Roy stuck his stocking capped head out of his sleeping bag, grabbed a flashlight and checked the time. The beginning light of the coming dawn was just revealing itself, but in the inner darkness of their shelter his eyes widened at a strangeness that seemed out of place. He crawled out of his sleeping bag toward the open end of their crude shelter then retreated. "Snow!" he announced forcefully, "Everybody up." Mumbling voices emitted from beside him and he shook a not quite awake, June. "Hon, it's snowing," he repeated. "If our shelter's roof wasn't so steep, it would have been down on top of us. There's almost three inches on the ground already. We're making tracks out of here and fast. Kathy, you start packing our stuff. Hon, you come with me to the other camp."
Having slept in their clothes, within minutes June and Kathy were out of their bags and grabbing hats and coats. June joined Roy in pushing warm feet into damp boots and they charged over toward the lean-to. "If we're going to make it over the pass before the snow gets too deep we have to get everybody working together," Roy urged. "This must be a hasty departure. We know the government agent is nervous so if we want to make sure our approach is evident, keep talking."
Roy immediately noticed the flatter roof of the lean-to sagging heavily under the weight of the snow. "The roof must be almost down on top of them," he said as they approached. Instinctively, he grabbed the edge, lifted the tarp and started flipping off the accumulation. "We've got a load of snow on us!" he announced emphatically. "We're eating a quick breakfast and leaving as soon as we can get packed up."
Fox, indulging in another monolog, heard voices. He popped his head out from under the sleeping bag. What he saw more than startled him for the tarp was almost in his face and shaking violently. "Here it comes!" he blurted. Responding not to words, but to what in his excitement became the much-anticipated attempt to take his prisoner. "They're going to smother me with the tarp!" Keep cool, George, he thought, and then he noticed he felt no one on top of him. He grinned as he retrieved his weapon. "The joke is on you!" he shouted. "I want you to know, It's Forrester you're attempting to murder!" He released the safety and aimed the weapon. "At the count of three, it's over for him! One ... two ..."
"Don't shoot, please!" June implored. "Mr. Fox, you need to get up right away," she said, finding it difficult to maintain any semblance of calm in her voice as she heard, 'thr... "Mr. Fox, it's snowing!" she shouted. "We have to leave, now!"
Roy's shaking of the tarp had thrown off much of the snow and the tarp had lifted considerably, but the small tree carrying much of the accumulation remained bent over to one side almost on Paul's head.
Fox, now visually able to verify her words, threw the sleeping bag onto Paul and got up. He had a firm hand on his weapon, but slowly lowered it as he looked around.
"He's aware of the crisis now, June," Roy advised as he saw the weapon lowering. "Fox, you and Paul come with me to help Kathy get our camp down. June's staying here to get something ready to eat. We'll come back here to pack."
"Forrester's still asleep," Fox announced, this time with concern. "What time is it?"
"Quarter after six," Roy replied.
"He should be waking soon," Fox offered. His eyes met the woman's angry glare. He shrugged his shoulders. "I'm sorry. I just don't trust you people."
They heard a muffled; "he's awake," coming from under the sleeping bag. Paul rolled over in the direction of their voices, but the sleeping bag held down by the bent tree, remained over his face. Paul used his feet to push the sleeping bag down and finally managed to get his face uncovered. He found himself again looking out from among tree branches. Scooting himself down further, he rolled on to his back and stretched his arms out further. Finally he could see everybody. "Mr. Fox," he confessed, "your drug doesn't last long while my heart is beating normally. I also believe I am becoming less sensitive to it for I have been awake for some time already."
"I paid very close attention and you didn't twitch," Fox returned.
"As the night passed I thought you might be giving the drug only when I began to react to awakening," Paul confessed. "You finally told me."
"You said: 'Damn, there goes the heavy breathing again. The twitching will follow. I have to get up again to give another injection. What a bummer it is having to go out in the cold. Why do I have to get out? Dummy, you can crawl over and stay under the cover.' I figured if I suppressed the reactions and moved only a little at a time so you wouldn't notice. As anticipated you lost track of time and haven't given any more." Paul glared at Fox accusingly. "It is really very distressing to me."
Fox looked critically at what had been the still form lying next to him and said indignantly: "So you were playing possum with me."
Paul recognized 'possum' as short for 'opossum', an animal defined as, 'an American marsupial; marsupial meaning having a pouch for carrying its young, and the opossum, when...'Oh, he thought. That explains Fox's use of the word. 'When frightened,' the opossum 'feigns death'. "I guess I have been 'playing possum,' and I would 'play possum', or anything else I have to, to avoid it. Would you like me to describe how it feels?"
"You two can argue about it later," Roy interjected with authority as he looked at them. "Right now, Fox, I'm telling you to let Paul loose. We need all the helping hands we can get."
Humbly, Fox crawled over and released Paul from the tree. He removed the handcuff from one wrist, but insisted on leaving it dangling. To retain authority, he kept his pistol in his belt as a precaution against any move he might construe as an attempt to escape. Within minutes Paul was up and dressing for the weather. Fox backed away and with a look as cold as ice, reminded him, "If I see any threat to my authority from anybody, I will shoot."
Seeing helpless looks on the faces of his friends, Paul nodded his acknowledgment of the warning. The three men, with Fox struggling to keep his feet under him in the slippery medium, left to help Kathy break the small camp. Fox, ever defensive, always grabbed a corner or an item as far out of everyone's reach as he could. In twenty minutes the four had carried the sleeping bags, folded ground cloths, rolled air mattresses, and other loose items up to the lean-to. June was waiting with a breakfast of hot oatmeal and coffee.
While they ate, Kathy looked coldly at Fox then back to her father. "Dad, I'm assuming you're planning to have us all ride? What are we going to do with all the stuff? We can't put the pack boxes on Red and also use him as a riding animal."
"Simple, Kathy," Roy declared, "we take only what we need if we have to set up an emergency camp down lower. The rest we stash here in as protected a place as possible."
Fox looked over the growing pile of supplies. The danger of remaining here must be great for them to decide to leave everything.
"What stuff are we leaving?" June asked.
"Everything we don't absolutely need. Kathy's right, we can't hang the pack boxes on and ride, so pack all the unnecessary items into them, they'll offer weather protection for a while. In case we have to bivouac somewhere, take food and beverage for at least a day, a fry pan, a small pot to heat water and a cup and spoon each. We'll take only one of the gas stoves. I'll fill it with fuel right now. We'll need the large tarp for shelter. We can wrap the small tarp around the things we leave to keep them reasonably dry. Kathy, ... June, you start sorting out the gear. Fox you start packing the excess in the boxes. Paul, you come with me to get the horses."
"I'm going wherever Forrester goes," Fox demanded.
"Fine," Roy returned, slightly plussed. "I just thought you might like to stay dry for a little longer. Rather than wasting time standing here quibbling about it, you and Paul can get the horses." He turned and started sorting out saddles.
Paul grabbed three lead ropes and led Fox, struggling to stay on his feet in the snow, out to gather the horses. He caught the loose horses and Fox held them while he untied Burr and Monty and pulled the stakes out of the ground. As they led the horses into camp, Roy walked over carrying the packsaddle. Looking at Red, he cringed at his next thought. "Someone is going to have to ride this."
Though he had handled it many times in the shelter this was the first time Fox took noticed the construction. The two long boards must fit along the animal's sides and are held together by two wooden cross arms. The leather straps must secure it to the animal. Between the two boards upon which a rider would have to sit there is a wide split. That should be a joy he thought. Even in my undereducated opinion, there are no features I can see about this contraption to provide comfort to any masculine body.
After a few moments of silence awaiting a volunteer, June said, "I'll ride it. I'm probably just a little better padded in the right places than any of the rest of you. I'll wrap a rope between the cross arms to raise the seat and use a couple of the horses lead ropes for stirrups. Just keep Roy's heavy sleeping bag out. I'll use it to pad the seat." She paused for a moment. "Let me stuff it in Paul's duffel. That way the sleeping bag won't shift and since the duffel's waterproof, the bag will be dry if we need it later. Paul, I'll roll your stuff in another sleeping bag and you can tie it on behind a saddle."
"Paul, you start saddling," Roy ordered. "Put June's saddle on Red. Fox can ride him." Roy received Paul's verifying nod. "I'll be over to help in a minute. Right now I want to get Fox to work packing things."
Fox contemplated the strange looking contraption again as he saw Paul securing it on the black horse. I'm glad she volunteered, he thought. Since everything seems less tense now I'm glad I didn't have to make someone unhappy by insisting on a saddle. I'm afraid even with a saddle this is not going to be a pleasant trip. I haven't wanted to ride a horse since I was a kid.
Roy joined Paul after giving Fox some basic instructions about packing the things to be left in the boxes. Fox never took his eyes off Paul for more than a moment and was relieved when the saddling was complete and Paul returned inside to help. When he saw Paul pick up his camera bag and move toward the horse, he spoke with authority. "Forget it, Forrester, you're not going to need that where you're going. Just take what you need for the trip out of here."
Paul quietly put the exposed film he had taken during the trip into the camera bag and placed it in the pile Fox was packing. The past couple months I've become accustomed to carrying the camera with me, he thought, and the pictures were to be our memories to share with Jenny. We've sent a lot of pictures to Liz Baynes already. He sighed. I guess I have to agree what Fox says is true; it appears, more and more like I will not need it. He picked up his rolled air mattress and laid it with a sleeping bag.
Remembering Paul's reference to his comfort the night before, Fox ordered promptly, "You can leave that too."
"But we might have to sleep out again," Paul returned innocently.
"I'll share the horse pads with you," Fox said smugly, as he placed their shared sleeping bag aside for himself.
Roy heard Fox's order. "Paul, you take it," he demanded. "It was a gift."
Not wanting to be the cause of another argument between Fox and Roy, Paul resigned himself to Fox's authority. "Roy, he's right. It's something I won't need either. Please give it to someone who can use it. My camera and gear too."
June was almost in tears as she saw the look of defeat. "Paul, will you please tell us what this is all about," she implored. "What does he want with you and why does he treat you like this?"
Paul looked quietly at Fox then to June. "He's afraid, June."
"Afraid of what?" she returned. "Will you please tell us something?"
Fox glared defiantly and Paul, lowering his eyes, didn't respond to her request. Fox turned to her. "Mrs. Foster, it would be a very long story and I was under the impression we were in a hurry," he offered smartly.
They finished sorting and stuffed the necessities in saddle bags or burlap sacks. The rest of the sleeping bags they wrapped in the plastic ground cloths in case circumstances did dictate they must camp again. Fox helped Paul move the boxes containing the abandoned items under a dense grouping of trees and they wrapped the small tarp around everything. At Roy's direction they placed a stack of firewood on top to hold down the tarp.
Forty-five minutes from wake-up, they were ready to leave. The visibility had continued to deteriorate as the snow came down harder than ever. Another two inches had been added to the three of earlier. Fox approached Paul again and smoothly pulled his arms behind him and secured the loose handcuff. Holding him by the arm, he guided him over toward the horses.
Kathy saw Paul's situation immediately and rushed over. "For God's sake, Mr. Fox, is that really necessary? Paul can't even get on."
Fox's eyes opened wide then narrowed and he growled: "Then help him on," he said decisively.
An angry June followed right behind. "He can't ride all the way like that. This trail we're taking isn't a big city bridle path. The rider has to follow the horse's movements, not work against them. Paul will have trouble just staying on."
"It's standard police procedure for moving a prisoner," Fox returned with authority. "I'm not taking any chances of having him escape."
"In case you haven't noticed, Mr. Fox," Roy interjected with an air of resumed authority, "this doesn't happen to be a procedure kind of day. If you insist on procedure, we might as well unpack because we're not leaving."
Fox's eyes narrowed and his forehead wrinkled remembering the hour spent fighting his way down the mountain from the chopper. If I would have listened to the pilot's advice, I could have avoided almost all of that. I might have been in better stead with these people by being on hand to help. He pondered his choices. I wish I could safely use some tranquilizer, but that also is not feasible for It could fall off. I definitely don't want anything to happen to It this late in the game. I know Wade expects delivery of a live specimen.
He wrestled other options, eliminating them one by one. Right now I want to get myself, and my prisoner, out of this wilderness more than anything I've ever wanted in my life. This time I am going to concede to their experience, but not without reservation. "Okay, but make sure you all stay clear of us," he warned. He turned Paul around and replaced the handcuffs in front. He grabbed Paul's arm again, and then glanced at Roy. "I'll lead his horse."
There was a brief moment of silence while Roy's eyes raised and lowered before commenting. "What?"
"I'll lead the horse," Fox repeated, casually. "Just put the bridle on mine and hand me the lead rope for his. I want physical control of both horses. We'll bring up the rear so I can keep an eye on the rest of you."
Roy shook his head as he looked at the man. "Okay, but let me tail Duke for you," he offered.
Fox's eyebrows rose at the unfamiliar expression. "Tail?"
"It's easier to show than to tell," Roy offered.
I've got to see this, Fox thought as he nodded. If I don't like what I see, I can still insist on my way. What's important is maintaining control of the entire situation.
Roy led Duke up behind Red and laid the lead rope around Red's tail below the end of the tailbone. Fox and Paul watched while Roy doubled the tail hair over the rope and back on itself, securing it with a half hitch. He explained. "This way you won't have to hold onto the rope." Roy completed a second half hitch. "Your animals will remain together and have room to maneuver." He began a third.
Fox rebelled, sticking his open hand out with a gesture to stop. "Thank you, but no thank you, Mr. Foster. As a kid I used to ride. You figure the horse will buck me off when he feels something pulling on his tail and you can take off with Forrester. Well you have another guess coming."
"All our horses are experienced packhorses and they're used to it, Mr. Fox," Roy offered. "You're in more danger of getting dragged off if you insist on holding the rope on this trail, than you will ever be of getting bucked off this horse."
"Never mind. Just let me do it my way," Fox insisted.
Roy shrugged his shoulders and a look of acceptance appeared on his face as he untied the rope and handed it to Fox. "Okay, have it your way, but remember you gave the order." Fox nodded his head and gestured to Paul to mount. When Paul settled in the saddle, Fox took the extra set of handcuffs and attached one end firmly around the saddle horn and locked the other end on Paul's handcuff chain.
Roy, observing Fox's actions, said with concern, "That's dangerous. If for some reason the horse goes down, Paul can't get free of him."
"That might be true, Mr. Foster," Fox returned smugly, "but I guess we do have to draw the line somewhere, don't we? This is not up for negotiation." Fox wrapped Duke's lead rope to the saddle horn of Red's saddle. I guess you'll have to be careful of the route you take so the horse doesn't go down with him."
"No, Mr. Fox," Roy replied with deepening concern as he watched Fox tie a knot in the rope. "You're the one who will have to be careful. Tied tight to the saddle horn on this trail your horse could easily be pulled over by his." Fox mounted, adjusted the lead rope to his right side and said impatiently. "Let's go."
Roy shook his head and his eyes rolled back. "Like you said, you're giving the orders." The family mounted and Roy led them out of camp toward the creek crossing.
As he guided his mount into line behind Mrs. Foster, Fox glanced back at the alien. Its friends might try something along the trail, he thought. It will be difficult for It to disappear for long attached to a horse or a saddle. They crossed the creek and moved upward toward the pass out of the valley.
Fox began to think again about his situation and what was sure to be a long day. I'd feel better about this trip if I had been successful in getting the alien to agree to tell them we had an arrangement. Of course, even if the alien had agreed, I could never rely on Its word not to run off. Now, I know It will, for It outright told me Its first obligation is to escape. My obligation to Wade is to bring It in for questioning and that I fully intend on doing. I'll have to depend on control of the horse for the prisoner and the weapon for the friends. The hill got steeper and rougher and he turned his attention to remaining in the saddle.
Paul's attention was with helping Duke climb by holding himself as steady as possible. This climb is reminding me that my chest is still sore and these handcuffs really hurt this morning. The only relief I can get from being jostled and having my wrists jerked by Duke's movements, is to hold on to the front of the saddle. He heaved a sigh. At least I've been riding all summer and I'm used to the saddle and I can anticipate Duke's movements.
Fox was already considering a growing dilemma. We've just started up this mountain and already I'm beginning to understand why Foster suggested I not lead the second horse from the saddle. Climbing this steep stuff isn't like I've seen in western movies where the second horse gallops along beside you with slack in the rope. I'm having nothing but trouble with it. A few minutes ago the alien's horse got his head over this one's rump. Tied to the saddle horn the lead rope first pinned my leg to the saddle, but as the animal struggled to follow with its head on the wrong side, the rope slid up over my hip. If it had pulled me off, I could have fallen right under its feet. I would have been in trouble if both horses hadn't responded quickly, allowing me to get them straightened out. Still I'm not going to give in to this tail tying.
Following in the rear, Paul had an opportunity to watch Fox dealing with developing problems. I know when Roy told Fox not to tie the rope he said so for a good reason. Fox was lucky Duke responded to my request and straightened out when he did or Fox would have been swept off. I wish I could comfortably lay my hand on Duke so I could direct him better, but I can tell Fox is aware of what caused the earlier problem. He is preventing it from occurring again by looking back frequently.
As they climbed in surges, Paul saw another, even more frightening, situation developing. Duke must follow Red blindly and on a very short lead. Red is lunging forward again and Fox is guiding him up a particularly rocky and narrow rut. Duke is trying to catch up, but can't see where he's going. Good, Red has stopped to catch his breath before taking on the steep part. Paul felt Duke's uncertainty under him. Oh, oh, Duke hasn't enough room here on this flat rock ledge for his feet. He felt him moving back. Okay, he's holding his weight forward so he can move his hind legs back off the ledge to balance himself. Paul looked forward again. Oh, no, Fox is getting impatient. He's urging Red forward before Duke is ready.
"Hold up a moment, Mr. Fox," Paul asked, but as Red lunged forward the lead rope became tight. Red is climbing again, but Duke is still going backward. Paul recognized the beginning of a new crisis. Red has been stopped suddenly. His weight is being pull rearward by Duke and he's coming back. Now Duke is off balance too and going back further than he thought. Red can't back fast enough and his front legs are coming up off the ground. He's going to lose his balance. This is what Roy warned Fox about. Duke is continuing to pull him backward! With my legs I'll try to urge Duke forward as soon as he can. ... He can't. It's too late. "Mr. Fox, jump or Red is going to fall on you!" Paul shouted.
Fox heard the warning and his eyes got wider. I'm in trouble, he realized, as he felt the horse rising still higher. He's going to fall over backward. Jump, George! You've got to get clear! He tried to push himself away as the horse rose even higher, but felt the rope tied to the saddle horn firmly holding his right leg. I'm not going to make it, he thought, and then suddenly feeling slack he pulled his leg free. With all his strength he pushed away from the faltering animal. As he cleared the saddle the animal made a quarter turn to one side. Momentarily flying through the air, Fox fell flat on his back out into the snow.
Paul heaved a sigh of relief. Duke, answering my request moved forward and gave Fox the chance to get free. As the extra weight left his back, Red managed to regain some of his balance by turning to the side. Still it is not enough. Red will miss Fox now, but he is still going to fall.
Red fell on his side then rolled onto his back. For a long moment he seemed suspended with his legs in the air. The fall pulled Duke off balance again, but Paul, holding tight to the front of the saddle, remained very quiet and Duke caught himself in time to prevent a similar fall. Ignoring his discomfort, Paul stretched his hand out to touch Duke comfortingly on the shoulder. Red had rolled completely over now and scrambling to his feet, shook himself vigorously.
Fox jumped to his feet. Stop shaking, George, he chastised as he saw June moving his way. Crap, you can't stop shaking. That was too close for comfort.
"Are you all right?" June asked as she looked from Paul to Fox.
"I believe so," Paul replied, looking over toward Fox.
"What happened?" she asked. As Paul explained the details, June's eyes condescendingly came to rest on Fox. She couldn't hold back her comment as she picked up Red's reins. "Roy warned you." When Fox grabbed the reins from her hand, she gave him another warning. "Don't leave the rope tied."
Fox untied the rope from the saddle horn. "I'll just lead the horse so I can guide it better," he offered and she turned to leave. He mounted, settled back into saddle and they moved on.
This leading by hand is proving no more successful, Fox realized, after they had gone no more than a hundred feet. Now I'm having my arm jerked out of the socket. The second beast tries to follow in whatever position is available and almost pulls me off. I have to hold on to this rope at all costs.
Paul watched with amusement when Fox's sheer determination to hold on almost pulled him from the saddle several times. I almost feel ashamed for not trying to help him by guiding Duke more with my legs, Paul thought, but I think I don't want to help him anymore. I guess Fox only learns from his mistakes. I believe I will let Duke hold back if he feels a need.
This isn't working very well either, Fox thought, and brings another, more personal, crisis into focus. I need to direct my horse while it climbs. With my other arm stretched out holding the lead rope, I can't hold on to the sleeping bag or keep it wrapped around me. I'm getting cold. There may be a benefit to accepting Foster's suggestion after all. I believe I should give it a try. "Mrs. Foster," he yelled into the swirling snow, "will you please have your husband stop, and could you ask him to tail this animal?"
The message relayed, Roy dismounted and handing his reins to Kathy scrambled back down to where Fox, refusing to let go of the rope, had his arm and shoulder fully extended. Roy gave him a condescending look as he took Duke's lead rope from the man's ice-cold hand. Moments later it was tied into Red's tail. He smirked at Fox, shaking his head and grumping as he retreated to resume their too often stalled emergency exit.
They encountered no further problems as they climbed and for activity Paul carefully analyzed the physical properties of Roy's suggestion of tailing. The tail level provides a lower center of gravity and the weight of the object to be pulled is far to the rear. Red is now helping Duke with little extra effort.
As they climbed the steep ascent to the pass the visibility became far worse. More than seven inches of snow had already accumulated. The only identifiable objects were a few stunted alpine trees growing alongside the depression Roy knew to be the trail to the top. They looked like ghostly spirits in a solid mantle of white. We have reached the pass, Paul thought. Even if we could see much further than a horse's length around us, I know this isn't the time to stop to admire the scenery. For us the freezing temperature and swirling snow have created a mutual urgency for a hasty return to a lower elevation. I see Roy is not stopping.
Roy rode down the steep area they had chosen to walk up on the way to Spanish Camp. When Fox saw the sharp descent he got off, trusting his feet more than those of an animal that he had already fallen from once. He fell several times within the first minute in the snow.
June hearing some choice words flowing from behind her stopped Blackie and turned in the saddle. "In the snow you'd better stay on the horse, Mr. Fox," she offered. "He has 'four wheel drive' and better traction than yours even if you had proper shoes. Kathy," she called, "have Roy stop." When the horses ahead had stopped she turned back to Fox. "Now, get on," she said firmly. "We don't want to keep stopping for you. Just hold yourself steady and let Red do his job." Fox mounted silently and when he had the sleeping bag around him, she signaled to continue.
Fox braced himself against the back of the saddle and held firmly onto the saddle horn. His knuckles, already white from the cold, remained so from gripping until they reached a place only somewhat less steep.
For the first few miles of the journey, George Fox thought of nothing but survival. Soon he noticed the beast easily and calmly crossed obstacles he thought impossible for an animal. With another very steep area behind him he finally began to relax. The horse continued to calmly plod through the snow, swinging from side to side and deftly clambered over or around obstacles in the trail. Fox noticed it didn't seem intimidated by the steepness or the snow and he began relying on the animal to do the job for which it was apparently well adapted. He also noted, as Foster had said, it didn't seem to mind the other horse tied to its tail.
After another steep descent the trail leveled out and Fox's confidence increased. His thoughts left survival mode and began wandering. Over these months of pursuit there have been so many questions I wanted to ask. So much I've only guessed. So many contradictions even to my earlier theories, he pondered. Like Odyssey II, ... its return to transmission is heralded a miracle among the scientific community. A miracle? A coincidence? Even with what I knew then, I never believed that for a minute. An alien being gets involved with an important female scientist on the project and Odyssey does a flip-flop millions of miles out in space. I knew when I looked at Mrs. Bradford that day at project central there had been something between them. I never questioned the alien having something to do with Odyssey coming back on line, but what? ... And how? And why? Can I call such a gesture subversive? I'll admit I haven't taken any chances on there being something more serious going on between them. I still have an agent checking regularly on her as well as a couple of others, to determine that the alien didn't leave another Jenny Hayden. So far everything has been negative.
Maybe the thing with Odyssey was to repay a favor? Could that be it? She promised the alien assistance in exchange for something she wanted. Yes. ... A good exchange might be the opportunity to smoothly return to work as head of a successful project. But every idea I've come up with seems to bring up further inconsistencies. I remember hearing the government had earlier offered her Odyssey III and she turned it down because of its military backing. It was after the alien left and Odyssey II coming back on line that she changed her mind and agreed to work on both. What prompted her to change her mind?
Maybe the aliens will derive some other benefits from the probe? he pondered. Perhaps it has become a beacon to home their forces in here? That could be it ... a beacon. He heaved a sigh. But why, they got here before without a beacon. Voyager hadn't been out there for very long before they found it, and us. I can hardly believe that once they found us once they couldn't find their way back.
Another inconsistency that has bothered me for a long time is what the investigation in Ironwood turned up. Why would It go out of Its way to see Paul Forrester's mother? Did it want to test It's abilities at deception? It was apparently successful for It was at Stella Forrester's bedside when she passed away. All her friends believed It to be her son. The Chief of Police, who said he never had any use for the real Paul Forrester, even gave It credit for pulling the town together.
It's strange, but in all my confirmed encounters with this creature, I've never been able to confirm it hurt anybody. Still that could be cloaking the far more serious invasion threat, he countermanded. It's certain they wouldn't want to attract the wrong kind of attention. He adjusted the sleeping bag automatically when another one of the drafts that always seemed to appear gave him a chill. I wonder just how many more of them are here? They couldn't expect just one to do the groundwork for any mass invasion. For that reason alone I have to bring this one in, if only for questioning. There are just too many things we need to find out.
Fox broke his contemplation at another steep descent. It's getting evident I have to keep bracing myself down these steep places. I don't want to slide forward in the saddle because I am getting some progressively more sensitive areas in my lower body. The ground leveled in a few minutes and Fox turned to check his prisoner. Seeing the Starman watching, he turned back. This isn't just some common criminal you're looking at George. The face is human, but whatever is hidden behind it has come across the cosmos. I can't keep from trying to visualize what It looks like.
One thing about It continues to bother me. How does It always seem to get the confidence and help of others? These people said they applied continuous basic, physical, CPR for almost an hour to keep It alive. Technicians with modern equipment would have given up long before. Did It, somehow, force them into keeping It alive? It said it could hear them talking even though the heart wasn't beating. Does it still maintain some kind of control over them? The investigation showed It's been with them for over two months; surely enough time to establish some kind of mental rapport.
And, what about that family in Wenatchee? Outwardly they seemed normal, but even when they knew the truth, they let this creature go. Fox shook his head. How does It do it? His eyebrows rose. I wonder why It hasn't tried anything with me?
Paul rode in silence. It's not snowing so hard anymore and I want to look around at the beauty of this planet for as long as I can, he thought. In the snow everything looks so different. It looks so clean and fresh. I can see the foot tracks of every animal that has moved even near the trail and against the snow it is easy to see them at a distance. He smiled. There goes a deer running from us into the trees. It leaves tracks, but the hawk that just flew out soars across the sky, leaving no trace. The hawk has seen a rabbit the deer spooked. It's diving ... Oh! He sighed deeply. Now the only trace the rabbit will leave is a red spot on the snow. What diversity and co-dependency exists here for people to try to understand. Could home have been like this at one time?
As another downhill crisis passed, Fox turned slightly in the saddle and watched the alien riding stoically behind him. This time It isn't watching. I think I'll just continue to study the face while It seems intent on studying the scenery.
Paul broke from his study and caught Fox's eye. He raised his eyebrows in acknowledgment. When he added a smile, Fox quickly turned forward. Now Paul turned his attention to studying Fox and soon saw him glancing back again. I see he checks on me often. He chuckled and couldn't keep from smiling broadly. I wonder if he thinks I'll just disappear. I will admit following Fox has provided me an opportunity to study him. Is he concerned about me? Maybe he wants to talk. From the various positions and curious movements I've observed, I believe he might be doing a lot of thinking. I know I enjoyed riding on the way into the mountains for it gave me time for much thinking and various studies. Is he doing likewise? Is he beginning to ask himself some questions about what he's doing? Is he beginning to think of me more favorably, or is it my imagination? I wonder if he has really enjoyed anything since my first visit to Earth?
I need to clear my mind, Fox thought. I'll look at the scenery for a while. Minutes passed, but his confused mind refused to relinquish control. He reviewed his many conflicting thoughts until Red started trotting and a growing, more pervasive problem intervened. He grimaced. I haven't been on a horse since my folks sent me to summer camp. Why does this horse have to keep falling behind? For miles I kicked at its sides to try to make it keep up. Finally I had to give it up because it was wearing me out. Now when it decides to catch up, it's a period of trotting over the rough ground dragging the other one. I can feel the jerk when the other horse hits the end of the rope tied to this one's tail. It makes the ride rough, but not as rough as it would be if my arm was taking the beating. He took a deep breath, held it briefly then let it flow out. I wonder how much further is it out of here?
Though his varied diversions helped, Paul could not keep his thoughts from constantly returning to the seriousness of his situation. Fox says they want to do research. What do they consider research, basic biology, energy transference or mental capabilities? What constitutes interrogation to a militaristic society? What will they want from me and to what lengths will they go to get it? Can they accept no as an answer? He sighed. Somehow I doubt that. I have learned much about the good in human nature, but I think as in my dream, with the military an attempt at the extraction of information will be closer to the truth. To achieve their chosen ends would they try to use Scott as a lever to get what they want? Paul began to tremble. I must put that thought out of mind, or give up now.
I cannot survive on this world without a human body. If they try to isolate me, they will kill both of us for we constitute a symbiotic relationship. Likewise, without my energy plasma filling its genetic code this body will become incomplete and cannot survive. Dissolving the relationship is only available on the ship. While I can understand Fox's concerns, and why they wish to question me, he has repeatedly threatened to kill me. Is he bluffing? Again, I don't think so. He truly believes my presence here is a threat to this world and that makes him afraid. I think he would sacrifice his life to take mine before letting me get away again. Paul looked again at Fox. What a waste of dedication. He shook his head slowly. What can I say or do that might convince him when he already has made up his mind?
He asked me to go with him voluntarily. Of course I couldn't agree for I would have to keep my word. I must escape if I can. I have to think about Scott's welfare ... and my own. What about my friends? They've been arguing with Fox since he came. What is he going to do to them? I'm afraid if they try to do something for me, he might have the government down on them. I know for a fact, Roy and June are stubborn or they wouldn't be farmers. Even though they do not know the truth, I don't think Fox is going to frighten them into remaining silent about what he did. How far can the government go in the name of this 'national security'? Can it lock away citizens as it plans to do with us? I never thought too much about those who helped us before until Fox mentioned he hadn't pursued them. I wonder if he meant all of them? Maybe some are already sitting in prisons for what they have done for us.
Maybe Fox is just bluffing. Maybe I should just say something to Roy and June the next chance I get. He grimaced. Again, I don't think so. Can I take chances with their freedom in exchange for mine? Besides, I don't think Fox will give me an opportunity anyway. He has insisted on keeping us apart. I might as well remain silent and if I see problems developing for them maybe he'll still consider a deal to let them go. He frowned deeply. Of course I wonder if I had agreed to his offer, if his word is any better than it has been in the past. Right now, I see little chance for my survival, but I do hope the family might try to help Scott.
The miles flowed under the steady beat of horse's hoofs and George Fox began to realize just how tired he was. My whole body is aching and I think we still have a long way to go. What can I do to take my mind off the parts on my body that must make contact with this wretched saddle? I can't take much more of this trotting. How does the alien do it? Never complains. Of course it wouldn't do much good to complain, would it?
It would be nice to have someone to talk to. It would divert me from all this thinking ... and hurting. That would help make the miles go faster. He looked at the three ahead of him. I really have nothing much to say to them, at least nothing they'd want to hear. The alien also made it pretty clear last night It doesn't want to talk to me. How much easier it would have been if It had agreed to come along peacefully? He turned in the saddle enough to see his prisoner again deep in thought. I know you've been trying to make some point, but why play games? Just come out and tell me what you're doing here. It took a lot of gall to ask me to let you go. He smirked confidently. What would ever make you think after just a little talk, I'd ever consider doing such a thing? The alien has caught me watching again, he grumped and quickly turned away.
Why did they have to catch the pilot? Now I'm going to have to take care of that too. He grimaced. The Agency also is not going to like me using it for fixing tickets, but I can't just hang the guy out to dry.
He changed hands on the reins, giving one hand a chance to warm under the sleeping bag. He looked at the hand holding the reins and a quiver ran through his body. Why couldn't I take Its hands? Was I afraid? Perhaps I am too prejudiced to be able to judge what should be done with It? Maybe It really isn't as bad as I envision. He couldn't keep from glancing at his prize, but another alien smile made him swallow hard as he turned forward.
Why does it keep smiling at me. It must realize I'm not the mark, Shermin was. It makes me angry believing It thinks that will work with me. He turned and glowered at Paul.
Seeing the irritated look on Fox's face, Paul didn't smile this time. Cocking his head in puzzlement, he wondered. Have I done something to upset him again?
As Fox continued to glare, he confirmed, It understands I'm not going to fall for that 'let's be friends' look. He turned forward with satisfaction, but the vision of the smile continued and his mind rambled on. It had to be more than just a smile that made Shermin let it go. He visualized the temporary autopsy laboratory he had ordered near Winslow. I can still see the look on Shermin's face after examining my facility and I can hear his accusation about the leather straps waiting for an invited guest. Knowing National Security rested on finding out what we faced, I ordered that feature and in reality thought nothing about the possibility of them having to use them except to confine a living being. Why would It dream about being restrained by straps to a table?
He took a deep breath and held it momentarily. Maybe it isn't so far out of line for me to get It off alone and talk some more before delivering It to Wade's laboratory. My moment in the sun could wait a little while. Is my job for Federal Security only catching It? ... No, for Wade's funding I had to hard sell my apprehensions about this alien presence. Wade even pulled the plug on me once. Actually, I think he keeps me on 'just in case'. That's why the current funding has been so limited. The FSA is the only agency he can work through and they just continue to humor me. Without Wade's influence, I wouldn't have a job.
He closed his eyes trying to clear his thoughts until the rocking movement of the animal made him begin to feel nauseous. Should I put Wade and his committee's monetary investment ahead of using my own judgment? Surely I can be sufficiently objective to make a proper decision. He shook his head. George, what are you thinking? Taking this thing in is what Wade is paying me to do. It's my job and probably the most important one on the face of the planet. He glanced back at the calm demeanor of the alien in the face of coming incarceration. ... Still...?
I notice Fox is riding very strangely, Paul thought. I see him moving from side to side in the saddle, possibly trying to relieve sore places. I suspect this long ride is becoming quite an ordeal for him. I know I got sore riding the first couple times at the farm and this ride is keeping me very aware my chest is still sore, though not as sore as earlier. I think this body's natural pain suppressors are helping control my discomfort. I can tolerate it, but I wish I had my sphere so I could fix it.
The problems we had coming out of camp only confirmed what I suspected, Roy considered. Fox doesn't know much about horses. Anyone with any horse sense knows you don't tie people to horses or horses to saddle horns in rough country. His face got stern and his chin stuck out stubbornly. I haven't been able to forget what he said to Paul about leaving his camera equipment. As a photographer, it's obvious his equipment is very valuable, and we could have made room for it. But his statement that Paul wasn't going to need it where he was going was unnecessary. If Paul has done something he has to pay for, it's still unnecessary to be so callous for the feelings of another human being.
What really riled me, though, was his demand that Paul leave his sleeping pad. His intention was obvious. He only wanted to cause Paul additional physical discomfort if we had to stay out another night. It was totally disgusting. The sleeping pad incident made the decision to go all the way out in one day easier for it is surely adding substantial discomfort to the government man. I think I would like to remind him. "Since we couldn't bring camping gear, we're going to have to keep on moving as fast as possible," Roy announced. Hearing a loud groan from Fox brought a Cheshire Cat grin. I never realized revenge could be so sweet.
