They Can’t Tell Time, Chapter Three

You can find the first chapter of this story here :

Chapter One

The gentlest of Dollar’s tones was still enough to polish stone. “You’re saying that they have placed themselves out of reach.”

Quarter told him, “They’ve got their project in a police station, and the subjects appear to be remaining in there for the time being. I’ve never known this to happen in the sixteen years I’ve been an active agent. The only way to get to the machine or the alien is to violate the police rule. We can get in there if we use a mind bomb. We can acquire the machine. But there is no guarantee that that type of psychic weaponry would affect the joyrider when it arrives. There is also no sense in taking the machine without the fuel that the joyrider surely has not provided yet. My advice is to maintain as low a public presence as possible until they provide a better opportunity.”

Nickel said, “It’s like they’re Solozzo guarded by Captain McCluskey. I really hope they end up in an Italian restaurant.”

Dollar frowned at the level two. “The agency takes life only under certain circumstances.”

“Are these those circumstances?,” Nickel asked.

“No,” Quarter said. “We have reason to believe that the alien device is a power station. If so, then it has to be placed carefully. It might be in town, but because the joyrider has been seen out of town, then we believe that they are attempting to power all of the Shoesole Lakes area. It looks like that area is the only practical place for them to place their device.”

“But will they do that now that they are aware of us?,” Dollar said.

“I think so. I don’t think they put that kind of time and effort into it just to leave it sitting. You know what people are like, sir. They’ll go to any stupid lengths to serve an alien agenda, even if it’s unknown to them. They started this. They’ll see it through.”

“But you can’t guarantee that,” Dollar said.

“It’s your call, sir. Invade a police station, with no guarantee that we can apprehend the joyrider, or wait to take him at the site of the power station.”

Dollar didn’t like repeating himself. “No, what I meant was, can you guarantee that the subjects will continue working with the alien if we give them reason not to?”

“Well, I would assume so. Meeting with aliens are more rare than meetings with the Pope. And this joyrider picked the right two goobers for this. You should see the place they were working in. If we have the chance, we might want to recruit them.”

Dollar nodded. “Order a psychological profile, but that’s still not what I meant.”

Quarter said, “Sir, you’ve got two cents fifty times over, but I wish you’d get to the pair of pennies for my thoughts that you’re really after.”

“I can never tell if you’re clever or obnoxious. I wish they would perfect the new S-sight drug. I think you’d be a much more agreeable peon under that kind of sensory input.”

Nickel asked, “Is there an R-sight?”

“Don’t be silly, agent,” Quarter told him.

“The two locals that the alien contacted were not the subjects I had in mind,” Dollar said. “Reason might prevail where leverage won’t. I think that you two coins might be well spent undermining the Sheriff’s faith in otherworldly wisdom.”

“You know, sir, I think you might have hit on the right idea.”

*       *       *       *

From Ceen’s perspective, he had been to planet Earth only three times before. He had introduced himself to George and Earl, then showed them the halz effect. These Earthlings had opened a space signal. Ceen got the impression that it was an accident, but all the same it implied the potential to build a halz transmitter, at least a rudimentary one. Ceen doubted that the human race would ever know his place in their history, but that wasn’t important. What was important was the opportunity to help another species improve their society.

He located the double signal that told him that George and Earl were in close proximity to one another. Ceen adjusted for distance and formed a transference signal that was not broken by large solids. He felt himself fill into his strange Earthly bioform. He wished that he had the skill to build a form that could blend in with the natives. Supposedly it could be done, at least on some planets. Ceen didn’t see how, but as long as he was able to meet and communicate with Earthlings, he was satisfied.

His surroundings were new. Ceen wandered around the furniture toward the signal. George and Earl were there with another human, so he thought he had made a terrible mistake. He was surprised that this new Earthling recognized him. “Ceen is here. You were right. He just showed up where we’re at.”

George and Earl seemed to trust this new Earthling, so Ceen assumed they had their reasons. “This is a friend?”

