They Can’t Tell Time, Chapter Two

You can find the first chapter of this story here :

Chapter One

Two days had passed. A pair of tireless, perfectly patient, black clad bastards watched from a distance. George and Earl couldn’t have made their interaction with the alien more obvious if they’d put up a sign. Nickel and Quarter could spot the paranoid personalities easily. George and Earl were starting to wonder what to do. They knew that they weren’t going to work on their invention anymore. If an alien shows up and tells you to stop, then you stop, even if you don’t know why. What else did they have to do though? They were just sitting around, playing cards and listening to the radio.

George stalked back in after a cigarette break. He moved a few things around on a shelf just to convince himself that he was still in his own territory. Then he plopped down sullenly in the old recliner.  “Is he comin’ back or not?”

Earl groaned because he doubted it. “Give him time. He’s gotta come up with the new plans.”

“New plans that he says we already have? I think our grey buddy has alien attention deficit disorder. Next time he shows up, he’d better have something to show us. I don’t give a damn if he is from Planet X. I don’t want to piss away all day every day sittin’ here hopin’ your next fart wont’ smell as bad as the last one.”

The sensation of the connection filled the room. George and Earl didn’t have to ask each other about it. They could both tell from the way they were sitting upright. Out in the distance a green light on a funny little black device started blinking.

Ceen wandered around a shelf carefully. It was his fourth appearance on planet Earth, but from his perspective, he had only been there twice before. Ceen waited carefully. The Earthlings had seemed willing to listen, but they had also been confusing. What were they going to do now?

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 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.”

Outside, Nickel and Quarter changed their plans. “We have to get back to Dollar.”

Nickel didn’t ask. He just followed orders. They packed up their things, got in their dark car, and drove away. Even through the Q-sight, Nickel felt a little bit of disappointment. He thought they were going to confront the witnesses. The part of the job he loved was making contact with contactees. It made him a part of the legend. He’d get his chance though.

Back at the black site Dollar greeted them with his stoic surprise. “You’ve made first contact already?”

“No need, sir,” Quarter said. “I’ve already ascertained the alien’s motive. We have a Prometheus class contact.”

“Oh dear,” Dollar said gravely. “I thought this would be another episode of an alien playing doctor. I really don’t like altruistic aliens. The intruder must be stopped at all costs, captured if possible.”

“And the contactees?,” Quarter asked. “Do we run them through the typical routine?”

“No. We should maintain a low profile. We can’t take any risks.”

*       *       *       *

George didn’t know that a stranger was watching his house that evening. He was sitting in his chair watching the end of a game and drinking a beer. Seeing Ceen’s strange little device power every electrical appliance in range gave him a sense of calm. He wondered what would have happened if Old Lady Gwinn had been home and suddenly her lights, microwave, blender, and everything else came on suddenly. She wouldn’t have noticed her TV since it was always on at high volume.

George’s own TV had a sudden problem. The picture and sound crackled, and so did George’s own senses briefly. He knew what it meant. He hurried to get his old recliner up so that he could be on his feet. It just didn’t seem right, relaxing in the presence of a visitor from another world.

As usual, Ceen stepped in from out of sight. What Ceen didn’t know was that he had been to Earth five times already. Because to him, it was his first moments on this world. He was still just getting used to the unusual sensations of the Earthly bioform.

George saw the slow, unsteady steps. He wondered if the alien was drunk. “You okay there, Ceen?”

Ceen was not okay. He was disoriented, though he was getting over that quickly. What bothered him more than the new senses and the lack of his normal ones was the Earthling reaction. “Did you say my name, Earthling?”

“Earthling?”

Ceen was bothered. How could this human being, incapable of interplanetary travel, be so comfortable at the sight of an alien? Ceen’s next question was not the one he had rehearsed. “Am I like something on your world?”

“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 the couch, feeling much more secure with himself now that he didn’t have to consider the possibility of falling on his face during first contact. “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?”

George sighed and took his own seat. Humoring this weirdie was easier than arguing with him. “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. Ceen had thought that must have been an accident, but perhaps it wasn’t. 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?”

“Uuuuh…”

“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?”

“I, what?”

“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?” Three of George’s neighbors had dogs, and every one of them was barking like crazy. George wondered, “Are they barking because of you?”

Ceen hated to seem ignorant. “Are they animals?”

George nodded to that, but he was still paying attention. “They’re barking at something outside. Ceen, maybe you ought to get lost.”

“Do you mean I should leave?”

