Reads: 261

Hard Kill

By Bill Eckel

 

Trixie Steele

 

Trixie Steele stared blankly at the recipes scattered on her Corian countertop. She could have had granite, but following the herd wasn’t in her DNA. Besides, who wanted to look at the same kitchen everybody else had? Unfortunately, the Corian offered no inspiration. In fact, two hours scouring through recipes and eighty dollars at the grocery store had failed to generate any desire for culinary creation, but Trixie had to cook something. The overnight power outage had ruined her crock pot chicken jubilee.

The jarring honks of ducks flying overhead drowned out her podcast, “Cooking with Carmella.” She wondered if Carmella had any recipes for duck. The sigh escaped before she could check it. Bobby would be home soon from football practice. He and his sister, Sandi, would be hungry. Melancholy made poor fare.

As they had been all day, Trixie’s thoughts turned to her husband. What are they feeding Mark?

She hadn’t cooked a meal for her husband in six years. Her fingers idly touched one recipe card, then another. Despite the listed ingredients, conjured images of prune whip and jellied chicken filled her sight.

Damn Galactic Sentinel. Who needs a secret space program, anyway? And damn Colonel Plish!

She stopped short of condemning Mark who had volunteered for the secret project. Galactic Sentinel consisted solely of volunteers sworn to silence. She touched the triangular pendant nestled in the vee-neck of her turquoise cardigan. A present from Mark, it constantly graced her neck.

The podcast on her phone squawked, jerking her back to the present. “There you have it out there in listener land, according to our caller, the mysterious outage last night was caused, of course, by UFO’s. Now for something you can really believe, It’s official. It’s over. Take the masks off and smell those popovers.”

In a fit of pique, she jabbed the cancel button under the radio icon on her phone. Trixie couldn't decide which irritated her the most. The scoffing voice of the fill-in on KOSS laughing about a caller's UFO sighting or the competing squawks of the migratory ducks en route to Piute Ponds on the south side of Edwards Air Force Base.

As the wife of a TR3B pilot based at Groom Lake, Trixie knew UFOs, or UAPs, Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, the newest dodge, existed and blamed them for the last ten years. The ducks? Their existence remained questionable.

The front door slammed.

"I'm home," yelled Bobby, her oldest child.

That reminded her, the school had called. Bobby had been telling wild tales about his father, Mark Steele, space hero. “Your son is becoming a security risk,” the message ended.

Trixie gazed at the heavens, beseeching. Will it ever end? How do you deal with a thirteen-year-old boy-child who wants to be a man? Mark would have known.

Sandi, his little sister, shouted from her upstairs bedroom. "Quiet. Mom’s in one of her moods!"

In the kitchen, Trixie winced. The barb, though innocent of malice, still stung. Trixie didn't mean to be a burden to her children, but the void of loneliness sometimes overwhelmed her. Mark’s absence didn't help Sandi or Bobby, either. They were growing up fast and needed a steadfast hand, a complete family unit.

I tried!

Trixie raked the canisters and recipes off her kitchen counter in exasperation.

Bright daisy-printed containers clattered across thick linoleum, strewing sugar, and a cloud of flour over a once-spotless floor. Cosmo, Sandi's Lhasa Apso, padded in to investigate.

"I'm all right," Trixie shouted to the kids.

She lied, but not to herself. Rescuing her other half was not supposed to take six years. Frustration roiled within her. "Mark," she whispered, “help me.”

At her feet Cosmo sniffed at the spilled flour and rejected the offering. Trixie bent down and picked him up. She stroked his long tan hair and stared, unseeing, at the mess.

She remembered how the dizzying camera flashes whirled around her. Reporters shouted non-stop questions. Her revelations of rapid aging among pilots flying experimental black-project aircraft had generated a story lasting two news cycles. While not specifically named, Mark’s commander, then-colonel Jerome Plish had run the program and felt the heat of disclosure.

"Why didn’t I act more discreetly?” she chided herself.

Why, why, why? You sit and cry and wonder why, while the world moves on without you. Grandfather Jedediah's adage held little solace.

She hugged Cosmo close, wishing Mark's arms were wrapped around her. "He made me promise to wait before trying to rescue him,” she whispered in the dog’s ear. “He said the publicity will die down after a while. Be patient. Come find me then. I promised. Now Plish has stashed him in deep black."

Cosmo whimpered and squirmed.

Not liking being restrained either, Trixie put him down. Her blurred vision tracked the path his trailing hair made through the spilt flour as he padded to his food bowl.

Trixie wiped at her eyes and stared at nothing outside the kitchen window. "Where are you, Mark?"

