Susan
The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey


Chapter Twenty-three: Clear Lake

    A few days later, Jimmie showed up with his lovely bride, Lanna, the former secretary and unofficial poster girl for Jimmie's bogus company, Exocybernautics. He seemed happy enough, or so he said, loudly and repeatedly. She was excited to be back from Vegas (yeah, Vegas) so that she could go house hunting with Jimmie's money.
    The Woodlands was trendy, or maybe Champions Forest. Sugarland is nice, though. And there's always River Oaks -- though it was too old, stuffy and sedate for her tastes (such as they were). Maybe they could have a place built for them in the gentrified Heights. Their little love nest, she cooed.
    Then there was the matter of Jimmie's clothes. He was too smart, she insisted, to have any sense about what to wear, but she'd take care of that. She had already made a start on a whole new look for him. It was different, alright, and obviously expensive. And, uh, he would certainly be noticed. No kidding. But he endured it stoically.
    Someone once asked an aging Groucho Marx where he had found his attractive young lady companion. He said, "I just opened my wallet and there she was."
    At least Jimmie wasn't entirely stupid. He made her sign a pre-nuptial agreement.
    Lanna wasn't stupid, either. It was worthless.
    After making the rounds at their stunned little announcement party for the usual gang at Mrs. J's, Jimmie was finally cornered by Sara. He knew this moment was inevitable and had spent a lot of time wondering if it hurt much to be vaporized, but Sara seemed calm enough.
    "Congratulations, I guess," she said. "You know what you're doing?"
    "Oh, yeah," he smiled convincingly. "She's a wonderful woman," stressing the last word more than slightly.
    "Seems a bit high-maintenance."
    "I can probably afford it. It's not like I'm some kid who runs off to get married and then winds up having to flip hamburgers for a living. Anyway, she's really nice, once you get to know her."
    "I don't plan to get to know her as well as that."
    "Sara," he said gently, "Believe me, I meant what I said about still being friends. You're the best friend I've ever had and I hope you'll still be my friend when she's the ex-Mrs. Oldsen."
    "That won't be long," Sara mumbled, just loud enough for him to catch it but low enough for him to politely ignore.
    "Ah, c'mon, Sara. I need someone in my life like her. She's..." he hesitated.
    "The girl of your dreams," she said sarcastically.
    Jimmie shrugged. "Well, why not? I've never been one to go out and try to meet a lot of people or, you know, date, or anything like that. It's a geek thing. Any girl I'm ever likely to meet would be someone like her anyway. I know what she's after and, well, that works for me. It's like a business deal. She manages my social life or whatever, and I give her what she needs. I mean, when you think about it, she's spent her whole life preparing and training to be just what she is."
    "Lucky you," said Sara.
    "Yeah. Lucky me." There was an awkward silence.
    Finally, he looked at her. Really looked at her. "Sara, I will always love you. Always. No matter what happens. More than the way I could ever love anyone else. This has nothing to do with the way I feel about you or her or whatever kind of life I have that is apart from you. I don't really know how you feel about me, but I don't want what you seemed to expect from me to come between us, either. As tempting as it was."
    "Oh. That," she said. "I got over it."
    Jimmie blinked at her a couple of times. He didn't particularly look relieved.
    "Hmm..." she said. "I think you're making way too much of a big deal over a little harmless fun. I didn't realize how hard it would be on you." She giggled suddenly over how that must've sounded.
    "I... I thought, uh..." Jimmie stammered, embarrassed.
    "You were right, Jimmie. I was acting stupid. I'm still a child in a lot of ways. I think that I'm probably always gonna be, too, like Peter Pan or something. Permanent arrested development. I suppose I'll get used to it. And it's like anything else, I gotta be careful about what I do around people. Sometimes I don't know my own strength."
    "Then..." He looked wary, "We're OK? You're not upset or anything?"
    "I was, a little. It's something I had to learn. I feel real bad that maybe the way you reacted made you do something you'll regret." She glanced meaningfully at Lanna.
    He followed her glance. The two of them looking her way, ever so briefly, must have activated a primitive kreening response in Lanna. She started to disengage herself from Alex and Dinah.
    "No regrets," he said. "I guess it was meant to be. Probably why I hired her in the first place."
    "Men!" said Sara, mock-disgustedly.
    "Then," said Jimmie, "We can still do stuff together? Like in the Fort?"
    "What about your -- her -- 'little love nest'?"
    "I'm sure she'll be happy there. I plan to stay at my office most of the time, as usual. There's some other work I..."
