The Guardians – Part II

by disperser

 This is the continuation of The Guardians, which can be found HERENote that per submission guidelines at the time this was written, thoughts are underlined to distinguish them from spoken words.  Meaning, the underlined words in the story are NOT links.

Note also the story has been “concluded” only for the time being.  There is a third part that I’ve been playing with on-and-off-and-on-and-off.  If I ever finish it, I will post it here.  Well, not “here” here, but at some future post.

The Guardians – Part II

By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright October 2006, and January 2013

Susan watched the chickadee perched on the feeder.  It flew down to one of the feeder’s holes, grabbed a sunflower seed, and then it flew to a nearby branch.  Holding the seed, it proceeded to peck at it until it opened. 

Susan’s eyes defocused, her mind drifting back to yesterday’s events.  It seemed all a blur right now.  The surprising thing for Susan was how relatively calm she had remained throughout the ordeal.  Well, more like an adventure than an ordeal.  Still, she felt a certain amount of smugness about how well she had handled finding out her date was a space cop of sorts, that there were other life forms throughout the galaxy, and that the Earth was being quarantined for it’s own good.  She still struggled with that part.  She caught herself wishing Steve was still around.  They would have had a spirited discussion on the validity of the arguments Al used in justifying the blockade.  Even livelier would be their discussions as to why aliens would bother to come here at all.

She got up from the chair, walked across the patio to her screen door, and went in for a refill.  After pouring some fresh coffee in her cup, she looked out to her garden.  Ten years.  It had been ten years.  Steve still occupied a special place in her heart. 

“Not the heart,” Steve would have said, “the mind.  The heart is just a muscle.” 

The unbidden thought reminded her how much of him was still with her.  The memories had softened over the years.  Many blended together, but still others were as fresh today as they had been after his funeral.  His smile, his boyish enthusiasm for anything new, his odd sense of humor.  In the first few years thoughts like these would have had tears welling up in her eyes.  Now it just put her in a melancholy mood. 

A quick movement outside caught her eye.  She wondered if a hummingbird had finally found one of her fuchsia plants.  She leaned closer to the window to get a better view.  She looked left, and as always focused on the untrimmed bushes of her neighbor.  They were a favorite perching place for the birds, but they detracted from the look of her well groomed yard.  As she turned her head to look down the right side of her patio, she was startled by the small sphere hovering right in front of the window.  She was probably one of a half dozen people or so in the whole earth that knew it to be a grav-orb.

What was it doing here? It hovered motionless for a few seconds, and then moved to the left a few feet.  It stopped, snapped back to it’s previous place, and then repeated the slow movement to the left. 

What is it girl?  Is Timmy in trouble?  Do you want me to follow you?” The thought came unbidden in her mind, and while it was funny, this wasn’t. 

If Greg wanted to reach her, he had her number and knew where she lived.  The fact the orb was here may indicate he was in trouble.  Also, Al could probably have linked onto a phone and called her.  This gave her pause.  She assumed this was from Al or Greg, but she could not know for sure.  Maybe the other being managed to sneak down to earth.  Then again, how would he have known her address?

She decided to walk outside and see.  She idly thought how Steve would have found the floating orb extremely cool.  He would have followed it without hesitation or worry. 

Once outside, the orb dropped near the ground, and headed toward the shed.  Susan followed, careful not to step to close to the grav-orb. 

“Not that I could hurt it.” she thought. 

The orb disappeared through a small crack in the  door.  Susan opened the door, turned on the light, and she looked around for the orb. 

I really should take the time to put things in order.

 Most of the tools were hung, but many leaned about, lost among remnants of various gardening and landscaping projects.  She was always surprised how quickly she accumulated pressure-treated wood, bags of dirt, and various fertilizers. 

She noticed the orb hovering near the edge of a shelf, and stepped around her old wheelbarrow to get closer.  On the shelf there was a small device that looked like a hearing aid.  She hesitated a moment, but then picked it up and stuck it in her ear. 

“Hello Susan.”  She recognized Al’s voice. 

“Please don’t speak,” Al continued, “just listen.  They have put you under surveillance.  Greg and I are sorry to have gotten you involved, but we did not know until just. . .”

