Sheriff Deputy Rosa Gurveras stepped out of her squad car one hot sunny spring afternoon. The desert wind helped keep the air fresh, despite the amount of dust it kicked up. Her boots clicked and dragged against the asphalt as she approached Sandia Elementary. About an hour ago the small police station of this desert town had received a call from the school, stating that they had lost child in their possession. Since Deputy Gurveras served as both social services and the only female Deputy on the force, she had been dispatched to answer the call. She walked calmly to the front doors of the school, grabbed the handles that were set low on the doorframe, and pulled the doors open. The rush of cool air from the schools new air conditioners felt good as it ran over her forearms, and around her bulletproof vest. The main office was to her left. The walls around her were covered in pictures drawn by many little hands. The halls rang with laughter and shouting. It made Rosa smile. She had always liked kids.
Many small benches lined one wall in the main office, where she supposed many small bottoms were placed at the height of the afternoon. Behind the desk sat a pleasantly large woman, wearing a light green jacket with a necklace seemingly made from many little wooden apples. Deputy Gurveras removed her sunglasses and spoke.
"I hear that you have an unidentified child Mrs. Lopez."
Mrs. Lopez looked up from her stack of papers, startled for a moment. "Oh Rosa!" She stood and shuffled around the desk, then wrapped Rosa in a tight embrace. "How have you been? My you've grown so much since you attended school here!"
Rosa smiled. "That was a lifetime ago. You have someone here to show me?"
"Yes, she's in the principals office. We had found her out on the playground. When the bell rang for the kids to come in from recess, she came with them, but she's not a student here. No one knows who she is."
"Do you think she was dropped off here?" Rosa asked. Sometimes newly immigrated families didn't know the proper procedures to enroll their kids in school and just dropped them off on the playground, then came to pick them up once school was over.
"Well…no. You'll see what I mean," Mrs. Lopez led Deputy Gurveras up a small connecting hallway to the Principals office. She knocked lightly, and said. "Mr. Garcia, Deputy Gurveras is here to see you."
"Let her in please."
Rosa pushed the door open, and squinted at the sudden afternoon light. Mr. Garcia hadn't changed a bit since she had been here last. His office was still open and bright. A big cartoon drawing of a school bus decorated one wall. Seated behind the desk was a man with black hair and dark skin. He wore a neatly pressed suit with bolo tie. A large turquoise clip held the leather strips of the tie together. To the right of the desk sat a little girl, and already Deputy Gurveras could see what Mrs. Lopez had meant.
The girl had pale skin and long straight brown hair. She peeked up at Deputy Gurveras skeptically through bangs that had been cut in a straight line across her forehead. She wore a black t-shirt with red piping around the neckline and sleeves. She also wore a pair of blue jeans with more pockets than was practical for a kid this young. Her sneakers also appeared to be something out of this world. She seemed to be around seven years of age. At her side was a pink messenger bag decorated with some kind of cartoon character. Rosa guessed it was a unicorn or some other horse like critter. The population of this small town had people of mainly Hispanic decent. This little girl in the principal's office was definitely not from around here.
Deputy Gurveras never let the smile fade from her lips. The child had stunningly clear blue eyes. "Hello," She waved, and the girl retreated further into her seat. Rosa turned toward Mr. Garcia. "What's her name?"
"We haven't been able to figure that out. She won't speak," he swiveled in his chair while tapping a pen on the desk. "We found her at the end of lunch recess. She doesn't go to this school, and none of the kids have seen her before."
"I'm glad you gave me a call. Does she have any kind of identification?"
"Nope. We think she might belong to one of the guys who works on the military base."
"Always a possibility." Deputy Gurveras knelt until she was on eye-level with the girl. "What's your name hon? You don't need to be shy." She reached into her pocket and pulled out her badge. "I'm a police officer, and I'll help you find your Mommy or Daddy."
The girl looked at the badge, then reached out and touched it. She looked up and locked her blue eyes on Rosa's brown orbs. "Grandpa." She said softly.
"Grandpa?" Rosa repeated.
The girl nodded.
"I'll help you find your Grandpa then." Rosa smiled again, and this time the girl smiled as well. Deputy Gurveras stood up and looked toward Mr. Garcia. "I'll go ahead and take her down to the station. We can get her fingerprints there and see if anyone has reported any missing kids."
"Let me know how it goes."
Deputy Gurveras held her hand out. "Come on. Lets go."
The girl stood and took Rosa's hand. On the way back out to her squad car, Rosa asked her again.
"What's your name?"
This would be a long day.
"So, what happened here?"
"I jes tol ya. I was sittin here cleanin my gun an den I hear dis gawd-awful noise. Kinda like a tornadie, but der ain't any clouds. So I'se grab my other gun and go ter have a look-see, and den I see dis here aero-plane in my field! I didn' fine no pilot, even got in da truk to go fine em. Must've jumped out and let his dang plane go crashin in my field!"
Sheriff Deputy Ricardo Calindas finished taking the report, then prepared to go on a minor hike through the tall grass to view the oddity. He thought he had heard it all, but this would be a new story to tell his nieces and nephews. Roughly about the same time that Deputy Gurveras responded to a call at Sandia Elementary, he had gotten a call about a plane crash. From this distance he could make out the minor bits of wreckage and scorched dirt. As he drew closer he began to make out more and more of the crash site. It was hard to believe it until he saw it. Some idiot fly-boy from the military base had crashed a multi-million dollar chunk of his hard earned taxes out here in the middle of Farmer John's wheat field. Farmer John understandably was none to pleased. Oh the boys on the base were going to love this.
