AN: Hey guys, I made it. The end of the week but I still made it. I had intended to update this a while back but the scene at the end of the chapter took a few rewrites and I wasn't entirely happy with it even now. But I'll let you make up your mind. If there's any gramma and spelling errors there mine alone because I'm always so excited to finish these chapters that I boot them out the door before I can properly check them. Any how, I hope you enjoy this chapter and as always, Constructive Criticism wanted. Every bit helps.
"Here you go, buddy." Glemp Hoplog passed a beer to Quip Korplog. "Straight out of the ice box."
"Thanks," Quip said as he took the beer. The two were sitting down in the lunch room of the power plant, enjoying their break. They had taken off their helmets and had safely stowed their weapons before heading off to eat their lunch.
Glemp took a swig of his beer, and levelled a long hard look at his best friend. "What's eating you, Quip?" He asked. "All morning you've been rather silent. Like you've just been handed a divorce or something." He paused, then leaned in close. "It's not a...?"
"No, no," Quip waved it away. "The wife and I are fine." He said. "It's just..." He sighed again in irritation. "I don't know how to say it."
"Try me." Glemp said. "Look, Quip, we've been friends for twenty four years now. We went through the battlefields of the Great War together, we watched each others backs. We moved to the same town together so we could be close. There's nothing I won't be surprised at."
Quip was silent even longer this time. "I can trust you with anything, right Glemp?" He asked.
"Of cause you can, buddy." Glemp laughed. "Hey, do you remember that time during the first year of the war, when we had that Rings awful slop for food? Remember how you went and dumped the whole lot in the commandants personal hut? You never got caught because I kept that secret." Quip chuckled in remembrance of that prank. "Come on and just tell me what's eating you, Quip." Glemp said. "I promise, as your best friend, what you say won't leave between the two of us."
Quip looked over at his friend, and then levelled a long hard look at him. "What would you say, if I told you that I believe my son is hiding the alien."
For a second, there wasn't any sound, then Glemp burst out laughing. "By the rings, that's a good one, buddy." He slapped Quip hard on the back. "My, you really had me going there..." His voice trailed off as he saw the serious expression on Quip's face. "You're not joking, aren't you." Quip shook his head. "Pit, that's... That's really... Wow." Glemp now looked stunned. "Have you told anyone about this?"
"You're the first," Quip said.
"Wow," Glemp said again. Then turned to Quip. "I honestly don't know what to say."
Lem didn't have to wait long. Neera was finished and out the door not long after his talk with Kipple had ended. She was still wearing her uniform when she emerged from the back entrance.
"So what is it you wanted to show me at Haglog's comics?" Neera asked. Like himself, she didn't have much of an opinion of Skiff. A while back, when both Neera and Lem were in junior high, and Skiff was still in high school, she'd gone to the VR Club room to see if they could help her with a project of her own.
She arrived just in time to see Skiff and what few friends he had, recording a 'What to do In case' movie about alien abduction and probing, which interestingly involved sticking a cork where the sun don't shine. Neera had the unfortunate timing to walk in just as he was demonstrating how to operate the cork.
She'd gotten angry and explained that what they were doing was a total disregard for a serious profession by using it for unnecessary idiocy. Skiff had explained that what he was doing had it's merits and that it was perfectly fine for his project. Neera had explained that this equipment was the finest money could buy and that the money did not wish to buy images of an idiot stuffing a cork up his you-know-what. Skiff had explained that aliens were in fact real and anyone who didn't prepare for the eventual invasion was a fool. Neera had explained that she got weirder things than him in her breakfast cereal for free and that she didn't need to put up with it twice in one day. Skiff had explained that she should just shove off because the VR Club was no place for a girl. And Neera had explained that the object rapidly approaching him from the left was a knuckle sandwich.
After the explanations had been concluded, she left and never returned. She still had a powerful distaste of the VR Club, long after Skiff graduated high school.
"Don't worry, it's nothing that can harm you." Lem assured her. "Well, I'm not sure about Skiff, but what I want to show you can't harm you."
"You mean you're actually hanging out with Skiff?"
"Yeah, well not really, I mean... it's a long story." Lem answered.
