This story has a mature theme that involves same-gender romance. If that's not your cup of tea or illegal where you live, please find something else to read.
This story is my Uberization , based on the 1951 screenplay, The Day The Earth Stood Still , by Edmund H. North (which is based on the novel, Farewell To The Master, by Harry Bates). No money is being made from this project and no copyright infringement intended.
I always wanted to see this film remade with Klaatu as a female. I initially (many years ago) thought Sigourney Weaver would have made an excellent Klaatu (even if they changed the “Helen” character to male). Instead, TPTB remade this classic with Keanu Reeves. I love KR but the remake, IMHO, completely missed the message of and couldn't hold a candle to the original.
This was written as an exercise to get myself out of dry spell.
All of the cast names have been changed in this version (except for Drew Pearson and Gabriel Heatter, who were a real newsmen).
Anyway, here is my effort to retell the original story with two of our favorite women in the pivotal roles.
From The Beginning
Chari secured herself in the navigator seat next to her assigned automate, Gaåvra, as it piloted the craft into the orbit of this relatively young celestial body, located in the solar system next to her own. It had been an honor to be chosen for this mission of delivering the message of armistice to a planet her ancestors had discovered, investigated and claimed in the name of her nation, Efraq, so many millennia ago. She also had a more personal quest to undertake on this planet, if her assignment was successful – and there was no reason to think it wouldn't be.
She was dressed in her military travel suit, which was padded, metallic and included a helmet with an impenetrable face shield. It was impossible to determine her gender just from her outward appearance. The official uniform was a purposeful design, as in her world, male emissaries were treated as equally as females and, especially when traveling to other planets, no one wanted an ambassador to face discrimination because of a difference of mere sexual organs.
Her planet, Uhrdaård, was a matriarchy. Women had ruled for thousands of years and had the roles of political leadership, property overseers and moral authority. The world governments had tried egalitarianism and it had not worked. A matrifocal society was formed and, thanks to their implementation of a global law enforcement faction, not only was unrest no longer tolerated, it no longer existed.
Chari had studied the history of her progenitors, the legacy they had forged and had been tutored on the archaic convictions of earthlings, well aware that the current inhabitants were beyond parochial in their attitudes. In fact, they were almost considered haåjgruxyrkus (or “Neanderthal” in Earth terms) in their approach to, well, pretty much everything.
She knew that, even with their antiquated telemetric radar, this world had to have been alerted to her presence in their atmosphere and they were surely tracking her by now. The closer the ship got to the firmament, the more the instruments on the bearings panel began to activate to advise her that they had, indeed, been noticed. In a matter of minutes the craft would be visible with the naked eye, as she validated the programmed coordinates of their destination.
“Gaåvra, quihogu doj tol tecoqez swuj quoxuqemu swoqihms sid swåquu,” Chari instructed the automate, in her planet's universal language of Uhdåra.
As requested, the android reduced the speed and prepared to reverse thrust. The ship was nearing the sector of alight in the antediluvian capitol of this world's military power, Washington, DC. Chari prepared the force fields and all protective shields, in case they were greeted with immediate hostility. She hoped for the best and expected the worst. After all, in Earth years, in was Nineteen Hundred Fifty-One. Their technology had not yet reached the stage of being capable of sending any kind of craft into orbit so her arrival was going to be quite a shock.
“Mom! Mom!” Michael Barrington barely got off his bicycle before it slammed to the pavement. He left it where it was, not giving a thought to what hazard it might create for those needing to use the sidewalk. He ran up the stoop of the brownstone boarding house where he and his mother lived. The ten-year-old's enthusiasm was not unusual as his energy level seemed limitless. Michael gave the screened door a hefty shove, propelling it into the wall with a thud. The old hinges and rusty springs screeched as the door then swung closed after Michael was inside.
“Michael! What have I told you about letting that door slam?” His mother said. She stepped out of the kitchen archway, drying her wet hands with a dishtowel. She brushed a strand of her long, honey-blonde hair away from her unmistakably pretty face and studied her son as he ran down the hallway toward her, all out of breath.
“Mom, me and Jimmy were just riding over by the school and a spaceship flew over us!”
Michael, a bright, inquisitive boy with an “All-American” appearance, was petite like his mother. He had sandy brown hair and hazel eyes that leaned more toward green, depending on what hue of clothing he wore. A spattering of freckles bridged his nose and added tone to his light complexion. He wore a tri-colored striped jersey halfway tucked into denim trousers that were rolled up at the cuff in anticipation of an inevitable growth spurt. He stopped just short of running into her.
His mother held onto the towel as she placed her hands on her hips. Before she could address his excitement, a voice shouted out from the living room.
“What is that boy going on about now?” And elderly woman stepped into the hallway. “Spaceships? Too much imagination if you ask me!”
Holly Barrington bit the inside of her cheek to stop herself from responding in kind to Mrs. Valley's remark. The older woman was always grousing about something; she never needed a reason, it seemed, just an excuse and Michael was a favorite target. Holly studied her son's expression and discerned something was indeed causing his extraordinary zeal. Unfortunately, Holly was pretty sure a ‘spaceship' wasn't the legitimate cause.
“A boy is supposed to have an imagination,” Holly said, pleasantly. She reached over and smoothed her son's hair. “Calm down, honey, and tell me what is going on.”
“I'm telling you! It was a spaceship. And it made this weird sound. Didn't you hear it?”
“Now he wants to draw us into his dream world? Really, Mrs. Barrington, the boy needs a father.”
“He has a father, Mrs. Valley!” Holly flared, an action that caused Mrs. Valley's eyes to snap wide open. “You know his father is buried in Arlington and your bringing that up is very cruel.” Holly didn't need to be reminded that her husband, Wendell Barrington, had died on the beaches of Anzio seven years earlier. Michael was the spitting image of Wendell, with his smile, his hair, the twinkle in his eyes and the tilt of his head when he was curious. Michael may not have had vivid memories of his father but there was no way Holly would ever forget him. How dare that old biddy throw that in her face!
Michael had never seen his mother that angry before and it nearly shocked him into silence. Nearly. “It's okay, Mom…”
“Well, I never -!” Mrs. Valley said, indignation clear in her expression.
Maybe that's why Mr. Valley is as cranky as you are, Holly wanted to say but chose not to. That was an insult that would never be forgiven nor forgotten, no matter how valid. As Mrs. Valley retreated to the living room, Holly's sea-green eyes concentrated once again on Michael. “Tell me exactly what you saw.”
There was barely a cloud in the sky as the sightseeing tourists and working citizens crowded the streets of the nation's capital, enjoying the seasonably mild weather. Suddenly an increasing loud, humming noise accompanied a large, round shadow of an object that came into view and hovered over the city.
When people realized what they were seeing, some panicked and ran and some stayed where they were, paralyzed with fear and rooted to the spot. When the object began to descend, the pulsating hum became nearly deafening until the spacecraft landed in the middle of the Mall. Then all noise and glow associated with the ship ceased.
An hour later, Jack Valley hurried downstairs to the living room where his wife sat reading a fashion magazine. Her mood was still tainted by her run with the Barringtons earlier. “Turn on the television! Turn on the television!” he announced and ran to the appliance, flipping the button.
“Jack! What is the matter? Must you yell and make so much noise?” His wife's question was laced in admonishment.
“They've landed! They're here! Margaret, we've been invaded from outer space!” He paced waiting for the damned contraption to warm up.
Margaret Valley wondered if the whole world was going crazy today. Jack's thundering exclamations had been heard all over the brick row house and all the boarder's who were home gathered in the parlor to find out what the fuss was about. Jack Valley was not an easily excitable man so it had to be something serious.
As Holly and Michael Barrington reached the living room, the small, round television screen displayed the words that struck terror into the hearts of any sane person: Special Bulletin.
The camera then focused on nationally known and respected newsman Drew Pearson, who looked grim. In front of him was a large, radio microphone and behind him was a TV screen, showing what was going out over the air as he spoke. “Ladies and Gentleman, we interrupt this program for a special bulletin. Good afternoon. This is Drew Pearson. We're bringing you this special television-radio broadcast to give you the latest information on the spaceship that has just landed in the Mall in Washington.”
Holly and Mrs. Valley looked at Michael in disbelief. He shrugged. “I told you,” he replied in his own defense. All three returned their attention to the television.
“As this spacecraft was tracked by radar throughout several cities of the world, there are reports of panic in many large areas. The Government and Department of Defense has authorized me to assure you there is no reasonable cause for alarm. The rumors of mass destruction and invading armies are based on hysteria and false. I repeat, these rumors are false!”
Pearson was handed a sheaf of more bulletins as the camera panned, then dollied forward to focus on the screen behind him. The spacecraft came into view as his voice was still heard. “We still do not know where it is from, only that it can travel at supersonic speed and the ship is clearly designed for travel outside the earth's atmosphere. It landed at 3:47 PM, Eastern Standard Time, almost exactly one hour ago and has rested in that spot without any signs of life within or activity on the outside.”
“Well, someone had to fly it here,” Mr. Kendall, another boarder, mumbled.
“The gleaming surface of the ship shows no break of any kind – no windows, no ports, not even an outline for a door or hatch. It is a fearsome object that gives no evidence of its source or intent,” Pearson stated.
“Nothing like scaring us all to death,” Mrs. Corcoran, the owner of the boarding house, commented to no one.
“I think the fact that a flying saucer just landed on earth is enough on its own, don't you?” Mr. Kendall asked, rhetorically.
“Military leaders are considering two possibilities,” Pearson continued. “That it is from another planet or it came from some unfriendly power right here on earth.” The picture on the screen cut away from the spacecraft and showed an armed, military battalion, surrounding the ship. Platoons of soldiers were at the ready and were flanked by several armored vehicles that faced the unidentified object. “Troops have been rushed here from Fort Myer, Virginia, and are supported by artillery, machine guns and tanks.”
Several shots showed close-ups of the military personnel, with eyes that never left the ship and taut from suspense, while nervous perspiration dotted a majority of young faces. Anxiety was palpable even in the demeanor of the grizzled, older veterans. Behind the cordoned off area, stood members of the press and curious onlookers. The camera then returned to the ship.
“As you can see, ladies and gentlemen, the Army has taken every precaution to meet every situation that might arise – every eye, every weapon is trained on that ship and has been this way since the ship landed.”
“Mom, look!” Michael pointed at the television screen.
The camera zoomed in as an opening suddenly appeared in the upper level of the ship and a ramp began to extend.
“Just a minute, ladies and gentlemen…something is happening,” Pearson announced, a slight quiver to his voice.
The ramp slid silently forward and came to rest in front of the spacecraft. This prompted the military to stand at full alert. An astronaut appeared in the doorway and stopped before it headed down the alloyed decline. It seemed to be surveying all that was before it. The tension was almost visible as an unnerving quiet settled on the people surrounding the ship.
The space traveler's demeanor was that of a composed, regal being. As it deplaned with slow confidence, the tall form was impressive with tremendous dignity and presence. The aura of tolerant superiority at once dazzled and angered the military leaders who were unsure of what exactly this alien being's mission was, as though objecting to the arrogance of the astronaut knowing why it was there and they being without a clue.
After a long moment of observation from both entities, the space traveler raised an arm in a gesture that seemed to represent truce or neutrality. Then, in perfect English, amplified by a mechanism in the helmet or uniform, the space traveler spoke.
“We have come to visit you in peace and in good will.”
The voice was impersonal, without any distinguishable accent and unidentifiable in gender or age. As the alien continued down the ramp, it drew a strange-looking long and tubular object from its side. As the being moved off the ramp and toward the soldiers, it extended the object outward. The gesture was seen not so much as an offering but as possibly menacing with a weapon of some sort. A building, uneasy rumble of muttering started among the soldiers as the space traveler advanced closer to them.
Clearly frightened of what the alien might do, a young officer, standing in front of his platoon, unholstered his sidearm. The being then appeared to focus on the lieutenant, moving in his direction, holding the object toward him. The gloved hand of the astronaut pushed a button on the device it held and metal spikes in an intricate design erupted from the top. Convinced the object was about to put the soldier in danger, a gunshot rang out from the direction of one of the tanks. It knocked the appliance out of the space traveler's grasp and the bullet ricocheted to rip through the spacesuit, into the alien's shoulder.
The alien fell to the ground, wounded. The object it had been holding lay close to its body, definitely damaged. An order of “Hold your fire! Cease all fire!” went out through the battalion and the soldiers began to gather around the astronaut, in excited curiosity. Suddenly a collective gasp of amazement and fear was heard from the crowd and the soldiers looked up at the entrance of the ship to see a huge metallic robot.
A shared, frightened exclamation went up in the parlor of the boarding house when the camera zoomed in on this massive thing that had appeared from the spaceship. Holly unconsciously put a protective arm around her son and held him close as they watched the live events play out before them on their television screen. What happened next made them all think their world was coming to an end.
Troops slowly started to back away from the injured alien, not taking their eyes off the massive creature that had to be at least eight feet tall and made of the same burnished material as the spacecraft. The robot made its way slowly, stiltedly,
down toward the ground, the ramp instantly closing behind it.
What was assumed to be the robot's face remained utterly expressionless. The creature stopped to look at the traveler, who was still supine. It seemed to assess the situation, then it faced the artillery, tanks and soldiers, which now followed every move the robot made. A metal mask slid up to reveal some kind of ocular ability that flashed a horizontal red line as though lit internally. The light swept back and forth, absorbing the entire scene before it and suddenly the glow in the visor stopped moving and began to build in a circle.
An ominous humming was emitted from the creature that evolved into a menacing crackling sound, as though power were being generated from within it. A beam flashed from the robot's visor toward the tank where the gunshot originated. The world watched in fascinated horror as the Sherman Tank was engulfed by a bright, almost shimmering, blinding light and disintegrated into a twisted heap of molten junk. The crew had avoided harm by fleeing the armored vehicle before it was completely enveloped.
The droning then crackling sound continued as the robot's eye beam spread in a semicircle, taking stock of all the troops and ordinance. Before any of the military could react, every weapon in sight was melted and dissolved into barely recognizable scrap. As impossible as it seemed, not one of the troops had been physically harmed. Regardless, their faces revealed the utter terror of what they had just experienced and reacted to the full shock by a majority of them being frozen in their tracks.
A few soldiers then broke rank and ran wildly from the perceived danger, causing sudden pandemonium to erupt. The surrounding crowd, utterly terrified by what they had just witnessed, became a wild, swarming, screaming mob, concerned only with escape.
The robot then walked slowly, deliberately, threateningly toward the soldier who fired on the alien. The GI, standing by the puddle of what was once his tank, was immobilized with terror, his only visible reaction being his bladder letting loose. The robot's eye beam began to concentrate on the shooter when the alien spoke to the robot, sharply, in a strange language.
“Gaåvra! Gucomu ciji iumeerm!”
The big, metallic creature paused obediently in the act of being about to turn the human into ashes and closed its visor. It then became motionless and remained that way.
The traveler rose to a sitting position on the ground, the gunshot wound causing obvious, considerable pain. Two military officers approached the alien hesitantly, badly shaken by the awesome demonstration of power they had just witnessed. Uncertain as to protocol in a situation like this, they remained silent. One of the officers eyed the mangled object on the ground curiously, then turned questioningly to the astronaut. With substantial dignity, the alien picked up the destroyed device, which was nothing like they had ever seen before. It was an intricately designed tubular telescoping mechanism, decorated with indications of small, computerized components. This now badly smashed object was definitely too futuristic even for the Russians.
“It was a gift for your President,” the alien told them in a voice strained by discomfort. “With this, he could have studied life on other planets.” The traveler let the object drop with a shrug of what appeared to be mild exasperation. The two officers exchanged a helpless look of bewilderment. The alien then painfully rose to its feet, holding its wounded shoulder.
The senior officer, an Army major general, motioned to two junior officers who cautiously approached. “Get an ambulance over here and let's transport our guest to Walter Reed, ASAP.” The two-star general turned to the alien. “If that's okay with you, that is. We need to treat your gunshot wound.”
The space traveler simply nodded in compliance as one of the other soldiers radioed for an ambulance.
“Mom…do you think there are more?” Michael asked, breaking the overwhelming silence of all the occupants in the living room. The only noise was that of Drew Pearson, in the background, summarizing the events of the previous ninety minutes.
Holly shook herself out of her shock and looked at her son. His wide-eyed innocent expression seemed to betray everything he had just seen. Before she could answer, Mrs. Valley jumped in.
“Of course there are more, you silly boy! Do you think they built that ship by themselves? They're probably just the first of many, come to destroy us!”
“Margaret!” Mr. Valley snapped. “For heaven's sake, stop scaring the boy.”
“He should be scared,” Mr. Kendall said, matter-of-factly. “I'm scared. Anyone with a brain should be scared.” His tone was not unkind but neither was it gentle.
“Mom?” Michael now sounded frightened.
Holly hugged her son against her. “I don't know, honey. I guess we have to wait and see why they came but, yes, I think there must be more.”
“They came to kill us!” Mrs. Valley began again. “Didn't you see what that robot did?”
“Mrs. Valley, please…” Mrs. Corcoran said, her hand resting over her heart. She was a pale complexioned woman to begin with but now she seemed devoid of any pigmentation, whatsoever.
“Look,” Holly said, sounding more reasonable than she really felt, “that robot could have killed all those soldiers and it didn't. With powers like that, it could have melted everyone in that crowd but it didn't. Maybe they aren't here to kill us.”
“Then they're here to take us prisoner and make us slaves,” Mrs. Valley said.
“Margaret, you're an alarmist,” Mr. Valley told her, receiving a look of umbrage in return. “We need to wait and see.”
“You have to admit, Jack, it doesn't look good,” George Kendall said.
“I'm with Mrs. Barrington,” Jack Valley said.
Margaret Valley looked at her husband with the utmost betrayal, then her eyes narrowed at the remarkably attractive Holly Barrington. “Of course you are,” Mrs. Valley mumbled, her face suddenly resembling a fist.
In the small sitting room by the corridor to the closed door of the room where the alien was being treated, stood Major General Whitacre, who ordered the transport to Walter Reed General Hospital. With him was Colonel Nicklas, who was in command of the medical facility, a military police captain named Alaimo who was in charge of hospital security, three medical officers and two civilians who worked for the United States government. Their conversation, carried on in hushed tones, was interrupted by the door to the alien's room opening. A medical corps officer, Major Wentworth, exited, followed by an Army nurse.
“How is he?” Whitacre, the two-star general, asked.
“Well, first of all, Sir, our visitor is not a he.”
“What?” chorused eight voices at the same time.
“Our guest is definitely female,” Major Wentworth repeated.
“A woman?” Whitacre thundered. “What kind of society sends a woman to fight their battles for them?”
“Clearly a smart, capable one, Sir,” Wentworth answered. “Otherwise, I doubt she would have been selected for this mission…whatever it may be.”
“So she told you nothing?” Colonel Nicklas asked.
“Nothing that could tell us what her purpose here is,” Wentworth said.
“What about that big guy standing guard by the ship? She say anything about him?” Captain Alaimo, ever the cop, inquired.
“No. Our conversation was professional and medically related.”
“All right, medically speaking, how is she?” Whitacre asked.
“Other than the bullet wound, her blood pressure is a little high…but I guess mine might be, too, if someone shot me,” Wentworth stated, wryly. “She still wants to see the President.”
“We informed the White House over an hour ago. I don't understand why nobody is here yet,” Alaimo said. “It's not like this is an every day occurrence.”
Whitacre gave Alaimo a withering glare. “I'm pretty sure there is a lot our commander-in-chief needs to do to prepare for a meeting such as this one.” He returned his attention to Major Wentworth. “She didn't happen to drop any hints as to why she's here, did she?”
“No, Sir, she did not,” Wentworth responded.
“Sir?” Captain Alaimo spoke up again, “Excuse me, but what are your orders concerning the press? There are so many reporters swarming the lobby…”
“Have someone tell them that there will not be any statement tonight,” Whitacre told him.
As Alaimo hurried through the doorway, he passed an official-looking gentleman, wearing a dark brown suit, carrying a briefcase, coming in. The man, William Harvey, a member of the White House secretariat, approached the gaggle of officers. Harvey nodded, pleasantly, to the general and stopped before the group. He was a middle-aged man who carried an air of polish and self-assurance.
“Mr. Harvey,” Whitacre acknowledged. “We've been waiting.”
Harvey, a distinguished-looking man in his fifties, with a stern look and a full head of grey hair, gestured toward the room. “He in there?”
“Yes, she is,” Whitacre said, with a smirk.
“She? A woman?” Harvey exclaimed in astonishment. “Well, well, well. How interesting…” He proceeded to the door, not dropping his professionalism.
The alien female lifted her head as Harvey entered, closing the door behind him. His expression registered surprise – not so much at her gender but at her appearance.
Out of her uniform and headdress, in a hospital gown, shoulder wrapped and slinged, with her face exposed, Harvey was completely taken aback by her beauty. Her hair was long, thick and dark, her skin tone flawless and akin to someone with a Mediterranean heritage. Her lips were full and a natural coral color, her nose was slender and proportionate to the square shape of her face. She had prominent cheekbones and a strong jaw that reminded him of a noble warrior of American Indian ancestry. She also had the bluest eyes he had ever seen on a human being. It was only then, he reminded himself, that she wasn't human.
“You're wrong,” she said to him, in a deep, lovely alto that pleased and startled him.
“Wrong? About what?”
“I am human. Just far more advanced.”
“Advanced enough to read my thoughts, I see.”
“No,” she smiled, revealing even, white teeth. “Nothing so innovative as that. I can, however, read your countenance.”
Harvey placed his briefcase on the chair by the bed. He couldn't help but be a little awed by the woman who now studied him with the same interest as he scrutinized her. She appeared to be a figure of some authority that reflected an inner grandeur and poise, not at all intimidated by her surroundings or situation. Harvey could not help but be awed by the cool, penetrating reserve she possessed.
