Stranded in a Foreign Land
Chapter 11: A Couple Detours

Copyright© 2014 by Vincent Berg

Jeffery checked his watch once again before pacing inside the shuttle. "Man, how much longer are they going to take?"

"Hey, how should I know?" Josh replied from his command chair where he had his feet propped against the ship's control board. "They'll take as long as they need to."

"Are you sure you should be doing that?" Becky asked, fretting he might accidentally launch them all into outer space.

"How can you be so relaxed?" Jeffery pressed. "You know better than anyone else how important it is to get in and get out, and how we've got to finish before the clouds disperse and the sun rises." As a squadron leader, he was used to taking control and didn't like working with a bunch of civilians who wouldn't follow established protocol, putting everyone at risk. "We're only safe as long as we remain hidden beneath these clouds. And I'm not anxious to see how this craft holds up against military aircraft. For as amazing as it is, it's designed for deep space. It's not terribly aerodynamic."

"I think I see them coming," Phillip informed them. "They're rounding the bend now."

"It's about damn time!" Jeffery swore, wringing his hands as he noticed the sky brightening with the new dawn. "We really can't be wasting this much time."

"They told us why it's essential," Josh reminded him, keeping his eyes closed despite the objections of both Jeffery and Becky. They'd been running all night, and he knew he still had a lot to accomplish.

"Yeah, but—"

"Look, you're not doing much worrying about it," Molly snapped, annoyed that Jeffery was interrupting the few minutes they had to catnap. "If you used your time to rest, like the rest of us, you'd be better prepared for the next stop. Now quit jabbering so we can get a little sleep."

"See if you can hurry them up," Jeffery told Phillip. Phillip glanced at him, then shrugged and headed out. The downpours had stopped, but it was still drizzling pretty steadily and the ground was thoroughly soaked and muddy.

"You might as well get up," Jeffery said to the still reclining Molly. "Once they get here, we're off."

"Don't worry about me," she responded, not opening her eyes. "When they arrive I'll be ready. Calm down and relax. You're making yourself so crazy you're likely to make mistakes."

That slight admonition got through to him because he knew how true her warning was. He'd seen too many people so preoccupied with minor details they ended up getting people killed as a result. In response, Jeffery took a deep breath, closing his eyes and breathing out slowly in a well-practiced calming technique. He ignored the sounds outside as they parked the car belonging to the residents of the last house they'd visited. Soon they heard the car doors slam and the sound of sloshing footsteps running through the mud. No one in the small capsule prepared for their arrival, though, most looking like they were sound asleep—aside from the sick aliens still moaning in pain. Most of the human's hadn't quite adjusted to the sound of alien's sniffling and blowing their 'noses'. It always produced decidedly inhuman noises.

"Sorry for the delay," Natalie said as she ducked into the capsule, stopping to kick the mud off her boots. Her crew came in with her and did the same. "This area is pretty remote and it took us a while to find any communities nearby, and even longer to find anyone with an active internet connection."

"Exactly why is it so important to post this stuff now?" Peter asked, sitting up and stretching. "I mean, wouldn't it be easier to just wait and post it later?"

"You should ask Josh, since this was his idea," Natalie said, smiling as she removed and shook out her jacket. "But actually I agree with him. If the Governor is calling favors of the local police department, and some CIA honcho shows up to shut down the local investigation, then you know this goes pretty high up. Since they shut down my station, it's clear they won't stop until they get what they want. The only counter we have is to get the information out ourselves. And since they've effectively shut down the media, we need to do it ourselves."

"Yeah, but again, why here? Why now?" Becky asked from the command chair besides Josh's, watching the attractive newscaster with an appraising eye.

"Every time you send an electronic message, it's got a digital signature that can be traced," Josh reminded them as he sat up and stretched. "It isn't hard for the government to get ahold of that information. It's not difficult and it would take them a very short time to identify who was uploading these videos. So waiting until we got home would only lead them directly to us. Posting it here and now keeps the uploads more anonymous."

"But what about the people whose unsecured wireless internet you're 'borrowing'?" Peter asked, sweeping the tracked-in mud out the door with his feet.

"Yeah, they'll have trouble as the police will round them up pretty quickly. But we've done this enough from multiple locations that it should be apparent pretty soon that they had nothing to do with it and have no information they can impart. What's more, since they can't pinpoint how we're getting from one location to another, they can't hope to intercept us by setting up roadblocks."