"Well, we can talk about it on the way over," Neera said, looking over her shoulder and the rear exit for the building. "Let's get out of here before my boss tries to beg me into doing another shift." They both hurried off down the street.
"It must be something serious if it requires you hanging out with Skiff." She rolled her eyes. "I mean, when the guy was still in school, he managed to single handedly alienate nearly everyone there, and as achievements go, that's got to be worthy of some kind of award."
"Yeah," Lem said with a slight chuckle. "That guy can be a cancer of societies backside, but it wasn't my idea to go to Skiff. It was Eckle's." Lem stopped talking as two soldiers marched past. "I'll explain once we get there."
It didn't take the two long to reach the comic shop. When they got there, they saw that the window shutters to the shop were down, obscuring the view inside. Lem didn't have time to think about this, as he saw that standing outside the shop was Skiff. He looked rather dejected. Lem smiled. He wondered if Skiff was here to apologise. However, as they drew closer, he saw that Skiff had some sort of ice pack strapped to his posterior.
"What happened to you?" Lem asked.
"You could've told me about that damn robot's defence systems." Skiff muttered. It was then that Skiff saw Neera, and he realised his mistake. Then he did a double take as he realised who it was.
"What?" Lem asked.
"What robot?" Neera asked.
"Neera," Lem said, taking her arm. "This is what I want to show you."
"You have the alien." Lem's double take was even greater than Skiff's.
"How...? How did you-!?"
"Well, when Skiff said robot, it clicked." Neera responded with a shrug. "I mean, before you dragged me over here, you said you wanted to show me something, and you did stress the importance that it wouldn't be harmful to me. Plus you were really nervous about it and quite around soldiers, and then when Skiff talked about a robot... It doesn't take a genius to put those puzzle pieces together."
"Wow," Skiff muttered. "You're pretty smart for a girl." Neera just rolled her eyes.
"Coming from a guy who sticks corks up his butt, and records it for posterity, I really don't see the need to point out the which one of us has all of our neurons firing." She looked at the ice pack. "Still at it I see."
Skiff sighed. "No," he muttered, then turned to Lem. "After you left, I set about conducting my own examination of the robot." He paused. "Were you aware that it has a retractable arm?" Lem shook his head. "Well, it dose, and that's not all it has. It would seem that the arm is infused with a defence mechanism as well."
"What did you do to provoke it?" Lem asked.
"All I did was I asked Chuck if I could take a look at his robot. He agreed, and so I picked it up and flipped it over to get a better look at it's wheel systems." He paused again. A lot longer this time. "It started squealing, and that's when the arm came out. It would seem that it's capable of inducing some sort of electric shock that like getting kicked by a horse." He looked down at the ice pack. "It also caused me to, ummm..." He trailed off, unsure of how to continue.
Just then, Eckle came around the corner, carrying a mop and wearing a gas mask, which he removed to show a haggard expression. "Well, I finally got floor cleaned up..." He to trailed off when he saw Neera, and then Lem. "Oh, hey Neera, what are you doing here?"
"She knows about Chuck," Lem said.
"It's name is Chuck?" Neera asked.
"Him." Lem corrected.
"How do you know it's a HIM?" Neera asked. "He could very well be a SHE, you know."
"Oh, Chuck's a He." He paused. "Or at least I think it's a he." His mind flipped back to the bathroom incident. "Come to think of it..."
"You mean all this time you've had the alien you've never bothered to check if it's a boy or girl?"
"Well," Lem shrugged in defence. "I just assumed Chuck was a he."
"Can I see him? Or her? Or what ever it is?" Neera asked a hint of excitement in her voice.
"Sure, come on." He stopped, and then turned to Eckle. "Where's Chuck right now?"
"In the shop." Eckle said, pointing to the windows. Lem nodded. So that's why the shutters were down. Lem started to take Neera around the back when Eckle stopped him.
"You have to go in through the front," he said. "Skiff, kinda had an accident while he was playing with Rover." Lem looked at Skiff's ice pack, then at the gas mask and mop in Eckle's hands.
"Rover?" Neera asked. "Is that the robot's name?"
