Aphelion: The Webzine of Science Fiction and Fantasy

Saucerful of Secrets

Dan L. Hollifield

Approx.14000 words

Chapter 4 of the Novel "Shake Some Action", a work in progress.

I hate divorce work, but it pays the rent. There's not much else for a private investigator to do in a small southern college town. The cops get hostile if you step on their toes by messing around an official investigation. I get a lot of things that they give up on, but I also get stuck with a lot of things that cops wouldn't have to touch. Like following someone's wife around.

She dropped Hubby off at Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta about noon. He had a convention in Houston that he'd be at for at least a week. She kissed him on the cheek, watched his plane take off, and danced a little jig of despair all the way back to her car. Then she sped off to Six Flags and gave me my first look at the "other man." They rode the rides, walked around the park holding hands, and generally carried on like kids. He looked to be in his early twenties, dark haired, wearing jeans and a blue t-shirt. She was a real treat for the eyes. Tall and slim, with long dark hair and a figure that made me glad I'd brought a camera. I got some good photos of them necking in the boat ride (that new low-light film works wonders!), and followed them both back to Athens just before dark. I guess it was about 7:15 as we passed the fake standing-stones that marked the entrance to the Stonehenge subdivision on the outskirts of town. I stubbed out my thirty-fourth cigarette of the day and asked myself, not for the first time, where the young man was getting all of the money he had been blowing on the traveling salesman's wife all day? If he was rich he sure didn't look it. They parked their cars at the Mall. He left his Cougar, got into her Mazda, and they headed further into town. I eased my much-battered Vega into traffic about thirty yards behind them and followed them on down the road to a local bar.

I was surprised when they pulled into the Night Owl parking lot. They didn't look like the country music types, but how can you tell just from appearances? I went on down the highway a couple of hundred more yards to the next traffic crossover, then U-turned and went back to the bar's driveway, just to give them more time to get to the door. They were going inside when I pulled in to park. My old gray Vega wheezed gratefully as I shut the motor off and paused to light another cigarette. I watched them go in as I took my time walking to the entrance. I didn't want them to see me come in, just in case they had caught a glimpse of me following them around all day. I look pretty forgettable; average height, weight, hair length and color, but I'm not totally invisible. I don't dress conspicuously either, but that's common in my line of work.

"Hold it right there, D-Day..." the bouncer at the door growled as I fished in my wallet for two bucks to pay the cover charge. "We don't want any trouble. You workin' or just here for kicks this time?"

"Tony, you wound me." I plunked down a ten and watched it disappear into Tony's thick-fingered hands. "That couple that just came in, someone wants me to keep an eye on 'em. That's all, just watchin'."

"I don' t know, the boss gets kinda nervous when you come in."

"My money's just as green as anyone else's." I said. "You going to let me in or do I have to sit in the parking lot waitin' on them to come out?"

"OK, OK... but if you start anything I'm gonna have ta hurt ya. You packin'?"

"Tony, why would I carry a gun into your fine establishment? These people aren't dangerous."

"All right already, you can come in. But I'm keepin' an eye on you, remember that!" He signaled to one of the girls behind the bar and walked off as she came to take over the door.

"Keep the change." I said to his back as he went towards the restroom. He's an imposing sort of guy, a man and a half tall and two men wide. As I walked to the bar and ordered a Near-Beer, I couldn't help thinking that Tony probably didn't carry a gun himself. If he wanted someone shot he'd most likely insert the bullet by hand. I shivered and took a sip of the non-alcoholic sludge that I restrict myself to while I'm working. I went over and looked downstairs into the lower room to see if the couple had gone down to the pooltables. They hadn't, nor were they sitting at the bar, which meant that they were in the third room watching the dancing girls. Good, no one would be looking at me when I went in. I went to the curtain that shielded the dance floor from the rest of the main room and took a quick look inside. The bar has a live band every other night and the curtain would be pulled open to make a much larger room. Since they close it off for the strippers there were several places that I could peek out into the room unobserved. The couple were in a booth against the left wall. Amber was dancing and gave me a quick wave when she caught sight of me. I always thought that she was too painfully skinny, but that didn't keep her from being eye-catching. I ducked back and walked around the curtain to the other side of the room, coming in and taking a seat in the dark where I could see both the dancers and my quarry. I'm dedicated to my work, but I'm not blind. Burgundy saw me and came over to say hello. We chatted for a while as Amber made the rounds of all the tables and booths. I could see that the guy on the spotlight was going to give me trouble so I asked Burgundy to get the other girls to avoid my table tonight. I didn't want the couple to see my face highlighted by the spotlight if the dancers got too close to me.

"Sure thing, D-Day." She shook her red hair out of her eyes as I slipped her a fifty and told her to split it with the other girls to make up for any tips they'd loose from other tables close to mine.

"Anything else we can do for you? Three-way table-dances, or maybe hang around the folks you're watchin' and listen in on their conversation? We're running a special; stripping and surveillance, two for the price of one!"

"Very funny, I'm the one that's supposed to be doing the surveilling... or is it surveying? Anyway, it's only a divorce case, I don't need to know what they're talking about. I just needed the photos that I took of them today."

"Then why are you still shadowing the poor souls? As soon as you file your report to her husband, their world will come tumbling down around their ears. Or are you just a voyeur?" She grinned wickedly in the dim light.

"Nooo!" I said, grinning back. "Although maybe I could get some better pictures of them later at home together, if I were so inclined." I laughed as she slapped my shoulder playfully. "Seriously, you can do something else for me. Get the girls to try and keep track of how much money that the kid over there spends tonight. There's something fishy about him. Something that I can't put my finger on... and that bothers me."

"There are several somethings that you better keep your fingers off of around here tonight!" Burgundy teased.

"Such as your own delectable carcass, I assume. Speaking of which, shouldn't you be spreading some cheer out on the dance floor sometime soon?"

"First time I've heard it called 'cheer'- I mean, what I spread out on the dance floor." She winked at me with an otherwise straight face.

"Saucy wench! I'm beginning to think that you're not in this for the money any more. Get on to work with you so I can get back to work too."

"See you later, D-Day."

As she left, I settled back to watch the couple that I'd followed in, work my way through the rest of a pack of cigarettes, and drink a few more of those awful non-alcoholic beers. Eventually the inevitable occurred and I found myself in need of visiting the Gent's. I'd planed on waiting for one or the other of the couple to go to the restroom before I felt safe in going myself. I had spent what felt like hours putting it off to no avail. I prayed that they wouldn't leave while I was gone. I could lose them that way... easy. I was still praying by the time I reached the stall in the men's room. I'd probably still be debating the point if a singular personage had not arrested my attention as I was zipping my pants.

He stood only five feet tall at best. He reminded me of the guy from the yellow chicken ads on TV; short, thin, bald, beaky-nosed. He stood between me and the door, looking me up and down like somebody kicking the tires on an old sports car.

"Something I can do for you, Mister?" I asked. Momma didn't raise no rude youngin's. Not with her easy access to a switch. Granny wouldn't put up with bad manners either, so all the kids in my generation of our family learned to be polite to our elders. I've since learned that it can pay off... with interest.

"Have you not been watching that young male and the older female sitting in the booth area?" he asked in a quavering voice.

"Does that bother you? I'm sorry, but it's kind of my job, you see." I said, pulling a cigarette out and lighting it. I managed to unhook the snap on my shoulder holster as I put my lighter back in my shirt pocket. Now my antique Mauser was ready for a speed draw if I needed it. I hoped that I wouldn't need it.

"No, quite the contrary. I am delighted that he has finally drawn the attention of the local authorities."

"Wait a minute! I'm not a cop!"

"No? But you still watch him, I saw. You even disregard the undrapped females on display for public adoration in order to study his body language. This also I saw."

"You are one weird dude," Sorry Mom, but this guy makes me nervous, manners are going to have to wait. "I suppose that you're a psychic and can cloud the minds of normal men..."

"You make a joke. Perhaps you wish to be underestimated in order to gain some future advantage. If so, you are wasting our time. I will speak with you again later. It will be to your advantage for us to collaborate in this matter, but you are not yet ready."

