Understanding the Stars

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 3 (v.1) - Chapter 3

Submitted: November 03, 2016

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Comments: 1

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 03, 2016

A A A

A A A

Chapter 3

 

You’ll tell her tonight, then?

“Yes.”

And extend an invitation?

“Yes.”

Once you’ve spoken the truth to her, there’s no turning back.

“I know.”

You seem reticent.

“I’m worried.”

 

 

When my parents, aunt, and uncle returned, I told my mom I was going out to meet a friend at the bowling alley. She didn’t like me going out so late, but she didn’t hassle me too much. It was Friday after all.

The bowling alley wasn’t far so I didn’t have a lot of time to ponder about what might be in store for me tonight. I was nervous about meeting a stranger at night. For the first time I appreciated how well lit the parking lot was.

Entering the noisy building, I saw him immediately sitting in the far back booth of the food court area. He didn’t wave when he saw me, just nodded slightly. As I approached him, I noticed that he must’ve been sitting there for a while: an order of nachos was practically gone, and an empty coke sat beside it.

Glancing around to double check that we could easily be seen by others, I sat down in the booth across from him.

“Thank you for coming,” he said cordially.

I took a breath. He really was too attractive. But I couldn’t let that distract me.

“What’s your name?” I asked with arms folded.

His eyebrows rose in surprise at my abruptness.

“Ronan,” he said.

I waited.

“Omari. Ronan Omari.”

“What do you want with me, Ronan?”

He looked at me and paused. I waited while he thought for a moment. “I think I need to go back to the beginning. Can I order you something to eat? This may take some time.”

“I’m not hungry, “ I said. “The beginning of what?”

“At least let me just get you something to drink,” he said, then went to the counter. He brought back a fountain drink in a red-striped cup. “Sprite with extra ice,” he said, holding it out for me.

I didn’t take it. “Now you’re really starting to freak me out. How do you know I always get extra ice?” I said, staring at the drink like it was filled with poison. It was easier to think when I didn’t look at him. “Or was that just a lucky guess,” I said sarcastically.

“Not a lucky guess.” He set the cup down on the table.

“Well, then?”

He sat down and fiddled with the booth’s salt shaker for a second.

“Do you believe in aliens?” he asked.

My eyebrows jumped in surprise at his question, but I considered it before answering. “I never really decided. I suppose I haven’t ruled out the possibility.”

“Well, it’s a definite possibility,” he said. “In fact, it’s a fact.”

“Are you telling me you’re an alien?” I laughed abruptly.

He continued patiently. “No—not in the way you’re thinking—no. I’m definitely human. But…”

“Go on.”

“I’ve never had this conversation before,” he said, almost to himself. “It’s not easy.”

That made me feel a little guilty about being so callous. A little more politely, I said, “Okay. If you say there’s aliens, there’s aliens. What does that have to do with me? Or you?”

He took a deep breath. “Okay, Alex, here it is. Remember the part about an open mind.

“A long time ago—about four thousand years ago, right around the time the Egyptian Pyramids were built, an advanced race of aliens visited earth. Mainly they were anthropologists—seeking to study other planets, species, cultures, and such, but do them no harm. They got along so well with the ‘earthlings’, that some of the people decided to go with the aliens when it came time for them to leave.”

He paused to sip the last of his soda. “You with me so far?”

“So aliens really did help build the pyramids?”

“Right.”

“Huh,” was the only response I could come up with.

“Well, that group of people continued to travel with this population of aliens—they’re called the Solamure—and continued to have children. And some of those human children have continued to tour the stars alongside them. We call ourselves Starsailors.”

We?

“Right,” he smiled at me tentatively. “So no, I’m not actually an alien the way people usually think, but I wasn’t born on earth. I was born on a ship during a voyage.”

“Okaaay,” I responded slowly, then took a long drink from the soda. Then I looked up at him. “So then what?”

“Well, the Solamure decided to revisit earth—mostly because the civilization and culture has changed so dramatically since the last time, but to do so more secretly. Like, undercover.”

“So…. How long have you been here?” I asked. I didn’t want my skepticism to stop his storytelling. If nothing else, it was entertaining.

“A little over 3 earth years. Sorry—over 3 years.”

“Well, that explains the accent. So what have you been doing? You know, when you’re not ordering cheap pizza?”

