Thursday, February 12, 2009

Stuart Sees A Spaceship

It’s halfway through the work week and my writer thought you might like to take a break from my philosophy and read one of the scenes she wrote for Undercover Alien which wasn't used in the final manuscript.

For anyone not yet familiar with my story, Stuart Kellerman was the bane of Hannah Morgan's existence, and didn’t make my job easier, either. Stuart was a tabloid reporter who had once used Hannah to try to get a story. After I'd failed to convince Hannah I wanted to use her for a much greater purpose, Stuart had the misfortune of spying on me while I caught a ride home in my friend Brost’s spaceship. Fortunately, Brost’s ship was cloaked at the time, so Stuart had no photographic proof. He did come away with a bump on the head and what looked like a nasty sunburn, but that’s what a spy gets for straying too close to a lift-off.

Not realizing Stuart had spotted us, Brost and I went back to my home, where I busied myself planning my next move and arguing with Brost over just what that move should be. Brost, like Hannah, is an opinionated sort. Did I mention he’s also small – less than three feet tall – and blue? At any rate, Stuart had the gall to sneak into my estate and try to catch me being an alien.

As if I would be that obvious…

This has to be the place.

Stuart’s heart raced as he steered the rental to the side of the narrow country road and stared across at the wrought-iron gate blocking the entrance. Beyond the gate, a graveled drive cut a long swath through dense pine forest before disappearing around a bend. At the end of the drive, he would find the home of the reclusive Gideon Cyrus.

He’d hit the jackpot with his call to the flunky who manned the all-night news desk at his paper. The guy had found this address, along with confirmation that Cyrus owned not only this estate, but a station in Australia, a dozen or so expensive homes and condos in various jet-setting hotspots around the world, and a private island in the Caribbean. Cyrus might have gone somewhere else, or left Earth entirely, considering his mode of transportation. But Stuart had a hunch he'd stick as close as he could to Hannah. The alien had a thing for her. Go figure.

The street address he’d been given had been less than useful in this area of largely unmarked, private estates. He’d taken so many wrong turns he’d lost count, until he’d thought to buy a round of beer in at an icehouse in the last no-name town. Someone would always dish the dirt on the richest guy in the area.

According to a local redneck, Cyrus was a nice enough guy but rarely seen in town. He treated his staff fairly and chipped in generously when asked to support the local Little League team or the volunteer fire department. Stuart had posed as contractor on his way to give Cyrus a bid on home improvements, which turned out to be a fortuitous disguise since Cyrus apparently used a lot of contractors, especially electricians.

He steered the car back up on to the road and cruised slowly past again. At least a mile of ten-foot-high brick wall, its top clean of the barbed or razor wire often used to discourage intruders, formed this border of the estate. There had to be sensors of some kind, though. Nobody rich lived without security.

Unless aliens didn’t worry about mere burglars. Making a u-turn, he passed the gate and continued several hundred feet to a dirt road that branched off on the opposite side. He drove the rental far enough back to hide it from the view of passing vehicles, grabbed his backpack and walked back toward the entrance. The gate was electronically controlled, the box with the mechanics inconveniently placed inside the fence. He was trying to think of a way to get in when he spotted the pedestrian entrance. Made to look like a part of the main gate, the design of the smaller gate blended in almost perfectly. It had a normal key lock rather than an electronic control.

He let out his held breath, blood pounding in his ears. This is it. If there were cameras, someone was watching him now. Or maybe they don’t need cameras. Maybe they’ll just zap me where I stand.

Ten seconds passed. Thirty. At one minute, he took another deep breath and crossed the road. Pulling lock picks from his backpack, he went to work. He’d learned the skill years before while doing research for a story. It had gained him entrance into more than one place someone hadn’t wanted him to be.

He slipped through the open gate with his heart in his throat and quickly left the gravel drive for the relative cover of the trees lining both sides of the private road. Hiding behind a large pine, he waited another agonizing minute, listening for an alarm, a car racing up the drive from the direction the house, sirens in the distance.

When nothing happened, he slung his backpack over one shoulder and followed the drive toward the house keeping to the edge so he could jump into the concealing woods at a moment’s notice. Every time his foot disturbed a pebble, or some small animal rustled through the canopy above, he jumped.