"Oh yeah?" I said, master of the snappy comeback that I am. Besides, he sounded as if he might have some information on the kid with the salesman's wife. "Well... look, take one of my cards. I can be reached at these numbers and at this address. When you feel ready, get in touch. We'll take it up then, OK?"

He chuckled, his face wrinkling up like a gnome's. "I see. You wish to put me off without offending me. Very well. I will use your... card. We will resume speech at a later date." He turned and went out. I stood there for a moment asking myself just what had gone on here, really. I got no answer, no answer at all.

The couple were still in their booth when I reached my table again. I couldn't see the little old guy anywhere in the room. If he was watching, he was in a very dark corner, sitting very still. As I had stumbled into the darkened room, one of the unoccupied dancers drifted over to my table. She timed it so that we were both sitting down at the same time. She started talking as soon as we sat. "Burgundy said that you wanted to know how much money the young guy over there was tossing?" I nodded. "He hasn't stiffed any of the girls yet. I mean he never sent a girl away without putting some cash in her garter. Not just dollar bills, like the regulars, but fives and tens! At least two hundred dollars so far, and I'm going back to raise the average some more!"

"Suzy?" I groped for her name. I had been introduced to her once but I always thought of her as "that statuesque brunette." This was probably the most we had ever said to one another. "Let me see one of the bills. It might be phoney or something."

"I already thought of that. I had a bartender check out a couple of bills under a good light. He said they were good, as far as he could tell." She said as I nodded in agreement with her foresight.

"I'm going out to take a look at his car. It's back at the Mall so I shouldn't be interrupted. Keep an eye on them, will you? Tell the girls that there's a fifty in it for whoever can overhear where they're going from here. With any luck they won't leave before I get back. It's not that close to closing time yet, it's only 10:30."

Fitting action to words, I left the bar and drove back to the Mall to look over the kid's car. In between a couple of passes by the security truck I managed to find exactly nothing. I turned and walked back to my car. As I opened the door, I heard a voice behind me.

"Is it yet time for us to have speech, Douglas Simon Daley?"

I turned around to see that it was my friend from the men's room. So I looked the old geezer over. At least he wasn't dressed like a bum. His clothes looked good and his shoes were shiny. I was a little surprised that I didn't notice more about him earlier. Now the light was too bad for me to see much. We were standing too far from a lamp post.

"How did you find me?"

"As I explained before, we should cooperate in this matter. As for finding you, I used your card, naturally. I need to speak with you."

Strange, his remarks had explained nothing so far.

"I'm a little busy right now. I've got to be getting back to the bar soon."

"I will not keep you long, Douglas Simon Daley." He looked at a calculator, or something like that, in his left hand. "The persons that you scrutinized in the place of the undrapped females have not yet exited that locus. You have time to listen."

"I'm speechless." I shut the car door and leaned against it, crossing my arms thoughtfully. If the old man noticed that it brought my hand closer to my shoulder holster, he never gave any indication. It's not that I expected the old guy to give me any trouble, rather that he unnerved me coming out of nowhere the way he did. "OK, if I accept that you're clairvoyant or something then I've got time to listen to you. Make it march anyway! I still need to get back before they decide to go home for the night."

"You have an open mind, splendid. Your card states that you are a private investigator. I find myself in difficult circumstances. I have need of..."

"Cut to the chase!" I said, looking at my watch pointedly. Funny, the numbers were glowing brighter than usual. He looked at his calculator, then smiled at me.

"Very good. Colorful, cut to chase, yes. Swiftly then, property of mine is being held by thieves. I wish it recovered."

"Go to the Police."

"I cannot. I am..." he paused, punching buttons on the calculator again. "Ah, here is it, illegal alien. Douglas Simon Daley, sadly I cannot go to the Police Authority. They would arrest me, confine me. No, I need your help."

"Most folks call me D-Day." I said. "Hey, are you some kind of spy? I don't go in for the James Bond routine. If you aren't supposed to be in the country, what are you doing here?"

"I am no diplomat or spy! I am not a criminal. I am a... " Again he made with the calculator. "Yes, here... Botanist. I am a Botanist. I am here to study native plants and observe methods of crop management."

"A botanist who can't enter the country legally? Who do you botanize for, the KGB?" I snorted. "If you don't mind my asking, and even if you do! Also, you haven't mentioned what's been stolen. Or for that matter, why I shouldn't turn you in to the cops myself. Hurry up, I've still got a date with a big spender and I don't think he'll wait for me."

"I have done nothing to harm your people! I only study plants, how to grow them, when to harvest. I am not a danger. But your people! They steal from me..."

"Come on! Who pays the bills? Who do you work for?"

His calculator began beeping softly. He looked at it, then looked at me and seemed to make a silent decision.

"You must return to the Hall of Spirituous Fluids as your prey will escape otherwise. I will seek you at a later date." He turned and walked away behind a nearby parked car. I never saw him come out from behind the car, but that doesn't mean anything. By that time I was in my own car and had the accelerator mashed to the floor.

I've always liked fast cars. This time I was doubly glad I hadn't let my mechanic friends talk me out of dropping a three hundred horse powerplant into my little old beat-up Vega, even if we did have to use a shoe horn to fit it in. I made it back to the Night Owl just as my "prey" were pulling out of the parking lot. They proceded to go right back to the Mall and split up for the night. Several times I wondered what had beeped the old man's calculator to warn him that the salesman's wife and her boyfriend were leaving the bar. After all, I had gotten back in time to tail them. In the interests of saving my sanity I decided not to think about it. I followed the young guy back into town, but lost him at a stoplight near the university. I would have run it, but a pair of Athens Finest picking up a DUI at the same light stayed my otherwise lead-foot from the gas pedal. I've already had enough run-ins with the local Boys-in-Blue to be wary of offending them again. I counted myself lucky that my low-level flight from the Mall parking lot had escaped offical notice. I took a more sedate pace toward my own home, thinking that if I didn't get a break in this case soon... I'd want to be sedated. After sitting down in my favorite armchair at home, I hit the message button on my answering machine. The only message was from Burgandy telling me that "Those People" had left and that none of the girls had been able to overhear where they were headed. I lit the day's last cigarette and sat back pushing facts, suppositions, and questions around in my head to see if a pattern emerged. Somehow the weird old man, the kid with too much money, and the traveling salesman's wife should make a coherent pattern. Maybe I was too tired to think straight. I stubbed out my smoke, stumbled to the bedroom, and started to undress. Looking at the clock I saw it was only 1:00 AM and turned out the lights, still undressing. I don't remember getting into bed, but the next morning I awoke to find that I was naked except for my socks, and sprawled crosssways across the bed. I also discovered that although Near-Beer couldn't possibly give you a hangover, confusion and frustration would provide an almost identical sensation.

I set my own hours at the office. Becides, I've got two phone lines there with their own answering machines instead of a secretary. I don't have to worry about being late for the office. It was only a place to meet clients anyway. I didn't have any appointments today so no one would know if I didn't go downtown and open the office just yet. I started the coffeemaker, shoved something into the microwave, and crawled back through the bedroom to the shower. By the time I'd dried off and shrugged into a bathrobe the coffee and breakfast were ready. Then I saw that I 'd fixed a chinese dinner by mistake. Oh well... I'd wanted waffles. Between bites of pepper steak with rice I checked the answering machines and started getting dressed. By my second cup of coffee I was back to thinking about last night. I could feel my headache coming back. There just weren't enough peices to the puzzle yet. I wanted to pick up the kid's trail again. If I could just follow him for a while I'd have all my questions answered. I was getting nowhere so I put down my empty cup and finished dressing. It was cool out so I put on a heavy jacket as I went into the garage to warm up the car. I left the big door closed, as usual. I wasn't worried about carbon monoxide because of a special fan vent I'd installed. The trouble is that the fan also sucks out all the heat as well exaust fumes. Back in the kitchen I watched CNN Headline news for about ten minutes. When I felt sufficently cought up on current events I switched over to the outside video monitors. Those toys had saved my life once when a guy with a shotgun had convinced himself that he wanted my silverware more than I did. I hear he lived.

