Highway Fifteen

“Sir, we’ve dropped out of warp, we’ve lost all power to the engines. Without engines there’s no steering!”
Captain Globner’s four ears laid back on her head, the feathers on her forearms turning from brown to bright blue. “How long until engineering can fix the problem?”
“They don’t know, sir. It has to do with the neutronium converter.”
“How about life support?”
“There’s no problem there.”
“Navigation, are we in danger of hitting that star?”
“No, sir.”
“Very well, then. Please inform me when engineering can get the problem fixed.”
The people on Earth didn’t see the object coming until it passed the sun and Mercury, and by then it was too late for a complete evacuation. It appeared to be mostly spherical, about a mile in diameter. But it wasn’t, in fact, spherical; it was a cylinder ten miles long.
The sirens on the star ship blared; collision was imminent. Everyone on board retreated to their lifeboats, hoping to land on the planet the ship was crashing into. All two hundred landed thirty five hundred miles away from the crash, in eastern Missouri, fifty miles from the Mississippi river, a few hours after the star ship crashed.
As soon as the object was detected and its course tracked, tsunami warnings were put out for the entire pacific rim. There was chaos in Hawaii, Guam, all the other Pacific islands, and all coasts.
It was far worse than feared. Not only was it far bigger than they thought, but there was neutronium in it, and neutronium is more massive than anything except the material black holes consist of. It blasted nearly a quarter of the way through the earth’s crust.
It would be the worst tsunami in recorded history, save the legends from many different cultures around the globe of a great world-encompassing flood, which may have been an asteroid strike itself.
It would land four hundred miles northeast of Hawaii. Everything on the islands would be destroyed, the land swept free of everything except rock as magma burst forth from the ocean’s floor where the object hit, a new island erupting.
They only had a single day to evacuate the world’s pacific coasts before the disaster occurred. Airlines flew people out and came back empty for more. The USAF sent huge C5-A cargo craft fitted for passengers. But still, nearly half the coastal population would die. It was like Phuket Island in 2004, a horrible catastrophe, only far worse because Hawaii’s population is far larger than the tiny Phuket island and, of course, there was the magma. It was almost as bad at Guam, the Philippines, and all other Pacific islands, but none as bad as Hawaii.
Everyone on all Pacific coasts headed for higher ground, as far away from the ocean as they could get before the object could hit the water. Automobile traffic in the US and Canadian Pacific states was in gridlock, with every vehicle attempting to escape the coming flood. East Asian roads, train stations, and airports were likewise crammed with people.
Boats and ships headed for shore as fast as they could, but most didn’t make it. It was to be the single greatest loss of human life in history, and the largest loss of all life since the asteroid that caused the dinosaur extinction. An awful lot of species would immediately become extinct.
The tsunami would roar in all directions. Anyone on any Pacific coast was in trouble. And there would be flooding in the Atlantic coastal cities as well. In Japan, it would make the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami look like a gentle wave.
Marsha Welsh and her sister Mary were headed up interstate 15 in Mary’s new Malibu for a day of watching shows in Vegas, shopping, and maybe dropping a few bucks into a slot machine or two.
They were just past the I-76 interchange. Creedence was playing on the radio when the EBS message about the tsunami came on, and everyone on the road sped way up, including the sisters.
It was now no longer a trip to have a little fun, it had become an attempted escape from death.
They were glad they had hotel reservations in Vegas, because there were going to be a lot of people who were suddenly going to be homeless.
The ironically named Noah Weatherton suffered from schizophrenia. He heard voices in his head, and the voices told him to go east or die, a week before the catastrophe. But he had no car, no driver’s license, and no money, so he started walking. He walked for a week. Homeless, he was used to walking.
The voices said “you’ll never make it. You need to steal a car.”
“I’m not a thief!” he screamed back, somewhat uncharacteristically. He usually tried to ignore the voices, especially when he was able to be medicated and it was easier to ignore them. But poor Americans have horrible health care, especially mental health care, and medication wasn’t always there.