"Exactly what is it you're posting online anyway?" Phillip asked, finishing brushing the mud droppings out of the craft. If nothing else, Phillip was a details man. Anything you asked of him, he'd do it perfectly every time. But he couldn't stand anything out of place, so he'd spent the time to sweep everything out of the craft he could with piece of paper he'd secured just for that purpose. "Hey, Josh, once you close the door we're set to go. I'd do it myself, but this damn boat don't trust no black man," he laughed.

"We originally posted the first video we did of that one dead alien," Natalie explained as she leaned against the side of the ship, the most comfortable area now that most of the seating was taken up by the ill aliens. "Since the government shut down our initial broadcast and shut the station down, no one else will rebroadcast it. But by posting it on YouTube, and then sending the link to various intermediaries who'll forward the link down the line to other journalists and independent bloggers, we can get it noticed. And once that one gets noticed, people will start looking for other related ones."

"That's when they'll see the others we've posted since then," her crewman said, flexing his hand to resist his impulse to light up a cigarette. "We've since posted Josh rescuing several of our friends," he said, indicating the ailing creatures with a sweep of his arm. "It clearly shows they aren't a threat to anyone and that we're only concerned citizens aiding the helpless."

"That'll put the government in a bad PR fix," Natalie continued, filling in the additional details, "and get people talking about what they're trying to do. If we can possibly trigger some doubt among the government people involved in this, one of them is likely to start leaking information of their own. If we can prove this is definitely a government operation, they'll be hard pressed to deny it with the video we've been posting."

"The original broadcast of Josh's interrogation, which we've also been posting, is pretty damning in itself," Natalie's cameraman said. "The local police will be pressured to explain why they allowed someone to take over their operations, and they'll point up the ladder—presumably to the governor—who'll hopefully point to whoever in the Administration is orchestrating this whole thing. I doubt we'll get the man in charge," he said with a shrug, "but it will indicate they're pulling the strings on this entire thing."

"We're trying to illustrate that this isn't a defensive action against an invading force, which we're assuming will be the government's tactic," Natalie continued. "If we can get some sympathy, hopefully we'll encounter even more people willing to help us in the future."

"That's expecting a lot of good from a lot of ignorant, scared people," Jeffery scoffed. "I hope you're right, but I'm not exactly holding my breath waiting for the cavalry to come riding over the hill any moment."

"OK, that's enough side discussions," Josh interrupted before the conversion could degrade or branch out any more. "That's the last of our friends... nearby," he added, staring meaningfully at everyone.

"What do you mean, 'nearby'?" Jeffery asked, instantly alert. Molly was now fully awake and both she and Phillip were listening intently, as were most of Josh's friends.

"I mean, I think we've got all the remaining one's we can rescue," Josh explained, looking everyone in the eye since he wanted their collective buy-in. "However, the last one appears to be a fair distance away. I have no idea how far, but I know it isn't alive, so we've got a choice to make. I'm assuming it isn't near the others because it's been taken and is being held. I'm proposing we go and see if we can possibly make a grab for it, just to keep it out of the government's hands. If we get there and it looks secure, or we come under fire, then we'll simply abandon it as a hopeless cause. But I don't like the idea of leaving this technology in the hands of bureaucrats with no one watching them, no watchdog agencies breathing down their necks and no accountability. Every time this country gets into trouble with abuses of power, it's because they convince the other branches of the government to give them a pass, and it's only when someone calls them on it later that they eventually recant and withdraw their assumed powers. If there is no one to call them on this, then whoever is behind this is free to just hand whatever they've discovered to whomever they choose. Probably a private research or government contractor with deep pockets who'll kick back the profits they hope to make off of it once they figure out how to profit from it. So the question is, who's ready to undertake a decidedly more dangerous quest than we've been on up until now?"

They were silent for several moments as they considered what they'd be facing, trying to process the information.

Finally Natalie spoke up. "You've got to be kidding if you think we're going to jump ship now! This is history making. Even if we all get killed in this little endeavor, we'll be talked about for the next hundred years. And if we can document it and get it out on the air, the Government can't possibly deny what they're up to. Especially if they do attack us. We're all in," she said, indicating her crew, who each nodded they agreed.

"You know we're in this to the end," Cynthia added, a sentiment which Fred and Peter agreed with.

"We knew the risks going in," Jeffery said, brushing some dirt off his sleeve. "We're already in a shitload of trouble. Chances are we'll never be able to show our faces anywhere once we're done, so there's no sense holding back now. We're committed."