The cameras showed there was no one outside the garage or the front and back doors so I turned them off and went to get in the car. Listening for the click of the doorlock as I pulled the door closed, I turned to walk to the car but froze instead. The weird old man was standing not four paces away smiling at my discomfort.

"How did you get in here?" I gasped when I had recovered my breath.

"As I keep telling you, I used your card, Mr. D-Day..." he began.

"To find me wherever I happen to at any give time?" I finished for him. "That still doesn't tell me how you work the trick, or why you're bothering. And another thing while we're at it, how did you know those folks I'd been watching were leaving the bar? I mean, you and I were a couple of miles away- Quit playing with that calculator, for Pete's sake! And don't call me mister, it's just D-Day! Well? I want some explanations!"

"Calculator?" he asked. I gave him a dirty look- and noticed his dark wool suit with a thin old-school tie and matching handkerchief. His shoes were the shiniest I'd ever seen.

"Get on with it!" I said, feeling my headache coming back again.

"I need your help..."

"We got that far last night, tell me something new."

"I am a botanist..."

"So I heard, time is money, hurry up. Don't play with the calculator, talk!"

"I collected samples to take home. I am due to leave shortly."

"That's new, go on."

"My samples have been stolen, along with my way home. I must get them back! I will be trapped here! I cannot go to the Police Authorities, as I told you. You must help me!"

"Calm down. Let me shut off the car and we'll go inside and talk."

"Then you will help me?"

"I said we'll talk, but you still haven't told me near enough."

In the living room he looked even more like the guy from the TV ads, except this guy looked like he was going to cry. I offered him a drink since he looked as if he could use one in spite of the hour. He declined sort of wistfully. I decided to try again later, certain that he'd say yes. He wanted to this time, I could tell. Somehow I got him started talking again.

"I have been here almost a year now. I took specimens of soil, seeds, and plants at many stages of their growth cycles and stored them for the trip home. The amount was quite large as I was able to find large numbers of plants under cultivation. I also studied the habits of the owners of the crops, the activites that they undertook to improve the yield, pest control, cross-pollenation, everything that I could think to observe. You see, what my people want to do is to begin to grow the plants for ourselves. They provide a medicine that we need and nothing at home can provide enough."

"Why not just buy it from us? If your country isn't at war with anyone or trading with terrorists, it should be simple."

"There is a difficulty. Although we are not hostile to your country, my government is not... recognized by your government."

"You've lost me again. If you're no threat the diplomatic and trade agreements should be easy to set up. What's the big deal?"

He looked longingly at the "calculator" in my hands. I had convinced him to let me look at it as we came into the house, but now I was more confused than ever. The thing had a two inch square screen and about a hundred little buttons. All of the buttons were labled with squiggly abbreviations that made up no alphabet that I'd ever seen before.

"The people who stole my samples are not profesional thieves. They are simple farmers who became angry about the number of plants that I took."

"You might have destroyed their harvest and ruined their profits for the year." I said.

"Then when they came on board and saw the cargo bays full of plants and soil they seemed to go insane." he continued as if I hadn't spoken.

"On board?" I latched on to what I didn't understand. "Cargo bays? We're a long way from a seaport. What are you talking about?"

He took a deep breath, looked me in the eye for a moment, then looked at the floor.

"Yes, the sea is a long way from here. Everything is a long way from here. But that does not matter... I must trust someone if I am to get home." He looked up at me again. "You see Douglas Simon Daley, as your newspapers would say: I am an alien from outer space and some farmers have stolen my flying saucer!"

I almost dropped the calculator.

"And D-Day, If you will bring me a drinking container of grapefruit juice and a small measure of vinegar, I believe that I will have that drink after all."

Well, either he was looney tunes or he wasn't. If he was crazy, how did he get in my garage? How did he get from the Night Owl to the Mall so fast? How did he know that the salesman's wife and her boyfriend were leaving the bar? He didn't look unhinged, but looks don't count for much. On the other hand, if he wasn't crazy, maybe I was. How would I know? I didn't feel like I was having hallucinations. I looked at him sitting there nursing what would have been a Boilermaker if the ingredients hadn't been grapefruit juice and vinegar, and looking lost. What was I to believe? "You don't speak english too badly for a man from outer space, but you still haven't told me some of the most important parts." I said, eyeing him suspicously. "Why all the secrecy? Why didn't you just land on the White House lawn and ask for what you need? Hell, the politicians would have been trampling each other to be the first to give you anything you wanted!" I looked around the living room as if to reassure myself that no one had yanked the world out from under me. "Convince me, I'm listening."

"Where should I begin?"

"Start with how you knew the plants you needed were here. Maybe you can follow that with why they are so important to you. You can improvise from there."

"Very well, but I can communicate better if I can use my translator handlink. That calculator, as you call it is a link to the computer in my shuttlecraft. I can search for the words that I am unfamilar with." As he spoke I was looking at the button-studded box in my hands. I was thinking very hard. If this situation turned out to be real... I gave him back the handlink and poured myself a shot of Bushmill's to calm my nerves. I sat back and lit a cigarette as he visibly brightened his mood.

"Thank you. I can speak more clearly by use of this." He punched a few buttons like a kid with a new toy. Then, reading from the screen, he elaborated... "Your planet had been surveyed several times by scoutships of various species. Your flora and fauna were cataloged most completly. No one has officaly tried to contact your people because you are too primitive to survive the experience. Of course, the last survey was completed twelve thousand of your years ago, you've come a long way since then. There are indications that you will be mature enough to survive contact in one or two of your centuries. Until then, any contact will carry serious penalties. If I am discovered I will be severely repremanded. This is of no consequence to me, for if I am able to obtain the medicine my people need, I will gladly accept any punishment. After the disease had ravaged our worlds for a decade or more we finally turned to the old survey records to look for any possible cure. I was one of hundreds of researchers allowed access to the old records. I also had the resources to travel here to your world to find out the truth of those records. My plan was to come here secretly and obtain enough plants and seed to establish the species on our planet. I had almost completed my task when the farmers discovered my cargo shuttle and secreted themselves on board. They appeared from hiding after I had reached my ship in orbit. They were armed with projectile weapons and seemed quite dangerous, so I escaped in another shuttle and began searching for someone to help me retake my ship and return the farmers to their homes. I do not wish to harm them, but my people are suffering and need this medicine as quickly as possible. I had observed the young male attempting to sell the farmers what he call 'insurance' and had followed him to the Hall of Spiritous Liquids. Your interest in the male led me to believe that you were in some way connected with your world's law enforcers. In spite of my lack of further data on you, I had an intuition that you would be the sapient to help me reposses my ship and complete my mission. I have attempted to retain the secrecy necessary to preserve your world from harmful exposure to my alien culture. Will you help me, please?"

I still thought it was possible that he was just some old guy gone way off of the deep end. In spite of the bizarre way he had of coming out of nowhere and the way he kept track of the couple in the bar last night, I still wasn't convinced.

"Where is this shuttlecraft? I'd like to see it. It might help," I said as a pained look crossed his face, "to convince me to help you."

"And to convince you of the reality of my story, no doubt. Very well, the shuttle is outside. You would have to see it in any case if you to decide to travel to my ship to evict the farmers. Come," he said after draining the last of his pseudo-boilermaker, " you will soon recieve all of the proof that you feel necessary." He punched some more buttons on the handlink and rose from his chair. I followed him outside into the back yard.

"Where is it?" I asked, seeing nothing but the yard.

"There," he said, pointing the handlink as if were a remote control. I gasped as a shape took form shimmering into solidity and visibility. It was about the size of a Winnebago or school bus, shaped like a flying wedge. It reminded me of a giant Triumph TR7 sports car, without wheels. It sat humming softly in my back yard about an inch above my unmown lawn, not even bending a single blade of grass. I glanced at the alien with an apology written all over my face.

"All right, you've convinced me. What do we do now?"

"Come aboard and we will make plans."

