The Winner Is
A Starman Story By Zena
Benjamin Wiley looked across the table at Paul Forrester and his son, Scott Hayden, as they each ate a slice of frosted cake. The joyous atmosphere in the room was high and Wiley wished that it was unnecessary for him to interrupt it with business, but despite this unaccustomed feeling of friendliness between himself and the alien, he was still an agent of the FSA. Business came first, and he and Edna, former secretary for the now-deceased George Fox, would be leaving in a couple of hours. Time was running out and he had no choice. Orders were orders.
"Paul?" he asked and stopped.
"What is it?" Forrester gently asked, curious at seeing distress on Ben’s face on what was supposed to be celebratory occasion.
Ben wiped his lips with the paper napkin, leaned back in his wooden chair and locked eyes on the Starman. There was no easy way to approach the topic. He took a deep breath. "You know I spoke with General Wade."
"Yes. That’s why we’re all here today: to celebrate Scott’s and my freedom."
"Yeah, well that’s what I want to talk to you about," he sighed and tossed the napkin on the table.
"What do you mean?" Scott asked, suddenly alarmed. "You said we were free. We are, aren’t we?"
John and Agnes Miller also looked at the agent nervously.
"Yes, but General Wade still wants to talk to your father and you." He switched his attention back to Paul. "As you know, our orders were to bring the both of you in for questioning. General Wade would like you and Scott to come with me and Edna to Washington."
The teen nearly choked on his cake. "Don’t go, Dad," he said, staring at his father. "It could be a trap."
Paul sadly gazed at his worried son. He saw the fear in those dark eyes and heard it in the boy’s voice. Apparently Scott wasn’t the only one concerned. The old farmer couple was also watching them.
"Scott’s right. It could be a trick," John said. "All this could be a ploy to lure you in. I don’t trust the government, or the military," he said squinting pointedly at Ben. "I never have and I never will. They lie all the time."
Paul looked at Wiley and Edna. "Is this a trick?" he simply asked them.
"Not as far as I know," Ben said. The agent gazed at the farmer. He was still surprised that the elderly owners of the small farm would will it to someone they didn’t even know a couple of months ago, and a pair of former fugitives at that. It was their trust that had finally allowed him to admit to himself what he had known for some time, that Paul and Scott were not the danger that Fox had always, in his paranoia, thought them to be. His eyes moved back to Paul. "I’ll be totally honest. After what you and Scott have been through, I’d certainly understand if you decided not to come with us."
"But if I refuse, what will happen?" Paul asked with concern.
"He’ll be unhappy. That much I know for sure. After that, your guess is as good as mine," he answered shrugging his shoulders. "I wish I could promise that there was absolutely no danger to you in talking with him. I don’t think there is any, but it’s up to you. What do you want to do?"
Everyone watched each other, waiting for someone to say something. Forrester finally broke the deafening silence.
"I want to put this behind us. I would like to talk to General Wade. If I don’t, we’ll never truly be free. I want no, I need to convince him we’re no threat to Earth or its people."
"So will you come with us?" Ben asked.
"No, they won’t," Agnes replied before Paul could answer. "You tell General Wade if he wants to talk to Paul and Scott, then he can come up here. We’ll welcome him."
"As long as all he wants to do is talk," John emphasized. "If he’s got something else in mind, then at least we’ll have the advantage of being on home territory."
Paul was genuinely touched by the old couple’s concern for him and Scott. "Do you think he’d come here?"
"Are you kidding? "Wiley responded with a chuckle. "He’s wanted to talk to you for years."
"Tell him to come alone," John added.
Ben took a sip of his coffee and shook his head. "No can do. Generals always travel with an entourage. No exceptions. At the very least he’ll need his secretary, and he’ll want his personal aid with him for security."
"All right then. Edna can be his secretary and you can be his aid," the farmer proposed. "No one else. Is that acceptable?"
Wiley thought about the request. "I’ll give him your suggestion. I’ll let you know what he says."
"Do you think he’ll agree?" Paul asked, hopeful.
"I’m sure he’d prefer his own people, but yeah, I think I can convince him to use Edna and myself as replacements," he nodded and gave a wan smile. They began discussing the arrangements for the meeting.
The party resumed, but the joyous atmosphere was gone. When Agent Wiley and Edna left that evening, John, Agnes, Paul and Scott began preparing additional plans for the upcoming meeting.
"You know, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have some of those people you told Mr. Wiley about, here, just in case," Mrs. Miller suggested. "It’ll make it all that much harder for General Wade to nab you if that’s what he has in mind."
"Yeah, Dad," Scott agreed. Up until now, the boy had mostly remained quiet. "They’d be kind of like a support group."
Paul looked at his son, surprised but willing to listen to all suggestions, particularly by the one person as deeply involved in all of this as he was himself. "Do you really think I need one?"
"I’d feel a lot better having one than not, especially for something as important as this."
Forrester took a deep breath and nodded. "Okay."
"So who are you going to invite?"
It only took a few moments for him to decide. "I think I’ll ask Kathryn Bradford, Dr. Duchow, Liz Baynes and Mark Shermin."
Scott remembered the college scientist and the doctor who saved his father’s life. Liz was their best friend and guardian angel, but he’d never heard his father mention the man before. "Who’s Mark Shermin?"
Paul smiled. "Mark helped your mother and me get to Meteor Crater so my people could retrieve me and I could go home. If it weren’t for him, I would have died."
"So why didn’t you mention his name to Wiley when he asked for the names of people who could help us?"
The gentle alien blushed with embarrassment. "To be honest, it didn’t come to mind. Besides, he doesn’t know I’m back."
"I’d love to see his face when you tell him," Scott said with a sly grin.
"I’d like to see that, too," Agnes said. "I’m sure it’ll be one hell of a surprise for him."
THE NEXT DAY - WASHINGTON D.C.
Ben walked into the office of General Martin Wade nodding politely as he said, "Good afternoon, sir."
"Well? Where are they?" Wade demanded after the agent had seated himself. "Did they come with you?"
Wiley shifted uncomfortably, but forced himself to meet the general’s eyes, as he answered frankly, "No, sir. Forrester was willing to come, but the old couple talked him out of it. They told us point blank they don’t trust the military or the government. As for Scott," he hesitated a moment and then pushed forward, curious to see his superior’s reaction to the words of the persecuted alien’s son. "Well, sir, he bluntly told me we couldn’t persuade him to come here if you gave him our country’s national debt in dollars. You can’t blame him after what we did to him and his father at Peagrum, not to mention the latest incident with Mr. Fox trying to kill Forrester."
"I see," the military man grunted, his tone giving no sign of what he was thinking, or whether he approved or disapproved of that so-called incident.
Wiley sighed and added, "We’ve done a good job scaring the hell out of that kid; so much so that I’m afraid Scott wouldn’t even call the police if he desperately needed their help."
General Wade leaned back in his leather chair, evaluating everything the agent had told him so far. Wiley’s last statement worried him. The alien and his son were potentially very valuable. If they were ever to get into danger We’ve really messed this up. No, George messed this up, he corrected. Obviously he needed to establish a thread of trust with the alien and his son. A new approach was required. "So, the alien was willing to talk, but the boy and these new-found friends of theirs wouldn’t allow it. Is that about the size of it?" he asked, knowing by the other man’s fidgeting that there was more.
Ben nodded eagerly. "Forrester does want to talk to you, sir. He’s willing to cooperate and answer whatever he can. The Miller’s said you’d be welcome to question him and Scott as long as it’s up there."
Wade nodded thoughtfully, realizing that he was being offered that potential thread of trust. "I see."
"There are some conditions though," Wiley said and waited apprehensively. Generals didn’t like surprises.
"Such as?" Wade asked, curious.
Ben couldn’t hide a grin. "They insist you come alone, and Edna and I be your secretary and security officer. They won’t allow anyone else."
It didn’t take the general too long to think about the request. He would’ve preferred to bring his own secretary and aide, but the substitutions were acceptable, especially considering the potential reward. "Agreed. Anything else?"
"Did they say when they wanted me to come up there?"
"Whenever you’re ready, sir," Wiley said with a smile. "They’re waiting for me to call and give them a date and time."
After his secretary checked his appointment calendar, General Wade said, "Tell them we’ll be there the beginning of next week."
"Is there something else?" It looked like the agent wanted to say more.
Ben’s face flushed and turned a light shade of red. "I was just thinking, it would have been nice to talk to them before we managed to frighten them," he said in a remorseful tone. "They’ll be guarded now and suspicious. At least Scott will."
"Yes," Wade sadly agreed. "What’s done is done however. It’s up to us to repair the damage. What more can you tell me about them?"
