Copyright© 2015 by Gordon Johnson
"Indeed so, Margo. They are more reliable than any human I have met. They have a rigid sense of propriety, and stick to it. You may not realise it, but they are into big business on Earth, and are worth a fortune. For example, they run an audit service for most of the big companies, and are great at the job."
Margo was suddenly interrupted by a store employee. "Pardon, ma'am, but you are causing a slight obstruction to other shoppers. Would you mind moving, please?"
"Oh, sorry. I'll move to a better spot and finish my important call." She was aware that Jeannette could hear this discussion, and held her phone with one hand while pushing the trolley with the other. Thank goodness the wheels were not sticking as they sometimes did.
At last she found a spot out of the way. "Sorry about that, Jeannette. Shopping is a great American sport."
"It is. Look, if you have a good stretch of water somewhere near, that would be a good pickup point for The Personalia."
"Water? Around here? No way! It is mostly desert."
"Well, if there was a flat area of desert, that would suit them instead."
"There is flat desert on three sides of this town, Jeannette. How would they know where I was?"
"I expect they would be able to home in on your phone signal. As long as there is a rough time and place for you to be available, that would suffice. When you get to the pickup point, switch on your phone and phone this number. That signal will give them your exact location, to meet you."
"Jeannette, you will take my girls too, won't you?"
"Of course, dear girl. That is a given. Night time is best for a pickup. What would suit you? You must bring all your essentials in a suitcase or similar bag. You can get everything else you need here, afterwards."
"What about my investments?"
"They can stay as they are. You just notify them of a change of residence, and for any income, you can have that paid into the Bank of Rehome."
"You have a bank in your colony, already?"
"This place has been up and running for a few years, Margo, and has railways, new settlements, several cities, and its own newspaper as well. You would not believe this place: it is so nice. You can get a free tract of land as a new settler."
"Jeannette, you have sold me. Can we make it tomorrow night, around midnight? I need to work out how to get out without Lorenzo knowing what is going on. When I am on my way, I'll ring you to confirm."
"Sounds fine to me, dear. I'll pass on the details to our friends in orbit."
Margo thought things were going well until her eldest, Anita, asked her at mealtime, "When we go visit Jeannette, Mummy?"
Lorenzo picked up on this. He swallowed his mouthful of pasta, and asked, "Who is Jeannette?"
"Oh, she is a girl friend from years back, when we were both in the army. She wants me to visit her. I said I would think about it."
Anita looked from her mother to her father, puzzled, then forgot about it. Life was full of puzzles for a two-year-old.
Lorenzo decided to make an announcement. "Margo, the boys have a poker night fixed for tonight, so I don't know when I'll be home. It may be two or three in the morning, so don't fret if you don't see me. Have you got a few bucks you can lend me?"
Margo sighed, and looked as if she was thinking about it. "I can give you a twenty, but I need it back in time to pay the rent. Promise me?"
"I promise, doll. It will be back in time, and with a bit of luck, you'll have it in the morning."
"Okay, Lorenzo. Be careful in your gambling, will you?"
"Sure, doll. You know me; I'll be fine."
Margo went to her purse and fetched the twenty. He took it and kissed her forehead. "You are a great wife, Margo."
She accepted this as the meaningless gesture it was, and responded accordingly.
"Love you, Lorenzo."
He left at eight o'clock, dressed in his "lucky" pants, with the extra pocket for his winnings. Margo saw him out, then went to complete her packing. By nine p.m. she was ready except for toiletries for herself and the girls. That was soon done.
Next she got the girls back out of their cots, and dressed them for outdoors. Anita sleepily asked what was happening, so she said, "Mama has to go out and can't leave you alone, so you are coming with me." She accepted this logic happily, and went back to snoozing. Baby Carina just slept wherever she was comfortable, as long as she had a clean diaper.
Having checked the bus timetables, and made sure she had her phone handy. She grabbed her case in one hand, slung Carina up in her front papoose carrier, and ushered sleepy Anita out the house door so she could lock it.
Now she took Anita by the hand and headed for the bus stop. Standing there, she got her phone out and rang Jeannette, reporting that she was on her way to the rendezvous. The bus she wanted was on time. She boarded, paying for the stop beyond where she wanted off, as a precaution, and sat down almost behind the driver, as there were plenty of vacant seats. Most night riders seemed to prefer the back seats. In the quietness of the dark night, she fought to stay completely alert, counting off the stops until she knew she wanted off before the next official one.
There were few passengers aboard, so she just called to the driver in front of her, "Can you drop me somewhere about here, sir? Someone is going to pick me up."
The driver was puzzled. Stop in the middle of nowhere, in a flat desert landscape? Still, customers should know what they are doing. "Of course, little lady." So he drew up and helped her off with her case while she carried the girls. She thanked him for his courtesy, and he drove off, feeling glad he was appreciated.
Checking the time, she noted that it was after half past eleven, so she opened her phone and sent off her call to Rehome. Getting through, she simply said, "Margo. I am ready for the pickup at midnight. I'll leave the line open."
