THE SEARCH FOR THE ETERNAL FLAME copyright 2011 Stratomiker Syndicate
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Chapter Two: THE SPACESHIP
Randolph Raider was a handsome man whose dark hair and eyes matched his son's. He looked a good ten years younger than his forty-five years, and it often happened that people thought he was Rick's older brother.
Rick watched him now as he talked to the two professors in the Lake City headquarters of the InterTell Intelligence Agency. He was calm and cool, as usual, and had managed to calm down both men somewhat. Rick grinned; he couldn't help thinking that in his polo shirt and casual slacks his dad looked more like a pro golfer than a secret agent.
Professor Blaine had told Mr. Raider about the malfunctioning of the two computer systems and his theory that it might have been caused by the occupants of the UFO which had been sighted the night before. Rick's dad had listened attentively and he now drummed his fingers on the top of his desk as he thoughtfully looked at the two professors.
"InterTell is aware of the UFO," he said at length. "As you may know, there have been some recent sightings reported along the lakefront between Lake City and Cleveland. This one, however, was different because so many people saw it. Among the many reports was one from a coast guard patrol boat crew who spotted the object over the lake. It was also picked up on their radar."
"It was up there, all right," Professor Blaine said, his voice weary now. "I watched it as it hovered right over the Science Center. The University's computer system is housed in there."
"Sally saw it too, Dad," Rick told him. "It was flying over the hills behind our houses."
Mr. Raider nodded. "Yes, there's no doubt an Unidentified Flying Object was in the vicinity last night, and it made quite a tour of the area. That much we know for sure. But we don't know if there's a connection between the UFO and the malfunctioning computers.
"Professor Manning," he continued, "you are the computer expert. Do you think it's possible for a computer to be short-circuited by a transmission from an overhead craft, from another computer or other device that's not online with it or networked with it in any manner?"
The young professor nodded eagerly. He was all, "Yes, I do! As you know, computer systems hook into each other via the telephone lines and cable systems, as well as by satellite radio communications. The University's computer and the newspaper's computer connect to the Internet through dedicated lines and, in the same manner, anyone who has a computer at home can access the Internet through telephone modems, cable lines, wireless systems, even cell phones. I believe that a civilization more advanced than ours could probably do the same thing through alpha particles focused and directed through the air. We know alpha particles can change computer memory cells randomly. An advanced intelligence might be able to control such modifications and changes at will."
"That sounds probable," Rick agreed. "You know darn well if they can come to Earth from another planet that their technology is highly advanced compared to ours. If a UFO is to blame, perhaps its occupants are spies and they wanted to find out exactly what scientific knowledge is to be discussed at the NASA conference."
"Alien spies!" Professor Blaine muttered nervously. The man ran his fingers through his wiry hair. "Exactly! The theme of the conference is to be Quantae space travel, a new theory being researched by NASA that would enable man to travel vast distances in space in short periods of time by warping space. Perhaps the aliens transmitted the data from our computers to their ship's computer, and then did something to make our computers malfunction so we won't be able to use this important information ourselves."
"You really mustn't jump to such conclusions, Professor," Mr. Raider advised, looking at the man gravely. "Going along with your theory that the aliens stole the scientific data from our computers, doesn't it seem to you that it'd be information they already have, since they were able to travel through space to come to Earth? Why would they want information they already have, and how would they know we have it?"
"You pose a good question, Randolph," said Professor Blaine, leaning forward in his chair. "It's most likely that they know all about Quantae space travel, but maybe they don't want us to develop the skill! And there are many ways they could have learned we are working on it. For instance, communications concerning the conferences have been sent around the world via the Laser Communications satellite that your own organization, InterTell, has put into orbit through the contract with NASA's space shuttle program. An alien ship traveling near our planet could easily monitor such communications, which could be the reason behind all the recent UFO sightings along the lake shore."
Mr. Raider looked very thoughtful as he sat back in his chair. "Very well, your reasoning is quite logical and this matter definitely requires looking into. You made the right decision coming here to InterTell, and I'm very pleased you have the trust to confide in Rick. But I must ask you not to make your suspicions known to anyone else."
The two professors agreed, and Mr. Raider asked them to wait in the lobby for Rick, as he wished to speak to his son alone.
"What do you think, Dad?" Rick asked when the professors had left the office.
"It's entirely possible that their suspicions are correct. Recent events in the area corroborate with the theory. In this day and age we cannot rule out the possibility of alien beings from other worlds coming to Earth. On the other hand, there may be no connection at all between the UFO and the malfunctioning computers. The first step is to have our experts check out the systems and see if there's been any foul play. I'll send crews over to the Science Center and the newspaper immediately."
