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Hardy Jenken, the editor of the Exeter, New Hampshire Star, covered his face with his hands and shook his head. “Billy, why do you keep bringing me this junk?”
Lowering his hands, he took in the young reporter’s slight frame. Hard to believe he helped liberate France. The town celebrated his return with a parade. Billy’s uniform looked like a Christmas tree with all the medals on it.
“But this is great stuff. It’ll sell papers!” Billy shook with excitement.
“We’ve gone over this. People want to read about the normal stuff of life.” Hardy gestured out the window with his thumb. “Kids sports, births, deaths, activities, the summer fairs, that sort of thing.”
Folding his arms Billy seemed to gain in stature. “This will affect everyone. They need to know and we can break the story. Don’t you want a national scoop?”
“What I want is to go home and eat. It’s soup night and the missus makes a great chowder.” Hardy cleared his throat. “A girl is what you need. Settle down and have some sense beat into you. It would keep you from chasing these crazy stories.” He leaned forward. “Why don’t you come over tonight? The missus enjoys your company. You could bring a date?”
Billy held his pose. “People have been abducted. Crazy lights in the sky, car engines failing. There are multiple witnesses. How can this not be news?”
“And they’ll be accusing me of creating hysteria like that ‘War of the Worlds’ mess. No, I...”
“This is real,” Billy interrupted. “Bob Osborn has been missing for days.”
“Osborn gets drunk, feels lonely, and goes up to visit his sister in Groveton. Happens every year or two.”
Billy opened his mouth to speak.
Hardy silenced him with a raised finger and glare.
“No, absolutely not. Unless you dragged one of those little green men into my office, and maybe not even then.” He waved his hand, looking back to the pile of work on his desk. “Get out.”
Hardy finished the layout and passed it on to the printers. He enjoyed his chowder very much and didn’t think about the alien conversation again until the next day when Billy didn’t show up for work. He cut most of his employees some slack but at ten o’clock, with no word, he called Billy’s home.
“Hello, Mrs. Roy, this is Mr. Jenken from the Star.”
“Have you sent Billy out of town or something?” Her voice seemed high and she spoke quickly.
”No, Mrs. Roy.”
“Well, he came home last night, grabbed some stuff, and took the car. He said it was for a story.”
Hardy rubbed his forehead. “Oh, goodness.”
“What was that?”
“Um,” Hardy stammered, “I believe he is working on his own story.”
“What does he have to stay out all night for?”
“I wouldn’t worry. He probably stayed up half the night. I expect he fell asleep in the car and will be back early this afternoon.”
“Will you let me know when you hear from him?”
“Of course. Really, there is nothing to worry about.” He hung up the phone and walked to the window. No sign of Billy or the Roy family car.
Hardy pushed the thought of Billy from his mind and got back to work. After finishing his lunch of a sandwich and an apple he stepped out of his office and stared at Billy’s empty desk. He had never worked as a reporter. He bought the paper two years before when old man Wilson retired.
Why Billy was so driven by this story eluded him. Must be because he’s young and seeks adventure. Hardy would have thought that the war would have driven that out of him.
Back in his office, he dug through papers until he found Billy’s story. According to witnesses, lights had been seen around Beech Hill Road.
Pulling out a map, he traced the road to its end. Not much out there except the old Hill farm. Hardy sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Darn fool,” he muttered.
He tried to focus on his work and failed. Snatching up his keys, he left the building and settled into his car. He drove with the windows down, enjoying the cool spring day.
There was no sign of Billy all the way up Beech Hill Road. It took about twelve back-and-forths for his old Packard to turn around at the end of the road. On the way back he pulled into the Hill farm and parked in front of the old barn across from the collapsed house.
He stopped the car and got out. There were a few birds chirping and a light breeze. All-in-all a nice New England day. Leaning down, he examined the variety of tire tracks. Some could be new. Scratching his chin, he admitted to himself that he really wasn’t a tracker.
What he thought were new tire tracks led into the barn. Lifting the latch, he cracked open the door and stuck his head in. He was face to face with the trunk end of the Roy’s blue Chevy.
Creeping past the car, he found himself in front of what could only be called a flying saucer. It filled most of the barn and reached nearly to the roof.
Before he could do anything, he heard Billy’s voice.
“Nobody move or I’ll use this.” Billy backed down the ramp at the base of the ship. He held a chest high, gray, humanoid alien in a head lock. His other hand held a sleek, silver ray gun. Billy was mostly naked, with a loose, shiny cloth bundled around his waist and his regular clothes over his shoulder.