“But we’ll die!” they screamed in harmonic unison.
He sat down next to the road and enjoyed listening to the terrified voices that had for so long tormented him. He would soon be rid of them. They would die when he did! He just couldn’t stand living like this any more.
Carol Smith had a bad feeling and didn’t know why, but it was so urgent she packed almost all her rusted old Econoline could hold and took off east, an hour before the tsunami warnings were issued. She was eastbound on 50, as she had started in Bakersfield, and then got on interstate 15 heading north. She only got as far as Baker when steam started coming out of her hood. Damn this old piece of crap! She pulled over and turned on the flashers, opened the hood, and sat there, wondering what to do.
The music on the radio stopped and an announcer came on talking about the coming tsunami. She abandoned the old van and started walking.
Bill Harrison held a master’s degree in electrical engineering, a doctorate in computer science, and was an avid ham radio operator. He was watching the news when word of the oncoming asteroid broke. Horrified. he was grateful he lived in the “flyover zone” a little west of St. Louis, in O’Fallon.
He worried about his niece, Carol, who lived in southern California. She never was quite normal, he thought. He had no idea how much the catastrophe would affect him personally, changing his life forever.
He turned the TV off and left to teach a late afternoon class at the university, still worried about his niece.
Walter Jennings, no relation to the famous guy, was on his way to Las Vegas. He didn’t even know of the coming catastrophe. He had hit it big gambling illegally in Los Angeles and headed east to Vegas to spend his winnings.
“Sir, you have to evacuate!”
Noah turned his head and saw a policeman. “No, thank you, sir” he said. “I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not. There’s a tsunami coming and we may not even make it out of here. Now get in the car!”
The two policemen sounded like the voices, especially when they were handcuffing him and putting him in the patrol car. Curiously, ten minutes later they were careening down the road, and the policeman who had arrested him was driving like a madman, blaring down the shoulder past the nearly motionless traffic.
The voices were oddly and miraculously quiet. He silently prayed that the voices would stay reticent; there was no hint of them. He was at peace as the squad car screamed down the highway’s shoulder, the first time he could remember being at peace in a very long time.
Walter started to wonder why everyone seemed in such a hurry and why there was absolutely no oncoming traffic whatever. He was doing a little over the speed limit, and everyone was passing him like he was standing still.
He turned on the radio, and the announcer was talking about the tsunami. He said it would hit early the next morning.
Walter put the throttle to the floor.
The police car came up on the stranded van, drove around it on the grass at a high rate of speed, and rolled several times, landing upside down. Both officers scrambled free of the car and started running, leaving Noah hanging upside down in the back seat.
Carol was a few hundred yards up the road and heard the crash. She ran to the wrecked police car to see if she could help, unbuckling Noah and helping him crawl from the patrol car’s window, hands still shackled behind his back. It wasn’t easy.
“Are you all right?” she asked as she was helping him out of the wreckage.
“I think so. Where are the cops?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t see any cops.”
“Do you have a car? We need to get to high ground.”
“I have a van, but it quit and I couldn’t get it started again.”
“I know a little about cars. If I can find a way out of these handcuffs maybe I can fix it. Is the battery good?”
“Not good enough for it to start, but it’s a stick shift. We can roll it downhill to start it, if you can get it working. I have bolt cutters in the back, I think I can get those cuffs off.”
Walter was almost over the mountains and nearly rear-ended a car that was driving the speed limit. Realizing he was safe now, he hurriedly slowed down to a reasonable speed. He should reach Vegas in a couple or three more hours, anxious to spend his new wealth.
He was becoming sleepy, as he’d stayed up gambling the previous night.
“Your heater hose sprang a leak. Do you have any duct tape? Once the leak is fixed we can find some water for coolant. If the engine hasn’t seized up from the overheating it should start right up.”
“Yeah, in the glove box. I have extra windshield washer liquid, will that work?”
Twenty minutes later they were on their way. Very slowly, of course; traffic seldom went faster than five miles an hour.
