This story is not intended to be read on its own. It’s a follow up to my time travel story ‘They Can’t Tell Time’. This story won’t make much sense if you haven’t read that one. You can find ‘They Can’t Tell Time’ here.
The signal was clear. Ceen had tested his world transfer technology on three unadvanced planets that had old, little used probes. Now he had the chance to use his transfer tech to reach a populated planet, and not just any populated planet. Ceen had heard of Earth before. His translator units even had the local languages programmed into it. He didn’t know much about it, but he knew it was the subject of speculation among other amateur interplanetary travelers.
He did a cursory library overview of the planet, and found that it was considered both fascinating and dangerous. The inhabitants were unpredictable, their culture was unfathomable. They were intelligent beings though, seemingly on the cusp of developing their own signal transfer systems, though such a discovery would likely be accidental, as it had been on most worlds.
From his signal cradle, Ceen located the spark on the Earth’s surface. It was a double instance of biological transmission. The signal was not a fluke though. It was artificial. It was as though a pair of Earthlings had deliberately irradiated themselves with the signal as a message to the stars. Even if it was unintentional, it implied the possibility of contact with technologically sound specimens. So Ceen studied the signal’s qualities. He examined the atmosphere and fed the readings into his bioform transmitter. He checked for artificial qualities and found that there were communications, pollution and psychic substances. One thing that was missing was halz waves. Ceen checked and checked again. There wasn’t a trace of them. What an opportunity. Ceen had the chance to truly advance a species with great potential.
The passage through signal transfer was a brief but stimulating experience that enhanced mental senses by eliminating physical ones. The sensory deprivation training that Ceen had been through didn’t even come close to the true alteration of disembodiment. Then he began to feel the substance and weight of a physical form. He had some idea what kind of bioform he would end up wearing, but it wasn’t until he was actually fully formed on Earth that he understood it. As he did on his own world, Ceen had sight and hearing. His deolic senses were missing, but that was compensated with chemical senses and a fairly strong gravity-balance system.
Ceen’s first steps were slow and awkward, but the processors of the bioform were adapting fast. He realized that he was inside an artificial structure, possibly even an Earthling’s home. According to his signal sensors, the subject beacon of the transfer was right nearby. When Ceen rounded a corner to get closer, he heard a human voice for the first time.
“You okay there, Ceen?”
Ceen was not okay. He was disoriented, though he was getting over that quickly. Had his hearing deceived him? “Did you say my name, Earthling?”
“Earthling?” The human seemed a little confused.
Ceen was also confused. How could this creature be so comfortable in the presence of an alien? Ceen’s next question was not the one he had rehearsed. “Am I like something on your world?”
The Earthling was more concerned with Ceen’s balance issues. “Do you want to sit down? You look like you’re on a ship in a storm.”
“I do not use a ship.”
“No, I mean you look like you might fall over.”
“I am from another planet.”
“Well no duh.”
“I think I am not translating your words properly.”
“Would you sit down?”
Ceen decided that was a good idea. He rested on a piece of comfortable furniture, feeling much more secure with himself now that he wasn’t faced with the possibility of falling on his face. “You emanate a signal, Earthling.”
“Maybe you ought to lay off the moonshine from the moon, huh? You’re not making any sense.”
“I am not here to make sense. I am here to make a new tomorrow for your world.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“My name is Ceen. What is your name, Earthling?”
The Earthling made a sound like he didn’t think that question was pertinent. “George. My name is George. What do you want tonight, Ceen?”
“You are not bothered to see a being from another planet?”
“Well, it’s not the first time.”
Ceen was surprised by that. Then he considered that this human, primitive though he seemed, was capable of creating an interstellar signal that synced to his own biology. Perhaps he had chanced upon an Earthling intelligent enough to reach to the stars, even if he couldn’t travel to them. How wonderful.
George said, “You gonna just sit there quiet?”
“I apologize, George. You have had contact before?”
“I would give your world the halz particles.”
“Is that the stuff that makes all the electronics turn on?”
