Justin and Darla packed all her stuff in the car, figuring they might not be back to the motel. Dwayne and Alan watched the process and then went to fetch their van. Now that Darla knew Dwayne had the hots for her she had begun teasing him unmercifully. Justin had watched all this develop and decided the girl had a mean streak that just wouldn’t quit.
But Alan was the definite leader of the two brothers and would probably be of more help when they began to build the device. Justin had been giving that some thought and knew that the drawings were almost more than he could completely understand.
The visit to LAIT seemed like the only means of detecting these scouts before they landed. And as they drove up into the hills, Justin was beginning to form a plan. If LAIT could be tricked into showing them a few things about the massive computer system he controlled then maybe he should be taken out right away.
The more activity they generated the sooner the creature was likely to discover that they knew of the impending invasion force. But why not just tell him what they knew? The whole point was to keep the creature off balance, and prevent him from being able to send out a warning.
Did it really matter? These alien creatures were overly confident, so assured that they would be able to roll right in and take what they wanted. Justin looked at his companions and smiled. These aliens were in for a big surprise…they would not be allowed to win. We have the power to stop them.
They drove past the gas station almost before he knew it and Justin urged Darla to keep going. Damn, he had forgotten to keep a close watch on their location. But there was no sign of life about the place either. They drove around a curve and Darla pulled over.
“What now?” she asked.
“Guess we better hide the vehicles and walk back. I didn’t see the gatekeeper looking out the windows so maybe he didn’t see us,” Justin said.
They stashed the car and the van off the highway on a small dirt road about a half mile from the station. Darla tied a white rag to the radio antenna as if they were stranded motorists. Justin hefted the backpack that contained Darla’s laptop and the power enhancing cube. The walk downhill took all of fifteen minutes before they saw the first of the pumps ahead.
“Are we just going to walk right in there?” Dwayne asked.
“I guess so, just remember the gatekeeper is Family so be careful what you think.”
But he wasn’t there and the door was locked. Justin peered through the windows and wondered where the guy was. Surely he was coming back soon, but how did they get into the tunnel? There had to be a control for the inner and outer doors inside somewhere. He tried to slide open one of the windows and realized they were all locked. He walked around to the side and saw the bathroom window open a crack.
“I’m going to crawl into the bathroom and let you through the front door,” Justin said.
“What if there’s an alarm?” Darla asked.
“I’ll check for that first.”
“How about we all go in through the window and save you the trouble?”
“That’s the Men’s room…uh, that sounded pretty stupid, didn’t it?” Justin laughed.
“You think I’ve never seen a Men’s room before?” she grinned.
“I won’t ask…”
Dwayne laughed and Alan gave him a dirty look before they climbed through the window. The interior of the store was quiet except for the humming of the soda cooler. Over behind the counter was another door that led into the repair bays.
Justin looked around the frame for any wires or signs of an alarm but he didn’t see anything. He tried the door handle and found it was locked. He fiddled with it for a moment and then Darla reached over his arm and inserted a key.
“They were hanging on the back of the counter,” she said.
She replaced the key ring and they pushed the door open. Now they had to find a means of opening the tunnel doorway and all of them started to scrutinize the cluttered work space. After ten minutes Justin gave up.
“Tell me again, how did you get in there last time?” Dwayne asked.
“The outside door opened and I drove in. I had to stop and then the outer door closed behind me. It was only a second or two later before the wall opened up,” Justin said.
Darla started looking at the floor. “Maybe a pressure switch activated by the car’s weight?”
They noticed grooves in the smooth concrete floor that formed a square.
“Yes, that’s it,” Alan said, “but how much weight does it take to set it off?”
They all jumped up and down on the square and nothing happened. Alan looked around the room and eyed the hydraulic lift.
“Get me a couple of those tires down off the wall and place them on the square,” Alan said.
Justin and Dwayne went for the tires as Darla studied the controls for the lift. She pulled a lever and the lift began to rise, she shut it off after it rose a foot off the floor. In teams they pulled a couple of heavy pipes down from the rack in the corner and laid them across the floor. One end of the pipes were under the lift, the other lay on a tire set in the middle of the pressure plate.
“When the wall opens, take the other tire and lay it across the doorway so it won’t close on us. Then we have to put the pipes back and set the lift back in place. The gatekeeper might get back when we’re inside,” Darla said.
“You’re pretty good at this stuff,” Justin said with a grin.
“I have a devious mind, remember? Let’s do it.”
The lift pressed down on the pipe, forcing the tire to squash against the square in the floor and the wall began to open. Justin hustled the second tire into the opening and went back to help with the pipes. The doorway remained open until they were done and Justin removed the tire. It still didn’t seem inclined to close.
“Oh great, there’s another pressure switch on the far side,” Justin said.
