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
Johnny Vasari wanted $50,000 for his part in the fake movie trailer. Max talked him down to $30,000 but he wouldn’t accept anything less. Max ended the Skype session, saying he’d get back with him.
“Well, that’s it. Cal, you get the footage from the cameraman. Kim, starting writing up a press release…” Nick began giving orders. The rest of them stood up as if they were about to leave.
“Wait just a bloody minute!” Max said, also rising. “Just where do you think you’re going? This isn’t a done deal. For one thing, where is the $30,000 coming from?”
“Um, can’t you find it, Max?” Nick asked.
“From where? I do have a bank but I can’t just go and withdraw that kind of money from a cashier! Which one of you is going to give me access to your account?”
There was some fidgeting around the table. Alex spoke up. “Since it was my idea that brought us this far, I’ll contribute $5,000 to the cause. However, it should be noted that my mug didn’t appear on camera.” He looked pointedly at Nick, who’s face certainly was on camera.
“Why should we have to put up anything?” Cal wanted to know. “Sure, Nick went national as the mayor of our fair city but I didn’t get into the fray and neither did Kim.”
Nick’s eyes flashed. “You want ME to put up the rest of the cash?”
“Don’t tell me you don’t have it,” Cal said. “Need I remind you of your friend T.R. Holden and his most generous contribution to your campaign?”
Nick’s eyes flashed and his lips formed a grim line. “He is no friend of mine. I might be able to lay my hands on that kind of money but why should I bear it all? What about Jor-El, Richie and Big Jack? What about Colin?”
“They are totally unaware of this plan we’re cooking up here,” Alex said. “We’re doing it to save them some embarrassment and future harassment. Which, I might add, would spread and grow legs. We’d all be under a microscope.”
“I’ll throw in five grand,” Max offered. “But let me warn you, this may only be the tip of the iceberg. You’ve yet to make your appearance in the governor’s house, Nick. If he wants compensation for the expenses the state has incurred then you’re going to have to go hat in hand somewhere else.”
As Percival drove slowly back to the Rambling Rose Inn, he kept turning over and over in his mind what he'd thought, what the policeman had said. Finally he gave up with a shake of his head. Well, the so-called westlands were where they were and the cop said they'd always been there and he should know. He himself must have greatly misunderstood something Lachlan had mentioned about the airstrip.
Richie took a shower and wearing a pair of flannel pajama pants and an oversized New York Mets sweat shirt, he sat down on his sofa and ordered a pizza. He felt fine after his ordeal in the space ship. A little soreness threatened his shoulders from heaving around the weaponry and alien beings but he wasn’t worried. A few days and that too would fade. He ran his hands violently through his damp hair. “I should just go ahead and resign my position,” he said aloud. After his appearance on TV in the guise of a warrior he reckoned his career was in the toilet. His phone rang.
“Mel? What’s up?”
“Richie, I just wanted to make sure you were all right, that you were back amongst us.”
Richie grimaced. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Tomorrow are we going to open the office as usual?”
He let out a big sigh. “I guess so, Mel. One thing though, I won’t speak to anybody from the press or any media outfit, okay?”
“Hey, you know nobody gets past me. Don’t worry, I’ll field the calls and if a flesh and blood hack shows up, I’ll show them the way back down to the street.”
“You’re a prize, Mel. I appreciate it.”
“Sometime, Richie, you’re going to have to explain yourself to me.”
“I know, you deserve the truth. I’ll see ya in the morning.”
Joshua felt completely confused and disturbed by the events. He still had no real idea of which end was up in his personal life and then all...that...whatever that was, had happened. He wasn't even sure what the westlands were and now people were saying they'd been moved. Farms? Livestock? All of it moved in the blink of an eye? And the events at the airport. All that was completely beyond comprehension. His head hurt just trying to think about it. When they got back to Lafayette Street he went up to the room he'd been staying in, toed off his shoes, and lay on the bed, folding his arms over his face. Movie characters? Them? All the men? Him? How was he to be expected to make sense of all these fantastic things all at the same time?
