4 of 4 | Chapter 18

 

Over the horizon of the planet, a thin arc of light appeared, blinding her for a moment, but as the ship approached the night side of the Earth the piercing sunlight disappeared and the lights of civilization winked into view. The ship passed through the network of probes, which diligently collected and relayed information that gave the IRD divisions plenty to do, even after the final confrontation with China. Most enforcement operations were small local conflicts that did little more than cause senseless destruction.

Karen noticed that she was becoming irritable the closer she got to home. She was surprised at her reaction, but was sure of the reason. It was the changes in Steersman's personality that were bothering her. She had absolutely no desire to meet him and was, in fact, hoping to avoid him.

At that point, a voice crackled out over the on-board comm-terminal.

“Karen, I want you to pop in to my office after you have landed.” It was Steersman.

She hesitated involuntarily for a brief moment. “Okay,” she replied as all of her neurons protested.

*

After the Maid had docked at the IRD station, Karen went though the ASEC underground conduits to the tower elevator. At the top she left the elevator and walked slowly to his office door, stopped in front of the door, sighed, and then entered.

“Is there something wrong?” she asked as soon as she entered the room, feeling tension building inside her.

“Oh no, not at all. Come in. There's something I have to tell you,” he said with an unusual note in his voice. Karen immediately noticed the change in him. He was behaving more naturally than he had in ages. She didn't really care though, and wasn't too sure what to make of it all.

“Do you? I can hardly wait,” she said, a little brusquely.

They sat opposite each other. Steersman came nearer her.

“I've met them,” he said, almost whispering.

“I'm sorry. Who did you meet?” she asked, puzzled.

“The aliens,” he said, then went on. “There's a place I go sometimes. Many of my ideas come from there too. I met them there.”

“A place?”

“Yes. It doesn't matter where it is. The point is that I saw them,” he said, his old character shining through.

Karen was dancing on knife's edge, trying to decide whether to get up and leave him, or wait and hear him out. With her teeth clenched, she gave him more time to explain.

“Tell me something more about this meeting, because so far, ‘I've met the aliens in a place’ sounds absolutely insane,” she said rawly.

Steersman visibly pulled himself together. He did not want to push the limits and frighten her off.

“It was awesome and exciting,” he said softly, remembering again that brief meeting. “I saw them only for a few moments, but they noticed me and turned to me. We didn't really communicate because they vanished, or rather the place disappeared.”

Karen's expression did not soften one bit. In fact it grew slightly more agitated.

“Sean!” she said, looking more and more like she was about to start smashing things.

“Okay, I know. I realize that unfortunately our relationship has been a bit strained lately, and … I've been acting strangely, but I've never lied to you about anything, Karen. When I have decided to tell you something, it has never involved deceit. I have always told you the truth.”

Karen's tension began to subside and she found the strength to gather some threads of understanding from what he had been telling her.

“So this is why you've been acting so weirdly lately?” she said. “Because of this place?”

“Yes.” He paused. “I know what effect this whole thing has had on me and I'm sorry.”

“I'll admit, Sean, that it's seemed, more often than not, that you'd been on drugs or something. One day cheerful, the next day acting like it was the end of the world.”

“No, of course not. It wasn't like that.”

“But, Sean, you've been here the whole time. Where is this place?”

“It's here in this room,” said Steersman, and Karen looked around. “It's here, right in front of you. It's inside me.”

“Okay, now I'm not following you.”

“Even I don't know how it happened, but it has something to do with the aliens. Karen, I am the delegate!” he looked deep into her eyes. In the sudden silence they could each hear the others breathing.

Then, she clearly understood it, all of it.

“Oh, my God!” she shot up, nearly sobbing. “That explains everything, right from the start. Everything! But then, what are they like? Does that mean they look just like us?”

“Listen! I'm human, if that's what you mean,” he said with a laugh. “The delegate means here that I can establish contact between us and the aliens.”

“Why did they need a delegates, or this place? What do they want?”

“I don't know. As I said, I've seen them only once.”

“What were they like?” Karen said, more seriously.

“Strange, very strange. The word ‘alien’ barely describes what I saw. At first it was frightening, even for me.”

“So what's the plan now? Will you go back to the place?”

“Yes, as soon as I'm ready to meet them. I found a way, which means that I can get to them now, anytime.”

“A passage that leads to knowledge,” Karen quoted.

“That's right. I have to get to know them. I need to learn from them. I hope I'll be given the opportunity.”

Karen suddenly felt deflated, as if someone had suddenly removed huge weights from her shoulders and from her chest. Her strength left her.

“I'm tired, Sean. So tired. I want to sleep for a year,” she lamented.

Steersman moved closer and did something that he had never done before. He hugged her. The woman in her surrendered. She could have fallen asleep right then and there.

 

***

 

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CHAPTER 1 | EXCOLOPOLIS
CHAPTER 2 | MACHINES
CHAPTER 3 | A NEW TECHNOLOGY
CHAPTER 4 | ATTACK
CHAPTER 5 | THE SOURCE
CHAPTER 6 | THE SCIENCE CENTER
CHAPTER 7 | UNIVERSITY CITY
CHAPTER 8 | GLIDECRAFT
CHAPTER 9 | SECTOR TWO
CHAPTER 10 | THEY KNOW WE ARE HERE
CHAPTER 11 | GRAVITOR
CHAPTER 12 | INSTALLATION
CHAPTER 13 | ENERGY WAR
CHAPTER 14 | AFTERSHOCKS
CHAPTER 15 | INITIATION
CHAPTER 16 | PREPARATION
CHAPTER 17 | DEFENSE CORPS
CHAPTER 19 | BEYOND EARTH