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Power
by Mark Stanley

 

Brad Lawson realized the whole experience wasn't a dream when the UFO that kidnapped him landed on the White House lawn.

It had all begun during his Saturday night fishing trip to a canal near his home. He was dateless for the weekend again. His reverie upon how his failure as a fisherman paralleled his failure at everything else in life was interrupted by a bright light that suddenly appeared in the sky from out of nowhere. Stunned, Brad watched as it silently raced towards him and then stopped in a hover not more than a hundred feet over his head, right above where he was seated on the bank of the canal. The huge, incandescent light bathed the area in a bluish-white glow. His skin tingling, Brad slowly rose to his feet, a fishing pole in one hand and a can of beer in another. With his mouth open and his head stretched back, he stared at the mammoth light for what seemed like an hour. Then a beam shot out of it and he screamed as he lost consciousness.

Brad came to in a half-awake, half-asleep state, flat on his back. He gasped when he felt something sting him on the stomach. He jerked his head up and saw a collection of short, featureless creatures with big eyes gathered around him. They poked, prodded, and pinched him using a fiendish collection of instruments. His body was strapped to a table and he couldn't move his arms or legs. He was naked and blushed with shame over the pathetic sight that his skinny, long-limbed frame must have presented to his strange captors. Brad then screamed again, repeatedly, but to no effect. His tormentors were merciless in their examination of every centimeter of his body. He passed out once more when he felt something probe deep into a nostril of his large nose.

After a series of what might have been horrible nightmares, or even more horrible experiences, Brad awoke curled in a ball on a hard, bare floor. He lifted his head and opened his eyes. It was pitch black. He felt his body; he was sore in spots, but at least he was dressed again. Where the hell was he? Had he passed out after a few too many beers and ended up only God knew where? Again! A door suddenly slid open in front of him and, before the dazzling sunlight forced him to cover his eyes with an arm, Brad saw the White House off in the distance sitting upon an expanse of green lawn.

"What the -- ?" He tried to shield his eyes from the light flooding into the dark chamber until they adjusted, but something grabbed a hold of each of his arms and jerked him to his feet. He bowed his head and closed his eyes. Then he was pulled forward and out of the door. Brad squinted and looked back. A real, honest-to-God flying saucer was perched on the lawn behind him. Its flawless silver skin gleamed in the dawn like another sun. He saw the door in its side abruptly snap shut. Brad glanced up at the escorts that flanked him, as he was half-dragged across the grass. That sight took all the strength out of his legs. He collapsed within their painful grip and watched his feet dig a furrow through the neatly manicured lawn.

The grass soon gave way to concrete, then to tile and finally to carpet. Brad was ushered through several halls and rooms. His handlers deftly passed him through each narrow doorway, forming a single file as they did, while keeping their charge firmly in tow. Brad retained enough of his senses to notice that the building appeared to be unoccupied. The quick tour ended when he was unceremoniously deposited in a luxurious swivel chair behind a large, ornate desk. The room he found himself in had curved walls and a large window behind his seat. The presidential seal was woven into the middle of the carpet.

It was smaller than he imagined. Brad giggled at the ridiculous thought. He found it hard to concentrate. The two monstrosities who had formed his escort now took positions before him, obliterating the seal on the rug. Each was identical: humanoid, easily eight-feet tall and lacking in ornamentation or detail of any kind. The sleek metal they were fashioned from shone like polished chrome. They stood, arms by their sides, immobile and impassive. The things had heads but no faces. Brad shifted in his seat. He found it hard to remember even his own name. This couldn't be real!

"What do you want?" His voice was a squeak. There was no answer. He dared not get up. He heard a whirring noise outside and turned to look out the window. In a flash the UFO was gone. For several moments he stared at the imprint it had left in the grass. Maybe when he turned back again the two monsters would have also disappeared. Then he could just walk out, pretend that nothing had happened and find his way home, somehow. He would worry about it later. If ever.

The phone rang.

Brad jerked and involuntarily spun around in his seat. He stared at the ringing telephone and felt waves of ice water wash over him. Who was on the phone? His still-present companions offered no clue. He couldn't even look at them. Each ring ignited an electrical charge up Brad's spine. Impulsively, he knocked the receiver off of the cradle and let it lie on the desk. He sank back in the chair and drew his knees up to his chest.