Deputy Calindas walked the length of the wreckage, taking pictures and making note of spilled fluids and shredded metal. He paused when he came to a panel seemingly ripped from one wing. On it was a graphic that represented the squadron the jet supposedly came from. Ricardo knelt and took another picture. He remembered most of the squadron insignias and logos, but this one didn't seem to fit any of those. Whatever. All he had to do was give the report to the Military Police and then let them handle it. End of story.
"You…you think dey're gonna pay me for that? Lost time and all?"
"I can't say for sure, you'll have to take it up with them." Ricardo began to make his way back to his patrol car. He leaned inside and pulled out his walkie-talkie. "Deputy Calindas to HQ, over."
"I have a confirmed visual on this crash. Go ahead and let the MP's come on over to clean it up."
Ricardo pulled out his cell phone to check his text messages. He hoped that Gurveras was having a better day than he was.
"So, any luck with our little Jane Doe in there?"
"Nothing. I can't find her fingerprints in any database that I've searched so far. I'm planning on posting with a few hospitals to see if they can help. No missing persons recently filed with us either." Deputy Gurveras reported. "How was your day Calindas?"
I got to look at a crashed jet in Jethro Tulls wheat field." Ricardo said as he slid a cup of coffee in front of Rosa. Ricardo was like a kid brother to Rosa. She had been on the force longer than he had, but the two of them worked together nicely. She had lost count of how many wedding comments their fellow Deputies had made. "Where is the kid anyway?" He asked.
"In interrogation room three. I left her in there with a pad of paper and a box of crayons." Rosa sipped the coffee. "I think I'll take her home with me tonight. I don't want to risk putting her in a foster home just yet, and calling up social services from the county seat would take too long. I'm also waiting to hear back from the air force base to see if anyone there is missing a kid."
"Those bastards take forever to get anything done. Jebeadiah Jones has already called back three times to complain about the wreaked jet." Ricardo sipped his coffee. "Mind if I go and look in at the girl?"
"Don't mind at all. I'll come with you." Rosa closed the screen on her laptop. The two Deputies walked up the short hall toward interrogation room three.
Seated at the table was their seven-year-old Jane Doe, and she had been busy. All around her were freshly drawn pictures. She looked up from her work as Ricardo and Rosa stepped into the room. "Hey hon."
The girl smiled, and held up a picture. "Grandpa!" She said proudly.
"Is this a picture of your Grandpa?" Rosa asked.
The girl nodded vigorously.
Rosa looked at the picture, and felt the inner child in her own chest awaken when she began to decipher the picture.
"Grandpa" apparently wore blue jeans and a bright red shirt with large pockets on the chest. His beard and/or mustache were metallic silver, and he wore a blue hat of some kind. Grandpa also had big scary blue eyes. All around him were little lines and circles that Rosa took to depict grass and flowers. The most disturbing aspect of the picture was one that made Rosa's blood freeze.
Grandpa also carried a very big black gun.
Ricardo seemed to notice her sudden change of expression. "Rosa?"
"I…don't know what to make of it, she's obviously drawn a man of some kind. But what's with the gun?"
"That does seem kind of out of place." Ricardo picked up another picture from the table. "Here's another one."
"She likes to draw all kinds of people. Buy why are their faces square instead of round? And they all seem to have guns of one kind or another."
Ricardo connected the dots for her. "Do you think that she may have been abused?"
"I'm starting to think so." Rosa collected more pictures. "Honey." She said to the girl. "Who are all these people?"
"Yes, I know this one is your Grandpa." Rosa slid the first one before her. "But who is this one?" She pointed to another picture. This one had someone with big blocky feet with what seemed to be a pair of wings coming from his back. Jane Doe put the crayon down and began to make noises in the back of her throat. To Rosa they sounded like a car engine moving from first to second gear, the sound of brakes slamming, then the girl made a definite universal symbol of a gun with both hands, and began "shooting" objects around the room.
Ricardo stood with a dumb smile on his face while Rosa began to feel nothing but dread. What had this kid been through?
"They look like robots." Said a voice in the door.
Rosa turned and saw a man in military dress standing before her. He had removed his hat before entering, and had tucked it under his arm. "Robots?"
"Yeah, my kid watches a show like that on TV. I think it's called Robotech or something. Those look something like that."
Ricardo picked up the picture of the winged man. "Is this a Robot?" He asked the girl.
She smiled and nodded again, picking up her red crayon and bending over another picture.
Ricardo smiled again. "Is Grandpa a Robot?"
Jane Doe giggled and continued drawing.
Jane, as they had taken to calling her, didn't protest in the least when Rosa drove her home to her little house on the edge of the air force base. Rent and land here was cheap because of all the noise of aircraft in the area. Rosa was rarely home long enough to be bothered by it. If all went well, perhaps Jane wouldn't be here long enough to get bothered by it either. As soon as she set her key in the lock, she heard familiar barking. Jane hid behind Rosa, scared of whatever the noise could be.
"Oh, he's not going to hurt you. He's just noisy." Rosa pushed her door open and out of the darkness came a little gray blur. Jane held her hands up over her face as a small dog jumped up on her and began licking her face. "His name is Trooper. He's a Miniature Schnauzer."
Jane soon forgot her fears and held her hand out to pat his little bearded head. Trooper "bruffed" once, then spun around and trotted into the kitchen.
