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Authors: Kenneth Johnson

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V - The Original Miniseries (7 page)

BOOK: V - The Original Miniseries
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"Sorry. The shuttle is supposed to pick us up at nine, over at the plant parking lot." For the first time the newsman seemed to notice the Maxwells standing awkwardly before him, and extended his hand. "My name's Mike Donovan. Kristine Walsh, Tony and Fran Leonetti. Nice to meet you."

Maxwell shook hands, nodding. "Robert Maxwell. My wife, Kathleen. Our pleasure."

Murmured greetings filled the air, until they were replaced almost without pause by murmured farewells. Maxwell watched as the three journalists left the party, stopping briefly to speak with Arthur Dupres. Robert turned back to his hostess.

"Eleanor, I had no idea that Michael Donovan the newsman is your son. Why, he's one of the most well-known cameramen in the country!"

Eleanor sniffed. "You'd think he could have stayed long enough to meet the rest of my guests." "Uh, yeah." Maxwell, discomfited, looked sidelong at Kathleen, who gallantly rose to the occasion.

"Speaking of guests, Eleanor, isn't that one of your guests of honor over there? Robert and I would love to meet him!"

 

Eleanor brightened. "Yes, that's Steven. He brought a young woman with him-quite an attractive girl. I'll introduce you."

They threaded through the crowd in their hostess's blue wake until they reached the dark-haired, slenderly built man in the red coveralls. In the gentle illumination of the patio torches, he'd removed his dark glasses. He was nodding and smiling as Arthur introduced him to guests.

Eleanor took the Visitor's arm. "Steven dear, here are two people you simply must meet. Robert Maxwell and his wife, Kathleen Maxwell. Robert is quite a prominent anthropologist." Maxwell extended his hand, felt his fingers gripped firmly by cool, resilient flesh. Markedly cool, Maxwell thought, shaking hands. Body temperature about 85° or so.

Kathleen, smiling warmly, also shook hands. Steven smiled, then spoke in that resonating near-echo voice that sounded so strange coming from such human lips. "An-thro-polo-gist? What kind of work do you do, Mr. Maxwell?"

"Robert," Maxwell said. "Please call me Robert, Steven. An anthropologist is a scientist who studies the development of man from his earliest hominid ancestors to our current version of Homo sapiens."

As Maxwell spoke, Steven stiffened perceptibly, his smile fading. Now what the hell did I say wrong? Robert wondered. He cast a sidelong look at Kathleen, only to realize from her anxious expression that she, too, had noticed the Visitor's reaction.

A moment only, then the alien was smiling graciously again. "You must forgive us-we have studied your language very closely, but inevitably there are words we do not know."

 

"No problem," Maxwell said, brushing at a ubiquitous buzzing near his ear. "Damn mosquitoes ..."

Eleanor, who had vanished a few seconds earlier, suddenly reappeared, brandishing a tray of hors d'oeuvres. Maxwell thanked her, trying not to seem too greedy as he helped himself to several. As he chewed on a water chestnut, bacon, and chicken liver concoction, Steven, with a polite smile, carefully selected a carrot stick and munched cautiously on it. He shook his head graciously as Eleanor proffered meatballs, chicken wings teriyaki, and sausage-each time her offers were met by Steven's headshake and polite smile.

Totally avoids cooked foods and meats, thought Maxwell, slapping unobtrusively at another buzz. And we're being eaten by mosquitoes-but he's not ...

 

Edging back through the crowd until he was again beside the Visitor, Maxwell cleared his throat. "Are there many scientists aboard your ships?"

 

Steven nodded. "Yes. What you would call engineers of all sorts-chemical, cryogenic, structural-plus many other specialties."

"Do you have any scientists that would be the equivalent of anthropologists?" "Yes, of course. But they were not needed for this mission, which required technical skills." "Well, do you mind if I ask you a few questions about your culture?" Steven smiled. "Not at all." "What is your planet like?"

"Much like yours. It is somewhat larger, as our star is larger. It is made up of many of the same kinds of minerals."

 

"And your evolution? Did your people evolve from a common ancestor with other anthropoids? You know-manlike apes and monkeys?"

 

"Oh, I see. Well, I am no anthropologist, you understand, but I think our anthropologists have concluded that our evolution was quite similar to yours."

 

"Great!" Maxwell nodded eagerly. "What kind of government do you have?" "We have no nations, as you have. Just all the peoples of our world, united under the leadership of our Great Leader."

