Ed Straker walked into his office, greeted his secretary, discussed the appointments of the day and took his mail into the inner office with him. He was surprised to find a large padded mailer sitting on his desk already, no postage.
“Package, on my desk?”
“Delivered via courier, sir. About half an hour ago. Security says it’s clear.”
“Thank you.” He frowned at the package, dealt with the rest of his mail and then picked up the mailer. It was heavy for its size. The outlines felt like a book of some sort. He slit the envelope open and let the contents slide onto his desk. Two books, slender leather volumes, well-worn and old by the look of them; and a letter.
With a somewhat grim look, he opened the envelope and pulled out the single sheet of heavy paper. The writing was oddly familiar.
It’s been a very long time since we met. I wasn’t certain you were still alive until my solicitor tracked down a likely lead in England. I can’t say I was surprised to find you’d taken up residence there; you were always a little more correct than even Boston required.
Enough of that. Enclosed you will find two journals. It has been my pleasure to guard these for forty years, but I am aging and must turn them over to the next generation, so to speak. James Edward Straker was the black sheep of the family in the 1800s. The truth is far stranger than any fiction I have read, perhaps discounting those abetted by altered consciousness. Keep the journals safe, keep them close. Someday, I believe they will be important and will exonerate a man who never deserved the reaction he received for doing what he thought was right.
Rev. Michael Serene Straker-Brough
Rev. Straker-Brough, Ed hadn’t thought of the older man in a very long time. The Reverend must be rising 80 these days; and the never mentioned black sheep of the family, the portrait from his 21st birthday never taken down, but the man never discussed. That was a lot of nevers; he smiled at the thought as he picked up the two books. Journals. These were the diaries of the man the family refused to talk about.
Ed opened the top book to the flyleaf. The writing was a little faded, but in good shape for its age. James Edward Straker. He turned to the first page dated August 3, 1860. Over a hundred years had passed. He skimmed down the writing until his attention was arrested by the description of a massacre of over a dozen slaves fleeing to freedom on the Underground Railway. Interesting that the black sheep had been involved in the endeavor. But the massacre was familiar; horribly familiar. Bodies left hollow by the killers, not scalped, not mutilated in anger; eviscerated. Ed felt the color drain from his face.
He read on. His partial namesake seemed doomed from the first find to continue on his path toward a doom that men of his day and age could not have fought with any success. It was not thirty days later that James Straker found evidence of something monstrous at work in the area. Traveling to another town for a meeting, James and two friends rode by a farm and noted that scattered animals were wandering back into the yard. A small collie type dog sat at the open doorway and whined. Investigating, they found the same death and destruction as at the site with the escaping Negroes.
Ed could feel the loathing and lack of understanding in the man’s words. How could a man of that day cope with the evil the aliens left behind, and Ed was very certain that what James had stumbled onto were alien harvesting sites. Poor man. Or perhaps not. The fourth entry was just after the War Between the States was declared. Fort Sumter was fired on and James Straker enlisted, as so many of his fellow Northern and Southern men did. War is hell and in brief entries James recorded his own private hell, finding platoons or squads of soldiers from both sides, killed and stripped of organs. Ed could sense the growing sense of the surreal in Lt. Straker.
Half way through the book, the pages now stained and dirty, James recorded receiving a promotion to Captain. The next entry shook the reader. James Straker met an alien and lived to tell the tale.
“It was late, but in the excitement of the coming battle, many of the men were still awake, cleaning their guns, sharpening bayonets, talking and drinking; as though the latter would give them more courage
in the face of what was to come. Overhead I heard a strange noise, a creeling, whirring sort of mechanical noise. I shook Stone awake. Herrick was still mending from the shot he took in the arm and needed
his rest. Foolish. We should have slept. The noise ceased as we left the tent, but I knew which way it went.
We slipped past the sentry, stopping to awaken him where he stood dozing, leaned against the light barricades erected around the camp. It was bad enough we could go past him but should an enemy scout
stumble upon a sleeping sentry; there would be hell to pay. Hell to pay. I did not then know what I was going to find.
There were strange noises in the small copse of trees just north of us. Moving as silently as we could, Stone and I entered the woods. It was silent. No sounds. It took but a few moments to find the source of
the noise I had heard. Stone and I were shaken. There, in the center of a small clearing, stood a thing. It was silvery in the moonlight, steam rising from the ground below it, or smoke. I am still not certain
which. A black opening appeared in the side of the … building? And two garishly clad figures stepped out. Both carried rifles. I am not prone to foolish ideas, yet the two filled me with dread and hatred such
as I knew many of the men in my command harbored for the Southern forces.
