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.
“Friends George and Earl. I am sorry about the trouble with my last transference. For me it was painful. What you call a headache.”
George asked a very strange question. “You’re the same one we saw here before?”
“The same what?,” Ceen asked.
Earl asked, “You’re named Ceen?”
What were these scatterbrained Earthlings talking about this time? “You know my name.”
“Yeah, I mean, are you the only alien?”
Again, Ceen was completely at a loss. “There is an entire planet full, just as there are of your kind.”
George sounded as though Ceen was the one being difficult. “All right, I’m tired of this alien and Costello routine. Are you the only alien that Earl and I have met?”
“I do not know what other aliens you have met. You told me you had met others.”
George’s temper was about to really flare, so Earl decided to set the conversation straight. “Ceen, what did you mean about the fish?”
“NO!,” George demanded. “Ignore that dumbass question. Tell us about the machine.”
Ceen was grateful that George could cut to the important subject. “I am here so you can tell me about the machine.”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” George said as he turned in place.
Ceen clarified, “I am here to examine your work.”
“Oh,” Earl said. “Sure. We were under the impression that you already knew all about it.”
Ceen had no idea what that meant. How could he know what kind of progress they had made? George and Earl led him to a corner of the room where they pulled the tarp off of their invention. Ceen looked at it, then he looked at the Earthlings. When they didn’t say anything, he was forced to ask, “Where is it?”
After glancing at each other, both of them said at once, “This is it.”
Ceen frowned as much as his little mouth could allow. “The plans I gave you. What kind of progress have you made?”
George was too befuddled to still be angry. “You haven’t given us the plans yet?”
“You have everything you need. Where is the machine?”
“This is the machine,” George said. “This is what we were workin’ on.”
Ceen couldn’t figure out what to say next, but he didn’t have to. There was a knock on the door. Ceen scurried off to one of the back rooms. He didn’t have much time left for this visit. He hadn’t meant to give himself much time, and the connection had been distorted slightly anyway after his corrections. He could already feel the beginnings of disconnect with his bioform. Not long after he was out of sight, he activated the return.
* * * *
Ceen didn’t have any idea what George and Earl had been up to, but he did assume that they needed more time to make real progress with the transmitter. So Ceen figured he should use that time to his best advantage. There were things that only he could do. He had been back and forth from Earth enough times to have a reasonably complete map of the area. Not just an aerial view, but a fully developed, spatially sensitive map. With that and the suggestion from the radio, he determined the best location to place the halz transmitter.
Programming the signal to place him in that location was challenging. Once there he went to work with his measurement rods and analysis drones. He staked out several areas that looked promising before deciding on one. You had to be careful with halz transmitters. The base for them had to be very solid, and there could be no natural interference from geological energy sources.
It was his longest span of time on Earth, and the most boring. He was a bit worried about being spotted on Earth, but since he was a distance away from any of the towns, he didn’t think he had to be too concerned. He wasn’t bothered by anyone as he worked. He placed the transmitter base and right by it a signal beacon so that he could return to that exact spot.
* * * *
Ceen was pleased to find himself in the police station. That was where George and Earl seemed to be working. Ceen didn’t know why they chose to work there instead in the other building with all the tools, but as long as it got done, it didn’t matter.
George and Earl were so set on finishing the project that they hardly looked away from their work. “Hey, Ceen,” Earl said. George just waved a moment.
The Sheriff walked in the room. “Hello, little fella. Do you drink coffee? I got an extra one. And a doughnut.”
Ceen took the offering, but he watched the Sheriff to see what to do. The Sheriff took a sip, then a bite. Ceen followed suit. His mouth twisted in distaste at the coffee, but the nibble of the doughnut made him straighten up in surprise at the pleasant sensation. “Is the coffee required for the doughnut?”
“No,” the Sheriff said. He found Ceen fairly likable, which surprised him. “You can just satisfy your sweet tooth without the caffeine.” He knew Ceen didn’t get all that. “You can just eat the doughnut.”
“Interesting physical interaction.”