They saw a few cars traveling the wrong way on the oncoming lanes. Carol weighed the risk of driving the wrong way and being caught in a tsunami.
She had never known anyone killed by a tsunami, but she knew people who had died in head-on car crashes. She stayed on the right. More and more cars were driving across the median, and traffic started moving a little better, maybe ten miles an hour.
She needed to find a gas station and was glad she had a full ten gallon can in the van. The battery had charged enough, though, that she could shut the engine off during the many long stops.
Walter dozed off at the wheel and veered left. The car next to him swerved and blasted his horn and stood on the brake. The horn and screeching tires woke Walter, who jerked his car back into his own lane. He decided to stop at the next rest stop and take a nap; that had frightened him greatly.
Meanwhile, the car he had caused to brake and swerve was rear-ended by the car behind him, causing a chain reaction wreck.
Walter didn’t realize that he had caused a catastrophe—or that he had adverted a larger catastrophe.
Northbound traffic was blocked. The only traffic moving was going north in the southbound lanes.
Walter reached the rest area, stretched out on the back seat, and slept until the next morning.
Pastor Herbert Donnoly was more than nervous; he was on the last flight out of Hawaii and it didn’t look like they would make it off the ground in time. No one in the airplanes waiting for an open runway was talking at all, except the flight crews’ necessary communications. They were also sweating despite the air conditioning inside the craft.
Herbert started praying. Nearly everyone else on the plane joined in, including the last of the control tower people. They had left the tower; it was now empty. The star ship had hit the water, leaving waves well over a half mile high traveling in all directions at seven hundred miles an hour. Powerful earthquakes hit the coasts when the huge vibrations traveled there.
The miracle they were praying for would be miraculous, indeed. The tsunami and earthquakes would reach Hawaii in a half an hour or so.
“You have investigated, what are your reports? Biology?”
“Sir, our studies show that there is an incredible diversity of life on this planet, ranging from barely alive at all to... and this was especially interesting, several species that are sentient and even more that are social and vocal.
“Tool use?”
“yes, sir. A few species, not many at all, mostly avian species use crude tools, but one non-avian species has scientific and technological progress to the point where they have actually sent two machines outside their star’s heliosphere, and have sent robots to study other planets in their stellar system, some of them crawling around on those planets.
“They are the land masses’ dominant species, and appear to be endangering some other species planet-wide. Unfortunately, our accident has done far more damage; we have caused a mass extinction. Many marine species became extinct as soon as our craft hit the water. Many more species will perish.”
The sadness was palpable. What passed as tears for their species was widespread, arm feathers turning a bright green.
“This particular species may be the most dangerous collection of organisms on the planet and one of the three most intelligent, probably the most intelligent.
“They are intelligent, but their treatment of other species suggests that they may be speciests, who have no empathy for members of other species, as we do, and some members of that species don’t have empathy at all. They won’t care at all about the deaths.”
Captain Globner was alarmed at this. “They are a dangerous species, then.”
“Yes, the most dangerous. But not the only dangerous species, there are many deadly flora and fauna here. We need to get home!”
“Mostly water, sir. Mountains, plains, deserts, jungles... everything. This planet is really strange; it has everything. All sorts of rocks, gasses, minerals.
“Well, sir, I’m sorry to say we’ll never see our craft again, it’s miles deep in this planet’s crust. Our only hope is to get communications, and that’s a problem.”
The captain did what was to her species the equivalent of a frown. “A problem?”
“Yes sir, we need to find some photons that are entangled with photons at home to communicate, and so far we’ve come up empty. Most of them were in the ship’s communication systems. There are still lots of radios to examine, though.”
The captain said “Everyone remember to keep your invisibility belts charged up and turned on. Remember, though, that many of the animals have keen senses of smell. And of course keep your proximity shield on as well unless it’s otherwise absolutely impossible.”