"You can draw some more on the table over here." Rosa pulled out a chair at her kitchen table, and then cleared some old mail out of the way for Jane to sit down. Jane immediately scrambled up into the chair and opened her messenger bag, spreading more drawing paper and crayons around her. Rosa went into the kitchen to begin making dinner of some kind. Occasionally she could see Jane peeking around the doorway of the kitchen, her blue eyes watching her with interest. Rosa had been halfway through preparing some instant macaroni and cheese when she heard the first distant rumble of another jet coming in to land.
Jane made the only noise she had all night. She cried out in fear, then jumped out of her chair. Rosa barely had time to make it around the corner of the kitchen before she heard the screen storm door slam shut. "Jane!" Rosa ran out after her, but not before noticing that Jane had cleared the entire table before she left. In the space of seconds the small girl had collected all of her pictures and crayons, leaving no trace of her presence. Rosa ran outside and at first couldn't make out where Jane could have run to, and then she heard a car door slam.
Rosa went over to her patrol car, and opened the back door just as the jet dipped low overhead. Jane curled up in the backseat, hiding her face under her messenger bag. "Its okay honey, they're not going to get you. They just make a lot of noise,"
Once the jet had passed, Jane seemed to relax. She sat up in the backseat, and eventually allowed Rosa to coax her back into the house.
Jane picked at her macaroni and cheese once dinner was ready. She didn't seem interested in her food. Rosa tried to get the girl to talk after dinner, but the only word from her little pink lips was "Grandpa."
Rosa helped Jane get a bath and brush her teeth. One of Rosa's old police academy t-shirts seemed to be the perfect nightgown for the child. Rosa then made the bed in her spare room, and tucked Jane in. Jane seemed to be so trusting, and willing to please. Once Rosa was sure that Jane was asleep, she went over all of the pictures again. They did look like robots. Big blocky feet, hands, strange headgear, odd faces. Perhaps she had been looking in all the wrong areas. Had she been in a special education class? Was there a home for kids like her near the school? Munchkin in the guest room sure had an overactive imagination.
Rosa left a note to do more research the next day.
The next morning Jane wasn't in her room. Rosa ran through her home in a near panic searching for the little girl. With cell phone in hand, and her dog leash in the other, she finally ventured outside to her squad car where she could make use of the radio.
Curled up in the backseat was Jane, a pillow from the guest room under her head.
"Jane," Rosa opened the back door. "You can't sleep out in the car, you scared me half to death!"
Jane sat up and rubbed her eyes then smiled as if to say "good morning!"
Rosa stepped back as Jane slid out of the car, still wearing the police academy shirt from the night before. Rosa took her hand and led her back into the house. Jane dressed on her own, and settled at the kitchen table again. This time Rosa made sure to pull the table out so she could see Jane from the kitchen as she made breakfast. There was a new theme to her drawings. The robots were now eating. They ate little blue squares. Piles and piles of these little squares like so many cookies. Rosa pointed to them as she set down a bowl of cereal. "Robots?"
"Eating Robot food?"
She nodded again, coloring in another blue cube. Jane set down her crayon again and picked up her spoon. Rosa also sat down and began eating her own bowl of cereal. She watched and noticed that Jane only seemed to eat the blue colored fragments of the cereal. No amount of pleading could make her eat any of the other bits. Aside from that, Jane seemed to be content.
That left Rosa with another dilemma. She needed to go to work, and she couldn't take the girl with her. She knew a good day care sitter. Her friend would understand the situation. After getting dressed in her work uniform, she helped Jane into the squad car, and took off down the road.
Rosa now became Deputy Gurveras. Once she gave the first confirmation signal over the radio she stopped being a single woman with too many lonely nights, and became a warrior for justice. Now with her trusty sketch artist sidekick beside her. She pulled onto the highway, watching the sun rise over the prairie and illuminate the cacti and sagebrush for miles. Already the highway was alive with cars and trucks. Jane looked out the window, fascinated with all the comings and goings of traffic.
Deputy Gurveras was already accustomed to people on the road slowing down below the speed limit when they saw a police cruiser on the road with them, whether she was after them or not. She passed a few semi-trucks going in the opposite direction and Jane came to life.
"Grandpa! Grandpa!" She wiggled in her seat and began pointing after the trucks.
"Grandpa? Is he in one of those trucks?"
Deputy Gurveras rubbed her forehead. Okay, at least that was a lead. Her grandpa was a truck driver, or at least had something to do with them. Come to think of it, blue jeans, read shirt, yeah. Sounded like something a truck driver would wear.
Jane remained quiet after Rosa dropped her off at a day care center. Jane had a skeptical look on her face, almost as if she believed that Rosa wasn't coming back. Deputy Gurveras assured her that she would be back soon. She was going to go look for her Grandpa.
This seemed to satisfy the girl, and she went to go play with the other kids.
Once she arrived at the police station, Deputy Gurveras became overwhelmed with the sudden load of paperwork. The Military had finally come to clean up the wreaked fighter, and for the moment finding "grandpa" had been put on the back burner. Once the MP's had finally cleared out later that afternoon, she snagged Ricardo to help her sniff out what truckers might have been in the area. She even went as far as to put in a call to the Teamsters Union to find out if anyone had reported a missing girl. By nightfall, she was back in the same boat as she had been in that morning.
"I can give you a ride home." Ricardo offered.
"Thanks, but no thanks. I have some shopping I need to do for Jane."
