Chapter Thirteen
An Entirely Alien Approach

Lookout Point

General Adminstration Archives - Case 1934 [Ref. No. D1174-544]

...... "More like a blonde garden tractor," he read from the charge slip clipped to the visor. "Flowers for a girl friend. I may have to mention this to Melynnda."
...... "Please do, Max. It was Lynn who reminded me I owed a Thank-You gift. Then she'll know I did as ordered." I checked the wing mirror and pulled out. "She's trying to civilize me. And some of it is beginning to take."
...... "I know the problem," he agreed, settling back in the front passenger's seat. "And on my problem, I just wanted conformation before I sent in the report. I never expected they'd send you." Suddenly sitting up, he found the seat lever and let the seatback down as far as it'd go. "Now this is nice."
...... I stopped for a compact which was trying to negotiate an even smaller parking place. The sign on the window of the office beyond was lettered in old-fashioned gold -- Family Dentistry. "I happened to be in the area, and you know how Lee is. I'd hate to be dispatcher for this organization."
...... "Some days I feel sorry for Lee. But just until he sends me some lousy place. I'm surprised he's never developed an ulcer." He folded his hands under his head and absently stared at the felted-fabric ceiling.
...... "So far," I added.
...... "It's about half an hour down this road," he instructed. "There's nothing to describe. I merely want you to see it, so they'll believe me back at the office." He leaned forward and pulled a CD from the console. "New Age Sounds. Our theme song should be in here somewhere." Leaning back again, he read the blurb on the box. "We'll do a left at New Market, when we get there. That puts us on Route 315 South, and it's about another hour on that."
...... I clicked on the Cruise Control and settled comfortably into my own seat. "So tell me about this case, anyway."
...... "Okay. This will do for theme music." He shoved the CD into the player and turned it on. "Have you seen anything about those tiny waterturbine alternators for vacation cabins? Pop Sci had an article on them a few months ago."
...... "The printed-pole jobs for variable rotation rate?"
...... "That's them. They phase-control to match the powerline, so there's no problem with unsynchronized operation." He looked over. "I've thought about one for the stream which flows beside the cabin I've got. I never use much power, when I'm there fishing, so its sounds like it'd work. But are they expensive!"
...... "I've seen advertisements. How does that fit in?"
...... "Down a couple miles on Limehouse Road, off Route 315, is an old vacation cabin, no longer owned by anybody. Trust of the County Court. The power is hooked up still, and a few days ago, the power company came by to check the meter. An unsettled estate is paying the bill. I have no idea why."
...... I simply nodded and waited.
...... "The power company discovered they had a lower kilowatt-hour reading. Their investigator checked around and found this little turbine generator in a cinderblock shed out behind the main cabin. It looked peculiar, so he hung a notice on the meter, and someone thought to call us. Which was right for once," he added, acidly. "I went to look at it, and it's peculiar all right. So I wouldn't mind having a corroborating witness on this one."
...... "Why? Does being a supervisor still bother you?" A dump truck was cruising just ahead. I canceled Cruise Control and trailed behind, a few miles per hour below the speed limit.
...... "A bit, but that's not it. Wait 'til you see it! The installation is screwy, which you'll appreciate when you've looked it over for yourself. Plus, there's this newspaper reporter from the town in the valley. Cute red-head from the Williamsville Daily, and as sharp as she is attractive. There may be a publicity problem on this case."
...... I allowed myself a deep sigh. "I keep hearing those words more often each month. There's so many people involved these days. Outsiders, I mean. In one way, it helps spot things that are anomalous, but sometime someone is going to notice too much."
...... "Why don't they quit trying to hold the lid on, and just open up?"
...... "Can you picture the President making a news announcement?" I slowed to a near-stop, while the dump truck made a sharp right turn onto a dirt track. "'I regret to inform you that the Earth is under attack and colonization by a being from another Universe. Don't panic. Congress will think of something.'"
...... "And every political candidate will be scrambling to get an endorsement from the Alien," he added, laughing.
...... "There'd be a riot on the Mall, when the Alien Go Home demonstrators clash with the One Creature, One Vote group. The Senate debates the tax status of Amorphous Beings, and the House funds the rental of every billboard in the country to read Occupancy by Reservation Only."
...... "All of the talk-show people would go crazy trying to arrange an interview with the Alien," he continued, then paused. He lowered his voice tone. "Seriously though, how much longer do you think this can go on this way? No news, I mean."
