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Authors: Kenneth Johnson

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BOOK: V - The Original Miniseries
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Donovan could hear the murmur of relief and welcome rising audibly from the assembled journalists and dignitaries. He continued shooting, zooming in for a closeup as the man took a few strides toward him before resuming: "Our names would sound peculiar to you, so we-my fellow Visitors and I-have chosen simple names from Earth. My name is John."

The Visitor smiled again. "The secretary general referred to me as a 'Supreme Commander.' Actually, I'm just sort of an admiral. I'm responsible for this small fleet around your planet ..." Small fleet? Donovan tightened his fingers on the camera, suddenly conscious that his hands were sweating.

"We've sent other unmanned craft before us, some of which have monitored the Earth for quite a while, so we could learn your languages-but some of us are not as skilled as others, so we hope you will be patient with us. We have come here on behalf of our Great Leader ... who governs our united planet with benevolence and wisdom ... We have come because we need your help."

Benevolence and wisdom, thought Donovan cynically. Sounds like a real party hack. They ought to do just fine down here. John may end up our next president ...

"Our planet is in serious environmental difficulty. Far, far worse than yours. It's reached a stage where we will be unable to survive without immediate assistance. There are certain chemicals and compounds which we need to manufacture which alone can save our struggling civilization. You can help us manufacture these. And in return, we'll gladly share with you the fruits of all our knowledge." The fruits of all our knowledge ... Who the hell have they got for a speechwriter?

"Now that contact is established, we would like to meet with individual governments so that we may present requests for certain operating plants around the world to be retooled for manufacture of the compound we need ..."

Donovan thought fleetingly of his stepfather's plant, could visualize his mother, Eleanor, goading that poor SOB Arthur to try and land a Visitor contract. Wonder what kind of compound they're talking about?

"And we'll reward your generosity, as I have said, by educating your industrial and scientific complex to the limits of our knowledge-helping solve your environmental, agricultural, and health dilemmas-then we'll leave you, as we came, in peace."

Talk about offering us heaven on a silver platter-what would they do if we told them to stick it in their non-pointed ears?

"I know that if circumstances were reversed, and you had come to visit us, I'd feel a burning curiosity to see the inside of your spacecraft right away. With that in mind, we'd like to have the secretary general and five of your journalists accompany us back aboard our Mother Ship, for what will be the first of many opportunities to get to know us better."

Donovan felt a tap on his shoulder, and looked up from his camera's viewfinder to see one of the secretary general's aides at his side. "Your card came up, Mr. Donovan," the man said in accented English.

"Hot damn!" Hastily Donovan checked his equipment, then ducked under the rope at the man's signal. As he began walking toward the ship, Kristine and Tony fell in beside him.

 

"What'd he mean, my card came up?" Donovan asked them in a low voice as they crossed the rooftop.

"They chose the journalists by lot," Kristine explained. "Sam Egan and Jeri Taylor got it too." "We really got the luck!"

"Yeah," Tony agreed dryly. Donovan turned to ask him what he meant, but Leonetti was already mounting the ramp. Donovan hastened after him.

The Visitor leader, "John," was waiting for them at the top of the ramp. Donovan was the last to climb it as he hung back to get a good shot of the other journalists meeting and shaking hands with the alien. Then he sprinted up the ramp for his own turn, hastily resting his camera on his left shoulder so he could free his right hand. God, he thought, impressed in spite of himself, I'm getting to shake the hand of someone born under a different sun ... even though he looks human, he's not...

John's hand was markedly cool, the skin firm and smooth. He nodded pleasantly. "Mr. Donovan. I saw your films of the underside of our Mother Ship. Most impressive ... and quite daring." Donovan felt like a kid receiving a chuckle and a pat on the shoulder from an adult. "That's right, you said you monitored our television. How long have you been doing that?"

Behind the Visitor's dark glasses Donovan could see the man's blue eyes appraise him coolly. John smiled. "For several of your solar years, now. I promise you we'll satisfy your curiosity, Mike. We'll have lots of time to communicate during our visit here."

"I'm glad to hear it." Donovan moved along. He stepped into the shuttle, grabbing a closeup of John's face as the man smiled graciously at Kristine, before sitting down beside the newswoman. The guy wears authority like a shroud, Donovan thought, wrenching his eyes away from the leader with an almost physical effort.