"Jane, is that her name?"
"Kind of. She answers to it at least. I'm not used to having a kid around, especially not one like this."
"What's so odd about her?"
"Well, all the robots she draws. All of them frolicking in a field of flowers or something. This morning she had pictures of them eating these little blue cubes. Robot food."
"Well, I won't argue that she lives in her own world." Ricardo smiled. "I find it to be pretty cute."
"When I woke up this morning I found out that she had snuck out to the car and slept there all night. It was also the first place she went when one of those planes buzzed the house last night."
"That does seem to make sense. If her Grandpa is a trucker, then she would feel safer in a car."
"Still, I'm concerned," Deputy Gurveras collected her things. A few of Jane's pictures slid out of a pile of papers.
"Can I see those?" Ricardo said with a smile. He picked up one of the pictures. Some bright yellow robot was happily chowing down on a blue cube. More of the little lines and circles hovered around him. "Do…do you mind if I keep these?"
"I suppose, what for?"
"I have a friend at the college who has been studying child psychology. She might have an answer the two of us are missing."
"Go for it." Rosa left, and before picking up Jane from the sitters, she stopped by the grocery store and bought some food. On the way home she also dropped by a children's furniture store and bought one of their beds that resembled a car.
Jane was happy to see her, and had a whole new slew of pictures to show her. These were bitter sweet in their details. A lot of them showed planes crashing. Planes that erupted in great crayon rendered plumes of smoke. More of those grass and flowers stuff around them even in all the flames. Grandpa even stood over a few of these downed planes, holding that big black boom stick aloft. What kind of trucker was this guy? Perhaps he was a drug dealer of some kind. Those jets defiantly had a military look to them.
Jane actually hugged her, and squealed with delight when she saw her new bed waiting in the car. She pointed at the box and called out "Uncle!"
Rosa felt that she was making progress. Two words now where there had been none before. That was encouraging. Hopefully her newest tactic would work out tonight as well.
When they arrived back at her little house at the edge of nowhere, instantly her guard rose. The front door was wide open and Trooper ran around the yard in all his little fluffy glory. "Jane, stay in the car." Rosa stepped out of her vehicle and drew her gun. The sight of the gun didn't seem to bother Jane in the least. Rosa advanced on the house simultaneously asking for backup over her radio.
Trooper barked a greeting, and picked up whatever it was he had been chewing on and carried it into the house. Whatever it was that had broken in moved on long ago. Trooper wouldn't have been calm and casual if someone else had been there. Rosa moved through her house, checking to see of anything was missing. Nothing had been touched. Her TV, laptop, jewelry, and precious things all remained. By the time she made it back outside, Ricardo had already arrived in his own patrol car.
"Is everything alright?" He asked.
"Yeah, just…someone broke in, but didn't take anything. I guess Trooper must have scared them off or something."
Ricardo looked down at the Schnauzer in the grass and suppressed a laugh. "That little thing?"
"Do you think they were after Jane?"
"I wouldn't rule it out just yet." Ricardo stepped across the lawn. "You got prairie dogs or something?"
"Well, your lawn looks like someone dropped a combine on it. Look at all these pot-holes."
For the first time since getting home, Rosa looked at her lawn. She never had much grass, but now there was even less of it. It did seem as if someone had run all over randomly hacking away with a pick-ax.
"What's your dog chewing on?"
"I don't know—Trooper! Leave it!" Rosa commanded.
Trooper spit out his trophy and walked away sheepishly. Ricardo picked it up and stared at it in fascination.
"What is it?" Rosa stepped forward.
In Ricardo's palm was the strangest mass of metal and cables she had ever laid eyes on.
"It looks like a big mechanical finger." Ricardo sniggered.
At the moment Jane erupted in laughter directly behind them. She covered her mouth and laughed her clear little impish laugh punctuated by her bright blue eyes.
Ricardo began to laugh with her; then bent over Trooper and waved the mechanical finger in his canine face. "Did you attack a robot buddy? Huh? Got yourself a robo finger?"
Jane squealed and Trooper barked.
"Come on Rosa, I'll help you with dinner."
"Why all the blue food?"
"Robot food." Rosa answered.
"Robot food." Ricardo echoed. "Why Robot Food?"
"I noticed this morning that Jane only ate the blue pieces of cereal. Maybe she's color-blind or something. I don't know why it would matter. But her Robots eat blue food, so I will play along. So tonight we have blue corn tortillas, with blue corn chips, the usual assortment of veggies for tacos, blue drink mix, and for dessert, blue gelatin."
"You really are going the extra step for this kid."
"I've already gotten her to say two words. If I can get a name out of her then we'll have more to work with."
"But you might also be helping to push her further into her own fantasy."
"I'm willing to take that risk."
Ricardo nodded. "I've spoken to a friend of mine who sells trucks. I remember what you told me this morning about how she reacted to seeing a few semis on the road. He has just about every model on his lot. If she can point out which truck is 'grandpa,' then we stand a better chance in finding him."
"Sounds like a plan." Rosa began to set the table. "After dinner, would you mind helping me to assemble her bed?"
"Not at all."
Jane was delighted with dinner. She ate everything blue at the table, and even some green things. When Rosa brought out dessert, she almost squealed. Rosa watched as Jane tore into the gelatin with zest, yet also with ceremony. Later while Rosa cleaned the dishes Ricardo assembled the bed. Jane helped Ricardo, and he was amazed to report that Jane had one heck of a mechanical knack. She knew exactly what all the tools were, and even how to properly fit the notches of the bed together to make the frame. Ricardo felt that he could just walk out of the room and she could make her own bed. When another plane buzzed the house that night, Jane gathered her things and hid under the table in the dining room. Good. She wasn't heading out to the patrol car anymore.