The shed door opened, and two men came in, one crouched low, the other upright.  Both pointed their guns at Susan after sweeping the enclosure.  Susan noticed the orb exiting the shed just above and behind their heads.  Something was trailing it close behind . . . it must be the hearing aid, since it was no longer in her ear.  She slowly raised her arms.  The two did not look like thugs, but she had two guns pointing at her. 

“Please put your hands down and come with us.”  Said one of the men as they both holstered their guns. “We have a few . . .”  he stopped talking as he found himself looking at the barrel of Susan’s own gun.  She moved a few steps away, putting some additional clutter between her and the men.

“I’m a pretty good shot,” said Susan, “and I’d rather not have to prove it.  Please don’t move while I call the police.”  Both the mower and the wheelbarrow were now between her and the men.  She unclipped her cell phone from her belt. 

“That won’t be necessary,” said a third voice. 

The man stepped through the shed door slowly.  His hands were in front of him, palms up, and he was sporting a big grin. 

“Besides, you would be arrested for threatening federal officers.” 

Susan looked the man over.  He was mid-thirties, well groomed, handsome, and exuding lots of self-confidence . . . she disliked him right away. 

“I have not seen any badges, and no one identified themselves.  That would be a pretty good defense if I shot all three of you right now.” 

The man lost some of his grin.  It came back almost immediately, but did not seem as confident as it had been a few minutes earlier. 

“If you would allow us to get our badges, we can prove who we are.  All we want to do is ask you about your trip last night.”

Susan did not hesitate.  She thought it would be better if she called the cops, just to have someone else know where she was and what was happening.  She pressed the button.  The man lost his grin altogether. 

“You are making a mistake.”

Two hours later, she again faced the man, Tom, only she was now in an interrogation room.  He had been correct.  She had been arrested for threatening federal agents.  It was her word against theirs, although in the taped 9-1-1 call she made it clear they barged in on her.  She had asked for a lawyer, but was told this was a matter of national security, and she would not be entitled to one.  Now she sat and worried.

 “OK, we tried to do this the easy way,” Tom said, “but that ship has sailed.” 

He took a chair on the opposite side of the table from Susan.  His fake grin returned. 

“We want to know all about the person you met with last night.” 

Susan looked at him, looked at the mirrored wall behind him, and wondered who else was there. 

“You can start any time,” said Tom.

Susan leaned forward, crossing her arms and resting them on the table. 

“Well, he does not drink, he does not smoke, has many interests, and he is good company.”  She met Tom’s stare without changing expression. “Oh, I forgot.  He drives an SUV.” 

Tom’s jaw clenched.  He leaned back on his chair.  The motion was oddly reminiscent of the being that had interviewed her on the spaceship.  Only Tom’s smile did not come back.  He looked at her and shook his head. 

“I don’t know what you’re thinking,” said Tom, “but you are in serious trouble.” 

He got up, and walked around the table.  Susan leaned back as he pushed his face next to hers. 

“We can keep you locked up for a long time.  People will forget you even existed.”  He kept his face close to hers, letting the words sink in.

“This would be a lot more effective if I was wearing my reading glasses.” said Susan.  “As it is, you’re just an out of focus boob.  I mean, blob.” 

She heard herself say the words, and for a moment thought it was someone else speaking.  It was an automatic reply.  She did not like being threatened, and her brain reacted before she could stop.  She was sure it was not the wisest thing she could have said.

The door opened, and an older man entered the room.  He motioned to Tom to leave the room.  Tom started to answer, but the man had already turned his attention on Susan. 

“Hello, my name is Jason.”  He paused momentarily as Tom closed the door behind him. 

“You must excuse Tom.  He’s better at dealing with terrorists.”  Jason also sat down across from Susan.

“However, what Tom said was factual,” he continued.  “We can hold you for a long time.  No one would even know where you are.  Even if they did, you now reside outside the law.  There is not much anyone could do to help you.” 

Susan looked at him, and although outwardly calm, she felt some twinge of panic.

“What I don’t understand” Jason continued, ”is why you would withhold information.  To the best of our knowledge you just met the man, last night.  What loyalty could you possibly have to him?” 

Good question.” thought Susan.  She knew some of this was just her natural dislike of authority.  Especially abusive authority.  But she had no real reason to risk her freedom.  She wished Greg was here to help her. 

