For your summer adult reading pleasure, this is the third of four parts of a short story by well-known science fiction writer Ted White, who is a long-time resident of the City of Falls Church. — Editor
“It’s this lady who says she killed an alien,” Avarice Jones said. “Mmm, yes,” she added, nodding in agreement with herself.
“Where did you hear about that?”
“I heard about it, yes I did,” she said, nodding in emphasis.
“Where? From whom?”
“Don’t recall. It’s not important. What’s important is, we can’t have people just going around killing aliens! It’s not right.”
“I agree. The person in question is in custody.”
“In custody? She’s in the custody of the people doing the cover-up!”
“What do you know about that?”
“More’n you do, seems like.”
“Ma’am, why are you here?” He glanced down at his handi and touched one corner of the screen.
“Tell me what you just did!” she demanded, sitting up straighter. He had just summoned Security.
“Do you have information about these, ah, aliens?” he countered.
The woman half rose from her chair, scowling at him. Suddenly she looked directly at him.
Those eyes! He knew those eyes. They’d stared into his soul on the tube.
Or…was he mistaken? Sudden doubt overwhelmed him. He felt a cloud of confusion settle over his thoughts. He blinked and looked at the woman again.
She was plain and unprepossessing — just an older woman. Well, not that old…maybe middle-aged. Her very blond hair could be mistaken for silver. He rubbed his eyes. Actually, he realized, she was rather attractive.
“Stop it!” he said, using his most commanding voice. He blinked rapidly, achieving a strobe-like effect as he watched the woman seemingly flowing to her feet.
Slaughter nudged a button under his desk with his knee, and his office door slid shut with a single snick, trapping the woman in the room. Belatedly, he wondered if that had been a good idea.
He rose to his feet, and as he did so, his environment morphed into that of a tube car, a holographically realistic pop-up standing directly in front of him.
“ — with guaranteed proactive krell!” It gave him a toothy grin and waved a small object at him. “Won’t you try it? How about now?”
Slaughter shook his head and blinked again, forcefully, squeezing his eyes shut. When he opened them he was standing in the middle of a vast greensward in a park. From somewhere distant he heard the sounds of a piano. Confronting him was a small girl.
“What happened to the family cat?” she asked him plaintively.
“I said, what happened to the family cat?” she said impatiently. “Have you seen him?”
“Go away. You should go away,” Slaughter said.
“I can’t. You locked your door shut.”
He looked beyond the woman at his closed door. From its other side he heard a voice call, “Doctor Slaughter? Are you all right?” He didn’t think he was.
“Stay out of my head,” he said to her.
There was a strong knock on his door. “Security!” a voice barked. Slaughter bent and reached under his desk, unlocking his door, which immediately opened.
He saw no sign of anyone from Security in the hallway, just a worried-looking young man, who called out, “Is everything okay?”
“No,” Slaughter said. He looked around his empty office. “Nothing is okay.” He sank back into his chair, put his elbows on his desk, and his face in his hands.
“I think I’m cracking up,” Jack Slaughter said to his own therapist at his weekly session that evening.
“Why do you think that?” his therapist, a middle-aged androgyn, Dr. Kenneth Savage, asked.
“Space aliens,” Slaughter said.
“Tell me about them.”
Slaughter knew that tone well, having used it too often himself. Savage was patronizing him. “Two clients mentioned them. The first said she’d killed one. The second said an alien had tasked him with spreading disease. Then someone came to my office to see what I knew about them.”
“The space aliens.”
“What did you tell her?”
Slaughter felt it like a physical jolt. He’d said “someone.” He hadn’t said “her” — had he? He glanced quickly at the handi he was clasping. No, he hadn’t. Then a thought intruded: Did Dr. Savage think of everyone as “her”?
“I can’t help wondering — how pervasive the space aliens are,” Slaughter said.
“What do you mean?”
“Both my clients said they — the space aliens — are shape-changers. That means they can be among us without our knowing. They can be anywhere. On the tube next to you. Walking into your office. Hell, Ken, you could be one.” He shrugged. “I could be one.”
“No. Are you?”
“What do you know about them — these space aliens?”
“Well, the client who killed one, she said they seemed to shrivel up when they died. Their blood was a different color — green or black. And it evaporated. That’s the word she used — evaporated.”
“Is that all?”
“That you know about them, these space aliens?”
“That’s all they told me, that I recall.”
A blade of light seemed to slice through his thoughts, striking him numb.
“What about your own experiences? With these space aliens?”
“My — own?” His lips felt thick, his tongue clumsy. He felt a torpor overtake him, a deep relaxation.
“Yes. Tell me about them.”
He did. He spoke willingly and truthfully, but as though in a dream. He described the encounter on the tube and the eyes that kept him awake all night. He described Avarice Jones — “Such an unusual name, but, then, so many are now” — and the way she’d disappeared from his office.
“I think you’re one too, Doctor Savage.”
“You could poke your finger and we could see what color your blood is.”
“Do you consider yourself sleep-deprived? Delusional?”
“You know,” Slaughter said, “you’re not being very responsive. I know all the same techniques you do, and it seems to me….” his voice drifted off into an inaudible mumble.
In his head he saw pretty flashes of colorful lights. They distracted him.
This is not good, he realized. “This is not good,” he murmured aloud.
“Let me see if I can help,” Dr. Savage said.
To be continued…