"You're really twigged on," Lem said with a smile. "Makes me wish I'd gone to you first." Skiff just harrumphed. Lem turned a suspicious eye to Skiff. "Are you jealous?" He teased with a giant grin.
"Let's just go inside." Skiff muttered.
Chuck was waiting inside, leaning against the shop counter. He turned as the group walked in. Lem saw him give a muffled version of that rapid fire barking sound humans made when they were laughing as Skiff walked in. Lem couldn't help but smile too.
"So that's Chuck." Neera whispered in awe. Chuck turned at the sound of Neera's voice and blinked. Then he pointed.
"Who Female?" He said.
"He knows our language?"
"I taught it to him," Lem said with pride.
"Why is it so halting?"
"He has a lot of trouble with big words," Lem explained. "So we can only communicate with basic words and sentences. Oh, and his species is called, Human."
Neera nodded, and then turned to face Chuck. "Hey, Chuck, are you a guy or a girl?" The human blinked.
"No understand." He shook his head. "Say again?"
"Remember, basic words and sentences. You have to be very simple with your words." Lem said. He then turned to Chuck, and asked, "Chuck. Is Chuck female?" Chuck blinked back at him, then burst out laughing. They had to wait a while before he calmed down.
"Chuck male," he said, whipping away tears from his eyes. "Long time, Lem, Eckle, Skiff, know not Chuck male?" Nobody answered. "Chuck know Lem, Eckle, Skiff male." Chuck turned to look at Neera. "Chuck know female."
"How?" Lem asked. Chuck pointed back to the storage room which was closed.
"Entertainment." He said. "TV. Skiff show Chuck TV. See male people, female people." He tapped the fur on his head. "Chuck understand."
"Wow," Neera interrupted. "This is incredible." She approached Chuck who kept an eye on her all the same. "Actual intelligent alien life. And it's friendly." She reached out a hand to Chuck's face. Chuck didn't move. "May I touch?" She asked slowly. Chuck frowned, but slowly nodded his head.
Neera let a single finger touched Chuck's cheek. She then let all three fingers and then her thumb feel the side of his face. "It feels soft soft, and warm." She commented. Her fingers then moved, down tracing the bottom of his jaw, travelling up the other side of his check to brush his ear. Finally, her fingers moved to the fur just above the ears and briefly stroked it. She then slowly pulled her hand away.
"So, what do you think?" Lem asked.
"Wow," Neera said again. "I just touched a real live alien. It felt so weird. So hot, and so soft. And his fur. So weird."
"That's because Chuck's a mammal." Lem said.
She grinned as she turned to face Lem. "Lem this is beyond incredible, it's fantastic! Do you realise what this is? You've made first contact! Peaceful first contact! You'll be famous! You'll go down in history!"
"Wait, wait, slow down," Lem said. "You're thinking too fast Neera. I can't just parade Chuck around like some animal."
"You don't need to." Neera replied. "You need a way of letting the whole world know that Chuck is harmless. Can't you see Lem? This could get you back in the good books with the entire town!" Her hands moved like she were framing headlines. "Lem Korplog makes First Contact!" She grabbed both his arms in excitement. "Can't you see? This is exactly the event that could give you a clean slate!"
Lem was stunned. The implications that Neera were talking about rushed through his mind, too fast for him to keep up with. "I plan to do that, Neera," Lem said, "but not right now."
"Why?" Neera looked confused.
"We can't just shove Chuck out into the spot light, we need a plan."
"So, what is it?"
"Well," Lem found he couldn't answer that. His original plan had been to teach Chuck enough of their language to hold a conversation, then shove him into the spot light with himself bringing up the rear, but way too many things had happened between then and now. In that time, he'd actually grown closer to Chuck. He'd come to see the human as something more than just a meal ticket. Sure he wanted the whole world to know about Chuck, but it had to be done right. "I want the whole world to know about Chuck," he said, "But it has to be done right."
"What you do?" All heads turned to face Chuck. He was stalking over to Lem. His face wrinkled into an angry expression. "What this plan, Lem? What you plan for I? Give I to Army?"
