Stranded in a Foreign Land
Chapter 9: Understated Theatrics

Copyright© 2014 by Vincent Berg

Running through the pelting rain, Josh reached his, or rather Molly's, car. Yanking it open, a little surprised it hadn't even been locked, he jumped behind the wheel and tried to wipe some of the water off of him. The weather had turned much worse while he'd been inside the police station and now it was blowing up a storm. Lightning flashes lit up the sky in the distance, the rolling sounds of thunder arriving several seconds later. That produced a smile, as Josh cast a last surreptitious glance behind him at the seemingly empty cars parked around the station, wondering which ones had officers hidden inside tasked with tracking him.

He had to play this carefully. Some politician, probably the Governor, had put pressure on the police chief to let him go, but he had no doubt the supposed Col. Adams wouldn't be so circumspect. He just hoped his threat that the device on his arm could transmit whatever happened to him would cause them to hesitate, planning exactly when and where they'd take it. Or even better, if they simply let him loose so he'd lead them to whomever he was hiding.

The roads were empty and it was difficult driving very fast given the driving rain which fell in sheets as the wind blew along the flat plains outside of town. Even the extensive road blocks they'd encountered earlier were gone. Josh figured they'd assumed they'd 'found' who they were looking for and that they'd do better finding who he was working with rather than stopping people at random and sparking further curiosity about what they were up to. Luckily, even though this was fairly far from his home, his parents had dragged him along on enough trips to the neighboring farms in the nearby communities for him to remember where a few were. Not being sure of the exact direction, he set off in the right general direction, driving extra slowly so he wouldn't miss any necessary turns.

Josh kept glancing in the rearview mirror but never saw any headlights following him. That both heartened and terrified him. It meant they were giving him free rein, but it might also imply they'd already planned to intercept him before he could get too far away. Since he didn't know quite how far he had to go he had no idea how much time he'd have, and the fact he was heading into the lonely countryside would mean there wouldn't be any witnesses to intimidate anyone trailing him.

"The least you could do was leave me a dry towel," Josh complained, speaking to those who'd held him captive. He knew they'd have bugged his car, presumably with listening devices and GPS. That would explain why there didn't appear to be anyone trailing him at the moment. They could easily stay a mile or so behind him without fear of losing him that way. And if they thought he was having trouble driving in this weather, they might even stay farther back than that. But his main point in speaking to those recording devices was that he hoped his family, or whoever had been recording his police interrogation, would be able to hear him and would figure out that he was out of the building and in his car. He clearly didn't want to speak directly to them, however. Again, they already knew too much about the device on his arm, there was no sense in confirming it.

He found the familiar turns, despite its having been a few years since he'd last taken them, and approached the farm they'd provided stud service to at one time. It was a small farm which couldn't afford their own bulls, so his parents had needed him to help manage the large and cranky animal both on the way there and once they'd arrived. He saw the lonely farm house off in the distance with only a couple of lights on in the entire structure, but he turned off, finding an access road leading off into the fields where their struggling crops were heroically trying to sprout.

Being careful not to accidentally drive off the narrow dirt road, he stopped at the edge of one field that looked ideal. Glancing behind him one more time, trying to see any sign of trailing vehicles, he quickly yanked off his shirt and undershirt, following them with him pants and socks, although he kept his shoes and underwear just for propriety's sake. Glancing out the window he noted the wind was blowing much too hard for them to put a helicopter in the air. They might be able to keep one aloft, but they wouldn't be able to control it well enough to keep it hidden, which would keep them from exposing themselves by using one. Looking back down, he punched a couple spots on the once again exposed device on his arm. Having no idea how long it would take, he steeled himself for the journey he was about to undertake.

