Enoch woke up in a motel room. He did not remember getting there. He didn't have his shaver nor any clean clothes, but at least he could shower. He felt like an idiot, and wondered what he'd said the night before.
The guy at the front desk told him it was on The Lazy J's account, but Enoch insisted on paying it himself. He went out and looked up and down the street. He was a block from the bar, his car still parked across the street. He walked back to the bar and went in.
Brent looked up. "Feeling better?"
Enoch wondered if Brent ever went home. "Do I owe you something for the cab?"
"No cab. Jake walked you to the motel. We do that a lot for outside folks like yourself. Like some breakfast?"
"I think some scrambled eggs would help this headache. Did I say anything...?" Enoch sat down at one of the tables.
"About little green men? Yeah, you're not going with them. Great story. Some day you'll have to tell me what really happened. Is your Grandpa OK?"
"I told you that too? No, he's great. I talked to him on the phone yesterday. Completely cured."
Brent brought the eggs over and sat down across the table. "He had Alzheimers? I thought that was incurable."
"It is. What did I tell you?"
"You got some kind of energy converter box from the little green men -- were they really green? Or did you make that up? -- and it converted gold into medicine and you drove to Arkansas and gave the medicine in a milkshake to your grandfather. Usually I hear the tall stories early in the evening; after a few drinks the truth comes out. You got it completely backwards."
"It was the truth. No, they're not green. Maybe they are, but I never saw them outside their silver space suits. About this tall." Enoch held out his hand.
"The airplane in your back yard and everything? You're not putting me on?"
"God's truth." Enoch winced. "Turns out they are a bunch of damned missionaries. They want to convert me to their religion and take me away to Heaven or some such distant planet to live forever. I'm not going. Unless they abduct me."
Brent played along. "Have you told the authorities?"
"No. I figured they would bring in the military and stuff, and force me away. I wanted to be involved, to learn what I could. Well, I learned."
"What are you going to do now?"
"I need to tell them I'm not going." Enoch paused. "Look, I don't know what they will do when I tell them. Do you think aliens might abduct me anyway, even if I don't want to go?"
"Who knows what aliens might do? We could send the sheriff out for protection." Brent winked.
"You don't believe me, do you? You think this is just a cock and bull story."
"Well, ..." Brent drawled.
"OK, all I have to do is send them an email..." Enoch got out his cell phone and opened up the web browser.
"They do email? Of course."
"And then ... you can ... come with me ..." Enoch was not very good at talking while typing. "Can you get away? Business is slow in the mornings, right? Peg could hold the fort, and you could come see their lander yourself." He finished his short email to himself: "Lazir, I'm not coming" and put the same message in the subject, so they would be sure to see it.
"You know, I think you really believe all this." Brent called out "Peg?"
She came out of the kitchen area.
"Can you watch the place for a couple hours? Enoch has this crazy story -- you remember, I told you last night? -- I want to go with him and check it out."
"Sure, Brent. It's slow this morning. Go."
Brent turned to Enoch. "I'll follow you. I need to get back for noon rush. My car's in back, I'll meet you out front."
"No problem. You can be back in time. See you. You know I'm out west?"
"Right. You got my cell number? Here, it's on our card." Brent handed him a card from the dispenser near the register. "That way if there's a problem, we can talk."
Enoch keyed the number into his cell and pressed Send. "Now you have mine too," he said, as Brent's phone jangled. Enoch closed his phone and went outside.
The trip back home was uneventful. Brent stayed close. The sky was clear, the sun behind them bright. Enoch was glad he was going west, so it wasn't in his eyes. Except after he got onto the dirt road, sometimes it curved eastward, and the low rising sun made it hard to see the road.
He pulled up to the house and got out. As soon as Brent came into the driveway and could see him, Enoch headed over to the hillock hiding the langer. Brent parked his pickup behind Enoch's car and followed.
Enoch could see that the repeater was not there. They weren't halfway up the hillock when a loud roar came over it. Enoch and Brent both fell to the ground in a defensive posture. Then they looked up to see the lander rising slowly into the morning sun on a blue flame coming from under each wing. In seconds it accelerated away from them and was gone.
They clambered up to the top and looked over the gulch. The ground was shimmering in the exhaust heat. They could feel the radiation on their faces.
"You saw them leave," Enoch said. "I didn't make that up."
"I saw that. Never seen a plane like that before. Straight up, like a rocket. Do you suppose it's radioactive? Is there any danger?"
"I don't think so, except for the heat. I didn't notice any problems when they came."
"You saw them come?"
"I was driving on the interstate when they arrived, a blue streak of light heading for my ranch. About three in the morning. I was just getting back from California. They mostly see blue and ultraviolet. Their night lights were all blue."
"Did they leave anything?"
"I doubt it. They had a radio repeater set up there on the top of the hill," Enoch pointed. "It's gone now. The energy converter they let me take to Arkansas, they took that back when I returned. I have nothing but some emails. From me. They used my email address."
Enoch looked around. There was a bush on the far side of the gulch that had not been there before. Bushes don't grow there, where the raging flash floods would wash them out. "Wait, I think I see something." He started to walk over there, and realized the landing spot was still too hot to pass over. He took the long way around to the left. The heat was lower that direction, where the front of the lander had been. Brent followed.
When he got close to the bush, Enoch could see a thin boundary line on the ground around it, like the tarp he examined the day before. "Look at this," he called to Brent. He reached out and touched the bush. It was smooth, like plastic. No leaves or branches to match what he saw. Enoch followed it around with his hand. The body of the tarp followed the bush all the way around. When he got to the back side, he could see the ground through the branches where Brent was standing, but he couldn't see Brent there. Not through the bush. When he looked over the bush, Brent was there, but not when he looked through it.
