A Bridge to Earth
by Richard Merlin Smith
Chapter 4 : Visitors
The history begins millions of years ago and light-years away. The story commences a few thousand Earth years ago: a brown dwarf a rogue star with its attendant planets travels on a collision course toward the system of a yellow sun. Soon their disparate plasma sheaths begin to interact, and the Guardians and Stewards must make fateful decisions.
October 14, 12:40 a.m. Glendora, California
Fred was dreaming that he was back on Mars again, but he was warm, and the air was thick and sweet. He was standing on the same hill, looking out over a broad expanse of shallow, frosty-green sea and gazing at the face.
The sky was pale blue at the horizon and shaded gradually to deep blue at the zenith. A warm wind was blowing from the south, carrying with it sounds from somewhere behind him.
He could hear voices, conversation among individuals speaking rapidly in a language that he didn’t recognize. Suddenly someone grabbed his shoulder from behind and shook him. He started to turn and then awoke abruptly. He was in bed, the room was dimly lit, and Margie was shaking him and whispering, “Freddie, there’s someone in the house.”
“What?” He was groggy and it took several seconds for the message to sink in. “Did you hear something?” Before she could answer he heard voices from downstairs. Whoever was down there wasn’t being particularly stealthy. There were at least two individuals speaking in subdued tones. He couldn’t make out the words but they sounded excited.
“Call nine-one-one,” he whispered, “and stay here.” He rolled out of bed onto the floor on all fours. “Tell ’em we’ve got intruders in the house.”
He didn’t feel as confident as he hoped he sounded. He crept over to the bedroom door and out into the hall. There was a dim red glow coming from somewhere down below, and he could see faint shadows moving around. He hoped that the floor wouldn’t creak and give him away as he moved toward the top of the stair.
So far so good, he thought. He reached the top step and peered through the railing. He could see the kitchen door and part of the living room and, although he couldn’t see the den doorway, he could tell that it was the source of the reddish light.
Halfway down the stairs he could see into the den and across the room almost to the fireplace. At first it seemed that the red glow was coming from the fireplace, but when he reached the bottom step he saw that the fireplace was dark.
He was disconcerted to see that the glow was coming from a man-sized, spindle-shaped object three feet in front of the fireplace, hovering a foot above the floor. From the bottom of the stair he could hear the voices clearly but he still couldn’t understand the words.
He looked around for something to use as a weapon. All that he could see within his reach was the heavy cut-glass vase on the hall table. He reached out slowly and just as his fingertips touched the vase a figure moved into view and stood framed in the den doorway. Fred froze. The other person was looking back into the den at someone that Fred couldn’t see and was pointing and speaking hurriedly.
In mid-sentence the intruder glanced in Fred’s direction and abruptly stopped speaking. With a hiss of indrawn breath the figure turned to face Fred. Both individuals stood for several seconds, each with an arm outstretched.
The intruder was about Fred’s height but quite thin, and seemed to be wearing a sweatsuit with short sleeves. Where the skin was bare it was tinged with red highlights from the glow. The intruder wore some sort of hat or helmet; there was a faint design on a band across the forehead.
Suddenly the intruder bolted, first to the coffee table, bending quickly as if to pick up something, and then back toward the fireplace and the strange, spindle-shaped object. As the thin body turned toward the light Fred saw the face clearly. First a full face view half in shadow and then in profile, more strongly lit as the intruder moved closer to the source of light.
Fred was still immobile as the moving figure simply disappeared into the red glow, followed quickly by the other individual. As the second figure passed into the glow there was a sudden brightening of the light as the color changed from red to yellow and then briefly became almost white as it squeezed down to a narrow slit. Then, abruptly, it disappeared as though a door had closed on a lighted room.
For a few seconds more, Fred remained still as a statue. The figure that had stood transfixed in his den was chillingly familiar. The face was the same as the one Fred saw in his “vision.” The same as in the picture that Sam had showed him. It was the face on the broad Martian plain of Cydonia.
* * *
When the police came, Fred and Margie had to explain rather sheepishly that they had been awakened out of a sound sleep by their two cats chasing around the service porch, knocking things off of shelves and generally making a shambles of the room. Luckily the officers didn’t have any reason to check the house. There were no cats in the household.
The arrival of the police awakened some of the neighbors and lights were on in several houses. They were probably wondering if this disturbance was a repeat of the one earlier in the week, when the paramedics arrived to cart Fred off to the hospital. As the police drove off, the lights began to go out as people went back to bed.
All except Sam, that is. Fred noticed him standing near the bushes between the yards as he and Margie walked with the police down the driveway to the patrol car. As they turned back up the driveway Sam said, “More excitement, Fred?”
Fred knew that adrenaline was going to keep him awake for a while so he just nodded and said, “Let’s talk.”