“That’s right.” George was already moving to the door. He knew that Ceen was gone because of the popping sensation in the room. George trotted out to see a dark car driving away at breakneck speed.

*       *       *       *

Nickel returned to the black site without much to show for his stake out. Quarter was still out there, keeping tabs on the other contactee, so it was just the rookie and the intimidating old level seven agent. “Sir, scanners registered an intrusion. The alien definitely appeared in the subject’s home.”

Dollar told him, “Good. Then I presume that you called Quarter?”

“Well, no sir. He’s still keeping tabs on subject two.”

“You chose to leave your position?”

“I had to, sir. I was noticed.”

Grimly, Dollar asked, “You were in the car, but you were noticed. Did you forget to engage the stealth mode?”

“No, sir, but the scanners must have been giving off ultrasonics. It attracted attention from the neighbors’ dogs.”

“And it didn’t occur to you to use the cone of silence in the presence of a canine?”

“Sir? How could I know about the dogs?”

“You took the Q-sight, didn’t you?”

Nickel said, “Is that what that smell was? The dogs? It was like burning lilacs in a sauerkraut factory.”

“No. It is like pool chemicals past their expiration date mixed with gunpowder from the eighteen hundreds. I will have to have words with Quarter. He has not trained you well enough for this duty.”

*       *       *       *

Ceen wished he hadn’t had to leave so quickly after that knock on the workshop door. He 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, 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.

*       *       *       *

“Dollar ripped into me pretty good.”

“Sorry, sir. That wasn’t my idea.”

“He sure put in his two cents about dogs’ scents. You might say that he showed no Quarter.”

Nickel did say, “Well, sir, you might have told me that the Q-sight let me smell dogs.”

“Genuinely my fault, level two. I’ll do better in the future. In my defense, I had assumed that a level three somewhere would have taught you something that basic.”

“Before I joined the agency, Quarter, I remember hearing stories about bizarre behavior and strange mistakes made by, well, by us. Does this kind of thing happen often?”

“Nothing happens often. Ah, here we have the local show.”

Quarter turned up the radio so that they could hear ‘The Shadow Report’.

“We have a caller from Plakerton on the line. Ollie? Ollie, are you there?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m here. Sterling, I had to call, and I’m glad I got a hold of you. They’re really here.”

“You saw a flying object?”

“No, Sterling, I never saw one. I didn’t even believe it when my brother in law told me about one he saw. I got to buy him a beer now to apologize.”

“Well, Ollie, can you tell us what convinced you?”

“I saw an actual alien, Sterling! A real one!”

Nickel listened with both excitement and skepticism, the former of which was muted by the Q-sight drug. Sterling’s caller described the alien, but that wasn’t the detail that Nickel wanted to hear. “Come on, come on, tell us where it was.”

“Classic description,” Quarter said. “I like the little blue bug faced creeps better than the big eyed triangle heads.”

“Does it make a difference?,” Nickel asked.

“There it is. North of town. We’ll have to go over that area with the scanners. We’ll see if that story is true or not.”

“Hey are there really reptilians? Or is that one just silly?”

Quarter grumbled, “I don’t know what I hate worse, when the paranoids get things right or when they get them wrong.”

*       *       *       *

Ceen returned to the workshop where the signal saturated fixit men were waiting together. “I have made the corrections. Here are the improved plans. Where is the device?”

George was looking at the papers the alien handed him. “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 wondered if that spot was particularly suitable. Apparently the radio could be useful.

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 to 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.”

*       *       *       *

“So like, why would he use just paper?,” Earl asked.

“What?,” George growled. “Hand me that wrench.”

“Why would an alien put instructions on paper instead of on some super hand held computer or something? An alien tablet?”

“Why would he trust you with an alien computer?”

Earl gasped. “Hey! What if it’s not like ordinary paper? It’s kind of stiff and hard.”

“Who gives a damn?”

“Look,” Earl said, “I can’t tear it.”

“What does that prove?”

“Let’s cut a little corner off, see if we can figure out what it really is.”

“Earl, do you wanna screw around with a piece of paper or do you want to build this thing? You’re like that broad in that really old story, can’t leave the box closed. What if Ceen gets pissed that you were screwin’ around with the paper instead of building this thing? Now hand me that god damn wrench!”

“Sorry, George.”

“For a smart guy, you are really a half wit.”

“How long is this gonna take? What if he comes back before it’s done?”

It was late, but they could shake it off if they had enough coffee. Earl had set padlocks on the inside of the workshop doors. They didn’t want anyone seeing Ceen’s machine. They didn’t want anyone asking questions.