Throwing the door open, he dashed out, running across the muddy field streaked with streaming rivulets of rainwater, his feet slipping and sliding in the mud tearing the plants up as he went. They would certainly have no trouble finding where he went, even if the rain washed away his footprints. He headed into the middle of the field, but without any lights he had no way of knowing what kind of progress he was making. Glancing at his arm again, he noted with satisfaction the rapidly changing complex symbols in green on his arm. He had no idea how far off it was, but it was approaching, and however long it took, it would certainly be here before anyone could trek out into the field to catch him.

He continued on, slipping and sliding, finally glancing at his arm one more time, happy to see the green symbols still dancing. Only they stopped suddenly, just before he walked headfirst into something hard he'd been unable to see in advance. Scrambling, he picked himself out of the mud and tried to peer around the rain falling into his face. It was hard to make out anything, and the surface of the craft appeared to reflect no light at all. Feeling his way this time, he quickly found the walls and followed them, moving to where he'd first collided with it.

He was amazed at just how efficient it was. It was virtually undetectable, even when you were standing only a few feet away from it, and it hadn't even kicked up any of the loose mud of the field it had just landed on. Searching for some memorable surface feature, he couldn't remember any in particular, especially not that he'd recognize in the dark, so he simply stood back, made a motion of pulling something apart with his hands and commanded "Open!". And just like that, it did. A door suddenly appeared which slid back and disappeared into the wall, leaving a dimly lit interior with a few blinking lights to guide him as he moved inside. Glancing down just before he crossed the threshold, he noticed he had to step up slightly, which pleased him. He doubted it wouldn't leave any indication of its presence, but he was at least hopeful it wouldn't leave a huge honking depression in the field for them to record its precise measurements.

"Close," he commanded, and again it did, at which point the lights increased. Moving quickly, he unfolded his t-shirt he'd been tightly grasping in his palm and used it to brush off the remaining rainwater from his skin. He then wiped the mud from his feet and legs, tossing the dirty t-shirt by the entrance where he wouldn't forget it.

Locating the chair he'd occupied before, he waited and, low and behold, the same tablet lowered from the ceiling for him to use. But he had no time to practice his earlier lessons. Instead he instructed it, "Go in clouds."

Nothing happened, so he figured it was trying to figure out what he was talking about. He gave it a second and then repeated himself, "Go up into the clou—".

"We are in cloud," it answered, which shocked Josh since he hadn't felt anything. No acceleration or shifting as the craft disengaged from the cloying mud, no buffeting by the heavy but inconsistent winds. Shaking his head, he figured it must know what it was doing better than he did.

Extending his arm alongside the tablet where he'd previous communicated with the craft, he turned it up next to it and stabbed his finger into the largest collection of yellow lights. "Go here!"

Again, there was no movement, no motion of any kind, indeed no sound either. But not being sure, he tried once again. "Go—"

"Here," it answered, not even waiting for him to finish his request. Shrugging, Josh turned and walked back to the entrance, picking up his filthy t-shirt and commanded it to open. He was shocked to find it sitting on the ground, not in front of his own home, but sitting only a few yards away from Wanda Myers' little house.

Shrugging, Josh rushed out into the pelting rain, stopping to motion for the craft to close its door before hurrying onto her small porch where he hurriedly pounded on the door.

There was no response for several seconds and then a hesitant voice asked, "Hello?"

"Hurry up and open the door," he insisted. "It's Josh and I'm freezing out here!"

A series of bolts were hurriedly turned and the door swung open. Without waiting to see who was there, Josh rushed into the welcoming warmth of the house.

"Josh, it's so good to ... are you naked?" Wanda asked, stepping back slightly.

"He certainly is," Molly Brown informed her. "Well, all except for the good parts," she added with a smile. When Josh glanced at her, she favored him with a playful leer before turning to Wanda. "Grab him a warm towel," she ordered. "He's soaked!"

"You're certainly a sight for sore eyes," his mother, Melissa, said as she walked up and enveloped him in a welcoming hug, not at all disturbed by her soaking wet shivering naked son. "We were so worried what they might do to you."

"Look, I'd love to spend more time saying hello to everyone," he replied, shaking himself loose a moment later, "but I've got to find some clothes. We've got a lot to do and only so much time to do it."