"How much further is it?" Fox asked.
"I would estimate we've already gone about six miles of the sixteen," Roy advised.
"That's only a little more than a third," Fox grumped.
"Correct," Roy replied with a spreading grin.
As they continued onward and downward Fox's thoughts, of necessity, turned to more earthly matters. I knew the ordeal with this animal wasn't over yet, but now I have another thing to be thinking about. He glanced up at the sky. The temperature is rising as we get to a lower elevation. The snow is now turning into an icy cold rain. The snow I could shake off occasionally, but the rain is beginning to soak through the sleeping bag and I'm getting wet again. The rest of them are wearing rain clothes and have no idea of what it's like getting wet an inch at a time. As another half hour passed, the wet was spreading down over his shoulders. Oh God, he groaned, that plate of oatmeal we had for breakfast isn't providing enough energy to keep me warm any longer. When are we going to stop for something to eat?
The horse swaying from side to side and back to front as it moved down a steep place in the trail brought Fox's thoughts back to his body. The pain! He stood in the stirrups. I just can't take this horse any longer. I'm going to get off and walk for a while. The horse stopped when he pulled up the reins and he got off. In five steps he confirmed the folly of his action. "This muddy ground is slippery and rushing in these shoes is impossible," he grumbled. "I can't keep up the horse's speed and now my horse has lost sight of the other animals and he's anxious to catch up. In his excitement, he's going to knock me down. I have to get on again." Red gave him a shove with his face and Fox turned to face him and shook a fist in his face in return.
"Here I am, almost exhausted and now the stupid beast keeps dancing around. He wants to go, but he won't stand still long enough for me to get on." In desperation he finally tossed one rein around a tree close to the trail and held on. As the reins came tight the horse turned sideways and he and Duke stood side by side. I still can't get on Fox lamented. Now what?"
"Mr. Fox you need to go around to the other side," Paul advised.
Fox did so without comment and with the animal still tied t the tree he managed to get his leg part way over the saddle, but still had to untie the reins. After a brief struggle he undid the reins, but before he was settled into the saddle Red took off at a fast trot. The snap when Duke's lead rope came up tight would have jerked Fox off again, except for the death grip he had on the saddle horn. Half on, he had to tolerate the pain of trotting lopsided until they caught up to June. They went around a sharp bend in the trail and with very little turning in the saddle, Fox could see the Starman's grinning at him. If the horse had gotten away from me, he thought, or if I had fallen off, it would have been bye-bye alien. I would never be able to catch up with them. I also know if the alien's friends saw I wasn't with the horse they'd run the animals and leave me before I even had a chance to gather myself together enough to get a bead on It.
Paul tried to stifle back his inner amusement at Fox's constant problems. Then he felt a twang of conscience. I guess I should have conveyed to Duke that we were going to catch up again. I think this is like trying to be slick with Scott, he mused. I just can't stop this face from conveying that I am enjoying his problems.
As she heard the noisy rush of the horses catching up, June mused. I noticed he got off a ways back. I'll bet he had a hard time getting back on. I was hoping he'd lose the horse and we could have just taken off and left him. No such luck.
About another mile of steep downhill passed and the trail leveled off about the same time the rain slowed considerably. Roy finally turned back to look at the group. "Hey, everybody, I think it's time for lunch? There's a good place to stop up ahead."
Fox nodded vigorously at the announcement then checked his watch. "Eleven thirty," he mumbled. "I haven't been able to think of anything but lunch for the past hour and as soon as they stop I'm off this trotting monster. I was beginning to wonder if eating was even on their schedule today. Right this moment I could sure use a cup of hot coffee to help warm my insides."
Roy moved off the trail into a camp down along the creek and stopped. Fox swung his aching leg over the horse to dismount. His foot touched the ground, but he couldn't straighten his leg completely. His eyes opened wide, "I'm paralyzed," he cried as he clung to the saddle horn for support. A long while passed before he felt anything other than pain seizing his weary body. Finally, he felt confident enough to let go. Limping over to a tree, he tied the animal. Unshackling Paul from the saddle, he motioning him off toward another tree of proper size away from the family.
Paul looked over to where his friends were preparing lunch. The police chained me when they arrested me, but why does Fox feel he has to chain me to an object away from everybody? Does he think I'll divulge anything when he has already threatened to incarcerate them if I do? Why does he feel it's necessary to subdue me emotionally as well as physically? Does he do this because he is afraid of me, or them?
June and Kathy prepared a considerable hot lunch from what would normally have been breakfast in camp. June filled the first plate and took it and a cup of coffee over to Paul. Fox intercepted, taking the offering then ordered her to leave. He set the food aside then released Paul from the tree to sit freely in the handcuffs. Paul looked hopefully at the man and held a hand out to him, but Fox pulled away and simply shoved the plate into it.
Am I always to remain restrained and isolated? Paul thought. Is this the manner in which government handles those who are different?
"Over there," Fox said motioned Paul over to another log. "I think we'll be out of the breeze coming down the valley." Soon June brought Fox a hot cup of coffee and an ample plate of food. He first warmed his hands on the coffee cup then consumed it and the food with unusual gusto. When Kathy had a substantial amount of pancakes left she walked over and offered Fox some. He took three, ate two and rolling the third, stuck it in his pocket. As everybody finished eating they began packing-up to resume the journey.
Fox decided to try breaking the verbal ice he knew he had established with the family. "How much further is it?" he asking plaintively.
"Less than eight miles," Roy offered with a subtle grin as he started stuffing the last of the supplies into one of the saddlebags. "We passed the eight mile marker a little way back so we're over half way. Other than our start up the mountain out of camp we've been making really good time. Relax. We're out of the high country now so the trail will be getting better from here on."
Fox groaned, starting back for Paul. "Relax," he mumbled softly. "He's probably never felt like this before." He motioned Paul to his feet and escorted him back to his horse. "To avoid any difficulty getting on, I want us in the saddle before they get on and start down the trail again," he told Paul. Paul mounted and Fox rushed to secure him to the saddle. With Duke still tied to his tail, Fox led Red over to a low spot in the trail and using a large rock to stand on, slid his leg over the animal. Settling gingerly back into the saddle he again wrapped the sleeping bag snugly around himself.
It was obvious to Roy from mumblings and subdued movements the government agent was really hurting. As soon as everyone mounted, he turned Monty around to face Kathy. "Why don't you take the lead? I think we're moving a bit fast for Mr. Fox and Paul. I see Red trotting all the time to catch up."
Now, he notices! Fox scolded silently as Kathy moved Burr onto the trail and Foster fell in line behind her. Wary at first by what seemed like a change from the normal routine, Fox remained highly alert. Shortly he confirmed Foster's words. The smaller horse does set a slower pace and mine is keeping up. I'm grateful for the change, but must question if it was really for me? I'm still going to remain extremely cautious.
Roy continued to ride with June between himself and Fox. I know this guy doesn't trust me being too close, but at least he isn't trying to impose his authority any longer. After his trouble this morning, he seems to accept our judgment about the trail and the horses. I certainly don't want to make any waves in this truce.
For the next half hour everything went smoothly. Maybe I worry too much, Fox thought. They haven't tried anything. Maybe, believing I just might shoot to kill they've given up the idea of trying to get Forrester away from me. Maybe they plan to try the courts. Under these circumstance that move might seem the wisest to them since they may have some valid reasons to question my warrants and could file charges against me. In this one case, however, it isn't going to do them any good. The Agency can muffle their complaints with a claim of national security. I'm sure they'll never see me in any courtroom.
Looking around, he finally noted a reason for some joy in his sorry state of being. The rain has stopped and I think it's getting warmer. I also saw a sign with a six on it. I have to assume these are the signs Foster has been watching. If this continues I know I can make it, but I have another problem I can't deny. I'm tired. I wish I hadn't eaten so much lunch. I was hungry, but continuing to ride has the food resting heavy in my stomach. I do have to admit, what Foster said is true. Not only is this animal keeping up, but we are also on some almost level ground. To me all those things mean no bracing, no pushing, and best of all ... no more trotting. It's wonderful, but now I'm getting sleepy.
"Stay awake, George," he mumbled to himself. "You have to stay awake. You can't fall asleep on a horse, can you? As we continue, I'm beginning to suspect I'm experiencing infinitesimal moments of time for which I'm not sure I can account." Mumbling louder, "You have to stay awake. Look at the scenery. There's a very large tree growing right on top of a rock. You can see its roots growing down the side of the rock to the ground. ... Look across the valley. See the interesting patterns in the rock cliffs. Watch, talk, and always keep your mind working."
After lunch Roy began checking on Fox more often. Shortly he chuckled again. I think he is more comfortable now. ... Yes, he seems relaxed and is easily rolling with Red's movements. Another half mile passed and he looked back as they came around a sharp turn in the trail. I see him shaking his head and, even with a horse between us, I can hear him openly talking to himself. He must be tired. I can almost make a wager that he hasn't slept much, if at all, the past couple nights.
"I've been using the companionship of my own voice to try to overcome my fatigue," Fox mumbled, "but it's not proving very adequate any longer. I know I'm dozing and I can't help it. I need someone to talk to or something to make me think about my answer. How long have I been without sleep now ... two nights? I know I must not have been asleep for more than a few minutes last night before the alien woke me." He forced himself to concentrate on figuring the time. "I actually haven't slept for three nights. In the motel I was too anxious for the chase. Why didn't I take something right away? Who would ever have thought with the alien finally in custody, this would happen to me?"
Roy continued to glance back often as he rode along. It was gratifying to see him accepting our offering of a substantial meal at lunch, he thought. Pushing him hard on that full stomach is also satisfying.
"For once," Fox mumbled, "I think I'll be glad to see Wylie. From a trail sign back a little way and information found at the house, I know we're going out on the trail they went in. Wylie will be waiting there with the police." Fox grimaced. "I wish I felt confident enough to turn the alien over to the police for safe keeping overnight, but I'll never trust local law enforcement again. This prisoner is too slippery and I'm not letting It out of my sight until I put It in Wade's custody or we're at the UFO lab. I'll call General Wade as soon as we get out of here and ask him to send transportation. When I've delivered this one, after a bit of rest, Wylie and I will start looking for the boy." He shook his head to clear the cobwebs. "Now where could he be? More than likely he's with some of the other family members. I just assumed they'd all be together. Calls to some neighbors should provide information on where to find them."
Fox smiled. "Hey, maybe Wylie has already found the boy. That would be wonderful. If I'm that lucky, I can sleep on the plane. With inside containment, Wylie should be able to watch them for that long." He opened his eyes wide enough to stretch his eyelids and looked around. He heaved in a deep breath. "George, you can hardly focus on anything any longer. Everything is beginning to look the same ... a blur. I'm so tired, but I will stay awake. It can't be more than three or four miles yet. How fast does a horse travel, four, maybe five miles an hour? Of course they might be getting tired too. Do the calculation. That's how many hours?" "Long moments passed. "Good heavens, I'm finding it difficult to figure a simple mathematical problem in my head. I'll guess, one at the least, two at the most?"
Minutes passed to further attempts at re-doing the computations in his head, but losing track a couple times by the unaccountable lost moments still plaguing him, so he returned to verbal monolog. "Stay awake, George. You can tough it out. With all you've had to put up with already, if you weren't so determined you'd have given up this chase years ago. A few more miles and there won't be any more laughing when you walk into the office. No more jokes behind your back. No more weird articles on your desk." He grinned broadly, "He who laughs last, laughs longest."
He changed hands on the reins and drew his exposed right hand back under the sleeping bag. Glancing briefly over his shoulder at his prisoner he turned forward again when he saw It watching. "How can It remain so calm? It just seems to accept fate," he mumbled to himself. "The last couple of days have been threatening, but interesting and I must admit it has been an experience confronting this being, even though It hasn't offered much real information. For the most part, I have to agree that what It said seems logical at times, but that isn't for me to determine.
"I have to admit, Shermin was right. It isn't an animal. Why have I been treating It like one? What if It has been telling me the truth and really can't tell them anything? Is research really the first thing we need to do? Is it our right? I know for a fact It is intelligent. Am I ready to take it in merely because It has embarrassed me?" He took a long deep breath and slowly let it out. "I've made up my mind. Wade is going to have to wait a little longer. With Wylie's help I'll get It off alone in a safe place. After a bit of shut-eye and in a more relaxed atmosphere, I'm going to give communication another try. A few hours more isn't going to make or break me." Fox turned slightly in the saddle and gave the prisoner a reserved smile.
Fox keeps mumbling, Paul thought. I can't make out his words, but he seems to be making a lot of unusual motions while riding on a horse. I know he's tired. Is he fighting off sleep? I guess I really should talk to him.
Checking often on Fox, Roy nodded his head. Yes, the smoother trail is doing it. I see him moving and nodding in beat to Red's movements, but most often he leans slightly to the right with each nod. The nods are becoming longer. I wonder how he keeps going. It's only four more miles out of here. I thought he'd give out long before this. I think it's time for me to slip off Monty and let him move on. He grinned, I hate to admit it, but I've been looking forward to this. If everything goes as planned, I'll have him off Red before he has enough time to gather himself, let alone find his weapon. Fox nodded and Roy was off and urging Monty forward with a bump on the rump. This will be your only chance at him, Foster, he chided. Make it good! If you fail we'll have to trust to the law and media.
Paul saw Fox leaning far over to the right and called out to him, "Mr. Fox, wake up!" He saw Fox begin sliding further off the saddle and after a momentary flail in the air he fell heavily to the ground below the trail. Duke shied aside at the unusual escapade. Pulling at the handcuffs, Paul tried to free himself to go to Fox's aid then saw Roy out of the saddle. Good, he thought, Roy has seen the problem and is on his way.
George Fox winked awake long enough to experience a brief feeling of weightlessness and saw the blue of the sky up through the canopy of trees. He felt a thump as the back of his head hit the hard ground, and then nothing. Roy, ready to secure the man with brute strength, or whatever he could find, was on him in an instant.
June shouted at Kathy to stop, dismounted and rushed to help. She kneeled down beside her husband and looked at Fox. "I don't think he needs restraining," she said. "He's out cold, and under the circumstances, I think we should consider keeping him that way." She got up, reached into the saddlebag on Red and pulled out Fox's leather bag.
From his place on Duke, Paul watched his friends as they readied themselves to subdue his tormentor. "Roy, June, Kathy, you don't know the trouble you could be getting into."
"We don't care, Paul," June replied calmly. "We've seen the look on your face when we've tried to talk to you. We've experienced the anguish of having to watch what he's been doing to you. He drugs you; chains you up like an animal and goes out of his way to try to make you uncomfortable. There is absolutely no excuse for it. We've already discussed it. This is our decision."
"But you don't understand," Paul offered.
"What don't we understand?" she replied, with raising eyebrows? "Are you telling us he has reason to treat you worse than an animal? Are you really that kind of criminal?"
Paul thought again of Fox's threat to have them incarcerated if he told them, but he also knew there would not be another chance to escape. "No, I am not a criminal," he said softly. "I have done nothing wrong. I have to think of Scott and I know I must not turn down your offer of freedom; but please believe me, it is best you know nothing further."
June returned Paul's concerned look. "If you don't want to tell us what the government wants with you, that is all right too," she added with acceptance as she turned back to Fox. "I think he'll be coming around soon. We need to keep him quiet to give you enough time to get away, Paul."
June dumped the contents of the leather bag on the ground. She picked out a package of clean needles and syringes, the partly used vial of tranquilizer and the bottle of alcohol. Reading the instructions again, she calibrated and measured out a conservative amount of drug. "Mr. Fox," she said curtly, "if you can hear me, I want you to know I've estimated your weight at least a hundred times the last couple of days in anticipation of this moment." She gave the intramuscular injection. "I hope you enjoy your trip to never-never land."
George Fox heard mumbling voices through the shadows of his returning consciousness. He felt the drug induced sensation radiate through his very cold body. I'm finally getting warm was all his weary mind could relay. A body stressed to the limits of human endurance by sheer exhaustion, succumbed to the release of tension the drug offered. He neither felt, nor heard anything further.
As Fox fell limp, Roy let go of the firm hold he had on the man. He saw June reach under Fox's coat to pull the weapon from the shoulder holster. "I'll take that, Hon," he announced. "I'm not going to give him another chance to use it against us. Can you find his keys?"
June handed Roy the weapon then picked up the radio and offered it. "Maybe we should eliminate this too?"
Roy tucked the weapon behind his belt and took the radio. "With pleasure," he replied. He opened the device and removed the batteries. A smiling face announced the obvious. "I think it has lost power." He laid the radio with the things from the leather bag, got up and walked over toward Monty to stash the weapon and batteries.
June looked through the contents of the leather bag again, searching for the keys. Instead she picked up another smaller vial missed earlier. Reading the label, her mouth contorted with disgust. "Damn, here's the antidote for the tranquilizer." She looked over at Paul. "I should have figured this would be in here since he said he got the stuff from the Forest Service. They usually carry something in case they miscalculate an animal's weight. The same thing can happen to them that happened to you, Paul. I'm sorry, if I had been thinking, we could have brought you around as soon as he arrived."
June heaved a deep sigh then continued to go through Fox's coat pockets. She finally found the keys wrapped inside a piece of paper. The tranquilizer equipment and radio she put back into the bag, leaving it on the ground with Paul's things. She walked over to Paul and opened the handcuffs.
Having secured Fox's weapon in the bottom of his saddlebag, Roy returned. "Paul, you have to get going."
"Where, can I go?" Paul asked, dismounting. "Fox told me they're waiting for me everywhere."
"Everywhere is as big as these mountains, Paul," June replied as she examined the paper still in her hand. She laughed then handed it to Roy. "Here's a bonus from Fox," she said as she walked off to help Kathy with the horses.
Roy looked at it then glancing at June's retreating figure, chuckled and handed it to Paul. "It's his map and it shows all the areas he searched and all trails he's got covered." As Paul perused the map Roy glanced at it again. "I know another old trail and it isn't shown on this map. I know it's in another district, and I'd be willing to wager the desk officer of the district he contacted never considered it. I've noticed, one hand of government rarely cooperates with, or cares about what the other is doing. He pulled out his pen, "I'm marking the trail, my friend, but because it's rather obscure, I'll go with you to show you where it starts and you'll have to hike out to the highway from there." He continued writing. "I'm also marking where Scott is. Go get him and find a safe place to hide. We'll make sure Fox stays busy for a while."
Paul followed Roy and looked down sadly at Fox. Suddenly a new and entirely different solution to his dilemma began to take form. He turned to Roy. "You go on ahead. I want to stay here with him. I'm no longer in a compromised position and I would like to talk with him further. With a little more time, perhaps I can work toward resolving some of the issues between us. At least I might be able to help you with any problems you might have for helping me."
"You want to try to talk with that donkey," Roy returned impatiently.
"I would like to try talking to him ... man to man, without the disadvantage of chains and guns. Perhaps he might be more receptive to reason."
"Whatever you say," Roy returned, shaking his head doubtfully. "We'll leave your horses and wait for you at the other trail junction."
"Agreed," Paul acknowledged. "I do want you to know this could take me quite some time."
"If you don't join us in a couple hours we'll just camp there tonight. Red and Duke will tell you where we are."
"Thank you," Paul replied graciously.
"Paul, you can give him the antidote for the drug if you want," Roy offered.
"I will, but not until after you leave." Paul picked up his things. As he started putting them away in the appropriate pockets, he thought, if Fox is not able to use a weapon to provide him the illusion of power, perhaps we can work out some of our problems. Like I heard June say once, 'Nothing ventured, nothing gained.' That had been an easy one to figure out. Paul picked up the leather bag and unzipped it. If I can see any encouraging response, I might even decide to use the sphere to allow him to see me. Somehow that seems somewhat important to him. Paul fumbled through the items in the bag. Suddenly he turned his entire attention to the leather bag, carefully going through it again. His calm expression changed and he turned the bag over, dumping the contents on the ground, and then he shook it. The familiar item he wanted to see tumble out, did not. He turned back to Roy. "Is this bag all he had?"
"I think so," Roy returned. "Except for his jacket and the rifle on the other side of the saddle, I never saw him with anything else. If you remember, he didn't even have a pair of dry socks when he took over camp." Roy's expression joined Paul's look of concern. "Are you missing something?"
"A metal ball," Paul formed a ring out of his thumb and forefinger, "about this size."
"I'm sorry. I haven't seen any." He looked strangely at Paul. "Is it something important?"
"Only to me," Paul replied with a sigh.
Kathy walked over toward her father to look at a peaceful Fox. She peered down smugly at this predator about to lose his game. "Well, Mr. Government Agent, you don't seem so threatening anymore."
"Kathy," Paul asked, with a hopeful smile, "have you seen Fox with a metal ball?" He repeated his size indication.
"No," she replied. "Have you checked his pockets and the saddlebags on Red?"
Paul kneeled down beside Fox. "I'll check his pockets." It felt strange searching Fox's pockets, but Paul knew he had to find his sphere or lose a lot more than his freedom. He checked all the pockets and still not satisfied, went over to Red and removed everything from each of the saddlebags. Finding nothing he heaved a distressed sigh. I'll have to use Scott's sphere to find it, he thought. I won't be able to make sure Fox is all right or keep complete control of him without it, but I will try talking to him more candidly.
June returned, carrying Paul's duffel. She started giving Paul some instructions, when Roy interrupted. "Hon, Paul wants to stay here with Fox and try talking to him. I said we'd wait down at the trail junction."
"No sweat, Paul," June replied.
"By the way Hon, Paul is looking for a small metal ball," repeating the size again. "Have you seen it?"
She frowned deeply then looked at Paul. "I saw something you might describe as a ball in your hand while we worked on you on the mountain. Whatever it was, at least it appeared round." She shook her head in doubt. "I will say it certainly didn't look like metal though."
"What did it look like?" Paul asked with grave concern.
She shrugged her shoulders slightly, "Kind of a transparent blue. I really didn't take much time to study it. At the moment, my main concern was you."
"You say it was transparent?" Paul asked, evidently distressed.
"I think I could better describe it more as ... glowing, slightly." She looked almost embarrassed. "After you started breathing again, Roy moved you around trying to get you completely covered and it fell from your hand. I don't believe in littering and I was going to pick both it and the tranquilizer dart," she offered sincerely, but at the moment I was just too tired to start digging it out of the bushes. Then Fox showed up." She smiled. "It was a pretty blue. Was it special?"
"Special to me," Paul replied with a sigh, "a keepsake from a far off place and another time in my life."
"A keepsake?" June questioned. Paul's response about a far off place flashed through her mind confirming what she had long ago guessed. Paul didn't grow up in the United States. "I really am sorry. If I would have known it was important, I would have made it a point to go back for it." She shrugged her shoulders. "I guess with all the excitement that followed, I never thought about it again. If you want, I'll find it when we go back for our stuff."
Paul took both of her hands in his and forced a smile. "It's all right. At least I know where it is." I must retrieve my sphere, he thought, but first I have to make sure Scott is all right. He looked at his benefactors. "This does bring about a change of plans. I must accept your offer to leave."
"Whatever," she advised, curiously. "Take Blackie instead of Duke. I know Blackie will come right back to us when you turn him loose since you'll be taking him away from Burr. You may have to argue with him to get him to leave, but you never seem to have much trouble with any of the horses."
"I'll get your saddle on him," Roy offered.
June handed Paul his duffel bag. "I have all your stuff in the bag and ready to go, Paul. You can tie it on behind the saddle."
Paul took the bag then motioned toward George Fox. "What about him? He hit his head pretty hard. He might be injured."
"I don't think you need to worry about him," June offered. "I checked his eyes and they looked normal. I know he was beginning to come around when I gave him the tranquilizer, so at most he might have a mild concussion. I would venture to guarantee him a headache. First aid says to keep a concussion victim quiet and he will be, because I'm going to keep him tranquilized until Roy gets back."
"Please take care of him?" Paul asked.
"There's really nothing much more we can do for him now. After you leave, one of us will go down to the creek for some water and get some cold compresses on his head. Right now, you need to go."
June looked back at Fox with contempt. "Mr. Fox, I hope you enjoy waking up. Maybe you'll remember the lesson Paul got, or maybe you won't." She looked up at Paul and saw the Band-aid on his forehead had come loose. She reached up and removed it with a quick tug. Examining the healing she looked back at Fox with disdain. "As far as taking care of him goes, I don't think I really care very much, one way or the other."
Paul spoke softly, "Please care, June, he is a human being."
"Not much of one," she replied without hesitation.
Paul put his hands on her shoulders and looked at her sympathetically. "Though he is wrong in what he believes, don't let his actions change how you feel about him as another person. He truly believes what he's doing is right and his convictions continue to guide his actions." Paul sighed as he looked again into her eyes. "If I thought going with him would have helped me and Scott, I would have. But I'm afraid if I did, I, and then Scott, would simply have disappeared."
"I wish you would tell us why our government would do that to you, Paul." June questioned. The expression on her face was begging for an answer. "You say he believes he's right. Please explain why he isn't?"
Paul lowered his hands and closed his eyes. "I'm sorry, but I must not." He opened his eyes again, resuming their eye contact. "Believe me June, like I said before, it's best you know nothing. Please make it very clear to Mr. Fox that we haven't discussed my problems. I'm sure he'll understand what you mean."
"I will," she replied less than enthusiastically."
"Will you take good care of him ... for me?" Paul asked with concern.
"For you?" She frowned then nodded. "But only for you." She looked back at Paul and saw unquestioning concern in his face. "After what you've been through the past couple of days, how can you still care about him?" She saw the unfaltering look then conceded with a smile. "Don't worry, for 'you' I'll take good care of him." She put her arms around him and pulling him down to her level. Placing her face against his, she gave him a hug. "I guess this is good-bye."
"I guess it is," Paul replied. "I just wish it could be under better circumstances." A deepening look of concern now covered his face. "I am worried about all of you."
Returning with Blackie, Roy took Paul's duffel bag and proceeded to tie it to the saddle by the leather strings holding the saddlebags in place. He grinned. "And don't worry. I have some ideas of my own about how to handle him."
Kathy gave and received a reciprocating hug. "Will we ever see you again?"
"One never knows," Paul replied. "Maybe someday we can come back to the Island. If we are in the area we would like to see you. I would be a bit concerned about calling or coming right to the farm though." He motioned toward Fox, "He might have people watching you, at least for a while."
"Maybe we could arrange for a place to meet. Call the neighbor and leave a number for us to call."
Paul smiled. "Okay."
When Kathy stepped back, Roy took the reins from June's hand and mounted.
Paul put his hand on Blackie's neck and held it there for a moment then mounted. He moved the horse toward June. "May I ask another favor?"
"Sure," she replied without hesitation.
"When Fox wakes up would you give him a message?" He saw a confirming nod. "Tell him, he shouldn't pass judgment on another until he can look him right in the eye. He will need to take his hands, not chain them when he wants to know what he is, inside." June looked back quizzically then repeated the message to make sure she had it right.
Paul had a growing feeling of foreboding. "Now, I really do have to go. Good-bye and thank you." He gave Blackie the signal to move out and the horse moved willingly away from the rest of his companions though his pasture-mate was calling anxiously. Paul asked Blackie to increase his speed and Roy had to push Monty to keep up.
Now Paul's thoughts raced. If I had the sphere in my hand and it was active while they were working to extend my time, it was responding to my distress. Scott's would have reacted. If Scott deciphered anything, he might try to come to me. If he came to the meeting place, he could be in the government's hands already. It is imperative both of us not be captured. If I find they have Scott, I'll have to return to the mountain to find my sphere. Then I'll have to find a way to rescue him. Finding the sphere in the bushes without Scott's might be difficult. The place on the mountain might not be so easy to find after all the rain and snow.
Paul heard Roy call out to stop. He turned and saw him pointing to an unmarked and obscure trail junction.
"This is where we part company, Paul," Roy said. "When you get to the trailhead unbridle Blackie and put the bridle in the saddlebag. I've also put a piece of rope in there. It would be a good idea to tie the stirrups over the saddle horn so Blackie doesn't get them caught on something along the trail on his way back. Turn him around. Give him a slap on the rump and he'll head back. I'll be waiting for him here. From Fox's map, I don't think this trail will be covered, but keep your eye on Blackie. If somebody is there or coming toward you he'll hear them long before you will. Just be ready to turn tail and make a run for it. When you get some distance between you, take to the bush on foot. Blackie will lead them back this way. Circle around them then vanish into the landscape."
"Thank everybody again for believing in me, Roy" Paul said as he started to leave.
"Paul," he called. "Just one more minute, there are a couple important things I almost forgot to ask you!"
Paul asked Blackie to stop, turned around and the two horses moved together, head to tail. "I hope I can give you some answers."
"The right ones, I hope," Roy returned. "Tell me, did Fox ever abuse you in any way while he held you in camp?"
"No," Paul replied, honestly, "unless you can consider it abuse to have your life threatened continually; or to continue drugging me after I pleaded with him not to."
Shaking his head compassionately, Roy knew he was looking at a friend. "Did he ever advise you of your rights?"
"Rights?" Paul questioned momentarily. Then he remembered his prior encounters with the justice system. "Oh, you mean the words about remaining silent and having an attorney?"
"No, he told me I didn't have any rights."
Roy's eyes lit up with satisfaction and he tilted his head to one side. "Is that a fact?" Paul nodded. "Did he ever tell you anything about any charges the filed against you?"
"I don't think he really has ever figured out any charges." Paul frowned deeply. "Roy, I'm not a criminal. I have done nothing wrong unless it is unlawful to run for one's life."
Roy looked momentarily bewildered, before continuing for he remembered Paul's reluctance to explain his problem and the earlier warning about the danger of knowing too much. "Did you ever waive your right to an attorney?"
Paul looked puzzled again and Roy rephrased his question. "Did you sign anything saying you were willing to talk to him without an attorney present?"
"No, in fact when I protested about answering, he insisted I would eventually do so. Actually I did refuse to answer many of his questions."
A broad grin appeared on Roy's face and his eyes began to sparkle. "Good. I'm glad to hear that." He reached his hand out toward Paul and they gripped tightly. "Now, take off." Their hands slipped slowly apart and as Paul turned Blackie around and started moving away, Roy said sadly and with deep feeling, "Good-bye ... and good luck my friend."
I'd like to stay and ask what Roy is planning, Paul thought, but I have to find out about Scott. With a goodbye and thank you, he rode off.
Roy rode down the main trail a short way mixing Paul's tracks with others then he returned to wait for Blackie. He knew his subterfuge wouldn't fool a real tracker, but he had the time and felt a need to do something more than just wait so he tied Monty and spread forest duff by hand over the horse tracks left on the byway.
Paul pushed on as fast as the black horse could comfortably travel the rough, little maintained trail. He thought about June's description of his sphere and his mind reeled and remembered his dream with Scott stretched out on a laboratory table. Meeting no one, he reached the trailhead in less than an hour; removed his duffel bag from behind the saddle; tied the stirrups to the saddle horn and stuffed the bridle into the saddlebag. He put a comforting hand on Blackie's neck then turned him around. With a playful slap on the rump, Blackie took off at a gallop to rejoin his own family. As the horse disappeared, Paul hefted the bag and started down the dirt logging road toward the highway. Shortly, he heard a vehicle coming and apprehensively ducked behind some trees and bushes to let it pass.
Whistling shrilly for his friend, Blackie galloped up to where Roy waited, stopping short when he recognized Monty's and Burr's answering calls. Roy tied him and brushed out the returning tracks. With Blackie tied to Monty's tail, he returned to June, Kathy and the still sleeping government agent. They exchanged the saddles again and tied a contented Blackie, next to his friend.
June had given Fox additional tranquilizer sometime before Roy returned and Fox started to awaken about fifteen minutes later. True to her word, she held him firmly as he returned to consciousness to keep him from thrashing about with the wild gyrations of muscles trying to follow the orders of a confused nervous system. "Whoa, Mr. Fox," she crooned, softly. "You might have a concussion. Just lie still," she calmly advised.
Fox made a feeble attempt to get up, but unable to think clearly he responded to the soothing voice. Ten minutes later he briefly opened his eyes and in another five minutes he could look around. "Where's Forrester?" he asked.
"He's gone," June offered nonchalantly as she saw compromised defiance on Fox's face. "He left shortly after you knocked yourself out. It does appear, however, that your memory is intact."
"Took off where?" Fox asked excitedly.
"Down the trail," Roy volunteered freely.
Fox eyed them suspiciously. "Oh, he just decided to leave, did he?"
"Wouldn't you?" Roy returned.
"I don't imagine you tried to stop him?"
"Now that's a rather stupid question," Roy replied, shaking his head and frowning. "I certainly had no reason to try to stop him. Remember, I'm the one who questioned your authority for holding him in the first place."
"How long have I been out," Fox asked with concern.
"A couple of hours."
"A couple of hours!" Fox repeated with alarm as he struggled to raise his arm to check his watch. Roy offered a reciprocating nod and Fox looked accusingly at him. "I'll bet you just let him go, didn't you? Do you understand what aiding and abetting a fugitive, means?" Fox could see they had already decided to ignore any responsibility for the loss of his prisoner and decided to move on. His eyes narrowed as he glared at them. "How could I have been out for two hours?" he asked.
"You fell off the horse," June replied. "Roy said he saw you nodding a lot, so I guess you must have fallen asleep."
"Falling off a horse couldn't have put me out for two hours either."
"You hit your head pretty hard when you landed. You've actually got quite a bump."
"I'll bet that broke your heart," Fox replied sarcastically.
She returned a smile of innocence. "Now I wouldn't exactly go so far as to say that."
Fox tried to sit up, but still too shaky he laid back down again. Reaching for an aching head increased by the move, he found a wet cloth on his forehead and another under his head. When he searched for and found a large bump, his eyes rolled and his attitude softened. "I have got an awful headache."
"I expected you might," June offered. "I just saw the end of your flight, but it was the most stylish coup de grace, dismount I've seen in a long while."
"I don't feel like joking, Mrs. Foster. I feel awful," Fox replied.
"You look awful," Kathy added, tongue in cheek.
"I feel nauseated and groggy at the same time," Fox offered as he tried to get up again. After a couple tries he fell back. Moments later with sheer George Fox determination he rose to a sitting position, but holding himself upright made him dizzy and he felt a sudden need to lie down again.
"Whoa, now. Let's back up a minute and regroup," June said as she cradled his head and lowered him gently to the ground. "I think you better relax for a while."
Fox's eyes got wide then narrowed into a grim scowl, "Did Forrester ... do anything to me?"
"No," June replied, realizing the man hadn't heard her earlier comment of personal gratification in giving him the drugs. "You know, you look like Paul did a couple times after you came to camp."
"You knocked me out with drugs, didn't you?" he accused as he grabbed for the back of his head again. "Even this bump couldn't have knocked me out for two hours."
"We didn't bring any drugs with us when we came to the mountains, Mr. Fox. The plain and simple fact is you got the bump from falling off a horse onto your head."
"You know what I mean ... afterward?"
"Me?" June replied tongue-in-cheek. Three pairs of questioning eyes, looked down at him, unsympathetically. "Now why would any of us do something like that to such a terrific guy?" she returned with more than an air of sarcasm.
Fox sat up again and finally managed to remain upright. Momentarily his anger subsided as he held his head in both hands. Right now the pounding in his head seemed a more timely challenge. The fog finally cleared enough to begin thinking creatively instead of merely continuing to exchange accusations. Though the alien already has a two-hour head start, I must take charge and move on. Though at a disadvantage, perhaps it isn't too late yet. He reached under his jacket then frantically searched his pockets.
Roy, noticing his actions, responded calmly. "After the past three days of having it waved in our faces, do you really think we would have left you the weapon?"
Fox glared at his adversary then returned with a not unexpected, threat. "I'll have you all up on charges. You three have been a burr in my side since the first moment I laid eyes on you."
"We didn't think having you join us on our vacation as being a real high point in our lives either," Roy returned. "I also believe you might have violated a few laws too, Mr. Fox. Like, carrying a loaded firearm and using a motorized vehicle to enter a designated wilderness area. Those will do for starters."
"The government will provide me with the necessary clearance," Fox stated with increasing confidence. "The charges will be summarily dismissed."