Ceen was a bit disheartened. “You already know of it? The signal you sent had no trace of halz particles to it. I presumed your planet was without.”
“We don’t, we don’t have it. I mean, we got that little bit you told us to hide.”
“I did not understand that last phrase, but you do not have halz transmitters?”
“That’s right. Is that what you’re here for? To give us halz transmitters?”
“To enable you to build them. I will demonstrate the halz material the next time you see me. There is another Earthling that emanates the signal. Should I contact him as well?”
“There was another Earthling near the signal point.”
“Are you talking about Earl?”
“I do not know if I am talking about Earl.”
“Aw hell, we’re back to that kind talkin’. I need him if I’m gonna build the halz thingy. I can’t do it on my own. He’s thick as a brick half the time, but a genius the rest.”
Ceen was trying not to curse at his translators. “The other Earthling is important?”
“Did you think he wasn’t? Never mind. Yes, I gotta have him there.” George looked over his shoulder. “What the hell is going on out there? Are they barking because of you?”
Ceen only understood that George was talking about the noise outside. He hated to seem ignorant. “Are they animals?”
George nodded. “They’re barking at something outside. Ceen, maybe you ought to get lost.”
“Do you mean I should leave?”
* * * *
Ceen was eager after his first contact. He had to reach the other Earthling as fast as possible. He zeroed in on the second beacon. Signal travel had limitations. He could spend a limited time on Earth before the signal ended. He had to return to the signal cradle before the signal faded or he would leave behind a bioform, and there was some possibility of temporary psychological damage as well.
The transmitter worked though, and it worked well. He had appeared very near the first Earthling. He adjusted for variables, making certain that he would not appear within a solid object or too far from the ground. He was also certain to check for any lifesigns near the signal. It wouldn’t do to be noticed by any Earthlings other than the ones he wanted to reach. Just because George had met other aliens didn’t mean that Earthlings in general would have a positive response.
When Ceen’s presence filled the transmitted bioform, it took him a few moments to be completely at ease. He still moved carefully. His adaptation to the first transmission extended to this one, but he wasn’t practiced enough to move with human facility on Earth’s surface.
His cautious footfalls made enough sound to alert the human. Ceen’s bioform had natural instincts supplied by the transmission. He understood the expression on the human’s face to be one of alarm. “Do not fear.”
The Earthling shouted, “Well then don’t sneak up on me, damn it!” In the next instant the anger was gone, replaced by a respect that assured Ceen greatly. “We stopped working on the thing. Do you already know what to do?”
Fear didn’t seem to a problem at all. On the other hand, this Earthling spoke gibberish. Maybe the human was just panicked? “I am Ceen.”
“Yeah, I see you.”
Ceen took a second to clarify, “Ceen is what I am called. Your designation?”
“My? My name?”
“Are you the same one?”
“The same?,” Ceen asked.
“You want to tell us how to build that thing, right?”
Ceen said, “That is correct. George told you that?”
“Huh? You did.”
“I did what?” Then Ceen decided that the garbled communications weren’t as important as his main purpose. “You will change your world. What is your name?”
“Earl. I have spoken to your companion George. I am here to help your species.”
“And you need our help?,” Earl asked.
Ceen was happy that he had consulted Plax’s Guide to Local Idioms. “Teach a man to fish.”
“What about fish?”
“The machine. It will change everything. I will show you when I see you next. Are you willing to help?”
“Of course. What do I have to do?”
Ceen didn’t have time to answer. The buzz of his chronometer warned him that his signal was about to wear off. He really should have practiced more to gain greater skill at sending strong signals for more time.
* * * *
He knew that the Earthlings were willing to listen and work together. It was time to see if they could be of any practical use. When he returned to Earth he made certain to set the signal to a point where the Earthlings were in close proximity to each other. His bioform senses were clearing up considerably. He didn’t want to move fast, but he could at least walk without any real difficulty. Whether or not he could converse without difficulty remained to be seen. He was so uncertain that he didn’t make a sound right away even when he came near the Earthlings.