Wiley smiled. He was pleased to finally tell the general what he had subtly observed over the two years he worked on the alien project, rather than hide behind his thoughts out of fear of retribution from Fox. "Forrester is very intelligent and inquisitive. Scott says he’s still a bit naive when it comes to human mannerisms and customs, but is a fast learner. Scott’s not too far behind his father as far as intelligence goes. His school grades are high. He’s made the honor roll several times. But where Forrester is quiet and reserved, Scott is a typical teenager. He’s very emotional." Wiley shuddered slightly, his voice dropping a bit as he added, "I’ll never forget the rage on his face when he removed the bullet from his father’s back. I was expecting fear or uncertainty from such a young man, but Scott looked like he wanted kill us. He told Mr. Fox he should kill us. But when it came down to putting those thoughts into action, he couldn’t do it. As furious as he was, he simply emptied our guns and threw the bullets away. I think we can credit Forrester with that. He taught the boy incredible restraint under extraordinary circumstances."
The general considered what the agent said. Indeed, they were fortunate the boy hadn’t murdered the two federal agents. Things would be quite different if he had acted on his emotions.
FOUR DAYS LATER AT THE MILLER FARM
Mrs. Miller went to the front door to investigate Daisy’s barking. Paul and Scott were in the kitchen. They tensed at hearing the knock. She opened the wooden door to greet a slim dark-haired woman standing on the porch. "Yes? May I help you?"
"I’m Dr. Ellen Duchow. Are Paul Forrester and Scott Hayden here?"
Starman recognized the doctor’s voice and nodded to Agnes. "Please. Let her in." He stood as she entered.
Ellen smiled at seeing the former patient who had so profoundly affected the way she practiced medicine now and forever more. Gone was the cold, clinical, by-the-book physician who was as far connected to her patients as fish are to dogs. In its place was a warm, caring doctor who remembered again that her patients were people, sometimes frightened people, who were looking for, and needed, a little TLC and reassurance to get them through a difficult situation. All those changes happened because of one special person: and he was standing in front of her now with open arms. "Paul. It’s good to see you. How are you?" she asked and proceeded to give him a hug.
"I’m well, thank you."
She let go, but held him at arm’s length. "When that agent, Wiley, called and asked if I would help you, I was surprised to say the least. And then when you called."
He gave her his most reassuring smile and she relaxed a bit, though her concern was still evident as she asked, "Are you sure you’re okay? Mr. Wiley said you’d been shot."
Paul took her hands and locked his eyes on hers. "I assure you, I’m healthy. Scott did an excellent job healing the wound."
"Scott healed?" she started and looked at the teen with puzzlement. There was still so much she didn’t know about these two. She returned her attention to Paul. "When we have a moment, I’d like to examine you and determine that for myself."
He knew how firm the woman could be, remembering when she insisted he take the routine tests she ordered when he was in the hospital. He relented this time without argument.
"And how are you, Scott? I see you’ve grown. Still taking care of your father?"
"I’m fine and yeah," he chuckled. "He still needs someone to look after him."
Paul looked at his son with a mildly offended stare.
"Well, you do," Scott protested and grinned.
John offered to take the doctor’s coat while Agnes urged her to take a seat.
"You’re early. The meeting isn’t until tomorrow," Mrs. Miller said.
"Yes, I know, but I wanted to see Paul and Scott, simply as one friend to another, before they meet with this General Wade," she explained. "If it isn’t too much trouble, can someone tell me exactly what happened? That agent, Wiley, wasn’t very specific about the details."
John, Agnes and Scott looked at Paul. "Well, you know we’ve been trying to stay ahead of George Fox," he started. "About three months ago."
"And General Wade is coming here tomorrow to speak with us," Scott concluded as the explanation wound down.
Ellen reached for Forrester’s hand. "I’ll give you whatever support I can," she promised. She turned to the Miller’s. "That’s quite generous of you to give these two your farm," she said with a warm smile, "but I think they’re more than worth it."
"Yes, they are," Agnes agreed. "Scott deserves a good permanent home. Now if we can only find his mother and complete this family, I could die happy."
Paul’s eyes widened and he lifted his eyebrows in alarm.
Scott noticed. "Dad," he groaned. "It doesn’t mean she will die. It just means, if she did die, she’d be happy knowing Mom was with us," he explained.
"Oh," he sighed in relief.
Dr. Duchow grinned and laughed. "Does he always take expressions literally?"
"He’s learning not to," Scott answered.
Everyone looked toward the kitchen door as they heard Daisy barking again. Mrs. Miller rose from her chair to see what had excited the dog. "There’s another car out there," she told them. She watched as a woman stepped out and walked toward the porch.
Paul and Scott were curious who had arrived, but remained seated.
Agnes answered the knock. "Yes?"
"My name is Liz Baynes. I believe Paul and Scott are expecting me. Are they here?"
Paul smiled and nodded as he heard Liz’s voice.
"Yes, they are. Please, come in," Mrs. Miller said and stepped aside, welcoming the tall lady.
"Paul! Scott! Come here you two," Liz said and opened her arms to them. She hugged them both, and then kissed Paul.
The doctor watched with interest and a little bit of awkwardness as Forrester and his son greeted this woman. Obviously they seemed to know each other quite well. She remembered Scott briefly mentioning Liz as he related the story of how they were trying to stay one step ahead of the government when Paul was hospitalized.
"Dr. Duchow, John, Agnes, I want you to meet a very close friend of ours: Liz Baynes," Paul introduced. "If it wasn’t for her help, we wouldn’t be standing here today."
"And don’t you forget it!" she teased and mockingly poked him in the arm.
The others offered her their greetings.
"It seems you and the doctor had the same idea about coming here one day early," John said.
"Yes, wellI wanted to see them again before we all get down to business. It’s been much too long since I’ve seen these guys. I worry and think about them every day. Scott, let me look at you. My goodness, you’re as tall as Paul now."
"Would both of you like to stay for dinner?" Agnes invited graciously. "There’s more than enough food for everyone."
"That would be very nice, thank you," Liz answered.
Dr. Duchow agreed. "I’d love to. Can we help you with anything?"
"No. I’ve got all the help I need," Agnes said looking expectantly at her husband.
Scott helped set the table while John assisted his wife with the food. During the meal, Dr. Duchow told them about what an effect Paul and Scott had had on her and what happened after she said good-bye to them in the parking lot.
"He was furious," Ellen said, describing George Fox. "He said I betrayed him and he wasn’t going to forget it."
"He said the same thing to me at the monorail station just after I helped Paul and Scott get away," Liz said, finding herself warming to the other woman as they spoke of their mutual dislike of the FSA agent.
"He threatened to take away my license to practice medicine. Funny thing is, he never acted on his threat," Ellen mused. "I think he was just glad to get out of the hospital before we had him committed as a mental patient."
"I wish you had," Liz replied vehemently. "Paul and Scott would’ve been much better off."
"I’m sorry Mr. Fox threatened both of you," Paul sadly said. "I didn’t know that." He wondered how many of the other people they’d met during their travels that the government agent had similarly threatened.
"Well, you don’t have to worry about him anymore," John told the women.
"Why not?" Liz asked in surprise.
"Because he’s dead," Scott answered with satisfaction in his voice.
The doctor and Ms. Baynes looked at the teen, and then at Paul, with shock.
"Mr. Wiley sent us his obituary. He had another heart attack. Dad doesn’t like me saying this, but I’m glad he’s dead."
"I can certainly understand why," Liz agreed. No one regretted tipping off the agent to the alien’s return more than she did. If I had only kept my mouth shut maybe Paul and Scott could have been spared the hell they went through for two years. "I don’t think anyone’s going to miss him."
"Except Dad," Scott replied. "He still had hope that Fox could turn around the way Mr. Wiley did."
"Yes," Paul confirmed. "Now it’s too late."
"Well, I’m not going to shed any tears," Liz said flatly.
"Dessert anyone?" Agnes interrupted, deliberately breaking up the sour mood.
"That was delicious, Mrs. Miller," Dr. Duchow complimented.
"Before I go, I’d still like to examine you, Paul. I want to satisfy myself and make sure you’re all right. It won’t take long."
Liz straightened up in alarm. "Examine him? Why? What happened?" she asked.
Paul looked at the doctor, silently pleading with her not to say anything, but Ellen never noticed he as she frankly answered, "George Fox shot Paul."
"What!" Liz blared springing from her seat to eye him angrily with the hurt expression of someone who’d been deliberately left out of learning an important secret. "You never told me that! My God. You could have died."
He was distressed now that she knew the truth and he tried to calm her. "Please, it’s all right now. He didn’t kill me. I’m okay. Scott healed me." He could see that his explanation was doing little to soothe her and quickly added, "In fact, something good came out of what happened. Fox’s partner, Wiley, switched sides and helped us."
"I don’t care about that! I care about you!"
"I know," he said softly. He reached out a hand, only to have it angrily batted away as Liz turned her back. Figuring that it would be a good idea to escape until her temper cooled down, he turned to the doctor, "We can use my bedroom for the examination. Please, follow me."