Then, rounding the second turn, he saw the house. Built of white stone, it dominated the top of a wide, sloping clearing, its three stories gleaming against the deep emerald forest to its rear. The front windows were dark, but he wouldn't try to go into the house itself. He only wanted to sneak a few photographs of the alien and his ship, then get away as fast as he could. Now that he knew Cyrus was more than just a spoiled billionaire, he never wanted to meet him again, face-to-face.
Keeping to the protection of the woods, he moved toward the rear of the house, which was as fancy as the front. In front of him a cabana as big as his apartment stood perpendicular to the house. Across a broad expanse of flagstone surrounding a swimming pool, a glass-roofed sunroom jutted out from the opposite side. Beyond it all, a tamed riot of landscaping segued into the forest.

With the onset of dusk, several low wattage landscape lights had blinked on, but they were no match for the light spilling from the sunroom. He squinted against the glare for several minutes, thinking he saw something go by the waist-high windows, but after several minutes of seeing nothing move, he decided it had just been his imagination.

On the second floor, the only light seemed to come from a lamp on a table near a single window. Just then, someone walked between the light and the window, and stood as if staring out into the night.

Cyrus. “Gotcha,” Stuart whispered, even as he drew back further into the shadows. He didn’t think he could be seen from inside the house, but no point in taking chances. His hands were shaking as he aimed the camera at the window. What would an alien do when he thought he was unobserved?

Cyrus leaned over and turned off the light.

Well, hell. He waited a moment more, but when it looked like Gideon wasn't going to come back downstairs, he decided he might as well look around. The ship had to be somewhere on the grounds. Why else would Cyrus want to live in the middle of a frigging forest? Of course, it might be invisible like before, but he knew what to look for now. A clearing, with crushed vegetation in the center. And who knows, he could get lucky.

Exchanging the camera for a flashlight, figuring he could use it once he was out of sight of the house, he scanned the edge of the terrace for a path into the woods. It didn’t take long to find. After the first turn, he switched on the light. Then he turnd a curve, saw something large and shadowy ahead beyond the range of the light, and slowed cautiously. Whatever it was, it sure wasn't cloaked, but it might be booby-trapped. He wouldn’t put anything past an alien, especially a sneaky one like Gideon Cyrus.

When he got close enough to make out the details, he snorted in disgust. Figures. He stomped up the steps of the wooden gazebo, but it didn't hold anything except bare benches along a low railing and a puny fake fireplace in the center. The night desk guy had relayed some of Cyrus’s reputation with women, so chances were he didn’t use this place for meditation.

He almost snorted again at his own joke, before realizing the alien might have taken Hannah somewhere like this in order to seduce her. He had a brief vision of her lounging seductively on one of the rustic benches and dismissed it with a shrug. He’d never seen her naked, much less doing anything remotely seductive. Hell, she’d never let her hair down the entire time he’d dated her. Probably just as well. No woman would wear those baggy, unattractive clothes if she had a real figure to show off.

So why did it irritate him he’d never had a chance to find out?
Preoccupied, he’d already started to retrace his steps, when he realized the woods were no longer quiet. A low, steady thrum vibrated the boards beneath his feet, making the hairs rise on the back of his neck.
It was the sound he’d heard when Cyrus had approached the phantom ship. Holding his breath, he spun slowly in place and tried to locate the source.
Over there. On the other side of the gazebo, a path led further into the woods. This one was less traveled and he had to brush aside the occasional branch and step over roots as he followed the twists and turns.

The pulsing grew steadily louder.

When he could see a light shining through the trees, he switched off his flashlight. Adrenalin surged as he slipped the camera from his pocket. He’d take some photos now, then hide in the forest and wait for Cyrus’s return.

It’s real. It’s real and I’ll have the proof.

I’m going to be famous!

Then he rounded the final corner, and there it was.

The egg-shaped ship rose more than two stories in height and was supported by three girder-like legs. The light came from a narrow opening around its middle. Angled downward and pulsing gently, it cast a soft glow that filled the clearing.

A mosquito flying into his open mouth reminded Stuart why he was there. He spat and rubbed his face with not-quite-steady hands, then aimed the camera. Muttering to himself, he jerked his gaze away from the ship to stare at the screen. “Maybe if I angle this way…” Stepping backwards, dodging sideways to avoid a tree, he tried to get a shot that included the whole ship. He had to take two more steps, and when he came up against something too short to be a tree, he absently reached back with his hand to shove it aside.

It shoved back.

“Arghh!” Pivoting, he tripped over a root and sat down hard, the flashlight jabbing him in one hip. Reflexively he rolled the other direction and the camera slipped from his grasp.

He lunged for it, but not fast enough.

A small but sturdy toddler-sized boot slammed down on the camera, grinding it into the dirt.
Stuart rolled to his knees, prepared to chew out somebody’s irritating little brat.

And stared straight into glittering turquoise eyes.

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