Review of Arrival

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Why am I doing a review?

I have always loved reading. The more imaginative the story, the better they were, I thought. The point was to read them for how they made me feel rather than for any connection to the real world. In school, teachers wanted me to connect them to the real world, using something called a book report. Doing such a thing seemed sacrilegious, somehow. It also felt like cruel and unusual punishment. As often as such assignments came, perhaps they weren’t all that unusual.

With that, blogging a review of anything goes against my every instinct.

There is more to the story.

My experience has been that my enjoyment of a science fiction movie is almost always the opposite of how highly critics extol it.

Then I went to see “Arrival,” and thought it was great. Looking at reviews for it, I discovered the critics all loved it. None of it agrees with my usual expectations, but that is the situation.

Beyond all that, I find myself not wanting to put out any spoilers. There is a requirement to compare “Arrival” with others. While the inciting incident is the arrival of aliens, it is nothing like Independence Day. Perhaps comparing it to Contact would give a better idea.

The Review

Twelve ships appear over random spots on the planet. One site is in Montana. Linguistics professor Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, has to determine why the aliens came to Earth.

The first thing she determines is that there is no relationship between the aliens spoken language and their written communication. The written language consists of a circular swirl with protuberances at random locations. She, together with a team, are finally able to decipher these ideographs, finding the system of writing and the aliens’ concept of time are related.

There are scenes intermixed with learning the visitors’ language. These are scenes from Banks’ life, including both joyous and heartbreaking experiences. At first apparently unrelated, it all becomes a complete experience, in much the same fashion as one of the alien ideographs.

Amy Adams’ acting is as close to perfect as I could imagine. The cinematography is amazing. It is also thought-provoking. I thought a couple of scenes and situations were either unnecessary or lacked sufficient rationale. My opinion could change if I watched it again.

That is the biggest test of a movie: would I look at it again? When it comes to “Arrival” I can say, ‘Yes!’ with no reservations. Personally, I recommend it highly.

The Man With Three Wives: 1.15

It was a marriage proposal, a truly alien one at that. Could she find either happiness or sanity with such a situation?

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The still-life tableau continued for what seemed an interminable time. Glancing from one wife to another, Vicky became aware that orbs of light were swirling around the room. The orbs, she finally realized, were either eyes or their equivalent. None of them were human. Vicky didn’t know any way she could come to that conclusion logically, but there it was. One particular set of eyes gradually came to the fore. She could recognize them anywhere. They belonged to Paul. The rest of him appeared in a way that felt almost natural.

He was smiling hopefully at her even as his eyes consumed her. Vicky needed to bring this otherworldly experience into reality as she knew it. The alternative that she would be lost forever in this fantasy.

“There are cultures on this planet where they arrange marriages through third parties. What we do here calls for those directly involved to make their feelings known to one another. These ladies made a compelling case, but that’s nowhere near enough. What are you on about, buster?”

“I did not exist as a human until a step before the door of the bank when I opened the account. The real account I was there to open was with you. As the wives told you, there is nobody human with whom I can join other than you. I’ve seen many examples of marriage proposals, but what I am telling you is nothing I can say to anyone else at any other time. Would you please stay with me?”

“Living with you would be fascinating, more so than any existence I could imagine. On the other hand, that name you made up, Fortek, is nasty and I will never be Mrs. Fortek.”

“The name was an invention of the moment. If you don’t accept that last name, I’ll take yours. It is not a problem. What is your surname?”

“You would be Paul Nicholls?”

“Your data systems are simple to adjust. You would not object to being Mrs. Vicky Nicholls?”

“The married lady addition to my name will take a bit for me to handle, but I wouldn’t mind it. Are you sufficiently human for us to have children?”

There was the usual pause as Paul queried up the line. “The answer is affirmative. It is one reason for us being here. The wives are doing it their way. You and I will try it the other way.”

Vicky laughed. “That almost sounded kinky, Mr. Nicholls. Okay, let’s do it. How does it work with your people?”

“We’ve done everything necessary. The wives will help us get to the farm.”

“Will they still be around?”

“They’re available whenever we need them.”

The orbs of light, which retreated when Paul made his entrance, now returned with reinforcements. A moment later, there was a brilliant flash of white light and Vicky found herself in front of Paul’s farmhouse. Even in the early evening darkness, it was obvious the place had a fresh coat of paint along with some tasteful landscaping. Her truck was right behind her.

“I got the impression that you were trying to keep a low profile. If the dark ones picked up on what we were doing before, this would certainly get their attention.”

“That was the whole point of the exercise. We let the dark ones know that we are here in force and will not go away. It will be a while before they try anything. Tomorrow, when you go to the bank, you’ll find everyone knows we’re married, and have been for several years. All records show the appropriate things.”

  •  *  *  *

“You should start having children, Vicky. You’re not getting any younger, and with your place starting to make money, it is a waste to keep running into town with what they pay here.”

Julie was in Vicky’s office. At the moment, they were the only ones in the bank. Vicky agreed with Julie but couldn’t let the old bat think she had the best of the situation.

“You know how farm income works. Just because we’re doing well with the farmers’ market now, that doesn’t mean it will continue. In any case, coming in here gives me a chance to think.”

Julie wouldn’t let that pass. “We all know what you think about, too. I’m amazed you can tear yourself away from that hunk, Paul, to come to work.”

Okay, that occupied a good part of her thoughts, but not in the way Julie put it. “If I stayed home, it would be in an empty house. Paul is clearing additional acreage for the quinoa next spring. He’s also laying out the area where the vineyard will go.”

The additional point was that the three wives were all on hand for the project. Also, they were setting up defenses capable of sheltering both Alma and Holdrege from the dark ones. If she even hinted at such a thing, Julie wouldn’t understand in the first place, and such news would be grist for Julie’s rumor mill. In this case, it would be how Vicky’s was going crazy.

“I suppose you’re plotting how to take over the bank from Roger,” Julie suggested.

Vicky had a flashback to the moments before Paul first walked into the bank. It was nearly the same conversation. “That would be a promotion. At the same time, Roger isn’t going anywhere. No, I think about lots of things.”

“Maybe you hope to see some those UFO’s folks have seen lately.”

Vicky was glad the conversation moved on. “I hadn’t thought about what people said at all. Do you think there’s anything to the stories?”