The young ones, Andy, Jannie, Jeff, Dylan, Johnny and Arthur, made it back to the Fluke and were sitting around the bar nibbling on bar food and talking about another near miss for the family.
“I think we have a guardian angel,” Arthur said.
“You sure it’s an angel?” Johnny asked. “'Cause I don’t see much good happening to us.”
“Nobody dies,” Arthur said. “Nobody ever dies.”
“They’ve come close,” Andy added. “This business about the land and all moving around from the westlands has me puzzled. There’s no explanation for it.”
“Angel,” Arthur repeated, picking up another spicy wing.
“What’s to stop another alien from following the Black Zero through that hole in the sky?”
“The hole closed up, or didn’t you notice, Jeff,” Dylan said. “Just like in the movie it got blasted back into the great beyond.”
“It’s not coming back, Jeff. Though I wonder what will happen next?” Andy said.
Jannie picked up a fry. “Why does something have to happen next?”
“It always does,” Johnny said. “We survive one disaster and go barreling towards the next.”
“I’m glad you blokes came home,” Andy said. “You were gone a long time, missed Christmas.”
“We had Christmas,” Arthur smiled. “Penny’s family was there.”
“Actually, we went with her family. First time on skis but it was fun, wasn’t it Arthur?”
Arthur blushed. “Fun, but I’m not much of a skier.”
Johnny laughed. He wouldn’t divulge Arthur’s experiences tonight. He did look down at Arthur’s perfectly turned ankle and winked.
George came back into where Big Jack was, accompanied by Ardith. "Dr. McDaniel here says you're a bit confused, Jack, as to where you are."
"I am here. I have been saying all along I am here." Jack didn't like being accused of being confused.
George took his pulse manually. "Normal," he pronounced.
"Now, George," Ardith smiled, "there's nothing normal about the Colonel and you know it."
"You tease," Jack said. "You know of me?"
"Yes, I know of you." Ardith's smile widened. "I like you, Jack."
"Very unprofessional," George muttered.
Jack had been watching George. "She is your lady?"
"One does not know?" Jack asked, cocking a brow.
"I'm his lady," Ardith said, "and he's my man. Works both ways nowadays."
George looked in Jack's eyes. "You didn't get hit on the head, did you?"
Jack rapped on his head with his knuckles. "Solid as a rock."
"Maybe we could use it as a cannonball if we get sent back to Gettysburg," George grinned.
"Most unprofessional," Ardith said firmly. "Don't listen to him, Jack."
"Is he not the regimental surgeon?"
"Gads, I hope not! After Young Jack losing a kidney I pray my days as a regimental surgeon are over."
"Young...?" Something twitched in Big Jack's brain. "Young...?" A mental image of a slender youth in a dark uniform seemed to appear. "You mean...Little Jack?"
"You remember him?"
"I..." He wasn't sure. Then he remembered falling. "I think I...I think I may have landed upon the fellow."
"Yes," George encouraged, "that's Young Jack. You and he were together at Gettysburg. You had to show him how to load and fire an antique rifle."
"Antique? Why...?" He felt a little dizzy, shook his head hard, then looked at George. "Zod?"
"You killed him, Jack. That let Jor-El get you and Richie and Colin off the ship."
Jack closed his eyes, his mind flooding with images. He grabbed George's arm, his eyes snapping open. "They are well...unharmed?"
"All but you already gone home," George smiled. He looked at Ardith. "I think his brain is back in gear."
Jack turned his head, scanning the area where he was. "I'm in the hospital? I was injured?"
"Not injured, Jack, just no air to breathe."
Jack sucked in a big lungful, expanding his chest. "There is air here," he observed, then frowned, "but a substantial lack of food."
