(The direct continuation of Cloud Shadows of Midnight)
By Atonia and Jo
Jo writing: Maximus, Caroline, Bud, Marie, Lachlan, Cort, Daisy, Ben, Mae, Rusty, George, Lucilla, Robin,
Jack Knife (Col. John Wales), Jeffrey, Julie, Javert, East, Egan, Jack Corbett, Zack, Jim, Nash, Charles, Steve, Monroe,
Dolly, Ardith, Parcher, Merry Men, Hank, O'Hara, Eve'lyn, Kate, Randolph, Sid, Sidda, Liz, Georgie, Glen, Noah, Glinda,
Muriel, Randolph Martin, Tom Golightly, Joshua Connor
Atonia writing: Terry, Dee, Alex, Linda, Jack, Tarwyn, John Biebe, Bethany, Max, Sophia, Dino, Anne, Hando, John
Cristofuoro, Richie, Cal, John Brennan, Colin, Andy, Ed, Nicholas, Arthur, Johnny, Jeff, Kim, Sean, Dennis, Mel,
Sandra, Carol, Dylan, Pat, Brenda, Kristen, Darren Lincoln, Stephen Maturin, Killick, Ray, Jor-El, Nan, Klara, Dennis,
Carlos, Dug, Ronny, Penny, Jannie, Jordan, Pearly, Jay Wilson, T. R. Holden
Pearly slipped out of the bed, dragging the blanket with him. They’d taken his clothes and left him in some drafty little shift. From the window he could see part of the parking lot. It was the hospital; he knew where he was now. Yes, there was the big EMER over a rooftop. Better the hospital than the gaol. However, it was time to put an end to this visit. He ransacked the room and finally found his clothes in a narrow closet. Shivering with an unnatural chill for him, he began to dress. The morning’s events came back to him. That crazy boy, Colin O’Brien and the aliens. Were they still out there?
Pulling on his warm overcoat, he pulled the fur collar up around his ears. His hat didn’t make it to the hospital. A little body heat began warming the inside of his coat. A quick look out into the hallway. Several were gathered around one of the doors. Looking the other way he saw the stairs. That would do for him..
Jor-El said his goodbyes to the fellows in the ER and walked out to the parking lot. “How did you get here?”
Klara looked up at him. “In an ambulance.”
“Then we shall take to the skies.”
Before he could lift off he caught sight of Pearly running across the lot towards the street.
“You there!” he called out in an authoritative voice.
Pearly glanced back and the sight of the alien spurred him on even faster.
Jor-El chuckled. “Our demonic brother doesn’t look much like a demon, does he?”
“He’s frightened,” Klara said.
“Let’s go up and watch him for a moment before heading home.”
Pearly made it to the middle of the bridge and hung onto the railing catching his breath. Fear, an unaccustomed emotion. Something was wrong, something was definitely wrong with him.
George and Ardith made it back to the hospital, stopping first by the ER. They went into the curtained-off area where Big Jack was as they'd been told he was the slowest in recovering.
"Jack, can you hear me, Jack? It's Doctor Canfield." He moved the oxygen mask down off the Colonel's face.
Jack blinked his eyes open. "Ah, there you are," Ardith smiled.
Big Jack smiled back. What a good-looking woman. "Yes," he said, "here I am." He might not have any idea at the moment where that was, but if it had beautiful women he was quite fine with it. "And what might you be doing here, lovely lady?"
"I work here." She almost giggled and George looked at her askance.
Jack licked a lip slowly. "And in what capacity do you find employment in this place?"
"She's a doctor, Jack," George replied somewhat sternly.
"I'm his boss." She nudged George with an elbow.
"And she's very bossy," George murmured under his breath.
"George Canfield! I am not bossy!"
George rolled his eyes. "How are you feeling, Jack?"
Jack paused a moment. It was rather familiar of a regimental surgeon to address him by his given name and not his rank. He let it pass, though. The man was probably run ragged by mass casualties from the cavalry charge. "Tired from battle."
"That's not your line, Jack," Ardith said, grinning. "That line belongs to General Maximus."
Jack blinked slowly at her. General Maximus? Definitely not in the British army with such a name. What did the woman mean by 'line'? He tried to sit up but felt too dizzy to manage.
