A Hero Named Lightman (One Not-Heroic, Non-Man’s Story) – post #9

episode one / chapter nine

Katie stayed low.  Her hands and knees inched along the metal scaffolding, taking her very slowly towards the goal.  There’s no hurry, she kept repeating inwardly.  If she could make it to the exit door without being spotted, no matter how long it took, that would be sufficient.

She reached the near corner of the building without too much effort.  It was, after all, only about twenty-five feet from the balcony where she started.  Still, her bare hands were already sore from bearing the weight of the crawl, and she was pretty sure her legs were starting to bruise.  It would probably make the next eighty yards or so a painful voyage.

Katie paused and looked down.  From this vantage point, she could see the big truck with the tarped off payload.  It sat parked on the far side of the building.  Nearer to her, in the center of the facility, two men stood at attention.  They faced towards the front door, an area just out of Katie’s view.  The object of their concern likely existed close to that spot.

Looking forward again, she took a deep breath and started moving.  Right hand, left knee, and then the opposite combo.  She focused on being as light a touch as feasible, so as not to cause any sounds to bounce around her and to the floor below.

Despite the extreme importance of being aware of each and every movement, the repetitiveness of it allowed a brief opening for her mind to wander through.  The discussion she had heard minutes ago filled her thoughts.  An alien, a real live actual alien, apparently sat just downstairs.  Katie had never given much thought to the possibility of extra terrestrials.  In sci-fi movies, no matter how good the makeup or CGI, she never could accept that these creatures were possible, always seeing the human actor playing dress up instead.

Now, however, reality had seemingly changed.  A…something, sat below her.  What did it look like?  Katie wondered what she would, or could, see, once she reached the door and turned around.

Her quiet crawl to potential freedom nearly reached its end.  The base of the metal exit sat just a few feet away now.  She looked up, scanned the passage, and grimmaced.  Between her and the outside world, a large obstacle remained.

Or, in actuality, a small one.

There was no doorknob.  Instead, the door had a horizontal bar that needed to be pushed to release the latch.  When that happens, a modest metallic click sounds.  Upon leaving a crowded and boisterous mess hall, this type of noise went unheard.  In trying to enter a dark and sleep filled barracks at two in the morning, that tiny latch sounded like a pistol going off.  Within these tense, silent surroundings, it would be more like a shotgun.

Katie bit her lip, considering what to do.  She just wasn’t sure if the door could be pushed open quietly enough to go unnoticed by the military men stationed below.  A murmur of conversation floated up and disrupted her concentration.  She turned to look, with concern that the muttering might be related to her.

Three of the soldiers standing guard stood in a tight triangle, talking with animation about something.  The crawling comrade up above didn’t seem to be the agenda, as they only looked at one another.

From this distance, the voices raised and dropped like waves, but the specifics were never loud enough to quite cause a breaker.   Katie tried to ascertain whether or not she knew any of these men, but couldn’t tell for sure.  It didn’t matter in the end, she thought, as she had no friends on the base anyway.

Beyond them, in a place now barely visible from this new angle, sat a…something.  It faced away from her, seated on a bent metal stool that looked like a child’s version under such a monumental frame.  Hunched forward, she could see a wide back tightly wrapped with a green blanket.  A large bald, red head sat on square shoulders.  It continued peering in the other direction, so Katie couldn’t see any other aspect of this being.

She continued staring, wishing to see more.  The men’s low chatter kept going.  No other movement occurred.  She wanted to wait longer, desperate to catch a glimpse, but knew that every second she crouched there was another one in which she might be caught.

Katie looked back at the door and sighed.  There were no other options.  With a quiet inward breath, she moved into position, bringing both hands up to the metal bar.  She touched it gently, feeling its coldness.  The exit was going to be loud.  There simply existed no way around it.

The dialogue from the men on the first floor hadn’t stopped.  Katie turned back towards them one more time, wondering if there could be any way they wouldn’t notice.

The trio stood in their group, unmoved from before.  She glanced again towards their charge, to see the back of this alien’s head one final time.  It wasn’t there.

The soldiers in the hangar talked only amongst themselves.  Whether they were under orders not to engage, or just uninterested in chatting with him, Erke couldn’t say.  He didn’t much care anyway, as you’re probably not going to have a friendly chat with anyone who points a weapon in your face.