"Chuck," Lem said, patting his arm smoothly. "Calm down. I NOT give Chuck to Army."
Chuck jabbed a finger in Neera's direction. "What Neera say? She say, Lem show Chuck to people to get what?" He leaned in closer, his lips pealed back slightly from his mouth, exposing his teeth. "You make deal! Make deal, for Lem. Give Chuck to people for good deal?" He jabbed Lem in the chest with a finger that actually knocked him backwards. "What you do?"
"I saved your miserable skin. That's what I did." Lem said, rubbing the spot where Chuck had jabbed him. The human had forgotten he was stronger than people. "I'm making no deal with anyone! Not right now! But I will have too, if you want to have a chance of leaving our world." He paused and continued. "Lem no make deal, now! Make deal later. Good deal for Chuck."
Chuck just gleared back at him, not even blinking. "I meet Lem, before. Lem teach Chuck people talk. Lem wait to trade Chuck for good deal!" It wasn't a question. Lem gave a sharp intake of breath. He couldn't help it. Chuck must have known enough about people's facial expressions that he picked up on it. "Chuck right!" He snapped. "Lem just want Chuck for good deal for Lem!" He leaned back and sighed. "I wrong. Lem not good. Lem bad."
That stung, and made Lem stagger. But he quickly regained his posture. This wasn't going to be like old times. He wasn't going to stand here and take it.
"Oh come on, Chuck! What did you think? Did you honestly think that I would be the only native who'd try to get famous on you? Did you think that you can just travel all over the world without everyone who sees you having the same thoughts?" Lem cried out. Chuck turned to walk away. "Chuck, listen!" Lem snapped. Chuck stopped back kept his back to Lem. "Chuck misunderstand! Misunderstand whole deal! Yes, Lem make deal when Lem and Chuck meet. Yes, I make deal; trade for good deal. Time, long time go. I see Chuck. See Chuck, friend. Chuck and Lem, friends. Lem change deal. No trade Chuck for good deal. Understand? Chuck, Lem's friend."
"Chuck know not, trust Lem." Chuck said.
"We MUST make deal, Chuck." Lem said. "When many people's and many Humans meet. Humans need way of talk. Chuck help humans talk to people? That deal Lem make." Chuck seemed to be thinking about this.
"What deal Lem make?" Chuck asked.
"Lem show Chuck to people. Show to good people. Good people no trade Chuck for good deal. Good people want talk to Chuck; To humans." Chuck said something in his own language. "No understand," Lem said. "What say you?"
"Lem right," he said. "Chuck talk to people. Help people talk to humans." Lem smiled and reached out to give Chuck a reassuring pat; But Chuck stopped him. Lem was confused, but even more taken aback when Chuck held out his hand.
"What?" Lem asked.
"Hello." Chuck said. "Humans do hello with humans." He then added a human word. "Again, humans do with humans when make good deal. Lem and Chuck, make good deal. Both."
Lem reached out his hand, exactly like Chucks, and held it in a mirror fashion. He was about to ask Chuck what to do next when Chuck moved his hand forward, and clasped it around Lem's in a grip that was tight, but not painful. He shook it once, then let go.
"What was that all about?" Eckle asked.
"I believe that's a form of greeting," Skiff answered. He gave a thoughtful look. "And a way of sealing a deal."
"I think you're right," Neera said. "But... both mean the same thing? How do you know which is which?"
Chuck looked confused. "How people do hello with people?" He asked. Everyone present gave the universal greeting that every person knew. They held up their left hand, palm out and fingers and thumb spread wide. This was an old gesture when people were primitive. It was a way to show the other person that you carried no weapon. The reason it was done with the Left Hand, was that the majority of people were left handed. Chuck repeated the gesture, then looked at his own hand. He suddenly grinned and locked all four of his fingers together. He then parted them down the middle, two on each side so it looked like his hand only had two fingers and a thumb. As he did this, he muttered something in human; then started laughing.
"What funny Chuck?" Eckle asked.
"Entertainment. Old human entertainment." He said. "Humans understand funny. People not understand funny."
"I think he just told a joke." Neera said.