. . . Greg was here to help her.” Greg was her first thought, not Steve.  OK, this was strange.  Yes, there were not many good men left available out there, but she hardly knew the guy!  Susan wondered if she felt some sort of strong bond because of the adventure they shared.  Or maybe she was just infatuated with the whole mystery surrounding Greg’s ‘job’.

“Susan? Did you know him from before?” 

Jason’s question brought her out of her internal musings.  Susan focused on the man.  He seemed reasonable.  He looked like someone’s grandfather.  He looked safe. 

Bad cop, good cop?” thought Susan.  “How can they still be trying this stuff after all the movies, police shows, and books that explain how it works? Still, she had to admit it almost worked.

“Look, we had a date.  I’m not sure what you want from me.  Why don’t you question him?” 

Jason looked at her as she finished answering.  He kept looking at her in silence for about thirty seconds.  He no longer looked as benevolent as he had a few seconds earlier.  He sighed.

“We have been after him for a number of years.  He moves around a lot.   It takes us a while to locate the peculiar signature of his vehicle.  Somehow he always knows when we are getting close, and disappears.  It’s not a long range signal, only about a few miles or so.  Still, we are pretty sure he’s no longer in the area; he never hangs around after we get close.”

At the words, Susan felt something she could not describe.

He is no longer in the area.  Talk about a one night stand! damn! She had to stop cracking jokes, and focus on her current situation.

Jason continued, “We were tracking him last night after he picked you up, when we lost the signal.  It reappeared a few hours late. You were with him both before and after his disappearance.”  He took out a small piece of candy, unwrapped it, and popped it his mouth.

“So far as we know, he has never made more than superficial friends at any of his previous locations, and no one has ever been with him during one of his disappearances.”  He switched the candy from one cheek to the other.  “That makes you special, and hence of interest to us.  We want to know where he went, and what he did.  And don’t try to tell me you were just driving around.  His SUV was nowhere along the reservoir road.  Then it just reappeared on our sensors.  We almost picked you both up last night, but our resources were not in place.” 

Jason stopped talking, and bit into the candy.  In the quiet of the room it made a loud crack as he crushed it with his teeth.

“We were hoping he would contact you this morning.  That’s why my agents rushed the shed.  They thought he may have snuck in there through the woods.” 

He paused to swallow the remaining candy, and then continued, “Susan, we want to know what he does, and we want to know where to find him. As I said, we think he has already moved out of the area, and we’re hoping you can lead us to his new location.”

Susan sat and pondered her situation.  She had no idea how much these guys knew.  Asking questions would only implicate her further.  On the other hand, she was beginning to suspect she would not be released even if she talked.  Or if she was released, she would remain under surveillance.  Likely, she would not be released.  So.  Did she owe Greg anything?  Or should she just spill her guts?  Would that help?  Would they believe her?  Would they think she was holding something back no matter how much she talked?  Or would they think she was making the whole thing up? 

She kept coming back to the fact that she would likely be held or under observation for the rest of her life no matter what she did.  Pretty high price to pay for a date.  No matter how extraordinary it had been.  There were now two men who had impacted her life big time.  And both had left her on her own.

Why was she thinking like that?  She had only known Greg for less than 24 hours, and only spent five hours with him.  There was no comparison to the close bond she had felt with Steve, and no comparison in their departures. 

And yet . . . and yet, she had connected with Greg.  There had been something there.  Sitting there last night, eating pizza, talking about favorite movies . . . movies!! . . . after what they had been through.  She had felt comfortable, had not wanted the night to end.  Did Greg feel the same way?  Did it matter?  He was long gone by now. 

 

Jason got up, buttoned his coat, and spoke as he headed for the door.  “I guess we are getting nowhere here.  I’ll be making the arrangements for a longer stay.  Hope you’ll enjoy our federal facilities.”  He opened the door, then turned and continued.  “By the way, we will be confiscating all of your property.  Not that you’ll need it.” 