We kept to the shadows. The figures stepped out, walking boldly toward us and our camp. Stone and I must have come to the same conclusion at once. We raised our guns and fired. The strangers fell as one.
The one I fired at moved feebly as we moved into the clearing. I do not understand what they wore, strange fabric of red and silver with helms like the knights of old, yet with clear face plates that seemed to
offer little protection. The faces within the helms were human, but not of any color that a human would be. They were, dare I say it even now? Green. They were green.
Certain that they were dead; we went to the conical building. Inside it was dark save for a sullen red glow and we had no lantern, so we did not explore the thing. We dragged the bodies back to the thing,
Stone arguing that it was a conveyance of some sort. That was foolish, how could it move with no wheels? But we did not expect what happened next either. As we hurried back to camp to let the General
know what we had found, there was a mighty explosion behind us. Bits and pieces of metal rained around us and on the camp. Our evidence was gone.”
Ed stopped there. He felt a kinship to this ancestor. He knew how the man felt, knew the sense of unreality as the world became a place of dangers untold, not the familiar ones of military deeds and logic, but of alien presence. “Poor man.” He set the journal aside. He had a meeting with General Henderson in an hour and needed to leave now. He would finish the black sheep’s tale later.
Ed returned from his meeting with the General … General Retired and now head of the IAC, feeling depressed. As usual, Henderson had fought every funding request he had, including the hundred pounds in the budget to improve the coffee maker in the cafeteria. Compromises were made on most of issues, but it took far longer than Straker expected and he was aware of a nagging headache just behind his eyes. Finding hot soup and a sandwich, along with a thermos of hot, light, sweet coffee made him frown, although he wasn’t entirely certain he wasn’t grateful to whoever left it for him.
As he ate, he read more of the journal. Just before the end of the war, Captain Straker found another alien kill. This time it was a ragged squad of Rebel soldiers, unarmed and headed home by the look of it. Four Negroes were among the dead, one of them a well-dressed woman of middle years. James thought someone saw them go through the bodies and ready them for burial, but they were intent on granting some dignity to the murdered and he did not investigate.
They should have stopped to find out who it was. Charges of murder were lodged against Straker, Stone, and Orton. Realizing halfway through the investigation that there was no way to fight the charges, the three took to their heels, fleeing West through Oklahoma and into the Arizona territories where they now worried about Indians, bandits, carpet baggers and the occasional Union troop that might recognize them as wanted criminals. Straker regretted the need, but the knowledge of what was out there drove him on.
:Looks like obsession and being driven runs in the family: Ed thought. For three years, Capt. Straker and a small band of like-minded men roamed the American West, tracking alien kill sites and occasionally fighting them off, saving lives.
The Captain added drawings to his written entries, starting a second journal in 1868. The ships looked much as Ed knew them. The suits seemed unchanged also, arguing that the aliens had developed their technology and settled into a pattern that was still used. That the aliens had been coming to the Earth for more than a hundred years, harvesting organs and using technology that Earth was only just becoming capable of understanding.
For most of the second journal, spanning about five years, James Straker and his men puzzled about the aliens, coming up with theories. An odd middle European joined their group after nearly losing his life to the aliens.
“Bogoescu. What a name. Says he comes from someplace called Wallachia. I don’t recall the place from my studies, but the dark areas beyond Europe were not accounted necessary knowledge when I was a
child. Dr. Ciprian Bogoescu. Lucky man. The villains were starting the cut to break open the chest cavity when we arrived. He will bear a scar, but at least he is alive. His accent is sometimes difficult to
understand, especially when he gets excited. I believe he wishes to join us once he is healed. He also became very excited about one of the native tribes in the area. Stone finds him easier to understand than I
do. We are already six in number. To retain more people may put us at a disadvantage, both against the enemy and the law. Still, to turn away a man of learning and knowledge goes against the grain.
Sometimes I wish I had never laid eyes on one of their massacres. God help us.”
James’ sketch of Dr. Bogoescu was startling. The face on the page reminded him forcibly of Alec Freeman. Ed flipped through the pages curiously. Strange indeed. Stone looked much as Ed thought Keith Ford might have in that earlier day and Herrick bore a striking resemblance to Doug Jackson. William Firth, George Rathers and Charles Goode were all strangers. Dr. Boesky’s theories and ideas became prominent in James’ writings.