Rick nodded sagely. "If there's been any sabotage, InterTell will find it, that's for sure. But old Einstein ... I mean Professor Blaine ... he's convinced we're going to be invaded. Seeing the UFO last night must have frightened him. He sure is a character, isn't he?"
"I'll say," his dad agreed. "He reminds me of some of the profs from my college days . What do you think of all this, Rick?"
"I'm not sure, Dad." Rick shrugged his broad shoulders and frowned. "It's pretty logical there might be a connection between the UFO and the strange computer responses, but then it sounds too much like science fiction, like Star Trek and Star Wars. I guess I'd have to see a spaceship to really believe in it."
Randolph Raider smiled at his son. "That's because you tend to be practical. Not like your buddy Charlie."
Rick laughed. "Charlie is convinced we're being invaded too. He wants to search for the UFO in the Kirtland Hills. We're going to look for it after classes."
"If you find it, don't go on board." Mr. Raider was chuckling, but then his face suddenly grew serious. He was like, "Well, I guess it could be there, you know. There has been a lot of strange activity in the area lately, and this could be part of it. If a craft did land, the hills are the perfect spot. It's so secluded up there. Take along the encryptive transceiver and call me if you do see anything unusual."
The encryptive transceiver was a new communications device in use by InterTell that transmitted messages in code. Rick had been given one by the agency as a reward for helping to rescue the captives of the lost Yukon expedition as recounted in Danger on the Gold Trail.
Rick's dad had been one of the missing persons imprisoned in the dreadful dungeons of the secret underground city of Ophir, located in the frozen wilds of northern Canada. One of InterTell's top agents, Mr. Raider was often away for long periods of time on top secret missions. Rick had grown up under the guidance of his Aunt Bea, his father's sister, who had lived with them since the death of Rick's mother when he was a little boy.
Now nineteen, Rick was tall and good-looking, with wavy black hair and dark eyes to match. He was athletic, intelligent, mature, and one of the top students in his class at Lake University. He was also enrolled in the work/study program with InterTell, and often helped his dad research his cases.
Charlie Connors was Rick's best friend and constant companion. He was a little shorter than Rick, but huskier, with brown eyes and curly brown hair. He lived on a farm down the road from Rick and his good looks and impulsive personality made him a very popular fellow in town. Sally, who thought Rick could no wrong, lived next door to the Raiders with her parents, Professor and Mrs. Anderson. The pretty green-eyed blonde was always with the boys and they were an inseparable trio.
Now, as Rick sat with his dad in the InterTell office, he wondered if he and his friends were on the threshold of something big. As Charlie had said earlier, it was definitely time for some serious excitement.
"I'll be sure to take the transceiver with me," he told his father. "And if we do come across the UFO, I sure don't intend to board it!"
Mr. Raider gave him a wry look, then, "Please don't, son. InterTell can do just about anything. But if you get captured by aliens and taken to outer space, there's no way we'll be able to rescue you."
Chuckling at the idea of such a thing happening, Rick got up from his chair and gave his father the lunch bag containing Aunt Bea's cookies. He had taken them in with him knowing he could give them to his dad who would eagerly devour them.
"Here's a little snack for you. Aunt Bea insisted I take them, but I won't eat them all. You know how she is. If I refuse, she really gets offended."
"Well, baking is pretty much her whole life these days," Mr. Raider joked. "I was wondering what you had in the bag." He looked inside and pulled out a cookie. "Ah, my favorite. Chocolate chips, eh? Your aunt must be baking up a storm again. "
Rick was all, "You bet. She sure is. And she's going to make brownies too." He snickered. "You and I are going to have to move out of the house if she doesn't calm down with the food. Otherwise we'll gain a hundred pounds each. Or maybe she could get a job. That way she won't be cooking all day."
Mr. Raider laughed. "Your aunt would bop you one if she heard you suggest she should get a job. No, we'll just have to put up with it and keep inviting Charlie over to finish off the leftovers."
"Right. Wild horses couldn't keep him away." Rick walked over to the door. "I'll see you later tonight."
Mr. Raider stood up from his chair. "Assure your professor pals that InterTell will be on the job immediately."
"I sure will. So long, Dad."
Rick met the two professors in the lobby and he gave them his father's assurances. Professor Manning was looking forward to working with the InterTell crew, but Professor Blaine did not seem to be convinced it would do any good. Rick felt sorry for the man and he knew that the UFO hovering over the Science Center late at night had frightened him.
They returned to the University campus and, throughout the rest of the day, Rick couldn't get his mind off the mystery of the UFO and the malfunctioning computers. It was almost impossible for him to concentrate on his studies. He said nothing to Charlie and Sally about the matter and, when they were walking back to his truck after classes, neither of them could control their curiosity any longer.
"All right, spill the beans," Charlie demanded. "Don't go pulling your James Bond Junior routine on us and keeping secrets. What's up?"