Darla laughed and pointed to a control panel on the wall. The large red and green buttons said ‘open’ and ‘close.’ They saw another square in the tunnel floor but the buttons did their job. Dwayne slapped the red one and the wall closed behind them. Lights came on in the tunnel as they moved forward.
“I wonder how much of this LAIT is watching?” Darla said.
“My guess, the gatekeeper controls all of this. LAIT won’t know about us until we touch that glass plate,” Justin said.
“He’s gonna freak when he sees us together,” Dwayne said. “What are we going to tell him?”
“It better be something creative…or funny,” Justin said.
They walked the length of the tunnel and came to the cavern end. The yellow line was at their feet.
“I think Darla and I should go first,” Justin said. “You guys wait five minutes and then come down. We’ll know you’re coming and can use the distraction.”
“So…what are you going to tell him?” Alan asked.
“I’m going to tell him I’m pregnant and Justin is the father,” Darla blurted out.
“What? How is that…Oh yeah,” Justin laughed. “That ought to knock him for a loop.”
“We need to keep him off balance. I’m going to ask him if I can keep the baby, and say it’s a boy. I’ll tell LAIT he needs to prepare to program the kid. But I need to stay off that table or he’ll probably know it’s a lie.
“But let’s say we get him to start thinking about programming this child and distract him…how are we going to subdue him?” Darla was beginning to look a little scared and Justin figured it was time to tell what he had discovered. He reached in his pocket and took out the little cube.
“This is the power enhancer cube the Ancient Ones designed. LAIT said to never reverse the energy flow or something bad would happen, so I did.”
“Oh My God…you could have killed us all,” Darla said.
“Naw, it’s not that all powerful. I didn’t use a laser to see what would happen, I used a flashlight,” Justin said.
“The cube hummed and then the flashlight went dead as a doornail. The cube absorbed the energy instead of projecting it. I took a dead battery and plugged it in the input side and then did the experiment again. But after the second flashlight died I tested the battery and it was fully charged.”
“The light energy was absorbed and put into the battery…that’s cool,” Dwayne said, looking at the cube.
“I think this is how I’m supposed to neutralize LAIT like my future self suggested,” Justin said.
“You saw that in the data?” Darla asked.
“No, not yet anyway, its conjecture. But you saw him hold up that crystal…LAIT was trapped inside.”
“So we can suck LAIT into the cube…and then format him into one of those crystals,” Darla said. “I always thought he was nothing but a program so that should work.”
“I agree,” Dwayne said. “The holo is nothing but a control program interfaced with the knowledge banks. Capture the control and the system still works, except LAIT won’t be the one running it. I sure hope there is some external means of accessing the data banks.”
“If there is you’ll find it,” Alan said.
Dwayne smiled. “You have a lot of faith in me, brother.”
“Darla, when we get down there I want you to get me an empty crystal from that cabinet and let me do the rest,” Justin said. “Just keep him focused on you… cry or something.”
“Oh, play the weepy female, is that it? What do you think I am anyway?” Darla said.
“I think you’re an underachiever with more talent than you realize,” Justin said. “And if I was so inclined I would be proud to have a baby with you.”
Darla’s mouth dropped open in shock and she stood stunned as Justin hugged her, giving her a kiss on the cheek. Then she grinned until Justin put his hand on the glass plate. The blue light flashed. Darla placed her hand on the plate and the signal seemed to hesitate but finally flashed blue.
“Now he knows,” Justin said.
“This should be more than a little interesting,” Darla said.
The rock wall opened and they stepped into the metal chamber, the door closing slowly behind them. They both felt the downward movement and then the sudden stop. The wall began to vanish and Justin said one word. “Courage.”
LAIT stood before them and his image seemed to tremble as he looked first at one and then the other. Umm…welcome…I wasn’t expecting you.
We have a problem…Justin began.
I’m pregnant, Darla thought. And then she did a credible job of bursting into tears.
Justin watched as LAIT took a step backwards in horror. This was working out just fine. Justin started walking towards the center of the room and stepped inside the green circle which caused the table to rise up out of the floor. Darla quickly followed.
Pregnant? LAIT looked stunned. How is that possible? You two were never supposed to meet much less…
Look, it just happened. Justin tried to look serious. We already know it’s going to be a boy and that means you’ll have to program him.
I don’t understand, there is nothing in my data banks, at least I think there isn’t… And with that LAIT disappeared.
“Where did he go?” Darla asked aloud.
“Into the data banks. Go get that crystal while he’s gone. Dwayne and Alan should be here any minute.”
Darla moved to the large white cabinet and placed her hand on top which opened the door. There on the bottom shelf amidst the hundreds of little square crystals were several with nothing etched on the surface.
“This one must be a blank,” She said. Just then a chime sounded in the room followed by the hum of machinery.
“The transporter, help is on the way,” Justin said.
Dwayne and Alan soon walked into the circle and looked around.
“It’s been a while since I was down here,” Alan said. “What do we need to do?”
