Outside Emmetsburg, IA. 5 December 1947 0045 hrs (CST).
Snow was a luminescent blanket across the landscape. It had begun to drift gently across State Highway 17. It fell and swirled in large flakes, creating interesting patterns in the twin headlights of Francis Muldoon's '39 Oldsmobile as he drove slowly north out of town. His speedometer hovered around 15-20 mph for a couple of reasons.
Reason number one, he observed with a trace of irritation, was the fact that County Maintenance crews hadn't even begun to plow the road which led to his home, a trifling three-quarters of a mile outside of town. Of course Muldoon, a real estate agent, was well aware of the three-way debate between the City, County and State over who exactly had responsibility for this particular stretch of road.
Reason number two, and probably the most important reason, was Muldoon had stayed far longer at McNamarra's Band then he'd originally intended, and stopping off at Finnegan's Wake for a nightcap or two, which turned into six, had not been a good idea either.
"Penelope's gonna kill me," he said aloud, leaning forward to try and get a better look through the windshield, managing to curse the weather, his own bad judgment, and his wife's ire in the same sentence and without repeating himself. The fact that he had closed a deal on the Judson place and the resultant commission would only mollify his wife's temper slightly. She was constantly harping on him to move back to Des Moines, as the post-war development boom that he expected hourly had yet to reach Emmetsburg.
The Oldsmobile crunched slowly over the snow covered asphalt as he made his way home, his trepidation at his reception growing larger with every painful foot the car inched forward. The snow was coming down so slowly and heavily that Muldoon could barely make out the lights of farms on either side of the road.
"Fuck this!" he snarled. He reached over and snapped the radio on. Music, it sounded like Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra, came over the speaker. Muldoon usually kept his radio tuned to WHO, 1040, out of Des Moines, especially this late at night, as the local station signed off the air at midnight, and it was now nearly one am.
Muldoon belched, and concentrated on the road and his driving.
The car hit a slick spot and fishtailed slightly. Muldoon eased his right foot off the accelerator pedal to compensate.
He gripped the steering wheel more tightly, and leaned further forward. His brain, already befuddled by drink, struggled to focus. An insane thought occurred to him.
"Hah!" he almost shouted. "What if I end up wrapped around a tree and breaking my damn neck?" He grinned. "That'll really fix her keester!"
Static began to grow on the radio, a low hum underlying the music, then blotting it out completely.
"Godamn weather!" Muldoon cursed, reaching over to adjust the tuning dial. His fingers had almost touched it, when the frequency band began to glow brightly. The dashboard lights also issued a brighter than normal radiance.
Then, the static, the radio, the lights died. Cut off.
The car motor sputtered and expired.
It took Muldoon a moment to realize that his Oldsmobile was now cruising along on built up momentum. Before he could step on the brake, the front tires rolled into a low ridge of snow that had drifted across the road and brought the car to a complete stop.
"What the hell . . ." Muldoon stared dumbly at the darkened dashboard. After a brief hesitation while his somewhat impaired mind assimilated the facts that presented themselves, he depressed the clutch, shifted into neutral, and turned the key in the ignition.
Muldoon repeated the process.
Again, no response from the car. Not even an electrical noise from the ignition.
He sat back in his seat, brows furrowed, trying to figure out what was wrong. He had just taken the car in to Reilly's two weeks earlier for a minor tune-up.
Again, he attempted to start the car. Again, his attempt was foiled when the car refused to be started. The snow continued to eddy and dance around the car, making an already quiet night even more quiet.
"Shit!" he swore, and struck the steering wheel with his fist. "Shit! Shit!"
Already in trouble with his wife for being late, he glanced at his watch.
Five till one, he saw, his eyes close to the radium dial.
"Oh that's great!" he exhaled noisily, just as a softly brilliant cone of light blinked into existence on the road just ahead of the Oldsmobile.
Muldoon thrust himself back into the seat. He could feel the springs through the upholstery, through the back of his topcoat.
When the cone of light didn't move, Muldoon grasped the steering wheel and pulled himself forward. He was just about to look out and up through the windshield when the light vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
"Saints preserve us," Muldoon inhaled deeply.
Instinctively, he grabbed the door handle. The door creaked open, loud in the white stillness.