"Uh, I don't know about the rest of you, but do you really expect the rest of us to land on a secret government installation, undoubtedly heavily guarded with large scale munitions?" Becky asked, blinking in disbelief.

"That's why I'm offering you the out," Josh told her evenly. "Say the word and you're out."

"Yeah, where are you doing to drop me off? My home, which will already be crawling with investigators simply because we live so close to you?" she asked. "No, like Jeffery said, I don't think there's any way we can back out of it now. But I want to be sure you're convinced this is a good idea."

"I'm not at all confident that any of this is a good idea," Josh answered her honestly. "But it was something I needed to undertake. I couldn't abandon these people to die on their own or to whatever those who found them might subject them to."

"You keep calling them 'people', but you've now involved a lot more actual people than the aliens you've rescued. This has become more than just helping people. This is a full scale mission of yours, and you seem bound and determined to see it through to the end," she summarized, taking a moment to let her words sink in before cocking her head and shrugging. "But as the others have said, there's really no way out now. We're all committed one way or the other. I'm not about to turn my back on the single most important event in human history just because I'm nervous."

"Good, I'm glad you're all behind me," Josh said, taking them all in to make sure they were all as convinced as they said they were.

"Have you considered whether we're properly equipped for this?" Peter asked. "I mean, as nice as this little sports car of a spaceship is, will it hold up to sustained fire?"

"Again, I have no clue. Somehow they forgot to include a detailed specifications list written in English when they left me in charge," Josh griped good-naturedly. "But given as how this little craft was designed to travel through space where it undoubtedly gets slammed by meteor fragments traveling thousands of miles an hour, I suspect it will withstand a few bullets. However, I'm hoping to avoid testing that theory out by slipping in fast enough that no one will have a chance to react. With luck we can quickly determine whether it's safe or not, and then decide how to respond."

"What about our patients?" Cynthia asked. "They're sick and I'm not sure involving them in a firefight is the best thing for them. If we take a couple missiles, I'm not sure they'd survive being thrown around the cabin, even if we didn't explode and crash to the ground."

"I was debating that, and we can probably protect whoever doesn't want to continue as well," Josh answered, eyeing Becky.

"Fred?" he asked, turning to his friend. "Do you know anyone on the reservation that has a place, say somewhere in the mountains which could hide or disguise a craft this large?"

"Hmm," Fred answered, considering it as his glance dulled in concentration. "I think I might know someone. He's got a bunch of old vehicles under tarps outside, and he's got a little hidey-hole in the side of a cliff by his house. I think it just might be large enough for this, and if not, a satellite image of this craft under a tarp wouldn't look that much different than an old abandoned bus."

"If you can find any tarps big enough to cover it," Cynthia pointed out.

"That's what I was thinking," Josh said, ignoring Cynthia's comment. "What's more, most government officials are myopic. They only look for trouble where they expect to find it. They'll look where there are established communities to hide someone, but won't even consider a poor Native American community."

"You're right," Fred responded, the idea sparking recognition in his eyes. "All we have to worry about are the corrupt Indian Affair's officials, who aren't overly concerned about us anyway. They're looking to make sure we aren't doing what their rules say we can't. They'd never even consider searching for advanced technological equipment. What's more, knowing what Government persecution and genocide are like, our people would obstruct them in any way they could once we explain what's going on."

"Good, call whoever you need to and make arrangements. Make sure they have somewhere we can take care of the sick, and tell him we won't need the larger shelter for a few hours."

Fred took out his cell phone, glancing at Josh questioningly. When Josh nodded to him he went ahead and dialed and was surprised when the call went through.

"Hey, Uncle Joseph, this is Fred. I've got a favor to ask," he began.

Josh, seeing he was busy, turned to his tablet. "Land by the destination of that call," he instructed the ship.

" ... we need several people looked after. They're very sick but we can't rely on modern medicine to aid them. And we need to store a very large vehicle. Think the size of a very wide bus. It needs to be out of sight so that no birds in the sky see it and decide to crap on it," Fred explained to his uncle. When Joseph answered, Fred glanced at Josh, who nodded. "Just get it ready and come outside. We'll be waiting for you."

He was silent for a few moments before continuing. "Don't worry where we are. We'll be there by the time you step outside. Just don't panic when you see us. I've got a few Anglo friends with me," he added with a short chuckle.