"Again," Chuck said. "How people seal deal?" Neera held up her hand and crossed the first two fingers, showing the universal sign of showing that you have accepted the offer being made.
"So," Eckle asked. "What are we going to do about Chuck?" All eyes turned to Lem.
"Okay, so we want the whole world to know that Chuck is harmless, right?" They all nodded. "The question is, who do we approach first?"
"What about that reporter guy from the bowlarama?" Neera asked. Lem fished the card out of his shirt pocket. He flipped the card between his thumbs in thought.
"It could be a possibility," Lem said, "But he might go after glory for himself at Chuck''s expense." He turned to the others. "We need to do this right. We have to look at all the options, not just the obvious ones. Any other suggestions? We'll explore all our options and discuss the pros and cons."
"We could always talk to the government." Eckle said.
"How?" Skiff asked. "Are there any government representatives in town? If so, where are they staying?"
"Why can't we trust the Army?" Neera asked.
"No, no trust army!" Chuck said. "Army bad!" Lem nodded. So, Chuck could follow small bits of the conversation. He also though back to their hasty escape from the Planetarium. He remembered his rushed explanation of the Army back then, and wondered if Chuck had misinterpreted what the Army was. Then he paused. If Chuck could follow bits and pieces of conversation, and even whole sentences, what else had he been following?
"Chuck," it was Neera who spoke. "Army not bad. Good. Army DEFEND people from bad people."
"Defend?" Chuck asked. Then he realised the meaning of the word. "Army defend people from aliens. Chuck see on movie. Skiff say yes. Aliens attack people. Army defend people. Army kill aliens."
So Chuck knew what the army was. All those movies must have clarified it for Chuck.
"Army kill bad aliens. Chuck good alien. Army no kill Chuck." Lem insisted.
Chuck opened his mouth to say something, but stopped. He seemed to be contemplating something. Instead of saying anything, he just folded his arms and leaned back, as if inviting the group to continue with their discussion. Lem frowned. Why did he suddenly drop out of the conversation like that?
"Hey Lem?" He turned to face Eckle. "Why don't you approach that scientist guy you like so much."
"Professor Kipple?" Lem put a finger to his lips in thought.
"Whoa!" Skiff interrupted. "Are you telling me that Professor Kipple, THE Professor Kipple is in town?"
"Of cause," Eckle said. "He came around to our house the other night."
"And he also was at the bowlarama," Neera added. "He offered Lem a chance to work with him."
"Professor Kipple is in MY town and I didn't know about it?" Skiff whined. Suddenly he looked ill as he turned to face Lem. "And he asked YOU to work with him?"
"Yeah, but, you like Professor Kipple too?"
"Of cause!" Skiff snapped. "That man is a genius! The majority of all my scientific facts are based off his works."
"Which ones?" Lem asked, his antenni wiggled in curiosity.
"Life, the Universe, and Everything. Other Worlds. Beyond the Rings. Aliens. Encyclopedia Galactica."
"My personal favourite was Beyond the Rings." Lem interrupted.
"Beyond the Rings had it's merits," Skiff said. "But Life, the Universe, and Everything was his true master piece."
"What?" Lem said. "He wrote that book in the beginning of his career. It's full of inconsistency. With his later work, which is by far superior due to his greater attention to detail in regards to the possibility of different atmosphere's effect on biological life."
"But it's that first book that really gives you a sense of wonder and imagination that really hooks you in. It's not rocket science, Lem. It's those first idea's and theories that add to the magic and wonder of alien life. Because it was the first of it's kind, it was, for me, an experience rather than a series of notes and ideas on a page. It's that reason the book remains a classic and a shining example of his best work. Pit, it's the reason I started believing in aliens in the first place."
The two paused and looked at each other. No one spoke or moved. Then both Lem and Skiff burst out laughing.
"What... Just happened?" Eckle asked Neera. Neera shook her head in disbelief.
"I haven't a clue."
It was early afternoon when Kipple finally returned to the Korplog house. He was just finishing the remains of a sandwich of sorts as he strode down the driveway towards the house. General Grawl stood there, watching him as he came.
"Hello Professor," Grawl said. "How did it go."