He sat on his hard little stool, stared at the walls, and thought of home.

His father built the family house, and held a large interest in all things constructed.  Whenever a new building went up, he would take the hands of his two young sons and pull them along, explaining in great detail what kept it vertical.  Erke and Emkie couldn’t be less interested in these tours.  They would usually run off as soon as their Dad’s grip could be loosened, and find somewhere to sit quietly and play with their electronic toys.  Their father would eventually find them, and drag them back for another lesson.

Erke pushed his hands together, and thought of his Dad holding them.  He looked up at the wall in front of him, and tried to view it as his father might.

It appeared a plain structure, without much character or style.  The walls seemed thickly made, with none of the interior framing visible.  Likely, the building got built with importance placed more on usefulness and strength rather than creativity.  Based on the high ceilings, Erke considered it had been commissioned to house some sort of large vehicle, either for the roads or the skies.

His head tilted back and a metal walkway came into view.  It appeared to wrap around the inside of the building, presumably to provide a top down view of whatever had been parked on the ground.  He followed it visually around toward the back of the room, where something unexpected was observed.  A woman, crouching, and staring back at him.

Two pure white eyes met Katie’s.  She gasped.

Frozen for the moment out of shock and curiosity, she stared right back and studied him.  His face was long, with the standard human features where they usually were, only at a scale his sizable face required.  Red skin color stood out amongst the room’s plain setting, and further emphasized his bright, pupil-less glare.

Katie felt terrified and excited to have him focus on her.  She had no clue what he was thinking, or whether or not alien expressions could be gauged in the same manner as that of humans.  He appeared to be interested in her, and didn’t look away.  She continued watching him, fascinated.

The woman’s face and body position seemed to indicate that she felt scared.  Erke wondered what she was doing up on the railway.  She appeared clothed like the men on the floor, but certainly wasn’t behaving like a conspirator.  Being up there by herself, quiet, hunched, it came across to him that this person might be hiding.  She seemed to be someone not wanting to get caught.  And, perhaps, he hoped, somebody trying to escape.

Katie’s eyes widened as she momentarily panicked that he would say something to the men around him.  She thought about bolting, and looked back at the door briefly.

The woman turned from his gaze and glanced behind her at a brown door.  She didn’t open it, and instead looked back at him once more.  She wanted to get out, Erke concluded, but couldn’t.  Either the door was locked, or dangerous for her to open.  He didn’t know for sure, but based on her posture, one conclusion seemed more likely.  The woman could go, but it would be a risk.  She needed help, though he had no idea what kind.

He considered his predicament, and wondered if she would tell people about him.  Erke didn’t know what his captors intended, but it seemed unlikely to be terribly positive.  If this woman escaped, perhaps she could do something that would be beneficial to his situation.  It wasn’t much of a chance, but it was all he had at the moment.

Erke rocked on his unsteady seat, and got an idea.  Perhaps, given the right diversion, she could maybe free herself.

Uncertain, her eyes returned to the alien.  His expression had changed, taking on more of a look of understanding.  He then did something Katie wasn’t expecting at all.

His eyes met her again, and he thought back to his meeting with Joe, the first human he ever met.  Joe was friendly, much more so than anyone else that had crossed his path since.  It gave him hope that maybe not everybody on this planet wanted to point a weapon at him.

Joe had nodded at him when he was taken away, after the end of their casual exchange.  The Major as well, had brought his head forward upon leaving.  Erke didn’t know the exact meaning of this movement, but it seemed like a relatively known type of interaction.  Perhaps, he considered, it could be a signal.

The alien nodded.  Katie cocked her head in surprise.

She kept watching, as he lifted himself off the stool, stood in front of it, and smiled.

A Hero Named Lightman (One Not-Heroic, Non-Man’s Story) – post #8

episode one / chapter eight

The Major sat still and silent, staring at the alien behemoth opposite him.  He fixated on the towering creature who, since taking up shaky residence on the uneven metal stool, had been simply peering up at the clear hangar ceiling and smiling.  After another half-minute, the military man couldn’t take it any longer.

“What are you grinning at?  Are other ships out there?”