George scratched his head. “Are you waiting for us to say something?”
Ceen breathed out gratefully, which was a strangely soothing sensation to him. On his own planet breathing was a very different thing. “I have brought the halz. Just a small piece.”
“The halz?,” Earl asked.
Ceen said, “I told George that I would provide a demonstration.”
“Ya told me?,” George asked.
Ceen was still a little too nervous to notice the stupid question. He held up a small, faintly glowing orb. “This contains halz particles. Please disconnect any electrical devices from your power sources.”
George and Earl shrugged to each other. They didn’t ask any questions because they were tired of not getting answers. They just unplugged the radio, the lamp, the TV and so on. “Did we miss anything?,” Earl asked.
“I don’t think so,” George said.
“You are ready?,” Ceen asked. When he saw them nod, Ceen tapped the halz orb with the activator. Every item that the Earthlings had unplugged came to life. The radio let out the end of the same country song that was playing moments before. The TV was advertising an automatic tire pump. The lamp was almost as bright as normal.
George and Earl felt a pleasant chill. “Shouldn’t be possible, but I saw it,” George said. He asked Ceen, “What does that have to do with our transformer?”
Ceen wasn’t sure he understood. He didn’t risk a faulty communication by asking what they wanted transformed. He handed the orb to Earl. “This is a crude device. It only emits power when the activator is used. It has a very limited supply of particles. Keep it hidden.”
* * * *
Ceen arrived on Earth for the fourth time in another entirely new setting. His two Earthling allies were not alone. There was an unfamiliar human with George and Earl, so Ceen thought he might have made a serious mistake. His concern was eased immediately because, much to his surprise, this new human knew him by name. “Ceen is here. You were right. He just showed up where we’re at.”
So George and Earl had told this human about him. Why would they do that? “This is a friend?”
Earl had that expression that Ceen thought implied heavy thought. “This is Sheriff Bentley.”
Ceen saw the extended hand from the new human, so he reached forward. He was a little unnerved at the handshake. Ceen said, “You have more syllables than the rest of us.”
“I suppose I do. Since you disappeared before we left the workshop, we were worried you wouldn’t find us here at the police station.”
“Is that this room or the entire structure?”
“Is what?,” the Sheriff asked.
Ceen said, “Police station.”
“That’s the whole building,” Earl said. “It’s a base for our local law enforcement. You understand?”
“A fortress of authority?”
“More or less,” Sheriff Bentley said. “How can you not know that?”
George said, “It’s hard to tell what Ceen is asking sometimes.”
“I’ll say,” the Sheriff said. He told Ceen, “We agreed that we’re safer here than at the workshop.”
Ceen didn’t know what they were safe from. He was more concerned with his present purpose. “I have instructions if you want them.” He handed them to George
George looked through them. “Is there a lot of difference here?”
Ceen didn’t answer because he didn’t understand the question at all.
Earl asked, “Will this work better?”
Ceen nodded. “This will work better than any native power source.”
“No,” Earl said, “I mean will this work better than the one we been buildin’?”
The Sheriff sighed. “Is there a problem with the designs?”
Ceen looked at the three of them and noticed an unusual concern. Did they really think they had reason to question his technical expertise when their own race was barely capable of mere nuclear power? “I will doublecheck. Is doublecheck the right phrase?”
“It means you go over something again,” Earl said.
“I will do so.” Ceen figured it couldn’t hurt. He tried to take no offense. After all, they didn’t know him. He considered himself lucky that they would trust him.
“We got the machine here,” George said. “Earl and I ain’t leavin’ til it’s finished. So this is where you come.”
Earl was going over the papers then. “I don’t see the changes right away. What’s different in this set of plans?”
George didn’t want to admit that he hadn’t seen it either. He didn’t want the alien to think they were stupid. “Can you come back fairly quick to make sure we’re doin’ it right?”
