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The Madagascar Tree

Chapter Text

The small town of Aurora, sets off Texas State Highway 114, thirty miles, give or take, from downtown Ft. Worth. There are less than two thousand inhabitants, and not much happens. So when the black helicopters began hovering early in the evening, just before dusk, they had everyone’s attention. The citizens left their homes and the few businesses that were still open and piled into the street to stare up into the sky.

This is where many of the citizens were standing when the black SUVs began arriving. There were dozens of them. The highway was blocked in both directions, as were all other roads in and out of the small Texas town. Then the military vehicles arrived, and the village filled with soldiers ordering everyone off the streets. An hour later it was locked down.

Aurora no longer had its own police department, sharing the services from the nearby towns of Rhome and Boyd. So it was easy to isolate it with little concern of the local authorities. Once the nearby towns were notified, any nosy law enforcement officers would find the military blocking their access to the town, with all the papers in order. This was a Federal operation with Federal jurisdiction.

There was some discussion about what exactly they should announce to the press. Everything from a chemical spill to a possible terrorist attack was discussed. In the end, Dr. Gaston overruled all of that. “We’ll be in and out in a few hours, and once we’re gone the locals are going to make up whatever it is they want to believe. So let them.”

Several helicopters landed at the cemetery south of town, where the alien body was supposed to be. Initially, it was buried beneath a tree with a sign erected and a rough etching of the cigar shaped vessel that crashed. But that sign had been stolen years before, as had a more recent one. Few knew where the original grave was actually located, if there had ever been one.

The helicopter carrying Dr. Gaston landed just outside the entrance of the cemetery. She climbed out, followed by her assistant and several agents who were not assigned to any intelligence service. They reported only to her.

She stopped at the entrance to the graveyard to read a sign. There was a brief history of the cemetery, with one sentence acknowledging this as the burial place of the pilot of the crashed spaceship from eighteen ninety seven.

She walked on inside the grounds where fifty or sixty agents had already spread out, establishing a perimeter. Several of them approached her. With them was an old man who must have been in his eighties. Two agents had him by the arms, walking him toward the woman.

“This is Bob Jarret,” One of the agents said. “His father was caretaker here for fifty years, going back to nineteen ten.”

“Mr. Jarret,” Doctor Gaston acknowledged him.

He didn’t seem concerned by all the people. “You finally came for him,” he said, in a slow Texas drawl.

“For whom?” Dr. Gaston said.

“The boy. The boy from the spaceship.”

“And just why would you think that?” She asked.

The old man casually looked around at the all of the people, the helicopters, the black SUVs. He smiled. “I didn’t fall off no hay wagon last night Miss. There’s only one reason all you government people come way out here.”

“You said a boy?” She asked.

“That’s what my dad told me. All the old timers said it. Said the pilot was a child. Just a teenage boy.”

“Well, then you know we want you to take us to the grave.”

“You going to dig him up, aren’t you?”

“You have a problem with that?” She asked.

“Nope. I figured it was a matter of time. Just wanna know what’s in it for me.”

“You show us where he’s buried, and we don’t put you in prison,” she said. “How’s that?”

He just smiled. “I’m eighty four. Figure I got me maybe a couple years left. Prison don’t scare me none. But that tree they buried him under’s long gone. You’ll be digging round out here for a month.”

“Ten thousand dollars sound fair?” She asked.

“Twenty sounds fairer,” he replied.

“You’re eighty four,” She answered. “What will you do with all that money?”

“Any goddamn thing I please. I’m eighty four.”

She gave him a rare smile. “Done. Take us to it.”

The old man pulled his arms loose from the two agents holding him and walked over to a tree on the far side of the cemetery, while they followed.

“Dig right here,” he said, pointing to the ground.

“I thought you said the tree was no longer here,” Doctor Gaston said.

“Yeah, well, this is a different tree.”

Dr. Gaston almost smiled at the old man again.

She nodded at two of the agents. One of them said, “over here,” into his radio and a couple minutes later, two men joined them, each carrying a shovel.

Dr. Gaston turned to the old man and looked at him. He stepped up and put his foot on the ground at the foot of the tree. “He’s right here.” He stepped back and the agents started digging.

“Go slow,” Dr. Gaston said. “There won’t be anything left of the casket.”

Twenty minutes later one of them stopped and looked at Dr. Gaston, standing a few meters back with the agents and the old man. “Something here,” he said.

“Okay.” She looked at her assistant, a middle aged man who had worked with her for over ten years. “Keep everyone back. And have someone take Mr. Jarrett home. Make sure he gets paid.”

“Sure you don’t want to wait to see what’s in there? The old man could be lying.”

“He’s not lying,” she answered. She walked up next to the hole where the agents were waiting for her instructions. There was something shiny in it. “Okay. Use your hands.”

They began clearing dirt off whatever it was that was in the hole, until half of it was visible. It looked like a metallic sleeping bag, completely encompassing whatever was in it. “More light!” Doctor Gaston yelled. Two agents rushed up with electric lanterns and put them next to the hole.

