The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

Book Two, Part Two

Chapter Twenty-one: Attention

        As it turned out, NASA didn't really care. Alex had anticipated some resistance from the bureaucracy of the vast government agency, not really expecting them to fling their arms wide open just because some scruffy musician showed up with a teen-aged girl and said, "Got an alien for you."
        But this…
        Dinah was slumped over her desk, reading and re-reading another official-looking letter with the Space Agency's seal on it, obviously unhappy.
        Alex peered at it over her shoulder. "What's it say?" 
        "Says maybe we should talk to Immigration and Naturalization," said Dinah sourly.
        "On, that's really funny," said Alex. "What's this make, now? 'Bout the dozenth time they've told us to go away?"
        Dinah crumpled it savagely and hurled it at the trash can. An angry Dinah was not a pretty sight. Well — actually a compellingly awesome sight in a certain way. But nothing to trifle with.
        Alex dutifully retrieved the wad of paper, straightened it out and carefully filed it in a thickening folder with the others. "I don't get it. It's been a year or so since Jimmie figured out about Sara from the Web, and there've been all kinds of stories floating around — hell, half of Houston has seen her, or at least seen something. You'd think the geniuses out in Clear Lake would have snapped to this by now. Dammit, they oughtta be writing to us."
        "The 'geniuses' aren't getting my letters. It's all gatekeeper stuff. There's nothing in their job descriptions about greeting extraterrestrials, so they blow it off. And anyway," she went on, "everything I've seen in print or on the 'Net sounds like Area 51 crap. Ninety percent of it's bogus, which makes the truth a lot less obvious. There's not a whole lot of people like Jimmie out there, you know."
        "Still," said Alex teasingly, "I'd a thought a big ol' famous lawyer-lady like you woulda got their attention."
        Dinah shrugged. "A loony is a loony, as far as they're concerned."
        Alex stared off into space for a while, like he was trying to make up his mind about something, maybe come up with Plan B.  Finally, he cocked an eyebrow at her. "So much for your way?" It was a challenge.
        Dinah sighed. "OK. You win," she nodded. "What do you have in mind? I assume you're going to sic Sara on 'em."
        "Not directly —  just want to get their attention. I mean, it would be cool if she flew up there in full costume and launched that old lawn Saturn they got on display into orbit. I just don't think that's — oh, I don't know — dignified. Not how I think Sara should come out of the closet. I want them to announce what they've learned about her at a press conference, with TV cameras and everything. I want everybody to take her seriously, not like some weird comic book creature suddenly come to life. You know, credibility and respect and all that."
        Dinah looked at him. She could practically hear the gears turning lopsidedly in his head.
        "Come on, Alex. I know you too well. You've gotta be up to something. You're just too much of a prankster to let an opportunity get by you."
        "No, no, no," he objected. "This is serious."
        She looked at him suspiciously, nevertheless.
        "Look," he went on, "There's no reason for them to take us at face value just because we claim to have a Martian living with us. From all the weirdo crap they get in the mail, it probably looks like everybody believes they've got a Martian living with them, so nobody pays attention. We gotta do a demonstration — one that's obvious, but subtle, so they'll know for sure that we've got something and get back to us. Then we can talk. You get to do your lawyer thing and make sure they don't take advantage of her or get too carried away trying to open her up or whatever…"
        "That was the whole point of trying to contact them through official channels," Dinah said, "I already have a contract drawn up to try to protect her rights."
        "Yeah, I know," said Alex, "That's important. Otherwise I suppose the government could claim her as a thing and God knows what would happen to her. If she let 'em, of course."
        "So, what's your, uh, scheme?"
        "Remember that moon buggy she brought back as a souvenir? She could drop it in front of the Admin Building some dark night along with the video tape Jimmie made of her trip. We just make sure there's our return address all over it."
        Dinah looked dubious. "That's it? Not much of a plan."
        He explained, "You can't just drive into Johnson Space Center because you feel like it. There's gates and guards and stuff. So the Director trips over this thing on his way to the office one morning. Major mystery. It should be obvious to them it's the real McCoy — there's serial numbers and stuff — they'll wonder how it got there, then they'll play the tape.
         He concluded smugly, "We'll hear from them."