"Retroactive clearance?" Roy returned with a like air of confidence. "That's an interesting concept in law enforcement. I have an attorney friend who would be very interested in cross-examining witnesses on that point of law alone. But that's only confirmed violation number one. Violation number two will be threatening my family and hijacking my camp. You did throw my family out of our temporary home during inclement weather and you hijacked one of my horses for your own use. I don't know if taking someone's horse is still on the books as a hanging offense in Washington, but it is a civil offense and I fully intend to file charges as soon as we get out of here. Your government agency can't stop me."
"Minor," Fox stated with certainty. "Ultimately, there will be no contest."
Roy's eyes began to sparkle. "Okay, and then how about my questions regarding Paul's fugitive status. Out on the mountain you said Paul was a prisoner under arrest. Paul told me you demanded he answer questions. He also said you never gave him his 'Miranda Rights'. I know judges have released real criminals on that technical oversight by anyone in law enforcement these days."
Wylie always seemed to take care of that, Fox thought and his voice rose in defense. "He was out cold when I arrested him."
"He wasn't out cold the rest of the time," June interjected. "When he woke up I never heard you inform him of his rights. I believe the first order of business in any arrest is to inform the suspect he's under arrest and why. Even if you were only taking him in for questioning, he's entitled to know why. If you allege Paul signed away his rights, I want to see that document right now. If you plan to arrest us, I expect to be advised of charges against us as well. When you advise us of our rights, I can assure you there will be four more miles of silence ahead of us."
George Fox merely glared and Roy continued the assault. "Point number three, Mr. Fox. I have your original warrants as evidence. As a citizen I questioned their validity on the spot. I'm also certain when my attorney examines them, there will be questions when it is confirmed there is no stated charge. A subpoena to testify might have to be served on the Federal Judge who issued them in such a manner. He should never have signed incomplete paperwork even if he had been properly informed." Roy looked at Fox confidently. "I don't understand why you won't tell us the charges against Paul, but I know it should be on your warrant. You have violated a basic civil right of every defendant in any criminal arrest."
June stood up and continued with the barrage. "I'm also sure the Civil Liberties Union might show some interest in challenging your arrest technique. Even if you're CIA, I'm sure any Prosecuting Attorney or judge, and surely a jury, will consider your method an excessive use of force."
Fox glanced at her, "I can beat all your charges," he reiterated.
June carried on the assault. "I think it might be considered very questionable police procedure, even for the government, to use animal drugs on a human being. We can all testify that your carelessness in not reading the label instructions for a potentially lethal drug literally killed him. If we hadn't been right there with CPR and sufficient manpower to stay with it he would have died and been deprived of the most basic of 'all' human rights, that of life. In laws regarding criminal procedures, I still believe this is not yet a country where government can trample over its citizens."
Fox's speech became faster and his reply an obvious attempt to show continued confidence in his position. "With my security connections, I feel sure I can also silence the Civil Liberties Union, Mrs. Foster."
Roy's face took on a look of long overdue satisfaction. I think we have him on the defensive for he's continuing to threaten to pull strings the news media can so easily question. Now is the time to bring up the obvious, "But not before you will have to come up with answers to a lot of embarrassing questions. So be my guest. But like you told us before; by the time we're through arguing the charges before the press and the authorities, Paul and Scott will be long gone."
Fox heaved a sigh. I might as well quit this unproductive arguing. I know an apprehension of the alien will be upheld, no matter what, but now I must think ahead and consider my options. He glared at Roy then said smugly, "We must be close enough for radio communications by now. I'll call Wylie. All I have to do is tune in to the police channel."
"Wylie?" Roy questioned.
"My associate." A sly grin appeared. "Forrester has probably run into him, anyway. Remember, we searched your house and found your itinerary. I know where your truck is parked and I also know we're heading that way. He's waiting there with backup. I'll call him." Fox tried unsuccessfully to stand. "Get me my radio," he demanded.
"Get it yourself," Roy replied, smartly. "It's in the leather bag lying beside you." Fox eyed him suspiciously as he picked up the bag. "I don't believe your radio is working."
Fox's irritation rose noticeably. "I didn't ask you for a diagnosis," he returned as he found the radio. Trying it, he thumped it a couple times with his hand and tried again. "Why should the batteries run down so soon?" he questioned. Opened the battery compartment, he glowered at Roy. "You took the batteries!"
Roy looked at Fox and with a look of utter innocence on his face and with a flip of his hand, pointed to himself, "Who? Me?"
"Give them back ... now!" Fox demanded vehemently. "Don't buy yourselves any more trouble then you already in."
"Mr. Fox, I can't imagine where they might be," Roy offered. "Are you sure you didn't lose them?"
Fox's eyes narrowed with renewed defiance. "You've bought it, Foster, and all for nothing. Forrester will still run into Wylie. He knows what he has to do. He's probably has Forester in custody already and is on his way to a safe house. With all my preparation, I just know he hasn't gotten away this time."
"I think Paul has your map, Mr. Fox. With the notations you had on it, I don't think he planned to go out this trail," Roy returned. "And with your map and a compass, he could even be going cross-country."
There was a long silence while the two adversaries, both possessed with an identical look of obstinacy, continued eyeing each other. Roy finally broke the silence. "There is one thing I will say for sure. As a representative of our government, you really know how to win friends and influence its citizens. Like you told us, you searched our house; almost killed and in front of us abused our friend; took over our vacation; harassed us for three days with a loaded weapon then have the audacity to think we're going to cooperate by holding our friend for you?" Roy reached into his coat pocket. "Oh, by the way, Paul left these." Roy pulled out a set of handcuffs and had Fox's wrists smoothly secured before he could voice even a protest.
"I guess he figured he didn't need them any longer so I'll use them for their intended purpose instead. I'm advising you right now, I am making a citizen's arrest. The charges against you are for armed and mechanical violation of this Wilderness Area and for the civil matters we just discussed against me, and my family. These violations we can testify to first hand. As you already know, I've confiscated your weapon and have put it away as evidence. I will not use it to control you, but I also will not let you coerce me, or my family, any longer." Roy picked up the leather bag. "This I'm securing as additional evidence as well as the rifle." He paused briefly for emphasis. "Believe me; I fully intend to file charges as soon as we get out of here." Roy looked at Fox defiantly. "Can I assume you'll go quietly, or do I have to secure you to the saddle and lead the horse?"
For once Fox was speechless, his mouth hanging open slightly as he looked down at himself in handcuffs. Kathy, looking at the government man with a smile, thought for a moment, and then added, "Now how did it go, just for the record, 'You have the right to remain silent. If you give up the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be...'"
George Fox's head boomed with a vengeance. This time, not only from the bump on his head, but from the out and out defiance of the man and two women now glaring down at him. I've never experienced anyone I've confronted about the alien so belligerent on Its behalf, he thought. The Wayburn woman challenged my authority to arrest the boy and finally aided the alien. She, likewise threatened me with a raft of questioning attorneys, but at least she had the capital, and friends in high places, to back her threats. This is an old farmer, his wife and daughter who have decided to take on George Fox and the FSA. They're adamant in their position, though totally wrong about my authority to take Forrester at all costs. He glared silently from one to the other again. I must be dreaming. This is ridiculous! This can't be happening to me. I'm an agent of the Federal Security Agency. They can't arrest me. He saw the determined look on their faces. My heart is beginning to pound and I see numerous bright spots in my eyes, he confirmed. I know my blood pressure has been doing flip-flops of late and I must calm down. Now, how can I best handle this?
Soon a slight grin appeared as he prided himself in renewal of self-control. I will promise these three they're going to pay for this with their freedom. It might be thought of as revenge in some circles, but they have cost me more than I can ever begin to explain to anybody. Right now revenge is only a pittance in exchange. All I have to do is call the agency and have someone vouch for my authority again. With its power to keep the lid on in the name of national security, I'll more than likely never see any of them again. The grin then disappeared, replaced by an anxious grimace. Oh, God, will they have a field day back at the office when this gets around. I'll never hear the end of it.
June saw anxiety on Fox's face and suddenly remembered Paul's departing words. With all the continuing conflict, I almost forgot. "Oh, Mr. Fox, Paul left a message for you."
"What?" Fox returned sharply.
"He said 'Tell Mr. Fox, he shouldn't pass judgment on another until he can look him in the eye. He will need to take his hands, not chain them when he wants to know what he is, inside.'"
Fox's face contorted and he replied impatiently. "He's back to that again. I wonder why he always likes to talk in riddles."
June saw the perplexed look appear on the agent's face and replied defensively. "Paul's mannerisms seem to make some people think and at times he seems very naive, but I never thought of him as talking in riddles."
Roy's eyebrows lowered. "As far as taking his hands, I think I can help you with that. We've worked together. Working with someone reveals more about a person than just talking ever can."
Kathy, not to be forgotten, added, "I've looked many times into his eyes and have seen only compassion and caring. Perhaps he meant you have to look closer. Then you might see the Paul Forrester we have come to know."
In further support, June added. "He flatly refused to tell us why you're after him, Mr. Fox. He said it was because he was concerned about us, but I know I would do anything to help him get away from you."
June watched Fox and then remembered another undelivered message. Looking at Kathy she shook her head. "Damn. There was one thing I wanted to be sure to tell Paul before he rode off."
"What," Kathy asked curiously.
"I wanted to tell him about that problem with his eyes."
Fox's attention returned immediately from his riddle, back to his job. "What problem?" he questioned with interest.
Kathy, ignoring Fox, grimaced as she remembered the way she felt drawn to them. "Right. I was going to mention it too, but with all the excitement..."
Fox interrupted, becoming more demanding. "What problem?"
Still ignoring Fox, June grimaced, "I wanted him to make sure to have them checked."
They know they have me in their control, now, Fox acknowledged. I realize demanding will only lead to another confrontation or they will just continue ignoring me unless I get myself under control. "He should have them checked for what?" he asked politely.
I would prefer to ignore this man and his demanding ways, June thought as she looked at Fox. The only way I can think of doing that is either give him another tranquilizer or leave him here. The tranquilizer isn't practical and we can't just leave him with the police at the trailhead. Since we do want to get out before dark I think answering may be the way to try to re-establish some semblance of cooperation again. Maybe we can convince him to tell us what the government wants with Paul. "I'm not really sure," she said, "and I would have told him in camp, but you didn't seem to want us around. We actually didn't get too much chance to check closely because we thought keeping Paul alive to be more important. It might not be a problem at all. The light might have been just right to cause some kind of an optical illusion."
Fox again lost his patience at the continuing rhetoric. "Damn it woman, just tell me what it was you saw!"
"Don't you speak to me like that!" June snapped indignantly.
Though seething inside, Fox replied with an appeasing, "I'm sorry."
"Apology accepted," she replied coldly. "Now what was it you asked?"
Fox put on another pleasant smile. "I just asked you to tell me what you saw."
"Now that you've got a civil tongue again, I'll consider it." She paused for a long moment and surprised by his look of genuine interest, continued. "It was the brightness."
Fox's face reflected a look of total bewilderment. "What brightness?"
"After Paul's heart stopped, his eyes had a kind of," she shrugged her shoulders slightly, "a kind of ... spooky brightness."
Surprised by her choice of words Fox's eyebrows rose, and then lowered again into a questioning frown. "Spooky brightness?"
"Do you have to keep repeating everything?" June returned impatiently. Fox offered no reply and she withdrew within herself and closed her eyes. In moments she could see Paul again. "His eyes were an intense blue."
"That is spooky," Fox returned pleasantly, anxious to keep her talking.
"It was like a negative picture," Kathy interjected, "his pupils were a brighter blue rather than black, just like the light was coming from inside."
"If it hadn't been for the emergency," June continued, "I think it would have been almost impossible to stop staring," she added. Looking at Fox again, she continued. "I feel strange telling anyone about this, particularly you, Mr. Fox." She turned toward Roy. "I do want to put what I saw and felt into words for you and Kathy. It was like his eyes were alive even though I knew his heart wasn't beating. Since a heartbeat was far more important, I closed them. When off the duty I checked again. As I looked again I got a very warm feeling and somehow ... I knew..."
"You knew what?" Fox urged.
She paused, gathering her thoughts. Then shaking her head slowly it the just came without restriction. "I could feel him saying 'thank you'. I know it sounds weird, but I didn't imagine it and it wasn't the light. There was no sun reflecting the color of a blue sky I saw in his eyes." She looked at the three, returning their questioning looks. "I checked again later, but it was gone. I never saw it again."
"We all saw it," Roy confirmed, "but you never told us about the thank you."
"Sorry, it was just so personal ...so strange."
Fox pondered their statements. Suddenly he remembered an almost forgotten science fiction movie and his eyes opened wide. Their words took on a new and totally different meaning. "Was the alien using some form of thought transfer?" he mumbled softly. A broad elated smile appeared as he rolled his head and eyes in a broad arc. "Its power is becoming clearer." He returned his attention to the woman. "That has to be it," he announced with pride, "You held Its hand and looked deeply into Its eyes and then I'll bet you decided to help It right?" With his shackled wrists Fox reached up and grabbed one of June's hands and shook it vigorously. "Thank you very much, Mrs. Foster. Now I understand why you kept It alive and why you continue to defend It!"
Indignantly, June pulled her hand away from his unwelcome grasp. "Under the circumstances we would have tried to help anybody," she offered with renewed dignity.
"For a whole hour?" Fox questioned with elation.
"Until all hope passed," she replied with compassion.
"Your problem is you just didn't understand what It was doing to you. It's not your fault. It has invaded and controlled your mind."
June frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"That's how It gets help when It needs it," Fox replied without reservation.
"Are you saying Paul had us all hypnotized?" Kathy asked with a subtle, tongue in cheek grin.
"More deviant than hypnosis," Fox replied, assuredly. "I believe It dictates, maybe even takes over the mind."
"No one has taken over anything, Mr. Fox," June stated militantly. "And one thing I'd like to mention again before this conversation goes any further. I don't know if you realize it, but you're referring to someone whom I like very much, as 'it'. 'It' describes an object, not a friend. Paul and his son have stayed in our home for over two months. They have eaten at our table and helped us on our farm with whatever needed doing. We've worked together and played together and I'm offended by your use of the expression. I'm not denying Paul might have done something wrong, but unless you tell me what, do not keep referring to him in such a disrespectful manner."
At this time she might as well have directed her ultimatum to a stump than to George Fox. 'Now I understand' was all Fox could register as he looked at the three with satisfaction. "Like all the others It has taken you over," he offered. "Believe me, you would have done anything to help It. Now I know, from the way I've been thinking lately, It has been working on me too. I'm just not as easy a mark because I know what It is." Fox started to laugh. "'Look into my eyes' and 'take my hands', indeed."
Kathy's tongue in cheek facade had vanished, replaced with one of hostility. "You're stark raving nuts, mister!"
Fox looked at Kathy then back to Roy and June. If you work it right, George, further damning evidence against It is standing here within your grasp. "Are you ready to back your statement that It hasn't got you in Its power?" Fox expounded. "Do I have your permission to make some ... arrangements when we get out of here?" He continued to grin. I can picture them, and maybe some others I feel sure It has infiltrated over the past months, at the UFO lab.
"What do you mean?" Kathy questioned suspiciously. "What arrangements?"
His eyes dancing, Fox addressed the three, "You have all lived with It for months. Let our scientists examine you ... perhaps the rest of your family as well. Let them try to find out the extent of Its power over you. If we can find some evidence of how It controls people, maybe we can find a way of counteracting it. Agree and you'll have a chance to prove you're not possessed; a chance to prove It really is your friend." I think I have these three almost in the lab, he thought. They would do almost anything to try to prove me wrong. Overflowing with confidence, he added, "But if I'm right, you'll thank me. I feel sure it's not too late for you." He paused awaiting a reply, and then continued. "Am I correct in assuming I have your cooperation?"
"This is total bullshit!" Roy returned defiantly. "I know Paul is my friend. I don't have to prove it and I have no intention of helping you prove otherwise. I've helped him because I wanted to. Other than still being curious about what the government wants with him, I don't feel any different, now, than I did when I first shook his hand in our living room."
"That's the point, Mr. Foster, you have already shook Its hand and been drawn to Its eyes," Fox offered. "Believe me, you will be thanking me!"
With his face reflecting a growing displeasure, Roy noted the man was blatantly ignoring June. "Mr. Fox, right now I wish to join in my wife's request and this is the only time I'm going to say this." In a tone of voice that should have commanded Fox's attention he demanded, "Unless you explain fully what you want with Paul and why we should not consider him our friend, do not refer to him again as It."
Fox's elation could not be restrained by mere words. For the first time I understand why this man standing over me is defending the alien and threatening me with bodily harm. I have to convince these people of the seriousness of their condition. I need their cooperation. "For God sake, Mr. and Mrs. Foster, Mrs. Doran, you don't have any idea of what you just helped escape?"
"'What' also relates to an object, Mr. Fox," June replied militantly. "When you're referring to Paul, I don't want to hear you to use that expression either."
"Of course I'm referring to Forrester," Fox retorted loudly, "or whatever it was you just said you saw inside It!" Fox saw an angry look appear on the man and women's faces, "... I mean him," he added compliantly.
"What has Paul done for you to refer to him as a ... a thing?" June asked.
Suddenly Fox remembered General Wade's orders again and he sucked in a deep breath. I'm just about to breach orders again by disclosing top-secret information. Instantly he took control of his euphoria. "I can't tell you."
Such an abrupt change of strategy brought sheer determination to Roy's face. "If you don't play it straight with us, Mr. Fox, headache or not, you're going to be walking the rest of the way out of here."
"It's orders," Fox stated succinctly. "I've already said too much."
"You better tell us!" Roy ordered, emphatically. "Believe me, that was no idle threat!"
Their eyes met again and Fox could read the man's expression. "Don't you understand, it's a top security matter? I can't tell you," he offered meekly.
Roy glared back. "Mr. Fox, let's drop all of this B S! You are going to tell us what you want with Paul and Scott, or else!" Roy continued to look at Fox, awaiting a concession, but seeing no change in the man's attitude, continued vehemently. "Since, we seem at an impasse, I guess it's time we hit the trail back to the real world."
Fox steeled himself. I can walk the rest of the way because I'll have the final satisfaction of knowing I'll be teaching them a thing or two about the agency I represent.
The family prepared the horses to resume the journey. Roy tailed Duke to Blackie then returned for Fox. He pulled him to his feet and hauled him behind Monty. Roy had a lead rope tied securely to Monty's tail. He fastened the hanging snap onto the handcuff chain. "Though you can release yourself, I would suggest you not do so for there are worse ways I could tie you."
Fox noted the look of satisfaction on Roy's face. Foster's subtle movements leave no question he's enjoying this, he thought. His enjoyment will last for only a few more miles. It will end when we reach the waiting authorities. He watched them mount.
As Roy urged Monty onto the trail, the horse's tail stretched taut, jerking George Fox in behind. How can I ever explain what I'm feeling right now? I'm George Fox, an agent of the Federal Security Agency. They can't treat me like this. He glanced back and saw satisfied smiles on the women's faces. The additional indignity is having them behind, laughing at my government position. His pause and backward glance resulted in a sudden launching, as the horse did not pause to look around.
"I would estimate it to be about another four miles out of here," Roy said with an additional air of satisfaction. "I want to inform you, before you accuse me of doing it on purpose; this horse tends to increase his speed as we get closer to what he believes to be his ride home."
Fox accepted his continuing bad fortune and could think of nothing further to say. Except for the roaring of the stream below and the sound of hoofs on the trail, they moved on in silence. The trail had improved from the steep going of earlier and Monty quickly picked up his going home pace.
I can't compete with the speed of the animal, Fox confirmed. Often I have to run for I want to avoid being jerked along. I've already had one too many for comfort. I have been developing my own avoidance strategy. I run to catch up as soon as the animal's tail begins to stretch out, but now it's going even faster. It seems I'm running most of the time.
Twenty minutes down the trail they came to the first of many times the creek still had to be forded. Fox stopped short as Foster's horse slid down the bank into the water. He stood looking down into the rushing water then realized the coming reality. I can't remain on the bank. I have to go in, or be dragged in. Monty's tail stretched taut. George, you have to act, now or go in headfirst. Jump! He landed knee-deep in the racing water of the rain and melting snow swollen creek. Somehow I've managed to remain on my feet, he confirmed as the horse continued across. I guess I took this for granted when I was riding the animal. "Slow down Foster," he yelled as he waded across through rocks submerged by the high water.
Hearing Fox's appeal, Roy replied, "Sure." He stopped Monty about midstream and allowed the horses to drink.
I'm thirsty, Fox thought as he stood in the ice cold water. He reached down with cupped hands and got some water but lost it when Roy moved on.
Forget the drink he thought. As the tail stretched out he slogged across. My mouth seems even drier than before. In addition, the deep water got my slacks soaked, he noticed as the animal pulled him up the slippery bank and out of the water. They're clinging to my legs and restricting my stride. Reaching the tail again, he anguished, and my shoes are full of water, making following even more difficult. I hope it squeezes out soon. Shortly the trail became rough and the horse slowed to carefully choose its path. Following so close behind while the horse moved around obstacles, Fox could not see them until the animal made a sudden change in direction.
Quick decisions of where to put his feet had to be made. Hesitation meant having to regain balance, often between large boulders, and then reaching the end of his tether, another jerk to his shoulders. A few more pulls and scrambles and his shoulders, legs and feet were aching. There was never time to look around for he had to pay close attention to watching the animal ahead for clues of what to expect. Finally reaching another area of smooth trail, Monty picked up speed again. When possible, Fox could not keep from glancing at the man riding in front of him.
Their eyes met when Roy turned in his saddle to look back. He grinned. "Are you having a nice walk, Mr. Fox?" Getting no response, he turned forward again.
As they passed a two-mile marker, Fox was tiring. We still have a long way to go. I also know our speed is continuing to increase. I can hear the horse I was riding galloping more often to catch up. All that exercise I've kept up religiously to keep in shape never prepared me to keep up with a horse on his way home. I can feel my heart pounding. The exertion is making my headache worse and my lungs are crying for air. Without Wade's gag order, apprehending the alien would have been simple. A picture and request on TV would have left Forrester no place to hide. Of course Wade is afraid of publicity, and I have to agree. By letting the cat out of the bag the alien could be grabbed by subversives. That would definitely not be in our best interest. So this is how it has to be. With a pleasant outward appearance and the ability to get people under Its control, It has almost unlimited help in escaping each time I do catch up with It.
The rocks passed and the trail leveled for only a short distance before they entered another area of large boulders and Fox prepared for another rocky descent. He drew in as large a breath as he could hold. I'm weary. I have to stop soon or fall. Wade surely didn't cast my orders in stone. While I might die for my country to catch these aliens, this is a stupid waste. A few steps later he stumbled, going down hard on one knee. Managing one more burst of energy he managed to regain his feet before being dragged. I'm done. Gag order, or not, I can't take this any longer. "Mr. Foster, can we stop?" he asked between heaving breaths. "We need to ...talk."
Not surprised at hearing from the man, when everybody was out of the rocks Roy reined Monty to a stop and turned in the saddle. "We will listen to what you have to say, but unless you're ready to give us some straight answers, I don't really think we have much to talk about," he replied sharply. He saw Fox nod.
Looking him in the eye, Fox said, "Okay. You win," he conceded, gasping for air, "but first I want you to ... know, if you repeat to anyone what I am about to tell you ... I will deny it. I know ... you'll agree with me when I tell you why I've been chasing your friend."
"I wondered how long it would take for you to come to your senses," Roy replied with a satisfied grin. "I'm sure we're all anxiously awaiting the truth."
Fox looked surprised, and then disappointed. "Won't you even let me sit down and rest?"
Foster heaved a sigh, dismounted and tied Monty to a convenient tree. Meanwhile, June dismounted and moved over to Fox. She unlocked the handcuffs from the rope in the tail. Fox staggered a few steps off the trail and sank to the ground. Everyone found a spot to sit and watched him continue to heave. When he felt his racing heart slowing, George Fox returned their looks.
All his pent up emotion over so much interference in his life's work this past year flowed in a stream of words he had often longed to say. "First, I'm not a Simon Lagree. I do have a very valid reason to use whatever force is necessary to stop and incarcerate Paul Forrester and his son. The reason I so easily refer to Forrester, as It is the thing you call friend isn't really a human being. There, now I've told you."
A disgusted look appeared on Roy's face as he looked at the man. "Mr. Fox, if we're talking about not acting human, either June or Kathy must have a mirror somewhere. Perhaps you need to take a closer look at the only 'being' I've seen who hasn't acted human."
"'Acted', is the correct term, Mr. Foster," Fox replied looking Roy straight in the eye, "for with continuing experience the being you know as Paul Forrester is getting very good at it." Fox paused momentarily. "For the past sixteen years, my job at Federal Security has been to find the aliens that have infiltrated this country."
"Being an alien, Mr. Fox, doesn't disqualify someone from the human race," Roy replied, shrugging his shoulders. "Besides isn't apprehending aliens the job of the Immigration Service?"
Fox fought to hold back his growing impatience with another incompetent who couldn't understand a simple statement of fact. "I said Forrester is alien," he stated, holding eye contact. "I'm talking about a non-human, extra-terrestrial alien, one of many who may have infiltrated this planet. Would you like to venture a guess as to why?"
June looked at Fox sympathetically, "Maybe you do have a concussion, Mr. Fox. It's apparently playing tricks with your thinking. You better lie down again."
"I don't need to lie down, Mrs. Foster!" Fox countered loudly as he looked from one to the other. "My thinking is fine. My only problem is interference in doing my job by what always appears to be well meaning people like you."
"And just what might that job actually be," June asked angrily, "killing whomever you feel like accusing of being spacemen with an overdose of drugs? At least most people who overdose do it to themselves."
"You know that was an accident," Fox returned succinctly.
June grimaced. "I think the description of your job sounds like good old fashion McCarthyism to me. I thought we put that kind of witch hunting behind us in the Fifties."
"Believe me, Mrs. Foster, "This threat is real," Fox returned.
June looked at the man, "I can't believe I'm hearing such garbage coming from a grown man," she said loudly. "You should be ashamed of yourself." Her face contorted sourly, "I think you've just given me a case of heartburn. Of course, whether an accident or not, your carelessness would have killed another human being. One I happen to care about." She looked at her husband and started to get up. "Let's go, Roy," she said vehemently. "I don't want the listen to this crap any longer."
"Listen, please. I'm telling you the truth," Fox retorted. "Forrester is extra-terrestrial."
"Paul, an ET!" she countered, kneeling down once again beside the deranged man and laughing openly. "What will you come up with next? I don't know why, but for some reason you sure have it in for him." She pushed Fox to a reclining position and carefully examined his eyes. She shook her head and her grin faded to one of concern. "I really think you better remain down, Mr. Fox. I'm not confessing to having given you any of your drug, but it could be the residual of something like that together with your head injury. Something is causing you to hallucinate."
"I'm not hallucinating!" Fox returned defensively. He tried to get up, but the woman held him securely. "It's all of you who need something to clear your heads!"
June turned with concern to her husband. "Roy, I promised Paul I'd take care of him. Maybe we've been too hard on him after such a rap on the head. Even though his eyes still seem all right, I could be wrong. I don't consider myself an expert in first aid. He actually might have a concussion."
Roy shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry Hon, but we wanted to get the truth from this turkey. Now he's just changed to a line of bull." Roy turned to address his adversary again. "Okay, Mr. Fox," he conceded, "tongue in cheek. We'll play your game for a little while. You're trying to tell us Paul Forrester is an out of this world alien, and you're worried he has it in for us."
"Very possibly," Fox returned.
Roy burst into laughter. "Personally, I think you belong in the Looney Bin and since you work for the government, I guess the joke is on us. We're helping pay you to persecute our friend. Come on, can't you think of anything better to justify what you did?"
Fox looked at Roy, completely exasperated. My job is important, even to them. Gathering his thoughts, he took advantage of June's momentary inattention. Popping upright he gathered his thoughts. Again completely in control, he tried counteracting their combined laughter. "My job is to apprehend It ... him and to find out what they're doing here."
Kathy decided to join the effort to humor the man. "Well," she smiled, "while we've been enjoying your company you did have time to talk to him about it, didn't you?"
Fox looked at her and his eyes rolled upward along with his increasing impatience. "Of course I talked to ... him."
"Well, what did he tell you?"
"He has confirmed to me on more than one occasion that he is alien, but he isn't stupid. Do you really believe he would infer anything other than they're not aggressive? What he says doesn't mean anything. My job is to get this 'known one' into the controlled environment of a properly equipped laboratory. There, our scientists can find out exactly what they are; where they're from; how many are here and what they want. There are a lot of other pertinent questions to ask while It's," Fox again stumbled over his words, "he's in our total control."
"As June has already told you," Roy offered in support, "I've worked closely with Paul and I think I know him as well as anyone here might. You just said something I simply cannot believe. If, in the wildest stretch of the imagination, what you're saying could be true, why would such a being be running around with a teenager?
"Scott is It's ... is his offspring," Fox offered. "This one was here years ago and appeared in the body of a Wisconsin house painter named Scott Hayden."
Kathy shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly. "Do I understand you correctly? You're telling us he just changed bodies?"
"Yes," Fox replied in frustration. "He's in a different body. Just don't ask me how."
"Mr. Fox, I wouldn't qualify that statement by asking," Kathy laughed. "This is beginning to sound like a bad science fiction movie plot, but I can't see where you've properly cast Paul as the villain."
Fox looked directly at the woman, replying slowly and deliberately, "I don't think you're taking me seriously. Believe me, I am serious. The teenager you know as Scott Hayden, or Forrester, is a crossbreed It left here on that first visit. Now, do you understand the potential danger?"
"Mr. Fox, your alien also said he was looking for Scott's mother," June threw into the conversation. "Do you also plan to shoot her down as one of your suspected aliens?"
Fox momentarily fixed his thoughts on her words and his nose wrinkled as he remembered the harassment in the office. Why would she refer to It as 'my alien'? At the agency they know my job and use that reference to annoy me. It isn't 'my alien'. It has never been my alien. His eyes narrowed, questioningly. Was it just an innocent remark, or...? He saw the woman looking adamantly at him.
June awaited an answer. "Well?" she asked impatiently.
"Momentarily out of touch, Fox asked absent-mindedly, "Well, what?"
"I didn't think you were listening. I asked you if the boy's mother is also one of your aliens."
"Her name is Jennifer Hayden." Fox offered without hesitation. "She lived near Madison, Wisconsin. She's not one of them, but I have been looking for her as well. This alien abducted her at gunpoint sixteen years ago and the boy is the resultant half-breed. It apparently coerced the woman into having and providing for the child with the same form of mind control It's used on you. It was only after many years I found the boy again and discovered It was back. Now, thanks to you three, this thing, and God only knows how many more, continue to roam free."
June looked puzzled. "Then why is Paul looking for the woman?"
"I haven't a clue why It's..." Fox stumbled again in his continuing frustration, "I haven't a clue why he's looking for her! Maybe there's some genetic compatibility. Maybe they want to create an army of what we will all think to be our children. That's another thing we might have found out under the proper conditions."
Roy listened intently to the exchange to gather his thoughts. For a few moments he looked critically at Fox, and then smiled and scratched his head, contemplatively before putting his thoughts into words. "Well, I'm going to tell you what I think, and I'm speaking from living and working with both Paul and Scott and from experience as a farmer dealing with the possibilities of genetic improvement. If that man is an alien being and Scott is a human/alien cross; I think we should help them find the woman and if she's willing, encourage them to start a breeding program. I think we need to encourage the natural propagation of the hybrid, not imprison them. Totally contrary to what you say, Paul and Scott are two of the nicest, most helpful human beings I know."
Fox eyes opened widely at the same time his mouth dropped. "A breeding program!" he shouted in alarm. "Do you have any idea of the danger in what you are suggesting? Aren't you even vaguely aware of the power these aliens must possess to cross the cosmos to get here?"
A contemplative look appeared on Roy's face. "In that case, I would guess they might know a great deal more than we do. Maybe, if we take the time to listen, we can learn something."
Fox collected his thoughts again. "You're right. It is almost certain they are intelligent and probably have control of tremendous power as well." His eyes narrowed. "The question we must ask, is what do they intend to do with that intelligence and power? With your suggestion, the threat to the world we know is of great power in the hands of a superior few. It's the old problem of 'absolute power corrupting absolutely'."
"I'm going to be straight with you, Fox," Roy said critically. "First, I don't buy this aliens from space crap you're trying to feed us. Second, I can't imagine why you would ever want to treat anyone, let alone a visitor from space, in the manner in which you've treated Paul. I figured out long ago that he's extremely intelligent, and well educated, but I can understand your basic concept about intelligence and power corrupting. However, knowing the man I can only comment on our association. I will tell you I can't remember him saying or doing anything suggesting any tendency toward what you profess we should fear. What I have seen tells me the opposite. He displays an unbiased interest in even the simplest things around him. He's eager to learn and quick to help others." Roy gazed back at Fox. "Still you must have some reason to think as you do. Tell me what you've observed to make you treat him as you have?"
Fox returned Roy's look, grimaced and shook his head slowly, conceding to another hopeless alien conquest. "You've all had over two months of direct personal contact I'd have to counteract before you'll believe anything I tell you. I don't even know if it's possible for you to overcome." He looked from one to the other, still shaking his head slowly and pondering the challenge. Is it worth the effort to try to overcome it out here? He finally gave a conceding sigh. "Just forget it. I'm afraid arguing with you is going to be totally unproductive. It's obvious to me It still controls you."
Roy's eyes narrowed. "You started all this bull about Paul and I'm not about to forget it! You've just made some pretty serious accusations." His voice continued to rise as he stared back at Fox. "Just tell us about some experience you've had to back up what you're saying."
"Mr. Foster," Fox rolled his eyes upward avoiding Roy's glare, the crux of your problem is It's already got to you. Just like it was with the Hayden woman and so many others, I know trying to reason with you will be a total waste of time."
June glared at Fox. "You just accused Paul Forrester of being an alien being, and Scott a half-breed - something. I don't buy it. Then you insinuate he has taken control of us, something I don't feel. You stand there spouting such drivel and expect us to believe it. Why don't you just tell us the truth? What has Paul done to you, personally, to deserve being treated like an animal?"
Fox looked at her stubbornly. "Mrs. Foster, I really don't care what you believe. All I know is none of you are in any condition to judge the seriousness of this whole thing."
"There you could be correct," she confessed. "All I know is I can't take you seriously."
"It's all right," Fox offered compassionately. "It's not your fault, but believe me it is serious. If you can, put friendship completely aside. Why do you think your government is providing me with the funding to pursue these aliens?"
"We all know our government funds lots of worthless projects, both at home and overseas," she returned calmly. "I think in congressional circles they call it pork barreling. If we could save the money you spend harassing innocent citizens in your search for nonexistent aliens, the funds might be available for other, more worthwhile causes."
Roy snorted, as he looked the government man over again. "I don't understand why you keep insisting on such a wild story, particularly in an attempt to get cooperation, Fox. I just don't think we're gaining and we're not going to listen further unless you come straight with us."
"I have come straight with you!" Fox returned emphatically. "You just can't hear it. Think, man! You're trying to put what you believe is a friendship tested over only a couple of months, above the possible future of this entire planet."
"I'd put that friendship over trusting you anytime, mister," Roy returned adamantly. "Get up! We're just wasting our time, and I really don't want to have to put up with you for another night." He watched Fox struggle to his feet. "I'm sure in a couple more miles there are going to be many questions asked and statements made to the authorities you say are waiting for us. I guess we'll just have to wait and see who they believe."
Fox looked at the handcuffs. If you don't want to be dragged behind a horse again, you better speak up now. I'll try the woman. He turned to June then looked toward Monty. "With my headache, is that really necessary?" he pleaded.
Roy answered with a determined look. "I think you've earned it. Now you know how Paul must have felt."
"He's right and we don't seem to be gaining, Roy," June added. "Please don't forget the promise I made to Paul. Besides, a concussion could explain his fixation. His illusions might not be his fault. He may be unable to give us a straight answer anymore than we can believe anything he says. Just let him ride."
"The wife did promise Paul she would take care of you, though I can't understand why he cared in the least." Roy offered. He looked from Fox to June. "I don't know if I really want to provide him with a ride."
