Chapter 2 – The Appointment

The humid Indiana summer night was similar to that of sixteen years prior when the spaceships came. The infamous spring night had long since faded from daily conversations, but the feelings of fear and apprehension never quite lifted from the small, isolated town. Had three of their own not disappeared on that first night, perhaps the people would have allowed the consecutive nights to fade peacefully from their memories.

On this summer night, in the same field, near the same wooded area, the spaceships descended. Now, however, a few houses dotted the eastern edge of the expansive corn field about a half-mile north of the woods. The town had grown by only a few hundred people in the succeeding sixteen years, but they happened to grow, by chance, near the site of that exciting night. The heart of the town still lay on the far side of the woods, but the owner of the corn field had successfully eased his burden of limited cash flow by selling off part of the land.

The spaceships seemed to come straight down out of Cygnus, the celestial swan that flies above the river of stars that we know as our Milky Way galaxy, as the constellation approached zenith.

As if from a frightening nightmare, David Steele shot up into a sitting position in his bed. Without alarm and without the aid of light, he calmly but swiftly slipped into a pair of jeans and pulled on a t-shirt in the total darkness. After stepping into a pair of tennis shoes, he was on his way. Without further delay, he exited the house through a side door that led to the nearby corn field.

He walked along a path worn down from years of farming equipment having made the trek to the fields and back. David’s house was one of those near the fabled alien landing that occurred when he was just a toddler. Now, he was about to witness firsthand a similar event.

Walking like the zombie that chases the hero’s girlfriend in a 1950s B-movie, David ignored the lights streaking across the night sky and stared straight ahead. With his arms at his side he slowly marched forward. He appeared to be a candidate for examination as a sleepwalker.

The streaking lights transformed from pinpoints to discernible craft. A dozen small craft zoomed around the countryside, as though on the lookout for potential enemies- or witnesses. The closer the mothership came to the ground, the closer the small, agile craft came to the landing site.

Blues, greens, yellows, oranges, and reds flashed through the sky in erratic paths. White spotlights searched the corn field and the woods. The small craft defied known aeronautic limits with their sudden jerks and changes of direction. Following the fast moving flying ships were high-pitched sounds of machines unlike David had ever heard. Intense beams of white light from the ships rapidly covered every square inch of the landscape as David drew ever near the patch of ground that was about to become a landing site.

If he cared- which he obviously did not- David would have had a difficult time making out the shapes of the scout craft. The flying ships moved much too quickly to be properly defined in the moonless sky.

By the moment, the roar of the mothership grew closer, louder, forcing the air to vibrate around the young man. The fluttering of his thick but straight brown hair gave the only indication on his six-foot, two-inch frame that there were forces pressing against his body. The darkness hid his brown eyes, which, if they could be seen, would reveal that they were glazed over in his zombie-like state.

David, oblivious to his surroundings, followed the invisible pull from some invisible tractor beam. He was not a curious onlooker, rather he was about to become a participant- whether by choice or by direction an observer could not have been sure. The broad-shouldered, muscular 18-year old quietly marched forward.

When he reached a certain spot in the hard dirt path, David turned and walked a few strides into the field. The young corn stalks did not fill the edge of the field, leaving soft, dry dirt to fill the void up to the wide equipment path.

Without warning, a small craft zipped past his head. David did not so much as flinch. Another craft, which looked to be about twenty feet long, came to a sudden stop only a few yards to his side. A beam of light unexpectedly cast a brilliant cone of white into the edge of the woods. A young teenage couple sprinted away into the woods in fear for their lives.

The lights, the roar, the dust in the air- all were oblivious to the young man as he stood patiently waiting for his appointment to arrive.

All the while, the mothership descended until it rested on almost exactly the same patch of ground as its predecessor had sixteen years earlier, crushing corn planted in the same Indiana soil. Without disturbing the locals, an extraterrestrial vehicle over five-hundred feet in length and three-hundred feet in width landed on Earth’s soft soil. Rather than a shiny, rounded behemoth as was its predecessor, the mothership was a large but dark craft with many jagged angles and odd elevations. Like its predecessor, it too lacked aerodynamic grace; however, the large vessel, with its angles and protruding pieces of black alien substance which gave an appearance of Legos stacked willy-nilly, had a look of a fearsome machine.

Windows were not evident on this craft. In fact, nothing was evident. It was a large, odd-looking chunk of technology that would defy any earthly scientist who studied it. That it was a flying vessel was obvious only because it had just landed on the soil.

David never wondered how fearsome the inhabitants of the spaceship must be. He never wondered why he was in the field or why he had ventured out in the middle of the night. He merely followed the irresistible pull- a pull from what he did not know and did not contemplate.

The roar subsided but did not cease. The lights dimmed but did not darken completely. If he had desired, young David could have seen the stars above or heard dogs barking in the distance, but he had neither such awareness nor desire. His appointment had arrived. That was his only conscious thought, and that thought may not have been a conscious one.

A large door slowly dropped from underneath the mothership, allowing interior light to pierce the darkened field. Two men- humans, they appeared to be- walked from within the ship to the bottom of the ramp. David advanced to the ramp’s end and looked into the eyes of the creatures. Whatever they were, human-like creatures no different than David in physical composition, wore military uniforms. Reverently, the alien men bowed.

