Copyright© 2015 by Gordon Johnson
"I expect you are correct. So that if the story appeared in your paper, that would be acceptable to the authorities here?"
"Unfortunately, not so, lady. You would still be bound by the agreement you signed, as long as you remain within their boundaries."
"Even though the events happened in the USA?"
"I would expect that to be the case, Mrs Reagan. Anywhere on Earth, you are liable to be facing these restrictions. Most governments have reciprocal agreements over many similar matters. It suits them on both sides. Your safest solution would be to move to one of the human colonies: Rehome, New Eden, Old Craters, and so on. Are you free to move?"
"I probably am, with Tom dead. There is nothing here to keep me, but I have not had any thought of moving to a colony. Are things not very basic there?"
"Surprisingly not. At the start, any colony is very basic, but with modern technology it is amazing how quickly standard amenities get installed and come into operation. Here on Rehome we struck lucky: six cities had been built by aliens who came here first, but they got a fright and abandoned the planet. We were the beneficiaries, and merely had to adapt the place to suit human requirements. That kept plumbers and carpenters busy for quite a while!"
"Tom, if I tried to leave, would the authorities here prevent me from going? They must have a record saying something about my secret mission, and so someone to keep a eye open for."
"That would appear a logical assumption, Mrs Reagan. Allow me to make some enquiries, and we may be able to have you picked up unofficially. I take it this is your personal phone, so I can catch you at any time?"
"It is. Should I just wait to hear from you? Will it be a few days, or longer?"
"If we are fortunate, lady, it may be mere hours before I call back. I need to get a friend to speak to some friends of his."
"It must be nice to have so many friends, Tom."
"It is. This one got me my present job, so he is someone special to me and my family."
They concluded their talk, as Tom had things to do, and she shut her phone. It was still early evening, so what if he rang her in the middle of the night? Who knew what time it was on Rehome? She sighed, accepting that life could become complicated again.
The call came near midnight, and it was a stranger's voice. She thought at first it was the authorities, about to warn her off, but the voice was more gentle in tone.
"Mrs Jeanette Reagan? Please state your current address, for identification purposes."
"Oh. The Acacias, Old Church Lane, Fylingthorpe, Yorkshire."
"Thank you. Confirmed. Can you get to West Cliff beach, Whitby, with relative ease at night?"
"What? Tonight? It is midnight here!"
"We are aware of that. Could you be at the specified site at 3 a.m., with a suitcase or rucksack as your total luggage? A second one is permissible, as long as you can carry both with ease. Please note that you should take all essentials, as you are not scheduled to return any time soon."
"Eh ... perhaps ... YES. I will be there. What about my car when I get there?"
"Leave it parked. We will notify the local police that you have disappeared with your car. They will find it, retrieve it, and place it somewhere safe. You can arrange its disposal later. When you get there, walk to the beach with your luggage, and stand on the sand near the water's edge. You will be collected from the sea by a Landership."
"What kind of ship is a Landership? Did you mean a landing craft? Oh, sorry. I have no time to spare. I will be there, and find out for myself. I might look silly, standing on a beach with luggage, but..."
She hurried to collect her jewellery her family photo albums, her few keepsakes: memories of her time in the RAF and her marriage with Tom Reagan. The rest was personal items: toiletries, underwear, swimsuit, dresses, skirts, tops, and a couple of protective hats: decorative hats she was not interested in, nor fancy shoes. All she took were hardwearing brogues and other utilitarian shoes. A few packs of nylons and a couple of silk scarves more or less completed her packing.
She thought she had everything, until she remembered her document case, with birth marriage and death certificates, her RAF records, her school certificates; that sort of records. It was all in the one compact file which fitted into a compartment in the lid of her suitcase. On a whim, she included a small hand torch in her coat pocket, as she intended to wear a coat on the beach: it could be cold at night
She had her important items on her phone: the bank details, and phone numbers for friends. She would phone them after she got to where she was going, to let them know she was safe: if she WAS safe. She still was not certain of that. It all SEEMED to hang together, but weirder things had happened in her life – which was why she was embarking on another weird experience.
Her drive through the night was uneventful. The National Park's protective measures kept the traffic levels low, particularly at night. Nocturnal animals had a better chance of crossing the roads safely. She was carefully watching for deer in particular, but even badgers might appear on the road.
She got to Whitby via Hawsker perfectly safely, and followed her satnav down to the start of the beach. Abandoning her car at the end of the road, she walked in the moonlight onto the sandy beach, feeling very exposed on a beach empty of other people. The sky was clear of clouds, for the moment, making the moonlight seem brighter.
