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Warning from the Stars   By:

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Don't believe in flying saucers? Neither do we, but that doesn't necessarily mean that there can be no other way for Earth to get its last....

WARNING FROM THE STARS

By RON COCKING

ILLUSTRATOR SUMMERS

It was a beautifully machined container, shaped like a two pound chocolate candy box, the color and texture of lead. The cover fitted so accurately that it was difficult to see where it met the lip on the base.

Yet when Forster lifted the container from the desk in the security guards' office, he almost hit himself in the face with it, so light was it.

He read the words clumsily etched by hand into the top surface with some sharp instrument:

TO BE OPENED ONLY BY: Dr. Richard Forster, Assistant Director, Air Force Special Research Center, Petersport, Md.

CAUTION: Open not later than 24 hours after receipt.

DO NOT OPEN in atmosphere less than equivalent of 65,000 feet above M.S.L.

He turned the container over and over. It bore no other markings no express label or stamps, no file or reference number, no return address.

It was superbly machined, he saw.

Tentatively he pulled at the container cover, it was as firm as if it had been welded on. But then, if the cover had been closed in the thin atmosphere of 65,000 feet, it would be held on by the terrific pressure of a column of air twelve miles high.

Forster looked up at the burly guard.

"Who left this here?"

"Your guess is as good as mine, sir." The man's voice was as close to insolence as the difference in status would allow, and Forster bristled.

"I just clocked in an hour ago. There was a thick fog came on all of a sudden, and there was a bit of confusion when we were changing over. They didn't say anything about the box when I relieved."

"Fog?" Forster queried. "How could fog form on a warm morning like this?"

"You're the scientist, sir. You tell me. Went as fast as it came."

"Well it looks like very sloppy security. The contents of this thing must almost certainly be classified. Give me the book and I'll sign for it. I'll phone you the file number when I find the covering instructions."

Forster was a nervous, over conscientious little man, and his day was already ruined, because any departure from strict administrative routine worried and upset him. Only in his field of aviation medicine did he feel competent, secure.

He knew that around the center they contemptuously called him "Lilliput." The younger researchers were constantly trying to think up new ways to play jokes on him, and annoy him.

Crawley Preston, the research center's director and his chief, had been summoned to Washington the night before. Forster wished fervently that he was around to deal with this matter. Now that relations between East and West had reached the snapping point, the slightest deviation from security regulations usually meant a full scale inquiry.

He signed for the container, and carried it out to the car, still seething impotently over the guard's insolence.

He placed it beside him on the front seat of his car and drove up to the building which housed part of the labs and also his office.

He climbed out, then as he slammed the door he happened to glance into the car again.

The seat covers were made of plastic in a maroon and blue plaid pattern. But where the box had rested there was a dirty grey rectangular patch that hadn't been there before.

Forster stared, then opened the door again. He rubbed his fingers over the discolored spot; it felt no different than the rest of the fabric. Then he placed the box over the area it fitted perfectly.

He flopped down on the seat, his legs dangling out of the car, fighting down a sudden irrational wave of panic. He pushed the container to the other end of the seat.

After all , he rationalized, plastics are notoriously unstable under certain conditions... Continue reading book >>




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