        Sara and Jimmie were in Fort Solitude, not doing much in particular. Which couldn't be more dangerous — at least for Jimmie.
        For Sara was in a determinedly curious mood. As quickly as she had 'grown up', there were a few things she'd yet to experience. Mostly, these things had to do with boys — and Jimmie was, to her mind, a more than suitable subject for experimenting with the strange powers and abilities granted to most girls her age. He was her best friend and greatest challenge, something that even her computer brain didn't truly understand. As close as they were in so many ways, they weren't yet as close as she would like to be. She'd prepared for this encounter in a most irresistible manner, looking every bit the very picture of wide-eyed innocence.
        Not that she, of all people, was in any way ignorant of what went on behind closed doors in the world around her. But that was theoretical. She wanted to know what it felt like to be close to somebody, to share some hidden, private moments, to touch and whisper and have secrets. Nothing more than that — and nothing less.
        Jimmie had a different agenda. Oh, certainly he liked Sara — a lot. He liked talking to her, he liked doing things with her, he liked just being around her. And she certainly had the traditional effect on his exuberant young hormones.
        It was a little complicated. Yeah, he liked her. Yeah, he was fascinated by her. And — oh, yeah! — there were certain… You know — urges. But his appreciation of her ran more deeply than that.
        He was acutely aware that her specialness made her different in a way that put her in a whole 'nother category from the kind of female girl-type person he would actually entertain any amorous designs on. He couldn't help but think of her physical being as utterly non-human. He understood her workings too well to think of her in any other way.
        He was also acutely aware that there was a very real person inside this magical machine. An idealized person whose love and trust he would never betray by even thinking about her in any base manner. Well, maybe thinking. But just that.
        Besides, even if she was in fact what she appeared to be, there was the age thing. After all, he was nearly twenty now, contradictorily surprisingly mature and yet hopelessly hung up in geeky adolescence. She would be — to put it indelicately — jail bait. Even if she might eventually happen to be hanging around our planet until the sun went out, she would always be a tempting but ultimately unthinkably unobtainable Lolita, or maybe something like the girl-next-door's dangerously sweet kid sister.
        So he kept his hands to himself, his eyes straight ahead (when she was looking) and his mind on his 'work' — for he was an honorable and dedicated kind of guy.
        In other words, hopeless.
        And it was this specialness that made him all the more attractive to Sara. This was going to be one heck of a frustrating experience for the both of them.

        Jimmie was concentrating on some obscure bit of meaningless hacker trivia. Sara had been watching (mostly Jimmie) when she decided that he'd been ignoring her long enough. She came up behind him and to one side, casually putting her hand on his shoulder.
        "Whatcha doin'?"
        "Nothin' much."
        "Can I help?"
        "Nah. I can handle it."
        She peered at the monitor briefly. "Wup. You got a curly bracket there," she noted, reaching just past his ear to rather elaborately point out the offending spot in his code, 'unconsciously' brushing against him in a carefully calculated way.
        Jimmie kept his focus squarely on the screen, showing no sign he'd noticed. Well, except for the surge in blood pressure, sudden deep breath, perspiration spike, subcutaneous capillary dilation, tightening abs, pupillary fluctuation, brain wave activity, curling toes, hand tremor, follicle contraction, increase in stomach acid and core temperature changes that Sara duly noted.
        "Thanks," he grunted non-committally.
        She scooted a chair around next to his, facing him and partially blocking his view. He craned his neck a little to the side, pretending to be slightly annoyed. She leaned toward him little bit and turned her head as if looking for something important on the other side of the room, giving him a long opportunity to surreptitiously redirect his attention — which he couldn't help but do.
        She shrugged her shoulders as if giving up on finding whatever it was (as if she actually had to look), which produced another round of polygraphic responses in Jimmie — whose eyeballs almost audibly snapped back to the screen as she slowly turned back around. He forced himself to remain impassive and calm, though his eyelids looked like they were being propped open by toothpicks.
        She appeared to look absently around the room, as if she were a trifle bored waiting for Jimmie to finish his little chore, while he did his best to screw things up enough to make the moment last as long as possible. Sara could tell from kreening his keystrokes what he was doing and smiled just a little as she casually let her arm fall from her lap to rest her hand on his adjacent knee. It seemed the natural thing to do — no big deal, right?
        Right. Jimmie seemed to be having trouble swallowing, though he did his best to hide the fact. He sensed something was different about this particular close encounter. The moment had lasted long enough — it was time to break the spell.
        Turned out not to be so easy to do.