“Uh, yeah. Listen, the boys have the machine almost all the way done. I wanted to ask you something, because it worries me. You’re sure that it’s safe?”
“You are asking about the machine?,” Ceen clarified.
“Are you certain that the machine is safe? What are the risks if something goes wrong?”
Ceen knew it was unlikely that anything could go wrong, but it was possible. Especially since halz particles were not already active and spread throughout the Earth environment. “Halz transmitters do not fail often.”
“How bad is it when they do fail?”
“The fuel turns inert.” Ceen knew that there was also the possibility of a field corruption that could disintegrate matter, but he didn’t mention it.
“That’s it? It’s not gonna blow up or leak radiation all over the lakes is it?”
“It could do neither of those things even before the alterations. Because you requested that I doublecheck, I redesigned it. I have even tested a similar model in this atmosphere. It will be safe now.”
“You tested it?”
“Absolutely. When only I was at risk.”
“All right then. What are we supposed to do with it?”
Earl finally set down his tools. “He said something about taking it outside of town to make it work.”
“That’s what you told me,” the Sheriff said, “but I’m not sure that’s a good idea. If there’s these mysterious anti-G-men or whatever they are, then they might be watching us. They might follow us out there. They might just be waitin’ for us to leave here.”
“Well what do you wanna do, Sheriff? We built this thing. Do we just leave it settin’ collectin’ dust?”
George said, “Is there any way to get outta town without being noticed?”
The Sheriff asked the alien, “Can you show us where we’re supposed to bring this thing on a map?”
Ceen reluctantly put off his next nibble of doughnut, “That is the purpose of this visit.”
* * * *
There were certain things that George and Earl would be incapable of constructing. The halz particle container of course, but there were also the supports that would connect the transmitter to the base that Ceen put out of town. Ceen could have brought the supports with him when he gave the humans the location. They were small parts. He knew why he hadn’t. He had just given himself an excuse to check up on the Earthlings. They were so unpredictable.
Ceen arrived on Earth at the human’s workshop, much to his chagrin. Why did they keep moving around? Were they still working?
George said, “There he is. How’s it hangin’, Ceen?”
“I have brought you an important component of the transmitter.” Then Ceen noticed the unfinished product. “It is not constructed.”
George took offense. “Well you gotta give us time.”
“It required repair?,” Ceen asked.
There was no answer because they all heard an unexpected sound, the rattling of metal at a door. George and Earl both knew it was one of their padlocks. “Aw man.” George and Earl had security cameras set up, but when they checked the monitor, it was entirely blurry.
Ceen didn’t say a word. He could tell that the humans were very concerned. He got the impression that there was some real danger, though he didn’t know what kind.
“Where’s it comin’ from?,” George asked. It turned out to be a side door. He saw the padlock in the inside, moving on its own. “They got a magnet or something?”
Earl said, “If it’s those guys we heard about on the radio, then can they get in somehow?” The two humans slid a heavy shelf in front of that door to barricade it, then reinforced that with a table and chair. Ceen watched helplessly, wondering if he should press the recall button. When he checked though, he saw that the signal was not strong enough. Returning would be risky for a little while. Of all the times for Ceen to program the transmission to grant him more time.
“Does it even make sense to call the cops?,” George asked.
“Makes more sense than not calling,” Earl said. The problem was, his phone wasn’t working at all. “George, you try.”
“No good. Who are they, Ceen?”
Ceen was almost curious. “Are we in danger?”
Earl said, “Yes, someone’s trying to break in. Oh damn!” He heard the padlock snap open. “Ceen, can you zap ’em or something?”
“Zap?,” Ceen asked.
George turned a surly threat at the door. “Think you got us trapped in here just cause the phones ain’t workin’? Earl, let’s get to the roof!”
Earl nodded. He told Ceen to follow while they rushed up a ladder to a window. They could hear the shelf and chair being inched away from the door. George and Earl had a way to get attention for certain. Ceen watched them start a small fire at a tube that sent booming showers of sparks into the sky.