Standing next to his car, the snow sticking to his coat, his hat, his hair, Muldoon peered through the snow at the road in front of him. Whatever had caused the light was gone. Maybe they were testing something at that new base, he thought absently. He could hardly see anything through the snow.
"This is just great," he snarled, and gave the door of the Olds an ineffectual kick, a movement which almost caused him to lose his footing on the snow-slicked asphalt of the highway. He pulled his collar up, and looked around, trying to get his bearings. He was still a half-mile from home. He could probably use the phone at one of the nearby farmhouses, to call home.
"Boy, won't Penelope really love that!?" He aimed another kick at the car, when something made him look up.
At first, all he could see was the lowering, leaden sky, clouds scudding slowly from west to east, large, wet snowflakes lazing down onto him, into his eyes.
He blinked, not so much from the snow, but at the sight of a large shape, a triangle, longer on one side than the other two, much darker than the clouds. The shape appeared to be hovering above the road, about a hundred feet in the air, above the tree tops to his right, to the east.
"What the fuck is that?" he blurted. The shape began to move slowly, almost majestically toward him.
He gulped, his brain having just given his legs the order to run, run anywhere, when the object stopped directly above him, and the light came on again, bathing everything in a radius of twenty-five feet around him in a bright, electrical incandescence.
His mind thought electrical because the hair on his body stood on end. Although the light was very bright, it wasn't harsh, didn't hurt his eyes.
Muldoon became aware, as he looked up at the source of that light, of three things. No snow was falling inside that cone of light, or on him, or in his eyes anymore. His feet were also no longer attached to the road, and he seemed to be getting perceptibly closer to the object.
His head whipped around quickly, his mind fervently hoping that what his eyes were telling him were lies.
Unless he had passed out - and he hadn't had that much to drink - or was experiencing some kind of DTs, then his eyes were confirming the truth that his body was also screaming at him.
He was floating.
Floating, like Peter Pan, in the air, rising slowly in that snowless cone of light inexorably upward toward that dark triangle.
"JesusMaryJoseph!" he shouted, although perhaps screamed would be the better description. Just before his head collided with the triangle, someone did answer his prayer, and he did pass out.
Aboard Fleet Research Ship WD - 40. The same time. The same place.
"What the Fra'ak happened!?" the Chief Intelligence Officer demanded as he entered the observation bay just above the examination room. "Did he hit his head?"
The WD-40's commander, a Lieutenant, swallowed and looked guiltily at the CIO.
"Yes," the Lieutenant admitted reluctantly. "I'm afraid he did. You see, we didn't have the tractor beam perfectly aligned with the lower hatch and . . ."
"Was he injured?" the Intelligence Officer stopped next to the Lieutenant, and looked through the one-way mica observation window that gave out onto the exam bay and the human Cousin who now lay on his back on the exam table, four Gray techs hovering around him.
"No," the Lieutenant assured him. "He just, well, bumped his head on the hatch coaming and kind of rendered himself, well, unconscious, as it were." The Lieutenant gave a weak grin. "Nothing but a small bruise, Founders and Saviors be praised." To show his earnestness, he raised his eyes briefly.
The Chief Intelligence Officer, a Senior Lieutenant, shook his head slowly, and stuck a Players Navy Cut in his mouth, and snapped his Zippo open to light it.
"Fra'ak's Testicles," the Intelligence Officer exhaled bluish-gray smoke. "First, you couldn't even manage to line up on the damn car, then the tractor beam isn't aligned correctly -"
"The local weather hasn't exactly been cooperative," the Lieutenant interjected defensively.
The Intelligence Officer raised his hands. "I know, I know. But with everything that's happened recently, Upstairs is very cautious about how things are accomplished down here."
"Don't I know," the Lieutenant said, lighting his own Lucky Strike. He snapped the Zippo shut, exhaling smoke. He glanced through the one-way glass, then carefully at the Chief Intelligence Officer. "The Supreme Commander was particularly insistent that we proceed with extreme caution. And your boss Kuma'ric . . ." he trailed off.
The Chief Intelligence officer gave a knowing, rueful nod. "Brother, don't I know it," he tapped ash into an ashtray that said Iowa State Fair: 1946.
"And I can't control the fucking weather!" the Lieutenant concluded. "So if he bumped his head, that's not my department."