"Go away!" he yelled. But both the telephone and the creatures remained where they were. Brad closed his eyes. Maybe he could just go to sleep...

Another phone rang. The one on the other side of the desk. Brad almost jumped out of the chair. "No!" His plea was a shriek. He rolled the chair back all the way to the window, but the telephone still rang. And rang. And rang. When he could stand it no more, Brad finally scooted the chair forward and picked up the damned thing, using only his thumb and forefinger. Shivering, he slowly brought the receiver to his ear and left a gap between it and him. He swallowed and tried to work up enough saliva to speak.

"Hello?"

"This will be brief." Brad nearly dropped the phone at the sound of the other voice. It did not sound quite human. "An experiment has been initiated. These are the parameters: the subject is --"

"I'm afraid you have the wrong number!" Brad slammed the receiver back into its cradle. But the voice continued coming out of the other receiver still lying off the hook on the other side of the desk.

"--a thirty-three-year-old male, with no close family or social relationships. He is in good physical health, possessing the appropriate mental state. The environment is the subject's own milieu. The conditions are of absolute power over that environment, enforced through this entity's agents acting at the subject's discretion. Upon termination of the subject's normal life span -- accidents and illnesses will be proscribed -- the experiment will be terminated and the results analyzed. The manner of further intervention by this entity -- if any -- will depend on the success, or lack thereof, of the experiment. That is all."

Brad heard a dial tone replace the unearthly voice. After a moment, he hung up the phone. He deliberately tried not to think. But, of course, he had to, eventually.


* * *

"This is our chance to end poverty and oppression forever. We now have the means to establish a world state based on compassion and generosity, rather than the competition and greed that dominate our society today. This opportunity must not be allowed to pass, regardless of its origin." The speaker was a senior senator from a New England state.

"Hogwash!" The prominent senator from a southern state slammed his fist into the table. "What we need to do is whittle our present government down to about one-fourth its present size, not create some infernal super-government that will enslave the whole world." His trademark drawl forced him to speak slowly. He had to raise his voice several times to override interruptions.

"That's all well and good senators, but that will take time." The Speaker of the House was having his say. "What we have to do right now is stop the ongoing carnage in this country and use this God-given authority to immediately ban --"

"Guns!" That was a member of the out-of-power party.

"Abortions!" That was a member of the cabinet.

"Doesn't anyone here have any vision, any sense of history?" One of the president's advisors -- not at the table, but standing in the throng that packed the room -- spoke out. "My God, we're talking about petty details here and passing over the main point. This is about Man's place in the universe, about the meaning and purpose of intelligent life, about the nature of --"

"Nothing can be decided until the issue of national security has been settled." The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was a bear of a man. All fell silent at the sound of his gruff voice. "We are at the mercy of an enemy" -- many bristled at that term -- "that we are completely incapable of defending ourselves against. These... these..." He gestured towards the pair of tall, chrome humanoids across the room, "entities are everywhere, all over the world. The devil himself only knows how many of them there are. One alone has already taken out an entire Russian armored division. We now know their capabilities. Until we know their intentions, nothing can be --"

"I appreciate that, General." If the officer was annoyed at being interrupted by the President, he didn't show it. "But, surely it has been well established that the intentions of our alien guests" -- someone snorted -- "are the prerogative of Mr. Lawson here." He turned and smiled at the end of the table where Brad sat by himself, his two "bodyguards" standing behind him. People had learned quite early to leave a large space between themselves and him.

"It seems to me," the President continued, "that we are actually at his mercy. And as he has graciously allowed our government -- and all other governments -- to function normally, his goodwill is evident. I trust we have nothing to fear on that account. Am I correct, Mr. Lawson?" All eyes turned to him.

Brad blushed. During most of the meeting everyone had ignored him and talked as if he wasn't even there. He had drawn his shoulders together and hunched over the table in an effort to become invisible. As if he could with "Arnold" and "Sly" right behind him! But now the concentrated attention of the entire room made him begin to sweat. Hadn't he done everything these people had asked of him? Wasn't life everywhere just about back to normal? The riots and other social turmoil had finally tapered off. The whole Earth was adjusting to the new state of affairs.

And what was his reward? Bureaucratic pinheads had put him through a battery of tests every bit as rigorous as the ones the aliens had performed. Well, that one doctor he had talked to for a long time had been nice, but he had been the exception. Brad had even bowed to the demand of a team of scientists and ordered his escorts to submit to an examination. Little good that did, though. Arnold and Sly and all their countless brethren were impervious to human technology.

