Me and Chuck was in the fort in the back yard playing I Can Take It. I already won the hold-your-breath contest and we was decidin’ whether to use Ma’s straight pins or the matches he’d brought for the next contest when we heard a tank coming up the alley. Through the cattails, we saw a great big green rich guy’s utility thing. Rich Guy parked right behind us and didn’t see us in the stealth edition fort. He got out and took a white garbage bag out the back.
Something in that bag was bawling and clawing and one little paw was waving at us. He threw the bag in the ditch between us and the alley, then hauled ass on out with an awful lot of dust. We forgot all about pins and matches.
The ditch is pretty deep and had a lot of water in it running right quick. If it wasn’t for snakes, I’d have jumped on in anyway, but the bag was done out of sight downstream. Naturally we jumped over the ditch and lit after it.
There was a bunch of sticks across the culvert and an empty white garbage bag. We heard the little fella in the weeds and dropped to our knees so we’d look less scary. In two seconds, he shot out the weeds and knocked me on my back. I pushed him away and sat up. I pulled my t-shirt off to dry my face off.
“Joe, that’s the ugliest damned dog I ever seen in my whole life.” Chuck was standing with his arms crossed, kicking the weirdo dog away. “We need to get us another plastic bag.”
I’m thinking that Slobber just needed a chance to show his value. I put my shirt back on. “Chuck, I gotta keep him, he ain’t garbage and he ain’t that ugly.” He was, but he was sitting at my feet looking up with the most begging brown eyes and I had to say something good.
Slobber was long like a wiener dog, mostly shaggy and had a mashed in face with bottom teeth sticking out, about the size of a long-legged beagle. I tried teaching him fetch, to come when I called his name and to keep him from jumping up to lick my face; I failed at all of it. At the rate he was eating through my allowance, I confess a second thought about keeping him wandered into my mind. When he dug up Ma’s flower bulbs, she went on and on about responsibility and that ten was old enough to control a dog. I had to tie him up but she compromised and started bringing home bags of dogfood, so not a bad trade since he was getting’ bigger fast.
It was raining that day and I knew better than to take the shortcut home from school, but tried jumping the ditch anyway. I slipped and fell back into the water. I was getting pulled downstream, so I grabbed a handful of cattails. Using my hands and knees to make it up the bank, I got bit by a damned water moccasin as I put a knee down. I hauled on up somehow and laid in the back yard crying my eyes out, holding my leg. Up runs Slobber.
“Get Ma! Go get Ma!” Slobber run off trailing his chewed off rope. I heard him banging on the back door, so I scooted around so I could see. Ma opened the door with a broom and he licked her as far as he could reach before running back to me. She chased him.
I loved that mutt and miss him every single day. I’ve had other dogs over the years, but none as wonderful and downright beautiful to me as good ol’ Slobber.
“No, I don’t have an appointment. All I need to do is check the seismometers; there are twenty two here and it won’t take but a few minutes for each.”
Tape sized the guy up. He did look like the wiry volcano guy, chocolate dark with very large eyes and a stubby nose, and that superlative girl with the blonde burr had been with him in the net interview. He keyed his comm, “Artemis, wherefore art thou, Artemis?”
“Cut it out, Cusak. What’s up?”
“Got volcano people out here wanting to check their shake-o-meters.”
“In the middle of the night? Where do they need to go?”
Tape turned back to the visitors. “Where are they?”
Mort tapped on the legend on the map Tape showed him. “See these red dots and triangles?”
“Arty, they need the whole perimeter and some central.”
“Nope, sorry. The research in Dome 5 shall not be disturbed by order of the Grand Poobah, nothing in central admin, otherwise looks okay.” She cut the comm.
Tape reacted to Kathy’s discontent; he had a thing for blue-eyed blonde Amazons. “Guys, how about we start checking here and work around to 20, the farthest one? We’ll see how much we can get done in a day. Or a night as it were? Perchance the central area will be available in dawn’s early light?”
Mort and Kathy shrugged at each other and shouldered their satchels. Mort said, “Lead on! We’ll knock out what we can and straight on through ’til morning!”
“Mort, I will donate my lunch money every day if I can get our satellite link-up fixed for Christmas.” Kathy reiterated the common grad student complaint, knowing full well Mort lobbied for it monthly. A new sat was promised on the last bus, but of course nothing came of that.
Tape walked back over to the guard shack and tapped the window, waking Birko. “Can you handle the grueling task before you alone? Can you threaten the impudent scoundrels that may creepeth up?”
The portly Slavic woman scowled at him. “Beat it, and bring back a fresh jug of water. Somebody slobbered in this one.”
After checking the first nearby box, Tape led them to a buggy and they all climbed in. He took the long way around to avoid the area around the proscribed Dome 5, though he knew the tree-people retired at night and wouldn’t be noticeable.
Kathy asked, “Scenic route?”