    "That horrible place?" Lanna exclaimed, oozing over to them and draping her bodacious self over Jimmie. "We can build you a nice la-bore-atory in the dungeon, darling. I've always wanted to have a dungeon. And you can experiment on ET, here, whenever you want. I'll be your assistant. Do I have to wear a lab coat?"
    Sara rolled her eyes. "Not really. You can tag along, for all I care, but you'll probably be bored with all the complicated technical stuff," she said condescendingly.
    "Well, honey," Lanna said ever-so-sweetly, "From what I saw, you wern't doing anything I'd call 'technical' in your little hideaway."
    Jimmie looked slightly shocked. "From what you saw...?"
    "The surveillance camera over the door," Sara informed him. "Her PC was networked to the one in your office. She's not as dumb as she looks. The second you left the Fort, she wedged herself next to the water cooler."
    Now Jimmie looked completely shocked.
    "Why, you nasty little thing," Lanna said, more amused than upset. "You were spying on us the whole time, weren't you?"
    "Funny you should mention spying..." Sara began.
    "Jimmie," Lanna cut her off. "This creature of yours is dangerous. There's just no telling what kind of weirdo mutant stuff she can do. I just better not catch any X-rays from her."
    "Don't worry, Lanna," Sara said soothingly. "I'd never use X-rays on you. They're way too dangerous to use around silicon. Makes it explode, you know."
    She looked meaningfully at Lanna's prominent chest. Lanna covered herself with her arms as best she could and kicked Jimmie hard in the shins.
    "Look at the time, honey," she said to Jimmie. "We'd best be going. I'm sure I can think of something better we oughtta be doing, don't you?"
    That pretty much killed the party.

    It was nearly six weeks before Alex and Dinah finally got some kind of response from the little surprise they'd had Sara drop off in front of the Administration Building at NASA's Johnson Space Center, but it wasn't by snail-mail -- as they'd been expecting from carefully tagging Alex's name and address to the Lunar Rover's frame and labeling the video tape.
    A nice-looking man, accompanied by a well-dressed woman, knocked on the door of the 'B' unit one fine morning and introduced themselves as Special Agents Fauxe Moulder and Deena Skelly, FBI.
    Delighted and relieved to finally be getting somewhere, Alex excitedly ushered them into the living room. Dinah wasn't quite so thrilled, especially when the two no-nonsense agents demanded to see Alex's ID.
    They wanted to know if Alex was responsible for someone breaking into a federal facility and illegally dumping junk in a restricted area.
    "Junk?" Alex was flabbergasted.
    Moulder read from his notes, "A stripped-down dune buggy. No license. Inoperable. Four flat tires. Dead battery. Couldn't even be towed. Cost taxpayers $60 to have it hauled off."
    "That wasn't a dune buggy!" said Alex, exasperated. "You didn't recognize it?"
    "I'm just going by the report filed by the security officer on the scene, sir."
    "Security officer?" moaned Alex. "Oh, jeez. Some damned rent-a-cop doesn't know his ass from a Lunar Rover."
    His partner said, "Then it is your responsibility. Your name and address were found on the vehicle, but we had to make sure the prank wasn't meant by the perpetrator to falsely implicate your complicity. Do you deny your involvement?"
    "No, no," said Alex. "But it wasn't a prank. I was trying to get you guys' attention."
    "Yes, sir," said Moulder. "You certainly have it."
    He pulled some official-looking papers from his coat pocket. "I hereby serve you with this summons to appear at the Federal Building downtown at 9:00 am Tuesday so we can continue our investigation and determine if additional charges should be filed. If you fail to appear, a warrant will be issued for your arrest."
    "I'm his attorney," Dinah said, reaching for the papers. "I'll take that."
    "And you are...?" Skelly asked her.
    Dinah pulled out a card and handed it to her.
    "Then these papers are for you," she said, handing Dinah another set. Dinah read them quickly.
    "Harrassment?"
    "Yes, ma'am. Your letters about some kind of 'extraterrestrial' artifact. Normally, we don't pay much attention to, ah, this kind of thing, but when we matched you to your accomplice's prank, that was the basis for determining there were sufficient grounds to investigate the nature of your apparent conspiracy."
    Alex started to laugh, but Dinah caught his eye and shook her head slightly. He mouthed, "Sara?" She shook her head again, then turned to the agents before Alex could think of anything else stupid.
    "We'll be there."
    "Thank you ma'am, sir. Have a nice day." As they got in their car, Alex could hear Skelly laugh as Moulder circled his finger around his head and made UFO noises.

    The Lunar Rover was in a pretty sorry state. The years exposed to the extreme environment had taken a toll, adding heat/cold stress to the pounding it had taken from the LEM's ascent blast and a steady shower of solar radiation.