“Huh?  No, I just enjoy the light.”

The major glanced up and squinted.  He stared at Erke again.

“Please look at me.”

Erke’s gaze came down to the uniformed human stably settled on his seating contraption.  The man’s terseness, brevity, and mustache all seemed to indicate an air of power and importance.  Erke straightened his back in an attempt to inject some respectability into his side of the pair.  Unfortunately, with the body movement, the stool wobbled again.  His balance shifted to and fro as the differently lengthened metal legs alternately hit the ground.  This support device, he presumed, must be made of dignity-free materials.  The alien stabilized once more, mentally shrugged the unattainable respect away, and focused on his counterpart.

“Ok, I am looking at you.”

“Yes, I can see that, thank you.”

The two stared at each other.  Erke finally went again.

“Anything else I can do for you?”

“Yes.”

The major tried to alter his glare so as to appear more serious than before.  His eyebrows arched down and the corners of his frown dropped closer to the floor.  The change in his attitude didn’t really come through, though.  In fact, it only made him look a little bit nauseous.

“Are you feeling alright?”

“Hmm?”

The being’s concern caught the Major slightly off-guard.  He took a moment in consideration before brushing away the comment and returning to commander mode.

“I’m fine.  Anyway, I’ll ask the questions here.”

“Right, so ask away.”

“I’ll decide when to ask questions.”

Erke opened his mouth to speak, but couldn’t formulate an answer to that.  He just waited for the Major to speak again.  A few moments later, the human circled back on the conversation.

“I’d like to ask you some questions.”

“Are you sure?”

Now the Major paused, unsure how to respond to what sounded like cynicism.  The soldier expected snide comments from underlings, but not from something from another world.  He cleared his throat and pressed ahead, ignoring the previous statement.

“Are you the only one?”

“Hmm?  One what?”

“Alien.”

“Ha, no!”

The major’s mouth dropped open, startled at the bold declaration of other beings on the planet.  Erke picked up on it, and clarified.

“Wait, did you mean currently here on earth?”

“Yes, that’s what I meant.  Are you the only alien here on earth?”

“Right.  I am the only one…”

The major relaxed a little.

“…that I know of.”

He stiffened again.

“Are others coming?”

“I…couldn’t say.  It’s possible, I suppose.”

“Why don’t you know?”

“Well, I hadn’t really planned to come here.  It kind of, sort of, was an accident.”

“How…do you fly a ship across the galaxy by accident?”

“It’s easier than you’d think.”

The Major tried to wrap his head around this idea.  Erke, sensing a follow up question that would require an embarrassing revelation, decided to jump back in and keep things moving.

“At any rate, I’m here now.  So, what’s going to happen to me?”

Another pause, and then a careful response.

“Some…officials are coming to meet you.  After that, I couldn’t say.”

The prisoner looked at his guard.  He figured the Major could say, but wouldn’t.  At any rate, seeing the reaction this man gave him upon meeting, with weapons in hand, made Erke less interested in hearing that answer.

“Am I staying here?”

“For now.  I can’t tell you for how long, but yes, you’ll be living in this building for the immediate time being.  We’ll bring you a few things.  Some blankets, a cot so you can get some sleep.”

“Sleep?”

“Yes, you know, close your eyes, forty winks, all that.”

“Close my eyes?!? No thank you!”

“Uh, well, that’s fine, I guess.  We’ll bring in a cot anyway.  Is there anything you require to survive?”

“To survive?  Right, that’s makes me feel very comfortable here.  Thank you for offering so much.  To a visitor from another planet, it’s nice to know you are interested in providing me the absolute least that you can.”

The Major gritted his teeth.

“Just tell me what you need.”

“What do YOU need to survive?  Humans, I mean.”

He sighed, and thought about it.

“Food and water.  That generally gets us by.”

“That works for me too.”

“Alright.  Oh, and a commode.”

“Yuck.  Your species is on its own there.”

The Major nearly followed up with another question, but decided the interaction could stop right there.  Instead, he nodded at the being, turned on his heels, and made a hasty exit from the encounter.