Earl had that expression that Ceen thought implied heavy thought. It was really confusion, but Earl thought that maybe in the rush Ceen had already forgotten the man’s name. “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.”

George saw the papers. They were familiar, similar to the ones they had been working from. He glanced through them. “Is there a lot of difference here?”

Ceen didn’t respond 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?”

*       *       *       *

Sheriff Bentley wasn’t sure he shouldn’t have moved to the city when he had the chance. He had worried about the crime there, but at least then he wouldn’t be dealing with space aliens. It was too much responsibility for him. George and Earl had told him what the alien device was for. If they could build more then they could power the world. Cheaply? That was the idea. The Sheriff was looking up articles on Nikola Tesla. The alien device sounded like Tesla’s final, failed invention. That worried him, because everything he read made him believe that electrical power couldn’t be transferred through airwaves like that. Was that how the alien device worked though? Or was it something else?

“Heh. Tesla was even weirder than George and Earl. I wonder if he had some alien buddy helpin’ him out?”

He had to stop reading when the doorbell rang. It bothered him because it didn’t sound quite right. The tones were slightly deeper and longer. He tried to look out the front window, but all he could see at his front door was a pair of silhouettes.

He wasn’t surprised when he opened the door. He had expected this. He even had his gun on his hip just in case. There were two men, maybe the same two men that he had chased away from the workshop. Dark suits, dark glasses, dark fedora hats. If they were ringing the bell though, the Sheriff was going to act as natural as he could. “Can I help you fellas?”

“Hello, Sheriff. This is Nickel. I’m Quarter. Can we come inside?”

“Nickel and Quarter, huhn? You look more like nickel and dime to me. What do ya want?”

Quarter smiled. “We can talk here easily enough. You have a small grey friend.”

The Sheriff started to sweat. He had already figured that these two were after the alien, but somehow hearing it bothered him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about?”

The Sheriff realized that the two strangers had stepped inside and he had let them. What was happening? Nickel looked all around like he was trying to figure the place out. “The fixtures don’t really match the décor, officer.”

“Up yours, pal. What do you two want with me?”

Nickel acted like a curious dog, but Quarter’s dark glasses never looked away from the Sheriff’s face. “How much do you know about the visitor, Sheriff? How much do you really know?”

“ ’Bout as much as I know about you two goofy dudes. Are you supposed to be the Blues Brothers or the Reservoir Dogs?”

“I’m more partial to the Satan Brothers, but no one remembers them.”

“Yeah, are you two creepy jerks gonna sit around talking nonsense, or are you going to say something worth hearing?”

“Idaho Falls. Tokaimura. Mihama. Farcoule.”

“What?”

“Well maybe this one you know, Sheriff. Chernobyl.”

“You’re sayin’ that you think someone would travel the stars to blow up Shoesole Lakes? Hey! Put down that sugar bowl!,” he shouted at Nickel. “It’s an antique.”

Quarter kept talking. “Not intentionally. But what about an accident? What happens if it goes wrong, Sheriff? Does your new friend really seem like he knows what he’s doing?”

“He seems like an alien. I’m not too certain about you two weirdoes though. How about you take off those glasses? It ain’t that bright in here.”

“That would be against regulations, sir.”

“Well how about you two just get the hell outta my house?”

“If you’d like, Sheriff. You’ll see us again.”

*       *       *       *

Things were not going well at all but Quarter seemed unconcerned. Nickel was at the wheel as usual. Lower ranking agents were typically the drivers. “So, uh, I’m not sure… How do I put this?”

“Don’t worry about it, kid. The screw ups so far have been my fault and Dollar knows it.”

“Right. I appreciate that, sir, but I was wondering something else. I understand that the alien has his human contacts building something. My question is, why don’t we grab it if it’s so dangerous?”

“That would make sense. And it would make more than five cents. All the same, even though it’s above your paygrade, I should probably get you on the same page.”

“Was paygrade supposed to be a part of your joke, sir?”