The door closed without making any sound.  She was left alone, staring at the big mirrored wall.  She wondered how many people were behind there.  She wondered why she had not spoken.  She wondered if Greg was thinking of her.  She thought of all her knick-knacks, pictures, souvenirs, her house, her yard, even her sloppy neighbor.  Gone.  From one day to the next, it was gone.  Even if she called Jason back, spilled her guts, it was all gone.  Yep, pretty high price to pay for just one date. 

Panic started to take hold.  A cold chill started at the back of her neck and traveled down her spine.  There was no way out of this.  She wanted to be mad at Greg, but knew he had no choice.  He could not come forward.  And she could not blame Greg.  Even when she tried, her foremost thought was that she was going to miss him.  Tears of anger, fear, and panic started to well up in her eyes.  He vision blurred for a moment, then she caught herself.  She wiped her eyes, and tried to focus them. 

The door opened.  The two men from the shed were there.  One stood outside in the hallway, and the other walked in.  Standing to one side of the door, he motioned for her to exit.  With one last wipe of her eyes, she got up and headed out. 

The man in the room grabbed her arm and pushed her, directing her down the hall.  He was probably still mad at having had a gun pointed at him earlier in the day.  They walked through the police station, the men flanking her, Jason behind, and Tom leading the small group.  People stared, and followed the group’s progress. 

They stopped at the front desk.  Paperwork for her transfer.  People stared. 

She looked down at the floor, and noticed her shoes.  Her shoelaces in particular. There were very small metallic balls at the ends of her shoelaces.  There were maybe half a dozen people in the world who knew what those were.  She was one of them.  She kept looking at them.  How long had they been there?

The front door opened, and Greg strolled in.  He had sweats on, and carried a basketball under his arm.  The agents took no notice of him until he stopped right in front of them. 

“I’m sorry, but I believe you are holding my girlfriend.”  Greg was smiling at her as he spoke the words. 

Everyone stood still.  Very still.  Greg held out his hand to her.  “Come on Susan, let’s go.”

She looked around.  No one was moving.  She reached for Greg’s hand, and he helped her go around the agents.  They were immobilized as if cast in stone. 

“I don’t think these gentlemen appreciate the gravity of the situation.”  Greg broke a wide smile as he spoke. 

Grav-orb.” thought Susan. 

The basketball was a disguised grav-orb; somehow it must have immobilized everyone.  Everyone who did not have their own grav-orbs.  She smiled at Greg’s pun. 

They made their way to the door, and walked outside.  Greg closed the door behind them, and Susan noticed four small grav-orbs position themselves on the door. 

“That will hold them from following after they free up.  All we need is a few minutes.  Come on.”

Greg was heading toward his SUV, looking as new as it did when he had picked her up last night.  They got in, and drove off.  She looked back at the station.  A couple of people were trying to get into the station, but the door did not budge.

Greg made a left turn at the first cross-street, drove a few hundred yards, and then turned into the parking lot of a grocery store.  He drove around the back of the building, and parked alongside a small pick-up truck. 

“Come on, we’re switching cars.” Greg said as he got out of the vehicle. 

Within a minute, they were back on the road, heading toward the highway. 

“I presume Al’s not in the SUV any more?”  Susan asked. 

“That is correct,” answered Al.  His voice came from the speakers.  “It’s a copy of what we had been using.  Too bad we won’t be able to use the original again.  I kind of liked that vehicle.” 

“You’ll like the new one better.  More room,” answered Greg.

Susan half turned toward Greg.  “Your girlfriend?  They were holding your girlfriend?” she asked with a smile playing on her lips. 

Greg waved one hand in a dismissive manner.  “It was only a figure of speech, Susan.  ” he said while continuing to look ahead.  “It kind of went with the grand entrance. Didn’t mean to offend you.” 

Susan’s smile was gone as she answered, “No offense taken, Greg.”  She looked out at the landscape.  “Where are we going?” she asked, changing the subject. 

“We have a safe house on a remote location,” answered Al. “We’ll rest there for a day, then finalize our respective destinations.” 

Respective destinations.Susan kept silent as she contemplated the meaning of those words as they continued driving.

They drove for nearly two hours.  She napped a bit, but woke when they pulled off the highway and took a county road.  They passed a small community, and then continued on a dirt road for a few miles.  They arrived at an old farmhouse.  Greg pulled up to the barn, got out, and after opening the doors drove the vehicle in.  Greg and Susan walked up to the main house.  The inside lights came on as they entered.

