Great spangled fritillaries!”
Strong language for an entomologist, and unlikely language for anybody else. Maybelle Terwilliger, peacefully watching the descending dusk from her rocker on the screened porch of her lakeside cabin, was driven to it by a boom so loud it was startling even against the end-of-summer fireworks in the nearby village. She stopped rocking and sat bolt upright in the chair, straining to see anything different among the bright streaks and starbursts above the dark evergreens. Nothing caught her eye, but she still found the sudden noise unexpectedly disturbing.
The fireworks were not her favorite part of staying near Lake George, but she had learned to live with them. They were, after all, only once a week, and only during the summers. Sometimes, when she was in the right mood, she even enjoyed them. But something about this one felt wrong—out of place, as if it were not really part of the show.
And, without making any conscious connection, she found herself thinking of the bizarre alien invasion Earth had suffered—and survived—a few years ago.
Everybody on Earth remembered that, but Maybelle far more than most. She had been one of the small group that first noticed the hordes of snooping alien probes, and eventually helped avert the danger—but not until plenty of damage had been done. Now she remembered the invader Xiphar’s warning, before his death in a hail of Earth-based missiles, that he was considered an extremely dangerous fugitive from his own civilization, and that they might stop at nothing to track him down and destroy him and anything he had contaminated with his radical technology.
Such as Earth.
Could it be, she wondered with a sudden chill, that the unexpected noise marked the arrival of Xiphar’s pursuers, bent on doing just that? So soon?
The possibility went beyond “disturbing.” But she quickly brushed the notion aside as ridiculous. Even if alien cops were combing the galaxy for Xiphar, surely it was too soon for them to have found their way here. Besides, Xiphar’s own arrival hadn’t been anywhere near that conspicuous. Indeed, it had gone completely unnoticed.
Almost as soon as the thought formed, she smelled rain and heard drops splattering on the porch roof, faster and faster, swelling and merging into a steady roar punctuated with thunder and lightning. The lights and booms of the fireworks quickly faded away, leaving only the rain and thunder. The show organizers knew when to quit. . . .