The Alien Years

The Alien Years by Robert Silverberg Read Free Book Online

Book: The Alien Years by Robert Silverberg Read Free Book Online
Authors: Robert Silverberg
about Cong movements in the area he was supposed to be patrolling the next day, and running into that same dead- fish smile, that same solemn meaningless invocation of military security. His head swam and names that he hadn’t thought of in decades ran through his brain, Phu Loi, Binh Thuy, Tuy Hoa, Song Bo. Cam Ranh Bay. The U Minh Forest. Images from the past, swimming around. The greasy sidewalks of Tu Do Street in Saigon, skinny whores grinning out of every bar, ARVNs in red berets all over the place. White sand beaches lined with coconut palms, pretty as a picture; native kids with one leg each, hobbling on improvised crutches; Delta hooches going up in flames. And the briefing officers lying to you, lying, lying, always lying. His buried past, evoked by a single sickly smile.
    “Can you at least tell me whether there is any information?”
    “I’m sorry, sir, I’m not at liberty to—”
    “I refuse to believe,” Carmichael said, “that that ship is just sitting there, that nothing at all is being done to make contact with—”
    “A command center has been established, Mr. Carmichael, and certain efforts are under way. That much I can tell you. I can tell you that Washington is involved. But beyond that, at the present point in time—”
    Another kid, a pink-faced one who looked like an Eagle Scout, came running up. “Your plane’s all loaded and ready to go, Mike!”
    “Yeah,” Carmichael said. The fire, the fucking fire! He had almost managed to forget about it. Almost.
    He hesitated a moment, torn between conflicting responsibilities. Then he said to the officer, “Look, I’ve got to get back out on the fire line. I want to look at that tape of Cindy getting captured, but I can’t do it now. Can you stay here a little while?”
    “Maybe half an hour. I have to do a retardant dump. Then I want you to show me the tape. And then to take me over to that spaceship and get me through the cordon, so I can talk to those critters myself. If my wife’s on that ship, I mean to get her off it.”
    “I don’t see how it would be possible for—”
    “Well, try to see,” Carmichael said. “I’ll meet you right here in half an hour, okay?”
    She had never seen anything so beautiful. She had never even imagined that such beauty could exist. If this was how their spaceship looked, Cindy thought, what could their home world possibly be like?
    The place was palatial. The aliens had taken them up and up on a kind of escalator, rising through a seemingly endless series of spiral chambers. Every chamber was at least twenty feet high, as was to be expected, considering how big the aliens themselves were. The shining walls tapered upward in eerie zigzag angles, meeting far overhead in a kind of Gothic vault, but not rigid-looking the way Gothic was. Instead there was a sudden twist and leap up there, a quick baffling shift of direction, as though the ceilings were partly in one dimension and partly in another.
    And the ship was one huge hall of mirrors. Every surface, every single one, had a reflective metallic sheen. Wherever your eye came to rest you saw a million ricocheting shimmering images, receding dizzyingly to infinity. There didn’t seem to be any actual sources of illumination in here, just a luminous glow that came out of nowhere, as though being generated by the back-and-forth interaction of all those mirror-bright metal surfaces.
    And the plants—the flowers—
    Cindy loved plants, the stranger the better. The garden of their little Laurel Canyon house was dense with them, ferns and orchids and cacti and bromeliads and aloes and philodendrons and miniature palms and all manner of other things from the abundantly stocked nurseries of Los Angeles. Something was in bloom every day of the year. “My science-fiction garden,” she called it. She had picked things for their tropical strangeness, their corkscrew stems and spiky leaves and unusual variegations. Every imaginable shape and

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