Trixie had reached the end of her tether. None of Mark’s former associates could uncover even a whisper, not even her neighbor and Mark’s former exec, John Bonner, currently TDY as adjutant to Admiral Suthford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She turned away from the window and sank deeper into her mood.

Cosmo lifted his face from his snack. Kibbles dropped from his jaws. He whined.

The crystalline knickknacks on the windowsill clattered. At first, Trixie thought the sensations an internal shudder and attributed the rumblings to her hitting emotional rock bottom. When they didn't stop, she opened her eyes. Another tremor rose through the soles of Trixie's feet to the pit of her stomach.

Earthquake!

Her heart jumped into her throat. Five times this month tremors had shaken Edwards. A fleeting thought passed through her mind. Buy a lot in Antelope Valley. Be the first to own beachfront property after the Big One.

The groaner was John Bonner's favorite bad joke. Mark's former wingman and his wife, Michelle, had purchased land outside of Edwards and wanted to choose their neighbors. Sandi had agreed wholeheartedly. Ten years of living in southern California had honed the trigger of her youngest child's angst over quakes to a short pull.

Sandi would have recognized the quake by now.

The eerie silence fueled Trixie's anxiety. Concern rising, she called out, "Sandi? Kids?" She paused. "Sandi, are you okay? Bobby?"

No one answered. An itch tickled her palm. Trixie peered about. The itch became a tingle and then a shiver as it spread through her body. Her eyes darted about the kitchen searching the corners and shadows.

“It’s amazing what they can do,” Mark often told her after his memories had been restored. “They can appear out of thin air.”

They. Aliens. Trixie’s breath came in short, irregular pants. She reached up and touched her pendant. It warmed her fingertips. “I know you’re here,” she said softly. “Show yourself.” Her gaze was drawn to the back door.

A blinding flash surprised Trixie. Fear gripped her throat too tightly to scream. She hid behind her raised hands and waited for the silvery traces, lingering neural responses of her retina, to clear her vision before lowering her arms and opening her eyes.

A woman stood before the open door. Caucasian, physically fit, and with an air of being obeyed.

Trixie stared, wide-eyed. Enlightened as she was concerning alien life, she had never seen one up close and personal. This one was taller than the door and sported the same blond hair and green eyes as Trixie. Mesmerizing glints danced in them.

Accept. Come with me,” they urged.

Of course, she’d go. Why would she not? Alarm wailed through the impulse.

The kids!

The momma bear in Trixie gave her the strength to break the enchantment and speak. "Who are you? How did you get here? Where are my children?"

"Be at peace, Trixie Steele. All is well." The woman's dulcet tones relaxed Trixie's tense muscles but proffered no answers.

The slight tremor in her voice gave away her fear. "Where are my children?” She shouted, “Bobby! Sandi?"

The alien stood, unconcerned. "Your off-spring are unharmed. They are above in their chambers."

Again, something in the stranger's voice melted Trixie's apprehension.

Don't worry.

Trixie’s rigid stance eased. A strangeness fascinated her, some sort of calming unperceived earlier. She glanced at Cosmo. He lay beside his half-full bowl, fast asleep.

She wrinkled her forehead. How odd, Cosmo never leaves food in his dish.

In Trixie's bones, an ultra-low frequency reverberated. She settled deeper into a state of tranquility, swaying with the slow hypnotic thrum of . . . “Delta waves!”

"You are aware of this phenomenon," said the stranger. "You use sound in your research."

"I do.” said Trixie. “My team tried to isolate the chemical produced by the hippocampus during REM."

"To restore your husband's memories."

"Yes. How did you learn about me?" Trixie asked.

The alien woman deadpanned. "You have been under surveillance for some time. We need you. Look out your window."

I’ve been watched? The hair on her arms rose. Trixie took a step back. Fear’s cold tenacles enveloped her. “Need me for what?”

The alien nodded her head toward the kitchen window.

Trixie turned her head. The world stopped revolving. In her backyard hovered a wedge-shaped UFO. Silvery gray, though it was hard to tell through the wavering air. The craft bore little similarity to the TR3B depicted on the token around her neck.

"Who are you?" asked Trixie. "Whose side are you on?"

"All will be revealed. If you wish to save your husband, enter the shuttle."

"But my children--"

"Mom. Mom!" Bobby's footsteps pounded down the stairs in the other room.

"Your off-spring will suffer no harm," said the alien.

Trixie's nerve endings tingled. The stranger's voice had modulated into .  .  . my voice.

Bobby burst into the kitchen, pulling a wide-eyed and fidgety Sandi by the hand. "A UAP. In the backyard!"

He stumbled to a halt, staring open-mouthed.

Trixie's gaze flicked from Bobby to the intruder and did a double take.