"Where were you shot?" Ellen asked after she closed the door.
"In my back."
"Take your shirt off," she ordered, and watched as he removed it. She stepped closer behind him and looked him over. She didn’t see any scar.
He directed her fingers to the bullet’s entry point. "There."
She tried to visualize what would have been damaged.
Paul felt her concern. "The bullet hit a rib and punctured my lung," he told her. "The pain was incredible. This body has never felt physical pain like it before, nor do I wish to feel it again."
"I’ll bet. It’s a miracle you weren’t killed," she said as she palpated the area.
"Yes," he agreed.
Ellen had him move his shoulder and arm slowly through its full range of motion. "Does that hurt at all?"
When they came down the stairs a few minutes later, all eyes were upon the doctor, awaiting her diagnosis.
They all breathed a thankful sigh, but Liz was the most visibly relieved. "Thank God."
"You did a great job, Scott," Ellen praised. "Too bad you can’t teach me sphere healing. Ever think about becoming a doctor?"
She smiled at him. "You should." Sensing that it would not be wise to push, she left the thought to germinate in the boy’s mind and turned to Agnes. "What time is that meeting?"
"It’s at two o’clock, but lunch will be around one," she replied.
"I’ll be here. Now, I think I’m just going to get back to the hotel and rest up. It’s a long drive back to the city and it’s been a long day."
John went to get the doctor’s coat and purse.
Paul walked her to the door. "Thank you for coming," he said and hugged her.
"I wouldn’t have missed it," she told him, and touched his cheek in farewell.
Mr. Miller helped her into her coat.
"See you tomorrow."
Paul was about to take his seat when Liz stood up. "I should get going too."
Scott suddenly yawned widely, giving Liz an embarrassed smile when he noticed her grinning at him. "Sorry," he said sheepishly.
She laughed and hugged first the teen, and then Paul. "Obviously, you boys need your rest. Thank you for the dinner," she told the Miller’s. "It was delicious."
"You’re very welcome," Agnes replied with a smile, pleased she still had her expert touch in cooking.
John brought back Liz’s purse and jacket and proceeded to help her into it.
"Thank you." She took the Starman’s hands, and then reached up, placing her arms around his neck, and kissed him.
Paul felt his face blush. "Good-night, Liz. Thank you for coming. We’ll see you tomorrow."
"You can bet the bank on it. And if you ever get hurt again, I want to know about it. Do you understand me?" she softly warned.
"Yes," he replied like a child who’d been reprimanded by a parent.
She released him and left.
"That’s one hell of a lady," John commented after she had closed the door. "Very gutsy and very straightforward, and she cares a lot about you guys. I don’t think I’d like to mess with her. You’re lucky she’s on your side."
"Yes," Paul agreed, to everything.
He and Scott helped John and Agnes with the dishes, and then chose to retire for the evening.
Scott lay in his bed staring at he ceiling. A glance at the lighted display of his alarm clock showed it to be nearly 2:00 in the morning. A full moon shone brightly and cold air gently blew through the slightly open window. It was autumn and a light frost was expected tonight. Normally, he would have considered this perfect sleeping weather, and as tired as he had been before going to bed, he had expected a good sound sleep. Unfortunately, the moment his head touched the pillow, it had filled with thoughts of what lay in store for the next day, and as a result he had lain awake for hours, worrying.
Finally unable to control his restlessness anymore, he decided to get up and see if his father was awake as well. Scott walked softly on the bare hardwood floor, trying to avoid the creaky spots that might awaken the Miller’s who slept in the bedroom directly beneath his. "Dad?" he softly called as he stood at his father’s doorway. "Are you awake?"
"Yes," Paul quietly replied and sat up. "What’s wrong?"
"Nerves, I guess. I can’t sleep." Scott walked in and sat on the edge of his father’s bed. He could see him, clearly illuminated by the moonlight streaming in his open window. "I wanted to talk for a minute."
"Thinking about tomorrow’s meeting?"
The teen looked at his father. "I keep feeling like something’s going to go wrong, and this meeting is nothing more than elaborate scheme to catch us, and our friends."
"Do you really feel it, or are you imagining it?" When Scott didn’t answer immediately, he said, "There’s a difference."
"I know, Dad. I guess I’m just-" he paused, then reluctantly admitted, "scared."
Paul reached out and put a comforting hand on Scott’s arm. "I’m going to trust General Wade. I don’t think Mr. Wiley would betray us. And Mr. Miller would put up a fight before he would let the general take us. Daisy’s a good guard dog. She’ll warn us if anyone is out there that shouldn’t be. We’ve gone over the plans. We’ve done everything we can to prepare for tomorrow. It’s time to just wait and see what happens."
Scott blew out a sigh. "I know."
"Then I want you to try and believe everything’s going to be all right," he said, squeezing his son’s arm in reassurance. "Now, go back to bed and try to sleep. It’s going to be a very long day tomorrow."
As Scott stood up to leave, a thought came to him. "Dad? If you’re not worried about tomorrow’s meeting, then why are you still awake?"
Not wanting to add to his son’s fears by admitting how closely he shared them, Paul told him, "The moonlight is too bright. It’s shining in my face. Would you do me a favor and please pull the window shade down?"
Moving to obey the request, the boy paused for a moment, taking one last look at the reassuring smile on his father’s face before enveloping the room in darkness.
"Good night, Dad," the teen said and went back to his room. He tried to do as his father suggested. For some reason, sleep came easier this time.
As Paul lay in the darkened room, he thought about what he hadn’t told Scott. Depending on the outcome of the meeting, he would, or wouldn’t call Wayne. He thought about the chain of events over the last couple of months. He hadn’t called Jenny’s brother when he and Scott arrived because they never knew how far behind Fox was. The agent could be weeks or days, or even hours behind them. Usually they had the luxury of a few weeks rest before the hunter found the hunted and the chase resumed. He had been ready to call Wayne when Wiley had phoned and informed them they were free. Ben’s surprise news that General Wade wanted to talk to him and Scott had made him decide to put off that call to Jenny’s brother for a while longer. Paul couldn’t tell his son that, indeed, he was also worried that this meeting could be a well-planned trick to capture them both. Tomorrow would tell. It would be over, one way or another. He hoped he could make that call.
Scott awakened at 4:30AM. Despite what lay ahead for today, he still had work to do. Eggs needed to be gathered from the hens, but he’d take care of that later. Vegetables had to be picked and delivered into town for the local restaurants. He put on fresh clothes and went downstairs. John was waiting for him. They headed for the field of zucchinis.
Paul awakened at 5:30 to the smell of coffee drifting into his bedroom. Mrs. Miller was making breakfast for everyone. He dressed as quickly as possible and went downstairs.
"Good morning," he greeted Agnes.
"Good morning, Paul. Did you get a good night’s sleep?"
Instead of answering, he took an appreciative sniff of the air. "Something smells wonderful. What are we having?"
Agnes noticed the evasion of her question, and was not surprised. The dark circles under his eyes were evidence enough he had not slept well. Deciding not to ask if he was nervous about today’s upcoming meeting and risk upsetting the good mood, she simply replied, "We’ve got blueberry pancakes this morning."
"I like blueberry pancakes. I had them once in Reno, and they were good."
The woman laughed. "Well, nobody makes ‘em better than I do. You can bet on that!"
Forrester smiled and put on his jacket. "I’m going to get the eggs and help Scott and John with the picking."
"Okay. Tell those two breakfast will be ready soon. I’ll ring the bell when it’s ready."
THE GUESTS ARRIVE
It was ten o’clock in the morning when Dr. Duchow arrived back at the Miller farm. Daisy promptly greeted the doctor as she stepped out of her rented car. Agnes Miller appeared seconds later on the porch and called the barking Shepherd off.
"Thank you," Ellen said, grateful for the aid. "She’s a good early warning system."
"Yes, she is. You’re here early."
The doctor smiled. "I thought I’d come ahead and give you a hand preparing the food for dinner," she said. The truth was, she was going crazy staying in the hotel room with nothing to do but wait. She hoped she could put that nervous energy to good use. "That’s if you could use the help?"
"Yes, I can. You can peel and cube the butternut squash."
Ellen followed the woman into the kitchen. Agnes gave her an apron and showed her where the knives, cutting board and bowls were kept. "Where are Paul and Scott?"
"They went into town with my husband to deliver today’s harvest for the restaurants," Mrs. Miller said. "They should be back around eleven."
"And they do this every day?"
"During the growing season, yes," she told her with a smile. "It’s all part of running a farm. Scott’s turned out to be a pretty good hired hand. He’s a good kid."
It was the doctor’s turn to beam. "Yes, he’s a very special boy. He loves his father very much. I guess that’s what struck me about him: the strength of his devotion to his dad."
