Ty stopped the carriage in front of the barn, his eyes darting to take in the fed peaking out of the loft and another pacing the side to guard the place. “You ready for this?”
Jedediah stared ahead. “I reckon.”
“All right.” Ty jumped down and rolled the barn door open.
The inside had been completely redone like an official installation, plastered walls and desks. Mabel, a curly haired lady in a blue dress, sat in the desk by the door.
“‘Morning, Ty. Is this Jedediah Black?”
“Go on back. Will and Doc are already there.”
Ty took Jed down a hallway to a door all the way at the end. “Last chance to back out.”
“Do I look yeller?”
“This ain’t a brawl or a shootout, Jed. Ain’t no shame.”
Jed opened the door and Ty nodded.
As usual, it gratified Ty to see Doc and Will wearing their blacks, hats, dusters, and boots—gotta maintain the persona. They stood in front of one of the gray off-worlders sitting in the chair they had made special for him, the arms nearly closing around him. The lengths Doc had gone to keep him comfortable amazed Ty considering what they do to men. The gray sat there with its big almond eyes, no chin, looking like some kind of mummy, skin pulled tight and looking dry. The lamplight flickered off his face in eerie fashion.
When Jed came in, the off-worlder made a caterwaul like fingernails on slate.
Will put his finger in the alien’s face. “Thet’ll be enough of thet, Hubert.”
The creature hissed, then stopped.
“His name is Hubert?” asked Ty.
He hissed again.
“Thet’s what I call him,” said Will.
Jed took rapid breaths.
“Take her easy, there, feller.” Doc patted him on the back. “Deep breaths. Nice and slow.”
“That’s one of them,” said Jed. “That’s the off-worlder done picked through my insides and soaked me in a tub.” He stepped up to Hubert. “You got anything to say to me?”
The creature stared at him, expressionless and without blinking.
“We don’t understand a word he’s saying,” said Doc.
“You haven’t tried taking his hand like that feller in the water tower?” asked Ty.
The off-worlder went into a guttural chatter and tapped where his chin might be with three stubby fingers.
“I told you I ain’t permitting that,” said Doc. “Don’t trust these kind.”
“Oh, hell.” Ty grabbed Hubert’s hand. The creature hissed and pulled it away violently, helpless against Ty’s grip. Ty let go and the gray snapped his arm back, tucking his hands behind him.
Doc, small man that he was, grabbed Ty by the collar and shoved him into the wall. “Ain’t your place, Ty. Twig?”
Doc was a good man and a good friend. Ty would never raise a hand to him. He hitched his mouth and nodded.
Will chuckled. “Best we can figure, he’s trying to use motions to say stuff. You make anything out of him, Jed?”
Jed stared at Hubert, then tapped under his own chin similar to the way the creature had done it. The off-worlder tapped furiously all over his face.
“What is it?” asked Will.
“I don’t know. It’s all very familiar though.” Jed tapped around his face, much slower than Hubert.
The off-worlder tapped a little slower and they went back and forth, the creature sometimes adding chatter, perhaps agitation. Ty thought there was a kind of harmony to it, but couldn’t twig a thing.
Jed finally stopped.
“Well?” asked Ty.
“I don’t reckon I know for certain. As far as I can tell, he wants food and demands a… something that screams?”
Will smiled. “Nice job, Jed. That’s a hell of a lot farther than we’ve gotten.”
“What’s he keep getting worked up about?” asked Ty.
“Oh, yeah,” said Jed. “Don’t call him Hubert.”