Katie focused on the wide hangar that spilled out in front of her, hoping to spot an idea for escape.  There was no way, after being privy to such a remarkable and likely extremely classified conversation, that she could simply walk down the stairs and out the door.  Who knows what they would do with her if they caught her.  She thought of the various penalties applied for the salute incidents.  Something like this would bring about consequences her mind didn’t want to fathom.

A building of this size would have to have multiple exits, wouldn’t it?  Mostly out of hope, she slowly tried to answer her own question by studying the second floor of the facility.  Katie had traversed the upper level walkway a half dozen times earlier that day, and hadn’t noticed any kind of way out.  Of course, it wasn’t something she had really looked for either.

She systematically scanned the structure, inch by inch, hoping to catch something she previously had been oblivious to.  Something caught her eye, and her breath followed suit.

The far corner.

Tucked up at an angle, along the right wall, a brown metal door.  A fire exit.  It was recessed back from the space around it, and not immediately obvious unless you were looking for it.  She remembered noticing it on her first walk-through that morning, but promptly discharged its existence from her brain.  Trying to store the location of a random door seemed a fact she could live without.  Now, it appeared, quite the opposite was true.

A Hero Named Lightman (One Not-Heroic, Non-Man’s Story) – post #7

episode one / chapter seven

The Captain’s radio buzzed, cutting through the silence that filled the back of the vehicle.  It caught the seated soldiers off-guard and sent three of them an inch into the air in surprise.  The man in charge moved is hands quickly but clumsily towards the device, fumbling it like a sleepy man with an alarm clock.  He finally gathered himself and gripped the radio firmly with both hands.  With a short, deep breath, he lifted it to his mouth and pressed a red button.

“Yes?”

He released the button but otherwise didn’t move.  A half moment later, a fuzzy voice crackled back.

“Captain, the Major is en route from the crash site.  It should be about twenty minutes before he arrives.  His orders were for all of you to stay put in there until then.”

Ten seconds of contemplation, and then response.

“10-4.  We’ll stay in lockdown.”

The radio beeped, and the unseen voice poked inside once more.

“Everything ok in there?”

The Captain looked at Erke, sitting meekly in the center of the ambulance floor.  His size was still impressive, even in that position.

“We’re fine.  No problems to report.  Keep us posted on the Major’s arrival.”

He tucked the radio back into his belt and scanned the faces of his comrades.  The fear of the unknown had mostly faded from each of them, as boredom and anxiousness seemed to be gaining ground.  The Captain weighed the situation in his mind.

A few minutes from now, this being would be placed in some sort of restricted area.  The military would deny his existence, and command every military man who had been involved in this operation to swear corroboration.  He would never know anything more about the unknown visitor who currently sat a mere two feet away.  There would never be another opportunity like this, in all likelihood, for the rest of his life.  Curiousness overtook protocol.

“So, Erke, right?”

Everyone looked at him, the alien included.

“Yes, that’s right.”

The Captain shifted in his seat.

“Um, is that your first or last name?”

“It’s my name.  What do you mean?”

“Well, we all have first and last names.  Plus middle names, most of us.  Though nobody really uses those.”

“You have three names, one of which you don’t use?  Seems redundant and confusing.”

“Yeah, er, well, I guess, kind of.  My full name is Peter Angelo Pickerel.  My friends and family call me Peter, subordinates and supervisors call me Captain Pickerel.  The last name is for my family.”

“Ah, I see.  Makes sense, I suppose.”

“How does it work for you?”

“Well, the first male child is given a name that combines his father’s name, his family’s home town, and the city where he’s born.  It’s essentially one long, unpronounceable string of letters.  Eventually, brevity comes into play and some shortened combination is used instead.”

“Oh, like a nickname.”

“A nickname?”

“Yes, we use them as well.  He’s called Stretch.”

The captain pointed at the tiny private near the back door of the wagon.  The other men looked his way too.

“Because he’s so short.”

Erke looked at the suddenly bitter looking little soldier, who went rigid with this attention.

“I see.  Very clever.”

The Captain considered the comment, unable to tell if it was serious or sarcastic.  Stretch kept staring at Erke and, feeling he was owed something for the height shaming, decided to ask a question.

“How tall are you?”

“Err, I’m not sure how to answer that when I don’t know your measurement system.  I’d say I stand about yay taller than most of the humans I’ve met so far.”