The two women continued discussing Paul and Scott’s father to son relationship until they heard the dog announce the arrival of the next guest.
"I’d better go see who that is," Agnes said, wiping her wet hands on a towel.
Kathryn Bradford stepped out of her rented car and stood still at the sight of the large Shepherd. "Hello?" she called out loudly. She was relieved to see the white-haired woman standing on the porch. "Mrs. Miller?" she called.
"I’m Kathryn Bradford. Paul Forrester and Scott Hayden are expecting me."
"Oh, yes. Welcome," Agnes said.
"Does your dog bite?"
"No. Daisy, quiet!" she ordered. "Please come in."
The college professor cautiously moved away from the protection of her car and followed Mrs. Miller into the house.
"Please, make yourself comfortable," Agnes said and took her guest’s coat and purse and placed them in her bedroom. "Paul and Scott aren’t here right now, but they’ll be back soon. They went into town with my husband," she told her leading her back into the kitchen.
Ellen held out a hand to the new arrival and introduced herself. "I’m Dr. Ellen Duchow. Pleased to meet you."
"Likewise. Kathryn Bradford," she said, eyeing the doctor warily. "So, how do you know Paul and Scott?"
"I treated Paul when he was hospitalized with a cold," Ellen answered. "And you?’
"I met him when he came in to take a psychology study exam I was giving at the campus."
"Oh, boy," Agnes giggled. "I can imagine he threw quite a blip in your curve."
Kathryn grinned. "You can say that again," she said and laughed, though she hadn’t thought it funny back then, not when he had nearly cost her her job. "His mannerisms, his answers, I’d never run across anyone like him. He didn’t fit any of the standard profiles or even the subgroups. There was something very unusual about Paul Forrester."
The atmosphere had begun to loosen and soon Kathryn and Ellen were freely exchanging their experiences with the Starman while they waited for him to return.
"And then he told me who he really was and showed me where he was from. He used a kind of silver ball that glowed with a bright blue light to bring the Odyssey II back online. We’d lost contact with it almost two years ago, and suddenly it was transmitting again. It was incredible! I still don’t know what that thing was. I think I know what he did, but I don’t understand how. Regardless, I thank him every day. We’ve gotten so much new data from the probe," Kathryn said. "When he called and asked if I would come to this meeting, nothing could have kept me away."
It was the doctor’s turn to tell the college professor/scientist of the incident that changed her life. "I couldn’t understand why a normal, healthy-looking young man suffering with simple cold symptoms, kept passing out. Then Mr. Fox showed up and told me something incredible about Paul Forrester. At first I thought he was making a bad joke. I told him I didn’t have time for such foolish games, Paul was dying, but he was adamant. I still couldn’t believe it. Then when I spoke to Scott and he confirmed everything Fox saidI finally had an explanation for the tests lopsided results. "
"So what did you do? How did you cure him?" Kathryn asked, fascinated.
Ellen grinned. "Oh, I gave Paul a transfusion of Scott’s blood." Her expression changed to confusion. "The thing that gets me is, Fox said Paul was no good to him, or the world, dead. He insisted I do everything I could to keep Mr. Forrester alive, yet just recently he shot Paul and nearly killed him. It’s like he wanted to catch and keep Paul as a prisoner, but if he and Scott tried to escape he’d kill them. It’s contradictory. I don’t understand it."
"I do." Kathryn was shaken to learn the government agent tried to kill the Starman, but she was not surprised. "That’s exactly the way the government, and the military, operate. I’ve dealt with enough of those people to know what they’re like. Oh, I’m sure they’d love to study Paul, under a microscope, but they’re also quite ready to kill him if he resists. It’s the old, ‘if we can’t have him, we don’t want anyone else to either’ philosophy."
Agnes took a moment to sit down with these two women. "I’m glad you both came. Paul and Scott need their closest friends with them today," she told them seriously. "Their freedom rests in our hands. We must convince General Wade to let them go."
Daisy announced the arrival of someone in the driveway. Agnes listened, but the dog was quiet again. "Paul and Scott must be back," she said. Only they could silence the Shepherd that quickly.
Forrester and his son walked in and spotted two of their invited guests. "Kathryn. You came," Paul said and grinned.
"Of course I would, Starman," she replied and smiled. She went over to give him a kiss. "I kept hoping I’d see you again, and you too, Scott. I’m happy my wish came true."
The teen blushed as the woman gave him a kiss as well. "Nice to see you, too," he shyly replied.
"Funny. I never thought of calling Paul that," Ellen said. "It’s certainly appropriate though. I rather like it."
"Me, too," Mrs. Miller agreed.
Paul interrupted his admiration society before they got carried away with calling him by the literal description. "How long have you been here?" he asked.
"About an hour," Agnes told him.
"We’ve been having quite a conversation about you," Dr. Duchow admitted.
"Oh?" he said and raised his eyebrows. He could only imagine what they said about him.
She attempted to put his curiosity at ease. "I said it two years ago and I’ll say it again. You really are quite a special person."
Liz arrived next and introductions were made between her and Kathryn.
"That’s quite a harem you’ve got going here, Paul," John teased.
Forrester smiled. "Thank you, I think." What was a harem? He made a mental note to ask Scott later.
"Yes, Paul," Liz started. "How many other women did you invite?" she asked with just a bit of sarcasm.
"Just you three," he admitted.
"Maybe I should rephrase the question. How many women didn’t you invite?"
He thought about it. "Let’s see, there’s Casey Flynn, Julie Radin, Antonia Weyburn."
"Careful, Paul," John warned.
Liz crossed her arms and stared at the Starman with a look of incredulity on her face.
He noticed her expression. "Is something wrong?"
Liz studied Paul Forrester, using her skill at reading people honed by years as a Chicago reporter. Looking at his puzzled expression, she realized that he had no idea why John had cautioned him, and her irritation drained away, replaced with a rush of affection. So, you still have some innocence left, even after two years. When he finally managed to figure it all out and lost that innocence, then she could get annoyed with him, but right now, she couldn’t. "No, nothing’s wrong," she said and smiled.
A little uncertain of the reason for her abrupt change in mood, he backed up a pace. "Please excuse me," he said. "I’m just going to go upstairs and clean up a bit."
"Uh, me, too," Scott said and joined his dad.
A LONG AWAITED REUNION
Mark Shermin drove down the winding country road, excited about meeting the alien again after sixteen years. "I can’t believe it! He came back!" he said aloud to himself, barely paying attention to his driving. That became obvious when a police cruiser turned on its lights and sounded its siren behind him. He pulled over onto the soft sandy shoulder and rolled down the window.
"May I see your driver’s license and registration, sir," the officer said.
"I’m sorry, Officer. I lost track of how fast I was going. I promise I’ll slow down," he said, handing the requested items to the man.
"You were doing sixty in a forty-five mile per hour zone."
"I know. I didn’t realize it. I’m really sorry, sir."
"Turn off your engine," the officer said and went back to his unit to run a check on the car and driver. A few moments later, he returned and handed the items back to Mark. "I’m going to let you off with a warning this time, Mr. Shermin. Lighten up on that gas pedal."
"I will, sir. Thank you," he said and breathed a sigh of relief.
The cruiser pulled out onto the road and continued on its way.
Mark followed the car. He set the cruise control on his van to the posted speed limit and let the computer control the pace. It felt like he was crawling, but better that than getting a hefty speeding ticket. Twenty minutes later, he spotted the sign for the Miller farm.
Mark’s heart pounded as he exited the car. A white-haired lady stood on the porch. "Mark Shermin?" she asked.
"Welcome to Vermont and our farm. They’re waiting for you."
He noticed all the cars parked in the turnaround. "Did the meeting start already? Am I late?"
"No. The General isn’t here yet. Please come in," she said and gestured.
Once inside, he looked around, and noticed the other three women, the white-haired farmer and a younger man and boy in the room.
"Hello, Mark Shermin," Paul said with a smile. "It’s nice to see you again."
The former SETI man stared at the dark-haired man, confused.
"It’s me, Mark. Your alien," he grinned. Seeing the man’s doubt, Paul asked, "Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you?" He went on to answer the question. "You are at your best when things are at their worst."
Shermin gasped. The way this man held his head and talked and the way he looked at him; images of Winslow and the little gift shop/diner flashed back in his mind. There was no doubt about it, Mark concluded, this person definitely was the Starman, but he still couldn’t believe his eyes. "Is that really you?"
He stood there, shocked. "When you said you look different now, well, I just never figured you’d be someone else completely." He stepped forward and offered his hand to Forrester. "I’m so happy to meet you again," he said and looked at the teenager watching him.
"This is my son, Scott Hayden," Paul introduced.
Mark stared at the boy in wonder. "Jenny Hayden never said anything about being pregnant. Of course, we didn’t have a chance to speak again after I helped you escape from Fox’s men." He offered his hand to the teen.