" Please! Put a cork in it, for Fra'ak's Sake! You're preaching to the choir," the Intelligence Officer told the Lieutenant. He looked out at the Cousin and the Gray Techs. "So who is he?"
The Lieutenant calmed down from his mini-hysteria and handed the Intelligence Officer a worn brown leather wallet.
The Intelligence Officer opened the wallet and looked through it. There was a clear plastic accordion-like attachment that held photographs, which he examined, but not closely. He withdrew a pale blue-green piece of paper, covered with printing and typewriting, topped with block lettering that said State Of Iowa.
"Driver's License," he mumbled. He glanced quickly at the screen inset next to the viewing port. "Huh. Like this guy needed to be driving. With that blood alcohol level. And in this weather."
"I don't control the weather!" the Lieutenant stated again.
The Intelligence Officer sighed. He looked at the Cousin.
"Are they ready?" he asked.
The Lieutenant cocked and squared his khaki US Navy pisscutter on his head, and pressed a button on the console in front of him. The four Gray Techs looked up at them, and nodded. Another Gray Tech appeared, wheeling a shiny tray laden with instruments into the exam room.
Intel shoved his dark gray fedora back on his head. "Is that what I think it is?"
"Standard Operating Procedure," the Lieutenant agreed.
"No," Intel said firmly. He grabbed the flexible microphone, and pushed a stud on the console. "No anal probes," he spoke into the mike.
The Gray wheeling the cart stopped, and looked up at the opaque one-way observation window.
"I said 'no anal probes'. No transponders. This is just a simple interrogation." The Intelligence Officer repeated.
The Gray gave a crestfallen look, turned, and wheeled the cart out of the room.
The Intelligence Officer unbuttoned the coat of his charcoal gray suit. He loosened the knot of his tie, and shoved a hand in his pocket.
"Jeez," he said, lighting a fresh cigarette from the butt of his old one, which he stubbed out. "What's it take to get through to these guys?"
The Lieutenant shrugged. "I've found that slapping 'em around on occasion usually works."
Intel nodded. "What a way to run an interrogation."
Francis Muldoon came slowly awake. His mind, already impaired by alcohol, struggled to catch up.
"Obtuse triangle," he said, or thought he said, remembering his high school geometry and the shape that he had collided with.
He was lying flat on his back. His eyes blinked rapidly in the brightness of wherever he was, and he raised a hand to rub them.
But he discovered that he couldn't move his hand. He couldn't move his arms. He couldn't move his legs.
Then he remembered. His car had died by the side of the road. He had seen a strange light. He had been floating, up, up, and up, toward a dark shape.
"Shit," he managed to croak. He found that he could move his head. He rolled it to one side.
He became aware that he was in a room, no, someplace, of some kind. It was very well lit, but not harshly. He rolled his head to the right, his eyes wandering. There were walls, apparently, padded, white, or off-white. It was an odd sort of room though, he thought, as it didn't have any corners. He let his head roll a little more and saw . . .
"Oh, oh, oh fuck," he exhaled as he saw the three figures standing next to him.
They were small, maybe about four feet tall, his mind estimated. They wore what looked like gray coveralls. But their heads, their faces were all wrong.
Their heads were shaped like upside down pears, they had small mouths, what appeared to be a tiny, pert little noses, and large, slanted, eyes the color of obsidian.
I died, his Roman Catholic mind immediately thought. I died, and I think I went to Hell, 'cause this ain't like the Heaven I learned about.
The little demons swung what looked like a medical examination light over him. One of the little devils leaned in and put his head close to Muldoon's. A thought suddenly projected itself into the Realtor's mind.
Don't worry, the demon seemed to be telling him. This won't hurt a bit.
"Oh, Christ!" Muldoon managed to shout.
Intel watched the interrogation progress with growing impatience. He had a mission, specific orders, given to him and reinforced by the increasingly gone over-native Kuma'ric. The SOP orders suddenly didn't seem to apply to this mission.
"This isn't working," he snapped at the Lieutenant. He smashed his cigarette out and retightened the knot in his tie. He pulled the fedora back down on his head. "C'mon," he said to the Lieutenant. "Let's go talk to 'im in person. Have the Grays put 'im in a chair."
The Lieutenant looked quickly at the Intelligence Officer. "But the SOP . . ."
