Things Change

The concept of a 'team' is one every single participant in Ruth's rescue despises, yet it is probably the first concept that would come to the mind of anyone else. While Frank, Bill, Sarah, Paul Devlen and his men were carrying out the actual rescue the rest of the 'team' were working behind the scenes to do everything they could to make it work.

It was Ned, of course, who did all the heavy lifting from our end, making arrangements through his contacts and keeping tabs on what NatAlSec was doing. Whether Ned had planted misinformation or NatAlSec's own intelligence failed, they had been convinced Ruth had been taken by NatAlSec agents sent by them. It was a while before NatAlSec discovered their agents had met some kind of strange accident. At first they thought Ruth had been with them, and all three were dead. Ruth was safely back before they realized she had been snatched by someone else.

My own Sally was also very important to the behind-the-scenes action. The Carlton Voltaire happens to be one of Sally's resort hotels, or was before she divested all her property, but almost everyone still regarded her as in charge of things. Working with Ned, she made the arrangements for "workers," electrical, plumbing, cleaning, to have access to the hotel the night before Ruth's rescue. They planted all the smoke bombs and timers and set the alarms to go off, and even made arrangements to have tourists safely away from any areas of action, like the top floor.

Sally and I had made arrangements with Bill and Sarah to take care of the children while they were gone. It may seem a small part of the effort, but was more important than was obvious. No one ever said it, but everyone knew, there was a very real possibility Bill and Sarah would not get back.

Margo and Franz actually spent more time with the Barrett children then Sally and I. "We need the practice," Margo smiled. "Hate children," Franz groused. "They ask too many questions I don't know the answers to."

Margo and Franz were visiting us at the time. He was holding John on his lap, and Roxanne was sitting beside him with her head on his shoulder. "You're funny," Roxanne said to him.

John jumped down saying he was going to get a book.

"You think I wear funny clothes? Everyone else does."

"No, Roxanne said thoughtfully. You wear, ah ...different things. I mean different from everyone else, but I like what you wear. Its what you say that's funny. You talk mean to everyone, but you are really very nice."

"Why do you suppose that is, Rox? (He always calls her 'Rox' and he's the only one she lets call her that.)"

"Oh I know. You really like everybody, but you don't want them to know it. You like to act tough."

"You think I'm not tough, Rox? Put 'em up. I'll show you tough."

"Yeah. Rough tough cream puff," she giggled, punching him in the arm.

"Owe," he said, feigning a tear. "I thought you loved me," he said pathetically.

"You know I do, uncle Franz." She gave him a hug.

"You know Rox, you can't tell anyone else you think I'm a nice guy. You'll ruin my reputation."

"Oh, I won't tell anyone. I'll tell them your a mean old curmudgeon."

"Curmudgeon? Where did you learn that word."

"From Daddy. He's always using big words he thinks I won't know, and sometime I don't. I didn't know that one."

"How did he explain what it means?"

"He said you were a curmudgeon. He said, 'that Franz is a lovable old curmudgeon.'"

"Oh he did, did he?" Franz said with a wry smile.

John returned with a big book of children's stories, and unceremoniously climbed back onto Franz's lap.

"He can read them himself you know," Roxanne said. "I don't read many fairy tales anymore, but we both like to hear you read them."

"What one shall I read, then?" Franz asked.

"Oh, Billy Goats Gruff," John said.

"Yeah," Roxanne agreed. "I like it when the big 'ol billy goat buts the nasty 'ol troll into the drink where he gets covered in mud and drowns.

"Is that in the story?" Franz asked.

"Well, you have to use your imagination, or course," Roxanne explained.

"Oh, yes, of course," Franz agreed.

The Sterlings, Peter and Jo, were intelligence central. Using their AWTS, they were in constant contact with everyone else, both here and in Europe, twenty four hours a day, working in shifts. Even Ned and Sally worked through them, and they kept track of where everyone was, what they were doing, and what was going on, so anyone who needed to know what was happening anywhere could find out instantly.