George promptly repositioned the mask. "I think you need to breathe this a little longer."
Dee was back in bed. She’d been up most of the day too emotionally upset to rest. Terry cleared the room. Before she left Linda closed the curtains, blocking out the sunset.
“Sleep, Nolia,” he said quietly.
“I’m not sure I can.”
“Want me to call Kristen up?”
“No, I don’t want to be drugged. I just want to go home.”
“As soon as you’re better, we’ll go. I’m okay.”
“Terry, about Dino…”
“I’m well aware of his condition.” Terry took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “I can’t believe we’ve come this far for death to claim him now. He’ll make it. He’s a tough old bird. We all are. When you look at what we faced today and the ones who were brave enough to confront it and live, I feel like we’re invincible. Not that that’s going to encourage any of us to take unnecessary chances. Too many of us have stood at death’s door. Something protects us, something or someone. I used to think it was Sid, strange as that sounds. He liked to play with us but always stopped before it was too late to reclaim his prized toys. I don’t know what it is out there that could move a whole section of the countryside from one place to another. Something powerful. Any ideas…Nolia?”
Dee was asleep. Terry smiled and laid his head back on his pillow. The lump on his head was awfully tender but it was only a lump and it would heal.
Jim was driving the Crowne Glen people home. When he got to the end of the long lane that led to Cort's, he paused. "Which way?"
"I don't know," Rusty sighed. It was only one of many things he didn't know. Reaching out, he pressed 'home' on the GPS and a highlighted route came up. Damn computerized thing knew which way home was even if he didn't. "That way."
Soon they were passing down the west side of the airport. "This doesn't seem right," Egan said.
"What's right?" Rusty mumbled.
That road ended in a T with the main road leading west and they all recognized it. Jim turned right onto it, shaking his head. What a strange way to go home from Cort's. It wasn't until they were passing Ashgrove that any of them felt the least bit settled.
Jack Aubrey and John Brennan were following John Biebe. Jack was glad to have him in front as he was completely turned around and had no idea which direction he should take.
“What’s next, Jack?”
“I’m going to collect my people and return to Ashgrove. I believe this day is over for us. You and yours are welcome to come.”
“No, I think I’ll do the same. Charlie and I need to get home and see to the dogs.”
“She will either come with us or not. We’re friends, well, more than that really, though we haven’t taken it…you know.”
Jack smiled. “Take your time, John.”
“Oh, I am. No need to rush into anything. She’s just lost her husband and I’ve lost two wives. Somehow I need to find my own firm foundation before I start building again.”
Daisy and Glinda came up on the porch where Cort was now seated on the swing. "I think I need to make cookies. I need to do something...normal."
"Cookies are always good," Cort smiled. "Especially yours."
Georgie and Welland followed her inside. Lachlan and Young Jack had said they wanted to drive around a bit, get a sense of where they were located. Ben had been glad to see the lane to Outlaw's Roost was just where it had always been in relation to Cort's house and he and Mae had set out for that. She wanted to check on her alpaca herd and he needed to make sure Outlaw was ok.
"It's where it's supposed to be," Caroline sighed happily, getting out of the station wagon. While Maximus was unbuckling Angel from her car seat, she opened the gate and went under the rose-covered arch into her gardens. Nothing was really in bloom here at the beginning of January but she knew every inch of it intimately and not one thing was out of place.
Maximus heard a bark and looked up to see Hank walking down from the barn, Marcus with him, surging forward at the sight of the general.
"Damndest thing," Hank said, resting a hand on the station wagon. "I musta passed out in the barn or somethin' and when I come to, dog here was lying across my legs."
"Just a moment," Maximus said, taking the baby to Caroline then returning to Hank. He tried to explain what had happened but it sounded feeble even to his own ears.
"Closer to the city? How in hell are we closer to the city? Doesn't make sense. You really mean the whole damn place, lock, stock, and barrel has got itself moved miles from where it was?"
"You saw the volcano, Hank, and the dinosaurs. You know who I am and where I came from. Is this stranger than that?"
Hank wiped a hand across his jaw. "Well, with you putting it that way, I guess not."
"The horses are all right?"
"Horses just fine. You got laid out just like me and Marcus did?"
