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The contents of this story are fictional. Any resemblance of characters to living or lived persons is strictly coincidental. Certain characters engage in sexual acts which may or may not be legal in the state or country in which a reader may reside. Any reader with objections to graphic descriptions of sexual encounters between males who may not have reached the legal age of consent, or whose local, regional, state or national jurisprudence prohibits such descriptions, should not read further.
Chapter XI - Siege
After we ate, we did the dishes, then sat for a bit on the porch, listening to May and enjoying the early evening, before the sun is so low that the rows in the fields start to blend into one another. I spent most of the time looking into his eyes, though, drowning in love.
"We have a few hours before we have to leave," I said somewhere along the line. "Let's go upstairs for a bit."
"I'm horny, too," he said guilelessly. "I want to try something. Stay there for a second."
He got up and got in front of me, then kneeled down and took my face in his hands.
"I love you, Graham. I want to suck you. I want to taste you." He pulled my head forward, gave me a thorough kiss that left no part of my mouth unexplored. Roger, of course, was amused.
"Stand up," he said as he pulled away from me.
"This have something to do with Cary and Rob?" I asked, standing up, my crotch directly in front of his face.
"I've never tasted you proper," Bill said, as he unhitched my buckle. "Don't say another word until I finish."
I nodded, then just put my hands on his head, my little fingers massaging his temples, my thumbs on his forehead, overlapping. He was looking right into my eyes, the blue so dark it was almost purple, the pupils lost in the center, the whites looking like bleached linen.
His fingers found the metal buttons, opened 'em slowly, the heels of his palms pressing into my thighs, kneading, his right palm pushing Roger down. My jeans fell to the bottom of my legs, and I just stood there, watching as his lips kissed the fabric of my boxers, the heat of his breath on the pubic area right above Roger's root.
He pulled the boxers down, from the sides, the elastic gradually moving over my hairs, the root, then more and more of the stem. He kissed my root, flicking with his tongue between pursed lips.
"You smell wonderful," he whispered. He breathed out his nose, and I felt it go around my root, down the stem some. I felt my knees quiver a little. Exciting.
The elastic went over Roger's end, and Bill's lips were there to catch the tip, hold him down a little. I was still staring into his eyes, and watched as if detached as Roger slowly disappeared into my man's mouth, until almost half of him was gone. I felt that warm moistness, that tight ring of his lips around me, pushing the skin back, until it would stretch no more. His tongue lathered the tip, then the head, then the little piece underneath that felt so ticklish.
He didn't try to put me all the way into his throat. I was glad - I didn't think he could. I was wrong, but I didn't learn that until much later. He just held me in his mouth, looking up at me, the love so strong I could almost wrap my hand around it, and then started to move back and forth, slowly, making love to me, making me so tender inside I started to shake.
I felt it boil over in just a few seconds, felt Roger swell up like a hot irrigation hose just before it bursts, saw it pulse, and then just moaned - loud as get-out - as my first convulsion shook me, my seed shot out of me, into his mouth, his eyes still boring into mine, his hands holding my nuts, gently rolling them, his eyes widening only a little as I came again and again and again, my body vibrating like a road grinder. He swallowed me, once, twice, again, and I stopped firing, started shivering as the juices flowed out of me. I heard my moans, but from outside somehow, like they were someone else's.
Roger finally started to soften up a little, but he still didn't let go of my eyes. His tongue tickled me on Roger's head, and it was all I could do to keep from pulling away.
Then he pulled my boxers up, until they were lifting Roger up, and let me out of his mouth, lifting still, until Roger was pointing straight up, trapped by the elastic. His eyes still on mine, he lifted the jeans, pulling back a little as he fastened them with the top button only, then hooked the belt buckle.
I was still shivering a little, keeping my voice off as he asked, in wonder at the erotic feelings going through me. I wanted to crush him to me, run upstairs with him in my arms, take him, fill him.
He stood up, his eyes never leaving mine, his lips open, and we kissed and the magic moment ended, leaving me drained and happy like I am never but with him.
"You enjoyed that," he whispered to me as we walked into the house, up the stairs. "I could see it in your eyes."
"That was love," I said - the first words in more than fifteen minutes. "I always enjoy that."
"I want more," he said,
"Of you. I never did that like that. I could feel you coming . . . the power . . . like never before."
"My turn," I said.
"You don't have to," he murmured as we undressed each other. He had an advantage, had already rehearsed.
"I need you," I said as I got his jeans off. His boots were still on the front porch. So were mine.
"I love you," he said as his briefs fell to the floor, as my lips kissed his cock, opened, and took him inside. It was so soft, but so hard, too, the big horse-head a perfect fit between my lips, wrapped tightly around my new teeth. I pulled back a little, and the crown pulled against my lips from the inside, trapped. I tasted him, with my tongue, just holding him there, exploring, looking at his bare chest, his chin. I took more of him in, and more, until he hit the back of my throat, and I almost gagged. I could only take part of his length. There was more, but I couldn't move it into my throat.
He moved, pulling me up on the bed, swinging around somehow until I felt his mouth on my dick again, hard, excited. I looked at the underside of his dick, the thick tube leading back under his balls, big and slightly hairy. I touched them, tentatively, because I'd never looked at a man's balls before up close, not even my own, and was surprised when they moved around all on their own when I touched them.