"We're gonna improvise," Intel said. He turned to leave. "Put him in a chair, and have 'em bring coffee." Intel reached inside his suit jacket and withdrew a pair of RayBans, which he put on. Without waiting for the Lieutenant, he was out the hatch and gone. The Lieutenant quickly thought orders to the Gray Techs, and scurried after the Intelligence Officer.
Francis Muldoon didn't know how it happened, but, he reckoned, since he was apparently dead and in hell, normal physical laws no longer applied.
He found himself sitting in a chair, a very comfortable chair, with the little gray demons skittering around him. The demons stopped their scurrying as two more . . . things entered.
They were much taller than the smaller devils. As tall as an average human, Muldoon's deranged mind thought. One of them wore a US Navy khaki flight suit, with a brown leather name patch that had what he took to be Navy Pilot's wings, and a khaki overseas hat on his head, with two silver bars on the right side.
The other had on a charcoal grey suit, white shirt and black tie, and a dark gray fedora on his head. They both also wore mirrored RayBans.
One of the little gray demons thrust a cup at him, which he automatically took. The smell of coffee drifted into his nostrils, into his brain.
Equally automatic, he took a slow sip from the steaming cup, surprised to find out that it really was coffee.
They never told us they served coffee in Hell, he thought. Maybe in Mormon Hell they do . . .
"Mr. Muldoon?" the demon in the suit and fedora said. "Mr. Francis Muldoon?"
The question caught Muldoon by surprise. He almost sloshed coffee out of the cup.
"Yeah," he found himself saying. "Frank Muldoon. That's me."
The two human demons looked at each other. Fedora nodded. He reached inside his suitcoat and offered a cigarette to Muldoon, who accepted.
As Muldoon took the cigarette, he noticed Mr. Fedora's hand. It looked like a human hand, except that the nails were longer and pointed, like claws. But the skin, the skin was all wrong. It was grayish, and scaled, like the guy had a skin disease. Then he looked at the face, beneath the RayBans and brim of the fedora. His breath caught as he looked at the other demon, the one in the Navy flight gear. His skin was the same. Smoothly scaled, almost like a snake.
A Zippo flamed beneath him as Fedora lit the cigarette.
"No, Mr. Muldoon," Fedora said, closing the lighter gently and tucking it away inside his jacket. "You're not dead. You're very much alive. We just wanna ask you some questions, ascertain certain facts."
"Questions?" Muldoon's brain raced. "Facts?"
"Just the facts," Fedora stood up straight.
Reason, of a sort, exerted itself in Muldoon's mind.
"Where am I?" he sat up in the chair. "Who are you guys?"
A faint metallic hum came to Muldoon as Fedora looked at Navy.
"Mr. Muldoon . . ." Fedora began.
"Frank," Muldoon insisted. "Call me Frank."
"Frank," Fedora pulled up another chair and sat. "I'm Lieutenant Kra'ag, and this is my colleague, Lieutenant Ka'gan. We just want to ask you some questions."
Muldoon looked quickly at both of them.
"You guys with the government, then?" he asked, finding something familiar that he could grasp at.
"You might say that," Fedora/Kra'ag nodded, and gave a reassuring smile.
"Oh," Muldoon sat his coffee cup down on a tray held by a Gray. "Oh, Jesus, I was really scared there for a minute." He peered closely at the two. "Are you guys from the base? Couldn't you've just called me? I got regular office hours, y'know."
At the mention of the word base, Fedora/Kra'ag gave Navy/Ka'gan a glance loaded with significance. He turned to look again at Muldoon.
"Tell us about the base, Frank," Kra'ag urged gently. "Just the facts."
Muldoon's brows furrowed, perplexed. He looked again at Kra'ag.
"But you're from the base," he said. "You guys should know all about it."
"Oh," Kra'ag smiled again. He leaned back in his chair. "We do. We just wanna check up on security, y'know?" Kra'ag leaned forward, toward Muldoon. "What d'you think they're doing at the base, Frank?"
"I dunno, exactly," Muldoon, now caught up in normalcy, resumed his coffee. He took a drink. "I'm as patriotic an' loyal as any other American, but except for flying airplanes in an' out all the time, I dunno what they're doin' there."