"Thanks, Uncle Joseph. This is really important. I appreciate it."

"How the hell does it do that?" Cynthia asked, unable to restrain her curiosity any longer. "I mean, there's a hell of a lot of technology behind a simple phone call. It travels via transmission towers, gets transmitted to satellites and ends up at a central switching locations thousands of miles away where they've got firewalls, established protocols and handshaking before it's redirected back out through more firewalls and complicated switching algorithms. Just how the hell do they track it so easily?"

Curious himself, Josh asked the ship. However, when he was unable to understand the response, it started to draw some animated drawings showing a nondescript cellphone which shook and visible waves left it. The waves only went a short distance when suddenly a couple of symbols Josh couldn't understand appeared and just as quickly disappeared into the wave and it disappeared off the edge of the screen. The 'wave' appeared on the other side of the screen and approached another phone, only the wave stopped, the same signals appeared again and then the phone shook again.

When Josh glanced up, everyone was clustered around him, trying to make sense of what they couldn't see very well.

"Apparently they don't bother following the signal to its source at the phone company," Josh explained, still not that sure himself. "Instead it flags the message, then scans for which cellphone receives it."

"Damn," Jeffery whistled, "whatever you do, don't let the NSA learn how to do that or else we'll never be able to make a private phone call ever again!"

"I don't plan to," Josh replied with a weary smile. "Not if I have anything to say about it."

Not knowing where they were at the moment, nor how far away their destination was, Josh took his time as he stood up, stretched his muscles and made his way to the side of the craft. Once there, he motioned for the others to get their wards ready before he ordered the unseen door to open, revealing an utterly dark environment still under a torrential rain. The sight made Josh smile, knowing it would provide them with necessary cover. They could see the back of a house with a few dim lights inside. Josh guessed they only had limited electricity this far out, and that Fred's Uncle only kept as many lights as he absolutely required burning at any given time. That was even better, because if they weren't on the electrical grid, they'd be harder to trace.

"Alert me if anyone approaches," Josh instructed the ship before motioning Fred as they ran out into the rain to meet with his uncle.

"Becky, could I ask you something?" Molly asked as she guided the younger woman away from the others while they waited for Josh to return.

"Uh, I guess," she responded, not sure where this was going.

Molly waited until they were isolated before she turned to confront Becky. "What exactly is it between you and Josh? Can we really depend on you?"

Becky's eyebrows arched and she pulled back slightly. "Uh, why do you care so much? You don't have any plans on him yourself, do you?"

The older woman smiled. "Me, no, I'm just worried that we're each putting our lives on the line for this little mission, and we're probably sacrificing both our careers and personal lives. So if you and Josh have some personal conflict which might impact the rest of us, I'd rather know now and not when the police break our door down."

"I'd never betray him like that!" Becky insisted, stiffening her back, planting her hands on her hips and trying to stare down the battle-hardened warrior.

"That's not what the word around the water cooler is," Molly shot back, glancing quickly at Josh's friends Peter and Cynthia, talking with the others on the other side of the room.

Becky hesitated before finally sighing. "Josh and I have had a bit of a ... complicated relationship."

"You're telling me. Look, I'm not looking for any heartfelt confessions here, but can you put aside your personal conflicts long enough to not get us all killed or arrested?"

Instead of answering her directly, Becky took the roundabout route. "I've always liked and admired Josh, but he can also drive me up the wall. For all he talks about wanting a better life, he'd never do anything about it. He'd never put himself out or apply himself to getting a good job or advancing himself so he could excel at anything." Becky's hands came up to hold her head as she detailed her frustrations with her ex, but she continued without halting.

"I tried to help motivate him, to try to get him to be the man he always claimed he wanted to be, but he was so wrapped up in self-pity and his paranoid obsessions that he simply wasn't interested. That's when things started to spiral out of control."

Becky sighed as she remembered that time, and she clearly didn't look happy with her choices. "I made some stupid mistakes. I got fed up with him and decided I'd hook up with someone with more serious ambitions in life. Unfortunately, I was also pissed at Josh over his behavior, so I allowed the news to leak out just to hurt him. I guess I wanted him to know just how hurt I felt. However, it really didn't come across that way. Instead, it came across as my being a vindictive bitch, out to hurt someone I really liked but just couldn't stand to be around anymore."

"So what changed?" Molly asked, probing a little deeper, not afraid to stoke the embers to determine the danger of a flare-up. "Why did you suddenly decide to follow him on this mission? After all, it's clearly dangerous and could compromise both your and your family's futures. What made you decide to do that for someone you 'couldn't stand to be around'?"