Pearly wrapped a towel around his middle and looked at the red mark on his stomach. It was still tender and would probably leave a bruise along his ribcage. He was remembering now how it got there, a blast from one of those aliens' weapons. It hadn’t killed him but it had done something to him. He shuddered thinking about the aliens. They had human faces and bodies but that’s where it ended. Jor-El was one of those beings. He hoped never to see him again. He was angry but instead of filling him with a white hot heat, he still felt cold. He shivered and reached for his robe. He’d been unconscious for awhile. Had they done something to him at the hospital? That was the thing, you never knew what could happen to you when you were unconscious.
He’d made it back to his living quarters in the row of buildings that had been discovered by Biebe and Terry. His men were all gone but one whom he found asleep in the garage. He’d kicked him awake and admonished him for not being there when he needed him. He’d had to walk most of the way home before flagging a taxi. He sent him out to pick up some food.
Pearly sat down and tried to remember the last thing that had happened at the airport before he’d been blasted. He had been running towards Colin…why? To save him from making a stupid mistake. To save him…was that a good deed? “Lu, wherever you are, that wasn’t my intention. Ya know me…I don’t do good deeds.” Lu didn’t come to him. Lu didn’t enter his mind at all.
Nash and Charles sat comfortably in John's den, drinking beer, munching chips. "I didn't think you would come back," John said.
"I was waiting, unsure about that myself."
"There is a man here, Charles, a man who looks like you and who claims he is some sort of doctor."
"Looks like me? How odd."
"Do you think he is gone now that you have returned?"
"I have no idea who the man is, John. How can I know if he is gone."
"He's friends with the sea captain. I wonder if he is here because the Captain needs him like you said I need you."
Charles smiled. "Interesting thought. So, this is your new house, is it?"
"You like it?"
"It's unique, like I am. I should have a unique house."
"Yes, John, you should. You definitely deserve the best."
"I have you, Charles. You're the best."
"One tries," Charles smiled.
Alex dropped Nick, Kim and Cal off at the hospital then drove home. Linda and Dennis were eating when he arrived so he joined them at the kitchen island.
“How did it go?” Linda asked.
Alex recounted the meeting out at Max’s house. “This is going to get expensive, Linda. I think Nick may come up with the $20,000 but that’s only taking care of Vasari. There’s still the state of Texas that’s going to have to be reimbursed.”
Linda played with her food for a moment. “This is the craziest thing I’ve heard lately. One thing, Alex, you know I’ll do anything I can to protect the family.”
“Max said Johnny can do something to the faces of our people in the film so that they’re not recognizable. Some digital thing. That doesn’t help much since the news outlets have got the clear and damning pictures.”
“They’ve been showing it over and over on CNN,” Dennis said.
“Well, you have to admit, it was pretty spectacular, Dennis,” Linda said.
“Too bad we can’t zap the evidence off the screen,” Alex said. “You know who could do that? Sid, but ol' Sid ain’t around anymore.”
“Don’t tell me you’re getting nostalgic for Sid?” Dennis raised his brows.
“Not really, but we seem to be getting ourselves into a lot of trouble lately. Not that we’re trying, you know. But serious trouble. There’s Dino still hanging on a thread and Terry and Dee all shot up.”
Linda put a hand on his arm. “We’ll get through this, Alex. As for expenses involved with this alien invasion…I’ve got that covered. Don’t tell Nick, okay? Let him worry a bit.”
George had dropped Steve off at the hospital because his car was there, but now Steve stood in the parking lot, wondering what to do. He wanted to see Kate but if he went to the Martin mansion, her father would inundate him with questions, none of which he could really answer. Damn, everything was so awkward! He was heading for the Fluke, intending on dulling his anxiety a bit, when his cell rang.
"Steve, are you all right? When are you coming back?"
"Oh, hullo, Kate. Yeah, I'm fine, maybe a little tired. I, ah, may just go home and go to sleep. I'll see you tomorrow, ok?"
"I'd rather you came here now."
"I know, sweetheart, but I really need to crash."
A long sigh came through the phone. "All right." After a pause she asked, "Is it Daddy?"
"That, too. I don't know what I can say to him about all this."
"Is anyone trying to handle it, Steve?"