        The alien life-form was inexorably bearing down on him, unstoppable, merciless and purposeful. Things were happening too fast, and not as he had expected. He found himself wanting to run away, to hide until he could reorganize his thoughts. But the Voice within him told him that it was too late, that he did not have leave to go. He sensed Her awful power, commanding his utter obedience. Her unspoken command burned into his brain like lightning.

        You cannot run.

        His will evaporated, though he understood his own acquiescent complicity in accepting Her mastery of him. He was helpless, yet he allowed himself to be helpless.
        Beautiful She was, precious and perfect, unearthly and pure. But it was not mortal beauty and he knew himself to be unworthy. This was not what he wanted, but it was everything that he wanted. Desperately, he tried to tear himself away from the inevitable.

        You have no strength.

        And he did not. It was if he had forgotten how to control his own body. The pathways in his mind were hidden — or he could not make himself find them. He tried to remember all the damned good reasons he'd thought of to avoid this very eventuality, but they seemed stupid and unimportant now.

        Resistance is futile.

        Now She revealed Herself to him, now She leaned over him, and now the awe-inspiring sight of Her overwhelmed him. She reached out and picked up his trembling form with casual strength, bringing him close to the blue gaze of Her infinitely deep eyes, stripping his soul naked as his heart hammered and his chest heaved, unable to look away.