“Your room is at the top of the stairs.  You can freshen up while I make us some dinner.”

Greg was already heading towards the kitchen, waving a hand in the direction of the stairs.  He turned the corner and was gone.  She looked around.  She felt as lost and alone as she had when the Jason character had walked out the room and left her alone to brood.  She went up the stairs. 

She turned on the light as she entered the bedroom, and stopped midway to closing the door.  Four of her suitcases were on the floor next to the bed.  Along with a some boxes, plastic bags, and other loose items from her home.  She turned to head back down, but Al’s voice interrupted her.  It came from a clock radio on the dresser. 

“We went in after they took you away.  Figured they would not be back for a while.  Greg grabbed what he thought you may like.  We weren’t sure about the clothes, but we grabbed what was out.”   

“The small one has undergarments, some tops, and jeans.  The others have a mix of what was left.” continued Al as Susan headed to the suitcases.

She looked around.  She noticed two of her handgun cases and her rifle case. 

“We sort of had to rip the safe apart to get those out.  Hope you don’t mind,”  Al offered. 

She leaned over and opened one of the other boxes.  Photographs, including the two of Steve she kept on her dresser.  She opened another box.  Some of the souvenirs from their many trips. 

“Where am I going to put all this?  I don’t have another house.  I probably can’t even access my savings, or use my credit cards . . . even if I had them.”

“Dave will cover all that later.  Why don’t you take a shower, change, and come down for dinner.  We’ll talk then.”

Al’s words made sense.  It had all been a whirlwind since this morning.  A nice hot shower and some fresh clothes would do wonders to revitalize her stressed body.  Hopefully it would also give her a few moments to recoup mentally.

“Al?” 

“Yes, Susan?”  She hesitated.  “Can you stop monitoring me?  I rather not have some recording of me showering floating around.” 

She was not sure why she asked it that.  It was a machine . . . being.  An alien being at that.  It was unlikely it would have any voyeuristic interest in her.  Perhaps she was thinking of its close relationship with Greg.

“Sorry Susan, I can’t do that.  It’s not a video thing; it’s a gravity thing.  I don’t monitor you specifically.  I register small changes in gravity fields.  Think of yourself as a mass with it’s own gravity field.  If you don’t want me to monitor you, you need to switch off your field.” 

Susan smiled.  “Smart aleck.  Ok, I’ll be down in a while.”

It took a while for the hot water to make the journey to the shower, but once it came she thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of her muscles relaxing under the hot assault.  She must have been tenser than she had realized. 

As she gradually relaxed, her mind wandered to Greg.  He had easily dismissed the girlfriend comment.  Did he really not feel anything more than casual friendship for her? “What more could there be? He’s only known me for less than twenty-four hours.  Of course, Steve and her had connected in as much time or less.  It may have taken a few years for them to marry, but they had known right away it was going to happen. Am I just missing the company of a nice guy around?  Do I feel anything more than friendship toward Greg?

She wondered if she should broach the subject.  Steve and her had not needed discussion.  They had just known.  But we had our future ahead of us.  I may have one evening.”  She got nervous.  What if she was wrong?  What if it was one-sided?  Could she take the rejection?

Questions, doubts, and hope rolled around her head as she dried.  She put on a robe, and walked back to the bedroom.  She sat on the bed, laid back, and stared at the ceiling. 

She opened her eyes to a dark room.  She must have  fallen asleep.  She was now on the middle of the bed, under a blanket.  Her first thought was to hope Greg had not been the one to cover her . . . she checked to make sure the robe was still in place.  Then again, it would have been sweet if he had. 

“Al?” 

“Susan?”

“How long have I been out?” 

Al told her she had slept almost four hours.  It was now one o’clock in the morning.

“Where’s Greg?” she asked while getting out of bed. 

“Napping on the sofa,” answered Al as Susan turned on the table lamp.  “He left you dinner in the refrigerator in case you wanted to eat.  He had me make you comfortable, then dozed off himself.” 

