# Algorithm

## Chapter 20

In 1980 Adam and his father had just returned home after seeing The Empire Strikes Back. Adam was standing on the driveway staring up at the night sky. Billowy clouds were scattered above, illuminated from beneath by city lights. He stared at a black patch between the gray, cotton-like masses, and then he saw them—three lights moving between the clouds maintaining a steady formation. His heart leaped into his throat, so much so that, for a moment, he was frozen in place and could do nothing but stare in wonder. His father was already at the front porch and turned his head to look back at Adam.

"Dad! Come over here! Look up there! Flying saucers!"

Adam focused all his attention on the black patch and now saw a fourth, and then a fifth speck of light join the formation. They were flying behind the clouds.

He heard his father approach along the driveway. As he turned his head, the corner of his house came into view, cutting up against the clouds. The clouds drifted behind the roof line.
His heart sank as he realized he was looking at stars, and the moving clouds had fooled him into thinking something entirely different.

"What is it son?"

"Aw, nothing dad. Just thought I saw something."

Adam sat on the front porch of his house gazing at the stars between puffy gray streaks. His eyes were moist. He had told his mother about the adventures of the past week, the analyses of his medallion, the chases, the kidnapping, the shooting and finally, Alpha and his offer … an offer for the Ages. Anyone else hearing these stories would assume they were made up, and in fact, that maybe Adam was delusional. But his mother took it all in stride, listening to every word with no more alarm than she would if Adam had just returned from high school and was catching her up on the latest teen gossip and intrigue.

He wiped his eyes with a handkerchief and blew his nose. His mother came out onto the porch swaddled in a woolen wrap and carrying a tray of cookies and coffee. "I brought you some dessert, honey." She sat down in an Adirondack next to his, placing the tray on a small table between them. The night was cool with a mild breeze. Adam pulled up the collar of his wind breaker.

"Thanks, mom."

She sat back in the chair and held a cup to her mouth, gently blowing over it and absorbing its aroma and warmth. She stared straight ahead for a while and then turned to Adam with an uncannily placid face. "You look troubled, honey. Is there something you haven't told me?"

"Oh … I think I told you everything. It's just that I don't want to leave you." Adam's voice wavered, and he sighed to cover the near sob. "I don't know if I can do this. I'm going to miss you terribly."

"And I, you."

She placed the cup down on the arm rest and put her hand on his shoulder. "Now look. If what you told me is real, which I still have a problem getting my head around, then you have an opportunity that no other human being in history ever had, or perhaps ever will have." She looked up at the stars and pointed to them. "We've been staring at those buggers ever since Man crawled out of his cave."

She leaned back into her chair, and continued looking upward. "When I was a child in Lithuania, I remember sitting out in a pasture one night, a warm summer's night. Our family had a farm in the countryside, miles from the nearest village. There were no clouds, no moon and the stars were so bright it was like everything glowed. You could see the grass and road and trees sparkling in the distance. The Milky Way looked like a river up there, a beautiful silver river made of thousands … no, millions of stars. Of course, I didn't know it was called that but I could see so many, so many. They taught us in school that each one was a sun, kind of like ours. So looking at all those little specks, I wondered which ones had planets, which ones had people. What kind of worlds were there that we could never know. Were there people out there staring up at the same sky with our sun one of their stars? Were we going to be isolated and kept away forever, never to have the chance to see each other, to know each other even existed?"

Adam was taken aback. He had never realized that his mother was so philosophical.

A dreamer, a dreamer like myself.

Adam sipped at the steaming brew. "That's the question we all have at one point or another. Now I know … we know, there are people out there, just like us."

"And you have an invitation to meet them, speak with them … to see other worlds."

"But at a cost, mom. I'll never see you again. I'll never see my friends again. If I do return, it'll be hundreds of years from now. Nothing will be the same. Everything I know and everyone I love would be gone."

His mother smiled a warm and understanding smile. It was a vision he knew would be etched in his mind forever. "You're worried about me. No need for that. I've had a wonderful life. Your dad and I were very proud of you … our little scientist. I'll be fine. Besides, there's always my sister in New Jersey." She laughed. "I'm sure if your dad was standing here, he would give you the thumbs up. It's the price of knowledge, Adam." Her face turned solemn. "You know, I would not hesitate to take the trip if it was me."

"Even if it meant leaving dad?"

She paused a moment and said, "It would be a terribly difficult decision, but I think I'd still go."

Adam wiped at his eyes with his index finger, and shook his head.

It must be where I get it from.

"Are you stupid?"

Linda was tempted to throw her kitchen phone against the wall. Instead she held her temper and the phone a little longer. Her sister, Terry, raised her voice. "Do you hear me? I asked if you were stupid?"

