Read V - The Original Miniseries Online
Authors: Kenneth Johnson
Tags: #Science Fiction
Maxwell frowned through the binoculars as the shuttlecraft door opened and the Visitor technicians began filing through and assembling in ranks. Each carried a large, cumbersome-looking container of some kind. His mind distracted by his at tempts to study their features under the caps and dark glasses, he almost forgot the man's question until Kathleen nudged him. "Worry? About what? They've shown their peaceful intentions."
The black man rubbed thoughtfully at his salt-and-pepper moustache. "I dunno. What have they really shown us? Where's all this scientific jazz they're supposed to be showing us? They've been here three weeks now, and we barely know any more about them than the first day they talked to us."
Maxwell squinted, recognizing Diana in the crowd. The Visitor technicians continued to file from the craft. Now a second shuttlecraft settled down and began disgorging red-garbed Visitors. Polly nudged him. "Hey, Dad, I just heard a joke."
"Ummmm?" Maxwell tried to focus the binoculars on the troops of Visitors. How many were out there now? The band continued to labor through the Star Wars theme-Maxwell winced as he heard a flutist hit a sour note and hoped fervently it wasn't Robin.
"How many Visitors does it take to change a lightbulb?" Maxwell craned his neck. "I don't know. How many?" Polly laughed with all of a twelve-year-old's enthusiasm. "None! They like the dark!"
"How many of them are there, Robert?" Kathleen asked. The black man turned to her. "I been wonderin' that myself. How many you counted?" Maxwell stared at the growing sea of red coveralls, frowning. "I don't know. A lot." "Yeah," said the black man. "A helluva lot."
ROBIN MAXWELL WAS DOING HER BEST TO KEEP PLAYING IN TIME with the band while her head turned to watch the Visitors file past her. She wasn't going to miss the chance to see them this close! She hit a sour note and winced-hoping the rest of the band had covered up her mistake. Still, she couldn't look away from the Visitor technicians walking past her.
There were a lot of them-Robin wondered what the various black stripes and insignia on their uniforms meant. What had Daniel Bernstein said? Something about the markings denoting rank and type of work.
She wrinkled her attractive nose, thinking of Daniel. He'd been acting so dumb since the Visitors had come. They were all he could talk about. Used to be that all he'd wanted to talk about was whether or not she'd go out with him ... not that Robin had any intention of that. Daniel was a nice kid, goodlooking too, but that's all he was-a kid. True, he was almost nineteen, nearly eighteen months older than Robin herself, but he acted like a kid.
In the six months since Daddy had allowed her to go out on real car dates with boys, she'd already decided she wasn't going to waste her time going out with kids. Why, the last time she'd driven over to the University library with Daddy, two really cute freshmen had tried to pick her up as she walked across the quadrangle.
Robin smiled around the mouthpiece of her flute, remembering. Star Wars continued around her. Mr. Elderbaum, the bandleader, didn't look particularly pleased by the performance. But heck, they'd had less than a week to rehearse!
For sure, there were a lot of Visitors going by her, Robin thought. She wondered vaguely how many, then she hit a flat note without even noticing, and a second later she lowered the flute and simply stood there, staring.
He was the most gorgeous boy she'd ever seen-hair the color of bronze, and eyes-it was hard to make out behind the dark glasses, but Robin squinted until she was sure. Blue. A beautiful sky blue. He was standing beside the shuttlecraft hatch, evidently directing some of the Visitor technicians as they formed their ranks.
For long moments Robin stared, unaware that she was smiling. Just before he turned to move on, the Visitor's eyes met hers for a second. Robin felt the quick flush in her cheeks as his gaze touched hers.
Then he was gone, and she was alone once more with the band, and the seemingly never-ending Star Wars. Robin put the flute back to her lips, picking up her place, but her playing was completely automatic.
"What's the matter?" Caleb Taylor pointed indignantly. "Look at them, man! There's so many of those suckers they can hardly fit onto the parking lot! First we got to fight you honkies for jobs, then the Mexicans-and now these creeps have come to work with us, and they ain't even from this planet!"
After a second Taylor chuckled wryly. "If you'd had to worry 'bout layoffs as many times as I have, Bill, you'd be paranoid too. You know black people are most often the first to go, don't try and tell me any different. In the days when I had a wife and two kids to feed, I used to sweat every time things got a little slow here at Richland."
"I don't know 'bout that," Caleb said thoughtfully. "I've never lived off another person, and I'm not about to start. Even if Ben is a doctor. Shit, he could get married and move to Boston or something, and what would Elias and I do then?"
Caleb Taylor turned back to stare morosely down at the Visitor ranks. "Hell, Bill, I don't know. He barely even sleeps at home anymore. He ain't worked in months, yet the other day I asked him if he could pay the paperboy, and he whipped a roll out of his pants you could choke an alligator with!"