Hardy called over to him. “Yo, Billy.”
Billy looked back with a smile. “You wanted one of these aliens? Well, you’re getting one.”
Jogging over, Hardy looked down at the being Billy held. “Thought they were supposed to be green?”
“Guess this one’s ripe.”
Hardy reached for the gun, “Here, I’ll hold that while you get dressed. You don’t want to go back into town like that.” He gestured to Billy’s nearly nude body. “You’ll be a bigger story than the ship.”
Billy chuckled. “Guess so.”
Taking the gun in his right hand, Hardy took the alien by the arm. “Go on, over there,” Hardy indicated some piles of debris, which at one time were neatly stacked bales of hay. When Billy came out Hardy stood in front of three aliens and pointed the gun at Billy.
“Get ‘em up,” he said.
“But?” Billy stammered.
“Couldn’t leave well enough alone? Well now you’ve done it.” Hardy took a small, shiny, blue device from one of the aliens. “Betty?”
“Hardy?” his wife’s voice drifted into the barn. “What’s up?”
“Do you have any of the chowder left?”
“Yes, what is happening?”
“Pack it up and meet us at the ship. Oh, and on your way, bring all of my papers, would you? We have some serious business to work through.”
“Ok, see you in a bit.”
“Betty, your wife, and you are working with these things? No wonder you wanted to kill the story. What are you going to do now, kill me?”
Hardy chuckled. “Kill a war hero? What would that accomplish? Bring the feds down on us. Not the thing we are looking for.”
“We’ll start by tying you up.” Hardy jerked the gun in the direction of a post. Two of the aliens tied Billy’s hands behind his back with rough rope.
“How can you be helping them?”
“Why, quite frankly, I’m one of them.” Hardy Pressed two fingers to the back of his wrist and the body evaporated away, leaving another gray alien. He pulled his shoulders back and arched his back. “Ah, that feels better,” he said stretching out different parts of his body.
“You’re one of them. What about Betty? Does she know? Is she one, too?”
“But of course. No offence but your race is completely unappealing. Ugly.”
One of the nearby aliens hooted agreement.
“And,” Hardy continued, “She makes the best chowder in the galaxy.”
Hardy focused his attention back to Billy. “Now for you.”
Billy looked down at the gun. “You going to kill me now? You’ll never get away with this. I will be missed. And, when they find you, you’ll pay.”
“Get away with?” Hardy stroked his alien chin. “Just what do you think we are doing?”
Billy stood as straight up as he could. “Conquer America, and then the whole world. We’ll fight you.”
“Really?” Hardy shook his head. “All civilized races in the galaxy ignore this area, because it is out of the way and unremarkable. We wouldn’t be here if our ship weren’t damaged by an unexpected super nova. If we had any choice, we’d be home by now.”
“Your lies won’t convince me.”
“No, I suppose not. I blame television and movies. They always portray aliens as invaders, murderers.”
Two of the aliens came up to Hardy and chittered like chipmunks but with a rhythm that made it sound like a song.
An alien led a floating table from the ship and stopped it beside Hardy. On it was a bowl with a dark liquid, a bundle of wire and a pair of small gloves. Hardy put on the gloves and submerged the wire in the liquid.
Billy backed fully into the post. “What is that?”
Hardy met his gaze. “Aluminum wire dipped in a chemical you, on Earth, don’t have a name for.”
“What could you possibly know that I haven’t already learned after eight years on this planet?” He pulled the wire out and draped it over the table, the ends dangling off each side. “We need to give it time to dry.”
Hardy turned and went into the ship. He spoke to the others in their native tongue. “How are the preparations?”
Quarn, at the controls responded, “We are ready for a short trip. The phase control is online and working along with the anti-gravity and base drive. The Interstellar drive is non-functional.”
“So, our situation is unchanged. Any response to the distress signal?”
“No, but I’m not expecting anything with this cobbled together earth-tech,” Verna said from the communication station. “Their scientists are too slow to adapt the knowledge we’ve fed them. At this rate it will be centuries before they’ll create anything useful.”
“Again, status quo. Does anyone have any good news?”
Blim ran up the ramp into the control room. “Dol is here.”
“Ah,” Hardy sighed, “Finally, now we can get out of here.”
“With the chowder,” Blim added.