Is that me?

Whatever the alien had worn when she stooped through the kitchen door escaped Trixie’s memory. Now, the alien wore the same style turquoise vee-neck pullover, and tan, straight leg twill slacks with matching pumps Trixie had put on this morning.

Bobby and Sandi gasped.

A more sinister thought gave Trixie a shiver. They’re coming for me.

Trixie had only mentioned Mark's somniloquy to him once.

He laughed it off. “I don’t talk in my sleep.”

But he did. It was his subconscious conversations that led her to the breakthrough in his treatment, including the use of delta waves her alien twin had referred to.

There was also a dark side to her husband's revelations. At times, aliens stalked her in her sleep, terrorizing her with dreams of kidnapping her and the kids. Nightmares of being taken aboard their spacecraft and used as a? Stop! No more.

"No harm will come to you or your children,” the alien assured, “I am here to offer help."

"Can you read my thoughts?" asked Trixie.

"If I desire,” said the alien, “but your fear is so strong it projects like a scream in the night as your kind like to say. You must make your decision. Do not delay. Keeping your neighbors in sleep-stasis is not advisable."

Sandi continued to cling to Bobby's hand while they gravitated toward Trixie, keeping their mother's twin in sight.

Trixie closed the gap and put her arms around them in a protective embrace.

Bobby squirmed free. "What kind of spaceship do you fly? My dad flies one."

The alien ignored him.

"When?" Trixie asked.

"Two more minutes of your existence."

"What?” said, Trixie. “I need more time. I can't just leave Bobby and Sandi."

The woman spoke as if she were used to instant obedience. "You are needed to rescue Mark Steele. I will oversee your children."

"You're going after Dad?" Bobby's voice, cracking due to puberty, rose with excitement. "Can I go?"

"No, you can't go," said Trixie, exasperated. "No one is going anywhere. What about John and Michelle, my neighbors? They're like family. Can't my kids stay there?"

"The number of contaminants must remain small. You must now decide, Trixie Steele.” The alien peered intently into Trixie’s eyes, connecting directly for the first time. “But be aware, if you choose not to help us, you will remember none of this. Mark Steele will become Ju Pak's plaything and Earth will submit to the Reptilians. Then your worst nightmare will come true."

Trixie felt an urge to capitulate, to agree. It’s a compulsion. She refused to be intimidated. "I won't abandon my children."

"Mom!" Bobby's appeal tugged at her heartstrings.

Her son's voice and mannerisms so resembled Mark's, a lump formed in her throat. Young arms wrapped around her legs. Sandi, whose pitiful expression threatened to bring tears to Trixie's own eyes, buried her face in her mother's waist. "I want daddy to come home."

"I know, baby" cooed Trixie, hugging her back. “I do, too.”

"You won't be abandoning them. You'll be saving them," said her doppelganger.

"If what you say is true."

"Is Galactic Sentinel true?” asked the alien. She nodded toward the backyard. “Is my ship real? Besides Major General Jerome Maximillian Plish, who else knows where your husband is? If you don't go, the truth will never be revealed to you. You'll never see your husband, their father, again, or discover what happened to him.

"I need more time."

"Your time is spent," said the alien.

Trixie could have argued for an hour, but her doppelganger began to fade fast. The dining table was visible through her, and she was surrounded by a bluish tint.

Mark, help me. Should I go?

The decision was as elusive as the money blowing in an air closet at the casino. Trixie grasped the triangular pendant hanging from the chain around her neck.

"Please, Momma?" implored Sandi.

A sense of rightness suffused Trixie. "I'll go."

The alien solidified, losing the blue tint. "Hurry."

"The kids trust John and Michelle."

"I understand."

Trixie stepped out the back door. The shuttle had to be at least a thirty-footer. Settled between the Blue Palo Verde growing along both side fences, the machine filled her backyard. The bottom was flat with sidewalls angling up at forty-five-degrees to the leading edge. On the topside, the ship was more a diamond-shaped wedge with antennas clustered at the rear.

The fifty-foot Palo Verde's leaf canopy topped the saucer by fifteen feet. Heat radiated from the surface, giving the vessel a shimmery appearance. At least Trixie hoped heat distorted the light's wavelengths and not radiation.

Her attention sharpened. She cocked her head and peered at the underside of the craft.

No engine noises. That explains why they’re so quiet.

A gap appeared in the shimmering air at the widest section of the wedge-shaped diamond, growing to a meter wide. The craft's boarding hatch separated with the top half opening upward, the bottom half coming down, forming a ramp leading into a darkened interior.


Submitted: April 30, 2022

© Copyright 2022 bill eckel. All rights reserved.

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