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Chapter 8:
Return To The Car

We reached the car crater around noon. The hike in went by with no incidents. Up to this point, Lenny thought he knew what to expect from looking at my pictures. The prints from the earlier shots showed in graphic detail our initial approach and pictures of the buried car.

But I took no pictures after our first meeting, so when all we saw was a barren dirt bank, there was almost an anticlimactic let down before Feather Butt pulled out the car keys and opened the door. The vertical pool irised from the dirt and FB pressed the key again. With a loud wet-rubbery sound, the bank smoothed out and turned a creamy shade of white. Here was the view that originally greeted us the week before.

Lenny, seldom one to be amazed simply muttered ". . . holy shit . . ." FB and Scrawny scrambled in like they owned the place, which of course they apparently did. Greg, Mike and I followed the dudes into the sweltering muggyness of the interior. Lenny decided to wait outside while we checked it out.

What ever powered this rig must have had enough juice to keep everything just as hot and humid as before. Scrawny went right to the bridge and sat in the navigator position. FB opened one of three side hatches that included the room they had Nuzzle Muzzle in. He walked in and returned almost immediately with three more translators.

Greg was already using the recording unit, so Mike and I modified the two droids FB handed us. He had the one on already talking to Greg, so he headed on up to the bridge and handed the extra one to Scrawny. We followed.

I hadn't noticed it before, but the floor of the central passageway seemed level, while from outside the car, there was an obvious downward tilt. I entered the cockpit behind Greg and Mike. The guys were at their stations, like a couple of grade school kids swallowed up by the man sized seats of a war museum tank.

Scrawny was booting up his computer, while Feather Butt plugged the portable key unit into a custom socket next to what could only be described as a holographic monitor. Floating ghost-like over a hexagonal pedestal was a 3-D view of the canyon, with our position in the center. The entire image was projected into an area slightly larger than a basket ball. It was reminiscent of the wicked witch's crystal ball in the Wizard of Oz, only it wasn't solid.

"I can narrow or widen the view with this . . ." he commented as he slid his open palm over a golf ball sized tracking ball, kind of like those used in certain video games.

The view zoomed in on what looked like a 100 foot spherical view. The car's shape was revealed wedged in the transparent bank; a tiny three-sided pyramid, with the forth or bottom side barely exposed. Even the faint ghost-like skeletal image of Lenny standing outside the hatch was plainly visible.

The view then expanded instantly to reveal our section of the county in real time topographic detail. The local TV tower's transmission was the first obvious feature. It appeared as a bright blue disk that faded out at the edges. The signals from the nearby microwave relay tower could be made out as thin lines of light criss-crossing the valley. We were seeing radio light!

I soon noticed something else. Tiny firefly looking things flashing on and off floating over the landscape. Must be planes. One looked extremely close to our central position. The view became so graphic that anyone observing the image literally got the big picture. FB certainly did, since the view enlarged again to reveal the firefly apparently flying towards us.

A tiny helicopter was zipping silently up through the 3-D canyon. Scrawny looked over at me and said "Better get our friend on the outside in!" I was closest to the open door, so I turned around and ran out to get our guard. Once through the door and back outside, the faint familiar THUMP-THUMP-THUMP sounded in the distance. Lenny needed little convincing to come in the car.

The helicopter was just around the bend in the stream, and closing. FB had been zooming in as the copter approached, keeping it just inside the sphere of view. As it passed overhead, the image grew until the craft reached the size of a plastic film can.

We could see the air crew. And they saw us. The chopper made a wide circle and returned to hover directly over us.

". . . DAMN!!!! I forgot to cover the hull with dirt!" Feather Butt loudly exclaimed. The smooth white hull made a great target. We could see the chopper crew pointing and taking pictures. "What can we do now?" Lenny inquired.

"First, close the door . . ." FB replied. ". . . Then re-cover the hull with dirt . . ." We felt and heard nothing as we watched the helicopter occupants flip out. Arms and heads were waving furiously as the craft pulled back a bit. The smooth white must have become rough dirt again.

If it had been just one guy involved, that would have been the end of it. But everybody looking out a window must have to seen a large white triangular area change into a dirt bank. So a few seconds later ropes were thrown out the side of this miniature helicopter, and several tiny guys started sliding down; armed to the teeth of course.

"I got a great idea . . ." I hastily suggested, ". . . why not see if this thing can fly?" FB turned and looked straight at me, winked one of those slit pupil eyes, spun back around and pushed a few more pads on the control board.

The view in the sphere shifted as the canyon dropped out from under the central image of the car. We backed out of the hill side, just missing the helicopter by inches. Then we zipped straight up. All the time, there was no sensation of motion. It was as if we were still jammed into the side of the hill. The image stopped to hover several thousand feet above the canyon.