Hardy, whose real name was Agar went to meet his wife in both environments. Dol met him in human disguise.
Taking in Billy tied to the post she spoke to Hardy, “What have you gotten us into now?”
Hardy pointed, “It’s Billy’s fault. He wouldn’t give up on the alien story. And finally found us.” Hardy shrugged. Something he had learned from the humans.
“Oh, Okay.” She smiled at Billy. “Sorry about this, dear. You are a sweet boy and I hope you find happiness.”
“Stop mothering the boy, Dol. We need to prepare. Did you bring the papers?”
She brought out a group of envelopes and handed them to Hardy. “And I brought the chowder.” In her other hand was a blue and white thermos.
“I was right about it all,” Billy said.
“Yes, we’ll have to give you another medal.”
“We had to test the repairs to our ship.”
“Being in close proximity to our ship in flight could have that effect.”
Hardy paused shuffling through the envelopes. “No idea. We never took anyone. Chalk it up to hysteria, bad dreams, or drunken hallucinations.
“What about Bob Osborn?”
“He really does just get up and go visit his sister without warning.”
Hardy smiled at Dol handing her all the envelopes except for two. “Take these inside and get ready for takeoff.”
She pressed her wrist and became an alien, like Hardy did. She walked over to Billy and look up into his eyes. “Jane Billings likes you. You know?”
Billy’s mouth fell open.
“You could do worse than Jane. She is a hard worker and is really quite lovely.” She winked one huge eye at him.
“But…” Billy stammered after her as she disappeared into the ship.
“Women, huh?” Hardy had moved back to the table and gingerly touched the wire. “Wonderful creatures.”
“But, Jane Billings?”
“What’s wrong with her?” Hardy picked up the wire and moved towards Billy.
“Nothing, but she’s way out of my league. I didn’t think she knew I existed.”
Hardy moved around behind the post holding Billy. “You’re the only war hero in town. Everyone knows you exist. It’s impossible to avoid. Everyone talks about you. Really, it is quite overdone.”
“What are you doing back there?” Billy turned his head to get a better view.
“Tying you up with this wire.”
“What’s it going to do?”
“You’re going to melt my arms off?”
Hardy took a step back. “Melt your arms off? What sort of people do you think we are?”
“People? You’re aliens.”
Hardy shook his head and twisted the wire around Billy’s wrists. “The wire will melt in a few hours, but the heat will not be enough to burn your skin.”
“Sorry, but it has to be tight enough.” When done Hardy untied the rope. “There, you should be free in a few hours. We will be gone by then.”
Hardy moved around to the table and the envelopes. He pulled the paper from one and held it up. “This is the deed to the newspaper building and equipment. I’m signing it over to you.” He scribbled on the paper.
“This one,” he held up the other, “Is the deed to our house.” He scribbled on it as well.
Billy furrowed his brow. “Why are you doing that?”
Hardy gave the best representation of a smile as he could in his true form. “Waste not, want not. We don’t need it anymore and this will leave it in good hands. You have good reporters instincts. You’ll do well with the paper.” Hardy pointed a finger at Billy. “As long as you stop following these crazy stories that no one will believe. You’d become a laughing stock, and Jane Billings wouldn’t want to be with a fool.”
Hardy set the papers on the pile of debris.
Dol came out with a small package and placed it on top of the deeds. “It’s a cold-cut sandwich. You haven’t eaten in a while. You need to keep your strength up.” Turing to Hardy she added, “Doesn’t he?”
Hardy, put his arm around Dol. “Yes, dear. Let’s go.”
From the base of the ramp they waved to Billy before disappearing into the ship.
Inside, the control was a buzz of activity. With phasing and base-drive they were able to pass through the roof of the barn without damaging the barn or the ship.
Hovering above the barn Quarn asked, “Where to?”
“Not around here.” Hardy responded. “We could run into people we know and that would raise too many questions.”
“How about the southwest of the United States. It’s about as far away as we can get and stay in this country.”
Hardy shrugged. “That’s as good as any, I suppose.”
“Someplace not too crowded so there is less chance of discovery,” Dol added.
Blim brought up a map of the country on the display. “How about New Mexico?”
Hardy scratched his chin. “I don’t know. It’s pretty far from any ocean.”
“Why should that matter?” Asked Dol.
“How are we going to get good chowder?”
They all laughed, in the guttural rumbles that pass for laughter in their race as Quarn engaged the drive.
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