Enoch stooped down and tried to lift the edge. Again it was stiff and heavy; he couldn't budge it.
"You see this?" Enoch said. "This is like the tarpaulin they had covering the lander. Perfect camouflage. Look! See, even the shadows work perfectly. But when you feel it, it's just a smooth fabric or plastic shell."
Brent hesitantly put his hand out, then pulled it back quick when he touched the tarp. "Hell's bells! It ain't real!" He reached out again and felt more of it. "What's underneath?"
"I don't know, I can't lift the edge. Maybe just the rest of the tarp. They had it covering the whole lander that you saw take off. Maybe they just abandonned it. Too big to take with them, you think? Their space ship wasn't all that big."
"Enoch, this is too big for the two of us. This is your property, you can do what you want, but I think you should bring in the authorities. The aliens -- if that's who they were -- they're gone now, but this tarp or whatever it is, somebody who knows what they are doing should examine it. No telling what kind of weapon them might have left under it."
Enoch suddenly felt a cold wave of panic. He had not considered the possibility of a time-delay bomb. He got out his cell and dialled 911 while walking away rather more quickly than he had approached it.
"This is Enoch Maxwell at the Pair-a-Dice Ranch, can you connect me to the sheriff? ... No, it's not urgent, but it's really important. Nobody is in immediate danger -- no I don't know that, it could be dangerous, I don't know... I see, yes I understand. Would you have him call me at this number? Or maybe just send him out. Thank you."
Enoch broke into a run, with Brent close behind. If this was a weapon, he didn't want to be anywhere near.
When they got comfortably over and down the other side of the hillock, Enoch slowed down. "Would you like a drink? All I have is beer and soda pop, not even any coffee. Oh, and water of course." He motioned toward the house.
"Yes, a beer would be good."
Enoch led the way into the house, and motioned to a chair. "Maybe not that one, the alien sat there." He grinned, and kept on going into the kitchen. He came back with a beer and one of his favorite soda pops.
His cell rang as he was handing the beer to Brent. It was the sheriff. "I'm glad you called back, sheriff. I think we have a situation that needs appropriate authorities to look at. I had some visitors, they just left. ... No they were not apparently hostile, but they left, um, an artifact. I don't know what it is, but I thought you should look at it. It has a kind of camouflage covering, like to hide what it really is. I just think you should look. ... Yes, I'm at the Pair-a-Dice Ranch, you know, off exit three-- ... You know the place? Great. How soon do you think you can get here? ... Thank you. Just come into the house, we'll be looking for you. ... Yes, Brent Johnson is here too. Thanks. Bye."
Enoch sat in his chair and looked at Brent. Neither of them said anything for a while. Then Enoch got his cell phone back out and said, "I have some pictures of the plane here. When it first landed, I snapped these, because I thought maybe I could find something on the internet. Look!" He held the phone out to Brent.
"That looks like it," Brent said. "What language is that lettering on the side?"
"I have no idea, probably Ghibberish." Enoch realized the pun and corrected himself. "I mean they called themselves 'Ghibbers' so I guess the language would be..." he paused to grin wide, "Ghibberish, eh? Press the down arrow for more pictures."
Brent studied the pictures for a while. "What's with the pictures of yourself and the water tower?"
"I think they don't see the same colors we humans do, so their first attempt to send me pictures, the colors were all wrong. After I sent them something to compare to, they figured it out. They just piggy-backed on my computer network here. Used up so much bandwidth surfing the web that the ISP shut down access."
"They surfed the internet here, using your connection?"
"Yes. Really sharp, knew where to find stuff."
"You communicated by email?"
"At first, then I taught them to speak. Actually, they don't speak, but they had a computer device with a microphone and a speaker that they used to talk through. I had to train them -- it -- to talk, but they caught on very quickly. I loaned them my dictionary, and they must have memorized it. Pronunciation, definitions, everything. Except they didn't always understand the context."
"Wow. It's a wonder you weren't incinerated."
"I think they were peaceful. Very religious. He kept referring to his god as 'The Ancient One' like he was a real entity."
"What's wrong with that? God is real, if you believe in Him."
"Well, I don't. I'm from California, remember? We've outgrown old-fashioned religions."
"Let me get this straight. Your big beef with these Gibberish or whatever you called them, your problem was with their religion? What makes you think they aren't right? What if there really is a God out there, wouldn't the alien invaders possibly know about Him?"
Enoch did not want to fight this battle again. "Let's just agree to disagree, OK? Religion is not my thing."
"Whatever. Did they say much about their religion? I'm curious. You don't have to defend it, I just wonder, you know?"
"Mostly it was just this one guy, called himself 'Lazir' or something like that. He said the Ancient One created the universe 6000 years ago. Can you believe that? We have millions of years of geology and fossils and stuff, and he said everything was created 6000 years ago. That we humans were first, but we rebelled, so this Ancient One pronounced a curse or something and started over on other planets. Now get this: the Ghibbers never die. Nobody ever dies on any other planet, only here. Did you ever hear anything so ridiculous? He said I could live forever too, if I went with them."
"And you turned them down? What's wrong with you? Did you think he was lying?"
"I don't know. He sure could turn an argument. Every discussion I got
into with him, he won. It was creepy. Even about government. It's weird,
Lazir did not understand government at all, kept asking all kinds of questions.
He said they don't have any government, nobody in charge, everybody does
what they want to -- except they have to obey the Ancient One god."
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