by Robert J. Emery
The vault door closed with a disturbing deep metallic clang that startled Ruben. It was pitch black and he could no longer see Catherine in front of him. He felt his skin go cold. A wave of anxiety washed over him, and he sucked in an involuntary breath. Nervously, he reached for the Windsor knot of his tie to be certain it was tight against the buttoned collar of his shirt. He tugged at the hem of his blazer. Calm down, Ruben, his mind screamed. You’re intelligent enough to accept the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Get a grip.
In that moment of fear, his thoughts flashed to Howel’s insatiable appetite for anything concerning UFOs. Within months of becoming president Howel had requested a briefing from the Air Force, requesting whatever credible information they might possess. In response a low-ranking Air Force colonel visited the Oval Office early one Tuesday morning and informed Howel that most all sightings could be
explained, and those that persisted were nothing more than myths perpetrated by UFO conspiracy nuts. Beyond that, the Air Force was unprepared to release any further information, even to the President of the United States. End of subject.
“Bullshit,” was Howel’s reply. “Lying bastards.”
Over the centuries there had been thousands of credible UFO sightings by witnesses whose integrity and credentials were beyond reproach. There were many who claimed to have been abducted by aliens. There were persistent rumors that alien bodies existed and were kept in a top secret repository at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida, as well as Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Rumors persisted that former President Richard Nixon not only knew of the bodies on deposit at Homestead, but also had personally viewed them. Fully aware of the rumors, Howel never accepted the military’s lame explanation.
Well, Ruben mused to himself, the world is in for a bone-chilling shock. On the other hand, he reasoned, might it just be the salvation of the human race?
After what seemed like an eternity, a small red light—the type used in photo darkrooms—illuminated over their heads. Ruben blinked several times until his eyes adjusted and realized they were in a small, narrow space no more than three feet wide and seven feet long—not a good place for anyone claustrophobic. The faint sound of music was coming from somewhere beyond the walls. He recognized the piece as Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.
Directly in front of Catherine was a steel door with a lever protruding from its center. She placed both hands on it and rotated it counterclockwise. There was the sound of several distinct clicks—like vault lock tumblers. The door glided inward to reveal a dark room beyond. Beethoven’s Seventh flooded their small space.
Catherine took Ruben’s hand to lead him into the chamber, but Ruben planted his feet firmly and did not move. She offered him a reassuring smile, tugged at his hand gently, and coaxed him forward. Once inside she pushed at the metal door. It closed with a loud clank and a solid click. They were now locked in.
Although Forrester had prepared him, Ruben was surprised at how dark the room actually was. His eyes began to slowly adjust to the minimal light from a floor lamp several feet to his left. And he was aware of a slight odor in the air that seemed familiar, but he didn’t immediately recognize. He scanned the shadows, nervously searching for what would surely be the most amazing experience of his life. What first caught his attention was an off-white sofa up against the right wall. Two wooden side chairs faced the sofa. His eyes scanned left across the room where his spied a table up against the left wall. A large flat screen television was perched on top of what looked like a combination DVD and CD player. The familiar green digital levels spiking up and down on the DVD/CD player revealed the source of the music. His attention shifted to the center of the back wall. He couldn’t be certain, but he thought he saw a small bed no larger than a child’s.
There was slight movement in the far right corner of the room causing Ruben to suck in a quick breath. He thought he saw a diminutive figure hunched over a small table, but in the dim light he could not be sure. He blinked several times and squinted.
“I’ve brought you a visitor,” Catherine said loudly over the music.
Ruben flinched at the sound of Catherine’s voice.
“Can I please turn the music off?” she said.
There was no reply.
Catherine sighed and turned off the CD player. The sudden silence created an eerie, hollow feeling, not only in the room but also in Ruben’s churning stomach.
“Someone has come to see you,” Catherine repeated.
For several agonizing seconds there was no sound, no movement. Then, whatever it was in the shadows began to rotate in its chair. Ruben’s eyes widened and a chill ran through him and his breathing intensified. His heart pumped faster, thumping in his chest like a loud bass drum. “Jesus!” he whispered. He desperately wanted to back up, to leave this chamber as fast as his feet would allow.
Catherine stepped further into the room. “This is Ruben Cruz. He works for the President of the United States.” There was no reply. She turned to Ruben. “Go to him.”
Ruben’s mind raced. Did I hear her right? Did she say go to him? What the hell does she mean?
Forcing his muscles to respond, Ruben mustered a few steps forward and stopped. That was as far as his stiffened body would move. He felt a shudder course through him as the small, shadowy figure stood. Sluggishly, as if slow motion, the creature made its way toward them. Ruben wanted to retreat, to backtrack to that buzzer on the wall that would set him free of this dark, mysterious chamber.
The diminutive figure moved agonizingly slow, stopping just short of what little light there was.
Damn it, Ruben’s inner voice screamed. Come on. One more step. Come on! Move into the bloody light. Get this over with.
Just when Ruben was sure he could not stand another second of the unknown, what appeared to be a hand slipped from the dark shadows. The hand only came up to Ruben’s waist causing his eyes to shoot down. Ruben recoiled. What he was seeing looked like a hand, but the fingers were long and bony—far longer than those of a human. A flap of skin about one inch long protruded between the index finger and thumb. The flesh—if in fact that’s what it was—appeared to be gray and smooth. Oddly, it reminded Ruben of shiny sharkskin cloth.