I felt him moving back and forth on me, almost urgently, and I moved the same way on him, but more slowly, my head resting on his right leg, under me. I watched as his dick got harder, then felt it expand even more, knew it was going to spew into my mouth, give me his semen, and I waited until I saw his dick shoot for the first time before pulling back, feeling his come spit into my mouth, for only the second time, but this time in the great spouts of the beginning. I sucked and swallowed, sucked and swallowed, the head like a pulsing balloon in there.
I came again. I didn't even know I was going to, but I was coming into his mouth at the same time. No matter - his dick was the most important thing. It kept spouting, then was flowing, just a little, rewarding me with its tiny pearls. I stayed like that until he was almost full soft, but still engorged, bigger by far than when he is completely at rest. I wondered that it was so good, making love to him like that.
He let me out of his mouth and I let his go too, reluctantly, and we moved on the bed until we were on the pillows, kissing everywhere, saying "I love you." all over again, like it was our first time.
"I am afraid your security services may have strong suspicions of the origins of local energy broadcasts. I have taken defensive steps." Groth said, just as I was about to doze. The way he said it made me sit up and take note.
"There is going to be a rather major storm," he continued. "Lightning, thunder, several inches of rain, a number of small tornados, quite tightly defined. It's forming on a line, West of Gove, at this moment. I think you might want . . . I want you to be in the Hangar as it passes. Things have changed."
I groaned, then looked down on him. He is so beautiful a man. I pulled myself to my feet, dragging him up to me. My lips were over his left nipple, and I bent down, just a tad, and kissed it, nibbled on it with my teeth, sucked just a little as it got harder.
"I want you," Bill said. "I want you forever."
"I'll love you longer, I swear," I said, knowing it was true. "I will never stop loving you."
"You must leave. Now," said Groth. Aloud. "The storm is getting larger than foreseen. It will be dangerous to drive in less than three minutes. Take your clothes and dress at the Hangar. Do not waste a minute. I have already asked Robcary to return. They are near. There is genuine danger. You must leave now. There is no time left. You must run."
There was a god-awful bright flash of lightning out the window, then a sharp crack of thunder that made the whole house tremble - along with our bones. Close. No more than a quarter mile. Less - it was almost simultaneous, no more than a second.
We got the idea. I grabbed my jeans and shirt, rolled them up around two T-shirts and two pairs of boxers from the drawer, and ran, right behind Bill. Thunder rolled, and another crack of lightning came from behind the trees, flashing on the window at the end of the hall. Not as close - two seconds, at least.
"Boots! Porch!" I hollered, and Bill handed me off his shirt and jeans, turned right to get the boots. I ran to Jeep, threw our clothes behind my seat, piled onto the seat, pulled the keys from under the mat, looked up at the West as I put the key in the ignition.
The sky was black. Carbon black, the kind of sky that spawns tornados by the dozen, but not in May, not often. You could see huge thunderheads above, lightning flashing like in a press conference, thunder a constant background drum. They looked to be almost directly overhead, even though they were still fifteen miles to the West, they were so high up. Great brushstrokes of rain against the yellow-gray horizon, at a 45º angle to the ground. I saw a new funnel, reaching down from the flat bottom of the cloud, silhouetted against the rain strokes by evil-looking tendrils of blue electric fire, not touching the ground, not yet. Nobody who never saw one up close for real doesn't understand the shivers that went from my neck to my toes. The wind was already gusting the trees around the house as I fired Jeep up, as Bill got in, beautifully naked next to me, and we roared down the drive, straight over to Katy, to avoid the extra turn, forgetting we were in the raw.
"We're going to make a pretty picture!" Bill yelled above the engine and wind.
"The hell with it!" I yelled. "Nothing they ain't already seen, one way or t'other!"
Nobody saw us. When we went through town, all the shutters was already drawn, everybody no doubt either already in their storm cellars, or close enough to get into them in a few seconds. You don't wait for the weather report when you see a powerful thunderstorm line coming across the plains of Kansas, the clouds boiling like they was gonna explode.
The gate was already open - Rob's Ram was in front of the door to the Shop, the lights on. They lived twenty-five, thirty minutes away, but beat us to the Hangar?
"I asked them to come earlier. I did not want to interrupt you," Groth said. "It has become necessary to change plans."
We pulled up to the Shop just as Rob pulled his truck inside, following him right in. The wind was starting to blow hard, from the East. Cary looked at us, sitting in the Jeep nude, and waved, laughing as he struggled to close the Shop door behind us.
"Open the Hangar doors!" Groth said. "The East ones only!"
"But the Drive!"
The Fifth Ship is coming in. Now."
"In this storm?"
"It will not affect the Ships."
"The wind will blow the Hangar up!"
"The Hangar will be protected."
I drove the Jeep up to the doors into the Hangar, and before I even stopped, Bill was out, pulling them open. Groth was telling him, too. I took a mental picture of him, muscles straining as he hauled the doors open. Rodin, no doubt. Rob had switched on the Shop lights, Cory was running towards us.
"I'll get the lights!" he yelled from somewhere to my left as the doors parted.
I pulled ahead, pausing only a moment as Bill jumped in, and we sped across the floor to the office where the controls were. The lights came on.