“When I stopped at the cafe this morning, they talked about nothing else. Several there saw lights above the Republican River east of town. They were white, green, and blue.”

That would be part of the defensive barrier Paul and the three wives worked on. There was a great deal more to it, but nothing the local population was likely to see.

“That is interesting. Did those witnesses happen to mention what kind of beverages they were consuming at the time?”

The door of the bank opened then, and Grace hustled in.

“I didn’t get enough of a change order yesterday,” she said to Julie. “Could you get me some fast? I’ve got people waiting back at the cafe.”

Julie hurried to the teller’s station as Roger came in with the three Feds. That gave Vicky a moment of unease, but Roger smiled as he headed for his office. The Fed in charge nodded pleasantly at Vicky as he passed. “I hope you’re having a good morning, Mrs. Nicholls. My wife called and wondered if you could bring some of both kinds of amaranth tomorrow morning.”

Vicky wondered if she was supposed to know his name, and Paul’s voice came to her. “He is James Wilson and is now on our side. We can get him some amaranth.”

Vicky smiled and nodded to the Fed. “I am having an excellent day, Mr. Wilson. We can take care of you. How much of each kind would you like?”

Alma wasn’t a big town, but anyone who thought it was boring didn’t know where to look.

The End

Would you like to see more of Vicky? Let me know.

 

The Man With Three Wives: 1.14

The three wives tell Vicky about the dark ones. The description makes the dark ones sound very human. They tell Vicky about her part. Maybe she should run away.

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The three wives had everything broken down and put away in short order. As a matter of fact, Vicky had no more idea where everything went after the farmers’ market than where any of it came from before then. This time, Red got in front.

“Let’s go to your house,” Red instructed. “There is too much danger if you take us back to the farm.”

“After finding myself at the business end of a loaded weapon a little while ago, I’ll go along with that. I get the impression that whatever one of you knows the other two know as well.”

“That’s not entirely the case, but close enough for the moment.”

The way the day had gone, Vicky supposed she shouldn’t have been so surprised when the three wives immediately took over her house when they arrived. She shouldn’t have been surprised but was both amazed and horrified. Two of the wives took over the kitchen. At the same time, Raven sat down on the couch with Vicky. This little performance was clearly their show.

“You need to have some grasp of the dark ones,” Raven began. It was unnerving to have part of a conversation with one of them, encounter multiple interruptions, and then have another of them continue the conversation exactly where it stopped.

“To partially confirm your suspicions, we did not start out as humans. We are human now, at least in every way that matters. The reason that few of us became human was to help your race survive the challenges which are before you. While we retain some aspects of our nativity, by taking on human form, we necessarily also partake of the human condition. In short, we become homo sapiens because being on this planet forces that kind of change.”

“If you don’t mind, I’ll put that on the side for the moment.”

Raven nodded as though she understood Vicky’s position. After a moment, she continued, “Life is nearly universal. Consider the problems trying to get groups of humans to agree about anything. Now consider trying to get any understanding between species from alien environments. As we understand the dark ones’ position, they studied your race briefly and decided other species on your planet needed assistance while yours needed to die out. From what we know of the dark ones, they saw too much of themselves in your race. That boils down to the dark ones not wanting competition. Of course, that supposes both of your races would want the same goal in the first place.”

“That kind of thinking has a familiar ring. How does that connect to the incident at the farmers’ market?”

“The dark ones know we are trying to help humanity and they want to get in the way of that effort at every opportunity. They are at a disadvantage, however. There is no way that any of their kind would consider taking on human form. If a dark one did that, their chances of blending in with the general population would be much easier than what we face. Any of them would simply be considered batshit crazy and allowed to do whatever they want. A dark one might even run for public office.”

Vicky snorted. “From your description, I’d say they’d have every chance of being elected. How do you know they haven’t done that?”

“Whenever they do something, it leaves evidence. What we do also leaves a trace. That is how the dark ones knew about us. They used the humans in the area as sensing devices. In the case of the policeman who attacked you, it was the same thing as an armed drone. There would be no concern about police brutality. As far as the dark ones have any interest, hate and discontent generated between humans promotes the program of extinction.”

“What about my part in this? You gave me the impression that I have some importance. I don’t get it.”

Raven patted Vicky’s hand. “That is the impression we wanted to give. That is because you are the critical link in all of this. Part of Paul taking on human characteristics included the emotional and biochemical areas. When he walked into the bank, he bonded to you, even if you didn’t realize it.”

The conversation just turned in the direction of emotional blackmail. “You make it sound like Paul was a newly hatched duckling, accepting the first thing it sees as a mother figure.”

“That Is a good comparison.”

“Julie was the first female he saw.”

“She was not compatible.”

“In other words, Julie was too old for him.”

Raven nodded. “You imprinted on him. No other woman can ever take your place in his life.”

Vicky sputtered, “All of this ignores the elephant in the room. That would be the three of you, also known as his wives.”

Raven giggled. “Paul refers to us in many ways. At the same time, he never said we were his three wives. It is true that we are all married. Each of us is the spouse of a different human. Our purpose is to make Paul able to fit in with the people around here. We also help with the farm.”

In the short time they had talked, the other two already put a meal together. It was a meal for two.

“We will help you get to the farm without raising alarms. Would you please help Paul? At least consider the possibility.”

“What about these dark ones?”

“If you stay here by yourself, it will not be long before they begin sending more people after you. Paul can protect you to some extent. Still, with the two of you so far apart, he cannot guarantee your safety.”

“What happens if I go?”

“Everyone in the area will think of you as Mrs. Vicky Fortek. The accepted story will be that you two married several years ago. You work at the bank to help get the farm and vineyard going.”

After the disaster with Tom, Vicky had decided not to bother with men again. Then again, Paul was not exactly a man. At least, he wasn’t merely a man. Vicky took a deep breath. She was about to agree to it but suddenly had a thought. “This is all coming in a rush. Why?”

“Until we know your answer, we cannot leave. If we go now, the dark ones will come with a full load of fear and death. They will target you. More than that, they will go after everyone connected with you. The pastor might survive, but he has another situation. When the dark ones finish, Alma will no longer resemble what it is now. Holdrege will be a disaster area.”

Vicky got up and looked out the window where the last rays of daylight rapidly faded. Her hopes appeared to be disappearing with the light and the warmth of the day.