“We can get ahold of the device that the alien’s cohorts are cohorting together, but that wouldn’t solve our problem at all. If we did that, then this joyrider would simply return to Earth when another signal opened up. Then we’d be hunting him down without knowing where in the world he is. But if we wait and grab the critter, then we can get the machine after, and sew the whole thing up.”

“A stitch in time saves nine, huh, sir?”

“Well said, level two.”

“I’m still worried though about the police car that pursued us.”

“Don’t worry about it. We can outrun any flatfooted, potbellied, small town tin star.”

“But what if he contacts someone we might have to worry about?”

“Like who? Do you think the FBI would listen to some hick cop telling them about strange lights and black suited strangers? Even if they did, we have contacts in the Bureau. You know that, right?”

“I had heard rumors. I didn’t know it for sure. Can just the three of us still get the job done?”

“Again, no need to worry, Nickel. I’d like to call in level fours, Ten Spot and C Note, as support, but you know that the agency is always low on manpower. We’re on our own, but in the end we’ll overcome. Put the car on stealth mode and get us to the cop shop. Sooner or later they’ll have to surface.”

*       *       *       *

George and Earl had found the differences in the designs. It required them to alter the conductor relays, the parts that resembled circuit boards. What they didn’t know, what they couldn’t understand, was that the designs they were working from were the original designs. Ceen had given them the safe designs the first time they had met him.

They had the conductor boards placed and sealed. The device was nearly finished when Ceen arrived again, his tenth visit to Earth, but the eleventh from his own perspective.

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 was nearby, so when he felt the strange sensation of the alien arrival, he walked in. “Hello, little fella. Do you drink coffee? I got an extra one. And a doughnut.”

Ceen took the offering, but he glanced at his hands like he wasn’t certain what to do. He watched the Sheriff take a sip, then a bite. Ceen followed suit. His tiny 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 the alien 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.”

With that, the Sheriff knew what side he was on. The men in black had shaken his confidence a bit, but the Sheriff could hear the sincerity in Ceen’s voice. In fact, due to Ceen’s lack of verbal skills, it would be nearly impossible for the alien to lie convincingly. “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.”

*       *       *       *

Ceen was about to test a halz transmitter in Earth’s environment. He hadn’t lied when he told the Sheriff that he had already tested it. He just arrived on Earth to test to it after he spoke to the Sheriff.

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, not even near the base for the permanent device, 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. There were two country homes that suddenly came to life. Every light, every computer, every television started up spontaneously. 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.

*       *       *       *

“I’m not sure this is gonna work, Sheriff.”

“Well, Earl, I’m not sure either. I don’t have any better ideas though.”

George said, “What makes us think they’re even watching? Has anyone seen ’em around here?”

“No,” the Sheriff admitted, “but it’s a good idea to be more cautious than you have to be. Look, maybe those two jerks I chased from your place weren’t that big a deal. If they are someone we have to worry about though, then I don’t want to ignore ’em. The one thing I do assume, if they’re the real thing, is that they don’t have a lot of manpower. If they did, then they wouldn’t have sent two guys into your workshop without backup. They wouldn’t have had to run from one cop car. And if they really wanted this doodad you boys have cobbled together, then they wouldn’t wait to storm a small town police headquarters. They’d do it like Arnie in the Terminator. But the stories you hear when they strong arm someone, it’s some lonely little geek in his apartment or something. So if there’s no one watchin’ us, then we’re wastin’ a bit of gas and some of Deputy Pilsner’s time. If there is someone, then this might actually work even if they do have souped up black cars and zap guns.”

“I kinda doubt they got zap guns,” Earl said. “The stories don’t go like that.”

“Well I’m gonna assume they got zap guns,” the Sheriff said, “so that I got an excuse to shoot ’em if I see ’em. All right?”

“Sounds good to me,” George said.

Along with the real halz transmitter, George and Earl had rigged an empty mock up. It didn’t have to be convincing. It just had to be a similar shape. They loaded it onto their trailer and covered it with a tarp. Deputy Pilsner had asked the Sheriff and gotten no answer, so he tried it with George and Earl. “So what is this that I’m haulin’?”