Later that night after Jane had been tucked into her new bed and curled up happily with Trooper, Ricardo and Rosa went over the newest crop of pictures.
"Well, they look like something off TV."
"The violence disturbs me. A girl like this should be drawing flowers and horses and things. Not this."
"Crashed jets, happy robots." He examined one a little more closely. "What's this face on the wing?"
"Huh? I didn't think it was a face."
"It looks like…hold on a second." Ricardo left the house and went out to his car. He came back with his favorite battered and beaten briefcase that had once belonged to his grandfather. He reached inside and pulled out a stack of pictures. "These are from the crash site. I made copies before I gave them to the MP's." He placed the picture with the odd squadron insignia next to one of Jane's pictures.
"They do look a lot alike." Rosa commented. "I guess it could be a face."
"There are no squads on this base, or any other in the region that have a symbol like this on their wing. US military bases usually don't put such identifying marks on their planes. Want to hear something weird."
"Can't get any stranger."
"The MP's didn't recover any pilot. They don't even know where this plane came from. The base had no aerial maneuvers scheduled for yesterday."
Rosa smirked. "This just keeps getting more twisted." She began to collect the pictures up again; here was one where Jane stood next to grandpa. If taken literally, Grandpa was a big and tall guy. Jane's little depiction of herself didn't even reach grandpa's knee.
Ricardo looked at his radio on the table. He picked it up, and pushed in the com button. "10-4."
"Deputy Lucero requests backup on Route 70, in pursuit of a couple of speeders."
"10-4." Ricardo set the radio down. "Guess that's my cue to leave."
"It is Friday. Probably a couple of high school kids out drinking and joy riding. I'll let you know if we need to scrape them off the pavement later."
"Why do you always have to be so violent?"
"Because regardless of how many schools I visit, how many pamphlets I pass out, or how many videos I show, I still find these kids wrapped around telephone poles."
Rosa muffled a laugh. Cruel yet accurate.
"I'll see you tomorrow morning, and bring Jane with you. If someone is looking for her, I don't mind watching her while you get some paperwork done. She's a really cool and smart kid."
Rosa nodded and saw Ricardo to the door. "See you tomorrow."
Route 70 was the main drag that connected the little chain of towns between Clovis and Roswell. It usually saw it's share of speeders, but nothing as organized as drag racing, and from what Deputy Lucero told him, these two cars were defiantly drag racing. When Deputy Calindas first saw one of the suspect cars, he almost had to pull over from laughing so hard. Both cars were older models, not unusual for this far out in the boonies, but one of them was an honest to goodness early 80's VW Bug. Painted bright day-glow yellow, and clocking in at speeds well in excess of one hundred and twenty miles an hour. The other he couldn't quite place, but it looked like that car from the movie "Back to the Future" a Delorian.
"You have got to be kidding me." Ricardo pulled from a dirt road onto the highway. "All we really have to do is follow long enough and their collective engines should blow."
"That's what I had initially thought." Deputy Lucero came over the radio. "I've been on their asses since Floyd!"
Laughing Deputy Calindas turned on his lights and siren, then gave chase. Floyd was well over 50 miles away. The Bug began to move faster. Suddenly both cars turned off their headlights and tail-lights. This had just gone from bad to worse. Now not only were they speeding, but now other cars couldn't see them.
"Try to keep a bead on them!"
Ricardo pushed his police cruiser until his gas pedal touched the floor plate. Still the two suspects were only dots on the horizon.
"They've turned off the road!" Lucero called.
"They aren't going far, that road ends in three miles with no turn-offs between there and the highway, and they aren't going to make it far through sagebrush without a higher wheel well." Calindas radioed back. He leaned as his car made the turn, drifting a little. Once again the two cars were nothing but dark dots on the horizon. "They won't be on the road for long."
Ricardo lost sight of them about a mile in. The two cars had sensed an empty and open road before them, and then poured everything those little engines had into eluding the police. He turned on his searchlight and began to examine the sides of the dirt road as he neared the dead end. Those two would have had to turn off somewhere. He had lost complete track of them. Even their tire tracks just seemed to stop suddenly. Ricardo stopped his car at the dead end. No trace of either car was to be found. He stepped out of his patrol car with a flashlight as Deputy Lucero came to a stop behind him.
"Where did they go?"
"No clue. Did you see anywhere they could have turned off?"
"No, not even so much as one disturbed blade of grass."
Ricardo turned around to move back to his patrol car. Through the headlights he saw a dim shape further up the road. "What the?" He ran to the back of his car and pointed his flashlight up the road. Something very large suddenly looked over it's shoulder at him, then dropped down to all fours, and the damned Bug went zipping up the road again.
"There they go! Come on!" Lucero jumped into his patrol car. Ricardo froze for a moment. He saw the two cars now as they went speeding their merry way up the road. No, had to be his imagination. There was no way some giant running up the road could have turned into a car.
"No more blue robot food…"
Deputy Gurveras found herself on the highway again the next morning. Jane was at her side, flipping through her pictures and occasionally pulling out a crayon to make another series of lines and circles. Rosa was beginning to feel that all the little lines didn't symbolize flowers and grass after all. They seemed too deliberate. A semi-truck rattled by going in the opposite direction.