Fox looked again at June, meekly. "Mrs. Foster, I really have got a whopping headache."
Roy recognized the tactic. Now he's trying to take advantage of June's compassion. Roy's look changed to one of increasing annoyance.
From years of living with Roy, June recognized his stubbornness to give in easily. She looked back at Fox then to Roy. No exchange of words was necessary as she nodded.
"Your mount is waiting," Roy said compliantly. "Just get on before I change my mind."
Fox got to his feet and presented his handcuffed hands toward Roy. "Is this really necessary?" he said with an air of humility. "Unlike your friend, I do not choose to run away from the laws of our land."
I have no intention of conceding on this point even with my soul-mate, he thought. Having this agent in handcuffs represents a victory and revenge is sweet. He glared abrasively at Fox. "Don't push it, mister! Just get on!"
With some concessions gained, Fox decided not to press further and risk returning to the horse's tail. This arrangement is far superior to earlier, he thought as he struggled up into the saddle. He felt another surge of humiliation when Foster, didn't hesitate to secure him to the saddle horn, and then watched meekly as his horse was tied to the rope in his horse's tail. And so they moved on.
The trail remained good, crisscrossing the stream several times. With the animal doing the work again, Fox's thoughts drifted back to his various personal encounters with the alien. It, actually, has never been personally threatening, he thought, though with Wylie for an assistant I haven't been able to push It too hard. He took a deep breath as his thoughts sidetracked. Wylie has a talent for errors of the greatest magnitude at the worst possible times. I think he is the whole world's model for all Murphyism's. He must be my penance for some personal wrong I've done to someone high in government.
His thoughts continued to meander as often as the stream they followed. With my current knowledge, I know this alien has additional power at Its disposal that I have yet to discover. There are the illusions I've experienced: Fire engines that disappear; souvenir pistols that discharge; an aerial display of such proportions it must have been visible for a hundred miles. Then there are the non-illusions like tires blowing out simultaneously; reactivated satellites and Christmas lights that come on without power. One guy even insisted someone had earlier cut down the Christmas tree. He must have been too full of Christmas cheer because when I examined it, I didn't find a mark on it. As shocking as all these things were to someone with both feet on the ground, none really presented any real danger. When I first saw the aerial thing, even I had to admit it was beautiful.
When I think about it, It has also never offered any physical resistance, even to being arrested. It has never used any power other than the illusions or Its control of others to escape. Even when I came in with the helicopter, It just stood there while I shot It. It surely had time to do something before the tranquilizer took effect. Instead, It tried to run away.
He looked up just in time to see Foster turned in the saddle watching him. He acknowledged Foster's look with a nod. When he saw him turn forward again, unable to control the restless energy invading his thoughts, Fox returned to his game of mental ping-pong. Even after I almost killed It, both of the Fosters said the creature asked her to take care of me. Does It have something more sinister in mind for me? He frowned. Of one thing I'm almost certain, when It was staring down the barrel of my weapon, It was afraid. That alone convinces me they are mortal. He cocked his head slightly to one side. Talking to it these past days has been interesting, but all mouth. ... Of course, I have been threatening It and that leaves a poor climate for candid conversation. I believe a couple of times It literally accused me of not using my head. Still I have to think of the country ... the planet. That's my job.
He pushed down hard on the stirrups and stood in the saddle for a couple of moments to straighten his legs. Feeling momentary relief he sat again. Reviewing Its accusations based on his proposed actions, questions continued to invade his thoughts. What if I am wrong? A deep frown covered his face. Have I wasted all these years? ... No, that can't be true. He paused. But what if...? I can't believe how close the narrative of Its dream came to reality for them in captivity. Did It guess or can they see the future? Another old movie came to mind. Maybe they're not from outer space at all. Maybe they're time travelers from the future. That could explain why the craft we examined had no provisions for the comfort of a passenger. Travel through time might not take long. Maybe that is why they don't want to tell us anything? Maybe having It escape from me so many times has just been personally embarrassing. Is my determination to take It in only to make It suffer for those times? Perhaps It was right. I just want to get one on all those who have laughed at me for spouting off about an alien presence. A presence, is that all it is?
Fox took a quick breath. Something is very wrong. What am I thinking? I'm getting confused and right now I have to start thinking clearly. His eyes opened wide and his mouth dropped open. Oh my God! he gasped. Am I beginning to serve It too! Somehow It must have gotten to me! Still I don't feel any different. Of course these people said they didn't feel anything, either. I have to be under some very mild power of suggestion. If not, I certainly wouldn't be thinking like this! The power to change my convictions without me being aware of it presents a very serious threat! A threat that must be neutralized! Stop shaking George. Just concentrate on regaining control of yourself. It isn't around you any longer and you have to overcome whatever hold It might have already gained. The threat could be much greater than you could ever have imagined. Somehow you have to think of a way to make these people understand. He looked at the man riding in front of him then turned enough to see the women and his shoulders slumped. He shook his head. But how? There's only one thing I know for sure. Right now I need to clear my own thoughts of aliens entirely.
His wish for a diversion appeared almost immediately. To cross the stream again required going down a steep cut toward a bank being undercut by the high water. He watched Roy Foster push his horse forward and unquestioningly it slid down the bank and landed with four feet spread wide in the water. As the rope attaching his mount to Foster's came taut, Red moved his hind legs further forward, dropped slightly in front then leaped out into the rushing water. Even though it was somewhat uncomfortable in handcuffs, Fox appreciated the saddle horn. He was glad he was holding on tight as they landed abruptly in the water. He felt the sudden impact through his many sore spots, but admitted the feeling had to be far superior to leaping in on foot.
The two animals forged forward toward the other side while the remaining horses singly repeated the coup de grace. Crossing a deep spot Fox had to lift his feet up to keep water from flowing in his shoes. He looked back in time to see the others quietly following the path provided by the leader. Once across the water he held on tightly as the animal lunged easily up the bank on the other side. I can hardly believe the confidence I have developed in this beast, he thought. I might enjoy riding him if he didn't have to trot so much. They moved on.
That crossing had me back in survival mode and allowed me to clear my mind, Fox confirmed. I'm back in control over those strange thoughts of earlier. Since the trail has smoothed, my body is aching less. Actually I think I'm becoming numb to the pain. He smiled. Through all this adversity, I really can 'take a licking and keep on ticking'.
When Fox saw the one-mile marker on the right, he grimaced. Soon another situation will become reality. When we ride out of here there's going to be a lot of explaining to do to a large force of law enforcement. Now that I've divulged Forrester's apparently well hidden secret to these people, I have to hold on to them until the agency can take over for a proper debriefing. I can take whatever Wade has to dish out for my breach of orders, but worse than facing Wade's wrath is coming out of this wilderness to face Wylie, empty handed and wearing my own handcuffs.
What can I do or say to the man to stop him from asking all his normally idiotic questions in front of a raft of law enforcement? I already have the necessary clearance from the locals to arrest Forrester, but these civilians are entirely another matter. I can't just tell Wylie he has to get these people away and into isolation right in front of the civil authorities. While I'm doing that, the three of them will be eagerly giving statements to support their claims against me. To take them, I will have to file charges.
I can't deny they do have charges to file and an officer's duty is to listen, and record. Just a claim of national security and my badge at the scene isn't going to stop them from demanding their statements be taken. That's only going to raise the need for more statements. I knew I was violating the law when I had the helicopter fly me into a restricted area. The ranger will verify he told me the rules and officially refused assistance.
Fox sighed deeply. I also can't deny the weapon they confiscated is mine. Its registration is a matter of record. I also can't deny I had it loaded. It still is, and my and Fosters fingerprints will be on it. Ballistics will also verify its recent firing. It's also true I threatened them with it. The tranquilizer rifle I signed for is on Mrs. Doran's saddle and out in plain sight. These people also have the tranquilizer bag. When confronted with the facts, it's going to take quite a bit to explain why I felt justified in using a drug without first reading the label. It being an animal tranquilizer is going to make it sound even worse.
There is no question in my mind that my authority and methods can and will be challenged by these people and even the Agency may not be able to cover for me. Some of the charges are jurisdictional and when a complaint is filed, in the eyes of the courts, an officer of the law cannot break laws to enforce them. The possibility of walking away in complete control and with these people wishing to be heard might not be as easy as I first figured. Right now it's beginning to look impossible.
Carrying it off would depend on getting Wylie to comprehend the seriousness of the situation with only a few words passing between us. With Wylie being my only hope, I can understand why I am beginning to feel there might be none. I can't allow these people to repeat what I tried to tell them. I also feel they plan to contact the press and the civilian authorities. If they do I'm not going to be able to keep the press out of the picture. I also don't desire to see the Sheriff in Wenatchee again.
George Fox heaved a heavy sigh. Not only have I lost the alien again but my breach of orders makes it necessary I keep my back-up troops away from these people. All this I have to do with Wylie asking stupid questions about why I'm securely fastened to this horse. Mulling this over, I have to conclude the only way to salvage some credibility with Wade and the most important goal of maintaining secrecy about my job, is to try compromise. If they won't agree and start relating what I said about Forrester, I'll sound even more ridiculous than I must look now. My forces may have to take me into custody as well until the charges can be put into proper perspective. He frowned deeply. I could end up being detained for a mental evaluation. A repeat of landing in the psycho ward while the alien puts more miles between us makes me shiver. Like when the Wayburn woman confronted me, I must try backing down gracefully and make them an offer they can't refuse.
Fox took a deep breath then blew it out. I'm afraid convincing these people of anything isn't going to be an easy task. Too many words have already been exchanged. Like so many others who have helped the alien escape, I have to attempt to settle this before it's too late ... and too late is not much further down this trail. Tactics dictate I threaten them again with charges that are facts... then offer a compromise. His shoulders drooped noticeably. Why me? Why am I always the one caught in the middle? A humble George Fox gathered what little pride he had remaining. "Everybody? Can we stop and talk again?"
"I think we hashed everything out pretty well earlier," Roy replied. "Unless you want to tell us the truth, I don't want to listen to anything more you have to say. We would like to ride out of here today."
It was a difficult word to say, but George Fox knew he must. He gritted his teeth. "Please?" he asked. "I have a proposal of compromise to offer you."
"A compromise!" Roy repeated in surprise. "What could you possibly offer that could interest us in the least?"
"At least listen to me," Fox implored. "Right now you have nothing to lose but a few minutes of your time. In exchange for those few minutes, you may be saving many years if this matter has to go before a judge."
Roy stopped Monty, whirled him around and pressed him head to tail alongside Red. As Kathy and June moved in closer, he again looked Fox in the eye. "Okay, we're listening, but this better be good."
Fox reaffirmed the delicate nature of his job and his orders to maintain secrecy. He again challenged them to come into the laboratory, but, as expected, received an out and out rejection. Cooperation is out so give compromise your best shot, George. "I realize you're not convinced I have been telling you the truth, so first I want to offer you some very good advice. Think it through carefully before you reject it. This compromise will require give and take on everybody's part."
"We're ready to leave everything to the courts, Mr. Fox," Roy fired back.
"Look, I'm not going to try to mislead you," Fox offered straight up. "I would like to avoid getting the courts into this. Our government has ordered me to bring Paul Forrester and the boy to them at any cost and to keep things under wraps, if at all possible. I've breached that order and I could be in trouble with my superiors if you do as you're threatening. Believe me; I'll live through it with no more than some minor scars."
"You know we have a good case to present, don't you," Roy returned.
"Your case is only good if you can get it heard," Fox returned with complete confidence. "I want to remind you of the connotation that goes along with 'Federal Security'. In this particular case, any compromise I make toward retaining what your government has deemed to be in our nation's best interest is within my authority. I also feel free to try to compromise our personal differences, for basically, you did direct many of your illegal and chargeable actions directly toward me. If we arrive at a mutual agreement, in a little while we can quietly part company. But if you force me to bring the Agency into this to justify my actions, I'm telling you right now, you are all in very deep trouble."
"As are you, and I believe you know it," Roy returned caustically.
Fox, certain of his position, ignored the remark. "I already have clearance with the authorities waiting for us or they wouldn't be waiting," he stressed. "Unless we have an agreement before we reach them, I will order you all moved directly to a secure federal facility. I assure you, you will disappear into the federal system and be subject to a full, military style, debriefing. The length of your stay as guests of our government will depend upon my Agency's success in apprehending Forrester and the boy. The longer they remain at large the longer you can expect to be detained. With Forrester's unusual ability to obtain assistance in escaping, that could be a very long time. Perhaps years."
"If your agency has such power, why are you proposing a compromise at all?" Roy asked.
"Basically, because I don't want to have to file all the required paperwork involved in your arrests," Fox returned.
"Well you had better get ready to start writing," Roy replied, decisively.
"I would also like to give you some very good advice," Fox continued, "for if you insist on carrying on about your government searching for alien life forms, you will all remain isolated while being held in that federal facility." Unblinking, he looked Roy in the eye.
"Do you have more threats to make?" Roy asked, tongue in cheek.
"Yes, in fact, if you like to talk threats," Fox continued. "If, by some stretch of the imagination I must enter the court system to defend my actions at any trial level, I can assure you the government will deny the very existence of my job description. I might get a slap on the hand for over enthusiasm for my work; I might even have to accept a transfer to another office. At the very worst I might be walking the streets of Washington looking for another job, but I can assure you, you will all be doing hard time in a federal prison."
"On the basis of your fantasy?" Roy shot back.
"No, the charges would be for obstruction of justice and assault on a federal officer in the performance of his duty," Fox stated forcefully. "Those charges the Agency must prosecute if they wish to maintain the respect of the people. Apprehending Forrester, or anyone else, I am officially on duty around the clock and whether or not the arrest was upheld I did properly identify myself to you. Believe me, those charges will be prosecuted." Fox looked sharply from one to the other for effect. "For whatever reason, your government wants Forrester and his son very badly, but they do wish to keep this whole matter under wraps."
"You don't have a leg to stand on, Fox, and you know it," Roy replied. "When we tell the papers and the TV people about your actions and accusations against Paul, you and your agency will be a laughing stock of..."
Fox interrupted confidently and his look commanded respect. "You'll never see a line in a newspaper, or a face on television, Mr. Foster. The power of the Federal Security Agency can and will quash any coverage. As you said to me in a far different situation, 'this is no idle threat'."
"You can't do that," Roy returned.
"Would you really like to make a bet on it?" Fox offered with undeniable certainty. He cocked his head slightly sideways. "It's a challenging wager." He looked at June and at Kathy then back to Roy. His eyebrows rose then fell and a subtle smile appeared on his face. "Is the possible loss of your freedom, and that of two of your family a high enough price to pay in exchange for my job?"
"You're bluffing!" Roy returned decisively.
"As your now 'absent friend' might say just 'look me in the eye'."
There was not even a flicker of an eyelash Roy could see to denote Fox was anything other than convinced of his position. Is that only a poker face I see, he thought, or is he really holding all the aces? Roy held on to his eye contact. I wonder? The very way he speaks the name, 'Federal Security Agency', almost makes one believe his words. Roy broke eye contact to glance at June and Kathy. Returning, he caught Fox's cold, unchanging look. I do have to question silencing the media, he wondered holding his best poker face, but I have heard of such things before in secret government matters. If so we could be in trouble. He took in a deep breath then slowly let it out. Without the media we would lose the power of public opinion demanding an investigation into government wrongdoing.
I know they're listening now, Fox thought with satisfaction, so he continued with what he hoped would be that offer not easily refused. "The other reason I know you're going to accept my proposal is I'm asking you on Forrester and Scott's behalf. When we spoke yesterday, Forrester told me outright ... whether he is, or isn't as I described, he definitely does not wish any publicity. It is definitely not to his advantage that his – situation - whatever it really is, become common knowledge."
"Why not? It would get you off his back?" Roy reiterated.
Fox smiled as he thought about his earlier discussions with the alien. "Either way, that will not happen. I guess from my point of view, I can understand his. He fears me, and our government, far less than he does other factions. I don't think I need to explain the danger to him your disclosure could present, if he is ... or isn't, as I described. Apparently he didn't trust you enough to confide in you until I came on the scene."
"He did say it was better we didn't know," June interjected. "But what could be so bad he'd accept what you've been doing to him, rather than asking for assistance from the public?"
"Mrs. Foster, I'm only relaying what he said to me," Fox returned.
Roy, contemplating, continued to study the man's smug and unemotional look. He finally turned to June and Kathy. "I have to agree about publicity if Paul does have something he'd rather hide. Knowing Paul, we know what Fox said can't be true, but if we go public, Paul could have half the governments and most of our world's lunatics after him."
With compromise beginning to gel, Fox carried on. "I'm going to continue to be honest with you. Forrester's aversion to publicity will work in my favor. My job is to continue to pursue and apprehend him and his son, but I will agree to file no charges against you for your actions over the past three days. In exchange I expect your promise to remain silent about what I said to you under the influence of drugs and a possible concussion. That promise of silence means you tell absolutely no one, not even other members of your own family."
Roy shook his head and frowned deeply then tried a new tactic. "If you trust us to keep your secrets why can't you trust us enough to tell us what Paul is really involved in? He said you wanted some information from him."
"That's basically correct."
"Then why keep giving us the run-around? We all realized, long ago, that he's a foreigner." He tried probing further. "If he's been dealing with your agency maybe it's scientific espionage?" Fox's look never faltered. "Star wars technology ... or the race for space?" At Fox's continued stoic stare, Roy frowned. "CIA?"
"You wouldn't believe what I told you before, so why should I offer you something else not to believe?" Fox finally advised, flatly.
My 'you only have to nod or look surprised', ruse hasn't worked either, Roy thought. The man isn't going to tell us anything. He looked questioningly at June and Kathy.
Fox turned from one to the other his eyes cold and determined. "If you enter into an agreement with me and do not honor it, I will probably lose my job. At that time I can guarantee you the agency I represent will cause you a world of grief. Think about your farm while you're isolated in a federal prison, Mr. and Mrs. Foster. And what about your family, Mrs. Doran? How well will they handle your disappearance?"
"This isn't fair," Kathy offered. "You really might be bluffing."
Fox chuckled challengingly. "Believe me, not many things in life are fair, Mrs. Doran. In bargaining we play our cards to our best advantage. It just so happens, this time I know I hold all the aces. There's a lot at stake in this wager. If you truly think I'm bluffing all you have to do is call to see my hand when we ride out of here."
"Do I understand exactly what you're offering?" Roy questioned a grimacing frown on his face. "You'll dismiss any and all charges you or your agency might have against us in exchange for our silence about the alien crap?"
"I can only speak for myself as each of you can only speak for yourself," Fox returned. "If we reach an agreement this will all remain private between us. If you honor our commitment, the Federal Security Agency will not become involved. If we don't agree, or any of you chose not to honor the obligation you make, you will leave me no option. I will have to put the entire matter into their hands for final disposition. Believe me, the speed at which your lives will change if you breach your nation's security, will surprise you."
"I think I prefer trusting the courts and the media more than making a deal that puts him back after Paul again," June replied indignantly. "Paul feared what he just described for us, happening to him and Scott. I think we might have the ability to get him off their backs."
A stony faced Fox addressed her opposition. "The important word is 'might', Mrs. Foster. But, if I'm not after them I can assure you someone else will be assigned to the job."
"I don't know, Hon," June said with a frown. "Our charges against him are real. This compromise might only buy Paul a little time."
Fox began to review his earlier doubts and, somewhat for his own peace of mind, he thought momentarily about the offer the alien had deemed personally unacceptable before returning to the present. "Okay, I'll offer one more thing in exchange for your silence. When I do catch them, and believe me, I will; I'll remain with them during whatever questioning the government might conduct. I will make sure they're both treated with proper respect."
"But we'll never know anything about what happened to them?" June asked with concern.
"I'm afraid that's true," Fox replied, "but it's the best I can do. I'll keep my end of the bargain if you keep yours." Fox spoke very slowly, looking each in the eye. "Do we have a deal?"
The three dismounted. Leaving Fox chained to the saddle, they tied the horses and retreated a short distance for a private conference. "We recognized there would be certain risks when we committed ourselves to helping Paul escape," Roy said, scratching his head, "but Fox has brought up much more for us to think about. Perhaps there are benefits to accepting his offer. It means giving up some form of revenge for what he has done to us, in exchange for our silence about his crazy story."
"He is right, he did display his badge and ID." Kathy offered. "It's also true he said he was making an arrest."
"Yes, and he did have a warrant," Roy confirmed. "Though I still think it is legally questionable, some judge did see fit to sign it. Its validity without the charges is a legal question I can't swear to for sure. Under the law, our actions might be construed as interference with an officer doing his duty. If a judge or jury upholds those charges, it's probable obstruction of justice and assault charges could be upheld as well."
From where he sat, Fox could see their constant glances in his direction and knew they were carefully considering his offer. He wanted to give them adequate time to decide, but finally called: "If we have a deal, come over here and remove these handcuffs. We'll all ride out of here just like nothing ever happened. I'll avoid some embarrassment, you some hard time and Forrester and his son unwanted exposure."
"Since Paul must be safely away by now, I can't see where we have anything much to lose," Roy whispered.
"Paul did say he wanted to talk to this man and see if he could come to some agreement, so why shouldn't we?" June whispered in return. They exchanged looks. "I think it's logical. I also feel sure Paul would say we should forget our anger and thoughts of revenge." All nodded consent. June reached into her pocket for the keys and walked over to Fox. "We have a deal."
Why did I agree to take Scott into the mountains? Cal thought as he drove the highway toward the trailhead. For almost two days I've tried to convince him his fears about his father are unfounded, but he insisted he had to go. At first I was greatly annoyed, but now I think I'm awed by this total commitment to his father. It's a thing rarely seen in teenagers. The other day, when Scott said he could 'feel' something was wrong, I wanted to laugh. I'm glad I didn't because I know he believes it. I've heard of such things before and both Roy and June talk often of noticing a special closeness between them. In addition to what I have observed myself, and what the rest of the family says, Amy talks incessantly about Scott. She told her mother that before they started going out, Scott wanted her to know his father's work meant they couldn't stay for long. Still she gave her attentions freely. Amy has been so happy the past couple of months.
Cal glanced into the rear view mirror. He could see Amy sitting close to Scott and heaved a sigh. My Amy is a levelheaded girl for her fifteen years, and Scott has been honest and up front with her. I have to respect him for that sensitivity to her feelings. Can Amy be wrong? Even as a child she has always been extremely sensitive to the feelings of others, I guess because of the prejudice she has experienced from time to time as a Mexican/American. She has developed into what I call a natural social worker type and always has proven a good judge of character. She was the faculty selection for the Natural Helpers program at school and for three years has counseled many teenagers through serious family and personal problems. It was really for Amy, I worked at convincing Scott to come to the seminar instead of going with his father. I can't believe it. I'm the father of a teenage girl and I wanted her to have these two additional weeks with a boy.
I got arrangements made to leave the seminar later in the week figuring it would buy me time. I thought Scott would get involved in the classes and forget this nonsense. Instead, he got increasingly disturbed. I know for sure, if I didn't take him he was going to bolt and I would have to leave the seminar anyway. So here we are, getting ready to carry our gear and all the extra groceries June requested up to Spanish Camp on our backs. In a couple of days the horses would be doing the packing for us. I even had to rent the backpacks and scrounge some things to use tonight. It's a long way and we can't possibly make Spanish Camp in one day, especially with these oversize packs. We needed shelter and food preparation goods for today and tomorrow morning. He glanced at Scott sitting in the back seat. This is super stupid, Doran, he chastised then his eyes rolled and he shook his head. Teenagers!
Cal turned the car off the highway onto the trail access road. He heaved a heavy sigh. Oh well. When we get into camp Scott will see his father is fine and we'll join the group. If a Forest Ranger happens along and wants to press the party restriction of twelve, we'll receive a citation for having one too many. I guess that's a chance I have to take to maintain peace. He sighed as he drove toward the trail parking area. I can already feel that load pulling down on my shoulders as I puff up those steep parts of the trail. His pained expression suddenly disappeared and he became alert. He saw several police cars forming a barrier across the start of the trail and many uniformed officers standing around in groups. When he noticed Roy's truck and June's car were the only other vehicles around, he decided to drive closer to find out what was going on. At their approach, a tall man in a dark business suit left his group and started walking toward the barrier signaling to stop.
In panic, Scott ducked down behind the back seat. "Oh no! Fox's buddy," he cried from the floor of the back seat as the car came to a stop. "Cal, I have to get away from here ... now. Please take off. The guy that's walking this way is looking for Dad and me. If he sees me, I'm finished. Please," he implored. "Take me some place where I can get by these cops. I have to warn Dad."
"Scott, stay down and quiet," Cal whispered. "I don't believe this is the time to ask what this is all about, but if I turn tail and run I don't think I'll get a chance to ask. These guys will be right behind us like a swarm of angry hornets. I'll find out what's going on." He turned to Amy and Sandy. "Come on, girls, ... out of the car. We have a friend in trouble and somebody is coming to talk to us. It's necessary we meet him halfway. Let's make this good." In calm haste, Cal got out of the car and with Sandy and Amy following, walked over to intercept Federal Agent Wylie.
As soon as the Dorans left, Scott took out his sphere and attempted to locate his father's. "Where are you, Dad?" he mumbled softly. "I know your sphere is out there. If you were trying to check on me, why did you give up? I haven't felt anything else for days." Scott tried concentrating harder, "Why didn't you make me practice instead of always insisting I use my time for lessons? If I couldn't get my sphere to work, all you said is maybe someday I'd know. Someday really isn't helping me now."
Cal looked around at the activity. "What's going on," he asked Wylie, "a law enforcement picnic?"
"This is no picnic, sir," Wylie replied confidently to the seventeenth party coming to, or from the trail the past two days. "This is an official police action. We suspect two fugitives might be coming down this trail."
"You've got quite a force for just two fugitives, officer...?" Cal asked, seeking a name.
Wylie whipped out his identification and displayed it. "Agent Benjamin Wylie … Federal Security Agency."
"Well Agent Wylie, may I ask who you're expecting ... Bonnie and Clyde?" Cal asked with a silly grin. "It looks like you've got enough manpower here to control a major riot."
"I'm not at liberty to say who, sir," Wylie relayed confidently. "But no one is being allowed access to this entire region."
"But we need to go in to meet with the rest of our party," Cal replied honestly.
"I'm sorry, sir. My orders are to admit no one."
"You're sorry," Cal replied with disgust. "What about the ones who are expecting us? They'll be worried something has happened to us."
"We're not really sure when the two we're waiting for will be coming, so it may not be reopening for some time. This is already the third day I've been here."
"Is there any way to get word in to them?"
"I am sorry, sir," Wylie repeated. "There's really nothing I can do. You can camp here if you wish, but under no circumstances will you be allowed onto any of the area trails into this area."
With her father's demonstrated cool, Amy decided to add her part. She looked at Wylie, and then at her father. "What is he trying to tell us, Pop? Do we have to wait until he says we can go?"
"Yes, darling daughter," Cal replied. "That is exactly what he's telling us."
"Well, what are we going to do?"
"We could camp here, but my suggestion is we just go home."
Sandy became a bit braver and added to what seemed like an interesting game. "But Mom and Gram'mom will worry," she said, turning her big blue eyes to Wylie. "You look like a nice man. Can't you just let us go anyway?"
"I'm sorry, honey," Wylie replied with compassion at the large, innocent blue eyes looking up at him. "You wouldn't want me to lose my job, would you?"
"I guess not," Sandy said with fluttering eyelashes and a straight face. Even her father frowned with concern as he looked back at his youngest. I have to sympathize with the young men who would soon be seeking the affections of this child.
"I guess Mom and Grandma will just have to worry." Cal turned back toward Wylie, "I suppose if that's the final word, we obviously can't run through your troops. If I call the Sheriff's Office will they know when the trail is open again?"
"I'll make sure they have that information," Wylie confirmed with a sigh of relief. He thought again of the many people whose vacations had already been ruined by Mr. Fox's alien.
Scott could plainly hear the ongoing conversation. "If Fox's buddy doesn't insist on escorting them to the car I think they'll be successful in covering for me. Please ... please," he mumbled repeatedly to the carpeting on the floor.
Cal, his voice rising slightly with impatience, said, "Come on girls. Let's go." He turned on his heel and hastily walked back toward the car.
Wylie followed a few steps then thought better of it. Sadly, he watched another disappointed group walk off.
Cal started the engine then gunning it did a wheelie in the loose gravel. The shower of dust and gravel left the agent coughing and dusting himself off as the car roared down the access road and turned west onto the highway toward home.
"Where are you going?" Scott asked with growing concern.
"I told you I'd take you to your father and I intend to do just that," Cal replied. "I know of another trail that accesses that one. Roy pointed it out to me years ago. He said it used to be the main trail and it joins up with the other a few miles up the valley. Most people don't know about it and those who do don't use it much because the owner of several pieces of land had it logged. If the police are over there too, I know several other ways to get up where they're camped, even if we have to climb up Spanish Camp Creek from the river. Scott, we're not giving up yet."
Cal glanced at Scott in the rear view mirror and shook his head. The poor kid looks like his world is ready to end. Maybe it's time to find out why. "Okay, Scott. I think it's time you tell us what this is all about. The guy we talked to is a Federal Agent. I am assuming from what you said, the two he thinks he's waiting for are you and your father. Why are they looking for you?"
"The guy is a Fed," Scott confirmed. "We think they want to ask Dad lots of questions about his work. For some reason they're afraid of him." Scott's lower lip began twitching as he tried to hold in his emotions, "But he isn't dangerous and he hasn't done anything wrong."
Cal turned off onto another narrow logging road. "Well, what have you done since it seems he's also looking for you?"
"I don't really know for sure," Scott returned, "but I think they'll try using me as bait to catch Dad. They've tried it before." Scott decided it was time to try 'slick' to further encourage his benefactor's desire to help. "We've always managed to get away because somebody decided to help us. Cal, Dad will be waking right into a trap. Please," he begged, "don't let them catch him. He's my Dad."
"This is serious then?" Cal asked.
"Yes," Scott confirmed apprehensively. "What are you going to do?"
"I have to think. First off, I know I need to talk to your dad before making a decision about what to do. If they just want to ask him some questions, maybe I can help get some dialog going. Maybe the problem can be resolved."
"They haven't listened to Dad before and believe me, they won't listen to you either," Scott returned confidently.
"I still want to discuss it with your dad," Cal replied firmly. He drove up a steep winding road for a couple of miles before glancing again into the rear view mirror to see how Scott was responding to his edict. Suddenly he jumped on the brakes and stopped the car.
"Why are we stopping?" Scott asked anxiously. He scanned the road ahead, ready to run. "Do you see more cops?"
"No cops, but I just saw somebody run out into the road behind us and I think it's your dad."
"Dad?" Scott questioned as his head spun around. He saw his father running clumsily up the road trying to wave his arms while carrying a bouncing duffel bag. Scott jumped from the car and dashing the remaining distance, threw his arms around him. "Thank God, you're okay."
Paul frowned and looked questioningly at his son. "Scott, what are you doing here?"
"We were going to hike in," Scott returned. "I thought my sphere was telling me something was wrong. Dad, we have to get away from here," he said excitedly. "I didn't see Fox, but the other guy that's usually with him was over where we were going to meet. Cal, Amy and Sandy covered for me and Cal knew about another trail over here. We were coming to warn you." Suddenly Scott looked curiously at his father. "What are you doing over here?"
"Fox found out we were at the farm," Paul confirmed quietly. He looked toward the car then anxiously at Scott. "Right now, everybody is coming. Tell me, how much do they know?"
"Well they talked with Fox's buddy and he identified himself, so I confirmed the Feds are after us. I told him they wanted to ask you questions, but also that we hadn't done anything wrong. Like with Dale, I think Cal believes it's something he can help us fix. He wanted to talk to you before deciding what to do so we were going to hike in." Scott looked into his father's concerned face. "How did Fox find us again?" He saw his father's normal, calm confident look reappear.
"Shh," Paul whispered. "Cal and the girls are almost here."
"Hello Paul," Cal said, as they walked over. He looked at Paul suspiciously. "I'm rather surprised to find you here." Then puzzled, he looked around. "Where's everybody else?"
"Roy told me to come over here. They all volunteered to meet the police for me." Paul turned to his son. "Roy gave me a map showing me where to find you and showed me the trail over here." He tactfully told of the family's offer.
"Paul, will you tell me what's going on?" Cal demanded. "Scott says the Feds are after you. May I ask what they want?"
"Believe me, Cal, it's best not to know anything," Paul said confidently. "Scott told me you helped him when he saw the government agent. I can't thank you enough for the risk you took."
"I'd like to know exactly how much risk I was taking," Cal replied with concern.
"You could be risking a great deal just being with us."
"Paul, you should try to straighten this out. Let me take you back to the trailhead ..."
"Please, don't do that," Paul interrupted anxiously.
Cal observed the intensity of the response. "I'd like to do whatever I can to help as long as I'm not putting myself or the families at risk. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'm going to go back and try to find out if there's some common ground to work on. There has to be a solution, but somebody has to take the first step."
"Cal, talk isn't going to help us, but you can prepare to help your family."
"What?" Cal replied with a puzzled frown.
"They have already helped me and soon may need your help very much. Roy seemed to have something in mind to handle things. There is nothing you can do now, except wait."
Cal turned back toward the car. "I'll go help them."
"Please don't do that either!" Paul said emphatically. "Give Roy a chance before any more of you get mixed up in our problems." Paul felt anguish at Cal's confused look and those of the two young ladies standing beside him. "If Roy's idea doesn't work, they're going to need somebody the government can't hold for anything."
"Paul, you're talking crazy."
"Believe me, I know what I'm talking about. Don't go back to the trailhead."
Cal felt unable to further question the knowing look on Paul's face. "Well what do you suggest I do?" he asked somewhat impatiently.
"Don't do anything. Take the girls and go back to the seminar. Stay there. If somebody hasn't contacted you before the meeting time, go to a newspaper, or television. Talk to anybody you think will listen. Tell them you know the Federal Security Agency has taken your family into custody. Avoid being alone with any of their agents and don't let anyone know Scott was with you when you talked to the agent earlier."
"But they'll surely find out he was with us at the seminar."
"Tell them he ran away ... anything." Paul paused momentarily and looked directly at Cal to obtain eye contact. "Of course there is another option."
Cal looked at Paul questioningly. "What?"
Paul, realizing he had to offer said, "You could just turn us over to them."
Cal looked sympathetically at Paul then Scott. "Wouldn't it be better, if you went to them on your own?"
Paul lowered his eyes. "Believe me, it wouldn't make it any better for either of us."
"Paul, you can't just keep on running. If you've done something wrong, face it, pay the price and get on with living."
Paul lifted his eyes to meet Cal's. "It's very complicated, Cal." His look never faltered. "If only it were that simple, I would have done whatever it required long ago. Being on the run is no fun, but right now I believe it is our only option."
Cal looked back critically. "You should be considering Scott's future."
"Scott's future depends on us remaining free. If they catch us, he won't have a future. We'll disappear into the government system, probably never to be seen or heard of again. I'm afraid of something similar happening to the rest of the family. That's why it's important you not go over to the trailhead meeting. You, Amy and Sandy could all disappear with them. Somebody has to remain on the outside."
"That's a strange thing to say about the government, Paul. Tell me what it is they have on you?"
"They have nothing ... on me," Paul replied, using Cal's words. "They want me because of who I am, and information they believe I can provide."
"Tell me then, what do they want?"
"As I already said, it's best you know nothing. Knowing will only put you all in jeopardy."
"This is crazy."
"Dad, let's go," Scott interjected anxiously. "I don't want Cal to take us back. I don't want to live the rest of my life in some cage. I want to stay free and I want to be with you."
Cal, a grim look on his normally pleasant face, looked at Sandy standing silently by, and then at Amy's anxious face. He finally motioned everybody back to the car. Paul threw the duffel onto the front seat beside Sandy and without a word started toward the back door.
"No," Scott pleaded. "Don't go with him, Dad!" He watched his father climbing into the back beside Amy and reluctantly followed. Cal drove up the road further, found a place to turn around, and started back toward the highway. "Cal, please," he begged again. "Don't turn us over to them. We haven't done anything wrong."
