Enoch flipped the brights back on, and his halogen headlights once again pierced the inky darkness for another couple hundred yards ahead of him. There was nothing to see but the endless dotted line on the pavement and an occasional reflector at the side of the road. At 3 in the morning almost all the trucks were growling in the rest area parking lots -- indeed, there was no place for passenger cars, as Enoch discovered when he stopped for a bathroom break ten or twenty miles back. Trucks even filled up the off-ramps to dusty dirt side roads, their marker lights on, engines snoring, but otherwise dark and asleep.
As a programmer, Enoch was used to late hours, but the human body tends to shut down. He read somewhere that redeye airline flights avoid takeoff and landing during this part of the night. Can't blame them, Enoch gets that way too, around five in the morning.
But not so early. And he had the highway all to himself.
He hit the scan button on the radio again. Nothing, just static and an occasional faint jumble of voices. Enoch cursed himself for not buying the satellite radio option with the car. He was trying to simplify his life at the time, and the monthly rent was a complication he thought he could do without. Especially since their "license agreement" made no promises -- except to take his money. Computer software "agreements" were like that. Even the one on the software he wrote. It's a lawyer thing. They were probably unenforcible. Not his problem. Not now anyway, he was out of the game.
There was a lot to think about. He had cashed out his options back before the bubble burst, and bought this spread out in the New Mexico desert. "Pair-a-Dice Ranch" Ben Steele called it when he sold it to Enoch. It was a crapshoot, all right. Diane refused to come with him. She knew better, it seems. Well, now Enoch knew too. A fine lot of good that did him now. He couldn't sell the place, who would want it? Diane was deep into a new relationship, another geek with more dollars than sense. Like me, he thought. The whole trip to California was a bust. Enoch couldn't even finagle a position in another startup.
The inky darkness sped by. It was hard telling, really, just the blur of dried grass and tumbleweed rushing by the side windows, the painted stripe on the pavement blinking by his side mirror. And blackness. If he looked up out the side window, he could see stars.
Stars. You can't see stars in California, the smog and the city lights obscure them. That was one of the attractions of the high desert, stars. Bright stars, dim stars, millions -- probably billions, no, trillions -- of stars. One out of every million or so teeming with evolving life. Perhaps one out of every million or so of those with life would be far advanced over the pitiful mess we call earth. God I wish those science fiction stories were true, he thought to himself.
Advanced life. Enoch wondered why there had been no contact. He tried AIS, that Alien Intelligence Search you could run on your own computer at home, every individual person running a different part of the search, but then he looked at what they were doing. Enoch is a programmer, he can do that. It was a joke. He dropped out. But the idea still intrigued him.
Coming around the bend in the highway, he could see the faint glow of -- what was it? Enoch could never remember these Indian names -- in the distance. His exit was coming up. It would be filled with wall-to-wall snoring trucks. Snoring. Enoch liked the metaphor. They left enough room to get through, but only just barely. His exit sign glowed brilliant green in the reflected light from his headlights. The stars disappeared as the glare from the sign suppressed his night vision. Three miles to the exit. Two minutes. There are no cops out at this hour, nobody at all.
He passed the sign, but before his vision returned, a bright blue spot streaked across the sky in front of him. It was hard telling exactly how far it was, but it looked like it was heading toward Enoch's ranch. Maybe it wasn't a meteor -- wrong color, meteors are white -- but it was moving too fast to be an airline. Besides, there are no air traffic lanes over this part of the state. This could be interesting.
Enoch got off at his exit and headed north over the highway. There were a couple ranches off the dirt road before he came to his, mostly on the other side, and (he assumed) several more beyond his. He'd never gotten around to looking. Enoch was not a very outgoing person. The relationship with Diane was good for him, it got him out and with people. He didn't know what was in it for her, maybe the money. It was his house, he bought the food, she drove his second car. She had a job, but it didn't pay much. Some kind of clerical thing. It supported her wardrobe and not much more.
All that was past and over. It wasn't coming back. It would be good to sleep in his own bed again -- even if it was alone. Alone. What a pit! He had not started up any new relationships with the local girls. Either they had their own boyfriends, or they wanted to move out of the area. What is there for an ambitious chick in the boonies like this? California is where the money is. Or New York, but that's a different kind of money. Then there were the prudes, like Enoch's parents. Nobody like that in California, or if there were, he never saw them, but the middle of the country was full of them. Full of dos and don'ts. Go to church, don't drink, don't have sex, more don'ts than dos. Enoch walked away from all that when he left home eight years ago, and he wasn't going back.
He had to drive a lot slower on these dirt roads. He once tried going faster and missed a turn. Had to get help pulling out of the ditch. There would be no tow service at this hour.
He came over the crest and saw a blue glow in the distance, like a huge fire just beyond the next rise, only blue like that fireball streaking across the sky. That's where his ranch is. He hoped it didn't hit the house, whatever it was.
After he turned off the road onto his own drive and came around the bend, he could see his water tower reflecting the blue light. That's good, he thought. The illumination is coming from the south, and the house is to the north of the tower. But this blue light is strange. Never saw anything like that. He couldn't see the house. Apparently that blue glow was blocked by the hillock near the house. He wondered if he should leave an internal house light on a timer, to make the place look lived in. That's silly, he thought, nobody is up at this hour. Except a computer geek like himself, but he didn't particularly want to advertize that.
He pulled up onto the concrete slab in front of the garage. He had the only concrete-floor garage in miles. At least the electricity was still on. The security light came on, and the garage door started up in response to his remote.
He got out and walked outside, towards the source of the glow still reflecting off the water tower. Whatever it was, it was bright enough to form a halo reflecting off the dry grass and scrub bushes -- you could hardly call them trees -- on the crest of the hillock. He turned his foot on a rock, and decided to go back for a flashlight, so he could see where he was going.
The flashlight helped. It was one of those new LED models, very bright, very efficient. Compared to older tungsten models, the light was bluish, but nowhere near as blue as the glow coming over the hill. Enoch made his way up the rise, and stopped. "What...?"
He could not bring himself to say more than that.
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