“Yes ma’am, Tape Tours, at your service; do note the amazing star field, featuring the despicable Blackie with Misha on his heels to save us all. So why are you here so late?”
“We didn’t get up until afternoon and gotta get it done,” she replied. “There are over 400 seismometers and we’re one of four teams checking them. Stop here!” She jumped out with Mort and they trotted to the fence. He went one way and she the other with their case keys at the ready. Case open, scan data, case close and lock.
They stopped eight more times checking two multiple-instrument stations at a time until they neared the last dome of the big circle.
Mort said, “We have two big old-style units inside this one, if you don’t mind, originals.”
Tape slammed on the brakes and swung the rear end around so the headlights shone on the outside door of the huge Dome 20. “Here we are!”
“I see that,” she told him flatly, clearly not appreciating his driving skills. “Can you let us in?”
Inside they saw a vast field of soybeans and one tree. Tape hit the switch that turned on every third light.
“What an odd tree! Mort, look at this, I’ve never seen anything like it!”
They walked over to it. “Kath, I haven’t either.” He slid his hand up the smooth, glossy truck. “It’s tall for the diameter, and the bark is extraordinary, about my tone but shiny.”
“LeeLaa is not a tree.”
Mort and Kathy jumped back to Tape who stood stock still, glued in place from consternation. Tape knew there were alien things in Dome 5, but this one had escaped. He trotted back to the entry and switched on the rest of the lights. He looked around the rest of the dome once more to verify there were no other ‘trees’.
“Not worry. LeeLaa good. LeeLaa go walk and think about maybes.”
Kathy came timidly nearer. “You are called LeeLaa?”
“Yes. Your name is?”
“No, sorry, plain old Kathy. Ka-thy. And that’s Mort.”
Mort waved and moved up with Kathy.
“Hi Kathy Hi Mort. Hey Tape why worry?”
He gulped. “No reason at all.” Pleased she knew his name, he smiled and decided to stay put. A vestibule door banged open, making all the humans jump and gawk at the old man racing in from 30 or 40 meters away.
“What are you people doing in my dome! LeeLaa! We’ve been looking all over for you! Do you have any idea how big this dome complex is? Tape, what in blazes is going on here?”
“Dr. Cartier, come on, don’t yell. The little one there took a stroll about the premises.”
Tape thought fast about ways to explain letting strangers in the Dome at night without asking him first. “Dr. Cartier, sir, it was urgent these volcanologists access their seismographs in here as soon as possible. I asked Artemis and she said to avoid Dome 5 and points central, so we checked the perimeter stations and came here for the last ones, except central.”
Alain turn to Kathy and Mort tersely asking, “Hello, Volcanologists One and Two. Do you have names?”
“Aalen, names Kathy and Mort,” LeeLaa piped.
“Dr. Alain Cartier, I take it.” Mort stuck his hand out to Alain, who belatedly accepted it. “I hate breaking in like this; Sarjani gave us permission for come in and check our stuff at any time.”
“Forgive me Dr. Abernathy, I did not mean to be rude. The situation has changed and you have inadvertently discovered the reason why.” Alain remembered the newscasts of the great eruption that featured these two experts, and shook Kathy’s hand more readily. “Miss Abramowitz. College kids have been sneaking up.”
“Grand to meet you and your other guest,” she said jokingly, “things have changed!” She whipped around as the vestibule door banged open again, hanging on to Alain’s hand and pulling him so briskly he fell onto her. They righted themselves as LeeLaa whizzed by to embrace the newest arrival.
Tape saw another guy come in from the vestibule behind Elise. She outpaced the man because he caught sight of the point-blank alien and skidded to a stop, statue-like, maybe striving to blend into the bushy greenery in his white suit, staring at LeeLaa who called, “Martaa!” Tape judged that although it looked like the girl he knew as Elise was being engulfed by tentacles, she seemed to be enjoying it. Curiouser and curiouser.
The girl, Elise and/or Marta, stepped back and stood like the subject of an interrogation, facing the assembled humans. “Hi, y’all. LeeLaa, everybody, meet Ricky.” In her higher voice she looked aside to LeeLaa and said, “Many people like this say ‘party'”
LeeLaa said, “Martaa, Alain, Mort, Kathy, Tape, Ricky party! New friends! Make tea!”
Alain pinched at his forehead and went over to pat the still gaping Ricky on the shoulder. He slid his hand down to Ricky’s arm and tugged him around the stars of the show to where Mort and Kathy stood close to each other.
Tape, having overcome his immediate alarm, decided this could be educational, especially since the alien’s guardian angel was now present. He announced, “I can make the tea, but we ought to go to the lunchroom, don’t you think, sir?”
An excerpt from An Uncivil War, the Lastest and Greatst Sci-Fi novel with Elise and the tree-like aliens. Launching this month – watch for it!