We could still see the now gnat-like helicopter hovering below. It slowly started to spiral up towards us. "WHERE DO WE GO NOW ?!!" Feather Butt furiously inquired. Good question! Then I noticed something that looked familiar. Abiqua Falls. It must be about ten miles from where we were hovering as the car flies, to the southwest.

"Head towards that little dark pit between those two ridges . . ." I blurted out. FB slid his palm over the tracking ball as the ground flew up and slid beneath us.

Any remaining doubts as to FB's piloting abilities were soon put to rest. In a matter of seconds, he deftly maneuvered the car away from the chopper and over the holographic landscape. The car's image was quickly and silently swallowed up by the large box canyon that housed Abiqua Falls.

FB widened the view again to show the helo-gnat hovering way off to one side of the sphere. We were out of their line of sight, surrounded on three sides by a basalt cliff three hundred feet high, with a narrow V-shaped valley snaking out. As we watched, the little firefly slowly headed north, and out of our sphere of vision.

We must have stayed motionless for close to ten minutes before it occurred to us to zoom in and check the immediate area for any intelligent life forms or other folks lurking about. No Friday afternoon fishermen within our view. So we all walked on out.

We were now able to see the car in its entirety; a large white pyramid with a shimmering pool in one of the sides resting on large, round stream rocks. The whole scene looked like the new age poster-of-the-month, so I backed up and snapped off a few wide angle shots, with Humans and Capthraw admiring the beauty of Abiqua Creek plunging 130 feet into the clear azure pool in front of us.

FB had the keys with him, and holding the disk high over his head, he flashed the side of the cliff. The car then scrunched into a large triangular chunk of basalt. We all sat down on the nearest rocks, to mellow out after the amazing trip we just experienced.

Mike spoke first: "We'd better not stay here to long, someone is bound to wander down here for the weekend." Even though it required a rock strewn logging road and a two mile hike, Abiqua Falls had become in the last couple of years sort of a favorite day hike destination for Salem Yuppies. With a good weather late summer weekend just hours away, this place would soon be crawling with rat race refuges. And even with the car disguised, it still looked mighty bizarre close up.

But where to go? Mike pulled out his topo map and we quickly located our position. Mike and I had hiked around these hills for years, but we couldn't decide where a safe spot might be. "What about that hidden waterfall that we discovered years ago?" Lenny casually mentioned. Mike and I looked at each other, and nodded.

Lenny was referring to a very tall waterfall from a trickle of a creek that we found on the topo map over five years earlier. It was simply labeled "falls" on the map with no trail, about a mile upstream on a tributary of the Abiqua named "Homestead Creek."

We first visited the falls several years earlier. We had been ready for a hike with no place in particular to go, so we looked on the map and decided to head for this mystery falls. We literally had to hack our way up this little canyon through all manner of briar like growth. But at the end was this amazing tall, skinny waterfall plunging over a 200 foot cliff into a ten foot diameter pool surrounded by a small box canyon. It was only about two miles from our present location. Prior to the space lizard affair, this had been one of our more memorable adventures.

But we couldn't just hop over to this other canyon. The Doc was scheduled to pick us up at tomorrow back at the clear-cut area. So we had to fly the car to Homestead Creek Canyon, and get back to the clearcut area before noon. FB assured us that he could put this thing down in any canyon narrow enough to fit, day or night. We opted for night and decided to have a late lunch.

We ate on the rocks, by the shore of the pool. Scrawny climbed into the car and returned a few minutes later with a covered plate filled with steaming brown triangles. They looked and smelled like the teriyaki chicken stuff they had offered us when we first met. This time I decided to try some. Aside from being mixed with a gritty sand-like substance, it was delicious!

Lenny joined the dudes and I, but everyone else politely refused. We also stashed a piece of one into a zip-lock bag for the Doc's future non-culinary examination. Needless to say, we survived.

"This is the cooked meat of a Thrawnian bird we call an Auwork." Scrawny informed us. "Do you have these patties frozen back in the car?" I inquired. "Not frozen . . ." The Space Lizard answered; ". . . these and other food stuffs are continuously grown in the car's kitchen."

"Say what?" I replied with this image of little caged animals somewhere within the car. "The genetic material that makes up the choicest cuts are reproduced under controlled conditions . . ." he explained. ". . . since only usable meat is grown, there is no waste. And even though the meat is genetically from an Auwork, it isn't an animal since there is no bones, fat, eyes or brain. The kitchen provides the nutrients and the meat grows."

"Wow! Cultured meat!!" Lenny cheerfully exclaimed as he tore into another one. Greg and Mike had that "yuck . . . gross" look on their faces, but to me, this seemed like the perfect answer for the vegetarian who liked a big mac, but not the idea of killing and eating a cow. So I had another one!

Suddenly we all became aware of a growing noise slowing replacing the roar of the waterfall. Thunder cracked over head as several F-16 fighters screamed above us about 1000 feet up. It figured. Those chopper jockeys most likely passed on their experiences to the higher ups of some secret government UFO team.

