brother spends every clear night pointing a telescope at the same
stars. When she confronts him, he lets her look through the
telescope. A small sliver speck changes course, slows, and merges
with a larger silvery spot.
life changes. Her brother spies on space aliens! Soon she learns the
aliens have a settlement in the Kenned Valley, and that her boyfriend
monitors their communications.
before he has to give up and go home broke, Captain Seddry finds the
perfect world. It is rich in ore, has a breathable atmosphere, and it
even has a reasonable climate — an ideal place for a new Langon
colony. The fuzzy natives won’t be a problem. They don’t have any
large weapons or even airplanes, making them too primitive to ever
find the mining colony hidden away in an isolated valley. Or so he
live in California with my husband, and raise baby squirrels for a
wildlife care center. I could go into detail about my background and
education, but that is rather boring. Let me say that I am quiet,
love the outdoors, and never have enough time to do all the things I
want to do.
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The concert featured students from local schools. Kefan sang the first song and the last. After
the final curtain closed, he changed and ran outside to meet Lenea.
She stood staring up at the wall of vid screens next to the theater marquee. The screens flashed
static eventually resolving into a picture of the theater stage where Kefan and the band waited to
perform. A moment later the music blared, loud and garbled.
A crowd had gathered.
“This is the first outside test,” Kefan shouted over the din. “We—”
The sound system screeched, and everyone jumped, grabbing their ears. After a moment’s
silence punctuated by sighs of relief, the music came on clear, and Kefan’s beautiful voice soared over
Occasionally one of the screens became too blue or green as the technician made final
adjustments, but by the end of the first song, it was almost like sitting in the theater.
More people wandered to the array as they were treated to the morning’s performance for free.
Kefan’s cheeks warmed as people pointed to the screen, marveling at the size of the images.
He put his arm around Lenea’s waist. “I’ve never seen a picture of myself that big before. Do I
really look like that?”
Lenea still gawked at the display, a lunch basket in one hand, and her mouth and eyes opened
wide. “You did it, both the display and the singing.” She squeezed his hand.
His dream of a vid array had come true, and everyone was impressed, but time with Lenea was
precious. Soon, someone would want him to do something, so he led her backstage.
Lenea was so pretty. Her baggy, gray overalls made her look like a little farm girl, but her dark
blue eyes and the little speckles on her rich golden face made her the most beautiful woman in the
She held the basket out. “I brought lunch.”
They hid in a practice room. The one tiny bench forced him to sit right beside her, so close his
fur tingled. She ate and chatted about how much she sold and what silly things her brother did.
He slipped his arm around her shoulders, leaned over, and kissed her cheek. The aroma of
summer rain greeted him. Her soft fur made his whole body quiver.
She turned her blue eyes toward him, and he kissed her lips.
The door opened. Kefan’s drink landed on the floor, splattering sapper juice everywhere. His
father glared, while the music director stared at the green stain spreading across the floor. Kefan’s
heart raced as he searched for an escape route. Lenea giggled, putting her hand on his knee.
Jafar folded his arms. “There you are. You should come back and rest, Kefan. Music comes
The music director looked up from the mess on the floor. “Kefan, you need to be in full voice
for the Midnight Song. You can’t do that if you’re tired. Please rest. I’ll get something to clean this
up.” He hurried down the hall.
“Let’s go.” Jafar reached for his arm.
Kefan opened his mouth to argue, but Lenea put her finger on his lips. “Rest. I want to be
proud of you. I’ll meet you after the Midnight Celebration.” She glanced at Kefan’s father. “If it’s all
right with you, Mr. Bennett.”
How could she be calm? Kefan’s jaw tightened as his eyes focused on his father’s face.
Jafar closed his hand on Kefan’s elbow. “Kefan will return to our cabin immediately after his
Kefan faced his father, freeing his elbow. “After I sing tonight, I’m doing what I want. I’ve done
nothing but work since I got here.”
Marggit Wesjem paused outside the door of student study room 317. This meeting couldn’t
possibly be of any interest to her. Monloe Gemmel had nothing to do with military history, ancient
languages, or covert communications. But he was a professor at Varhaad University, so she did him
the courtesy of attending this meeting about Summer Festival. She had lost interest in that event long
Monloe welcomed her and Froley Liwans, an astronomer, into the room. He inserted a cassette
into a portable projector sitting in the middle of the study table and projected a vid of a meteor on
Marggit’s pocket radio buzzed. It was the continental director’s assistant asking about her
quarterly reports. Although no longer on active duty, she did have some covert responsibilities for
which she was required to make quarterly reports even though nothing what so ever had happened to
require her attention. She turned her back, keeping her voice low.
Monloe said something about alien ships and spread several photographs across the table.
