The beginnings of a great quest may be humble. One seeks inner fulfillment or an answer to a burning question. There is never any expectation the quest may be difficult or life threatening.
Without warning or preparation, one is thrust into the strange, the unknown, with terrible consequences that do not leave failure as an option.
“Yet even when all hope for a happy and safe outcome has been lost, there is still an inner belief, a hidden power, one that drives intelligent beings to achieve impossible goals, oblivious to considerations of their own personal safety.
“From even the most humble beginnings, the adventure of a lifetime may begin. It may not have been anticipated, but emerges in response to that quest.
“One finds within oneself the power to conquer adversity, to face obstacles, each greater than the last, until these challenges become eagerly anticipated, and in fact a joy.
“In other words, one becomes a leader.”
Volume Two, The Memoirs of Emperor Velzanar
Late afternoon sunshine heated the early October day to surprising warmth, as Ray made a final survey of his modest home. He had moved there soon after his accident while on a mission in the Middle East, and had purchased it with what had been left of his allotments after his honorable discharge. Millions of dollars later, it still needed a coat of paint, the roof leaked and the locks were a joke. But he had always been too distracted, too hurt, too everything to care about changing or fixing anything.
Out of idle curiosity, he made one last check of his bank account and received a resounding shock. I’m building up a hell of a retirement fund.
Now that money would be put to good use. Manny Gonzales had been named executor of his estate, and if their plan worked, he would convert Ray’s possessions to gold bars that would be placed in a secured storage facility somewhere in Iowa. He remembered from his lessons on the future that this area would be relatively unaffected by the next world war.
After performing a secure data wipe of the files on his computer to further confuse his NSA pursuers, Ray packed a small overnight bag with his twenty-third century garments, his wristview, his diary, and Flash drives containing the computer code for all his games and important files. Hoisting it over his shoulder, he said one last goodbye to what had served as his home, locked it up as if the metal tumblers would actually stop anyone from getting in, and headed for his vintage red Mustang. Soon he was heading north on the highway to his rendezvous with Gonzales in Marin County and hopefully, his destiny.
As he merged with traffic, Ray checked for the tail he knew would be there. After trying to frighten him with a private visit, if they had any suspicions about his activities and travel plans, they would send a car to trail him and attempt to unnerve him into making an incriminating mistake that would allow them to arrest him.
He didn’t have to wait long. Sure enough, within an hour, he spied a large, black car in his rear-view mirror. He would bet his untold millions they had been tracking him by satellite all along.
Ray led them on a leisurely tour of the more scenic areas, stopping here and there to enjoy the view before pulling in to a roadside truck stop just north of San Francisco, off Highway 101, and going inside for a cup of coffee, his bored pursuers parked only a few spaces behind his.
They can’t be that stupid to be so obvious. Another car must be following me...If his plan was to succeed, he had to lose both cars and somehow keep out of range of the NSA’s tracking satellites.
All told, these precautions would make it all the more difficult for those spooks to track his whereabouts once he eluded his pursuers. Or at least that’s what he hoped.
The truck stop had a dark and dreary exterior not unlike the coffee, which had clearly been sitting for a while. But it was hot, and the caffeine effect was sufficiently robust to keep him awake after a restless previous evening full of his persistent nightmares and nervous anticipation over his impending journey.
After drinking two cups of the stale beverage he went to the two-stall bathroom ignoring his own embarrassment, uncharacteristically fussing with his appearance in the mirror as other men came and went.
Just when he determined his trackers were restless and the bathroom was conveniently empty, Ray opened the one cracked window and crawled out. He stuck close to the wall, carefully but unsuccessfully avoiding the splinters from the faded red wooden slats that Ray occasionally had to extricate before moving on. To his chagrin, he couldn’t avoid kicking up piles of dust with every footstep he took. He worried for a moment that he was waking everyone in the sleepy diner, but quickly realized he was listening too hard. Those who were there were probably too busy scarfing down the bad food or getting smashed off weeks-old beer. Finally, he reached the front of the restaurant about a dozen yards behind the large black vehicle.
He wasn’t surprised to discover another car, a small, pale blue Porsche convertible, with two dark-suited men waiting in the front seat. Both men appeared tall and muscular, even while seated. He didn’t miss the bulge of concealed weapons either or the tiny silver headset worn by the driver.
When he glanced over at the large black car, he also saw the driver there communicating by headset. His view passed from one car to the other, looking for evidence that the occupants of one vehicle were talking to the occupants of the other.
Sure enough they were.
As soon as one of the parties in one car stopped speaking in his cell phone, someone in the other vehicle moved his lips.
I’ve got you now, you bastards! It seemed almost too easy, but he was experienced at these games. The longer you played, they harder they got. It was time to change the rules.