He extended his hand in a gesture of greeting. The woman hesitated, then accepted his hand in a brief shake before releasing it. “William Harvey, secretary to the President of the United States.”
“You speak our language expertly, Miss Chari – Mrs. Chari…?”
“Sounds like Charlie, without the L,” he said, as a way of making conversation.
She motioned to the chair by the door. “Please, Mr. Harvey, have a seat.”
Harvey paused, then reached for the chair. He moved it opposite the bed and sat in it. “The President has asked me to convey his sincerest apologies for what has happened.”
Chari nodded. “And where is your President? Did he not feel this was important enough to relay his regret in person?”
“Miss…um…Chari, you must understand that, without knowing exactly why you are here, we need to keep the leader of the free world in a secure location.” He looked at Chari and waited for a response. There wasn't one, other than a perfectly shaped raised eyebrow. Clearing his throat, he continued. “I'm sure I don't have to point out to you that your, um, arrival was quite a surprise.” With still nothing forthcoming from Chari, Harvey proceeded. “Have you been traveling long?”
“Approximately five of your months.”
“You must have come a long way.”
“About two hundred fifty million of your miles.”
Harvey looked up quickly at Chari, sure that she was joking. She was not. “That's…a long way. Naturally, we are curious to know where you're from.”
“Another planet.” She smiled, easily and diplomatically. “Let's just say we're neighbors.”
Harvey was a little stunned at having his wildest assumptions so impassively confirmed. “It's a little difficult to think of another planet as a neighbor,” he said, with a nervous chuckle.
“I'm afraid, in the present situation, you don't really have a choice.”
Harvey visibly swallowed and raised his eyebrows in question. “Present situation?”
“Yes. The reason why I am here.”
She certainly was making him work for his paycheck. “Yes, that. So, Miss…I mean, Chari, why are you here?”
“That's not something I can discuss with you, Mr. Harvey.”
“You -? What do you mean? I don't understand. I am an emissary of the President.” He sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Perhaps you'd rather discuss it personally with the President?”
“This is not a personal matter, Mr. Harvey,” Chari said, pragmatically. “My mission here concerns all the people on your planet.”
“I'm not sure I understand…” Harvey shook his head.
“I need to meet with representatives of all the nations on Earth.”
Harvey was rendered instantly speechless by her statement, disturbed that she would actually request such a thing. Finally he found his voice and said, “I'm afraid that would be somewhat awkward, if not downright impossible.”
“Why? Well, it's…it's completely without precedent. And there are practical considerations – the time involved; the enormous distances…!”
Chari regarded him, coolly. “I traveled two hundred fifty million miles. I hardly think there is a comparison. What about your United Nations?”
“You know about the UN?”
“We know about everything, Mr. Harvey. We've been monitoring your planet for centuries.”
“And we are able to monitor your radio transmissions, your newspapers and, lately, your television broadcasts.”
“Television? You must have an…interesting…impression of us,” Harvey said with a wry smile.
“If we didn't know any better, from what we saw on your television, we would have been convinced that all you did was wrestle. Badly,” Chari told him, with a mischievous smirk.
Harvey returned her grin and then reverted to the serious situation at hand. “Yes, well, if you have indeed been monitoring our broadcasts, then you must recognize the evil forces that have produced discord in our world. Surely, you would agree –“
“I am not concerned,” Chari interrupted, evenly, “with the internal affairs of your planet. That is your business, not mine.”
“I was only hoping to make you understand,” Harvey said, defensively.
“My mission here is not to solve your petty squabbles,” Chari said, austerely. “My mission here concerns the existence of every living creature on Earth.”
Harvey ran his hand through his hair in frustration. “Perhaps if you could explain a little more…”
“I intend to explain. To all the nations, simultaneously.”
They stared at each other in stubborn defiance. Finally, Harvey said, “Why you?”
“I don't follow,” Chari said, even though she could guess the direction he was headed.
“I mean,” he hesitated, as though he needed to figure out the most delicate way to phrase his question, “why a woman? I think a man would be taken much more seriously by our leaders.”
Chari had to consciously stop herself from gaping at him. “Are you saying that the message can only be taken seriously, depending on the gender of the messenger?” The look in her eyes nearly paralyzed him and right at that moment, he understood that she was as foreboding as any male who may have carried whatever warning she needed to deliver. This woman could command that robot to do whatever it was programmed to do and what was or wasn't between her legs was not a factor. At least not where she came from.
“No. No, of course not. I apologize if I have offended you.”
She didn't acknowledge his apology as she knew it was one void of sincerity. “How do we proceed, Mr. Harvey?”
Thoroughly shaken, Harvey realized that the prodigious force and power implied in Chari's manner precluded any probability of debate. After a long, thoughtful moment, he said, “We could call a meeting of the General Assembly…but you must know that the UN doesn't represent all of the nations.”
“Then why not a meeting of all the chiefs of state?”
“I honestly do not believe they would all sit down at the same table together,” Harvey said, somewhat helplessly.
Chari could not disguise that she was growing impatient with what seemed like nonsense to her. “I don't want to resort to threats, Mr. Harvey. I will simply tell you candidly that the future of your planet is at stake. I suggest you get that message out to the nations of the Earth any way and as urgently as you can transmit it.”
William Harvey suddenly decided he wanted to be anywhere other than in that room. He stood and pushed his chair back up against the wall. “I will make that recommendation to the President.” He picked up his briefcase. “I must tell you, in all honesty, that I am highly doubtful about the results.”
Chari rewarded him with a half-smile. “Then, apparently, I am not as cynical about Earthlings as you are.”
“Well, perhaps that is because I have been dealing with our politics a lot longer than you have.” He executed a partial bow before he left the room.
She stared at the closed door for a moment, perplexed by this strange and, evidently irrational world she had come to. Chari shook her head in reflective, tolerant bewilderment.
Searchlights with fixed beams lit the surreal shapes of the spaceship and the robot, giving the objects an eerier cast than they had on their own. A circle of soldiers guarded the area, now protected by a hastily constructed fence of wire, while a crew, mixed with military and civilian men, worked around the craft.
Master Sergeant Balfour, of the 27 th Engineer Battalion, dressed in fatigues, carefully inspected the side of the ship. He carried an acetylene torch in his right hand and wore a welding helmet over his face. He was in charge of a group of men dressed exactly like him and performing the same task of examining every inch of the now grounded flying saucer.
“Getting anyplace, Sergeant?” General Whitacre asked, as he walked up alongside the top sergeant of the battalion.
Balfour straightened up and faced Whitacre, rendering a salute, which the general returned. He lifted his helmet. “No, sir. I swear I saw that ramp come out of this side of the ship. Now I can't even find a crack.”
“Any update on what it might be made of?” Whitacre asked, eyeballing the sleek craft.
“Nothing has been passed on to me, sir.” Balfour turned to another gentleman approximately fifteen feet away from him. “Hey, Culbertson! Got a sec?”
A man in a grey suit walked briskly to the two soldiers and stopped in front of them. “Yes?”
Balfour gestured to the man in the dress uniform with a chest full of ribbons and two stars on his epaulets. “Culbertson, this is General Whitacre. He's in charge.” He then addressed his commanding officer. “Sir, this is Mr. Culbertson. He is the nation's best metallurgical expert. He can help you more than I can.”
“What can I do for you, General?” Culbertson asked.
“You can tell me what this ship is made of, for starters.”
“I wish I could,” Culbertson said, sighing with frustration. “This is the toughest material I have ever seen in hardness and strength. We have nothing like this on our planet. Not even anything that can be compounded to make this.”
Whitacre nodded toward the robot. “What about …that?”
“It's made of the same thing as the ship,” Culbertson said.
“Sir, we've tried everything from a blow torch to a diamond drill and nothing is penetrating either the ship or the robot,” Balfour said, discouraged.
“You attempted to drill into that robot?” Whitacre asked, incredulous.
“Yes, sir,” Balfour answered.
“And there was no reaction?”
“No, sir. Not even a flinch. And there isn't a mark on him, either.”
“Has he even moved?” Whitacre asked.
“No, sir. Not even an inch.”
Major Wentworth held the x-rays up to the light to study the images along with Colonel Nicklas. Wentworth inclined his head toward the films. “As you can see, her skeletal structure is completely normal, as are her major organs. Heart, liver, spleen, kidneys… Her lungs are also the same as ours.”
“So that would suggest a similar atmosphere, similar pressure. How old is she?”
Wentworth allowed a half-smile to grace his lips. “How old do you think she is?”
Nicklas shrugged. “I don't know… early to mid thirties?”
“She told me she was 78-years-old.”
The colonel stared at Wentworth, agape. “I don't believe it. How is that possible?”
“She said their life expectancy is 150 years of age. Their medicine is that much more advanced. She told me this with all the diplomacy of not trying to make me feel like a third class witch doctor. It didn't work.”
“Do you believe her?”
“No real reason for her to lie. Besides, look at this –“ Wentworth replaced the images with new ones. “I took a bullet out of her shoulder just hours ago. These are x-rays of that area. There's no indication there has ever been any damage. Her shoulder, as of just five minutes ago, barely even registers a scar.”
“How does she explain that?”
“She said she put a salve on it, something she had with her.” He then held up a small tube. “I'm definitely taking this downstairs and having it analyzed. Then I don't know if I'll just go get drunk or give up the practice of medicine, altogether.”
Holly Barrington had tossed and turned ever since she had gone to bed. She was too keyed up to settle down, much less sleep. Ever since the spaceman had been taken to the hospital, everything had started to quiet down and become normal again. Well… as normal as life could be after a flying saucer had landed practically in her back yard. Sleep eluded her, as she was sure it had pretty much everyone, as Mr. Kendall put it, with a brain. Clearly, the earth was not under attack – at least not yet – since there had been no more sightings or landings. But the fact still remained that there was someone from another planet under guard in a hospital less than a mile away from where she lived. As frightening as that thought was, she couldn't help but give in to the excitement it also generated.
She had just rolled over again and fluffed her pillow when she heard a soft knock on the door. She glanced at her alarm clock. Who would be at her door at 2:30 AM?
“Mom?” Michael's voice was quiet enough not to wake anyone else, but with the right amount of urgency for her to get up and let him in. She shut the door behind him.
“What's wrong, honey?”
“I can't sleep,” he admitted. He wore pajamas with locomotive designs on them. Michael was a train enthusiast, HO scale, and the pjs had been a gift to him from Ted Sheldon, a man she had started dating not quite a year earlier.
Ted was a nice man and he was fun to be around but she wasn't totally convinced that he hadn't given Michael the pajamas as a bribe to make Ted's presence in Michael's life more acceptable. Ted didn't seem thrilled that she and Michael were a packaged deal but he had never blatantly spoke or behaved that way and she sometimes wondered if it was just her overprotective nature. After all, he and Michael seemed to get along fine.
“Mom, are you scared?” Michael asked, interrupting her thoughts.
“Are you?” She countered, figuring out the real reason he was in her room instead of his own.
“Um, no, but I can't stop thinking about what that robot did.”
“Yes, that was upsetting but, other than the spaceman, no one else got hurt. So, that was good, wasn't it?”
“Yeah, I guess so. Do you think the spaceman died?”
Holly thought about that. “I hope not. Then we might never know why they came. I think the news broadcasters may have said something if he had.”
“Maybe they don't want that big iron guy finding out. Bet he'd be pretty mad. He might hurt people then.”
“I hadn't thought of that. Wow, you're pretty smart.” Holly ruffled his hair and grinned at him, hiding her fear of the idea that the robot might certainly be capable of melting people just like he did those tanks and other weapons. “Okay then, let's pray that the spaceman is okay.”
“I already put him in my prayers before bed.”
She studied her son, impressed. “That was a lovely gesture, Michael.” After an awkward silence between them, she finally gave in. “Would you like to stay in here tonight?”
He appeared to be thinking that over. “Well…not because I'm scared. I don't want you to be scared so if it's okay with you…”
“I understand. You're very brave. Thank you,” she told him. She grinned at his sudden chivalry, amused that he was so quick to think on his feet.
The next morning dawned brightly, an event that actually surprised most of the population of the world. The news of a space invader the day before had spread quickly, as had the film footage and photographs of the massive robot disintegrating military weapons in one fell swoop. Citizens of Earth were collectively sure that Armageddon was upon them and that they would not make it through the night.
It was almost anticlimactic to wake up with a normalcy to life that, without the knowledge of an alien craft landing in Washington, DC, felt like every other day. People turned on their television sets to see cameras trained on the mall where the spaceship was still parked and the huge robot still standing guard, motionless as a statue. As for the spaceman, Walter Reed hospital spokesman had provided no statements or updates on the condition of the wounded alien, which did nothing to put anyone's fears to rest.
No longer could the existence of life on other planets be denied. No longer could the Air Force renounce the existence of flying saucers or dismiss sightings as “swamp gas.” No longer could any nation of Earth believe they were the most powerful force in the world, much less the universe. No longer would they feel the ultimate security of protection by their own militaries.
The day may have dawned the same but everything, as earthlings knew it, had forever changed.
William Harvey nodded to the military police officer who guarded the door to the alien's hospital room. The door remained closed at all times, a sentry ensuring that any and all who accessed the room had the proper authority to do so. The MPs, themselves, who changed shifts every eight hours had never even caught a glimpse of the mysterious visitor from another planet. Only one doctor and two nurses had charge of this patient and were briefed that confidentiality was of the utmost importance, so much so, that they were basically sequestered until the patient was released into military custody.
Harvey knocked and waited to be told to enter before he did. When permission was given, he walked in and made sure he closed the door behind him. He was surprised to find Chari, wearing a hospital robe over her gown, up and about, and standing by the window, looking out. Major Wentworth had advised him that she had already healed from her gunshot wound, a fact that just astounded him.
“Good day, Chari. The doctor told me you put in a restful night. How are you feeling?”
She turned those mesmerizing, unusual, blue eyes to him. “Fine, thank you. Have you any news for me?”
Right to business , Harvey thought. He placed his briefcase on the bed, opened it and pulled out a stack of papers. “The news isn't very good, I'm afraid. The President accepted your suggestion and cabled your request, with invitations for a meeting. Let me read you some of the replies.” He randomly selected a cable from the pile. “The Premier wishes to inform the Government of the United States that it will be impossible for him to attend the meeting suggested by the President unless the meeting is held in Moscow."
Chari's expression remained impassive while she digested the telegram's meaning. Harvey looked up, with a grim, pointed glance at her and pulled out another random cable.
"The suggestion of the President regarding the possibility of a meeting in Moscow would be unacceptable to Her Majesty's Government at the present time. Representation could be sent only if the meeting were held in London," he recited. He sighed, exasperated. “There you have it.” Harvey extended the sheaf of cables for Chari's inspection, but she ignored them. She returned her focus to the window and whatever was outside that had her attention.
He could see her jaw work in concentration as she remained silent. He was not clairvoyant but even he could tell her incredulous indignation was mounting. She looked away from the window and leveled a cynical gaze at him, staying quiet, allowing him to continue, uncomfortably.
“I tried to make you understand. The suspicions, the jealousies, the mistrust… Surely you realize this government has done everything in its power to –“
“It is not your government I am concerned about. It's your world.”
Harvey's eyes registered surprise at her piqued tone. “Once again, perhaps you'd like to discuss this matter with our President.”
“I will not speak to any one nation or group of nations,” she told him, sharply. Her expression was stern, almost bitter, yet she didn't raise her voice. He would have found her much less intimidating if she had. “I do not intend contribute to your childish jealousies and suspicions.”
“Our problems are very complex. I ask you not to judge us too harshly,” he said.
“I can only judge what I see,” Chari replied. She leaned against the wall and folded her arms.
“You're impatience is quite understandable.”
“I'm impatient with ignorance and foolish choices made by ego. My people have learned to live without it.”
“My people haven't,” Harvey said, ruefully. “I'm very sorry. I wish it were otherwise.” He placed the telegrams and other paperwork back in his briefcase, shut it and took the handle, preparing to leave. He was about to say goodbye when he noticed Chari staring out the hospital window again. “What has you so interested? Certainly our civilization must seem archaic and unsophisticated to you, with what you must be used to.”
“Well, I was just thinking that before I make any decisions, I should get out among your people,” Chari said, thoughtfully, before returning her attention to Harvey. “I think it would be most helpful to become familiar with the basis of these strange and unreasoning attitudes.”
Harvey cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable with having to deliver his next words. “I, uh, I'm afraid that, under the circumstances, that will be impossible. I must ask that you do not attempt to leave the hospital. Our military people have insisted on this. I'm sure you understand.”
“So now you are telling me that I am a prisoner here?” Chari's voice was low, not threatening or challenging, just controlled and it sounded like there may have been a lilt of humor to her tone.
“Not a prisoner, Chari. For your own protection.” Harvey told her, sounding as though he didn't believe it, either.
“If you didn't intend for me to be among your people, why did you bring me the clothing?” She gestured to the open closet where three dresses and one suit and skirt combination hung.
“We weren't sure you would be comfortable wearing your uniform until it was repaired – not that we have any material that comes close to matching it – so the President thought you might like to dress in something other than a hospital gown and bathrobe.”
“How thoughtful,” Chari said, dryly. She walked over to the closet and fingered one of the dresses. “Females on my planet do not wear such gender dividing clothes. Your world has a long way to go on this issue.”
“You would look out of place in anything else, I'm afraid.”
“I am out of place, Mr. Harvey. I am way out of place.”
Harvey left the room with a polite nod. As the MP made sure the door was closed behind him, Harvey stopped and looked at the young soldier. “Lock it,” he ordered.
The military police officer removed the key from his pocket, inserted it into the keyhole and secured the door with a click.
Inside the room, after hearing the noise of the door locking, Chari smiled in tolerant amusement.
Michael Barrington sat on the stoop of the rooming house, bored, watching the world go by when his friend, Jimmy Mercer, rode up to the steps on his bike.
“Mikey, let's go see the spaceship!”
“Naw, I can't. My mom won't let me.”
Jimmy leaned his bicycle against the railing and joined Michael on the steps. “Why not?”
“She thinks it's dangerous to be over there without a grown-up.”
“Grab your glove and we'll ride over to the school and play pitch and catch. Then, on our way home, we can take the long way.” He elbowed Michael in the side, conspiratorially. “Your mom won't find out,” he whispered.
“Yeah, she will. She finds out everything. And I don't like lying to her.”
“Maybe she'll take you to see it after work,” Jimmy said.
Michael shook his head. “No. She's scared.”
Jimmy nodded. “My mom is too.” He rested his chin on his knees, deep in thought.
“I had to stay with her last night so she could go to sleep.” Michael didn't dare to look at his friend for fear his expression would give away his exaggeration. He was shocked when Jimmy said he had to do the same.
“Why don't you ask your mom's boyfriend to take you?” Jimmy asked, with a new enthusiasm.
Michael shook his head. “He won't. He doesn't like spending time with me, he just likes my mom.”
“What a creep,” Jimmy said. “Why is your mom going out with him?”
Shrugging, Michael said, “I guess ‘cause he makes her laugh. I don't think she knows he doesn't like me.”
“So tell her.”
“Naw. I want her to be happy. She seems happy when he's around.”
“Think they'll get married?”
Michael sat up straight and glared at his friend. “I don't know. Maybe.” He sounded anything but cheerful about that prospect. He then thought perhaps that was because he didn't want to share his mom with anyone full-time. Did that make him a bad boy? Mr. Sheldon was okay…but, in Michael's opinion, he certainly wasn't the kind of guy he'd want to call ‘dad.'
While Michael was being introspective, Jimmy stood up, jumped down the steps and got on his bike. “I'm going to go see the spaceship. I'll tell you all about it when I get back.”
Jimmy rode away as Michael suddenly felt even gloomier.
In the dim light of one lamp, the door to the corridor swung open and one of the two authorized nurses entered, carrying a tray of medication, accompanied by an MP from the swing shift. The couple strolled up the hallway, steadily flirting with each other until they got to the room that held the mysterious space visitor. The nurse
paused while the military police officer removed the key from his pocket and inserted it in the lock. The MP twisted the key easily – too easily – and suddenly became all business when he realized the door was unsecured.
He exchanged a shocked glance with the nurse, then yanked the door open, rushing inside. Reflectively drawing his sidearm, he motioned the nurse to stay back and he crossed the unlit room to the bed. The only illumination came from the open door to the sitting room and hallway, the direction from which they just entered. The MP's eyes widened as he discovered the unmade and unoccupied bed. Terrified, the Army cop turned to the nurse, who was standing in the doorway.
“He's gone! How -?” The military policeman quickly searched the room again, after the nurse turned on the light. He raced out of the room, through the doorway past the nurse. She set the tray down and followed closely behind him, glancing around nervously as he sought out the Officer of the Day, his boss on that shift. He listened to the Captain dress him down and imagined his entire military career going up in smoke. Between screaming at the negligent MP, the Captain made several phone and radio calls, which prompted the entire battalion to go on alert.
An hour later, The Washington Post released a special edition, which was delivered to the street corner newsstands. Within minutes, people eagerly grabbed the papers, which sold out only moments after it had been dispatched. The headline read: "MAN FROM MARS" ESCAPES FROM ARMY HOSPITAL!
Chari passed the wooden booth that sold newspapers and periodicals on the corner and continued to walk along the sidewalk of a dimly lit, almost deserted, middle-class street. She was attired in one of the dresses that had been purchased for her and was impressed at the close fit of the size. Although she was slender, she was taller than most earth women and more sinewy, too. Whoever guessed her measurements had done a good job. The flat shoes were a bit snug but not impossible to work with. She was not quite used to the draft that moved around her bare legs and up under her skirt and felt quite vulnerable in the garment, wondering how women got used to wearing this article of clothing every day.