David’s blue jeans and Cincinnati Reds t-shirt were obscured by the sheet that covered him. As his unconscious body lay prone on the table, he was unaware that the alien men were in the process of opening his skull in order to perform brain surgery. The makeshift operating room had all the makings of any sterile, well-lit, visually unattractive operating room found in civilized hospitals on Earth.

The doctor in charge, like the other five people in the room, was completely covered, with skin exposed only around his eyes. He stood above the top of David’s head, absorbed in his work. To the doctor’s right, his primary assistant stood, waiting. The others were lesser assistants, not as well-trained in the science of medicine.

As the doctor completed the task of opening a small area of David’s skull an inch above his right ear, the primary assistant deftly reached into a pocket of his smock and pulled out a microchip. The others had no reason to notice the assistant’s movements. On the table in front of him, lying next to David’s right shoulder, was a microchip that was identical in appearance to the chip that the assistant furtively produced.

Unseen to the others in the room, sweat poured down the assistant’s lean body underneath the medical clothing. If nerves were audible, even the unconscious David would have heard the deafening sound.

Yet the assistant moved easily, nimbly sliding the official microchip on the table nearer to his own body. He then grabbed with tweezers the microchip which he had pulled from his pocket and picked up a small hose that had a graphite nozzle on the end.

With the push of a button, a blue laser leaped out four inches from the nozzle. The harmless beam then received the microchip from the tweezers in the assistant’s other hand. Quickly the assistant covered the microchip on the table with the glove that covered his left hand. Immediately, the doctor took the laser device from the assistant and slowly inverted the tool, which now firmly gripped the microchip, and pressed the microchip and laser beam deep into David’s brain matter, into the inner temporal lobe.

“Doctor, our time is limited. We are vulnerable to attack,” boomed a voice over an unseen intercom speaker.

“We have just finished inserting the chip,” the doctor replied. “We can fuse him and allow him to wake up slowly on his own while we travel.”

“Plans have changed. A Rebel ship is uncomfortably near. Fuse him now,” the booming voice ordered. “We cannot risk our destruction with him aboard.”

In a matter of minutes the procedure was over. The chip was inserted, the small piece of skull was replaced, a different laser was used to seal the opening, and unless someone knew what to look for, the imprints of surgery were invisible underneath David’s brown hair.

The assistant casually tried to pick up the microchip that had rested on the table and was now supposed to be under his glove. It was gone. The sweat poured faster from his pores. If the chip was not on the table, that could only mean that it had fallen to the floor. Discovery of his traitorous act was now possible.

The doctor reluctantly gave orders to prepare to bring David from his induced slumber. Other assistants grabbed tools and moved to different places around the operating table to make the order a reality. The primary assistant seized the moment of activity to step away from the table and quickly scan the floor. When he spotted the microchip, he stepped on it and attempted to grind it into dust by slowly rotating his shoe. He could not risk being spotted bending over, picking up the chip. In his mind, he did the next best thing.

The darkened field and its surroundings had not changed. The clear summer night revealed the stars as brilliantly as ever. A slight breeze was not enough to hide barking dogs in the distance, but with the darkened, small spaceships sitting idly in the field, the only oddity was a dull roar that emanated from the mothership, which was known as the Prince Tinian.

The twelve small craft simultaneously came to life. The whir of the Prince Tinian rapidly increased from a deep, low sound to an increasingly louder rumble that vibrated the ground. The spaceships all lifted in unison.

David Steele, the clean cut “good kid” that the town admired had a secret that even he did not know until he stepped off of the spaceship. He stood motionless as the small craft slowly floated upward and toward the rising Prince Tinian. As four separate docking bay doors opened, the ships disappeared one by one in quick succession. In just a few seconds all twelve were gone, hidden by the doors that sealed the ships inside the mothership.

Once the parade of ship dockings was over, the Prince Tinian ascended rapidly. At around 2,000 feet, the mothership leaped upward and to the west, ripping off a sonic boom that awakened people for hundreds of miles. As David watched, what appeared at first to be a satellite or a high-flying airplane opened fire on the Prince Tinian. Thin red lasers shot toward the fleeing spaceship. Within seconds, blue lights flickered toward the enemy vessel, signifying return fire. The light pattern was repeated multiple times. All was quiet on the ground, despite the ferocious light show above.

Uninterested, David walked home in his stupor.

The bridge of the Prince Tinian was awash in noise- noise that would have seemed like utter confusion to a visitor. The crew was in the midst of battle. Every noise, every shout, every movement had purpose. The shouted commands and proper military confirmations of orders received and carried out filled the air in between muted explosions and the whine of engines. The ship rocked back and forth like a roller coaster about to go off its tracks. Long, thunderous explosions rumbled through the craft every time the Prince Tinian fired at the pursuing enemy destroyer.

In the middle of all the noise and commands, a young man dressed in the same dark jumpsuit that served as a military uniform for the entire crew entered the bridge.

“Admiral. We have an urgent matter in the surgery room.”

Admiral Artimus Praeder, the most senior officer in the service of the King onboard the ship, slowly turned his head and stared at the soldier in disbelief. His tall, wiry frame masterfully hid his physical potency. Before he had entered the Academy, Praeder was a mere grunt fighting the Rebels in ground combat. He was known to have once snapped a Rebel’s backbone in half with his bare hands over his knee after his laser pistol was out of ammunition. His reputation grew from that moment on. His full head of gray hair only added to the aura all these years later. His hands never lost their iron grip. His voice remained stern and strong. His eyes were like blue flames. The man was a legend, and few had the courage to voice disagreement, let alone challenge him. That the Kingdom would send an Admiral on a mission to a distant solar system underscored to all the importance of their task. But to send a legend inspired awe throughout the military, not to mention the inevitability of the mission’s ultimate success.