To make everybody happy, Brad had directed all the other enforcers -- he didn't like that word -- to withdraw from human contact and make themselves as inconspicuous as possible. How his escorts instantly transmitted his commands worldwide to the others was just another mystery.

Not that his accommodations brought him any popularity, of course. Brad knew that everyone hated him. Hated the fact that a no-account loser like him had been anointed with so much power. He had even been the focus of several assassination attempts. Some by lone kooks, a few by organized groups and at least one try -- he was almost certain -- by his own government. But nothing got by Arnold and Sly, not even poisoned food.

It was time to be finished with it. All he wanted to do was run away and hide from the world. And then do the one and only thing that mattered to him. Now he had the power to do it. This was as good a time as any to say his piece. Brad cleared his throat and glanced around the room. If only everyone wasn't looking at him! He dropped his eyes to his hands and kneaded them together on top of the table as he spoke.

"I've decided that the best thing I can do is to maintain a low profile." He began to rock from side to side in his seat. "I'm going to live in a home someone gave me out in the country." Brad had been flooded equally with both gifts and threats since his unique status had become public knowledge. He was quite wealthy, now. "I'll maintain an office and a staff in New York." The office suite was another donation. "The staff will be a bunch of advisers that I'll pick later. But I don't plan to do much," he hastily added, looking up again. He saw rolling eyes and shaking heads. He resumed the study of his hands.

"In the future, there may be some good work I can do with all these things out there." He jerked his head to indicate his escorts. "But, for now, I'll just see to it that the countries which are not free get democracy. I talked about that with somebody from the U.N. They have a plan to depose the dictators, release the political prisoners, and sponsor free elections in those places. And uh, that's about it..." he trailed off.

"Well, that's very commendable, Mr. Lawson," the President began, "but we were hoping --"

"Excuse me." Brad jumped up and left the room, his bodyguards in tow. He couldn't take any more silent contempt. The President stared at the door for a moment and then nodded to a man lounging against the opposite wall. The man left by another exit.


* * *

"Geez, what's with the traffic this morning? There must be a wreck ahead." The driver shook her head.

"So what? It wouldn't be the first time we were late," Steve said from the back seat. "What were you starting to say, Debbie?'

"You wouldn't believe the guy Gwen tried to fix me up with last night!"

Gwen giggled from behind the wheel of the car and briefly turned to look at the other speaker in the rear seat. "Oh, George isn't so bad." She looked at the passenger beside her in the front seat. "You, know him, don't you, Albert? He works in accounting, too."

"Yeah, he's OK. Got sex on the brain, though."

"See?" Debbie playfully bopped her friend on the back of the head. "Thanks a lot, pal. He was a beast. It was all I could do to --" Steve's sharp intake of breath stopped her short. "What's wrong?"

"Look!" Steve could barely speak. He pointed out the window. "A Space Knight!" All the occupants of the car turned to stare at the tall, gleaming figure striding purposely down the sidewalk towards them. The sight had brought traffic to a standstill.

"I've never seen one before," Steve managed to say after a few seconds. "Except on TV."

"Me neither," Gwen had stopped the car.

Albert whistled long and low. "I saw a couple, a year or so ago, when all this started," he said. "I used to live next to a military base. Boy, that was really something. They popped a lot of caps at those dudes, with no effect."

"I never realized they were so big!" Debbie leaned over Steve to get a better look as the thing drew near. "Are they dangerous?"

"Nah!" Albert said. "Long as you stay out of their way." The being passed them by. It drew a variety of responses from the other vehicles. Many cars swerved out of the lane closest to the sidewalk. Others honked at the strange figure. A few brave souls waved and yelled greetings or epithets. The sidewalk cleared out rapidly in front of it. Behind it, a small mob had formed and was in not-so-close pursuit. A news crew in the group was doing a live feed of the event. A seedy person trailing behind everyone held up a crudely lettered sign that read, "Behold the Demon of the Anti-Christ.

"What do you think it's doing here?" Gwen's voice was hushed, as if the thing might hear her.

"Probably just passing through," Albert answered. "They do that sometimes."

What's that guy's name who's supposed to control them?" Debbie asked. "Barry something or other, isn't it?"

