Algorithm

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Chapter 21


"Looking for something, Dr. Dove?"

Adam jerked. His legs were eager to break into a run. He saw only deep shadows between and beneath shrubbery and trees. He straightened up and looked again. A uniform stepped into the faint light of a distant street lamp.

"Over here, sir."

"Sorry, you surprised me."

The officer brought hand to mouth and spoke into it. "I found him. Come on around to the other side of the block."

"I'm sorry, officer. How can I help you?"

Adam was thinking at light speed. It would be mere seconds before the patrol car showed up. The officer speaking to him did not have a drawn weapon, or at least he could not see one in his hand.

Not yet.

"Stay calm, Dr. Dove. We just need to talk to you concerning the death of Mr. Herman Borman."

"But, I've already given my statement."

"There are few more questions that need clearing up. We're going to need you to come with us."

The officer brought one hand down to his holster. Adam saw headlights turning into the street. The corner lamp light glinted off its blue hood. It was Linda's Corolla. As it approached the officer glanced up, no doubt expecting to see his partner. Adam leaped and brought him to the ground.

"I'm really sorry about this."

Adam struck the officer across the chin as hard as he could. He winced at the pain in his knuckles. The officer rolled beneath him, groaning loudly and spewing out garbled invectives. The Corolla pulled up alongside the pair and the passenger side door swung open.

"Get in. We need to move fast. I saw a police car coming up the street."

Linda's hoarse whisper sprung Adam into action. He jumped in, slamming the door shut. They took off with a mewling screech just as a patrol car turned the corner. Its flashers and siren came on immediately.

"Looks like the officer I hit was able to warn his partner."

Linda turned to him as she floored the accelerator. "You have the medallion?"

She was wearing a sweatshirt with the hood pulled over. Her voice was low and raspy, seemingly strained with tension.

Adam answered, "Yes…of course."

He looked in the side mirror and saw the cruiser stop for a moment. Then its headlights burned bright as it picked up speed and began to close on them.

Linda said, "Hold on."

The car turned abruptly. Tires screamed in protest as she veered the car again through a narrow set of streets. They slipped into an alley. She shut off the headlights and they coasted along the unlit passage for a few seconds.

Adam searched the rear view for any signs of blue and red. "Take care not to step on the brakes."

Linda acknowledged with a curt nod of her hood and then asked, "Let me see the medallion."

For reasons entirely unclear Adam felt his flesh crawl. The hairs on his neck stood erect and his heart began pounding. His body was warning him. "Why do you need to see it?'
He glimpsed at the dashboard clock. "Shouldn't we be more concerned with getting out of here and to the meeting tonight? It's early, but I wouldn't mind waiting at the football field … assuming we can get to it without being stopped by the police. I'm sure they've called in for backup by now."

Linda turned the ignition key and the engine shut down. Her cowled head craned to face him. "Give me the medallion."
Her voice was a snarl. For a moment, an image of a howling beast flashed before his eyes. She was staring straight ahead, her hood still obscuring most of her face. He thought he heard her wheezing.

"Are you okay?"

The wheezing increased. Linda's right hand flew off the steering wheel and snatched Adam by his jacket collar, pulling him towards her. Her left grabbed his head, forcing him to look into her face. What he saw was terrifying. Linda's face appeared to be squirming. Her nostrils flared, the cheeks puffing in and out. The eyes were pulsating. Sweat was pouring down along her temples. In one moment she was Linda, in the next she was a distorted Ben Wuicjak.

"You're … you're not Linda," he sputtered, while struggling to get free. "You must be the other one, the one Alpha warned us about."

"In this you are correct."

The alien's voice was guttural. It heaved Adam into the dashboard, momentarily stunning him. Adam was in a world of pain and confusion, dazed by the knock on his head. Not waiting for the interior of the car to stop swirling, he pushed open his door and staggered out, hoping to put some distance between him and the monster in the car. He ran into a pair of strong arms which embraced him with a vise-like grip, and then tossed him away from the car onto the narrow sidewalk skirting the alley.
He crawled for cover where there was none and was hauled up and thrown again, this time landing against a fence. What little air was left in his lungs whooshed out and his legs became rubbery. With his back against the wooden boards he slid down to the pavement. A blurry figure approached.

"The medallion, please. If you resist I will make you unconscious or kill you if necessary, then take it myself."

Adam's eyes were able to merge several images into a single fearsome one. The outline of the alien, hooded and with arms akimbo, reminded him of several comic book villains, none of which had the disturbing ability to rearrange their facial features.
The scant light in the alleyway made it difficult to make out details, but Adam had the impression the face continued moving, ever changing as the alien stood before him.

"Is that what happened to Ben Wuicjak?"

The alien paused before answering. "That was a regrettable error. I came to him for information, and he became extremely agitated. After a lengthy interview, his heart failed him."