"Laid out...yes." He remembered his desperate clutch for his family as he'd fallen. "All of us are fine."
"Helluva way to start the new year," Hank observed.
"A new year, yes." Maximus let out a sigh. What sort of consequences from all this would they encounter in this new year?
In one of the small patient conference rooms Nick, Cal, Alex and Kim were talking about the fallout of the arrival of the aliens, their own resident alien and what kind of spin they could put on it for the public.
“It’s time to stop all the talking heads on TV, time to stop all the speculation and let everyone know the event is over and everyone is safe,” Nick said.
“So, what are you gonna tell ‘em, Nick?” Alex asked. “The truth?”
“I can’t very well do that, can I? Jor-El’s life would be in danger. God knows what would come of it. Scientists wanting a piece of him, kooks wanting a shot at him, not to mention the media circus.”
“I’m afraid the circus has already begun, Nick,” Cal said. “Because of who you are, you’ve got to play ringmaster…at least for awhile.”
“I don’t see it that way,” Kim interrupted. “Let him make a statement and then let it drop.”
“Sounds easy,” Cal said. “Only problem with that is the whole show was broadcast across the country via all the major news channels. Then you’ve got the cost involved for the display of resistance at the airport. Who called in the National Guard?”
“Chief Lincoln came to me with the request. What else was I to do?”
“I got a crazy idea,” Alex said, tipping his hat back. “What if we say it was all footage for a movie. We were filming a background for a movie set. Huh? What about that?”
“Crazy is right,” Cal said, shaking his head. “And what studio do you propose to hit with the bill?”
Nick chuckled and shook his head.
Kim tapped his pen on the table. “What’s wrong with his idea? Three months from now the whole thing will be forgotten. Let’s play it up, let the media run with it. We can say we were in on the whole thing but it had to look authentic.”
Cal still shook his head. “When’s the movie coming out, what’s it called? That’s the questions you’re going to get.”
“Hell, I don’t know. There’s a superhero movie coming out every month. Pick some obscure creature and we’ll call it that. If it never comes out in the theaters who’s to know the footage wasn’t used in another movie? I think we can work with this, Alex.” Kim was seriously considering it.
“What about the cost? If that’s the case then the governor is going to want to be reimbursed for the expense and I don’t mind telling you, I’m going to get my ass chewed for not getting prior authorization.”
Cal thought Nick needed his ass chewed but he was addressing the same thing. “Money…who’s the moneyman behind this?”
Kim grinned. “Max the banker.”
"Good gravy!" Lachlan whistled. "There's Ranger right there."
It had taken only about ten minutes to get from Cort's to the entrance road to where Young Jack would be starting law school in a day or two.
Lachlan pulled off the road, looking at Jack. "What do you think?"
"It's closer than Rusty's, isn't it?"
"It's up to you, Jack. They have a place for you, we have a place for you. What do you want to do?"
"Gads!" He didn't know. He felt pulled in two directions. He'd always lived at Cort's ever since he'd come out of his film. It was what he knew, all he knew, well, except for when he'd been in Gettysburg or ancient Persia. But his stuff was packed, ready to go to Rusty's. He had his own car now so the distance wasn't really much of an issue. Besides, Rusty's wasn't all that much further.
Lachlan saw his indecision. "You want to give Rusty's a try, see how it works out? You can always come back to us any time you choose."
"They, um, are expecting me," he murmured.
"Up to you," Lachlan repeated.
"I'd miss your ugly face."
"You'd have a whole handful of equally ugly faces at Rusty's," Lachlan smiled. "And it's not like you can't pop over whenever you want, tickle Welland, eat some cookies."
"I couldn't give up Daisy's cookies."
"Addictive, I know."
"It...it wouldn't hurt your feelings if...if I gave it a try?"
"You'd like to, I think."
"I kinda think so."
"Then go for it. We're a whole lot closer to Rusty's now than before. We can all go back and forth real easylike."
Young Jack blew out a breath. "If you're sure it's all right."
"It's all right, Jack. It's all in the family, isn't it?"
Jack Aubrey stopped in emergency and spoke to Richie and Colin. Richie was up and about and talking about going home. He was looking for a ride.
John Biebe and Beth came down with Jack. “I can drop you,” John said.