"No. Brad Lawrence," Steve said. "I think. I've read a bunch of stuff about him online. He's a weird guy -- a recluse. His approval rating keeps dropping, too. The latest poll puts him at only twenty-seven percent."

"Well, why shouldn't it?" Gwen slapped the steering wheel. "He doesn't need to let those monsters walk around free like that! It's scary!"

"Let me tell you something." Albert crossed his arms and smiled. "That whole story about aliens and this Layman guy pulling the strings of all the robots they supposedly left behind is just BS. It's a con job. This is a hush-hush government project. The CIA and the rest of the Feds are behind it, you know."

"Really?" Debbie took one last look at the rear window. "I can imagine. But what if it really is true? What would someone do with all that power?"


* * *

"Dear Mister." The letter was written in a child's scrawl. "Please send your helpers to my home. My daddy gets drunk a lot and hits my mom. All she does is cry. He goes in my sister's room late at night sometimes, but I don't know why. She hardly talks at all. He hits me, too. Please make him stop. Signed, Tommy. P.S. We're always hungry." There was no return address.

Brad crumpled the letter into a ball and hurled it across the room. He didn't read any more of his mail after that.


* * *

"Really, there's no use having a meeting if he isn't going to be here," the advice columnist said.

"This will be the third one he's missed." The radio talk-show host made a note of that on her PDA.

The social worker shrugged. "I guess he just doesn't care any more.

"Obviously, he's become too self-absorbed," the self-help guru said. "Very predictable."

The crisis counselor took a swing at the air. "Oh, if only I could have another crack at him!"

"Well, I have better things to do than this." The advice columnist packed up her things. "For what it's worth, I resign from this advisory board." Then she left.

The social worker shook her head. "It appears he's resigned from us." She slid her chair back and followed the advice columnist out of the door. Most of the others followed.

"Darn," the New-Age Spiritualist said to an empty room. "I had so many great ideas, too." She touched the crystal pinned to her breast. Maybe she shouldn't have turned down his pass.


* * *

He sat in front of his computer and stared out of the large picture window of the den at the flat, undisturbed waters of the pond behind his house. There were no fish swimming within it, nor any waterfowl paddling and splashing upon it. Off in the distance he could see the tall fence that bordered his property and, just beyond it, all the tents of the hangers-on who wanted to talk with the reluctant ambassador of the space aliens.

Beyond them there were nothing but miles and miles of Kansas wheat fields. A roving band of enforcers ensured there were no trespassers on his land. Arnold and Sly never left his side, however. He talked to them often, but they never answered. It was one thing to hide from the world, but it was quite another to do it by oneself. He hit the Send button.


* * *

Debra read the e-mail several times before she showed it to her husband.

"I never knew you went to junior high school with that guy," he said after studying it.

"I don't even remember him, much less that he had a crush on me. His 'first-love' he says. Poor boy, he seems so sweet. I wonder how he found me after all these years. But I don't want to hurt him." She looked up at her husband with a frown.

"Yes," he said, "but still, you have to turn him down. I'm sorry that he's lonely, but you're my wife now, and the mother of my children." His eyes filled with tears. "I don't care how strong he is, I'll fight anybody -- or anything -- for you."

Debra embraced him. "Don't worry darling. I'll say no. He says he'll understand if I can't come. I'm sure he won't do anything awful. Look at all the power he has, and he's never done anything wrong with it all this time."


* * *

He stared at the ceiling over his bed. The moonlight poured in through the window and covered it with shadows. The two most prominent ones were of the elongated heads and shoulders of Arnold and Sly. At least they obeyed his order to turn their backs to him whenever he wanted a little privacy. He chuckled. The only orders of his they ever disobeyed were the ones to just go away and leave him alone. So much for being the most powerful man in the world! He sighed and stretched, but did not rise though he knew sleep was far away. He used to wake up in the middle of the night before all this happened, too. And, as then, all he could do was lie awake and ponder the future until blessed unconsciousness overtook him again.

He used to fantasize about meeting a girl, falling in love, and getting married. But after a few moments of blissful thoughts along those lines, reality always set in. Supposing a girl did come along, what would she think of his lack of family, of friends, of any social life at all? After she introduced him to her family, to whom would he introduce her? His mother was in the grave and his father ran away when he was young. He had no siblings or cousins. He would meet her friends, and she would wonder why he had none. Who would be his best man at their wedding? Who would he pal around with while his imaginary wife went shopping, or to coffees, or wherever it was that women went?