“Just a hunk a metal,” Earl said happily.

The Deputy shook his head a little. “And why am I drivin’ a hunk a metal out a town?”

The Sheriff told him, “We been over this, Mel. We think someone might follow you. If you see someone behind you, especially a black car, then you call us and let us know. Now keep your hat on and get on out of here.”

They watched the pickup pull out and rumble down the streets. “A decoy,” Earl said. “Ya know though, if I were waitin’ for that thing, I’d prob’ly end up followin’ that truck.”

“Gives us a head start at least,” the Sheriff said. “Now get in the van. We’re not leavin’ until Mel’s well outta town, but I want to be ready at a moment’s notice.”

They got the call from Deputy Pilsner when they expected, so they had everything ready to go. That’s when things turned urgent. A second call from the Deputy let them know they were in danger. “Sheriff! I’ll be hanged, but you were right! There’s some old car, I think a Dodge, following me.”

“A black car?”

“At’s right. You want me to keep goin’?”

“Keep movin’, and make it look like you don’t notice ’em. Don’t give those guys any trouble if you don’t have to.”

“What if I do have to?”

“Well. Shoot ’em I guess. If they’re watching a police station to follow a vehicle out of it, then we’ll assume they’re dangerous.”

Quarter was on his wristwatch radio the moment he saw the van pull out of the police headquarters. “Hold on, Nickel. A van just pulled out, and I’m thinking that they’re fasting a pull one.”

“You want me to turn around?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know at all. What if the van is just a van? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, you know?”

“Sir, why don’t I catch up to the pickup I’m following and find out for certain what it’s carrying?”

“Because that might prevent the alien from arriving at a point in time and space that allows for his apprehension.”

“Your apprehensions are slipping, sir. If the van isn’t just a cigar, then we have to know it now in case the van doesn’t go where a cigar would.”

“Not every man is Bill Clinton, but you do have a point. We have to know. Catch the truck.”

“I’m on my way, Sir.” Nickel put down the accelerator. Even through the Q-sight, he could feel the thrill of it. He loved driving the black cars. When he was a kid he wanted to be a stock car racer, but his speed now made them look like sissies. “And I don’t need any stickers!”

Deputy Pilsner tried not to panic. He could tell that this car could catch up to him fast. He figured that the black car’s speed didn’t necessarily win. They were on dirt roads, so the pickup could force the black car into the ditch. The Deputy didn’t know if that was the best idea, but he didn’t have a better one. And if the Sheriff was playing cops and robbers with someone, then the Deputy was going to be the best cop he could be. He let the black car pull up beside him. Before he could slam into it, the engine went dead. All of a sudden he was coasting. “What the hell?”

Nickel’s combustion inhibitor had done its job. He slipped back. The black car gripped the road like Velcro. “All right, let’s see what you’ve got in there.”

The Deputy got out of his truck quick, gun in hand. “Hold it right there! I said freeze, asshole!” But the asshole kept coming. For nearly two solid seconds Deputy Pilsner didn’t really know what to do. Then he made his decision and pulled the trigger. Click. “Whut?” Click, click, click. His gun wouldn’t fire. The same combustion inhibitor that had stopped his engine was also keeping his bullets in his gun. Surprising himself, the Deputy rushed forward. If he couldn’t shoot the maniac in the shades, then he could pistol whip him into submission. But he couldn’t. Nickel had his ego warp ready. It wasn’t made for long range firing, but within a few feet, it could stop anyone. The Deputy’s senses failed. While he flailed about blindly, Nickel strode around him carefully to the trailer.

Nickel cursed a few times as he tried to untie the ropes. He wasn’t good at that. So he ended up cutting through one instead. “Oh man! Quarter was right! We must be the stupidest agents ever!” He got on his wristwatch radio. “Quarter! You were right! This is just an objet d’art!”

“It’s what?”

“It could sit in front of an office building, but it could never power a town! It’s a phony!”