"Wait, wait, not so fast," Jeffery insisted, walking up and giving him the once over before turning back to the ever silent black man standing beside the window. "Phillip, you're his size, lend him your shirt. We'll find him some pants in a minute."

Josh grabbed it as soon as it was offered, slinging it on and hugging himself for a little extra warmth.

Jeffery glanced at the door before turning back to Josh. "Now, before anything else, how did you get here? How did you even know where to find us, and most importantly, did you notice anyone following you?"

"Believe me, no one followed me," Josh assured him, rubbing his arms to hurry the warming effect of the shirt.

"Pardon me if I'm not quite as trusting as you, but I know very well who we're dealing with. There will have been eyes on you since you stepped out of the police station."

In response, Josh simply walked back to the front door. It took him a minute to figure out how to unlock the various deadbolts on the door, but when he did he swung the door open, pointing out the way he'd come.

"No, I guess they wouldn't have," Jeffery gasped once his eyes finally adjusted enough to see the outline of the alien craft sitting only a short distance away.

"Damn," the normally reticent Phillip swore. "I've been staring out this window, watching for anyone approaching, and I never saw it arrive or Josh get out."

"It's got some amazing stealth technology," Josh replied, once again closing the door.

Wanda appeared from the hallway carrying some clothes for Josh, but before she could get near him Becky ran around her, rushing him. "Josh, oh thank God! I was so worried about you!"

Josh tried to back away, but she was upon him before he could get far. She too enveloped him in a hug completely ignoring his lack of clothes, but she hardly missed it as she pressed herself against him. "I was so worried, and then when I heard what they wanted to do to you... ," she said, never putting how she responded into words as she buried her face in his chest, quietly sobbing at the memories.

Looking up in frustration since he didn't have time for this kind of unexpected emotionalism, he met the look from Molly, who simply shook her head, grinning a crooked grin and tsk-tsking, though the sound never reached them. Instantly realizing what she and everyone else was thinking, he pushed her back. "See if you can get me a jacket and pants. I've still got a lot to do, and we've got to do it tonight."

"Oh, absolutely!" she said, turning and rushing past Wanda, who was standing there with his clothes. "I'll get my stuff ready as well," she shouted as she ran out of the room.

Shaking her head, Wanda crossed the remaining distance and handed Josh the clothes. "You'd better get dressed before she returns and attacks you right here in front of us."

Josh took the clothes and examined them, recognizing his favorite work shirt, jeans, socks, shoes and everything else. Shaking his head, he looked up. "How... ?"

"When your family invited themselves into my house, fearing yours wasn't secure anymore, they brought your spare clothes with them, hoping you'd be able to get away somehow."

Figuring he'd better take her advice, Josh threw decorum aside and quickly stripped off his wet and muddy underwear—using his shirt for coverage—and dressed quickly before he had another reception.

"Is everyone here?" he asked, fastening his pants.

"Yes. It was a tight fit, but we couldn't risk trying for another house and separating everyone." Jeffery motioned towards the back, where a sliding glass door revealed the rain hadn't eased any. "Your pals are out trying to figure out how to bury the escape pods in the pouring rain."

Josh shook his head. "Call them back in. I want them to load them into the craft outside. It's the most secure place to store them, and they belong to the Barbara's people anyway."

The people surrounding him glanced at each other, each trying to figure out who should respond when Molly turned and rushed for the back of the house.

Josh wiped himself down one last time while addressing Jeffery and Phillip. "We'll need you to help carry them out and get them loaded. I'm pretty sure they'll have some mechanism for storing them inside."

"Are there... ?" Jeffery asked, wordlessly motioning in the direction of the craft outside.

"No, it's empty. But it's got a fairly sophisticated AI that seems able to take care of itself. It got me here, at least, and it did it without calling down the Air Force, so I think it has some idea of what it's doing."