Without a moment’s hesitation, he walked back inside the diner and up to the takeout counter. He ordered a few turkey sandwiches and coffee and the messiest pastries he could find, with plenty of powered sugar. Within a few minutes, Ray marched boldly over to the convertible and stuck his head right inside with a broad grin, surprising the driver.
Ray handed him the food sack. “Here,” he said. “I figured you’d appreciate this.”
The driver almost stammered out his response, “Oh… thanks, man, but what’s this for?”
“Well, as you know, I worked for the NSA myself once…” Ray paused long enough for the driver and his passenger to stare at him in wide-eyed astonishment.
“I know stakeouts are tiring. I figured you’d be hungry by now, considering you and your friends have probably been following me for hours.”
The passenger displayed his irritation. “Captain Perkins, this is no joke. I fail to see the humor in what you’re doing.”
“So do I,” Ray said. “But at least you admit who you are…”
Before he could finish his sentence, the black vehicle Ray had observed earlier rapidly pulled out of its space in the parking lot. It turned sharply onto the highway on-ramp, tires squealing, and was gone within seconds.
The driver pretended to ignore Ray and remained silent for a moment. “Think what you wish, Captain, but we have absolutely no interest in what it is you’re up to,” he reached into the sack, handing half the contents to his partner. “But I’m glad you still…appreciate the NSA enough to make this gesture,” the remark was laced with sarcasm. “We’ll be sure to charge our food bill to you from now on. Have a nice day.”
“You too, and remember, I’m a private citizen now. I have a perfect right to go about my business without being followed by trigger-happy spooks with too much powdered sugar on their hands.”
The driver looked down at his formerly black suit. Cursing softly, he glared at Ray and switched on the ignition. The car made a rapid-fire, squealing turn toward the southern on-ramp to the highway, speeding away. It took a few moments before the wide path of dust settled in its wake.
Ray jumped back into his own car and smiled. Somehow he had managed to gain the upper hand — this time. It was lucky for him that the NSA agents were still following many of the protocols he observed when he had worked there.
However, Ray was quite sure that the NSA would attempt to get back on his trail before long.
To avoid any undue attention, he decided to take a circuitous route across rural roads far off the standard maps, one he had experimented with years ago while exploring the countryside. As his Mustang left the truck stop’s driveway, Ray noticed another black car starting up and quietly turning in the same direction. He smiled; glad to see that these NSA folks were going by the book that he knew all too well. It would make it easier to lose them before he finally reached Gonzales.
Instead of returning to the main highway, Ray headed onto a dirt road in the opposite direction. The black vehicle swerved around and followed him.
Ray turned again and headed back toward the highway. He passed the black vehicle as he sped behind the truck stop. It took a few seconds before his pursuers reacted, but when they did, it wasn’t a pretty sight. The vehicle spun wide this way and that on the dirt road and kicked up a fair amount of sand in its wake.
Once underway, the car followed Ray out of the truck stop, past the on-ramps to the highway, and proceeded under a highway bridge. The black vehicle slowly began accelerating.
Ray had been watching the clumsy maneuvers carefully and laughed to himself. He revved the classic V-8 engine in his Mustang, which he had tweaked up considerably in recent weeks, and floored the gas pedal. To the onlooker, Ray’s car looked like an old wreck with a dented body and torn upholstery, but it was packed full of the latest technological gadgets, plus a few electronic gizmos based on his loose interpretation of future technology. He had added them in the last few months when he feared that NSA agents might track him when it finally came time to return to Area 51.
However, he was surprised that the black vehicle matched his pace. Within minutes, it almost caught up with Ray, and he knew it wouldn’t be long before it was running neck and neck; an obvious attempt to flee wouldn’t look very good.
Ray’s heart pounded faster and faster as the black vehicle came closer. He made one last attempt to increase his speed, but the Mustang was already going as fast as it could. Finally, he saw what he was hoping for and slowed down as the road swung around and headed northeast. He breathed slowly for a few seconds in an attempt to attain the state of calm he needed and accelerated to top speed. His car shot forward, completely confounding his watchdogs.
About 30 seconds later, he tossed his car around the bend, watching in his rear-view mirror as the black vehicle struggled vainly to react in time.
Ray observed the black car careening out of control as it attempted the sharp turn. Within seconds, the vehicle plowed right into an old barn, coming to a stop right in the middle of a pile of hay. Soon the coughing, gasping agents stumbled out of the car, cursing the twilight sky and shaking their fists at him.
Seeing that they didn’t appear to be injured, Ray simply laughed and continued on his way. His magical lucky streak – well maybe it wasn’t that magical — had saved him for the second time today. Next time he didn’t expect to be so fortunate.
