The next morning, Will reassigned the guard as Ty put a fire under the deputies in charge of each posse. Doc and Harold sent everyone else on the science team out with the riders.
“Each of you has an expert tracker, and you came back with nothing yesterday,” said Ty. “We’re growing your teams with the guard so you can spread out wider. In addition, maybe you fellows don’t have the eyes for anything off world, so we’re sending the scientists with you.”
“Hold on, mister.” Bo Nelson took off his furry Stetson. “This is my show, and—”
“Not any more,” said Ty.
“According to what authority?” asked Bo.
“You know who sent us,” said Will. The president’s request hadn’t exactly endowed them with authority. Heck, it wasn’t even written down, but Will didn’t expect Bo knew it.
“My superiors are going to hear all about you ‘Men in Black,’” he said.
Will looked at Ty and caught just a hint of a smirk. That kind of talk would suit Ty just fine, add to the reputation. “They won’t find us, but we’ll find them,” Will said. He gave Ty a wink.
As they rode away, doc and Harold opened the hatch in the giant vessel and went in. When the search parties gained some distance, Will pulled a barrow up to the door and joined them inside. They had an internal hatch open and pulled out nine trees made of iron, or the like, twisted in every direction. They had a kind of poetry to them, and they could be stood up on bases that looked like spools.
“This what he wanted?” asked doc.
“I guess,” said Will. “Ever seen anything like them?”
“I saw something like it in Germany,” said Harold.
They set them in the barrow, two at a time, and took them a ways off from camp. When the posses disappeared on the horizon, Will climbed the water tower and gave the off-worlder the all clear. The creature squirmed onto the sled, and the sled climbed the side and glided easily to the ground, where it levitated like St. Alphonsus Liguori. No wonder there were no tracks. Will dropped to the ground and led him to the beckoner in progress.
The off-worlder zipped around to examine the iron trees, it’s tongue flailing, then finally settled in front of Harold, grabbing his arm the way he did to communicate to their minds.
“He wants us to set them in a circle about seven paces apart,” Harold said. “While were at it, I’m asking him what my purpose should be in this new perspective. What I should do with my life.”
Ty walked off seven paces from one tree and set another down where he ended. “Ask him for a great item of wisdom. Something profound to elevate the cause of man.”
“I guess,” said Harold. “But he won’t answer my question, so I don’t figure on him answering any others.”
“Science is what we need,” said doc. He adjusted an iron tree to make them evenly spaced in a circle. “Ask him for a practical secret of the universe that we can use to support man’s well-being.”
“What about you, Will?” asked Ty. He took a tree that doc just moved and placed it back where it was. “What do you want to ask him?”
Doc put the tree back again, then moved one Ty had adjusted a minute before. Will stood in the midpoint, eyeballing the positions.
The creature released Harold and levitated through the trees.
“I just want to know what their purpose is,” said Will. “What do we mean to them?”
Doc and Ty wrestled over a tree, the off-worlder floating back and forth like a guppy dodging a catspaw.
“Well, he isn’t talking,” said Harold.
The off-worlder chased Ty and doc from the beckoner trees and adjusted one by a foot, then fiddled with the upward swooping part of his sled, causing an irregular shape to raise from it. He then manipulated the bumpy parts until the iron trees started to shimmer, emitting a light alternating from rose color to amber. The spools whined and cracked. A smell like baked bread in the rain filled the air, and a muffled buzz surrounded them.
The off-worlder backed away a considerable distance, and the rest of them followed, waiting with him for whatever it would summon.
“It’s like fishing in the afternoon,” said doc.
“This might be the big one,” said Will.
A sound like stone scraping stone boomed and a five-point-star shaped object appeared small in the sky directly above them. It grew to the size of the moon and darkened into black, jagged edges around the points. Larger and larger it came. Will gritted his teeth and tensed his arms to stop himself trembling. The spaceship hung in the air, covering the area set up with the beckoner and the entire camp.
The ship lurched, and thin, intense rays of light shot out of the iron trees, wrapping around it, holding it down as the scraping roared. It pulled against the light, but the light held it and drew it toward the ground slowly until it touched the dirt. It was the strangest tether landing Will could imagine, but effective.
“Family reunion time,” said Ty. He stood and stepped toward the ship, but the creature blocked him with his sled. He held a mini version of one of the trees in his hand and pointed it at the ship.
A flat, ovoid chute extended from the vessel to the ground, and out shot a thing that looked like a rolled up yellow sock—like a tire—a smashed gray head of a bat with two pointed ears sitting on it. It twirled and scurried away from them, but the creature with them shot out a green ray of light that wrapped around the new off-worlder, holding it where it was.
“Gol’durn,” said Will.
“Tarnation,” said doc.
“Holy shit,” said Ty.
“Yeah,” said Harold. “I sure hope we’re on the right side here.”
Harold extended his hand to the off-worlder, who took it willingly.
“He says this is one of the creatures that swatted him out of the sky, the dark ones.”
“This is what he intended all along?” asked doc.
“Yes,” said Harold. “He thought we understood.”
The off-worlder broke from Harold and went up the chute into the ship. He came back out a while later and used the green light-ray lariat to pull the other creature back into it. With some cajoling, the Men in Black helped him move things from his ship to the star-shaped one. He pulled everything in through the chute and didn’t let them follow.
“Did we just assist in an act of war?” asked doc.
“Hard to say,” said Will. “Maybe piracy.”
“Cheez,” said Ty.
When the off-worlder was finished, he turned the iron trees off, and the red rays vanished. He pulled them from the ground and attached five to the exterior hull of the vessel, then stowed the other four inside.
When he was finished, he took Harold by the arm.
“He has gratitude for us,” said Harold. “Doc, he says your new perspective will take your scientific endeavors far, benefiting man in the way you hope. The chief thing to scientific progress is understanding what you know more than the things you know.” The creature brushed his fingers on doc’s shoulder.
“He has wisdom for you, Ty.” Harold cocked his head and squinted. “He says that humanity is extremely important, but you are not.”
Will chuckled. Ty stared in wonder.
“And you, Will. To you he says as regards his purpose, earthmen are like no other species, and hope transcends the hearts of darkness.”
Will frowned. “Nothing else?”
“No, that’s it.”
The creature separated from Harold.
“Wait,” Harold said. “What about me?”
“Did he tell you?” asked Ty.
“Yeah. Just before he released.”
The off-worlder corralled them a good distance away form the ship and brushed each one of them as it levitated by, then floated up the chute into ship. The scraping rock sound rolled louder and the ship moved off the ground and flew high above them.
“At least we’ve still got the other ship to study,” said doc.
The iron trees on the hull shot out their red rays that wrapped around the giant bullet ship. The red dirt fell away from it, and it pulled off the ground, lifted higher and higher until both ships touched. Shortly after, a whoosh of air pulled at them, and the ships shot upward, growing smaller until they disappeared.
“Nice to make new friends,” said Will.
“We don’t even know his name,” said Ty. “Why is that?”
“He referenced himself through meaning, not language,” said Harold. “Everything I spoke for him was just my words for the thoughts he sent.”
“Sounds about right,” said Will.
“I call him Charlie,” said Harold. “That’s the closest thing I can find that feels like his meaning for himself.”
“So—what did Charlie say about your purpose in life?” asked Ty.
“I don’t quite understand it,” said Harold. “He said he’d already given it to me.”
“I do believe he’s right,” said Ty. He took his black hat off and set it on Harold’s head.
Dust in the distance signaled a returning posse.
Doc smiled. “Welcome to the crew, kid.”