"So, you took on his looks, you became him. And you went to the mine …"

"Seeking out further clues as to the location of the disk. And then you showed up," finished the alien.

"Why didn't you just take it from me then?"

The hood shook from side to side. "For some reason you had hidden the disk. I would have interviewed you, but there were too many witnesses that would need to be removed. For the last time Dr. Dove, the medallion."

Adam had the feeling that the conversation was about to have a seriously depressing outcome. The alien took a step forward into a faint sliver of light descending from a nearby window. He was holding his hand out. Adam noticed that the other hand, still poised on the alien's hip, was gloved in a metallic mesh. Adam reached into both of his jacket pockets. With his left hand he withdrew the medallion and tossed it high into the air toward the gloved hand, saying, "Here, take it."

The alien reached for the golden disk with his gloved side. In that instant, Adam pulled out a revolver with his other hand. The alien was quick to catch on to the subterfuge, and instead of grasping the falling medallion, moved the gloved hand toward Adam's gun. The trigger caught on Adam's finger and the gun fired as it was whisked away, flying through the air and smoke. For a moment everything was still. The report in the confined space of the alley was loud enough to ring Adam's ears. The alien let out a grunt, dropped the gun and fell to the sidewalk. Adam crawled over to it. The face had stopped writhing and assumed a neutral, pale featureless quality. It was struggling to breathe, coughing with every inhale. Its thin white mannequin lips were mottled with dark splotches.

"You have made a mistake. You do not know what you have done. That medallion cannot ever be made known. Destroy the cursed object. Destroy the evil for the sake of your planet."

Despite the lethal struggle, Adam was overcome with a sense of guilt. "Hold on. I can get you back to your ship. We're going to meet with Alpha in a few minutes. Just hold on."

A deep gurgling issued from the open mouth. It was not a pleasant sound, and it was not one suggesting an optimistic outcome. The alien spat and coughed some more. "The expedition must be stopped … in the name of all that is holy … God cannot be known by Man. It is a blasphemy … a sacrilege."

"Linda. What did you do with Linda?"

Dark red bubbles emerged from the alien's mouth and its body slumped. Adam looked up and down the alley. A second floor window slid open. He saw shadows moving behind curtains. He pocketed the medallion in his jacket along with the gun. After checking to see that the keys were still in the ignition, he opened the rear door of the car. Precious seconds ticked by as he struggled to get the alien's body tucked into the rear seat. Once into the driver's seat and after confirming no car had entered the alley, he moved off slowly and without headlights. When he reached a cross street, he switched on the lights and blended into the scant traffic. The dashboard clock had the time as 10:46 p.m.
Nearly ten minutes later he pulled into the driveway outside Linda's house. No lights had been left on. He dashed out of the car and found the front door unlocked. He ran inside, fearing for Linda, afraid that he might find her lifeless body within.

"Linda. Linda, can you hear me!"

He flicked on light switches as he ran from room to room, all the while calling out her name. He became frantic. He bounded up the stairs. Two bedrooms and a bath later, he came across a half-filled backpack at the head of the stairs, a sobering discovery suggesting an interruption. The house was dead quiet, but as he moved along the common hallway, he became aware of a distant humming, a kind of mechanical purring. The sound appeared to be coming from the other side of the house. He hurried to the end of the hallway, looked through the window and saw a one-car garage with its paneled door pulled down.

It hit Adam hard. He had no time to lose. He sprung the window open, hung suspended from the sill for a moment and landed in the shrubbery below. He sprinted to the garage door and rolled it up. A cloud of white exhaust fumes billowed out to reveal a rusty white VW with its engine running.

Adam bounded to the side of the car and saw Linda slumped over the steering wheel. He almost tore the door off its hinges with one arm, and with the other, scooped her up and dragged her out of the garage. There was a raised bruise on her forehead. Her lips were red.

Please let that be lipstick.

He laid her on the asphalt drive and shook her shoulders gently. She began to stir, choking, gasping for air. Her eyes opened and fixed on Adam leaning over her, and then she threw up.

"Damn, I'm sorry about that, Adam."

Adam wiped down his jacket and lifted her to a seating position. She coughed a few more times and then steadied herself with both hands on the driveway. "I don't know what happened. I remember throwing some things in a backpack. Then everything went black."

"It was Wuicjak, or rather, the alien Alpha warned us about. He pretended to be you and tried to get the medallion."

"Pretended? Where is he now?"

"Nearby."

Linda tried to get up and Adam caught her as she teetered. "Whoah. I'm dizzy … and boy, what a headache."

"You'll be okay in a little while. You really need oxygen, but I'm afraid we have a deadline to meet."

"I think I'll be okay."

Adam steadied her with his arms beneath her shoulders. They toddled to the front of the house, and leaned against the Corolla.
"We've got a couple of minutes to meet up with Alpha. Are you sure you want to do this?"