"This is crazy!" Bill said as we went. "Where'd this storm come from?"
"I think Groth is behind it!" I yelled. "Part of his "defensive measures!"
"I only hastened the formation, so that it will occur tonight rather than tomorrow afternoon," Groth said. "It is safer to move the Ships under cover of such a storm."
"I thought you said midnight!"
"Matters are becoming complicated. We are under observation."
"A government surveillance vehicle disguised as a delivery truck, an Air Force AWACS and two satellites at all times."
"We in trouble?"
"Not as yet. All data received by the three are sufficiently normal. The storm will mask most of the energy exchange. The truck will be decommissioned during the passage of the storm over the town. The AWACS has already been forced to move eastwards. Its radar and electronics listening gear will be out of effective range at decloaking. The satellites' data sensors will be overwhelmed by high-level lightning and highly charged thermal air currents."
"What does decommission mean?"
"All electrical equipment will be degraded by a strike of what appears to be lightning."
"Nobody gets hurt!" I shouted out.
"Most certainly not," said Groth - almost in a huff. "That is not necessary as yet."
I piled out of the Jeep at the corner and plunged into the office, switching on the pumps. It took forever for the pressure to build. Bill came in, still naked, incredibly handsome, carrying our clothes. He put them on a chair, pulled out a pair of my clean boxers, opened them for me to step into, bending down to hold them at ankle level. I put my hand on his shoulder to steady myself, and put my feet through. The pumps reached a pressure high enough to start, and I threw open the lever, just as he put his head up, took my soft cock in his open mouth.
I wanted to say 'not now,' something, but I couldn't take my eyes away from his. I got hard just as he pulled away.
"Let that be a lesson to you," he said with a grin.
"What?" I somehow got out, taking the T-shirt from him, shrugging it on as he answered.
"Never stand naked in front of me. Makes me weak in the knees."
I groaned at the pun.
"You're gonna have to get used to it. When we live together, I'm gonna be naked a lot. You, too," I sputtered over the noise of the doors, now accompanied by the wind. The lights in the Hangar went down to almost nothing.
"That a proposal?" he said, grabbing me by the shoulders.
I just looked at him and grinned.
"Bastard!" he said, stepping back to shrug on his shirt. "One of these days, I'm gonna pop you one!"
He was smiling hard. His front tooth was missing, leaving a gap. He saw me looking at it.
"It fell out in Jeep! You bounced us around like we were on a rodeo bull," he said, trying to cover his teeth with his lips. "The rest of them feel loose, too. How fast do they grow in?"
"Took mine five days. You're going to eat a lot of mashed 'n gravy!"
"The Optimizer is accelerating growth. You will be without the ability to chew for no more than two days. " Groth said aloud, just for my benefit. I swear, he isn't really a computer, he has a mind of his own, and a slightly evil one, at that.
The doors were taking forever to open. I glanced up at them, just as the Cloak Funnel formed. It was cylindrical from the Ship to the door. It looked . . . different, more tangible.
"The Cloak has been modified. It is now an energy sink on the interior as well as a visual cloak. It is directly connected to the Probe. It looks more solid to you, because you are developing senses for a wider range of wave lengths."
I wondered if that meant we could now "see" more than the normal light range.
"Yes," Groth said to me. "I will explain later."
"What's going to happen?" Bill asked, buttoning his jeans. There were three almighty claps of thunder, not rolling, so nearby.
"When the main front of the storm is just overhead, a bolt of lightning will strike the Coca-Cola lorry . . . truck. It will overload crucial electronic circuits of the surveillance equipment, and melt the tires. Other than surprise, the occupants of the truck will be unharmed."
"What about the tornados?"
"There will be a number of them. None will strike the ground, but all will be intense and large. It will cover much of the Fifth Ship's energy anomalies."
Splats of raindrops hit the other end of the Hangar, sounding almost like hail. The doors were three quarters open. Two more almighty claps, almost simultaneous with the gigantic flashbulb effect, leaving a shadow of the Hangar on the tarmac for a split second. The sky was obsidian.
"Stop the doors. They are enough open," Groth said softly to me.
I threw the switch, just as Rob and Cary ran up to us. Bill got our boots, and we just waited, finishing dressing, watching. Rob and Cary were holding each other. They hadn't yet seen a Ship move, had no clear idea of what to expect. I didn't want to spoil the surprise.
A crack of thunder louder than any before, blinding light at the same time, the very ground trembling under our feet.
There was a rush of wind, and a sudden deluge of rain battered down like crazy at the rear of the Hangar, the deep roar of the storm to our right, stillness in front of the Hangar, dead quiet. I was about to ask what was going on when the Fifth Ship suddenly became slightly visible, as rain streamed over and around it, making it look like a huge blob of water, transparent, but with a surface, ghostly in the falling rain. It was directly overhead, maybe a hundred feet up, moving slowly to the East, until it stopped, hanging only twenty yards or so out, right over the Hangar front parking pad. It seemed to swivel on an axis, one end pointing at the doors of the Hangar - at the Funnel. After a couple of seconds, the Funnel extended out and up, the rain making it visible, a hole in the rain, reaching up and swallowing the Ship, then pulling back into the Hangar, water streaming from it, the Ship no longer visible. I was completely surprised - I hadn't realized the funnel could extend vertically.