Scott timidly took it. "Hi."
"You look a lot like your mother."
"Thanks." He blushed; a little uncomfortable with being studied by anyone, in however friendly a fashion.
"Speaking of Mrs. Hayden, where is she?" Shermin asked, eagerly looking around the room.
The smiles faded and were replaced with sadness. "Scott and I have been looking for her since I returned, two years ago," Paul admitted.
"What? I don’t understand."
Starman filled in the details for the ex-SETI man.
"I’m sorry. I didn’t know. If I can do anything to help you find her, let me know."
"Are you serious?" Scott asked with brightness in his eyes. The man’s offer was unexpected. He allowed himself to raise his hopes of finding his mother a tiny notch.
"Yes. I have a few friends who might be able to help."
"Thank you," Paul said. "We would appreciate any help we can get in finding her."
Dr. Duchow, Kathyrn Bradford and Liz took advantage of the pause to introduce themselves. Paul briefly explained their relationship with him and Scott.
THE GENERAL ARRIVES
Wiley pulled the car into the Miller farm driveway. As he approached the house, he saw several unfamiliar cars parked around the turnaround circle. General Wade saw them, too.
"Mr. Wiley, I thought this was supposed to be a private meeting. What are all these cars doing here?"
"I don’t know, sir," the agent answered uncomfortably. By Wade’s tone, it was obvious to Ben that the general was not happy with the surprise.
"Are you sure you pulled into the right driveway?" he asked, thinking perhaps the agent had made a mistake. Fox occasionally accused Wiley of being incompetent, though he personally had found the man’s performance was satisfactory thus far.
"Yes, sir," he answered confidently. He recognized the large barking dog approaching the car. He parked the vehicle and cautiously got out. "This is Daisy, the Miller’s dog," he said. "Nice doggie," he crooned nervously as the animal continued to sound her alert.
"They’re here," Agnes said, seeing the black sedan. Why did the military always seem to choose black sedans? She went out to greet these important guests and to silence the dog.
"Quiet!" she said to the animal and looked at the general. "Welcome. It’s nice to see you again, Mr. Wiley, Edna. Please, come in."
Paul and Scott stood waiting in the kitchen. Scott’s throat went dry and his hands were sweating as he heard the screen door creak open. He unconsciously moved a fraction closer to his father for protection.
General Wade stopped just inside the doorway. Casual conversation had abruptly ceased and the people in the room were watching him. His eyes locked on the alien and his son. His heart quickened with excitement. "Mr. Forrester. We meet at last. I’ve waited a long time for this."
"Yes, I know," Paul said, evenly.
Wade’s eyes focused on the nervous teenager. "Hello, you must be Scott."
The boy nodded, but did not verbally reply.
Ben and Edna entered. Wiley greeted Paul, Scott and the others.
"Who are these people?" Wade asked the agent.
Ben smiled. He recognized the women at the table, but he didn’t know who the man was. "These are some of the people who gave depositions on Mr. Forrester’s behalf, sir." He introduced them to the general.
"Mark Shermin, General," the ex-SETI man said at Wiley’s pause.
"Ah, yes, Mr. Shermin." Wade knew of the man from George Fox’s original report sixteen years ago, but he had never met him. Fox had had the man thrown out of the alien project after Mark had helped the alien escape. "It’s been a long time."
"Yes, it has," he quietly answered.
"What are you doing here and how did you find out about this meeting?" the military man demanded to know.
"I invited them," Paul said.
"I was under the assumption this was to be a private meeting, Mr. Forrester," the man said in a tone that let Paul know he wasn’t pleased.
"I’m sorry we didn’t tell you, but it was Mrs. Miller’s idea," Forrester apologized, going on the defensive. "These people already know who and what I am. I have nothing to hide from them. Depending on what you intend to ask me today, they might be able to provide you with additional information."
Wade nodded. "Perhaps. But I don’t like surprises."
"So what are you going to do?" John challenged with a wry grin. "Send them home?"
The general gave the farmer an admonishing glance. "Not this time. But if we meet again in the future, Mr. Forrester, and we agree to a private meeting, I expect it to be private. Is that understood?" he finished, looking at Paul.
"This meeting will be private," Liz assured him. "We’ve all promised anything said here will stay here."
With the tension momentarily easing, Mrs. Miller requested the general, Ben and Edna take off their coats and put them in the bedroom, and then seat themselves at the table. "We’ll eat dinner first," she told them, making note of Wade’s irritation. "Around here, we eat first and talk later," she told him. "Now take a seat and relax."
The general’s face flushed at being given what was unmistakably an order. Used to being in charge and taking control, he had to remind himself of two things: this was a civilian setting, and his hosts were in charge here. "Thank you," he said stiffly, and chose a chair at the end of the table by his hosts, where he could covertly watch Forrester and his son in comfortable surroundings. Though he didn’t say it, he had to admit that after the flight and the long drive, the aroma in the kitchen was enticing and he was hungry, too. Wiley and Edna seated themselves across from the doctor and the college professor/scientist, while Paul and Scott sat at the far end.
Agnes and John began placing the food on the table. "Everyone, help yourselves," John invited.
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
The meal concluded and John invited everyone into the living room for the meeting, knowing that the impatient military man would want to get to the discussion without any further delay.
"In granting you and your son your freedom, Mr. Forrester, I have some restrictions I must insist you obey," Wade said. "This isn’t negotiable."
"Such as?" Paul asked, instinctively placing a reassuring hand on Scott’s knee as he felt him tense.
"The first is travel. You and your son will be free to go anywhere you wish in the United States. But if you wish to leave the country, you must contact me first for approval. And of course, you will not be allowed to visit any country our government considers hostile to the United States."
"Wait a minute!" Liz objected. "Paul’s a photojournalist. How’s he supposed to do his job if he isn’t allowed to go to where the action is?"
"I’m sorry, but Mr. Forrester is much too valuable. The government, and I, will not risk him getting hurt, captured or killed."
Liz was ready to continue her protest, but Paul stopped her. "It’s okay. I have a son to care for now. I don’t want to be in places where there is trouble. Right now I’m happy taking pictures for Mr. Page of country life in Vermont, where the ‘action’ consists of children getting their faces covered with blueberry pie in an eating contest, or watching my son learn how to drive a tractor and gather eggs from under a chicken."
Ben quietly marveled at the genuine pleasure Paul seemed to feel from capturing some of life’s simplest innocent joys. He silently agreed with the general: Forrester was too valuable to risk something happening to him. He was relieved to hear that the alien liked the quieter life he and Scott had lived these last few months, instead of rushing into danger.
"Good. The issue is settled. Second: you will be forbidden from voting in any election or running for any elected position. Our planet’s politics are our own."
Paul smiled. "Agreed. I have no intention of involving myself in your politics."
John spoke up. "What about a non-political office like town dog catcher or librarian? Will you prohibit him from running for a position like that?" he asked with concern. It was too easy for this government man to strip away Paul’s rights until he had none left, but what alarmed Mr. Miller more was how readily Paul was agreeing to give up those rights.
"If Mr. Forrester wishes to run for some non-political position, he can call me and we can discuss it."
It was Starman’s turn to challenge the general. "What about my son? Will he be allowed to vote and run for public office if he wants to?"
Wade leaned back in his chair. "Good question."
Mark spoke up. "The way I see it, Mr. Hayden was born here. As such, he’s a natural citizen of this planet and this country. He should be allowed to vote, and enter public service if he wishes."
Wade evaluated Mark’s comments and made a decision. "I agree with Mr. Shermin. Mr. Hayden has all the rights of an American citizen. He can vote. He can even enlist in any branch of the military if he wishes to do so."
"No, thank you," Scott quickly rebutted. "I am not going to become government property."
Shermin stifled a laugh while the general gave him an ungrateful stare.
Even though the teenager made it clear he wasn’t going to join the military, Wade felt it necessary to tell the boy there would be special conditions if he changed his mind. "We would keep you out of harm’s way. You’re just as valuable as your father. We will not risk you getting hurt or killed."
"Forget it," Scott announced with finality, closing the subject.
Paul was relieved to hear his son had no intention of joining the armed services. He felt strongly against fighting. As far as he saw it, Earth’s military served only two purposes. They killed people and destroyed things. The efforts using military personnel in peacekeeping were commendable, but first and foremost, they were soldiers, and in the present stage of human development, soldiers were primarily used for violence.
General Wade took a deep breath and tried to catch his breath. The slight pain he felt in his stomach and back this morning was stronger now.
Dr. Duchow noticed the man was looking a little bit pale. "Do you feel alright?" she asked him.
"It’s nothing," he replied. "Just indigestion. I think I ate too much of Mrs. Miller’s delicious raspberry cream pie." He looked at Agnes. "If you can let me have some antacids and a glass of water, I’ll be fine."