"I know, I'm trying to find him." Rosa sighed. Ricardo had given her directions to Universal Auto Sales, which is where his friend worked as a car salesman. If he was nice enough, she might even consider buying a car from him. Jane went back flipping through her pictures.
Universal Auto Sales was more than easy to spot. Even a mile away she could make out the sun reflecting off three acres of glossy hoods and windows. Jane appeared to grow more excited as they neared the lot. She put all of her pictures away, and looked out the widow, almost on her knees in the seat. Ricardo's friend was a short man wearing a maroon colored button-up shirt, blue jeans, boots, and a bolo tie with a clip that resembled a silver feather.
"I'm Pablo, Ricky called me yesterday, said you wanted to see some semi trucks."
"And that's what I'm here for." Deputy Gurveras held her hand out for him to shake.
Pablo took it with a smile. He didn't look like a Pablo, maybe it was a nickname. "I'll take you to the lot." He turned and jumped in a golf-cart. Rosa joined him along with Jane whose eyes seemed to get wider and bluer with every car they passed. "We have a wide variety of trucks for all purposes, anything in particular you're looking for?"
"This girl here is missing her Grandpa. I have a feeling that if we can find out what kind of truck he drives, then we might have a better chance of finding him."
"Oh…in that case." He made a left turn, and stopped in a lot where row after row of cars reflected the harsh morning light.
Deputy Gurveras stepped out of the golf cart, and helped Jane out as well. "I need you to find out which truck belongs to your Grandpa."
Jane seemed confused for a moment.
"Find Grandpa." Rosa repeated. Jane nodded enthusiastically, and then began running down row after row of trucks. Rosa followed after her, while Pablo brought up the rear with the golf cart. Jane admired each truck, but never stopped. Rosa was beginning to wonder how much energy the kid had. Finally Jane came to halt, not in front of a truck but at a chain-link fence. Her little fingers curled around the wire as she stared mournfully into a lot filled with wreaked cars. Rosa came to a stop as well, and felt her heart reach out toward Jane as she sniffled and wiped tears away from her eyes. She guessed that from this kids point of view, wreaked cars were sad things.
"Grandpa." She said sadly, almost as if she were calling out to him.
Rosa knelt before Jane and gave her a hug. She didn't know what had upset her, but Rosa intended to make it better. She picked Jane up and placed her back in the golf cart, then began to flip through the pictures in her bag until she came to one she had taken to be her grandpa's truck. Deputy Gurveras held it up to Pablo. "I know it's just a kids drawing, but do you have anything that looks like this?"
Pablo held the picture up to the sunlight and squinted. "Its kinda rough, looks like a flatnose…can't be sure of the make."
"Do you have any pictures or a catalogue of the trucks you sell?"
"Sure, in the office." He examined the rest of the stack of drawings before commenting. "The kids a pretty good artist."
Rosa comforted Jane on the short ride to the office, and was more than happy to step into the small air-conditioned space.
"Here's a sales catalogue." Pablo set a thick magazine on his desk.
Rosa set Jane down in a chair. Jane didn't even look at the magazine; her gaze was fixed on the wall. "Grandpa," she pointed.
Deputy Gurveras followed her line of sight to a picture of Pablo shaking hands with a portly man in front of a large truck. "Who is this?"
"My first sale, that was years ago…He bought a Freightliner LLC, early 80's model. Flat nose, dual exhaust. Nice truck."
"Do you still know him?"
"Yeah, and he never had any kids, at least not any that he knew about." Pablo laughed as if this was some great joke.
Rosa pulled the picture down from the wall and pointed to the man next to Pablo. "Grandpa?"
Jane shook her head no.
Rosa pointed to the truck. "Grandpa?"
A happy nod.
Rosa looked to Pablo. "So, about how many early 80's Freightliner LLCs do you think are still on the road?"
His full-bodied belly laugh did nothing to calm her nerves.
Deputy Gurveras arrived at the station later that morning. Deputy Calindas had already arrived, and was in one of the interrogation rooms with a TV monitor. His dark-skinned face read nothing but pure concentration as he watched a strip of video from his patrol vehicle over and over again. Rosa set Jane up in another room with another supply of crayons, then went to see Ricardo.
"What are you reviewing?"
"Last night's chase."
"Did you catch the kids?"
"No." He sounded displeased. "I don't even think that they were kids. These were professionals."
Rosa sat next to him and watched the footage. "A V-dub?"
"That's not the amazing part. Look at what I clocked him at."
"One hundred and thirty five miles an hour? There's got to be some mistake."
"Not at all, been over the equipment three times. The radar is currently in the shop to check for any malfunctions. I clocked his buddy going the same. Looked up the car myself, it's a 1976 Lancia Stratos Turbo."
"That's what I said. Oh, and another annoying bit of information. No tags on either car." Ricardo snorted and replayed the video. "There has got to be some clue in this video. I can't see either driver, but if I need to go through frame by frame I will."
Rosa stood when it seemed as if she wasn't going to get any help from him. The first thing she needed to do was follow up with any leads that may have come up overnight as to Jane's true identity. Next she would check the national database and see if she could get some kind of lead on the semi-truck traffic that would have been going though her area, and if any in that fleet were a Freightliner LLC. A long shot, but right now it was the only clue that she had. By law, if she couldn't find Jane's parents in 72 hours, she would need to turn her over Social Services at the state level. So far it had been two days, Rosa and Jane were running out of time.