        Their kiss was perfect — slow and tender, deep and lingering — and while it lasted, the rest of existence faded into insignificance. It endured forever in its own special dimension of time — ageless, never dimming entirely from memory, forever after unattainable.
        She settled her head in his arms, clinging to him gently, savoring the closeness. The almost undetectable pressure of her hand on his chest filled him with longing, yet calmed him with peaceful fulfillment. There was no need for words.
        His mind gradually ceased its frantic whirling and returned to sanity. As if waking from some altered state of consciousness far away, he realized that this could go no further. The unalterable core of reason in the deepest recesses of his mind told him that this was fundamentally wrong and that he must put a stop to it. The helpless, unreasoning desire that she had inflamed threatened something far more valuable to him, something he treasured beyond anything her playful exuberance and his secret dreams might yet succumb to.
        Their friendship.
        For that would endure past the whims and needs of the moment, he prayed. He might age, still in rapt wonder at her unchanging magnificence, but the bond he felt they shared would transcend his physical weakness and her unyielding endurance.
        They would always share this moment, but it was an aberration. It had to be. They were not meant for each other in this way. There was no future in love between them — it probably wasn't even possible.
        God, he was stupid.
        He pulled himself away and regained his composure, at least outwardly. Getting up from the floor he couldn't remember how he had gotten to, he dragged himself to his feet and plopped back into his chair. Sara looked a little puzzled.
        "Whoa," he managed to squeak, clearing his throat noisily a few times. "That was…" he struggled for a suitable word. "Nice."
        That wasn't the kind of response Sara had been looking for.
        "Nice?" She looked at him as if he had just said something nasty.
        "Well, yeah," he answered lamely. "I, uh… It was… I mean, uh, you know…"
        "Nice," she repeated.
        "Sure. I, uh, hope you enjoyed it as much as I did." He felt lake an idiot.
        She nodded her head dumbly. "Oh, yeah…" Oh, come on. Nice, she thought, feeling a little stunned. What the hell is wrong with him? What the hell is wrong with me?
        She got up slowly and slowly straddled his knees, facing him, taking his hands in hers. She leaned into him, closing her eyes.
        "Sara," he choked out. "Wait a minute. We gotta talk."
        "No we don't," she whispered. She knew — she knew — it was more than nice. She could tell from the responses he could not hide from her.
        Almost desperately, he practically pushed her off his lap. Anyone else would have fallen on their butt.
        "Stop it, Sara," he nearly pleaded. "I really, really like you and everything. Believe me. And I want to… Well, uh… Go on… Sorta…"
        "Sorta?" Jimmie wasn't choosing the right words.
        "We can't do this."
        "Do what?" She looked at him innocently.
        "You know…" 
        "We can't kiss?" she said, like it was playing Monopoly or something. "Why not? Isn't it nice?" she emphasized, maybe a little too much.
        Jeez, it's hot in here, he thought. "OK. Better than nice. Much better. That's what I'm afraid of. That it could get a whole lot nicer and it's already gone too far already."
        "What do you think I'm trying to do?" she asked him, as if she maybe didn't understand what was happening.
        "I don't know. I don't want to find out."
        "It's just kissing, Jimmie. You won't catch anything, I promise. And I'm not trying to do anything bad or weird or anything. Hey, birds do it, bees do it…"
        He didn't want to go there. "Depends on what you mean by 'it'," he said.
        "What do you think?"
        Damn, he thought, she's persistent. "I'm older than you, Sara. I'm supposed to know better, and I do. You're sweet. Really. But I'm a guy…"
        Sara interrupted him, "And I'm a girl…"
        The look in his eyes stopped her.
        "No, Sara. You're not."
        She wasn't invulnerable to that.
        Freak, she thought. Monster. Robot. Alien. What was I thinking?
        Jimmie realized he'd said the unforgivable. He felt himself falling over the edge of something.
        Words gushed out of him the way a falling man's arms flail about uselessly in sheer panic. "I didn't mean it the way it sounded, but, I mean, it's true. You look like a girl, God knows, and far as what you are inside, you're definitely a girl. A girl that I like a lot. And respect. I don't ever want to lose you — and I don't ever want to do anything that would make me lose you. If we went on like this, I don't know what would happen, but I know how it would end up. It would end up badly. There's no other way it could. We are not made for each other in that way. We just aren't, and there's nothing either one of us can do about that. You gotta understand that someday I'll need to have a girl who will grow old with me. When it happens, I don't want it to come between us."
        Sara looked like she would faint, or maybe explode, or tear the building into very small pieces, or lie down and never get up.
        So Jimmie said the worst four words anyone can ever hear from someone they care for.
        "Let's just be friends."
        He held out his hand like a salesman glad-handing a prospect. She took it automatically and said, woodenly, "Oh, sure. That's a good idea." The self-control it took at that moment to keep from crushing his hand to pulp would rank with the greatest super-feats she would ever perform.
        They stood awkwardly for a few agonizing moments until Sara finally looked down at her feet and mumbled, "I gotta go."