Lt. Ka'gan leaned forward. "What've you heard about 'flying saucers', Frank?"
Muldoon was taken aback by the question. He still couldn't understand what was going on, with the little demons, and now these big demons who were apparently Government employees, asking him perfectly normal questions. He was, he reasoned, either really dead and in Hell, or just in a very bad DT dream.
"Flying saucers," he intoned the words. He sat his coffee cup down again. The metallic hum had not diminished. "Oh, there was a lot of talk about that back in July, but it was just a rocket that crashed." Muldoon gave the two human demons a cocked eyebrow. "But you guys probably know all about that."
Kra'ag and Ka'gan exchanged a significant look.
"Well, Frank," Kra'ag turned his fedoraed head and grinned. "Naturally, for security reasons, we don't like to talk about that." He winked at Muldoon, a gesture that was lost as Kra'ag was wearing shades.
"But, Frank," Ka'gan leaned forward. "You can tell us what you know about it? The base, I mean."
Muldoon, who still thought he was deep inside an alcohol induced dream, smiled broadly at them. "All I know is what I read in the papers, guys. Seriously, " he leaned forward. "You ain't from around here, are ya?"
Kra'ag stubbed out his cigarette, and lit another. "We're just doin' our job. What d'you know about the base, Frank?"
"Tell us, Frank," Ka'gan reiterated.
"I helped 'em, the government, you guys, you know? Acquire some property." He gave the two a knowing wink. "They approached me to help 'em get some more, y'know? But that bastard O'Malley senior's suckin' up all the profits. Uncle Sam's made him some kinda deal, gettin' him as their middleman." Muldoon stubbed out his own cigarette. "Jesus. I gotta wake up an' get home. Penelope's gonna kill me."
Kra'ag and Ka'gan shared another look laden with hidden significance.
"Where is the base, Frank?" Kra'ag asked, tapping ash into an ashtray held by one of the small gray demons.
"What?" Muldoon gave them a dream-incredulous look. "Why, hell," he giggled. "You should know that better'n me."
"Just the facts, Frank," Kra'ag insisted. The way the conversation/interrogation was going, he almost wished that he had let the Gray Techs stick something up the Cousin's ass. "Just the facts."
Muldoon blinked. "But its right over there," he raised an arm and pointed. Then, unsure of his exact orientation, he swiveled his head, and pointed with his other arm. "Over there." He lowered both arms. "Hell, its just off the highway, north of town. You can't miss it."
The two officers passed a silent thought.
Kra'ag stood, straightening his tie. He smiled at Muldoon.
"Thanks, Frank," he said while the other officer stood. "You've been a great deal of help." He leaned forward, and patted Muldoon on the shoulder. "We'll see to it that you get home all right."
"Hey," Muldoon said, rather urgently.
The two Officers stopped and looked at him.
"You guys sure I ain't dead?" Muldoon looked insistently at them. "I mean, I'm not in Hell, am I?"
"No, Frank," Kra'ag hastened to assure him. He favored the Cousin with another smile while he straightened the brim of his fedora. "You'll reach Hell when you get home to Penelope."
With a friendly nod, the two Officers disappeared. One of the Gray Techs came up to him and pressed something cold against his neck.
Before Muldoon could protest, he was back where he'd thought he'd been originally.
Kra'ag and Ka'gan both congratulated each other on a job well done. The Cousin was being prepped, his memory being carefully wiped by the Grays, to remove any embarrassing reminders of his questioning, his blood system being detoxified (nobody wanted him driving in that condition, in this weather). Soon, he would be tractored back to his car, hopefully none the wiser.
The two Lieutenants seated themselves in front of the viewscreen, waiting to make their personal report to Chief of Intelligence Operations, Kuma'ric, back on the flagship.
"All in all," Kra'ag said, as they waited for the connection with the Der'ra'ag. "I think we've done a very good job on this one."
Lieutenant Ka'gan nodded. "A fine job, yes indeed," he agreed, a satisfied smirk on his face.
The viewscreen flickered. The local weather was playing hell with communications. An image appeared, jumped, went out of focus momentarily, jumped again, then cleared and steadied. The Chief of Intelligence, Kuma'ric, wearing a canary yellow tailcoat, scarlet waistcoat, a black silk neck stock, and a floppy-brimmed Regency hat of gray beaver, stared languidly out at them. He held a white clay pipe to his mouth by it's stem.