Deputy Gurveras had brought along a snack in the form of blue corn tortilla chips, with some dip in case Jane grew hungry. The girl seemed to sense that things were coming to some kind of head because she kept looking over her shoulder nervously at Rosa and Ricardo, almost as if to say "Okay, this has been fun, but take me home now."
Rosa wanted nothing more than to find out where in this big world "home" could be.
Ricardo eventually went out on patrol, taking a copy of the video with him. Once the sun had set, Rosa was no closer to finding Jane's grandfather than she had been two days ago. Jane had fallen asleep on a couch in the interrogation room, holding her bag filled with all her pictures close. Rosa had to face the facts. Tomorrow morning she would need to make the six-hour drive to Albuquerque, and hand Jane over to officials that had more time and resources to locate her family. Right now she just wanted to spend one last night with the girl, and make her as happy as she could.
Jane awoke as Rosa stepped into the room. She sat up and rubbed at her eyes, then smiled. "Grandpa?"
"Not yet hon, we're going on a road trip tomorrow though, maybe we'll get lucky and see him on the way."
Jane didn't seem to like the idea of a road trip. Rosa could understand that the girl would want to stay here, but it couldn't be helped.
They drove home in silence, Jane looking out the window desperately the entire way. Rosa wondered if her grandpa would come back, perhaps looking for his lost little granddaughter? Mr. Garcia at Sandia Elementary hadn't said anything about odd traffic, or even anyone staking out the schoolyard. Rosa just found it hard to believe that anyone would leave a girl behind like this.
At home Rosa made dinner, complete with a blue cube of "Robot Food" for Jane, and sat up with her to watch a movie. After tucking her in for the night, once again she dumped out the pictures and spread them across the table.
Jane had drawn a picture of Trooper, complete with gray fluffy beard dangling from the hand of one of the robots. The robot had its mouth opened in what she took to be a scream. Troopers teeth were locked around one very large and swollen finger. Rosa suppressed a giggle. There were more pictures of Trooper playing and chewing on his new prize. Even some pictures of Jane happily petting Trooper on the head. Now these were normal pictures. Girls playing with puppies in a field of grass and flowers. For a moment Rosa wondered what other people would make of Jane's robot pictures. Would they force her into counseling, or maybe read something else from it? Would they be as disturbed as she had been when she first saw Grandpa carrying his big black gun?
One thing was certain. All those questions and more would be answered in the morning.
They stopped by a fast food restaurant before heading out on the road. This was the first time Jane had eaten anything other than Robot Food in her presence. Jane played with the small toy that came with the meal for the first hour or so of the trip, and then took to sitting and staring out the window again. Rosa alternately turned the radio on and off, just to have some kind of noise to listen to on this empty stretch of road. Deputy Gurveras had purposely chosen one of the lesser-used back roads instead of the interstate because she could move faster, and not deal with as much traffic. Mile after mile of prairie, sagebrush, and old worn barbed wire fences stretched as far as the eye could see. This road was little more than a two-lane highway that cut through some of the most desolate land this country had to offer. To Rosa it didn't feel lonely, only peaceful. This trip was as good a time as any to let her mind wander and relax.
A car suddenly shot past her on the left. She was already pushing 90 miles an hour, the guy who had just passed her must have been going at least 100. He probably thought that she wouldn't pull him over this far out in the middle of nowhere, and he would be right. Gurveras would not be pulling anyone over while she had a kid in the car. It would be one thing to endanger her own life, quite another to involve Jane. Instead, Rosa pulled over a pad of paper and a pen, then crept up close enough to get the plate number.
But there was no plate.
The make of the car was odd too. Some kind of sporty design that might have been popular twenty or thirty years ago.
Another car appeared in the distance behind her. A small yellow dot on the horizon, and he was coming in fast. With growing panic and fear, Rosa realized that the car in front of her had slowed down. The car behind her grew closer, and Rosa made out the telltale signs of an organized attack. The two cars were trying to box her in.
Rosa pulled into the left lane and poured on the gas. She doubted that she could outrun them, but she had to try something. Jane suddenly giggled in the seat next to her. Rosa took her eyes off the road for a moment to look at Jane as they pulled even with the sports car.
There was no driver behind the wheel.
Jane giggled again, and waved.
"Jane get down!" Rosa pulled her gun from her side and rolled down the driver's side window. If she could get a good line of fire, she could shoot out their tires and hopefully slow them down. Jane giggled and slouched down in her seat, covering her mouth. This had all become a game to her now.
The yellow dot behind her turned out to be a Volkswagen Beetle. It maneuvered its smaller frame on Rosa's left, pinning her between it and the sports car. Rosa didn't even have time or room to reach out and shoot the tires. Hell, she couldn't even shoot the driver of the Bug because there wasn't one!
"Dammit…" Rosa cursed, and then tried to use the bulk of her patrol car to force the Bug off the road. The bug expertly moved with her car, as did the sport car to her right. When she stepped on the brakes, the other two cars slowed as well, almost as if they had been welded to either side of the cruiser.
Rosa looked up to see that they were rapidly approaching one of the few intersections on this lonely stretch of road. The flat land offered her a view of intersecting traffic. Thankfully she saw no one else coming, but then suddenly from her left, came a very large semi-truck. Rosa didn't think any truck could move that fast, and if she didn't stop now, she would collide with it.
Deputy Gurveras stepped on the brakes, and so did the two cars on either side of her. Jane leaned forward in her seat and squealed. "GRANDPA!"