"I’ll go get them," she said and went into the kitchen.
"Are you sure you’re okay?" Ellen persisted.
The last thing he wanted was having this woman detour from the main topic of conversation and pry into his physical condition. He quickly brushed her off. "Yes, I’m all right. Is there anything any of you feel we need to address?" Wade asked.
"Yes," Dr. Duchow said. "As far as I know, Paul has not been inoculated against diseases such as polio, chicken pox and measles." She looked at him for confirmation. Forrester shook his head. "He’s vulnerable to a host of diseases. I’d like to recommend we get him vaccinated as soon as possible."
"She’s right, Paul," Wiley said. "We wouldn’t want to see you crippled, or even dead from something that’s totally preventable."
Agnes returned from the kitchen and handed the general two tablets.
Dr. Duchow continued. "Paul, if you would return with me to California, I’ll get started on immunizing you."
"Why can’t he do that here?" John asked.
"Well, stop me if I’m wrong," Ellen said. "I’m assuming General Wade doesn’t want anyone else, other than the people here, or those Paul has already told, to know what he is."
"If he and Paul both agree to keep me as Paul’s personal care physician," she said and smiled at the Starman, "the last time I checked, my office and practice are in California."
Wade acknowledged her suggestion, staying on as Forrester’s physician. She knew more than anyone about the alien’s physical condition, other than the medical personnel that examined Forrester when Fox captured him and took him to Peagrum.
"Yes, I would like you to be my doctor," Paul happily agreed.
"How would you feel about relocating to Vermont?" the general asked the woman. "I can arrange to get you into whatever hospital you’d like."
"Wait," Forrester interrupted. "It isn’t fair to ask her to leave her family, friends and home just for me. I can go with her to California. This won’t take long, will it, this inoculation?"
"No. It just takes a couple of minutes. But it will require a few trips." Dr. Duchow looked at Wade and again at Paul. "To tell you the truth, relocating to Vermont sounds rather nice. I’m a little tired of overcrowded California with its shootings, stabbings and drug OD’s."
"Are you sure?" he marveled, touched at knowing she was volunteering to completely uproot her own life just for him, no matter what excuse she gave.
"I’m sure," she said gazing at the Starman. "Besides, moving here would give me an excuse to occasionally come and visit you and Scott."
"Good, then I’ll get things started at this end," the general broke in impatiently. He looked at the antique grandfather clock in the corner of the room again.
John noticed the man’s excessive interest in the time. "Why do you keep checking the clock?" he asked. "Is someone else coming?" He started to get a prickly feeling at the base of his neck. Maybe he was imagining things. Daisy wasn’t barking. She’d warn them if someone were out there.
"I like antique clocks. It’s a beautiful piece," he said and started to get up out of his chair, but suddenly groaned and sat back, clutching his chest.
Dr. Duchow rushed to the man’s side along with Ben and Paul. "He’s having a heart attack," she told them grimly, then turned her attention back to the gasping man in the chair. "Do you feel pressure on your chest, like someone’s sitting on top of you?"
Wade nodded, eyes wide with fear as it became harder to breathe and the pain became stronger.
"Call 911," she told Agnes, "and get some aspirin."
"That won’t be necessary," Paul said, calmly pulling out his sphere and holding it up so that everyone could see it, including General Wade. "I will heal him."
Everyone watched as the Starman activated the silver orb and knelt in front of the military man, placing his hand on Wade’s chest. "Just relax. I will make the pain go away. You’ll be all right."
Wiley noticed the fear in Wade’s eyes as he beheld Forrester’s alien instrument, but he also saw a look of intense curiosity. "Just take it easy, sir. He won’t hurt you. Trust him."
Wade nodded and closed his eyes. He didn’t have much choice in the matter. The pain was overwhelming. He felt a warm sensation grow in his chest and took a deep breath as he felt the pain ease. He tried to keep a vigilant watch on the alien, but felt himself growing sleepy.
Paul instructed the sphere to scan the problem. It told him the cause of the man’s distress was not the same as George Fox’s. Fox’s was stress related. "His heart is not getting enough blood."
"You can tell that just by touching him with that blue light?" Dr. Duchow asked, amazed.
"Yes. Give me your hand and I’ll show you the problem."
She hesitated at first, but complied. She was amazed to "see" a sort of holographic image in her mind of the general’s beating heart. Three areas were highlighted.
"Can we see, too?" Ben asked hopefully.
"Yes," Paul absently answered.
Everyone gathered around. Scott instructed them to join hands.
John Miller took the doctor’s free hand, while his wife, Agnes took his other one. Ben Wiley, Edna, Kathryn and Mark joined her. Scott finished the circle, taking his father's hand with the glowing sphere in it. Everyone, except Scott, gasped or expressed surprise at "seeing" what the doctor and Paul were looking at.
The others’ questions and emotions were overwhelming Forrester. It was getting difficult to concentrate. "Please, except for Dr. Duchow, keep quiet and do not ask me anything. Just watch. I need to concentrate," he said aloud. He sensed Ellen’s interest in the highlighted areas and answered her question. "Those are the blockages."
Two arteries were completely obstructed and the third allowed only a trickle of the normal blood flow through.
"What is your normal procedure for solving this?"
It took extra effort for Dr. Duchow to focus and answer his question; she was so fascinated by the moving image. "Uh, surgery. We’d remove some good veins from his legs and graft them to the arteries feeding the heart, bypassing the blockage."
Paul thought the cure sounded as bad, or worse, than the illness. He did not like the solution. He knew from studying Scott’s biology books that the materials blocking the arteries were primarily composed of fat. He remembered the book said platelets in the blood stuck to the walls of the arteries and hardened, something like tartar on teeth. The buildup was gradual, taking years. Eventually it completely blocked the affected artery. He knew what needed to be done.
Everyone watched as the highlighted areas gradually dimmed and normal blood flow was restored.
"What did you do? Ellen asked dumbstruck. "Where did the plaque go?"
"I dissolved it."
Paul powered down the sphere and pocketed it. Everyone stood around as if coming out of a trance. "You can open your eyes now. I’m finished," he said to the general.
Wade slowly did.
"How do you feel?"
He looked at the alien’s concerned face. "Like I’ve just taken a long nap."
"You have." He smiled at the blank astonishment on the other man’s face. "I put you to sleep while I repaired the damage."
The general stared at the grandfather clock. The "operation" had lasted for almost thirty minutes. "What damage?" he asked, confused. He, the patient, was the only one of all the people to miss witnessing the fascinating display.
"To your heart, sir," Ben said. "Three of your arteries were blocked, but Paul cleared them."
"What?" He couldn’t believe what he heard.
"Mr. Wiley’s right," Edna confirmed. "We all saw it through Mr. Forrester’s metal marble thing."
The general stared at the others and the alien with an incredulous expression on his face. "II don’t know what to say," he stammered.
"Thank you might be in order, sir," Ben suggested. "He just saved your life."
"Just a minute," Ellen said. "How do you feel?"
"I feel great. I’m a little sleepy, but other than that, I feel like a young man again."
"That was fascinating," Mark Shermin said.
"That’s an understatement," Kathryn added. "Fascinating doesn’t even begin to describe what we just saw."
"If ever there was an opportunity for Paul to prove that he’s no threat, I think this was it," John added.
Just then they all heard the old clock chime the hour, followed by a loud amplified voice coming from outside. "This is George Fox. The property is surrounded. Give up Forrester. Surrender and come out peacefully. I promise, neither you or your son will be harmed."
George Fox! Impossible! Ben looked at the general with disbelief. "It can’t be! He’s dead!" the agent said. The voice sure sounded like Fox though.
"No, he’s not," Wade confirmed.
"Aw, you bastard!" Scott yelled in rage. "I was just beginning to think we could trust you!"
"You weren’t interested in the clock! You were stalling for time! You planned this all along! I told you we couldn’t trust ‘em," John echoed. "You can never trust the government or the military." He didn’t understand why Daisy hadn’t alerted them to Fox’s presence. Did Fox kill the dog?
Paul just stood and sadly looked at the general. "I’m sorry I doubted you Scott, and you too, John. I didn’t want to believe you, but it seems you were right and I was wrong."
"You’re not going to take him! I won’t let you!" John said and reached into the wood box beside the wood stove, where last night he secretly hid a pistol. He pulled the weapon out, cocking it and aiming it at Wade.
"No," Paul said, stepping into the line of fire. "Put the gun away. I do not believe in violence. Put it away. Please," he begged.
"Then come on. We can use the general as a hostage to escape."
But Forrester stayed put. "Escape to where? For how long? No. We’re through with running."
Mr. Miller was frustrated. "He’s double-crossed you! Don’t you understand that? They’re going to lock you and Scott up forever if they don’t kill you first!"
