(Don't interrupt! I am boosting the projectors! Now!)
The bodies convulsed again, and soft snores came from the helmets. Jack began checking each occupant, feeling their pulses and heartbeat.
(Now, depart while he is occupied! I shall expedite your escape!)
(What happens next?)
(Nothing! Nothing happens! The humans have journeyed the simulated universe and their primitive brains are filled with inner peace. It's very nice!)
(Why do I have to go?)
(I must speak to Jack Kraft in private! Go, find the Doctor and tell him what has transpired! No more questions!)
(Oh, all right. Just answer me one more.)
(Oh, youth! Haste!)
(Is your name really Smokey?)
(Is yours really Ace?)
I am between landmarks in a place where nothing is named. I clamber over rocks and avoid unmarked snow, mindful of the hidden crevasses beneath. I move steadily, methodically, trying not to think of the absurd spectre in the temple. I shake my head and chuckle as I mount a ridge.
Suddenly I sense a presence behind me. Alarm jangles in my mind. There! Between the forest and myself, a distortion in the lower air. With the ease of long practise I remove a glove with my teeth and shoulder the rifle. I draw the bolt and wait. The distortion coalesces and glides smoothly toward me, resolving into a tiny figure in a fairy dress and tiara. I have no hesitation. I shoot and the figure falters. I ready another shot. It advances and I fire again. It shatters to shiny fragments that swirl into an invisible drain in the air. With a tiny pop! it and my fear are gone. My shots still echo.
Only then do I realise I have discharged a weapon on a snowy mountain. I huddle behind the ridge, but no avalanche comes.
What of the darker suggestions of a Communist agenda in Luuna's writings? Aren't members urged to sell their possessions and form independent communities? Is Luuna's Galactic Brotherhood not a blatantly Socialist government?
“There are no Reds here,” says Jack Kraft, who closed a successful travel agency to manage the temple's finances, “Listen, when you came in here, did you see the Cadillac parked out front? One of three, friend, and that's the runt.”
Miss Spenser adds, “You're overstating the case. It's true that there are now three small colonies dedicated to Luuna's teachings, but we took no action in their founding and we have no legal or practical connection to them. We sell them books, is all.”
Kraft interrupts, “They don't get a discount, either.”
Miss Spenser laughs. She and Kraft have an easy, father-daughter camaraderie. “Are we Communists? No. It's perfectly true that Luuna has suggested our graduates band together in shared communities, but her inspiration was not Marx, Stalin or even the Brothers. It was Christ. Book of Acts, Chapter 2, Verses 44 and 45. Look it up. You aren't calling Jesus Christ a Communist, are you?”
from, 'Good News from the Saucer-Men of Mount Shasta?' (Time Magazine, 8/24/59)
Hours passed and darkness fell as I wandered the town. I don't take orders from floating heads, and I wanted time to myself. The town seemed to wake up. I guessed it was because everyone was coming home from work. Lights came on, distant music thumped and snippets of laughter drifted from houses as I passed. I felt disconnected from it all, like an outsider, and that got me thinking about everything I'd learned.
The temple was a front for some kind of alien tourist agency, that was clear. It seemed sort of harmless... if Smokey was on the level, the pilgrims weren't hurt and maybe were helped. They just had their bodies borrowed for an afternoon of sight-seeing. Surely that was small-time evil, not the kind of thing the Professor would investigate. There had to be something else going on, but what? I was so immersed I stopped paying attention to where I was walking.
I began to mentally divide everyone I'd seen into good guys and bad guys. I liked Sally and Peace. Someone had tried to kill Sally, so that put her on our side, and Peace went without saying.
I wasn't sure about Smokey and Jack. Put them in the middle column. I liked Smokey – I'd been in his head long enough to sense he didn't want to be helping the Krafts. But if he had those powers he could have been tricking me. Damn. I felt sorry for Jack, though I wondered what would have happened if he'd caught me. Smokey went to a lot of trouble to hide me from him, so maybe Jack wasn't the poor victim of circumstances I'd imagined.
That left Luuna. I'm not stupid – it was obvious that Jack's wife Gladys was being controlled and that the lady I'd met was she, not Luuna at all. So that's our culprit, I thought. A mind possessing villain from outer space. Sorted.
I patted an imaginary deerstalker and puffed an imaginary pipe. And realised that, deep in thought, Holmes had wandered onto the moors. I'd left the lights and sounds of town. I was alone, in the dark, surrounded by forest. A distant owl asked, 'Who?'
That's when the Space Cadillac silently pulled in front of me. I froze in the tail lights and heard the door open and a rustling fairy dress. Luuna strode to the rear of the vehicle, framed by the pulsing light from the saucer. Her face was shadowed by the halo of her back-lit beehive but her eyes glinted. She lifted a fancy sceptre, the end flared, and I was gripped by an invisible hand. For the second bloody time that day.
'Hello, little thief. I believe you have something of mine, don't you?'
I struggled, strained. She was powerful.
'It's oh so impolite to repay hospitality with theft, don't you think, you sneaker?'
Wait a minute. What had I stolen? I tried to argue.
'Oh, no, no. Hush. The proof of your guilt is right there in your rucksack.'
She stopped a few paces away and peered up at me. Behind her, approaching fast, I saw headlights.
'Such a shame. Lost in the forest, savagely beaten to death. Peace will be so sad.'
The car roared past, out of my vision. Brakes squealed. Luuna's eye's shifted for a moment and her grip slipped. I fell down and back, saw my chance and scrambled for the tree-line. A car door opened. I rolled into a ditch and chanced a backward look.
Luuna cried, 'You!' and moved, stiff-legged and determined, toward the unseen driver. She pointed the sceptre.
A thunderous crack split the air and I saw Luuna's head snap back and she staggered. I scurried from the ditch and entered the trees. There came a second shot and a soft thump. I stumbled into the darkness.