She carried a valise and she glanced idly at the drab-looking stone facades of the old
two-story houses and three-to-four story apartment buildings. As she passed, from the open windows of the houses came the voices of radio announcers. She heard a sentence or two from one house and then that voice faded and another picked up. Chari wondered if everyone was glued to their radios or televisions.
“Authorities at Walter Reed Hospital refused to comment on how he managed
to escape, or what measures might be taken to apprehend him…”
“These fantastic descriptions of the creature have been denounced as rumor by Washington Police Chief Wallace Bexley. He is not eight feet tall, as originally reported -- nor does he have tentacles in place of arms…”
“There is no denying that there is a monster at large -- that we are dealing with forces beyond our knowledge and power. The public is urged to take ordinary precautions and to remain calm, as we await further developments…”
“There are three separate reports of people who claim to have seen the ‘space man' in the past hour. One from Des Moines, Iowa; one from a village in northern Florida; and one from Chicago…”
Chari would have chuckled in amusement if her actual mission had not been so grave. She slowly walked by one of the houses and glanced at a sign in the window that said ‘Room For Rent.' She hesitated briefly, debating the other plan she had in mind; the second quest of her expedition. She raised her right arm to scratch her head thoughtfully, and noticed for the first time a small tag, or ticket, attached to the inside of the right forearm of the dress she was wearing. Puzzled, she pulled off the ticket and looked at it. Printed on it was the legend: Landsburgh's. Then, scrawled in a penciled hand was the notation: To be delivered to: Nurse Dorothy Cameron, Bldg. A - Walter Reed Hospital.
She smiled wryly at the reminder of where she got the clothes, and then she destroyed the ticket. She glanced down at the valise, carrying the bag toward the house and mounted the stone steps to the entrance.
There was no light in the parlor except what splashed in from the hall. Gathered around a television set were Mrs. Corcoran, Mr. Kendall, Holly, Michael and Mr. and Mrs. Valley. Their faces glowed eerily in the reflected light from the screen their attention was riveted to.
The television commentator continued with his bulletin. “While the President made no effort to minimize the crisis, he urged people all over the country to remain calm. He said the entire facilities of FBI and other federal agencies are being bought to bear. He pointed out, however, that this is no ordinary manhunt. He warned we may be up against powers that are beyond our control.”
“I can't stand any more of this,” Mrs. Corcoran said, tensely. “It's enough to drive a person crazy.” She reached over and twisted the television button sharply, leaving the living room in the dark.
Michael, disappointed that the set had been shut off, turned to his mother to say something when his roving eye fell to a shadow in the doorway. Wide-eyed, he nudged his mother and pointed. “H-hey, Mom, who's that?”
Silhouetted motionless against the light from the hall stood a tall figure. All eyes followed Michael's pointed finger, and a stifled gasp sounded, collectively, from all the adults, as they were startled out of their preoccupation. Jack Valley turned on the lights to reveal a woman standing calmly in the doorway. There was shocked silence for a moment, then an air of relief.
“I'm sorry,” Mrs. Corcoran apologized, “but you gave us quite a jolt. I'm Mrs. Corcoran. Can I help you?”
Chari smiled in friendly compliance. “My name is…Miss Cameron. I'm looking for a room and I saw your sign…”
As the anxiety level in the room, calmed down, everyone studied this beautiful, well-dressed stranger. She looked business-like and official, which prompted Michael to satisfy his curiosity.
“Are you from the FBI?” Michael asked, his imagination working overtime.
Before Chari could answer, Mrs. Valley cut her off. “Don't be silly, boy. Women can't be in the FBI. That's unheard of!”
“Actually, that's not quite accurate,” Chari said, politely but firmly. “ Alaska Packard Davidson became the first female special agent in 1922, at the age of 54.” Or so it said in an article she had just read that morning in a magazine called Life. She then looked back at Michael. “To answer your question, no, I do not work for the FBI.”
Mrs. Valley was taken aback by the gentle but factual rebuff but Michael was not to be deterred. “Betcha you said that because you can't tell anybody you're with the FBI. Betcha you're here to search for the spaceman.”
His enthusiasm was quelled by Holly, who stood up and pulled her son back to her. “I apologize for my son. I think we've been hearing just a little too much about spacemen the last couple of days.” Holly's voice was charmingly contrite in its mild reprimand.
When Chari took a step into the room, Holly was suddenly struck mute. This Miss Cameron was undoubtedly the most stunning woman she had ever seen, even surpassing her favorite movie stars. She had never looked into eyes so blue in her entire life, which said a lot as all shades of blue and green ran in her family. A chill…no, a tingle …an extremely pleasant but startling tingle ran down her spine as she and this gorgeous woman locked gazes.
“I have a very nice room on the second floor,” Mrs. Corcoran said, breaking the spell between the two women. “Would you like to see it?”
“Yes, that would be lovely. Thank you,” Chari said, her intense assessment of Holly apparently complete. She moved up the stairs behind the landlady.
Holly let out the breath she had not realized she had been holding. Thankfully, the exchanged seemed to have gone unnoticed by anyone else.
Less than a minute later both Mrs. Corcoran and Chari were back downstairs, Chari minus her valise. “I'd like you to meet our little family,” the landlady said and began to point everyone out. “This is George Kendall, Jack Valley and his wife, Margaret. They rent rooms on the third floor.” She then gestured toward the only other two left in the room. “And this is Holly Barrington and her son, Michael.” Everyone exchanged greetings but there was no handshaking, other than Michael, who took the job seriously with vigorous action.
“Can I help you look for the spaceman? Please? I know what he looks like, he's got a square head and three great big eyes!” Michael exclaimed, eagerly.
“We mustn't annoy Miss Cameron, now,” Mrs. Corcoran admonished the boy in a sing-song voice. “Or else she won't want to stay here.”
“Michael, that's enough, honey. I think it's time you went to bed,” Holly said, good-naturedly, hoping to calm him down. She tapped his shoulder and he reluctantly let go of Chari's hand.
“Michael,” Holly said with a raised eyebrow and a soft lilt to her voice.
“Yes, ma'am,” he acquiesced, glumly. “Nice to meet you, Miss Cameron.” He slowly turned and headed up the stairs toward his room.
“Nice to meet you, too, Michael,” Chari responded to his retreating back. She fixed her gaze on the light green of Holly's eyes, an action Holly found unnerving.
“I better go get him settled in,” Holly said and backed up a step before turning around, subconsciously unwilling to break whatever odd connection seemed to be between her and the stranger. “Goodnight. I'll see everyone in the morning.”
The occupants of the living room all bid Holly goodnight. As Chari watched Holly climb the stairs, Mrs. Corcoran said, “Michael is really a sweet, dear boy. Usually quiet as a mouse.” She regained Chari's attention when she said, “Are you long way from home, Miss Cameron?”
“Yes. How did you know?” She looked at Mrs. Corcoran with interest.
Mrs. Corcoran, pleased with her cleverness, said, “I can tell a New England accent a mile away.”
After Holly had tucked Michael in, she went to her own room and quietly shut the door. She sat on her bed and replayed in her head, the meeting with the beguiling woman downstairs. Her cheeks burned with embarrassment from the instant recollection of her own behavior. She was brought up better than that; it was rude to stare. She was puzzled about not just her lack of manners, but also that feeling which had encompassed her first eye contact with Miss Cameron. It was…dare she even think it? No, because it felt too intimate, almost sexual . But that was impossible! No, she must have been misinterpreting her reaction. There had to be another explanation.
Certainly it was obvious that everything about Miss Cameron was exquisite. Maybe that was it… Miss Cameron was so perfect-looking, she was intimidating. After all, she was quite tall for a woman and she appeared to be completely self-assured and definitely educated, as she showed old biddy Valley. Holly sighed in relief and ran her hand through her hair. That had to be it because, without question, it could not be anything else.
She changed into her nightgown, brushed her amber-colored hair to a satisfactory luster, turned out her light and went to bed. Her last conscious thought was about piercing, pale blue eyes.
Chari had nothing to sleep in other than a bra and underpants, anachronistic articles of clothing for her. Normally, she slept unencumbered, as her chamber temperatures were controlled and clothes were not needed while at rest. On this planet, in this time, decorum dictated that she wear something to bed, on the chance that an emergency caused her to have to quickly leave the room. She was not modest, as her people had been bred out of that futile frame of mind centuries ago. The body was not something to be ashamed of but it was something to be protected, which was the main reason for most kinds of apparel on Uhrdaård.
She finally decided to wear just her full slip as it was loose enough not to cause her discomfort. With only three changes of clothing, she would definitely need to find a way to either purchase more or complete her mission and be gone by day four. As she sunk down into her bed, fitted with worn, poplin sheets, she called to mind the lovely Mrs. Barrington and the instant connection they had shared before she even reflected on the difficult situation she had placed herself in with these uncooperative, competitive earthlings. The bond between the Earth woman and Chari had been immediate and undeniable, as her mentor said it would be.
How interesting , Chari thought as she drifted off to sleep with a smile on her face.
At breakfast the next morning, Chari studied and gauged the boarders she now shared a house with. Mrs. Valley was a stuffy, middle-class lady, traditional and unrelenting. Her husband appeared weak and insipid, even though he was very vocal about his complaints. Mr. Kendall was a slight man, meticulous and fussy. Mrs. Corcoran was definitely shrewd and ferreting. Chari was grateful she had nothing in her room that could incriminate her. Chari's eyes swept over to Mrs. Barrington who looked to be immersed in the Sunday paper. As though she felt Chari's intense gaze, the attractive blonde woman glanced up from her paper and was frozen in her seat under the scrutiny. When the voice of Gabriel Heatter emanated from the kitchen radio on the windowsill, the spell was broken. Mrs. Barrington blushed and smiled, returning to her newspaper. It still took a few moments for Chari's attention to be deflected by the broadcast.
“And so, this Sunday morning, we ask the question that's been plaguing the entire nation for two days now: Who is this creature and what is he up to? If he can build a spaceship that can fly to Earth -- and a robot that can destroy our tanks and guns -- what other terrors can he unleash at will? ...Obviously we must find this monster. We must track him down like a wild animal and destroy him.”
At least the world still thinks I'm a he , Chari thought. That buys me a little more time. I suspect is the military doesn't want the world to know they let a woman get away. She looked over at the front page of the Washington Post that Mrs. Barrington was holding up as she read an inside story. A half-page layout showed an artist's demented conception of a mass invasion of space ships. Weird-looking creatures appeared to be slaughtering Earth people with ray guns. The caption at the top of the image read: "Are We Long For This World?"
“That's pretty gruesome,” Chari commented, only realizing she had said it out loud when everyone in the kitchen turned to look at her. Mrs. Barrington glanced over the top of her newspaper and realized Chari must have been referring to the headlines. She nodded and hid behind the newspaper again.
“Yes. Nothing like trying to make us all more frightened than we already are,” Mrs. Valley said.
Gabriel Heatter's voice continued. “But where would such a creature hide himself? Would he disappear into the north woods? Or would he slither off into the sewers of some great city?”
Chari's interest was caught by another, smaller article under the cartoon, with the headline of: SAVANT CALLS MEETING TO STUDY SPACE SHIP . As Chari leaned in closer to read the fine print, Mrs. Barrington, peeked around the paper and spoke to her.
“I'm finished with the first part, Miss Cameron, would you like it?” She had already extended the section toward her.
“Yes, thank you, Mrs. Barrington.” Chari smiled at her and waited until she began reading again before she found her article.
Professor Jeremiah Barth, world-famous scientist and Nobel Prize winner, has invited fellow scientists from all over the world to meet with him in Washington and study the recently landed spaceship . Chari continued to read the details as the radio blared more propaganda.
“There is grave danger -- everyone agrees to that. The question is what can we do to protect ourselves? What measures can we take that will –“
“Jack, I wish you'd turn that radio off,” Mrs. Valley said, sharply. “A person can't think with all that terrifying news.”
Mr. Valley obediently snapped the radio off. “Why doesn't the government do something? That's what I want to know.”
“What do you expect them to do?” Mr. Kendall asked. “They're only people, just like us.”
“People, my foot!” Jack Valley spit out. “They're democrats!”
Mrs. Valley shook her head. “It's enough to give you the shakes. He's got that robot standing there, eight feet tall – just waiting for orders to destroy us.”
Mrs. Barrington folded her newspaper and set it on the table. “This spaceman – or whatever he is,” she began, thoughtfully. “We automatically assume he's a menace. Maybe he isn't at all.”
This statement made Chari snap upright from reading her article, giving Mrs. Barrington her full attention.
“That's just silly,” Mrs. Valley, huffed. “Then why is he hiding? Why doesn't he come out into the open? What is he up to?”
Chari silently reiterated her annoyance with the haughty woman who seemed to take specific delight in condescending to Mrs. Barrington. She was about to speak up when Mrs. Barrington calmly said, “Maybe he's afraid.”
“ He' s afraid?” Mrs. Valley let loose with a derisive snort.
“After all, Mrs. Valley, he was shot the moment he landed here. It makes me wonder what I would do,” Mrs. Barrington said.
“Perhaps,” Chari said, sounding composed as ever, “before deciding on a course of action, you'd want to know more about the people here - to orient yourself in a strange environment.” She smiled at Mrs. Barrington who gratefully smiled back.
“There is nothing strange about Washington, DC, Miss Cameron,” Mr. Valley spoke up.
“A person from another planet might disagree with you.” Chari's response was stealthily tongue-in-cheek.
“If you want my opinion,” Mrs. Valley, said, not caring really if anyone did or didn't, “he came from right here on Earth.” Then she added, with significant emphasis. “If you know what I mean.”
“Then they wouldn't come in spaceships, they'd come in planes,” Mr. Kendall said.
“I wouldn't be too sure about that,” Mrs. Valley said, as though she had superior knowledge of the situation.
Mr. Valley nodded, agreeing with his wife. “Stands to reason that fella wants something or he wouldn't be here.” He turned to Chari. “That make sense to you?”
“Why are you asking her?” Mrs. Valley was quite annoyed. “She doesn't know any more than we do!”
Chari just shrugged and in a pleasant tone, said, “I must admit, I'm a little confused, too.”
Just as Mrs. Valley was about to speak there was a knock on the front door. Mrs. Corcoran got up to answer but only got as far as the kitchen door when she was met by a man about Mrs. Barrington's age.
“Mr. Sheldon, how nice to see you again,” Mrs. Corcoran said.
But he only had eyes for Holly Barrington. He crossed the room and kissed her lovingly on the cheek and Chari instantly disliked him. It was one thing that there seemed to be a mutual affection between the intriguing Mrs. Barrington and this man who wasn't MR. Barrington but it was another thing that he just ignored everyone in the room. There was an air of arrogance about him that floated around him like a thundercloud. Chari was suddenly amused by her own reaction. Was she experiencing jealousy? Toward a male who certainly was not her concern about a female she personally didn't even know? Interesting, she thought.
Her ponderings were interrupted by the annoying voice of Mrs. Valley. “Finish your coffee, Jack. I told the Carlyles we would be there by eleven.”
Mr. Valley grunted his response, drained his coffee cup and left the table. He placed his mug in the sink and exited the kitchen with his supercilious wife.
“Good morning, Ted,” Mrs. Barrington said, smiling warmly.
“We're all set. I picked up some sandwiches and put gas in the car. And the radio's still busted, so we can forget about that space man for today.”
“There's only one thing,” Mrs. Barrington began, a little disturbed, “I haven't been able to arrange for anyone to stay with Michael. I don't suppose we could take him with us?” Her tone was tentative. “There's always somebody here, but today of course they've all got plans.”
The thundercloud suddenly grew darker. He sighed, making his preference clear. “Holly…” he shook his head. He glanced around at everyone still in the kitchen, as though seeing other people there for the first time.
Of course he notices everyone now , Chari thought. He needs them whereas before they were useless to him. “I don't have any plans,” Chari spoke up, surprised to hear her own voice volunteering her services. “I'd be glad to spend the day with him, if you'd let me.”
Holly turned to look at her while Ted smiled, victoriously. “Say, that'd be great. Thanks,” Ted said, without even so much as a glance Holly's way for approval.
“It's awfully nice of you to suggest it…” Holly appeared to be hesitant.
“I think it's a grand idea,” Ted stated, as though his word should have been the last one. He looked disappointed in Holly when she still wasn't sure.
“I don't know. It's not that I don't appreciate the offer but I – we – don't really know you and…”
“Holly, let's not be hasty. She seems like a very nice woman,” Ted argued.
“You two haven't even been introduced,” Holly said, in a mildly defensive tone of voice.
Ted extended his hand. “Ted Sheldon. Mrs. Barrington's fiancé.”
Chari accepted his hand with a firm grip, something he was evidently not used to in a woman. “Dorothy Cameron. Fiancé? Congratulations.” So there is no Mr. Barrington; at least not currently. I wonder where he is and why she would be with such a boorish individual as this male?
“Thank you. It's a very recent development,” Holly said. Chari detected a trace of half-heartedness in her voice.
Chari was loathe to let Ted get away with his presumptuous behavior but she had ulterior motives, too. “Michael and I had a fine time, talking before breakfast this morning. We listened to the radio and discussed the spaceman.” She revealed a most enchanting smile at Holly. “Maybe since I'm new in town, he can show me around.”
Holly seemed to be drawn right in by Chari's charm and at war with her own thoughts. “Um, well, I guess we could always ask Michael.”
Michael was thrilled with the idea of spending the day with Miss Cameron, even though he would have agreed to just about anything to get out of spending time with Mr. Sheldon. Not that sharing his time being tour guide to a pretty girl was a hardship. Quite the contrary, the ten-year-old was clearly smitten with the older woman.
They had visited the Capitol building, rode up to the top of the Washington Monument, walked by the White House and now they were at the Lincoln Memorial, standing in front of the great brooding figure of the 16 th President at the far end of the impressive main hall. They stood side by side as Miss Cameron read the inscription of the Gettysburg Address quietly, but out loud.
"- ‘And that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.' Those are great words,” Miss Cameron said, with an air of reverence and revelation. She looked up at the statue of Lincoln. “He must have been a great man”
Michael was impressed with Miss Cameron's apparent awe and sincerity but he was also a bit puzzled by what seemed to be her discovery of this. Didn't all grown-ups know Lincoln was a great man?
As they strolled out of the monument, Miss Cameron said, “That's the kind of man I'd like to talk to.” Michael regarded her with bewilderment. “Michael, who is the greatest man in America today?”
Michael shrugged, thinking over her question. “I don't know…the spaceman, I guess.”
Miss Cameron brushed her hand over his hair and chuckled. He looked up at her and blushed. “I meant Earth men. Who is the greatest philosopher – the greatest thinker?” she asked.
“You mean the smartest man in the whole world?”
“Yes. That will do.”
“Professor Barth, I guess. He's the greatest scientist in the world.”
“Doesn't he live right here in Washington?”
“Sure. Right near where my mom works.”
“Where is that?”
“The Department of Commerce. She's a secretary. They have a man they call the secretary but he isn't. My mom is a real secretary,” he boasted. After a few minutes of silence, Michael asked, “Miss Cameron? Can we go see the spaceship now?”
When they arrived and made their way to the front of the crowd to stand outside the roped off area, a crew of Army engineers were in process of erecting a temporary structure such as a large Quonset hut or B29 hanger to enclose the space ship and the robot. Chari watched, attentively, as the partially built walls were up and had already concealed part of the ship. Army guards in fatigues stood at the rope barricade in intervals to keep the sightseers back.
Michael studied the ship the ship and Gaåvra eagerly, his imagination thoroughly engaged while Chari watched the engineers at work with mild, quiet amusement.
“Boy, I bet he's strong. I bet he could knock down a whole building,” he said, his eyes wide in awe as they roamed over the huge body.
“I shouldn't be at all surprised,” Chari agreed. She knew she could have corrected Michael and told him that the automate was genderless, even though the name, Gaåvra, was feminine in it's initial lineage but, as only the “spaceman” would know that, she decided to let him believe what he wanted.
Michael pointed excitedly to the ship. “Gee, I'd like to get inside and see how it works. What do you think makes it work?”
Chari glanced around to see everyone else preoccupied. She returned her attention to Michael. “Nucle…Atomic power, I would imagine.”
“I thought that was only for bombs,” he said, incredulously.
“No, it's for a lot of other things, too.”
“Think it can go faster than an F-36?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“About a thousand miles an hour?”
“Maybe four thousand miles an hour. And outside the earth's atmosphere, perhaps a good deal faster.” Chari noticed two men who stood next to Michael, move a little closer, as though to listen to their conversation.
“Then how could it make a landing?” Michael asked.
“There are several ways to reduce landing speed. You see, velocity and impetus –“ Chari interrupted herself when she realized that she may have been going too far. The two men had moved closer, listening and grinning. One of them whispered to the other behind the back of his hand. Then the man realized that Chari had stopped speaking and was looking at her.
“Keep goin', lady. The kid was falling for it.” The two men burst out laughing and then moved off together, shaking their heads.
Michael had missed the peripheral point of the men's words but Chari decided it was time to leave that area before she said something that might draw suspicion to her. She had to remind herself that, on this planet, in this time, even females intelligent enough to know about aerodynamics would not be comfortable, if they were even allowed, to talk about it in public. Thankfully, Michael was ready to be led away from the crowded area.
Once they cleared the assemblage of spectators, they passed several newsboys on the street with stacks of papers under their arms, hawking their wares. The boys called out the ‘extras'.
"Police under fire!"
"Army put in charge!"
"Space man still at large!"
People were eagerly buying the newspapers. The Washington Post headline read: SPACE MAN ELUDES POLICE, ARMY PUT IN CHARGE . The Washington Times-Herald headline read: DISTRICT UNDER MARTIAL LAW. CONGRESS ACTS AS POLICE CHIEF RESIGNS.