* * * *
Ceen’s estimation of his Earthling allies had increased greatly. The Sheriff was right. There was a very real danger. The planetary field that allowed the halz transmitter to operate would expand the power field beyond the metal chassis. Any solid matter caught in that field, particularly biological matter, could conduct the halz field. The result of that would be catastrophic. So Ceen had redesigned the transmitter. The main change was the conductor set up. It needed to be reconfigured, and the Earthlings needed to know about the changes as early as possible in their work. Ceen hoped that this wouldn’t set back their efforts too much.
When he arrived on Earth again, he was not in the police station. That wasn’t what he had expected, because he thought George and Earl had told him that they did not plan to leave it. Perhaps he misunderstood. He would have asked, but he was more concerned with George’s strange response to his arrival. As though he were facing a wild klarnick, George stopped in midmotion and stared wide eyed and open mouthed. Ceen asked, “Is everything all right, George?”
George shook his head and took a half step forward. “You, you know my name?”
Ceen was immediately annoyed at the programming upgrade he had purchased. “The improved translation might not be so improved.”
Earl had a big toothy grin. “Do ya know my name?”
Ceen wasn’t entirely certain that the obvious answer was correct. “You are Earl.”
“I am Earl! How do you know that?”
Ceen didn’t have time to play these word games. “The Sheriff was right. There was a problem with the construction. I have analyzed it.”
George wasn’t sure he got that. “What about a Sheriff?”
Earl was more concerned with what he did understand. “You know about our invention?”
“I know?,” Ceen asked. “How could I not?”
George asked, “How long have you been watching us?”
Ceen gave an annoyed sigh. This was what he had expected from his first meeting. What was wrong with the Earthlings? “You must stop the construction. After analysis, I have discovered that the conductor relays will not operate properly in this atmosphere.”
“What?,” George asked.
“The machine will not work. It would be dangerous as it is, so it must be adapted. If we attempt to operate it, it will expand the halz field outside the containment chassis.”
Earl asked, “Wh-what’s a halz field?”
Ceen looked at him with slightly wider eyes. “It is the power effect that I demonstrated.”
“We don’t understand,” George said. “You want us to not work on the thing? On the thing we were working on?”
“Exactly,” Ceen said. He didn’t want to sound condescending, but he couldn’t quite help it. “Cease all construction. I will soon have improved plans. I will return when they are completed.”
“Wait!,” George said.
Earl put a hand on George’s shoulder though. “Hold on. Let him go. You’ll be back?”
“I must return to provide improved plans.” Ceen stood stock still a moment. He activated the return, that eliminated his bioform and sent his consciousness back to his own world.
* * * *
Ceen returned to the workshop where the signal saturated humans were waiting together. “I have made the corrections. Here are the improved plans. Where is the device?”
George was looking at the designs. “It doesn’t look too hard. Couple days, maybe a week. What does it do?”
Ceen told him, “With enough halz particles, it will generate power for over a hundred rotations around your sun.”
Without looking away from the plans, Earl said, “What does this have to do with our transformer?”
“I do not know,” Ceen said.
“Did I hear that right?,” George asked.
“He said he didn’t know?,” Earl repeated.
“No, the radio, man. Turn that up.”
Earl did that. Even Ceen listened carefully. He didn’t understand entirely what the radio was for, but he could make out enough of the communication.
— Welcome back to the Shadow Report with Sterling Case! The plot thickens at Shoesole Lakes! We received a call from a listener before we were on the air. She asked that we not divulge her name, but she told us about a new sighting. You’ll remember that we had a report of an alien entity on the ground between Plakerton and Green Rock. Well it seems that area has also attracted the attention of another mysterious group. Two men in dark suits, dark hats and dark shades were spotted out there with what our caller described as, ‘Some big, funny looking cell phone things.’ According to her, these two strange men were talking about money, mythology and dogs as they scoured the area with their strange machines.
The report went on as George asked Ceen, “Were you out there?”
“I do not know where there is.”
Earl said, “I wish you’d stop talkin’ like that. Here,” he thumped a map with a marker.