A violet-blue beam went from the invisible Fifth Ship to our Ship, bending through the center of the funnel, showing us where the "bow" of the new arrival was. You could feel the power surging through the beam, like being close to a high-voltage wire.
I held Bill close, and saw that Rob and Bill were standing the same way. It was almost like a religious experience, seeing something so infinitely more powerful and advanced. The funnel pulled quickly into the Hangar, and I automatically threw the switch to the "close" position.
Cary and Rob were almost jumping up and down.
Then "Presto!" the Fifth Ship winked into existence. The blue-violet beam winked out, and a cable led from the end of it to our Ship.
I got a surprise - the Fifth Ship had a completely different appearance, much more cylindrical, fatter, stubbier, shorter than the Second Ship had been.
"It is designed primarily for storage and retrieval," Groth said. "It does not normally scavenge . . . survey, but remains in orbit, only periodically descending to gather specimen samples and certain physical recorded data from the other Ships. It does not require the same agility as the other Ships. Direct transmission of data from ship to ship is not a problem, it is only the physical which must be gathered."
Irrelevant, I thought. No. Something wrong. "Why risk the repository of all that information? Why not send another ship?"
"The others are all in the final stages of assembling data. This is the back-up ship. It contains all the data from all the ships. The other ships contain their own data and that of one other survey ship. The surveying will be completed only one day before Departure. The mission can not be compromised. This is the best choice."
"Let's go, guys," I said to Rob and Cary. "Time for a nap."
We actually took Jeep to the foot of the stairway of our Ship, just to save time. The four of us went up to the door just as the full fury of the storm hit. Hail, rain, wind in a banshee howl. Thunderclaps, strong enough to make the Hangar hum in sympathetic vibration, even. Then the door closed behind us, and we heard nothing at all of the outside.
After a two-minute refresher, Groth said we should not yet begin moving units, as there was a very small - but real - danger that the storm might cause anomalies in the Cloak or the Probe. The main front of the storm may have passed, but heavy rains, strong winds and a few small tornados were still to come.
"Can we see . . . I mean, would it be possible . . ." Cary said, looking around the room.
"Of course," said Groth. "Forgive my lack of hospitality."
The door on the right side opened, leading to the corridor, the one that went to the Control room.
"Groth, how come the Control Room looks . . . vertical in the schematic model?" Bill asked.
I had never noticed that. It looked to me always like it was . . . what did he mean, 'vertical?'
"The relationships of spaces in the ship change according to need. The Control room, as you term it, is normally compressed, taking up little space at all while there are no beings on board. As you traverse the corridor, the axis of gravity is adjusted, so as not to disorient."
"How is that possible, with all the equipment you have, just moving everything around?"
"The ship has no finite dimensions. The surface you perceive as a hull is not solid, but a field-controlled superdense layer of unexcitable neutrons overlaid with another stratum of excitable neutrons. It can be expanded whenever necessary to create additional space. It is contracted to the minimum requirements when operating in your atmosphere or near space, but in unobservable space can be of any dimension, depending upon the need. The interior is entirely bio-metallic, and therefore completely flexible. Simple neural networks control form and function."
"Oh!" Bill said, in a short outbreath. "I see! The crystalline formation can be modified by . . . "
He launched into some technical doublespeak I didn't even pretend to understand, but with which Groth immediately agreed, except for something about sub-molecular synapsing and gravitic field manipulation through a secondary neural network. Not my bag. Bill actually seemed to understand, which I found more than a little impressive.
"His rebuilding has been accelerated, as the addition of your lifespan elements and splicing of the corrected genetic sequences has been possible for a longer period of time," Groth said for my hearing only. "He received your semen a full day before you received his. The rebuilding will take some considerable time, but is now irreversible, as long as there is fairly frequent exchange of cells between you. You will reach your full potential in approximately thirty-three days."
We walked into the Control room, and after a minute or two of Groth's explanations to Rob and Cory of what was what, we watched a quick playback of the storm on the screens as it progressed from West to East over Katy. We could see all of it from above, on one of the screens, like they show on the TV weather shows a lot, except it was a real picture, not an animation, in fast-forward. Even saw the two of us driving through town, two naked maniacs, laughing and having a whale of a time. I think Groth slowed that segment down just to give us a laugh.
The biggest thunderhead was huge, the typical flat-iron shape so high it caught a bit of red from the long-set sun. It was near the center of an arc-shaped front, stretching from maybe a hundred miles north to sixty miles south, and the biggest was right where Katy was.
Another screen showed the Coca-Cola truck from two corners. I hadn't even noticed it as we drove right by it. It was rocking in the wind, and flashes of lightning brightened the colors. There was even a screen that showed a hologram view of the inside of the truck. No coke, just panels of electronics, two guys at a console, a half-open door to the cab. One was maybe forty, chubby, bald. The other was about the same age, skinny, with a bald patch on the back of his head. Just everyday-looking guys. Spooks.
"You're sure nobody will get hurt?" I said, looking at another screen, which showed two huge funnel clouds no more than a mile south of town, reaching down towards the ground, but not quite touching.
"The two men were unhurt, although badly frightened. The entire area has been blanketed with subliminal urges to seek shelter from the storm," Groth said. "There are no life forms in imminent danger excepting on this farm, where the barn is 42% at risk of collapsing, directly on a small structure housing thirty-seven chickens and fourteen ducks."