The inside looked more like a luxury camper or a cabin cruser than a NASA orbiter. The old man indicated that I should sit down so I sank into a convenient swivel chair and fired up another cigarette. An ashtray opened up in the chair arm at the perfect distance for me to use. It had some kind of suction thing built-in that pulled the smoke into the ashtray too. Neat, no secondhand smoke. I looked around. The compartment we were in was set up as a lounge or passenger area. The alien had given me a brief tour as we were coming in. The lounge was in the center with a small cargo area to the back and the cockpit forward.

"How do you want this handled?" I asked.

"I do not wish to injure the farmers," he began, "but I do want my ship back. It is not acceptable that we..." He looked up a word in his translator. "Ah, yes- blast, shoot, go in with lasers blazing. I do not want them discorperated. We must assume command of the Emergency Control room. Then we can safely find a way to capture them. They will not be able to attack us there, and we will be in control to the ship."

"Why didn't you do that in the first place?" I asked. "That would have saved you all this trouble."

"I was doing exceptionally well to elude them as far as the hanger deck! They were firing upon me. Some damage was done to the walls and furnishings by their weapons. Yours are a bloodthirsty species. The Khun or Arrunam warlords could take lessons from you."

"Hey, we're a peaceloving people! Hell, we've fought a couple of wars just to prove it! We're not bloodthirsty, we just don't like to be pushed around."

"I see... it is in the interests of peace that you carry weapons of mayhem about your person at all times. The room in your residence that contained nothing but weapons is, I suppose, dedicated to non-violence? And the care with which you armed yourself before we boarded the shuttle, that was of a wish to avoid wanton slayings?"

"Exactly, mine and yours anyway. I'm not going to shoot first, but I intend to be able to shoot back. I've got some questions for you. Like, how do we get on board your spaceship? Can we find out where the farmers are holed up before we go in? Are there any weapons they can use, besides the ones they brought with them? Does the ship have any weapons that we should be worring about? What's the layout, the floorplan of the ship? I think a briefing is in order. I need to know what there is that we can use, and what they can use against us."

"The ship cannot fire upon this shuttle, the farmers cannot access any weapons systems on board. Indeed they can access very few control functions at all, mostly food systhesis, interior hatchways, and elevators. All passageways can be sealed into small compartments, for both security and damage control. We can enter through any of three hanger bays. I escaped through the largest one, but that does not mean that we have to reenter there."

"We should go in through the one closest to your emergency control," I said. "That'll cut down on the time they have to react to us getting in."

"I agree. I can have the shuttle override the ship's normal alert warning that sounds whenever a shuttle begins docking. We can effect our entry in secrecy that way and they will only be aware of us if they are near the hanger bay that we will use."

The alien led me to the cockpit and set up a display of the ship and it's layout. The thing was huge, like an ocean liner. Matter of fact, it looked a lot like the home movies I've seen on some of those UFO TV shows. Maybe the UFOnuts really had seen something after all. What the ship reminded me of first was a stack of different sized frisbies with some domes and big tanks hanging from the bottom. There were two thick tubes that ran horizontally from the edges of the largest disk. I asked for details and the old man told me that the tubes were his FTL engines. I could hear him pronounce the capital letters as he told me that FTL stood for Faster Than Light. The main hanger and cargo bays were near the bottom of the ship while the hanger that we needed was located near it's middle deck. It's doors were in the back between the FTL motors while the other hanger bays were in the front of the ship.

"The ship's computer will give us the farmers' location once we are inside the hanger. Perhaps I can use the shuttle's computer to do that now. I will set up the necessary link." The alien punched on the dash and set back to survey the results. Another screen lit up to display what looked to be a lounge area near the main cargo bays. Three bright lights were centered on the screen.

"Bingo." I said.

"Is that a religious expression?"

"No... well? Maybe, but in this case all that it means is that now we know where they are."

"Shall we go up?"

"You mean, take off?"

"Yes, we are ready? Is there more that we can plan?"

"Yeah, what else can we do 'till we get on board? You know, I'm beginning to feel like a pirate."


"A sort of sea-going thief."

"I am not a thief, the ship is my rightful property, but I think I understand what you mean. It is a strange feeling, is it not? Remember, I have never done this sort of thing before either." We looked at each other and both broke into laughter. I guess it was just nerves.

"Yeah," I said, "Let's go up."

The alien punched some more buttons on the dashboard and the walls of the cockpit turned clear as glass. I could see my house getting smaller through the nose of the shuttle. I didn't feel a thing, not even the first vibration. Don't ask me how the old geezer did it, when I thought to ask I didn't understand the explanation. At the time I was too busy looking out of the windshield. After a few seconds the sky turned dark and the stars came out. The ground disappeared in the haze below.

"Nice car," I said, "good acceleration."

"Quite, well maintained also. It came with the ship. We should come up on it's orbital position in thirty minutes. The navagation computer will warn us when we get close."

"Just gives me time for a leisurely smoke. Maybe you can tell me why your ship hasn't been spotted by anyone on the ground. This shuttle too, somebody must have spotted it on radar."

I didn't understand that explanation either.


"The alarm?"

"Yes, the computer indicates that we will have visual contact soon."

"You mean that bright spot, there in the corner of the windshield? Is that the ship?"

"Yes, that is the ship. You have very good eyesight, D-Day," said the alien, smiling for a moment. "I shall maneuver around to the aft shuttle bay."

"That's the one they can't see from anywhere inside the ship?"

"Not unless they go into the aft bay control room. The computer still shows them to be in the lounge area near the main cargo bays. They have not moved except to go to cargo bay 5 and return since we located them with this scanner. If they stay in the lounge they will not know that we have entered the ship. Curious, they seem to be utilizing the food dispenser in the lounge quite often."

"They're cooperating nicely," I muttered, "I don't like it; this is too easy. Are you sure that you have the alarms turned off?"

The alien pressed a few buttons on the shuttle's control panel and smiled at the results. The ship loomed huge in the windshield now, blotting out the rest of the view.

"All alarms have been deactivated. The farmers have not yet moved away from the lounge. We are in position and the hatch control is responding to the shuttle's signal. Shall we go in?"

"Might as well, we can't dance..." I said with more cheer than I really felt.

"What? I sometimes have difficulty following your mode of speach, D-Day. Does that remark imply that you are ready to proceed with the boarding as we planned?"

"Sorry about that. Uh, yeah, go ahead. Let's get this over with."

"Very well, I am opening the shuttle bay doors. Prepare for docking."

We floated inside the ship and settled down into a parking space next to two other shuttles similar to the one we were in. As the shuttle's door opened, I looked around at the hanger bay. I hadn't heard the big hanger doors close, but they had closed and the air had been pumped back in before I had gotten out of my seat. I looked back at my host as he flipped switches and pushed buttons on the dashboard.

"I am disabling the controls on this shuttle to prevent the farmers from attempting to utilize it in our absence. I am ready to proceed. The computer panel by the exit will be able to give us the location of the farmers. We should now be ready to go to the Emergency Control room."

As we walked to the exit, I still felt that things were too easy. Something had better happen soon or my nerves were going to wear me out. When the alien stopped to use the landing bay computer I had an inspired idea.

"Say, can you control the food machines from here?"

"Yes, I can tie in to their command sub-routines from this computer station. But for what purpose? We are unlikly to be able to starve them into submission. In any case, that would be immoral."

"That's not what I had in mind at all. Can you make the machines give them something besides food and water?"

"Yes, once the computer has the molecular structure of the compound that you want synthesized."

"C-O-O-C-H, at least that's what I remember from high school chemestry."

"That is close to your chemical formula for alcohol. You wish the food dispenser to provide them with spirituous beverages?"

"Yeah, get 'em drunk and they'll be less of a problem."

"That is an interesting idea, D-Day." The alien began rapidly pushing buttons. "The dispensers are already programed with the information necessary to produce beverages in great variety. All that I have to do is override the selection sub-routine to force the machine to give them an alcoholic beverage whenever they ask for anything to drink. There, it is done. But what beverage to give them? Surely they will not consume raw alcohol?"