The interior of the craft was disappointing. It looked like a cross between the Learjet and one of those shuttle vehicles that transport passengers to planes. Seats lined the walls, cushioned seats covered in what appeared to be (and probably was) very ordinary dark brown fabric-A good color choice, Donovan thought, remembering his own carpet shopping when he'd set up his apartment last year after the divorce. Doesn't show dirt.

Thinking of his divorce made Donovan recall-with a guilty start-that he hadn't called Sean in almost three days. Since before this thing started. The event of the century, and you haven't phoned to see how your only child is reacting. He made a swift mental promise to call first thing tomorrow morning, and to visit over the weekend. He wondered if Sean had seen him walk up those stairs and enter the alien shuttle-then smiled. He knew he had. Sean was his Dad's biggest cheering section. Even Marjorie's bitterness can't change that.

Kristine Walsh was sitting across the cabin from him, still deep in conversation with John. Donovan wondered what they were talking about-she was smiling that wide, candid grin that Mike knew she reserved for people she really liked. He felt an irrational stab of jealousy. Cut it out, idiot. You're here for a story, not a romantic interlude.

Quickly he panned the camera around the inside, wishing he had more light. The Visitors evidently kept their illumination levels at what most humans would think of as "late-night television" dimness. Donovan could see clearly enough, but reading would have been uncomfortable after more than a few minutes.

But I thought Sirius was a really bright star ... Have to check it out with the observatory when / get back ... I suppose their planet could have a heavy cloud cover or something ...

Two other Visitors, young men about Donovan's age, stuck their heads into the main cabin, and John nodded. Moments later, Donovan felt a slight movement as the craft evidently took off. He wished the windows weren't darkened-what a shot it would make to catch the UN Building rooftop receding, and that giant saucer drawing closer!

The alien craft was silent and seemed nearly motionless. Donovan wondered how the Visitors powered their ships. Jargon from Cosmos episodes and science fiction stories zipped through his mindmatter/antimatter, ion drives, tesseracts, space warps

Tony turned to him. "Scared, Mike?" "Are you?" "Yeah, a little maybe. This is a big day for the whole planet."

"It's funny how you start thinking of this place as a planet-only one of God knows how many-since they came along."

"I've noticed that. What you'd call a cosmic consciousnessraiser, I guess." "Yeah. But to answer your question-yeah, I'm a little scared too."

There was an almost imperceptible bump, then the craft stopped. Donovan gathered up his camera, setting it to compensate as much as possible for the anticipated lack of lighting. "Here we go."

They stepped out into a large, open area. Rows of shuttles like the one they'd arrived in were lined up on either side. The large docking bay looked very similar to those Donovan had seen aboard the biggest of the Navy's aircraft carriers. The white craft gleamed faintly, reflecting a dim blue from the overall lighting and the painted floor. John explained that each docking bay held about three dozen shuttles, and that there were two hundred or more of them scattered through the great Mother Ships that made up the fleet. Donovan heard Kristine relaying this information in her voice-over recording as he wheeled slowly, panning his camera.

The Visitor leader touched Kristine's arm. "This way. I'll take you to see the Main Control Room." Donovan trailed behind them so he could shoot the overhead catwalk with the journalists climbing up to it. Then he hurried to catch up.

As they moved above the docking bay, a dark-haired, extremely attractive woman entered from a side door and stood waiting for them. Donovan zoomed in on her. Even with the low lighting level it was impossible to mistake the authority in her dark eyes, an authority which seemed as much a part of her as her sculpted cheekbones and generous mouth. Kristine's voice reached Donovan as they walked toward the Visitor woman.

"You have both males and females in your crew?" John sounded faintly surprised. "Well, yes, of course. This is Diana ... she is second in command."

The brunette nodded pleasantly at them. Donovan gave her another closeup. She turned to accompany them on the tour.

The control room looked faintly like the conning tower of a nuclear submarine, but larger, with perhaps a dozen men and women busily working at large multilighted consoles before viewscreens. A few showed glimpses of Manhattan below, but most were filled with instrument graphs and readouts. All the crewmembers were dressed in the reddish coveralls, with slight variations in the breast designs that apparently designated rank and station. Mike panned the camera quickly, for the. admiral did not pause, but kept moving.