He smiled a little. “It’s like I said, we observe and study. To get a more accurate sample of the human population, the Solamure have spread out globally. I was assigned here.” He paused. “We try to observe on both a wide scale and personal scale,” he said carefully.

He was suddenly avoiding eye contact.

“What does that mean?” I inquired.

He hesitated, stalling for time by fiddling with his empty cup.

“Here, have a drink if you want,” I offered, pushing my cup over to him. The sound of someone hitting a strike and a loud cheer rose up from a nearby alley. He ignored my offer and continued.

“Okay, well, here comes the first part you’re not going to like.”

“The first part?”

“I’m the bearer of bad news tonight,” he said seriously. “The Solamure have incredible technology—far, far more advanced than earth right now. They use it to help them gather information… Sometimes some of that technology is implanted into a random sample of the population. It allows the Solamure to see, hear, and well, basically experience what that person experiences. It’s very valuable, from a research point of view.”

It was clear where this was going. “So you’re saying that I have some sort of—what, alien microchip?—implanted in me?” I tried not to laugh, but couldn’t keep a smile from escaping.

“Yes,” he said looking solemnly at me. “And I was assigned to record and analyze all the data.”

“You were—what? So you have been stalking me!” I exclaimed, a little too loudly. Several people looked over in our direction, and I blushed. A little more composedly I said, “Um… How could all of this happen without me knowing about any of it?”

“Alex, it’s okay to freak out. Anyone would freak out. In fact, you’re handling all this remarkably well. I’m sorry to have to tell you so many things tonight that are going to upset you. In all the time I’ve been watching you, I’ve come to … admire the person you are.”

I ignored his creepy compliment. “How could any of this happen without me knowing about it?”

“It’s a very complex procedure, but basically, you’re given a heavy sleeping drug—you were only 14—and once you’re asleep for the night, they implant the device into you. You slept long and hard, and woke up complaining of a headache, but other than that, there wasn’t anything to be aware of.”

My hand automatically went to the small bump of scar tissue I had near the base of my skull. I raised my eyebrows at him, and he nodded.

“So… everything? Everything I’ve done since I was 14 you’ve watched? And recorded? And analyzed?” I started to freak out—remembering every awkward and embarrassing thing I’ve ever done. My face flooded with heat.

“Alex, it’s okay,” he said again, trying to be soothing. “The Solamure understand how human beings are. They understand that—on some level, subconsciously, people know when they are being watched. They put in—censors—of a kind. It’s not like you haven’t had any privacy.”

Still blushing, I thought about that, then decided I didn’t want to know any of the details. It would probably just make it worse. Not that I believed him.

“Okay, so, why are you telling me this now? I’m no science genius, but I do know that your data will be ruined from now on, if I’m aware of the experiment.”

“Ah, well. That’s the second piece of bad news.”

It gets worse?

“There’s another race of aliens—not so peaceful as the Solamure—whose main objective is to acquire advanced technology—Solamure technology.”

He leaned forward and said, more quietly, “We just received word—only yesterday—that they have developed the ability to track this technology—like a radar of sorts. Which basically means that not only do the Solamure need to leave, but they need to take every piece of technology with them so that there isn’t any trace left on earth.”

It didn’t take long to register what his meaning. “You mean me. You need to take back whatever infernal device you stuck inside me before you go. Geez! Why couldn’t you just take it in my sleep and leave me out of all this?”

This was getting out of hand—his story was starting to get to me.

“It’s not as simple as that,” Ronan said heavily. “Once it’s been implanted, it can’t be removed. At least, not without killing you.”

“… This can’t be real,” I said.

“I wish—for your sake—it wasn’t.”

“Prove it,” I said suddenly. “You need to prove it to me.”

He was slightly taken aback by my sudden demand, but he recovered quickly and started thinking. “Well, you like to eat breakfast cereal—usually Chex—without milk. You keep an old porcelain unicorn that you got from Santa when you were young in the top of your closet. The second button on your car stereo is broken. Your favorite—”

I interrupted his mental checklist. It was alarming, to have him listing things off like that, but I wasn’t satisfied with it. “Any regular stalker could tell you any of that.”

He sat in silence for a moment, then said, “When you’re alone you hum quietly to yourself. Sometimes you’ll spend hours working on one homework problem, and you never give up until you get the answer. When you’re sad, you draw in the sketchbook you keep under your bed. And when you’re happy, you drive with your hand out the window of the car and fly your hand up and down. Also, you discreetly slipped your last bit of cash onto Tara’s lunch tray yesterday when you saw she didn’t have anything to eat.”