“What happens to Paul if I don’t go?”

“The dark ones can’t do anything to him. But without you, the crops will reverse and shrivel, as will Paul. Eventually, his human form will disappear, and he will return to his original form.”

Vicky sighed, turned around and looked at the three. “Okay.”

The Man With Three Wives: 1.13

Vicky is providing transportation for a few women selling vegetables at a farmer’s market. What could possibly go wrong?

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Vicky had not worried about how the wives could present their products, especially. She figured they could sell off the lowered tailgate of the truck if nothing else. It wasn’t worth bringing up with the three wives. They had no experience with such things, anyhow. She did notice her seat mate was quiet driving into Holdrege and assumed the three women were communicating with Paul Fortek or with whatever passed for creatures where they called home.

When they got to the site, a man came up right away and pointed out where they should set up. She backed up to the curb. Getting out, her three companions and cargo all became visible to everybody nearby. The three went to work, producing tables, banners, bags, and a cash box from nowhere.

Vicky already did her part for the cause by getting the three and their products here in the first place. That was when she remembered to give Blondie the envelope with their money from last week. After that, she opened her envelope and saw it contained forty dollars. That added to the money in her wallet. She wasn’t even concerned about anything in the file folder.

Next to the truck was a line of people who wanted amaranth. There was no way to imagine why that many people would need a supply of something they had never needed before and had probably never even heard of before. It was incredible.

At the same time, the other vendors had no lack of customers. The man she had taken the amaranth to had his place four vendors down the line. Vicky wandered down to his stand and looked at the variety of things on hand. After a bit, she decided what to buy.

The man remembered her, which struck Vicky as strange since he’d had his back to her nearly the entire time she was there. Not only that, he added several extra things in the bag.

After a tour of the vendors, she got a little peanut brittle and took everything back to the truck. Just in the time she was gone, the truck had become half-empty. The whole thing was astonishing. Was it possible this fast-growing amaranth was a drug? That would certainly explain part of the Federal interest in the situation.

It also made her decide not to get any of it. As she thought about it a bit more, there were already amaranth leaves at home. It was what the monster roll of currency used as a nest. She had not thrown the stuff in the trash. It was food, after all.

As Vicky continued considering the subject, she realized there was no way all those people could have become habituated in such a short period. As a matter of fact, there was no way that many people could have even tried it.

Vicky sighed and leaned against the truck box. The three wives were all busy taking care of customers. There were two lines, each tended by one woman with the third busy keeping the other two supplied. There seemed no way to make any sense of the amaranth’s popularity.

A Holdrege police car cruised slowly past, the two men in the car carefully checking everything. Vicky wondered if they heard there was a riot at the farmers’ market. Not long after that, it came back. This time it stopped in front of her truck, as though blocking it from leaving. That was okay, Vicky thought. The three wives still had products to sell and no lack of people wanting to buy it. One of the cops got out and came up to Vicky.

The thing was, every step he took, the man became increasingly irritated. By the time he got within a couple of feet from her, his face was red, and crimson splotches appeared on his neck.

“Who gave you permission to be here?” he demanded.

“The man running the farmers’ market told us to be here. He’s standing right over there,” Vicky said, pointing.

“Do not make any sudden movements.” The cop was now almost foaming at the mouth. He drew his pistol and pointed it at her.

Vicky whispered over her shoulder toward Blondie, who was currently pushing product toward the tailgate. “We have a problem.”

Blondie glanced up and then brought her entire focus on the situation. Vicky took a chance and glanced toward the other two. They had both turned around and were gazing intently at the area around the police officer. She wasn’t certain, but a faint aura seemed to appear around the cop. A moment later, the feeling of hate and tension abruptly dissipated. He looked down at the gun in his hand, a bewildered look on his face. The cop then slowly holstered his weapon and licked his lips. He stared at the ground for a bit and mumbled something under his breath. Finally, he sucked air through his teeth and looked up.

“My wife would like a pound bag of the salad leaves and two pounds of the mature leaves. Do you have that much left?”

Raven smiled smoothly and professionally. “We sure do. If you would care to step around to the side here, we’ll take care of you.”

She then turned to the people in her line. “Do you mind if this nice policeman cuts in front? I believe he’s on duty, and we certainly wouldn’t want to keep him from protecting us.”

There were nods of assent all around, and Vicky wondered, ‘What the hell was that?’

The response came inaudibly and immediately from Blondie. ‘We didn’t want to deal with this. Not for a while, we hoped. Thanks a lot for playing it as you did. Other than the cop himself, we are the only ones who know what just happened. His partner doesn’t know, and the policeman is currently telling himself that what he experienced couldn’t have happened. The lack of any reaction other than from you will make it easier for him to rationalize it away.’

‘Rationalizing away reality is tough.’

‘It isn’t that hard. People do it all the time. There is a great deal that doesn’t correspond with their reality. It is too much effort continually modifying personal theories about how the universe operates.’

‘Humans are not logical. Yeah, we always knew that. It’s still strange how the man went batshit like that.’

‘He had help. That had the dark ones’ fingerprints all over it.’

Vicky shook her head. ‘Is there anything else I need to know this afternoon?’

‘You need to know that your doubts about our being able to sell all the product we brought are laid to rest. I just put the last packages on the tailgate. We will have to turn a few people away. Would you like to go home early?’

‘That would suit me well enough. I already got a few things from other vendors.’

‘Do you want some amaranth? We can save a package for you.’

‘No thanks. I’m going to wait and see what this does to everybody around here before I get too enthused. For all I know, they might grow a third eye or tentacles or something.’

The Man With Three Wives: 1.12

Vicky’s life becomes both better and stranger. She doesn’t even mind taking the three wives to the farmers’ market. Maybe Vicky is hallucinating.

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Vicky sat back in her chair, letting those feeling wash over her. Just then, Paul Fortek’s voice came very distinctly.

“Don’t worry. Nobody else can hear what I say. Just think of your response, and I will hear it,”

“Okay. You were a real hit with the Chamber.”

“I worried they might not want me among them.”

“They have never turned down a prospective member yet. You had them eating from your hand. It was a marvel to behold.”

“I am pleased you were impressed with my efforts. It almost appears you think I am worthwhile.”

If they were speaking out loud, Vicky would not have responded the way she did, but her thoughts often slipped out the door before she could put a leash on them.

