Saucer The Conquest
Author:Stephen Coonts

    To all those dreamers who looked at the moon and wanted to go

    PROLOGUE

    JULY 1947

    The train eased slowly out of the blackness of the desert night into the spotlights. As the three locomotives hissed steam, soldiers piled off the train and rushed away to form a perimeter.
    Newton Chadwick stood with the small knot of civilians under the lights looking up at the giant black shroud that covered the flatbed car behind the engines. It was huge, rising over seventy feet in the air.
    A dozen workers in hard hats stripped the protective shroud off the large, circular object on the flatcar. Then they began the task of rigging a harness so that the crane permanently mounted beside the track—one normally used to handle steel girders used to construct towers to test nuclear weapons—could off-load the object onto a waiting lowboy.
    The senior civilian turned and solemnly shook hands with each of his colleagues. Newton Chadwick was the youngest of the group, just twenty-two. A child prodigy, genius and physics superstar, he had been thrown out of four universities for drunkenness, antisocial behavior, lewd and lascivious conduct and, at the last institution, burning down his dormitory when an unattended still in the attic caught fire.
    Newton was tall, pencil-thin and gawky, with flaming red hair and an awesome collection of freckles. His father, a wealthy distributor of soda fountain equipment, had been unable to overlook the obvious fact that the youngster bore no physical resemblance to him or any of his relatives. Blaming the boy’s mother, the soda fountain magnate dumped several million in a trust fund and booted young Newton out into the unsuspecting world.
    Newton’s odyssey after his traumatic emancipation is beyond the scope of this work. Suffice it to say that after many and diverse adventures, he was recruited by a former professor who knew the quality of the boy’s mind to assist in the examination and testing of captured German rockets and the development of American ones. The professor told a variety of well-intentioned lies to the authorities, who granted Newton an interim security clearance.
    Tonight, as he stood in the Nevada desert surrounded by his colleagues, all of whom possessed a breathtaking collection of academic degrees, young Newton ignored the senior scientist’s comments and stared at the flying saucer being off-loaded onto the lowboy.
    A flying saucer! Who would have suspected that such a thing really existed?
    “It was recovered in New Mexico, I heard,” one man, a Harvard Ph.D., said. “Near Roswell, after one of these things crashed during an electrical storm.”
    “You don’t believe that, do you?” another responded. “That’s just a cover story.”
    “But where are the people who flew it?”
    “They’ll never tell us.”
    “They’re probably locked up somewhere, being interrogated.”
    “It’s a Nazi bomber. That’s the only logical explanation.”
    “Or Soviet.”
    Even at his tender age, Newton Chadwick understood that the government was perfectly capable of lying to the public, and probably had.
    How the saucer came to earth and into the government’s possession was immaterial. The reality was that it was right there before his eyes, a massive physical presence straight out of a Buck Rogers comic book.
    The color was dark, almost as black as the night that surrounded them. The spotlights reflected from the smooth, polished surface in little pinpoints of brilliant light. The saucer was, Newton estimated, about ninety feet in diameter, perhaps a dozen feet thick in the middle, feathered toward the edges into a perfectly round, smooth leading edge. The three massive struts upon which it sat jutted from the belly. On the bottom of the struts were pads, not wheels. Protruding from the saucer’s edge, covering an area of about fifteen degrees of its circumference, were four rocket nozzles, each perhaps fifteen inches in diameter. The landing gear struts and rocket nozzles were the only imperfections in the perfect oval shape that Newton could see from his vantage point.
    “It’s German, no doubt about it,” one of the scientists insisted. “The government is trying to keep it under wraps. They don’t want Uncle Joe Stalin to hear about it.”
    Newton thought that hypothesis highly unlikely, but he held his tongue. The German rockets that he had spent the last six months examining were much cruder in appearance than this… this sleek, ominous, perfectly round black shape. Neither Soviet nor German industry was capable of manufacturing anything like this. Nor was American industry—or any industrial establishment on the planet. On this planet.
    The saucer wasn’t from this planet! That realization crystallized in Newton’s mind.
    But if it wasn’t made on earth, then where?
    It must have been flown here. By whom?
    “…An opportunity of a lifetime,” the senior man was saying. He rubbed his hands in excited anticipation.
    No one responded to that. The rest of the members of the group stood mesmerized as the crane lifted the saucer onto the massive lowboy. It took ten minutes to strap it down—ten long minutes of absolute silence among the watching scientists, each of whom was lost in his own thoughts.
    Finally, when the saucer was secured, the lowboy and a convoy of army trucks full of armed soldiers crept away from the lights into the darkness of the desert night.
    When the remaining soldiers had disbursed and the small knot of scientists stood alone beside the motionless train, the senior man again broke the silence. “Washington wants an encrypted report of our preliminary examination by tomorrow evening. The interest is at the very highest level. We’ll start at seven in the morning.”
    A few people muttered replies, but Newton Chadwick didn’t. He was staring into the night that had swallowed the saucer.
    • • •

    He couldn’t sleep that night. The army installed the wizards in a large tent and issued each of them a cot and sleeping bag. Lying on his cot in the darkness, his nostrils full of the sage and juniper scent of the high desert, he lay listening to the whisper of the wind, thinking about the saucer.
    The existence of the saucer required each person who saw it to throw out the preconceptions of a lifetime. Somewhere out there in the vast nothingness of space, somewhere far away in space and time—for Chadwick well knew the two were inexplicably linked, which was one of the great mysteries of life—there were other intelligent creatures; they had built this saucer, and it was now here… on earth. On this small planet orbiting a nondescript star on the edge of a humongous galaxy that wheeled endlessly on a hidden axis in the infinite void.
    Newton Chadwick was a child of his place and time, and he didn’t know what to make of it. Sure, he had read his share of science fiction as a youngster—and that was precisely what it was, fiction. He had seen the Buck Rogers matinee features, watched space cowboys shoot it out with aliens bent on conquest. Or worse. Mind candy for a Saturday afternoon.
    The saucer changed everything. Everything!
    The other men on cots weren’t sleeping either. They coughed and tossed restlessly, but no one was breathing deeply or snoring. Physicists, mathematicians, working engineers—they were from the nation’s finest universities and large industrial concerns. No doubt they were also wondering what they would find when they opened the saucer in the morning. And, because they were human, thinking about how the discoveries they would make would build careers and reputations.
    Finally, when he could stand it no longer, Chadwick eased from his sleeping bag, stepped into his clothes and shoes, and slipped out of the tent. The night sky was full of stars, countless points of light flung carelessly into the inky blackness by… by… God?

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