Becky threw her head back and groaned, closing her eyes before responding. "Josh has changed. While he seemed lost and rudderless before, now he seems to have a real mission. He's gone from being indecisive and drifting to taking charge and making a real difference. He's applying himself in a way he never could before. The very things that attracted me to him in the first place, and which I was frustrated because he never took advantage of, he's suddenly showing in spades."

Molly tilted her head, smiling from the corner of her mouth. "I'll give you that, but how do you go from not speaking to him at all to undertaking a dangerous, life-threatening mission for him?"

"That's a simple answer. When he came to my house to speak to my father, I was sure it was some stupid attempt to win me back by getting back into my father's good graces. But instead of trying to ingratiate himself with my father, he stood up to him, giving him a list of demands and speaking to him as an equal.

"That's when I knew that something had changed and that Josh was into something significant. Before, while Josh always had his own opinion about things, he was always intimidated by my dad. I couldn't really blame him, as my father can be rough on everyone, but this time he laid his cards on the table, and he never said a word about me."

Molly cocked her head at that, having trouble believing it really happened as she portrayed, but she knew better than to interrupt once she'd gotten the girl to open up.

"The fact they talked for so long and my father never even attempted to talk to me about it got my curiosity up. When I confronted him, he told me that Josh wasn't interested in discussing me at all. That was when I started pressuring him, trying to figure out what they discussed. As I'm sure you know, we women learn to work our wiles by trying them out on our fathers, so it didn't take long for me to get him to admit just enough for me to bluff my way into his meeting with you. I'll be honest here, my dad never really asked me to intervene for him."

"Yeah, we guessed as much."

Becky looked at the others idly discussing what they'd been through. "I guess that explains a lot. I've been noticing the hostile looks from people lately, especially from the women. Anyway, once I got involved and saw Josh in action and saw how much of a difference it made in his personality, it drew me back in like a moth to a flame. I'd always imagined what Josh was capable of, but I didn't know how to get him there. And suddenly I turn around, and without any help he's suddenly found his voice and a spine."

"OK, I get why you'd still be attracted to an ex, even if I think trying to resurrect old flames is normally a terrible idea. But that doesn't answer the question. I've noticed how you like to push his buttons; crawl under his skin and irritate the hell out of him for no reason other than wanting to annoy him. So I'll ask once again, can we really trust you not to do what you've already done in the past? Can you at least keep your desire to punish him in your pants instead of acting out on it? After all, you only need to control yourself for a very short time. Once we get these aliens out of here, hopefully Josh will go back to the way he was before and all of us will have to find new lives anyway."

"Are you nuts? There's no way I want Josh to go back to the mamby-pamby flake he was before. I like the new Josh. I realize he's liable to be hunted for the rest of his life if he succeeds, but here and now, he's the most exciting person I know. He's strong, committed, decisive and won't back down regardless of the odds; willing to take on an unbeatable foe simply out of principle.

"Whatever happens or doesn't happen between us, this is an important moment in my life. I'm not here to hook up with Josh again, although I'd be lying if I said the thought hadn't struck me a few times. Instead, I'm watching someone take control of history. Josh is doing something that no one else ever has. It's like watching your stoner ex-boyfriend turn into Martin Luther King overnight. You're drawn to him personally, but you're also captivated by what he's trying to achieve. This is a momentous situation, and I'll never be this close to a major historical event again in my life. Sabotaging Josh would defeat everything that drew me back into his orbit, but more than that, it would destroy everything he's trying to achieve.

"We may or may not ever hook up again, but either way, what we're doing is bigger than each of us. I've got to see how it plays out. You're right, I may end up getting killed, and Josh and I may never work out our differences, but having been a part of this experience is one I'll never forget."

Molly studied the slender girl standing before her, having poured her heart onto her sleeve, but then nodded. "OK, that's good enough for me. It sounds like you're being honest about your motives. But just so you're aware, we're each putting our lives at risk, not to mention the lives of our friends and families. If you ever change your mind and decide you'd really like to shaft your ex because of some personal conflict between the two of you, I'm not afraid to take you out. What's more, don't think you can simply make a quick phone call and slip away unnoticed. Even if this all goes to hell and we're all arrested, I've got enough friends who can piece together what happened and who'd do me the favor of ending that little fantasy.