Jeannette looked at her watch. 2.47. She had another ten minutes to boarding what ever a Landership was, and there was nothing in sight, just the dark North Sea, illuminated by moonlight hitting wave tops. Nothing else. There was no ship in sight, except the lights of a cruise liner in the distant horizon. It was heading north, probably to Scandinavia or northern Scotland.
She shivered, standing there, notwithstanding the relatively mild night. There was a faint rumble in the sky, like distant thunder. When she looked up, there was glowing object coming from the southern part of the sky, like a slow meteor, but the glow dimmed as she watched, and she lost sight of it. It was almost as if a meteor had slowed down, and so was no longer glowing from air friction. A weird idea, she thought to herself.
She wondered about the wind noise she was hearing. Previously the wind was not much more than a gentle breeze, typical of many summer nights. The nights seemed to mostly be a calm time at this period of the year, she had noticed.
Then it occurred to her that it was not the noise of the wind she was hearing: it was something rushing through the air, and this was the noise it made. What the heck could be doing that, she thought, wonderingly.
Now she imagined she could see a small black shape in the sky, out to sea, lit by the moonlight. At least, she assumed it to be small, but it grew larger as she watched. She began to be apprehensive as it appeared to be heading straight towards her. At least it was coming down on the sea surface. That would halt it, she decided with relief.
But no! It came down on the waves, but continued its headlong speed towards the beach. She was about to turn and run when she noticed it was not heading directly for her, but to one side. If she stayed still, it should miss her, and hit the beach a hundred yards away.
As she stood, tense, it continued to slow down, getting larger and larger as it careened forward. The thing was immense! She was now rooted to the spot with terror.
The machine, for that was what it now appeared to be, hit the water's edge and slid up the beach at a snail's pace, coming to a stop a hundred yards or so onto the sand. She quickly revised that opinion, for the front may have been well up the sand, but the rear was still at the water's edge.
It stopped, its silent rush halted as it settled on to the sand. It had not been ON the beach: it had been ABOVE the beach, like a hovercraft. Then the silent night was broken as a voice spoke.
"Mrs Jeannette Reagan? If that is you, please come forward to the Landership."
In trepidation, Jeannette crept over towards the huge vessel, whatever it was. As she got close she noticed a hatch open about five meters above the beach, but then ladder rungs appeared out of the hull, each rung illuminated inside the space from which it had emerged.
Accepting that she had to climb up, she rapidly quizzed herself about how she could climb with her suitcase. While she was trying to work out how to use her coat belt to fasten the case to her body, a rope-like cord snaked out of the lock and down to her level. The voice came again: "Fasten your case to this line, Mrs Reagan."
She did so, and as soon as the case was secured, the line retracted to the hatch, leaving her to climb, ungainly and definitely not ladylike, up the rungs. Reaching the top she found another internal rung and pulled her body into the hatch. Having done so, she swung her legs round and inside, completing her uncomfortable entrance. She had probably ruined her tights, she reflected.
The hatch closed swiftly, and her host said, "Please be seated, Mrs Reagan, while we proceed to orbit." She noticed a seat fixed to the floor of the compartment, and scrambled to sit there. There was a standard seatbelt attached, so she click that closed at her waist.
A word had finally penetrated.
"Orbit? Did you say orbit?"
"Correct. I am a Landership, after all. I have just landed from orbit, and as this ship is fuelled sufficient for the return trip, we are about to return to orbit. As you have strapped in, we can proceed."
She could feel vibrations, and guessed that engines had started firing. She looked for her suitcase, and found it strapped to one of the walls of the compartment.
She relaxed, giving herself over to the ship, or whatever it was called. There was nothing she could do to affect what was happening to her. This was reminiscent of her experience in the baby project these years ago, when again she had no control over her life.
She felt pressure building up on her body, as the acceleration made her body feel heavy, but she expected soon that this would lift and she would find herself in weightlessness. She hoped weightlessness would not make her sick.
The G-force eased off after a while, but she did not experience the weightlessness that she expected. Perhaps the ship had not gone into orbit? Might it fall down again and kill her? She began to worry again. The voice made no comment at all at this new situation, and that was more terrifying than what it deigned to tell her earlier.
Just when she thought that all was lost, that her life was over apart from the pain when the ship re-entered atmosphere, the voice spoke again.
"We are in orbit, and about to rendezvous with your interplanetary transport vehicle, Mrs Reagan."
