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Aaron brushed the dirt off the object. It was a little bigger than a TV remote and oddly shaped as if the hand it was made to fit was not a human hand. The device had many raised areas which Aaron took to be buttons. Each little mound was marked with a symbol he couldn’t identify. He rubbed some more of the dirt away. Despite having been in the ground for who knew how long, it looked brand new, like it it had just come from the store. Of course. that couldn’t be. Lucky looked up at him, tail wagging, expecting it back. Aaron patted the retriever’s head and said, “Good boy,” and slipped the device into his pocket.
Man and dog had been walking in the thickly wooded section of the park. Aaron was in his usual foul mood. His leg hurt and he was feeling sorry for himself. Maybe it was PTSD like the hospital said but ever since coming home life had become a series of missed opportunities.
He’d been mean to the dog that morning as if Lucky had anything to do with him losing his leg. To make up for his cruelty, he let Lucky dig for a long time. The dog seemed very intent on his digging and Aaron didn’t have the heart to stop him. After half an hour, the dog proudly dropped the device at his feet. Bending down to pick it up sent phantom pain down his missing leg. If there was anything alien here, it was that leg.
Aaron studied the strange device. Was it plastic or metal, he couldn’t tell. He pushed a random button and nearly fell over when the device came alive and lit up with a reddish glow. Pushing the same button again resulted in the light going out. This was quite impossible. The object must have been buried for decades yet it still had power. No Earthly batteries could have lasted so long. The hole Lucky dug to extract it was at least a foot deep, maybe deeper. The device might have lain there since the big oak was a sapling. Judging from its size now, that could have been centuries.
Aaron brought the device home and gave it a good cleaning. The only thing he could say for certain was that he’d never seen its like before. It was strangely curved and twisted. Definitely not made for a five fingered hand. Aaron pushed another random button. Nothing happened. “I guess it has to be turned on first,” he said aloud to Lucky and sure enough the light came on when he pushed the first button again. He was about to push a second button after activation when the word “weapon” popped into his head. What if what he was holding was some sort of futuristic handgun? He didn’t even know which end was the business end. Best not to fool with it.
His mind flashed back to the roadside bomb and the Iraqi teenager with the cell phone pressed to his ear. Maybe this was what passed for a cell phone on Alpha Centauri. He knew that cell phones were the triggering device of choice by the insurgents. Surely something triggered the bomb that took his leg and made him a cripple. He wouldn’t want to trigger something he couldn’t stop.
Aaron took the device with him that evening to the bar. He’d been spending more and more time there since his release from the hospital. Alcohol was one way of coping. Beating the dog was another. Neither really helped very much. At the table with him were a group of ex vets drinking heavily, mostly men but there were women there as well. Aaron was mostly quiet at these impromptu gatherings. The beer flowed and the evenings kept his personal gloom at a tolerable level. There were a few women at the table, mostly girlfriends. For the last hour, he’d been exchanging glances with a dark eyed beauty named Samantha. She was with that loudmouth Toby, Aaron couldn’t understand what she saw in him.
Maybe it was to impress her or maybe it was just to hear himself speak but during a lull in the chatter Aaron blurted out that he’d found something strange in the park that morning.
“Rather my dog, Lucky, found it,” he said. When all eyes were on him, he took the device from his pocket and showed it to them. Then he pushed the button. When it glowed, the table gave a collective gasp. He admonished them not to push any buttons lest they blow up the city and then passed the thing around. Everyone was suitably impressed. “Never saw anything like it,” said one of the vets. “Looks military,” said another.
When the device had made the rounds of the table and was safely back in his pocket, Aaron noticed Samantha was staring at him intently. Later that evening she took a seat next to him. “That thing you found,” she spoke to him directly and ignored the others. Her boyfriend, Toby, was drunk and being obnoxious at another table. “I work with a guy who would give anything to have a closer look at it.”
“What guy?” Aaron was excited to be speaking with Samantha and wanted to prolong the moment. Sitting like this, with his legs under the table, he looked and felt almost normal. The last thing he wanted to do was to stand up and remind her what he’d become.
“Someone I work with. A scientist. He’s a physicist but he really believes in UFO’s. He’ll go crazy over your alien artifact.”
“You think it’s alien? Like from another planet? I had the same idea. Did you notice the symbols, the writing? They’re like nothing I’d ever seen. I mean they’re not Chinese or Russian.” He was babbling out of nervousness. He had her full attention. It felt good to have a woman interested in him. Something he thought couldn’t happen again.
“Can I see it again?” she asked.
He took it out of his pocket and handed it to her. He showed her how to turn it on. Their hands touched. “Fantastic,” she said when the light came on. “I wonder how it opens?”
“Why should it open?”
"You don’t think they would need to get inside to change the batteries or make repairs?”
He shrugged. “Who knows?” he looked at her face and noticed how her brow furrowed when she concentrated. He looked at the curve of her breast and immediately looked away embarrassed, feeling the first stirrings of arousal in months.
“So what do you think?” she asked.
“About letting my friend take a look at it?”
“I’ll have to think about it,” Aaron said. “I don’t want to take a chance on losing it.”
“I can’t blame you,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to let go of it either if I were in your place.”
“Maybe we could both go. To see your friend I mean.”
“Sure,” Samantha said, “That’s a good idea.” She tore off a piece of napkin and wrote her name and phone number on it. Aaron tucked it in his shirt pocket. “Better give me your number too, just in case.”