"Josh?" Janet asked, peeking her head into the living room they were all clustered in. "If you have a chance, I think you should make an appearance," she told him, glancing back in the room she'd just left. "Barbara is anxious to see you."

Just then the back door opened and Molly led Josh's three friends into the house, each dripping despite their rain parkas.

"Damn, it's good to see you still breathing," Peter told him, slapping him on the back.

"That's the truth," Fred added. "When you ran off on your own we were sure we'd seen the last of you, and we suspected we wouldn't be far behind."

"Don't worry, they have no clue who I am or where I'm from. They hadn't taken my fingerprints or a DNA swab yet, but even if they had, Mom never let anyone take our DNA or fingerprints growing up. She was always as paranoid about Government overreach as me, so even if they lift it off the table they won't be able to tie it to me."

"Except for Molly's car," Jeffery reminded him.

"Don't worry," Molly said, hurriedly drying the others off. "I had a feeling this would happen, so after I loaned Josh my car I phoned the police back home that it had been stolen. I assumed it would take some time for the information to be transmitted from state to state. It may not be much protection, but it's at least something."

"All right, I need you four guys and Molly to load the capsules into the craft outside, while I visit Barbara," Josh instructed them. Becky returned with some clothes and frowned when she saw he'd already dressed. "But we need to hurry. I want to rescue the rest of the remaining aliens tonight, if it's at all possible. Becky, you need to watch the loading so you can report back to your father who helped and who didn't, just don't get in the way on the ship, as the others will be moving stuff around and the interior is a bit ... delicate," he instructed, hoping to keep Becky both occupied and out of the way. But even as he said it, he couldn't miss the looks she was getting from Molly, Cynthia and his own mother. It was clear she didn't have a lot of fans amongst this crowd.

Everyone set to work, peppering Josh with questions concerning what to expect, even though Josh had no idea. He took Molly and Jeffery outside to ready the craft for them. He strode out into the pouring rain, ignoring the umbrella offered him, and walked directly up to the craft.

"Pthifkor!" he commanded, speaking the alien command for 'open' just to see the reaction of the others. Their expressions, just as he'd expected, were priceless. They both stood slack-jawed as the ship obeyed his command and the door slid open revealing a dim, almost pitch black interior. Motioning them forward he pointed out where he wanted the capsules laid out.

"Just lay them here. I don't know how they'll secure them, but I assume they've got some method. If they want us to do it, I'm sure they'll tell me. But let me know if this device here says anything to you," he instructed them, pointing out the tablet device he'd been using to communicate with. The craft suddenly had enough light inside to see by, although from outside, the ships walls seemed to absorb most of the available light, leaving it looking like it was pitch black inside. "I'll be back in a little while, but I want to check on those we're doing all of this for." And with that he ran back inside.

Just as he'd expected, Becky was busy instructing Peter, Fred and Phillip on how to load the alien capsules—something she clearly had no experience in—so he told her "Good job" as he hurried past and into the room at the end of the hall where Barbara and some of the others waited.

"She could hear your voice," Janet told him as he entered. "She's been anxious to speak to you."

Josh simply nodded. As he neared, Barbara quickly reached for her notepad and pencil, but Josh started speaking, telling her no, that it wasn't needed. Janet, Francis and their mother all stared at him in wonder as he conversed in very crude methods. Although Josh now knew a few phrases and certain key words, he had a limited ability to make the necessary sounds. However, as he struggled, Barbara reached out and motioned toward his arm.

Figuring what she wanted, he presented the device on his arm to her, pulling his shirtsleeve back to expose it to her. She quickly typed out some sort of command, her fingers dancing over its surface, not bothering to do it slowly enough for Josh to remember. But then she stopped and looked up at Josh with an odd expression.

The device made an odd sound that while familiar was none of the words that he currently knew. In response, he simply stared at it in confusion and then glanced at Barbara, expected some response from her. But the device itself figured from the delay that he hadn't understood. "Yes, no?" it asked in a heavily accented question.

