it in more detail.

“Why are those other marks so distinctive if the others are designed to be hidden?” Fred asked.

“I think it’s some kind of rank or insignia. It must designate where she stands in the organization.”

“Wait, this was about some girl after all?” Cynthia asked, giving Josh an odd challenging look.

“It’s certainly no human girl,” Josh informed them. “It looks as far from human as you can get. It seemed to have some tiny breasts, four of them, but I don’t know whether that makes her female or not. But we’ve been calling her that simply because it seems so … inhuman to keep calling her ‘it’ while we’re trying to take care of her.”

“Wait, wait, what the hell do these lights represent?” Peter asked, tracing the lights with his fingertips. “Are these some kind of weapon systems or something?”

“Come on, forget all those terrible science fiction movies you’ve watched. This isn’t some invading force. I don’t know what it was doing, but I saw no indication of weapons of any kind, and I doubt the small craft she arrived in could do much. I’m guessing it was a basic single person lifeboat designed simply to get her to the closest habitable planet.”

“So she … it, breaths oxygen?” Fred asked.

“I’m not sure if our atmosphere is the same as she normally breathes, as she was having trouble getting enough air. That might just be because she’s so sick. But I’m guessing there’s either too little of whatever she needs to survive, or there are just too many impurities in it for her to process.”

“What does she look like?” Cynthia asked, tilting her head and staring at Josh.

As he tried his best to describe her, Cynthia’s eyes positively lit up. As exciting as finding an alien species in your back yard might be, it struck a nerve with her. She’d always been an outsider, someone who others feared and distrusted. The idea there was a whole species of women just as strange as she was, if not more so, fired her imagination. She’d long had a fascination with superheroines in comics for precisely that reason, pretending she was some otherworldly creature intended for greater things than the everyday expectations of others. Even though Josh didn’t know it yet, she was already hooked. Whatever he wanted her to do, she’d gladly do it if only to play a small part in the fantasy world she was even then creating for this strange creature.

“You mean it walks like a crab, but has fat legs?” Peter asked, trying to wrap his mind around the concept.

“Well, it doesn’t have an exoskeleton like a crab does, but it seems to move like one. Actually she didn’t do any walking, but I’m guessing, given the way her limbs are arranged, that she could move in any direction she wanted. She also had these long claws, about this long, though she moved them with an amazing dexterity. The pointed ends seemed more designed for intricate work than for doing any kind of damage.”

Fred asked the most obvious question. “Do you have any pictures?”

“Hell, no!” Josh responded. “If I’m caught trying to help them, I don’t want to give anything away concerning what we’re trying to do. Having pictures on my phone would definitely implicate me in trying to hide them, as well as alerting the authorities what to look for.”

“Wait, you’re not talking about the one you rescued, are you?” Peter asked. “You’re talking about others too?”

“Exactly. She gave me this, this … thing so I could find the others of her kind. Apparently they were all stranded at the same time, and I imagine they’re all in as much trouble as she is. That’s why I called you. We need to find and rescue them while keeping this from attracting any attention. If we can get them to a single location and nurse them back to health, they may be able to leave on their own again.”

“Unless the authorities try to pull another Roswell on them,” Fred suggested, the gears suddenly slipping into place making the whole thing make sense. It explained so much. Why Josh, someone who’d railed against the government for so long would feel so strongly about rescuing them, why he’d call on Fred, whose own ethnic history would make him appreciate what they would face if discovered. The white man wasn’t exactly known for treating strangers kindly. They’d rather imprison first and ask questions after everyone was eliminated. “Hell, count me in. We’ve got to do something for them,” he exclaimed.

“I’m also in,” Cynthia informed him.

“I figured as much,” Josh told her. “You’re always ready to try anything, and I figured this was just up your alley. That just leaves you, Peter. Are you in, or are you out?”

“Are you kidding? This is a once in a billion lifetimes’ opportunity. There will never be another chance to experience something like this, to encounter and aid another life form. Hell, even if it all goes to hell and we get in trouble, it’ll be something no one else has ever done or even tried. Hell yeah, I’m in.”

“Good, we need to get underway as soon as possible. These things are incredibly heavy, despite their small size, so I’ll need you to help me lift them when we encounter them. There are two in this region. There’s one east of here but I want to get the one farther to the south first and then pick up the other on the way back. I’d also like you guys to run interference for me, just like they did in “Smokey and the Bandit,” where one car distracts the cops while the main bootlegger drives past. If one of you gets stopped you might get a ticket, but it won’t cause anyone to question you. If I get stopped, I’d have to explain why I have some odd-looking creature shivering in the back.”

“That makes sense, count us in,” Peter assured him.

“Fred gave me a lift, so I can ride with you and watch out for whoever we find while you focus on driving and tracking down any others,” Cynthia told him, her imagination already alight with what these creatures would be like.

 

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