I didn't even have to see the screen to know he was talking about Ron Adams' double-parcel farm, the one that Grant and Liz Bowman share-cropped, living in the house on the second parcel. The house what used to belong to Jim and Nancy, before they went bust and moved to the city. Liz sold her eggs to the motel up to the interstate, ever since my Mary went. They'd been after Ron to fix the barn for years, but he wouldn't fork out the money. I have no idea what they did with the duck eggs - I can't stand them. Way too rich, almost greasy.
I tried real hard not to hope Ron's barn would finally fall.
"That can be adjusted, if you wish," Groth said.
"I think I better not influence it," I said. "Ain't right to revenge."
"You mean to take revenge?"
"English is funny," I said. "You can convert nouns to verbs pretty easy. Like 'to skate' and "to skateboard."
We saw nothing of the Fifth Ship in the maelstrom of the storm, until Groth overlaid a schematic of it, buried in the depths. It moved deliberately, slowly, until it was directly over Katy Road, just a tad north of Gary's place. Three bolts of lightning seemed to strike almost at once, from the edges of the Ship, all looking as if they struck within a few hundred yards of the Coke truck, immediately below it..
The view of the inside of the truck showed the two men pushing away from the equipment on the walls, which was all glowing with a faint blue light. They were swearing and cursing, with such fervor one could almost hear them, tearing off the earpieces and microphones.
The Fifth Ship seemed to raise slightly, at least that's the way it looked on the screen, and swell in size.
Just then, the broadest bolt of lightning I ever saw hit the funny-looking radio aerial on the Coke truck, and the whole truck seemed to shimmer in this liquid-looking coat of blue-green light. The tires just blew apart, and you could almost feel the jolt as the truck fell six inches to the ground. The guys in the truck bounced around, but only up and down. They looked scared for a second, then started babbling. We couldn't hear them, though.
"They are saying that the equipment is malfunctioning, the microphones dead, the radar and motion sensors blank," said Groth aloud. "I can reconstruct the voices, but they would be somewhat garbled if heard directly."
"They using mikes to transmit to someone else? We gonna have bigger troubles soon?"
"No transmissions have been permitted through the cloak around the truck. I take all the data they broadcast, edit it and rebroadcast it with a delay of 0.01 seconds. All transmissions ceased with the first perimeter strikes, at least as far as the receivers are concerned."
"No matter," I said. "Long as they're not hurt."
"Not at all," Groth said. "Just a little frightened. The front of the storm has now passed. Once the rest of the storm passes through, the thunderheads will turn to high cumulus and cirrus. Long before it reaches Salina."
We watched for another few minutes, as the winds whipped the corn and barley, as driving rains irrigated the soil. Ron's barn didn't collapse, sparing the chicken coop, but the roof on the other side fell in.
"Time to get back to work, guys," Bill said with a grin and to which he got groans as well as grins from all of us. It was a nice feeling, going down the "stairs," a team ready to really play the game.
By five in the morning, when we filed back into the Optimizer for our second "nap," we had transferred more than a hundred (112, to be precise) units in the Drive, mostly in the outer ring, as the ones in the inner ring seemed to take longer to "grow," and were either in our Ship being finished off, or still on the other Ships.
Rob and Cary left to home to take care of their chores, and Bill and me got his and mine done just in time for us to get to Charlene's for breakfast. We took his Ram for a change, and I put Jeep into the barn. Groth said there would be a few thunderstorms a day for the next couple of days, just to make them look normal, so that when the Seventh Ship came in on Saturday, the storm wouldn't look out of the ordinary. It would be the last one, carrying all 272 remaining units, which would be transferred immediately to our Ship, so the other one could get back to its remaining survey work in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and southern China. Seven was the "all other" Data Ship - It was gathering information on the religious convictions of that three-billion slice of humanity.
When we walked in, Dan handed me two mugs with his usual shit-eater grin, but a little extra wide.
"Hear 'bout Charlie's place?" he said.
Charlene came out from behind of the grill, dropped Dan's platter in front of him, then came round the counter and gave Bill a kiss and me a buss, no sooner done than she was back at the grill, not even bothering to ask us if it was the usual. The place was full, but our booth was empty, as were Ralph and Gary's two stools.
"What?" I felt the color drain from my face, then rise back up as Charlene planted hers on my cheek. Andy looked at me from his perch and grinned. I grinned back.
"Roof blew in," Pete said from down the counter as I did 'howdy' at him. "Only damage in town, far as we can make out."
"Nobody . . . nobody hurt?" I stammered. Ole Will sometimes slept in the back when he threw a fit from drinking.
"Will was in the back," laughed Dan. "Not hurt at all. Scared the white lightning right outta his butt, though. Had to go home and change his jeans, sittin' on a plastic trash bag all the way home!"
I let loose a small laugh, then wondered how the heck he knew.
Before I could ask, Hal Cooper answered. "Heard it from the house, I did. Almighty crash and bang. Place looks like always, but no roof to see no more. Sign down, too. I runs out just as Old Will comes out, still half-cranked, his overalls was all full of him. Had ta stand upwind of him, it was so bad. My pigs' shit never smelt so bad as his'n.'