They also were the first to learn the bad news, most of which they kept to themselves until the operation was over, which was the most emotionally difficult thing they had to do. Two of Paul's men had died. Their cover as maintenance men had been blown, and NatAlSec had nabbed them. The car they were taken away in mysteriously exploded. Paul later explained, "It always happens to my men that way," he said. "They don't like to talk."

Peter and Jo were also the first to discover Ned's cover was blown and his association with Ruth's rescue known, or at least suspected, by NatAlSec. Everyone was now considered international terrorists, and a world-wide effort was underway to find, positively identify, and capture, if possible, or kill them if not, everyone in any way associated with Ruth's escape, which was everyone in what we called Roger's circle, except Joel, and probably the Barretts.

When Frank, Bill, Sarah, and Ruth arrived everyone gathered in Ned's Lodge, which was the largest, but it was still "cozy" with all of us trying to find a place to stand or sit.

Everyone knew what Frank, Bill, and Sarah had done and the risks they had taken, but the only expressed emotions were relief and happiness that they were all back.

"I have to say something," Ruth said. "I regard you all as heroes, because I know what you all did, and I have never been so honored that you would value me that much. Most of all I appreciate what Bill and Sarah did." Looking directly at Sarah she said, "I know I don't have to tell you, Sarah, what your husband is. I'm very jealous. You have no idea how I was tempted to say 'no' after you untied me and he asked me if I could walk and offered to carry me. Sometimes I'm too stubborn for my own good."

Everyone laughed, but it made me wonder why Ruth had never married. Perhaps she had looked for her own Bill and had never found him, and she would never have settled for less. As she says, she's stubborn.

Peter and Jo informed us that we were all fugitives, including Ned. The only ones that were probably safe to travel anywhere were Bill and Sarah, and somehow NatalSac had still not discovered Joel's connection with the rest of us.

It was obvious everything was going to change for all of us.

The next day Frank, Sally, and I flew to Joel's ranch. Dempsey had brought AWTS units with her and everyone had followed the Ruth rescue. Dempsey and Andrew even delayed their departure because of it.

As happy as we were to see Dempsey and Andrew, it was difficult knowing it would be the last time we would see them, and frankly I did not bother to keep my emotions in check, nor did Sally. Frank was the strongest, but did not hide her tears either.

"We don't have much time now," Dempsey said. "We've been in contact with our own planet and their going to use a new technology to transfer us. We put it off as long as we could. I'm afraid it's going to be a bit dramatic."

Dempsey and Andrew hugged everyone, then stepped back, smiling.

It was dramatic! They simply ceased to exist. They were standing there and then there was a very loud crack, like the sound of lightening when it is very close. It was, in fact, very bewildering, because there was no experience in life that could have prepared us for it.

Afterward, we talked to Joel, who had lots of questions of course. We assured him, as far as we could find out, neither NatAlSec or any other agency had ever connected him with Roger's circle. He then made an interesting offer, not to us, but for someone else, which He asked us to carry back with us.

"You could do it yourself, Joel, using the AWTS," we told him.

"No, I'd rather do it this way," he said.

Everything did change after that.

Creating new identities was not difficult, and Ned arranged a lot of it, before the government began to close down his contacts. Actually Ned closed most of them down himself, to protect them.

Almost everyone, except Joel and Ruth, left the United States. "All we know of," Sally corrected me. We really did know how many others there might be like us or like Paul.

The message Joel had asked us to take back with us was for Ruth. I'll not repeat the message because it was very personal, but I will say it was very surprising, and Ruth's response to it was even more surprising.

She used her AWTS to call Joel and tell him she would risk anything if that's what he really wanted. It was what he really wanted.

As far as we know--it has been three years now--Joel and Ruth are very happy on his ranch, and almost no one except Sal and I know Joel's new wife is the famous, or infamous, Ruth Sparberger. She's simply known as Lizzy Rice, by anyone who knows her now. Joel explains that she is an old friend of his and Rena. And it's Lizzy, because Elizabeth is her middle name.