“Perhaps your three wives should be getting some of the attention you’re devoting to me.”

“The three of them and I communicate constantly. We all agree helping you is a good thing. By the way, we saw how helpful it was for you to have a few pieces of currency. Your file folder now has a couple of extra bills, just in case of some need. Now you should focus on where you are. I think you have a customer.”

Vicky realized her eyes were closed. Opening them, she smiled at the client at her office door. “How can I help you?”

The rest of the day went smoothly. Driving home, she saw one of the Fed vehicles, but going the other way. Fortek was directing everything in the area like a symphony conductor. Meanwhile, everyone thought they were making decisions on their own. Vicky considered that, for whatever reason, she was one of the reasons for all of it. What she could not imagine was why.

She didn’t need all the money for the bakery earlier in the day and treated herself to shopping at the grocery store. Vicky indulged herself with some ice cream among other things. The in-store deli just finished frying some chicken, and she even got that. Her diet could wait for another day.

The next morning found her well-rested and deciding the file folder could stay in the truck cab under the passenger seat. Everything went smoothly. Even the traffic on the highway to Alma stayed a safe distance from her. That turned out to be the omen for the week, where everybody decided it was time to be nice to her and each other, at least while Vicky was around.

That wasn’t the only thing, either. It seemed as though several people decided to move their bank accounts to them. It wasn’t just their bank accounts, either. They transferred loans, credit cards, and a lot of other things that helped keep the bank open and profitable.

Sunday, Vicky felt pretty good about going to church. With currency showing up in her file folder on a daily basis, she decided to help the church a bit more, as well. After church, Pastor Harris sidelined her again.

“I know you helped Paul Fortek at the farmers’ market. I also heard you volunteered to take some of his people to it this coming week. After your challenges, that was a very charitable act on your part.”

“Well, pastor, you mentioned today that when we do good for others, it comes back to us.”

Pastor Harris nodded and reached into his pocket for two envelopes. “He sold all that you gave him. He took some out to repay you for transportation. That is the second envelope. The first one is for Mr. Fortek.”

The farmers’ market was Monday evening, and Vicky went to the Fortek farm right after work. Going there was her third trip, and it already felt like a normal thing to do. The driveway didn’t seem as bad this time. Maybe she managed to avoid the worst potholes. At the same time, Fortek and his light show might have done a little magic out here, as well.

By the house, Fortek directed Vicky to back up to an outbuilding. There, the three wives immediately began loading the truck with the two flavors of amaranth leaves. The young leaves could be used as-is in salads. The mature leaves needed to be cooked, and were much like spinach. Vicky heard some people say they preferred the taste of the amaranth to spinach.

Product continued to load, and while Vicky was aware that the kind man in Holdrege was able to sell all she took to him, it was hard to imagine whichever of the three wives decided to go, being to sell everything there. It just seemed too optimistic. Blondie got in with Vicky, solving that part of the question. At the same time, however, the truck rocked slightly. Looking through the rear window, Vicky saw the other two wives were in back.

“We aren’t allowed to let people ride in the back,” Vicky mentioned to Blondie. “It’s against the law.”

“How about when people arrive in town with no visible means of transportation? That would seem to violate any number of things you consider natural laws. What about currency materializing inside a closed file folder located under the seat of a locked vehicle?”

Vicky shook her head. “None of it makes any sense. At the same time, I can see that’s how it is. Will Mr. Fortek join us?”

“I don’t think so.”

Vicky avoided the bumps on the way back to the road. Almost immediately, one of the sheriff’s deputies pulled up beside her.

“You got that old truck running surprisingly well,” he commented, looking at Vicky as though she was the only one in the cab.

“Yeah, it was a stroke of luck being able to get it running. Is there anything I can help you with, deputy?”

“No, it has been a quiet day. Have a good one and drive safely,” he concluded as he walked back to his car.

“I will do that. Thank you,” Vicky said to the man’s back.

Then she turned to Blondie, sitting with a knowing look on her face. “I don’t suppose it would do any good to ask how you did that.”

“He didn’t expect to see anybody but you, so we fulfilled his expectation. It was very simple. Your magicians do it all the time.”

Vicky did not feel any better informed. “I should get your names.”

“You already gave us names,” came the reply. “You think of me as Blondie. The others are Raven and Red. Those names will work as well as anything I might tell you, and you will continue to think of us in those terms in any case.”

Vicky got the truck moving before she said anything else. “The three of you being able to access my mind whenever it suits you is weird. Communicating when you are somewhere else is one thing. This is something else altogether.”

“There is nothing to it. You think of yourself as substantial when there is so much space between your various elements. Most of the universe can pass through you without your even being aware of it.”

“Just when I think I have a handle on things, it’s the Twilight Zone again.”

The Man With Three Wives: 1.11

A Chamber of Commerce coffee is not a big deal. Then again, it takes place at the bank and Fortek shows up. Things could get interesting.

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The negotiations continued the rest of the way to Alma. As she parked, Vicky concluded, “I will leave this file with all your money here in the truck. I’ll throw something over the folder, so it isn’t obvious. I’ll also make sure to lock the pickup. You should take the money but leave the file. I need something to file my paperwork.”

There was no reply, and she wasn’t going to wait around for one. Julie was already there when she walked in. Fortunately, it was still before the time to open the bank. Besides, Roger wasn’t there yet, either. Perhaps Paul Fortek was keeping his word about watching out for her well-being.

“You’re not dragging like you were Friday,” Julie observed. “At the same time, it looks like the entire world has gone out of their way to piss you off.”

On the other hand, Vicky considered, Paul wasn’t doing all that he could. “It may look that way, Julie, but I didn’t see too many people over the weekend. There were a few minor irritations this morning, but I’m hopeful they will not bother me anymore.”

Vicky decided it was time to change the subject. “What did you hear at the cafe this morning?”

“It was the usual chatter about prospects for harvest and where livestock prices might go. There was nothing about anybody with family problems. Come to think of it, nobody mentioned any lights in the sky, either. It’s as though they never happened. Did you come down here to church again?”

“Yes, and the pastor had a message about helping our neighbors. Maybe Pastor Harris’ message is getting out if there was no juicy gossip this morning.”