“Urgent matter? Shall I ask you to oversee the small matters being executed here on the bridge while I am away?”

“Well, uh, sir. I am sorry, sir. But sir, Doctor Bogome is-” His sentence was halted by a shout from a flight crew member.

“Admiral! The Banu has broken off pursuit.”

Admiral Praeder turned his attention back to the young ensign. “Doctor Bogome?”

“He is near hysterics he is so angry, sir.”

The Admiral’s cocksure manner instantly transformed into alarm. Praeder followed the ensign down a narrow white hall, down a speedy elevator that only lowered them two floors, and down another narrow white, staid hallway. In the meantime, two armed soldiers joined the pair, leading the way.

The doctor had spent his volcanic energy by the time the four military men entered the operating room. He held in his palm a partially crushed microchip. He spoke without greeting.

“It is damaged beyond control, I am certain of that.”

“What happened?!”

“I am not sure, but I am positive that I inserted a microchip into my lord’s brain,” the old, gray-haired doctor replied without hope.

The Admiral was about to erupt. “Then what is that?!” he shouted.

Humbly and with great embarrassment, the doctor avoided eye contact. “It is failure, sir. I do not understand-” He broke off in sudden realization. “But maybe-” he interrupted himself again with his own thoughts.

The foursome had become a five-some as the two armed soldiers, the ensign, Admiral Praeder and Doctor Bogome marched down the narrow hallway. Their purpose was of extraordinary importance in the minds of all. If their mission was in vain, more than just the mission failed. Of all missions, Praeder thought ruefully, why did this one have to be plagued with Rebel spies?

Admiral Praeder was certain of one unalterable fact as he walked the walk that seemed to take forever: there would be no trial, no judge, no jury for traitors on his ship. Punishment would be swift and it would be announced to all onboard. Those who collaborated with the Rebels would pay the ultimate price, period. Praeder would see to it that everyone had the opportunity to see a dead Rebel spy.

In a small, evenly-lit white room that looked like nearly every other room in the austere spacecraft, the frail-looking medical assistant stood with his back against the wall opposite the entrance to his private quarters. A tiny pill rested in his left palm and a small glass of water was firmly gripped by his other hand. The approaching footsteps were not mysterious to the young traitor. Death was approaching his door.

The doorway of the entrance opened up and immediately the two armed soldiers burst in, laser rifles aimed at the doctor’s young assistant. In an instant the pill was into his throat and water chased it down. In the mere seconds from the time the soldiers entered until the Admiral made eye contact with the double agent, the latter’s eyelids began to slowly close.

Information would not be supplied by this turncoat.

What none of them- not even the spy- knew was that the tiny microchip was neither blank nor loaded with faulty information. The Rebel thinking had been to leave the prince clueless- to do anything more ambitious was to invite failure. They could have attempted to have the prince self-destruct or to destroy the ship, but their knowledge of the Prince Tinian was too limited for that to be a viable option. Instead, the replacement chip contained correct but limited information that would prevent the Crown’s doctors from quickly identifying the real problem. Reopening the prince’s skull would have been a last resort, so there was no need to rush that option.

Had the prince fallen into depression or begun acting in a bizarre manner, the Rebel leadership reasoned, a second surgery quickly would be ordered. Better to cause confusion upon which they could capitalize during the prince’s journey home rather than try to do too much and accomplish nothing.

From an unlit bedroom, a man sat on a small chair as he gazed into the night, elbows on the window sill and hands on his cheeks. A feeling of hopelessness crept into his stomach as he watched David walk down the pathway toward the house. David disappeared from his view, then the creak of a door could be faintly heard opening and closing again. From the darkness came a middle-aged woman’s soft but distressed voice. “Why didn’t they take him?”

“I do not know,” he muttered, unable to hide the disarray that had become of his thoughts. “I do not know.”

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Chapter 3 – Reading Minds

Midwestern summers are made for baseball. Forgotten are the cold winters and the blustery spring days. Winter is either wet and cold or dry and cold, but always cold. Southern Indiana usually escapes the bitter cold, but temperature can be a relative matter. Spring is warm one day, chilly the next, and usually windy. Great thunderstorms rumble across the Great Plains, through the heartland, and across the great expanse of farms, small towns and cities, on their way to the eastern seaboard, all the while producing heavenly light shows that strike fear in some and awe in others.

But there is no time as pleasant in the Midwest as that short lull between the fading of spring and the onset of full-blown summer. The calendar marks the end of school, summer’s brutal heat usually stays away until Independence Day, and the countryside is in bloom.

Spring also brought to David and his friends the sound of wood on leather. At least when his team was up to bat, that was the sound that made the world go ’round for him.

David enjoyed high school baseball, but summer baseball was the real thing. No indoor practices or fielding grounders on the basketball hardwood because of the weather. No practices in forty degree temperatures. Lots of travel. Besides, school was out and high school was gone forever. He and his buddy, Johnny Young, were headed to the desert Southwest for a four-year last-stop before heading to the Majors via the minor league farm system. Nothing but time stood in the way of the Big Leagues.