"Yes, I know," he calmly replied.
John hesitantly lowered the weapon.
"Give me that gun!" Mark Shermin said and moved closer to take it from the farmer.
"No," Paul repeated and held out one hand to stop the ex-SETI man. He extended the other to John for the weapon.
Mr. Miller gave it to the Starman.
They all watched with anxious curiosity, and then surprise as Paul emptied the gun of its ammunition. He gave the pistol back to the farmer, and then locking eyes on the general, let the bullets drop on the floor in front of his feet.
"We’re not going to let you take him!" Liz told Wade. "You’re going to have to get through us first!"
Forrester was deeply touched by his friends’ willingness to risk a standoff against soldiers to protect him, but he couldn’t allow them to be hurt. "No. It’s over."
Everyone looked at the Starman, stunned that he was giving up the fight. One by one, profound sadness and looks of resignation settled on their faces.
"Live free or die. After George Fox shot me, he asked me why we didn’t stop running. That’s the answer I tried to give him," he told the general. "Two hundred years ago the people who founded this country stood by those words. So do Scott and I. I took a bullet in my back in belief of those words. I still believe in them. We would choose death to lifelong captivity. We will not be taken prisoner."
Liz began to cry. "No, Paul," she whispered. "Don’t. Please." She couldn’t bear it if this Paul Forrester died, too.
He ignored her plea. "You can have our bodies, but that’s all you’ll have. And I can assure you, you will find nothing, except that we were human," he finished, pulling out his sphere again. He stepped out of everyone’s reach and glanced at Scott. He saw the terrible fear in those young eyes. "Don’t be afraid. Remember, I promised I’d make this painless. You will simply go to sleep."
Scott listened with an odd feeling of detachment. It seemed impossible that he and his father had come so close to freedom, only to have it snatched away at the last minute. He knew what was happening; after their escape from Peagrum, Paul and Scott had sat down and had a serious discussion about what they would do if they were ever trapped and facing capture again. Scott had agreed that he preferred a quick painless death rather than endure months, possibly years, of endless experiments on their bodies, coupled with isolation and loneliness. But now as he watched his father’s sad eyes as he activated the orb, Scott felt a tidal wave of terror sweep through him. It was one thing to talk about killing yourself, but quite another to actually try to do it. He had thought he was ready to face the end, but now all of his mental preparation for this moment vanished and he wanted to scream, No, Dad! Please! Don’t do it! I want to live! His heart began to pound, his throat grew dry and his breaths became short and shallow. He felt tears well up in his eyes. Time seemed to slow down.
The others stood watching, horrified as Paul prepared to execute his son, and then himself. They all pleaded with him not to go through with it.
"Wait! Stop!" General Martin Wade stood and moved toward the alien and his son, shaken by the depth of Forrester’s resolve. He’d been studying people and situations long enough to know when someone was bluffing. Subtle clues in the person’s eyes and body language usually gave away the person’s true intentions. Forrester’s eyes were focused and his hands were steady. This was no bluff. Martin was convinced the alien did intend to kill his son and himself. If he had any remaining doubts, then a look at Scott removed them utterly. The boy’s emotions were open and transparent; despite the brave face he was trying to put on for his father, he was clearly terrified. "Please, wait," he said again, and something in his voice penetrated the alien’s determination.
Paul dimmed the sphere, but kept it ready as he waited to hear what the general had to say.
"Answer me something. Would you still heal me if I had that heart attack right now?"
Scott barely heard General Wade’s question through the ringing in his ears. His adrenaline pumped emotions, already taxed to their limits, reached the overload point. He thought the question was stupid, and the answer was obvious. He let the man know it, angrily. "Of course he would!" he yelled. "Because that’s the way Dad is. Everyone here knows it, except you! You people are just plain stupid! You refuse to listen to or believe us!"
"Forrester! Time is running out. Surrender. You have one minute," Fox blared through the bullhorn.
All eyes were watching Paul and the general, hopeful that Paul would reconsider his suicide decision.
Martin thought about what Scott said. He locked his eyes on the alien standing in front of him and slowly reached for Forrester’s hand holding the sphere. He closed Paul’s hand around the metal ball. "I believe you. I think I’ve seen and heard enough that I would be a fool not to. You can put that thing away, Mr. Forrester. You and Scott are free. I see now that Wiley was right about you and George Fox was wrong. You’re no threat to Earth or its people." He switched his attention to the teen. "We’re not stupid, son, just overly cautious. Let me be the first to apologize for everything we’ve done to both of you over the years."
Paul slowly allowed a smile to come to his face. "Apology accepted." He deactivated the sphere.
The group breathed a collective sigh of relief as Paul deactivated the sphere. Scott turned into his father’s arms, his body trembling.
"I’d better go out and call off the troops before George orders them to storm the house," Wade said. "Excuse me."
The Miller’s, followed by Mark, Liz, Kathryn and Dr. Duchow closed around the Starman and his son, touching and offering them words of comfort.
Paul knew Scott had just been through an emotional event like none before, and hoped he never would again. How many children would willingly stand there and accept death by a parent, death delivered not out of violence or malice, but out of love? Scott would need a lot of mental support from him to recover properly from this. This incident was like the one’s he remembered reading in Jake’s novel about the Vietnam War. Jake had called it shell shock. Soldiers coming under fire in battle for the first time sometimes went into shell shock. Most recovered, some did not. Paul sensed Scott was still in shock now.
General Wade came back into the house with George Fox right behind him. Scott immediately tensed at seeing the agent. Martin noticed. "Take it easy, son," he crooned.
But Scott couldn’t stop shaking. Now that the crisis was over, his body was coming down off its chemically induced high. His knees felt weak and he thought he was going to faint. His body couldn’t take it anymore. His vision went dark.
"Scott!" Paul cried and caught his son under the arms as he sank to his knees.
"Put him on the couch," Dr. Duchow ordered. She watched as Forrester and Mark Shermin picked up the teen and carried him to the sofa. "Poor kid."
"What’s happened to him?" Fox asked, perplexed.
"He’ll be fine. He’s just passed out. I think seeing Mr. Fox again was just too much for him," Ellen said. "Especially after all that’s happened in the last few minutes."
Paul knelt by his son and stroked his forehead. He looked at the Federal Security Agent with sadness.
"I still don’t understand. What’s going on here?" Ben demanded, looking straight at General Wade.
"I’m springing the trap to catch some traitors," George cut in with glee, looking at Wiley and Edna, "and some alien sympathizers. Looks like a pretty good catch, too, complete with the grand prize: the alien and its son."
"Yes. Operation Clean Sweep succeeded," Wade agreed, "but it also failed."
"Failed? No, sir. It’s brainwashed these people to sympathize with it. They’re all guilty of aiding and abetting it."
Martin looked at the others. "Yes, they are. But I’m afraid I’m guilty, too," he said.
George had a sinking feeling. It was then he noticed the alien wasn’t being held in restraints. He became alarmed, and then confused, when he spotted the gun on the coffee table and a pile of bullets near General Wade’s feet. "I don’t understand."
"I’m letting them go. They’ve earned their freedom."
Fox couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. "General, you can’t mean that!" Fox protested.
"Oh, I assure you, I do mean it. Mr. Forrester just saved my life. I’m giving him and his son their freedom."
"You heard him," Ben said smiling. "He’s letting Paul and Scott go."
The short agent was stunned. "Not that. What did he say before that?" he demanded.
"He said Paul saved General Wade’s life," Liz sardonically repeated, thoroughly enjoying watching Fox go from smug, to confused, to openly dismayed as he listened.
It was John’s turn to attack the short agent. He wouldn’t rest until he knew what had happened to Daisy. "What have you done with my dog? She would have warned us if she saw or heard you out there. Did you kill her?"
George gave the man a wicked glance. As much as he’d like to get even with the farmer, he couldn’t take his revenge out on the animal. "No. She’s just asleep. Now what’s this about Forrester saving General Wade?"
Scott began to wake up. He opened his eyes to his father’s concerned face and heard someone talking.
"Shh. Rest. Listen," Paul whispered and stroked his son’s face.
Wiley was eagerly telling Fox how the Starman healed the general.
"No. It’s a lie," George said and looked at the alien. It was shaking its head. He looked at the general.
"It’s true," Martin said. "I thought it was just indigestion, but then the pain struck me hard. I thought I was a goner. The next thing I knew, I was waking up feeling better than I have in years. Mr. Wiley told me what happened and what Forrester did. All these people confirmed it."
Wiley had a few questions of his own. "I thought you were dead," he told Fox. "I read the obituary and sent it to them," he confessed. "I even went to your funeral!"
"I sent him deep undercover," Wade offered. "Persona non gratis."
Fox flashed his ex-partner an evil grin. "I suspected you’d developed a soft spot for the alien. Then you confirmed it when you offered to help Scott. I just never suspected that you would betray me, too," he said and looked at his former secretary with accusing eyes.