Just after the turn of 1870, the American alien hunters found a slaughter in southern Wyoming Territory. As they were setting about dealing with the bodies, a bloody woman launched herself at them from tall grass. Stone pushed her away, but it was James who finally caught and subdued her, taking the Bowie style knife away from her.
“Katiit Páh saw the aliens land and kill her people. Why I was surprised that Bog could make himself understood to her, I do not know. He is an encyclopedia of languages; he picks up words as sponge does
water. Her husband and son were in the party leaving her no one to return to. She traveled with the party to visit another family member, but the village moved and they did not know where the others went.
For now she is alone. I do not know what to do. To travel with us is dangerous, but her people do not treat their women as fragile things to be protected. The dangers are not so frightening to her. Now that
she knows that the aliens are not spirits, she wishes revenge on the evil beings who slew her men. She is quite blood thirsty. She is also quite beautiful. I had never thought of a native woman this way, but I
begin to see why other men have fallen for their charms and their strength.”
Eight against the aliens. Ed sat back in his chair contemplating his Great-great-great-grand Uncle … at least; he thought that was the relationship. Anthony and Andrew Straker had been much younger half-brothers of James Edward. Too young to take part in the Civil War. What was it the South called it these days? Ah yes, the Northern War of Aggression. Redundant. War is aggressive by nature. Seven men and one angry “savage”. He allowed a grim smile to cross his face. Katiit’s inclusion must have changed the group dynamics greatly.
“Didn’t think you were still here. What’ve you been up to?”
“Getting to know my family better,” was Ed’s somewhat cryptic answer. He pulled on his jacket and overcoat, sliding the journals into a pocket. “All quiet?”
Alec nodded. “Paul’s on duty. Col. Lake is finishing up some re-wiring with Ensign Gill’s help. No blips on any radar. Go get a good night’s sleep, for once.”
They walked out to the car park in companionable silence, each entertaining his own thoughts. Alec climbed into his sensible vehicle, watching Ed get into his gull wing door sports sedan with a shake of his head. For all Ed tended to remain basic about things, the need for speed was still there. Straker’s care was an aerodynamic form built to exceed most speed limits. Luckily, its driver generally only flew when there was an emergency.
As Ed drove home, he turned over what he’d learned. The sketches in the journals identified the aliens as the same ones he now dealt with. It was a little spooky thinking that a family member stood in his own position in that time period. Although, that wasn’t exactly the correct evaluation. Capt. Straker’s group fought a war on a very limited level, and one they had no hope of figuring out or winning. As hard as Ed’s lot was, at least he had more than a handful of dedicated men and women to help him. The war was still defensive, but they would find a way to take the fight to the opposition, sooner rather than later.
After a quick dinner of soup and sandwich, Ed sat down with a cup of coffee and a cigarette to finish the journal. As he suspected, without a way to predict where the aliens would land, it was impossible to do more than clean up after them and store information for someone to use at a later time. He wished the journals had fallen into his hands sooner, the data, while limited to the scientific knowledge of the time, supported Henderson’s fears and his own contention that the aliens were not a new threat, but an ongoing one. The journals pegged it as generational as far as humanity was concerned.
“I suppose it was inevitable. We’ve been tracked down by a bounty hunter, two actually, hired by some woman back east. We’ve achieved a stand-off in a ghost town of sorts. Don’t know the name of the place. I’ve tried to get Katiit and Bog to leave. They are not involved in the crime the hunters want us for. Indeed, only Stone, Herrick and myself are on their list of criminals, but given the type of men that usually take up the profession, I do not fool myself that they will not kill or take prisoner all of the people with us. Guilt by association. Katiit is hardly human to those who earn their living this way. I must find a way to protect the others.”
Captain Straker was a man of strong convictions and attitudes that were not yet fulfilled, even today. Ed quickly read the rest of the entry. Sarah Josephine Henry had hired the bounty hunters, given them a full description of the three men and set them on the trail with the stipulation that they not kill their quarry until she arrived. Miss Henry was not the protected Southern belle of the pre-war South; she was a blood thirsty “modern” woman. The two forces managed a stand-off until she arrived a few days later.
“I have never seen this woman before. She is quite lovely, in spite of wearing men’s attire; her pale hair is pulled back in a severe braid, her face touched by the sun to a golden color and her eyes are the blue of the sky overhead. Still, I cannot see why she chases me. Is it only because I am ‘the enemy’ or is there something more?”