"Don't be too supprised, and don't call me Shirley. Seriously though, you're right. Can you make it give them a mixed drink?"

"What is a mixed drink? And who is Shirley?"

As I explained what I had in mind, the alien began to tap out another sequence on the computer.

"There, it is programed. Aged, carbon-filtered cereal grain alcohol, diluted with either citric acid or fructose syrup, and carbonated water. They now have two selections."

"Citric acid?"

"Yes, that was the main ingredient of the drink that you gave me at your home."

"Oh, grapefruit juce."

"Yes, the citric and acetic acid beverage is my personal favorite, and is quite strong for my species. However, this ship was designed for a multi-species crew."

"So you have supplies for other species as well? I should have guessed. So now we head for Emergency Control, right?"

"Indeed. Shall we go?" he said as he pushed the door control.

The door moved fast, but we went through before it was fully opened. I pulled my gun as we turned left and ran down a corridor. I was thinking that everything was still going too smoothly as we rounded a corner and stopped at what looked to be an elevator door. It whooshed open and we jumped inside.

"Asckadd Sumatum!" the alien commanded as the elevator door closed. "That is the command to send the elevator to the deck where the emergency control room is located. A translator program would have allowed me to use any language in the ship's data banks." We were zipped along for only a moment before the door opened again. I jumped out, brandishing my weapon up and down the hallway outside the elevator.

"All right, it's all clear. Which way?"

"That way. Left, to the corner, then right. The door will be the only one along a blind corridor."

"OK, let's go."

We reached the door without incident, but as we opened the door the alien's handlink began beeping softly. He frowned and looked at the device.


"Inside! Quickly!" Suiting action to words we both dived through the doorway. From the floor I squeezed off a few shots into the hallway as the door closed behind us. I wasn't aiming at anything, I just wanted to make some noise to keep them from getting too close to the door while it hissed shut.

"Computer, seal this compartment! Open only to Executive Override commands!"

"Authorization Code?" said the ship's computer.

"Captain and Owner Harvadd, code Delta-Delta-Oblique!"

"Code correct, Emergency Control secure."

"Harvadd? Is that your name? You never said. I've just been thinking of you as The Alien. It's nice to know your name." I said.

"Yes, I am Harvadd. The rest of my name would be very hard for you to pronounce. I am known by Harvadd to most of my aquaintances. I would be honored if you would refer to me thusly also."

"OK, Harvadd, what happened? Are you all right? How did we wind up getting shot at?"

"One of the farmers must have left the cargo bay lounge while we were traveling between the landing bay and the elevator. My handlink gave us an alarm..."

"Almost too late!" I interrupted.

"Granted, but we did get inside Emergency Control safely."

"You call that safe? We almost died!"

"But we did not die. Now we can reclaim my ship."

"Right. Let's not cut it that close next time, OK?"

"O.K. That means affirmative, correct?"

"Right. What's next on the agenda? Wait 'till they get thirsty and hope they get drunk and pass out?"

"I am open to suggestions, D-Day."

Thump, thump, thump.

"They are at the door." Harvadd said.

"No kidding. Can they get in?"

"No. Even if they had explosives they could not force that door. It is one of the strongest in the ship. We are safe here, at least untill we leave this room."

Thump-thump! Thump!

"Are you sure they can't get in?"

"Even if they had energy weapons that door would hold for hours."


"Maybe we should tell them that."


"They will find it out in due time. Perhaps now would be the time for us to put our plan into effect."

"You mean, force them back to the lounge and knock 'em out?" I asked.


"How can we force 'em back to the lounge?"


"Let me see what our options are. I will ask the computer for a list of possible actions."

"Ask the computer? You mean you don't have any ideas and you gotta ask a calculator?" I was stunned by this news. Here I was- trapped on a Flying Saucer with an alien I barely knew, while three North Georgia rednecks armed with shotguns played storm-the-castle. They were still trying to break down the door. "I should have stayed home and trimmed my beard," I said.

"You do not have a beard, D-Day. Besides, I told you earlier that we would have to use the computer to subdue the farmers."

"Did you, now? It must have slipped my mind. Anyway, I thought all you'd have to do was punch a few buttons and we could load them into the shuttle and take them home."

"I fear that it will not be quite that easy. However, once I access the proper information the situation may become somewhat simpler."

"Listen, Harvadd, the only thing simple around here is me for listening to you in the first place!"

"If manipulating a few controls would get them off my ship why would I risk going back through your Strategic Air Command detector fields to land on your backwards planet to ask for your help? If there had been an easier way I would have chosen it. Now let me see what the computer has to offer us. You should calm yourself."

"Right," I said, biting off a sarcastic reply. After all, it wasn't Harvadd's fault that my nerves were acting up. He had told me that it would take some time and effort to get the farmers back home to Earth. I stomped over to stand near the door and pointed my Mauser in a safe direction. Pulling the slide back, I pushed a stripper clip into the slot that locks the slide and clicked three more 7.63mm shells into place. I remover the stripper clip and listened to the authoritative CLACK of the slide slipping closed. It had been difficult learning to get my fingers out of the slide's way when I had first bought the Mauser, but now I didn't even think about it. I reholstered the gun and put more rounds back into the clip from a box in my coat pocket. I tucked the clip back into it's pouch on my holster strap, put the box of shells back in my pocket, and looked up at Harvadd. He seemed like a nice enough person; after all, he was going to a lot of trouble to keep from killing three guys he could have easily shoved out into space. I hoped that the computer had a few options for us. Otherwise I would have to come up with a few options of my own. None of them would be pleasant if my mood didn't improve. Being shot at always ruins my day. Some folks are like that, a little lead flying around makes us crabby.

"Where are they on the locator-thing? Is that guy still out there?"

Harvadd looked up from the computer and smiled weakly. "Yes, he is gone. He seems to have gone back to the lounge, possibly to inform the others of our arrival. Good, this implies that they do not yet know how to use the intercom system."

"How is that good?"

"If we can isolate them singly they will not be able to communicate with each other, they might be easier to deal with one by one. It gives us another option."

"How about putting them to sleep? You got any kind of tranquilizers on board?"

"No, I did not believe that sort of thing necessary. Unfortunate was I to omit such a thing from my preparations. I was depending upon stealth to insure my safety while upon your planet."

"Yeah, and look where that got you."

"Indeed." Harvadd paused, looking back down at the computer readout. He grimaced as if in pain. "They have jammed the doors to the lounge! I am unable to override the safeties and force the doors to close! They seem to be preparing a defense. It is time to put this situation under our control."

"The situation was out of control from the time they first came on board," I said. "How do I get to the lounge? I want to try to talk to them... before any more shooting starts."

"You may speak to them from here, over the intercom, without putting yourself at any risk."

"They might respond better to me in person than as a voice from a speaker panel."

"Yes, their aim might be better. That is the only response that I can easily conceive of the farmers making."

"Come off it, I'm not planning to give them a target. By the way, how do you work the intercoms? I just might need to know. Hey! Can we listen in on them? Without their knowing, I mean."

"YES!" Harvadd yelped, diving for the keypad. "I should have thought of that earlier. I would lose my brain if it were not sealed so tightly inside my skull!"

"What about the intercom button? What does it look like?"

"Look at the screen by the door."

The small screen that was inset in the wall next to the doorway lit up to show me a path along the corridors. A symbol glowed next to the map on the screen. It looked like a letter S laid on it's side, bisected by two slash marks and a dot above the left curl of the S. A different symbol glowed on the screen's control panel. It was a simple # sign, but with all the lines drawn diagonally. The one on the panel was built in so it had to be the intercom button, but what was the one on the screen?

"What's the sideways S-looking symbol on the screen with the map?"

"Elevator button to the lounge deck. The elevators operate for anyone using the control buttons, but the voice control will only respond to me as of yet. Please use the elevator that we came up in, the button labeled with the symbol indicated on that screen will take you to the level that the lounge is on. From the elevator, you will have to turn two corners to view the lounge doorway. There is a meeting of corridors there. You will be able to approach the farmers stealthily. The control built into the wall unit will allow you to speak to me from anywhere within the ship."