Philosophical views on baseball and the weather were far from David’s mind as he crouched behind home plate. The six-foot tall toothpick of a pitcher glared in at David for a sign. The pitcher’s sandy blonde hair, which hung nearly to his shoulders, stuck out at odd angles from beneath the sides of his cap. David discreetly displayed to Johnny the sign: his middle finger.

The right-handed pitcher went through the windup and let go with a fastball. The sound of baseball colliding with ribs could be heard by the outfielders.

The batter doubled over in pain. Slowly, he lifted his head and attempted to straighten his body. He looked out at the skinny pitcher and deduced that he could rip him apart, but he knew that Johnny’s best friend was only two feet away. The batter would not dare assault Johnny with David in the same county.

Wincing in pain and holding his ribs, the batter-runner half-stumbled, half-strode toward the skinny 18-year old pitcher for all of two steps before quickly readjusting his path down the chalky white line and on to first base. He was not about to pick a fight in a league game, much less with that horse David Steele behind him.

The umpire walked purposely to the mound.

The batter’s coach was not intimidated by the young athletes. “That’s crap! That’s crap! Throw him out blue! That’s payback! Are you gonna allow that, blue?!”

The umpire was not the least bit concerned about the rant. His pocked face and nearly permanent scowl made him look just as mean as his deserved reputation. The former Marine carried himself as though he were still in the Corps, and whether the scowl was real or shtick, nobody ever dared to find out.

When the umpire arrived at the mound, his no-nonsense attitude registered with the skinny young man. “I’m warning both teams, starting with you. That’s the last batter you pluck today or you’re going home early. Got it?!” Johnny did not see color in those eyes, only iron. The young pitcher was flippant and irreverent, but he was not stupid enough to mess with the broad-chested block of a man who was the umpire.

“Yes sir.”

The batter-turned-runner, now safely on first base, felt emboldened to restore his pride. “Come on, ump! Throw him out! If it wasn’t intentional then he’s dangerous! The guy can’t pitch!”

Johnny turned and glared at his suddenly brave victim while the taunting continued.

As the umpire made his way to both benches to warn the coaches, David jogged out to the mound. The two had been best friends since they met in their Kindergarten class. They hunted quail and deer together, fished together, got into trouble together, and most important to both of them, they played baseball together. There was nothing like the chemistry of Johnny pitching and David catching. When Johnny was playing first base or left field between starts, baseball just was not quite the same for the two comrades.

“Thunk!” David tried not to laugh at his own description.

“That good, huh?” They both burst out laughing.

“That good,” David affirmed.

While the opposing coach continued to make his case for Johnny’s ejection, the buddies on the mound soaked in just another joy of baseball.

“I see you remember the sign for a bean ball.”

“Hey, even if you didn’t call for it, I was drilling him anyway, man. You’ve hit two dingers and driven in all our runs and then he tries to behead you?! Uh uh. Ain’t happenin’ when I’m on the mound. I’m just glad they don’t have the DH. I wanted my crack at him.”

David laughed again. “You got your crack at him, all right. You ’bout cracked his ribs. That was your hardest fastball all day.”

“Hey, I’m adding muscle,” Johnny said with a sly grin. “Been workin’ out. But until I get that fastball in the red zone of the ol’ Jugs gun I gotta be crafty.”

“Crafty means moving the ball around, throwing to different locations, not throwing everything high and out over the plate.”

“I’m changing locations. First time I hit somebody in the ribs all day, wasn’t it?” Again the pair broke into laughter. They were cracking themselves up and no one noticed. All eyes were focused on the argument that was winding down in front of the opposing team’s bench.

The small manual scoreboard behind the left field fence, which was manned by a grade school boy who was making a few bucks, showed that the game was now in the top of the ninth. The home Cardinals led the visiting Bulldogs 6 to 3.

The batter boldly dug his spikes into the dirt of the batter’s box to the left of David. David pointed his index finger down and toward his left spike- fastball inside. Johnny was never a big threat to bean batters- despite the earlier shenanigans- so batters felt comfortable digging in. David would have none of it, even with the game about to end.

Johnny fired a fastball high and tight that seemed to take the air out of the batter’s lungs as he leaped back, out of the box.

“Two and two,” the umpire casually announced.

The batter nervously reestablished his footing in the box. The game had been more eventful than most due to the earlier incident, and the batter was not sure whether Johnny would risk ejection from this game and an automatic suspension for additional games.

Johnny stood on the rubber, his right hand on the baseball nestled in his glove. He peered over the glove to get his pitching instruction from his buddy.

David displayed two fingers. Johnny shook him off. Again David flashed two fingers, but he was met with the same response from Johnny. David slowly and subtly nodded his head as he flashed two fingers again. The silent argument ended as Johnny went through his windup and launched a curveball that broke rapidly down and away from the right-handed batter. The batter desperately flailed at the elusive spinning white sphere.

“Steeerriiiie!” bellowed the burly ump.

David caught the last pitch of the game and flipped it toward his team’s bench. He greeted his friend with a handshake and high praise. “Great pitch!”

“Great pitch-calling. You knew, though, didn’t you?! You knew what I wanted to throw, but you wouldn’t call it!”

Johnny was surrounded by teammates who either shook his hand, slapped him on the back and shoulder, yelled their praise, or did all of the above.