The biologist answered “Yes, sir, but the smells would be foreign to them. They’re only a danger if you get close to their dens. We’re safest here on this beach, but stay out of the water; there may be dangerous animals that live there, also.
“Oh, another thing. This may not matter to anyone but a biologist, but it appears that any organism more than a single cell has only two sexes!”
If the captain had eyebrows they would have shot up. “That’s impossible. Every planet with life we’ve found has life with three sexes, a hatcher to join the egg’s two halves, have the baby grow inside, birth it, and be its primary caregiver, and the male and female to deliver the egg’s two halves with the hatcher supplying the mitochondria and cell membrane.”
“Yes, sir, that’s accurate. But it seems that on this planet, hatcher and male (we’re not sure, we may have the sexes backward) have somehow joined in this planet’s life’s early history. We have no idea how it could have happened, we’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“Fascinating. Please continue your research!”
“Yes, sir.”
Ever so slowly they rolled up the road in the incredibly gridlocked traffic. They had traveled all night and only gone about twenty miles. Despite Noah’s lack of a driver’s license, Carol had convinced him to take the wheel as she napped in the dead of night. As slow as they were going, the only danger was the coming tsunami.
Nervously, she finally asked “So, uh, what were the police arresting you for? Not anything violent, I hope.”
Noah shook his head. “I don’t know. I was sitting by the side of the road waiting to die from the tsunami when they insisted I get in the car. Something about suicide being illegal, I guess.”
“It’s illegal to be a pedestrian on the interstate. Why did you want to die?”
He shook his head again. “I’ve... I’ve been suffering from schizophrenia for years, ever since that fall I took hiking. It left a ringing in my ears that turned into voices.”
“Yes, and they weren’t the least bit nice. Medication usually kept it under control. The voices stopped in the police car. I think somehow they got transferred to the cops.”
Carol frowned. “That doesn’t sound very logical.”
“Maybe not, but as soon as the voices stopped the cops started sounding like the voices and driving crazy. Maybe that weird old Indian guy was right.”
“Weird old Indian guy?”
“Yeah, I don’t know what tribe but at any rate he came by my room in the hospital and told me my accident had happened on sacred ground, that I had cursed myself. As soon as he left, the ringing turned into the voices. I never saw the guy before and haven’t seen him since.
Carol didn’t say anything.
Half an hour later a mile up the road they came upon Marsha and Mary standing on the shoulder looking incredibly distraught. Noah rolled the window down as traffic had stopped right by them, and said “Are you okay? Can we help? What happened?”
“We were carjacked by two policemen!”
“What?” Carol and Noah exclaimed in unison.
“We were stopped in traffic and two cops in dirty uniforms, one with a really bad bruise on his forehead, came up, pointed their guns at us and made us get out of the car. They took off racing down the shoulder!”
“See?” Noah said to Carol. “Those cops went crazy.”
Carol said to the young women “Do you need rides? There’s no back seat but you can sit on boxes and I think there’s enough room back there.”
“Oh, yes, thank you,” one said. “I don’t think we’re high enough yet. The radio said it was an asteroid as big as the one that killed the dinosaurs.”
“Did you call the police?”
“We tried to, but only got a busy signal. I can’t get through to anybody!”
They got in the van just as traffic started inching forward.
“We have good news, sir. We managed to find enough entangled photons to get a message home. We should only be here half of an orbit of this planet around its star.”
“Excellent, has anyone fixed the replicator?”
“Gortak is working on it now. It should take abut an hour. Oh, also, we’ve been monitoring the machine species’ radio waves; they haven’t figured out how to use entangled photons in radios. The communications are simple amplitude or frequency modulated electromagnetic radiation, mostly encoded in binary, some in analog. Of course, since they don’t have the capability to warp space, they don’t really need entanglement for communication. We’ve deciphered the binary code and are working on deciphering their speech.”
“Excellent. Carry on.”
Bill was watching an old Star Wars movie when his equipment beeped. It had been scanning radio frequencies looking for any unusual signals; the ham band was voice and, far less common than long ago, Morse code. It was the band he was collecting data on.
He was actually trying to track lightning storms, but what his equipment recorded certainly wasn’t a lightning storm, or any kind of interference he’d ever seen before. He started studying his data, fascinated.