"I'm going to slam the phone down."

"Don't you dare! You listen up, girl. You got yourself mixed up with something that's got nothing to do with you. First of all, you have a career, a real job. You're a friggin' biochemist with a real future. What are you thinking about? Leaving with some jackass who claims he's from outer space? Do you know what that sounds like?"

"I told you. He has proof. One look at him and you'd know. He knew about the medallion and he knows what it contains. How do you explain that?"

"Sister, he's got you bamboozled. Any two-bit con man could talk you into anything. He's probably after the damned thing. You said it's made of gold. That's it. He's working you for the medallion."

"It's not like that. He had it and gave it back to us. Anyway, I told you what happened. If mom and dad were still alive I'd be talking to them and not you. They'd listen and understand."

"Dios mio. They're probably listening now, and anyway, what do you mean you wouldn't talk to me? I'm your older sister, you better talk to me."

"I need you to listen and understand, and not shout at me. I'm old enough to know what's real and what's bullshit. I trust your judgment but you're not listening to me."

There was a pause in the debate, long enough for Linda to wonder if Terry was still on the line. "Hello? You still there?"

After a moment more Terry replied in a muted, calmer voice. "Yeah, I'm still here. If I wasn't a thousand miles away I'd be there, knocking some sense into you. Did you tell Celia. Did you tell your little sister you're about to go flying into outer space with a man you hardly know and a mysterious, tall, dark and alien stranger, and I stress the alien part?"

"No, I haven't. I just thought I'd talk to you first. After all, you're the oldest of us three. You're the one that I always relied on for advice. And besides, I may be in love with Adam."

"That's just great. Love and outer space. Are you listening to this?"

Linda held her tongue.

"Linda, you've unloaded a story and a half. It's just that it's so screwed up. I'm not sure what to believe."

"Believe me. Better yet, believe in me."

"I do, Linda. You've always been the smart one, the tough one. All I can offer is my experience."

They were both silent for several long minutes. Once again Linda worried that Terry had hung up. Then Terry said, "You know what? I can't really help you here. This one's in your court. If you're sure that this alien, Alpha, is telling you the truth, take him up on it. And if you love Adam, or at least think you do, then stick with him. I have to say I don't believe half of it, but I do believe in you, Linda. I really do."

Linda could hear muted sobbing, as if a hand covered the receiver on the other end. She began to cry herself.

"Now stop that," Terry said between her own sobs. "I know you said you'd be gone a long time, but girl, I'll wait for you anyway. I don't give a shit if it takes a couple of hundred years. You know damned well I'll be here waiting for you."

Linda did not know whether to laugh or cry.

"I know."

Adam's coffee went untouched. An earlier call from Linda confirmed that she had decided on the expedition. The voyage of a lifetime was about to happen. Fate shrugged and extended its fickle hand to embrace a little known organic chemistry professor and a promising young biochemist, offering them a spectacular chance to represent Earth in the quest of all time, to discover other worlds and the origin of mankind, not only on this planet but on countless others. In return it asked only that they give up their careers, family, friends and all that was dear and familiar to them. In short, give up everything.

Adam had moved the chairs together and had his arm wrapped around his mother's shoulders. This was to be their last evening together and he intended make every precious moment count. With his eyes tightly closed, he could see his dad standing alongside them. He looked happy and that was a good feeling.
Undulating colors, red and blue, seeped through his eyelids. Adam blinked them open and caught sight of a distant patrol car approaching. No siren. The cruiser came to a stop at the corner traffic light.

"Mom. I think the police may be coming for a visit."

She stirred and said, "How can you be sure that they're headed here?"

He stood to get a better look. "I did promise to stay at the motel in Pittston, so they're probably a bit ticked off. I'll know in a moment."

When the light turned green, instead of taking off at a normal speed, the cruiser shut down its flashers and continued on a steady pace as if searching for a house number.

"They are definitely looking for something nearby." He took a look through the porch window at the clock mounted over the mantle. "It's almost ten. I think it's time I go."

His mother stood and they embraced a final time. Adam wanted the moment to last, but his mother gave him a shove. "You need to go, so go now. Don't disappoint me or dad, do a good job out there. Be brave my honey. I love you very much."

"I love you too, mom. If there's any way I can get back sooner, I will. I promise."

He entered the house through the front door, and ran to the kitchen. He did not look back because he could not bear to, and besides, he did not want his mother to see him blubbering. He grabbed the kitchen phone and called Linda. A few short moments later he dashed out the back door and into the yard. A glance up the side alley confirmed that the cruiser had stopped in front of the house, alongside his Pathfinder. Linda would be coming around with her car to the back of his block in a few minutes. Adam slipped through the neighbor's shrubbery and waited in the shadows.