We all had a laugh on Will, even Charlene, cutting yet another slice of one of her powdered bundts for Pete. She looked real fine. Andy was taking good care of her, you could see. The happy lines almost laughed out loud.
Gary came clomping through the door early, right in front of Ralph. Didn't even bother to howdy everybody, just launched right in about how he saw lightning hit the Coke truck, parked right on the Katy road, just a tad north of his drive, so it wasn't hid behind the oaks. We all listened intently - Bill and me especially.
"Just blew its tires to smithereens," he said at one point. "Never saw nothing like it. Then these two guys gets out, standing right in the rain in just coke clothes, gettin' all wet. One of 'em calls someone on his cell phone. Not Charlie's, cause this tow truck came this morning just as I was going out back to milk. Hooked up and took off, right smart.'
"John warn't hurt or nothin?" Charlene asked.
"Funny thing," said Gary. "I ran out to see if he was okay and all, but it warn't John. Some other guys. Said John was sick, they got tired and decided to take a nap on the little turn-round we built in front of the drive. Said not to worry, they had hot coffee in his thermos jug, din't need the toilet or nothing."
"But he didn't deliver here yesterday," Charlene said. "John only comes on Mondays. What was he doing here? It's not like there's anywhere else in town."
"Nothin' south, neither," said Ralph.
"Prob'ly a spy," said Gary.
I almost spilled my coffee as I sat down across from Bill. I saw the old me in the mirror. But it wasn't the old me. I looked a bit younger, a little better, my hair was a little darker, my bald pate not quite as extensive, many of the deep creases just lines.
"After the departure, the screens will not function at full power for more than twenty years," Groth said in my ear. "You will have to have them operate for far longer than that, so the power will have to be reduced to no more than ten percent. I will explain the details later."
"Damned County Inspectors again, prob'ly," said Ralph. "They was sniffin' at Pete's again yesterday, my Cody tole me. She drove through on the way back from Salina about three ten, saw the county seal on the side of a white pickup, next to the pump."
"Warn't Jerry's?" Somebody asked.
Jerry's pickup has a county seal on it, since he runs the ag station. But his is a long cry from white. Kansas Mud, I guess you'd call it.
"No way," Ralph said. "Spankin' new. Gotta spend our tax money, ain't they?"
"Never heard nothing on 'em," Pete said. "They didn't call."
"Spies," Gary said again. He cussed the County, the State and all other forms of government employees what messed with us.
"Now, Gary, you know Charlene don't like her air all blue and all," Andy admonished.
"Sorry, Charlene," Gary said with a grin. "They just gets to me. No offense meant."
"None took," Charlene said as she carried our platters around the counter. "I feels the same way about them. But the air's a lot healthier to breathe without the cussin."
She lay the three platters down on our table.
"How you two doing out there?" she said.
"Fine, Mom," Bill said. "Coming along just great."
"He's a powerful help," I said at the same time. "Couldn't do it without him."
"Birthmark's still not back, eh?" she said with a wink and turned back to go.
"It is pointless now to change the shield," Groth said to both of us.
"Got it removed," Bill said.
"Not fooling me," said Charlene, almost coquettishly, turning back to lean over the table, almost whispering. "Saw Graham's chest. He ain't never had no hair like that, not since he was twenty. You best be careful of what you're up to though. Andy says there's some federal people asking things about the area. They says they's looking for a plane that got lost, may of crashed in these parts."
She tweaked Bill's ear, then bounced back to her counter.
"The Ship was visible to their radar when we had problems with the Kryst. We had to divert backup power to the grav-drive, let the cloaks drop."
"One hour, three minutes," he said.
"Why so long?"
"It took that long to find you."
"Surely, you do not think this has been an accident."
"Your genetic structure is ideal."
"I will tell you as soon as the Calculations are complete. It is not a bad thing."
"You drive me crazy," I said as I started in on the sausage. God, it was great to chew real food again without the taste of the damned adhesive, without fear of the chompers shifting around!
"On the contrary," Groth said. "You are far more sane than ever."
I looked at Bill, the man I loved. He was looking at his food, loading his fork, but looked up at me at once, and winked. My heart got into my throat for a minute, and I wondered at the fortune God had visited on me. He's so damned fine . . .
"He is the perfect complement," Groth said. "There is no impediment to your union. Again - you have chosen well."
I knew that.
Still, nice to have it independently confirmed by an impartial judge.
"I am no longer impartial."
Andy joined us in the booth before I finished half the platter, sitting next to Bill. His face was plumb serious.
"Graham, we got some bit of a muck on our boots."
"You know nothin' 'bout a plane goin' down these parts?" he asked, boring into my eyes.
Bill just kept on eating like nothing was even slightly amiss. Except his fork was mostly empty when he lifted it to his mouth. He tried to keep his lip over the snag-tooth, but with little success. No matter - the cloak hid it from everybody but me. It gave him an amazingly different look - like the Mona Lisa with a blacked out tooth. Almost coquettish.
"Thought I saw somethin' that day last week," I said without dropping my eye. "Never saw no plane, though. Figure it musta been one a them weather balloons."
"Feds are lookin' at Katy real hard," he said, dropping his eyes. "They's reserved a bunch of rooms up to the Interstate. Whole damned place, according to my sister."