Julie was about to say something, but Roger walked in just then. Whatever it was, Julie evidently decided their boss didn’t need to hear it and went over to the teller station. Roger seemed to be in a good mood as he said good morning to both of them. Vicky had gotten into the habit of keeping an eye out for the Feds showing up, but that didn’t happen.

Roger came back out soon after that to remind them that this was the day the Chamber of Commerce would visit the bank. Such visits included coffee and cookies. With no customers just then, Julie went into the back room to get the big coffee maker. Vicky’s part was to go down the block to a bakery to get a selection of cookies. On the way, she opened the truck.

The file was now nearly empty. Fortek forgot a hundred dollars worth of twenty-dollar bills. Maybe he was taking care of her situation after all. She took the money and relocked the truck. Buying the pastries was another thing Roger would promise to reimburse but never get around to doing.

Alma, with a population of a thousand, was the county seat. Vicky considered it remarkable the town had an excellent bakery in addition to the sandwich shop. Many of the small towns in the area had trouble keeping people, but Alma figured out a way to do it, at least for the moment. Alma was at the intersection of two well-traveled highways and was on the shore of the second largest lake in the state. That certainly helped local businesses.

This time, Vicky could get the pastries without having to short-change her food budget. That was a nice touch. Come to think of it, if a few stray twenties showed up now and then, it wouldn’t be a bad thing. She got back to the bank in time to set out the goodies before the Chamber members arrived. She knew there wouldn’t be any strange faces.

Except for this time, the Chamber used the visit to announce a new Chamber member. The town newspaper’s reporter and photographer were on hand to record the occasion. Vicky wasn’t surprised when the new member turned out to be Paul Fortek. Paul talked briefly about his specialty crops and also about how he hoped to grow grapes and eventually build a winery.

The man had been studying, as he said. His presentation almost sounded like a bona fide business plan. Some of the other business owners chatted with him as though they’d known him for years instead of a few weeks. Vicky didn’t think she would see a car outside. Like the farmer’s market fellow noted, he just went where he needed to be. Nobody there found anything about him odd. Interestingly, that included Rhonda, the real estate broker, with whom he shared a moment of small talk about business.

Vicky began to wonder about the depth of the rabbit hole into which she’d fallen. It was true the pills and advice her mother gave her had done nothing at all. If that was the case, what character did Fortek play? He switched characters at will. One character was the Cheshire Cat. In this instance, it was his eyes instead of his grin that stuck around.

The local members began to go back to their businesses, and soon, the bank was empty again except for Mr. Fortek. He now focused on Roger.

“I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate how you handle my account,” he said, shaking Roger’s hand.

Then, he turned to Julie and Vicky. “It is always a pleasure to see you lovely ladies,” came in his enveloping baritone.

Julie suddenly tittered like a schoolgirl. If Fortek hadn’t already conquered Julie, she was his now. Vicky felt embarrassed for her co-worker but could understand Julie’s reaction to the situation. At the same time, Fortek did not react at all. He just smiled and made something like a courtly bow. Then he left the bank.

Julie stood, staring at the door for a long moment. Vicky had a feeling that if Julie ran to the door and looked outside, Paul Fortek would be nowhere in sight. It was strange how quickly a person could accept as fact what was physically impossible.

Always before, Roger would help himself to as many pastries that he wanted, and if it happened to be all of them, it didn’t bother him in the least. Now, he picked up the platter and brought it into Vicky in her office for her to pick what she wanted.

Vicky didn’t crave any at the moment but took one to be polite, carefully placing it on a napkin.

“Thank you, Roger.”

Roger smiled in a shy way and took the tray to Julie. The plate sliding in front of her broke that hypnotic gaze toward the closed bank door. On a whim, Vicky looked up amaranth’s symbolism. Seeing it was a sign of immortality somehow seemed appropriate at the moment. It also meant nothing at all.

Looking up, she saw Roger placing the tray on the counter where customers could make up deposits. He didn’t take anything for himself. At the same time, Julie was back at her station, nibbling on the cookie and smiling at nothing. It was good to see everybody being happy and getting along with one another. Perhaps that was all the meaning there was to any of this.

The Man With Three Wives: 1.10

Vicky can’t even get away from Fortek in sleep. Is he really on her side or is it just wishful thinking?

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Vicky had a lot of trouble getting to sleep. She knew that was necessary since she had to go to work in the morning. In spite of it, her mind kept chewing relentlessly on the problem. In spite of the effort, she was making no more progress on the problem than a gnat trying to eat an elephant.

At last, she got drowsy and began to nod off. That was when small orbs of light began to circle inside her bedroom. Was she finally asleep and dreaming this? The orbs swirled in an increasingly tight pattern. Then it coalesced into a human shape. It was Paul Fortek. Now she knew she was asleep and dreaming. Maybe it was a nightmare.

In spite of the fact that her bedroom was dark, she had no difficulty seeing his face. That was another vote for this being a dream. All at once, she saw the face smile.

“This is not a dream. You are not asleep.”

Now that was a twist. “I see a vision in a dream or nightmare. That same imaginary thing informs me it is not a dream. Now this is something new.”

“There is no way for me to convince you of the reality of our conversation right now. On the other hand, when you get up in the morning, you may find something you could not have done. Perhaps then you will know.”

“Maybe I sleepwalk.”

“Perhaps you do. I think you will not be able to find any way this was something you did.”

“That sounds as reasonable as anything else I’ve heard lately. What is not reasonable is imagining that a man is in my bedroom while I’m trying to sleep. I know for a fact that I locked all the doors.”

He sat down on the side of the bed then. Oddly, the action neither seemed threatening nor an attempt to become overly familiar.

“I have kept watch over you, and know that you have suffered lots of stress because of my situation. That was not our intention or purpose. We did a great deal in error. There was so much that we did not know. We could not know all the things we needed.”

“What are you saying?”

“I am saying that it hurts me to see you like this. I want you to know that nobody will ever hurt or bother you while I can do anything about it.”

“That is nice to hear but hardly reassuring considering that you are the reason for my stress, hurt, and bother.”

“I see your point but want you to know my position in the case. Besides, I was the one who sent the pastor to you at that time. You should know that.”

All the pieces of the puzzle dropped into place with that remark. The trouble was that the answer was too easy and too pat. Reality never worked that way. Vicky needed to change the subject.

“How have you gone from barely intelligible to highly educated in such a short time?”