“Think they'll ever find him?” Michael asked, watching the newsboys sell paper after paper.
Chari paused. Would they find her? “I don't know, Michael. I'm inclined to doubt it.”
Nodding, Michael then said, “Miss Cameron? Are you a teacher?”
“A teacher? No, why do you ask?”
“Because you're really smart.”
“You think so?” Chari asked, smiling down at him. “I like to study. Maybe that makes me more well-read.”
“What does impetus mean? And velocity?”
“Velocity is speed…the rate of an object going in a specific direction and impetus is the force of energy in which something moves.” The blank expression on Michael's face told her the explanation missed him completely.
“I bet that's the way Professor Barth talks.”
Pulled out of her reverie, Chari glanced down at Michael and smiled apologetically. Michael grinned back at her. Then, as they walked a few more steps, Chari stopped and reached for Michael's hand so that he stopped with her. “I have an idea. Why don't we go visit Professor Barth and see for ourselves how he talks?”
Michael wore a half-smile of accusation. “You're just kidding. Aren't you?”
“Wouldn't you like to meet him?”
“Well, sure I would but…” He looked like he was still not about to be taken in. “Aw, I bet you'd be too scared.”
“I bet you we can scare him more than he can scare us,” Chari said, with a secret smile.
Michael broke into a wide grin. “I like you, Miss Cameron, you're a real screwball.”
The house Michael brought Chari to was an unimposing, old-fashioned structure, shouldered on both sides by similar one-family dwellings. They climbed a flight of stone steps that led up to the entrance and a large porch across the front of the house. Chari paused at the door, glanced at Michael, who nodded toward the house and then, in all eagerness and excitement, pressed the bell. They waited a reasonable length of time and when no one opened the door, Michael rang the bell again. As Chari patiently stood on the welcome mat, Michael wandered down the porch to look in a window.
“Hey, Miss Cameron, come look at this,” Michael gestured, excitedly. “I bet this is where he works.”
Chari joined Michael and looked in the window. The room looked to be more of a workroom than a study. It was in comfortably shabby disarray, with papers and books everywhere. Chari further observed a battered old desk and a day bed. One wall was solid bookshelves and on the other two were blackboards covered with a fantastic array of complex equations, graphs and diagrams.
“I don't think anyone is home,” Michael said, disappointed.
Chari's attention had been captured by one of the blackboards and she studied it with great interest and curiosity. It was covered with a particularly complicated series of calculations in a chalky scrawl, involving angles of vector, Keplerian ellipses that included laws of motion, gravitational perturbations and orbit periapsis. The final equations were unsolved, with no answers after the "equals" sign. Finally, little printed signs were tacked to the blackboard reading: "Do not erase!" and "Do not touch!"
Bewildered, Michael peered up from the blackboard to Chari, who was still intently studying what she was seeing. Chari shook her head and clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth as one might have at the attempts of a child to solve a problem in easy arithmetic. “What's the matter?” Michael asked.
“He is trying to solve a problem of celestial mechanics,” Chari told him.
“I bet he's the only one in the world who knows the answer.”
Chari chuckled, amused. “He doesn't know the answer. And he'll never get it that way.
Michael moved over to a pair of French doors beyond the window and tried to peer in through the curtains. He absently rattled the door handles and found them locked. He then turned away with a disappointed but philosophical shrug. “We probably couldn't get in to see him even if he was home.”
As Michael stepped back from the doors, dejectedly, Chari put her hand on the knob. His eyes widened when Chari opened the doors as though they had been unsecured.
“Hey, how did you do that?” He asked. Chari just smiled at him in reply and stepped through the doorway. “Where are you going?”
“If Professor Barth is that difficult to see, perhaps we should leave a calling card.” She walked further into the study with an amazed Michael following. He watched, stunned, as Chari casually strolled to the blackboard and picked up a piece of chalk. As though correcting a school student's work, she made large check marks at several points in each equation. Michael continued to observe, slack-jawed, as Chari wrote across the blackboard in a bold hand: Differentiate the equation . After Chari underlined this comment with a sharp stroke, a stern female voice interrupted them.
“What are you doing?” a middle-aged woman demanded to know. Chari guessed this was Barth's secretary and she appeared to be clearly outraged by Chari's desecration of the sacred blackboard. “How dare you! Do you realize the professor has been working on that problem for weeks?”
“Well, then, he'll catch onto it in no time now,” Chari said, pleasantly.
“How did you get in here? What do you want?” the secretary asked them, eying both Chari and Michael.
“We came to see Professor Barth.”
“Well, he's not here! And he won't be back till this evening!” Her tone was definitely disapproving. “I think you'd better leave now!”
Unruffled, Chari turned to the desk and scribbled something on a scratch pad. She tore off the piece of paper and handed it to the woman. “You might keep this,” Chari said with easy assurance, “I think the professor will want to get in touch with me.”
With a polite nod, she left through the French doors, followed by Michael. The secretary eyed the door for a moment, then glanced down at the paper in her hand, clearly disturbed and puzzled. Her eyes wandered to the blackboard and she picked up an eraser, debating whether to rub out Chari's corrections. At that moment Chari stuck her head back inside the study through the open French doors and cleared her throat. Startled, the secretary dropped the eraser.
“I wouldn't do that. The Professor needs it very badly,” Chari told her. She then disappeared, leaving woman to glare after her in impotent rage. She immediately went to the telephone on the desk and started dialing a number.
The secretary watched through the open doors as the woman and the boy walked down the steps and onto the sidewalk. They were talking and laughing together, but she could not hear their conversation. Up the sidewalk, two kids were playing hopscotch. The woman stopped and appeared to be watching the children in fascination. Then to the secretary's surprise, with the encouragement of the kids, the tall woman tried the one-footed, two footed hop that characterized the game.
A voice on the other end of the line prompted the secretary to speak. “Yes, I'd like to report an intruder.” She provided the address and then said, “A woman with her son, I presume. Yes, this is the Barth residence; I am his secretary and I have instructions to report anything unusual. No, Sergeant, there was no classified material around. No, I don't think anything was taken or damaged. I am positive I locked the door. This is Professor Barth's private residence and not a monument to be toured. Yes.” She consulted the paper in her hand. “The woman's name is Cameron and – yes, she did give me her name and address. Yes, I do think that's odd for a burglar to be a woman and to also leave her name and number but… Fine. She lives at 1615 East Street, Northwest…”
Chari and Michael emerged from a wooded path into a section of Arlington Cemetery, where the myriad of crosses seemed to reach into infinity. They paused for a moment, then Michael guided the way through one of the rows. Finally Michael stopped in front of a cross that had the name, Lieutenant Wendell Barrington, on it.
“That's my dad. He was killed in a place called Anzio.”
“I'm so sorry, Michael,” Chari said, sadly.
“I don't remember him. Not really. He went to war not long after I was born and died when I was three. I know my mom really misses him. She talks about him all the time.”
“Do you get along with Mr. Sheldon?”
Michael stuck his hands in his pockets and hesitated before he answered. “He's okay, I guess. I mean, we get along all right but I don't think he likes me.”
Michael wouldn't look at her. “I don't know. He buys me presents and stuff but…he never wants me with them and I heard him talking to my mom about military school. I kinda wanted her to marry someone who likes me being around.”
Chari reached down and lifted his chin, gently prodding him to look at her. “I don't understand why anyone wouldn't want you around.”
“Thanks, Miss Cameron. And thanks for not treating me like a kid.”
Chari smiled at him. She looked out at the field of endless crosses and then back down at Lt. Barrington's. “Michael…did all these people die in wars?” She asked in earnest.
“Sure. Haven't you ever heard of Arlington cemetery?” Michael asked, surprised.
“No. I'm afraid not,” she answered, regretfully.
“Miss Cameron, you don't seem to know anything about history,” Michael said, seriously confused.
“Well, Michael, that's because I have been away for a very long time. Very far away.”
“Is it different where you're from?” He gestured to the cemetery. “Don't they have places like this?”
“There are cemeteries…but not like this one. You see, they don't have any wars.”
“Gee…that's a good idea,” Michael said, evidently impressed by such an incomprehensible notion.
Before Michael could think too much about that, Chari changed the subject. “We have a couple hours left before I have to get you back to your mother. What would you like to do next?”
“Can we go to the movies?” Michael asked, with a broad grin.
“I don't see why not,” Chari said, agreeably.
“No fooling? Really?” he sounded hopeful.
“No fooling. Really.” They started to retreat down the path that led them to Michael's father's grave when Chari stopped. “Do you have to have money to go there?”
Michael held an air of amazement, then grinned. “Oh, I get it. You don't have any money? That's okay, I've got some. Mom gave me two dollars. That'll get us into the movies and leave us enough for popcorn.”
“No, I want to take you to the movies, not the other way around.” She reached into a pocket in her dress and pulled out what was currency on her planet. “Do you think they'd take these?” Chari opened her hand and displayed eight sparkling diamonds in several cuts and sizes to Michael.
“Are those real diamonds?” He couldn't take his eyes off them.
“That's what we use for money where I'm from. They're easier to carry and they don't wear out.”
“I bet they're worth a million dollars!”
“I was just wondering if maybe you would trade me those two dollars in exchange for a couple of these.”
“Well, sure. But…” With a nervous smile, he studied Chari's face to see if she was kidding. When he realized she was not, his face took on a childishly shrewd expression. “…Um, okay.” Michael slowly took two dollar bills out of his pocket offered them almost challengingly. “It's like trading a jackknife for an ocean liner,” Michael mumbled.
Chari took the money from Michael and handed him two good-sized diamonds. They both studied their new acquisitions with interest. “Thank you,” she said, as they began to walk.
Michael peered up long enough from the diamonds to sneak a guilty glance at Chari. “Let's not say anything to my mother about this, Miss Cameron.”
“Why not?” Chari asked, curiously.
“She doesn't like me to steal from people,” Michael admitted, solemnly.
Later that afternoon, a police car drove up to the curb and screeched to a halt in front of the boarding house. A plainclothes detective got out and gestured to the uniformed driver to pull up the street a ways and wait. The driver nodded and the car moved off as the detective mounted the steps. At the top, he glanced through a window into the living room where he saw a young, beautiful woman reading to a boy. The boy was happily perched on the arm of the chair where the woman sat. The detective moved to the front door and rang the bell. There was the sound of running feet and in a moment the door opened and the boy appeared.
“Kid, is your mom here?” the detective asked.
“My mom? No, she's still out.”
The detective looked flummoxed. “Is Dorothy Cameron here?”
“Yeah, she's inside,” he said, his thumb pointing behind him.
“Can you tell her I'd like to see her?”
“Sure. Come on in.” The boy held the door as the detective stepped inside. “Miss Cameron,” he called out. “Someone's here to see you.”
The boy closed the door and a woman walked around the corner into view. The detective visibly swallowed and momentarily lost his train of thought. This was possibly the most magnificent woman he had ever laid his eyes on. She had about five inches on him in height, was built like a brick shit house, wore no make-up and yet seemed cosmetically flawless. Blue eyes a shade lighter than sapphire seemed to look right into his soul and her demeanor was so controlled and dignified, he almost felt humble in her presence. Then he remembered why he was there.
“You Dorothy Cameron?”
“Yes,” she answered, caution lacing her voice. Then realization seemed to dawn on her and with a brilliant smile of satisfaction, she said, “Oh. I suppose Professor Barth is looking for me.”
Her smile was almost his undoing. He thought he might have to cover his crotch with his hands like a horny schoolboy. “ I've been looking for you all afternoon,” he told her, his voice a dry rasp.
A 1948 Chevrolet convertible, carrying Ted and Holly, pulled up to the curb not too far behind the police car. Holly noticed the cruiser immediately but because of all that was going on with a spaceman on the loose, she dismissed it as anything urgent. As Ted put the car in park, he was clearly reluctant to say goodnight. “I had a great time today,” he said to Holly, placing his arm around her. He pulled her to him and kissed her. When his kiss began to get more involved than she was comfortable with, she gently but firmly pushed him away. He sighed, frustrated and rolled his eyes. “We really should start talking about moving to the next step in our courtship, you know.”
“Please, Ted, don't ruin a lovely day by getting into this again. We're getting married. I told you that we would wait until our wedding night.”
“I know that's what you said. But we are engaged. And it isn't like you're a…” he rethought his words, “you've been married before. It's not like I would be –“
“Don't be crude. It doesn't become you. For heaven's sake, Ted, we're in the car. Do you actually think if I was going to give in to you, it would be in this car right on the street?” She gestured out the windshield. “With a police car in front of us?”
“Oh,” Ted said, sheepishly when he spotted the cruiser. “I didn't see that.”
“It doesn't matter. Have some respect,” Holly said, trying not to sound as annoyed as she felt.
“But, darling, you're so pretty and I am just so attracted to you. And, as I said, we are engaged. It's just so difficult resisting you.” His whiny voice made her a little more than exasperated.
She leaned over, pecked him on the cheek and grabbed her purse. “Thank you for a lovely day. I'll call you tomorrow.” She slid on the bench seat backward, lifted the handle and opened the car door.
“Come on, Holly…”
“Goodnight, Ted,” she said, in appeasement. She stepped out of the car, shut the door and hurried across the sidewalk to the house. In the entrance she turned and waved to Ted. He reluctantly waved back and drove off slowly past the police car that was idling by the curb.
Holly opened the front door to the entranceway of the boarding house and ran directly into a gentleman she did not recognized. He removed his hat and stepped back, out of her way.
“Excuse me, ma'am,” he said, politely. He placed his hat back on his head and looked toward the staircase at Miss Cameron who had just reached the bottom step. Holly's eyes locked with the taller woman's in a moment of awkwardness, then confusion as she glanced, questioningly, at the man by the door.
Michael ran to her and greeted her, excitedly. “Hi, mom!”
“Hi, honey.” She planted a kiss on the top of her son's head and looked over at Miss Cameron, concerned. Something didn't feel right.
As though Miss Cameron read her mind, she said, “Good evening, Mrs. Barrington. This is Detective Furlo.”
“He's a cop!” Michael said, impressed, as the detective nodded at Holly.
“Detective,” she acknowledged. She turned back to Miss Cameron. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes, everything is fine.” She looked at Michael who picked up the conversation from there.
“We had such a swell time today, mom,” Michael said, enthusiastically. “We went to the movies, we got ice cream cones and we to see daddy.”
It was unexpected and it moved Holly significantly. She turned to Miss Cameron once again, grateful. “I don't know how to thank you.”
“I enjoyed every minute of it. I should be thanking you,” she responded, graciously.
The detective cleared his throat to interrupt. “We should probably be going, Miss Cameron.”
“Yes. Michael, I'm sorry we didn't get to finish the story,” Miss Cameron told him, apologetically.
“Oh, that's okay. We can finish it tomorrow night,” he said.
“I look forward to it.” Miss Cameron passed Holly and Detective Furlo opened the door for her. “Goodnight.” She fastened her alluring blue eyes on Holly and held them for a brief moment before she left. As the door closed, Holly felt another tingle shimmer down her spine, settling somewhere near her lower belly.
Holly turned to her son. “Why do the police want Miss Cameron?”
“I don't know.” Michael shrugged. “Why do you think?”
“I'm sure whatever it is, it's a mistake,” she told her son, not sure if she was trying to convince him or herself. “Have you had supper?” When he nodded, she said, “Then up to bed with you. Tomorrow's a school day.”
“Do I have to go to school?”
“As far as I know, school is not cancelled because of the spaceman.”
“Aw, darn,” he said, disappointed. “I wanted to spend the day with Miss Cameron again.”
She began to walk him up the stairs, wondering why she also had the desire to spend the day with the enigmatic Miss Cameron. She shook the thought out of her head. “What else did you do today?”
“We went to see the spaceship and the robot and Professor Barth and –“
“Professor Barth?” Holly stopped them both mid-step.
“Yeah but he wasn't home,” Michael said, ignoring the interruption. He tugged at her hand and pulled her up the rest of the stairs as he chattered excitedly, rehashing his day.
Holly's intrigue was peaked. Whether she was ready to admit it or not, the mysterious Miss Cameron was arousing her curiosity in more ways than one.
Chari and Detective Furlo arrived at the police station just after dark. The place was crowded among an atmosphere of feverish but well-ordered activity. Unidentified men of all ages and races had been picked up in the search for the “spaceman” and were being screened by the police. A series of desks were arranged in a row, with signs over them reading IDENTIFICATION . At each desk was a team of cops and before each desk were a line of men waiting to be screened. At the far end of the room, Chari stood beside Detective Furlo, before the desk of a Police Lieutenant.
I cannot believe they are still looking for a spaceMAN , Chari thought. Obviously, their military has not cooperated with them and told them they shouldn't be searching for a man at all. How odd this planet is in their petty competitions and insignificant squabbles . She was conflicted; disgusted that the infantile behavior was worse than she thought, yet grateful because it gave her more time.
She glanced over at two uniformed police officers, seated at one of the desks, then toward the line of people they appeared to be screening. A nondescript, middle-aged vagrant stood before the desk as one of the cops flipped through a card file.
“Oliver O'Hanlon. No prior arrests,” announced the first uniformed officer to the cop sitting next to him.
“No identification?” The second officer asked the man. When the vagrant shook his head, dully, the officer gestured to his left. “Go over to the ‘No ID' line.”
The shabby-looking man shuffled to the next desk and got in line with other men, some just as ragged and others, well-dressed. They stood in columns of two, in front of another duo of uniformed officers who handled the next phase of the process of elimination in finding the alien.
A distinguished-looking businessman jumped the line and approached the desk, throwing a sheaf of identification cards and papers on the desk. “My wife just arrived with my credentials.” His attitude was patronizing and he seemed less than pleased that he had been questioned at all.
The police officer closest to the papers slammed his hand on them to stop them from sailing off the desk on the other side and onto the floor. He looked up at the businessman, pointedly. “That will be all then, Mr. Bradenton. So sorry to have bothered you when the fate of the world may be at stake. I'll be sure to ask the captain to install a crystal ball so that we'll automatically know who everyone is walking around without identification.”
Mr. Bradenton turned bright red from anger. “How dare you speak to me that way! I pay your salary -!”
“Yes, sir. You and everyone else in this line. Please move along, Mr. Bradenton.”
“I would like to speak to your superior!”
“So would I, sir. Good luck finding him. Next.” When Bradenton didn't move, the officer moved his chair back to stand up. “Move along, sir, or I'll lock you up for impeding the flow of an investigation.”
Bradenton moved away, muttering in rage and indignation. He passed Chari, mildly shocked by her height, beauty and commanding composure in such a mess of an “investigation.” He opened his mouth, as if to speak to her, then closed it, shaking his head and exiting the station.
Chari returned her attention to the plain-clothes detective lieutenant, a rugged but dignified man about fifty-years-old. He appeared to be alert, intelligent and professional.
“So, Miss Cameron, is it?” When Chari nodded, Lieutenant Mitchell continued. “The Professor's secretary said she found you in Barth's study, making marks on his blackboard.”
“That is correct,” Chari answered. “I was only trying to be helpful. He was having difficulty with a problem.”
Mitchell exchanged a sardonic look with Detective Furlo. “Oh, I see. A world-famous brilliant man was having trouble and you were helping him out?”
“Yes, that is correct,” Chari said, pleasantly.
Mitchell sputtered in response to her boastful answer. Then, he narrowed his eyes and in a quiet, sharp and accusing voice, he said, “I suppose you know that Professor Barth does a lot of secret work for the Army.”
“In this case the secret wouldn't be worth much since he doesn't know the answer
“Really. But I suppose you know the answer,” Furlo spoke up, impatiently.
“It's really quite simple. It's a three-body problem,” Chari said, with a self-deprecating shrug.
The lieutenant shifted in his chair, annoyed that he had to deal with this delusional madwoman. No matter how gorgeous she was. He glanced at a report on his desk, trying to control his irritability. “Do you have any identification, Miss Cameron? Driver's license? Social security number?”
“I thought you were looking for a space man ?” Chari emphasized.
“We are!” Mitchell said, losing his patience. “I need to know you are who you say you are and not some foreign spy. I know Russians sometimes hire women to do their dirty work. So show me something that indicates you are even American.”
“I am afraid I don't have anything. I don't drive so I have no need for a license,” Chari said reasonably.
“Do you work? Can we verify your identity with your employer?”
“No, I don't have a job.”
“How do you get by? Wealthy boyfriend? Inheritance?” He gave in to his exasperation. “How do we know who you are?”
Chari was secretly amused by his frustration. “You don't.”
The clearly displeased lieutenant turned to Furlo, swearing under his breath when another uniformed cop approached the detectives.
“Excuse me, Lieutenant, this man needs treatment right away.” The officer pointed to a man about forty-five years old, bloodied and badly beaten. The victim was supported and half-carried by two more policemen. Another man dressed as a doctor guided them to a doorway, near which was a sign marked INFIRMARY . The injured man was almost unconscious, incapable even of holding up his head.
“What happened to him?” Chari asked before Mitchell and Furlo could.
The cop looked at her curiously then addressed Mitchell. “Some fella caught him lookin' in a window and figured he was the spaceman. The whole neighborhood went crazy and they ganged up on him. Woulda killed him if we hadn't come along. Turns out he was just a prowler.”
The Lieutenant grimaced in disgust with the mob violence and the powerful odds they were up against because of this spaceman. “Okay -- book him in the Infirmary and get him fixed up.” Mitchell turned back to Furlo and Chari and growled, “The whole world is going nuts.”
Chari was horrified by what she was witnessing. “They would have killed this man?”
“People get scared enough, they'll get hysterical and do anything,” Furlo said, gruffly.