Andy's sister was the restaurant manager, so she'd know right off.
"The phones is probably tapped, too. County Court Judge Harrisson got a closed deposition for a search warrant. Don't usually happen 'less they's a phone tap being asked. Then they's the Air Force - they's been flying a closed airspace overhead since yesterday morning. All the commercial jets is being routed north a here."
"What you figure?" I asked, spearing some more home fries to sop up a little yolk.
"Like I said yesterday - I figure they's after drugs," he said softly. "I'm gonna talk to a few of the fellas, make sure they plow under any suspect plants they might find in their fields. You want to make sure that Hangar is clean as a boiled egg."
That meant he was going to talk to Pete.
"Why's the Hangar so important?" Bill asked. "Nobody'd grow no pot in a Hangar when they's all this open land 'round here."
"Don't know, son," Andy said. "But they's asked us not to use our radios within two mile a Katy unless they's an emergency, and the cell phone antennas up to the interstate has been switched off. Plus, I got asked if I had any reason to suspect if the Boyce Hangar was being used for anything outta the ordinary."
"You figure me opening my Garage is out of the ordinary?" I asked.
"They din't even know you is there," Andy laughed softly. "When I says you's a mechanic what fixes tractors, and you got canned outta Charlies and decided to open up shop in the machine shop of the Hangar, they got all agitated."
"Who's they?" asked Bill.
"F.B.I., I reckon"
"Agitated about what?" I managed to get in.
"Wanted to know if I knew you, or you was somebody new, from outta town, acted a little strange, all sorts of questions, comin' at me so fast, I never got a chance to answer one before the next three was asked. When I said you was sixty-something and lived in Katy since before you was born, they lost interest in you, went back to Gary."
"You talk to him?" I asked softly.
"Ayuh," he said, glancing at Gary on the end of the counter. "He's certain he's got no drugs or nothin' anywhere, and swears by you."
"So what's next?"
"Feds get here tomorrow night. Flying into Salina. Asked about Grainfield, but the runways ain't long enough."
"Reckon there's anything I oughtta do, sort of head off any problems?"
"Make sure that place is whistle clean by tomorrow night if it ain't already," Andy breathed out, barely audible. Looking at Bill, he added, "And don't be sayin' on the telephone nothing you wouldn't want yer Momma ta hear."
"No sweat," Bill said. "She's heard me say 'shit' and 'hot damn' more'n once."
"You know what I mean," Andy pressed. "Both of you."
He looked back at me with a little smile.
"I figure happy is such a rare commodity in life, ya gotta grab it when it comes at ya, ya know?. But they's some what think we all gotta have the same ideas about what makes a man true happy. Yer friends ain't gonna judge ya - leastways, not yet. But these Feds is strangers. They come outta wombs with no Mommas. Soon as hang you by your cajunes as pick their noses."
"We ain't got nothing to be shamed by," I said. "No drugs, no airplanes, no abortion clinics, no I don't know what."
"Well," Andy said, his voice booming again, "I wish I had a tractor of my own ta bring ya, boys!" He slid out of the booth with the grace of an athlete, even though he was no longer the slim youth of yore.
"See ya," I said. "And thanks."
"Nothin," Andy said back over his shoulder. He went to the end of the counter, took a swig of what must by then have been pretty cold coffee, collected a kiss from Charlene - the first two-dollar kiss I recollect seeing him get in public - and went down the little hallway to the back door and his cruiser.
"Groth?" I asked aloud, so Bill would hear. "We gonna be able to get moving?"
"There are 188 units from the Fifth Ship which are ready, transferred to the Ship. Of the 36 units in the Ship incubators, 18 are now ready, the other 18 will not be ready until tonight."
"If all of us work on the units, what can we get done?"
"All will depend upon whether or not there are interruptions."
Bill and I got up, and I again let him pay Charlene. After our little discussion of the day before, I figured it was best not to try to take too much care of him.
"She undercharged me," he said as we went down the steps.
"Nah," I said, clapping him on the shoulder. "She gave you credit for the eggs. Does it every few days."
We got into the Ram, and Bill pulled away from the curb, heading north on Katy. He was looking hard in the rear view mirror.
"We got visitors?" I asked, trying desperately not to look around to see.
"City car sitting in front of Pete's with two suits in it," he said "About as inconspicuous as a Deere parked on a street in downtown Kansas City with a pair of naked ladies on the fender."
"There are no electronic surveillance apparatus in the vehicle," said Groth. "I have tapped into the portable computer interface they are using for communications via satellite. There is a series of firewalls to guard the information databases concerning the Ship. They are investigating the disappearance of a UFO from radar screens midway between the Interstate at Salina and Katy, which is where we dropped below the effective surveillance horizon. Satellites were not focussed on the quadrant at the time, and by the time their antennae were redirected, the Cloak had been restored following your boarding of the Ship."
"You can see through their firewalls?" Bill asked.
"They are quite primitive," Groth said. "At this stage in your computer development, you continue to use electronic as opposed to neural or light circuitry. Neural paths are of course easily opened wherever electronic paths are established, and firewalls do not even register the passage of sub-electronic pulses associated with neural networks."
"Are your circuits neural?" I asked.
"Far too space intensive," Groth said. "All impulses are sub-spatial, using a gravity well for instantaneous transmission."
