Will hadn’t seen a spaceship mangled this badly before. Usually they held together well enough even half embedded in the ground, but this son-of-a-gun had several golden pieces spread across Jacobson’s cornfield. A number of feds, mostly under his employ, inspected and surveyed all of it, some measuring, some drawing, and others taking notes. Ty was showing off, both arms akimbo, supervising the process.
Will picked through some biocircuitry when Harold rode up with the abducted feller, Jedediah. “What brings you out here?” he asked. He enjoyed having Harold around, but he spent most of his time studying in the workshops and didn’t often make it out to the crash sites.
“I reckoned I’d see how Jedediah took to an alien ship, but she ain’t exactly intact is she?”
“Still plenty to see,” said Will.
“It’s beautiful.” Jedediah dismounted and walked to a section the size of a buffalo. Harold and Will followed. The exterior part was shaped like a stagecoach, and it opened up to the interior on the ‘side.’ Jed stepped into it.
“Wait.” Ty trotted up. “What are you doing?”
“Studying the effect the ship has on him,” said Harold.
Ty shook his head and spread his hands. “Do it in a section that’s already tallied.” He turned and whistled at a few feds to come over.
“I can’t very well study the effects if you decide where he goes.”
Jed ran his hands over the inside, most of it as golden as the outside. A harness of some sort dangled from the side, which he caressed and draped over his shoulder.
“Do you recognize anything?” asked Harold. He had his own notepad out.
Jedediah shook his head. “I don’t know why, but it’s like the first time I saw a grain mill. I just want to look at it and learn every piece of it.”
Ty motioned the feds to the ship. “Process this one toot sweet, and pay attention to anything he moves.”
Jed stepped out and walked to another larger piece. Harold looked at Ty.
“Go ahead. We’ve already done that ‘er.”
Jedediah spent the entire day enrapt in the wreckage, the particulars of his fascination a mystery.
When the sun neared the horizon, he sat on a crate and looked off into the sky with dreamy eyes.
“Would you like to see another?” asked Will.
“Very much,” said Jedediah.
“We’re heading over to Nebraska. Three crashes, two kinds of ships.”
Eleven days later they approached an open plain with three ships, mostly intact, one with a hole in it from which smoke still rose. The smoker and another shimmered a light tint of silvery blue. The third was a flat red ochre.
The blue ones being closer, they rode up to the one not smoking. Will dismounted and was about to take the reins of Jed’s horse when he realized the man trembled like a sheep cornered by a wolf.
“Ya all right?” asked Will.
“I’m all right.” Jed’s voice was thin, and it quavered. He slid off his saddle and teetered a bit, grabbing the bridle to steady himself. The horse shoved him with his nose, but Jeb kept his balance.
They walked up to the ship. A team of three made preliminary observations.
“Open her up,” said Will. He wore his blacks, the coat, the hat, the boots, and even the britches, so they didn’t question him. Will chuckled to himself. Ty had wound them up with such a mystique, there wasn’t a fed who didn’t fear them.
A man with a magnifying glass pressed the side and pulled a small panel loose, then swirled his finger inside the cavity it revealed. A section turned copper, then receded, leaving an opening.
Jed took wobbly steps toward it, then peeked inside. His face turned white, his knees shook, and his teeth chattered. With a wave of his arm, he stumbled away then ran for the horse.
Harold went after him. “Jed, wait.”
Jed had no explanation. “I felt like a child on nights when my brothers told stories of demons and ghosts. I’d spend the night clinging to my blanket and shivering in the heat.”
“You don’t want to try again?” asked Will.
He shook his head.
Some humiliation was so full of mystery Will couldn’t find it in his heart to disdain it, and this seemed to be one of those cases.
“How ‘bout the other ship?” asked Will. “The dark orange one.”
“If Ty were here, he’d correct you and call it a red ochre,” said Harold.
“Good thing he’s not here, Harold. Else I’d have to clock him in the head for it.” Will licked his lips. “You intend on playing his surr’gate?”
“Oh, no. I’m a scientist. I just make observations.”
Will smiled. “Sometimes silence is a good observation.”
“Tarnation, Will. It’s too late for you to pretend to be a bear to me, ‘cause I know you’re a kitty cat.”
Will released a guffaw. “I’m just doing my part to bolster Ty’s mythology for the Men in Black. For the sake of his legacy you should play along.”
“I’m afraid I’m just too stodgy for that, Will.”
“Can we get this over with, please?” asked Jed.
They entered the ship by a ramp sliding out from a portal. Jed ducked his head and went in without trepidation. He laughed and pointed. “That’s a gravity stabilizer. I could take meals and listen to cognitive alignment concertos right here.” He bounced from section to section, pointing at instruments and babbling nonsense. “This is home,” he said, sitting back into a hammock of sorts with a harnesses.
Harold spent a long time coaxing Jed out of the ship. They took him to the federal facility in Omaha and settled into a saloon to sip whiskey and relax the night before their long trip home.
“Well, that leaves us with a big question,” said Will.
“What do you mean?” asked Harold.
“We know of three kinds of off-worlders. The ones on the little sleds, who seem to like us, but brought war to our planet, their enemies who came to our planet to fight that war, and some nasty grey ones that regularly abduct us.”
Will sucked on his teeth. “Well. Which do you reckon Jed’s fascinated with, which do you think he’s afraid of, and which do you think he feels akin to?”
“Don’t worry about it.” Will grinned. “We’re the Men in Black. This is what we do.”