I had called the Barrets the day after Frank's last visit inviting them for dinner and the evening the week following the visit from Peter and Jo. Sally insisted they bring Roxanne and John, their newest arrival.
They refused to fly commercially, which I certainly agreed with, and arranged with Frank to have them flown here from the West Coast on one of her private jets. She was eager to do that, especially after what she had learned from Ned.
Perhaps this should be about Roxanne. It was, after all, she who originally impressed Frank with her precociousness. Now twelve years old, she was still the center of attention wherever she was, as poised and polite as a cultured young woman, with all the natural charm and laughter of a happy young girl. She simply sparkled with life, oblivious to the affect she had on others.
Nine-year John, whom none of us had met, was a handsome boy, not like his father, but a masculine version of his dark-haired mother. He was, like his sister, very polite, neither pushy or shy, but very articulate and insatiably curious, busily taking in everything, obviously fascinated by everything at the estate.
I was so glad Sally had insisted the Barrets bring their children. I know she loves children, as I do, when they haven't been corrupted by ignorant parents or the government schools, and I was not ignorant of why Sally took every opportunity to remind me how much I loved them. She needn't have done so, since there was nothing I looked forward to more than raising a family with her.
After dinner, Andrew and Marie, one of our beloved cooks, and a couple of Marie's friends went off with the children. We had asked the Barrets if there were any restrictions on what the children were allowed to do. There weren't. I'm sure one of the places they visited was the firing range. Both of the children, we had learned at dinner, knew how to use guns and spent time learning about them on the range with their parents. At nine, John was already a better shot than Roxanne, for which she begrudgingly, but honestly, admired her brother.
Andrew had been concerned about not being available after dinner but I assured him the pot of coffee he had left would be satisfactory and shewed him off to be with the children.
Both Sally and I liked Bill and Sarah immediately. As we both had discovered, our first impressions are very often correct, because even in the smallest things, one's posture, expressions, and reactions, people display what they are. Of course we would never judge anyone on first impressions alone, but in most cases, as with the Barrets, the first impression turns out to be correct.
There was some small talk about Bill's programming work for Frank, and how they had found Frank a great and pleasant surprise.
"She is absolutely demanding. Everything has to be exactly as she wants it without compromise, and she knows exactly how to define what she wants. Oh, she'll listen to any rational objection, and answer any reasonable question, but she will not accept anything short of what she demands. It is so easy to work with her."
I laughed. Anyone else describing Frank as Bill just had would have been complaining. Bill was extolling the virtues of Frank he most enjoyed.
Bill was doing most of the original programming work, and Sarah was doing most of the coordinating of Bills work with other work Frank was having done by other programmers. Much of that was programming called interfacing which allowed dissimilar programs to work with each other. Early on Sarah mentioned to Frank she was worried about the security of their design work being communicated so openly even though they used the latest in secure communications and encrypted transmissions.
Frank was convinced and asked Bill if he had any ideas. He certainly did.
He had been working independently for several years on a totally new means of radio transmission that used a characteristic of all electromagnetic waves that in the past had only been studied as an aspect of light, called polarization. Rather than using the frequency, or amplitude, or phase of radio waves, the system Frank was designing used polarization. Theoretically, an infinite number of information channels could be transmitted at the same frequency using different polarizations of the signal. By using a variation of skip-frequency transmission, which changed frequency and polarization with data encrypted using a strange attractor (chaos theory) generated non-repeating code, communication was practically undetectable; and if detected, was impossible to decode.
"One advantage of the system will be that none of the current methods used by the FCC or any other government agency is capable of even detecting the existence of the messaging system. It is radio, but no current radio detection system can possibly detect the signals, they exist on such tiny polarized slices of any frequency. On any currently existing radio system, those signals are swamped by the unpolarized signals. Of course, the signals don't exist at any frequency long enough to be detected anyway. The system will use several different bands simultaneously, making it possible to communicate world-wide."
"What kind of communication are you planning, Bill," I asked.
"It's overly ambitious, but Frank is very enthusiastic. It will essentially be a private wireless Internet. Every node will be both a client and server, and it will act as a client for the entire public Internet by means of robots without having to reveal URI points."
