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Chapter 17

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Photo by Swikar Patel
Illustration by Lara Neel | The Journal Gazette
Summit city lights

Chapter 17

Jake and Chelsea sat in lawn chairs in the driveway of his Ludwig Road home. They sipped lemonade.

Yellow crime-scene tape stretched along the fences at Smith Field. National Guard soldiers stood watch at the airport entrance, keeping newspaper reporters and TV news crews at bay. Nothing had been in the sky all day except military helicopters that arrived or departed now and then.

The grounds were crawling with people wearing white hazmat suits. Cindy was somewhere among them; Jake and Chelsea argued over which suit was hiding Cindy until they saw a brief wave in their direction – Jake had been correct, to his daughter's delight.

Chelsea thought it was an awfully big fuss over an elaborate hoax. The neighborhood had been evacuated last night and most of today for a college student's prank. Now he was being treated as a homegrown terrorist. And her father kept going on about how he had helped save Smith Field only to have a front-row seat for its certain demise as an airport.

But Chelsea was puzzled; with all the panic, with Homeland Security and the National Guard involved, with criminal and scientific investigations unfolding, how had her father gained access to the fake flying saucer the previous night?

"They invited me," Jake told Chelsea. "I had been an eyewitness to an earlier flight, and officials wanted any verification I could offer.

"Besides," he said, "your mother put in a good word for me."

Chelsea was miffed that she hadn't been asked. She'd seen the lights, too.

"Too risky," Jake said. "These soldiers use real bullets. Your mom was right to have you stay at a friend's house."

"So were you able to identify the flying saucer that crashed as the one we both saw earlier?" Chelsea asked.

"No, I wasn't," her father said.

"Yeah, we were too far away to see it very well," she said.

"It wasn't the same one," Jake said. "This one didn't have any lights."

"Mom said today that the guy who made these things had different designs," Chelsea said.

"This one was a lot bigger than his saucers," Jake said. "Perhaps 15 feet long. And it was silver, not black. Not shaped like a clamshell, either; it was triangular, like a stealth bomber."

Again, Chelsea said, the IPFW student just made a different model.

"He supposedly flew two at once at Fox Island, so he must have been good," she said. "They found his remote control at Smith Field, didn't they?"

"Yes," Jake said, "and they found his saucer, too, near where they caught him over by Cook Road. It never got in the air."

Jake then told his daughter the story he'd sworn to keep secret, recounting events and sights at the risk of arrest and who knows what else.

He told his daughter about the other flying saucer that crashed last night, after a 122nd Fighter Wing pilot in an A-10 saw an object zigzagging north of town. The Warthog pilot chased it; then the craft chased the pilot. The pilot slowed up and fired his seven-barrel machine-gun cannon at the passing object – those lights over Smith Field were armor-piercing tracer bullets. The object fell out of the sky, crashing on the ground next to an airport runway, the same runway that someone at the mayor's town-hall meeting claimed had been turned into a government welcome center for aliens.

The crowd, including Jake, cautiously circled the silver triangle. A section of it had broken away, almost like a hatch popping open, and inside – was it a machine or a creature? Or both? Jake couldn't tell.

Wires, tubes and hoses spilled out of the cavity and onto the ground. Milky fluid seeped from some of the broken strands. Sparks leaped from others.

The thing inside the craft was almost 3 feet long, but it didn't have a defined head or torso or arms or legs – it was just a mass of plugged-in slime, a robotic gray worm in an electronic cocoon. Jake was certain he had seen it squirming in the short time he watched it – "Marian's dream!" he had gasped – before Homeland Security officials and National Guard troops whisked him away for debriefing and a vow of silence.

Jake took a sip of lemonade. Chelsea didn't know what to say, so she said nothing. She and her father sat silently in their lawn chairs in the driveway of his front yard, watching the sky grow dark over Smith Field.

bfrancisco@jg.net

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