    Sara had tried to be very careful, but she had become a little impatient with her slow, slow descent through the atmosphere above Houston. And, like the cement truck, it had never been designed to accommodate such unusual stresses. A year in Jimmie's warehouse with boxes stacked on it hadn't helped, either.
    By the time Sara had made her delivery -- in a rainstorm -- tattered Mylar hung forlornly from a warped and woebegone frame. The seat webs had disintegrated and the makeshift fender the astronauts had improvised from a map and duct tape didn't help the overall picture. The wire mesh tires were designed for one-sixth of Earth's gravity and were completely flattened.
    Still, the junk dealer recognized what it was supposed to be, figuring it for a cast-off from a Space Center Houston attraction. He sold it for some decent money to Uncle Billy's Traveling Show and Carnival Attractions.
    Uncle Billy fixed it up, substituting some nearly bald 'Stones for the tires and fastening some silver spray-painted lawn chairs to the chassis. For years, kids of all ages around the country had their pictures taken on the 'Genuine Lunar Exploration Buggy!' for only $4.00. When one of those kids grew up, she went to the moon herself and discovered that the Lunar Rover was missing from the historic Apollo landing site.
    It was eventually abandoned somewhere in Kansas.

    It wasn't easy to get an appointment to see Dan Silvers, the Director of NASA, not even for the two excited FBI Special Agents. Especially for these particular agents, considering their reputations. Strange phenomonon that defied rational explanation was the stuff of their regular beat. They always wound up with the assignments nobody else would waste any time on -- the nutcases, the fruitcakes, the 'why' files. For years, they had been the butt of Bureau jokes about Little Green Men and Things That Go Bump In the Night.
    But this time they were unusually persistent. They'd stumbled across something that they would only discuss with the Director himself. He avoided them as long as possible, but finally gave them a half-hour between budget meetings when their uncharacteristically agitated boss called him personally.
    They didn't come alone. With them was a vaguely familiar man (whom he might have recognized -- if Alex had been wearing a tuxedo and holding a bass guitar -- from various functions and galas in the Houston area the Director was expected to attend), a tall, raven-haired woman with a powerful physique and an expression of grim determination that would scare the makeup off a professional wrestler, and a charming little blond girl in jeans and a tee-shirt flashing an infectiously joyous smile.
    The agents' report was terse and brief. They'd been conducting a routine investigation concerning a break-in at JSC and had summoned the man and woman -- whom they introduced as Mr. Luther and Ms. Prinze -- to the Federal Building downtown. They had brought the young lady, named Sara, with them. Evidently, their visit had occasioned the mysterious panic and near-riot the Director remembered hearing about recently. Details had not been reported in the Chronicle.
    Moulder and Skelly turned the floor over to Mr. Luther.
    Alex got right to it. "A little over three years ago, I discovered an artifact that was undoubtedly created by a technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilization. There were no accompanying documents, instructions or clues or any kind of return address, and the location and motivations of the senders are a complete mystery to this day. It seems only natural to me and my colleagues that such a discovery should come to the attention of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration."
    "I see," said Silvers, looking at the two FBI agents with undisguised annoyance. "An artifact."
    "Uh-huh," said Alex.
    "Made by aliens from outer space."
    "Absolutely."
    The Director looked at his watch. "And how were you able to determine this?"
    "Well," Alex replied, "It's pretty obvious, actually. Didn't take too long to convince them," he nodded at the agents.
    "Oh, I'm sure," said the Director.
    Alex turned to the girl and told her, "It's show time."
    Sara did her free-fall routine, floating around the office like she was on an orbiting space shuttle. She lightly pushed off from the walls and ceiling, twisting and tumbling like a veteran astronaut. Even her hair looked like it was in zero gravity.
    The Director kept his cool, but he was obviously impressed. He got up and approached Sara as she floated upside down near the window, looking above and below her to see if he could figure out where the wires were. He reached out tenatively to touch her shoulder and she drifted away at the slight pressure.
    Alex intercepted her and spun her around like a top. She eventually stopped spinning when she bumped into the desk. He told her, "That oughtta do it. Thanks." She sat in her chair, back to normal.
    The Director just stared at Sara for a while. Finally, he said, "That was quite a demonstration. I must admit I have no idea how you did that. With your alien artifact, I presume. What is it, an anti-gravity belt?"
    "Not exactly," said Alex.
    "Well, you must have it with you."
    "Sure."
    The Director was still watching Sara closely, as if she might float away. He prompted, "You are going to show it to me, aren't you?"
