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Charlie MacDuff and the Test of Time
by I. MacPenn

Chapter 33:
Thera

Charlie said, "We'll have to get Jane out of there somehow."

"First, we'll have to find out where we are," George said.

"And when," added Charlie. "This place looks a bit familiar, doesn't it?"

"Yes, a little bit," answered Alice, "But it's also kind of creepy."

They walked along the corridor and eventually came to a large door marked G. There were no other doors in view. "Do you think we should we go in?" asked Alice.

Charlie hesitated for just a moment, and the door mysteriously opened -- silently, smoothly, and slowly. Just inside the door was a large metallic desk. A middle-aged woman was sitting behind the desk. She didn't look up as Charlie, George and Alice approached.

The kids waited silently for almost a minute, but the woman ignored them. Finally, Charlie cleared his throat loudly.

The woman looked up at the kids and said sharply, "Well, what do you want?"

Charlie, Alice and George looked at each other, utterly confused. The woman spoke again, "I don't have all day, and Mr. Grandours is a VERY busy man. Are you lost? Are you looking for someone?"

"No," said Charlie. "We're not looking for someone. We're taking the Test of Time."

The woman started laughing. She could barely speak, but managed to say, "Don't be silly. You can't take the Test of Time-- you're just a kid." She pulled herself together and in her normal, unpleasant voice said, "That's not funny -- I don't appreciate childish jokes. You should leave now."

Now Charlie was annoyed. He said sternly, "We've already taken the first part of the Test of Time. We have to see Mr. Grandours. It's very important that we see him quickly -- we need to help rescue someone."

After a moment's pause, the woman stiffly said, "Fine, what are your names?"

Charlie said, "We're Charlie MacDuff, Alice Wright, and George Garcia. And Jane Wadkins is stranded in the rain forest."

The woman looked them up in her files, and said in a surprised voice, "I have no record of a Jane Wadkins. But I see that you did well."

"Was someone watching us the entire time?" Charlie asked.

"Oh goodness, no," she replied curtly. She added, "We could, but we don't. We've been short-staffed lately, ever since our funding was cut, so we don't monitor our testees that much anymore."

"But what if we got hurt or something?" asked Alice.

The woman responded, "If your life signs terminated, I'm sure someone would come soon."

"That wouldn't help a lot if you were being eaten by a crocodile," argued Alice.

The woman stared at Alice coldly and said, "Just wait over there. I'll call you when Mr. Grandours is available." She pointed to a set of chairs along the wall.

A young man was already sitting there. He was about 20 years old. He had long legs and couldn't seem to get comfortable in his chair. Charlie, Alice and George sat down near him. He nodded a greeting to the kids, and asked, "Are you waiting for your parents?"

Before anyone had a chance to answer, he continued, "Hi, I'm Larry. I'm here for the Test of Time. I can barely wait for it to start. I've been studying like a dog for years. I know I'm going to ace it. I just hope they don't send me back to First Contact. That would be far too horrible -- even for me." Thinking of this possibility made him shudder.

Alice asked, "What's First Contact?"

"What's First Contact?" he repeated in disbelief. "Oh, you little guys are going to have to start studying history if you ever want to be time travelers. First Contact was humankind's first contact with an alien species. It's not only the most important event in history, but also one of the grossest."

Again, just thinking about First Contact made him shudder, but he only stopped talking for a second. Before anyone else could say a thing, he continued, "It all started with weird radio messages we got from space. It took a team of cryptographers years to translate the messages. It turned out that the messages were from a group of aliens who were traveling in a spaceship relatively near us in the galaxy."

Larry continued, "The team of cryptographers found out that the aliens were peaceful beings who were a little bit ahead of us technologically and scientifically, and they were traveling in space simply to explore, not to conquer. At least, that's what they told the translators. Some people believed them, but others didn't. After talking to us for a while, the aliens decided to come and visit us. They would get here in about 20 years.

"In the two decades that it took the aliens to travel here, the countries of the Earth got together and made the fastest advances in weaponry and space technology that have ever been seen on this planet. We were ready for them - whether they were good or bad.

"Meanwhile, the team of translators talked to the aliens every day for 20 years -- each alien was assigned a translator. Many of the translators became good friends with their alien counterparts. Every conversation between the aliens and people was analyzed by hundreds of psychologists and war experts, but no one could be certain if the aliens were telling the truth about not wanting to conquer Earth.

"During those years, one human translator, named Thera, fell in love with the alien for whom she had been translating. And the alien, called Aphon, fell in love with Thera. They talked to each other for hours every single day for 20 years. Thera even left her husband and children for the alien - he was the center of her life.

"When the government found out about this, they almost fired her, but they soon realized that this could be a great opportunity to learn more about the aliens. After all, they were listening in on everything they said. Maybe Aphon would reveal more about his people than he intended.

"Eventually, the aliens landed on a dry lake bed in California, just as planned. They were immediately put into quarantine to make sure that they didn't give people diseases or get diseases from people. The quarantine period was expected to last for six months. So everyone waited patiently.

"Oddly enough, immediately after the aliens landed, all the translators were fired except for one old colonel, who was kept on (but transferred to Utah). Thera and the other translators were alarmed at this. At first they thought that the aliens had died during the landing or had been killed by the government, but then they wondered why one translator had been retained. They realized that at least one alien must be alive.

"When the six months of quarantine were over, people everywhere on Earth were outraged that the aliens didn't appear, but the governments of the world said nothing. All inquiries about the aliens were ignored. Some officials said that the aliens had died during the landing of the spaceship. Others said that they had died of disease a few weeks later. No one knew what to believe. The rumors were that the aliens were being held captive in an underground vault in Utah.

"Thera was distraught. No one in the government would even talk to her. She soon joined a group of militants who were trying to save the aliens. The members of the group got new identities, and then took government jobs at the facility in Utah where the aliens were rumored to be held.

"After years of planning, Thera and the group managed to get into the underground steel vault containing the aliens. The vault was locked, and the guard would not give them the security code that would open the 12-inch-thick steel door. The militants were prepared to blow up the door using dynamite, but that would risk hurting the aliens and themselves. They much preferred to use the security code and open the door safely, but only the guard knew the code.

"The group threatened to kill the guard if he would not tell them the code. The guard begged them not to open the vault, but when he realized that they were going to do it anyway with the dynamite, probably killing them all, he relented and gave them the code, warning them that they would regret it for the rest of their lives.

"The militants entered the code on the vault's security pannel. It was a motor-driven door, and it would take almost five minutes to open. As it moved ever so slowly, Thera pounded the wall by the door, yelling to Aphon. When a tiny crack appeared, she could hear him faintly - he was alive. Thera and Aphon had never been happier in their lives. They talked for the entire five minutes that it took the door to open, as they waited for the moment they would meet face to face, the moment they had longed for for decades.

"When the door was open just a slit, a huge dark claw attached to a thin, hairy, black limb emerged through the crack, scratching at the steel wall impatiently.


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