"Good. Call me on the intercom if anything develops before I can call you. See you later..."

"I believe the expression is; Good Luck, D-Day." said Harvadd.

"Thanks," I said, while pulling out my gun and checking to see that there was a round in the chamber. "I hope I don't need it."

I stepped out of Emergency Control and made my way to the elevator. The doors opened at my approach so I stepped in and pushed the button Harvadd had shown me. The doors closed and the elevator WHOOSHed on it's way. I wanted to go back for my stomach, I'm sure I left it in the elevator shaft somewhere. Right about then I remembered that I still didn't know which button to push to get back to Emergency Control. Another, quieter WHOOSH and the doors opened to show me an empty hallway. I thought it was the most beautiful empty hallway I'd seen in my life. I pulled the hammer back on my Mauser and pushed the safety lever forward. Now I was ready for an ambush, but I still hoped I wouldn't need my gun. I patted myself in the small of the back to check my back- up gun; an almost all plastic .22 target pistol. I could feel the five-shot .380 that I wore in an ankle holster already. You can't wear an ankle holster and forget it; the straps either cut off the circulation in your leg or threatened to pull your socks down. Feeling like a bandito, I left the relative safety of the elevator and stalked carefully down the hallway. Two left corners and two hallways later, I could see the lounge doorway without being seen. All I had was a very narrow view past the third corner. I could see the right-hand third of the doorway, but I was afraid to edge over any further for a better view. I stood very still and strained my ears to hear anything I could. Nada. Either they weren't talking or they were too far inside the room for me to hear them. I pulled back a step and wished I could have a cigarette. Right about then I noticed a distinct sweet, earthy smell wafting from the lounge. Dirt, I thought, or maybe hay, possibly one of those hybrid cattle feeds. For some reason it reminded me of my misspent youth.

"Hey! You out there," one of the farmers yelled from the lounge. "Come on out, I can hear you sweatin'!"

Needless to say, I didn't move except to put my thumb on the safety lever of my Mauser.

"Shut up, Rick. Nobody's there yet."

"That's the idea, Ev. I wanna scare 'em before they can get here!"

"You two get quiet. I wanna hear 'em sneakin' up the hallway an' you're drownin' 'em out."

"OK, J.W."

"Right, J.W."

"Just don't start shootin' so quick this time. I wanna find out who owns this warehouse. I don't want no shootout with no Mafia types, or the Feds neither. Somebody with some big money built this place, somebody with connections. Might be a good idea to hook up with 'em if we can. Might be somethin' in it for us."

"Want a drink, J.W.?"

"Naw, you go ahead, Ev. I mean, it's free, ain't it?"

"I believe I'll join you, Brother Ev."

"Don't mind if you do, Brother Richard."

"Keep it quiet!"

It sounded like getting them drunk was going to be easier than I thought. They sounded half lit already.


I dived for the opposite wall like a champion. I'm positive I heard a small sonic boom as I ran and hugged the wall. Maybe, and maybe it was just a second shot from the lounge, I don't know. I held the Mauser out towards the corner. I don't remember pulling the safety off, but I must have 'cause it was off now. If anyone had come around the corner right then, he would have had more holes in him than an Alabama highway. I told you, I don't like being shot at.

"STOP THAT!!!" yelled Harvadd by way of the intercom. My ears were ringing now for sure.

"Who's there?" yelled one of the farmers, Richard, I think.

"Who are you?" shouted another farmer.

Harvadd paused, I could see his face on a intercom screen further down the hallway, but I didn't feel like going nearer at the moment. I wished I knew if he had come up with an option that I could use about now.

Harvadd finally spoke. "I am the Captain, and I would very much prefer that you refrain from shooting inside my ship. Your weapons could damage vital circuts and endanger us all."

"Why did you steal our crop?"


"And where are we?!"

"Yeah, come on out and we'll show you what we do with thieves! Captain, hunh? We'll show you..."

"I have no intention of exposing myself to your weaponry." Harvadd's voice dripped with irony and contempt. I hadn't known that he had it in him. "I will offer you your lives if you will put down your weapons and remove the obstruction from the lounge doorway."

"No way!" yelled the third farmer.

"Yes, way!" said Harvadd. I don't know if he was just reacting to what the farmer said or if he knew what he was saying, score one for Harvadd, anyway.

"Why should we?"

"Because if you don't, the Captain might just lock you in and pump all of the air out of that room!" I yelled, getting tired of not doing anything. Besides, they left me an opening.

"Are you uninjured, D-Day?" Harvadd asked over the intercom.

"Yeah!" I shouted, "I'm fine, I'm just practicing my Spider-Man imitation and hanging halfway up a wall getting shot at. How are you?"

"Your levity will assassinate me yet, D-Day."

"Be the death of you." I corrected.

"Oh, yes. Thank you."

"What's going on?!" shouted one of the farmers.

"Do you want to talk or shoot?" I asked.

"How long do we have to decide?"

"Pump out the air? How?" asked another farmer.

"Thievin' S.O.B. wants me to throw down my gun after he done stole a year's worth of work?! I'll be damned! I'll shoot my way through a wall first!"

"You do and you could kill us all!" I yelled. "Just stop shooting for a minute and listen. He needed your crops to make medicine for his people... where he lives. Where do you think you are? I mean, right now?"

"D-Day, is this wise?" asked Harvadd's image from the intercom screen.

"They need to know, Harvadd. They need to know."

"OK, we're listenin'. But it better be good! "cause wherever we are, we've still been ripped-off. Ain't gonna forget it, neither!" shouted the farmer who seemed to have picked himself as a spokesman for the trio.

"Keep your guns. Just lower them. What's your names, anyway?" I asked.

"What do you wanna know for?"

"I don't like being shot at by total strangers. Besides, all I know about you guys is that you're farmers. That, and that Harvadd stole some of your crops. So you guys followed him up here and tried to get them back."

"Up where?"

"I'm getting to that. Have I left anything else out?"

"No, that about covers it. OK, who are you? 'Fore I tell you my name, I'd like to know yours."

"My friends call me D-Day," I said. "I'm a private investigator. I live in Athens."

"D-Day, hunh? And the other guy you called Harvadd?"

"Yeah, Harvadd takes a little explaining..."

"Listen, D-Day, I'm J.W."

"Pleased to make your aquaintance, sort of, J.W. Say, I'm getting tired of all this yelling around the corner. Why don't you and I meet in the middle of the hallway here? That way your buddies can keep an eye on things for you and we don't have to strain to talk. How about it?"

"Well... OK, but no tricks!"

"No tricks, by anybody."

"OK, I'm commin' out."

"Meet you there." I said. I took a deep breath and started walking. I don't think I've walked a longer six steps in my life. As I turned the corner I saw J.W. He was young for a farmer, middle thirties or so. Medium hight, medium weight, with short sandy-brown hair. He wore bluejeans and a plaid shirt, and carried his shotgun by the barrel with his left hand. He stopped when he saw my Mauser, but I holstered it and he came on. When we stood eye to eye he stuck out his right hand.

"Well, buddy, you sure got guts, I can say that for you."

We shook hands and he glanced at the communicator screen.

"That's Captain Harvadd," I said. "He means well, but he's kind of between a rock and a hard place."

"What was that about medicine?"

"Well, J.W., it's like this: Harvadd's people need something that can be made from your crops, so he snatched them. He's really not supposed to be here anyway. He's in for it when he gets back, if they find out where he's been."

"Does that give him the right to take the whole field? Hell, we worked hard for that! He didn't even offer to pay us neither. We got a right to take our stuff back. He's got a warehouse full of it here, anyway. If he ripped us off, I'll bet that he didn't buy the rest of it."

"Harvadd..." I said to the screen.

"What the farmer says may be true, but my people need this medicine. The seven tons of plants that are on board would only make enough medicine for fifty thousand individuals." Harvadd informed us.