Maybe it was just a reflex motion, maybe it was out of sheer fear, but Ruben was suddenly aware that his now clammy right hand was extending to meet the alien’s. Ever so gently Netobrev’s long fingers enveloped Ruben’s hand, making every muscle in Ruben’s body go rigid. Netobrev’s grip was strong, which further unnerved Ruben. He tried pulling back slightly, but the alien’s grip became firmer.
“He . . . is . . . frightened . . . of . . . me . . . Catherine.”
Netobrev’s speech pattern was slow and deliberate. It was not really a halting pattern as much as it was a precise rhythm that commanded complete attention. The alien released each word with clear pronunciation in a voice that was gentle and soothing and, oddly enough, had a slight feminine tone to it.
Ruben was terrified and mesmerized at the same time. He swallowed hard and licked at his dry lips.
After what seemed an eternity, Netobrev’s long fingers slowly uncoiled from Ruben’s and he turned back to the table.
Ruben watched in awe as the elusive creature moved in a slightly jerky gait—one foot purposely planted on the floor before the other moved—almost staccato in its motion.
“Would you care to share my food?” Netobrev asked.
“He cannot eat . . .” Catherine began.
“He has a name,” Netobrev said, sternly. “Talk of me as if I were actually in the room.”
“I just meant . . .”
“I know what you meant, dear lady.”
Catherine folded her arms across her chest. “Are we in a foul mood today?”
“P-e-r-h-a-p-s,” Netobrev responded, dragging the word for effect.
Catherine pushed on. “As I was saying, Mr. Netobrev’s digestive tract does not tolerate solids. He’s been eating the soft foods created for our astronauts.”
Netobrev scooped up a spoonful of whatever it was and sniffed it. Then, in obvious disgust, he placed the spoon on the plate. “I have no idea how those brave men could have possibly survived on this mush,” Netobrev mused in perfect English. Then without skipping a beat, he said, “Why are you here, Mr. Cruz? What is your mission?”
“I was going to explain, but you cut me off,” Catherine said. “We invited him here . . .”
“I was addressing Mr. Cruz, Catherine,” Netobrev said abruptly. “Would you be offended if I were to speak with the gentleman alone?”
“I would,” she protested.
“No doubt, but since I am in such a foul mood, humor me.”
Catherine took a deep breath and let it out quickly. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Mr. Demming instructed me to stay.”
Netobrev did not reply. It was the definitive signal to Catherine that he had made his decision. She gently touched Ruben’s arm. “Are you okay with this?”
Ruben shot her an uneasy look. “Ah . . . well, not really.”
“There, you see? You’re putting Mr. Cruz in an uncomfortable situation.”
“Are you uncomfortable, Mr. Cruz?” Netobrev asked.
“Well . . .” Ruben muttered.
“It would be better for everyone if I stayed,” Catherine insisted.
“I do not bite, Mr. Cruz. You need not fear for your safety.
Catherine, assure the gentleman I am a kind and gentle soul.”
“Sometimes, but not today it seems,” Catherine said in a scolding voice.
“Nevertheless, dear girl, I would prefer to speak with this emissary alone. Surely there are helpless little mice awaiting your lab experiments elsewhere in this dungeon.”
“That was uncalled for.”
“I found it amusing,” Netobrev shot back.
“Suppose I stay until Mr. Cruz is more comfortable?”
“Suppose you do not and say you did,” Netobrev wisecracked. “Go now,” he commanded.
Catherine sighed audibly. She knew there was no chance in hell that the meeting would go forward unless she gave in to Netobrev’s demand. She placed a hand on Ruben’s arm again. “You’ll be fine, Mr. Cruz.”
Ruben turned to her and his eyes widened. “Wait a
Catherine moved very close to him, squeezed his arm and whispered so only he could hear. “It’s okay, really. I wouldn’t leave you alone if it were not. You’re perfectly safe. And don’t forget what we said. Be yourself and above all don’t be intimidated by him.” She turned to Netobrev. “Anything else, Your Highness?” she said, sarcastically.
“My freedom would be much appreciated.”
“Behave yourself,” she scolded him as she would a child.
“I always do, Catherine,” Netobrev said.
“Press the buzzer by the door when you’re ready to leave,
Before Ruben could protest further, Catherine was pressing the buzzer, alerting Forrester to unlock the doors. In a blink of an eye she was gone and the door was once again sealed and securely locked.
They were now alone. Ruben found no solace in that. His position at the White House demanded that he be in control of whatever challenges confronted him. But now he was being challenged to interact with the most incredible discovery ever, and it frightened him to his very core. The sound of Netobrev’s voice jolted him back.
“She is a bit motherly at times, but I am quite fond of her.”
Netobrev’s speech pattern was excruciatingly slow, which made Ruben all the more apprehensive.
“Are you attracted to her?” Netobrev asked rather nonchalantly.
“Catherine . . . are you attracted to her?’
Ruben replied haltingly. “Well . . . ah . . . I hadn’t thought about it. Yes, she’s attractive.”
“The question was, Mr. Cruz, do you find yourself
attracted to her?”
“I, ah . . . I just met her.”
Ever so slowly, Netobrev stood and advanced toward Ruben. “Mr. Forrester has told me that here beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Is that true, Mr. Cruz?”
Netobrev stopped at the very edge of the light again. Ruben’s eyes strained to make out facial features, but he could not.
“You see, Mr. Cruz, where I come from we all look alike. We are all beautiful creatures. It is called evolution, something that appears to have progressed very, very slowly on this primitive planet.”
And then it happened. The alien took those last few steps into the light. As desperately as Ruben wanted to get this over with, he was not prepared for this moment. His face went pale and his eyes widened in disbelief. The first physical feature that he was not prepared for was Netobrev’s stature.
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