Cal stopped the car, turned and looked into the back seat at the two thinking over Scott's words. What is Scott saying? He's old enough to know right from wrong. It's also obvious they've been on the run for some time already. Whatever they're running from must really be serious to cause this strong a reaction in a teen who should still possess the sense of immortality of his youth. What can our government possibly want with them that this boy is afraid of ending up in jail? He met Paul's look again, frowned and heaved a sigh. "If the folks and Kathy decided to help you, Paul, how can I do otherwise? Where do you want me to take you?"
Letting out a deep sigh of relief, Paul replied. "Just leave us here. We'll walk the rest of the way. I don't want you to take any chance of you being seen with us."
Paul and Scott got out and Cal pushed the almost empty duffel out through the window. "Don't worry, I'll take your advice and be as clear of suspicion as possible. I just wish you'd tell me what to expect."
Paul looked at Cal sympathetically, "All I can say is I believe the government will back off if you have outside help available."
At seeing Paul's concern, Cal nodded. "The best of luck to you."
"Thank you, and the best of luck to all of you, too. If we are successful in getting away, I'll call you at the school two weeks from today. I want to know everything is all right. What time would be best?"
"Eight in the morning or around 12:30. I'll make sure I'm around the department phone."
"If I can't get you," Paul returned, "I'll assume something has gone wrong and try to help."
Cal smiled. "As I'm sure you can remember I'm pretty resourceful when I want to be. Remember, I convinced you to give a lecture and see what happened."
I remember Cal's very open approach at the Seattle Center almost sent us off at a dead run, Starman mused. He smiled appreciatively. "You were convincing at that." As he lifted the duffel, Paul suddenly remembered something else. "Cal, with what's waiting for Roy, June and Kathy at the truck, I think you know you're not going to get your mountain trip. I'm really sorry, but may I ask another favor?"
"Sure," Cal replied, half-heartedly.
"We need to get Scott's things and in case we have to camp out can I borrow another sleeping bag? The bag Roy and June let me use got wet on the trail and they have it with them."
Without question Cal handed Paul the keys. "Take mine as the extra. It's the blue one". Paul got Scott's clothing and two sleeping bags out of the trunk then returned the keys. "We'll mail everything back as soon as we can."
"Fine," Cal confirmed, despondently.
Paul smiled weakly, "I guess this is good-bye. I want to thank you for the good times we have to remember."
"You really should straighten this all out Paul," Cal offered again with increased conviction and a negative shake of his head. "Then you can live a normal life and hopefully decide to become teachers. You're both naturals and not too many people can lay claim to that ability."
"Perhaps someday that will be possible," Paul replied. "I never give up hope, but now we must continue to run."
As Scott approached, Amy rolled the window down. He gently took her hand and gave it a squeeze. Then seeing tears in her eyes, he put his head in through the window and gave her a reserved kiss on the cheek. "I'll write, I promise."
Sandy moved to the window, waited momentarily as her sister moved away from the back window. Trying to appear brave through her youthful shyness, she stuck her hand out the window toward Scott. "Put it there, Dude."
Scott smiled broadly as they smacked hands together. "Thanks for the acting job earlier, Dude," he laughed, raising and lowering his eyebrows as he often saw his father do. He quickly ducked through the open window and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
Sandy giggled and her face turned red. "Rad."
Paul leaned down, looking in the car window at Cal. "Please be careful."
Cal stuck his hand out and they shook. "I will," he replied. Extending his hand toward Scott he received a willing hand in return.
"Good-bye" Scott offered, "and thanks for everything."
They stepped back away from the car and as it started moving heard Cal. "Amy, ... Sandy, this is our revised plan, we..."
Paul stuffed one sleeping bag and Scott's clothes into the duffel and hung it over his shoulder. He handed Scott the second bag to carry and side-by-side they started walking back up the roadway. For a brief time Scott followed his father, and then he couldn't keep himself contained any longer. "Uh ... Dad ... I think you're lost. You're going the wrong direction. The way to British Columbia, or Iowa, or Florida, is down the hill. You're taking us back into the mountains."
"I don't want to leave this area until I know everyone is all right." Paul advised. "Roy told me to find a safe place to hide. I think Spanish Camp is a perfect place to do so." Paul raised his eyebrows as he smiled at his son. "This way we will have an opportunity to share it. When we left this morning it was snowing and we had to leave a lot of things up there. I'd like to get mine back. Going this direction we will have a place to hide with all the comforts of home."
Scott frowned as he observed a silly grin on his father's face. "You're the boss, Kimo-Sabe."
Walking up the road together, Scott glanced over at his father a couple of times. Noticing something he had missed earlier, he took hold of Paul's arm and stopped him. "You sure scratched up your face." Paul reached up and put his finger on the scab that had formed on his forehead. He then noticed his shirt-cuff had pulled back, exposing a portion of the red and purple bruises on his wrist. Not wanting to explain, he smoothly lowered his arm and worked the sleeve down again. He felt relieved as he looked back at Scott, for his son had apparently not noticed the bruises. Instead, Scott was looking intently at his face.
Scott started to grin. "What happened to your eye?"
"Something is wrong with my eye?" Paul questioned.
"Dad, I believe I'm looking at a shiner."
"You've got a black eye." Scott thought momentarily, and then began to chuckle. "What did you do, run into a door out there in the wilderness?"
Paul looked quizzically at his son, still uncertain about what Scott was describing. Then he remembered another eye problem incurred in Phoenix. The area around my eye must be discolored like it was when that not so friendly acquaintance of my host, hit me. He smiled knowingly. "Not a door. I think it was a tree I jumped into," he offered truthfully.
Scott continued examining the various wounds, and then pointed. "From the looks of it you did a real number on that cut. Why didn't you fix it?"
"Everyone saw it happen."
"It must have hurt."
"It did, but it doesn't anymore." Not wanting to get trapped into explaining his missing sphere, Paul started walking again. "It itches now so I guess it's starting to regenerate tissue. I guess I'll just let it finish healing on its own."
The clouds were clearing and the temperature was continuing to rise as they hiked the side trail. Before they reached the place Paul had said good-bye to Roy, the sun began appearing more and more often, bathing the now snow covered peaks in a glorious coat of white. Soon they reached the main trail, doubling back on the route Paul had been over earlier as George Fox's prisoner.
As Fox and the family rode toward the end of the trail, Fox began wondering. Will these people honor their commitment? I really know very little about them, their theology or principles. Though I know they must be under alien control, having spent over two months with it, I must admit, like with the Taylors, outwardly they appear to be quite normal. When I confronted them with the legal consequences of their actions, they displayed an above average ability to reason. Though they still insist on supporting their alien, they do seem quite normal. I guess my questions will have to remain unanswered until I catch up to the alien again.
Even though I've lost Forrester, at least I've made some definite progress. I have some idea of how they take control of the victim. Anyone who openly supports alien life as benevolent, who joins into groups, writes songs, stories, or produces movies, will send up a red flag that they might be in one's service. I guess I should be able to trust these people's word by relying on the principle that their silence applies directly to their personal alien's safety.
Roy, June and Kathy, familiar only with Fox's actions at camp, hoped they had not sold Paul and Scott's freedom for theirs. The final distance out of the wilderness passed quickly in multiple, soul searching silence.
From his position in the rear, Fox began noticing distinct changes in the forest-sheltered trail they had been on for several miles. Ahead he could see a large opening and a few hundred yards later he heard voices.
"Would you get word to Agent Wylie that another mounted group is coming out. I think he's in the van catching a few Z's."
As Fox rode out onto the gravel road, he saw three small groups of uniformed men coming toward them with weapons drawn. Two officers grabbed Foster's horse, and Fox saw his companions drop their reins and raise their arms submissively. He observed one officer rushing toward a van parked a short distance away. On the door he saw the logo of the local Chelan County Sheriff's office. He finally recognized the familiar voice that belonged to the County deputy who had freely offered his help a couple of months earlier in Wenatchee. Before anyone could stop him, he urged his horse to move on toward him.
"Officer Frasier," he announced, casually, but loud enough so everybody could hear. "Remember me ... George Fox? I'm glad to see you're here. Will you please tell everybody to relax? There's been a mistake. Everything is all right and you can go home." As Frasier acknowledged and passed on the order, Fox turned the horse around. Moving back toward Roy, he gave the signal to proceed. When lowering arms met with no resistance, Roy moved Monty down the roadway.
As they rode the last one hundred feet toward the parked truck, Fox turned painfully in the saddle then back again. He was relieved when he saw Frasier calling the men together. He also saw the dispatched officer arrive at the van. As they moved down the roadway Fox turned again to look. Happily, he saw officers heading toward cars while Officer Frasier continued on toward the van. He then saw Wylie climbing out. Some words pass between him and Officer Frasier, and then Frasier directed Wylie's attention their way. Quickly catching up with the mounted party at the truck, Fox dismounted and handed the reins to Roy.
Upon recognizing his boss in the distance, Wylie thought immediately of the first day waiting at the trailhead. I carefully kept in constant contact with all the other checkpoints all day. When Fox didn't show at any of them, I worried about what might have happened to him. All this time I have really been hoping the alien and his son would come my way. I could have proven to Mr. Fox that I am capable by having them both secured. His mouth contorted in disappointment. As usual, no such luck. I also know the aliens haven't come out of the mountains at any of the other checkpoints either. Now, two days later, Mr. Fox shows up without them and riding a horse. Right now there's only one thing I can be sure of. He's not going to be in a good mood. Wylie covered the distance to his superior in record time. At least he won't be able to direct one of his 'where have you been' tirades my way.
Wylie's speed in covering the distance surprised Fox. Then he saw his associate stop short, look at him, and frown. I can see his eyes searching me from head to foot. He looked down at himself. I really must look terrible. Of course I haven't washed, shaved or combed my hair for days. My suit is a mass of wrinkles from getting wet so many times. I'm filthy after sleeping on dirty horse blankets and must stink like a smoky wood fire and animal. Maybe my appearance will make Wylie assume things haven't gone well and he'll just keep his big mouth shut.
Fox coldly returned his associates look until he Wylie turned away. Now he's carefully scrutinizing my companions, he confirmed. From the bewildered look on his face I can tell he recognizes at least one of them from the descriptions we obtained during the investigation. I better start figuring the best way of handling him. Perhaps if I make some formal introductions, Wylie will be content to just listen. In a display of histrionics to do any Hollywood actor proud, George Fox gave his companions a friendly smile. "Roy, June, Kathy, may I introduce my associate, Benjamin Wylie. Wylie, Roy and June Foster, and Kathy Doran."
Offered each his hand, Wylie received theirs in return and repeated each name. He glanced at Fox again and frowned.
Fox knew from Wylie's look he was about to comment and decided to beat him to it with a low, "Forrester got away again."
"Forrester got…?" Wylie started repeating. "What about...?" He stopped mid-sentence as he saw his boss put a forefinger up toward his lips as Deputy Frasier approached. The caustic glance that accompanied it left no question that he shouldn't say more.
"I'll fill you in later," Fox offered as Deputy Frasier and another deputy arrived.
Fox turned back to Roy, June and Kathy, and with dignity expressed his reserve gratitude. "I want to thank you for taking me into your camp; for giving me food and shelter and offering me the use of one of your animals."
Frasier tapped Fox on the shoulder. "Mr. Fox, I would like to get heading home myself. I haven't seen my wife and son for almost three days." He motioned with a turn of his head over toward his vehicle, "First, I need to speak with you, in private?"
Fox acknowledged the request with a glancing nod in Frasier's direction, "I'll just be a couple of minutes," he offered. Frasier waited.
Wylie looked suspiciously at his boss again. It's hard to correlate Mr. Fox's actions with what I heard yesterday. I overheard a couple deputies talking about picking up a helicopter pilot who said Mr. Fox had shot somebody. I tried to get more information, but the deputies wouldn't say. Can he be in some kind of trouble? Is that why Dean wants to talk to him? Even though I know Mr. Fox figures if he can catch either the alien or the boy, he will get the other, I can't believe he would just shoot them. Since he gave me the tranquilizer outfit maybe that was all he could do? When he didn't show up I figured he must have them both in custody. Now, he rides in empty handed. I better listen to what he's saying or he'll certainly be on me again. Maybe I can get some idea of what really happened after he disappeared.
Fox glanced hopefully from June to Roy and then to Kathy. "If you change your mind about that matter we discussed and decide you do want to prove, or disprove a friendship, just call me ... day or night." He handed each one of his damp and slightly the worse for wear, business cards. "I'll make all the necessary arrangements." Again receiving no encouraging responses, he conceded, and nodding slightly, offered a gracious, "Have a safe trip home." He turned back toward Wylie. "I feel the subjects have surely left the area." These words received an energetic nod from his associate.
Fox now noticed the second deputy, was silently standing by, notebook in hand. It's pretty obvious he's waiting to talk to my companions. Fox fought back a growing apprehension. I would like to stay and make sure they honor their agreement. But, if they never planned to, I don't think me standing here will intimidate them anyway. I think Officer Frasier is getting impatient to leave for home.
Frasier and Fox, with Wylie trailing at their heels, walked toward the county van Wylie had been napping in. When Wylie announced he needed to retrieve his travel bag from inside, Frasier turned to Fox, saying softly, "I hate to tell you this Mr. Fox, but two citizens filed formal complaints about a helicopter flying somebody into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. The Forest Service turned the investigation over to us. From its call numbers, we identified the helicopter. It's owned and operated by John Gross of Gross Flying Service out of East Wenatchee. I'm afraid his statement has involved you and added a firearms violation, both possession and discharge, to the unauthorized entry charge.
"The pilot said there was a possible injury from the discharge. That portion of the investigation is awaiting your statement and the appearance of anybody who might come in wishing to file an injury claim." Frasier reached into his pocket and removed some papers and displayed them. "I have a warrant for your arrest here, but in deference to your official position, the Sheriff told me if you hand over your badge and ID you can come in on your own tomorrow morning. I must caution you not to leave the area until this is settled to the Sheriff's satisfaction."
Fox heaved a heavy sigh and accepted the warrant. "I'd come in now, but I'm really, really tired. I'll come in tomorrow morning."
"Okay," Frasier confirmed. He put Fox's things into a manila envelope, sealed and labeled it, and then placed it on the front seat of his vehicle.
"I'll be staying in Wenatchee tonight," Fox offered. "I'll give you a call when I find lodging."
The second deputy walked over to join them carrying the tranquilizer rifle and the leather bag. He told Frasier he had everybody's statements. The confiscated items, likewise, received evidence tags. Both officers got into the van, adding the items to the other paperwork.
"Okay, Mr. Fox," Frasier said through the open window, "get a good night's rest. We'll be expecting you in the morning." Frasier started the van. As it began moving he mumbled his annoyance to his partner, "And so ends another three day stake-out for these Feds with little to nothing to show for it. Tomorrow morning will be spent writing out lengthy triplicate reports for submission to the offices involved."
Fox heaved another deep sigh as the van, his badge and ID rolled away. His shoulders drooped. My deal with the Foster's and Mrs. Doran was to avoid some of this, he thought. Still, I can understand the pilot's position when questions began flying. I also understand the deputy and the Sheriff's positions; they have jobs to do. He paused a long moment ... like I have a job to do. But right now, why do I feel less than enthusiastic about mine?
Fox turned to Wylie. "It appears I'm going to have to stay around here and get some things ironed out." He motioned toward the truck. "How long will depend on what those three told the deputy and how fast I can get some action out of Washington. While I take care of that, you get on arranging transportation home."
He looked at his watch. "The agency has secured for the day so I guess getting everything done will have to wait until morning. I want you on the first transportation out of here. Get into the office early tomorrow so I can have you liaison for me." He thought for a moment then ordered casually, "While you're there you might as well get back to monitoring the wire services and other information gathering sources. You know the routine. Oh, yes, I also want you to start gathering information about all alien related science fiction offerings this past year."
"Yes sir," Wylie acknowledged, less than enthusiastically, and then thought, it has already been another long investigation and stake out and I had other things in mind than spending my first day home back at work looking at satellite photos. Of course the science fiction stuff I always check anyway since it's always been more interesting… I have almost all the articles already in my desk.
Fox continued to stare at Wylie, trying to think of any other specific instructions the man might need. Wylie returned his persistent look and there was a long silence. Then Wylie lowered his eyes. Seeing the travel bag he still held in his hand, he looked up again, "Mr. Fox," he grimaced, "shouldn't we have asked Dean for a ride back to wherever you left the car?"
Fox's shoulders drooped even lower as he looked at the parking area. Only two vehicles remain and those I know belong to my less than enthusiastic hosts.
"Where do you have to go?" a voice asked.
"East Wenatchee, Pangborn Field," Fox replied. He stood straight, ready to accept a ride, but his shoulders slumped immediately.
June, holding a small bundle in her hands, observed the distraught look on George Fox's face and smiled. "Don't look so worried, Mr. Fox," she offered cheerfully, handing Fox the batteries for the radio. "My car is here and we'll make sure you get to the airport. Kathy and I have to find a laundry to dry all of our stuff. East Wenatchee is further, but we'll take you." June glanced at Wylie, silently asking Fox if it was all right to talk freely in his presence. Receiving a nod, she continued. "I do want to tell you that Paul told us you're wrong about him. I know I'm not able to forgive as quickly as he does, but he specifically told me I shouldn't let your actions change how I feel about you as another human being. Giving a ride to someone who needs one is simply the right thing to do."
"Thank you," Fox replied sheepishly.
"We do understand you have to get back to your job," she offered, studying the man. Then she smiled at him. "I will admit you had us worried when we rode into all that law. The deputy who took our statements spotted the rifle almost immediately. He was very direct in his questions about a shooting. I'm sorry, but with his apparent knowledge and the rifle so obvious, we felt it proper to confirm that you did shoot Paul with a tranquilizer. He took the rifle so we gave him the leather bag."
She paused and took a deep breath, "Though it somewhat stretched the truth, we said Paul took off, seemingly unhurt. The deputy seemed satisfied and since he didn't ask to search our things, we decided you probably didn't want us to give him this." Unwrapping her bundle, she handed Fox his pistol then reached into her pocket. "I removed these when I dug your stuff out of the saddle bag. I didn't think you'd want this known either." She handed him the labeled vial of animal tranquilizer and the antidote.
Fox recognized the gesture as a distinct favor and took the weapon and the bottles with a gracious, "Again, thank you." The pilot, he thought, must have told the authorities I had a rifle and these people advised I used a tranquilizer in the assault, but now they don't know about the pistol or the sub-human grade tranquilizer. This lack of information and their statements will make compromising the charges against me somewhat easier. Fox followed June unquestioningly over to her car where Roy and Kathy were placing the last of the wet gear into the trunk. With Kathy in the front seat and Fox and Wylie in back, June drove toward East Wenatchee.
Fox really wasn't yet ready to tell his associate anything about how he felt over the past three days, particularly in front of the women. He closed his eyes and remained silent all the way to the airfield listening to Wylie's idle chatter with those who were again proving his benefactors.
June and Kathy followed Fox and Wylie into the terminal. They watched them walk up to a ticket counter together, and feeling confident the two agents were leaving they left the airport. Cautiously keeping a keen eye on the road behind them, they drove to the seminar to advise everybody they were all out of the mountains.
As Wylie ran to catch the turbo-prop flight readying for departure to Seattle, Fox went to the first car rental he saw. Soon he was leaving the airport. Now, I need to go see the pilot that flew me into the mountains and get things straightened out for him. It was getting dark by the time Fox drove back across the Columbia River into Wenatchee. He turned into the first available motel he found with a vacancy sign.
The weather had warmed considerably and most of the snow that had fallen during the storm had melted except on the high mountain peaks. Walking the steep, narrow trail single file did not offer Paul and Scott much chance for conversation. Stopping just before dark, their evening meal consisted of some blueberries hastily gleaned along the trail, and more found around their camp. When it got too dark to find any more berries they unrolled the sleeping bags onto the pieces of plastic Cal had wrapped around them and turned in for the night. As they exchanged goodnights, Scott lay in his sleeping bag pondering over why his father seemed unusually quiet after such a close call with Fox.
A dual growling in their stomachs awoke the fugitives very early. Since there was no food, they carried on with more blueberries found along the trail. They crossed the snow still remaining at Ladies Pass and shortly after noon strode boldly into the meadow at Spanish Camp. Paul, remembering the unpleasantness of the past days, walked uneasily past the main camp where the lean-to had stood and led Scott directly over to where they had stashed the abandoned food and camping equipment. "We'll have to set up a camp," he announced. "Luckily, we left an assortment of things to choose from."
Scott, amazed as he looked at the mound of abandoned things, couldn't keep from commenting. "Geeze. You guys sure left a lot of stuff just because of a little snow. You could have stuck most of it in these boxes and taken it with you."
"We were in a hurry," Paul offered defensively. "It was snowing hard."
"If you packed it in and you sure could have packed it out," Scott remarked critically as he set aside some things from one of the boxes. "Besides, I can hardly believe a little snow would chase Roy out. He was always talking about lots of snow when he went hunting. You're telling me he's not a real tough guy after all?"
Paul mulled over his son's observations as he searched through the second pack box for food items. Now that I have studied the map, I know there are many other ways to get out of this area. Some are steeper, but far shorter than the route we took. If we left because of the snow, it would seem logical to take the shortest route. Thinking back, Scott may be right. I don't think Roy was coming to help Fox after he fell off Red. June also said helping was their decision, not mine. Was it a decision made long before an opportunity arose? If not, it had to be a very timely coincidence. Paul looked back at his son. " Scott, I believe they were all tough, and good friends."
Scott continued digging through another pile of things wrapped in a tarp. Finding the camera bag, he turned to his father, speaking accusingly, "You left the camera?"
"There was a limit to what we could take with us. We didn't have enough time to pack everything," Paul offered, attempting to appease his son's always-curious nature. Thoughts of the past few days fleeted through his mind. Scott, how can I tell you how I felt when Fox told me with such conviction in his voice, that I wouldn't need it anymore? I felt defeated when I put it with the things to be abandoned. I'm thankful for this opportunity they gave me to continue.
Scott looked strangely at his father again as he looked into the camera bag. "You also left your exposed film."
"I forgot it."
"I don't believe this," Scott frowned. "You took your old clothes with you and left the camera and film?"
"I was wearing most of my clothes," Paul returned. "After all, it was snowing and cold."
Scott started rummaging through the things stacked between the two boxes. Soon a look of disbelief covered his face. "Now this I can't believe. You also left your new toy bed?"
"The air mattress kept me comfortable, but was expendable," Paul replied. "Besides, Roy was planning to come back for everything before winter. Remember, we also left some stuff at the house, like my leather and your denim jackets; our shoes and the balance of our clothes. When I call, I'll have to ask Cal to relay a message of where to send them." For the moment, Scott seemed satisfied and not wanting to answer any more probing questions Paul quickly changed the subject to one he knew would be closer to Scott's teenage heart. "I'm hungry. I've got the food and we have enough stuff for a camp. Let's make something to eat." He heard the, 'Right on', he expected of his son who had just hiked almost sixteen miles on two major meals of blueberries.
Paul gathered part of the goods set aside and headed down to where Roy, June and Kathy had their camp. Scott automatically gathered the rest and followed. "We'll set up our tarp under the trees," he said as he approached the site and placed the things he carried on the ground.
Scott immediately protested. "We passed a real nice place where we came in here. Why don't we pitch camp over there? It was bigger and level. I also saw a fire-pit so we can make a fire tonight."
Paul looked back toward the other camp. I think, unconsciously, I chose this site because I didn't want to be at the other, he thought. There are too many bad memories there, memories of being imprisoned by an innocent tree and futile attempts to reason with Fox. He returned his attention to Scott's argument and offered what he considered a logical reason. "We don't need a bigger one. This is adequate. We have a gasoline stove to cook on so we don't need a fire. Like I told Cal, we're going to do our best to hide."
"You really think it's necessary, here?" Scott countered, smugly.
"Right now we need to hide wherever we are," Paul offered. "We know Fox is around. We can hide ourselves, but we can't hide a bright blue tarp almost out in the open, can we?"
"Right," Scott conceded, shrugging his shoulders. "I heard Fox's buddy say no one was being allowed in here. We would be pretty obvious."
"Correct," Paul replied. Happy his son was now accepting this camp without further protest he returned to rummaging through the chosen food items. When he stood, he had some bread, cheese and a small bag of dried fruit. Together they walked to the creek with cups and sat down on some large rocks to eat in communion with nature.
With lunch behind us now, I have to face it, Paul thought. I must find my sphere. June said it rolled down the mountain from where they gave the CPR. "Scott, let's go for a walk," he suggested. With no objection from Scott, he took the lead off across the meadow toward the trail to the lower lake. Before reaching the place where he had been shot, he dropped down the hillside off the fisherman's trail, watching for the familiar cliffs. Finding them he judged them in the general area of his revival. Casually looking around he spotted the tranquilizer dart June had thrown aside a little further up the hill and turned to Scott. "Let me see your sphere?"
Scott was looking down at the precipice then turned to look back when he heard his father's request. "Sure," he replied. Turning around he took it out of his pocket and held it out to him. When Paul reached for it, Scott snatched it back, grinning impishly
"Please?" his father asked,
"You asked me to show it to you. You didn't say you wanted it."
Sticking his hand out further, Paul repeated his 'please.'
"What do you want it for?" When his father's hand remained out Scott slowly placed the sphere into the outstretched hand and watched as his father energized it. He continued watching with increasing interest as his father turn to address the hillside. He watched him moving his arm from left to right in a broad sweeping motion then followed. He watched the brightly glowing orb as they walked diagonally to the left up the steep hill. His father finally stopped and reached down into some bushes. When he pulled his hand back, there was a second brightly glowing sphere in it.
Paul put his sphere back into his pocket and held Scott's out to him with a casual, "Thank you."
Scott, now deep in thought, finally took his sphere from his father's outstretched hand. Now I understand there was more to returning to Spanish Camp than sharing its beauty and a safe place to hide, he thought. We had to come back. Here's my chance to get even for the wisecracks Dad's made about me losing mine. A smirk of self-satisfaction appeared on his face and his yes danced. "You lost it, right?" When Paul did not respond, Scott could not keep from pressing the issue. "Come on now, Dad. I've got you this time." He grinned. "Come clean. It's easy. Just confess. You lost it."
"Doesn't lost denote one doesn't know where something is?" his father question. "I knew it was here."
"I'll bet you looked for it until you realized you couldn't find it without mine. If you can't find something when you look for it, it's lost. Using mine to find it doesn't count in the game of losing and finding."
"Okay. I lost it," Paul confessed. He pondered upon a growing feeling of uneasiness, finally recognizing the source. The truth is I don't want to remain here any longer or be called on to answer any more of Scott's questions. He put his hand on his son's shoulder, "Let's go back to camp," and urged him to start moving up the hill. Remembering what June had said about littering, he altered his route from Scott's sufficiently to allow him to reach the tranquilizer dart. As he gazed down upon it, in his mind he again felt its sharp sting striking his back. Consciously pushing the painful memories away, he picked it up, stuffed it in his pocket and hurried to catch up with Scott.
They put up their shelter and spent the rest of the day around camp. Reveling in their freedom, they lounged away the afternoon in the warm sunshine talking about possible destinations when they had to get back on the road. As evening approached they returned to camp. "I'm really hungry," Paul announced.
"Me too," Scott echoed. "It must be the mountain air."
Paul handed Scott the gasoline stove. "It could still be the long walk," his father offered. "Why don't you get this started so we can get some hot water going."
Scott took the stove, but after many tries, the cranky unit proved as resistant to Scott as it had been when George Fox tried to coax it to life to warm himself.
"Use your sphere, Scott," Paul said impatiently. "Practice, or you'll never learn."
Having found his father, Scott forgot his earlier anxiety over feeling inadequate with this item of his heritage, and replied, evasively. "I don't think I should practice now. You may get another ring of blue lights? Remember, we're supposed to be hiding."
Again Paul conceded to using his sphere and easily prompted the reluctant stove into submission. "We're going to work more on this," he advised assuredly. "I think your lack of success is because you believe you can't do it. You have to think positively and only practice will help." Scott nodded.
They fixed some dehydrated goods, ate, cleaned the few dishes and left everything ready for morning. This day has been difficult for me the Starman thought. I know I have been making excuses to hide the truth about what happened up here. I can't continue to do this forever.
As Scott watched his father get ready for bed he could sense there was still something wrong. Dad has been very quiet and distant, he thought. At times he acts almost impatient with me. Now he wants to go directly to bed. That's not like him. Scott received nothing to quell his uneasiness when he tried to get him talking after they crawled into the sleeping bags. "You're right Dad, this is a nice place. I just wish Amy could be here with us."
"I'm sorry, Scott," Paul replied. "It was a long hike and I'm really tired. I think I would like to go to sleep." After a quick "Goodnight," Paul closed his eyes.
Scott returned a goodnight but now he knew something was wrong. "Dad, I think there's something you're not telling me."
Paul just rolled over and lay for a long time shivering. How can I tell Scott about those nights under the influence of Fox's drug; of Fox's accusations and my fear, that if caught, Scott might be what the government will attempt to use to get the answers they want? I have to stop thinking about it. I'll tell him everything in the morning. Now I must will myself into a deep human sleep. Moments later he was successful.
The next morning they got up early. Somewhat renewed from his stress by the sleep, Paul felt a little better. While Paul prepared a lunch for them to take with, Scott cleaned the dishes.
"Well, where are we going today?" Scott asked.
"We don't want to use all of Roy and June's things so we better go fishing," Paul replied. "Roy said catching is always better at the lower lake, so we'll go there today." They picked out two fishing vests and poles from the abandoned things and Paul again led the way across the meadow to catch the trail. He slowed his pace considerably as he again approached the open mountainside.
Scott followed as they walked the faint trail and did not notice his father's hesitation. When Paul veered off the trail suddenly and climbed the hill taking them briefly through some dense thickets, it was pretty hard for him not to notice something was wrong. Dad is acting funny again. How could he lose the trail like this when it's so obvious to me? He looked around. How strange, he thought as he looked down the hillside toward the abrupt drop off below. I think this is close to where he found his sphere yesterday.
Paul navigated back to the trail a little further on and the rest of the way went smoothly. He was finally able to relax when they reached the lake. They laughed and joked a lot as they stood along the shore fishing for their evening meal. With a full quota of fish soon secured in Roy's bag, Paul chose to remember only the good times spent at this lake and invited Scott to join him on the great circle route. Again laughing and joking they scrambled up, over and under obstacles. Almost around the lake they sat together on a large rock, breathing deeply and taking in the view. Suddenly, Scott sniffed his underarms. "I think it's time for a bath," he announced.
"The water's cold," Paul advised, his eyebrows rising and falling.
"What's the matter, Dad? I thought you liked the water."
"You go ahead," Paul laughed. "I dare you."
Scott, unable to ignore the challenge, undressed then climbed a large rock. Moments later he cannon-balled into deep water. "Geronimo!" he yelled. The return to the surface was as rapid as the descent and Scott came up sputtering. He swam only a brief time before returning, shivering, to shore. Protected from a slight breeze by a large sun warmed rock, he dried in the direct sunshine then got dressed.
Paul got the lunch out and they ate. Afterward Paul suggested they investigate the stream flowing out of the lake. A short downhill scramble and they were watching water in one of its fastest and most direct downward cycles, a series of magnificent water cascades.
Two hours passed and while searching for different views further down the valley, they found another prolific blueberry patch and renewed their energy.
By mid afternoon, they started back to camp. I know I can show Dad the easier way, Scott thought and he bullied himself into the lead. At least he'll know I have been practicing my navigational skills. I did watch carefully when we came over this way yesterday and I paid special attention to picking out landmarks this morning. Easily finding the fisherman's trail, Scott followed it back toward camp. "This way is easier, Dad," he announced proudly. Recognizing the place his father had lost the trail on the way over, he announced with pleasure, "I think you lost the trail right here this morning." Hearing no response, he turned and saw his father standing some distance behind.
Following, Paul recognized the small grove of trees he had walked through when he first heard the helicopter. Now he stood frozen in place with one foot on the rock and remembered following June. As the helicopter approached he wanted to run.
Scott saw his father staring toward him, but his face reflected a 'somewhere else', or 'deep inside' look. Scott walked back to stand quietly in front of him and facing a blank stare he waited for his father's return from wherever he had gone. He suddenly saw a very troubling expression appear. When his father began trembling, Scott felt a need to intrude. "Dad, what's the matter?"
Paul heard a voice and with a twitch of his head broke out of the trance with, "Oh!" Startled and disoriented until he recognized Scott looking up at him, he deceptively tried to put together a rational statement with a nonchalant, "nothing."
His father's answer did not ease Scott's growing feeling of uneasiness and he began reviewing earlier questions and observations. I don't really think Dad lost the trail. I think he left it on purpose. He has been acting mucho weird ever since we came back here. He starts shaking and when I ask what's wrong, he answers with a surprised, 'Oh,' long pause, 'nothing'. Dad is normally disturbingly straight, so straight he seems to make many people nervous. His almost total honesty has always been one of the more alien things I've had to get used to since we hit the road together. Now he's being evasive, or as he has so often accused me of 'being slick'. He frowned, looking at his father's still troubled expression ... but for some reason, I don't think he's doing this on purpose.
Scott remembered many inconsistencies he had shrugged off as they continued to enjoy their almost lost freedom. Why did Dad leave the camera here? It provides a way of earning a living, though I know he would take any kind of work to provide for us. But he left the exposed film he had taken of his trip. We can buy another camera, but the photographs are memories to share with Mom. Another thing. He left the air mattress Roy and June gave him for his birthday. He could have used it any time we have to camp out. He hasn't been acting ... normal and that bothers me.
Scott knew he must confront his father or bottle up his own growing fear. I can't stand this any longer. "Dad, what's wrong? And don't give me another 'Oh ... nothing'," he said with a determined frown. "I know something has been bothering you ever since we got here yesterday." Scott looked around the area more observantly. "Tell me, exactly how you lose your sphere out here."
Back to the reality of place, Paul said, "It must have fallen out of my pocket."
"You're story isn't very convincing," Scott returned quickly. "You said you knew where it was. You could have found it if you tried. I'm beginning to think you're trying to hide something from me."
"Why should I do that?" Paul returned guardedly.
"I don't know, and it bothers me," Scott retorted. "You've always told me we need to be honest with each other." Scott thought of another unanswered question. "How did you know Fox had found us?"
"You told me."
"I only told you I saw that other FSA guy over where we were going to meet."
"It would be reasonable to assume if one of Fox's men was there, Fox would be somewhere nearby," Paul offered.
I want answers, Scott thought, and somehow I think Dad is trying to hide something. I'll just keep asking questions and watch his reaction. "I don't think that's what you said, Dad. You said 'Fox found out we were at the farm'. How do you know that?"
Paul, confused by feelings and place, and now by his son's demanding questions and accusations, answered truthfully. "How else would he have found out I was in the mountains?"
"uYou/u were in the mountains?" Scott asked, catching the slip. "Fox's buddy said he was waiting in the parking lot for two fugitives, so he was under the impression uwe/u ... you and I, were in the mountains." When his father did not respond, Scott remembered another statement his father had made. Did he forget to tell me later, or was he avoiding my question? "You told Cal, that Roy, June and Kathy volunteered to meet the police. I think I was too relieved when I found you were okay to think about that statement. How did you know the police were waiting?"
"It's time to go back to camp," Paul replied. Reaching out he placed his hand on Scott's shoulder, trying to urge him onward.
"No, Dad. It's time to be honest," Scott replied. He set his jaw, stubbornly. "You're still not very good at being slick and I want some straight answers," he demanded. Scott grabbed his father's arm with determination and removing his father's hand from his shoulder defiantly pushed it aside. His hold pushed Paul's sleeve back and again exposed his wrist. As Scott got ready to let go, his gaze fell once again on the bruises. He moved his father's arm around to look more completely at his discovery.
Paul saw Scott's attention drawn on his wrist and tried to pull it away, but gave up when Scott simply held on tighter. With his free hand Scott pushed the sleeve back further and carefully examined the mark. Resisting feebly, moisture began to come unbidden, to Paul's eyes.