Susan had grabbed some clothes, and was putting them on while still wearing the robe.  Intellectually she knew Al could not care less, but she still felt self conscious having some male voice carry on a conversation while she dressed.  She headed down, buttoning her top as she went.  She walked softly through the living room, stopping a moment to look at Greg sleeping on the sofa.  He looked older without his smile .  Or maybe his sleep was troubled.

She headed to the kitchen, found the food, warmed it up in the microwave, and sat down to eat.  

Pretty good! she thought.  He is definitively a keeper.  The thought darkened her mood.  He was not a keeper . . . he was leaving.

“Hi.” She jumped. 

Greg did not notice as he headed to the fridge. 

“Hi.” answered Susan. 

Greg put some ice in a glass and moved to the sink to fill it.  “Did you sleep OK?” he asked without looking at her. 

She hastily swallowed, “Yeah.  I must have been more tired than I realized.  I just zonked out.  Sorry about missing dinner.”

Greg pulled out a chair and sat across from her.  “It’s OK, I’m used to eating alone.” 

“Hey, remember me?  I’m always around.” 

Greg sipped the water, and then continued, “Sorry Al.  You know what I meant.” 

No one spoke as Susan ate. 

When she was finished, she pushed the plate away, and asked, “So, what now?  What happens to me?” 

Greg looked away before answering. “We can set you up with a fake identity anywhere you want.  We’ll give you money, and provide a cover story.  I would suggest somewhere in the Northwest.”  He turned to look at her. “Look, I’m sorry.  I’ve caused you to lose your life here and everything you own.” 

“Well, not everything.  There are lots of things up in my room.  Thank you for that, and for coming to get me.” Susan got up to put the dish away as she continued the conversation.  “It was looking pretty bleak there for a while.”  

Greg shifted in his seat so he could keep looking at her as she reached the sink.  Susan turned and leaned her back on the counter. 

“What if I don’t want to be set up somewhere?  What if I want to help you and Al, or do something relating to  . . . this?” she made a sweeping gesture with her arm. 

Greg looked uncomfortable.  “This, what I do, is sometimes  dangerous.  Besides, we may be easier to find if we stayed together.”

Susan looked at him for a few moments before changing the subject.  “Who are they anyway?  And how is it they are aware of you, but don’t know what you do?” 

Greg got up and walked toward her.  She moved aside as he refilled his glass.  She was conscious of his proximity, and almost reached out to him.  His glass filled, he turned and went back to his seat before answering. 

“They are a small, special group charged with locating us.  They have no idea what we do, just that we exist.  Or more precisely, that Al exists, and I am around it.” 

Susan looked at Greg. “They know about Al?  Does that mean they know about aliens, the quarantine, The Guardians?”

“Al, do you want to field this one?” said Greg. 

“Sure.” Replied Al. “Susan, they don’t really know about me per se.  What they know is that there is something disturbing the gravity field here on earth, and that Greg is somehow involved.  Are you familiar with LIGO?”

Al continued as Susan shook her head, “LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.  Basically a bunch of mirrors and lasers designed to detect gravitational waves that are predicted by Einstein work.  There are other detectors that work by measuring changes in the distance between two very massive super-cooled bodies.  These project went on-line in the early nineties.  Gravitational waves are very weak; the deflections measured by the instruments are extremely small.  The various teams studying gravitational waves rely on statistical analysis to make sure they are recording an actual event, so it takes them a while to produce results.”

“You manipulate gravity, so you show up in their sensors,”  said Susan, thinking out loud. 

Al was quick to answer.  “Smart girl.  Yes, something along those lines.  But it’s not the manipulation; those disturbances are too small to be measured.  It’s my communications to and from my home base.  To oversimplify, we use gravity to communicate, and this causes . . . ripples, you might say.  It takes them a while, but if we hang around an area long enough, and if I’m active, they can pinpoint our general location.  Then they send in teams.  They do the investigative legwork; recent transfers, new rentals, new house owners, new phone lines, etc.”

Al paused while Susan absorbed the information.  She had a couple of questions. 

“Since you intercept ships in outer space, why not have an orbiting base?  It would avoid all the local problems,” she asked. 

“Good question,” said Al.  “The simple answer is that space is big.  For example, imagine you live in a house in the middle of a one hundred acre lot.  Let’s say you wanted to keep anyone from approaching the house.  If you were patrolling one area of the perimeter, and someone approached from the opposite side, you have twice the distance to travel to meet them before they reach the house.  On the other hand, if you watch from the house, you can go out in any direction and meet them before they can get close.” 