"Splendid," he said, wiping his mouth with a napkin. "The boy fell head over heals for my offer, and agreed to help me with my research of the alien pod."
"But that's not your field of..."
"I know that," Kipple said, "But talking with the boy inside the alien pod about the alien will surly yield results." And with that, the Professor walked straight on past him. "How did your meeting with the Prime Alpha go?" He asked.
Grawl explained the whole meeting with the mayor and the Prime Alpha's suspicions. He then went on to explain the foreign situation, and the Foreign Affairs Alpha's request that he hurry it up.
"The Old World wasn't built in a day, General." Kipple answered. "This is a delicate situation here. We only have one toy to work with. We push too hard and we break it. No receipt, no return."
"Then you can explain that equation to the Council of Thirteen." Grawl said. He was getting sick and tired of being the middle man.
"Fine," Kipple said, opening the front door. "I'll be on the phone. Be a help would you and get the line secure for me?" And he was gone.
Grawl just blew out a sharp gust of air and walked away to find the communications team in the garage. After he organised the security he sent a soldier off to inform Kipple and marched back outside.
The alien pod still stood were it was. A heavy moving truck was parked across two front yards, having demolished the fences between them. The plan to have the pod moved had been scrapped when foreign situation started heating up. The Foreign Affairs Alpha had been banging around the suggestion of inviting some key diplomats over and examining the pod for themselves. That would led to other problems as well.
They would then demand that their own experts be allowed to tramp all over the sight, to get final, undeniable proof that this was real and not an excuse to flaunt their military muscle.
And then there would be the interesting scenario once they actually had the alien. Every man and his dog would want to talk to it. The Southern Alliance would demand access to it, as well as access for their own experts as well. Grawl rolled his eyes. Everyone who got their hands on it would have plans for this creature, of one kind and another. He had his own plans. Perhaps it knew that, and that was the real reason it was reluctant to come out from hiding. Maybe the kid was being forced by the alien to keep it's location hidden.
Not that it mattered, they had a 99 percent accurate idea on where the alien was hiding. The tails who followed that Korplog kid said that he visited a comic book shop and stayed there for most of the day. An alien hiding in a comic shop. One side of Grawl's mouth rose slightly at the humour of that situation.
If worse came to worse, they'd know where to go. The tails would keep an eye out on the place, just to keep tabs on the alien, and to make sure that the alien didn't get any unwanted visitors.
"General Grawl?" He turned to see a man standing on the front lawn wearing a white buttoned up shirt, a brown leather jacket and a battered fedora hat. He wore no ID Tag around his neck.
"And you are?"
"Ma'han." The man answered, then pulled back the left side of his jacket to reveal a gold star with rings around the middle. Grawl nodded. He was a Commonwealth Ranger.
"Welcome sir," Grawl said. "I didn't expect you to get here so fast."
"We're trained to be everywhere, General," Ma'han answered. "But there were already a good number of us in the town before the alien landed." He gave a conspiratorial nod, to which the General responded. No need to talk about military secrets out in the open.
"Is there anything my people can do for your people?" Grawl asked.
Ma'han shook his head. "No, I've got my best men on the situation already. We received word from the Prime Alpha this morning after your meeting with him. I would ask your men to leave mine alone, but that would mean reviling who they are to everyone and, well no offence General, I just don't trust your men."
"None taken." Grawl answered. "But we have to work out some sort of coordination to prevent our two operations from clashing. Can I have at least some idea of your operational area? That way I can keep my men away from yours."
Ma'han thought about this. "At the moment, we're stalking the Mayor, his house and the house of Krump's." Grawl raised an eye brow. The Krump's were the richest family in town. Mr Krump had originally tried to leave by plane but the Army had commandeered the whole air port for their operations so he couldn't leave. The Mayor had eventually managed to convince him to stay behind to help with the economic situation.
"The Krump's?" He asked.
"Yeah," Ma'han answered. "Mr Krump has been spending a lot of time around the Mayor. That makes him a suspect. Even if he turns out to be innocent, we have to follow all potential leads."
"Fine," Grawl replied. "I'll make sure the patrols stay away from those areas."