“Look, Miss Cameron, if you can't identify yourself, I've got no choice but to send you over to the Army. Maybe you can prove who you are to them,” Mitchell snapped. “With everything I've got going on right now, I don't have time to play games with you.”
Chari pretended mild impatience but actually started to grow anxious. She knew there were Army personnel who knew their “spaceman” was actually a woman and would recognize her. “How long will that take?”
“As long as it takes! You got something better to do than to prove you're not a Russkie spy?” He spat out. He shook his head. “Jesus. Women.”
Think fast , Chari thought, as her unease grew twofold. Really concerned now, Chari looked toward the doors, trying to figure a way out. “It's very important, Lieutenant, that I see Professor Barth,” she said, attempting an authoritative air.
Furlo took her by the elbow, “Come on, Miss Cameron –“
She shook off the detective's hand. “May I suggest that you call the Professor?”
“Get her out of here, will you, Furlo, before I get mad!” Mitchell raised his voice.
Furlo curled his hand around Chari's arm and led her toward a different exit that opened to a back parking lot. As they emerged from the station, Chari hesitated a moment, looking around. She made sure her face revealed nothing, but her stalling seemed to indicate to Furlo that she might have been considering the idea of making a break for it. The detective, sensitive to such a possibility, then hooked his arm under Chari's and nodded his head toward the squad cars in silent command. Chari allowed herself to be guided out the door.
Parked behind the patrol car they were walking in the direction of, was an Army staff car. Just as Furlo was about to place Chari in the police sedan, a Military Police lieutenant appeared in the doorway, accompanied by Mitchell. When they spotted Furlo and Chari, they hurried across the lot to them.
“Wait a minute, Furlo,” Mitchell called to the detective. He waved a paper in his grasp. “The MP Duty Officer here's got orders from his commanding officer to take this woman over to Professor Barth's.”
Chari breathed a sigh of relief as the MP lieutenant said to her, “Will you come with me, ma'am?”
The MP lieutenant escorted her toward the staff car. As she passed Mitchell, Chari offered a polite smile but one that could also be interpreted as mild triumph. “Sorry to trouble you, Lieutenant Mitchell.”
Mitchell gave a disgruntled “Hmpf” as Chari got into the staff car and was driven away.
Professor Barth's secretary, Alice, held open the front door of the now familiar house for Chari and the military police lieutenant. She scowled at Chari as she gestured them toward the half-open door of Barth's study. Jeremiah Barth appeared to be puzzling over the problem on the blackboard. The MP lieutenant knocked on the open door to attract Barth's attention and entered with Chari.
Barth turned from his deep preoccupation at the blackboard, chalk in hand and looked at them. Chari quickly studied the man this world considered its most intellectually gifted. He was an elderly gentleman with wildly untamed white hair and eyebrows to match. His face was lined and droopy, his expression, puzzled but his hazel eyes were bright and brimming with intelligence. He was shorter than Chari by at least a head and even in the pleasantly warm weather, he wore a cardigan sweater over a long-sleeved, yellow shirt and brown slacks.
“Excuse me, Professor Barth. This is the woman you wanted to see, sir.”
Barth studied Chari curiously. “Thank you, Lieutenant.”
“Shall I wait outside, sir?” The military police duty officer asked.
“Yes. Yes, that would be acceptable,” Barth said in a voice that was at once gravelly and quiet. He waited while the soldier stepped out into the hall and closed the door behind him. Barth continued to study Chari for a moment, then pointed to the notations she made on the blackboard earlier. There was a controlled but eager excitement in Barth's attitude. “ You wrote this?”
Chari nodded, easily and smiled. “It was a clumsy way to introduce myself -- but I understand you're a difficult man to see.” She glanced at the blackboard, reproachfully. “I thought you'd have the solution by this time.”
“Not yet. That's why I wanted to see you.” Barth continued to observe her with silent awe.
Chari looked briefly at the work Barth had added to the board. She indicated one of the expressions in an equation. “All you have to do now is substitute this expression –“ she pointed to a specific place, “-at this juncture.”
Impressed and intrigued, Barth tugged at his chin as he studied and weighed the results. “Yes…that will reproduce the first-order terms. But what about the effect of the other terms?” he asked, slowly, thoughtfully.
“Almost negligible…with variation of parameters, this is the answer.”
“How can you be so sure? Have you…tested this theory?” Barth asked, carefully.
Chari again emitted a slight smile. “I find it works well enough to get me from one planet to another.” She waited for a reaction but Barth continued to stare at her, blankly. “I understand you've called a meeting to study our space ship.”
Professor Barth leaned forward, as though he still wasn't sure of what he was hearing. “Yes -- yes, I have.” He turned his head, glanced at the door, then he looked back at Chari. “ Our spaceship?”
“Yes.” She extended her hand. “My name is Chari. I spent two days at your Walter Reed hospital, room 309. My doctor's name was Wentworth. I had a very attractive nurse, a Lieutenant Rolston, who is getting married next week.” Barth had yet to shake her hand. Instead, he continued to stare at her incredulously. Chari dropped her arm back to her side and spoke in a quiet, authoritative manner. “If you are not interested or if you intend to turn me over to your Army, we needn't waste any more of each other's time.”
Barth hesitated for a long, thoughtful moment. Then he walked to the door, opened it and spoke to the soldier standing guard. “You can go now, lieutenant. Please thank
Your superiors for me and tell them…tell them that I know this young lady.”
He closed the door and turned to find Chari watching him with a faint smile. Barth sank into a chair, apparently trying to adjust his mind.
“You have faith, Professor Barth,” Chari told him, dryly.
“It isn't faith that makes good science, Miss Chari. Its curiosity,” he said, unable to conceal his interest. “Please, sit down. I have several thousand questions to ask you.” He sighed. “I am reverential to host such a distinguished guest in my house but I am beyond astonished to discover that you are not a space man at all.”
Chari ignored the invitation to sit. “Indeed. Why your Army chose not to reveal that little detail is a mystery to me, as well.”
“Perhaps it is because they don't want the world to know that a woman has outmaneuvered them, evaded their dragnets and outsmarted them on all levels,” Barth mused, wisely.
“Perhaps. Your leaders do seem to have an archaic belief that females are incapable of any such accomplishment.”
“Your presence here does appear to render that frame of mind obsolete.”
Chari nodded and wondered if his admission was admiration or acquiescence. “I would like to explain something of my mission here.”
“That was my first question,” he said.
With some bitterness, Chari said, “It was my intention to discuss this officially, with all the nations of the Earth -- but I was not allowed the opportunity. I have come to realize since that your mutual fears and suspicions are merely the normal reactions of a primitive society.” She stopped to gather her thoughts. “We know from scientific observation that you have discovered a rudimentary kind of nuclear energy. We also know that you are experimenting with rockets.”
“Yes, that is true.”
“In the hands of a mature civilization, these would not be considered weapons of aggression. But in the hands of your people…” she shrugged then shook her head.
“We have observed your aggressive tendencies, and we don't trust you with such power.”
“Do you mean you are afraid of us?” Barth asked, puzzled.
Chari regarded him with cool, impressive emphasis. “We want to be sure you don't make, let us say, an unfortunate mistake. We know the potentiality of these
developments and we are disturbed to find them in the hands of children. You see, we've had nuclear energy for one hundred thousand of your years.”
Barth gaped. “One hundred thousand …?”
“Yes, our technology has far surpassed yours.” Chari indicated the professor's telephone. “For example, we discarded instruments like this many centuries ago.”
She paced thoughtfully. “So long as you were limited to fighting among yourselves, with your primitive tanks and planes, we were unconcerned. But soon you will apply nuclear energy to spaceships…and then you become a threat to the peace and security of other planets. And that we cannot tolerate.”
Barth was pensive but impressed. “These other planets, do they have peace and security?”
“We had our nuclear wars, thousands of years ago.” She smiled, wryly. “After that we fought with spears, hatchets, bows and arrows. Then, slowly, we learned that fighting is no solution; that aggression leads to chaos.”
“We scientists understand this. Even we primitive scientists,” Barth said, with deep conviction.
“You will hopefully discover that you have energy resources such as hydroelectricity, solar harvesting, wind power, geothermal energy and biofuels before you make the same mistakes we did and start international wars for oil and nuclear power.”
“Interesting, so we do eventually exceed the atomic age and harness nuclear power…”
Chari saw the gleam in his eye. “That look is exactly why we need to have this meeting with your world leaders.”
“What exactly is the nature of your mission, Miss Chari?” Barth asked, straightforward.
“I came here to warn you that, by threatening danger, your planet faces danger - very grave danger. I am prepared, however, to offer a solution.”
“Would you care to be more specific?”
“What I have to say must be said to all concerned,” she said, evenly. With a suggestion of deference to Barth, she added, “It is too important to be entrusted to any individual.”
After a moment's thought and with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “I gather that your efforts on the official level were not entirely successful.”
“Clearly not, Professor Barth, and I come to you, personally, as a last resort,” Chari stated, sternly. “I confess that my patience is wearing thin. Must I take drastic action in order to get a hearing?”
“What…what sort of action do you mean?” Barth asked, uneasily.
“Violent action since that seems to be the only thing you people understand.”
She drew a deep, frustrated breath and said, quietly, “Leveling the island of Manhattan, perhaps, or sinking the Rock of Gibraltar into the sea?”
Barth stood and stared at her for a moment, passing his hand across his brow. Then, as Chari watched, Barth paced the floor, trying to digest what he just heard. After a moment, he turned to Chari. “Would you be willing to meet with the group of scientists I am calling together? Perhaps you could explain your mission to them, and they in turn could present it to their various peoples.”
“That's what I came to see you about.”
Barth flung her a glance, then looked momentarily sheepish. His own eagerness, however, carried him on. He continued to pace the floor pensively. “It is not enough to have men of science. We scientists are too easily ignored.” He looked at her, solicitously. “Or misunderstood. We must get important people from every field.
Educators, philosophers, church leaders – men and women of vision and imagination - the finest minds in the world.”
“I will leave that in your hands.”
“You'd have no objection to revealing yourself at this meeting?”
“No, not at all. That is why I'm here.”
“What about your personal safety in the meantime? What about the Army and the police?”
Chari smiled. “The Army is not cooperating with the police, Professor. And only a few seem to know that I am not a male. As far as the outside world is concerned, my name is Dorothy Cameron and I am a respectable, single woman living in a reputable boarding house.”
Barth smiled, although his concern was showing. “I'm afraid I can't offer you any real protection. I have no influence over anyone in cases of inter-planetary conspiracy.”
“I'm sure I can find a way to be quite safe until the meeting.”
Barth paused then said, “One thing, Miss Chari. Suppose this group should reject your proposals. What is the alternative?”
Her demeanor became more serious and with a sense of quiet, inescapable power, she said, “I'm afraid you have no alternative. In such, a case the planet Earth would have to be…” She searched for the right word. “…eliminated.”
The implications of that statement left Barth speechless, his keen mind clearly reeling. “Such power exists?”
“I assure you, such power exists.”
Barth stood still and silent for a moment, as though trying to collect his shattered thoughts. He resumed pacing. “The people who come to the meeting must be made to realize this. They must understand what is at stake.” He looked up at Chari. “You mentioned a demonstration of force…”
“Would such, a demonstration be possible before the meeting?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Something that would dramatize for them and for their people the gravity of the situation. Something that would affect the entire planet.”
“That can easily be arranged,” Chari said, with a nod.
Barth looked terrified by her easy assumption of infinite power. “I wouldn't want you to harm anybody…or destroy anything.”
“Understood. Why don't you leave it to me? I'll think of something.”
“Maybe a little demonstration,” Barth said, with a nervous half-smile.
Chari contemplated her options. “Something dramatic but not destructive.” She then sounded amused. “It's quite an interesting problem. Would the day after tomorrow be all right? Say about noon?”
Chari's bland manner left Barth shaken, almost wishing he'd never requested the meeting with the mysterious ‘Miss Cameron.'
Upon her late return to the boarding house, Chari had hoped Holly was still up and about. She would have liked to explain her police escort earlier – well, explain it in a way where the lovely Mrs. Barrington would be at ease with her. She understood that it was important for her to be above any suspicion in the Earth woman's eyes and why the young mother's approval was significant.
Even though she had been expected to connect with the winsome Mrs. Barrington on a superficial level, Chari's sudden baser feelings for her came as an unexpected jolt. This was not supposed to happen. She was here on a crucial mission, one that many lives in more than just this universe depended on. She could not allow herself to become distracted. Besides, even if the woman showed any interest other than polite, which she had not, Chari was not allowed to remain after the message had been delivered. And, after what she had already seen of this planet, there would be nowhere safe for her to stay. Just her presence would bring danger to Holly and Michael.
The first floor of the boarding house was dark and quiet, indicating everyone had retired to their rooms for the night. Chari sighed and climbed the stairs to the second floor. She hesitated when she saw light under the door, coming from Holly's room. She wanted to see her, to speak with her and…say what? Everything would be fine? Chari could not guarantee that, especially not with the way Earthlings were behaving. That she was experiencing a complicated bond with the woman? An attraction? That would, no doubt, frighten Holly away before even knowing Chari was an alien, which would be another fact she would have to ease into.
Chari entered her room and shut the door. There seemed to be no reason she still couldn't admire Mrs. Barrington from afar…until it was time to close the distance.
It was about 5:30 the following evening when Holly got back to the boarding house from work. She rushed upstairs to freshen up and returned to await the arrival of Ted. Once seated and leafing through a magazine, Holly wondered why she was in such a hurry. Although she and Ted had fallen into a routine with their dating, she was no longer eagerly anticipating his company, now that every date, it seemed, he pressured her for sex. She liked Ted, of course, otherwise she would not be engaged to him but lately she found him bordering on coarse and disrespectful of her wishes to wait for more intimate contact until after they were married. The more she thought about being Ted's wife, the less she looked forward to the idea of her spousal duties in the bedroom. He didn't excite her like Wendell had. He wasn't the whole package like Wendell had been. She knew she was wrong to compare them but she feared she would never have with anyone ever again what she had with her husband. She stopped mindlessly flipping through the pages of the magazine and stared out the window, realization hitting her that she was probably using Ted to do what everyone else thought was right. She needed a husband and a father for Michael. Isn't that what everyone told her? She'd never even taken the time to ask her son what he wanted. After all, whatever she got herself into, he would automatically be a willing or unwilling participant.
She would have to ask Michael later when she got home. She didn't seem to be doing too badly as mother and father to her son. He was smart and had manners and definitely all boy. Michael certainly didn't seem to need Ted as a father figure or a male influence…maybe she should start taking her cues from her son. She then thought about how hurt Ted would be if she broke it off. She had no idea how she would have explained it. Telling him she was not in love with him didn't make any difference, if all of the “but you'll learn to love him” advice was any indication of what marriage really meant. She knew he was a good provider and he insisted he was in love with her. Shouldn't that have been enough?
Just as her thoughts answered with a resounding ‘no,' Mrs. Corcoran walked by the parlor from the dining room where The Valleys and George Kendall were playing cards.
“Going out, dear?” Mrs. Corcoran asked her.
“Yes, I'm waiting for Ted to pick me up,” she said and smiled pleasantly.
Mrs. Corcoran shuddered. “Personally, I won't go out after dark these days.” Then, with an attempt at slyness, she added, “But then, I'm not courting, am I?” She turned to go toward the stairs almost bumping into Dorothy Cameron who was descending, having been up in her room. “Oh. Miss Cameron!” she exclaimed, thoroughly startled.
Miss Cameron stepped aside as Mrs. Corcoran hurried nervously up the stairs. Miss Cameron turned puzzled, to find Holly watching with a slight smile. “Everyone seems so…” She shook her hands to indicate nervousness.
“Jittery is the word.” Holly watched Miss Cameron, a little uneasy in her presence. She was perplexed by her instant fondness for this woman she knew nothing about. That was also contributing to her apprehensiveness over her situation with Ted and she didn't know why. What was it that drew her to Miss Cameron and made her feel so…out of control around her? She wasn't sure what to compare the feeling to – her stomach fluttered and she trembled when Miss Cameron stood close, almost like she used to whenever she was near Wendell when they first met. No…it most definitely couldn't be that . She did not have those feelings toward the curious Miss Cameron and certainly Miss Cameron was not one of those women. No, Miss Cameron was too perfect. Weren't those women mannish and dreadful and unable to get husbands or men to even look at them? That's what her mother used to tell her. One look at the beautiful woman in the parlor with her and it was a pretty good guess she had no problem getting anyone. Anyone. Including other women? She closed her eyes and willed herself to think of something else. It was the stress of all that was going on getting to her, she was sure of it. She looked at Miss Cameron and was pulled into a sky-blue haze of eye contact that promised unspoken passion.
Holly's breath caught as the flash of something…intimate…passed through her. Had she not been sitting down already, her knees would have surely buckled. Miss Cameron tilted her head in curiosity but remained silent while Holly struggled for something, anything to say to take her mind off the carnal vibration that thrummed about her body. Thankfully, Miss Cameron spoke before she could think of anything.
“Michael is the only person I've met who isn't…jittery,” Miss Cameron said with a contemplative smile.
“He's ten,” she said, as though that should have explained it all. “And he has his homework to keep him occupied.”
“He's a fine boy, Mrs. Barrington,” she said, sincerely.
“Naturally, I think so,” Holly agreed, with pride.
“Warm and friendly and intelligent…you know, he's the only real friend I've made since I've been here.”
Holly was torn at feeling guilty for not having made more of an effort to be friendlier and more accessible but also was deeply moved by Miss Cameron's affection for her son. This only seemed to fan the fire of intrigue and attraction even more. Holly felt her head swimming again in sensory overload. She needed to get her mind off her…fascination… “Miss Cameron, this is none of my business and please feel free to emphasize that if I'm intruding but why did that detective come here for you last night?” Her question came out with difficulty and hesitancy not because she didn't want to know the answer but she was having a hard time concentrating on anything other than Miss Cameron's full, rosy lips as she spoke.
“Oh, they just wanted to ask me a few questions,” she responded with easy frankness. “Michael and I tried to see Professor Barth in the afternoon, but he wasn't in. Apparently they thought I was looking for secrets of some kind, that perhaps I'm a spy.”
Holly laughed at the absurdity of that accusation. “You're not, are you?” she whispered, conspiratorially, bringing a smile to Miss Cameron's beguiling mouth.
“No, no, nothing like that, Mrs. Barrington.”
This was the second mention of Professor Barth. Holly was puzzled as to what this woman could possibly want with or from the distinguished professor. She was about to explore that subject when they were interrupted by the front door opening and shutting and the appearance of Ted Sheldon. He seemed impatient and anxious to get going. She barely got out, “Hello…”
“You ready?” Ted asked.
“I will be in just a minute,” Holly told him as she rose to grab her sweater.
He deliberately stared at his watch and then back at her, clearly annoyed. “The picture starts at seven-fifty and we still haven't gone to dinner.”
Holly slid her sweater on. “I'm ready. I was just talking to Miss Cameron.” She, too, was now annoyed at Ted's attitude.
“I hope Miss Cameron won't think I'm intruding,” he said, not even attempting to hide his sarcasm.
Holly tried to shush him and silence him with a glare. She looked over at Miss Cameron, completely embarrassed but the taller woman was clearly unperturbed
“Excuse me. I guess I will go back upstairs and see if Michael needs any help with his homework.”
“Goodnight, Miss Cameron,” Holly said, guiltily
“Have a good time…both of you,” Miss Cameron told them, cordially.
After she disappeared up the stairs, Holly steered Ted toward the door. “Ted, that was rude!” she admonished in a hushed voice.
Ted was unapologetic. “I guess I'm just tired of hearing about Miss Cameron. I don't like the way she's attached herself to you and Michael.”
“Funny, you didn't mind it Sunday when you needed her to babysit,” Holly said.
He continued as though she had not even spoken. “After all, what do you know about her? Where is she from? What is she doing here? Does she work? Does she have a boyfriend? A fiancé? It's not right a woman her age here all alone without an escort.”
“A woman her age? I doubt she's past her mid-thirties!” Holly wondered why she was so insulted and defensive.
“Exactly!” Ted said. “She is Miss Cameron, not Mrs. Anybody. What's wrong with her?”
Even though this touched on Holly's own private doubts, she decided to take the discussion outside as soon as possible. Miss Cameron had been nothing but polite and respectful to her and Michael, she didn't want her to overhear Ted's words. “I'm going to go say goodnight to Michael,” she said, quietly.
“Hurry up.” Ted snapped. He dismissed the matter with a shake of his head and an insolent sigh.
She turned quickly and ran up the stairs. She moved down the hall to Michael's room, where the door was wide open.
Michael sat at a table, doing his homework. Miss Cameron stood behind him, looking over his shoulder, explaining an arithmetic problem to him, as Holly entered, buttoning up her sweater.
“All you have to remember is, first find the common denominator then subtract,” Miss Cameron clarified.
“Thanks, Miss Cameron.”
Miss Cameron turned around and nearly ran into Holly. Chagrined over Ted's behavior, Holly wanted to apologize but wasn't sure how to go about it without a million questions coming from her son. “Miss Cameron, I –“ Suddenly feeling an explanation would not be enough, she retreated from any justification. “Goodnight.”
In response, she received a warm smile of what seemed like complete understanding and appreciation. “It's fine. Goodnight again, Mrs. Barrington.” She closed the door behind her.
Even more distracted than before, Holly turned to Michael. “Don't stay up too much later sweetheart. Finish and get to bed, okay?”
Holly watched as he started to put away a few of his books. “Michael, I – um – think it might be better if you didn't spend so much time with Miss Cameron,” she said and then wondered why she was surrendering to Ted's suspicions.
Michael looked up at her, shocked and bewildered. “Gee, why, Mom? She's really swell. And she's awful good in arithmetic. She even helped Professor Barth.”
“Did you and Miss Cameron really go to see Professor Barth?”