Scott gently took his father's other hand and finding identical marks, he came to the only logical conclusion he could think of. "These are handcuff marks aren't they?" His father's eyes closed and as he swallowed hard, Scott saw tears push from the corners of the closed eyelids. Hearing a low sobbing, the discolored eye and scratches he saw the day before took on a whole new meaning. "Fox was here, wasn't he?" he asked softly. Paul looked up again. Their eyes met and Scott gazed unblinking into them. "Something happened to you here. That's what my sphere was trying to tell me." Scott's lower lip quivered. "Dad, please tell me what happened."
I want to explain, Paul thought, looking apologetically at his son, but I don't exactly know how. I don't even know how I would explain to those on the ship, because I don't understand myself. I haven't enough experience with human emotions. But I must tell Scott something. "Do you remember the night we spent with Shannon and Beth?" he asked softly.
"Yes, we were on our way to Spirit Lake looking for Mom."
"That night you gave me a definition of 'trust' as 'doing something because someone asks you to, even if you think it's dumb.' Scott, I'm asking you to trust me. I will tell you ... but not now, and not like this. I need time to sort things out for myself, okay." He thought a moment longer. "Maybe more input will help me. Can you describe what you felt?"
The pain in his father's face begged for no more questions and Scott began describing his feelings. "I was in class and suddenly I..." He hesitated. "I don't know why, but I wanted my sphere. I found it active. Then I felt, confused and ... afraid. I ran away from class and ..." As he continued to describe his feelings, he could see his father was listening attentively. Suddenly he noticed his father becoming deeply involved and the blank distant look appeared again.
Scott's words, slowly at first then with increasing speed and intensity, revived the Starman's experience. Slipping into Paul Forrester's body memory, he again heard the helicopter then Roy's warning. I felt the sharp sting of the dart and as I ran I was reaching for my sphere. I had it out of my pocket and was holding it in my hand. Then I was falling, unable to stop. He blinked and swallowed hard. I saw Roy, June and Kathy looking down at me and I remember my panic. As sensations began to disappear from my body, I sought the comforting smoothness of my sphere and felt close to my own kind and home where such things did not happen. With the passage of only brief moments I found myself unable to remain home. I was back on the mountain. Memory began passing in slow motion. I was moving and the visual receptors would no longer respond. As sensation disappeared I saw June looking down at me. Standing on the mountain trail the Starman's sphere responded with its brightness that shone through the fabric of his jeans.
Scott saw his father's take it from his pocket and clutch it tightly. He then saw the distant look change to one of deep distress and heard strange gasping breathing. When he saw his father begin trembling he wanted to interrupt and break into whatever was disturbing him. Before he could speak he was again sitting in the classroom reaching into his pocket for his sphere. "Dad, what does this all mean?" he finally asked when he saw his sphere also glowing brightly. He looked at his father, who again seemed oblivious to his presence. Feelings began flooding his mind and conflicting anguish and information flowed to him in a constant stream. Finally unable to handle it any longer, he screamed, "Dad, uplease/u don't think about it anymore!" His scream quickly faded to uncontrolled sobbing.
Shocked back to the reality of this place in a different time by Scott's plea, Paul gasped. Seeing two glowing spheres and a look of terror on his son's face, he realized Scott had just experienced the moving energy of his own being reliving the day on the mountain. He gathered Scott in his arms and closing his eyes, clung to him tightly. Still shaking he muttered, "I'm sorry, Scott. I didn't mean to do that to you."
"Is that what you felt when I called out to you?" he asked between sobs.
"No," Paul replied, remorsefully, as he let go of his hold on Scott enough to look directly at him. "Through the spheres I felt your loss; your grief ... your loneliness. That's what called me to you. It was my panic and fear calling you to me."
"Panic? Fear?" Scott sobbed as he pulled himself close and held on tighter. "Don't leave me with this terrible feeling and no answers. Please tell me what happened to you here?"
I know Scott's physical link with me and his heritage is growing, Paul confirmed. When needed, the spheres provided a bridge between us. Now, I feel his fear directly. It is just as he must have felt, but not understood mine. A very fortunate lack of understanding for that is probably why it took so long for him to try to come to me. Though he must have felt my curiosity when I didn't understand what our friends were doing; I'm certain he could not visualize the feelings. I can see no reason to deny him the truth. Now I must explain or harm our relationship and his self-confidence. "Scott, let's sit here and I'll tell you how I lost my sphere."
They sat together on the trail looking out across the valley. "Fox came in a helicopter," his father said quietly. "At this very spot he shot me with too much of a drug called tranquilizer. I tumbled down the mountainside. I... The Starman paused for a long moment. I want to tell you everything, he thought, but it will be difficult. "I pulled out my sphere to divert the machine with sudden winds, but my body was failing. What you felt was my fear of impending death from the fall. Then I stopped tumbling, but I was no longer in control from within. My heart stopped beating. In my time of greatest need I could only wonder at human loyalty and abilities for Roy, June and Kathy provided something called CPR and I continued for almost an hour.
"You felt my wonder and my revelation when I understood it was my life to struggle for and until the sphere dropped from my hand, my elation that I would live. Scott, if Roy, June and Kathy had not known what to do, I would have died here." Paul continued his narration, easily avoiding that which he desired of his struggle. "When I heard them talking about giving up, I gathered what energy I had left and my heart started pumping again. That's when Fox came and took charge. The family protested my treatment and unable to respond, I was moved back to the campsite where you wanted us to stay. There Fox chained me to a tree like an animal. I got the cut on my head by fighting the drug as I started to awaken. Through all of this the family took care of me and..."
Father and son sat together and Paul continued relating the events of the days that followed. He told Scott of the indignities he suffered; the trauma of being drugged again and again and of Fox's inability to accept the truth; and his accusations. He described the snowfall that had them packing, riding out of the mountains and finally of the family's offer of freedom.
Scott looked sympathetically at his father, but the only words he could find to properly express his feelings rolled off his tongue with unquestionable passion. "Dad, I hate that man!"
"He didn't mean it, Scott," Paul offered in consolation. "It was an accident. He thought he knew about tranquilizer, but he didn't take time to read the directions when he got a new kind."
"There's surely no excuse for that, but also for what he has been doing to us." Scott looked down toward the precipice just below them. "I really think you used the wrong word again. It wasn't an accident. If you had kept falling you would have gone over the... Dad, he would have killed you."
"I still don't want to hear that kind of talk," Paul replied calmly. "He's afraid, and fear can make humans do things they wouldn't normally do. Someday maybe he'll realize the truth for himself."
"For that we have to live long enough. If not, it won't matter whether he believed you, or not," Scott said sharply.
"We will live," Paul offered with confidence.
Scott placed his hand on his father's shoulder. "Dad, let's get out of here. There are other places to hide and make memories. We don't have to stay here."
"I'm all right now," his father replied with a weak smile. "I think I needed to come here again to come to grips with being human ... and vulnerable." Paul's eyebrows rose into two graceful arcs. "I think you were right. We don't need to hide. We can move to the other camp if you wish."
"It's all right," Scott offered. "The place we have is fine."
As they sat quietly together, a Starman looked down the mountainside to where he had understood the reality of death. When completely satisfied all feelings were under control, a reunited Paul Forrester got up, pulled his son to his feet and hugged him again. "Thanks for the help. Let's go home."
With the atmosphere now more relaxed, after finishing the dishes of another evening meal, Scott turned to his father. "Dad, I wonder how Fox found us this time?"
"You would never guess," Paul said, shaking his head.
"You know?" Scott asked curiously.
"Yes. Fox wanted to tell me, so while we were waiting for the helicopter to pick us up, he asked me to ask him."
Scott gave his father a strange, unbelieving look. "Do I understand what you're saying? He asked you to ask him how he found you?"
"Yes." Paul's eyes opened wide as he looked at Scott and grinned.
Scott grinned. "You're kidding me?"
"I'm not kidding. It's the truth," Paul replied. "After spending a couple days with him, I believe I understand him a little better now. Catching and having me in his control seemed to fulfill something very important to him. I think he felt the need for me to recognize humans as superior. Perhaps giving me the warning to keep our hands off Planet Earth. I believe, in his own way, it made him feel he was doing his part to save the world. Actually, we talked quite a bit while he had me confined and I tried my best to convince him that my world is no threat. Sometimes I think he was listening. He showed evidence of beginning to overcome some of his fear, but not enough to let me go. When the family offered an opportunity to escape, I had to take it."
"But, how did he find us out on the Island?"
"Through the Billingsleys."
"Did Tony tell somebody after all?"
"Yes, Tony told what happened, but not the Tony you're thinking about. Do you remember the video Jim took at the lecture?
"Little Tony saw us on it and told his parents I was the one who helped his grandfather. Paul smiled broadly. He didn't want to tell, but..." Paul recited the contents of Cynthia Tuttle's transcription.
"That's incredible," Scott finally offered. "Who would have ever thought the little boy would have led Fox to us."
"I know. He was a source I never thought about. Of course there would have been no way to keep the incident a secret expect the way his grandfather did. It would have worked fine if we hadn't run into Jim again. I guess you might call it unlucky."
"I guess," Scott confirmed. "If Fox hadn't found us we could have gone back to visit them sometime." He looked sadly at his father. "I guess that's out of the question now?"
"Like all the others, it's too risky for them and for us," Paul replied. "At least we'll have our pictures to remember them." Paul gave his son a sympathetic look, "Well, I guess that's just more water under our bridge isn't it?"
Scott heaved a sigh, "I think we have too much water running under our bridge."
"You're going to miss Amy, aren't you?"
"Yeah," Scott replied.
His father smiled. "We still have each other."
Trying to find something upbeat Scott grinned. "You know, a wise 'man' once told me that 'feeling sorry for yourself won't change anything'. We have to live one day at a time, right?"
Paul grinned broadly, appreciative of his son's support. "Right, and that new day starts tomorrow morning. There's some other places around here I still want to share with you."
"Great," Scott replied, happy at being back to something more positive. "You are right, this is a beautiful place and I'm happy we can share it."
"No one is happier than I am, Scott ... believe me."
They sat together talking a while longer. Soon, without the warmth of a campfire, the coming of darkness encouraged gathering wood for an evening fire. As the fire burned down father and son were settled in their sleeping bags and Paul turned off the flashlight. Ten minutes later he suddenly sat bolt upright.
His father's sudden movement awoke Scott and he rolled over toward him. Bright rays of light were emitting from a boot into which he knew his father had stuffed the contents of his pockets. He watched him grab the boot and unceremoniously turn it over, catching a vibrantly glowing sphere and some tumbling loose change in his hand. Those things still surprise and confuse me, Scott thought, especially, when like now they start doing strange things on their own. He looked at his father questioningly and in the light emitting from the sphere asked, "Dad, what's going on?" when in the light he saw a grimacing frown on his father's face.
Paul held the glowing orb for a few moments, before getting out of his sleeping bag. He stepped out from under the shelter of the trees before answering. "Just another thing I should have thought about when I realized I had unknowingly relayed my distress to you."
"Thought about what?" Scott asked.
"You weren't the only one out there receiving my message, Scott. Yours is probably doing the same. Why don't you get it?"
Scott removed his sphere from his boot, the top of which was underneath his jacket. As his father had said, it was also glowing brightly. "Well, what's the problem?"
"They've come back."
Scott pondered his father's words and making no sense of them, repeated them slowly. "They've come back? They've come...?" Simultaneously, his eyes and mouth opened wide. "You mean a ship?"
Paul searched for a word to describe the most personal relationship between his kind and finally settled on, "My friends."
Scott erupted out of his sleeping bag and rushed out to stand beside his father. "Where? Can we see it?"
Paul pointed high in the sky directly overhead. "There."
Scott shrugged, observing what seemed like nothing more than a typical sky full of stars. Then his father pointed out some specific guiding stars and Scott looked closer, seeing only a very faint blue fuzzy area. "Is that it?" he asked.
"Yes," Paul replied.
"You mean I'm seeing a real flying saucer?" he said with obvious excitement.
Paul frowned critically. "One of our exploration mother units," he corrected. "It's probably holding well outside earth's atmosphere to avoid being detected by your satellites."
"Right," Scott returned. Then suddenly his excitement waned and he became very uneasy. "Why are they here?" he asked slowly.
Paul felt his son's hand on his arm. Sensing Scott apprehension, he wanted to calm whatever was disturbing him. "Scott, they've just come to verify that I'm all right."
"Are they planning to land?" Scott questioned, his voice wavering.
"I don't believe so. I'll just tell them we're both okay so they can get back to work."
Scott heaved a sigh of relief. "Then they didn't come to take you home?"
Paul smiled when he understood Scott's nervousness. "Like you did, Scott, they sensed my distress and when I lost the sphere, they lost contact. Since they were still working this sector they changed course and were coming to check. Yesterday, when I retrieved the sphere they realized I was all right." Paul grinned sheepishly. "This afternoon they received my distress again, and decided since they were almost here anyway, they might as well verify my condition. I guess as June told us the time we all arrived in from work an hour late for dinner ... I should have called home. I might be a little bit 'in the doghouse'."
Scott laughed at his father's expression. "Another new experience, right?"
"Regretfully, yes," Paul replied. "They really have come a long way."
"Are they angry?"
"No," Paul returned. "Humans get angry. They can't. They are ... somewhat displeased at having wasted so much time."
Scott thought momentarily of his father's current embarrassment with his kind, over a very human failing. Then he remembered how very different his father really was and again became uneasy. "Dad, what if they hadn't found you? What if they had come the other day and found your sphere lying out there on the mountain?" His eyes got wide again. He took a deep breath and could not stop the rush of his next question. "What if they had found only mine?"
"I'm sure they located both," Paul confirmed with a grin, "but through yours, you would have received another strange message."
"What do you mean?" Scott returned apprehensively.
"Through the sphere they would have been probing for answers about me."
"But," Scott returned apprehensively, "I didn't know where you were."
Again sensing his son's uneasiness, Paul replied, "Scott, you needn't be afraid of contact with my kind. Remember they are partly your kind. They would have helped you by relaying directions to find my sphere so you could do some further checking."
"But, I still don't know how."
"Through the sphere they can make you understand because that ability to communicate is within you." Paul smiled. "Scott, no matter how human you feel, always remember you are a part of me."
Scott reflected on his father's words and his smile returned. "So they just decided to drop in to check up on you, right?"
"For the records, they decided to complete the mission they started," Paul said quietly. "Now they realize I'm all right, so they'll enter it as a successful contact."
The actual presence of his father's people further piqued Scott's curiosity about his 'other' world. Since Dad never seems to offer me much voluntarily, I guess I need to ask. This has to be the right opportunity. "Do they keep track of you no matter where you are?"
"Yes, they keep track of everybody," Paul replied without hesitation. "In my world it is very important to keep complete records. If they report my spirit no longer exists here, my essence, which is part of our record of existence, will be used to create a new life. We normally live a long healthy lifetime and replacing a lost life is a big deal; one surrounded with great ceremony. Our system is different than here where creating new life is a combining of two genetic lines. A human child represents a random genetic combination of both parents. At home, an individual lives on through duplication of their genetic line. "Do you understand?"
"Not exactly," Scott asked.
Paul grimaced thoughtfully, trying to devise a simpler explanation this time. "We utilize the same method I used to reproduce this body and your father's. I first saw your father on a moving picture in your mother's house. I scanned through a photo album of him as a child and as an adult. There I found a biological sample of genetic material. That I used to start the reproduction process. As it is at home, it never occurred to me to stop the process until I had a form identical in development to the mature specimen I selected in the photographs. I know at home we must have an option to stop at any point in development, but those in charge never give consideration to stopping the growth process before it is identical to our documented example. All record samples are mature. It reminds me that we have allowed ourselves to lose contact with youth."
"You mean there are no children?" Scott asked curiously.
"No," Paul confirmed sadly. "Perhaps at some time in history somebody in charge determined raising children too lengthy, or the result inconsistent. Maybe they felt it too much of a curtailment of freedom or simply not a valuable use of creative time. I can only speculate on the reasons for I do not know when or who made the decision to skip childhood. It might be lost in time. All I know is that has been our way for a very long time."
"But what difference would it make if later, they found out you were all right? You don't live there. In the entire universe, what problem could one more copy of your line, make?"
"Scott, ours is a replacement only society. To maintain it, accurate genetic records of each individual are very important. For two of my line to exist at the same time would be unfair to all the rest. Long ago we sought to establish a balance of our numbers to allow all that exists at home to continue. In this manner we also did away with the need for a colonizing nature. That's why all creation must be at home."
"It is different where you come from, isn't it?"
"Yes, and we'll talk about it shortly. Right now it's getting cold out here. I wish to say good-bye to my friends so they may return to their work." Paul's sphere glowed brightly again.
Scott looked up at the sky again and saw the fuzzy place become a brighter blue and a distinct blue ring appeared around it; briefly the ring flared brightly, and then the ship vanished among the stars. He saw his father frown, and then smile, before the sphere stopped its glow and they returned to the shelter.
When nestled down inside the sleeping bag again, Paul turned to Scott. "Now before we settle in for the night, I want to get back to your questions. Do you understand what I've been telling you?"
"I think so," Scott replied. He lay quietly, waiting for his father to resume explaining. Momentarily he had a troubling thought and in a voice showing evidence of a growing distress, asked, "But Dad ... don't they consider me to be from your line?"
The logic of his son's question amazed Paul. "When I returned home, some did conclude you being born here as a violation of order. I had to appear before the council to explain my actions. I told them your creation was my desire to thank your mother for the assistance she had given me. I explained while we traveled to the rendezvous, she told me she regretted not being physically able to have children with her husband."
"Then how did I...?"
Paul smiled broadly. "During our flight across the country, I used one of the energy spheres I brought from the ship, and her genetic information from a blood sample to repair damage done when she was shot by a policeman. The basic reconstruction apparently repaired her reproductive system as well. When you were created on our last night together, I offered you to Jenny. I told her you would be 'human'; a combination of her and your real father, but that you would also be my baby. When at first she seemed unsure, I gave her the choice to accept or refuse my gift. Of course you know what her answer was."
"So what happened at home?"
"Being a welcome gift and not of my pure genetic line, the council, reluctantly, adjudged your being, acceptable." Paul's voice evidenced a growing smile. "The most wondrous thing happened to me that morning when your mother confirmed she wanted you very much." His smile grew with the memory. "Through your father I experienced the second true, strong emotion I had ever felt; that being the joyous elation of mutual creation."
Scott smiled at the look on his father's face then decided to ask about another thing that always baffled him. "Then what part of me, is you?"
"There are many portions of human genetics having no specific or useful functions," Paul offered. "If you were dealing with computer language, you would refer to them as obsolete programs. Those portions might have been useful at one time in human evolution. To me they provided expansion slots that I filled within your father's body as I do in this one. You are very unique, Scott. Perhaps the first individual ever to be a combination of three genetic lines."
Scott smiled, and then looked pensively at his somewhat, non-father, father. I am beginning to realize how very little I really know about Dad. Many times during these past months with him, I've often wondered what his world must be like. From his actions, I could see him often confused over emotional responses then quickly learn to adapt. Now, I understand why. I wonder why I've always been so reluctant to ask him questions? This remains an open opportunity. "You normally feel no emotions at all?"
"In my world we feel, and we ... care for each other, but it is much different than it is here on Earth. As with friends, we... like, is the word that seems most appropriate. We like all, equally, as an individual and as a part of the whole. There is no competition between individuals and therefore prejudice is almost impossible. We have evolved into a very civilized society."
Scott tried to visualize himself in his father's place, coming from a world with emotional responses few or almost unknown. A world where everybody cared about everybody else and acted civilized. What a change from such a world to this one where everything seems controlled by emotions and only a few act civilized. His first experiences on earth were of violence and pursuit. How lucky he was to find Mom to help him. How lucky I am he came back and found me. The first thing I tried to do, in exchange for his caring, was to confuse and try to hurt him. Now he stays with me and has to live as a fugitive, constantly running from imprisonment and whatever else any number of George Foxes might have in mind.
Paul sensed his son was thinking deeply and waited politely until he returned before continuing. "There are many things different between my world and this one, yet in many ways if you examine each closely, they are not truly all that different. Like with Stella, she continues on even though she's no longer physically with us, because she lives in our memories. In my world, the reality of each individual's being goes on because they become a part of their friends, remembered for what they became."
"You mean by what they learned and the choices they made?" Scott asked.
"Precisely," Paul returned. "At home, each time we create a new individual, it is up to them what they do with their time of being. The final measure of their life is what others remember, whether it be good ... or bad. Some are remembered only by those with whom they have close personal contact, while others we remember for many lifetimes. Your earth leaders or humanitarians are good examples of the same thing, here. Some remain forever in your history because they contributed much. Those extreme or detrimental to your development are remembered for the opposite reasons. The majority of lives, though, remain memories only to those close to them. Stella, for example, had many friends and was well thought of by them. The thoughts of friends or family, or others close to you are really the reward of any existence, here or in my world."
"I guess we never think much about it," Scott offered. "Perhaps if we had to think about how we will be remembered, we might choose to do many things differently."
"Correct, think about the effect of your actions on others before you act," Paul confirmed. "Here, you call this ethics." Paul paused a long moment. "But for me there are special reasons why the records must be corrected because I am away from home and the ship. If, because of inaccurate records, they create another of my line, I would never be allowed to return home".
"Do you want to go home?" Scott asked pensively.
"Not now," Paul returned, with a smile. "Right now I want and like being here with you, but that doesn't mean sometime later I might not want to return home, even if only to visit friends. When we visited Seattle and decided to get flowers to take up to the cemetery, you went home to the flower shop of your memories. For me, home is still home." He paused momentarily. "Does that make any sense?"
"I think so. I just never thought about you ever wanting to leave."
"You're going to grow up and you won't want your old dad following you around wherever you go. I have learned it is not the custom here. I understand children leave parents and choose a mate. When you are ready to fly, if we have not found your mother, or if she has chosen another, I would be all alone."
"I would never leave you alone," Scott returned. "I need you and I don't want you to leave."
"That may change later. I feel someday the government will learn to accept and allow us our freedom. The day will also come when you fully understand who you are. Then you will no longer need me."
"Wouldn't you like to be a grandfather some day?" Scott laughed. "You'd get a new experience teaching and dealing with a combining of all those genetic lines from the beginning."
With the impish grin on his face reflected in his voice, Paul replied, "I never thought about that, still it doesn't change the fact, I might like to go home for a visit. Now the records remain correct so I may."
"Well I hope you never decide to leave."
"Thank you," Paul returned with a grin. "I hope they never have to come again. Remember this body will age and eventually return to the cosmos. You must also remember, at home I can continue and return to being myself."
Scott lay on his back a while, reflecting on his father's world. As a cool breeze wafted through the shelter, he pulled the sleeping bag snugly up under his chin before fielding another question. "Dad, what was the bright circle I saw just before your friends left?"
Before answering Paul grinned broadly when his son, seemingly relaxed, so easily used the word 'friends' to refer to those on the ship. "The ship has rings surrounding it somewhat resembling those of some of your own planets. Ours are the energy fields that propel it. My friends felt..." Paul paused again, searching for a word that did not translate easily, 'happy'? Yes, I think 'happy' is the closest translation to a word used here. They felt happy when I relayed all was well. All in the ship responded, simultaneously to happy and they energized the rings further."
"I sure wish I could have seen it up close."
"Maybe someday you will."
"Is that possible?" Scott asked hopefully.
"Everything is possible," Paul replied. "I feel certain they would not allow you to leave here, but someday, when you are ready, they might grant you a look. Right now, that is all I can tell you. The choice to do so must be theirs."
Scott recognized his father's subtle end to this direction of questions and he slipped quickly to another subject. "Did they have anything else to say?"
"We do communicate, Scott," Paul returned, laughing. "And yes, they conveyed that everybody on the ship is well and the re-charting calculations in this sector are almost complete. They told me they will be moving on soon."
"Not much you'd understand. I did ask if they would do some research into a few things at home that interested me."
"Personal things," his father replied evasively. "Oh, yes, they did offer me their condolences," Paul replied impishly.
"Condolences! For what?"
With 'slick' still evident in his voice, Paul replied, "For having to remain here, of course."
"Hmm," Scott returned, "do they really dislike us that much?"
"No. They really have no ability to choose to like or dislike Earth at all, but after learning of my experience here, they do not want to stick around unless they have to." Paul looked through the darkness over toward where he knew his son was laying. "I told them there are many reasons I wish to remain now, even with this world's present state of development giving us problems." Paul thought only momentarily of the past few days, and then of the peace and very human closeness he was now enjoying with his son. He rolled onto his side facing Scott and chuckled. "Now the excitement is over and it is getting late. I think it's time you get some sleep. Tomorrow we're going to the top of this world."
Paul moved his arm from under the protection of the sleeping bag and placed it over his son. Almost without thinking, I perform this and many other very earthly customs now, he pondered. The other day I felt heightened awareness of how important it has become to me. The happiness of the moment remained reflected in his, "Goodnight, Scott," and Scott's, "Goodnight, Dad."
The Starman lay quietly, reflecting on this child of his creation. I planned to remain here briefly to help Jenny Hayden through some unknown crisis. Little did I know a child would hold me a willing prisoner on this primitive and hostile world? Still, even though not in space, I learn new and wondrous things every day. The other day on the mountain I experienced a very basic emotion when I was sure I would die and leave my son alone again. Then I felt gratitude when I knew friends cared enough to try to help me. They provided me with a further lesson, that it was my obligation to join their struggle for my life, to live for my son. These things are more wonderful than all the exploration and discoveries I have experienced with the ship.
Before Scott fell asleep, Paul felt his son move closer. There is a warm, very basic human emotion flowing through me again. It is one I cannot fully understand, but one I know gives me great pleasure. Perhaps the research I have requested will reveal it's not too late for them to truly, feel, and ... to love. He closed his eyes and joined his son in sleep.
Another new day dawned with clear skies and light morning frost. After breakfast, they prepared another take along lunch that Scott quickly volunteered to carry. Dividing the fishing gear and with jackets tied around their waist, they hiked to the upper lake. After exploring the area it was on to the top of the mountain. With the bad memories in perspective, Paul reveled in his freedom and like two children, they played together in the snow collecting memories and sharing the beauty and solitude of the area.
Examining Fox's map again, they found and hiked to two other small lakes a couple of miles further and fished until they had supper. At Scott's critical urging, Paul finally joined him in the cold water for a short swim. Afterwards, as they sat on a large rock warming in the sun, Scott's gaze focused on his father's discolored eye and the bruises still evident on his wrists. Scott took his father's hand. "Why don't you fix your face and wrists?" he asked.
"Maybe you should practice? I'll help you," Paul offered. This time Scott did not evade the lesson.
After a successful lesson in sphereological medicine under the watchful eye of a patient instructor, the bruises and scratches slowly disappeared. They ate their lunch in the warm sunshine then mutually agreed it was time to start back toward camp. The miles flowed under the constant stride of strong legs. They arrived back at the upper lake pleasantly tired, and looking forward to a casual afternoon. As they descended the mountain they heard a horse nicker.
Paul immediately recognized Monty's call and wasn't surprised as they walked into camp to find the Fosters and Dorans getting ready to unsaddle the horses. Amy saw them first and ran out to meet them, announcing their arrival.
A happy reunion followed, but Paul sensed something was different and it made him feel uneasy. June and Kathy, though free with their affections, seem unusually quiet and Roy is not making his usual jokes. Something has changed and it makes me nervous, he thought, as he help pull the saddle off Red's sweaty back. I know everybody must be curious about why the government is searching for us and this unexpected meeting is another opportunity for them to ask questions without the ominous specter of George Fox hovering over them. Also, Cal hasn't tried to offer his very logical advice about trying to face my problem.
Twenty minutes passed and still the conversation ran on with casual chatter as they put up the lean-to and got the horses out into the meadow. As they returned to the lean-to June began relating her frustration. "When we rode in, we could see someone had been into our things. I was really upset when I found both your camera and sleeping mattress missing, Paul. I just couldn't believe anybody up here would steal from another's camp. Here you said you would return our things, but how would I explain somebody had stolen yours? What a relief it was when you walked in."
"We didn't mean to worry you," he returned. "I planned to leave you a note telling you we had returned and taken them. I guess I really didn't expect you'd be back quite so soon."
"Well, we figured we better get back up here since we still had the horses and the gear," June offered. "Kathy and I went to the seminar to tell Cal we were back. He told us about meeting you. Everybody agreed since they still had the time off it was best to go back in now. We camped overnight at the truck and saddled up the next morning to go enjoy the rest of our vacation. Cal and Kathy are planning to hike out early so she doesn't have to miss too much school, but the girls are going to stay with us the rest of the week. I'm sure Amy is thrilled you decided to do your hiding here."
Tiring of busy talk, Paul heard Amy ask to be excused. She took Scott by the hand and he watched her leading him off. They walked across the meadow and soon could be seen sitting on a large rock. I don't believe Scott senses anything is out of the ordinary, Paul thought. His youthful concern is centered only on the moment. That presently consists of having more time with Amy. I think our plan to leave tomorrow afternoon will have to be earlier. "It has really been wonderful seeing everyone again," Paul offered. "I am pleased to see you are all right. I worried about running off and leaving you to deal with Fox."
"I think we handled Fox just fine," Roy replied.
"That makes me very happy. Now we can leave in the morning with a clear conscience."
"Why so soon?" June asked uncertainly.
"Because being with us can still be dangerous to you," he offered. "It is also time we continue our search for Jenny."
"Can't it wait a little longer?" June asked.
"It has 'waited' a long time already." Paul looked at June apologetically. "Now that you are aware of our problems with the government, for our safety as well as ours, we must leave." Out of the corner of his eye Paul noticed subtle eye and body messages pass between Roy and Kathy, and then Kathy whispered something to Cal. Momentarily, Cal gave Sandy a directional look indicating she was to come with him. As Cal and Sandy walked off toward a thick stand of trees adjacent to the meadow, Paul's feeling of uneasiness multiplied. It appears I am being isolated. I wonder why? He thought.
As Cal and Sandy disappeared, Roy turned to Paul. "Come on," he announced with a reserved grin. "If you really have to leave, let's go up the hill to the blueberry patch and get some berries for tomorrow morning's pancakes."
"That's a great idea," Paul replied. Picking blueberries, he thought happily, will take some time and is a chance to avoid the subject of the government's search. Maybe my suspicions are wrong. Maybe they are not trying to isolate me after all, but I think I had better find out for sure. "Let me call Scott and Amy. They can help."
"Since you're leaving in the morning, why not let them enjoy whatever time they have left, together?" Roy suggested firmly.
Paul frowned slightly. "Just a minute, I'll go find Sandy and Cal. They cannot have gotten too far."
"I asked them to collect more firewood," Kathy advised as she took Paul by the arm and urged him toward the trail up the hill. "Actually, there are some things we need to talk to you about in private."
I know with natural human curiosity, the questions would have to come. Paul thought. When the questions start I will have to offer my all encompassing, 'It's best you not know' speech.
June started walking. Roy motioned Paul into line behind Kathy and they hiked toward the trail to the upper lake. I almost feel trapped between them, Paul thought, as they started the climb up the trail toward the upper lake.
When completely out of sight of the camp, June selected a convenient log, stopped and sat on it. "This is far enough."
"Is your back bothering you again?" Paul asked.
"No," she replied. As Kathy joined her, they both looked up at Paul.
They had this all planned in advance, Paul confirmed, returning their looks suspiciously. Glancing around, his eyebrows rose then lowered into a deep frown. "We're not going to find any blueberries here," he advised.
With Paul's sensitivity we're making him uneasy, June thought when she saw the worried frown. "I'm sorry, Paul. We didn't want to worry you. We just needed to get you away from Cal, Scott and the girls for a little while." She looked at him sympathetically. "Like Kathy said, we really need to talk to you. But first, there's one thing I want to tell you about before I forget again. It has bothered me since that day out on the mountain." She looked at Paul with great concern, noticing for the first time all evidence of the cuts and scratches on his face, quite prominent just a couple of days ago, had disappeared. Curious, she thought. Dismissing it from her mind she continued with the more pressing question. "Have you been experiencing any problems with your eyes?"
Paul looked at her inquisitively. "Problems with my eyes?" he repeated curiously. Oh, he thought. I remember the expressions on their faces as they looked in at me on the mountain. I do not want to encourage further questions so I may have to revert to 'slick', in covering for my unexpected appearance. "No. I haven't been experiencing any problems." He listened with interest as June and Kathy, alternating statements, described seeing him. "I can't imagine what it might have been, but thank you for calling it to my attention."
"Well there is something wrong and it could be serious," June offered with genuine concern. "Things like that have ways of sneaking up on you. You really should have them checked by a professional."
"I will be sure to do that," Paul confirmed graciously.
"Good," June returned with relief. "Your sight is too valuable to take any chances."
Still standing, Roy had remained silent, allowing June and Kathy to pass on their concerns. "Now that the girls have fulfilled their mothering instincts, Paul, let's get down to the reason for this party separation. We want to talk to you about an agreement we had to make to keep some secrets. For that we needed to be away from the rest of the family."
Paul's eyebrows rose. "You agreed to keep secrets from your family?"
"We considered this agreement might be the only way to see our families again," June offered unhappily. "What we want to ask you is if there is any reason to worry further?"
"If you agreed to keep something a secret, you should," Paul returned with conviction. "You shouldn't be telling me either."
"We really never expected to be in a position to ask about it," Roy offered, "but since it very much concerns you, we figured it wouldn't hurt to ask while we have the chance." Roy took a deep breath. "With the concern you have shown over our safety, we want you to know Fox told us some incredible things. All we need is a couple of simple yes or no's."
"He said things about me?" Paul asked curiously.
"Oh, he said a lot of things about you," Roy returned. "Things we know have to be either the result of a concussion from his fall, or out of the mind of a crazy man. It took considerable fortitude on our part just to sit there and listen to him raving on to justify his job. Paul, we're afraid if he keeps repeating what he said to us, you can expect a lot of future trouble."
Paul's eyes opened wide, raising his eyebrows again. "What did he tell you?"
Roy's solemn expression of moments earlier turned to one of amusement. "It almost embarrasses me to say this, especially with what we know about you and saw of him, Paul, so don't laugh." Roy paused for a long moment trying to find the words then chuckling and scratching his head, he turned to June. "Hon, you're more into this stuff, you tell him."
June gathered her composure and gave her husband an accusing look for passing the buck. She tried to construct a simple statement that would leave no chance Paul might misunderstand Fox's danger to him. "He told us..." Her frown deepened and she started again. "He told us you were a..." The words unwillingly ran out again. She chuckled and grimaced simultaneously, and then started gathering herself for a third attempt.
Kathy came to her rescue. "He told us you're a..." Kathy stopped, and then it came in a rush, "you're something dangerous from outer space." She followed the statement with a controlled smirk, finally breaking into laughter. Roy and June quickly joined her.
Paul's face contorted with confusion. Fox knew they didn't know, so why did he tell them? He said his orders were to keep everything quiet, yet even after he told them he let them go. Paul did not laugh, but likewise he wasn't confessing. "He said that?"
"He didn't offer to tell us anything willingly, I can assure you," Roy confirmed in a voice broken by constant laughter. "After he got somewhat back to normal, believe me, the words started flying. I planned to file charges for the armed personal threats against us and hassle him further with the wilderness violations. Having to answer to the authorities about those charges I figured would keep him occupied long enough that he would have to accept you and Scott had escaped."
Kathy looked at Paul. "He vowed the government would back him all the way and we would be arrested. He made some other idiotic statements. Something about coming into a government lab for testing to prove you weren't our friend. He wouldn't listen to anything we said about why we were defending you. Soon he started into something about national security and his job. Right in the heat of that exchange, the man shifts, grinds his gears again, and refuses to say anything."
"That's when we made our official citizen's arrest," Roy advised. Now that the conversation had started and Paul wasn't laughing, he continued expounding on their experience. "Well, I'd heard about enough and we decided to get going down the trail. After a couple more miles, we thought he had finally made up his mind to cooperate and tell us the truth about why he's after you. That's when he came up with this goofy, alien from space, crap."
"He said you took over some guy's body and insinuated you were just waiting to take over the Earth," Kathy offered. "I couldn't believe what I was hearing."