Ma'han turned to look over at the pod. "How's your own operation going?"
"Complicated." Grawl answered. He looked around. "Shall we go inside?" He gave the same nod that told the Ranger, let's not discus this out in the open. Ma'han nodded, and the two walked inside.
"Are you sure it was wise to leave Chuck all alone?" Skiff asked.
"I've left him alone by himself all night before," Lem answered. "He'll be fine, plus you're not spending the night, remember?" Skiff nodded.
Lem, Skiff, Eckle and Neera all climbed out of Skiff's car and headed up the drive up to the front door of the Korplogs temporary home. Now that they were with other company all talk about Chuck would have to cease. They still hadn't agreed on who to approach in regards for Chuck to make contact with. Lem and Skiff had helped in that. After finding out that they both worshipped the same hero, the topic of the conversation had skewed off to talk about which were the best theories of Kipple's and why. Why that idea was wrong, and what would be discussed in his up coming book. By the time Neera had managed to gain some control over the two fan boys, it was getting late in the afternoon. Nothing had been decided upon, so they agreed to pick up where they left off the next day.
Then Lem remembered that he was to work with Kipple. So they agreed to go back to the Korplog's temporary house and discuss it there. And have some dinner too. Lem had told Chuck that he would be exploring the inside of his pod and asked him if there was anything form inside he wanted. What Chuck had wanted turned out to be untranslatable, and Chuck had eventually given up in frustration. But he had warned Lem to stay away from something with a yellow and black symbol on it that had three lines with a dot in the middle.
Lem opened the door and called out a greeting to his mother. "Oh, hi boys," their mother chimed from the kitchen as she put down what she was doing. "Dinners just about ready..." She paused as she came out to get her two sons. "Skiff? Neera?"
"I hope you don't mind, mom," Lem said, "I invited them over for dinner."
"Not at all," his mother replied, a little taken aback. "Hello Neera." She said.
"Hello Miss Korplog." Neera said. Lem's mother blinked a few more times, then went back into the kitchen.
"Well, well, well." Lem's dad said as he walked into the front parlor. "Hello Neera."
"Hello Mr. Korplog." Neera said. He looked from Neera to Lem, and back again.
"Son," he said turning to Lem. "Can we have a talk? A little father and son discussion?"
"Sure thing dad." Lem said.
"Out in the garage." He said. Lem nodded and excused himself from the group. Lem's mother came out with drinks to ocupy the gang as Lem and his dad headed into the garage. His father closed the door behind him, and made sure no one could hear.
"Dad," Lem said as his father turned to face him. "Before you ask, Neera and I have been friends for a long time in school. No we haven't gone on any dates, and no we haven't done THAT yet."
"Huh?" His father was caught off guard. "Oh, no, not that." He said. "I've known about that for a year now."
Lem looked shocked. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"I'll get to that soon, but there's something else I need to talk to you about, son."
"What?" Lem asked.
His father took a deep breath, and said, "I know you're hiding the alien."
The sentence came as a blow to Lem, who actually staggered. "W-what! How? When? Why?"
"Calm down!" His father held up both hands. "Have a seat over there." He pointed to a stool that stank of fresh paint. Lem sat down and took a few breaths, before looking up at his father.
"How long have..."
"Since last night, when the General left." He said. He sighed and looked his son square in the eye. "I never really believed that you were smoking Lem that day in the Planetarium." He said. "The whole excuse seemed rather contrived." He paused. "That and there wasn't any lingering smell." Lem mentally kicked himself.
"Wait! If you knew, then why didn't you say anything back then?"
"Well, I guess I'm to blame for that." He answered. "I've been disappointed with you for so long, I guess I just accepted your explanation. A gut reaction you might say." He paused. "I began to think more and more about that. Why were lying about smoking in the office. That's when I realised you didn't want me to go in there. Why? And when I did go in there, there was nothing. That really confused me. So I just accepted your answer." Lem just nodded lamely. "I couldn't put my finger on it, until the General visited us last night. That's when it finally clicked." He shook his head in wonder. "But I never would've guessed that you were hiding the alien in there."