Edna’s face reddened and tears began to form in her eyes. "II’m sorry Mr. Fox," she whispered.
General Wade stepped in to stop George’s assault. "She has no reason to be sorry. It’s over."
"Then why put me, and them," Ben nodded to Forrester and Scott, "through all of this?"
"I needed to find out the real truth: who was telling it and who was not."
"I told you the truth! He’s the liar!" Wiley and Fox said at the same time and pointed accusing fingers at each other. If the situation weren’t so serious, it would almost be laughable.
"I know the truth now and the only liar here has been you, George," Wade said sadly. "You were wrong about Mr. Forrester and Mr. Wiley was right. Now that the truth has come out, I have a new assignment for you, Mr. Wiley, and a proposal for you, Mr. Shermin."
The two men listened anxiously.
"The government will still want to keep an eye on you, Mr. Forrester. Therefore, I propose using Mr. Wiley and Mr. Shermin as observers and liaisons to me."
"I have no objections," Paul said.
"I do," John piped up.
"So do I," Liz seconded. "How dare you give him his freedom and then tell him you’re going to spy on him?"
Martin stared at the old farmer and the feisty reporter. "I’m afraid Mr. Forrester has no choice in the matter. An hour ago I fully intended to bring him in under arrest, but I’ve since changed my mind. The fact remains: Mr. Forrester is an alien from another planet. You can certainly understand why we’re very interested in him. We want to study and observe him."
"You mean kidnap, vivisect and then dissect him! And Scott, too!" Liz replied.
"No. We agree he’s much more valuable to us alive. We’ve also come to the consensus we can learn more from him through observation rather than incarceration. As long as he and Scott abide by the restrictions I stated earlier, we’ll leave him alone."
"It’s all right, Liz," Paul said. "I agree."
"What restrictions?" George asked.
"None of your business, jackass," John snapped.
Fox glared at the farmer with growing distaste. What he really wanted to do was give the man one good punch in the belly.
"I’ll be assigning you to another project, George," Wade told the agent. "I’m giving you a direct order. You are to leave Mr. Forrester and his son alone. You are not to have any further contact with them. Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir," Fox answered reluctantly.
"No," Paul replied.
The others looked at him with varying levels of disbelief.
"I want to have contact with him. I need to prove to him that he’s made a mistake about us."
"Are you crazy, Dad?" Scott asked and sat up. "He tried to kill you!"
Forrester gently forced his son to lie down again. "No, I’m not crazy," he answered. "Mr. Fox needs to understand we’re no threat just like the general understands."
"You have as much chance of that happening as hell turning into heaven!" John retorted. "He’s a Looney tune. I remember exactly what he said about you and Scott the day he shot you. He called you an infection, a pollution of humanity, something to be destroyed. I wouldn’t want him within a thousand miles of me."
George still believed the alien was dangerous, and he took exception to being called a Looney tune, but if General Wade, who only an hour earlier still favored his views, could be convinced they were making an error, then he’d make the effort to keep an open mind and listen to Forrester and the others. It would be difficult to put aside preformed opinions, but he’d try. "I was doing my duty," he told the farmer.
John was outraged. "Your duty? Was killing him your duty?"
"No. My aim was off."
"Yeah, by two inches," he snarled. "A little more to the left and you would have hit him dead center." He turned to the general. "I don’t care what he says. I know you people have more than enough hours of firearms training behind you to know where you’re shooting. That was no accident. He was trying to kill Paul."
Paul stepped forward and placed his hand on John’s arm. He tried to diffuse the open hostility. "That’s enough. Mr. Fox may have tried to kill me. Regardless whether he tried to or not, I forgive him," he said and looked at the short agent.
One by one, everyone turned to watch Fox as well.
"I said it two years ago and I’ll say it again, Paul," Dr. Duchow began. "You’re a very special person."
"I’ll ditto that," Mark Shermin said and looked at Fox with disgust.
Kathryn and Liz added their two cents worth, as did Ben and Edna.
George’s face reddened with humiliation. General Wade began speaking.
"If you’re sure you want it this way, Mr. Forrester, okay. I can still order him to keep his distance from you and Scott."
"I’m sure I want it this way."
"Well, I don’t!" Scott snapped. "I don’t forgive him! What’s to stop him from trying to kill us again, Dad?" he asked with fear written all over his face.
"Hopefully, this." Paul went to stand in front of George Fox. "In my time here on Earth, I’ve learned it’s customary to greet a new friend with a handshake. I would like to be your friend, if you’ll let me," he said and held his hand out to the agent.
Fox was backed in a corner and he knew it. All eyes were on him. There was no way out. He couldn’t refuse Forrester’s gesture in front of the general. Keep an open mind, he repeated to himself. Hesitantly, he took the Starman’s hand.
Paul gave the man a wan smile. "Someday, when you’re ready, I’ll show you what I really am."
"Why don’t you show me now?" George challenged.
Forrester took a deep breath. "Because I can feel that you’re still afraid of me," he patiently explained. "To understand and appreciate what I’ll show you, you must lose your fear."
Fox gasped and quickly withdrew his hand. "You can read my mind?" he asked tensely.
"No, but I can read someone’s emotions through a touch. I felt your fear."
The agent unconsciously took a small step backward and nervously looked at General Wade.
"He won’t hurt you, Mr. Fox," Ben said. "Trust him."
"Paul, show him what you are the way you showed us General Wade’s heart problem when we all linked hands," Mark suggested.
Kathryn and Dr. Duchow seconded the idea. "Yes, Paul. Show him. We trust you," Ellen said and took Ms. Bradford’s hand. Mark, Ben, Edna and the Miller’s linked their hands. The only one’s left out of the group were General Wade, Fox and Scott. Martin extended one hand to Fox and held the other out to Forrester. Grudgingly, George took Wade’s hand and linked his other with Kathryn’s. Paul looked at his son. Scott reluctantly got off the couch and joined them. They all watched the Starman.
"Show him," General Wade pressed. "It’s the only way."
"Very well," Paul said with a sigh and pulled out the sphere. He spoke slowly and clearly to the FSA agent. "I promise this won’t hurt you. I would never hurt any of you. Now, close your eyes and try to clear your mind." He activated the metal marble and sealed the circle. "Do not be afraid."
The sphere started to softly hum.
"Whawhat are those lights?" George managed to ask.
"That’s my home."
One light grew steadily brighter. Paul smiled as he felt everyone’s excitement and joy at "seeing" the real energy being inside the body of Paul Forrester. "And that’s me," he told the agent. He showed them images of life on his home world in great cities of light. He let the picture slowly dissolve.
"No, don’t let it go out," George begged.
Forrester deactivated the sphere and closed his hand around it. He watched the agent come out of the light trance and grinned. "Do you understand now why we mean you no harm?"
Fox was speechless. He nodded. What he’d just seen was more beautiful than any human mind could imagine or words could describe. It was like receiving a personal vision of heaven from God. Suddenly, pictures of the alien lying strapped to an examination table in a laboratory, and lying face down and mortally wounded in a hay field appeared in his mind. An intense sensation of guilt swept over him. Oh, God! I almost destroyed him! "Forrester," he choked and swallowed hard, "I’m sorry."
"I know," Paul softly said.
The other people in the room were stunned by Fox’s apology, but Scott was shocked the most. He never imagined he would hear the agent say he was sorry, let alone mean it, but the man looked genuinely repentant. Their hands were still linked together forming a circle. He looked at his dad. His father would know if Fox’s atonement was a lie. He "heard" Paul tell him, He means it, Scott. He is sorry for hurting me.
Martin cleared his throat. "As of today, I’m starting a new project," he announced. "We’ll code name it, Project Phoenix. Do you know what a phoenix is, Mr. Forrester?"
"There are several definitions in the encyclopedia," Paul said.
"I didn’t know that. Which one do you think I’m referring to?" he asked.
He thought about saying the tutor of Achilles, but guessed, "A fabulous bird, risen from the ashes of its former self?"
"Correct. That’s very good. Today marks a new beginning for you and us."
They sat down again and began making arrangements for scheduled visits with Paul.
When the last of the guests had left and the house was quiet again, Forrester picked up the telephone receiver.
"Who are you calling, Dad?"
The Miller’s were interested as well.
"You’ll know in a minute." The ringing stopped. Someone had picked up the receiver. "Hello?" a male voice answered.
"Hello, Wayne. It’s Paul."
"The Winner Is" is an amateur production for the enjoyment of Starman fans and is in no way intended to infringe on any copyrights. All similarities to real characters and actual events are strictly coincidental. This material may not be reproduced in any form without express written consent of the author. Copyright August 2002. All rights reserved.
I want to give special thanks to my editors, Helen, Bruce and Todd.