"There's a very good chance that all of this will end very badly, but what none of us will stand for is someone betraying their companions and sacrificing everyone just to strike out at a single person on the team. We're all in this together, and you can't let your personal history blind you." Molly's eyes burned through Becky's corneas as they both regarded each other. "Do you understand me?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Becky squeaked, never doubting the woman before her would do exactly what she was suggesting. "I'll remember your warning for a very long time."

"Good, I was hoping we'd come to a satisfactory agreement. Carry on. Forget I even mentioned this."

As Molly strode away as if nothing had happened, Becky watched her, feeling strangely conflicted. As much as the woman terrified her, she also felt combative, willing to strike out against her for her implied threats as much as anything else. Josh and she shared at least one trait, they really didn't like being told what they could and couldn't do.

"OK, are you sure you want to be here?" Josh asked Becky one last time.

"Absolutely!" she assured him, smiling confidently. "I was a little unnerved before, but I'm in this just like everyone else. I wouldn't miss this for the world. It may very well kill me, but no one else in the world will ever get to do anything like this again, and if I survive, I'll have some fascinating stories to tell my grandkids someday."

"Very well." Josh shrugged and turned back to his command tablet. Pressing the last light on his arm, a brown one this time, he commanded the ship to take them there, again having no idea where 'there' was, and addressing the ship in its own language.

While they'd been at Fred's uncle Joseph Whitetail's place, they'd secured the aliens in a more stable environment and Josh had ventured out, returning home to bring Janet and the other aliens back with him. He hoped he hadn't alerted the authorities in the process, but at least Barbara and the other original aliens weren't waiting for someone to discover them. He didn't know what might happen to Wanda Myers, but at least he'd minimized the potential damage from the ongoing manhunt. Francis and his mother Melissa had returned with him, but he hadn't brought any of them on this newest mission.

Again, having no idea how long it would take, he stood up and walked to the door, tossing off alien phrases he hoped the ship understood before turning to the others by the door.

"OK, get ready. We have no idea what we'll be facing, so let's get out, survey the area and get back quickly so we don't attract any attention."

When Josh started to put his earpiece in, something whistled sharply in his ear. Looking up in confusion, it didn't appear anyone else had heard it. Curious, he palmed the earpiece and turned to Jeffery.

"Could you say something over your earpiece? I want to make sure mine is operating."

"Sure thing," Jeffery replied after turning around and whispering so softly the sound wouldn't carry. Josh heard him perfectly clear, even though he held the earpiece by his hip.

"Nope, it seems to be operating perfectly," he replied, handing the earpiece back to the team leader. Jeffery opened his hand to see what Josh had just passed him and glanced from the earpiece back to Josh, trying to figure out what was going on.

"Apparently I can hear you fine without it," he told him with a shrug.

"Damn. Your friends have some neat toys."

"Ooh, can I use it?" Becky asked, dancing up and bouncing eagerly. They hadn't given her one since she wasn't considered 'essential personnel'. Shrugging, Jeffery handed it to her and she happily fitted it into her ear, though she had to play with it to get it to fit.

Apparently Josh heard something that none of the others did because he raised his hand and the combat hardened 'advance team' of Jeffery, Molly and Phillip surrounded him, while Fred, Cynthia and Peter stood behind them, ready to respond to anything the advance team might need. The others, considered 'support staff', stood back so they wouldn't be exposed if anything unexpected happened.

Flicking his wrist, the door opened and Josh and the others started forward but instantly froze. Josh blinked at what he saw and then belatedly reached out to stop the others, although they hadn't budged. There, before them, stood a bright sunlit day, the rainclouds having broken here, and although there were clouds overhead, isolated bit of sunshine glittered here and there. A nondescript building stood before them, settling among green grass and surrounding trees, but the most noticeable thing about the entire scene were the various bodies lying clustered around the front door of the building. Stepping back, Josh waved his hand again and the door immediately closed, snapping shut with a distinct sound of a seal being formed.

"What the fuck was that?" Jeffery swore, backing up and still watching the closed door. Phillip crossed himself and Molly looked a little ill, but Josh wasn't waiting around to curse the darkness, he was busy looking for a light.

Issuing some sort of declaration, he marched to his command tablet and started talking to it again in words no one else could decipher. However, the ship gave him a response most of them now recognized meant it didn't understand him. It seems they'd heard the phrase enough times recently to understand it. Frustrated, Josh drew a figure of a human figure on the tablet, as crude as it was, and then drew a single line surrounding it, following the contour of its shape. Apparently that was enough, as the ship seemed to immediately understand what he was requesting.