...... "Personally, I give it another year at most. If we don't solve the problem by then, I bet someone somewhere dumps it to a news service. Someone inquisitive enough will get a hold on one of the threads and start reeling in the whole works."
...... "Like that red-head reporter I had to shake." He motioned with an open hand. "Charlene something."
...... "Whitcomb."
...... He glanced over. "So you've run into her too. I wouldn't wonder that she'd make a good investigator. Sharp, tenacious, well educated, and independent. And then some!"
...... "I passed her name along to Personnel. No go."
...... "Too much travel," he guessed.
...... I nodded. "She has family in the area and wants to stay here. Plus, the salary we can offer isn't that much better than what she's earning now."
...... "It's hard to recruit good people." He looked over at the CD player, as the album reached its end. "And to keep them."
...... "Especially people who are willing to put up with the various security constraints. But it's the outsiders who'll cause the publicity problem." I slowed for a speed zone -- a village of six old houses and a tiny Forties-style general store. "How much do you think a news magazine would pay for the complete story as we know it?"
...... "More than I'd make in fifteen years on this job." He sat up to look out the window. "Here's New Market coming up. Watch for a route marker just behind the town square."
...... I spotted the sign, turned through the traffic circle, and straightened up on the County Route. The road was starting its climb over the distant ridge. Max sorted through the CD collection for more entertainment.
...... Another hour of desultory conversation was interrupted by the junction with Limehouse Road. Turning onto a newly-graded gravel roadway, I drove another mile and pulled off into a driveway, which led to a ramshackle asphalt-sided cabin. Its roof was tarpaper, patched with rusting sheet metal. The straggly weeds, which formed the lawn, fought a losing battle with the surrounding trees for sunlight.
...... Climbing out, Max led the way behind the cabin and down a hand-scraped path to a small brook. Hidden in under the trees was a low cinderblock shack with new, clean mortar joints and a new metal door. He undid the padlock and opened up.
...... "Take a look," he demanded, switching on the single overhead light bulb in a porcelain socket.
...... I squatted down in the narrow space between the wall and the turbine-alternator to read its specification plate. It hummed quietly, like any other small rotating machine. A four-inch water pipe coming in from the rear wall fed it, while a matching pipe carried the outflow back to the creek outside.
...... "Two-twenty volts, three phase?" I questioned, rubbing dust off of the lettering.
...... "Three phase is correct," he agreed from the doorway. "That's why I wanted another witness. So some desk clerk wouldn't think it was a typo." He quickly flicked the overhead light off, then on. "One phase is connected to this. Nothing else. Just this one light bulb. I have no idea where a two-twenty bulb was obtained, unless it was ordered from Europe."
...... "And the other two phases?" I asked, standing up in the small space. There wasn't room for both of us inside at the same time.
...... "One phase is connected directly to the cabin's wiring. That's the synchronized branch. No switch or anything. Good thing the generator has internal fuses. Because the main utility lines were connected on the other side, power was dumped back into the lines, making the meter run backward. Needless to say, the power company wasn't very happy." He shrugged. "Obviously, whoever did the wiring here not only was incompetent, they were dumb. They had no idea at all of what the Electrical Code requires. They just hooked wires wherever there were terminals."
...... He backed out of the doorway, and I followed. Flicking the light off, he relocked the door. "And the third phase of the alternator?" I inquired.
...... "Is the strangest of all," he finished, pointing to where an electrical conduit exited from the masonry, made a right angle, and vanished into the ground. "I traced the wiring and walked there, but this time we'll take your four-by. The path is longer that way, but it sure beats rock climbing. I wish I could've gotten my van up there."
...... The width of the path barely cleared my mirrors, as it wandered among the trees, a few yards from the brook. There was enough room to drive, but not much extra. I put the power steering to good use.
...... He motioned to stop at a tiny clearing and pointed. "Over there's the feed pond. The creek was dammed with stacked unmortared cinderblock, probably leftovers from the turbine-shed construction. There's still a few strays piled by the edge in those bushes. The feed water pipe was inserted at the base, and a grating added to cover the flow opening. It's not a steep gradient, but it's enough to run that small of a generator, if the power demand isn't too high."
...... "Anything worth walking over to look at?"
...... "Nope. Turn left over at that opening." He pointed to a gap in the trees. "The pond might make a good fishing spot. I'll have to remember it."
...... I turned as instructed. The trees thinned out, competing with stunted brush and rocks. The path was easier to see.
...... "I ought to write a fishing hole directory. Only there aren't enough of us who fish." He waved that away. "Which reminds me. When's the next edition of your restaurant book coming out? Nobody else fishes, but we all eat in this racket, and I for one have found that list very useful."