June gathered her thoughts. "I decided I'd better check him over again. I still didn't see any symptoms of a concussion I've been taught to look for, so I finally concluded, government agent or not, he must be a lunatic. Now I was more than happy we had him disarmed and restrained, because he was actually threatening us. With plenty of time to kill, we decided to humor him."
"Suddenly he refuses to say anything worthwhile," Roy offered. "He just started babbling on about us being under some kind of spell."
June added, "The idea of a minor concussion from the fall did cross my mind again since I don't consider myself an expert on first aid." She grimaced. "Then he got all red and I finally considered he might suffer from high blood pressure. If that was the case, I think it was on its way out through the overhead. Worried we might have to deal with a stroke or a heart attack, I was mentally trying to remember the recommended treatment." She turned to Roy. "I think it was a good idea to let him ride. I think it relaxed him a little. It could have saved us from having to go for help."
"I realized letting him walk wasn't working anyway." Roy added "Monty was beginning to really move out and I thought Fox might fall. I also knew having everybody riding would get us to the trailhead faster." Roy looked back at Paul. "After a while on the trail, he stopped us again. With all the stop and go, it was just like driving in the city." His voice lowered and he frowned deeply. "This new round he acted even stranger. Out of the blue he does a tactical about face. It was just like he was another person." Roy shook his head slowly. "First he threatened us with prison and isolation until he managed to arrest you and Scott. I mean to tell you, his eyes were cold and calculating when he looked at me. He offered a wager of his job against our freedom. Man, oh man, what a life you two must lead with this guy on your case. He can be really intense, can't he?"
"Yes, he can." Paul agreed.
June, still seeing no sign of any humor in Paul's look, continued. "Paul, he just came out and offered us a deal to drop all charges against us in exchange for promising to forget the space creature stuff. He told us that you told him you didn't want anybody to know about your problems."
"I did," Paul confessed.
"You mean he did say something truthful?"
When Paul didn't answer, Kathy continued, "Just like he said, the law was on us with weapons in hand when we rode out"
"Though I didn't exactly trust him, the first thing he did was tell them to go home," Roy continued. "He's one weird dude. To the officers still remaining, he acted like he'd been on a weekend camping trip with a group of old buddies. He even thanked us for taking him into our camp."
Paul looked at each of these good friends and asked quietly. "Did you believe what he told you?"
June looked at Paul and grinned, and then shook her head. "You have to be kidding me? There's no way any human being can travel across the vastness of space. I also can't understand, with all the time he had to come up with a believable story about you, why he'd choose such a totally ridiculous one to try to feed us. My word ... monsters from space."
"Personally," Kathy offered, "I think he wanted to drop everything because he didn't want to show up to his forces secured in his own handcuffs. With all that law around, I think he didn't want us to tell anyone what he'd been saying. Chances are, he would have convinced some of them he was nuts."
Paul frowned, "But if you didn't believe him, why are you asking me?"
"Because we thought you're entitled to know what he's saying about you," Roy said. "We've had time to talk about the whole weird affair, Paul. None of it makes any sense. Personally I think the man has gone over the edge. He may need some professional help. We will honor our commitment, but I also don't trust government agencies that come out quoting national security as cover for what they're really doing. At times I just wanted to laugh in his face. Here we're supposed to be keeping this big national security secret and maybe it's him having the last laugh. After the fact, I guess I feel angry that he manipulated us so easily.
"I'm still not sure he wasn't bluffing," June added. "I think we have a good case for questioning his authority to arrest you on the warrant he showed us, particularly in the way he did it. There have been many legal decisions about evidence not being admissible if the arrest isn't proper."
"That might be true," Kathy offered, "but at the time and with Paul already gone, it just seemed reasonable to take his offer."
"Yes," Roy grimaced, "from the way he said 'Federal Security Agency' and looked me in the eye, I didn't really want to face him in court. I did consider he might be telling the truth about the power of his office. One doesn't have to be sane to work for the government."
"No matter what we decided," June returned, "we were still in a lose, lose situation. Except for getting some revenge for what he did to all of us, we wouldn't have gained anything. We would have had to seek a raft of expensive lawyers to fight his charges, probably would have had to post bail and could have been in the court system for months. That could have cost us the farm."
"I know you're right," Roy replied. He turned to look at Paul. "But by compromising with him, we left you at a status quo."
"I'm very sorry for having put you through all of this," Paul offered. "I really had no choice."
"We understand, Paul," Kathy added, "and you can't imagine how strange taking his offer made us feel. It included saying nothing to anybody, not even our own family. That's why when we realized you and Scott were here, we decided to talk to you again."
Roy pursed his lips then grimaced. "I guess what we really want to know, is if the trouble you're in, is serious enough for us to just put this all behind us as one of life's strange twists of fate. If not, I am thinking about contacting someone with adequate resources to have him and his agency investigated."
Pondering their situation, Paul looked at the three. Can I lie to them after what they did for me? I literally owe them my life, my freedom and another chance at a future for Scott. They're already honoring a commitment to Fox that keeps our existence a secret, but if I say 'no', being good citizens, I think they just might decide to start an investigation. If they start saying too much or begin asking embarrassing questions, Fox might be forced into doing something. I must consider their futures as well as ours. We will all be in jeopardy if I don't tell them something. I hope they will accept a very simple answer and not keep asking more questions. He looked at his friends, took a deep breath then let it out slowly. "The answer to your question is yes. My situation is serious enough for me to ask you to remain silent."
They expected Paul's answer to be one of his growing grins and a profound statement, but there was no grin to lead them to join in laughter. His face reflected, instead, a growing distress. "We certainly don't want to upset anything for you, Paul," June offered. "That's why we decided to ask you about it first. We won't say anything to anybody, but since we've agreed with Fox to remain silent, why don't you just tell us what this is all about? We thought you might have gotten yourself involved in some heavy international stuff. Is that it?"
Paul grimaced. I do not believe my simple acknowledgment that I do have a problem, is going to be sufficient to satisfy their very human curiosity. I feel I must tell them more. "No, I have done nothing harmful to anybody since coming here."
June frowned. "But if you haven't done anything, Paul, why are they after you?"
How much more can I tell them, he thought. At least this much, "Fox was telling you the truth when he told you a charge could be made against me for being an illegal immigrant, but that's all."
"That doesn't surprise us. We guessed you might be in the country illegally," June acknowledged. "But that's an immigration issue and Fox is Federal Security."
"There are a lot of other things they want to talk to me about, things that I cannot give them," Paul confessed.
"Are you a scientist or maybe a political refugee?" June guessed.
"As I said before, it's better you not know," Paul offered.
"Fox was right," Roy said bluntly, "He said you wouldn't trust us with the truth. He trusted us to keep our mouth shut ... why can't you?"
"They want me, and Scott, because of who I am," Paul offered further. "Your government seems unable to accept my presence here".
"Then who are you?" Roy asked impatiently.
"An illegal immigrant."
"You already told us that," Roy returned.
Paul heaved a sigh. If I don't tell them the truth, I will be violating the trust they have put in me. Now how can I do it? Oh well, here goes. He took a deep breath. "I am not from one of your foreign nations. I am from much, much farther away."
"Paul, I don't think you really understand? Fox asked us to agree not to tell anyone you're a space cadet," Kathy chuckled.
"Yes, Kathy, I do understand."
June's eyes got wide then narrowed and she began to smile. "Paul, do you understand what Fox was implying? He said you're an alien, alien." She glanced upward. "You know, an ET, from out there."
Paul nodded, obtaining direct eye contact. "I am."
"Come on Paul, get serious," she grinned.
"I am serious," he replied.
"Quit kidding around." She looked him directly in the eye and her grin broadened. "I know you can't hold a straight face for long," she returned flippantly. His unfettered gaze made her swallow hard. Eyes widening, her mouth opened slightly. "That isn't possible?"
"Yes, June, it is." Paul replied quietly studying her reaction.
She shook her head. "No. Come on, smile." When Paul nodded with an unwavering look, her smile faded. Examining his expression, her eyes got even wider. "You're not joking!"
"No, I'm not joking," he acknowledged without the flicker of an eyelash. Even though it might be difficult for you to accept, it is true."
"Then you're telling us what Fox told us is true?" Kathy asked.
"Yes, I am what you would refer to as, extra-terrestrial," he replied calmly.
"You're some kind of invading alien creature?" she returned nervously.
"No, Kathy. Though I am not of this world, I am not an invading creature." Noticing insecurity on her face, he cocked his head slightly to one side. "Does knowing this frighten you?"
June and Kathy arose from the log and moved aside a few steps. Concerned with their reaction, Paul sought to appease their fears, "Please, don't be afraid? I am no different now than I was when we were all working on the farm." At continuing stares and dropping mouths, his look changed to one of growing concern. "I have just assumed from the closeness we have shared, you would feel you know, me, well enough not to be afraid."
Looking at his renewed concern, June regained her composure. This is Paul Forrester, she thought. This is the same Paul Forrester we have known these past months. In the last few moments of talking to him he hasn't changed into a monster. Why should this knowledge make us think of him as less than the friend and helper he has proven to be? She returned to the log and sat again. "Paul, you're right. I do know you well enough not to be afraid. I'm just ... speechless."
Paul looked at her, and then at Kathy returning to sit beside her, and smiled. "It would greatly disappoint me to find any of you are afraid."
June, her mouth still open slightly, continued to stare. She shook her head and a broad grin appeared again. "Then others do exist out there?"
"There meaning," he glanced upward, "out there, or do you mean others of my kind here?"
"I am living proof to the first, and not that I am aware of to the second," Paul replied. He heaved a relaxing sigh as all their expressions turned to curiosity. The initial shock is over, or as Scott might say, the water is now flowing under another bridge.
"Now I understand why they're after you and why Fox used a tranquilizer." Kathy said. "He really didn't intend to hurt you?"
"I don't believe so. I am afraid there are too many questions your government wants to ask, first. Questions I cannot answer. I believe Mr. Fox, in his excitement at finding me, merely failed to use good judgment."
"Why didn't you run when you heard the helicopter?"
"Since I came here, learning has been a continuing experience for me, Kathy. I have had only limited contact with your flying machines. Though on my first encounter, they tried to kill me, when the machine approached this time, I had no real basis to believe it was even looking for me. When it approached, I assumed as you did, that it might be looking for the people we had been talking to earlier. I didn't know I could be disabled from a distance by 'tranquilizer'. I never considered it could be George Fox until I saw him. I will not make the same mistake again."
June looked Paul over curiously. "Sitting here looking at you, may I ask you something?"
"I'll answer if I can," Paul replied.
"This may sound strange." She frowned deeply, continuing to look him over carefully. "Does everyone evolve to look the same as we do?"
Paul smiled broadly. "No, evolution follows many paths." Thinking of a way to explain, he paused momentarily. "I am sorry for misleading you, but George Fox told me his orders were not to tell anybody about me, but now I think I should try to explain further. A little while ago you took the time to tell me about what you thought was a problem with my eyes. What you saw in my eyes, was me ... the real me."
"All I saw was blue light," June returned.
"Me," Paul restated, "though, 'to be' I do have more substance than just light." He paused briefly, allowing his statement time to sink in.
June leaned back slightly, perplexed by the thoughts racing through her mind. A few minutes ago I was looking at the Paul who has lived under our roof, eaten at our table and become an important part of our lives. Now I'm talking to something totally alien residing within that body. Paul Forrester must have been a living human being. "Then what Fox said is true," she said with uncontrollable disgust. "You took over this Paul Forrester's body?"
"No," Paul confirmed sincerely at hearing an unthinkable accusation. "June, that would not be morally correct. I told Mr. Fox the truth, but since he seems pre-occupied with the possibility I took over this person, let me tell you my side of the story. Then you can decide for yourself." He motioned for Roy to sit with June and Kathy then sat on the ground looking up at them. "I think it is important I start at the very beginning..." He reminded them of Voyager's invitation then told of being shot down when sent to follow-up on it. He told of finding Jenny; duplicating the body of her dead husband and making her provide the human assistance he needed to rendezvous with the returning ship. He told of Jenny's initial fear and amid various questions, explained much of their cross-country odyssey. He told of Jenny's acceptance, racing the clock and a deteriorating body, and reaching the recovery zone at the Arizona meteor crater to an armada of helicopters and gunfire. He then told of the ships approach forcing the threatening aircraft to land and silencing their weapons. "Once they retrieved me, we left."
For a moment Kathy looked suspiciously at Paul then shrugged her shoulders. "But what about Scott? How can he be your son if you're not ... human?"
"His father's body was very human, Kathy." He gestured, "As is this one. I merely provide the life energy that drives it. Though strange to me at first, it has become quite natural for me to exist within it. As with any other human being, I feel what it feels, physically and emotionally. The bond of human emotion I experienced with Scott's mother is part of what keeps us searching for her."
"Fox seemed surprised when we told him you were trying to find her. He said you forced her into having Scott."
"Again, that's not true, though he might very well believe it. We made Scott during out last night together."
"Made?" Kathy asked.
Paul grinned as he remembered his first experience with a strong human emotion. To him the answer to her question was simple. "Poorly chosen word. Forgive me. Scott was made in what you consider a normal manner."
Kathy's eyebrows rose. "After only three days, she just ... with you?"
"We must back up again for me to explain," Paul returned, his grin fading. "As I already told you, while I fled, just able to stay ahead of the authorities, a growing trust developed between us. Wet and cold on a moving train, we were driven close together for mutual warmth. I believe that closeness might have aroused in her a very strong attraction to her husband's physical form. Never opposed to learning something new, I merely allowed myself to respond to the flow of hormones within his body." Remembering again, Paul grinned sheepishly. "I must confess Jenny was a very good teacher." His eyebrows raised and lowered rapidly. "Well, one thing led to another and soon I realized we had created a new life. That new life was Scott."
Kathy blushed. "She must have been a very good teacher."
Paul grinned, appreciative of her acceptance. "When I told Jenny of our creation and she accepted him, I assumed all she had to do was to care for him as I had seen another mother caring for her baby. Though Jenny asked me to stay here with her, with the circumstances of my welcome, I felt it impossible. I was sure we would not be returning for a very long time and I had to tell her we would probably never meet again. Ignorant of the danger she and my son would face, I left with my ship."
"Then what brought you back?" Kathy asked.
"I left a technical device of my world with Jenny for the child's future development. Last year I received a distressing signal from here and obtained special permission to return. Expecting to find Jenny, I found instead, only a disturbed stranger. Finding a sample from blood spilled from Paul Forrester, I assumed this form to find out what was going on." Paul heaved a heavy sigh. "Now we must back up again, or my explanation will be incomplete. After I left, George Fox must have interrogated Jenny and when he discovered she was expecting a child, it required only crude mathematics for him to decide that Scott might be mine. I have learned from others, now, that Jenny was afraid the government would take him, so she arranged to have a couple in Seattle raise him, and then she disappeared from his life. The couple died last year in an accident. It was Scott's grief and loneliness that called me."
June could not take her eyes off Paul and she continued to study him as he answered Kathy's questions. Finally, unable to contain her thoughts any longer, she said spontaneously, "This is incredible."
Turning his attention to her, Paul said, "Not as incredible as it was to me, for, when I told Scott I was his father, he ran from me. Confused by his rejection, I didn't know what to do so I prepared to leave. Then a very close friend of Paul Forrester gave me a lecture about errant fathers and the time one must put into raising children. I questioned whether I could adapt to living here, but decided it was my responsibility to try."
"I'd say you've adapted very well," Kathy offered.
"At first it was hard, for Scott's continuing rejection made me lonely for the only world I had known." He smiled broadly. "Being together we have learned to depend on one another and I no longer get homesick." He shook his head slowly. "Being a father has been interesting, but as you have seen, it can be hazardous to my health."
"You don't have to let Fox do that to you, Paul," Kathy offered decisively. "We'll go to the newspapers; to television. Tell them your story and you'll get public opinion behind you. Fox won't be able to do anything."
"Though not imprisoned, Kathy, we would still have no peace. We would be oddities and many others would look for us. From what I read, I'm willing to wager some would be far worse than Fox and your government."
"Then you did tell him you didn't want anyone to know about you?"
"For now it is better we just continue to take our chances with Mr. Fox and hope someday I can convince him that I am here solely for Scott."
Roy frowned, "I'm still not certain I believe all of this."
Paul gazed into the eyes of his friend for a moment and then said quietly, "It is the truth."
"You said the light I saw in your eyes was you. Why can't I see you now?" Roy questioned.
"Because I have disbursed and energized the whole body again," Paul confessed. "Even I do not fully understand what happened out on the mountain, but when this human body died I apparently panicked within it. I cannot leave this form without assistance from my own kind, but trying to survive locked within it, I sought a way out and appeared," Paul motioned toward his eyes, "here, where I could still see light ...and freedom. Under the influence of the drug I could feel nothing of this body and wasn't aware of my response until I saw your reaction as you looked in at me. Trying to avoid the internal darkness, I sought the light each time you looked in. I believe I would have continued to appear until I got the pump started again and knew I would live."
"Pump?" June questioned. Momentarily she realized what he was saying. "You mean you started your heart?" she asked, somewhat disappointed.
Always observant, Paul noticed her reaction. "I'll try to explain as best I can." He paused momentarily gathering his thoughts. "From inside, I was well aware this body could no longer function on its own. Since I could not escape, in the way of my world I merely resigned myself to the end of being. I didn't understand the artificial life support you were providing until I heard you say a tranquilizer should wear off. It was then I realized that here on Earth I had to fight for life and joined your efforts by frequently trying to start the pump."
"Then you could hear us?" Kathy asked.
"Yes, though I could feel nothing, I could hear what you said as you worked to save me. A number of times I tried, without success, to re-start the pump. Afraid of using up my energy reserves too soon, I hoped you might provide me with an indication of the proper time. Then I heard June say the time had come to discontinue your efforts. I knew time was running out and gathered every remaining energy resource I possessed for what was to be a final attempt. That was the time it worked."
June looked at Paul. "We didn't know," she said remorsefully. "We could have let you die."
"But you didn't," Paul replied. "In reality, your efforts to save this body provided it with livability for an entire hour. Without you, I would have died in darkness."
I remember the elation and the feeling of the moment when I first saw Paul breathing, Kathy thought. She frowned deeply. "Can you gather energy from other sources?"
"I don't know!" Paul replied, his eyes wide and bewildered. "Why do you ask?"
"Because just about the time I first saw you breathing, I felt a distinct chill that left me shivering." Kathy raised one eyebrow. "Could that have been you ...gathering?"
"You too?" June asked. "I thought it was the emotional letdown of having to accept defeat." Together, June and Kathy glanced at Roy and received a reciprocating nod.
"All three of you at once?" Then Paul remembered. I was holding at least a slightly excited energy translator. My sphere apparently became a two-way energy thief. "I must assume it was you who contributed the necessary energy. What can I say, but 'I'm sorry' and 'thank you'."
"I'm certain I'm speaking for all of us," Roy returned with a frown, "you're more than welcome. Any time you need any more, just feel free to drain off some."
Looking at Roy, Paul's guilt deepened. He lowered his eyes. "I'm sorry, but I didn't realize..."
Roy broke into a wide ice-breaking grin. "It's okay. It was just for a moment and we're all living proof there was plenty, Paul ...or what should I call you?"
Delighted to find himself the brunt of another joke, Paul grinned. "After almost a year, I am Paul."
Roy's smile passed, replaced by one of chagrin. "Why didn't you just tell us the truth? We would have figured a way to get you away from Fox sooner."
"Sooner?" Paul questioned. "You were planning to help me escape all along?"
"Yes," Roy replied with growing pride. "We decided on that right after dinner the first night." Roy described their unsuccessful attempt at intercepting Fox in the fog and the despondency of believing they had come too late. Then he grinned broadly. "When we found you back at camp we were going to suggest getting out of the mountains as soon as possible, but Fox beat us to it with his emergency weather forecast. The arrival of the snow storm made everything a lot easier."
The smile left Paul's face. "Then Scott was right. He said he didn't think snow would have made you leave."
"Paul," Roy laughed, "I guess I just assumed you would realize we could easily have waited out the storm. I've done it so many times hunting, it seems like second nature. Going into the mountains this time of year, occasional snow storms, like frost, just happen, but these early cold snaps seldom stay for more than a few days."
"But you left all your things?" Paul questioned.
"We planned to leave most everything here anyway. It would have been senseless to carry everything out then turn around and have to bring it all back in again for this week. We planned to go down with all the horses and enough stuff to use for one night on the trail. The only change in plans was stashing everything here in the pack boxes. We took just about what we originally planned except the two June was using on the packsaddle and the one you had used that Fox needed to keep from freezing."
Paul frowned. "You say the snow made everything simpler?"
"Sure, we knew Fox couldn't have been sleeping much for at least forty-eight hours. Then he dropped his guard because he felt himself part of what appeared to be an emergency. He dropped it even more figuring we volunteered to give up our things so he could ride. We knew after riding Red's constant trot, devouring a substantial lunch, and then a smoother, slower ride, he wouldn't be able to hold out much longer. I saw him start nodding not twenty minutes after lunch. The plan was for me to pull him off and subdue him during one of those nods while June and Kathy gained control of the weapon. It would have worked just as planned except I was one nod too late. Actually I thought he might give out sooner, but he's too driven. Of course after what he told us about you, I can somewhat understand why."
"Yes, he is driven," Paul returned, "but ignorant of the truth."
Roy frowned. "I was really hoping he'd resist at least some, because I really wanted to fatten his lip again."
"I'm glad you didn't do that," Paul replied as he put his fingers up to his forehead. "Impact openings in the skin, hurt a lot."
Roy grinned, and then his grin faded to chagrin. "But Paul, after these past months, didn't you feel you could trust us enough to tell us what this was all about?"
"Fox threatened he would arrest you if I said anything."
"You would have allowed yourself to be taken to keep us from the same?" Kathy questioned.
"You have all been good to us and I think of you as friends. I kept hoping I would get a chance to escape on my own, but it was beginning to look bad. I will admit I was hoping you might try to help Scott find a safe place."
"If we couldn't keep Fox from taking you, we planned to get Scott away. Then we were going to go to the media and ask for help."
"No matter. You should have said something!" Roy retorted.
Paul looked up and gave them a grateful smile. "I didn't want to get you involved."
"We were already involved. Do you think we could just stand there and watch him treating you like an animal?"
"He did offer me some minor concession of comfort in exchange for telling you I agreed to go with him. But I am not stupid. He has promised to turn me over to your military and the end would have been no different. I could not compromise any possibility of escaping for temporary comfort, for ultimately, I cannot allow myself to remain in the control of any government."
"What do you mean 'cannot allow'?" Roy asked.
When Paul did not answer, they all looked intently at him and could see the answer in his calm expression and slightly raised chin. "Why do they feel they must imprison you?" Kathy asked with compassion.
"Fox said for research and interrogation."
Visualizing a dissection she had done in a college zoology class, she frowned deeply. "Paul, that's gross. What do they feel gives them that right?"
"From talking with Fox, I believe a part of his obsession with confining me is the possibility that my presence here is some preliminary to an invasion of your world. In mine there is no thought to express such a taking of others. Still I feel there must be others who believe as he does."
"And if enough believe it," Kathy returned with a sigh, "it gives them the right to do anything."
"He has also suggested my freedom to be a national security risk, whatever that means."
Kathy looked at Paul with compassion, "They must realize for you to get here you must have the ability to control tremendous power resources."
Paul's frown deepened. "Of course we control vast power resources, but I do not understand why it should be a problem."
"They might want control of you because of fear you might sell your knowledge to the highest bidder."
Paul's eyes narrowed. "Don't they realize to provide any primitive society with access to technology beyond their emotional capability to control, has to be strictly forbidden?"
"Some probably do, but people in power always think of potential threats to their power. When they think of losing power long enough, the threat becomes real," Kathy returned.
June looked compassionately at Paul. "Your Mr. Fox is also concerned with you using your knowledge. 'Absolute power corrupting absolutely', that's why he told us we should fear you."
"What does that mean?" Paul asked.
Looking down at his puzzled expression, she thought. This isn't a creature or a monster I'm looking at, only a kind and caring friend once again puzzling over a piece of incomprehensible information he has received. "Paul," she offered, "here, more often than not, intelligence combined with power is too easily corrupted."
Paul frowned deeply. "Does Fox truly believe I will act improperly? Where I come from that is never the case." He sighed deeply. "Under no circumstance do we victimize another. Socially, we adhere to two simple basic rules, 'Think before you do; and do nothing you would not desire in return'." They are almost identical to those I see in many of 'your' great books of wisdom."
"I am familiar with those sources," Kathy replied sympathetically. "They are beautiful statements that can encompass the handling of all human relationships, but we still have to achieve an adequate level of social awareness."
"I know, but I see many who have, and many willing to try changing preconceived ideas. Your species is beginning to strive for the perfection your nature demands, thus providing your intelligence a chance to succeed. Individuals must choose to rise above animal instincts and try to find conscience, for choice and conscience go together. When united they form the basis of ethical behavior."
"We're working on it," Kathy offered with a smile, "but lasting change comes about slowly and not by laws alone."
"If you keep working on it, it will come."
"Sometimes I begin to doubt it."
"With conscious choice each human being can choose to eliminate the restrictive pecking order and rise above the animals and so contribute to the common good." Now feeling close to giving restricted advice, Paul started to get up, "I believe it is time for me to go back."
June, could see he was getting uneasy about their questions. Not wanting him to leave, she grabbed his arm and asked, in an effort to try to keep any conversation going, "Has Fox caught you before?"
With a question he felt free to answer, Paul settled again. "Yes, but only briefly."
"How did you manage to escape?"
"With the help of friends, like you. In the past I have also used harmless illusions to confuse him. Now I know he is aware of them and fear he will ignore real danger, thinking it to be an illusion. I would feel badly if he or anyone got injured because of me."
June, seeing his concern, frowned. "Why are you worrying about him?"
Paul paused momentarily, and then smiled. "A matter of choice and conscience," he replied. His smile broadened until he chuckled. "Actually, he constantly surprises me. While he bargained with me to go with him, he offered to remain with me during any government procedures. I could only interpret his words and the manner in which he offered them, as showing some concern for my future." His smile faded. "Until you helped, I thought I might have to rely on his sincerity."
"That's strange, he offered us the same thing," she advised, thoughtfully. "He also said he would make sure you and Scott are treated with proper respect. I remember his offer very well, because I wondered if he just meant better than we saw him treating you. That might not be much of a favor." She shrugged her shoulders. "I hope you never have to rely on his commitment to anyone for that kind of help."
"I hope not either," Paul confirmed. With one raised eyebrow, he mulled over George Fox enhancing his offer. I wonder what he would consider 'proper' respect.
"Over the past couple of days I have debated breaking our agreement," Roy said. "Now I know he wasn't kidding about what could happen to us if we had not agreed. When he told us about you, the threat of having us arrested and placed in isolation, was true?"
"Yes, I believe so. I think you and your family would have disappeared into the government system with no explanation to anyone on the outside." Paul saw an involuntary shiver pass through Roy's body as he looked at his wife and daughter. "That is why I'm so surprised he told you. I do not doubt he has that authority, but I do question whether he would use it. He told me that anyone who has helped us has committed a crime. He also said he hadn't arrested anyone. I guess he figures arresting too many people a bother, or perhaps a further threat to this nation's security. That is why I wanted you to be sure to tell him I hadn't told you anything. I asked Cal to tell you I arranged to call him. If Fox had taken you, I would have found some way to help."
"Cal did tell us, and I thank you for your concern," Roy returned. "Now that we understand, we wouldn't do anything to put any of us in jeopardy."
Paul looked at these three friends. "To me it is gratifying that you know the truth and can accept it. I still remain hopeful things will change with Fox. I believe he will learn to overcome his fear, for his invading monsters live within him and make him avoid the truth."
"Why even try changing him?" June questioned sincerely. "I think that man is as stubborn as a Missouri mule."
"Simple," Paul replied. "Remaining free and undiscovered is a necessity for us to have any kind of normal life. Mr. Fox is the one who chases us, so it is him I must convince of his error because his agency seems to be in charge of all information about my presence here. Though they wish to keep me a government secret for the wrong reasons, it continues to allow me my privacy."
"What good is privacy if he keeps hounding you?"
"I gain time. Learning to understand him will assist me in understanding others like him. Someday I may need him, or someone like him to speak 'for' me and Scott. To do so, I must help him overcome his belief that I, or my world, is a threat. If I can't convince him, how can I ever hope to convince anyone in an even higher position, or those of your military?"
"After talking to him, he seems so determined to confine you, I see little chance of success," June advised.
"During this time we've been together, I could see him coming to a truce with himself. If I could have stayed, in freedom, I would have continued talking to him more candidly. Now I must rely on him continuing to think about the things we did discuss. Perhaps the next time our paths cross, he will have conquered at least some of his fears sufficiently for us to come to a mutual understanding, or as Scott might say: we could 'get to know where the other is coming from'. Perhaps with time and non-threatening actions on my part, I can convince him it would be wrong to confine us. There is even a possibility, if he is willing to give it a try, we could become friends. All I want here is an opportunity for Scott and me, and Jenny if we can find her, to be a family and live in peace."
"We can hide you," June offered. "There are so many things we want to ask."
"While I appreciate your offer, we cannot stay," Paul announced with certainty.
"Please?" June implored. "There is so much you could teach us."
"Now that you know, we must not even stay until morning," Paul reiterated. "As with your government's questions, I cannot continue to answer yours. This world has been determined insufficiently mature for information exchange. I read of too many people yet unable to accept those of your own kind who appear different."
"Once people get to know you, Paul, they would soon learn acceptance," Kathy advised.
"Only if I appeared as the rest of you. That is not a truth," Paul said. "A much larger number of your people must overcome prejudice and intolerance in themselves, Kathy, before they will be ready to accept those totally different. It is not for me to judge or try to change you. For Scott, the only thing I know I must try to change here, is the attitude of one George Fox."
With a look reflecting the knowledge of the cosmos, Paul continued. "More important for you are many of the things you discussed with Charlie Fisher. There are decisions you must make about goals for your entire species. Decisions about right and wrong. For us to let you take shortcuts in the determination of correct things to do for each other and this world is considered interfering in your search for an identity. Such interference remains strictly forbidden." Paul smiled. "Still, while Scott and I travel, I am learning to feel and understand what it is to be a Planet Earth Person. For myself and my world, I am trying to understand 'where you are coming from and where you are going.'."
"But why should you want to know how we feel?" Kathy asked.
"It could be vitally important with regard to future contact. Also knowing how you feel allows me to blend in and become one of you, for I may decide to remain here beyond Scott's maturing years. I too want to find Jenny Hayden and if she is available, and willing, I want to be with her."
Kathy looked at Paul and grinned. "Somehow I can't envision too much of a problem with this Jenny."
"So far the problem has been finding her," Paul returned, "but I remain confident we will."
Kathy grinned broadly. "Is it all right with you if I tell Cal about you? It would mean so much to him."
"It's all right with me, Kathy, but that permission is not mine to grant," Paul replied. "Whether you choose to honor your commitment to George Fox, is entirely up to you."
Kathy recognized she faced a simple truth of deciding between right and wrong. She heaved a sigh and nodded slowly.
As soul-searching moments passed, Roy looked down at Paul with increasing humility. "I feel so foolish about some of the things I said and did to see if I could get you to ask me questions. I laughed because you weren't familiar with certain aspects of our language."
"Roy, you shouldn't feel foolish at all," Paul replied. "You weren't laughing. It is a game I recognize you played, not only with me, but with others who visit. I answered your questions, because I wished to. I learned many things in our games to help me further understand my growing humanity. One learns some things by reading and listening to others, but when unfamiliar with words, concepts or sayings, questions must be asked. I continue to learn wherever I go and from everybody I meet and using your many sayings will help me blend in better. In addition, Scott and I have learned many things while at your farm and I will continue to study the natural cycles of life on Planet Earth."
Now somewhat awed as by a celestial presence, June looked at Paul with humility. "Being who you are, you surely must think of humans as backward and simple minded."
"I will admit, the first time I came here I was highly critical of your ways. For example, I felt confused when I saw a deer shot by a hunter. Though I asked Jenny Hayden about it, my question was not designed to learn, for I did not consider that I was not home. All I felt was it bothered me that such beauty of form had been made waste. Acting without all the facts, I became a self-appointed God and restored the animal. From you I have learned that though life may be taken, it was not necessarily wasted. It only changed form to serve other purposes as life here dictates it must."
Paul paused momentarily. "You see, I had to learn that I cannot compare this world to mine. Now I know such a comparison of systems is not just, for I cannot compare a growing child to a mature adult. Your world is young and has a long way to evolve to achieve maturity. Living here, I understand foolishness to be a part of youth as are the associated dangers. As I continue to learn more about what it is to be ... human, I understand you can often act foolishly, but never think of yourself as simple minded. You are much more complex than I ever imagined. With intimate and prolonged contact I have found you a truly amazing, inquisitive and creative species. Now, each time I think critically, I remember one of June's sayings."
"What was that?" she asked, grinning appreciatively.
Returning her smile Paul replied, "It was, 'Do not be critical of your neighbor until you have walked a mile in his footsteps'."
Paul looked from one friend to the other. "In addition to what I learn from those we encounter in our search, I have learned from being here with my son, that adolescence is the time for growing up; the time of making choices; and accepting responsibility for your actions. It is a very difficult time of choosing between what's right and what you personally desire. An adolescent's entire future depends upon their choices. It's really the same with any intelligent species. When we found your probe we understood you to be The United Nations of Planet Earth.
"Now I read of wars and the cruelty one inflicts upon another. You continue to act like adolescents, seeking only the satisfaction of self. That leads to conflict. It is sad, for warring among you takes too much of your creative potential. With mankind, as with that growing child, you must collectively begin to put away toys and intolerance and look toward your future, for the energy sources you have developed as weapons are capable of destroying this world."
"But between the more powerful nations we have agreed not to use many of them," June offered defensively. "Having them has even provided us with a restless kind of peace for we realized long ago that what we were relying on to protect us, was useless for anything except total and senseless destruction."
"That reasoning is a sign of pending maturity, but a mixed blessing," Paul offered. "The issues of destroying each other must give way to the use of wise and collective reasoning to resolve problems. This world is truly beautiful and as we discussed long ago, the alternate to human conflicts destroying it, is also 'human'. Your numbers are causing a step-by-step destruction of that upon which all must depend. As a thinking species you must learn to care about everything and develop ways of controlling your numbers with reason and equality. This must be a higher challenge to your creative intelligence."
"Thank you for reminding us of what we should be able to see ourselves, Paul," June returned.
Starman sighed deeply. "I really find it rather sad for you can no longer remain an adolescent. You must begin the search for maturity." Paul thought momentarily of his investigative challenge to the ship. "Becoming close to you in your youth, I have found your world has a great deal to offer mine as a reminder of what we have lost."
June frowned. "What do you mean?"
Paul grinned, "You have things my world seems to have forgotten by virtue of its very 'civilized' nature. I have discovered a great wonder in laughter." Paul's smile spread from ear to ear and his eyes danced. "Especially the ability to laugh at the same time you learn from your mistakes. But one of the most fascinating and still the hardest to understand is one you possess in abundance and merely take for granted. It is the emotional attraction and response you call, love."
"Love?" Kathy asked quizzically.
Paul smiled at another memory. "Though at the time I had no idea what Jenny Hayden was trying to tell me, I remember so vividly what she said of her love for her husband who had died. By her definition, 'Love is to care more for another than you do yourself'. She said 'It is when someone is a part of you'." His smile disappeared. "Jenny cried at just the thought of her loss, but I did not understand. Since I returned to be with my son, I have discovered it to be so much more. It is caring and trusting without question."
Paul's smile appeared again. "It is doing something someone asks you to, even if you think it's dumb. It is something that grows over a long period of time and strips away defensive barriers leaving you vulnerable to betrayal ...to hurt ... to pain. Yet the feeling you get from a total sharing of yourself with another, is more powerful and wonderful than all the discoveries I have been a part of. It is the basis for being ...for living ...for life, and one my world often seems to have forgotten. As I observed your world facing the dangers of a growing child, I can see mine facing the stagnation of aging. We are allowing ourselves to mature too far and have lost many of the joys of ...being."