Doctor Gaston was wearing jeans. When she started to step down in the grave one of the agent’s offered his hand, but she glanced at him sharply and he pulled it back.

When she was standing next to the shiny object she said, “Everyone back from the hole except Agent Carmichael.” They all backed away and her assistant climbed down and stood next to her.

Dr. Gaston reached in and found a zipper at the top of the metallic bag, and slowly pulled it down until the head and upper body of a corpse was visible. Without looking at her assistant, she said, “Call HQ. I want the boy moved now. To AFETA.” AFETA stood for Armed Forces Experimental Training Activity. A secret facility in the ever expanding intelligence services, located in Williamsburg, Virginia at Camp Peary. The facility also was known for hosting “The Farm,” the CIA’s Clandestine Service operation. But even the CIA didn’t know what Dr. Gaston’s group did there. They had a private unit with its own building apart from everything else.

“No one can get close to him now,” The agent argued. “Are you sure?”

“He’s just gone from being the most famous boy on Earth to the most important boy in the world.”

“Why?” The agent asked.

“We thought he held the secret to his family’s disappearance and intergalactic travel through an Einstein-Rosen Bridge. But he may just hold the secret to the origins of the human race.” And much more, she thought, though she wouldn’t speak it aloud. He may just have the secret to immortality.

She was still staring into the hole at the face of a boy who looked to be no more than sixteen or seventeen. He had a light complexion and brown hair, and he seemed to be smiling. His eyes were wide open, and they were as blue as the sky. He was wearing some kind of jumpsuit. There were gaping holes in his chest, where it looked as if someone had shot him with a shot gun. But other than that he was perfectly preserved, as if he hadn’t aged a day since he was put in the ground.

“Okay, Will Robinson,” Dr. Gaston said, as she looked at the boy in the grave. “Time for you to talk. I’m all out of patience.”

 

 

Don pulled the Chariot up next to the Jupiter 2 and Penny and Maureen and Doctor Smith rushed out to meet them, all bundled in winter coats and trying not to slide on the icy surface.

John looked in the back seat where Will was still asleep with his head on Judy’s shoulder. He smiled at them.

“Will?” Judy said. “We’re back. Time to wake up.”

Will was still dreaming his lucid dream. Awake and yet not awake. In it and observing it at the same time. He was in the back of the Chariot, his head on his sister’s shoulder. A few hours before they had escaped from the jungle which was somehow located beneath the surface of this barren planet. Don was driving and his father was in the front next to him. The jungle had been horrifying, but now all he felt was comfort. Leaning on Judy, her arm around him, her soothing voice, saying, “Time to wake up, Will.” And he wondered again if he had judged his sister too harshly. Maybe he had pulled back from her as he saw his two sisters grow close; become more than just sisters. Become friends.

And maybe it was more. Neither he nor Judy had spoken of the jungle planet…of the tree …since it happened. Both of them trying to move past it in their own way. Now he thought, maybe his sister didn’t speak as harshly to him as he imagined. Maybe when he felt she was being bossy, it was because she was just worried about him. And maybe he needed to give her a break. He was a witness to it all, but the tree had actually held her in its grip, lifted her off the ground. She was seconds away from an unimaginable death, and she was carrying that with her while still trying to comfort him.

And…he had felt such guilt. Guilt that he had almost gotten them both killed when he stayed too long at the weather station. Guilt that it had been his idea to follow the path in the cave that took them to the jungle. Guilt that when the Villagers had tried to take him to the tree, Judy had stopped them, getting them to take her instead. He had watched the limbs wrap around her and lift her, then squeeze. He couldn’t get the image out of his mind. And later, after they had left the planet, when she would ask if he was okay, he would always answer “yes,” quickly, as if he had no idea what she was talking about. As if she were annoying him. And he realized he had begun to talk to her that way all the time. About everything. Because he was angry. At himself. But he took it out on her. Because it was easier to be angry at her than to remember how he had almost watched her die. And how it was his fault.

And he thought she knew. But she didn’t act any differently to him. Even when he was rude to her or acted annoyed when she asked him how he was doing. The comments she made when she was with Penny were really not bad, and now he could remember so many times when she felt she had said something that upset him, she would stop by his room and apologize and ask if he was sure he was okay. He always pretended he didn’t know what she was talking about.

“Time to wake up Will,” he heard his sister’s soft voice again, then her hand on his shoulder, nudging him.

But they had escaped the jungle. Escaped the tree. He was back at the Jupiter 2 now, and his family was here. He smiled and opened his eyes, hoping once he was awake this time he would remember them all. But it wasn’t Judy he was looking at. He was staring into the eyes of Dr. Gaston. She was leaning over him, her face inches from his. “Time to wake up Will Robinson. Time to start talking.” Her voice wasn’t warm like his sister’s. And it wasn’t soothing.