by Chris Dean
When she asked him return to Area 51, Jon’s hands shook and sweat beaded over his collar. He remembered the lime green blood seeping over his rubber gloves and a lifeless pallor replacing the gray. The relentless silence and vacant eyes over the operating masks. Even now, in a crowded restaurant five years later, Jon could still hear the silence.
Lieutenant Colonel Bower picked at her fish, pretending this was still a casual meeting between old friends. “They’ll renew your clearance. It won’t be a problem, I’m sure.”
He choked out a response. “I can’t go back there.” He gasped, breathed, gasped. His heart was like lead.
Outlined by dark slings of hair, her face froze: the ginger eyes poised over the pink swells of cheek weighed the moment. “That was a long time ago.”
“Do you know what happened to me?”
“Then you know why I can’t go back. Don’t you see? I killed them and it-it-”
“You had a breakdown. You got better. It was a long time ago.”
Hysteria leaked into his voice. “I never got better. I remember it all like yesterday.”
Bower placed her fork down. She took one last sip of sauvignon. “Jon, we need to finish this conversation elsewhere.”
He lifted the trembling, pale face. His eyes were haunted with guilt, and more. “I won’t go anywhere with you. You pretended to be my friend. You wore that dress, as if—” Sobbing, he refused to look at her any longer.
“I cared about you, Kathleen. I really did. I’m sorry I left. So, it’s my fault. But please, don’t come here and make me look like a fool.”
“There are things you don’t know.” Impatience spilled over. She had to get him someplace they could talk in private.
“About . . . us? No.”
What on earth could she say? Bower had buried the memory of those weekends on the lake along with the pain of losing him. He was right about one thing. “It was you who disappeared, Jon. I can’t say I was in love, but I did care about you.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. When you called and said you were here.”
“I didn’t know what was going on back then, not with me or with you. When you left I-I made myself forget.”
“I’m so sorry.” He reached across the table. Her fingers danced around his. A spark that he remembered flashed in her eyes.
“A long time ago. No regrets.” Her nose crinkled above the soft smile. He loved that.
“You know, you never looked so beautiful.”
“You’re a terrible liar. I don’t like all the hair but you do look the same cute you always did.” Her attraction had not really been for the muscular body prowling beneath the safari jacket or his pretty eyes, but this—his openness and natural affection, she remembered it all now. Bower had not expected to feel anything for him. Now she knew that wasn’t possible.
“Look, I don’t want to talk about the past. I don’t care why you came.” Jon’s nerves jumped like spider web in a drizzle. “I’d like to spend time with you. I want another chance, Kathy.”
Was Bower blushing? She felt the heat and something she could only describe as giddy. Damn him. She had promised herself never to be vulnerable again. Here he had her feeling like a foolish girl.
Grimacing, she pushed it all away. For the moment anyway. He really needed to know exactly why she had come to Des Moines. “I need to explain some things. Top security issues, Jon. Things I can’t talk about here.”
He retreated behind his wineglass. “I’m making a fool of myself. Sorry once again.”
“No, you’re not. But before we get to that, we have to—” A huge, cleansing breath. “Jon, I’m going to tell you something. Then we will go someplace else and talk about it. We will not discuss it here in public. Is that clear?”
What was she saying? “What is it?”
“Tafta and Kroonia are still alive.”
His jaw slipped open. It wasn’t possible. He’d killed them! “What?”
“It’s true. I’ll tell you all about it. Come on.”
The C-12 was cavernous and loud. Air buffeted the fuselage like hammers on tin. Jon struggled to understand Claremont. The older man spoke louder, much louder. “I say, you were the one who patched them up. Five years ago.”
“Do you know anything about that?” The plane rocked from a gust and Jon clung to the narrow bench.
“I didn’t know until yesterday that I saved them. I thought they died.”
Claremont’s well-tanned face became a puzzle. “How is that possible?”
“They went into a coma. It’s some kind of healing mechanism. I took off, I was so upset. I didn’t know.” Jon should have realized something like this was possible. Kroonia and Tafta had survived in a freezer for sixty years after Roswell, until someone realized they were actually alive. Their recuperative powers were extraordinary.
“All this time—?”
“I fell off the face of the earth. They had no way to reach me. I’m not military. Just the veterinarian they happened to pick.”
Claremont’s eyes glazed with a recollection. “I’ve seen your file. You weren’t just some vet.”
Of course he knew about Jon’s work in Indonesia and Africa. This man was CIA. “I can’t tell you what a relief it was to find out they’re still alive.”
“I imagine so.”
“And they’re having a baby. It’s incredible. It really is.” Pride swelled in Jon’s chest. In a way, he was partly responsible.
“I understand they asked for you to be there.”
“Kroonia and Tafta? I didn’t know that.”:
“Yes. Say, that woman who dropped you off. Was that Lieutenant Colonel Bower? You know her?”
“We recently became reacquainted. She flew home to Colorado. Her father is in the hospital for minor surgery.”
“I-” Jon wasn’t sure what to say about the goodbye kiss. Last night had changed his life in more ways than one. But was it the same for her? Would he even get to see her again?
“Not my business really.”
“No, it’s all right. She may be getting out. She has twenty years in. We might try and get together. I don’t really know.”
“You have the look, son. Good luck.”
Jon was quite sure Claremont was right.
Dr. Olsen dabbed perspiration from the tortured gray face. “Come on, sweetie. You can do it.”
Jon said it again. “Push. Tafta, push!” The tiny head was visible. The baby was crowning.
“I cannot push anymore,” Tafta groaned.
“Yes, you can! Just a little more. Push!” Jon reached for the emerging infant.
Tafta pushed once more. “Ahhh!”
The baby slid into Jon’s outstretched hands. He delicately handed the little alien girl to Olsen. Olsen wiped the pinkish gel away and showed Tafta her new baby. Tafta’s huge eyes glistened with tears. “Where is my husband? Kroonia.”
Kroonia’s eyes were wet too. Long skinny arms snapped around Jon for a hug before he went to his wife. “Tafta. She is so beautiful!”
Jon shook hands with several of those in attendance as he stumbled out into the corridor. The enormity of this moment overwhelmed him. The first Ferra baby born on planet Earth. And he had been there to see it. Amazing.
He found an outdoor deck and watched the purple and crimson sunrise. Gold rockets launched into the sky, awakening the desert. The cool air tingled with warmth. He sank into a chair. Labor had lasted nineteen hours and he was exhausted. His arms felt like straw. He groaned and rubbed that sore spot in his back.
Then he saw her and the pain vanished. Lieutenant Colonel Kathleen Bower marched smartly from her car to the building. He could barely make out her face, but Jon knew she saw him too. He half-waved. She gave no sign.
She couldn’t wave back. She was in uniform on a military base with cameras everywhere. He hoped that was it. Would she come up there and find him? He waited, heart bumping, knees shaking, breath wedged in his throat.
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