"Right," Sally agreed. "Why did Professor Manning take you out of class and where were you all that time?"
As he drove home, Rick told them about the malfunctioning computers and the two professors' theory that the UFO was to blame. "Dad says there's been a lot of UFO activity along the lakefront again," he added. "So there really could be a chance this is the real thing."
Charlie smacked the dashboard with his fist. He was all, totally, "Groovy baby! I knew it! Old Einstein must be right. The aliens are on a spying mission to find out what we know about space travel. And I thought those stories about the sightings by the Perry nuclear plant on the lake were just hogwash. They may have been spying on us for quite a while because of this NASA deal going on."
Sally looked at Charlie. "I hope spying is all they have in mind. If they can steal the computer data and then screw up our computers, imagine what else they'd be capable of doing!"
Charlie gaped back at her. "Hey, pretty radical. What if they're preparing to attack?"
"You two better chill," Rick advised, as he pulled off the freeway. "Sounds like you're writing a science fiction movie script. Stop jumping to conclusions. We really have no idea what's going on yet. And don't breathe a word of this to anyone. If the news leaks out it could start a panic."
They arrived at the Raider home, anxious to go up into the hills and search for the UFO. Rick pulled into the drive and stopped behind Aunt Bea's car, which was parked by the side door. The back passenger-side door of the big luxurious sedan had been left open, and Rick closed it on their way into the house.
"Aunt Bea must have gone grocery shopping," he said. "Sometimes she forgets to close the door after carrying the bags inside."
But Charlie was already all, "Yo! Do I smell something good or what?" He sniffed the air as they walked up the steps into the hall. "Yes I do! There's nothing like the aroma of freshly baked brownies. I could eat a ton of them!"
As they stepped into the kitchen, the first thing they saw was Aunt Bea. Still wearing her jacket, she was sitting at the table next to several grocery bags. She was rapidly fanning herself with a magazine. There was a frightened look on her face and she jumped at the sight of them.
"Oh, Rick!" she cried. "Good heavens! You scared me to death!""
Startled himself, Rick was like, "Aunt Bea! What's wrong?"
She fanned the magazine faster. "Oh my, I just had the most frightful experience of my life! I must be seeing things!"
The three chums hurried to her side and Sally placed her hand on Aunt Bea's shoulder. "What happened, Miss Raider?"
Aunt Bea's voice was trembling. "I...I was carrying my grocery bags into the house. On one of my trips back out to the car, I carried out a box of cookies and brownies I was going to take down to the Connors' farm." She fanned even more rapidly, the frightened expression growing more intense. Then, "I placed the box on the hood of the car and took one of the grocery bags from the back seat and carried it inside. On my way out to get the last bag from the car, I saw the most ... the most incredible thing! Good thing I stayed in the hall!"
Rick frowned. "What did you see? Tell us, Aunt Bea?"
Her shrill voice was almost a screech. "A man was standing by the car, sniffing at the box of cookies and brownies!"
"A man?" Rick repeated. "Who was he?"
Aunt Bea was all, "I don't know. He picked up the box, walked around and pulled the remaining grocery bag out of the car, and then ran across the backyard and into the woods!"
Charlie huffed, totally, "You mean someone stole my cookies and brownies?"
"Yes!" Aunt Bea cried. "And the bag that contained all the ingredients to make more!"
"Now try to calm down, Aunty," Rick said. "He was probably just a hobo looking for something to eat. You know that vagrants sometimes wander around in the hills."
"A hobo, my foot!" Aunt Bea shrilled. "The man was wearing a tunic and sandals. Like Hercules!"
"What?" Rick looked at Charlie and Sally.
"Yes, a tunic and sandals. And he wore a cloak of furs around his shoulders and held a strange looking gun in one hand." Aunt Bea stopped fanning and slapped the magazine on the table. Then she was just all, "I think I'm going crazy!"
"Uh oh," Sally uttered, exchanging anxious glances with the boys.
They were each thinking the very same thing. Could the strange man have been an alien from the UFO?
Charlie was all psyched. "Did the man look human?" he couldn't help blurting.
Aunt Bea's eyes popped at him. She clutched at her bosom. "Of course he looked human. What do you mean?"
"Charlie, keep your big mouth shut," Rick hissed.
Aunt Bea shot up from the chair. "Rick, what's going on? Do you know something? Oh, I'd be so happy to know I'm not nuts!"
"You're not going crazy, Aunt Bea," Rick assured her. "Something is definitely going on, but we can't tell you."
Then he turned to Charlie, all business. "Charlie, take Aunt Bea down to your house in my truck," he ordered. "Stop next door and get Mrs. Anderson too. Tell her to drop whatever she's doing and go with you. Tell your dad to call the police and have them send a squad car out to your house. Aunt Bea can tell the police what she saw. Sally, you go home. I want both of you to change into hiking clothes and meet me in the backyard in ten minutes."