Sheriff Bentley was out on the roads nearby. The sparks in the sky were answered by red and blue lights flying down the road. The black car peeled out of the workshop drive, followed hotly by the cop cruiser. George, Earl and Ceen saw the chase from their perch. The two humans were shouting savage threats and curses in the direction of the black car. They suddenly realized that the fact that a black car was retreating didn’t mean that no one was in the shop. After several moments, they decided to check.
The shop was empty, so there was no need for the rebar chunk or the baseball bat. Ceen was pleased all the same that these two were apparently both willing and able to defend the machine if necessary. Ceen still didn’t understand the nature of this confrontation though. Did his human friends have human enemies? Surely it had nothing to do with him. How could it? They told Ceen to stay inside, which he was more than happy to do. His visits had given him no real chance to examine the trappings of human life.
George and Earl took a little time, and when they returned, they had the other human with them. Ceen fumbled his way out of the recliner. “Sheriff Bentley.”
“You told him my name?,” the Sheriff said over his shoulder.
Earl told him, “No, he knew our names too.”
The Sheriff saw that George and Earl were both expecting him to do the talking. “All right then. What’s your name?”
Ceen was more than a little confused. Had the Sheriff forgotten already? “I am Ceen.”
“And who were those guys that were after you?”
“They were not after George and Earl?”
The Sheriff decided that wasn’t an unintelligent question. He turned to them. Earl said, “Why would they be after us?”
George realized aloud, “They can’t just be after the machine either. They didn’t show up until Ceen popped in. Somehow they knew he was in here.”
Ceen understood then that this was not normal for the planet at all. It couldn’t be a coincidence then. “I do not understand why Earthlings unknown to me would wish me harm.”
The Sheriff agreed with that. “You know, I don’t either, but we can’t just have you hanging out in George and Earl’s workshop.”
“No,” Earl said, “he comes and goes. Like on Star Trek, he beams in, but without the fancy light.”
“Right. So what planet is he from?”
George and Earl shrugged at each other. The Sheriff groaned. “You got an alien poppin’ in and out of your place, but you never asked where he’s from? Do you at least know why he’s here?”
“He’s teaching us how to build something,” George said.
Earl said, “Sheriff, we need some real help here.”
“All right, first thing’s first. You got to relocate. Let’s get everyone out of here.”
“We can’t leave, Sheriff,” George said. “We need to finish this machine.”
Ceen said, “Should we move it back to the police station?”
Earl said, “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”
“Why not?,” George said. He liked the idea. “It’d be protected there.”
“From the men in black?,” Earl asked.
The Sheriff said, “They ran from me. I doubt they’ll come charging into the lion’s den.”
“So is that a yes?,” George said.
The Sheriff told them, “I’ve got questions about what’s goin’ on, but right now I want to get this taken care of before those creeps show up again. We been talkin’ here too long. Where is this thingumajig, anyway? Can it fit in a car?”
“No, but we can get it on our trailer.”
* * * *
The machine was finally ready. When George and Earl reached the beacon, it sent the message to Ceen automatically. The position was fed into the signal cradle. All Ceen had to do was adjust the transference strength so that he would have enough time to do what had to be done. Naturally he wanted a great deal of signal strength. That meant that he would not be able to return home until the signal weakened. He worried about that. He had been placed in jeopardy once already on Earth. He had come too far to let his anxiety stop him. He would see it through, and introduce a new and remarkable culture to the interstellar community.
When Ceen blinked in at the chosen site, George and Earl were there with the Sheriff and also one of the Sheriff’s deputies. Naturally, the deputy was a bit shaken. “Sheriff! Sheriff what the hell is that?”
The Sheriff grumbled, “It’s what you been talkin’ about, boy. You’ve been jabberin’ on about the UFO sightings like you thought something like this might happen. Well, there he is, a bonafide extraterrestrial.”
Ceen was starting to get annoyed that so many Earthlings were being let in on this secret. Their project was at risk until they completed it. He tried to imitate Sheriff Bentley’s greeting gesture from before. He stood there a second with his arm outstretched before he said, “Are you not supposed to grasp my hand?”