Glancing once more at Barbara, he answered, "Yes," very affirmatively. While Josh had no idea what she'd asked it to do, the fact she now required him to confirm his authorization spoke volumes. As his arm started a dialogue with her, he glanced back at his family, who were staring at him in confusion. That was when he realized they could only hear one side of the dialogue. He remembered when Barbara has initially jabbed his ear and he'd reacted by jerking away from her before she wrapped the device onto his arm. She'd probably implanted some kind of communication device in his ear. As she spoke to the device, and through it to her landing craft, he pondered what all this meant.

Although the device had some sort of rank and command and control functions—like the ability to call the craft outside—she'd clearly surrendered her control over it to him, meaning she could no longer access any of its services without his approval. That said a lot about the trust she's granted him. But he realized that when she'd done it, she probably hadn't expected to live for long and probably saw it as a last gasp effort to save at least a few of her companions. But it also meant that he could trust them—to some degree at least. Without his approval, they couldn't get control over their ship, and he assumed this was the only available craft that could get them back to their ship. They couldn't very well attack him or stab him in the back without risking he wouldn't cooperate as a result. They could still mislead and deceive him and he'd never know it, but the knowledge that they needed him so much relieved many of the fears he'd been trying hard to suppress.

Their conversation didn't last long, and as much as he could tell—especially since he hadn't really been paying attention—it had been giving Barbara a brief rundown on how to best pronounce phrases that he'd understand. Whether it also told her anything about her other shipmates, he had no idea. When she glanced up at him expectantly he jumped in.

He told her the equivalent of "I go, get your people now." Again, her face crinkled in what he could only assume was some facial expression he couldn't comprehend, but he assumed it was one of relief. She asked a brief one word question, but it wasn't one he understood. However, he did his best to answer it. "Tonight." When she asked the device on his arm what he meant, it too seemed at a loss. So he made a motion depicting the sun rising on the horizon, and somehow she seemed to understand that.

Finally, he turned to the others in the room as she sank back on the bed, relieved that progress was finally being made. Though she seemed better, she was still incredibly weak, and those with her didn't seem to be doing nearly as well as she was.

"Have we lost any?" he asked Janet, whispering in a vain hope that Barbara wouldn't overhear.

"Not yet, but it's touch and go. Again, we've got no way to treat whatever they have, so we're just making them comfortable. I've been giving them some pure oxygen, which seems to help, but it leaves them a little loopy so I'm being careful in how I apply it. But basically, if they're going to live it's due to them, not anything I can do. I'm hoping everyone that's survived has already beaten whatever killed the rest and that all we can do is help them over the worst of it."

"Have you been feeding them anything?"

"Yes," Josh's mother, Melissa, answered. "We've been making a beef stew for them. Since we didn't know whether they'd have any problem with the ingredients, I limited it to mostly bouillon cubes and offered her a few vegetables I added to it. She didn't seem to have any negative response, so I included them for a little flavor and some added nutrients."

"But they've been eating?"

"Yes, and peeing and pooping as well," she assured him with a comforting smile. "I know how to take care of sick, helpless adults. After all, I've nursed each of you through a few miserable episodes."

"OK, I didn't mean to imply you didn't, but I at least had to ask," he responded, smiling back at her in a manner that said 'thank you' as much as 'forgive me'.

Seeing he'd worked through that, Cynthia, who'd been watching from the door, approached him. "Josh, we'd better speak now while I have you to myself."

Figuring it was important, Josh drew her more fully into the room. The fact his mother went and firmly closed the door alerted him that it was important, and that it was something they'd each been holding in reserve.

"It's about Becky," Cynthia told him, studying his face to see how he'd respond. When he simply waited for her to continue, she swallowed and then gave him some back story first. "When we got home, your mother told us that Jonathan McCreary, her father, had been calling the house. Although I never spoke to him myself, it seems he's been trying to alert you that Becky is acting on her own. She wheedled the information out of him and then snuck out of the house to intercept you. Here, listen to this," she finished, fishing out a little mini recorder of her own.