Ceen looked at the red dot that Earl had placed. “I have not been to that there.”
“Careful,” George said, “your language skills are startin’ to make you sound like one of us.”
“Excellent!,” Ceen said with a tiny smile.
“You could do better,” Earl said, “but I guess an English teacher prob’ly couldn’t build an alien power station.”
Ceen explained, “The halz transmitter will have to be placed in an uninhabited area, but I have not been to one.” Looking at the map, Ceen considered it as a real possibility for the transmitter’s position.
George said, “This is real bad. What do you know about those guys on the radio?”
Ceen said, “I do not know the man on the radio.”
“I mean the guys they were talking about. The men in black.”
“I do not understand.”
Earl said, “I don’t think he knows anything about that, George.”
“There was a black car outside my place the other day when Ceen was there.”
“You didn’t tell me that,” Earl complained.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal. Now I know better. We have to watch our backs. Can we move this to a different place?”
Earl said, “All our stuff is here. And where do you want to build it? My place? Yours? You think if we’re bein’ watched that we could drag everything around on a trailer without ’em followin’? I say we build it here.”
“Looks like we’re stayin’ here from now on,” George said. “Stock the fridge, Earl. We ain’t goin’ out for a while.”
* * * *
Ceen used the time he would have to spend waiting on George and Earl. He decided to test a halz transmitter in Earth’s environment. His first designs could have caused a tragedy. He had to be certain that he was doing the right thing.
Transferring himself and an object as large as a transmitter, even a portable model, took a more complex computation. It was worth the time and effort though. The one easy part of it was that he only needed to find an area outside his subjects’ immediate locale, away from any heavy electrical power.
Out away from any city, in the pleasant Shoesole Lakes evening, Ceen set up the small transmitter. He activated it remotely, just in case it was dangerous. The machine came to life with that pleasant vibration. Ceen’s instruments told him that the field was safely contained within the mechanism. It gave off the halz particle waves with enough current to blanket the nearby area. It was safe and efficient. Ceen smiled at the success before he pressed the button that would activate the destruct sequence. The transmitter disintegrated in a flash of its own power. Ceen returned home, content.
* * * *
Ceen was on Earth in two places at once. He felt a strange sensation that he could not possibly understand. He felt as though he were in split in two while also being altogether. He had no idea what was wrong with him, but that wasn’t his only problem. He was worried that his signal cradle was malfunctioning. Not only was he confronted with this split awareness, he had not been able to locate both of the signals he was looking for on Earth.
It was dark, so Ceen moved slowly, not even aware immediately that he was in the workshop. He found Earl sound asleep on a cot. He nudged Earl until he woke up. It took several seconds for Earl to realize who he was looking at. “Ceen? What are you doin’ here? Did you get away from those guys?”
“I am not certain. I only know a few Earth guys.”
Earl slid out of bed. “What are you doing here?”
“I am concerned. George’s signal is missing. I could not locate him.”
“George’s signal is missing. Are you crazy? Is that what it is?”
“Translation is not always easy.”
“You can say that again,” Earl said.
Ceen repeated himself, thinking that Earl hadn’t heard. “Translation is not always easy.”
“Oh for god’s sake. Why are you back on Earth?”
“I intended to examine the machine, but now I am trying to understand what is wrong with my signal cradle.”
“You want to examine the machine? Don’t you know that we don’t even have it? Those guys took it. The Sheriff… You know what? Never mind. I want you to see something. Over here, on these shelves.”
Earl pointed until Ceen followed him. Earl turned on a lamp, but it still wasn’t clear to Ceen what Earl wanted. There was a makeshift shelf there with several things, none of which looked interesting. “What am I meant to see?”
“Just keep looking. Right there.”
Ceen felt a sudden pain, a horrible, sharp, crushing agony in the back of his head. It happened again, and then everything went black. Ceen felt a sickening mental lurch. He had been forced from his body somehow. Even before he reemerged in his signal cradle he knew that he had to study the logs of this last transfer.