"Rick!" Aunt Bea screeched. "What is going on?"
"No time for questions now." He tossed his keys to Charlie and was on his way across the room. "Just go along with Charlie and we'll tell you about it later."
Rick ran upstairs to his bedroom and quickly changed into old jeans, a sweatshirt, and hiking boots. He slipped his jacket back on and pulled his cell phone from the pocket. He dialed InterTell to talk to his dad, but he was told that Mr. Raider had left the offices to keep an appointment. He told the agent on the line about the strange man and that he might possibly be from a UFO up in the hills. Next he dialed his father's cell phone number, but there was no answer except for the voice mail prompt. He hurriedly left the news about the intruder and that he and his friends were going up into the hills to look for the UFO.
Then he ran down to the den and over to a cabinet built into the book shelves. He opened the door and pulled out the small leather case holding the encryptive transceiver. Slipping it into his jacket pocket, Rick left the room.
After locking up the house, he went into the backyard to wait for Charlie and Sally. Hoping the thief might have left a clue behind, he searched the ground. But there was nothing to be found. Impatiently, Rick locked the doors of Aunt Bea's car, and then Charlie pulled the pickup into the drive.
The Connors boy was all, "All right, man, I'm ready to get that alien dude!" He jumped out of the truck and tossed Rick the keys.
"Just cool it, Connors," Rick warned him. "The man had a gun. And who knows what kind! We've got to be careful. And quiet."
Charlie was unperturbed. "Are you insinuating I can't keep my big mouth shut?"
"You can't." Rick grinned at him. "Nobody has to insinuate about it. It's a fact, Jack."
Charlie grunted. "Okay, I'll put a zipper on it." His excited eyes scanned the hills. "This could turn out to be real serious, huh?"
"You better believe it. Aliens from space are nothing to joke about. Playing against them on a computer game is a lot different than the real thing."
Sally came running over and they started off toward the woods. "My mom was pretty shook up," she said. "But she went off with Aunt Bea and Charlie like a good girl."
"And my dad called the police," Charlie added as they entered the thick trees that led up to the hills. Then he burst out laughing. "Man, they're going to think Aunt Bea is loony when she tells them a man dressed like Hercules stole her groceries."
"They sure will," Rick agreed. "But we can't let them know we think aliens are in the neighborhood."
Sally was like, "Really. They'd be terrified."
They followed the trail that led up into the Kirtland Hills. New spring leaves were just beginning to show on the trees, but the woods still had the stark barren look of winter. A cool breeze blew gently from the north and clouds scudded past the sun, casting moving shadows throughout the forest.
Soon the path began to ascend steeply. As they climbed the grade, they looked for footprints of the thief, but the ground was hard and there wasn't a trace of any.
"Look!" Rick suddenly pointed in front of them.
In the center of the path was a length of string. Sally stooped to pick it up.
"It's clean. Like new," she said, showing the boys. "It must have just now been thrown down here."
"Aunt Bea always ties string around her pastry boxes," Rick said. "Same as they do in the bakery shops. The thief must have gotten hungry and opened the box."
Charlie growled, all, "Wait till I get my hands on that sucker! Eating my cookies and brownies. Sheez! Come on, let's get going."
They moved on, hurrying deeper into the forested hills. A few minutes later they reached a fork in the trail.
"This path leads to Penitentiary Glen," Rick said, pointing to the left fork. "There's that big empty field there. Maybe that's where the ship landed."
Sally nodded eagerly. "You're right. I bet it did. That field is the biggest clearing in all the hills."
"We'll soon find out, " Charlie said, leading the way down the path. "We're almost there."
Penitentiary Glen was the site of an old prison that had been built in the hills by an old Mormon population in the middle of the 1800's. The old stone fortress had been abandoned for decades now and had fallen into ruin. The grounds were wild and overgrown, and no one ever went there except the hikers and vagabonds who roamed the hills.
"There's the old prison," Sally whispered a couple minutes later. She pointed through the trees.
They could see the ruins as they crept down the trail toward a row of wildly overgrown shrubberies. They took cover behind them and peered ahead. Directly across from them were the old gardens, profusely overgrown now, leading up to the rear of the old prison. On the other side of the gardens was an open field of long grasses and low shrubs that had once been the exercise area of the inmates.
Sally grabbed Rick's arm and pointed to the field.
"There it is!" she cried.
Charlie was unable to control his excitement. He was all like, "Freakin' Minnesota! Look at that!"
"Talk about awesome," Rick breathed, staring ahead in amazement. "I guess seeing is indeed believing!"
In the center of the field, the tall grasses waving around it in the breeze, was a large cylindrical ship of silver metal. It was dotted with rows of lights that blinked on and off in a rainbow of color.