Despite the weirdness of the whole event, she burst out, "Why are we not weightless?"
"Oh, please accept my apologies. I should have told you. One of my abilities is that of artificial gravity provision for my passengers. The same applies to all the ships you will travel aboard, so you will experience normal Earth gravity throughout."
A minute or two later, it announced. "We have now linked to my Base Ship, as it has become known. Treat it as my mother ship, in human terms. It will take you on the next leg of your journey. Thank you for travelling with The Personalia."
Jeannette nearly burst into laughter at this standard human politeness coming from an alien spaceship.
When the hatch opened again, it revealed a passageway into another spaceship, so she collected her suitcase and walked through. When she was inside, the hatch closed behind her and a new voice spoke to her,
"Mrs Reagan. Welcome aboard. If you would care to be seated on the travel unit, it will transfer you to the passenger cabin."
She became aware that a few metres away was what looked like a miniature train such as one found in some parks, only instead of carriages and engine, there was a line of seats, and no rail lines or engine evident. She chose a seat in the middle, as the safest option. As soon as she was seated, the "train" moved off, slowly accelerating as it approached one wall of the compartment.
Thankfully a tunnel opened in front, and her train entered, still accelerating. She gripped the handles on either side of her seat, hanging on in renewed fear. Fortunately the speed lessened off to a manageable rush, but she was astonished at how long it took the little transport machine to get to wherever it was going: the "passenger cabin".
After several minutes the "train slowed down and exited the tunnel into another compartment. This one was much, much larger, and as the train slowed to a halt she noticed that it had row upon row of seats fixed to the floor. Her mind automatically counted the number of rows, then did a quick estimate of how many seats per row; coming up with a ball park figure of around seventy seats.
She remarked to the empty air, "Seventy seats? You can carry seventy passengers at a time?"
"Seventy-two, actually, Mrs Reagan; or may I call you Jeannette? We are geared up for transporting settlers to a new colony on the planet Arborea."
"Arborea? Where's that?"
"Would it make much sense if I gave you a direction in declination and ascension, and a distance in light years?"
"Umm ... no. You are right."
"Shall we just say it is a VERY long way away from here, as light travels, but only a short distance via subspace; a technology you have never heard of?"
"I take your point. It is a great distance away, but easy to get to. Does that sum it up?"
"Now, that was an intelligent response, Jeanette. We will be using subspace to take us to Rehome, so you will be in orbit there very soon."
Jeannette sat there, feeling very alone, not lonely, just left alone. Then she became aware that she needed to use the loo. She dared to ask the alien machine, "Do you have a toilet that I can use, please?"
The voice was sympathetic in tone. "We have made such facilities for humans. The door now opening has your requirements available." She heard a slight noise as a door opened, and she rushed to it, finding a standard human toilet cubicle; standard in every way except the lack of a gap under and over the door. While she was inside, she felt a slight discomfort, nothing to do with her current needs, then it was gone. When she had finished, there was a standard push button to flush the toilet, then she was able to exit the cubicle and return to her seat.
She was hardly seated when the voice announced,
"We are now in orbit around Rehome. Shortly you will return to your point of entry, to move to another Landership for delivery to Metropolis."
"Metropolis? Now you are joking! This is not a Superman comic."
"Metropolis is correct, and the word comes from ancient Greece, NOT from a modern comic book, Mrs Reagan." She noted it had reverted to her formal name, instead of Jeannette. She suspected it was a downgrading of her, in its estimation.
She knuckled under, accepting that Metropolis was the name of the main human city on Rehome, and her destination. She queried, "Is that where I will be met by the Editor of the local newspaper?"
"That was not made clear. Allow me to check on that point."
There was a silence for several minutes, then, "Mr Tom Pfeiffer will be at the beach to meet you, Mrs Jeannette Reagan." She noted there was no mention of the arrival time. Clearly it was something that she did not require to know, in its estimation. She thought differently.
"Ship? I need to know the arrival time, so that I can prepare to meet Mr Pfeiffer."
"You do? In that case, the arrival is scheduled for 11.28 a.m., Rehome time."
The machine was being Bolshie with her. She needed to be more exact in her "asks".
"Please notify me of the time that will elapse from the present moment until I arrive on the beach, by my current time measurement."
"Seventy-seven minutes, Ma'am." Not even her surname, this time. Ho hum...
"Thank you, ship."
"You are welcome, Jeannette." Ah, she had got through, and her rating had improved.