    "You're looking at her," Alex said. He timed it like a veteran stand-up comedian before adding, "Sara is the alien artifact."
    The Director didn't get his gig because he was a dummy. "You're saying she's an artificial life form of some kind?"
    "Close enough. Does a lot more than float around the room, too."
    Sara told him how much change he had in his pocket. He checked and she was right. Then she asked him to flip one of his coins in the air -- but not try to catch it. He did, there was a flash of light and sparks, and when the quarter came to a still-smoking stop on his desktop, there was a neat little hole through it. She took it and the rest of his change and casually squeezed the coins into a little ball of hot metal.
    She asked him to take his scientific calculator out of his top right desk drawer (mentioning, incidentally, that the batteries were a little low) and told him to enter any kind of problem he wanted or even just hit a bunch of keys and functions at random as fast as he could. Though she couldn't see the keys, she started rattling off the results before his finger could hit the equals button.
    Alex explained, "As far as we can tell, she is basically one hell of an advanced computer in a strong, bulletproof, flying case. There's so much more, but I see we're nearly out of time."
    Nothing doing. Silvers was fascinated. He told his secretary to cancel everything. He also told her, "Find out who the senior doctor is that's on duty right now, and get him on the phone as quickly as possible. And send that security guard in the lobby up here right away."
    He sent Sara with the guard, Dinah and Skelly to the Medical Building, and told Dr. Belloes to drop whatever he was doing and give the girl he was sending over a complete physical examination immediately and report back to him as soon as possible, without waiting for the lab reports.
    Belloes told him, "But I'm a psychiatrist, my dear fellow. I'll see if Dr. Smith is available. He's much more suitable..."
    "You're an MD, doctor, and I'm sure you'll do a fine job. Just do it yourself. I don't want anybody else to know about this, understand?"
    "I am scheduled to start a session with Captain Neilson in a few minutes."
    "I don't care who it is."
    "Captain Anthony Neilson. Surely you remember. The one who landed on the desert island. Hasn't been the same since. There's something quite peculiar about Captain Nielson, and I'm very close to getting to the bottom of it. You may find this hard to believe, but I..."
    "Doctor, I know all about your obsession with Captain Neilson. And the bottle he found. Tell him to put a cork in it and wait. She should be there any second and I want you to start immediately. I mean it."
    "Really," protested the doctor, "I don't understand..."
    "Exactly. Just do it. I want you to check out every square inch of her, look for any identifying marks, let me know if there's anything -- anything -- unusual about her. As soon as you're done, send her back and call me."
    The doctor wasn't happy, but he'd do it. Silvers forgot about him immediately as Alex recounted the whole tale of how Sara thawed out on his carpet, how she had 'grown up' so quickly, about kreening and the seemingly endless list of impossible things she could do.
    It didn't seem long at all before Dr. Belloes called back.
    "There is absolutely nothing wrong with her. I've never examined a healthier specimen. Not a single mark or blemish on her." There was a slight pause. "Which," the doctor went on, "is unusual itself, now that I think of it. Not a single imperfection. Hmm... Oh -- and one other thing. I couldn't get a blood sample. As you know, I'm a psychiatrist, so I'm not particularly good with a needle. You said to not wait for the lab reports or tell anyone else, so I..."
    "As far as you could tell, she's a normal human being, right?"
    "Well, I would assume she's human. Wait a minute," he paused. "Her name wouldn't be 'Jeannie', would it?"
    "Thank you, doctor. I'll get back to you. And not a word of this to anyone, under any circumstances. Not one." He hung up. The little party was ushered in by the Security Officer a few minutes later.
    Alex more or less concluded his presentation by stressing how little information about her creators Sara was able to give them. The Director leaned back in his chair for a long while, alternately studying Sara and staring at the ceiling.
    "I don't know what to say," he finally told them. "First Contact with another intelligent species has been the subject of intense speculation for as long as mankind has known that there are other planets out there. I've always wondered what it would be like to be running this agency when SETI turned up something, or maybe Hubble, or some kind of mothership showed up in orbit some day."
    He looked at Moulder and Skelly. "I guess you were right all along about the truth being 'out there', only now it's in here. And she doesn't know what the truth really is. How ironic."
    He turned back to Alex. "And you're convinced she doesn't know anything about her origins?"
    "We've had a pretty darned good computer expert trying to sorta hack into her 'operating system', with her cooperation. I've tried a few experiments myself, but with limited resources. She's perfectly willing to let NASA take a crack at her."
    Dinah spoke up, "With certain limitations for her protection. I've prepared a contract protecting her rights as a sentient being. She is not to be considered to be property and will not be deprived of her freedom. We're not in any way representing that she is a found object that is subject to seizure by any government entity."