        Jimmie was all alone in the Fort, feeling like he'd just stabbed his best friend with a dull knife. Recriminations washed over him in a flood. He shouldn't have acted that way, he was convinced. He'd been a complete moron. Why couldn't he have just kept his mouth shut and let nature take its course? No matter what might have happened, it couldn't really have been any worse that what did happen. What had started to happen was really what he had desperately wanted to happen ever since that night in downtown Houston when he watched her gliding across the deserted streets and sidewalks like a phantom of perfection.
        But he knew he'd said what had to be said. It was true, and it would have come between them no matter what.
        So here he was, needing a shower. A cold one. Not that that would actually take care of the little problem she had left him with, that wouldn't go away on its own. No matter what his mind went through, his body still had its own strident agenda.
        He flipped a switch and checked a monitor that was rarely used. It was connected to a battery of receivers that were tuned to every frequency he knew she used for her kreening. Sure enough, she was far away — too far to detect. He even wondered for a moment if she'd come back, but he knew she would. She had to, eventually. And she'd get over it — she was too human not to.
        The pressure was beginning to become painful. He slipped out of the Fort and headed for his private little suite, shedding clothes as he went. This wouldn't take long, and he planned to sleep around the clock if he could.
        But when he turned the corner in the little hallway that connected the warehouse to the front of the office, he bumped squarely into his almost ridiculously curvaceous secretary. The one he'd hired in spite of her woefully inadequate skills at anything resembling office work. The sweater-enhanced, elaborately coiffed red-headed bombshell he overpaid because he was, after all, a teenaged boy who could afford to do it. The nail-polishing, empty-headed cipher who could barely manage to make coffee in the morning that he didn't drink anyway. The one whose name he couldn't even bother to remember.
        The door slammed shut behind him and locked, keys in his discarded pants on the other side. She blocked the hall in front of him, bent over the water cooler. He was trapped. It couldn't be more embarrassing.
        "Mister Oldsen!" she exclaimed, straightening up, eyes widening.
        "Awp!" he yelped, ineffectually trying to cover himself. "What are you doing here?"
        "Like, I work here?"
        "Isn't it kinda late? I live here, you know. I don't usually…"
        "That's OK. I forgot something. S'pose I should have knocked before I came back here." She seemed to be handling the shock pretty well, an amused smile playing on her lips as she made no effort to avoid looking at him.
        "I was just gonna take a shower and I… I, uh, had to get something from the Fort." He tried to edge past her, but she wasn't about to move. She seemed to be enjoying his discomfort.
        "You mean, the little Martian girl?"
        "Sara's not a Martian," he said defensively.
        "Then she's just a little girl. A bit young for you, isn't she?"
        Jimmie's condition was becoming unbearable. He was completely bumfuzzled, paralyzed and beside himself. It was agonizing, and the girl in front of him was loving every minute of it.
        "You know," she went on almost as if discussing the weather, "I must say I was a little disappointed in the way things have gone around here, since you obviously didn't hire me to actually do anything. I thought you were some poor little rich kid computer whiz who couldn't buy a date. So you sorta bought me, instead. Which is OK by me. I kinda like you, you know. Pissed me off that you spent all your time with that kid."
        She had one hand on the water cooler and the other hand on the opposite wall. He'd have to physically push her aside to get by. She seemed to be inviting him to try.
        "Bet I know what you guys were doing back there," she said. "Research, huh." She looked blatantly down at him. "Looks like you must notta finished your experiment."
        His head was swimming so badly, he was helpless. He just stood there, trying to stay on his feet.
        "I'm your age, you know," she said. "And at least I'm human. Or have you noticed?"
        He just stared.
        "I can prove it to you."
        He knew what was going to happen now, and he accepted it. In a way, it would make things better. Because he knew why he had really hired this girl. And he knew that this was right for him.
        "Watch," she told him, her hands moving to her buttons.
         He couldn't help but watch as she slowly joined him in nakedness. And when she was done, she took his hands unresistingly and pulled him into her irresistible embrace.
        It wasn't long before she told him, "I think we could both use that shower now."

        Sara was on the roof. She knew Jimmie was tracking her the second he turned on his monitor, and her computer brain just automatically changed all the frequencies.
        She'd kreened the waiting secretary as soon as she left the Fort, and 'saw' her wedge herself into position by the water cooler like a spider waiting for a fly. Her mind's eye followed the path through the ceiling of the wire that connected the tiny TV camera in the Fort to Jimmie's office computer, and followed the wire that networked his to the secretary's computer. She didn't need a computer brain to tell her what that bitch had been watching.

        A few days later, Robbins slapped a report on Wayans' desk, then stood there while his chief read it. He didn't have to wait long.
        "This is… It's unbelievable," he said, finally looking up at his assistant.
        "Believe it," the younger man replied. "This is directly from my source. It's impossible, but you've seen all the other reports. She's for real."
        "Hmm…" The older man was lost in thought for a while. "Where is your source now?"
        "Still there," answered Robbins.
        Wayans sat for a long time in the shadows of his subterranean office. He had been thinking about this for longer than even Robbins knew, for he had other sources as well. He came to a decision that had crystallized as he read the latest report.
        Standing up resolutely, he turned to Robbins and told him, "This changes everything."

Chapter Twenty-two: Enterprise

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© Patrick Hill, 2000