"Josh, if you get this, I want to warn you that Becky is on the warpath. I may be able to lead hundreds of hard-headed servicemen and women, but I've obviously got no control over my own daughter. She got out where you were headed and that I had arranged a meeting, and I'd thought I'd warned her off after vaguely explaining the dangers you faced. But when I went to talk to her, she'd disappeared. Whatever you do, do not think that I authorized her. Frankly, she's a loose cannon and I have no idea what she's trying to do. But I thought you deserved a warning."

Josh frowned at this newest revelation. It certainly explained everyone's response to her once he'd returned.

"I'd figured as much. It was clear she didn't know what I was up to, but since she wouldn't leave me alone I had to include her when I explained everything to the others."

"That might very well be, but you can't trust her," Cynthia responded, deciding to express her own doubts despite her fears that Josh wasn't ready to hear them yet. "You've seen how she responds to things. She'll tell you one thing while actively trying to hurt you. She'll play nice while effectively stabbing you in the back. By telling her everything you're doing, you're equipping her with whatever she needs to destroy what all of us are working for."

"But surely she wouldn't do anything that would implicate both herself and her father?" Josh asked, not quite able to believe she'd go that far.

"I wouldn't count on it," Cynthia cautioned as his mother and sisters listened in, apparently concerned about the exact same things themselves. "I'm convinced she hurt herself by shacking up with that creep and bad mouthing you around school, but it certainly didn't stop her. When she gets upset she goes nuclear. I don't think she considers the fallout. She may be likely to commit us all to hell just in order to pay you back for some imagined slight from years ago, or from some new one she's invented along the way."

"Damn," Josh mumbled to himself. "Well, given how much she already knows, there's no sense trying to hide anything now."

"What about what's inside the ship?" Francis asked.

"Again, the only way she could convey the specifics is if she's already turned us in, so the details won't matter as much as the initial betrayal. But I suspect our best defense is inclusion. It's better to keep your friends close and your enemies closer," Josh told them, not quite fully believing it himself. "I can't freeze her out now, and I can't leave her here where she'd have a reason to turn on me and the means and time to communicate where we are. I can't see how I can remove her from the equation."

"Well, just remember, you've got about zero ability to resist her," Cynthia reminded him. "Whenever she wants something, you fold like an old suit. She's always wrapped you around her finger, and it still wasn't enough for her. Keep in mind what she's capable of, and although I hate to say it, be prepared to take her out if necessary. After all, it's not your ex that you're trying to protect, it's several stranded foreigners. Your role is keeping their advanced technologically out of the hands of the government, but all of us are in danger. Given what's at stake, just give Jeffery or Phillip the word and I'm sure they'd take care of her."

"I'm not sure I could do that, Cynthia," Josh told her honestly, staring her in the eyes so she could see his conflict.

"I know, and that's my biggest fear. I'm not as worried about the military, the police or anyone else as much as I'm afraid of you and her" Cynthia swallowed nervously but punctuated her sentiments with a firm hug, as if she was saying goodbye one last time, and Josh simply held her and considered this newest information.

"All right, everyone in and stand away from the walls," Josh instructed as they prepared to leave. "I don't know enough about this craft yet to know what you might activate if you touch anything."

"You don't know much about it, yet you're going to fly us around with it without looking, and without us having as much as a seat belt restraining us in case of a crash," Becky said, looking nervously at everything she might fall into.

"Seat belt? How about a seat?" Cynthia laughed, glancing at the oddly shaped seats which weren't exactly designed for human use. "If this takes longer than three or four minutes, I'm likely to get restless."

"Frankly, I'm not afraid of standing, but I'm nervous about those escape pods," Phillip complained. "A fall while flying is one thing, but being slammed in the back by a several hundred pound missile is quite another."