Aaron was almost happy. Samantha was suddenly someone in his life. He had her number and she had his. There was no telling where it might lead.
The next day Aaron’s leg hurt and he was lost in a haze of pain killers and a fog of self pity. The day after that he spent with his physical therapist at the VA hospital. Aaron hated his new hi-tech prosthesis. It made no effort to imitate a human limb. It looked like a metal barrel stave with a sneaker on one end and a socket on the other. It made him feel like a robot. The design had its advantages. It was light and strong, flexible and lively and invisible when he wore long pants but, still, it looked so damn alien, so foreign. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to it. After the third day without calling, he felt too embarrassed to call.
On the fourth day Samantha called and asked him out to lunch. Aaron accepted readily. “I know a nice place,” she said, “I’ll pick you up at one.”
He was surprised to see that she drove a motorcycle. She handed him a helmet, told him to hang on. Samantha drove like a demon up into the hills to a wonderful little place that served great Italian food. They sat on a patio overlooking a field of flowers and drank wine and talked about a thousand things. Aaron asked Samantha about her relationship with Toby. Samantha dismissed him with a wave of her hand. “He’s a jerk,” she said cryptically.
Aaron felt better than he had in months, his missing leg all but forgotten. He loved the way Samantha looked when she laughed. He felt happy in her company, almost whole again. After a while the subject of the device came up and Samantha asked, “Have you thought about showing it to my friend Simon?”
“Tell me more about him. He’s a scientist you said, what does he study?” Aaron wanted to ask her how she knew this Simon fellow but he didn’t know her well enough to be possessive or jealous. But if he were to be perfectly honest with himself, that’s how he felt.
“He’s a physicist. He teaches at the local community college. We’ve been friends forever. You’ll like Simon, he’s a generous soul. Like I said, he’s a scientist but he’s really into aliens and UFO’s and things like that.”
“Do you really think that’s what the thing is? An alien device?”
“Well, you have to admit it’s pretty amazing. I mean to be buried all these years and still working and that writing. It’s pretty weird.”
He had to agree with her, it really was a strange thing. “Maybe it could do marvelous things. You know like have miraculous powers.” The thought just popped into his head. “Maybe it’s a medical device,” he blurted out without even thinking. “Maybe it could cure my, you know...”
Samantha grabbed his hand. “That doesn’t matter to me.”
“Yeah, well it does to me.” He said it stronger than he meant to.
They sat in awkward silence for a while until Samantha said, “One thing’s sure, we’ll never know what it can do until we understand it.”
“I’ll let him see it,” Aaron said, “but I want to be there.”
They were getting up to leave when Samantha’s cell phone rang. She looked at the caller ID and didn’t answer the call. “Toby,” she said, “some guys don’t know when it’s over.”
A few days later, Aaron was shaking hands with Simon Campbell. Samantha introduced him as her dear friend. Aaron was relieved to see that Simon was older, shorter and heavier than he’d expected. Simon bade them welcome and waited patiently while Aaron showed off the device. Simon’s excitement was almost palpable. And when Aaron pushed the button and the red light came on, Simon could hardly contain himself. “I’d like to photograph it first, If it’s all right with you?”
“Sure,” said Aaron caught up in Simon’s enthusiasm. Simon took photos from a variety of angles. He took close ups of the strange writing all the while saying things like, “This is fantastic.” He referred to the device as, “the find of the century.” “This is going to blow the UFO skeptics right out of the water.”
Simon loved the alien writing. He reasoned that the button that activated the device must say something like power or on/off in the alien script. “With a hint like that the crypto boys will have a leg up on cracking the code.” Simon asked permission to keep the device for a few days to x-ray it and, ”get a look at some advanced technology.”
Aaron refused. “I don’t want to lose sight of it,” he said. They made a date to meet again in a few days. Simon wanted to summon some experts to have a closer look at it. “In the meantime I’m going to post these photos on the internet. You’re going to be famous you know?”
That was an aspect of the device he’d never considered. Once the media got wind of it, he might be besieged with news hungry journalists. On the drive home he discussed these fears with Samantha. “You don’t have to let them bully you. If you don’t want to give interviews, you don’t have to. We can tell Simon to keep your name out of it entirely if you’d rather.”
Aaron felt better facing the future with Samantha at his side. He didn’t think he could handle it alone. When they pulled up to Aaron’s apartment, Samantha leaned over and gave him a long soft kiss. His heart soared. “Would you like to come up?” he heard himself say.
Samantha took Aaron’s hand as they walked to his door. He patted his pockets for his keys. He found the device in his front pocket and asked Samantha to hold it for a second while he dug out his keys. There was a movement in the bushes ahead. Toby stepped out of the shadows and gave Samantha a hard slap across the mouth. She fell and the device flew from her hand. Toby kicked it into the street. He was red faced and angry. He’d obviously been drinking and had worked himself into a jealous rage. He took a swing at Aaron who ducked under it and punched Toby in his soft belly. The big man doubled over, fell on his knees and began weeping how sorry he was. Aaron and Sam helped him to a bench. Toby blubbered, “I’m sorry,” over and over.
They remembered the device at the same time and turned to look for it. When they found it, it had been run over a half a dozen times and was no longer recognizable. They swept up the pieces but it was obvious that the find of the century was ruined. They looked at each other and laughed, then they kissed again. Aaron had the feeling that everything was going to be all right after all.
Funny! Liked the character. At the end I expected they'd be a bit more shocked/upset the device was destroyed though.
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