“That’s why we’re teammates,” David explained with complete sincerity concealed by a smile. “I read your mind and then set you on the straight and narrow.”

“Well I know how you think, too, pal.” They both laughed. Laughing was what they did best- besides baseball.

On the side of a grass-covered hill overlooking the ball field, with a 180-degree view of Indiana farms and scattered clumps of trees and roads, David looked up into the sky, pondering how he would ever find the words to share his secret with his buddy. The slow-moving cumulus clouds drifted from horizon to horizon. The soft breeze seemed to blow the right words away from David’s mind.

David recognized that, during the game, he never noticed how deep the blue of the sky was. He never noticed the clouds until they obscured the sun. But after home games and practices, he and Johnny often came to this spot on the hill, where they could simultaneously chat and notice that indeed there was a world spinning around them.

Most of the teenagers they knew did not take the time to see anything outside of their own realm. But the pair had talked about what made Indiana life so good, and they knew that in the desert, where they would soon find themselves for the sake of baseball, the skies and landscape would be much different.

It was on this hill where they often prepared for the future- or preordained the order in which the future should move. They had foreseen their own rise on the baseball diamond and were on the verge of correctly foreseeing their use of recently signed college baseball scholarships. Many offers had poured in, but the decision was never in much doubt. The future was as neat and tidy as their plans, they believed.

Both lay on their backs, knees propped up for comfort. Only David’s pickup remained near the ball field below. Everyone else had left almost an hour earlier.

The small talk of the baseball game had ceased. The hill always seemed to inspire the philosophical and the faraway. Their dreams, so well thought out, so genuine and heart-felt, were about to unravel with a few uneasy sentences, despite the years of meticulous construction.

“Something’s goin’ on, Johnny,” David announced in his drawl, which was a blend of the Midwest and the South.

“Whaddya mean?” Johnny asked in the same drawl.

“I don’t know how to tell ya,” David replied slowly.

“Must be something in the water.”

“Why’s that?”

“ ’Cause things are changing with me, too.”

David’s interest rose as the conversation prepared to switch from the casual to the serious. “Such as?”

“Such as, I’m not goin’ to ASU,” Johnny answered, again with little feeling.

David seemed to deflate. Reality was setting in. The dreams that the pair had so carefully created, ideas that they had cultivated and nurtured, had already begun to fall apart. Now the reality of the collapse was being confirmed. “What happened?” he asked, as though he already was aware of news that should have stunned him.

Johnny paused in order to word his response carefully. “Priorities are changing. What was once important is being overshadowed.” He paused again, reading David’s reaction, trying to read his mind. “I thought you’d be mad at me.”

“Arizona State. Year ’round baseball. Far, far away from these basketball nuts. It was the perfect dream. Another step in the perfect plan.” David’s words floated above the pair, conjuring up visions in both of their minds. Together- yet quietly and separately- they relived their times together on the diamond, the countless hours inventing dreams of baseball exploits yet to be experienced in the Major Leagues.

“I know. I agree.” To David’s surprise, Johnny suddenly changed subjects, as though the new subject was somehow related to the collapse of their dreams. “Face it, we both have interesting families. My dad always acts like somebody’s gonna jump around a corner and kill him and your aunt and uncle are raising you to become the next General Patton.”

“I know more about military strategies and theory than I know what to do with: Napoleon, Caesar, Khan, you name it,” David confirmed.

“And I know more about paranoia and seclusion by watching my dad. But what changed with you?”

Again there was a pause as the right words were sought by David. “You go first ’cause you’ll think I’m bonkers. Go ahead.”

“Bonkers, huh? This I gotta hear.”

“Let’s just say,” David said with hesitation. “I can’t tell anyone ’cept you.”

“Now I’m really curious. Tell me.”

“I’ll give the signs, you throw the pitch.”

Johnny laughed. “Always forgetting the pitcher’s the most important guy on the field.”

David laughed, putting himself at ease.

“I don’t know yet,” Johnny searched for an honest explanation without revealing too much. He was not accustomed to keeping a secret from his lifelong friend. “My dad…” His thoughts trailed off as a small cloud briefly obscured the sun. “I don’t know how to explain it. He said some things to me. Not his normal rantings.”

“What things?”

“When I understand it, when I translate it, you’ll be the first to know.”

“But you know you can’t go to ASU?” David asked with a soft mixture of incredulity and annoyance.

David wondered to himself why the question even mattered. He knew that he himself was not going to Arizona State, so whether or not Johnny went, the grand dream was dead. But somehow, illogically, he was annoyed that Johnny also was breaking the pact.

“Yeah,” was all that Johnny could manage.

Johnny’s curt, one-word response warned David to leave it alone. Besides, how could he ask Johnny to be more specific about his hand in ending The Dream when he was not even sure that he could offer his own explanation?

A long silence, which usually was allowed to pass for a full five minutes without posing a threat to either young man, now seemed to only build tension between the two. It had been years since they had argued about anything significant, but the tension that brewed was less like anger and more like a foreboding presence.

After a long two minutes, David broke the thick silence. “Things are changing, Johnny.”

Neither saw the old, battered mid-’90’s pickup truck approach the hillside after pausing at David’s newer model royal blue truck.

“So what’s changing with you?” Johnny asked as he laid back down.