"How does he govern?" "By divining the will of the people, and using it to lead us effectively." "I see. What kind of social unit, then?" "Social unit?" Steven cocked his head questioningly.

"Well, our basic social unit is the family. A male and female, pledged to live and work together for their mutual benefit, plus any resulting offspring."

"Matings with outsiders are considered undesirable?" "That's right. Monogamy." The Visitor nodded. "Monogamy is also our way. One male, one female, children, living together." "I really appreciate getting a chance to talk to you, Steven."

The Visitor's eyes moved past Maxwell to fix on a table in the middle of the patio near the pool. Kathleen sat at the table, smiling at a young woman with long, fair hair in a red coverall. "Your wife?" asked Robert, thinking how attractive the Visitor woman was. "No." Steven smiled. "Barbara is a subleader in the unit I command. She was assigned to assist me. We work together."

 

"I see," said Maxwell. He was trying to sort through the questions jumbling through his mind. "What sort of-"

"Hello, Robert!" Arthur Dupres boomed, shaking hands fervently. "I see you've met Steven. Do you mind if I steal him from you?" He winked broadly at the Visitor. "Got some folks from Richland who just arrived, and they're dying to meet you. And if I know old Bob here, he was plying you with questions on your social structure and habits, eh?"

Maxwell forced a grin. "Can't blame me for being curious, Arthur. First time I ever met a gentleman who also happened to be an extraterrestrial!"

Taking Steven's arm, Arthur led him over to a group of men and women standing near the entrance to the garden. As they walked by the cage containing Eleanor's prize lovebirds, the creatures fluttered desperately, dashing themselves against the wire bars.

Now that's weird, the anthropologist thought, watching the birds' agitation subside. What caused that? Frowning, he walked over to study the birds, wondering if there were a cat skulking in the bushes. But the bushes at the corner of the garden were empty of anything except fallen blossoms and cigarette butts.

Arthur was coming back his way, and Maxwell quickly stepped aside as his host, Steven firmly ensconced at his side, passed him.

 

This time Robert Maxwell kept his eyes on the lovebirds the entire time, and there was no doubt what was causing their panic. No doubt at all.

 

It was Steven, the Visitor.
4

ARCH QUINTON FROWNED DOWN AT THE FOLDER ON HIS BATTERED old desk in the university anthropology department, then picked up the phone. Punching buttons with quick, nervous fingers, he waited impatiently as the connection was made. A ring! He gave a quick grimace of relief-the line had been busy for nearly an hour. Probably Robin. Teenagers, thought Quinton sourly.

After four rings, he heard a surprised voice. "Hello?"
"Robin, this is Doctor Quinton. I apologize for calling so late. Is Robert in bed?"

"No, I'm sorry, Doctor Quinton, he and my mom are out for the evening. They went to a party over at the Dupreses'. You want him to call you when he gets home?"

 

"No, that's all right, lass. I'll be headin' out now, since it's-" He checked his watch. Good Lord, it was after midnight! "It's late," he said. "I'll call him tomorrow, if he's not reached me first." "Yes, sir," said Robin. "I'm leaving a note you called. Is it important?"

 

"Sort of," said Quinton, not wishing to alarm her, "but nothing that can't wait for tomorrow. I've something in my current files he'll find interesting. Good night, lass."

"'Night, Dr. Quinton."
With a sigh Quinton cradled the instrument, then turned back to the folder labeled, simply, "John."

He turned over the large, blown-up glossies of the Visitor leader, some of them marked with a numbered grid, to the infrared shots at the back of the folder. These were his prizes. A photography major on the university paper had taken and developed them using special equipment and a telephoto lens during one of the Visitor leader's many press conferences.

Quinton shook his head slowly,. thoughtfully, as he studied the heat patterns the infrared photos revealed. They're not right, he thought. Something about the skull ... misshapen ... bone too thick ... especially at the top of the head ... Wish they were clearer, then I'd really have something ... Maxwell may say I'm crazy. He frowned, taking out a magnifying glass and examining the grid-patterned shot with painstaking attention.

Even in this shot, the shadows indicate anomalies in the bone ... I've got t' have an X-ray. Then there'd be no doubt ...