“Damn! Aliens aren’t usually this crafty. It has to be that cantankerous Sheriff that came up with this. Get back here on the double on the double on the double.”

“That’s on the octuple, but our car can handle it. I’ll pick you up. Do we know where that van was headed?”

“Probably to the same spot that we scanned before. Where the alien metals were. That was their heading.”

It wouldn’t take much time for the black car to catch up to the real halz transmitter. Nickel had to drive back to town and pick up his partner, but they could get there. The question was whether or not they could get there in time to capture the alien.

It was a given that the van would reach the transmitter base before the men in black could arrive. With the locator that Ceen had given them, Sheriff Bentley could drive them right to the appointed position. When they got near, it started pinging. The Sheriff got them close enough that they could unload it. He and Deputy Ganders helped get the device to the ground before they let George and Earl take over. The Sheriff was cursing already. “I can’t get Pilsner on the phone. Something happened.”

“Is he okay?,” Ganders asked.

“I don’t know. He’d better be. Right now we gotta be ready here. Pilsner will have to take care of himself.”

“Sheriff, don’t you think you’d better tell me what’s goin’ on?”

“When you see it, you’ll know. You might not believe it, but you’ll know. We help George and Earl and their friend.”

“You keep sayin’ that. What friend? What the hell are we runnin’ around like this for?”

“We’re gonna put the electric company outta business.”

“What?”

“Just keep your eyes peeled.”

George and Earl were close enough to the signal beacon to contact Ceen automatically. It was the one moment that the alien would arrive when he was supposed to. Deputy Gander was watching when the alien blinked in. Naturally, the Deputy was a bit shaken.  “Sheriff! Sheriff what the hell is that?”

“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. There was nothing he could do about that though. 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. He heard the Deputy’s gun fire twice as he rushed to a better position.

Ceen became very nervous. “We must hurry now.”

“You said it,” Earl told him.

George closed the machine and started sealing it permanently. His fingers shook at the sound of gunfire and shouting.

Quarter was crouched behind a tree. “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!”

Quarter nodded to Nickel. They weren’t allowed to use conventional weapons, but they had alternatives. Nickel lobbed a mind grenade through the trees. Deputy Gander saw it and shouted. He assumed that the little grey orb would explode. He was nearly right. There was a wave of invisible force that ripped through the area. The Q-sight drug protected the men in black from most of the effect. Their fears were realized when Ceen’s alien mind was unaffected by the psychic weapon. It wasn’t as powerful as a mind bomb, but it was effective nonetheless. The Deputy was out cold. The Sheriff was still on his feet, but he could hardly feel his own body. He was struggling just to move. George and Earl were farther off, so they suffered only delayed reflexes. It slowed them down enough that Earl thought they couldn’t finish the process. He staggered his way toward the advancing suits.

Nickel considered using a second mind grenade, but that might kill someone. He knew the agency’s rules. Instead he fished in his pocket for his ego warp. It had worked on Deputy Pilsner. It might even work on the alien. It was set to a different frequency than the mind grenade.

Earl saw that, so he wasn’t sure what to do. Nickel warned him, “Back off. You don’t want to feel this.”

That was all the Sheriff needed. He could barely see, but he had managed to get his pistol hand raised. Once he heard a voice, he fired. The bullet went right through Agent Nickel. If it hadn’t been for the Q-sight, he would have screamed in pain. As it was, he dropped the ego warp.

Earl lunged for it. He and Nickel were wrestling around on the ground, but Quarter wasn’t concerned with his partner. There were more important things. Ceen was cowering on the other side of the machine. George pitched a wrench at the man in black. If he had hit him in the head it might not have done much. It struck the agent’s weapon hand though. Unarmed, 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.

Nickel was finally upset enough to really curse. Earl had pocketed his weapon, and Nickel couldn’t get his hand in after it. George laughed at that, which made Quarter 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 the strange eyes, temporarily misshapen by the Q-sight drug.

George was surprised enough by that and by the sudden rage on the agent, that he was tackled. Not many things could anger Quarter through the Q-sight, but having his eyes uncovered was one of them.

