Return Engagements: Book Three (Part Eight)

The actual crash site was… mundane. Reading about it fifty years after the fact, you easily imagine that being there would give you some sort of powerful experience, but the truth is that it felt more or less like everything else.

I’ve witnessed several miraculous events over my lifetime (literally miraculous things), and the thing that struck me about them was that they didn’t feel terribly religious and overpowering as they occurred. They were other-than-ordinary events, to be sure, but they didn’t feel like reality was being torn asunder and then reconnected.

More than that, so far as I’ve been able to tell, seeing a miracle never drove any major changes in me. And so I think Jesus was wise to tell people not to talk about the miraculous things that happened around him: They are not what drive changes of heart and mind, and that’s what he was after.

People like to throw the idea of miracles around for the sake of their doctrines, but in my experience they are not life-changing, and putting one’s hope in them is, as the Bible might put it, “leaning upon a broken reed.”

As we drove our truck between two streamlined objects, it became clear that they had been damaged upon impact: the one easiest to see had a crack from front to back and the other looked lopsided. Renn jumped out of the truck and darted back and forth between the probes, opened some sort of latch and pushed some type of controls in each. “We’ll take this one,” he called out as he stood next to the probe with the long crack. I moved the truck, hooked up the winch and laid out the boards so we could pull the probe in. We had practiced, so it wasn’t difficult.

And, yes, there were what looked like little people.

These are not humans,” Renn told me pointedly. “Don’t think of them in that way.”

And while they certainly didn’t look terribly human, they carried our general body shape, including two prominent eyes.

Then what exactly are they?” I required of him. I had stopped what I was doing and looked him square in the face. He responded in kind.

These are what you’d call drones, Paul. They were built from a type of primate, not cloned from humans. But the fact is that the basic two arm, two leg, torso and head design is the best shape we’ve found. The torso is life support, and its organs are quite different from yours and mine. The head is for sensors and processing. But it has nothing like our pre-frontal cortexes, which allow us to be deeply aware of ourselves. They have no interior universe.”

But you regret the shape, don’t you?”

Yes,” he confessed, “I do, and not just for the mess it created on your world. These were made before my time and discontinued around the time I was born – several millennia ago by your calendar – but they were never replaced, and I thought they should have been.”

The thought crossed my mind that I might have found it comforting that his people were capable of bad judgments, but that wasn’t the case. Mostly it was just sad, and it disappointed me that growing out of bad judgment might take us longer than I had hoped.

Are you okay?” he asked me.

Yes, I suppose I am, but you were quite right, these units should have been replaced. They look creepy.”

I know,” he said, mourning.

There really wasn’t more to be said or done about it, and so I climbed down from the truck and continued toward the probe. I pointed at the drone and asked him how to “pull this unit” out of the craft. He joined me, and we laid it several feet away, continuing with our work.

In less than a minute we had the probe attached to the winch and pulled it in quickly enough. It was surprising light for its size. It just barely fit in the back of the truck, but we got the door closed and locked. We ditched the motorcycle.

With the truck loaded and pointed back to the road, I pulled out my camera and took a full roll of stills with high-speed film, and then another.

A minute later we were back in and driving. I leaned out of my window and took several more shots as we rolled away.

* * * * *

The ride back was like the ride in, save that this time I was watching for our previous tracks more than hazards. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that my demand for answers had weakened Renn in a way. And so, on what was a clear part of our route back, I broke our silence.

You’re not used to culpability, are you?” I asked him.

It’s that obvious?”

Well, obvious enough, but I’m willing to let it go if you are.”

He smiled and I smiled back.

None of that was my decision,” he added, “but if I had to do it over again, I would have argued my point more forcefully.”

Yeah, welcome to my world,” I added wryly. It seemed to close the open wound, leaving both of us to integrate our choices and their results.

* * * * *

True to form, the way back to the road seemed shorter than the way in, even though we remained concerned about the US Army. It started to rain, but not terribly hard, and so we were still okay without lights. We got back to the road with no cars within sight. That left us free to repair the fence, at least cosmetically.

A mere three or four minutes later we were back on the road, heading more-or-less north toward Albuquerque. I must have scanned the skies a dozen times (and the road continually), but still saw nothing. If they had radar at the nearby bases, the probes didn’t seem to have set off any alarms.

We remained at a sort of alert status until we were on Route 66 headed west. There, perhaps twenty miles west of Albuquerque, we finally felt like just a couple of random truck drivers. First we relaxed and then we became euphoric. And here again, Renn’s emotions were powerful. His level of satisfaction and joy lifted me beyond my expectations. Just one or two moments over all of my lifetime were of the same level, and Renn’s experience lasted far longer.

Renn drove all night. We spoke on and off, but when we did it was excitedly, rather like two 16 year-old boys about to get our own cars. As the sun was rising we found a truck stop, filled the gas tank and our bellies, then headed out again. I drove this time and Renn grabbed a bit of sleep.

A few hours later, somewhere in Arizona, Renn took the wheel again, while I slumped into the corner of the passenger seat and slept. By noon I was back awake, and by late afternoon we were approaching Las Vegas. We drove directly to 20th Century Photo.

We worked slowly because were were tired, but we got the probe into a large, solid shipping crate and nailed it shut (just in case the landlord should look inside the building). Then we locked everything up and clambered into my car. We drove slowly back to the Flamingo, greeted the second shift staff and staggered to my suite.

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Paul Rosenberg