The Deputy tentatively shook Ceen’s hand. “Sorry about that. I’m just a little bit blown completely the hell away.”
The Sheriff grabbed his shoulder. “Keep it together, Gander. We don’t just got little grey men, we got those creepy bastards in the black suits too. I got a hunch that they’ll be here. I don’t know what they can and can’t do, but now that George and Earl are gonna start Ceen’s machine, I don’t think that the men in black are gonna play nice anymore. So you take one side while I move to the other. If you see a black car, or a guy in a black suit and shades, you don’t let ’em anywhere near the machine.”
“Is this all real?”
“Now that is the dumbest thing you’ve ever said.”
George told the Sheriff, “The men in black don’t know about this place though. We sent ’em on a wild goose chase, so we should be okay.”
“I hope you’re right, but I think you’re wrong. Gander and I will be on the lookout just in case.”
The two small town cops got themselves separated from the scene, but close enough to watch from behind some trees. Deputy Gander had never even drawn his weapon on duty. Sheriff Bentley had been forced to fire before, but only twice and it was years ago. He was ready to kill if he had to though.
Ceen went over the machine as quickly as he could. He had to have faith in the sealed conductor boards and relays, but the rest of it he examined. It was all in working order. “Here is the halz container. When it is activated it will be self sustaining for several hundred trips around your sun.”
The halz material was in a smooth, lustrous cylinder. When Earl took it, he was surprised that he could feel the faint crackling vibration of power from within. George helped him open the transmitter. The halz cylinder was a near perfect fit to the crucible tray within. It would all be over soon.
Deputy Gander shouted, “Here they come! I can see a car!”
“Warn ’em off!,” the Sheriff shouted.
Ceen heard a few gunshots and became very nervous. “We must hurry now.”
“You said it,” Earl told him.
George closed the machine and started connecting the control wires.
From behind a tree one of the men in black shouted, “Sheriff! Cease fire! We’re only here to ask questions!”
“I don’t believe ya!,” the Sheriff said. “You coulda asked questions anytime. Stay where you are!”
There was a sickening wave of invisible force that ripped through the area. The Deputy passed out completely and the Sheriff could hardly move. George and Earl were farther from it, but they were still a bit disoriented. Ceen had felt the wave, but he was unharmed.
That attack might not have worked on Ceen, but the men in black were coming for him. Earl saw that, so he wasn’t sure what to do. One of the men in black brandished a dark object. “Back off. You don’t want to feel this.”
He didn’t get to use his weapon. A bullet went right through him. The Sheriff’s vision was distorted enough that he couldn’t tell friend from foe, but when he heard that monotone voice he fired in that direction.
Earl lunged for the weapon the man in black had dropped. The two of them ended wrestling around on the ground. Ceen felt useless, cowering on the other side of the machine while their other enemy moved at him. George pitched a wrench. If he had hit the man in the head it might not have done much. It struck the agent’s weapon hand though. The two of them squared off in a duel of fate. The clandestine secret agent in the expensive clothes and the grubby, bar fight hardened small town mechanic.
Earl had pocketed one of the strange weapons to keep it from being used. George laughed at that, which made the other man move at him. The agent didn’t have the opening he thought he did. George hit him square, knocking the dark glasses off, which revealed a pair of misshapen eyes. Ceen could only watch as George ended up struggling against that second stranger.
The two rolling, grunting, grappling matches were interrupted by the Sheriff. He had finally managed to lope over. He had his gun ready. “No one moves. I can’t tell who I’m aimin’ at, but I can still hit center mass. I’ll kill ya.”
George’s opponent told him, “Sheriff, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“I already shot one a you. I’ll keep shooting if I have to. I didn’t know if I trusted the alien, but at least he isn’t chasin’ cars through town and fightin’ honest folks. If you or your partner get up, you’re dead.”