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.”

Quarter’s voice was a quarter octave higher now that his glasses were gone. “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.”

With the Q-sight in effect, neither Nickel nor Quarter feared death. They didn’t want to fail in their mission though, and dying would stop them. Even if they had to wait for the opportunity, they had to capture the joyrider. If it came to it, a tactical strike could be called in afterwards. Parasites in the water supply or lethal airwaves. The agency had ways of destroying a community if it had to. Quarter knew that he was past the point of preventing the machine from being activated. No one had to know if it worked though, as long as he survived.

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 hadn’t been able to talk. He 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. “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 black weapon and fired. Ceen’s eyes got slightly bigger with surprise, then he collapsed.

Quarter took his chance. “Quick, Nickel. Before the joyrider wakes up, get a binder on him so that he can’t signal out.”

“Right away, sir.”

“You’re not bleeding to death are you?”

“No, sir. I have the wound under control thanks to the Q-sight.”

The Sheriff cocked his pistol and aimed it at the narrow grey form. Quarter told him, “You can’t kill the alien. We can find out where he came from. He’s got a lot to answer for.”

“Did you know this was going to happen?,” the Sheriff asked.

“I tried to warn you,” Quarter said. “It could have been much worse.”

The Sheriff hung his head. “Sorry about shooting your man.”

“Oh, I’ll be fine,” Nickel said with a smile. “All’s well that ends well.”

The Sheriff wasn’t sure he was doing the right thing, but what else could he do? “I heard Ceen say that the machine is inert. Does that mean that you all can’t make it work again?”

“That’s right, Sheriff,” Quarter said.

“Then get it out of my county. Take the alien too. You’re sure you can hold him? He disappears.”

“He can’t do that with a signal binder on him. This isn’t our first rodeo, Sheriff.”

“I don’t want to see you people around here again.”

*       *       *       *

The adventure was over, but the signal had not closed. He didn’t know it because Ceen had never explained it, but Earl was still washed with the beacon that called Ceen from the stars. The lifespan of that signal would soon end, but not all of Ceen’s appearances were accounted for. There was one more.

It was late at night. With a great deal of trouble Earl had managed to sleep. It wouldn’t last. Ceen’s mode of transport prevented him from arriving in any other moment that he was on Earth. But the signal inhibitors that the men in black used to keep him from leaving Earth also interfered with the transference signal. For the first time ever Ceen was on Earth in two places at once. He felt a strange sensation that he could not possibly understand. He felt extended, multiplied in a way that he couldn’t describe. That was only one of the mysteries that bothered him.

He nudged Earl until the human woke up. It took several seconds for Earl to realize who he was looking at. From deep sleep he didn’t rise into the loss of his lifelong friend immediately. Then he remembered. “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. He had been sleeping in the workshop. He couldn’t bear to leave it. So he was there among the tools and parts that he would put to good use now that he had the inspiration for it. And here he was worried that he would never be able to pick up a hammer again.

“What am I meant to see?,” Ceen asked.

“Just keep looking. Right there.” With Ceen’s back to him, Earl slammed a hammer onto the alien’s skull. He pounded the thin grey form until strange bodily fluids stained the floor all over. Ceen’s consciousness had left the bioform at the second heavy strike. Earl hadn’t killed him. In fact, from Ceen’s perspective the alien would appear on Earth five more times. The alien would assume it was a malfunction.

In the morning Earl would call the Sheriff and together they would bury the body somewhere. Not knowing was the best thing for him. He thought he had taken revenge on the irresponsible alien. Maybe he had even stopped Ceen from doing something more tragic, like blowing up a city. He slipped back into bed and slept like a baby. Tomorrow he would start work on the transformer again.

 

That’s the end of this story, but there is a second story,

Sight Unceen

that relates the same events entirely from the perspective of the alien. So if you enjoyed it enough, and you’re curious to see that side of the timeline, click that link to understand Ceen’s sequence of events.

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