“That’s my car!” Mary exclaimed. “My poor car!” The Malibu was upside down in a ditch, clearly a total loss.
“I’d hate to be your insurance company,” Marsha replied.
Noah said “I’d hate to be anybody’s insurance company right now. Most everything on this side of the mountains is going to be destroyed.”
There was no sign of the police officers. They had likely hijacked a different vehicle.
Traffic slowly started moving again.
Bill was stumped. He was convinced that the signal was some kind of communication, but he couldn’t decipher it. Its modulation was by frequency, its encoding was digital, and its signal strength was incredibly strong, like a commercial broadcast signal, but it was in the amateur radio band.
He didn’t notice at first that the frequency was in the “radio window” and would not bounce off of the ionosphere. Of course, that doesn’t matter with entanglement radios, since nothing blocks “spooky action at a distance”. Entangled radios need a huge number of entangled photons to work properly because a large number of photons become untangled.
He emailed a copy to his friend’s office. Linda Marlin was the best mathematician Bill knew, perhaps she or one of her staff could unravel the mystery message.
He figured that as strong as the signal was it had to be close, so he decided to track down the signal’s origin. He got his equipment, got in his Jeep, and drove toward where the signal had come from. It had appeared to have come from the Cuivre river, a popular recreation spot about thirty or forty miles from his house, but it had only been a single short signal a few seconds long.
He sat on the bank of the river trying to think of what to do next, how to solve this mystery.
He finally drifted to simply watching the swimmers and folks floating down the river on inner tubes, and becoming bored with this, started playing with his equipment.
Idly, he transmitted the recording of the strange signal on the same frequency he had received it on. Although it was in the amateur radio band, it was actually against the rules, since he didn’t transmit his call sign.
The last plane in line before Herbert’s rolled down the runway. His plane would be next. Their prayers might be answered!
Thirty seconds later the last plane left. It was very close, as they almost didn’t clear the gigantic wall of water. Everyone gave a sigh of relief.
Herbert prayed again, thanking God for saving all their lives.
A minute later jet fuel started leaking from the left wing.
“Sir, someone has re-sent the message we sent home!”
“One of us?”
“No, sir. It must have been one of the intelligent Earthian animals. I don’t know why they would re-transmit it.”
“Do we have enough entangled photons for another message?”
“Yes, sir, we found two unused radios. They’re full up.”
“Then call home again and tell them that someone here is re-transmitting and to ignore any duplicate messages.”
“Yes, sir. However, this planet will orbit its star over fifteen hundred times before the alien impostor signal reaches Kepler. The people back home lack photons entangled with the alien photons. We’ll be home long before its signal is.”
“Send it anyway.
“Yes, sir.”
The signal reappeared, slightly different than the first signal. He honed in on its direction and started walking towards it, holding his directional antenna and hoping for another hit.
“Quiet, everyone, one of the intelligent creatures is coming our way and it’s holding something that could be some sort of weapon.”
Bill kept walking up the beach and stopped when he heard what sounded like voices speaking in a strange language. There were no people around and the voices didn’t sound human. He smelled ozone.
Bill checked his equipment again. There seemed to be a very low powered electrical signal, like the hum of alternating current running through an unshielded cable, but not any frequency used by terrestrial power plants.
He heard whispers in the strange, alien speech again, a pause, then in a conversational volume “Cone Bach to son... rhesus.”
It took a while to realize that the strange voice was trying to say “Come back in two sunrises.” Two days. He walked back to his car and started driving towards the university.
He doubted that Linda would have much luck deciphering the message, as it was almost certainly an unearthly language. He decided to not say anything to anyone, as he found it hard to believe, himself. Had he gone insane?
However, it had been worth a shot, anyway. If anybody could have deciphered it, it was Linda.
The giant wave reached Oregon and Washington shortly after washing Hawaii clean. Most of the residents had reached safety by then, but it was a different story when it reached southern California, which is often in gridlock when things are normal. A few wrecks and nobody moves. With something like this it was bedlam.