“Sure we did! He wasn't there but we went to see him. And Miss Cameron showed him how to do his arithmetic.”
Holly was surprised to get this corroboration for Miss Cameron's story. She looked at the closed door, thinking again about the mystery that was Dorothy Cameron.
But Michael sensed his mother's uneasiness and he instantly started to look for something intriguing or some deep, dark secret. “Mom?” Michael asked, shrewdly. “Is there something wrong with Miss Cameron?”
She looked back down at her son, puzzled by his tone of voice. “What do you mean, honey?”
“I mean on account of that policeman last night.” His eyes lit up hopefully. “You think she's a bank robber, maybe? Or a jewel thief?”
“No, dear, of course not. She's a very nice woman. I Just think she might prefer to be left alone. Now you finish your homework and forget about it.” She kissed him on the top of his head. “Goodnight, sweetheart.” She smiled at him reassuringly and started for the door.
“Goodnight. Hey, Mom?” His imagination was mounting. “Why would she want to be left alone?”
Holly did not want to encourage his imagination any further; she blew him a kiss and backed out, closing the door.
Michael stood, thinking for a moment, his mind still speculating on all sorts of wonderful possibilities. Still preoccupied, he drifted over to his bed and sat down to take of his shoes. He dropped the first one to the floor and started on the other, when there was a light rap on his door.
The door opened and Miss Cameron peeked her head in. “Michael, do you have a flashlight?”
Michael blinked, surprised by her appearance and her request. “Yeah, sure.” He stood up and walked to a drawer, pulling a large hand flashlight. “It's a real Boy Scout flashlight.” Michael handed her the light and studied her face with eager curiosity. “What do you want it for, Miss Cameron?”
“Oh…the, uh, light in my room went out,” she said, evasively. She held up the flashlight. “Thank you, Michael. Goodnight.”
Miss Cameron closed his door. Michael hesitated a moment, pondering the request. He then flipped off the lights, and slowly, noiselessly opened the door a crack so he could peer out into the hall. Miss Cameron's door was ajar and, just as Michael suspected, a light burned brightly in her room. The shadow of Miss Cameron reached the door first so Michael closed his door carefully, leaving it open a sliver. He watched as Miss Cameron shut off the light in her room, closed her door and walk down the stairs, carrying Michael's flashlight.
An expression of intense excitement lit up Michael's face, believing what he just saw seemed unmistakably suspicious. Why did Miss Cameron just lie to him? What did she want the flashlight for and where was she going? Michael made an impulsive decision to find out. He hurriedly slid on and laced the shoe he had taken off then peered out the door to make sure the hall was clear. If Mrs. Valley or Mrs. Corcoran caught him, he'd be in a lot of trouble. He slipped out of his room, down the stairs and out to the street.
Michael looked both ways at the bottom of the stoop and spotted Miss Cameron walking down the dark, semi-deserted street with the determined stride of someone with a definite purpose. He followed, half a block behind, flushed with a keen sense of thrill and, possibly, forbidden adventure.
Miss Cameron continued along the sidewalk, turned onto a side street and disappeared from view around the corner. Moments later, Michael raced to the subsidiary route, breathlessly. He pulled up for a moment to rest, got his breath, and dashed around the corner after Miss Cameron.
The temporary building that had been constructed to enclose the space ship and the robot came into view. Michael slowed his pace, taking in where they were. He watched as Miss Cameron strode in that direction. He knew she had to be with the government! He was right! Why wouldn't she admit it? He thought about running up to her, calling her bluff but something held him back. He stood behind a car and observed the structure. In front of one small door were two soldiers, standing guard. When Michael returned his attention to Miss Cameron, he was surprised to find her concealed in some foreground foliage, studying the layout, herself. That was not what he expected an FBI agent to do. Shouldn't she have walked right up to those soldiers, showed them her credentials and talked?
He watched Miss Cameron, eagerly, awaiting her next move. Just beyond her was a sign that read: KEEP OUT! This area OFF LIMITS to the public . US ARMY. As he kept her in sight, a jeep filled with armed soldiers drove up to the entrance of the building. The vehicle stopped for a moment while a soldier with a lot of stripes on his arm checked with the guards. Assured that everything was under control, the sergeant signaled his driver and the jeep moved off.
Once the jeep disappeared, Miss Cameron started toward one side of the building, still keeping herself concealed in the vegetation. She maneuvered around to the side of the structure, avoiding the sentries and stopped at a small window that had no glass but was heavily barred. Through the window, Michael could see the eerie shadow cast on the large robot by huge work lights.
Miss Cameron pulled out Michael's flashlight, aimed it at the robot and flashed the light intermittently against the robot's face shield. It looked to be some kind of code.
Michael thought he saw slight movement of the robot's head. He wiped his eyes, hoping he was seeing things. Miss Cameron cut off the signaling and turned back for the concealment of the bushes. He craned his neck to keep her in sight but she eluded his view.
Movement caught his eye and Michael suddenly saw Miss Cameron again as she made her way behind the foliage toward the front of the building. She arrived at a point opposite the entrance, where she appeared to be watching for something…and waiting.
The two guards stood in the entranceway in positions of relaxed alertness. Without warning, a giant figure loomed silently in the doorway inside the building behind them. Its two massive arms reached out, grabbed the two soldiers and dragged then back inside the building.
Michael let out an inaudible gasp. Bug-eyed, he glanced quickly to the point where he last saw Miss Cameron. He was shocked to see Miss Cameron emerge from the concealment of the tree-lined path and make her way calmly toward the entrance of the structure.
He watched her enter the building and his curiosity conquered his fear. He started tremblingly toward the structure. Michael approached the door and looked through, where the enormous shapes of the spaceship and robot dominated large and creepy. He then saw Miss Cameron walk across the barren enclosure toward the ship. Fearful and fascinated, Michael peered cautiously inside and spotted the two soldiers, now unconscious, on the floor.
He looked up, gaping to see Miss Cameron stride purposefully toward the spaceship. Then he heard her voice echo in the small area.
“Gaåvra, Zuuf Ôcsoguw.”
The robot slowly turned its head to follow Miss Cameron with its eyes. Miss Cameron touched a point on the unbroken surface of the ship and the ramp silently slid out and down to the ground. Miss Cameron ascended the ramp and disappeared inside the ship, whereupon the ramp silently closed. The robot turned its head once again and faced forward.
Michael could scarcely believe what he had seen. Suddenly a wave of sheer terror swept over him and he scrambled to his feet and ran wildly back to the boarding house.
Chari moved fluidly down a tiny, dimly lit entrance corridor. She stepped into the main cabin of the ship and flipped a switch, which bathed the compartment in diffused, shadowless illumination. The walls were lined with a complex of computers, panels, monitors, screens, interface, keyboards - highly advanced engineering for the time period she was in. She stepped in front of the communications panel, flipped a few switches and entered information on a keyboard. A monitor to her left powered up. She waited until a specific screen showed and she waved her hand over a sensor next to the keypad. Chari leaned in and started dictating into built-in microphone.
“Sdtudqqido ces jdudj bdiq bdiqsål braxu trjhsum, r oryy fuqdnuqct c iutdjmsuqcsrodj db fdouq…”
Michael was curled up in a chair, waiting for his mother to come home. He was sleepy, but the excitement of what he had seen precluded any such possibility. From his position in the parlor, he heard the front door open and Holly and Ted walked in.
“Why don't you come in a minute, Ted?” Holly asked, quietly so that she wouldn't disturb anyone who may have been asleep. They walked into the living room, startled to see Michael there. Michael jumped up and ran toward her.
“Michael! What are you doing up at this hour?”
“Mom, I couldn't go to sleep, I had to tell you!” he said to her, enthusiastically.
“Shhh, keep your voice down, sweetheart, people are sleeping…like you should be. Now what couldn't wait until morning?”
“I followed Miss Cameron tonight, right after you and Ted, I mean, Mr. Sheldon, left and, gee, Mom, where do you think she went? Right down to the mall and into the space ship!” Michael said, breathlessly.
“Now, Michael, just a minute,” her tone was patiently disbelieving
“Honest, Mom, I saw her. It just opened up and she walked right in. And that
great big iron guy was moving around!”
“Michael, you've been dreaming again.”
“No, I haven't, Mom. I promise you... I saw it!” he said, desperately as Holly and Ted exchanged a glance of tolerant amusement.
“Where did you see all this, Mike?” Ted asked, not even trying to disguise his skepticism.
“It's Michael, not Mike, and I told you already. On the lawn down at the mall, in that place with the soldiers out front.” He crossed his arms, defiantly.
“And where were the soldiers all this time?” Ted said, clearly trying to trap him in a lie.
“That robot fella grabbed 'em and dragged 'em inside!” His lips started trembling. “I like Miss Cameron but I'm scared, Mom.” He rushed into Holly's arms, clutching her desperately, trying to hold back his tears.
Holly held him close to her sympathetically. “You mustn't be frightened, honey. It was just a bad dream. Here, we'll prove it to you.” She looked up at Ted and nodded.
“Ted, will you ask Miss Cameron if she'll come down for a minute. Hopefully, she's not asleep yet. Her room is right opposite mine.”
Ted turned into the hall and walked up the stairs. Still holding Michael, Holly tried to dispel his fears by an appeal to logic.
“Now think back hard. You didn't follow Miss Cameron at all, did you? You haven't even been out of the house.”
“Yes, I have!” He raised his voice in indignation.
“Honey, keep your voice down.” She smoothed his hair and studied him. He hadn't looked like he'd just woken up. In fact, he looked quite alert. “You didn't really see the space ship, you just thought you did. Or you saw it on television.
Bitterly hurt, Michael faced his mother gravely, accusingly. “I'd never call you a liar.”
Upstairs, Ted knocked softly at Miss Cameron's door. Getting no answer, he tried the door, pushed it open and peered in. Then he stepped into the darkened room. Ted snapped on the light and looked around the empty room. The bed was still made. Glancing around, Ted's eye was caught by a flash of something bright on the floor below the dresser. He stooped down and picked up a fair-sized diamond. Ted studied the stone curiously and held it up to the light. Thoroughly puzzled, he closed the stone in his palm, switched off the light and left. Closing the door, Ted hurried along the hall and down the stairs to an expectant Michael and Holly
“She's not there,” he said and crossed to Holly. “But look what I found in her room.” He opened his hand.
Holly took the stone and studied it, amazed by its size and sparkle. She looked up at Ted. “Is it real?”
Ted shrugged. “Looks real to me.”
“Miss Cameron's got a lot of diamonds.” Michael dug into his pants pocket. ”She gave me a couple of them.” He held the stones out to his mother.
Holly removed the two diamonds Michael held out in his hand, looking at them in awe. “She gave these to you?”
Michael suddenly looked guilty. “Well, not exactly. I gave her two dollars.”
“This doesn't make sense... I think she's a crook. I never did trust her,” Ted spouted.
Holly tried to shush Ted, not wanting anything else to re-stimulate Michael's imagination, but it was too late.
“Gee, Mom, do you think maybe she's a diamond smuggler?”
“Come on, sweetie, we're going up to bed,” she said, firmly, and shot Ted mildly reprimanding glare.
He paid no attention to Holly's upbraid. “I wonder if we ought to –“
Holly cut him off before he could do anymore damage. “Ted, Michael and I have had enough excitement for tonight.”
“You think it's all right for you to stay here?” Ted asked, seriously concerned.
Holly nodded, reassuringly. “I've got a good lock on my door.” She smiled down at her son. “And Michael's going to sleep in my room tonight.”
“Oh, boy, can I, Mom?” Michael asked, clearly wide awake and adrenalized.
“Yes, honey. Come on now. Go upstairs and get ready for bed while I say goodnight to Ted.” She looked down at his feet as he began to climb the stairs. She stopped him and reached down, feeling his footwear. Puzzled and concerned, she looked up at his face. “Michael, your shoes are soaking!”
Reluctantly, with childish guilt, he said, “Yeah -- the grass was kind of wet.”
As the impact of his statement sunk in, Holly and Ted turned to stare at each other in questioning consternation.
His mother had already showered, dressed and left for work early, entrusting Michael with getting himself ready and off to school on time. The events of the night before seemed to have become a confusing array of reality mixed with vivid dreams. By the time Michael had finished running a comb through his hair, he had convinced himself that he really hadn't seen what he thought he had. Until he walked into the kitchen to make himself breakfast.
“Good morning, Michael,” Miss Cameron said, in a voice that seemed devoid of its usual good humor. She studied him carefully.
Riveted to the spot by the doorway, Michael could not speak. He then knew there was no doubt what he had seen had been real. His behavior also appeared to confirm to her that he had witnessed her go into the ship.
She then smiled at him, warmly, sincerely, as though she knew he was frightened and her grave expression wasn't helping. “I'm not going to hurt you, Michael. I personally mean neither you nor your mother any harm. I'm sure you have questions. I'll answer whatever I can.” Her tone was gentle, encouraging.
“Are…are you the spaceman, um, woman?” He knew his voice was shaking but he couldn't help it.
He acknowledged the admission with a slight nod. “Are you here to kill us?”
“I am not. I am here to speak with your world leaders about something very important.”
“How come you're here?”
“I just told you –“
“No, here,” Michael gestured the kitchen.
Miss Cameron nodded, now, more clearly, understanding his meaning. “There are a few reasons. I felt the need to get out among your people, posing as one of you, so that I could, hopefully understand your planet's hostility toward anything not exactly like them. Had I not escaped the hospital, your government would have held me prisoner, if not killed me to perform experiments. That would have resulted in retribution from my automate.”
Her vocabulary was a lot more advanced than Michael's but he pretty much got the gist of what she was saying. “What's an automate?”
“That big robot standing guard at the ship.”
“You're his boss?”
“Not exactly,” Miss Cameron said, with a tilt of her head. She stood up. “How about I fix you some breakfast while we chat?”
He watched as she reached into the cupboard and pulled out a box of corn flakes. He suddenly felt no fear around her. She once again became ‘Miss Cameron' who was so nice to him and didn't treat him like a child. He walked to the refrigerator and pulled out the quart milk bottle. He handed the container to her and sat at the table while she fixed his cereal the way he liked it. When she was finished, she put everything away and sat opposite him. He began to eat.
“I don't think you should go to school today,” she told him and folded her hands on the table.
“I'm concerned you might not be able to contain yourself from talking about what you saw last night.”
Instantly, the dread he was feeling before, returned. He stopped eating and peered up at her, apprehensively. “What are you going to do with me?”
Her grin aslant, she leaned forward. “Michael, I'm not going to hurt you. I'm going to take you to Professor Barth's house to keep you safe until later.”
He relaxed. “Professor Barth's? Swell!” He shoveled another spoonful of cereal into his mouth. “What is supposed to happen later?” He asked, after swallowing.
She seemed to be debating with herself as to exactly how much she should tell him. Finally she said, “Professor Barth is trying to gather all of the world's scientists and philosophers, among others, at the spaceship so that I can deliver the message I came here to impart.”
“What message is that?”
“Hmmm…you think I should tell you when I refused to even tell your president?” Miss Cameron asked, in a joking manner with a raised eyebrow.
“Sure. We're friends,” Michael said, with child-like reasoning.
“You're right, we are. I'm going to tell them all to behave. Or else.”
“Or else what? Not like you can send people like Professor Barth to his room without supper.”
“Perhaps I can, in a manner of speaking,” Miss Cameron said, sporting a conspiratorial smile.
Michael grinned. “You're still a screwball, Miss Cameron, even if you are a spaceman.”
The Department of Commerce was a typical government office, loaded with desks, with lots of telephones, typewriters, ringed notebooks, metal baskets and calendar blotters on them. Holly was at her workstation, straightening it up to go to lunch. This done, she moved briskly to get her coat, where suddenly she discovered Miss Cameron standing near the clothes rack, as though she had materialized out of thin air. Holly was thoroughly startled and unnerved. “Oh, hello…”
“May I see you for a minute?” Miss Cameron asked, with a hint of urgency to her voice.
“I…I was Just going to lunch.” Once again, Holly felt that undeniable pull toward this mysterious woman and couldn't take her eyes off her.
“May I walk out with you?” Miss Cameron asked, quietly but insistently.
Holly was beyond nervous and uneasy but did not refuse. The telephone on her desk started to ring and Holly turned to answer it. “Mrs. Barrington speaking.” She recognized Ted's voice and glanced nervously at Miss Cameron. “Oh, hi,” she said, into the receiver.
Ted's voice was upbeat and cheery. “I'm at Becker's getting an appraisal on that diamond. I thought we might have lunch together.”
With another nervous glance at Miss Cameron, Holly said, “I…I'm afraid I can't, not right now. Can I talk to you later? Yes, that'll be fine. 'Bye.” She hung up and smiled, anxiously, as she rejoined Miss Cameron and led the way out into the corridor.
Miss Cameron's mood appeared to be one of quiet tension. “I saw Michael this morning,” she said and watched Holly's reaction.
Holly looked at her, apprehensively. “Yes?”
“I know he told you about last night.”
Was he really telling the truth? Holly became worried and evasive. “I…I didn't really pay much attention. Michael has such an active imagination,” she added, with a nervous little laugh. Is Michael okay? Has she done anything to my son? Holly was suddenly too petrified to ask.
Miss Cameron refused to be put off. “Did you believe what he told you?” Her blue eyes bore into Holly, who now seemed to be trapped by uncertainty. “I have a reason for asking this; a very important reason.”
They approached the elevator at the end of the corridor and walked into a large crowd of lunch-goers milling around. An elevator door opened and the car was quickly filled. Half the crowd was left as the elevator doors closed and it descended.
“There's another elevator we can use,” Holly said, not wanting to get caught up in the jam. She nodded at a side corridor and walked toward it as Miss Cameron followed. They turned a corner and Holly led the way to a small, automatic elevator. She pressed the button, the doors opened and she and Miss Cameron entered. Holly pressed the first floor button, the doors closed and the elevator started down. She turned to face Miss Cameron, her nerves raw and edgy. “Where is Michael? Is he okay?”
“Yes, of course. I would never hurt your son. He is safe, at Professor Barth's.”
“Why isn't he at school?” Before she allowed Miss Cameron to answer, she said, “What is it you want?”
“I need to be completely honest with you…”
Without warning the elevator came to a jolting, jarring halt as the power cut off and the lights went out. The car was only illuminated faintly and eerily by light that seeped through the ventilating grills from a skylight in the shaft. Holly was terrified.
“What happened?” she asked, with a gasp.
“What time is it?”
Holly fumbled to get her wristwatch into a faint beam of light. “Just noon. Exactly.”
“We'll be stuck here for a little while, about forty-five minutes.”
Holly wasn't sure which she was more frightened of - being stuck in an elevator or forty-five minutes in the dark with Miss Cameron. Preoccupied with her own thoughts, she said, “We could try pushing the other buttons.” She began to dig in her purse. “I have a flashlight –“
Miss Cameron placed a gentle hand on her arm. “It won't work.”
Holly pulled the flashlight out, kept snapping it on and off, but it didn't illuminate. She looked up at Miss Cameron, blankly. “Why…Why not?”
After a moment, quietly, Miss Cameron said, “Because…the electricity's been neutralized - all over the world.”
The impact of this calm, quiet statement was shattering. Holly stared at her awestruck. Then she spoke, numbly, almost inaudibly. “Michael was telling the truth, wasn't he?”
Outside, all vehicular traffic in the street was at a dead stop. Automobiles, buses, trolley cars, and taxis all were stalled, frenzied drivers and passengers climbing out of the vehicles in utter bewilderment, trying to figure out what was going on. Except for the people, it was as though the street had been frozen in motion. This scenario was mimicked worldwide.
A junk peddler with a broken-down horse and wagon moved grandly and leisurely through the stopped vehicles. The peddler wore a happy grin of superiority. This seemed to be his moment of triumph over modern civilization.
At power plants all over the world, generators and grids were silent and motionless
in the dim, unlighted facilities.
Transportation factories, airplane assembly lines were all at a standstill, with nothing moving, no machinery going.
The giant presses of huge newspapers manufacturing plants were threaded with newsprint, but they were silent and motionless.
A couple of engineers began to work feverishly over a huge and complicated control panel in a radio broadcast room. They toiled by the light of two incongruous and ineffectual candles.
People poured up subway stairs, wildly, feverishly anxious to escape the darkness below. Their eyes blinked weakly unaccustomed to the sunlight. They were greeted by a world that seemed to have stopped working. Many of the crowd began to pray, some even dropping to their knees right in the street.
Professor Jeremiah Barth was seated comfortably at his desk where he had been listening to Michael, who was giving him an animated play-by-play description of the sheer chaos happening outside. They were interrupted by the entrance of his secretary, Alice, beside herself, unsettled and overwrought. Barth watched her with a half-smile of secret amusement. He had already deduced the cause of what was happening.
“You should see it, Professor Barth! You should go out and see it for yourself!”
“Thank you but young Michael is advising me of all the pertinent goings-on and I'm enjoying it right here.”
“The whole city has stopped. People are running around like ants!” Alice exclaimed.
“What a brilliant idea,” he said, musing admirably at Chari's cleverness. “I never would have thought of it.” Alice flung him a questioning look, apparently annoyed that he wouldn't share her excitement. “What about the people who are coming to the meeting tonight? Have they all arrived?”
She nodded. “I talked to most of them this morning... They were all very curious about the meeting.”
“Good. Did you speak to our friend, Miss Cameron?”
“She'll be there at 8:30,” she told him, nodding.
Barth studied her for a moment and then said, “Tell me, Alice…does all this frighten you? Does it make you feel insecure?”
“Yes, sir, it certainly does!”
“That's good, Alice. I'm glad,” Barth said, nodding, with a bland little smile on his face.
Alice then shot Barth a look of shocked amazement as Michael went back to describing the pandemonium from his view at the double-doors.