He said nothing. He just sat and stared at them.
Kra'ag glanced sideways at Ka'gan, then cleared his throat.
"Senior Lieutenant Kra'ag here," he reported. "On the Research Ship WD - 40, sir."
Kuma'ric puffed slowly at his pipe. A cloud of smoke swirled gently about his head. He remained silent.
"Ah," Kra'ag stammered and continued. "We just completed the interrogation of a Cousin, named Frank Muldoon, sir."
The Chief of Intelligence lazily arched an eyebrow. Smoke rolled about his head as he continued his silence.
"Ah, yes, Sir," Kra'ag began to fidget. "About the location of the base in Iowa?"
Kuma'ric arched his other eyebrow.
"The base," the Chief of Intelligence spoke at last, causing the two Lieutenants to jump. "The base!" Kuma'ric gave a nod. "Sink me! The Base!" he leaned forward, his face growing larger in the screen. He favored the two with a slight upturning of his lips. The camera pulled out to reveal Kuma'ric in a full body shot. One knee-breeched, hosed leg was idly crossed over another. He rolled his eyes up. "This base, that you keep prattling on about, damme sir, would it by chance be this rather large area to the east of the town, hmm, I do wonder?"
Kuma'ric pressed a button just out of view. A large, aerial photograph appeared behind the Intelligence Chief's head. "And would it by chance have two runways, laid out like a triangle, yet still somewhat parallel to one another, I should imagine?" Kuma'ric turned slightly in his chair, one buckled shoe now beginning to bounce slightly. He gestured absently toward the enlargement with the long stem of his pipe.
"Perhaps it might even have buildings clustered here, here and here, and, oh, I don't know, perhaps some aeroplanes which actually fly on those runways?" Kuma'ric's voice rose slightly.
"Yes, Sir," Kra'ag replied. Kuma'ric's idiosyncrasies were now common knowledge to the Fleet. "Ah, that would be it. Yes."
"Sink me!" Kuma'ric exclaimed. He jabbed again at the overhead projection behind his head. "The verisimilitude of your statement astounds me, sirrah! Your erudition is first rate! Knock me over with a feather, you may! I say!"
The Chief of Intelligence leaned into the screen once more.
"Now, Leftenant, you may have been unaware of this fact, but we have had the location of the base pinpointed by orbital surveillance for the past fortnight!" Kuma'ric jabbed again indolently at the overhead projection with his pipestem. He picked up a large brandy snifter and gently swirled the contents. "Thank the Savior for artificial Gee, what? Without it, this exquisite Napoleon would be floating as high as I am!" He gestured broadly with the glass. Liquid sloshed over the rim. "What? Ah haw!"
Kra'ag and Ka'gan both squirmed.
"What does he want?" Kra'ag hissed from the side of his mouth at Ka'gan.
On the screen, Kuma'ric looked up lazily at the two.
"At last," he drawled. "An intelligent question. And from an Intelligence Officer, sink me!"
"My dear chap," Kuma'ric's eyes bored across the distance, through the screen. "I do not s'ppose, that during your recent tête-à-tête with Our Coz, that you perhaps, well, I don't know, learned anything about the command structure of this base, eh what? You may elucidate."
"Well, um, that is to say -" Kra'ag hedged.
"No," Ka'gan blurted.
"Ah!" Kuma'ric pulled a small round box from his weskit. Without removing his twinkling, sardonic gaze from the two officers, he deftly removed a pinch of snuff between his thumb and forefinger, and held it to his nostril. A quick inhalation followed, and Kuma'ric replaced the tin inside his smallclothes. "Well now, where were we?" Before Kuma'ric could continue, his eyes began to flutter, his mouth opened, his nostrils dilated, and he sneezed.
"Fra'ak's Breath," both Earthside officers intoned together.
"Ah. Thanks awf'ly, ta 'an all that. Now," Kuma'ric wiped daintily at his nose with an exquisite white kerchief that he plucked from his laced cuff. "Why don't the pair of you be stout fellas an' find an answer to my query, what?" The Intelligence Chief smiled benignly, and made gentle shooing motions with his hands. "Off you go, now. Do run along. Ring me back when you know something useful, do!"