Noah and the women had been sitting in the same spot for an hour. The tsunami would hit southern California soon.
The flight crew knew their fuel had been leaking, but didn’t alert the passengers; not until it was necessary. They would have to cross the mountains before they could land. They would probably be able to clear the mountains, but would not have the fuel to reach Las Vegas.
He spoke to the tower in Vegas and was given permission to land on the southbound lanes of I-15, since it would be empty.
They hadn’t moved in two hours. Carol crossed the median and joined the northbound traffic in the southbound lanes. “I hope this wasn’t a mistake,” she mumbled under her breath as she turned on the truck’s headlights.
Everyone was afraid. Nobody spoke, almost afraid to breathe.
“How are you coming with the interspecies communications?”
“We think we have it down pat, sir.”
“Excellent. We have to convince the alien creature to keep our visit a closely guarded secret. We have done more than enough damage to this planet’s life, knowledge of us would make it worse for them. Any ideas?”
“We could take it with us, but that would be harmful and against all we are. But they have a thing called ‘commerce’, where they trade one thing with another using a medium they call ‘money’. We have none, but we do have something to trade.”
“We can’t let them have our knowledge or technology, they could destroy themselves. Their species isn’t ready.”
“Of course not. However, we can use our technology to obtain something of value to them. We already have,” he said, holding out a large cloth sack. The captain looked in the bag.
“Shiny rocks? These are worthless, there are very few good uses for them and trillions of tons of them in easy reach.”
“The aliens call them ‘diamonds’, sir. They attach a very high value to them. It’s still a mystery as to why. Also, we can explain to it why knowledge of us is a danger to their civilization, even a greater danger than the tsunami our accident created.”
“Can you do it?”
“Yes, we’re pretty sure we can. It’s the only thing we can think of, sir.”
“Very well, then. Lets hope we do no more damage.”
They had cleared the mountains and were almost out of fuel, and the pilot was very nervous; traffic was moving north on the southbound lanes, and the northbound lanes were completely full of motionless vehicles. He would have to find an area of the highway that was free of cars and trucks, and there simply were none.
He finally informed the passengers of their plight and turned on the seat belt sign.
At almost the last minute he saw it—there had been a vehicle accident blocking traffic. He lowered his landing gear and flaps, and both engines quit. But he was able to glide to a landing, barely clearing the wreckage.
Noah and the women were startled by the sound of a very close jet engine cutting out. Mary exclaimed “Wow, I think we’re going to see an airplane crash!” She had already gotten her phone out and was “filming” the landing.
They reached the multi-vehicle pileup and saw the big plane farther up the road, its emergency slides down and passengers sliding down to safety. Past the landed plane Carol crossed the median again and stopped. All four got out and went back to the plane to see if they could help.
Behind the mountains people were drowned and crushed by the tsunami. But thousands had escaped, even though many more perished.
Harold had been the first down the slide and was the first passenger the foursome met. “Is there anything we can do to help?” Marsha asked.
The preacher smiled. “Thank you, no. Nobody’s hurt, thank the good Lord. Here, anyway,” he said, looking at the wrecked cars, his smile vanishing. Many of the passengers had walked to the crash and were trying to help the injured. Fortunately the vehicle wreck hadn’t sparked any fires.
“When the airplane landed, the captain said there were buses, ambulances, and fire trucks on the way. I’d stay here until they got here if I were you. They’re probably coming south in the northbound lanes. They’ll be using their lights and sirens, but leaving now could be dangerous.”
Noah and the sisters chatted with the preacher while Carol emptied her gas can into her tank. When the emergency vehicles, including several police cars and tow trucks arrived, Carol said her goodbyes to Noah and the sisters, who would ride a bus the rest of the way to town.
Las Vegas was a madhouse when the bus arrived, with millions of homeless people scrambling for everything—food, shelter, transportation.
The only one of the millions of refugees who was unfazed by the chaos was Noah, who had faced internal chaos ever since the fall years earlier. Now the chaos was external rather than internal, and he was at peace. He said his goodbyes to the sisters and started walking. All he needed was a public park and a hamburger.