"Wait!" Lem said. "Why did you cover for me?"
"You're my son, Lem." He said. "My son! My first born. If I'd turned you over that would've been the final end. No more second chances. It would've killed your mother; And me." Lem just blinked in shock. "Plus when the General flatly stated the alien was harmless, I was able to put two and two together and work out if the alien was a true menace then you AND I wouldn't be standing here discussing this."
"No, he's not." Lem said. His father blinked in surprise and did his own double take.
"Whoa!" He gasped. Lem gave him a suspicious look. "Don't panic," he said. "It's just, I mean hearing it from your own mouth, it's one thing to suspect, but it another to have it confirmed."
"You knew all this time." Lem said. "Why are you only bringing this up now?"
"Because I didn't know how to handle it." He said. "You know how your mother worries. She hates surprises." Lem nodded. "I thought if I just left it alone, it'd all go away. I don't know how but if I just ignored it..." He trailed off. "Look Lem," he said finally. "I've never been able to say this, but, I love you. You're my son and I love you. And when you finally started to turn your life around, I was foolish and didn't recognise it. Because I had been disappointed for such a long time I believed it wouldn't last long." He propped himself up against the wall. "Now, now I've realised my mistake. I'm being too biased against you. Believing that your nothing but the same old embarrassing trouble maker you've been in the past."
"Dad?" Lem asked.
"Let me finish." His father said. "Lem, I'm sorry I've never been a good father to you. I'm sorry I was never there to help you in the past, because I've been too angry. I should've been there for you, but I never was. I'm sorry I never acknowledged your turn around and your acceptance to the Planetarium, which was your dream. I'm sorry for giving all my attention to Eckle and treating you like an embarrassment."
"Why?" Lem asked, his voice on the verg of tears. "Why where you never there for me?"
"Because of my upbringing." His father said. "I never got a chance to live a normal life. When I graduated school, the Great War began and I was drafted into the army. I had discipline beaten into me through being yelled at a lot. Then when I went into combat..." He shuddered. "Do you know what it's like to kill a man? Pull a trigger and watch his brains explode out the back of his head? Walk past a man you thought was dead only to have someone behind you discover the hard way that he was waiting there with a grenade, and you realise how close you were to losing your own life?"
"This is the first time you've really told me about your experience in the war." Lem muttered.
"Us veterans don't like to talk about it, not even to each other. When we do meet, even at company reunions, we always talk about our home and work lives and just nod and smile to each other and thank the Rings we're here." He sighed. "I'm sorry, I got a bit off tangent there. The point I'm trying laboriously to get to, is my experience drilled into me you only get once chance in life. You screw up once, you never lived to learn from that mistake. You learnt by watching the other guy make the mistake and prey it's not you the next time." When he sighed this time, he sounded old, beyond his years. "I was never there for you, because every time I watched you screw up, it reminded me of those who didn't make it through. Veterans of the war tried not to get close to new fish, people who were stupid because they weren't going to be around for long, or they could get you killed too. That takes a long time to rub off, Lem."
"I'm not going to get killed, Dad." Lem said.
"I know," he said, a few tears appeared in his eyes. "I hated myself for not being there for you. I should've but I wasn't because it was my own fault." He wiped his eyes. "Well, not any more. I'm going to ignore you any more Lem. You're my son, and by the Rings, I'm going to BE there for you, right here, right now."
"Dad," Lem whimpered. "I love you Dad." He walked up to his father and for the first time in a long time, he hugged him.
"I love you too, son." He said, returning the hug. For a while, they both stood there, hugging each other. Finally, his father asked, "So, this alien."
"His name is Chuck." Lem said, disengaging from his father.
"It's a he?" Lem smiled.
"Oh, it's a he," he chuckled. "I've been through this with Neera."
"Neera knows about it, too?" He he looked thoughtful. "Skiff and Eckle as well?" Lem nodded.
"So, what are you going to do?" He asked.
"I don't know yet," Lem said. "Chuck wants to make contact with us. Peaceful contact. The only problem is who to talk too first. Chuck's worried about the army, and..."
"Hey, I've got an idea." His father said. Lem turned to looked at him.