I stared at him for a moment, completely bewildered that this stranger could know me so intimately. Then the reality of the situation sunk in. My thoughts twisted, scrambling at any explanation that would reject the horrible reality he was presenting, but somehow couldn’t. Maybe I’d subconsciously known all along.

“Oh crap. I really do have something in my head, don’t I?” I buried my head in my arms.  “And if you can’t get it out, then…”

“Then I have to ask you to come with us. There really is no choice. If the Kema’dor—those are the dangerous aliens—find you, they’ll do what’s necessary to take the device from you. And they won’t do it nicely.”

“So I’m supposed to just….leave. Leave everything—my whole life, my family, my friends—all of it and just—“

“Yes.”

This couldn’t be happening,

“Please,” he pleaded, and his voice was suddenly heartbreakingly vulnerable.

An employee from the bowling alley suddenly appeared by our table. “We’re closing up,” she said. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“Of course,” Ronan said and stood. I glanced at my phone—how could it already be so late? Then he offered his hand to me and I took it, a little surprised how shaky I felt. He helped me stand and I walked in a stupor out to my car. When I got there I took my keys out and looked at him.

“So will you do it?” he asked softly.

“Go with you?” I said. An absurd part of me suddenly wanted to laugh—a boy was asking me to go with him. I wanted equally to laugh and bawl my head off. “I really don’t know what to say. Give me some time to think.”

“Understandable,” he said. “But you need to understand that we don’t have much time. We must leave in 24 hours if we want to be out of here in time. And Alex?”

24 hours!  

“Yeah?” I said, frowning down at the faded white stripe on the blacktop.

“I know the situation is horrible. But I promise I will do my best to make you happy up there.” Then he reached out, took my hand, and placed something small and smooth inside it. “It’s called a Tarke. It works kind of like a phone. Tell it if you want to contact me and it will. Or just ask it for directions when you’re ready to leave—it will guide you.”

Then he let go of my hand and walked away. I unlocked my car and climbed in. I sat there, breathing deep breaths, trying not to think too much. Then I started the engine and drove home, feeling very lonely.

 

Isn’t it amazing, how you can drive down a street countless times in your life and then suddenly notice something new about it? I kept thinking how Ronan had been “watching” me and it made me aware of so many things I’d never paid attention to before. How long has that house had that huge tree in front of it? There’s a vacuum repair shop on that corner?

I pulled into the familiar driveway, and at the sight of my house, I suddenly broke down into tears. Somehow there was a part of me that knew what Ronan had said was the truth. And if that was the truth, I really had no choice—I had to leave.

My pale blue house with the large front porch had never looked more beautiful. Somehow I managed to get control of my emotions before going in, though I knew my red eyes would betray the tears.

Part of me wanted to run into my parents’ arms and tell them everything, and let them fix it. But when I walked in the house, all was quiet. Everyone was already asleep.

When I flipped on the light in my room I suddenly noticed the shirt I’d left lying on the floor, the dresser drawer left open, and the candy bar wrapper that hadn’t quite made it into the trash. Stop that, I chided myself. You’re worried about Ronan seeing your messy room when you’re never going to see your family again?

And then—I couldn’t help it—I started sobbing again. I climbed into my bed and pulled the blanket over my head. My pillow was soon wet with my tears, but sometime during the night the weeping subsided and I fell asleep.

 

There was a soft knock at my door. I dug my way out from underneath the thick white comforter.

“Mmm?” I answered looking at the clock on my nightstand. 7:36.

“It’s me,” my mom said. “Can I come in?”

“Mmm,” I answered again.

“Hi sweetie—sorry to wake you up so early on the weekend, but there’s a man at the door who says he’d like to talk with you. I told him to come back later, but he’s very insistent—says it’s important and urgent. You haven’t … been doing anything illegal, have you Alex?”

“What? Mom! No!”

“Well why don’t you get dressed and come down,” she suggested. “I’m going to get some breakfast for your father—you know how he is in the morning.” Then she slipped out.

In the light of the morning, with the birds chirping and dogs barking, the conversation last night seemed unreal. Surely this was going to be just another day.

And yet.

I was pretty sure it was Ronan downstairs waiting for me. No doubt with more bad news. Maybe I’ll make him tell my parents why I wouldn’t be attending college, I thought grumpily.