It was a different story for Mary and Marsha. There were no cars for rent and an hours-long wait for a taxi or ride share. They were finally able to get on a very crowded bus to their hotel. It was a long trip, because traffic was as bad as it had been outside Indianapolis when the solar eclipse had happened in 2024. They checked in to the hotel and went to the restaurant, where they faced a three hour wait for a table. They went back to their room and ordered room service. Their food showed up an hour later.
The food had gotten cold. They ate it anyway.
While walking to the park Noah found a twenty dollar bill laying on the sidewalk. He stuck it in his pocket, happy. He would get his hamburger. Life was good! The voices had been gone since he was put in the police car and he would soon have food in his stomach. He stopped at a fast food joint and got a burger to go. He ate it in the park, sitting at a picnic table watching the birds, clouds (Rare in that city), and throngs of newly homeless, frantic people.
He felt sorry for all of them, the first time in years he had the ability to feel sorry for anyone who wasn’t sick; the voices had prevented it.
Now he had to figure out what to do. Look for work in Vegas? He decided to sleep on it.
When Noah woke up it was morning. He had slept for over twelve hours, and while he’d slept someone had tacked posters on trees asking for people to volunteer for cleanup. National Guard troops from every state were already on their way west.
Noah started walking toward where the signs directed. It was something to do, and might even lead to a job. He hadn’t been employed since the fall he had taken.
The tsunami sloshed around the world over and over, each time weaker than the last. It would be back to normal in days—normal for ocean tides. It would be a long time before the coasts would be normal.
Bill was awake before dawn, watching TV news. Of course, it was all about the terrible world-wide catastrophe that had occurred two days earlier. The videos shot from aircraft and drones were horrible; millions had died. He ate breakfast, got in his Jeep, and drove to the river.
He walked down to where he had met the aliens earlier, this time his phone the only radio equipment. When he smelled ozone, he stopped. “Hello?” he said, “Are you there?”
“Yes, we are,” the invisible, unearthly voice answered.
“Who are you? Where are you from?”
“My name is Gortak. I cannot tell you where we are from.”
“Outer space?”
“I cannot answer.”
Bill took that as a yes. “Why not?”
“Your people cannot know of us. We have come to this watery place to make a bargain with you.”
“What kind of a bargain?”
A large cloth bag appeared. “No one can know of us, it could destroy your civilizations if they knew of our existence. We offer you these things you value in return for keeping us a secret.”
“Did you cause the tsunami?”
There was a pause. “Yes. It was an accident, a terrible accident. We are formulating plans to minimize the damage we have caused, this was very disconcerting to us.”
Bill’s eyes narrowed. “Are you guys Vulcans or Romulans?”
“I do not understand.” There were some exchanges in the alien tongue, and Gortak answered “We are harmless and helpful, if that is what you mean.”
“So, what’s in the bag?”
“Rocks. Look and see.”
Bill looked in the bag and gave a low whistle. “Diamonds!”
“Yes. We understand you place a high value on them.”
“And all I have to do is keep quiet about you? You could have just killed me if you wanted.”
The aliens were horrified. “No! That is against everything we are! We cannot cause harm to others, harm to another harms yourself. And yes, all we ask is your silence. It would be good if you can find a way to help those we have harmed, but we do not ask it.”
“Will you be here long?”
“About half an orbit of this planet around its star before we are rescued.”
“It’ll be really cold before then.”
“We have the means to stay warm.”
“Do you need food or drink?”
“No, we can make our own.”
“Well, I’ll be going, then. Have a safe trip back to wherever you came from. And thanks for all the diamonds!
He returned to his Jeep, drove to his bank, rented a safe deposit box, and put all but a few of the gems in it. Then he drove to the university to visit his friend Harry Fowler, a geologist, before class.
“Hi, Bill! What brings you down to the rock show?”
“I have some rocks to show you.” He took the diamonds from his pocket and laid them on Harry’s desk. Harry’s eyes got wide.
“Whoa! Where did those come from?”
“I don’t know. I thought you might have a look at them and tell me.”
“I mean, where did you get them?”
“Found them down by the Cuivre river.”
“Shouldn’t you go to the police and make sure they’re not stolen?”