"Seven TONS!" J.W. exclaimed. I was supprised myself. Harvadd had been a busy little botanist. I started to wonder just how long he had been crusing around denuding people's croplands. "That's more than we grow in years!"

"Yes," said Harvadd, "the other fifteen tons of cargo is composed of soil samples."

"You need fifteen tons for a sample?" J.W. interrupted.

"He wants to set up a farm of his own, back home. They want to grow enough for all the medicine that they need," I said.

"Why did he get our stuff if all he wanted was seeds and dirt?"

"The plants might not grow well," explained Harvadd's image from the screen. "We may have to try several times to get it right."

"Harvadd, would you be willing to pay these guys something for what you took?" I asked. "How much were you planning on making on... however much it was he took, J.W.?"

"Twenty thousand dollars, more or less. Off of just twenty plants."

"What? What the hell are you growing? Gold?"

"Nah, it's just Green. Mostly Redbud and Mexican crossed, but it's good stuff."

My expression mirrored my confusion as I loked back and forth between the communicator screen and J.W.'s face. He was smiling as he thought of his farming prowess.

"That does not seem to be an unreasonable sum to pay for the salvation of a world, D-Day I would be gald to pay restitution in that amount. What form of payment would you prefer?" asked Harvadd.

"What do you mean, save the world?" J.W. sounded puzzled.

"Wait a minute," I gasped. "Back up. What kind of plant is worth a grand or better apiece?" I was begining to have a sneaking suspicion that Harvadd was not being totally honest with me.

"Hell," said J.W., "If I'd a knowed it'd be that easy gettin' my price, I'd of asked for fifty thou."

"Done!" cried Harvadd. "If that would suit you better?"

"Hold on here! This doesn't sound like simple farming anymore," I said. "I want to know what is going on, right now!"

"Simple buisness, D-Day," J.W. sminled as he spoke. "That's all, just simple buisness."

"It may be simple to you, but- damn, I'm out of cigarettes!" I brought an empty pack out of my shirt pocket. "I thought I got another pack before we left the house."

"Come on in the Den here and I'll let you have one of mine. That is, if you don't mind hand-rolled." J.W. grinned.

"All right, I'll take a chance," I said as we walked to the lounge doorway.

"Move that couch out of the way, Rick." said J.W.

"Are you sure that's smart, J.W.? He's workin for that sneak-thief."

"That's OK. That Harvadd dude is gonna pay us fifty grand for the stuff he stole, and D-Day here is out of smokes. Everything is workin' out just fine, so ease up."

"Wow, fifty grand! That's better than we hoped. Ev, give me a hand with this couch."

The two moved the couch out of the way and J.W. and I entered the lounge. On the floor, next to the only table and chairs that had not been used in the barricade, sat a bale of what looked like hay. I could smell that sickly-sweet odor all through the room. J.W. pulled a packet of cigarette papers from his shirt pocket, tore a handfull of leaves out of the bale, and proceeded to roll a disreputable looking cigarette. My jaw dropped as the realization hit me.

"This is what Harvadd swiped from you guys?" I said as J.W. lit his hand-rolled and passed it to me. I held it in my hand and waited for his reply.

"Sure, North Georgia Green. Best in the state. Go ahead and hit it before it goes out."

"Harvadd!" I yelled as I turned to locate the communicator panel in the lounge.

"Yes, D-Day?" Harvadd said as the screen lit up. I turned to face it once I realized where it was.

"Get your butt down here right now!" I yelled. This time yelling made me feel better.

"But..." he began.

"Now!" I yelled. "You've got a lot of explaining to do!"




I pulled my Mauser and shot a hole in the center of the screen. The screen threw sparks into the room and went dark.

"Very well," I heard Harvadd say from the communicator in the hallway outside the lounge. "If you feel that way about it, I shall be right down."

I looked at the gun smoking in my right hand and the hand-rolled smoldering in my left.

"What the hell," I said to no one in particular. "I wanted a smoke anyway." So I put the gun away and took a hit. "Anybody else want some of this?"

A few minutes and several explanations later, I was still slightly stunned. The farmers were too, sort of, shocked and stunned. Being told you're on a spaceship a hundred miles up can have that effect.

"Marijuanna... I should have guessed."

"D-Day? Are you to attempt to be the death of me at this time?" Harvadd called out from behind the corner of the hallway outside the lounge.

"No, the shooting's over- unless you give me a reason to start it up again."

"I shall have to accept that, I presume." Harvadd said as he rounded the corner and walked toward the lounge.

I was feeling better at the moment, friendlier at least. I smiled and turned to the farmers as the alien entered the lounge.

"Gentlemen, this is Harvadd. He's the Captain of this flying saucer you've hijacked. Harvadd, this is Richard Everett, his brother, Leslie Everett, and their other brother James Winton."

"Gentlemen... I only wish that our meeting could have been less... invigorating," said Harvadd.

"My friends call me Ev," said Leslie Everett, a heavy-set, black-bearded weight-lifter type wearing faded overalls.

"And I'm J.W." added James Winton.

"Are we to be friends?" asked Harvadd. "Your species seems just as quick to forgive as to anger, D-Day. Why did you destroy the communicator?"

"To get you down here quicker," I said while looking at the ruined screen. "And to blow off some steam."

"I am aware that your metabolism is not based on boiling water, D-Day. I assume that you mean that you wished to release emotional frustration of some magnitude."

"He talks like he swallowed a dictionary." said Rick, helping himself to another drink from the dispenser. Rick had the dark, good looks of a soap opera star and was obviously the youngest of the trio. He wore jeans and a sleeveless sweatshirt.

"He has improved quite a bit since I met him," I said.

"What was that you said about our plants saving the world?" asked J.W. "Hell, I thought you were going to arrest us. So you not a cop then, are you?"

"No," I said before Harvadd could puzzle out what J.W. meant. "He's the guy who's been leading me up the garden path."

"I knew that I should have brought the handlink," said Harvadd to no one in particular.

I continued: "OK, Harvadd, why didn't you tell me just what these plants were that you'd sampled? Don't you know that this stuff is illegal? I could loose my license over this! What if it had been something more harmful? Just how much do you expect me to over look?"

"A plant that has been proscribed on your world? This is becoming most complicated. I was unaware. Now, D-Day, I assume that you have told them that they are aboard a spacecraft?"

I nodded, then shook my head at Ev as he tried to hand me another joint. I guess my respect for the law has become a little stronger since my wild and impetuous youth. Besides, I needed to keep my wits about me until I sorted out what had to be done. Ev shrugged his shoulders and muttered to himself something about "Just leaves more for me," eventually handing the joint to Rick.

"I always wanted to be an astronaut," grinned J.W.

"Several plants, and lots of other stuff, are illegal back home. The question is, what are we going to do now?" I asked. "I can't condone this."

"What do you mean?" Harvadd began.

"I can't arrest you guys- I'm not a cop. Besides which, we're not on Earth any more."

"Then leave us alone," said Ev. "All we want to do is make a little grocery money and have some cheap pot for ourselves. What's wrong with that? We ain't hurtin' nobody."

"Yeah, it ain't like we was sellin' this stuff to kids or somthin'." Rick said, exhaling smoke. "Besides, we can't make a livin' growin' soybeans an' corn. Not with those dweebs in the White House screwin' with the market an' all."

"What do you mean?" asked Harvadd, looking puzzled.

"Never mind." I said. "If you guys get caught after I get you home, I guess it's your own lookout. I just wish Harvadd hadn't put me in this situation. I can't approve of breaking the law, or drugs in general. Too many times, innocent people suffer. I can't stop you. The whole thing is out of my hands."

"Suits me," said J.W. "But I'm in no hurry to get back to the farm. Pot ain't against the law where you come from, Captain Harvadd?"

"There is no such plant on my world. That is why we must take from you to obtain the products necessary to grow these plants for medicinal purposes. My people have illicit substances, yes. But this species of plant will not affect my people in that way."

"Well, we can grow all you need."

"Yeah, our stuff is great! Smooth taste and a good buzz, that's our motto!"

"It is not the intoxicating properties that make your harvest necessary to my people. The medicine that can me made from it will save the lives of many, many people."

