Terra Day 1
Milton Jenkins examined the device ejected from the robot, noting the plasticized metal casing with its odd three-dimensional reflective quality, behind which floated various glyphs. He had no idea what it was with his first thought that it was some sort of weapon, perhaps an explosive device; then again, probably not, unless it was selective enough in character to spare the girl and her electronic crony while disabling everyone else. Convincing himself it wasn’t dangerous, he dropped it in his pocket and turned his attention back to the moment at hand.
The polygraph test results bombarded Jenkins’ mind with such force that for the moment everyone else in the room virtually didn’t exist. It wasn’t so much that he’d thought the girl was lying but more a matter that the incredulous nature of the incident was beginning to register. Momentarily he met the gaze of what was turning out to be an amazingly assertive and potentially dangerous girl. A mixture of emotions he hadn’t experienced since liberating the Nazi death camps after World War II surged through him as he attempted to assess the situation. Her eyes held fear, defiance, vulnerability and intelligence to a degree he intuitively knew matched his own. In spite of appearances, this was no ordinary girl.
For all his experiences in the past thirty-plus years as a career Air Force officer this one topped them all. Never in his wildest dreams had he ever imagined calling upon the contingency procedures specified for this particular type of incident. If there was one thing to be said about military training it was that repetition coupled with well-defined procedures worked. The entire base would have dissolved with panic before his very eyes if someone hadn’t already thought about how to handle such a situation, or perhaps experienced it.
Perhaps? Yeah, right. What was he thinking? Of course they had, the evidence quietly shrouded in secure bunkers in a variety of bases around the country. While he’d never been inside the ones at Wright-Patt, like the infamous Hanger 18, he knew what was in them. Base commanders were provided Top Secret data such as that with reports like Project Blue Book required reading based on the assumption that someday they may need to know. Even three-star generals weren’t trusted to fly by the seat of their pants in situations like this, a fact he was more grateful for than he cared to admit.
He looked away from the girl to the numerous individuals in the room with whom he was sharing this incredible experience. If nothing else they could confirm it wasn’t a complete illusion, but for now they were all looking at him anxiously for direction.
In spite of his usual level of preparedness this particular event comprised details which had not been addressed in any manual, training or briefing he’d ever heard of much less seen. First of all, an alien spacecraft was in their possession because it had deliberately landed, right in their lap. It hadn’t crashed, it hadn’t been captured, but simply landed after asking permission to do so.
The first thing that came to mind was spinnst-du, a German expression he’d picked up during his long tour at Ramstein, which roughly translated meant Are you spinning tales? Actually, to be more accurate, it had been drilled into his head by numerous superior officers whose admonitions had frequently been prefaced by a forceful “Spinnst-du, Lieutenant Jenkins!” Truly the expression had a plethora of applications including the implied translation of “Are you a complete idiot?” and fit the perpetrators of this one to the proverbial “T.”
The incident had fried the brain of every controller in the tower. Chatter from pilots who’d seen a UFO was one thing; one requesting permission to land, in their own language, no less, was quite another. Debriefing the tower guys in the morning would undoubtedly be one of the most memorable and possibly entertaining meetings of his life, one where numerous cups of morning coffee would not be required to maintain an appropriate level of attention.
But for now he had to decide what to do. At a loss, he continued to organize the facts mentally, hoping to arrive at a plan of action. All eyes were still fixed on him, awaiting orders. Clearly he had to do something, even if it was wrong, or lose all credibility as commander.
“All right,” he said. “Guards, continue with the impound ops, including the mechanical subject at hand.”
“Yes, sir,” the pair replied in unison, and proceeded to place the chains back on the robot, which met with numerous protests from both it and the girl.
“You can’t do that!” the girl cried, working her way protectively in front of her electronic cohort.
“I’m afraid I can, little lady,” he replied, cringing with the realization that he sounded like something out of a John Wayne movie. “And if you pull any more tricks, like whatever that last thing was,” he said, patting his jacket pocket, “you’ll be next.”
A look of horror flashed across the girl’s face followed by total defeat as she stepped back compliantly, arms folded. Except for the girl, he herded everyone out of his office to their respective destinations, ordering the guards to stand watch outside though he regretted that decision almost immediately. It wasn’t that he was worried about her being dangerous but rather the fact there was something intimidating about being alone with her.
No one, including himself, had ever anticipated that such a thing could even happen. The odds of a UFO landing were crazy enough but having a de facto captain who was a young, human girl defied imagination, except, of course, in Hollywood, which excelled in coming up with entirely fantastic, unrealistic stories. His wife always got so frustrated when they’d watch such shows on TV Sunday nights when he’d provide a critical commentary of everything that was either entirely wrong or utterly impossible from the science and military point of view. Ha. Maybe he should have paid more attention because what he was dealing with now had apparently been addressed by Disney while entirely off the radar of the United States Air Force.
Yes, this was where the instructions in the contingency plan failed. There were procedures for impounding the spacecraft and any alien lifeforms, alive or dead, including defensive and offensive measures to employ as required, ignoring the fact that most would be ineffective against such superior technologies. But the bottom line was that the omniscient manual was entirely silent when it came to how to deal with a human, female adolescent who also happened to be an alien from another world.
He glanced down at the girl beside him, whose eyes were fixed straight ahead with a look of forced composure, displaying control far beyond her years. There was something ironic about that orange flight suit, which looked almost too much like an astronaut costume for Halloween. If he hadn’t seen the evidence himself he would have thought it was all an elaborate hoax or practical joke, a possibility he filed away in the back of his head in case it might come in handy later.
But apparently she was telling the truth. Somehow he believed that, which was ludicrous yet somehow fit the entire situation which was otherwise beyond the realm of reasonable probability. While never substantiated by fact, he was enough of a science fiction buff to recognize the remote possibility that she was some sort of shift-changer, perhaps some lethal lizard-like lifeform, intent on hijacking the planet. In some respects that actually was more believable than what he had before him, if for no other reason than it had been thought of before. But somehow he felt an odd connection with this girl, one that was so strong that he believed he could actually feel her emotions. Even before the polygraph test somehow he knew she was telling the truth.
But now what? Intuition had served him well all his life and lacking instructions it was all he had. He was on his own, at least for now, at 0300 when sane people slept. While he’d been in touch with the Pentagon they were as bewildered as he was and placed full decision-making power back on his shoulders, at least in the near-term. This was probably not the show of confidence it seemed, but rather a diplomatic sloughing of responsibility so if anything went wrong he would take the fall. They were trying to oust officers of his rank to retirement all the time and if he messed this one up he’d be out before he could say lickety-split.
“Sit down,” he ordered, pointing to one of the chairs by the small round conference table beside his desk. She glared at him and didn’t budge. “Please,” he added, getting up to pull out the chair for her. She sat down heavily and folded her arms.
Jenkins couldn’t help chuckling. “Wow, you’re quite a handful. You sure your parents didn’t deliberately ship you off on that escape pod?”
Much to his surprise, rather than a sarcastic retort his little charge locked huge, brown eyes on his like a frightened doe in the sights of his 30.06 and bit her lip as her eyes filled with tears.
And at that very moment the term “disarming” took on a whole new meaning and Jenkins knew he was toast.
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