“It’s hard to explain. Something really weird happened. Something I can’t fully explain. Something that has-”

The old pickup honked when it reached the base of the hillside. The friends sat up in unison.

“I’m riding home with David,” Johnny yelled.

Albert Young, a man in his mid-fifties and of slight build like his son, yelled back without exiting his truck. “Something important has come up,” he shouted at his son. The elder Young’s streaks of gray in his hair and hard-bitten face matched perfectly with his bitter, solitary approach to life. None of the locals knew him and none cared to know him once they spent more than two minutes with him.

Young- he was “Mr. Young” to David- carried on his shoulders the attitude of a man who had been through a war and come away with many emotional scars, yet no one knew whether he had or not. No one dared- no one cared- to ask. He was an unpleasant man who had a perfect relationship with the town: he did not wish to mingle with them and they did not wish to be around him.

Johnny looked apologetically at David. “Something’s goin’ on, and it ain’t good.” With that, the would-be Arizona State pitcher climbed to his feet and made his way down the hill.

“See ya at practice tomorrow,” David called after him.

“Yeah,” Johnny said without conviction.

After the truck finally disappeared from sight, David resumed his position where he could watch the clouds traverse the brilliant blue sky. Over and over in his mind the words repeated: He’s gonna think I’m nuts.

The small town hardware store was just like hundreds of others in hundreds of other small Midwestern towns. Hand tools, power tools, household chemicals, lawn tools, ammunition, and a variety of guns were for sale. Faded asbestos-laden twelve-inch vinyl tiles covered the concrete floor, with old merchandise display cases creating narrow aisles. Designed by men for men: not a man cared whether the hardware store setting met anyone’s aesthetic expectations. It was one place a man did not mind shopping- or just ogling tools.

Phillip Steele, tall and stocky and looking every bit of his fifty-five years, seemed as if he were at home in a hardware store. His rugged-looking face complemented his short gray hair. Wherever he had been and whatever he had experienced, Life seemed to have left an impression on his face and in his expressions. His calm demeanor belied his almost constant wariness. The careful observer would have spotted his frequent glances over the shoulder or his mild trepidation when leaving his house or walking down the street. It were as if Steele thought that an unwanted surprise could strike at any moment.

His pleasant manner hid from the townspeople his lethal physical skills. But these days, he had no need for such skills; he just seemed to worry that the need would never go away.

Always concerned with what the town gossipers had to say- though he seldom repeated such gossip- his awareness of what others thought was heightened by the events of the previous night. Spaceships, aliens- the talk of the town and the outlying areas could be of nothing else. More than ever, Steele had to know what everyone was saying.

Steele quietly fondled a box-ended wrench as he listened to the men near the cash register. A man who looked to be about 60 years old had the floor.

“… And my house shook and the pictures was a rattlin’ and I swear I thought we was havin’ one of them California earthquakes,” August Symington sketched with words for the others to see. The old man was actually 71 years old, but his physical condition and soft face effectively hid his age.

A young man of 20 years, a store employee and another area native by the name of Rick, listened intently to the tale being spun as he leaned against the cash register.

The third man, himself not any younger than the tale-weaving Symington, was dying to ask questions. Old Quincy Adams, his lips starting to move every time he thought the elderly man was finished with a sentence, was bound and determined to get to the bottom of the ruckus of the previous night. He took the opportunity of a pause in the story. “Did ya see all the lights?”

“Hell no,” the story teller bellowed. “I was takin’ cover under my bed!” The seriousness drained away as he paused. “Ma couldn’t figure out where I was ’til I hollered at her to get under the bed, too.”

The young clerk laughed, but old man Adams was taken aback. “Jan wouldn’t fit under the bed!” he shot out, without considering whether Symington would take offense.

Instead, Symington was tickled by the thought. “Ain’t my fault. She woulda fit when I married her.” With that, they all laughed and Adams gave out a quick clap with his hands.

When the laughter subsided, it was obvious that they were not going to get distracted from the subject at hand the way men usually do when story tellers and comedians are present. Rick kept them on track. “They say some kids were hiding in the woods and saw the whole thing.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” responded old man Symington. “Ya got some folks sayin’ they saw little green men and all that.”

Adams saw another opportunity to provide input into the conversation. “All the idiots come out of the woods when they get a chance, don’t they?”

“Out of the woods!” Rick howled. “That’s a good one.” They all laughed some more at the accidental pun.

“Just like fifteen years ago, ever’body was sayin’ the same things then,” Symington recalled.

The laughter was suddenly squeezed out of the room. The young clerk asked with a sense of awe and dread, “You guys really believe there were spaceships?”

“Damn right I do,” Symington said without hesitation. “What else woulda made those marks? ’Course I believe there were space ships!”

Adams changed his tune slightly. “It was probably an earthquake. They have them sometimes, you know.”

“Earthquakes don’t leave swirly marks in the fields.”

“But they weren’t those deep swirly marks like in a movie, they were just faint indentations,” Adams replied defensively.

“Or make lights in the sky,” Rick ventured.

Now old man Adams was in a bind. Being the voice of reason wasn’t panning out. He wistfully looked around the store until he spotted Steele, who was still pretending to be interested in box-ended wrenches. “So whaddya say, Phillip?” he asked, looking more for backup than Steele’s true opinion.

“Just like fifteen years ago, wasn’t it?” Symington half asked, half told.