Some of the Roger's circle are living in South America, some in Europe, and some in the far East, perhaps Hong Kong or Singapore, but I'll never reveal where any of them are, except Ruth and Joel Rice, because no else could know who they really are.

Sal and I are still living in North America, but I'll say no more about that either, partly because we will not be living here much longer.

The Barretts are not living anywhere, or perhaps I should say they are living everywhere, because they are traveling the world looking for other independent individualists. And they are finding them, and supplying them with AWTS.

Margo and Franz have two children now, and the oldest is already multilingual, and of course despised by Franz, the child-hater. "I'm gong to teach it how to sky-dive without a parachute," he says.

Jo and Peter also left the United States and are busy writing Peter's philosophy. Perhaps one day I will be able to say where it's being published. It's a country I suspect most of us will end up at least visiting, and very likely living in. Peter's philosophy is very popular there, surely the only country in the world where it could be.

I have no idea where Ned is, or what he's doing. I would not even know he was alive if he did not occasionally contact us via AWTS. He's apparently in contact with the Barretts occassionally, but otherwise has nearly disappeared.

If it were not for the AWTS, we may have eventually all lost contact with each other, but that was not necessary. Not only could AWTS transmissions not be traced, even to their source, because they would seem to be eminating from several different locations around the world simultaneously, if they were detected at all.

The last contact I had from Bill Barrett said that AWTS could be used to communicate with non-earth humans. He said he has actually talked to some, but has never been able to contact Roger, Dempsey, or Andrew, which disappointed him.

One thing Bill learned is that counterforce is the worst possible form of defence, and should never be used except when no other form of defence was possible. Bill is working on a version of the defence method Dempsey employed to make the Barretts safe from NatAlSed. It won't be as effective, but can be used on an individual situation basis.

"It's both more effective and less," Bill tried to explain. "It will wipe any immediate memories of anyone it is used against permanently, and will make them unconscious for a few minutes. It looks a little like a pen or small gun, but is light and effective. I won't be distributing it like we have the AWTS. It's much more powerful and dangerous than any gun. I'm not distributing any yet. There is one feature I'm working on first. It will automatically self-destruct if used by anyone other than the person it is assigned to or if anyone attempts to disassemble one."

"You simply aim it at the individual who is threating you and press that activation button. The person will collapse, and when they revive in a few seconds will have no memory of the experience or anything happening immediately before it. At first there is total memory loss, but other memory completely returns in about two weeks." "Oh, it's like knocking someone on the head and causing temporary amnesia," I said.

"Well something like that," Bill said. "But the fact the individual is unconscious is important in cases where one is being directly threatened. The unconsciousness followed by the loss of memory is effective against anyone attempting to use force, but it does no long term harm and no physical damage at all."

"Why are you keeping the technology secret," I asked?

"Because it can be used to do long term, even permanent harm. It can be used to kill. It can even be used to kill very large numbers of people, by simply turning their brains to mush along with other soft tissue."

"It sounds very dangerous," I said. "How much risk is there to you working on it."

"Actually, none. Producing the dangerous version would be very difficult, and nothing I'm producing is like that. I just know what could be done, and that's why I won't be revealing the technology to anyone."

It occurred to me to ask what would happen to the technology if anything happened to him, but realized it was a wrong question. Bill had no obligation to anyone to either produce the technology or make it available. He did not belong to the world, or to anyone else.

I'm not sure there will ever be any more Roger Stories. My publisher won't print anymore. I suspect I'll write more, because others in these stories have asked me to, like Bill and Sarah.

Bill and Sarah are determined to raise Roxanne and John to believe they are not of this world. They want their children to understand they are not like other people born on this planet, but like "Roger." They want them to know, they were not born with any obligation to any other human being on this planet, that their lives are their own, and that they never have to explain to anyone else what they believe or live for, that their moral values were higher than anything any other human on this planet thinks is moral, and that they never have to answer to anyone for any choice they make in a world that is totaly immoral.

—Mark Halpern