A Hero Named Lightman (One Not-Heroic, Non-Man’s Story) – post #6

episode one / chapter six

It had just clicked past nine, or twenty-one hundred hours, officially.  Katie silently chastised herself for allowing the non-military time to populate her thoughts first.  It was one of those habits she couldn’t break, even with nearly thirteen months of reserves time served.

“Twenty-one hundred, twenty-one hundred, twenty-one hundred…”

She tried to force her brain to accept the importance of this, and the priority it should hold over civilian time.  Something held it at bay, unfortunately.  It was the same with saluting.  At least a couple times a month, no matter how many hundreds or thousands of times she had routinely made the gesture before, she would simply forget.  A procession of officers would march by her, and she would gape at them blankly, lost in a fog.  It was like that month working at the movie theater, where minors would simply file by her into the R rated slasher flick while she stared right through them.

The theater owner could only fire her, though.  Her superiors in the Air Force had plenty of time-consuming punishments to apply for her occasional space-outs.  Furious at herself, Katie would scrub whatever object they pointed her at for hours and hours and hours.  Ultimately, the self-anger would subside, and she would again begin daydreaming.  Bent over a toilet stall, toothbrush in hand, she would remain utterly still in thought, and looking like the world’s oddest designed and most questionably placed statue.

Katie closed her eyes and rubbed both temples in a circular pattern, hoping to release some sort of focus chemical from wherever it was locked away.  She blinked wide, and scanned the hallway quickly to make sure no one had been watching her odd movements.  It was quiet.

She stood duty guarding one of the empty hangars at Point Barrow, a pointless task given to those whose regard equaled that distinction.  Nobody bothered going near any of the trio of sturdy but old metal buildings on the base’s south side, as they were long ago relieved of aircraft.  Now they stood silent, except for the footsteps of the occasional reserve soldier, sent to walk the perimeter in lieu of actual work.

Her stiff combat boots squeaked with each step up the metal staircase.  Thirty-eight times she counted, to the second level.  This excursion to the upper floor wasn’t part of her assignment, but Katie included the route anyway.  Guarding the outside was boring and cold.  She needed some kind of warmth and change of perspective to keep her mind occupied.  Otherwise, there would be more fog, and more scrubbing.

The stairs emerged onto a short balcony, which fed to narrow walkways that ringed the inside of the tall building.  Katie had made this perimeter sweep a half dozen times already.  She alternated clockwise and counter-clockwise on each trip around the upper reaches, and now stood poised to make pass number seven, following the same pattern.

She paused on the balcony before doing so and looked up through the clear glass ceiling to the blue sky beyond.  It was evening, but only in name.  This was the end of week six of the midnight sun.  The sky hadn’t been dark since May 10th, and even then barely so.  It would be at least a month more before the sun tucked back below the horizon again.

This had been Katie’s first experience with perpetual light.  The difficulty of sleep amid constant sunshine not only made her continually tired, but messed with her mind as well.  Occasionally, she would feel dizzy.  Other times, the entire landscape would have sort of a glossy sheen over it.  It felt like always having a head rush from standing too fast.  Despite the disorientation, however, she sort of loved the feeling.  It reminded her of college.

The sounds of the massive metal hangar door opening echoed through the chamber, rousing Katie from her thoughts.  She panicked slightly, not sure what to make of the unexpected cacophony of pings, creaks, and booms.  Nobody was supposed to be here except her.  Actually, she wasn’t supposed to be here either.  She had been ordered to watch the outside, not the inside.  Her mind raced to the point of decision, and it seemed there were two immediate options.

She could rush down the stairs and confront whoever it was about whether or not they had orders for whatever exactly they were doing.  This potential confrontation could lead to further scolding about being away from her post, leading to more unpleasantness imposed from a superior.

Or, she could stay out of sight and not risk getting involved, and hereby allowing whoever it was to do whatever they wanted.  This failure to do her job also had the prospective to return her to toothbrush duty.

If it would end poorly either way, then avoiding conflict seemed like the better gambit.  Katie squatted in a dark corner of the second floor overhang, settling on the path of least resistance.  That description sounded more adult, she decided, than the reality of what she was really doing.  Choosing to hide.