Marggit glanced at the vid, which showed a juvenile science fiction story of a fake spaceship
landing in a valley full of nondescript gray buildings. The vid zoomed in on two dark beings with bald
faces and fur around the back of their heads. Their long, thin faces and necks, furless arms, and wide
pinkish teeth looked real, too real. They were not hand-drawn characters, or puppets, or any of the
other techniques the vid companies used to create fiction stories. No amount of makeup could make
any Hocalie look like that. The view panned to show a massive vertical bulge in a sheer rock wall,
Kessler’s Column in the Kenned Valley. She had trained there in her youth.
Marggit dropped the radio. “They are real.” Her voice stuttered as the world spun around her.
Froley gasped. “It can’t be, all the theories of time and space gone to hell. Aliens came here.”
His voice went up in pitch. “Why tell us? You need to tell the police, or the government, or
Marggit stood, and then sat again as her legs threatened to give out. She set her jaw, willing her
body to relax. It had been many years since her days as a spy forced her to keep control of her
emotions. She glanced at Froley and then at Monloe. They truly believed these were invading aliens.
Monloe opened his mouth, but Marggit put her hands on the table, pushing herself into a
standing position. The chair squeaked on the floor. “No!” She had to keep control of this
Their eyes went to her.
Monloe looked up. “Um, I am concerned about—”
Marggit interrupted. “You must not tell the government—the politicians.” Her eyes drilled into
Monloe. “If this is fake . . .”
“No. Not fake.” Monloe’s voice trailed off.
Marggit’s stomach churned as she rummaged through the photographs. “This doesn’t appear to
be a military invasion, but they have considerable technology. We don’t want curiosity seekers
blundering in and making a mess of it.”
Froley’s voice shook. “We can’t discover an invasion of space aliens and keep it from the
government.” His eyes opened wide. “Or everyone else.”
Marggit closed her eyes for a moment leaning forward. “I’m not quite as retired as I pretend. I’ll
make the necessary notifications.”
“If I understand your position, telling you is telling the government, at least the part that might
know what to do,” Monloe said.
Marggit gave a slight nod. “I used to be a covert operative and cipher expert, which is a lot more
boring than it sounds. I wanted to change careers, but according to the military, I knew too many
secrets, so I had to stay on the payroll. They gave me the job no one wanted.” She took a deep
breath. “I evaluate unexplained phenomena, weird sightings, ghosts, strange lights in the sky, and,”
she grinned, “reports of invaders from space.”
He followed his family to the big amphitheater. They arrived late, and the only seats left were in
the far back. The people on the stage looked like toys. Lannes put his head near Lenea’s. “Psst, this is
“Duh, it would be better if Kefan were singing.”
“Only for you,” Lannes rolled his eyes. “I gotta pee.” He worked his way to the furthest
restroom then sauntered back, keeping his eyes on the sky. Both moons hung in different parts of the
sky almost full, obliterating all but the brightest stars.
A blue-white streak appeared high in the northwest and sped downward. It slowed, changed to
fiery red, and dropped behind the hills. His heart pounded waiting for an explosion that never came.
He spun all around searching the sky and the people. The moons hadn’t moved, and all the people
faced the stage as if nothing had happened.
Lenea pushed her way through the people to the door backstage.
She peeked into the green room. Kefan, dressed in light blue and white, stood in front of two
men and two women in flowing purple robes. The director waved his baton, and the singers chanted
aah aah aah up a third each time and back down.
She wanted to wish him luck but didn’t dare interrupt. If she left, he’d never know she had
come. Caution gave way. She ran to Kefan, kissed him on the lips, and sprinted off.
Giggles followed her out the door.
Inside a room as large as the Festival theater, thick, black cables extended from the back of three
green, metal structures, each twice as tall as Kefan. The cable went through the wall, up the side of
the building, and across to the power distribution center. These machines needed a lot of power even
though they didn’t have any apparent purpose.
A control panel stood at one end of each machine. A square, green button filled the upper right
corner, a round, black button the upper left. Below the buttons, there was a row of four black
rectangles with a knob under each. They might display something when working.
Kefan twisted each knob both directions, leaving it in its original position. He pushed the black
button. So far, this machine remained as inert as every other machine in the place. He pushed the
A high whine, several ear-splitting thumps, and a sudden gust of wind ripped through the room.
By the time the machine settled into a steady rhythmic roar, everyone inside had run outside toward
A thin plume of bluish smoke rose from the roof of the building, and a hum settled over the
The lights came on.
After a rush of excited conversation, everyone tiptoed back into the factory. They crept up to
the machine and walked around it. It made a frightening amount of noise, a slight breeze, and
vibrated. Kefan reached out and pushed the black button. The machine sputtered to a stop. The
lights went out.