"That I don't know. I sure as hell hope someone's on top of it, Kate. The shit's really hit the fan this time."
Upon arriving at his condo building, Nick was confronted by several members of the press. He tried to brush them off but they kept hammering him with questions. Kim tried to pacify with the old ‘the mayor will be making a statement tomorrow morning.’ The reporters weren’t buying it. Some explanation had to be forthcoming. Tired and feeling cornered, Nick made a mistake.
“I understand they were actors,” he said and his security people opened the door and a corridor for Nick to escape to the elevators.
Rusty had taken Raja out for a ride even though the daylight was nearly gone. He was happier when riding, though happy wasn't a word he'd really use to describe himself. Nonetheless, he felt at home on horseback, the very familiarity of it a comfort to his soul. Stopping at the edge of the Christmas tree farm, he patted the stallion's neck.
"I'm glad you're still with me, boy." He was even in spite of the fact the horse had been brought into his life by Holli. He looked toward the neat trees, the thought of her bringing clearly to his mind when he'd come upon her making love with Sid.
"No," he said to himself. "No!" He didn't want to think about that. That just led to more confusion in his mind...Sid...himself...Glen...Russell. Who was who and what was what? At least he knew Glen had had nothing to do with moving the westlands. Glen had been unconscious along with the rest of them. Something in him was deeply relieved Glen had not been responsible. What was it, though, that lingered with him that he could even entertain the idea that it might have been possible? Was Glen more capable of such things than he himself was? He knew good and well that he himself could do nothing extraordinary.
But Blue could, and...Ariel. He'd gotten used to thinking of them as far, far away, out beyond the galaxies. But now it seemed they weren't. Why? What would motivate them to linger anywhere near this Earth? He smiled grimly as he realized he'd added the 'this' onto his thought about Earth. It wasn't the only one. It was the one where Zod could break through. It was the one where Black could come and dinosaurs could roam, the one where they could be taken to Kent and to ancient Persia. Yes, it was 'this' Earth and the clear thought of that made his skin crawl.
Klara finally convinced Jor-El to come inside. He’d safely stored away his little space ship and was talking about the improvements he intended to make.
“I think you have done enough today. It is time for rest and contemplation. The threat is gone, Jor-El.”
“Is it?” He glanced at her and closed the door to the garage, making sure it was locked up tight. “What new threat waits on the horizon? We must always be prepared, Klara.”
“That may be so, but tonight you will rest. You suffered an injury today, a life threatening event.”
“It is healed,” he replied, taking her arm he walked back to the observatory.
Klara wasn’t convinced and said she should examine him closely…without his skin suit.
First thing the following morning, Muriel took Robin to a car dealership where he bought a compact brown vehicle, nothing outstanding as serviceable was all he required. Then he drove the short distance out to Maximus' to speak with Noah about Greenwood and about housing matters.
"Yes," Noah nodded thoughtfully, "I think I would like that, sharing a place with you. I know I am welcome here but it is their place as a family, not mine."
And so the two of them went out to look at houses in the vicinity of Greenwood, pleased when they came upon a unique one that held appeal for both of them. It had a dark roof that came nearly to the ground on the sides with large timber beams in the front. The beamed aspect of it made Robin smile, thinking both of his tree house and of old places in England. Noah, for his part, was reminded of the beams of the ark he'd spent so many years laboring to build. After a stop at Max's to arrange funding and to speak with him about the Greenwood camp as well, they drove back to the camp so Noah could look around and meet Thomas Golightly.
Desperate for a change of scenery, Terry asked to be wheeled out into the waiting room by the big windows. Dee was already there while their beds were being changed and remade.
“Sure emptied out, didn’t it?” Dee said.
“Crisis over, everything back to normal,” Terry answered. “No need to hang around here.”
“I want to go home. Why do we have to stay here?”
Dee sighed. “I guess we’re lucky to have him. Imagine if we had some unsympathetic medical robot who didn’t care about us.”
“He cares, Nolia. He’s one of the family. I need to see somebody about Dino this morning.”