"You could teach us about those things," Kathy urged. "You could make sure we don't make the same mistakes."
"I cannot," Paul returned. "Be it an individual or a civilization, when presented with facts each must make its 'choices' for all or lose character. I have already offered to my world for their consideration, those things I have found beautiful here. Now it is up to them to choose what is, or isn't, important. I am certain if feelings, emotions and the hazards of youth are deemed desirable, they can still choose to change. For your world, you must think of and become part of solutions you need right now," he offered. "Have respect for your species, for it does have things rarely found in one so young. Intelligence occurs only rarely; sometimes shows promise, but lacking compassion for its own, ends in self-destruction. You are now at the end of your youth and must accept the challenges of growing up or join the records as another failure."
"You inform us we have to start growing up, and then you run off somewhere to play 'keep-away' with the government," Roy said, rather perturbed. "Are you ready to accept whatever we do?"
"My plan is to stay here with my son and as a part of his world so I 'must' accept whatever you do. If wise, you will make justice your guide and learn from everything around you. If you choose well for all, someday you will be ready to reach for the stars. Then the door will open and my world, perhaps by then younger because of you, will come to take your hands." He paused, looking with humility at three special friends. "Now I know Scott and I must leave right away, not only for your and our safety, but because you can no longer treat us as one of you."
"We will," June said decisively.
"You cannot," Paul returned with assurance. "Even when you did not believe what Fox told you was true, I noticed reservation in your actions. Now you know I am different. I do not want to be treated like an oddity from another world. I want to be one of you, for that is how I learn and you can no longer treat me so."
"You won't even give us a chance?" Roy returned sharply as Paul got up.
"It will not work," Paul replied. "You'll try to make certain you don't 'appear foolish' when we talk and you'll be reluctant to offer advice. You will carefully analyze anything I say for some deeper meaning." Paul began to grin. "I'm not some omnipotent being. I consider myself an explorer and while I can perform any function on my ship, normally I navigate, using and creating maps," he pulled Fox's map from his pocket and displayed it, "like this one. The only difference is I make and used multi- dimensional maps of the stars in a constantly changing universe. Here on this world I am the stranger and if I am to fit in, I must learn what it is to be a man ...and a father."
"Please stay?" Kathy begged. "At least for the rest of the week."
Paul's response was related slowly and with deep conviction. "No. I know you must have many questions to ask, but I cannot keep answering them. I am returning to our camp to collect our things. Then I'll get Scott and we will leave." He smiled. "I want to thank you all for your hospitality and the chance to help you on the farm." His eyes began to sparkle as he looked at them. "I'll always remember you, for you have taught me important things about being part of a family; about laughter; how to celebrate the Fourth of July; the fun of picnics and parades; about birthdays and parties and presents. You gave me a birth day to celebrate like everybody else. Paul's face became very somber, before continuing. "But most of all, you cared for another more than yourself and without that expression of love given without question, I would not be here. The truth is, the 'love for another' you gave in these mountains, saved two lives and possibly my son's future as well. I can think of no proper way to express how I feel."
I understand the truth in his words, June thought. They have to leave. But the truth is not going to make parting any easier. "On the contrary, it is we who should be thanking you for trusting us with such a secret." She smiled warmly. "Without answering more questions, just knowing others exist and that you are out there waiting for us to grow up boggles the imagination."
Paul watched her stand. I think I've kept her sitting too long and she's stiff again, he thought. It didn't show when she got up before because she was momentarily afraid. I have watched her suffer with pain since she re-injured her back earlier in the summer. Scott asked me to help her, but I knew it would raise too many questions. Would helping her really be any different than what I did for Jenny or Tony Billingsley? By scanning for her pain and using comparative reference with this body I should be able to find the problem. With the sphere's energy I should have no problem repairing the damage. His eyebrows rose as he saw her shuffling stiffly back toward the trail. Unconsciously he shrugged his shoulders and heaved a sigh. What difference will it make if I demonstrate the power the sphere gives me? I cannot... No, I will not believe it will frighten them. He followed. "June, wait," he called softly. When she stopped, he took hold of her arm and turned her back toward him. "Can I try something for you?"
"What?" she asked, inquisitively.
"Would you trust me to find out what is wrong with your back?"
She smiled. "I can tell you what's wrong with my back, Paul. It's degeneration of a spinal disk. The doctors said it will eventually require surgery, but they felt it too risky unless the pain becomes intolerable. I just have to put up with it, hoping every passing day that medical science will soon come along with something better and safer."
Paul took her hand in his and looked her in the eye. "You thanked me for trusting you with a secret, but do you feel you can really trust ... me?"
"Are you testing me?" she asked, her eyebrows rising.
"Maybe," he replied with a challenging smile.
Needing nothing more, she smiled in return. "Sure I trust you, but there's nothing you can do?"
Paul took out his sphere, displaying it to her. "With this ... perhaps much."
June paused, looking at the object lying in his hand. On the trail Paul insinuated he wanted to stay to try to talk to Fox in freedom. Roy said he searched frantically for a round ball then suddenly decided he had to leave. Feeling enlightened, she looked again at the sphere. "That's what you were looking for. That's why you're here." She frowned deeply. "You came all the way back here for that?"
"To me it's very important."
Another reality dawned and she smiled knowingly. "Scott's technical device?"
"No," he replied. "My technical device. It provides me with a link to my world, but it can do much, much more."
"But it doesn't look the way it did when I saw it the other day."
"If you trust me, it will in a moment."
"Paul, I'd trust you with my life, anywhere and anytime," she offered freely. "If you want to try something, go ahead."
He turned his head and saw Roy looking at him, his face full of questions. "And what about you, Roy, can you trust me?"
"Of course he can," June offered without hesitation.
Paul waited a long moment and receiving a restrained nod from Roy, directed. "Now, Roy ...Kathy, please do not approach us. What you see will be a part of me and my world, but you need not be afraid." He turned back to June. "I must first determine if I can help, but I will do nothing if it might harm you."
June watched Paul position himself beside her. For a moment she felt his hand at her waist then it slipped between her clothing and moved directly onto her lower back. Other than an uncontrollable reaction to a cold hand on warm skin, she stood still as a statue, but still slightly apprehensive, she could not keep from closing her eyes.
"June, I can feel you're tense," Paul chastised. "Remember, you said you trusted me. Relax."
Looking over her shoulder she Paul's smile. Why should I be tense? she asked herself. He's wearing the same friendly smile that has always attracted me to this man. She blushed self-consciously as his fingers, following some unrecognizable pattern, moved slowly around her back. His eyes closed and seeing a look of complete concentration on his face, she felt a feeling of warmth flowing through her.
Paul's eyes opened and a shimmering blue light emitted from the object in his hand. It expanded then suddenly surrounded her in a glorious blue haze. Eyes wide in anticipation, she looked through the haze and could see Roy and Kathy staring in alarm. Now unable to do anything but relax, she marveled at the increasing warmth within the light. It immediately reminded her of his warm hand and the 'thank you' felt on the mountain. She felt a sadness when, in what seemed like moments, the light disappeared.
"There should be no discomfort any longer," Paul announced with complete confidence.
"Are you okay, Hon?" Roy asked, rushing toward her and glancing nervously between them.
"Fine," she replied with a grin. "It was wonderful. I'd recommend it to anyone." Bending over she tested for the normal aching. "It doesn't hurt anymore. Thank you, Paul." She reached up to gently touch Paul's forehead. "You healed all your injuries, didn't you?"
"No." At June's puzzled look Paul smiled and said, "Scott did." He saw her nod and realized she understood Scott was special too.
As Kathy came to June's side, Roy turned to Paul, asking brokenly. "What was that?"
Raising his hand, Paul pointed to his eyes. "'That was me', for direction," he confidently held out the sphere again, "and energy relayed through this."
"Roy, that's all I can say," Paul offered, politely cutting off the questions he knew would come if he tried explaining. He turned away from his friends. "Now I must go."
Roy grabbed his arm. "Please, can I ask you one more question before you leave?"
Very reluctantly, Paul slowly turned around to again face this benefactor and proven friend. "I can't explain..."
"No," Roy returned. "My question is not about what I just saw you do. That, in itself, was a miracle and I can accept your reluctance to answer about the source of such an ability. I have to ask about something Fox said that is bothering me."
"I have already shown you more of myself than I would George Fox because you seem able to accept who I am," Paul offered. "Now I must also ask that you keep what I have shown you, permanently, to yourself." He heaved a sigh. "Still, if something about 'me' bothers you, I do want you to ask. I want you to feel comfortable with the choices you have already made on my behalf and with any you may have to make in the future." He looked firmly at them. "You must understand, there are things I cannot explain to you."
"I understand," Roy confirmed. He looked at Paul with grave concern. "George Fox insinuated that since we had been around you for so long, we would do anything to help you. Paul, on the surface it appears we have. He insisted you have some kind of control of us." Roy looked at Paul meekly, unable to put his question into words.
"Roy, as with many of George Fox's ideas, that one also is not true," Paul stated with unquestionable certainty. "To manipulate or control another's thoughts to benefit yourself is not correct behavior at any time. Even if it was the only way I had of escaping from him, I would not do so."
"But he said he's seen others in your control and I have always felt ...well, a strange compulsion to look at you eye to eye."
Paul looked bewildered. "What are you trying to say?"
Roy stumbled over the words. "Do you have some..." he grimaced. "I might as well just ask you straight out, rather than beating around the bush. Do you have us in your ...control?"
Paul looked at him with concern. How can I best answer such a question? he thought. I think my best answer is the common human method I have observed and often used before. "Have you felt you have done anything not of your free will these past months?"
"Never," he answered confidently.
"Then you have answered your question. As I just said it would not be correct. In my world, ethical behavior is beyond reproach. It is an idea needing encouragement in people."
"Paul," June asked. "Your healing light brought another question to mind I'd like to ask before you go? I think it relates to what Roy just asked."
Feeling himself being drawn closer and closer to forbidden territory, Paul offered anxiously, "I will answer if I can."
"The day out on the mountain, when I took your hand to check your pulse, I... What I want to ask is if you can..." She paused, seeing a growing look of concern on his face. "I'm sorry, I don't want to hurt you."
"The truth cannot hurt or be changed by a question," he offered. "Please say what you're thinking."
"When I took your hand, I..." Determined, the words finally came in a rush. "I 'felt' you thanking me." Grimacing, but now that the first words had been said, she continued. "Can you transmit thoughts?"
Paul's eyes lit up and he smiled. "Then you understood I was trying to convey my appreciation for whatever you were doing for me?"
"I 'know' I 'felt' something," she returned.
Paul smiled at the complexity of their observations. "This might take a little while and I think we should sit again. He led them back to the log and again sat on the ground before them. Suddenly he saw June's mouth drop and her eyes opened wide while drawing in a large breath of air. "June, what's the matter?" he asked in alarm.
"Oh, Paul!" she replied in anguish. "Now I think I understand why Fox thought the message I delivered for you was a riddle!" She closed her eyes tightly and a pained expression remained.
"I didn't mean it to be a riddle," Paul returned hesitantly.
"Paul, I hope you're going to tell me you have never asked Fox to look into your eyes?"
"Yes, I have," he replied apprehensively. "Why do you ask?
"I can forget so many things. Oh, how I wish I had forgotten to deliver that message."
"June, I don't understand what you're saying," Paul replied with concern.
"Paul, now that I understand your problem with Fox. I'm really sorry to have to tell you this. I just know he misunderstood what you were trying to say."
"June, what are you talking about?" Kathy asked.
"Kathy, do you remember the look on Fox's face when I told him about Paul's eyes? Remember, he got so excited he even thanked me. That's when he started to ramble on about the mind control and taking us over. He even went so far as to forgive us for helping Paul." She winced. "Kathy, he put what we described together with Paul's message. He thinks Paul was setting him up." She looked back at Paul. "If I hadn't delivered your message, you might have been much closer to achieving what you want of him. I make one attempt at trying to cooperate with the man and now it's my fault he believes as he does. Paul, I'm so sorry." Tears started flowing down her face and she took in a couple deep breaths.
Paul sighed. "I am sorry to hear that is what he now believes, but June, it isn't your fault. It was my message and you had no way of knowing. Two truths just happened to come together at an inappropriate time. I believe it is called bad luck."
"June, I don't think everything is lost," Kathy returned confidently. "If you'll think back, Fox said he would remain with Paul, after that."
"That's true," she sniffled hopefully. "But even so, keep away from him, Paul. Now he's even thinking of you as personally threatening. Please don't try to set up any meeting with him unless you can be sure of your safety."
"June, under these circumstances, I think I must fully answer your question for the answer relates to what you felt and to what Fox now believes. This will be difficult, because I must not say too much." He saw them looking at him expectantly and took a deep breath. "I am assuming, from what you have seen of me, you might guess my kind uses no verbal language. Most advanced civilizations do not. We communicate by projecting or blending thoughts. Language, both verbal and of the body, can be misunderstood, but to those experienced in merging communication, thought patterns remain universal.
"Try to understand, the developing human mind is already a remarkable achievement." Paul pointed to his temple. "It already has the ability to handle vast quantities of information faster than language can express." He looked at June with appreciation. "I know it has the capability to comprehend projected thoughts if the circumstances are right. On the vague chance you might possess that ability, I might have been projecting to you."
"I know I felt a 'thank you'," she returned. "Is it possible I might have such a gift?"
"I can check for you, if you wish?"
She nodded then allowed him to take her hands. She saw his eyes close and the look of concentration returned.
Momentarily, Paul looked back. "I have projected a simple message. Did you understand?"
"No," she replied, shaking her head in disappointment.
He held up the sphere up between his thumb and forefinger. "Then I believe the reason you understood my projection was because you were holding my hand and the sphere provided a pathway between us." He looked into her eyes. "Now I would like to answer your question. I must confess, even while I occupy this form, I possess abilities associated with my world. I can sense and translate a highly emotional state of mind in people merely by direct contact. This is probably due to certain chemical changes and electrical impulses that occur when the human body is under stress.
"In general, though, human thought patterns are too cluttered for me to understand without my 'technical device'. Even then, it takes time to sort them out. In my world all enjoy the ability to blend with the thoughts of others, to do so without permission is considered improper and impolite. If abused, it can be considered an invasion of self and is dealt with severely."
"Would you ever do so?" June asked, hesitantly.
"There is a growing part of me that ... thinks 'human', and as a survival technique I am learning the graceful art of deception."
"Are you deceiving us now?" Roy asked, looking directly at him.
Paul turned to Roy and his eyebrows rose in disbelief at what the words implied. "No," he advised with increasing distress. "To lie to you now would gain nothing and lose much, for you would not trust me. I will say, it is difficult for me to lie and I do try my best to be truthful as long as it doesn't put us in jeopardy. Still I do not want you to think, with the power I possess, I am without transgressions. All were selective and I felt without any other choice."
June looked at Paul coyly. "Can you tell us what you believe a transgression?"
"Yes, for again it will also help me to answer your question," Paul returned without hesitation. "As I said before, I can transmit thoughts readily, but there is only one person I have yet confirmed capable of receiving them."
"Scott?" June asked confidently.
"No." Paul smiled "I have already determined, even with my genetic influence being a part of my son, Scott's teenage mind is a total clutter. My communion was with a man who had suffered a stroke. The first time I met him, I took his hand and sensed a deep distress, almost dread within him. I sympathized with his situation and must have projected my feelings to him. Through contact with his incapacitated body I was able to comprehend fragments of what I believed a very garbled thought projection. Later, when I found him alone, I used my sphere to read his thoughts. I'm afraid in the reading and sorting, I translated more than he projected. Even though I never repeated, other than his concern over an engineering flaw, I clearly violated ethical behavior norms by having invaded his deeper thoughts."
Kathy frowned. "Can't you consider he gave his permission when he first tried contacting you?"
"He might have only been dwelling on his concern and not consciously trying to contact me. The second time, I initiated the contact."
"What option did you have ... ignore him? If that was a transgression, how do you ever get permission?"
"I feel the last time we merged he did give his permission and might have vindicated my earlier transgression. When an emergency arose I know he fully understood I wanted to help, for his projection came through loud and clear. I put his thoughts into words and he saved his daughter, an experimental aircraft and their business by preventing what could have been a fatal crash."
"Under the circumstances," Roy offered, "I think he was very lucky you happened along. At the time I think he needed your breach of ethics very badly."
Happy again with their acceptance, Paul smiled. "Thank you, but that was not the only time. On another occasion I utilized the sphere to read another's thoughts to ease my own conscience. This I did, clearly without permission. I found out that during Paul Forrester's life, he fathered a son. Eric is about Scott's age and became rebellious when he accidentally discovered the man he believed was his father, was not. Assuming I was, he felt an attraction to the image of a father, not the reality."
Paul looked at Roy, and then at Kathy. "Being a father, just like being a son or a daughter, grows with time, trust and understanding. Eric believed the image more important than his mother and the step-father who had always been there for him. Knowing our circumstances, you can understand when he asked to join us, I had to tell him I couldn't allow it." Paul confirmed their nods. "I continue to find teenagers interesting and unpredictable, for hurt by rejection from someone he didn't know, he was going to run away from all he did. He wasn't really running from his mother or his stepfather. He was running from my rejection."
Paul heaved a sigh. "To try to repair the damage, I had to find him. To do so I needed ideas of where to look. I found his true father of time, grieving over his loss and used my sphere I 'suggested' he remember places his son might go when troubled. Scott and I checked out a couple of possibilities, and finally found him. "I told him he could go with us after he explained to his parents why he wanted to leave them. His mother easily accepted that he would be in the care of his biological father, but his father of time became angry. I could feel his honest affection for his only child.
"I know there is a time a parent must let go so a child can learn to fly, but this was not the way. Still it was the growing adolescent boy who had to choose, not his parents. With my device reinforcing my feelings, I invaded the man's thoughts again; quieted his anger; encouraged him to allow his son to think over his available options; and projected the thought telling him to wait for the right time to go to Eric. With reinforcement from a caring father, the boy chose to remain with his family. Ignoring the ethics of my world, I invaded that man's privacy, not once, but twice."
"Can't you consider it was for the best?" Kathy asked.
"For the boy, yes. I believe he was making a mistake that would affect his entire future. For me, it was a violation, and I can never be sure if I chose correctly."
"As a mother I could only pray for the availability of such unethical help."
"Thank you, again," Paul replied as he looked up at them. "I have confided in you that I do have physical and mental abilities beyond those of normal humans and again must ask you to keep that in confidence. I want you to know I am totally in control of who I am, and would never do what Fox implies." He cocked his head slightly to one side and looked at June. "Now, have I answered your questions?"
"Yes," she confirmed sadly. "I want to thank you for sharing so much, Paul. I feel it a great privilege to know you." Her lower lip quivered. "Is there nothing we can do or say to change your mind about staying here with us?"
Calmly and with conviction, Paul replied, "No. We must go."
They watched sadly as he got up. This time no one tried to stop him. He walked briskly back down the trail while they followed slowly.
Paul reached the meadow and proceeded to camp, gathered their things and stuffed them into the duffle. He rolled the two sleeping bags, took down and folded the tarp and readied all the borrowed gear for return to the lean-to. When finished he walked out across the meadow to where Scott was talking and Amy giggling. Paul looked at Amy, apologetically, "I'm sorry, Amy." He turned to his son, "Scott, we have to leave."
Scott looked at his father, defiantly. "You said tomorrow?"
"They know," Paul stated simply, reinforcing the words with his eyes. He motioned back toward where Kathy, Roy and June now stood looking at them from the lean-to.
Scott looked at his father in disbelief. "You told them? Why?"
"Fox told them."
"I don't believe this," Scott replied ungraciously. "That man has somehow managed to ruin my last day here?"
"They know what, Scott?" Amy asked innocently.
Scott saw the 'let's go, now', look on his father's face and knew better than to argue further. He turned to Amy and took both of her hands in his. "Amy, I'm sorry, but we have to leave."
Amy got up, pulled Scott close and gave him a kiss. She knew this would be their last good-bye. Scott and his father were in trouble with the government and for the second time she accepted his departure without question.
Paul, not wishing to impose on the personal nature of what was to be Scott's final good-bye, said, "I'll wait for you back at camp."
"Thanks Dad," he replied gratefully.
Paul returned to camp and several minutes later Scott walked over with Amy. "Is everything ready?" he asked. Paul nodded.
When Cal noticed the camp being packed, he and Sandy came over. Paul confirmed their eminent departure and Cal graciously offered to help move everything to the lean-to. Everybody gathered for what three family members knew would be the last time. They exchanged good-byes without reservation.
"You'd better take the sleeping bags," June offered while fighting back tears. "It will be dark in a couple of hours and you'll have to camp somewhere in the mountains tonight." She handed Paul some pieces of plastic sheeting. "You can use these for ground cloths." Next she pushed a plastic bag toward Scott. "It's just some groceries."
"Thank you," Paul accepted graciously. "We will send the sleeping bags back."
"Whatever," June mumbled, finally unable to keep her tears from spilling over."
Paul rolled his air mattress into one sleeping bag and the groceries into the duffel then tied the plastic around the second bag with a piece of twine. One of the first, and most difficult things I have learned about being 'human', he thought, is saying good-bye. He forced a smile and looking at all, but three in particular, said quietly, "Please don't walk any further with us. I want to remember you here, in this beautiful place ... and smiling." He waited until Amy, June and Kathy were able to control persistent tears. I can see they are not afraid. Why can't George Fox be as open minded? As forced smiles appeared, he returned one of his. With one last, long look at the Fosters and the Dorans, he handed Scott the camera and extra sleeping bag and shouldered the duffle. "Good-bye," he offered simply and turning, they walked away. Never looking back, they walked through the trees, crossed the creek and started up the mountain.
As Paul and Scott disappeared into the trees, three family members were thinking how unfair it was. Roy took hold of June's hand, and then Kathy's and gave each a reassuring squeeze. Kathy saw Amy's tears overflowing about the same time Sandy saw them and each took a hand. In a moment a circle of family, seeming short by two, remained watching well after they had disappeared.
What an impact these two have had on our lives, Kathy thought as she tried to settle back into a normal camping routine. I'll be starting back to school when Cal and I get home. I'll be entering another exciting part in my life. Though I will never regret these past years of being a full time mother, I will be returning to the career I chose as a teenager. Paul was confident in my ability and with that thought in mind, I know I can make it. Would I have remained at home, wasting whatever potential I have to help others if Cal hadn't dragged home two extras for the weekend because he felt he owed them more for their lecture?
I can still hear Cal confess during haying, that a few thought provoking words from Paul had given him a greater confidence in his ability to teach and in his own personal worth. From attending another one of their lectures he outlined the basis for what he jokingly started referring to as 'The Forrester Method' and he has been successfully using it on his students. After only a few weeks he found a new attitude toward school and learning in many of them. Now he is determined to discover those special interests that lie hidden within those remaining so he may bring them back into the learning mainstream.
Kathy squeezed Cal's hand. When I approached you about going back to school, we agreed we would continue his method. Her thought appeared as an outward smile. At least through the Calvin Dorans, this 'visitor' has the potential to help many other young people. When the family finally separated, Kathy's smile faded to a perplexed frown as she saw Cal return to stacking wood under the edge of the lean-to. I do so want to tell him the truth about 'his teacher', but I did enter into an agreement with George Fox and I know it is proper to honor it.
Her smile bloomed again as she saw Amy and Sandy bringing in armloads of wood. Amy joined her father in stacking while Sandy continued passing it to them. Scott, like his father, is colorblind. This summer with Scott, I could see my Amy experiencing a wonderful and rewarding boy-girl relationship. Amy has bloomed into a beautiful young woman with poise and confidence in her ability to deal with life and her future. How, I wonder, would she react to knowing about Scott's hidden side? Could she remain as objective of his differences as he has been of hers? She nodded her head then closed her eyes and smiled. I believe Amy has always been colorblind of prejudice.
On the way back into the mountains, Sandy, my classic boy-shy pre-teen, though giggling and joking, told me if Scott hadn't been Amy's boyfriend, she would have tried to give her sister some competition. Kathy frowned. Sandy will be twelve next month. Her bloom into adolescence will be upon us within the year. Oh, how her ideas about boys will change. She grinned again. I think Sandy might have already passed a basic initiation of growing up. First, I do have to respect her choice of quality for her first crush, and secondly, she has also shown the maturity to honor her sister. She chuckled inwardly. Maybe we haven't done too badly as parents.
Roy's wood gathering had taken him far enough up the mountain that he could look toward the pass out of the valley. "I don't see them so they must be over the top by now," he said to the surrounding trees. "We realized Paul was different and even guessed him to be foreign." He grinned as he picked up the wood he had gathered and started back toward camp. "The truth about just how foreign would never have occurred to any of us."
Walking back toward camp, he mumbled, "The first week they were with us I observed a mechanical aptitude and an unusual ability to learn in both of them. They took to operating farm machinery as if they had been doing it all their lives. Paul even figured out the Truck Driver's knot in one quick demonstration. It took me an entire day with a professional demonstrating repeatedly. At the time I remember feeling like a dummy just as Cal must have felt when I tried to teach him. Paul didn't seem to have any problem teaching Cal. I also know Scott has many of his father's abilities, but I think he is still limited by hormones and the impatience of youth."
He dumped the wood on the ground for Cal and Amy to stack, and then picked up the water kettle from beside the fire and walked to the stream to fill it. "I'm still not sure I believe this whole thing," he mumbled to himself. "It has to be some kind of weird dream. I'm going to wake up soon." Filling the kettle from the rushing stream, he returned to camp. After setting the kettle down beside the fire pit, he stooped over and walked into the lean-to. His eyes fixed on the spot where Paul had been confined. Cognizant of the fact he was no longer alone, he didn't express his feelings out loud. It wasn't a dream. We shouldn't have let them go so easily. He paused. That wouldn't have been right. We had to let them go. If we tried to force them to stay we would have been no better than George Fox.
A sly grin appeared again then bloomed to cover Roy's face. What a shock we received today when we found we've had an explorer and navigator of the stars living with us. No wonder he...? Remembering the light in Paul's eyes, he paused. Is 'he' the right word? ... Yes, to us, Paul has always been a 'man' ... and a friend. A friend who gave a demonstration and explained, with technical accuracy, the geometry and physical forces of a game of pool. He shrugged his shoulders and chuckled to himself. No wonder he looked at us so strangely when we mentioned there would be no haying on the Fourth of July. He chuckled again. Paul had no idea of what we were talking about. Still he easily adapted and I think he enjoyed it. Unbelievable as it seems to me, he said he learned much from us. I am truly humble.
Roy broke his train of thought and looked up again when he heard Sandy raising her voice. He heard her twice repeat a question to her mother with no response. I don't think Kathy is even aware of Sandy being here. I know I wasn't. I think we're so locked up in our thoughts that Cal and Sandy must be feeling like outsiders. I think we need a whole family diversion. After all this is a family outing. "Hey guys," he shouted. "Let's hike up to the blueberry patch. With some proper arm twisting I'll bet we can convince Kathy to whip up a skillet of her famous 'Camper's Blueberry Dumplings' for dessert tonight."
Surprised, Kathy looked at her father critically. For Pete's sake, Dad, she thought, why do you want to walk all the way up there? Then Sandy, speaking with an air of impatience, drew her attention and she looked at her daughter. All I've been thinking about is Paul and Scott and have been neglecting my family. She moved off, urging everybody on. In an hour they returned and while Cal and June put the balance of the meal together, she whipped up the dessert. The dumplings did not last long.
After dinner camping busy talk continued for a short while until Cal said goodnight. Roy quickly decided to join him, issuing the word they would be up early to hike to the lower lake. Everyone agreed to turn in. It had been a long day for both riders and hikers.
Hours into the night, June was still lying in her sleeping bag unable to sleep. I can't keep myself from thinking about our unusual houseguests. She chuckled to herself. I remember what Scott said to me about his father never having had a birthday party. A slip of speech, or a fib? He knew, literally, his father had never been born. Inside, was he laughing?
We often talked about Paul's strange lack of knowledge of simple things as being raised in isolation from the world at large. Actually his lack of knowledge is only of the meaning of unfamiliar words, localisms and customs, for undeniably he has an amazing command of our language. We passed, without judgment, Scott's tendency to try covering for his deficiencies. In truth, I think his efforts are an attempt to protect his father.
She rolled over, but thought pictures continued unceasingly. Paul said he cannot read human minds because of clutter. Right now I can understand clutter. I do have to wonder why he can communicate with an animal? I wish I would have thought to ask. I wonder if it could be because an animal's thought patterns are simple like run, walk or dinnertime. She grinned broadly and snuggled down deeper into the sleeping bag.
So many times we observed and shrugged off Paul's use of such a detached point of view; like 'your' nature; learning about 'living here on earth'; and 'this world' as personal mannerisms or translation discrepancies. She chuckled again. I've seen him doing his best at being truthful, because he came right out and told Charlie Fisher that we have to solve our problems before we will be welcome in space. He also said he knew others existed. Was he laughing at us? She pictured the look she could still see on Paul's face the day at the picnic table and shook her head slightly. I don't really think so.
When I put together what he said with what I now understand, it all seems so natural. None of us would have ever guessed the truth. How very adaptable his kind must be to blend in so easily? I know I felt he was different from anybody I had every met before, but I think if asked how to describe him, I would have to say he was 'too good to be human'.
No longer trying to sleep, she rolled flat on her back. This is a position that always makes my joints ache yet I haven't felt any pain since this afternoon. Did he really fix it or merely block the pain with his, she grinned again ... with his 'technical device'? I wonder if the warmth I felt while surrounded by the blue light was just energy, or him? I know it gave a feeling of tranquility I will never forget. She smiled again. I really want to think it was him. After being around Paul, and Scott, how could anybody think of them as dangerous? I can only remember them as always generous, kind and considerate with everybody. After hounding them for a year how can George Fox remain so blind?
June gazed out from under the shelter toward what she could see of the stars. Feeling a warm glow she carefully crawled out of the sleeping bag and heaving yet another wakeful sigh, sat up. I think a walk in the cool night air might help, she thought. Leaving the warmth, she quietly put on her clothes, coat and shoes and walked out across the open meadow. The sky seemed alive as she scanned the twinkling lights of the cosmos. She could not help reviewing again the events of the past couple months. Suddenly she became aware of a rustling in the grass behind her and turned toward the sound. In the light of the Milky Way, so bright at altitude on the clear nights of late summer, she saw Roy and Kathy. "You couldn't sleep either?" she asked as they walked toward her.
"No," Roy replied. Confirming what they all knew to be a fact, they joined hands and together looked up at the star-studded sky.
"Even when I was a little girl, I always enjoyed watching the stars and dreaming about what might lay beyond," June offered in retrospect. "Still I had only a very passive interested in astronomy and only managed to seek out a few major constellations. Now constellations have little meaning for me."
"I know how you feel," Kathy replied. "All we see has taken on a new meaning, hasn't it?"
"Totally," she returned.
Shaking his head slowly, Roy looked from June to Kathy. "This whole thing is so totally wild, I'm still having trouble believing it has really happened to us. I expect to wake up home in bed."
"We can't all be dreaming, Dad," Kathy returned. "We know they're real, but I can't help but feel stupid about calling him a space cadet."
"We all have things to feel stupid about," Roy replied, "but I don't think he really minded."
"Neither do I," June confirmed. Pondering their statements, she added, "You know, we have just confirmed that Paul was right when he said they had to leave. We could never treat them the same again. He was also right when he said we can't expect somebody to pop in and tell us how to handle the future of our world. I remember, during my school days and a growing cold war, of having to jump under my desk during civil defense drills. Those were the days when we actually believed we could survive an atomic war. I used to think about how wonderful it would be if someone from space came to tell us to get our act together, you know, like in that old movie." She glanced up toward the sky. Right or wrong, those decisions are ours to make or we will lose our identity ... our character. Now, if we do believe ourselves intelligent, we have to move on beyond adolescence and accept responsibility for what is happening here." She grinned broadly. "You know, it feels rather strange thinking of oneself as an adolescent again."
"I agree," Kathy added. "But to him it must be true. What was it he said about adolescence? Yes, ... it is the time for growing up; the time we are expected to accept responsibility for our actions; a difficult time of making choices between what's right and what you personally desire. As a dominant species, the entire future of our world depends on how we choose."
"What ability Paul's kind must possess and how much good they could do to help us." June offered.
"I recall Paul insisting it isn't time, yet," Roy reminded. "Instead he gave us goals. Correct me if I'm quoting this wrong. He said our home is beautiful and if human conflicts don't destroy it, we can do it with numbers. We must think creatively to solve our problems."
"Close enough, Dad," Kathy chuckled. "Remember, he also called us a creative and amazing species with much to teach them about being young." She squeezed the hands she held in hers. "Do you understand what we share? We know they're out there ... waiting. We also know Paul has given us the benefit of the doubt that someday we will be ready to join them. He said if we choose well for all, we will be ready to reach for the stars. Then the door will open and his world, and I loved this," she grinned broadly, "... perhaps younger because of us, will come to take our hands."
June took in a deep breath and slowly let it out. She let go of Roy's hand and with a broad sweep encompassing the heavens, said, "Do you realize Paul must carry around a direct knowledge of all of this we just look at on a clear night? He was part of a universe beyond our imagination. Now he's simply trying to fit in as a man, and a father."
"Being a parent isn't always as simple as you make it out, Hon," Roy laughed.
"If you've got great kids, it can be," Kathy returned. She glanced back toward the lean-to where Amy and Sandy lay sleeping. "What about Scott, a child, part human and partly of another world? With luck, he might be the catalyst that brings them back. What will happen to him if Fox does find them? Why can't Fox imagine the potential for good instead of only danger? Why must he keep harassing them?" She glanced again toward the sky. "Can't he see he might be destroying what might be our best shot at making it?"
Roy shook his head. "There is no question in my mind, if Fox doesn't come around soon they are going to have a tough 'row to hoe'. With our growing world of information it's hard to remain lost if someone is determined to find you."
"They have one thing on their side," June returned. "As determined as Fox is to catch them, they're just as determined to remain free."
"And Paul's intelligence should give them some edge," Kathy added.
"But his lack of general knowledge could be a hindrance in trying to remain unnoticed," Roy offered.
"He said he's learning every day. Just look at how well he fits in after only a year," Kathy replied, squeezing June's hand firmly. "At least I know we'll never disclose anything which might put them in jeopardy. I do hope Paul will take a moment to call or write or send us a picture postcard telling us they are still okay."
June looked from one to the other. "I'm sorry, Roy. I know you told Paul we wouldn't do anything to put ourselves in danger, but I have already been thinking creatively. Perhaps it's brazen, but knowing nothing about their well-being is more than I can bear."
"What are you going to do?" Roy asked apprehensively.
"I think I am going to place a person to person call to that Mr. Wylie, Fox introduced us to at the trailhead. I'll just ask him if Fox is still looking for Paul Forrester. I think from his response I'll be able to determine whether they're still free or not."
"But he's sure to tell Fox." Roy advised, "and with the electronic stuff available now I'm almost sure Fox will either call or come out to talk to us."
"I wouldn't doubt that for a minute," June confessed. "I'll confess and assume full responsibility. Then I can explain I wasn't exposing any government secrets. Drawing Fox's attention is a risk I have to take for my own peace of mind. You know, Roy, having him come to talk to me is a road running in both directions. You see, I'll also get a chance to give him a lecture about making mistakes, being prejudice, intolerant and making snap judgments."
Kathy agreed. "I think you're right, but I believe we should take turns. We've been together in this from the beginning and I don't see this as the time to change. Don't you agree they became part of our family? It was by mutual agreement we decided to help them. The success of our plan to get the weapon required an effort by everybody, but my main reason is I have a very personal interest in talking to Mr. Fox again. I need to ask his permission to tell Cal the truth. I feel terrible keeping such a secret between us."
June tilted her head back and scanned the sky again. "I wonder which one is his, or if we can even see it from here?"
Roy smiled. "I wonder if he would have told us if we had asked?" A self-satisfied smile bloomed on Roy's weathered face. "What I really wonder is how much we have to do and how long it will take before Paul will feel free to tell them we've grown up enough?"
This STARMAN saga 'Will' continue in a moment.