Getting past all that, how could he raise children, being still one himself? What kind of pitiful father would he make, wounding his kids through one ignorant blunder after another and turning them into little versions of himself? What kind of girl would be attracted to such a hapless outcast? None, of course. He grimaced. All that applied equally now, if not more so. Nothing had changed. There was a void in him that needed filling before he could truly hope to win someone he could call his very own. Until he found something to snugly fit into that big emptiness deep within him, he was doomed to a lonely life of mute frustration, king of the world or not.

He suddenly laughed. Of course he could have any girl in the world he wanted, right now. In fact, he could have all the girls he wanted with one quick order to Arnold or Sly. Hell, he didn't even have to do that. All he had to do was put the word out and thousands, if not millions, of women would clamor to be his. "Form a line, ladies," he said out loud and laughed again. What a mob scene that would make!

He sighed. That wouldn't do, of course. He wanted somebody who really wanted him for the right reasons, not someone who was a groupie, or a gold-digger, or a hanger-on. But he needed something else first. Something that would furnish the reasons a girl would have to genuinely like him. If only he knew what that was! He rolled over and put the pillow over his head.


* * *

"Hello, Neil in Carol City, you're on the air."

"Hey, guys. I think you should cut the poor fella a break."

"How can you say that, Neil? Use your brain! What's the matter with this nut case? Why doesn't he say or do something? What's he cooking up out there in that fancy home of his in the middle of nowhere? I can't remember the last time he came out in public. And aren't you concerned about all those big, silver SOBs he's got running around at his beck and call? Don't we deserve to know what's up with that?"

"Come on, Joe. Those things aren't 'running around' anywhere. When was the last time you saw one?"

"That's besides the point. I'm just worried that --"

"Hey Neil, this is Gregg. I'm with you, my man. My partner here is just a little too paranoid --"

"We should be paranoid! We're talking about a guy who could just snap his fingers and --"

"Then, why hasn't he done it already?"

"I don't know, Neil. But aren't you concerned about it?"

"Nothing's happened."

"Yeah, but --"

"Like I said, I agree with you, Neil. I get up every morning and thank my lucky stars that those space-jockeys didn't give somebody like Joe all that power. Because if they had, you and I wouldn't be here today, and no girl in the world would be safe."

That's not funny!"

"Next caller. Julio in Hialeah, you're on the air."

"Hey guys, let's get back to talking about sports."


* * *

He looked at the graceful language and elegant calligraphy Sly had produced on the stationary from his halting dictation. He stood in his backyard on the edge of the lake and read the letter several times. Then he tore it up. What was the use? She wouldn't come anyway. She had been a girl he had known a few years out of school. Even then it was obvious that she was going places and he wasn't. She had even said as much in a roundabout way when they parted. "I wish I had your inner calm," she had said, "but I don't think you could tolerate somebody like me who's going off in all different directions at once." He snorted and crumpled up the pieces of the letter into little balls and tossed them one by one into the lake. He supposed a boundless empty feeling qualified as "inner calm" in a way. His eyes misted; he would fall to his knees right now and worship any woman who even halfway tolerated him!


* * *

"Well gentleman, I think we are in agreement. We have legitimate grounds for concern. It's like having a sword over our heads." The speaker rose from the crowded table and walked to a window that overlooked the Maryland countryside.

"This man refuses to engage in any meaningful dialogue. He paused and sighed. "I suppose he is well intentioned. He has done no real harm. Yet. But neither has he been of much help to the world if you take into account what he has the power to do versus what he has actually done." The speaker turned from the window to face his audience again. He waved an arm. "No, except for a few trivial acts of charity here and there, which he has since halted after disbanding that ridiculous dog and pony show of advisors he used to have, he has been completely inert." The speaker shook his head. "Can you believe the type of people he had telling him how to run the world? That was a disaster waiting to happen." He was interrupted before he could continue.

"To be fair, he has largely maintained the status-quo." The point came from a person seated apart from the crowded table. His beard, longish hair and casual dress made him stand out from the others present with their neatly clipped heads, clean-shaven faces, short-sleeved white shirts, black slacks, and dark ties. "Plus, every nation now enjoys political freedom thanks to the intervention of U.N. troops led by enforcers under his command. War, poverty, and disease have mostly been eradicated. Peace, prosperity, and stability reign everywhere."