    "I understand," said Silvers. "If everything you say is true, it doesn't look like she has anything to worry about in that regard."
    "I can personally testify to that," said Moulder. "We've kept the details out of the news so far, but when we attempted to incarcerate Mr. Luther over a little misunderstanding arising during our interview, she disarmed everybody on the third floor of the Federal Building."
    Skelly added, "And immobilized every male law enforcement officer present by yanking their pants down around their ankles, which she secured with their own handcuffs, daisy-chaining everybody together in the process."
    "Under the circumstances," Moulder said, "We negotiated a settlement that involved dropping all charges resulting from the incident. With -- as far as we're concerned -- no hard feelings." He smiled at Sara, who smiled back.
    Skully added, "The officers involved are understandably reluctant to relate the details of the situation to anyone. Not many of them even understand what happened or why, since it only took her a few seconds."
    "I can imagine," said Silvers, biting his lip to keep from laughing at his mental picture of dozens of serious cops hooked together like so many fish, trying to untangle their trousers from their own handcuffs. It was difficult to imagine the geometry of it all. "I will personally see to it that the Agency treats her with the utmost respect."
    He continued, "As to what it is that NASA can do about this little alien invasion, I don't really know. We're a pretty tightly bugeted agency right now. There are no approprations targeted for the actual study of extraterrestrial life, no staffing, no department, no organization. It might be a year or more before we could get something through Congress. And even then, it would probably just be an authorization to conduct a study to make recommendations."
    "You've got to be kidding!" said Alex. "What about your 'five year mission to explore strange new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before'?"
    "I think you've got us mixed up with someone else," Silvers said. "Our mission is to assemble engineering, technology and personnel resources to accomplish goals and objectives mandated by certain acts of Congress. All projects must be specifically funded. I wouldn't even know how to describe what we could hope to do with Sara."
    Alex just looked at the Director for a while, then said, "I guess I need to put this in a little better perspective. Sara can fly fast enough to shred any normal clothing, so her makers thoughtfully provided her with an emsemble that's as indestructable as she is. One that at least tells us that 'they' have a sense of humor."
    He opened his briefcase and pulled out Sara's neatly folded uniform, the bright symbol clearly visible on top. "She was wearing this when she thawed out. It kinda sums everything up about her."
    Silvers looked at it like it was an insult. "Oh, I can just imagine showing this to Senator Gramm."
    "It might not be so bad if she was in it," Alex replied. "I had to show you that so you'll understand this."
    He reached into his briefcase and pulled out three small bottles filled with what looked like dirt. He set the first one down on the desk in front of the Director and said, "The Moon." The second one he identified as, "Mars," and the third one as, "Venus".
    "Don't open that one," said Sara. "It really stinks."
    Silvers looked as if he had been poleaxed. After a while, he even looked as if he might cry. He carefully picked up each bottle to peer at the precious contents they contained, then put them back on his desk and leaned way back in his chair.
    He told them, "Billions of dollars. All that talent, the sacrifices, careers and lost lives. Getting a little bit of soil from the Moon was the great accomplishment of our nation -- of our whole planet -- in the Twentieth Century. The things we learned along the way, the changes in our lives, the drama and poetry of doing the nearly impossible..."
    He went on, sadly, "Getting someone to Mars for another few specks of dust would have been the next major milestone for our whole species. I guess now we may never know what we might have learned from what it takes to make that trip. The dreams of whole generations of humans lie shattered at your feet, young lady. Do you realize that?"
    Sara said, "It doesn't have to be that way. I can help."
    "That's precisely the problem. Your help invalidates the whole process. It's not so much getting to Mars that's so important, or even what we learn there. It's how we get there, how determined we are to overcome incredible obstacles and commit the utmost that we can to fulfilling our own destinies that's important to us as a species in search of our own limits -- and hoping there are none."
    The others were silent.
    "So, OK," Silvers eventually said, sounding more positive. "The new future starts today. I'll get a group of people together to study what we can and see what we can learn. I don't think I'll have too much difficulty getting a few people to take a sabbatical to study an alien that seems to break every law of physics we thought we knew. The problem will be getting them to keep their mouths shut so we don't get overrun by a screaming horde of scientists eager to get their instruments on her."
    "Sounds like a plan to me," said Alex. "When do you want to start?"
    "How about tomorrow afternoon?" he replied. "I'll have some of my people get started so we can at least figure out who we need to have on the team."
    Sara said, "I'll be there!"


Chapter Twenty-four: Setup


Table of Contents

Patrick Hill, 2000