Halfway House

by 

Author : Rick Tobin

Jason’s pale fingers trembled hesitantly across his gray suit pants. His first suit. Any job. Take anything. His father’s pleading reverberated like a taiko drum. Sweaty palms left dark trails across his scrawny thighs. He gulped. Worms wriggled in his stomach from the Dulce elevator speeding a hundred feet below burning New Mexico heat. Odd smells of rot and mold decorated the underground base’s waiting area. Blush rolled up his neck to his red hair as his employer greeted him.

“Glad you’re aboard, Turner. Sorry about your parents. Terrible thing. Please consider us your family, if you will.” Director Albright clamped his massive right hand across Jason’s tiny shoulder, leading him into the next room. Jason looked into the middle-age leader’s face for acceptance from the gray eyes that matched Albright’s hair.

“So what do I do? I can’t use my sociology degree in a place like this. There’s no population to study. I feel useless.” Jason scouted the hall as they passed armed guards and a security door Albright opened with an eye scan.

“Nonsense. We do cutting-edge research. You said you wanted adventure. You’re patient when under stress, based on our tests. That’s rare enough. Now, if you’ll just sit here, on the other side of this Plexiglas security wall, we can start.”

The two settled into high-backed office chairs around a small coffee table. Albright collected a dull orange folder from the table. He skimmed the contents, nodding his head. “You scored highest in verbal skills. Six languages. That’s impressive. You like linguistics?”

“Uh, yes.” Jason flinched as something drifted past the other side of the opaque divider, revealing an odd outline. Stench of rotting meat intensified. “Did something die?”

“Humor, too.” Albright smiled, setting down the file. “No, it’s quite alive. You see, Jason, we perform social work of a kind here. Now hold on, and steady yourself, because behind that cage is an alien who wants to be there, but is confused and uncomfortable. Just like our swift elevator, they use an interstellar device that descends to Earth every thousand years. We help hundreds of evolved species visit us. It’s unnerving for them to adapt. You can imagine. The last time this one visited, Vikings were running amok and Incas ruled South America.”

Jason nodded, shuddering as the shape stopped and rubbed against the barrier.

“Son, we need your skills to open communications with our guests. The challenge is it has to get used to your smell before it will attempt a connection. You also have to accept its odor. Sorry, but that’s the challenge of cultural differences. You sit here each day for three weeks and let your essences mix. Then, if all goes well, we go to Phase II and start working on translation. Consider this a half-way house for weary travelers.”

“Just sit here? Me? Is it safe? I mean…”

“Completely. We don’t make staff assignments lightly at Dulce. You’re our man. I see big things for you. Now just stay here and Miss Rosado will bring your lunch and more papers to sign. The restroom is on the right of the entry doors. I’ll check with you tomorrow. Okay?”

“I guess, “Jason replied, feebly, as gurgling sounds escaped through the confinement.

“Do you think this one will cut it, Edgar?” Wendy Rosado asked Albright, as she passed him on her way in with a tray of sandwiches and fruit juice.

“I can’t say, Wendy. But if he doesn’t, we’ll have to orphan another candidate after we feed this one to our guest. We’re starting to run out of redheaded sociologists.”

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