...... "The next edition is waiting for me to find some free time and a cheap photocopy machine, both at the same time." I negotiated a tight corner, next to a stone outcrop, without pleating the fenders. "Writing it fills out the dead time, which is a good enough hobby for the moment. O'Conners is starting a directory for the golfers."
...... "'Driver's Guide to Little Known Restaurants.' I really liked that little hole-in-the-wall which you rated as four greasy spoons, the one for lasagna. They put out one nice spread for anyone who really likes Italian."
...... I stopped in front of a big rock and set the parking brake. "End of the line. Vertical walls stop even me."
...... "The good news is that it's only a couple hundred yards farther on," he announced, as he stepped out. He slammed the door against the Jeep's sideways slant. "The bad news is that it's mostly straight up."
...... It wasn't that bad -- but we both were winded, by the time we reached the top of the hill. No trees were there, only scrub saplings and bushes. Sited on top of the highest bit of outcropping was a streetlamp -- an old-fashioned-looking lantern style, but done in modern brushed-aluminum and frosted glass. Nothing could've been more out of place on that desolate hilltop.
...... Pushing the binoculars case out of the way, I climbed the rock outcrop, taking care with each handhold. With my back against the lamp pole, I had room to stand and use the glasses to scan the valley.
...... Max loudly cleared his throat. "To your right, shimmering in the sunlight like water, is water. That's Lake Williams and the recreational park. I've been fishing there a couple times. Nice place. To your left is the metropolis of Williamsville. Not a bad town for its size. Halfway between, just below the river, is the depot of the Interstate Trucking Lines, one of the three businesses which keeps the town from vanishing off the map. Just a little right of that, is a regional paint manufacturing plant, the chief employer of the area."
...... "There's a survey party at work, over the river, a bit to the left of an old refinery," I pointed out. "Know what that is?"
...... "Williamsville is running a water supply pipeline from the lake to its water treatment plant," he answered in his tourist guide tone. "The project is funded by the government for environmental water pollution improvement, or so the guy at the service station said, where I filled up with gas."
...... "Good enough," I agreed.
...... "That old rust pile, nearly at the base of the ridge, is a small synthetic solvents plant, abandoned some time in the late Fifties. It was too small to be economical, and folded up when the paint company changed hands and changed suppliers for its solvents. Not to mention the industry change to water-based paints." He paused for emphasis. "Continuing, farther to the right and higher up the hill is the operations building and antenna mast for the valley's cable television system. Still farther right, at the top of the next ridge, is an old telephone company microwave relay station. I went up there. It's an unmanned drop-repeater station, but still in use."
...... "Did you come up here any at night?"
...... "One morning, one afternoon, one early evening at dusk, and once at midnight. Nearly wore out a pair of boots," he laughed. "I hauled up a twenty-power spotter telescope, also, and didn't see a thing worthwhile. It was when I was trying on a new pair of hiking boots, that I ran into that cute reporter. I didn't feel like running away in my socks."
...... I put away the binoculars and inspected the streetlight from close range. "Does a photocell turn this thing on at night?"
...... "Yup. It's the sole item hooked to the third phase of that generator. I assume it's why there's a generator there in the first place. Up here, that light can be seen from any point in the valley and from any of the hilltops on the horizon. But at night, this whole valley twinkles. There's enough farmhouses, utility buildings, small shops, farms, vacation cabins, and whatnot that this light wouldn't be noticed . . . unless one knew exactly what to look for." He glanced around the scene. "It's really quite a survey marker."
...... "If that's what it is," I agreed. "Who knows for sure?"
...... "If it's to be dismantled, I'm putting in a bid for the alternator. It'd work perfectly at my cabin."
...... "And, if you dismantled and moved it yourself, it'd be cheaper than having a commercial outfit dismantle and scrap it." I climbed down from the outcropping, carefully picking my way. "You'll be calling in to Lee, anyway. He can check with the auditor to see if that's legitimate."
...... Max started down the footpath. "I'll be calling in as soon as we get back to the motel. I bet you Lee will order me to close the turbine's water valve immediately, so that the light can't come on tonight."
...... The walk back to the truck was much easier downhill. "I'll drop you off at the motel, then I'll be heading west. Lee forwarded a complaint about a heating oil truck which doesn't seem to be making any deliveries." I started the engine and backed to where I could turn around. Max watched the scenery, hanging onto the handgrip, as the Jeep bounced down the vaguely-defined path.

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