“Bring it all in here!  The whole truck!  It will fit, come on.  Slow, slow, that’s it.”

The man barking orders stood in the middle of the hangar, motioning to someone in front of him.  Katie could see this, but little else.  The entrance was below her, which meant anything else coming into the building would not be visible to her until it pulled forward enough.  She watched the unfamiliar man gesticulate, and then saw the nose of a large flatbed truck entering the scene.

The vehicle crawled slowly, sharing the massive space with its guide up ahead.  It rolled carefully towards the back of the facility, finally fully contained within the building.  A dozen soldiers appeared as well.  They split up on either side of the vehicle, watching on, guns drawn.  Katie held her breath.

“Here, right here.  Stop.  STOP!”

The massive truck braked firmly, bringing a short piercing squeak from its hard rubber tires briefly sliding along the slick concrete floor.

“There, right there is good enough.  Leave the tarp on!”

Three soldiers backed away from the truck, heeding the command from the man in charge.  A large black plastic tarp, tented in the middle, remained covering whatever was being transported.

“Now you men get out of here.  Wait, what’s your name?”

“Private Griggs, sir.”

“Alright Griggs, take these men and establish a perimeter around this building, including the ambulance outside.  Except for the Major, nobody gets in or out until we hear otherwise.  Got it?”

“Yes sir.  Let’s go men.”

The soldiers jogged back out of view, through the open front door of the building.  Katie looked out across the floor, feeling ill, but as focused as she’d ever been.

A Hero Named Lightman (One Not-Heroic, Non-Man’s Story) – post #5

episode one / chapter five…

Peace again returned to property.  The homeowner stood alone now, staring into the woods once more.  He was in a state of…something.  Not shock, exactly, but some sort of uncertainty and confusion.  The day’s events swirled.  His mind spun but accomplished nothing, like a machine spooling a broken thread.

Joe tried to rouse himself from this unfocused haze, physically shaking his head once and then again to loosen whatever device needed to be unstuck.

There was a lot to consider, but he couldn’t imagine where to begin.  His world, and perhaps everyone’s, had been altered forever.  It felt like just too much.

He looked back at his home. Through the hazy kitchen window, from where he first saw IT, he foresaw a quiet place to hide for awhile.  The rusty extra refrigerator, unevenly standing on the porch, would provide the beer he needed to quiet the outside, and inside, for awhile.

Joe shuffled towards the dwelling.  He stepped up on the wooden landing and reached for the busted metal handle that held his liquid escape.  Before he could open it, though, a voice broke through from behind.

“Heya Joe, mind if we chat a little more?”

Walt held his hat in his hand, looking pensive.  Eli stood a pace behind him, with hands on hips, chewing some gum.

“Oh, hey guys.  Yeah, we can talk.  Was just going to grab a beer?  Either of you want one?”

“Sure, thanks.”

Joe handed a cold brown bottle to Walt.  Eli waved the host off, and shot a sneer at the back of his partner’s head.  The drinkers uncapped their beverages, and each took a short sip.  Joe leaned against the side of the fridge, facing the two policemen who now stood opposite him.

“So, what happened here?”

Eli’s question elicited another swallow of beer from both men.  Joe looked down, and then up at his inquisitor.

“Like he said, military stuff.”

Walt looked at his partner, whose face reddened at the response.  Eli’s eyes met his.  He took a deep breath and tried to expel the simmering rage at the non-answer as well as the agency that had apparently requested it.  Walt acknowledged his friend’s attempt at calmness with a small smirk, and shifted his glance back to Joe again.

“Did you see something crash?”

Joe considered the question, and slowly nodded.

“Was it some kind of ship?”

He nodded again, and took another pull from the bottle.

“Military ship?”

No answer came this time, only a return to shoegazing.

“Civilian then?”

Again, no answer.  Joe raised his eyes past the two men and looked up at the weathered wooden boards that held a torn canopy mostly in place.  He began to answer, but paused, noticing a coil of electric wires snaking through the knothole of the fifth plank from the left.  He bit his bottom lip.

“So what was it Joe?”

He kept his focus above for a moment, thinking, but quickly brought his gaze back down to avoid suspicion.  Eli looked frustrated.  Walt downed more of his beer.  Joe wanted to end this conversation immediately.