* * *
Night had fallen by the time Ray arrived at the home of Gonzales’ friend. He parked the car in front of the house, a rather shabby, rundown structure and rushed inside, where his friend was sitting on a couch looking impatiently at his watch. The old soldier seemed ageless, with only a few wrinkles around his mouth to betray his advancing years. He was clean-shaven, bespectacled, with thinning gray hair. Yet in contrast to his own sloppy appearance, Ray didn’t miss the fact that Gonzales’ slender frame was neatly tucked into a dark, smart suit and tie, looking not unlike a senior NSA agent, one clearly accustomed to command.
He deliberately ignored Ray for a moment that seemed like an eternity before acknowledging his presence.
“You’re late, Captain Perkins,” Gonzales said sternly, but with a wink.
“I’m sorry, sir.” Ray saluted, with a wink of his own, while still trying to catch his breath. “But I had to use that detour to get here. I’m surprised I made it here before midnight.”
“Ah, ran into your NSA friends again?”
“Yeah, but I took care of them in spades this time.”
“You should know better than to say that, Ray. You know, they’ll be back on your ass in no time.”
Ray smiled. “I know, but by the time they return, with luck, I’ll have the new car and I’ll be far away from here.”
Gonzales smiled back. “Well, if you want to get it tonight, we better start talking about prices and options. My friend’s wife packed us dinner so we can eat on the way.” Ray hadn’t had a meal since scarfing down a low-carb bagel with nonfat cream cheese that morning. His stomach told him he was starving.
Over Gonzales’ protests, he donned his twenty-third century garb and placed the wristview on his left arm. Ray grabbed his overnight bag as Gonzales shut the door behind them. Since Ray’s Mustang remained a target, they headed to Gonzales’ vintage Mercedes 220D diesel.
The lovingly restored car started up like an old truck and it took its sweet time to accelerate before speeding into the darkness.
Soon Ray was gobbling down rolls, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, and to top it all off, a luscious piece of apple pie for dessert. He ate so much so quickly that he was left with a rather groggy feeling. He dozed off just minutes after the last bite of apple pie.
* * *
Ray awakened with a start. He didn’t know how long he had been napping. He looked around, trying to get his bearings.
For just a moment, he swore he saw not his friend Colonel Gonzales in the driver’s seat, but his beloved Zanther at the wheel! She turned to him and smirked in a playful manner, as if anticipating the possibility he would soon return to her and that she might even have a part to play in getting him safely back to the twenty-third century. The desire to reach out for her became stronger than ever. He blinked and she was gone.
“You all right?” Gonzales broke in.
Ray hesitated. “Yeah, I’m fine just…thinking…about the car.”
“Ray, you’ve got to snap back to the real world. God willing, you’ll return to your warrior empress soon. But you’ve got to be patient.”
“I know, it’s a virtue…”
Ray remained mostly silent after that as Gonzales drove south, taking a wide berth past Ray’s Silicon Valley home. Within hours they were smack in the middle of the California desert.
Ray offered to drive, but Gonzales refused. “Take it easy, old man. You won’t get much rest once you reach Area 51.”
Ray had to laugh at the ‘old man’ appellation, the very words his friend Captain David Gotlieb used to identify him, their unexpected and quaint visitor from the past.
The black sky was somewhat overcast, with nary a star in sight and it felt like rain would arrive soon, a rarity in these parts. In the distance, Ray saw the faint glow of approaching headlights just over the northern horizon. He speculated that another NSA car was in pursuit, but he figured it was nothing to worry about, as it would likely take some time for his pursuers to regroup. Yet Ray couldn’t shake an odd feeling of anticipation mixed with dread building up in his heart. At first, he figured it was related to his journey, so he tried to dismiss the feeling and concentrate on the mission at hand.
Yet after a while, he couldn’t help but notice the headlights becoming much brighter, too bright. It definitely wasn’t a car following them.
Gonzales noticed Ray rousing himself and peering into the distance.
“Maybe it’s a police helicopter, amigo, or scouts from Area 51 checking to see whether some loco might try to stage another break-in,” Gonzales joked.
Ray’s answering laughter died in his throat as the entire northern horizon was suddenly enveloped in an enormous, strangely familiar greenish-yellow glow. For a moment, he thought he must be dreaming or having a hallucination. Maybe I’m crazy after all, he thought as what he had seen only in his dreams for months before now quickly floated towards him; a Rockoid spaceship.
Worriedly, he tried calling his beloved empress. Zanther is that you?
However, he received no response. He figured if Zanther had come to take him back with her, she would answer his calls by telepathy. Instead, the ship closed in rapidly on their vehicle, betraying no signs of its true intentions. Ray felt a shiver going down his spine. This wasn’t Zanther’s vessel or that of any Rockoid who was friendly towards him.
Attack of the Rockoids Copyright © 1999-2016 Making The Impossible, Inc.
Attack of the Rockoids theme composed and conducted by Bruce A. Sales
Copyright © 2005 Bruce A. Sales and Gene and Grayson Steinberg