Jeffery clasped his shoulder in a comforting grip. "Don't worry. I checked it out." He leaned over, pushing hard against the nearest device with his foot, which didn't budge. "They're held securely. They aren't moving. I've got no idea what's holding them in place or how it'll be affected by a mid-air collision, but I assume the craft would know if it was a problem."

"Actually, Jeffery is correct," Josh told them, pausing long enough to command the door closed in Barbara's language—mostly just for effect. "The travel is incredibly fast but you won't notice anything. There's no momentum, no lateral movement, no up or down sensations." He moved forward, stepping around everyone and sat down by his little tablet.

They'd left the others—the women in Josh's family and Wanda—behind to care for their wards. So now there were eight adults and a number of full sized escape pods around the edges of the chamber.

"Where are we going?" Becky asked, her curiosity getting the better of her as she combed her wet hair back in place behind her ear. "Is it north or south of where we were last?" she clarified.

"Neither," Josh answered, turning to address her as he fished a throw-away phone he'd retrieved from Cynthia earlier. "Instead I'm making a stop for reinforcements. It's likely to get crowded in here, but hopefully we'll manage." With that he picked the phone up and dialed the number from memory on it.

"Hello?" a timid female voice cautiously answered.

"Hello," Josh responded, keeping his own message short and to the point. "This is Adam," he said, pausing to let the name sink in before continuing. "Did you get a chance to do what I suggested?"

"I did ... Adam, though I'm not sure why you wanted to change what you warned us not to do," Natalie answered, growing more confident now that she knew she was actually speaking to Josh.

"I'll explain it later. Right now I want you and your entire crew to grab your gear and come outside to meet us. I've got an ... unusual assignment for you."

"Will do," she instantly agreed. "How long will it take for you to get here?"

"I've got no clue as I've got no idea where you are or what traffic is like, but I suggest you grab your gear and head outside as soon as you can."

"Oh, you, we'll be ready when you get here," she replied.

"No, I'm sorry, I'm perfectly serious. Grab your stuff, whatever rain gear you have and step outside to wait for us. If you're in a populated, well lit area we'll probably have to travel a short distance to find you, but... ," he ended, not bothering to finish the sentence.

"Uh... , OK, we'll stand outside and wait for you then. I'll at least send one of the guys for some coffee while we wait."

"Better yet, wait for a little while, and then if we don't show up, walk around and see if you can see us, since we won't know where you are."

"All right," she replied hesitantly, "but—"

"Sorry, gotta go, we're on our way," Josh said, ending the conversation. "Don't hang up for a second, though," he added. Glancing up, he noticed everyone watching him, wondering what he was planning. "I'll explain everything once we pick them up, but I really don't want to have to answer the same questions twice. Now if you'll excuse me," he said, turning to the solid tablet suspended from the ceiling.

"Go here," he said in the foreign tongue, tapping the phone.

As everyone looked on, the craft sat silently as it seemed to be considering his request. Josh had figured it would take some time to identify how the phone call was made, then to trace electric signals in a foreign technology across millions of lines leading off into a zillion unknown directions. When everyone continued staring at him he simply shrugged. "Give it some time."

He waited a little longer and then asked the ship, "Well?"

It gave a short response which he didn't recognize, but feeling a buzz on his arm and looking down, he noticed digits flashing on his arm again. Still having no idea how to read the symbols, he turned to Cynthia.

"So, I'm curious, how did you ever manage to record my conversation with the police?"

Cynthia had to shake her head to clear her thoughts she'd been focused so intently on what he'd been doing. "Oh, when we got home and started getting everyone ready to move, afraid of remaining too long in case they managed to track you, Barbara got upset, asking where you were."

At Josh's inquisitive look, she blushed and hurriedly explained. "No, I had no idea what she said, but she was visibly upset and your sister Janet told me she was worried where you were. I tried to pantomime imprisonment, and drew a picture of you in a jail—which takes a while for someone not used to old TV prison movies, by the way. She started tapping something on one of her companion's arm devices and suddenly we could hear everything being said."