I threw on an old t-shirt boasting my school’s mascot on the back, and some gray sweatpants. I glanced in the mirror and saw the unflattering effects of crying yourself to sleep—smeared mascara and puffy eyes. Well, who cares anyway, I thought miserably.

I followed my mom down the stairs and to my great surprise, it wasn’t Ronan who was waiting for me. The man on our sofa was old—graying—and wore a dark suit.  His stern eyes and angular nose made him look like an angry hawk. He rose as we entered the room.

“Good morning,” he said in a gravelly voice. “I apologize for disturbing you so early, but, like I told your mother, there are some things I need discuss with you.”

“Who are you?”

“You can call me Nash.”

“What’s this about?” I asked. “I don’t have a lot of time,” I wanted to spend my last day with my family, not some intruding suit.

“I must insist that our conversation be held privately.” He looked pointedly at my mother.

“I think I’d prefer to stay,” my mother said, somehow both politely and stiffly. I could practically see her thoughts: If this guy thinks he can just prance into our home and start telling me what to do, he’s got another thing coming.

Nash reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a gold badge. He held it up for my mother to see. “I’m afraid it’s not up for debate. I’m here from the CIA and my orders were to talk to Alex alone.”

My mother glared at him, then turned it on me. What on earth is going on? her eyes asked. I shrugged, though I had a hunch.

“It’s okay, Mom. We’ll just have our chat and it’ll be done before you know it.” I glanced at Nash. “Right?”

“Of course,” he said. “We’ll just slip down to my office.”

“Now hold on,” my mother said, all politeness gone from her tone. “Nobody is taking anyone anywhere.”

“I’m afraid it’s not up for debate,” Nash repeated stonily.

“Let me see that badge again,” my mom demanded.

He handed it over and she examined it. Then she took out her phone, and dialed a number.

“Hello, police? Yes, there’s a man here who is trying to take my daughter against my will. “ Pause. “Yes, I would appreciate that.” She rattled off our address and hung up.

“The police will be here momentarily,” she said coldly. “I would appreciate it if you’d wait outside for them.”

Nash sighed, then opened the front door and stepped out.

“Alex, what is going on?” My mom sounded almost hysterical.

“I don’t really know, Mom. I promise I haven’t done anything.” I sounded almost in tears myself.

Suddenly there was a sharp rap at the door. “Police,” a deep voice said. They must have been practically next door to get here so quickly.

Mom opened the door and invited the two officers in. I saw Nash standing on the porch.

“What’s all this about?” one of the officers asked, and Mom explained the situation.

“We’ll have a talk with him.”

They stepped out onto the porch and we waited in silence, hoping to overhear some of the conversation. They were out there for some time, and I saw Nash handing over his badge, and the policemen making several phone calls. After a while, one of the officers shook hands with Nash, then both they came back into the house.

“Ma’am, the CIA has jurisdiction over this matter. That agent there is within his authority to require a private audience with your daughter at a location of his choosing.”

My mom looked as if someone had slapped her. “But—“ she began, her voice appalled.

The officer interrupted her. “I understand your concern, ma’am, but I can assure you there are no laws being broken here. I’m sure he’ll have your daughter returned soon.”

I saw panic in my mom’s eyes and suddenly I was seized with a feeling of dread. The police left and Nash stepped in before the door could even close behind them.

“Let’s go,” he ordered me. I couldn’t understand how this could be happening. I gave Mom a quick hug and told her I’d be back soon. She hugged me back tightly.

Fearfully, I followed the man out to his black sedan. It had darkly tinted windows. I climbed into the passenger side then turned back to wave uncertainly. My mom waved back, looking alarmed.

As soon as we were alone in the car, Nash said, “Alex, the more cooperative you are with me, the more smoothly this will go for you. Please bear that in mind.”

“What’s this all about?” I asked in a voice that came out much more self-assured than I felt.

“I think you know.”

“I don’t,” I insisted.

“Well, let me give you a hint,” he said a bit sarcastically. “I work for a very specialized department in the CIA. It’s called Extraterrestrial Affairs.”

“Extraterrestrial? Like, ET?” It was my turn to be sarcastic, though truthfully a feeling of panic was starting to develop in my chest. What had Ronan gotten me into?

He didn’t reply and we drove in silence, except for the humming of the tires on the road.


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