The three of them sat in the den around the coffee table while Fred described what happened. Sam listened intently and, when Fred finished, cursed softly. For a few moments they just sat there saying nothing, thinking their own private thoughts about what was going on.
Then Margie said, “I don’t understand what’s happening. I don’t know whether to be afraid or angry.”
Sam stood and said, “Perhaps wariness is in order.” He yawned and continued. “Although Fred’s episode the other morning was certainly dangerous, I don’t think there’s been an overt threat to anyone.”
He shoved his hands into the pockets of his robe. “I have a strong hunch that you’ve been an innocent bystander to some unknown action. Even tonight’s activity seems not to have been directed at you. It seems merely to have taken place in your house.” He was thoughtful for a moment. “However, since your visitors seemed to be looking for something I’ll stick with my recommendation of wariness.
“Well,” he said as he turned to go, “I’m beat.” Then he stopped and turned back. “By the way, have you examined the room?” He raised his eyebrows. “You said that one of the visitors bent over the coffee table as if to pick up something. Is anything missing? Is there anything here that is out of place?”
Fred looked around. There was nothing unfamiliar in the room. The coffee table was just as he and Sam had left it. Or was it? The envelope was still lying on the table.
“We left the photos inside the envelope and now they’re lying on the table,” he said. “Those two were trying to steal the pictures.”
Sam pursed his lips. “No, I don’t think so,” he said slowly. “They could have taken them; they had time.” He stepped closer to the coffee table. “They were looking for something else.”
“But what,” said Margie, “could they have wanted here?” She looked around the room. “Nothing seems to be missing.”
“Well,” said Sam, “I don’t know. I’ll bet that the one you saw doing this” — he bent over the table and touched the photos lightly — “was just taking one last look.” He straightened up and rubbed his chin with his finger tips. “But since they didn’t take anything, maybe they’ll be back.”
“As ominous as that sounds,” said Fred, “I’ve got to get some sleep. The adrenaline’s worn off and I’m dead tired. And we’ve got to get up and go to work tomorrow... Pardon me, this morning.”
“Right,” Sam replied, “I’ll see you this afternoon. Good night.”
October 14, 9:35 a.m. EDT — NSA Headquarters
“Damn!” Jake said to no one in particular as he stopped the scan on the screening processor. Garrison isn’t set up yet, and there’s been another transmission, he thought.
Jake stood and bumped his chair away with the backs of his knees. He dialed the extension of the Communications Monitoring Group supervisor.
“Burns here,” said a woman’s familiar voice.
“Marian, this is Jake at SIGINT...”
“Hi, Jake,” she said cheerfully, “what can we do for you?”
“Marian, I need to circumvent the normal process and get some raw data over to analysis right away.”
“Sure, Jake.” She picked up her pen and made a quick entry in the log. “What do you want?”
“Okay,” he said, “there was a transmission at 0335 this morning, our time. Location was Glendora, California.”
“You want me to download a copy to tape for the analysts?”
“Right. Can you have a courier take it over ASAP?”
“Can do, Jake.”
“Thanks Marian. Make sure the courier gives the tape to the shift supervisor. That’ll be Fran Harrison. I’m going to call over there as soon as we hang up to let her know it’s coming.”
Jake broke the connection and stood for a moment rubbing his chin absently. Then he dialed analysis and waited impatiently while the phone rang several times.
“Carter here,” came the sudden, terse reply.
“Mr. Carter,” said Jake, “I’m Jake Gilbert at SIGINT. Isn’t Fran Harrison on duty today?”
“No, sir, she’s on vacation this week. I’m acting supervisor. Can I help you?”
“Do you have a first name?”
“Yes, sir, it’s Max.”
“Okay, Max. You sure can help me. There’s a courier coming over from the monitor group with a tape recording of a very interesting transmission. I’m going to fax you some additional data in a couple of minutes, and I need you to put it all together and give me the location of the signal source to within fifty feet.”
October 14, 5:00 pm PDT — Glendora, California
Fred’s day at work was a struggle. His mind was fuzzy from lack of sleep and the order desk was besieged with customers. When he got home there was a note on the refrigerator from Margie telling him to fix his own dinner.
Two nights a week she taught English composition at the community college. At first she had decided not to go because of the recent events but, after some discussion, they agreed that they should maintain as much order and regularity as possible. He fixed some soup and toast, took a shower and then collapsed into bed at about six o’clock.
He awoke with a start. It seemed like only a few minutes since he had closed his eyes but the red numbers on the clock radio showed 7:55. He felt vaguely uneasy and thought briefly of the morning’s excitement, but there was no noise and no red glow from downstairs.