As interesting as Bill's transmission system was, it was not the real reason we had invited the Barrets to dinner. There were now two reasons. I wanted to introduce them to Roger's history and how Frank, and we and the others all related to Roger. The new reason was to discuss what needed to be done now about the apparent danger they were in.
"I know that Frank has mentioned Roger to you, but has not told you much about him, except that he is a kind of exceptional hero of hers, as well as ours", I began. "Frank left it to us to explain about Roger, not because you need to know about him, but because you have a right to know. Neither Roger, when he was here, nor any of us who know him would ever allow anyone who had not earned that right to learn anything about him."
"Excuse me, Mark," Bill interrupted. "I thought you said, or implied, Roger is no longer here, but you are talking about him as though he still is. He's not some kind of God who's gone to heaven or something like that is he?"
"No," I said. "Oddly enough, there is a sense in which what you suggest is true, but it is not what you are thinking. There is nothing supernatural or religious about any of this. Roger is a human being exactly like you and Sarah and Sally and I. He is perfectly human, but was not born on this planet."
I paused to let that sink in. He did not say anything, but was obviously incredulous.
"I'm not asking you to believe me, only to learn what I have to say. You may think of it as fiction, if you like," I continued.
I gave them a brief overview of all that Roger had claimed about being from another distant unknown galaxy, about the universe being populated with human beings, about the fact that the earth was the only known remaining planet in the universe where there was perpetual war, crime, and oppression of human beings by other human beings.
I explained as briefly as possible Roger's mission on earth and the nature of his research, then provided a brief history of Roger's interactions with the others, especially with Sally and me.
"When I said Roger is no longer here," I explained, "I did not mean that he had died, only that he has left earth for his own galaxy and world—his real home and his family. You have not met Margo, but I hope you will, because she was with Roger when he left. To us, Roger has simply gone on a long journey, but still very much exists.
"Whatever you choose to believe, it must be because your own best reason leads you to believe it. Please do not believe anything just because I've asserted it is true. I think you know I would never lie to you, but I suppose, until you know me better, you might conclude I'm deluded. If I am, I'm not alone in that delusion, however. Frank, and Sally, and all the others I mentioned share it."
"I cannot offer you any evidence that what I say about Roger is true. There are other non-earth humans in the world, but very few, I understand, and I only know one other, one I hope you will meet named Irene Dempsey. Dempsey, which is what we all call her, provided the only visible evidence any of us has ever had regarding the non-earth origin of Roger and herself, and that evidence was witnessed only by Sally and I.
"The reason I've told you all this is because Frank is convinced you both are among the very few on this planet who have not surrendered your individualism, your true nature as human beings. I am convinced as well. The true nature of Roger and the other non-earth humans was only ever revealed to those Roger was convinced were truly human. When Roger left, I agreed to take responsibility for all Roger's property and work. One of those responsibilities is discovering other independent individualists and allowing them to see what is possible to them in this world, and in all the rest of the universe, is already a reality."
Both Bill and Sarah sat silently. Bill was holding Sarah's hand and I could see him give it a little squeeze. Then he said something I very much liked:
"Mark, you have no idea how much I want to believe you. In most things such as this, Sarah and I agree, simply because our thinking is usually the same, but I do not speak for Sarah. I know you have been completely honest with me, and I have no reason to doubt what you've told us, but you pointed out the one reason I cannot simply believe it. I have no evidence at all. I have never even met Roger, and now never will. How could I not want it to be true the universe is populated with rational moral human beings, but I have no evidence beyond your word that it is true. It would be wrong for me to simply believe it on your, or anybody else's word, wouldn't it?"
"Yes it would, Bill." I said. "I told you I did not expect you to simply accept my word for what I've told you. At least hold on to the fact that what I've told you is possible. Even if you ultimately conclude it's not true, or at least not known to be true, consider the rationality of the possibility."
I knew Sarah wanted to say something, and after some hesitation she did.