"I'm sorry, Caleb. Funny about those two boys-Ben's such a success, and Elias-" "Yeah. Don't I know it."
They watched the presentation ceremony for several minutes in silence. Graham changed the subject. "Did you hear that about half of the plants they've arranged for will be used to desalinate the seawater, not to produce the chemical?"
"Yeah? Which will they be doin' here at Richland?" "Both." "How many plants they going to be using?"
JULIET PARRISH LOOKED OVER DENNIS LOWELL'S TANNED, MUSCUlar shoulder at the television screen, which showed one of the Visitor leaders, "Steven," talking to the well-known television reporter Kristine Walsh. He was explaining that most of the Visitor plants chosen would be located on the Earth's coastlines.
As Juliet watched, her fingers continued their rhythmic knead and pull at Lowell's back. "Look at that mob, Denny. I'm glad we decided to stay here and watch this on the set. We wouldn't be able to see a thing if we'd driven over there."
Denny, absorbed in the Wall Street journal, merely grunted assent. Juliet smiled down at his dark head, continuing her massage. Her fingers moved downward and together, rubbing in short, circular motions over the vertebrae lumbaris area. She had a sudden, insistent urge to kiss the back of his neck, but resisted. Denny didn't like being interrupted while he was studying the market-and although stocks and bonds frankly bored Parrish, she went out of her way not to let him know it.
"Mmmmm-that's good," mumbled Denny. Juliet smiled again. "Well, after five years of anatomy, it should be."
Juliet sighed, smiling ruefully. Denny loved his work as a stockbroker as much as she loved medicine. Someday, no doubt, he'd be very, very rich, he was so good at what he did. If they married-if-she'd share that with him. Though she'd never given a damn about money. If it hadn't been for that scholarship she'd gotten, she'd be in debt far worse than she was...
If she had her choice she'd join Vista or the Peace Corpsor maybe WHO-after her internship was complete. Or go back to China, where she'd studied on an exchange program for six months. But if she did, she'd lose Denny. She knew it, even though she'd never brought up the subject. Denny wasn't the kind to wait two or three years. She grimaced. Few men were, these days. Most guys she'd ever been attracted to had faded into the woodwork after learning she was a med student, at the top of her class. Her biochemistry research with Doctor Metz had only worsened matters. Then she'd met Denny ...
He was one of the few men she'd met who enjoyed being with a woman who he acknowledged was probably smarter than he was. And Juliet, after the months and years of dedicated study, had found herself liking the changes he introduced in her life. Quiet homemade meals and intimate restaurants, instead of TV dinners and textbooks. Parties with a few congenial friends. Backpacking and camping when she had a free weekend. Old Bogart and Gable movies on his VCR.
She studied the face of the Visitor on the television screen through slightly narrowed eyes, wishing she could meet one of them, talk him or her into donating some blood samples. What did their DNA look like? Assuming they had DNA ...
In a way, Juliet Parrish thought, I'd have liked it better if they had purple tentacles or something. She noticed a black face among the hordes of Visitors ranked beside the shuttle, and frowned. Weird. They even have the same racial differences. Wonder if Ben Taylor's watching?
Her eyes roamed the rows and rows of red coveralls, searching for any anomalies, noting the lack of visible facial scars or blemishes. There are so many of them, and each one is perfect. She didn't realize that her fingers had tightened on Dennis Lowell's back until he gasped and jumped. "Hey, watch it, honey! That's too hard!"
THE NIGHT AIR WAS BRISK AND DELICIOUS, JUST COOL ENOUGH TO make Robert Maxwell forget his usual distaste for a coat and tie. He held Kathleen's arm as the two of them walked up the street and through the gate to the Dupres house. The house itself was mostly dark; laughter and conversation were emanating from the garden out back. They took the flagstoned path around the side of the house.
He scooped a couple of glasses of wine off a tray as the waiter passed him, handing one to Kathleen. "Thanks," she whispered, her green eyes traveling around the guests, evaluating the women's clothes. "Do I look all right?"
A chiffon wave of blue that turned out to be Eleanor with both arms spread wide engulfed them, seemingly from out of nowhere. "Robert, Kathleen! So glad you could make it! Do come meet our guests of honor!"
"Nice party, Eleanor," Maxwell said, brushing unobtrusively at a mosquito. "Delightful," murmured Kathleen.
"Didn't the ceremonies go off splendidly? Steven was saying to me a few minutes ago that the ceremonies and the party have been among the nicest they've encountered. I told Arthur we must do this again."
He turned, as did Eleanor and Kathleen, to find himself facing the journalists he'd seen that afternoon-Mike Donovan, Kristine Walsh, and an Asian man. At the latter's side stood a slender, brownhaired woman.
"I beg your pardon?" began Maxwell, but Eleanor, with a moue of annoyance, cut him off. "What is it, Michael?" "Kris and Tony and I have a special interview with Diana to tape, so we'll have to be going."