"Too bad us Earth people can't use it for medicine," said Rick, looking thoughtful.

"Yeah," said Ev, "I always wanted to grow this stuff for a livin'. You don't need some good ol' farmboys to show you how it's done, do you Captain Harvadd?"

"Perhaps it would speed the process towards producing the necessary material for the medicine, but I could not take you away from your home."

"Why not?" asked J.W. "We may not be able to keep growin' it for ourselves very much longer. Not with that gangster dude tryin' to shake us down."

"What?" I asked. "Who are you talking about?"

"The Purveyor of Insurance," said Harvadd. "The young male that you were watching in the Hall of Spirituous Liquids. I observed him attempting to do business with these farmers some time before I contacted you, D-Day."

"Yeah, some guy wanted to insure us all right. Insure us against his hoods burnin' our place to the ground!" said Ev.

"BINGO!" I shouted. Lots of pieces started to fall into place right then. I knew that the salesman's wife's new boyfriend had flashed too much money and now I knew where he was getting it all from.

"Is it time for your religious observances again, D-Day?"

"No! I knew there was something about that guy when I saw him with that big wad of cash. Now I've got it! He was working the protection racket on you guys. The question is, what can I do about it? I've never run across him before so he must be from out of town. I wonder who else he's leaning on? Damn, I need to get back and see what I can do about him."

"If we go with Captain Harvadd, why would you need to bother?" asked Rick.

"But you can't... " I began.

"But they can! exclaimed Harvadd. "It will be no more difficult to explain the farmers to my people than it will be to explain the plants themselves. I may have to pay some sort of penalty, but the future of my world will override any objections that my government may raise. Perhaps I can say that they are making a philanthropic gesture on your peoples' part."

"But what if they don't like it there?"

"If I'm growin' this stuff the way I want to, why wouldn't I like it there?" asked J.W.

"OK, what happens when you get homesick? Or when you want to see your girlfriends for, uh, companionship? You wouldn't ever be able to come home again."

"Why not, D-Day?" Harvadd asked. "The trip will only take two of your months. They will be able to come back as often as they wish."

"Wait a minute! You sound like you want them to go with you! Is that what you had in mind all along?"

"By no means! It is simply that now that the idea has been proposed it would seem to achieve the greatest possible good for my people. These men are experts in the cultivation of the plants. Imagine the difficulty that my people would have in trying to establish a thriving horticulture with only the information that I have been able to obtain from mere observation of the various farmers whose crops I have appropriated. My people could easily fail, due to our ignorance of the proper agricultural methods. Besides, these farmers face possible imprisonment upon their own world. Gentlemen: I implore you; please come to my world and help my people!"

"Damn," I said. "When you put it like that, how can I try to talk any of you out of leaving? Harvadd, have you ever done any acting? You're a natural.?

"I do not have the faintest idea what you are talking about, D-Day. In any case, it is these gentlemen who must make a decision. I take it that you do not wish to accompany us yourself?"

"You're damn straight!" I said. "I want to get back and see what I can do about that gangster and the salesman's wife. I've got a report to make on her, plus I'll have to make sure that the salesman can safely get divorced. If the gangster makes trouble, that woman's husband is going to need all the help he can get. I may be his only hope to keep breathing. Well guys, it's been nice meeting you."

"Wait a minute," said J.W. and Ev simultaneously.

"We haven't made up our minds yet!" finished Ev.

"When do we leave?" Rick had already made up his mind. "And how do we get our girlfriends up here?"

Harvadd and I were alone in the hanger bay. He was programming the shuttle that he and I had come up here in to answer to my voiceprint. That way no one could take it over, if I was ever dumb enough to let anyone know about the shuttle in the first place. That was part of my payment for this job: use of this shuttle untill Harvadd or someone else came after it. The shuttle and a pocket full of diamonds. Harvadd didn't have any of our money, so gemstones were the next best thing. Besides, I have a friend in the diamond buisness... well, sort of a friend. I think that Harvadd gave me so many 'cause he knew how much the government would pay to get it hands on the shuttle. I guess he just didn't want me to be tempted. I didn't think to tell him that the government would just steal the thing if they ever found out about it. The first thing I got Harvadd to do was to show me how to make the shuttle invisible again. After all, I've got to park the thing in my back yard. It's not like I could rent a space for it at the Athens Intergalactic Airport or whatever...

"Will you ever come back yourself, Harvadd?"

"You can be sure, D-Day. I would not miss it for the globe."

"World, you mean world. Didn't you bring the handlink?"

"There is one aboard the shuttle for your own use, but I did not think that mine would be necessary. That is what I get for thinking, is that not how your expression goes, D-Day?"

"I'm going to miss you, Harvadd- you're a trip."

"No, I am taking a trip, and so are you, my friend. The shuttle is ready. It will now answer your voice commands. All that you have to do is to tell the computer to take you to Locus 5, Launch Point. The shuttle will do the rest. It's teaching modules have been expanded so that after you land, the shuttle will teach you to pilot itself. Please take your time, for it will be at least four months for a vessel to make a round trip to Keshaqch and back to Earth. We will be even longer, for we must unload the cargo and set up the farm. That will take time."

"Is that the name of your planet? It sounds like you're gargling used razorblades. The Sharoo of Key-sh... Key-shack. I'll remember."

"That was very close, D-Day. You said the name of my people correctly, but you were very slightly off on the name of my planet. It is not important. You will learn."

"Well, if you don't need me to go with you and keep you out of jail, I guess I better be getting back to work."

"I think that your presence would probably insure my arrest and conviction. But I cannot think of anyone that I would rather have at my side."

"You've been around me long enough to make jokes, hunh? Now you want me to go to jail with you. No thanks, I think I'll stay home."

"I will soon return, D-Day. The Everett brothers will want to return for more of their personal effects."

"Not to mention their girlfriends. Better patch into the telephone system and let them call their girls. Otherwise, they might as well not come back at all."

"Of course, such a... call, as you say, can easily be aranged. I no more wish to destroy their mates' affection than I wished to kill the men in the first place. Tell me, D-Day, is there such a thing as the Second Place?"

"Only if you're behind Bill Elliiot!" I said, laughing when he didn't understand. "A sports figure that I'm a fan of, a race car driver," I explained, climbing into the shuttle. "How do I close the door?"

"Simply tell the door to close. Then tell the computer to take you to..."

"Locus 5, Launch Point," I interrupted. "I remember."

"Good. The computer will teach you how to use the shuttle, after you land. It will automatically land in your back yard and will remain invisible until you learn how to make it visible again. Is there anything that I have left out?"

"Yes, why didn't you tell me what the plants were?"

"I did not know. Would you have helped me if you had known of the illegal nature of the plants?"

"Maybe... maybe not, but I should have had the opportunity to say no."

"I am sorry, but the disease threatens too many of my people for me to worry about what use your planet might have for the source of the medicine. Do you think badly of my actions?"

"Well... at least I understand your motives. But remember, the end doesn't justify the means. That way always leads to taking advantage of people if you follow it far enough. Goodbye Harvadd, and good luck. I'll be seeing you."

"Yes, I will see you upon my return, D-Day. Have a safe trip." Harvadd turned and walked out of the hanger bay. I watched him go into the control booth against the back wall. The shuttle jerked into motion, turning around to face the bay doors.

"Door close," I said loudly. The hatch closed with a solid thump. Then the hanger doors opened like a curtain to show the stars outside. I could see the Earth way down below, looking like a giant round aquarium surrounded by a cloudy halo. Somewhere down there was my house. By the time I got home, Harvadd and the guys would be farther away than Pluto. I couldn't blame him for being in a hurry; his peoples' lives were at stake. If they were anything like Harvadd, they would be pretty nice people. I hope we can meet them someday. Meet them publicly, I mean.

"Computer... take me to Locus 5... Launch Point. I want to go home. There's somebody down there that needs my help. Besides, I want a cigarette."

I wonder if there's a coffee machine in this crate?

The End

Copyright 1996 by Dan L. Hollifield