“Guys, I’m really sorry.  I..it was something.  It crashed, but I didn’t get a good look at it.  I don’t know exactly what it was.  I’m just not sure I can give you anything else right now.  I thought I should call the cops, ya know?  But, maybe I shouldn’t have.  I apologize for bringing ya up here.”

The cops exhaled, disappointed.  Joe felt bad, and very carefully considered what to say next.

“If something else…comes up.  I will let you know.  Face to face.”

They looked at him, curious.

“I promise.”

Walt stepped forward and gave him the two-thirds empty bottle.

“Ok, Joe, thanks.  We’ll just leave it be for now.  Right Eli?”

Eli stared at Joe for a few moments, considering.

“I guess.  For now.”

The policemen stepped off the porch one by one, each giving the same cursory nod to their host.  They walked back through the yard, returned to their vehicle, and headed out once more.

Alone once more, Joe held his beer firmly and looked up.  From a sawed off piece of wood, a thin black device wrapped in duck tape stared back down.  The mirrored plastic screen of a small camera reflected the still potent sunlight back into Joe’s eyes.

The ambulance’s left rear tire bounced in and out of a sizable hole in the dirt road.  The prisoner, along with five of the six men seated around him, had their bodies momentarily lifted by the event, causing them to hit their heads on the solid ceiling of the vehicle.  The shortest among them, a recent recruit mockingly nicknamed Stretch, went unharmed.  He smiled.

“Ouch!  What the heck was that?”

The startled crew sat silent, uncertain if they should react to the question from this odd looking creature.  They were unsure of protocol, and essentially completely unqualified for whatever type of work this was.  Finally, the most senior of the crew, Captain Pickerel, spoke up.

“Uh, a pothole.  Lots of them out on the base.”

Erke rubbed the back of his impressive bald skull.

“Well, why doesn’t someone fill them in?”

The captain relaxed, slightly.

“Oh, no money.  The feds have already cut the budget for everything except guns.  We’re barely able to keep this place functioning.  Why, the bathrooms…”

“Captain?”

A younger soldier a few seats away interjected, bringing stares from his peers.

“Yes, what is it Private?”

“Should you really be telling…him…all of this?”

“What do you mean Private?”

“You know…”

He leaned past two others, towards his commanding officer, and loudly whispered.

“Military secrets.”

The captain looked back to Erke, who had watched and listened to the discussion.

“You think I’m here to steal your bathroom secrets?”

The military men glanced at each other, and then back to their captive, who shook his head at the assumption.

“I promise not to tell my planet.”

This would be the last talking inside the wagon until it came to a stop a short while later.

A Hero Named Lightman (One Not-Heroic, Non-Man’s Story) – post #4

episode one / chapter four…

“Eli, where did dispatch say again?”

“Jeez Walt, your memory has gone to pot.  You’re drinking too much of that moonshine.”

“It’s not shine, it is clear whiskey.”

“Oh, right, sorry.  That makes a heckuva difference.  Didn’t mean to offend.”

“No, you never do.”

The black and white squad car bounced its way over rocks and through potholes along a desolate gravel road.  It rolled slowly up to a stop sign that stood alone at an intersection.  The signpost bent forward towards the traffic, as if to implore each oncoming vehicle to heed its one directive.

“Take a left here, then go straight for a bit.  It’s about a quarter mile up this road.”

“10-4.  Are we headed up to, um, oh, whats-his-name’s place?  What is it again?”

Eli glanced to his partner and suppressed a smirk.

“Joe.”

“Right, Joe’s place.  Yup, Joe lives up here.”

“Uh huh, glad you can recall so well.  Must be why the clear whiskey is better than moonshine.  Sure couldn’t be the flavor.  They both taste like gasoline.”

“Eh, the whiskey is more diesel-y.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“Well…”

“And wait, you know the difference in taste between normal petrol and diesel?”

“You don’t?”

Walt looked to his partner, who seemed genuinely confused.

“What…why would I…”

The car rumbled past a large boulder and, out the side window behind Eli’s wide, perplexed face, a pair of men came into view.

“Hang on buddy, we’re here.  Who’s that talking to Joe?”

Eli dropped the conversation, spun in place and stared out in the same direction.