"Next we'll see what you'd call our engine room." "Does that screen over there keep you in touch with the other ships in your `small fleet'?" John turned to see which readout Kristine was pointing to.

 

"Yes, Kristine." Diana's voice, barring the alien reverberation, was a husky contralto. "Most of the others monitor and activate the functions of the ship. It's quite routine and unspectacular, really." Sure, thought Donovan, zooming in for a shot of the two women. If you happen to be from another star ...

They moved along the catwalk until it led into a tunnel. The dark walkway extended for nearly forty paces-Donovan counted them. He realized, with a prickle touching the short hairs at the nape of his neck, that he was behaving as if he were scouting enemy territory. Don't be paranoid, Mike. They've come in peace, remember?

The only features worth noting in the tunnel were several doors painted a brilliant, chromatic yellow. Donovan examined them through the viewfinder, but saw nothing beyond their color to indicate that they were special.

"And those doors we just passed?" Kristine was asking Diana. "Restricted areas-a lot of radioactivity. Our gravity drive, as you've seen, is quite effective, but it takes up nearly half the ship."

 

"How fast can this baby go?" Donovan asked. It was the first time he'd spoken, and Diana looked over at him.

 

"We can travel at speeds close to that of light itself." Donovan thought of asking if they'd proved or disproved Einstein's theory, but stopped when he realized they might well not know who Einstein was.

They emerged onto a catwalk high above a considerable number of gleaming, golden-hued cylinders. The place looked vaguely like a refinery, with tracings of pipework running everywhere. A few technicians moved among the giant cylinders, examining and recording information from readouts and dials.

Diana was continuing, "The other half of the ship contains the living quarters for the crew, as well as storage areas to hold the chemicals we'll be manufacturing here on Earth. They'll be contained within enormous cryogenic tanks to keep them-"

"Cryogenic?" Kristine paused in her voice-over. "Super-cooled. For maximum efficiency in storage."

John chuckled. "You'll have to forgive Diana, Kristine. Like all scientists, she tends to forget at times that not all of us are as well-versed in technical language as she is."

 

"Now, you also mentioned living quarters for the crew," Kristine continued her voice-over. "How many of your people are on this ship?"

 

Diana hesitated for barely a second, but Donovan didn't miss her quick, sideways glance at her commander. "It ... varies ... Several thousand."

 

On this ship alone? How many does that make on all fifty or so ships? Donovan bit his lip, glancing over at Kristine, but she was intent on her next question.

"Can we talk to some of them?" John smiled. "You can. You'll have a lot of opportunity for that."

The tour ended a few minutes later back in the docking bay. Diana, not John, accompanied the journalists and the secretary general back down to the UN Building.

 

Sitting aboard the Visitor shuttle (as far as Donovan could tell, it was the same one they'd come up in-but it was impossible to be sure), Donovan stretched, rubbing the muscles at the back of his neck.

"What time is it?" he asked Tony, seeing his friend check his watch. The soundman grinned. "About nine thirty. The night is still embryonic, Mike old buddy."

Donovan fought back a yawn. "'Zat all? Christ, why am I so tired? I feel like I've been awake for days."

"You have been. Unless you sacked out on the plane back from El Salvador." "Nope. I was too busy playing nursemaid to you."

"Bull. I saw those closeups of the Mother Ship. You were playing daredevil pilot and hotshot cameraman again."

 

"That's me." Donovan acknowledged the ribbing with a grin. He patted the camera. "I can hardly wait to get this on the air."

 

"What do you think it'll be worth?" Tony, the practical one in the partnership, wanted to know. "Just about anything we want to ask for it, old friend. I'll leave the extent of our greed up to you, as the business manager."

 

Tony nodded thoughtfully, then, taking out a pocket calculator, busied himself with the pleasant task of figuring out the profit margin this venture would net them.

The five journalists and the secretary general were relatively sheltered from the press until they'd turned their tapes and films over to the networks. Donovan, Tony, and Kristine watched their story air in a "Special Bulletin" broadcast by satellite.

BOOK: V - The Original Miniseries
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