The men in black did as they were told. They were close enough to the Sheriff that he wouldn’t likely miss. George pushed free of strange eyed lunatic. He had twisted his ankle, and his right ear hurt like hell. He did better than he expected, but the man in black had been kicking his ass. “Ceen? You still with us?”
“I am here, George. What do we do next?”
“First we turn this thing on. Then the Sheriff figures out what to do with these two dipsticks.”
George made certain that the machine was still in one piece, that no one had damaged it. It was exactly what it needed to be. “Can I turn it on, Ceen?”
Ceen nodded. He felt a breathless nervousness that made him dislike the Earth bioform for a moment. He vowed to have a doughnut when this was over to make up for it. He watched George press the two power buttons. Once he turned the dial, the halz waves would be released, powering the entire Shoesole Lakes area and perhaps beyond.
George felt a fulfilling calm as he turned the last piece. Then he panicked. “I can’t let go!”
There was a low rumbling. Earl shouted, “Ceen! What’s happening?”
Ceen stepped back. “It can not be. The field is corrupted. The conductors are malfunctioning.”
“What do we do?”
Earl was about to step forward, but Ceen warned him, “Do not touch George or you will be trapped too.”
“But what’s gonna happen to him? Will he be okay?”
George shook and struggled, but he wasn’t able to break free of the unearthly force that held him. Then there was a piercing pain and a high pitched whine as the field failed. After a flash of orange light, George was gone.
Earl was dumbfounded. “Where’s George? What happened to him, Ceen? Did he get moved to your planet?”
Ceen felt gravely numb throughout. “It does not make sense. I adapted the machine to your environment.”
Earl shouted, “What happened to him?”
“George is gone.”
“Gone where? Gone where?”
The Sheriff’s eyesight had recovered enough for him to see the light, and the absence of the shape that had been his friend. “He’s dead, Earl.”
Ceen didn’t know what to say. He checked his signal indicator. “The machine is inert now. I am sorry, Earl. I can not stay.”
For a moment Earl thought about grabbing the alien by the neck. Instead, he remembered what was in his pocket. He pulled the funny looking metal weapon and fired. Ceen’s eyes got slightly bigger with surprise, then he collapsed.
* * * *
It was a strange sensation, being trapped in his bioform with no awareness of the signal. There was a metallic device around his ankle that Ceen assumed somehow prevented the return. In a white walled room with a sealed door, Ceen sat both bored and afraid. There had been a truly disconcerting moment when he felt as though he was elsewhere. Not as though he was not in his cell, because he was fully aware of his surroundings and situation. He just felt that there was more to him. He wanted to brush that off as a figment of his imagination or even an effect of the ankle device. He knew it wasn’t though because it ended with a sudden inexplicable pain.
When the door opened there was a hissing of air. Ceen stood up, wondering if he was in danger. He doubted it. If they intended to harm him, they would have done it already. A bald man walked in wearing dark glasses and clothes very similar to the ones worn by the men that had attacked them at the transmitter. Ceen asked, “Are Earl and the Sheriff okay?”
With a paternal sort of smile the man told him, “Your friends are okay. They are well and free in their homes.”
“Where am I?”
“You won’t be here long. We’ve located the source of your signal.”
Could an Earthling do that? “Your device prevents my return.”
“Well naturally. We couldn’t have you popping back home only to return again and introduce dangerous technology to our planet. Did you know that alien visits have caused three explosions, five major pollution disasters, two serious diseases and have also contributed to our climate change? One day we will have our own halz transmitters. Yes, we figured out what it is you were trying build. It would have worked if you had only arrived in chronological sequence. All the same, a sudden industrial revolution at this point in our history would not necessarily be a good thing. It’s a complicated idea.”
Ceen was more concerned with himself than with the transmitter at that moment. “What will you do with me?”
“Us? Nothing. Our organization has an extradition treaty with your world. You will be deported. You’re going home. The authorities of your world have already been informed of your breach of the travel restrictions.”
“The restrictions are unjust! I only wanted to help!”
“Mm. Good job. If it will make you feel better, I’ll bring you a doughnut.”