“There seem to be a lot of us here without wheels,” Richie said.
“Brennan’s still here. Who else needs a ride?”
“We do,” Kristen said. “I came with John and Beth and Colin’s truck is still at the airport.”
“Less said about the airport the better,” Richie said.
John Brennan, Emily and Charlie were in the waiting area. Colin found them and they offered to take him home.
“Ready,” Stephen answered. “Jack, do you think anything might be altered at home?”
“We shall soon see. We must stop and collect Nan and Killick and the girls.”
"Man was looking at you like you were a ripe peach," George grumbled.
"He's adorable," Ardith smiled.
"What has that man got that turns women to jelly?"
"I think it's his manner, George. He treats women like rare jewels. There's this, I don't know, appreciation that shines in his eyes."
"I appreciate you."
"After we check on everybody, can we go home and you can appreciate all over me?"
"You want me to look at you like you're a ripe peach?"
"Are you hungry?"
"Now that you mention it..."
With the threats all gone Max and Sophie were back in their house at the winery. Sophie was in the kitchen trying to find something for dinner. She opted for leftovers. The roast that she’d prepared for New Year's Day was still on the counter wrapped up in foil.
Max opened a bottle of wine. He was about to take a drink when his phone buzzed in his pocket. “I should have turned it off,” he complained and saw it was a call from the Mayor.
“Nick, old man, what can I do for you?”
Nick proceeded to tell him what he could do for them.
“You’ve got to be bloody kidding me,” Max said and took a drink from his glass. “This is absurd.”
“It’s a plausible explanation for what happened today. Think about it, Max. What else are we going to tell the public?”
“The whole city was in panic mode and you’re going to tell them it was all a fake attack? Good luck with that, Nick. They’ll turn on you in droves, pitchforks at your door, torches ready to burn you out. The highway was absolutely a parking lot with people fleeing an alien invasion. It took me forever to get home this afternoon.”
“It was authentic, wasn’t it? Otherwise, Max, Jor-El is going to be hounded to death and I’m going to be…”
“As you should be. I feel for Jor-El, I really do, because if not for him we may very well have ended up burnt toast.”
“You’ve got to help us out, Max. Our life here might be uncovered. We could all be exposed for what we are. This went national, Max.”
“Let me think about it around this bottle of wine. I’ll get back with you.”
“Thanks, Max,” Nick said and ended the call.
Robin sat on Muriel's couch, his hands clasped between his knees, looking down at the floor. It truly upset him that he'd taken her to a place where she could have been killed. He could hear her out in the kitchen humming as she fixed a meal for them. She seemed fine but they'd all been rendered unconscious and moved miles. It bothered him that had happened to him, too. It made him feel helpless when it came to his own fate. Not that he'd had any control over much of anything since finding himself here.
He thought then about the new venture he was about to undertake with the boys at Greenwood. He needed to talk with Noah about that, find out how he felt about leaving Maximus' now that they were so much closer to the city. Greenwood was only minutes away from the westlands now. The westlands. He guessed that didn't really apply much as a name anymore. He was used to clumping all the properties together under the one name. It made it easier to refer to them collectively. Now he'd lost his train of thought. Oh, yes. Greenwood. He did feel a need for a place of his own, he truly did. Tomorrow he'd set out to find something, preferably within walking distance of the camp. Just a small place, a couple of bedrooms. He and Noah wouldn't need much. He thought maybe Noah would still like the idea. Tomorrow. He'd talk with Noah tomorrow.
Max explained the phone call to Sophie. “I can’t do this, Sophie. No reasonable person would hand that kind of money to the state. We’d be risking our necks, risking exposure.”
“Max, I know somebody in the business. What if it was him who came forward?”
“Your bloody brother!” Max’s eyes gleamed. “Still, there’s the money involved.”
“You don’t know the exact amount. It might be trivial once the whole thing is explained to the governor. I’m sure Johnny wouldn’t charge you too much.”
“Heh, heh, you’re sure of that, are you? I’m not. He’ll bleed me dry, blackmail me for life.”
“Well, I thought it was worth a try.” Sophie began slicing off thick slabs of pork tenderloin.
Max drummed his fingers on the countertop. This required another glass of wine.
ON TO PART 2
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