“We are learning as much as we can as fast as we can.”

This conversation had veered off into the bizarre. “Why do you speak about yourself as ‘we?’ What are you?”

“We will have to talk about that later. My ability to connect with you has come to an end.”

He leaned over and put his hand on her forehead. All at once, she felt her muscles begin to relax, starting with her neck and body. Soon the relaxation was working its way to her fingertips and toes. Vicky’s eyes then closed naturally.

Her last conscious thought was, ‘Isn’t that just like a man? When you ask them a question they don’t want to answer, they leave.’

Vicky’s eyes popped open a minute before her alarm was to go off. She felt rested and energetic, flipping off the alarm and heading for the bathroom. She reflected on the strange dream she had last night as she started to put on her makeup. Then she noticed the small wrinkles in her forehead had disappeared, and she recalled the last act of the dream man in putting his hand there.

The man in the dream said he would leave something for her to know it wasn’t a dream after all. If that was true, then he was fixing her face just like he repaired the truck. That was something beyond amazing. She never took very long with her make-up, and today took even less time than usual. Other than staring at herself in the mirror, that is.

Her apartment’s living room, dining, and kitchen areas were all open concept. To be blunt, it was all one room. On the coffee table was something very strange. When she examined the thing, it was a roll of currency very much like the one Fortek took out of his coveralls. The roll of currency nested in a bed of amaranth leaves.

‘That is very droll,’ Vicky thought. ‘It’s a morning salad.’

That meant it was a tasty little dish with a value she didn’t care to think about even if she could estimate it pretty well based on the Fortek deposit. Vicky did consider the situation as she drank a little orange juice. There was no way she could do anything with the cash. There was also no place safe to hide it. She did have a safe deposit box at the bank. That was probably the best spot for it until she could come up with something better.

She had an accordion file in the bedroom. There was not much time, so she dumped the contents on her bed. She could organize that paperwork later. Vicky flattened the currency as best she could, and separated it into four stacks which then inserted into the file. At that point, all she could do was get out the door and down the road to work.

After getting up to highway speed and the closest vehicle a quarter of a mile away, Vicky tried to review the situation as best she could. Finally, she decided to try a complete stab in the dark.

“Paul Fortek, are you listening to my thoughts?” she murmured.

The response was immediate and sounded like he was sitting in the truck with her. “Yes, I am. I also see that my attempt to make your life better somehow managed to make things worse again.”

Vicky sighed. “I get the impression that you have no concept of limited resources. Since you bought the property, you obviously know about resource ownership.”

“I know it, but I do not understand it.”

Vicky framed her thoughts. “This world believes in limited resources. Some people accumulate more than they need. We call them wealthy. A few try to get resources by taking them from others. We call them criminals. If I spend resources everybody knows I could not have earned from my job at the bank, everyone will assume I am a criminal. Could you take it back, please?”

There was a pause, similar in length to when she asked him questions at the bank. “Yes, I can do that. Still, I would prefer you keep it.”

The Man With Three Wives: 1.09

Every encounter with Fortek makes Vicky more uncomfortable than the last. Why would all of this happen to her?

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Vicky mumbled all the way into Holdrege. While it was a nice sized town, finding people and places, even in neighborhoods not usually in her routine, was not a big deal. It didn’t take long for her to locate the guy the pastor claimed had offered to sell the greens. He lived at the edge of town with an extensive garden. His wife directed Vicky to a shed behind the garage, where he was organizing the produce that he planned to take to the farmer’s market.

She brought the two boxes and set them where he pointed. The man barely broke his workflow to indicate where he wanted the boxes placed. It was clear that what she brought was the smallest addition to his offerings. It was very likely that nobody would notice anything strange about a few packages of exotics. He already had some fairly unusual things out.

“What made you decide to take the risk of accepting the amaranth?” she asked him. “From what they say, this farmer’s market only lets you sell produce that you grow.”

The man hadn’t stopped since she arrived. Now, though, he froze in place and looked at her. “Pastor Harris has a unique way of getting things done. He converts good intentions into commitments, leaving a person no way to get out of it. I also informed him this was a one-time deal. That makes my answer the same whether you were asking about the greens you brought or why I became a member of his church. For that matter, it’s probably the same reason you agreed to bring the stuff here in the first place.”

“It sounds like he’s consistent, at least.”

Vicky decided to pursue something more constructive. “Tell me, are there any available spaces for new vendors at the farmer’s market? I suggested they sell the greens themselves.”

The man chuckled. “I have never seen them turn anybody away. Just a guess now, but I think somebody we both know planted the thought in your mind. He does it so cleverly that it may be a long time before you figure out how he did it. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that you volunteered to take them since they don’t have transportation.”

Vicky nodded. “I’d love to spring one on you, but that is not the case. You will not be surprised at what I did. Yes, as a matter of fact, I voluntarily offered to take them to the farmer’s market.”

He turned around to face Vicky at that point. “At the same time, Pastor Harris is not the only talented person in this deal. Think about it. I can guess that whenever our new growers decide they need to be someplace, they simply show up. After all, they arrived here, didn’t they?”

“I witnessed that in action. The man turned up out of nowhere to open a bank account. He didn’t get there in a car, as far as I could tell. There were no vehicles on his farm, either. I also noticed that whenever they need to get word to somebody, it gets there without bothering with minor things like telephones or computers. If I didn’t know that stuff like that couldn’t happen, it would make me wonder.”

“It certainly could. I have something to suggest at this juncture. It’s a thing that you and I need to do to preserve our sanity. We have to be glad that the two of us, at least, have our feet firmly planted on the ground.”

He turned back around at that point, picking up the work where he left it a moment earlier. It was like he switched off the conversation. Vicky stood there for a bit, watching him and wondering about this strange conversation. At last, she shook her head and went home on the other side of Holdrege.

The last time Vicky’s day went like this, she went to the bar. Since today was Sunday, the bar was not open. In any case, going there had not done the least bit of good. That left cocooning on the couch. Another possibility would have been to call somebody and try to get together for a while. Vicky even thought about that for a while, and finally concluded there was nobody she wanted to share anything with, much less anything important like today’s events.