Something more, it seemed. Lt. Isaiah Henry was one of the presumed Rebel deserters James and Stone found in the clearing. Lt. Henry was also Sarah’s younger brother. Presumably, James tried to explain, backed up by his people. Miss Henry was not inclined to listen.
“We were dead. I could not in all conscience take Stone and Herrick into custody with me and the lady was disinclined to let the others go free, prating about the bloody trail we left on the landscape. As all seemed lost, we hear the sound that brings our hearts into our throats and looked up. An alien craft hung in the sky. She demanded to know what trickery was this, what charlatanry that put such a stupid thing in the sky. It spun; wailing as they are won’t to do. The sound is maddening. Then the light sprang from some hidden aperture on the craft, destroying a building. Thankfully, the driver of this contrivance had no idea where we were and harmed no one.
The vehicle landed in the center of town, kicking up dust and dirt before settling down. We were all armed, Katiit bearing two knives in her desire to kill the beings she knew would spew forth from the craft. Two of the red suited creatures stepped forth, one carried the rifle we recognized, the other held a box with a strange twirling item on top. It scanned the area with the box. The twirl slowed, stopped and another beam emanated from the box, disintegrating one of the men with Miss Henry. She shrieked in horror and fell back with the other man, taking shelter in the building behind her.
The creatures moved forward. They missed us entirely, or did not feel we presented a threat to them. They learned their mistake immediately as we opened fire on them. We were profligate with our ammunition, bullets sponging off the metal craft where it sat. It is a wonder none of the ricochet’s found a home in one of us. They fell in the dirt, green fluid from their suits and blood seeping into the dustbeneath them. We took cover and waited. Sometimes the vehicles hold more than two of the creatures. This one did. A third poked its head out of the opening, saw the dead and pulled back in.
Bog dashed out to the thing as the opening closed, tossing something into the interior and then running as if his life depended on it, throwing himself into the building where Miss Henry and her remaining employee hid. The craft lifted from the ground and wobbled as an explosion shook it and great gout of flame broke through its skin. Spewing smoke, it continued to lift into the sky until a hundred feet or more above us it flew apart, fragments flying in all directions. I was not aware of being hit by debris until Katiit was above me, tears in her eyes and telling me in flawless English that I was not to die, not to leave her alone. “
After the experience, Miss Henry listened to James’ explanation of what he and Stone found, that they were not the murderers, just the men who stumbled into and dealt with the site. Turned out the Negro woman had been Miss Henry’s governess, the older woman was much loved by the younger. The family had felt it would be safe to send her and some of her family to bring Isaiah home when he was wounded.
The final entry was dated 1971. Captain James Edward Straker and Katiit Páh were married in a small church in New Mexico before celebrating the joining in the manner of Katiit’s native tribe. In the back was a picture, undated, of seven men, one native woman and a dead alien. Ed almost laughed at the “hunting party” pose. The man behind the woman was tall, blond and weathered looking, but recognizable as a member of the Straker family. Bog stood to his right, Stone to his left; the others fanned out on either side. It looked like they continued to survive. He tucked the picture back into the journal. Tomorrow he would send the books and picture to be archived, both physically and electronically.
Midway through the next morning, Meg Gill materialized in his office. The petit Ensign no longer regarded him with dread, or so he surmised as she set down a cup of hot coffee and told him she was there to collect the document. In handing the journals to her, the picture dropped out of the back.
“What’s this? Oh, cool, a … I know this photo.” She sounded a bit poleaxed by the recognition, looking at Ed and then back to the picture. “OK, gran’s doesn’t have a dead alien in it. Wow. A dead alien,” she repeated. “Great-great-granddad hunted aliens?”
“You know this picture?” Ed retreated to the first comment.
“Yeah. Gran’s got a couple like this.” She pointed to the man and woman. “Gran’s grandfather and grandmother on her mom’s side. Captain James Edward Striker and Katiit Pash Striker.”
“Straker,” he corrected her.
“His name was James Edward Straker, second son of Jordan Michael Straker. He’s the black sheep of my family.”
Meg’s jaw dropped only to be swiftly recovered. “You’re kidding … No, you wouldn’t. Straker, not Striker. You’re sure?”
“Those are his journals. I think he would know his own name,” Straker told her dryly.
She blushed. “Uh … yeah. I would think so. Damn. We’re related? Don’t worry, I won’t say a word. Totally zipped, sir. And I’ll get these to archive immediately, sir.” She scooted out of his office so swiftly he had no time to reassure her, even if he wasn’t entirely certain what she needed reassurance about.
He turned his attention to the reports in his in box.