Rosa grit her teeth as the smell of burning rubber and desert dust filled her nostrils. As she slowed, the Bug backed away, and the sports car nudged her in the butt, sending the patrol car into a spin. Rosa tried to work out of the spin, but only succeeded in bringing the car to a stop, just a few feet shy of the intersection. She ducked her head and reached for her gun as the sound of air brakes screeched in her ears. More dust filled her lungs as Jane bounced up and down in her seat.
"Jane, sit still and get down!" Rosa yelled. Jane suddenly stopped and locked big blue eyes on Rosa.
"Good, now stay here!" Rosa peeked over her steering wheel. Both the bug and sport car had blocked her in. To her back was the semi-truck. Neither of the cars had drivers, and Rosa could only see Jane's picture in her mind of "grandpa" and his big Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher. Rosa opened the car door, and hid behind her patrol car, pointing her firearm at the cab of the semi.
It looked like the ones from Jane's pictures alright. Red and blue with big black wheels.
"Grandpa!" Jane called. She opened her car door and jumped out.
"Jane! NO!" Rosa leaned inside and tried to grab her before she could get out. Her hand caught the strap of Jane's messenger bag, spilling pictures and crayons all over the seat. For a moment she stared dumbly at the strap in her hand as the kid ran away, when the shadows around her seemed to change.
The air filled with an odd mechanical noise, something like gears grinding, or a transmission shifting. Rosa couldn't place it entirely. It sounded so strange, so alien. Slowly Deputy Gurveras turned her head back toward the semi-truck, and felt her jaw drop.
The truck was no longer there. In its place stood a giant robot. Its body the same color scheme as the truck cab had been. If Rosa didn't know any better, she would say that the truck became the robot. Jane had run over to the things feet, and stood looking up into two glowing blue eyes, and an odd plate where normally a mouth and nose should have been.
"Grandpa!" She held her arms up, and the robot knelt. He scooped the girl up with big mechanical hands, then stood up fully.
"So this is where you've been. Your mother has been worried sick about you." It said.
Rosa found her voice as she pointed the gun at the robot. "Hold it!"
Jane giggled, then looked over her shoulder at Rosa.
"Put the girl down slowly! Then go back to wherever you came from!"
"There has obviously been a misunderstanding." The robot spoke. "I came here to find this girl. Her parents are quite upset."
"We're sorry to have caused any trouble."
Rosa turned to the new voice, and instead of two cars blocking her exit, there were two more robots. The sports car stood with its hand outstretched. At a glance Rosa could see that it was missing a finger. The rest of the digits looked mysteriously like Troopers new chew-toy.
Jane leaned into the bigger robots chest, and gave it an awkward hug. "Grandpa!" She stated.
Rosa read the happy expression on Jane's face, then slowly lowered her gun. What the hell was a pistol going to do against three robots that could change into cars anyway?
"We had let her go play with the other kids when we went to check something out." The yellow one began to explain. "But when we came back she was gone."
"I knew we should have taken her with us." The sports car commented.
"Optimus! She would have been in danger then!" The yellow bug retorted, his gaze fixed on the larger robot.
Rosa shook her head. "Wait!" She looked back at the truck, obviously the leader of this little pack. "Can you at least tell me what her name is?"
The leader, Optimus, looked at the girl in his arms. "Her name is Lydia Witwicky. And she is very near and dear to us."
"So you're this 'grandpa'?"
"In a sense."
"We thank you for taking such good care of her." He set Lydia on the ground, the air filled with that strange noise again, and once more the semi-truck stood blocking the intersection. Lydia ran up to the drivers side, and the door opened for her. Lydia climbed up inside and sat in the window, waving to Rosa. The truck began to drive away.
"Guess that's our cue,"
"Hold it." Rosa turned to the remaining two robots. "You stay right here!"
Ten minutes later the two robots transformed into their respective cars, and Rosa stood proudly holding two speeding tickets in her hand. One signed "Bumblebee" the other "Wheeljack." Ricardo wasn't going to believe this.
"Back so soon? Where's the squirt?"
"With her Grandpa. He found us."
"Oh? Did you get the guys name?"
"I have everything I need on file in my dashboard camera."
"Oh! My friend at the university wants to know if you have any more pictures from Jane. He said that he knows what all the little lines and circles mean in her pictures."
"Really? What are they?"
"The girl is a genius. Its not lines and circles, they're ones and zeros! It's Binary! Basic computer language! She can write in computer speak!"
Rosa sipped her coffee, now the entire picture made sense. Binary…what else would a girl who lived with robots speak?
"Rosa? Are you okay?"
"Yeah, just lost in my thoughts for the moment." She had picked up all of the pictures from the inside of her car. One of the last images Rosa collected, she gave a place of honor of her on fridge for years to come.
It was of Grandpa, Lydia, Rosa, Trooper, and a whole cast of other robots standing under a rainbow.
That was the closest thing to a family portrait Rosa felt that she would get.
Besides, she was counting on the sports car to come back looking for his missing finger.
Authors Note Portales, and Roosevelt County New Mexico are real places, as are the towns and road names. However all the people within this story are fictitious. Some road names and locations have been changed as I see fit to use in the story. I see using this small town setting as no different than using a larger city such as New York or Los Angeles. If I offend anyone who lives in the area, I do deeply apologize. The Autobots and the Witwickys belong to their respective masters, everyone else is mine. The Ten-Codes and general police radio banter has been improvised.