"Mark, I believe you. I think the fact that you and Sally, and especially Frank have all known Roger and believe him is evidence. I know it's not evidence I can examine physically, but I know what people are and I know you and Frank would not be taken in by a fraud. If it were not true, what would be the point? Perhaps I don't believe it in the same way you and Sally do, because you've known Roger and have seen real evidence, but I believe it in the same way I believe there will be milk on the grocery store shelf when I get there. I'd be surprised if there weren't any, and I would be surprised if what you've told us turned out to be anything but true."
It was getting late, but Sally reminded me we had one other very important thing to talk about.
"I'm sorry to change the subject, and we will have more time tomorrow to talk about all of this, since you will not be leaving until late afternoon. Right now I want to mention something much more serious to both of you personally. I do not know how much Frank has told you, but both of you have come to the attention of more than one government agency. I'll tell you in a moment how I know, but I want you to understand, these agencies are not only interested in you, they intend to take action against you, action that will change everything for you, that will take away your freedom. I do not know exactly what form the threat will take, but I do know it is real, and probably imminent.
"In your description of the communication methods you have developed you said we would have instant communication with each other, communication that is totally private. 'Perhaps more private than the communication we are having in this room,' you said, Bill.
"That kind of privacy is exactly the kind of privacy no government wants any human being to have, and that is the reason the communication system you are developing is seen as a threat to the government and why they are determined to learn what it is, and I'm certain, determined to stop it.
"One of those I mentioned earlier who was a close associate of Roger's is Ned Carpenter. He has connections in almost every area of the government, as well as the underworld. Ned is also a very close friend of Frank's.
"According to Frank, Ned said you were right to worry about Frank's communication security. Somehow, both the CIA and NSA have got wind of the fact that Bill is working on some kind of secret communication system. According to Ned, that's all they really know. They think it's just some kind of encryption system and have so far turned the thing over to the crypto guys. Word is, there is nothing for them to work on, so they are making zero progress and are very frustrated. The worrying part is that there is a move afoot to have some kind of anti-American security charges trumped up against you both, as an excuse for arresting you.
"That's all I know," I said.
"It was obvious both Bill and Sarah were alarmed, but both remained very calm."
Bill finally asked, "is Ned's information reliable?"
"It is as reliable as possible, Bill," Sally said. "Ned's information has saved my skin more than once."
"Oh yes. There is one other thing I forgot to mention," I added. "Ned said you both need to disappear, and as soon as possible."
That seemed to disturb Bill more than anything else I had said. He was quite animated when he responded.
"Well, I was going to ask if there were any suggestions about what we should do, but I didn't expect that. Are we supposed to hole up somewhere like common criminals? What about our children. We can't just leave the world," then added, almost sarcastically, "... like Roger."
"It would be nothing like that," I assured him. "Ned has experience with making people disappear, but they only disappear from those one needs not to be found by. They don't disappear from the world.
"As for your children, you will not be separated from them. You know what kind of people we are. What do you think would happen to your children if you fell into the hands of any of those government agencies?"
"All I can do is tell you what facts and information I have. I cannot make the decision for you. At the moment, I cannot even tell you how you ought to disappear, or even what that means exactly. It was Ned's expression. I only know that whatever it means, if it protects you from the kind of persecution the government intends for you, it is your only possible protection.
"Don't decide now. Tomorrow we'll find out what Ned has in mind and how soon he thinks you need to act. Just so you'll know, you will have all the support Sally and I can possibly supply, if you want it. I want to be able to use that communication system of yours.
"Andrew, Marie, and the children were back by this time. We all said goodnight, and the Barrets and their children went off to their rooms.
Andrew smiled as he watched the children leave.
"Why, Andrew, I had no idea you liked children so much," I said to him.
"Actually," he said, "I do not generally enjoy the society of children, Sir, but have to admit that Roxanne is as charming a young creature as any I've ever known, and that John is a rogue you cannot help loving.
"Do you know what he said to me when I was bringing them back? He said, 'Thank you Mr. Andrew for a great evening. You are wonderful fun for someone so stuffy, and I like you very much.'"
We all laughed and made our own ways to bed.
Our plans for the Barrets were not at all what Ned or anyone else thought they ought to be, because Dempsey had a plan of her own. I'll have to tell you about that next time, or at least very soon.