The two aliens, one dressed in green and the other in maroon, were further away now, ambling
along the road. He tiptoed across the road again, snuck down to the river, and ran closer to them,
wishing he had a vid recorder.
Lannes couldn’t stop his heart from pounding, nor could he stand still. He stepped back on the
road some distance behind the aliens and walked after them. They didn’t look back or change pace.
Lannes stopped. Maybe approaching these creatures alone wasn’t safe. He dismissed the fear, walking
faster until they turned to face him. This was too exciting to pass up.
He tried to keep the grin off his face. They stared at him. He glanced toward the river, then up,
way up, into their dark, shiny faces. They were too big to follow the game path under the thorny
brambles. He had an escape route.
“The man comes falling not,” the taller one said.
“What?” Lannes tried to stop the giddy laughter building inside his chest.
The other alien looked down at him. “Can you for road not.”
A rush of heat made his coat too warm. “What about the road?”
“What did it say?” the shorter one said in the alien language, and Lannes understood him.
The taller one faced to the shorter one. “Try again.”
Lannes guessed the meaning correctly and waited while the taller alien composed a sentence.
“Who the what are stars.”
He didn’t want to sound flippant, but what else could he say. “I don’t know. Who the what are
stars?” Lannes giggled. “Who the what are you?” Although they were big, they didn’t appear
threatening. Nor were they surprised to see him.
The shorter alien bent his head down, staring at Lannes. “The what who are.”
“Oh,” Lannes grinned. “This’s fun. My name’s Lannes. What’s your name?”
The shorter one squinted at him. “What the are?”
Lannes brought his thumb to his chest. “Lannes. My name’s Lannes. What’s your name?”
“What does Nanlas mean?” the shorter alien asked.
Lannes wanted to say, “My name’s pronounced Lannes,” but didn’t want the aliens to know he
understood them. He wished they would talk in their language. It was easier to understand than this
mangled version of Cadorie.
The shorter alien reached his hand toward Lannes’ chest. “Take him back to the ship.”
Lannes leaped down the embankment, sprinted under the bramble bushes, and didn’t stop until
he cleared the top of a distant hill.
“Why can’t you see they are two halves of the same thing? If Kefan succeeds with his vid
project, your translation problems will be solved,” Jeke said. “Surely you must understand why,
Kefan shook his head. Sometimes, that man didn’t make sense.
Monloe’s shoulders slumped. “Funding will be expensive and hard to justify.”
Jeke spun around, glaring at each of them. He nearly dislodged a bunch of wires, and Kefan
jumped to the rescue.
“Don’t see how important this is?” Jeke extended his arm toward Kefan’s vid, now displaying
two boxes of static and a line of random letters across the bottom of the screen. “Just think of where
it will go.”
Monloe pursed his lips.
Jeke stepped in front of Kefan. “You want to move parts of vid images around. You want to tell
your machine to move some dots between specific coordinates, or from one vid to another, for a
specified duration of time. You do that now by changing dozens of switches and turning an equal
number of knobs. Hit and miss until you get it right. To do something sophisticated you’ll require
thousands of switches and knobs.”
Jeke did understand better than anyone else what he wanted to do.
“Right,” Jeke continued. “You want to control the machine with words, which are remembered,
corrected, and replicated.”
Kefan nodded with a smile. “The corrected words can be sent to a typewriter.”
Marggit faced him. “Machines can’t understand words.”
“Kefan made the machine read vids of alien script, why can’t it read words?” Jeke asked.
“It doesn’t read the script. It finds patterns in strings of characters.” Kefan’s smile faded.
Jeke stared at each person for a moment before speaking. “What do you think written language
is, if not patterns in strings of characters?” He paused and scanned the room, stopping at Kefan.
“Don’t you want to type your commands and see those commands on the screen, so you can correct
mistakes before you tell the typewriter to do something?”
“I don’t know how to do that.”
“Of course you don’t, you’re not a mathematician or a cipher expert. You can’t write or break a
Jeke stared right into Monloe’s eyes, “Now, do you understand why he must have a separate lab,
and a few handpicked assistants?”
“It’s a lot of expense for a code-breaking machine,” Marggit said.
“Do you understand, Kefan?”
This was an extension of Lenea’s idea of correcting text before printing it. Kefan swallowed. “It
could do math.” An icy chill ran through his bones.
“And?” Jeke scowled at Kefan.
“It could control other machines, not just typewriters.”
“Do you think those aliens plot courses through interstellar space with paper and pencil, or
control their ships with thousands of switches and knobs?” Jeke turned and walked toward the door.
“Where are you going?” Monloe asked.
“To manipulate enough thrust to send something into space. Something big.” He slammed the
door behind him.
Kefan closed his eyes. “I don’t think he means to say hello.”
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