Picking up his ancient pipe, he tamped and lit it, staring thoughtfully at the folder. Then he pushed the photos back into it and shut it, dropping it into his "current" box with the happy face and the slogan his godchild, Polly, had presented him with: "Archeology: can you dig it?"

As he sat there, he felt weariness settle over him like a muffling blanket. Best to go home, get a good night's rest, think about it tomorrow, he decided. Knocking his pipe out in the ashtray, he stood up, feeling the hours of intensive study in the cramped muscles of his neck and back. His stomach rumbled, reminding him that the cheeseburger his grad assistant had brought him for lunch was now almost twelve hours in the past.

Wondering if he was too tired to stop for something to eat, he slung his coat across his shoulders and left, carefully locking the office door, then the back gate. The parking lot was silent and deserted. Quinton stopped for a moment by the back gate, looking up at the stars. It was a clear night for Los Angeles-they were very distinct. He could even make out the densest part of the Milky Way stretching overhead. His eyes shifted to the eastern part of the sky, but Canis Major wouldn't be visible for a month yet, at least. The Great Dog, containing the brightest star in the heavens, Sirius, with a magnitude of -1.58. A white scorching star, some 8.7 lightyears away, a back-fence neighbor, as galactic distances go.

Arch Quinton's eyes began to blur, and he rubbed them wearily. Sirius. Just a local star a month ago. Now ... what?

 

His hands were cold in the night wind as he fumbled with the keys to his Granada. Opening the door, he swung in, started the engine, then turned to back the car out of its space.

 

Sitting in the backseat was a man wearing a red coverall. The dash lights reflected an eerie green from his dark glasses. Quinton opened his mouth to scream ...
5

THE VISITOR WAS NOT HAVING A GOOD DAY. THIS MORNING HE'D awakened to find that his original assignment of a chemical plant near Saudi Arabia had been changed: he was now assigned to the Richland plant in a place called Los Angeles. Even his name, Ahmed, had been changed-he was now William.

Now, the bulky cryo storage unit held before him like a heavy shield, he clutched his orders in his fingertips and staggered, blinking, from the shuttle.

The lights were so bright! He'd been warned, but with everything else that had happened, he'd forgotten. This was his first time down on the surface of this new world. Blinking, he stumbled forward until he could set the gray unit on the pavement and find his dark glasses.

Thanks be to the Leader, he had them. Blinking, William slipped them on. The glare became manageable. His back muscles complaining, William picked up the c-unit again, starting off in search of his assigned area, mentally struggling to remember the snippets of English he'd picked up from hearing the officers talk among themselves. John had given the order that crewmembers must practice their assigned Earth languages at all times in order to gain proficiency as quickly as possible. Ahmed-no, William, he must remember William-had learned to think in Arabic.

And now this! William found a flight of metal stairs in front of him and began cautiously to climb them. The gravity of Earth was slightly lower than that of his native planet-one hardly felt it on a straightaway, but the difference could cause stumbles on an incline.

He peered again at the assigned station on the card inscribed with his technician's data and personal background. The plant seemed a warren of steel-gray and orange piping and hurrying people. He realized he'd have to ask directions

An impact jarred him backward. "Hey! Watch out where the hell you're going!"

William almost slipped on the foot-polished treads of the stair, but managed to keep his balance. Looking up, he saw a dark-skinned man (the humans called that shade of skin "black," though to William it looked like a warm brown) wearing a yellow hardhat with "Taylor" stenciled across it. The Visitor struggled for words. "Uh ... Oh, excuse, please. Uh ... help, please."

William wasn't very familiar with human expressions, but he thought he remembered this one. It was termed a "frown," and if the Visitor wasn't mistaken, it was a way of displaying displeasure. "Help what? " the human growled.

"Please," said William, thinking furiously and finally hitting on the right word-he hoped. "I am just." "Just what?" asked the man, still frowning. "Yes." William nodded emphatically. "Just."

The man growled again. "Aw, get out of my way!" He pushed William roughly aside. "Damn stupid alien!"

The Visitor watched him leave, trying to translate the man's words. Directions to the Cryogenics Transfer Unit? Somehow William was pretty sure not. He even suspected that Taylor's words constituted an insult of some kind.

Sighing, William looked around, hoping from this elevation to spot some sign of his destination. Nothing. Another whistle blew from a nearby speaker, making him jump. He "heard" the raucous blast throughout his body, and it "felt" even more unpleasant than it sounded.
BOOK: V - The Original Miniseries
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