Once again, she felt as though everybody was steering her. What was going on? Even the three wives admitted what they were doing was all role-playing. At the same time, they were quick to add there was no way Vicky could ever guess what was going on. At least with reality TV shows, the people in it wanted to be there. They had to apply, go through interviews, and sign contracts. What she experienced was like some invisible force decided to make her go a prescribed direction, similar to when they forced cattle through a chute. Considering where the animals went, it was an unsettling image, indeed.

Vicky curled up on the couch and turned on the boob tube. She flipped through the few cable TV channels, all she could afford. Vicky soon discovered that even with the minimal content, there was no way to concentrate sufficiently to keep track of any show.

Giving up, she went in and poured herself a bath. That seemed to help, at least a little. Later on, though, she looked in the mirror and found herself having the sensation of looking at Paul Fortek’s eyes. She thought she saw longing and hope in those eyes.

That, she knew, was complete nonsense. A man walking around with three gorgeous women hanging on him would never have the time or energy to think about a plain Jane bank employee. He’d already given back far more than she could ever give him. All of this foolishness with lights floating around were just her mind’s way of trying to account for what she couldn’t hope to grasp otherwise.

Another vote for how silly it all was came from the realization that Vicky was not important enough for anybody to care about, one way or another. She seemed to hear a dissenting vote from a back corner of her mind. That large crew of Federal agents came to town for a purpose. For all she knew, they were still around. The thought bothered her enough that she peeked through the front curtains at the street. There was nothing out of the ordinary, but then, she saw nothing out of the ordinary when guiding Paul Fortek to the real estate office.

The bottom line was that nothing fit, at least nothing that mattered. Vicky’s truck should be collecting rust out in a field someplace. People show up out of nowhere. Pastors stroll by at the precise time she needs somebody for advice. Not only that, but he doesn’t appear in the least surprised by what she has to say. He did make a case for Fortek being a human being, at least. That meant the man had meaningful and wealthy connections in agri-business research. He certainly showed up with the kind of funds she would expect from a large corporation.

The Man With Three Wives: 1.08

Who is the pastor? Why is he manipulating Vicky? What is the deal with the three wives?

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Over the next month, Vicky was true to her word about attending the pastor’s Sunday services. The fuel economy for her truck increased so much that she did not have to get gas as often, even with the additional trip to Alma. While not particularly pious, Vicky still had a sense of gratitude. She elected to express it by sharing the amount she would have spent on gas before all of this happened. That didn’t amount to a huge sum of money. At the same time, Vicky was still recovering from Tom, that freeloader. In any case, whatever she gave was more than Pastor Harris would have gotten before.

As the first few cool snaps preceding fall came through, she had to admit that things smoothed out a lot. Vicky sometimes saw one of the Federal cars trailing her on the highway between Holdrege and Alma. The frequency of those sightings grew less over time. If she ran the operation, Vicky would have figured out some other way to do it. After all, every one of those Federal people earned more than she did. Then there was what it cost to house them away from home.

Maybe there was a connection with the pastor. He didn’t say or do anything more since that first meeting. The timing did seem too good to be true, that first day. At the same time, the subject of Paul Fortek never came up again, even in passing. That included the bank and everywhere else in town.

Vicky wasn’t surprised when he stopped her after the church service.

“You appear far more relaxed and happy than that first day we talked.”

“I don’t know if my life is any better. As far as I can tell, nothing has gotten worse.”

“That is a positive thing. It is time for you to help the situation going forward. I have already done what I can.”

Vicky nodded, knowingly. “I thought you might have had a hand in a few things recently.”

“Oh? What things would those be?”

“I noticed something a week ago. The sandwich shop started serving young amaranth greens as an option on their daily specials. I had it and thought it tasted quite good. Then there was the cafe. I’ve never known them for being adventurous in their menu choices. They suddenly had a contest to see who could guess the new vegetable served as a side dish. It turned out to be the mature amaranth leaves. There’s only one place around here that could supply that product.”

“I did that to help everybody. I have extreme difficulty trying to contact Mr. Fortek. After all, he does not have a phone or internet. That’s where you can help him go forward.”

“How is that?”

“One of the people in the church is willing to take his produce to a farmer’s market. They are taking a bit of a chance since they aren’t growing it themselves. We need for you to go out to Mr. Fortek’s place and get some of the young leaves along with the more mature leaves and take it to the market. He’ll accept them on consignment. What he can’t sell will go to a homeless shelter. Here’s his card.”

“Why can’t he get it himself?”

“It just won’t work out for him. You’ll need to go out there this afternoon and take the produce to Mr. Jackson’s house in Holdrege.”

Vicky sighed. “What if the Feds descend on me again?”

“I don’t think it will happen. If the Feds ask, you can say you’re doing a service for your church. That will be the truth, by the way. Mr. Jackson will bring the money next Sunday. That will include something for your time and effort.”

“Reimbursement of any kind for side trips would be something new. My boss seems to think the mere promise of something is as good as actually doing something.”

Vicky took the card and headed out, keeping an eye out for wandering lights in the sky. She never saw any, but that didn’t mean much. As for tracking her, all the Feds had to do was put an electronic tracking device on her truck. Then, they could watch her trekking back and forth in the comfort of their home office. If she needed to prove mileage for something, she should be able to refer the tax people to this agency. Needless to say, Homeland Security would neither confirm nor deny anything.

The now precise steering enabled her to miss most of the potholes going up to the house. All the mechanical parts and pieces stayed together. It turned out to be a good thing that nothing broke because Paul Fortek was not at the house. Instead, she got to deal with the three wives, who came bouncing out of the house to greet her.

“Paul is preparing a new field,” the raven-haired wife informed him. “We knew you were coming and everything is ready.”

The blonde wife opened the passenger door and placed two boxes inside, one on the seat and the other on the floor. Each box was full of bags of amaranth leaves.

The red-head grinned at Vicky through the windshield. “You think this is a television show and that we’re all acting — playing parts. You’re right, but not in the way you think.”

Vicky blinked. Strange as he was, she would have preferred to deal with Fortek. “Since you don’t have a phone or internet, is that a message I’m supposed to relay to Pastor Harris?”

“He is a nice man, isn’t he,” Raven replied. “We have ways to let him know necessary things. Tell him anything you like, dear.”

Vicky suddenly had a thought. “I think the three of you could do very well, selling at the farmer’s market. You ought to give it a try.”

It wasn’t until she said it that Vicky realized she had just volunteered for something she didn’t want to do.