“Look for a control unit,” Justin said. “LAIT could be back at any minute.”
“Where is he?” Dwayne asked.
“Trying to figure out the pregnancy conundrum we handed him.”
Dwayne approached the blue table and smiled, running his hand across the end until a small section flipped up revealing a touch screen.
“Here’s the control interface. LAIT just places the crystals in this slot for programming, I remember this now. So how is this capture going to work?”
“He can’t focus on all of us at once,” Justin said. “When he first gave me the cube it was sitting on the table and much larger than it is now. But it was also too heavy to pick up which leads me to think it was connected to the table in some way. So let’s reverse the process.”
Justin set the cube back on the table and it grew in size. He tried to move it and found it was too heavy to budge. He smiled and took the empty crystal from Darla and placed it in the slot. “I think that should do it,” He said, and then sat down to hide the cube.
They didn’t have long to wait before LAIT flickered back into sight.
I can discover nothing about…Oh, where did you come from? LAIT looked even more shocked staring at Dwayne and Alan.
“We’re part of Justin’s team,” Dwayne said aloud.
“You did say I would have others to help me,” Justin said.
“I did say that…but they haven’t arrived yet. None of you were supposed to meet, this may change everything.” LAIT’s voice sounded mechanical and seemed to hang in the air around them. It was a novelty to hear the creature speak aloud.
“I couldn’t wait any longer,” Justin said. “So when do they arrive?”
“The alien scouts. Come on, LAIT, I know the Ancient Ones are sending down scouts before they send their fleet. I would do the same thing in their shoes. Humans are the unknown so they need eyes on the ground to gather information.”
“Yes…yes they do,” LAIT said. “I only deal with information and that leaves the data incomplete. There are…were four scouts, but two of them have perished in your atmosphere. The total number is redundant as we were expecting difficulties. Another scout is missing but we are searching for him. Thankfully the fourth one will be here shortly. He is their leader, a very important young man.”
“So you’ve had communications with the Ancient Ones. How does that work?” Darla asked.
“It takes time because of the vast distance, but perhaps Justin will understand better. You used a laser to beam signals, we have something better,” LAIT said.
“You wrap an ion burst around a data carrier and send it off to the Nebula,” Dwayne said. “That’s a high energy form of your simple transport device.”
LAIT looked stunned. “How did…how could you know about this?”
Dwayne grinned. “Come on, LAIT, I’m almost as smart as your data banks, after all, you did program me. You deserve all the credit.”
LAIT seemed to swell at the suggestion he had done something so well. Dwayne smiled knowing he had stroked the creature’s ego. This was the first time he had the chance to really study LAIT and he had come to some conclusions.
LAIT was more than just a hologram fronting for the data system, he had substance as well. In the discussions with Darla and Justin they had decided the Ancient Ones had left this creature on the planet to watch humans develop. This was probably not the original Watcher but an evolved creature created to replace the first one. Perhaps there could have been dozens over time, but they were all programed with the same functions.
“So this leader…is he a diplomat?” Alan asked.
“No, it was judged that diplomats would have a low survival rate for such an arduous journey, he is a warrior,” LAIT said. “They are trained to endure hardship, but this one has been well schooled in dealing with humans.”
“Warriors are usually armed…does he bring weapons?” Darla asked.
“I imagine he has some form of self-protection, but this is a peaceful mission, he will not bring offensive weapons.” Here LAIT paused. “Why do you ask all these questions? Surely you don’t think there is a threat. The Ancient Ones have been in contact with this planet for eons of time and only wish for the common good between our societies.”
“I’m looking forward to meeting this emissary,” Justin said. “I would love to know about where he comes from, the type of life forms that inhabit the planets of his world. There must be trillions of living creatures out beyond our solar system. How do they govern themselves, how do their families function…how do they feed themselves?”
“I…I suppose the emissary can answer all your questions,” LAIT said.
“I have another problem…the power enhancer has stopped working,” Justin said, moving off the table and giving Dwayne a wink.
LAIT looked down at the power enhancer cube which was left sitting on the table. Justin had placed it with the red side up. Dwayne moved slowly over to the end of the table and leaned over, his hand hovering above the control panel.
Justin removed a coin from his pocket. “I accidentally dropped a coin in this end and…”
He flipped the coin in the air dangerously close to the cube and LAIT’s eyes followed it.
“No…be careful,” LAIT said, and he reached out to grasp the coin before it fell in the hole. Justin grabbed his arm and thrust LAIT’s hand into the hole. The result was immensely satisfying as LAIT seemed to be sucked down the hole and vanished.
Dwayne tapped an icon on the screen and the table hummed as LAIT was downloaded into the crystal.
“That was way cool,” Alan said, expressing what they all were thinking. “So what do we do now?”
“We wait,” Justin said. “Someone has to be here to greet this emissary.”