“Sixteen,” Adams corrected.

Steele thought about it for a moment as he eyed the three men. “I was not here sixteen years ago. I moved in a couple of years after that happened.”

Symington felt as though he had won the geriatric battle. “I’m tellin’ you boys as sure as I’m standin’ here. My house is just behind those woods off to the southeast and nobody coulda felt it the way I felt it. It wa’n’t thunder, it wa’n’t no earthquake, and it was a spaceship.”

“So the spaceships return, fifteen years later,” Adams said with amazement.


“But for what?” Rick needed to know.

“Not for me,” Steele said matter-of-factly. “All I know is, not for me.”

“Sixteen years ago another one came the next night,” Symington reminded them all.

“Just an earthquake,” Steele said plainly.

“Probably,” Adams nodded with satisfaction. It was settled. Back to Top

Chapter 4 – Information Gap

Phillip Steele’s two-story house was located at the end of the street before the street elbowed around a corner and out of the neighborhood. Located in a subdivision at the edge of the now-famous “spaceship field” and over a mile from the main section of town, the fourteen-year old dwelling looked like a country farmhouse, despite its age and the fact that it was on less than an acre of land. The nearest neighbor’s house on either side was one hundred and fifty feet away- in Steele’s mind far enough for privacy yet close enough for a certain degree of fitting in. The two-story white house with the wrap-around porch only lacked a picket fence for it to appear on the cover of Country Living magazine.

At this moment in his living room, Steele realized that there were no news helicopters flying around, although had he bothered to look he would have seen two news vans and over a dozen cars camped out at the edge of the nearby field.

In the living room, a few feet in front of a very old cloth-covered couch, sat a 32-inch television. The house was decorated in a country style of light blues and beiges. Paintings of horses, barns, fields, and cowboys filled the walls. The only modern furniture was David’s swivel rocker and a loveseat. In a day and age of high definition television, the standard TV looked antique, as well. In the adjoining dining room, the solid oak table was antique, as were the end tables and other wood furniture.

Conspicuous by their absence, there were no old family photos on the walls, only the paintings.

Steele sat on the couch while his nephew David sat on the old, deteriorating swivel rocker. David stared at the television, even though the volume was turned down.

Grace Steele entered the room from the kitchen, carrying a glass of water for her husband. She was the anchor of the household, never one to raise a fuss about herself while endowed with super-human doses of patience and kindness. When David needed consoling or just to get something off his chest, Aunt Grace was there. Her small frame gave her a dainty look and her gray hair perfectly matched her image.

Grace’s facial expression betrayed the seriousness of the conversation that was about to commence. David sensed her grave countenance but failed to understand just how serious this matter was to a great number of people.

“Tell me,” David’s uncle began. “What do you now know about yourself?”

“I am Prince Andrew Chateau, son of King Andrew Chateau the Second, benevolent ruler of our home planet, Craylar.” David paused, as if expecting that the whole matter was a bit too crazy to be believed by his down-to-earth relatives. “I have been hidden here for protection,” he continued. “Soon I will return to aid my father in ruling his kingdom and to apply my abilities in putting down the Rebellion. My brother Tinian was poisoned by a rebel before I was born, so father elected to send me to Earth until I reached adulthood.”

David spoke for another five minutes, while his aunt and uncle grew more apprehensive with each tick of the second hand of the antique oak clock which sat on the mantle. “You and Aunt Grace have subtly trained me for my role in my father’s Kingdom,” David said as he reached the conclusion of his new knowledge. “Someday I will be the king of Craylar, and hopefully the Rebellion will only be a memory by that time.”

David loudly exhaled as if he had just finished a great physical task. His aunt and uncle did not share in his relief.

“Is that it?!” Steele asked, as if shock were about to overcome him. His intense brown eyes shouted out his unhappiness. His usual wariness was heightened more than ever. His concern reached a level higher than his usual daily passive paranoia. He suppressed the fear that threatened to encompass his entire body. He allowed his thoughts to quickly peruse a checklist of dreadful reasons why his nephew sat in front of him rather than on the spaceship, headed across the galaxy, but he quickly choked off emotions before they could develop.

“That’s it.”

“Five minutes?! Five lousy minutes?! You should have had three hours worth of information!”

“Three hours?” David laughed. “I wasn’t on the ship for very long. How would I know three hours worth of stuff?”

Steele was obviously disgusted. Grace, in her typical style, was a mixture of calm and concern. “What do you think?” she asked her husband.

Steele sighed loudly before answering with a weak, “This is not good.” Something was wrong- something was disastrously wrong- but the elder Steele was fearful of expressing such a dark concern. He could only stew in his juices. His head angrily jerked to and fro as he desperately tried to find an answer to David’s deficient knowledge. Mentally limber and logical, this time a solution eluded him.

“What?” David laughingly asked, like a kid being left out of a secret.

Steele did not care about David’s questions at the moment. “What about the stalkers?” he asked.

“The Rebels sent here,” Aunt Grace explained, finishing her husband’s thought.

David was clueless. “I don’t understand.”

“Someone was sent here to kill you,” Steele explained. “Someone came the next night- it is part of the town’s folklore- and we received communications telling us that others had come. Think, David. Think. Are you sure you do not have information about stalkers?”