"Yes, but for how long?" The original speaker slapped his leg with his palm. "How long before some quack works his or her way into that man's confidence and destroys every civilized thing Mankind has worked for, for centuries? He is literally besieged by thousands of such people everyday."

"He sees no one."

"That's even worse! He holes himself up in that hideout of his and never shows his face or says a word to anyone. What does that say about him? Is he unbalanced?"

"We tested him extensively. The results showed him to be somewhat withdrawn, but not pathological in any sense. That's not unusual for an only child. He is completely sane."

"Was, you mean. How do we know what his mental condition is now? And have you considered this: what if he becomes bored?" The speaker made a fist. "No, gentlemen. The potential for the abuse of power in this situation is simply too great to go unchecked. We must have control over him. If only to ensure that the aliens responsible for all this don't decide to shut down their experiment -- and us! -- when they return, due to some insane act of his. Accordingly, the President has instructed me to put a certain course of action into motion with all possible speed."

"You can't possibly mean another attack!" The casually dressed man almost leapt from his seat.

"I don't know what you're talking about, and if I did, I would not be at liberty to say so." The first speaker sat back down before continuing. "Your tests were very good, doctor. Very thorough, indeed. For your information, we have been spying on him for some time. We know what he wants and, thanks to you, we know just what to give him; down to the smallest detail."

"You've lost me."

"It's called a 'honey trap.'"


* * *

Everybody watched TV. Especially lonely recluses in out-of-the-way places. He was watching when a new drama came on the air as a mid-season replacement. Its star was a previously unknown actress. She was very attractive in a "girl-next-door" kind of way. The actress played a character of sterling character and unimpeachable integrity who never let the grim world wear her down as she made her way through the trials and tribulations of everyday life. A quiet, deep, inner strength was her hallmark. She always triumphed over the forces of despair and hopelessness by the time the show concluded. It became an instant hit and the character the actress portrayed was an inspiration to millions.

He was very keen on the show.

The invitation came after the fourth episode. It was hand-delivered by a "Space Knight." Unfortunately, it was for the actress who played the sidekick furnishing the comedy relief.


* * *

"How could we have miscalculated?" The speaker threw papers, charts, and computer discs around his office.

"I don't know, sir. We're looking into that now."

"You'd better find out! Talk to that bleeding-heart doctor who conducted the original tests! He should know."

"Yes, sir."

"And find out everything you can on that ugly bimbo. He must be one sick bastard, if he's got the hots for her!"

"Yes, sir."


* * *

Brad opened the door; there she was. He caught his breath and couldn't speak for a moment. She half-waved and said, "Hi," in a childlike voice.

"Hi, yourself." Brad wasn't sure if he spoke the greeting or not.

The girl smiled shyly and bowed her head. He took some time to drink her in. His visitor was tall and slim. Her limbs were long and awkward. A big nose accented her narrow face and prominent cheekbones. Her short hair was only haphazardly brushed and dyed an odd color. It contrasted with her pale, white skin. She wore a pink skirt and blouse. Her shoes were well worn. She fidgeted and looked very embarrassed.

"Come in, please." Brad finally found his voice, though it was only a croak, and ushered her through the hall and into the living room. The whole house was immaculate, thanks to the all-night efforts of Arnold and Sly. They even did windows.

"Thanks." She was blushing.

Brad didn't dare take her arm during the short walk. It was all he could do to keep from tripping over his own feet. When she entered the room, the girl gave a little cry of delight and ran over to his bodyguards. He had ordered them to stay put and not follow him to the door, and for once they had obeyed a request to leave him alone.

"Oh, they're so beautiful!" the girl said. "The one who came for me didn't stay around very long. I never thought I would get this close to another, again." She reached out and ran her hand over Arnold's chest. "They're all alike, aren't they?" The girl acted like a four-year old on Christmas morning. "This could be the one who just opened the fence-gate out there, for all I can tell."

Suddenly, she jerked her hand away and looked back at him. "I'm sorry. May I?"

Brad laughed. "Of course! You can't hurt them."

Arnold remained impassive. The girl continued her examination.

"The people who made these must be wonderful. I wish they would come back."

"So do I." Did he ever!

She now gave Sly the once-over. When finished, she giggled. "How do you tell them apart?"