We passed by another black sedan, parked on the outskirts of town. Undercover siege this was not.
"Your movements are being noted, but routinely," said Groth.
We pulled into the Hangar drive, passing through the open gate. I had a thought . . .
"Rob and Cary are here already," said Groth. "They did their chores and brought cereal and milk to eat here. Their devotion is touching."
"Reminds me," said Bill. "Do you . . . "
"Yes, I have some emotions which approximate some of yours, although nothing as intense as those you experience when you are mating, at war, or in grief. Especially the first. The emotions you experience in these three conditions have no parallel."
"You're kidding!" I said. I couldn't conceive of a civilization without Love, at least.
"Yours is a very young civilization," Groth said. "Stronger emotions are generally found in the younger civilizations, but yours are the strongest yet yet encountered. It may be a function in part of the short life spans of your entire ecosystem."
We pulled into the Shop, parking next to Rob's battered pickup. Rob was working on the Deere, and the other tractor was in the other bay awaiting change of filters, tune-up and a new timing chain. A three-hour job. The Deere was a two-hour routine job. Neither had to be ready before Monday afternoon, so we all worked on the Drive.
All four of us humped, all morning. No breaks, no interruptions. I stopped us at half eleven, and called Charlene to order Dinner for us, even as Rob and Bill went to town in the Ram to pick it up. While we waited for them to come back, I finished a few more neural solderings, and Cary brought down another four units for the outside ring. When Rob and Bill got back, we all sat around the table in the shop and talked farming, husbandry, crop rotations, the usual.
"What about the futures market?" Rob asked. "You think it's a good way to reduce risk?"
"Absolutely!" Bill said with a vehemence that surprised me. "You've got a pretty good handle on yields of your crops by the time the markets open contracts in a big way. You know what crop is going in which part of your parcel, the number of acres, low yield per acre using the Weather Bureau's long-range weather forecasts. You sell ahead maybe three quarters of your crop, enough to guarantee you'll break even and make a little up on your loans, and work like hell to beat those yields, get a little gravy."
"You wait until your crops are in to sell, you're running the risk of selling into a bumper crop, getting dirt-low price, not even breaking even," I added.
"And if I don't get the yields?"
"You die," I said. "That's why you only sell part of your crop. In case yields go down. Weather, blight, you never know."
Suddenly, we ran out of food. Even the broccoli.
"There is another major storm approaching from the southwest," said Groth. "It will arrive this afternoon at four-twenty to four-forty."
"How does that affect us?" Bill asked.
"The Seventh Ship has gathered all remaining units, and is guiding the storm towards Katy."
"How much surveillance is there?" I asked.
"There are twenty vehicles using only visual techniques, three vehicles similar to the truck we saw last night, an AWACS plane at 48,000 feet over the midpoint of a line connecting Katy and Salina, two reconnaissance satellites."
"What is your current plan?"
"If possible, move the Fifth Ship out and the Seventh Ship in as the storm passes overhead. The atmosphere is a little too dry, and the moisture and temperature gradients to fuel the storm are outside the norms for the area. This may "raise eyebrows." as you say.
"Let's get back to work," said Rob, throwing his paper waste into the garbage bag. Cory had already done that, and was putting some things back into the frigidaire.
"Groth, give us an update on installation status," I asked. More politely than it sounds off the screen, though.
"Including the 121 units installed this morning, you have now installed 423 units, slightly more than half. There are only 85 units ready now for installation, all in the outer ring."
"Piece of cake," Bill said.
"Let's do it," said Cary, caressing Rob's neck. He got a quick kiss for his efforts.
All 85 were done in less than three hours.
We trooped into the Ship to refresh, and after two minutes, went into the Control Room to watch the storm as it approached. It wasn't as imposing as the one from the prior night, but it was enough to bring everyone out of the fields, close to the storm cellars if need be. We watched it approach from above, slowly, the Seventh Ship outlined in red, right underneath the biggest thunderhead, headed straight for the Hangar at maybe fifteen miles an hour.
Suddenly, there were twenty or twenty-five red rectangles on the screen. It took no effort to realize they were the vehicles Groth had told us about.
"Are those the ones with electronics?" Cary asked, pointing at three red rectangles with black spots in the center.
"Yes," said Groth. "All are actively monitoring the areas North and East of Katy."
"Are they all aimed at the Hangar?"
"No. One is focussed on the Hangar, one on the area due north of Graham's farm, the third on the area to the northeast of the Hangar."
"Doesn't that mean they don't know? That we're - that the Ships - are here?"
"They know something is or was in the Katy area. They are trying to find evidence of it."
"Why not give 'em a dummy?" Cary pushed.
"You mean a decoy?" I asked.
"We can not risk the loss of another Ship."
"Can the Ships be damaged?" I asked a little incredulously. "Do we have anything that could penetrate the Hull?"
"Functioning cloaks can absorb the full force of a nearby atomic explosion of greater than what you term fifty megatons."
"I hardly think we would use thermonuclear bombs," I said strongly. "That's unthinkable."
"The exposed Drive can be penetrated by a single bullet. Attracting attention to the Ship would be fatal to the Mission. Risking discovery by use of a decoy would increase that risk."
"I see your point," I said.
"So we're under siege," Bill said.
© 2000 Jonas Kichda