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
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.
I guess," she said. "You know what you're doing?"
he smiled convincingly. "She's a wonderful woman,"
stressing the last word more than slightly.
"Seems a bit
"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
"I don't plan to
get to know her as well as that."
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.
"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."
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."
she said. "I got over it."
Jimmie blinked at her
a couple of times. He didn't particularly look relieved.
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
"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
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.
regrets," he said. "I guess it was meant to be.
Probably why I hired her in the first place."
Jimmie, "We can still do stuff together? Like in the
"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..."
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
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.
honey," Lanna said ever-so-sweetly, "From what I saw,
you wern't doing anything I'd call 'technical' in your little
Jimmie looked slightly
shocked. "From what you saw...?"
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
"Why, you nasty
little thing," Lanna said, more amused than upset. "You were spying on us the whole time, weren't
"Funny you should
mention spying..." Sara began.
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."
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."
meaningfully at Lanna's prominent chest. Lanna covered herself
with her arms as best she could and kicked Jimmie hard in the
"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.
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
"I'm just going
by the report filed by the security officer on the scene,
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?"
said Alex. "But it wasn't a prank. I was trying to get you
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."
attorney," Dinah said, reaching for the papers. "I'll
"And you are...?" Skelly asked her.
Dinah pulled out a
card and handed it to her.
papers are for you," she said, handing Dinah another set.
Dinah read them quickly.
"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.
"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
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
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.
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
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."
said Silvers, looking at the two FBI agents with undisguised
annoyance. "An artifact."
"Made by aliens
from outer space."
The Director looked at
his watch. "And how were you able to determine this?"
replied, "It's pretty obvious, actually. Didn't take too
long to convince them," he nodded at the agents.
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
exactly," said Alex.
"Well, you must
have it with you."
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?"
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?"
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.
"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
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
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
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."
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.
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?"
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
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
"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
understand," said Silvers. "If everything you say is
true, it doesn't look like she has anything to worry about in
"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
"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."
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.
"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
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
"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
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,
"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
Sara said, "It
doesn't have to be that way. I can help."
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
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
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
Chapter Twenty-four: Setup
Patrick Hill, 2000