A light flashed at the far end of the capsule and a door to a small room opened. Josh started to stand when his tablet began talking. Not understanding the words, Josh looked down as it drew some very realistic representations of a human figure—which looked remarkably like Josh himself—standing in that very same room. Watching the animated figure, he observed it picking up a canister and strapping it to his back and attaching a clear helmet to his head. It showed a couple of other minor details, each of which Josh memorized before he stood up and quickly marched over to the hidden room.

Entering, he saw the items he was looking for and shouldered the tank, which he assumed was oxygen, and attached the monitor to his arm that he'd been instructed to. He then pressed a button on the far wall. The others were disturbed when he was suddenly shut away in the room as the door closed with a hiss of escaping air. It opened again a few moments later to reveal Josh standing there in a strange contraption that seemed to encircle his body in some sort of transparent skin.

Curious, Cynthia reached out and tried to pinch it, but her fingers just slid off, unable to make contact with Josh's skin.

"Please don't play with it," Josh insisted, before explaining what they each needed to do as he indicated the order they were to proceed. Each of the advance team went through the same process, and each exited again wearing the strange outfit, which looked almost like they weren't wearing anything as it was virtually transparent and incredibly thin.

"It's got its own air supply so we should be OK," Josh instructed.

"How long do we have?" Jeffery asked, cautious how long they'd have until their air ran out.

Josh asked a short question before turning back to them, everyone's words being clearly heard through the strange suits. "We've got plenty of time. These things are meant for doing extensive repairs to the outside of their main ship, so we shouldn't have a problem. I'll let you know when it gets close," he said, looking at his watch and marking the time.

"And you're sure these are secure?" Molly asked a little nervously.

"As sure as I can be. The ship seems to have recognized what was happening right away," he replied as he turned and motioned the others back. But before he moved too far away, a large cushioned board slipped out of the small room they'd gotten their suits from and it floated out to them.

"Neat," Molly said, intrigued by the contraption.

"A portable gurney, I guess," Jeffery surmised.

"Looks like it," Josh replied, taking it and guiding it with one hand towards the door, where he once again motioned the others away from the door.

"Wait, I've got to go too," Natalie insisted, stepping forward.

"Pardon?" Josh asked, stepping back and regarding her carefully.

"I need to record this. If the public sees this, sees what they've done, it will have a bigger impact than anything else has."

"What exactly happened?" Cynthia asked. "What is 'this'?" she pressed, indicating the area beyond the door.

"It's clear they decided to do testing on the body they found," Jeffery summarily stated before Josh had a chance to respond. "They may very well have killed it precisely to conduct tests, but I'm betting they watched it die, and wanted to discover what killed it so they could use it as a biological weapon."

"However, they apparently released whatever made them sick into the atmosphere," Josh continued. "While it had been contained inside the body's tissue before, when they exposed it to the air it killed everyone in the entire structure. By playing with what they had no hope of understanding, they've potentially unleashed a horrendous plague on all of mankind."

The others quailed at that idea and started looking at each other squeamishly.

"Hopefully there's a limit to how widely it can spread," Josh hurried to reassure everyone. "From the looks of the bodies, I'm guessing death was pretty quick, so if it was still present we'd probably be dead by now. But if we disturb anything outside there's a good chance we'd reexpose it."

"Still, this needs to be recorded," Natalie insisted. "Don't they have another of those suits I can use?"

"I've got no idea how many resources this little ship has on it, and I don't plan on exhausting a limited supply unnecessarily," Josh told her, scowling. "Besides, if the army is still watching this facility, we don't want to announce that we're broadcasting what they did here. A film camera would garner too much attention. We'll film it using a smartphone. Molly, you handle that for us. Try to get anything of importance, but don't be too obvious about it. Hopefully the shakiness of the shots will reinforce it was captured by us and that it isn't doctored footage."

Natalie accepted his decree, though she was clearly disappointed. This was the kind of on-the-scene action reporting she'd always dreamed of doing.

"OK, everyone, step well back and hold your breath as the door opens. We'll close it as soon as we step through, but there's no sense taking chances."

Everyone moved into position and when Josh was sure they were ready he waved his hand, the door opened and they ran out, the door closing immediately behind them leaving those left behind nervous and fearful about what they'd encounter.

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