He held his hands over a foot apart, less than the width of his body.

“So you must be over seven feet tall, easy.”

“If you say so.”

“Are you tall on your planet?”

“No, I’m actually one of the smaller ones.  Kind of annoying.”

“Yeah.  I know how you feel.”

Erke looked at Stretch, who sort of smiled.

A loud banging against the back of the wagon shook the insides, startling the engrossed inhabitants once more.  The captain dropped his radio, which clattered on the hard floor.  The squadron and its captive all spun at the same time towards the spot from which the sound had come.  They watched in silence, and nothing else rattled through.  Instead, slowly, the car began rolling forward again.

Knots were on the list.  Each day, Katie kept count of everything that bothered or aggravated her.  For any given twenty-four hours, she ran a tally in her brain, keeping the number socked away until she went to bed.  The next morning, the counter reset to zero.  On this day, at nearly ten o’clock at night, it had reached seventeen.  By her spotty recollection, this seemed an average total.

It was an imperfect and somewhat pointless system, as she rarely remembered what had actually triggered the instances.  She solely counted them.  This caveat lead to the likely scenario in which particularly stupid items might get added to the list two or three times in a given cycle.  Katie accepted this flawed mechanism, acknowledging her brain simply couldn’t spare the memory for such things as detail.

She dug her fingernails into the laces of her right combat boot, trying to loosen the tight ball of frustration that currently kept it on her foot.  Not now, she thought.  It was time to move quickly, without hiccups or delays or list-landing problems.  She tugged and pulled at the knot, finally getting enough slack to undo it and relax the stiff leather footwear.

The left boot, unlike its counterpart, slid off without landing on the list.  Katie stood carefully in thick black socks.  The metal platform below her feet made no sound.  She remained still for a moment just to make sure she had attracted no attention from any of the soldiers below.

The military men stood quietly, ignoring the pings and settling sounds of the old hangar above and around them.  They focused, intently, only on what lay in front of them.

The army wagon, which had pulled in moments prior, now sat off to the side.  Two metal stools had been placed behind it, near the middle of the large structure’s floor.  One of those stools stood just off balance due to a slightly bent left leg.  The being that occupied that seat struggled with this constant shifting of weight, as all four of its feet never touched the ground at the same time.  It appeared uncomfortable and frustrating.

The Major sat in the other stool.

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.

A Hero Named Lightman (One Not-Heroic, Non-Man’s Story) – post #2

                                                                                      episode one / chapter two…

This was stupid.  He could only think about what his boss would say.  Deep down, he knew such a focus was a waste of time.  There existed so much to be concerned with, to be worried about.  To be freaked out about, actually.  This was a disaster that he had no idea how to deal with.  And yet, he sat still, obsessed with trying to formulate some sort of explanation as to what had happened that his non-present boss would accept.

Could he come up with anything that the forever grumpy Floomer would find believable?  Something that he wouldn’t instantly reject?  Perhaps, given ample time and peace and quiet to concentrate, a reasonable story might be concocted.  Was that possible now?

Erke turned and looked back at his commuter saucer.  Smoke billowed out from the engine section.  The energy shield sparked and fizzled.  His mug of warm instant lay broken on the snowy ground, spilling its’ delicious brown contents all over the Earth.

The Earth.

Unfortunately, no, it didn’t appear likely that there would be any time, peace, or quiet in his immediate future.

He let out a heavy sigh and walked around to the back of the ship.  It rested, crumpled but intact, sticking up from the solid soil at a forty-five degree angle.  His hands reached up and pulled the smooth black bars of the access panel, which broke away easily with one modest yank.  Where it had been, three small compartment doors remained.  Erke reached for the middle one and typed his five number code on the keypad.   Nothing happened.

“Oh come on.”

He punched the sequence again.

“Ugggggggggh!  Would you just open?!?”

Three more tries, but no change in result.

“For…you…stupid…piece…”

Erke’s fingers flew over the pad several more times, pushing the keys in the right order, then in any order, and then all at once.  He wanted to punch the panel hard to show it his fury, but instead slapped it softly with his right hand, so as not to cause himself pain.  He tried to kick the mounted device in frustration, but his foot didn’t reach that high.  With the miss he spun in place, finishing his tantrum by stomping both feet on the hard icy ground.  He looked down.

