"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."
"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."
"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 you're 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' 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.
"Mariuanna... 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, 'cause 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 goo 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 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 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?"
"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 oppertunity to say no."
"I am sorry, but the disease threaten too many of my people for me to worry about what use your people 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 always 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?