"Yeah, I figured as much. When it happened, my arm buzzed slightly and when I looked I saw a single light blinking, so I figured it was recording, although I had no way of knowing for sure that was what it was. I was mostly going on hope at the moment."

"Well, you couldn't have played it any better. You got them to say all the right things," Cynthia said.

"I tried to get them to implicate themselves, or at least to reveal what they were planning, as well as identifying who was involved, even though no one ever told me their names."

"We got that. But once we figured out what was happening and what they were threatening to do to you, we started a whispered conversation," she replied.

"I must say, their technology is amazing." Jeffery wandered over and tried one of the alien's seats, but after checking it out, decided he'd prefer to stand. "It sounded like you were in the same room, we could hear the door open and the chair squeak, but nothing was transmitted to your end and there was no problem with us talking on our end as we discussed options."

"So what did you do?" Josh prompted, still curious how they got him on the air.

"I started to do what you just did," Cynthia replied. "I started calling Natalie. But then I reconsidered. I turned on the TV and the radio both, and tried to get Barbara to understand. She seemed to, but it took her a while of monkeying around to get everything set up."

"Again, it was amazing to watch," Jeffery jumped in again, his enthusiasm to discuss the technology evident in his voice. "That little device not only records what you couldn't hear if you were in the room yourself, but it records the entire thing while it's transmitting."

"That's nice, but it doesn't answer my question," Josh reminded him.

"It was several minutes later and suddenly the radio station started playing your conversation from the beginning. And then, several minutes later, the TV started playing it as well, but only the audio. The regular TV show and commercials were still playing, only it was broadcasting exactly what happened to you five or ten minutes in the past."

"And she got it to broadcast on those two precise channels?" Josh asked, still trying to wrap his mind around what happened.

"No, she got it to broadcast across ALL of them. We still don't know how far she broadcast the signal, whether it was local, statewide, nationwide or further. Frankly, we didn't want to risk calling anyone to find out, but it was clear that everyone was listening to your interrogation."

"Actually it couldn't have been planned any better," Jeffery responded, jumping in once again. "Since it was broadcast instead of the normal TV dialogue, everyone paid more attention to it, trying to figure out how it fit into the overall plot. I figure they quickly determined it wasn't a warning message, and then they figured it wasn't the soundtrack to the show, but I think they still listened intently, trying to figure out exactly what it was."

"Geez, no wonder why everyone called telling them to release me immediately. The CIA guy was livid, let me tell you."

"Yeah, we heard, although we couldn't see what you could," Cynthia said before cocking her head in curiosity. "Did you ever figure out who the guy was? Was he really CIA?"

"I have no idea," Josh admitted. "As you can imagine, they didn't tell me anything. The police all referred to him as Col. Adams, but I'm sure that was false as well. Frankly, I wouldn't believe him if he told me he was on fire, even if I saw it myself. He made my skin crawl."

"Ours too," Molly confided. "Ours too."

Finally remembering what they were doing, Josh finally turned back to what he was doing. "Where are we?" he asked in the unknown tongue.

"We here," it answered in fractured, broken English.

"Oh, guess we've been wasting time then," Josh answered, standing up and pulling his sleeve back into place before heading for the door.

Not even bothering to tell it, he simply made a one handed motion at the door and it slid open for him. They found themselves in a dark alley between two buildings. It looked like they were in a short access road passing from the back of two buildings to the front as they could see cars in the parking lot.

Without saying a word, Josh pointed in each direction and then motioned for Cynthia to follow him. When Becky silently ran up, eager to join in, he merely pointed right where he stood, not wanting her to get involved since no one knew her from their initial encounter.

He and Cynthia walked forward to the end of the passageway. Phillip, who'd already peered around the corner, signaled it was clear. Strolling around the corner into the hotel's parking lot like he owned the place, Josh couldn't see anyone waiting, so he and Cynthia walked along, watching each motel room to see if they recognized anyone.

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