In the Pentagon war room, seated at a conference table, were the highest-ranking officers of all the United States Armed Services. There was the restless tension of people dealing with unknown forces. An Army general, five stars on the epaulets of his dress uniform, who was chairman of the meeting, spoke to the distinguished group of military and government bigwigs. The room was underlit by several candles.
“As far as we can tell, all power's been cut off everywhere with a few exceptions: hospitals, planes in flight, that sort of thing. I wish I could be more specific but, as you know, all communications are out telephone, radio, cable…everything.” He paused, gravely. “I can tell you that the President is prepared to declare a state of national emergency. Before we start discussing plans, I want a report from Colonel Rader. What about the robot, Colonel?”
Clarence Rader, a man of about forty-five, who was the commander of a battalion of engineers, stood up and cleared his throat. “When it was discovered last night that the robot had moved, I was directed by the Joint Chiefs to find a means of immobilizing him. We encased him in a block of KL 93.” He held up a small block of the same material he just talked about. “It's a new plastic material, stronger than steel.”
“Is it possible that he's broken out of that stuff?”
“No, sir. We just checked him through binoculars out my office window. He's locked up tight as a drum, in the same position as which he was sealed,” Rader assured.
“All right, that means we concentrate on our space guest. The human-looking one. The woman.” He then addressed the group with forced authority. “Up till now we've agreed on the desirability of keeping the gender of this alien our secret. We can no longer do that. We also agreed to capture her alive. We can no longer afford to be so particular. We'll get her alive, if possible but we must get her!” He eyed the group sternly. “Is that clear?”
Becker's Goldsmith and Jewelry Shop and its normal glittering and brilliantly lit display cases, were now gloomy and dim. The only brightness in the store came from the natural daylight from the street. Ira Becker, the shop owner, was a vibrant old man of seventy with a middle European accent. He was completely fascinated as he examined the diamond Ted had given him, and was annoyed by the lack of light. He snapped impatiently to one of the girls in the shop who happened to pass by.
“Elsie, did you call the electrician?”
“I tried, Mr. Becker. But the phone doesn't work, either,” Elsie told him, timidly.
“Well, call the phone company,” Becker said, absently, as he studied the stone.
“But the phone doesn't work!” Elsie said, plaintively.
Becker gave her a preoccupied glare of annoyance and turned back to the stone. “Mr. Sheldon?”
Ted returned his attention from outside back to the jeweler. “Is it worth anything?”
“I have never seen such a stone. Will you please tell me where it came from?”
“That's what I wanted you to tell me.”
Becker shook his head, bewildered, overwhelmed and absorbed by the gem. “There are no diamonds like this any place in the world.”
Impressed by the import of what Mr. Becker was saying, Ted's mind raced wildly. “Are you sure about that?”
“Would you like to sell it?” Becker asked eagerly, shrewdly.
Ted plucked the diamond out of his hand. “No. No, thanks.”
“I'd give you a very good price,” Becker said, almost desperately.
Preoccupied with his own excited thoughts, Ted had already started for the door.
“I've already told you more than I told Professor Barth, because my life, in a sense, is in your hands. I thought if you knew the facts you'd appreciate the importance of my not being…apprehended…before the meeting tonight.” Chari believed her total honesty with Holly would prove fruitful.
Holly stared at her in awe, but also in complete admiration and sympathy. “Yes, of course. Of course I do.”
Chari smiled at her warmly, an expression she returned. Their intriguing ‘relationship' was further cemented by the sharing of this vital secret.
Holly studied Chari's face, concerned. “You hold great hope for this meeting.”
“I can see no other choice for your planet. If the meeting should fail, then I'm afraid there is no hope.”
“And then what happens?” Holly was almost afraid to ask.
“Then I offer you the chance to come with me, you and Michael.”
“To…to another planet? Why would I do that?”
“Two reasons – you'd save your lives and you and I belong together.”
Her eyes were riveted to the stunning woman. “No… no, that's, that's not possible,” Holly protested, even though what she was feeling in her heart fully contradicted what was coming out of her mouth.
“No?” Chari asked, softly, as she took a step closer.
“No.” Holly swallowed hard and took a step backward, finding her back against the elevator wall. “Two women don't… can't…” Her body trembled, not unpleasantly, at the proximity of the other woman.
Chari moved closer still, looking down into the questioning eyes of the petite blonde woman. “Two souls do and can,” Chari said, gently. She placed her hand on Holly's face, caressing her cheek.
Holly had never felt a touch so sensual in her life as she closed her eyes and leaned into Chari's palm, allowing the exquisite sensation to engulf her whole being. She felt lips brush against her own, then return to claim her mouth in an awakening of such arousal, she felt at once, lost and found.
Her arms encircled Chari's waist as her thoughts became flooded with memories of past incarnations and how she was inexplicably tied to the traveler. The recollections were vivid and encompassing as she saw and felt the link between the two of them since the beginning of civilization.
Like a feature film, in full Technicolor, she watched as the Earth was first claimed for the nation of Efraq from the planet, Uhrdaård and as the space explorers, now residing on the young, lush planet moved around to begin populating all corners of this new world. Graphic images of quick cut scenes flashed realistically through her memory banks of constructing Gobekli Tepe, Puma Punku, the underground complexes of Derinkuyu and the Hypogeum, the Great Pyramids of Giza, The Sphinx, The Great Dam of Marib, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Stonehenge, The Temple of Artemis…
Holly registered that when she had been present for these events, she was always with someone she ‘recognized' as Chari, even though they had only come together as female lovers every few centuries. When they broke the kiss, Holly gasped for breath and instantly became aware that the connection had been broken. She reached up and clasped the back of Chari's head, guiding the woman's mouth back down upon her own.
This kiss brought forth a different image, something more visceral and erotic. Chari and Holly seemed to be in ancient Greece, if the architecture was any indication. Chari was a formidable warrior and she and Holly were definitely lovers. They
barely made it to a room in an inn before nearly tearing each other's clothes off. In this incarnation, Holly couldn't get enough of touching the woman who looked identical to Chari – well, a more feral and unrestrained Chari. The warrior backed Holly against a wall, similar to the situation she was in, presently, and felt, fondled, stroked her everywhere her hands could reach. Holly didn't think she could have become any more sexually excited until the warrior's skilled fingers pushed inside her and drove her to a climax that electrified her inside and out.
She once again found herself unable to breathe as she broke away from the galvanizing kiss. Her body felt duly, yet non-violently, ravished and sated. When she placed her hands on Chari's shoulders to stop the next kiss so that she could get her bearings, she looked down at her clothing to realize that they had not just physically made love on a darkened, stalled elevator. She looked into Chari's eyes and felt grounded in her current reality again.
“We were paramours,” Holly said, with a shaky breath.
“Yes,” Chari said, waiting for the other factor to sink in.
“Oh, god…I was an alien?” She didn't release the taller woman as her brain engaged with what her mind had just demonstrated.
“All modern, homosapien life on this planet began with explorers who settled here from Uhrdaård. It's where the name Earth came from. And where our ancestors originally landed was colonized in the name of Efraq – where the name Africa originated.”
“I don't understand. If that's true, why aren't we more advanced? Like you are?”
“Explorers were left here and on other continents of your planet to start populating and developing with the knowledge and tools they had with them. Uhrdlings returned from time to time to help the people become more technically sophisticated. It's one of the reasons your planet is of such interest and importance to us.”
“And you and I?”
“As you witnessed, our lives are consistently intertwined.”
“But you're not always a woman.”
“And neither are you.” Chari smiled as Holly tried to comprehend everything that had just happened.
“That…that last time, when you were a warrior woman…”
“And you were a warrior bard.”
Holly blinked at her. “A warrior poet? How is that possible?”
“More a story teller than a poet.”
“Still…” Holly sighed. “Is there more?”
“No. That is the last time our souls connected. Until now.”
Holly nodded, then hesitated, still calculating and absorbing the past few moments. “Why so long?”
“Long? Considering we've only reunited about one hundred times in 200,000 years, I think you are showing impatience,” Chari said and smirked.
“But…Wendell. I loved him. We were perfectly suited. How could I feel our souls belonged together if you and I are…are…” She couldn't think of a phrase that described what Chari had just showed her.
“Are the one true love in each other's lives? I cannot answer that. I just know it's why I volunteered for this mission.”
“Are we going to die?”
“I will do everything within my power to prevent that.”
“And, if you can't?”
“Then you will have a decision to make.”
Suddenly and without warning, the lights came on and the elevator began to move. Startled out of her hypnotic raptness and sexual haze, Holly looked at Chari.
“It must be twelve-forty-five,” Chari said, calmly, as they moved apart.
Holly glanced at her watch. “Yes. Just exactly.”
Holly and Chari came out of the elevator and across the lobby, as street traffic roared back to life and normalcy seemed to have been regained. Holly, overwhelmed by what had just taken place in the elevator, was now preoccupied with Chari's safety and with Chari, herself.
She stopped and turned to the tall traveler, heart hammering in her chest. “Where are you going now?”
“Back to the boardinghouse. I'll be safe there for the afternoon. Professor Barth will keep an eye on Michael and he'll be safer away from me. He's the only other person who knows anything about –“
“No, wait a minute - there's someone else,” Holly interrupted, suddenly apprehensive.
“Ted. Mr. Sheldon. He was there last night when Michael told me what he saw.”
The look of concern on Chari's face heightened Holly's overwhelming fear and uncertainty.
“Of course, he doesn't know anything definite,” Holly said, worriedly. “He'd talk to me first, anyway, before –“ She interrupted herself in what appeared to be sudden decision. “We can't take that chance. I'll get in touch with him right away and make sure.” She turned and started determinedly for the lobby door, with Chari in close pursuit.
Holly stood in the pay telephone booth, seriously troubled, as she spoke into the receiver. “But I've got to talk to him. It's terribly important. When is he coming back?”
“I don't know, Mrs. Barrington,” Ted's secretary said, anxiously. “He left before noon before that awful electric business. I'm scared to death, Mrs. Barrington. He wouldn't tell me where he was going. Said it was something personal.”
“Tell him I want to see him the minute he gets in, please.”
“Where should I have him call you?”
“I don't know. Just tell him I'll call back.” Holly hung up, thoroughly distraught. She walked by a newsstand just as a bundle of papers hit the sidewalk. The headline read: WORLD-WIDE POWER JAMMED, PRESIDENT DECLARES EMERGENCY, STEP UP HUNT FOR SPACEMAN. “At least they're still looking for a space man,” Holly mumbled to herself, relieved. That would give Chari, who had left to return to the boarding house, a little advantage.
Her thoughts returned to her encounter in the elevator. If she had been older, she would have sworn she had just suffered a hot flash. She stopped and made herself concentrate on the more serious issues she was now facing. As she walked toward Ted's office, she searched in her purse for a paper fan.
Even though the media had not released the pertinent information yet regarding the alien's gender, the military had and was clear in their orders to intensify the search by restricting departure routes from all transportation points out of the city.
All district highways that connected to other states were stopped by roadblocks the Army had thrown up, permitting no one to leave. The line of halted cars and the insistent honking of horns revealed hundreds of vehicles backed up into the city.
At National Airport, people were held back as soldiers closed the gate to the runways, preventing anyone from boarding their planes. Any aircraft that had already been boarded was searched and all passengers were evacuated to the terminal to be questioned.
At Union Station, MPs blocked the gates that led to all trains and ticket takers frantically explained matters to irate and panicked ticket holders. Passengers were herded off any loaded buses that were preparing to leave the depot.
Military jeeps and two-and-a-half ton trucks loaded with soldiers descended onto the streets and into the neighborhoods and started performing a door-to-door search.
Dusk had begun to settle its muted tones over the nation's capital. The street lamps had not yet illuminated the tree lined neighborhoods but the city was still bustling and brightened by the amount of vehicle headlights that remained in the municipality.
Ted Sheldon's insurance office was small and unpretentious, one that could have been easily overlooked in a city overwhelmed by ostentatiousness. Ted's secretary was on the phone, reflecting the world-wide terror of the moment when her boss walked in. “Honest, Mary, I'm so scared I can't sit still. I'd like to run some place, but I don't know where to go…” She looked up and saw Ted standing at her desk. “Bye now,” she said, quickly, into the phone.
“Call the Pentagon and find out who's in charge of this space…alien business,” Ted barked at her. “Whoever it is I want to talk to him.”
“Certainly, Mr. Sheldon. By the way, Mrs. Barrington's been trying to get you all afternoon. She says it's urgent.”
“Get this other call first,” Ted told her, his tone dismissive. He disappeared into his office and closed the door.
The secretary reached into one of her desk drawers for the telephone directory when the corridor door opened and Holly entered, keyed up and clearly shaken.
“Oh, Mrs. Barrington, he just walked in. Are you frightened, too?”
“You have no idea,” Holly said.
The secretary buzzed the intercom and spoke into it. “Mrs. Barrington is here.” She looked up at Holly. “Go on in.”
Before she could even start for the door, Ted walked out.
“Ted, I've been trying to get you all afternoon –“
“Come in.” Ted, absorbed with his own excitement, cut her off. He grabbed her arm and ushered her back into his office, slamming the door behind them, making his secretary jump. Before she could say anything else, Ted said, “I've got some interesting news about your friend, Miss Cameron.”
“What about her?” Holly asked, trying to stay calm.
“Holly, she's from the space ship! I know they said they were looking for a man but Mike was right! It's her. I had that diamond checked at three different places. Nobody on earth's ever seen a stone like that! After what Mike told us, that's enough for me. Why is it nobody knows anything about her? Why hasn't she got any money? Why didn't the Army let everyone know they were looking for a woman and not a man? Why -?”
“Ted!” Her voice was even, with quiet assertion but it got his attention. “All right, Ted, it's true. What Michael said, it's true.”
“How do you know?” He eyed her suspiciously, his expression showing a hint of betrayal.
“Never mind about that. You've got to promise me you won't say a word to anybody,” she said, insistence coloring her tone.
“Are you crazy? After what happened today?”
“You don't understand. You don't realize how important it is.”
“Important?” Ted repeated, impatiently. “Of course it's important. The point is we can do something about it.”
“That's what I'm trying to tell you. We mustn't do anything about it. Believe me, Ted, I know what I'm talking about.”
“She's a menace to the whole world!” Ted said, irritated by Holly's opposition. “It's our duty to turn her in.”
“Don't you dare! She isn't a menace! She told me what she came here for,” she said in a desperate attempt to get him to see reason.
“She told you...Don't be silly, honey, just because you like the gal.” He dismissed her with his annoyed contempt. “You realize what this would mean for us? I'd be the biggest man in the country. I could write my own ticket.”
Holly eyed him, coldly. “Is that what you're thinking about?”
“Why not? Somebody's got to get rid of her,” Ted said, defensively.
“Damn it, Ted!”
“Holly!” Ted admonished. “You've never sworn at me.”
“You've never made me mad enough to!” They were interrupted by the sharp sound of the interoffice buzzer. Before Ted could pick up the phone, Holly said, “I'm not going to let you do it, Ted. This is literally the most important thing in the world.” She couldn't keep the personal urgency from her voice.
Ted ignored her, picked up the phone and answered it. “Yes? What's his name? General Whitacre? Yes, I'll hold.”
Realizing what he was doing, Holly moved closer to him, pleading wildly, desperately. “Ted, you mustn't! You don't know what you're doing! It isn't just you and Miss Cameron. The rest of the world, is involved!”
Ted placed his hand over the phone receiver. “I don't care about the rest of the world!” he told her, exasperated.
It was as though he had slapped her across the face. Suddenly he had wholly revealed himself, naked, selfish and disgusting . Holly slowly backed away from him, repulsed.
It was only then that Ted showed any sign of feeling guilty. It was only after he saw the contempt and revulsion in her eyes that he tried to be charming. “You'll feel different when you see my picture in the papers.”
Holly stared at him starkly. “I feel different right now.”
“You wait and see. You're going to marry a big hero!” His smugness had returned.
“I'm not going to marry anybody.” Holly turned and walked quickly out of the room.
Ted seemed inclined to follow her when he heard the connection complete on the other line. “Hello, Whitacre?” A look of irritation crossed his face. “No, I don't want to speak to his aide. I want to speak to the General. Tell him it's about the space man... I mean, space woman . Yes,” he smiled, suddenly pleased with himself all over again, “I thought that'd change your mind. My name is Ted Sheldon. S-h-e-l-d-o-n.”
Outside, Holly hailed a cab. Once she was in the taxi, it sped off toward the boarding house. As she neared her street, she saw a jeep full of armed soldiers moving through the neighborhood at a fast clip. The soldiers were carrying rifles, Tommy guns and outfitted for war. Her cab drove by a soldier with a walkie-talkie in his hand who appeared to be transmitting an order to the driver.
Behind the jeep was an Army staff car. In the front seat beside the driver, Holly spotted a full colonel, wearing a combat helmet and side-arm, who seemed to be speaking urgently into the transmitter of the mounted radio.
The jeep was at the head of a convoy of eight Army vehicles, which moved swiftly in the same direction Holly was traveling. The deuce-and-a-half trucks were filled with armed soldiers. The convoy picked up more vehicles as it continued through the streets. Holly's taxi drove by one jeep that had a .30 caliber machine gun affixed to the back area. She sat back in her seat, hoping Ted had not been able to connect with General Whitacre, yet instinctively knowing he had. She closed her eyes and prayed.
Her cab rounded the corner to the boarding house street. It drew up in front of her
building and idled as she jumped out and ran up the steps to the front door. She burst through the door, out of breath, and plowed directly into Chari, who held her and steadied her. “Holly, what's –“
“Where's Michael? Is he still at Professor Barth's?” She asked, looking around, frantically.
“Yes. What's the matter?”
Holly stared at her and then nodded, trusting Chari's instincts implicitly. “Yes. Of course, you wouldn't place him in harm's way.” She pulled Chari to her in a desperate embrace, then held her at arms length. “We have to go. Now. Ted has alerted the Army and I think they might already be on their way.”
“Ted? But I thought you said –“
“I was wrong. So terribly wrong about him.” She grabbed Chari's hand and yanked her toward the door. “Come on, I have a cab waiting.”
Just as a military jeep circled to block off the other end of the street, Chari and Holly hurried down the steps and piled into the idling taxi, which sped away the second the back door was closed. There were kids and adults gathered by the neighboring stoops, occupied with the activity of the convoy, as the cab made a right turn at the other end of the street.
The colonel's staff car barreled across the intersection onto the boarding house street followed by two jeeps of armed MPs. As the official cars pulled up in front of the rooming house, the soldiers in the jeeps raced out and covered the entrance to the building. The colonel, still in the staff car, began a conversation with two of the children playing out front. They chattered, excitedly, and pointed in the direction taken by the taxi that just left.
The colonel then picked up his vehicle radio microphone and spoke in a manner of clipped and quiet authority. “Attention, Zone 5... Yellow cab, heading north on B from Ninth Street. Two women in back seat. Get the license number and report.”
The taxi moved through traffic at a normal speed. Chari and Holly watched the activities outside the cab with significant nervous tension.
“I'm sure Barth can arrange to hide me, too, until the meeting,” Chari said, in a hushed voice, so that only Holly could hear her.
“Where is the meeting going to be?”
“At the ship.”
Holly nodded as she looked out the window to her left. They approached a corner where armed military occupants sat in three convoy cars that were parked on the side street, facing the intersection.
Abreast of the junction, Chari glanced out the other window, to her right, to see a jeep halted on an opposite side street facing the four corners. The cab passed under the stoplight and it looked like the jeep driver squinted, as though to catch the taxi's number. Chari watched as the soldier picked up his radio and spoke into the transmitter. The implications of this hit Chari hard. They knew who and where she was. She may not make it back to the ship alive, after all. Her concentration was broken by a hand enclosing over hers. She looked over at Holly, who seemed as worried as she.
“How was Michael?”
“Last I saw him, he was scared. Excited. Wanting to keep my secret but ready to burst if he didn't tell somebody. He's a wonderful boy, Holly.”
The sincerity of Chari's words touched her. “Thank you.”
“I told him that he could talk about it all with Professor Barth because Barth would understand. He was thrilled to think he could share a secret with the smartest man on Earth.”
“The troops seem to be mobilizing,” the cab driver said loudly, mostly to himself. “Wonder if they found the spaceman. Or, at least, where he's hiding.”
The pad of Holly's thumb circled the back of Chari's hand. They exchanged a grim, if meaningful look and returned to what was happening outside their immediate world.
There were Army vehicles stationed at every side street and intersection. The women's eyes met for a moment, revealing grave concern, neither willing to conjecture what it might mean. The very quietness of the operation came off as ominous and menacing.
They began to see that every military vehicle they passed, picked up the radio and reported, watching the taxi as it moved by them. Chari turned to look at Holly, who nibbled nervously at her own lips. She stole a sidelong glance at Chari to find her staring but deeply preoccupied.
“It's only a few blocks to Barth's,” Holly said, trying to be encouraging.
Chari, shook her head, deep in thought. She was not going to make it to Professor Barth's and even if she did, the Army obviously knew what cab she was in and where she would end up. No one was safe. “I'm worried about Gaåvra . I'm afraid of what it might do, if anything should…should happen to me.”
“Nothing is going to happen to you, Chari,” Holly said and squeezed her hand. “Besides, Gaåvra is a robot. I mean, without you, what could it do?”
Chari reached up to Holly's chin with her fingers and gently forced Holly to look at her. “There's no limit to what it could do,” Chari said, slowly, with quiet, urgent intent. “It could destroy the Earth.” She waited for a reaction, which came quickly. “Listen, Holly, if anything should happen to me, you must go to Gaåvra . You must give it this message: Chari påqcic jrz'sud. Please repeat that.”