“I’m not sure.  Looks like some captain from out at the base.”

“I’ll pull up next to them.”

Walt flipped on his signal, out of habit, and pulled into a long steep driveway.  Eli focused intently out the window.

“Who called in the damn Air Force for this?”

The man stood next to Joe and watched the cops open the doors of their police cruiser.  They emerged, each wearing a fur-lined black jacket, matching gloves, and a wide brown hat.  The early summer temperatures of the northern Alaskan outpost warmed to the low forties, which allowed residents to leave their heavy parkas at home.

Both men ambled over slowly, carrying expressions of moderate to severe disdain.

“Hello officers.”

Eli responded to this greeting with a quick nod, and then turned to the person they came to see.

“Joe, we didn’t expect to see you talking to anyone else up here.  Did you make any other calls after you spoke with the station?”

“Well…”

“Officer, sorry to interrupt, but our radar picked up a signal of a craft coming down.  We wanted to get here first to insure everyone was safe, and that no military secrets were out here to be found.”

After the unprompted declaration ended, both lawmen returned their attention to Joe, who blanched a little.

“Um, what he said.”

Eli spun back to the military man.

“So, Captain, I…”

“Major.”

“Right, sorry, Major.  I get all that shiny flair confused sometimes.”

The soldier gritted his teeth.  Walt stepped up.

“So, Major, you’re saying it was one of yours that went down here.”

“Yes, an unmanned object we had sent up a few hours earlier.  The tech burned out on it.  Crashed just back there, behind Joe’s place.  Didn’t hurt anyone.”

“That’s good.”

“So nobody was flying it?”

Eli’s interjection stilled the conversation.  The Major looked at him coolly, and responded.

“Nope, not a soul.  You didn’t see a person out there, did you Joe?”

“A person?  Uh, no.”

The Major almost smiled.

“See?  We’re all good here gentlemen.  You can head back to the station and just forget about this.  We’ve taken care of it.”

“Oh, gee, thanks.”

Walt recognized the sarcasm of his long time partner, and could only offer a conciliatory grin back to the Major.  That man’s stern visage didn’t change.

“I’m going to talk with Joe a little more if you two don’t mind.  You men drive safe.”

Eli and Walt looked at the man briefly, and then turned to Joe, who scratched the back of his neck with his right hand and mumbled a confirmation.

“Yeah, it’s cool, thanks guys.  Nothing really to worry about, I guess.”

The cops looked at each other, nodded in reticent agreement, and turned to trudge back to their car.

“Ok, well I guess we’ll take off then.  Let us know if, uh, anything worth mentioning comes up Joe.”

“Sure, of course, will do.”

Walt took his place behind the wheel.  Eli looked back intensely at the uniformed man, and then sat down inside the car.  They pulled slowly out of the driveway, watching the rest of the scene play out in their mirrors.

The police car rolled away from the house as the two men remaining looked on.  The sound of the engine quieted more and more, until nothing else could be heard, allowing the silence of the farmstead to take hold again.  At this point, the Major’s glance returned from the street ahead to the man at his left.

“So, Joe, I need to get going now too.  Are we all good here?”

“I…guess.”

“Sorry we had to take your phone.  Couldn’t risk photos, you know.”

“Yeah.”

“The Air Force will get you a new one.  I’ll make sure you receive it within 24 hours.  Ok?”

“Ok.”

“We appreciate you following the protocol.  It is terribly important that the right thing is done.”

“Right.”

“You’re a good American Joe.”

“Thanks?”

“Remember to let me know personally if something comes up, or if someone comes by with questions.  Otherwise, don’t talk to anyone about this.  You understand?”

“Yeah, I said I did.”

The Major forced an uneven smile, and gave a firm whack to Joe’s left shoulder in an apparent attempt at cordiality.

“Atta boy.”

With that uncomfortable moment passed, there wasn’t much for either man to add.  The Major left his spot and stepped over to his government issued green Chevy pickup.  He opened the door, settled into place, and closed himself in.  The ignition fired, and he shifted into drive.  Before letting his foot off the brake, though, he looked back at Joe and gave him a small salute.

Joe, a non-military man through and through, simply waved.