Still, he felt compelled to look around. He went down the stairs and when he reached the first floor he turned toward the kitchen. As he passed the door to the den, he felt the hair on the back of his neck rise, remembering the events of the morning. He stopped, forced himself to step into the doorway, flipping the light switch as he passed through. He was just trying to dispel his uneasiness and didn’t really expect to find anything.
Two figures stood before him. They could easily have been the two that had been in the house earlier. Everyone stood stock still as before. The two seemed to be as startled by Fred as he was by them.
He could see that their skin was slightly mottled, light brown, about the color of a brown paper bag. Interestingly, the mottling was symmetrical, at least in their faces. The markings around and under their eyes were clown-like and made them look as though they were weeping. Their eyes were cerulean blue with no whites.
They were dressed in a fashion similar to the earlier visitors and, without everything being bathed in a red glow, he could see that their clothing did indeed resemble sweatsuits both in texture and style. The nearer individual was wearing a multicolored outfit, blues and greens. The outfit of the other one was pale yellow. Both were wearing snug-fitting, featureless boots.
After a few seconds of mutual appraisal, the figure closest to Fred slowly raised its arms to its chest and placed one hand over the other, about where a human’s heart would be. There were three fingers and a thumb on each hand. The figure shifted its weight slightly from side to side several times.
He looks as nervous as I feel, Fred thought. Then to Fred’s complete astonishment the intruder spoke.
“We learn English... to speak with you.”
Fred stood motionless, unable to respond.
“You can understand?” The intruder paused, as if waiting for a response, but Fred was fresh out of words. “We can speak together?”
The syntax was a little odd and the pronunciation was breathy such that the Ss were drawn out and the Rs were softly purred but the words were clear and deliberate.
“Uh, yes,” Fred answered, recovering somewhat. “We can speak together. But... but... where do you come from?” he ventured.
The speaker blinked those intense, dark eyes, “You would say... Mars.”
The answer was like a final, physical blow even considering what had gone before and the revelation of the visitor’s obviously alien physical appearance.
Tongue-tied for a moment, Fred just stood there with his mind racing. He felt elation, rather than fear.
There must be a thousand questions that I should ask, he thought. And, in spite of the craziness of the situation, he smiled as he thought of Sam and his cronies at JPL and how they would give selected parts of their anatomies to be in on this conversation.
Suddenly the second visitor started jabbering, all the while looking fixedly at Fred. The first turned slightly and spoke a few words. The other one stopped jabbering but didn’t stop looking at Fred. The flurry of conversation brought Fred back to attention and, as his smile faded, the worried one seemed to relax a little.
“Please to forgive the... agitation... of my... companion.” The speaker turned slightly toward the nervous one. “Your expression was not... expected and was interpreted as... displeasure. However, I believe... otherwise.” The speaker paused, and shifted back and forth again. “Is true?”
“Uh, yes,” Fred stammered. “In fact, I’m quite pleased.” He smiled again for emphasis. “I was smiling because I was thinking about a friend who would enjoy this conversation a great deal.”
“Your... friend,” the words purred, “is... trustworthy?”
“Well, yes,” he said. “He’s an old and trusted friend.”
“Good, you may need... someone to trust. We have come to seek your... assistance.”
Fred opened his mouth to ask a question, but the visitor continued before Fred could say anything. “What is your name?”
“Uh, my name is Fred Hart.”
“Frredarrt... is name of family?”
“No.” He smiled at the visitor’s mistake. “Hart is the name of my family.”
“Then,” the visitor said slowly, “Frred... is name for... familiar calling.”
Fred nodded as the stranger continued. “Our names of family are... difficult in English.” The visitor paused as if formulating the words and then continued. “My name for familiar calling is Ris.”
Then Ris turned toward the other and said, “This is my companion who is called Panat.” Panat briefly raised arms to chest, in the same gesture done by Ris earlier, and looked at Fred.
“I’m pleased to meet you both,” Fred managed. “Let’s sit down,” he suggested. Immediately, he wondered if their anatomy would allow it, but they didn’t seem to have a problem and sat, rather primly he thought, on the small couch on the other side of the coffee table.
At that moment the phone rang and all three of them jumped. Fred grabbed it quickly, thinking it might be Margie.
It was a man’s voice that didn’t immediately register. “Never entertain Martians at night in a well lighted room without drawing the shades, and never do it without inviting your best friend.”
“Sam.” Fred exhaled, realizing that he had been holding his breath. “You had me going for a moment. Hold on.”
He put down the phone and closed the shutters. Returning to the two visitors, he explained who was on the phone and suggested that Sam could be an asset. Ris and Panat conferred briefly and then consented.
Fred snatched up the phone. “Sam,” he said, “get yourself over here.”
Thirty seconds later he let Sam in the back door.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2011 by Richard Merlin Smith