Bill started. “Yes, you’re right. I didn’t think of that,” he said, although he knew the aliens hadn’t stolen them. Still, he had given his word, and if the aliens were right, telling anyone could be very dangerous. “Must not have had enough coffee this morning. There are a lot more, could you test these and maybe tell me where they originated?”
“Sure, I’ll have Larry Wilkins look at them. He’s a gemologist and knows a whole lot more about this than me.”
“Thanks, Harry. How long will it take?”
“It should only take a few hours. If he’s not busy today you should have them back tomorrow.”
“Okay, I have a class to teach in a little while, I’ll go to the police after class and show them this one,” he said, picking out a large blue stone. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
After class he drove to the police station in Troy, five miles or so away from the river. Although he lived in O’Fallon, where he banked, Troy had the closest police station to the river.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He laid the diamond on the police woman’s desk. “I found a lot of these by the Cuivre river and thought I should see if they were stolen. If they were, maybe there’s a reward. And if they’re not you could tell me what I should do.”
“Where are the rest?”
“Most of them are in a safe deposit box at the bank. I left a few at the university for experts in gems and minerals to find out where they originally came from.”
“Leave it with us. What’s your phone number?”
Bill was in his office when Harry and Larry came in and put the diamonds on his desk.
“Did you find out where they came from?”
Bill’s visitors grinned. Harry said “Outer space.”
Larry replied “Isotope signatures preclude terrestrial formation.”
Bill feigned surprise. “They just fell out of the sky?”
Larry shrugged. “They’re meteorites. It Happens sometimes.”
Bill thanked them and they left.
His phone rang a while later; they had investigated his diamond and no evidence of theft was found. He drove to Troy to retrieve it, then to a jewelry store to have it and the ones he had left with his co-workers appraised.
The blue one was worth ten thousand dollars and he was offered twenty thousand for the lot of them. He sold them and sent the proceeds to the Salvation Army, whose coffers were surely running low by now. He decided to dispose of a dozen a week to get the most from them, and donate it towards the relief effort.
The sisters flew to St. Louis to see if they could start or buy a restaurant; they had owned a popular one back home. It was surely demolished, and both were sick of the droughts, fires, floods, landslides, sky-high prices, and horrible traffic. They bought an established restaurant, remodeled it, and changed the name to the same name as their old restaurant.
Both bought homes and Mary bought another Malibu. The new restaurant became even more popular than the old one.
Noah went back west for the cleanup, which indeed led to a real job. He got his driver’s license, bought an old van, and lived in it until he could earn the deposit for an apartment. There were a lot of people sleeping in cars and parks and beaches, and when it rained he didn’t get cold and wet like when the voices had been there and he had no shelter whatever. New buildings were going up very quickly.
He ran across Carol there, who had also gone back to help with the cleanup. They married a year later.
Six months after the accident three ships from Kepler reached Earth. One ferried the crash victims home, the other two stayed in orbit to study this strange planet.
There was a mystery. Smashed vehicles and buildings and other trash was disappearing from the disaster zone. The aliens had, unbeknownst to humans, been helping with the cleanup.
And there were even more mysteries—the giant mess of plastic that had haunted the middle of the pacific for decades was no longer there. The ozone hole was gone and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere dropped greatly, to levels not seen since the fifteenth century.
The mysteries were never solved and scientists were left scratching their heads. Only one man knew the answer, but he never told a soul.


No, We’re Not All In This Together

The Allegations against Joe Biden

Don’t Feel the Reefer

20 Downsides Of Electric Vehicles: Debunked

An open letter to my congressman

Indoor Rocketry for Children

The Passover

The Trump Supporter

A Wolf in Shepherd’s Clothing

Driving the Snakes from Ireland

The Coffee Pot

The Best Music Ever Recorded


Why Are There No DINOs?

Socialism and Capitalism

Channel 49



Trump and the Christians

Q and the Real “Deep State”

Last year’s stories and articles

Share on Facebook

You can read or download my books for free here. No ads, no login, just free books.