Linda opened the driver's side door. Her face was illuminated by the overhead car light and Adam could see some color returning. She rocked back and forth for a moment and replied, "I'm certain." She ducked her head as if to enter the car, but instead, turned back to Adam. "I think you better drive." She vomited again, this time making an effort to avoid hitting Adam, which was only partially successful. "I think I feel better now."

On the way to the campus Adam described the alien encounter and its unfortunate conclusion. They both glanced at the body on the back seat several times during the recap. Although it remained still throughout the drive, it was difficult to shake off a feeling of dread, of an imminent threat.

It was 11:00 p.m. when they eased through the main gate. Except for the dormitory buildings, most of the university buildings were dark. They circled around McArdle Hall. Even after a week of repair work, it was surrounded by streamers of yellow tape, orange traffic cones and scaffolding. Light, noise and music spilled out of the nearby dorms. It was just another school night. As they motored farther on, the dark outline of the Schill University Stadium rose up beyond the dorms.

"The practice fields will be just past the stadium," Adam remarked. A minute later, they were about to enter a gravel road leading to the fields when Adam caught sight of a flashing light in his rearview mirror.

Police?

Adam pulled over to the side, hoping the patrol car might pass them.

No such luck.

He rolled down his window. A campus security guard greeted them, "Good evening folks."

Adam conjured up what he hoped was a pleasant smile. "Hi, officer. What's up?"

The guard bent down to look inside the Corolla, panning the occupants with his flashlight. "Whew. Something stinks."
He looked closer at Adam. "What happened to you? Did you throw up?"

"Oh … that. My wife here had a little too much to drink at the party … you know, back at the dorms. I was just driving her back home."

The guard pushed back his cap and asked, "Who's that in the rear seat?"

Linda said, "That's, that's just a friend of ours. He's wasted. We're going to let him sleep it off at our place."

"Can I see your driver's license and registration, sir. Please?"

Adam handed over his license and Linda fumbled through the glove compartment for her registration. Adam explained, "We're both faculty members, teaching here."

"Are you really?"

The guard illuminated Adam's license with the flashlight. The reflected light gave his face a demonic glow, exaggerating the deep eye sockets, high cheekbones and wrinkled brow. Time was running out. The guard was about to return the license, when he paused. "You're Dr. Adam Dove, right?"

Adam nodded and offered up Linda's registration card.

"Please step out of the car," said the guard. He backed away and unholstered his gun.

"What's the problem, officer?"

"Sir, just relax and step out. Keep your hands where I can see them."

The guard motioned Adam to come out, while pulling out an oversized walkie-talkie. Adam swung his door open. As the guard whispered into his two-way, a variety of escape scenarios flew through Adam's mind, each offering a potential ploy and likely outcome. Adam was still deciding on an option when the guard grunted and fell to the ground. And like the finale to some amateur magic act, in his place, stood Alpha with yellow eyes visible even in the darkness.

"You are late."

"We had a tough time getting here. Linda is in the car, and your friend's in the backseat."

Alpha looked into the car. His eyes appeared to be able to see quite well in the nearly total darkness. He reached into the rear seat with his ungloved hand. After a few seconds he withdrew. "Did you shoot him?"

"I'm not sure. I was holding the gun when he used his glove, and…"

Apparently Alpha considered his own question rhetorical. He pointed to the dorms in the distance and said, "We must go now." Several blue and red flashers came into view. The real police had arrived.

"Follow me in the car," Alpha said and took off on foot toward the practice fields. Adam leaped back into the car and roared after him. A quick glance to his rear confirmed that, indeed, several patrol cars were closing in.

About a hundred yards later he skidding to a stop along the gravel as Alpha bounded over a low barrier on his way to the fields. Adam and Linda scrambled out of the car. The soft glow of the night sky outlined a cylindrical shape, looming behind Alpha, standing on its end about twenty feet high. A slit of light appeared at ground level, and while it grew into the shape of a door, Alpha ran back toward them.

"Get in the shuttle."

There was no time for questions. Long purple shadows intersected ahead of them. Linda was the first to enter. Adam paused for a moment to look back. Alpha was jogging toward them carrying a hooded body over his shoulder. He laid the body down in the tight quarters of the entryway just as the police reached the Corolla and began blaring commands through cruiser-mounted speakers. The door slid shut cutting off all the noise outside. They had finally reached safety. The silence underscored an abrupt disconnection with the outside world. For Adam and Linda it held a much deeper meaning.

This was the end and the beginning.

They heard a purr and felt a mild vibration.

Adam embraced Linda. "Wow … just like in the movies."

Linda returned the embrace with her own hug. She closed her eyes. "In the movies, the hero always kisses the damsel in distress."

Adam's eyebrows arched and they both laughed.

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