“So it’s also a matter of resources; you don’t have enough ships.” Susan’s statement resulted in a small pause. 

Then Al laughed and continued. “Dave, this girl’s a keeper; good looking and smart.” Greg and Susan looked at each other. 

They looked away as Al continued.  “Exactly.  Not enough ships.  Only one in fact, with some minor support vessels. It’s a big one, but that just makes it necessary to keep it far away.  No, it’s better to have quick response teams on the planet.  There is one of me, and six other guardians.  I’m in simultaneous contact with all of them.” 

Susan jumped into the next question. “Why not work alone?  Why is it necessary to have humans involved at all?”

Al went on. “Part of it is policy.  We try to enlist local help because observation alone gives us a limited understanding of the species . . . your species. Another reason is because gravitational manipulation gets difficult with low mass objects.  But more important, I’m a sentient being.  I like companionship, need friends, and like to interact with others.” 

Susan’s brow furrowed as she struggled with something nagging at her.  The she got it. 

“They may use the waves to locate the general area, but once there they can track you real time.  Jason, the guy interrogating me,  mentioned the SUV ‘disappearing and reappearing’.  I think he said it has a peculiar signal.  He may have been lying, but he said they could track it to a few miles.”

“Interesting,” said Al.  “I will have to do a complete analysis of what our equipment is emitting and when.  Hmm . . . whatever there are using, they couldn’t track us when the grav orbs are acting on the vehicle.  Very interesting.” 

Greg got up and went to a suitcase.  He spoke as he opened it, “That puts us in more danger than we had thought.  They could have begun tracking us before we got outside their range.  Even if they had not, they could be using helicopters to do sweeps.  It would still be time consuming, but they could get lucky.” 

He switched on what looked like a portable computer, and hit a few keys.  Something like a radar screen appeared, and Greg examined it for a few seconds. 

“I’m already tracking local traffic Dave.  I’ll let you know of anything suspicious.  Meanwhile we have to resolve what to do with the lady.”

“Greg?” Greg looked up and kept looking at her as she continued, “How do you feel about me?” 

Greg reddened a bit.  Susan thought it was cute to see a guy blush. 

He stammered a bit with his answer.  “I have a lot of admiration for you . . . I think you have been remarkable throughout this whole thing.” 

Susan crossed her arms.  “You risked additional exposure because you admire me?”

Greg looked uncomfortable. “Eh . . . it was a spur-of-the-moment thing.  Look, I . . . I was worried and I felt responsible.  It was my fault they got to you.  I should have been more careful.  And I worried they would never let you go after I disappeared.”  

Al spoke up. “Don’t listen to him, Susan.  You have no idea of the effort it took to plan it all.  And I had to approve the risk of exposing some of our capabilities.” 

“Shut-up Al!” said Greg, as his face turned red, and his eyes rolled toward the ceiling.

Susan started to reply, but Al continued.  “You should have heard him. ‘Susan this’, ‘Susan that’, ‘we like the same movies’, ‘I’ll do it alone if I have to’ – a regular cowboy, saving the damsel in distress.  I was embarrassed for the guy.” 

“OK, OK, she got it,” interrupted Greg.  Greg kept his eyes focused on the floor, avoiding looking over at Susan.  He spoke in a soft voice.

“Look Susan, I like you . . . a lot.” Greg now looked in her eyes. “And I would love to get to know you better,  . . . but this is not the kind of life to offer anyone . . . if you were even interested, that is.”

Susan felt more comfortable with her feelings.  Especially after hearing his semi-pleading tone. “No,” she answered, “not the kind of life anyone would be interested in.  What, with the flying around, interacting with an advanced life form from another world, learning new technology, protecting the Earth . . . who in their right mind would like that?”

“She got you there!” chimed Al. 

Susan smiled. “Greg, I was afraid I missed the opportunity to get to know you, and then I was afraid you were not interested.  Me ending up here now, with you, is a second chance I don’t intend to pass up.”

Greg returned her smile, and shared an awkward moment of silence. 

THE END

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