I got up and started pacing around the room, looking for a way to escape the sudden breakout of a UFO hunters’ convention.
“Give me one freaking break,” I said, trying not to shout or descend into hysterical hysteria. “Please don’t tell me this is all about Roswell and big government cover-ups.”
“No,” Stella said. “It’s not about Roswell. Well, only to the extent that Roswell is part of the cover-up.”
“What in the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing ever crashed at Roswell, and sit down, will ya?” Pete said. “Let me take that back. Nothing that crashed at Roswell had anything to do with aliens.”
“Don’t tell me, they really crashed into Hangar 18,” I said.
“Not even close,” Stella said. “But you’re close.”
I stared at her, and something in her eyes was smiling at me even though her face otherwise was a complete deadpan.
I settled down enough for Pete to look me in the eye.
“When I was a kid in the Air Force,” he said, “I helped out gathering materials for an experiment that Apollo 11 ran, trying to communicate between the Earth and the moon with a laser, or at least a lightbeam that could probably best be described as a laser. It was the only Apollo 11 experiment that failed.”
“Why you changing the subject, Pete? What’s that got to do with Roswell?”
“Forget Roswell, Hank, that was all a smokescreen of a smokescreen,” Pete said. “The laser experiment was an attempt to make the alien tech from the crash work.”
“What crash? You just said there was no crash.”
“Nope. I said nothing alien crashed at Roswell,” he said. “The crash was someplace else. I was there, at the real site, 20 years later of course.”
“Where was this crash?”
“The only four people I ever told are dead,” he said, exchanging a glance with Stella. “I think I’m done telling people where it was.”
“Buzz, for one.”
“You told Buzz about this? Buzz kept it from me, too?” Here came the hysterics again.
“Buzz told you plenty, it sounds like,” Stella said. “Just not about the crash site.”
It occurred to me this was a good time to take a breath or two and slow down. I swallowed the hurt and confusion and anger best as I could and turned back to Pete.
“OK, Pete, I’ll shut up so you can tell the story.”
“Good lad,” he said with a wink. “That experiment failed, but they eventually figured it out and used the tech in CD players, DVD, Blu-Ray, fiber optics, you name it. Carrying voices and sound over light waves was the point. And the prototypes for those devices was pulled from the ship.”
“Back up and tell me about the ship.”
“I was just going to,” he said patiently. “A couple of weeks before the fake crash at Roswell, an alien ship crashed in – somewhere a lot more remote than the New Mexico desert. A lot of what you hear in the Roswell myth actually happened, except somewhere else. The creative geniuses who staged the Roswell thing knew it would be easier to debunk stuff that had a ring of truth in it, so they went with mostly the truth only misdirected.”
“It actually happened, only someplace else?”
“I just said that. Three aliens were killed instantly, one survived for a while but the human docs couldn’t save him because the biology was so whacked,” Pete said. “The wreckage was moved to a secure location – not Hangar 18 – and we’ve spent the last 50-60-70 years salvaging the technology, figuring out how it works, and slowly introducing it into everyday life.”
“That’s a generic ‘we.’”
“I don’t think so.”
Pete took a look at Stella, then out the window to somewhere far away, then back to me.
“OK, yes,” he said. “I was part of the salvage team for 25, 30 years. Then I retired out this way.”
I looked at Stella.
“So who are YOU, really?”
“I’m with Pete.”
I looked back and forth between the twentysomething trim blonde and the rumpled septuagenarian.
“With Pete?! You mean, like –”
“Get yer mind out of your pants, Hank,” Pete guffawed. “She’s working on this with me.”
“Are we finally getting to the point?” I hazarded a guess. “Are you going to tell me what ‘this’ is, that you guys are working on?”
He took a deep breath, slowly in, slowly out.
“A few years ago,” Pete Bratcher said, “some more aliens arrived.”
She gave me an actual smile this time.