"Arnold! Step forward!" It obeyed.

The girl squealed and clapped her hands.

"You named them!"

"Yes." He was beginning to feel dizzy.

"What's this one called?"

"Sly! Raise you right arm!" It did.

"Oh, not like that. He's not a Nazi. Are you, Sly?" She grabbed its arm and tried to bend it. The thing held its pose for a moment, then yielded.

"Sly! Do what she wants!" But the order was not needed. The girl soon had Sly doing high-fives. Brad was sure that the room was spinning. The girl laughed with each slap of her hand against its. Brad had to sit down before he fainted. When she saw him collapse upon the sofa, the girl ran over to him.

"Are you all right?" Her hands were over her mouth and her eyes were wide.

"Yes, of course!" He realized he was crying.


* * *

"Well?"

"You've shot yourself in the foot, my friend."

"Don't toy with me, Doctor!"

"The girl you prepared for him was perfect -- as a lover. I'm sure she would have wound him around her finger and had him jumping through all your hoops. You almost pulled it off. But you didn't consider one thing: there is another type of girl he would find even more appealing and turn to in a time of extreme need."

"Nonsense! He must have gone nuts over the last year. It's obviously the explanation for his attraction to that flake." The speaker held up a folder.

"Have you seen this? She's exactly the type of kook she plays on that show. That beanpole is a joke in the entertainment industry. I'm telling you, that poor bastard has wigged out."

The doctor smiled. "The writers of that show created her character as the perfect foil to your carefully constructed personality profile of the lead character. And the producer hired that girl as perfect typecasting for the part. All in complete innocence, of course. They had no notion of this grand plan that you had concocted."

"Get to the point!"


* * *

"I have to tell you something." They ate dinner on the outside patio, at a small wooden table that overlooked the pond. When he didn't continue, she took his hand.

"What is it?" Her voice was soft, but he couldn't look at her. He stared out over the water, instead. At least one large bird with a long beak had finally decided to make the pond its home. It swam in lazy circles near the far shore. It poked its head under water for a moment and came up with something that flashed silver in the dusk.

"If you didn't agree to come..." He swallowed. She squeezed his hand. For the first time in his life he felt full. "You would have been brought."


* * *

"You've got to be kidding me! That really is sick!


* * *

They were curled up together on the couch in front of the fireplace. "How long can you stay?"

She giggled. "Will you let me go?"

"Of course!"

"That's not what I want to hear!


* * *

The man seemed to come to a decision. "Thank you, doctor," he said. "What you've told me is very valuable. I'm sure there's an angle we can use here. Everybody has their price. We can turn even this waif into some sort of Mata Hari. We'll get to him yet."

"You still don't get it, do you?"

"How's that?"

"Now you're dealing with two of them."


* * *

There was an overwhelming crush of press just outside the gate in the morning. They had followed the girl there the evening before. Now, only the sight of four Space Knights kept them from mobbing the couple holding hands before them.

"...And in conclusion, all we did was talk for the whole night. Scout's honor!" The girl raised a hand in solemn affirmation. "And that's all we have to say for now." She stuck her tongue out at the crowd. "Bye!" She suddenly spun on her heels, kissed her companion on the cheek, and waded into the mob. Two knights cleared a path for her.

"By the way, this is Mutt and this is Jeff," she called out, pointing to her escorts. "They'll be with me from now on. They're a present from my new best friend. Now, where did I leave that car?" She paused, stood with her hands on her hips and looked around at the crowd around her. "I have to get to the airport in time for my flight. I have an afternoon shoot." Mutt pointed the way and opened a corridor to her vehicle. "Good!" The girl followed her escort's lead. "After we wrap up, I'm coming back with a few of my other close friends and we're going to have a real nice get-together, right here."


* * *

A live feed via satellite showed her car disappearing down the road, Mutt and Jeff easily kept pace at approximately sixty miles-per-hour, one in front and the other behind. They also had a police escort. The man behind the desk waited until the reporter came back on camera and then used the remote to shut the television off. He sighed.

How could a man gifted with so much authority, with so much force, with so much delicious, raw power, use it to merely gain a.... He cringed.

A sister!

And what would the aliens think?




Story © 2002 by Mark Stanley markthewriter@hotmail.com

Illustration "Powerful" © 2002 by romeo@planetmag.com




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