“And why is it so cold here?!?”

His bass-laden voice boomed, bouncing off the terrain and carrying far through the peaceful white meadow.  He scanned his surroundings, momentarily frightened that his outburst may have awoken some massive earthen beast.  When nothing stirred, he returned his attention to the ship.

“Fine, I don’t get my dumb travel bag.  Whatever, idiot broken down useless ship.  Maybe there is something else I can use to warm up.”

He poked his long face into the passenger module, where he had spent the long and unplanned journey away from his home planet of Shifka to this horribly freezing world.  The area was a state, with nothing in its original place.  His white, nearly pupil-less eyes looked over the mess, trying to spot something that could provide some sort of barrier against the cold.  From under the pilot’s chair, a tuft of red fabric caught his attention.

“Ah, emergency blanket.  It’s better than nothing.”

Erke reached in and pulled the neat bundle from its home.  He undid the strap around it and shook it out to its full length.  It appeared roughly six feet long, or about one foot shorter than the figure that held it.

“Of course.  What is this, child’s size?”

He took the corners of one end, tied them together around his neck, and draped the rest of the blanket behind.  With a shrug at the otherwise bare surroundings, he stepped in the direction of the one structure in view.  A small dilapidated dwelling sat nestled not too far away.  A soft breeze began blowing from ahead, billowing the blanket draped from his massive shoulders.  From a distance, it almost appeared as if this large creature, walking purposefully in the direction of Joe Logan’s property, was wearing a cape.

There seemed no good reason to linger next to his incapacitated vessel.  Nobody on Shifka knew about his plight, thus a recovery transport had little feasibility of dropping out of the sky.  Plus, a crashing saucer might be the type of thing that drew the attention of nearby humans.  He didn’t know what they were like, but being away from a gathering horde of earthlings seemed like good strategy.

Erke got a C-minus in Outer Civilization Humanities.  The class, a degree requirement, tested him on pictures and diagrams and factoids of the dozen or so worlds that contained life outside his planet’s jurisdiction.  These were places where the prime inhabitants were at least moderately evolved and, as a result, considered dangerous enough to be worthy of being studied.

The twice weekly lecture had been based on observations and intelligence culled from years of reporting from on-the-ground scientific surveyors.  This information was supposed to be beneficial to the students, in case they ever took a vacation on these far off lands, or had the desire of a career as a surveyor.  Erke had neither.  Traveling sounded like a hassle, as he hated the idea of being anywhere that didn’t broadcast his favorite shows.  And who wanted a job in surveying?  He couldn’t imagine anything more boring.

His concentration waned during the classes, making understanding the differences between Hoarks and Upper Medulians and Earthlings all the more difficult.  They all looked alike, he complained.  So this one needed oxygen and this one didn’t.  Who cares?  Disinterest nearly torpedoed his schooling, until he rallied in the last two weeks of the term by creating a complex and well received presentation for the final.  Well, his younger brother Emkie created it, actually.  And Emkie didn’t make it for him, but for a class at his own more highly regarded junior institution.  Still, Erke had to explain the in-depth production in front of the whole class.  That was worth a passing grade in the end, he figured.

Erke got through the scholarly requirement, and surmised that his lack of attention there wouldn’t cause any problems or lost opportunities in life.  He had given no real thought to the people and places of the outer contingent since the C-minus, and everyone seemed to get along just fine.  In fact, as of just one day prior, there had not been a single instance where he wished he absorbed some, or any, of that subject matter.

Eighteen men in green fatigues held black devices in their hands.  They each pointed the narrow, hollow end at the unknown being.  He looked at them blankly, unsure what kind of greeting this was.  Was this a common type of welcoming?  Or, were they threatening him?  The answer to both questions, he began to realize, was yes.

A Hero Named Lightman (One Not-Heroic, Non-Man’s Story) – post #1

                                                                                episode one / chapter one…

Joe Logan gazed forward at the horizon. The future lay ahead. It took him to the past.