Holly was shocked and bewildered. “Stop it. Nothing's going to happen to you.”
“Holly, look around!” Chari said, with a finality that made Holly shiver. “Please, repeat it. You must say it exactly as I say it. Chari påqcic jrz'sud.”
Holly stared at her blankly, her hands now feeling like ice. Chari clutched her hand sharply to pull her out of her stupor. “Ch- chari P-payo kechish sherz soo owd.”
“Again,” Chari commanded.
“ Chari påqcic jrz'sud.”
“Remember those words,” Chari said, solemnly
Holly nodded, repeating the words soundlessly, tears forming in her eyes. Chari brought Holly's hand to her lips and kissed it.
Suddenly several of the individual vehicles that had been waiting at
intersections, pulled out and down the main streets to converge on the taxi.
A convoy of jeeps then quickly arranged themselves so that they formed a roadblock, completely sealing off the street. When the roadblock came into range of the cab's headlights, the driver, who had been getting uneasy, heard this transmission come over his radio:
“Hey, Mazzio, pick up and if you can't, listen, the Army is calling your cab, license number W 4936, a target vehicle. What the hell kind of fare did you pick up?”
The taxi driver slowed and turned to face his passengers accusingly. “Hey, what's this all about?”
“Please, just keep driving,” Holly urged him.
“Lady, are you crazy? That's the Army out there!”
Chari put a restraining hand on Holly's shoulder and shook her head. The taxi crawled to a stop as the military jeeps closed in behind the cab, trapping it. Chari studied Holly for mere seconds that seemed like an eternity. Such a feeling of love passed between them, Holly felt as though she were ready to pass out. “Holly…get to Gaåvra.”
“No…” Holly cried and tried to hold on to Chari. ”You can't leave me. I just found you…”
“I'll find you again.” The door opened and Chari stepped out, making a run for the entrance to a pedestrian underpass.
An explosion of gunfire was heard from the vehicle pulling up behind them and Holly looked just in time to see Chari convulse, stagger forward and collapse to the ground. “Nooooooooooo…!”
The mournful wail gave the cab driver chills. He watched as the smaller female burst from the backseat, toward the fallen woman. She rushed to Chari, dropped down to hold Chari's head in her arms. Chari's blue eyes raised to greet her with a feeble smile. Then her face took on an expression of urgency.
“Get that message to Gaåvra . Right away,” she said weakly but insistently. She was unable to say any more and died in Holly's embrace.
Holly rubbernecked wildly, helplessly, with tears and terror in her eyes. It instantly felt as though the other half of her soul was missing. It was an odd, all encompassing feeling.
The soldiers piled out of their vehicles and closed in on the place where Chari was. She was their first and all-important concern, and Holly found herself pushed out of the way, toward the outer confines of the growing crowd of troops.
Shocked and, stunned by what happened, Holly realized she must get to Gaåvra . Taking advantage of the milling confusion in the dark, she edged toward the pedestrian underpass until she could slip into its entrance without being noticed.
In the eerie light of the huge building, the great robot stood encased in a solid block of clear, transparent plastic. Slowly, a low whirring sound, as though power was being generated, was heard outside the block. A faint glow, visible through the
material, emanated from Gaåvra's body. Its eyes, which seemed to express rage, shifted as though it were straining to break out. As the whirring sound and the glow of Gaåvra's body increased in intensity, the sharp edges at the top of the ice-like block melted into roundness and the plastic started to drip away.
The ominous humming sound could be heard faintly from inside. The two soldiers who stood guard at the door heard the reverberation and listened apprehensively. The two men exchanged an uneasy glance. After they hesitated a moment, one of them decided to investigate. He turned and went inside the door, where approximately 150 folding chairs were arranged on the floor near the space ship for the meeting. As he stopped and looked up at the robot, his eyes flashed wide with fear.
Gaåvra was an awesome and terrifying sight. Its head was free and it seemed to be straining against the plastic, which was dripping down the sides of the block.
The soldier glanced around nervously to see that his companion had entered the building and was staring up at the robot, bug-eyed. Slowly the second soldier moved up beside the first. Wordlessly, they brought their rifles up to bear and clicked them off safety. In spite of their quite panic, they advanced slowly toward the robot.
The resonance was ominous and Gaåvra's body glowed brightly. Suddenly the area normally covered by the robot's face shield, revealed a red laser-like beam that fixed on the two advancing figures. From inside the robot came a new and terribly sharp, sizzling sound and from its “eyes” two pencils of light darted out. After a moment the humming, crackling sound stopped, the light went off and the face shield slipped back in place. There was now just air where the soldiers had been. Gaåvra had completely released itself from the encasing and began to move away from the ship on a mission.
Holly hurried along a footpath, nervous and distraught. She paused for a moment and looked at the hastily constructed building, starting determinedly across the grass toward the entrance. Holly approached the open doorway fearfully before she rallied all her courage and determination, forcing herself to step inside. She entered the huge, weirdly lighted building and stopped short as her glance fell on the formidable figure of Gaåvra . Holly suddenly felt very alone as terror gripped her and she felt the need to run but she couldn't as fear paralyzed her.
Gaåvra focused on Holly, its flashing visor boring into her. She was held fascinated by the robot's red revolving beam in place of eyes. For another moment she looked as though she would, break and run but she summoned all her courage, and moved slowly toward Gaåvra , who began moving steadily, menacingly toward her. At this action, she started to retreat, backing away, keeping her eyes on the dangerous machine.
As the great, hulking figure approached, Holly couldn't stand her ground. She turned and ran wildly toward the far end of the building, instantly realizing she was trapped. Gaåvra followed her with unhurried, inescapable strides, closing in on her.
Her eyes went wide with terror as it registered that there was no escape. Immobilized with fright, she stood breathless, stock-still and powerless, looking up at the robot. Gaåvra bent over her, ominously, arms outstretched as though to grab or smash her. Suddenly blessed with a moment of lucidity, she remembered the message Chari told her to deliver.
With desperate clarity, she said, “Gaåvra - Chari påqcic jrz'sud.”
Gaåvra paused as Holly's voice penetrated its automated senses. The words obviously had an effect as the robot hesitated thoughtfully for a moment. Holly scrutinized the robot in an agony of suspense. Then Gaåvra slowly bent down, picked her up in its arms and started walking toward the space ship.
Gaåvra carried Holly, who was speechless with fright, to the side of the ship. It touched the side, and the ramp moved slightly out. It mounted the ramp, still carrying Holly, and disappeared into the ship with her, as the ramp closed silently behind them. Holly was held through the dimly lit corridor into the main cabin, where it automatically sensed Gaåvra's presence and illuminated the section. The robot proceeded to a small door that led off the main cabin and disappeared with Holly inside it.
They entered, what Holly saw as a weirdly-equipped laboratory. The walls were lined with the most complex array of mechanical and electronic apparatus. Gaåvra set Holly down on a stool and indicated, with a wave of a metallic hand, for her to stay there. Too terrified to move, Holly watched as the robot busied itself with the mechanized appliances. Gaåvra started flipping switches, turning dials and pressing keys on a panel. As a result, lights began to flash and there was an odd series of electronic sounds.
Unable to guess the reason for these preparations, Holly, gripped with stifling fear, remained silent and just observed.
Gaåvra ignored Holly completely, as the robot finished its work. Then it moved to the door, exiting and closing the door behind it. Holly rushed to the door and searched frantically for the knob, only to find, to her terror, that there was none. Frantically, she began to beat on the solid titanium door.
Outside the ship, the ramp appeared and extended. Gaåvra stepped out and with grim, determination, the automate strode toward the entrance of the building as the ramp silently closed.
At the police station closest to where Chari was shot, a colonel in charge of the apprehension spoke into a phone at the police sergeant's desk. The colonel was surrounded by four other Army officers, attentive to the full bird's end of the conversation and awaiting instruction.
“Yes, sir,” the colonel said into the phone, “we've got the body here now. Downstairs in a cell... No question about it, General, she's dead all right... Yes, sir. Yes. I understand.” The colonel replaced the phone to its cradle and turned to the other officers. “The general is coming down here ASAP.” He turned to the lieutenant. “Take a squad of men, Lieutenant, and post a guard around that cell.”
“Yes, sir,” the lieutenant replied and left to follow his orders.
“Captain, instruct your troops not to let anyone in or out of the building.” The colonel looked at the other lieutenant. “You, set up a perimeter.”
The two remaining officers muttered their "yes, sirs" and took off to attend to their instructions.
Downstairs, a squad of armed soldiers, led by the lieutenant, entered the corridor with a civilian police guard. They started marching down the hallway toward a cell at the far end.
The locked cell where they had placed Chari's body, was on the ground floor. In the far wall was a heavily barred window, beyond which was an alley. The huge figure of Gaåvra appeared outside the crosspiece window and without hesitation, it reached up and yanked out the steel bars as though they were chicken wire. With a crushing blow, it crumbled the brick and mortar below the window, stepping inside the cell. Gaåvra moved without interruption toward the stilled body of Chari.
In the corridor, the soldiers heard the unmistakable sounds of clattering metal and cement, which prompted them to race down the hall toward the cell. As the first few GIs reached the locked and restricted cubicle, they stopped momentarily in shock and fear as they saw the tall, foreboding robot up close and personal for the first time. They watched, stunned, as it picked up the body of Chari and turned, walking deliberately toward the gaping hole in the side of the building it had made in order to gain access.
The soldiers raised their weapons and fired at Gaåvra , but the bullets had no effect on the automate, some ricocheting off and nearly slamming back into the soldiers. Continuing, uninterrupted amid the gunfire, it stepped over the debris and disappeared, carrying Chari in its arms.
“Cease fire, cease fire!” the lieutenant ordered. He then picked up his walkie-talkie and relayed the information of what had just occurred, as his platoon followed the robot out the hole in the wall.
Gaåvra entered the empty building set up around the entrance of the ship, still carrying the body of Chari as soldiers continued to follow and monitor the robot's progress. The automate walked over to the spaceship as the ramp opened and it transported the body inside. When the ramp closed after it, there was once again no evidence of a way to get in or out.
Alone in the cabin, Holly was still horribly frightened. She thought about Michael and what if she couldn't get back to him. Her thoughts then drifted to the “exchange” she and Chari had in the elevator at work. It was all too much to take in. And now Chari was dead and she was trapped in this spacecraft, her life dependent on a powerful robot whose “master” could no longer give it commands. Her reflection went back to her son. Would she ever see him again?
She heard a strange noise and looked up, startled as the door slid back and Gaåvra entered, carrying Chari's body over to a long counter. Once again the automate began fiddling with buttons, switches and dials. As Holly watched, speechless,
Gaåvra fastened strange-looking electrodes to Chari's wrists, ankle, chest and head.
As the soldiers surrounded the exterior of the craft, the chairs set out for Professor Barth's meeting began to fill up with more people arriving. As there was no one there to greet them, they wandered in and seated themselves. They observed the activities around the spaceship and the craft, itself, with fascination and curiosity.
Gaåvra continued to work on the body of Chari. From a socket in the wall, the automate pulled a strange-looking hypodermic needle on the end of a transparent tube and gave Chari a shot directly in the chest, where her heart should have been.
Gaåvra fiddled with what looked like a typewriter keyboard again, which resulted in
high and low pitched sounds. Suddenly it flipped a lever and all noises ceased. Gaåvra removed the electrodes and watched Chari intently.
Holly observed in fascination as Chari suddenly began to breathe, followed by a fluttering of eyelids. After a moment, Chari's eyes opened and, after apparently getting her bearings, she looked around. She slowly lifted herself to a sitting position.
Holly watched breathlessly as Chari glanced around the room, as though to orient herself. Then she lowered her feet to the floor and stood up. She blinked uncertainly, then smiled at Holly and nodded gratefully to Gaåvra .
“Hi,” Chari said to Holly.
Holly couldn't stop staring. “I …I thought you were dead,” she said, breathlessly.
Chari inclined her head. “I was.”
Holly looked at Gaåvra in awe. “You mean it has the power of life and death?”
“No. Not specifically.” Chari gestured to the equipment around them. “This technique, in certain cases, can re-stimulate life for a limited period. It's a refinement of scientific principles known to your own people. They just haven't fine-tuned the process yet.”
“But…for how long?” Holly could not disguise the concern in her voice.
“How long will I live?” When Holly nodded, Chari shrugged. “That, well, no one can say.”
Chari moved one of the sliding panels and reached for one of her her military travel suits. Without a hint of inhibition or apology, she began to strip out of the Earth attire and into her native clothing.
Outside the craft, Professor Barth had just arrived, with Michael in tow, and began to greet several friends in the seated area designated for his meeting. An Army staff car, followed by a convoy of military vehicles drove up to the entrance of the building. A colonel hurried out of the staff car and moved over to Barth, speaking to him with deference but with unyielding authority.
“I'm sorry, Professor Barth, I have to ask you to call off this meeting,” the colonel stated, expecting no response but compliance.
“Call it off? I... But I had permission from your superiors…”
“I know you did. But the robot is now without a commander and it isn't safe around
here. You'll have to get your friends out of that building.”
“What do you mean? What happened?”
Once Chari had finished dressing in her uniform, she looked at Holly and said, “ Gaåvra and I will be leaving soon. We cannot stay here. It is too hazardous.”
Holly appeared genuinely upset at the thought of her leaving and the knowledge of what she came here to try and accomplish. And then there was that undeniably compelling soulmate connection between them. Simply, sincerely, Holly said, “We'll miss you very much, Michael and I.” She smiled, as though to conceal her real feelings. “He won't have anyone to play with.”
The unspoken words were shattering to Chari, though she tried not to let on. She covered by nodding and keeping her expression neutral. “He'll have you. And Ted.” The tone was gracious but Ted's name was said with certain distaste.
Quietly but definitively, Holly said, “No. That's all finished.”
“I'm sorry.” Chari said, but the temper of her voice contradicted that.
Holly was, if nothing else, sensible and objective, but not heartless. “I think I'm very lucky. You don't always get a chance to recognize a mistake before you make it.”
Chari looked at Holly in warm, considered admiration. Then she moved to one side of the cabin and flipped a switch. “You know…you and Michael could still come with me. It's not too late.”
Most of the audience chairs outside were already occupied, and latecomers were still moved in through the door. Facing the group, on a little dais, was Barth who rapped a gavel for order and began to speak. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he addressed them gravely, with a note of terrible disappointment in his voice. “I called you from your work and from your homes all over the world because we were to meet here tonight with a being from another planet -- the person who came here in this ship.” There were audible exclamations of surprise and disgruntlement. “I have been told that this is no longer possible. I can only say that I share the bitterness of this letdown.” He glanced over at Michael, who was still in tears over the news of Chari's death.
The people Barth addressed were the cream of Earth's intellectual crop; scientists, church leaders, educators, leaders of social and political thought. There were turbaned Indian and Middle Eastern, Chinese and Japanese officials. All religions, as well as every world power, appeared to be represented.
Filled with chagrin, Barth continued to address the meeting attendees. “Under the circumstances, the Army people have asked us to leave the area. And, since their concern is for our safety, I can do nothing but suggest that we comply –“ Barth was interrupted by the sudden and unexpected appearance of the ramp, silently opening out of the side of the space ship.
Barth's audience reacted in startled amazement to the mysterious materialization of the ramp. Then, as they gaped at the emergence of the titanium declivity, a collective gasp of terror filtered through the crowd.
Gaåvra appeared on the ramp and walked slowly down to the ground. In the moment following, Chari and Holly appeared at the entrance of the ship. Holly descended fully and stood by Barth and Michael, who ran up and hugged her tightly. Chari remained at the head of the ramp and winked at Michael, who tugged on his mother's dress and pointed to ‘Miss Cameron' in shock. Holly respectfully shushed her son.
Several military leaders, flanked by a group of soldiers, ordered their troops to have their weapons at the ready. The colonel in charge was startled by all that seemed to be unfolding before his eyes. He was suddenly riveted to the revered figure of Chari, who stood so tall and commanding and, more importantly, alive .
Chari was a figure of intense dignity in her impressive otherworld flight tunic. She stared, unafraid and with tempered defiance at the armed soldiers, as though holding them off by the sheer weight of her personality. She then turned to look out at the audience, which was held spellbound.
After a breathless moment, she finally spoke with clear, almost stern authority. “I am leaving soon. Forgive me if I speak bluntly.” She paused, studying the faces looking back at her, deferentially. “The Universe grows smaller every day and the threat of aggression by any group - anywhere - can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all - or no one is secure... This does not mean giving up any freedom except the freedom to act irresponsibly. Your ancestors knew this when they made laws to govern themselves… and hired policemen to enforce them.”
Gaåvra remained motionless, its size, bearing and inscrutable expression brooking no debate on its right to be exactly where it was.
“We of the other planets have long accepted this principle. We have an organization for the mutual protection of all planets - and for the complete elimination of aggression. A sort of United Nations on the planetary level. The test of any such higher authority, of course, is the police force that supports it. For our police force, we created a race of robots.” She indicated Gaåvra. “ Their function is to patrol the planets, in space ships like this one, and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression we have given them absolute power over us.”
The crowd of people stared wordlessly at this traveler who spoke with a confidence and intensity they were not used to seeing or hearing from a woman.
“As you have already witnessed, at the first sign of violence they act automatically against the aggressor,” Chari continued. “And the penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk. The result is that we live in peace, without arms or armies, secure in the knowledge that we are free from hostility and war; free to pursue more profitable enterprises.” She paused, letting her words sink in. “We do not pretend to have achieved perfection but we do have a system - and it works.
With straightforward candor, she continued, “I came here to give you the facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet…but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder.”
As mesmerizing as Chari's voice and appearance was, the crowd of delegates reacted with stark terror and bewilderment. The military attendees, on the other hand, appeared to be impressed and held by Chari's threats.
“Your choice is simple,” Chari concluded quietly, incisively. “Join us and live in peace or pursue your present course and,” she paused for effect, “face obliteration. We will be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.”
The delegates, the military and the public that had gathered were stunned and silent, their collective minds unable to cope with the enormity of what they had just heard.
While the crowd digested the ultimatum, Chari moved to Barth to say goodbye and to thank him for at least trying. The esteemed scientist nodded in understanding and shook Chari's hand, wishing her a safe journey.
She then walked over to Holly and Michael. She bid goodbye to the boy with a handshake, then she looked at Holly, whose eyes sparkled with tears in danger of falling. Holly had just met this enchanting being, her soulmate through, well, the beginning of time on Earth and now she was leaving.
“Will I ever see you again?” Holly asked.
“Probably not in this incarnation. Please reconsider coming with me.” The love with which Chari conveyed in just one glance was overwhelming.
“I…I can't. I'm sorry. I want to but…if what you say is true, Michael needs to stay here to continue the line. And, of course, I could never leave without my son. Besides, you don't know how much longer you will live, in light of what happened today and there is no way I could live on a strange, futuristic planet without you.” She sniffed back the unshed moisture from her nose and eyes. “Can't you stay?”
Chari gestured around them. “Not and maintain any privacy or intimacy with you. That would place you and Michael's lives under great scrutiny and I would never intentionally cause you that much pain.”
“What about, maybe, sneaking back and stay here?”
“Sneak back? If I could, I would but that would prove impossible. After this visit, especially, your government will only refine their tracking and radar capabilities.” She glanced over at Gaåvra, who, although the automate never moved, seemed impatient, which was odd for a robot without any programmed emotion. Chari reached over and cupped Holly's face with her hand. “I will monitor you and Michael. You both are a part of me.”
“You can do that?”
“Oh, yes. As technology progresses in the years to come, you will discover things that seem so complex to you now, really aren't.” She smiled, sadly, at Holly. “I must go before your military changes its mind and decides to wage war right now.”
“But that would be…suicidal,” Holly said, aghast. “They've seen what Gaåvra can do.”
“Yes, but capabilities, in some cases, don't eclipse a misguided ego.” She turned her head toward the robot. “Gaåvra, xuqacug'sod.” The huge, metallic automate executed a 180 degree turn and headed back into the ship. “Until we meet again, Holly Barrington.”
“I will never forget this meeting, Chari.”
The alien traveler reluctantly pivoted and moved up the ramp. Chari looked back and once again nodded her goodbye to Holly before disappearing into the spacecraft
Holly's tears streamed down her face as her smile reflected a warm, knowing affection,
The door slid shut and the ramp closed, leaving no trace of where either access point had been. From inside the ship, a muffled roar of considerable power emanated and began to build to a near-deafening crescendo as the craft lifted with unimaginable thrust, leaving the ground and, eventually, the Earth's atmosphere.
All who gathered, watched breathlessly, still stunned by what they had heard and seen. All were clearly deeply moved, astonished and inspired in some way that felt deeply personal. In the mind of each was the burning question that Chari had posed for them.
The crowd, chattering amongst themselves, began to disperse in different directions. Professor Barth looked at Holly, sensing the intense connection between both women as she continued to stare skyward.
“Come, let me buy you and Michael a late dinner,” the professor said. “I believe we have much to discuss.”
They were approached by a group of military men in dress uniforms. “Mrs. Barrington, my name is General Whitacre and I need you and your son to come with us.”
“What for?” Holly asked, defiantly.
“General, it has been a long day. Please allow Mrs. Barrington and her son to enjoy a meal before you commence with your debriefing,” Barth said, authoritatively.
Whitacre assessed the situation – a clearly frightened child clinging to his mother and an angry woman who had access to an alien, spaceship and robot that they were not afforded. If they guarded them from afar, he saw no reason they shouldn't have supper before the long inquisition began.
“Of course,” he consented. “We'll wait.”
As Holly, Michael and Barth walked away, Barth said, “Don't worry. I'll tell you how to handle them.”
“Somehow, Professor Barth,” Holly said, taking Michael's hand, “I think they might now be more afraid of me than I am of them.”
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