“Stalkers? Here to kill me?! Wait a minute, now. All I did was follow whatever urging it was to go to the spaceship, which I don’t even understand. Why would someone kill me?” David tried to stay calm, to demonstrate to his aunt that he had absorbed her lessons, but his first true test was not going well. His stomach was beginning to churn and sweat had just begun to appear on his skin over his entire body.

David’s mind flashed that there were reasons after all that his uncle taught him military strategies and his aunt taught him to deal with adversity with a level head. The thought was quickly pushed aside by the sentence that still floated in his head: Someone was sent here to kill you.

“They arrived here the day after we did,” Grace gave as an explanation, although to David the statement explained nothing.

“Who? Who are they?”

“We were hoping you would know,” Steele said dejectedly. “Rebels, of course. But who specifically? We do not know.”

Always the optimist, Grace hazarded a guess. “Maybe they gave up and went home.”

Steele shook his head to note his disagreement.

“David,” Grace asked slowly and patiently. “Why didn’t they take you last night?” Her cadence was a sure sign to David that she felt troubled underneath her cool exterior.

“Were they supposed to?”

“Yes,” Steele nodded. “They were supposed to.”

“What about you?” the thought suddenly occurred to David.

Grace answered because she perceived that her husband was not in the mood to speak more than necessary. “We’re to leave at a later date. We didn’t want to suddenly disappear and accidentally send a signal to the Rebels that you were on your way home. We figured that since we’ve made it the entire sixteen Earth years without an encounter, they can’t possibly know where you are or who you are.”

“Who I am?” David asked as he became more confused.

“David,” Grace said gently. “You’re Prince Andrew Chateau, not David Steele. We were fortunate enough that you took after your mother more than your father- in looks, anyway. I’m sure the Rebels brought with them photos of your father when he was young.”

“So what went wrong last night?” David asked. He felt that growing sense of his uncle’s fear that something had gone terribly wrong- something that could jeopardize his life.

His earlier shyness of speaking with Johnny about this weird turn of events was fading. He needed to talk to his friend, to unload and seek advice. David may have been the more intelligent of the two, but they always relied upon and advised each other. David needed to talk, and his aunt and uncle did not fill that order. “I’m so confused,” he half exhaled, half spoke. “And how did I know to go into the field, anyway?”

Grace glanced at her husband and saw that she should be the one to answer such a minute and insignificant detail. “When you were a baby a rudimentary chip was placed in your head. They-“

David interrupted. “Rudimentary? But what-”

Grace was beginning to share in Steele’s mental exhaustion. Rarely one to interrupt, she did so now without thinking twice. “David, I need to finish this thought,” she said, firmly but with at least the pretense of patience in her voice. “The microchips are far more advanced these days, apparently. Besides, you cannot plant too much knowledge into a child’s head without causing confusion. You were just a toddler when we arrived here.”

Uncle Phillip came back to life, with no patience for the direction of the meaningless questions posed by the boy prince. “Listen David, right now I cannot seem to be able to communicate with the ship. The situation is unstable right now, so it is time for you to get acquainted with some items that I have for you. You are to carry the laser I give you wherever you go. You are to trust no one. No one! Not friends, acquaintances, not anyone.”

“What’s gonna happen?” David asked, though not really sure whether he wanted to hear an answer.

“We wish we knew.”

David looked at the television. “Look!” he shouted.

On the television, the Steeles saw a fleeting image of the nearby cornfield. As Steele turned up the volume with the remote control, a US Air Force General was on the screen being interviewed. “At this time,” the General stated firmly. “I cannot confirm or deny the presence of Air Force aircraft in the areas in question.”

A reporter, whose presence was only known because his hand and the microphone he held were visible, was not satisfied with the answer. “Sir,” he began. “What about the reports of lights flashing across the sky and the sonic booms in many mountain and western states?”

“As I said,” the General replied. “There are areas- plural- in question. Son, if we had the ability to put on a light show like the one described by all these people, we’d put that show on every Fourth of July.”

The reporter paused, grasping the denial of Air Force involvement. He had expected more evasiveness, with more “cannot confirm or deny” statements rather than “we would if we could” admissions. “General, do you know why Indiana, particularly southern Indiana, seems to have so many UFO sightings?”

“I don’t know anything about UFO’s or what that has to do with the Air Force.”

David was amazed. “It’s a national story!”

The reporter was heard in a voice-over. “The General was either unable or unwilling to provide further information.”

The news anchor appeared on the screen. “Thank you, John,” he said. “To other news now,” he said. “Due to the recent terrorist attacks on US Naval ships in the Strait of Hormuz, the price of oil today-” Steele muted the television with the remote control.

Unbeknownst to David, Grace had watched him throughout the news story. She had watched with a motherly, caring eye. She knew that if David failed to learn the many lessons that she and Steele tried to teach him over the years, their stint on Earth was an incredible waste of time and the Kingdom could be in jeopardy. She continued to eye him carefully as she verbalized her observation. “You seem to be in an alternate world right now, David.”

David did not attempt to hide his excitement. He gushed his words like a small child would. “I am. It’s neat, but it’s weird. I mean, to find out one day that you’re not who you are, that’s weird. I don’t know what to think, but I know I don’t like the fact that somebody wants to kill me.” His last words were slower and reflected the sobering thoughts that danced between his ears.

“You will get used to that,” Steele responded, as though he were reassuring the young man. “You will find other things to worry about.”

But worry was only part of David’s problem.