Neither one was all that enthusiastic. It should have been exciting, but they weren’t entirely certain they were building it right. The alien designs weren’t that easy to follow. “Wish to hell this thing had words instead a just numbers and pictures.”

“It says what kinds of stuff to build out of.”

“Yeah, but just ‘aluminum’ or something like that.”

“I get the idea that Ceen don’t speak much English. Like Ajaib down at the gas station.”

They had made a lot of progress. Apart from Earl’s fascination with the paper, the two of them had worked diligently every minute they could manage. The good thing about the alien’s designs was that it allowed for variable measurements. They could adapt pieces to it. It wasn’t a pretty piece of machinery, but practicality was all that George and Earl were good for. They hardly noticed the hodge podge nature of their product.

Their work was interrupted by that soft sensation that preceded an alien arrival. George set down his tools and stripped off his work gloves. Earl set down the papers fast as though he was caught stealing a cookie.

The initial shock of meeting an alien had worn off. George could even be casual. When Ceen strode around a shelf, 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.

“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?” Ceen could come and go as he pleased. Whoever was outside might also be able to get through a lock. George and Earl were paranoid enough to have things ready though. They slid a heavy shelf in front of that door to barricade it, then reinforced that with a table and chair.

“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 sounded 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 wasn’t going to rely on their alien accomplice. “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. They had thought about buying a flare gun, but why not just make use of what they had lying around? Every Fourth of July they had fireworks left over.

On a low side roof, George and Earl sent booming showers of sparks into the sky. Old Lady Gwinn wasn’t home, but this would bring a call from someone for sure. As it happened, their luck was better than expected. Sheriff Bentley was out on the roads nearby. He had been roaming around the city most of the time since his sighting of the dark object in the sky. Looking up, the Sheriff saw the fireworks, and he knew right away who was causing trouble. “Damn them! There’d better be a good explanation for this.” The Sheriff was already in a paranoid frame of mind though, so he assumed the worst. He was going to get there fast in case there was a real problem.

The sparks in the sky were answered by red and blue lights flying down the road. Nickel and Quarter had pushed their way into the workshop by the time they heard the burst above and the siren moving to them. They were scrambling out fast. Dollar would demote them both if they were involved in any violence with law enforcement. Two rednecks in an oily metal shop would be dismissed by the public, but if any cop corroborated the story, then it could be another genuine sighting.

By the time Sheriff Bentley was pulling up, the two dark suits were visible for just a moment. The black car peeled out, 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. There was another problem though. They didn’t know what the Sheriff was going to say when he got there. The adrenaline made it impossible for George and Earl to tell how long they were waiting.

The cop car got there with the lights still on, but the siren off. Sheriff Bentley climbed out of his seat fast. “George! Earl! You all right?”

“We’re fine,” George said. “Thanks for bein’ so fast! I didn’t know what to do.”

“Well, I’m gonna get calls on account of the fireworks display. Who was that I was chasin’?”

Earl took a half step back. George hesitated. Could he tell the truth? In fact, he could. “I don’t honestly know, Sheriff. How’d they get away?”

“It didn’t look like much, but that car hadda been souped up. It outpaced mine for sure. I didn’t even get a good look at the license plate.”

“Well that stinks.”

“George, what’s goin’ on?”

“I don’t know who that was, Sheriff, but I know what they were after.”

Earl hissed, “Shut up, stupid!”

The Sheriff crossed his arms, “Boys, what’s goin’ on?”

George made his decision. “Sheriff, we can trust you, right?”

Earl was on the cusp of pure, frantic screeching, but what could he really do to stop this?

George told his friend, “Look, they’re gonna come back, right? What are we supposed to do then?”

Earl considered it. “I… You know, I don’t know. But George, we can’t just say it.”

“Is Ceen still here?,” George said.

“Are you out of your mind?,” Earl demanded.

“You got a better idea?”

The Sheriff wasn’t going to wait any longer. “Someone say somethin’ that makes sense, would ya?”

Earl still thought this was a bad idea, but he also thought it was too late to do anything about it. “Sheriff, we can’t just tell you, because you won’t believe us. Can you come inside before Ceen vanishes again?”

“Before what?”

George said, “Just follow us.”

The Sheriff didn’t follow. He led the way inside. Ceen was still there trying to figure out George’s chair. The Sheriff was surprised at his own composure. He didn’t shout or freeze in place or stare like an idiot. He couldn’t think of a word to say though. 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 at that. 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. “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.”

Click here to read Chapter Three

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