Unsure which side of the road her transport was to land on, she stood beside the road, amazed at the stillness of the desert at this hour. With few vehicles traveling, it was solidly dark. There was no moon to speak of, just a sliver of silver showing between the slow-moving clouds. Fortunately it was a calm night, with no wind.
She was getting tired standing, and was about to sit down on the ground when she heard an odd whistling sound. It was just within hearing, but as she looked in the direction of the noise, it died away. Instead, she saw a faint glow at one spot in the sky, apparently coming towards her, then it too faded away to blackness.
Peculiarly, the blackness began to take on a shape in the distance. The black shape in the slightly lighter shade of sky began to become larger, until she saw this thing like a giant black bat swooping down on her.
She realised it was almost midnight, and that this giant craft was coming down; coming solely to collect HER! This made her feel important for the first time I her life. It slowed as it approached, and she became aware that she was on the correct side of the road to get to it.
A car was passing, heading in the same direction as the craft, so the driver went on without seeing anything except a person standing at the side of the road. The flash of the headlights glared at her as they passed, and by the time she could see clearly again, the black shape had drifted over towards her.
A new light appeared, as a hatch opened high up in the side of the craft. A figure climbed out and down a set of what must be rungs to ground level. A man's voice said, "Margo?"
She replied, "Yes."
"I am Tom, here to help you board. Give me your case first." She handed it over and he fastened it to a cable or something that was hanging down from the hatch. The case swiftly went up to the hatch and inside. Tom took Anita and put her in a baby harness which he lifted on to his back. That allowed him to climb the rungs with ease. Margo quickly followed, with Carina securely in her front sling. Marg surprised herself with the ease with which she climbed the rungs. It was a technique she had not used for years, since her army days.
Reaching the hatch, Tom was there to give her a hand to get inside, though there had been an extra rung inside for her to get a grip of as she entered. She stood and as she held onto the helpful man, the hatch noiselessly closed just as it was lit by another car's headlights.
Outside, the driver was astonished at seeing a huge machine sitting quietly at the side of the road. He decided to stop and see what it did. It was a waste of his time, for while he was stopping, the machine drifted away from the road, apparently weightless despite being so large. It vanished into the blackness of the desert night.
He thought to turn the car, to shine his headlights in the direction it had gone, but while he was in the process of doing that without making himself an obstacle on the other side of the road, the night was lit up by what was obviously a rocket motor. The light was followed shortly by the noise; a terrible racket in itself, headed away from the road, and seconds later rose up into the sky.
Then it was gone. The night swallowed whatever contrail it had left, and the clouds closed behind the fiery trail of its exhaust.
The lone driver was left wondering, should I report this? A huge black machine appearing in the empty desert, then taking off again, for no obvious reason. Yeah, that would get him breath tested for sobriety. Life could be much simpler if he just forgot it.
So did just that, except as a story to tell at parties. "The mysterious affair in the desert" got him a hearing of sorts, but no belief in its veracity, except among UFO nuts.
Margo, aboard a massive machine that was rushing her up to the sky, sat rigid in her seat, watching as the man beside her transferred her elder daughter from the harness round to his lap. Despite the handling, Anita had gone back to sleep. It was long past her bedtime, and the man's hand seemed to be loving hands. She waited while the journey proceeded.
The machine had now arrived somewhere, for the hatch opened again, this time with a way into another machine. Tom escorted Margo through, as he carried sleeping Anita in his arms.
They now had to sit in a line of seats, which then acted like a train and moved them into and through a long tunnel which seemed to go on for ever, until they arrived in an other room with lots of empty seats fixed to the floor.
Tom said, "Just take a seat, Margo. You are inside a spaceship which will take us to another planet in a few minutes, once we get far enough away from Earth.
"While we wait for that to happen, let me properly introduce myself. My name is Tom Pfeiffer and I am a newspaper editor at the human colony on the planet Rehome. Jeannette is staying with me and my wife for the present, so we shall take you to meet her first."
Margo was amazed. "I am surprised to find such normal people caught up in spaceships and aliens. I expected weirder characters to be involved with such things."
"So you think YOU are weird, do you?" said Tom.
"No, of course not."
"Why? You gave birth to an alien child, so you were dealing with such things. Either you are weird, or we are all normal people dealing with abnormal situations."
"I get you, Tom. We are ALL normal people caught up in a complicated life, nothing more."
"Nothing more, Margo. I presume there was something not quite normal about your husband, that you were willing to leave him behind."
"True. True. Lorenzo can be a charming man when he wants to get you into bed, and good in bed as well, but he is basically a slacker. He works enough at his plumbing job to earn a decent wage, but his aim in life is what is good for Lorenzo, rather than other people. His own comfort comes first. I suppose there are many people with that attitude. It is just unfortunate that I had to marry one.
"Anyway, I have decided that my girls will grow up much nicer people without him around as an example. The US army taught me to keep things to myself, and not volunteer anything about myself. Lorenzo never knew I had a lot of money stashed away in government securities, and he never will. My girls will get the benefit of it; that is my aim in life."
Tom was intrigued at this. "Don't you want to do anything with your life, other than bring up your daughters?"