“You’re worried about him, aren’t you?”
“I haven’t seen him and that bothers me. I don’t know what’s going on with him.”
“George will be around in a little while.”
“I feel so out of touch. Three days in the hospital. Who is looking after the shop? Not sure I know.”
“Marcus was here while you were unconscious. I’m sure he’s got it under control.”
Terry banged his good hand on the arm of his wheel chair. “I don’t need this chair. I’ve had worse injuries and walked away.”
“It’s because you were knocked out for hours, Terry. I’ve been there before with you and your head injuries. Just calm down or you’ll bring on a headache.”
Lachlan and Cort helped Young Jack load his things into his car for his move to Rusty's place. Everyone had been very encouraging to him about it but there was still some nagging part in him that felt he was abandoning them.
"No," Cort said, reading it in Jack's eyes. "You need a life, your own life. Now's the time for you to go an' find it."
"I still don't know what that is," Jack sighed.
"Law school takes a while. You'll know by the time you're done there. You will."
"He's right, Jack," Lachlan chimed in. "New people, new things to learn. You'll have a bunch of chances to make decisions as you go."
"You blokes have just always..."
"I know," Lachlan interrupted with a wide grin. "We've always been just magnificent. But it's time to spread your wings and fly."
"I feel like a baby robin," Jack sighed.
"You need a final nudge out of the nest?" Lachlan poked him with an elbow.
Jack laughed and turned to open the car door. "I still might actually like to learn to fly one of these days."
"Door's always open."
Jack felt a tug on his pants leg and looked down. Glinda was gazing up at him with her large blue eyes. "Say hi to Glen, ok, Uncle Jack."
"Sure will, sweetheart." He bent and lifted her for a kiss. "You come and visit me, visit us both, all right?"
Glinda looked over her shoulder at Cort. "Daddy'll bring me, won't you, Daddy?"
Cort smiled. "I'll bring you, little darlin'."
"You come back for dinner a lot, too," Daisy added.
"I will and that's a promise I intend to keep." He looked at them all standing there in sort of a semi-circle, including Georgie and Welland. His chin trembled just a little. Well, it wasn't like he was going to the moon. He got in the car, shut the door and started the engine. "Twenty, twenty-five minutes tops. I'll be back."
"You and the Terminator," Lachlan smiled.
"Don't say that!" Daisy frowned at him.
"You afraid the Kraken might be released?"
"I don't know what might be released, Lachlan, and you don't either. So...just don't say things like that, ok?"
"Sorry, luv." He kissed her cheek and she smiled at him.
Cal backed out of the driveway and paused a moment before moving out in the street. He’d just purchased a copy of the footage the local cameraman shot of the airport invasion. It cost him $3,000. He watched the fellow destroy what was in his camera after making a copy for him. Illegal as all get out but he had what he came for. Earlier he’d tried to talk a CNN cameraman into giving him the same thing but the fellow wouldn’t budge. They were hanging around today and then heading out to Dallas. He made a call to Max.
“I’ve got the local footage, Max. What am I supposed to do with it? It’s an expensive DVD.”
“Cal, I think we’re meeting back here at 10:00, if you can get out here by then. Nick’s in trouble already.”
“Yeah, why?” Cal grinned.
“Something the network news picked up last night. We’ll discuss it when you get here.”
Cal frowned. He hadn’t watched the late news and the early morning newscasts hadn’t revealed anything he wasn’t already aware of.
Linda insisted on going with Alex. “I’m not sure why you have to be there, Alex. What did you leave undone last night?”
“The money thing and just how all this is going to come together. It probably won’t take long.” Alex slipped an arm around her shoulder. He was still limping around. Steps were a little beyond him. Linda helped support him to the car.
Richie put his phone down and ran his fingers through his hair. He had no idea what was going on out at the winery but he’d been summoned out there by Max. He’d been dressing for the office, always a casual atmosphere for him. He picked up his jacket and headed for the kitchen where he made a go-cup of coffee and turned off the machine.
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