A Hero Named Lightman (One Not-Heroic, Non-Man’s Story) – post #3

episode one / chapter three…

“Don’t move!  Don’t move!  We have you surrounded, and will fire.”

The menacing squadron tightened their circle.  Another man, standing on the fringes of the intimidating loop, watched with intense focus to see that his threatening command would be followed.  The twentieth man present, whom the alien had just enjoyed a pleasant ten minute conversation with, stood off behind the military group looking brittle.  Fringe man screamed once more.

“I said don’t move!”

He wasn’t moving.  Not a flinch.  Erke wanted to tell the furious fellow he had no intentions of budging, but wondered if opening his mouth was enough to bring reprisal.  Though his planet had its share of dangerous standoffs, as well as pseudo ones for entertainment, nobody cared about movement.  Plenty of damage could be done by his people without as much as a twitch.

The pale ground stood frozen, and the unique gathering shared that distinction.  The shell-shocked man hovering in the back broke the silence, speaking barely above a whisper.

“Uh, Major.”

“Quiet!”

Nobody moved for another thirty seconds.  The silent uncertainty pushed the major to bark up again.

“What?!?  What is it?  What do you want Joe?”

“Um, sir, he speaks English.  You can just talk with him calmly and ask him stuff.  Might help break the ice, as it were.”

The man in charge looked back at Joe, pausing to consider things.  His attention returned to the massive captive.

“So, you speak English?  Huh?”

A thunderous voice replied evenly.

“No.”

The Major, flummoxed by the apparent contradiction, frantically looked again at Joe for help.  The farmer could only shrug.

“Um, I’m actually speaking Shifkajn.”

The military man returned his focus again, not knowing quite what to say.  He squeezed out a response.

“Shif…shiftcain?  Is that like English?”

Erke turned his head in the direction of the inquisitor.  The eighteen men in the circle gripped their probable weapons more firmly.  Pasty, empty eyes stared at the major, who swallowed hard.  An answer boomed out.

“No, it’s nothing like English.”

Again, silence.  Erke figured the earthlings weren’t quite catching on.  He’d answered the questions bluntly and truthfully, but it wasn’t enough.  Explanations were needed, which were his least favorite form of communication.

“Shifkajn is more guttural.  It also doesn’t really use verbs, as we use inflection to guide the conversation and convey emotion.  Your language…”

He looked at the blank stares and realized that the difference in linguistics wasn’t the cause of the uncertainty.

“Nevermind.  I…have a…thing.  In my head.”

Erke hoped dumbing it down would kick start things.  No one around made a peep.

“Argh!  The fact is, I, and all children on Shifka actually, get a series of shots after birth.  Some are for disease inoculations…”

“Yeah, we have those too.”

“Oh?  Great, congratulations.”

He momentarily worried that the snarky response to the group’s leader would bring reprisal.  When it didn’t he thought it safe to continue.

“Some are for diseases as I said, but other shots are actually implants.  They put all kinds of stuff in us.  One thing allows for our ears to automatically translate any incoming language into our own before it reaches our brain.  Another injection places a tiny device between our brain and mouth that takes what we’re about to say and turns it back to the language we first heard, so that it comes out of our mouth in the necessary tongue.  So, though I can communicate with you, I am not speaking English.”

“How does it do that?”

“What?  I don’t know.”

“How do you not know?”

“Do you know how every piece of technology works on your planet?”

This either satisfied or irritated the major.  He didn’t respond, and instead addressed the rest of the group.

“Men, take the captive and place him in the ambulance.  Then put the ship up on the truck that we brought.  Six of you go in the wagon, keeping guard on him.  The other dozen go with the craft.  You got that?”

The entire group, sans the prisoner and the farmer, spoke at once.

“Yes sir.”

“Double time it men.  We need to do this as fast as possible.  Nobody else can see this.”

The soldiers sprung into action.  One group pushed the broad, tall being towards the square green wagon.  Another group ran off to the crash site.  Erke turned his head and looked over the tops of the guards as they hustled him forward.

“See ya later Joe.”

Joe nodded in response, eliciting a quizzical look on the thin, red face.  The Major watched Erke disappear into the vehicle, the doors slamming shut behind him.  As it drove away, he turned to look at Joe again, who slowly and sheepishly lowered his head and looked at his shoes.