The image on the screen blinked and vanished, replaced by fluttering blackness.
There was a momentary silence in the comm cubicle.
Kra'ag, mind racing, thought for a moment. Then, he stood, decisively.
"We've got to get Muldoon back," he said.
"How?" Ka'gan also got to his feet. "How're we gonna find him? You were the one who said no anal probes. You were the one who said no transponders! How in the name of Fra'ak are we gonna find im?"
"We can see 'im," Kra'ag was firm. "He can't have gotten far in this weather. We have to find him."
Ka'gan shook his head, and began shouting orders.
Frank Muldoon gripped the wheel of his Oldsmobile. The engine wasn't running. The car was pulled off to the side of State Highway 17, the snow piling up on the hood, on the windshield.
Musta stalled, he thought, blinking at some half-forgotten memory. Dim figures swirled in the recesses of his mind, obscured figures, figures from a barely remembered dream.
"Huh," he shrugged. He started the car. The radio blared at him. Snow eddied and danced in the beams of his headlights. Muldoon put the Olds in gear. It moved forward sluggishly, a growing ridge of snow gripping the tires.
"Crap, Penelope's gonna kill me," he thought, for what must have been the hundredth time. Then he realized he didn't feel drunk anymore. He sat back, letting the car idle, wondering at his newfound sobriety. Then, being the type of person who never looked a gift horse in the mouth, he shrugged again, and once more attempted to get the Olds to move.
The lights, the engine, the radio suddenly died.
"That's funny," he thought aloud. The battery should've kept the lights and radio going, and it was a new battery. He depressed the clutch, shifted into neutral, and tried the ignition.
The rear of his car was suddenly illuminated by a brilliant incandescence, a soft, but bright light, just like . . .
Those dream demons that had been dancing around the outermost edges of his consciousness suddenly sprang into sharper clarity.
"Wait a minute," Muldoon said as memory returned. "The light was in front of me last time . . ."
The light clicked off.
Muldoon wrenched the car door open, and got out. He looked through the snow toward the rear of the car. He looked toward the front of the car. He tilted his head straight up, the snow falling on his face, into his eyes. He blinked again.
"Is that you guys, up there again?" he almost shouted into the night.
The cone of light blinked on again, this time right over him.
"Yeah," he said, weakly. "I guess it is."
As memory returned, he felt his knees wobble. Then his feet were no longer on the pavement and he began to float slowly upward in the cone of light. Complete memory didn't return until just before his head impacted the hatch coaming, and by then, complete memory was immaterial.
Aboard WD - 40. The same time.
Lt. Kra'ag stormed brusquely past two Gray Techs. "Can't you get those Fra'akless beams calibrated correctly?" he demanded. "You missed the car again!"
"Look!" Lt. Ka'gan insisted. "This Fra'aking weather's playing hell with everything! And I don't control the weather!"
"I suppose he collided with the ship again?" Kra'ag lit a cigarette.
Lt. Ka'gan's sheepish expression answered that question.
"Great!" Kra'ag exhaled smoke. "Was he injured this time?"
"Oh, no," Lt. Ka'gan hastened to assure his superior. "Just bumped his head again. The Techs have him in interrogation room one."
"C'mon," Kra'ag went past him. "An' if we're gonna keep having these little problems with him, we'd better issue him protective headgear!"
Muldoon's eyes opened slowly. This time, instead of being on his back, he was seated in the no longer comfortable armchair. He squirmed. The way his butt twitched, it felt like someone had shoved something up his ass.
It was almost the same as last time, the soft yet bright light, the three small gray demons just out of arm's reach, looking unaccountably smug. Only this time, the two human-sized demons were seated just opposite him.
"Oh, Christ!" Muldoon groaned. Never had he felt more helpless. "What'd I do? What d'you guys want from me this time?"
The demon with the fedora leaned forward slightly and gave Muldoon a gentle pat on his shoulder.
"Hi, Frank," he said with a smile. "We're awful sorry to bother you again, but there are a couple of other minor points we'd like to clear up."
"Just the facts," Muldoon said, intoning the words as if they were part of the Nicene Creed.
Fedora/Kra'ag removed his shades, and winked at Muldoon with one larger than normal obsidian eye.
"That's it, Frank," he grinned. "Just the facts."