“We love that idea. The problem is that we have no way to get there.”

Vicky sighed. Yes, that was the whole point of this game. Pastor Harris undoubtedly designed the whole thing. “I suppose I could take you there. You could sell out of the back of the truck until you get enough money to get a table and other things.”

“Why, thank you! We’ll do that next week.”

The man of the hour strolled up then. Vicky again noted how precise the comings and goings of this entire cast of characters managed to be. She should compliment the director. Vicky put it on the list of things which she should do but would never get around to doing.

“How is your truck running?” he asked.

Either Fortek just dropped out of character or else he projected a learning curve completely off the scale.

“I certainly can’t complain. It’s running better than it ever has. Fuel economy has improved dramatically, and it handles just fine.”

One thing that hadn’t changed was the look he gave her. It was all the more unsettling with the three wives climbing all over him while he gazed at her.

“I need to get going,” she said nervously.

The Man With Three Wives: 1.07

Vicky needs good advice and at that moment sees a local pastor. He gives her some strange counsel. The timing and recommendations seem too good to be true.

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Vicky didn’t have the last word. That came from the senior Fed. “If you remember anything, give me a call. Here’s my card.”

That sounded like something straight out of a police procedural show on TV. While spoken politely, and with a straight face, Vicky picked up underlying menace in the phrase. She had no idea what to do or who to talk to about the situation. Julie certainly didn’t qualify. Anything that went in her ears came out at the cafe and went directly into the community consciousness of the entire town.

With all of that on her mind, Vicky was on autopilot for the afternoon. About three, she saw one of the local pastors walk by outside, heading for the store. She didn’t know him personally but recalled people talking about what a kind and understanding person he was. There were also comments about how he managed to solve some problems even the sheriff couldn’t handle.

Shortly before closing, the two Feds and Roger left. How Roger suddenly become their best buddy was beyond Vicky’s comprehension. All three studiously ignored her as they went out the door. That was a huge warning sign in her mind. Wherever she went and whatever she did would be under the Federal microscope. That was in spite of the fact that she had not withheld anything — well, nothing that would constitute legal evidence. The hired help all being nubile young women and his referring to them as wives could not have anything to do with whatever secret mission these people thought they had.

Julie left just ahead of Vicky, and the pastor came back by as she was locking the door. His reappearance was her one chance, and she took it.

“Pastor, I’d be glad to carry your groceries for you.”

“Why, bless you, child. That would be very nice.”

They walked a short distance before Vicky glanced around and saw nobody watching, at least, not overtly. “If I were to tell you something privately, would you have to tell anybody about it?”

“I cannot be a witness to a crime. On the other hand, if it is something of a religious nature, a judge cannot compel me to say anything.”

“These days, the government has declared almost everything illegal, haven’t they?”

The pastor chuckled. “That often seems the case, my child. My house is just over here.”

She helped him put the groceries away. Then the pastor got them cups of coffee, and they sat at his kitchen table.

“Something is troubling you a great deal,” he observed. “Are you willing to share it with me?”

“I don’t mind sharing it with you. In fact, I want to. At the moment, I’m afraid the Feds may have cameras and microphones pointed at your window.”

He smiled and nodded. “In that case, I have a room that should make you feel a great deal more comfortable. Bring your coffee and come with me.”

He led the way to a book-lined interior room. One of the bookshelves swung out slowly, revealing a stairway going downward.

“Officially, this is my storm shelter. Sometimes storms do not need weather.”

At the bottom of the stairs was a small comfortable room with two easy chairs and a couple of small tables.

“Most places like this would have bunks and a stack of rations,” Vicky commented.

“Ah, the bunks are in the room over there. Rations and water are behind door two. My parish takes good care of me. Most of this goes back to the Cold War and Mutually Assured Destruction. They even surrounded these rooms with a Faraday cage. It’s a thing which prevents electronic eavesdropping. Have a seat.”

All at once, Vicky felt safer and more secure than she had in a long time. Clearly, there was a great deal more to the pastor than appeared on the surface. She poured out the experiences of the last two weeks, including everything. The pastor listened patiently and didn’t seem particularly astonished at any of it.

“We have two possibilities with this situation,” he told her. “Paul Fortek may have invented some new process or procedure that will give two crops per year from a single field here in Nebraska. You already understand that would be an amazing thing to have, and the large corporations would do anything to obtain it. The government might well assist in that regard since that would give them enormous leverage with other nations.”

Vicky nodded. “That makes sense. If they can do five acres with four people using hand tools, it would be revolutionary.”

“Indeed it would, my child. Then there is the possibility that Mr. Fortek and his three assistants, wives, or whatever they might be in their native culture, are not of this planet at all. The flashing lights and the things he did to your truck as well as to his house support that. The huge amount of progress in two weeks also points in that direction.”

“It sounds as though you believe they are aliens of some kind.”

“I believe they are all children of God, just as we are. I also know that we answer directly to God, not to an assembly of men with a lust for power. We need to do what we can to assist Mr. Fortek. That is, we need to help him as long as he is doing good work.”

“Do you think it’s possible they are not here to do good?”

“I have no idea. The answer may come with prayer. Unfortunately, answers come more often with people’s actions. Tell me, if you arrived here with the incredible power you’ve seen them use, what would you do?”

“Movies and books have speculated about many reasons. Most of the reasoning bases on why people went to new lands and what they did on arriving there. They wanted resources and to spread their religious beliefs. They managed to spread disease while they were at it.”

The pastor nodded. “My Bible says to preach the word to every creature. There is never an instruction to kill those who disagree with you. The fate of those people is with God, not man. We should follow those who do God’s will and let the rest go in peace. We should go back upstairs now before our absence creates questions.”

Upstairs, Vicky thanked him for listening to her small problems.

“My child,” he told her softly, “we must all do what we can. I know you are not with my flock. If you see some way to come down here on Sundays, perhaps I could continue to help you in whatever way I can.”

Vicky considered that as she stood in the doorway. “You know, I will see about doing that. Thank you, pastor, for the counsel and the coffee.”

“Go in peace, my child.”

Vicky felt better than she had in quite a while as she headed for home. The fact that Homeland Security was almost certainly watching her no longer seemed as large a problem. There was still the possibility this was all a TV program, and the pastor was in on it. At the same time, she had to trust someone.