They probably didn't see us, but we went back into the car to check out the crystal ball just the same. The airplanes were plainly visible, slowly flitting over the landscape. They hadn't seen us; it looked like they were flying in a search pattern. We decided to stay in the car until it was dark enough to make our move.

Greg went over to Scrawny's computer station and asked the young space lizard just how much information was stored in the on-board memory. Specifically relating to Thrawn itself. "I'm not sure . . ." he replied. ". . . lets find out!"

His six long thin fingers quickly moved over the keyboard. Images and Capthraw Characters danced on the hexagonal screen. Looking closely at the screen, the individual pixels were shaped like tiny rhomboids, configured in such a way that three of them made perfect little hexagons. Like our computer monitors, the patterns formed by the on/off combinations created the overall picture, which was now revealing what was obviously a global map.

This was a global atlas of Thrawn; or rather Earth 67 million years ago. At first glance, it looked completely different from the world of today. But it soon began to make sense. The most notable difference was North America. It was split in two with a large inland sea running up into Canada, with the western half connected to northeast Asia at Alaska. The Atlantic Ocean was noticeably narrower, and Europe was composed of a group of islands of varying sizes.

South America was the only recognizable land form, although it was not connected to North America. Africa was two large chunks. Several other southern continents were visible in the Indian Ocean. Antarctica, Australia and India I assumed.

"Are you aware of the fact that the Earth's crust is made up of plates that float on the surface and move about?" Scrawny asked us. "You mean continental drift?" I answered. "The theory was first proposed, at least by us humans, about seventy years ago, but was only proved just recently by bouncing light beams off satellites."

"Well our Capthrawnian Geologists knew about this too. Lets add several million years to our model and see how it compares with your current maps." As we watched, the land masses shifted positions, stopping in a configuration roughly similar to today's world. But not quite.

Absent were many of the major volcanic areas of the world. Hawaii, Iceland and even our own Cascade range did not appear on the simulation. Nor did two of the larger bodies of water in North America: Hudson's Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The Capthrawnian computer model must have lacked the data to predict these features. I guess a lot can happen in 65 million years.

After about fifteen minutes, the humidity started to get to us. It seemed to me like the summer I spent in Pensacola, Florida at Navy Photo School. I asked Feather Butt if it might be possible to alter the climate control to some happy medium between Capthraw and Human standards. He acknowledged in the positive and headed towards the aft end of the car. I decided to follow.

We entered the last of the three hatches leading off from the main passageway. FB explained that the one Nuzzle Muzzle was in is the galley and sleeping quarters, the one he got the extra translators is sort of a storeroom/workshop and the one we were now entering is kind of a catch-all room, usually reserved for use as a laboratory. Since it contained another computer terminal like the one Scrawny was currently using, the car's systems could be accessed at the same time the other computer was tied up.

"About the only thing I know how to do on the computer is car related." FB explained as he sat down at the terminal saddle. "I never really took the time to learn much more. Maybe I should have." He rapidly punched several keys, and soon the screen lit up with those Capthraw Characters surrounded by a graphic representation of the car.

"That's odd . . ." the Space Lizard mentioned; ". . . the status line indicates that the last change to the car's systems was entered three days ago!" He was pointing to a line of characters near the bottom of the screen. "What does that mean?" I inquired. "Someone entered the system and made some changes." He said. I was puzzled. "What do you mean? We were all at Llama Land three days ago!"

"I Know! Lets check this out . . ." He slowly and systematically pressed several keys. ". . . this is REALLY strange!! It says that three days ago the 'user' requested access to the main navigational systems, and that those systems were altered for remote operation!!"

"What 'user'?" I asked. "You mean that there were four of you guys on board when you landed?" "Or maybe from another car . . ." FB responded, ". . . but WHO? I better tell Scrawny. He can use the computer to find out." "Can you de-activate the remote? It would be a real bummer if the car all of a sudden flew away without us!" He just looked at me with a strange excited look on his face. "I don't know! We better get Scrawny!!"

He pressed another key and spoke at the computer. "Scrawny! Check out the access log!" "Hey, maybe your parents were here looking for you!" I suggested. "Yah! That's what I was thinking about!" Suddenly the room filled with angry parrot squawking sounds as Scrawny relayed his answer to FB. Apparently the translators didn't work unless one was in close proximity to the guy talking.

"Scrawny said that we had better come up to the bridge. He said that it wasn't our parents!" We quickly ran up to the bridge. We completely forgot about the climate control.

We walked in to see everyone huddled around Scrawny's screen. Displayed was the image of another Capthraw. But for some reason, this guy didn't look at all friendly. It was obviously an adult, with what looked to me like a sneer on it's snout.

To quote Luke Skywalker: "I have a bad feeling about this . . ." © 1996 by R. D. Frederick Green Line

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