His eyes were covered, sitting at the head of his family’s weathered and stained pine dinner table. A swirl of voices and noises blew around the room. Three of his best friends from the fourth grade yelled and laughed and belched from somewhere nearby. The whir of the engines of the Millennium Falcon vibrated from the oversized television speakers and put them all waist deep in a low roar. His younger sister, Abigail, sat to his right and hummed loudly to herself amongst the chaos.

The blindfold felt tight around Joe’s head. His Mom didn’t want him to peek at the upcoming birthday surprise, so she made sure to pull it snug. The sharp scent of pepperoni poked at his nostrils. He sat up straight and fidgeted. The anticipation was driving him crazy. He wanted to see, but the black cotton that pushed hard against his eyelids allowed no secrets to pass.

“Hit the lights!”

Someone, Abby probably, heeded mother’s call and went to the nearest switch. He heard the click. His friends got quiet. It must be time now.

Joe assumed the room had been darkened and that, finally, the surprise would be revealed. He bit his bottom lip. His sister giggled. He got warm.

“Ok, take it off!”

Joe’s hands sped to his face and pushed his torment up as fast as possible, scratching his left cheek fairly deeply in the process. His eyes focused, and then refocused again. The glare from the rectangular outline of dozens of small, lit candles made him squint.

He opened his eyes wide again, despite the glow, determined to see what the tiny torches surrounded. The flickering wicks bounced shadows off beautiful, perfect, white.

A massive slab of gleaming frosting lay before him. His jaw dropped at the majesty. Joe glanced to his Mom briefly, whose smile somehow seemed brighter than the cake itself. He looked back to his birthday gift and into the middle of its sweet plateau, where two plastic toys had settled.

One of the toys appeared to be an alien space ship. Or, at least as Joe, and most people, imagined it. A thin, green disc with painted black windows had wedged itself halfway into the dessert. It gave the appearance of a crash.  Understandable, considering the immense size of the tasty surface.

About three inches away, leaving a trail of tiny footsteps, stood the craft’s likely pilot. Big shoulders, all muscles, flowing cape. He fit the superhero model. Clearly he had set out on a mission from his world to rescue someone or, perhaps, obtain a side of ice cream.

Joe looked back at his friends, who all displayed the proper and well deserved gaping of silent awe. His sister leaned forward, likely more excited to get her hands on a corner piece than anything else in the world at that moment or ever again. Joe grinned at her, and then back to his mother. She continued smiling.

“Happy birthday Joesy, I love you.”

“I love you too Mom.”

Her right hand reached for a spot behind the cake and emerged with a massive, metallic knife. It reflected the white frosting to everyone around.

“So, whaddya say kids? Anyone want some?”

“Yeah!!!”

The five voices responded as one.

Joe watched his mother position the blade over the nearest corner of dessert. His body stiffened. From somewhere inside, he felt something. It pushed the hunger and wanting aside, and filled his guts. He had never suffered this pit in his stomach before, not in such a way. Joe felt sadness.

He realized that, once she brought the knife down, this wonderful moment would be over. Seemingly from nowhere, there came an understanding of imminent loss. His childhood, like the perfection of the cake, would reach an end. Joe had aged. This wasn’t what he wanted on his birthday.

As his mother brought the sharp tool within an inch of the incision, Joe did the only thing he could. He stared hard at the unspoiled gift, and then shut his eyes hard to lock in its memory. For the count of ten alligators, nothing could get through. Neither the singing nor the clinking of knife on plate pushed its way in. More importantly, though, for that period, nothing would get out.

The clear blue sky of Barrow, Alaska stretched for miles. It had reached late June, and the dense ice fog that often settled in during the summer had so far not appeared. Sunlight and icy ground collided, giving the surroundings an over exposed sheen.  Joe looked out past his back fence, and shielded his eyes.

Beyond the shed with the wood he’d need to warm his house come fall and winter. Beyond the two rusty tractors in mild disrepair that needed to be fixed for his boss. Beyond even the ancient barn he used for target practice when he was bored and/or drunk. Further than all of that, he stared.

Shimmering white snow stretched just short of forever. The canvas had always remained blank. Today, for the first time, it wasn’t.

In the midst of it all, two things had appeared.

An unusual, yet somewhat familiar craft.

Someone, or something, walking his way.

Joe closed his eyes, and felt hungry.