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July 12th, 1959 was a quiet day. Ike was president and the Russians were behaving, no Sputniks or anything. The mob was in Vegas counting other people’s money next to an air conditioner.  But, hey, in L.A. something always crawls up out of a storm drain when you’re not looking. I was working the night assignments desk for City News when it did and when it did it was my job to deal with it. I’m a reporter.

My phone rang at 10:35 P.M.  “City News, Al Murphy speaking.”

A hoarse voice answered me. “I want to report a nuclear accident.”

I took a deep breath. “And what’s your name, sir?”

“That’s not important. There’s been a nuclear explosion. All of L.A. is at risk.”

I shook my head. Nutcase. “When did this bomb go off?”

“No bomb – the reactor at Rocket Dyne is melting down. There was an explosion, a small one, but a massive plume of radioactive debris leaked. It’s headed for L.A.”

(Illustration by Marie Ginga from an image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay)

I straightened up. “Sir, I believe you, but I need a credible source. Again, what’s your name?”

The man sighed. “I’m Dr. Padgett Brewster.”

“Medical doctor?”

“Nuclear physics, M.I.T.”

“Doctor Brewster, could you stay at that phone?”

Brewster hesitated.  “Ten minutes, no more.”

“What’s your number there?”

He gave it to me. I wrote it down. I cleared the line and dialed a number at UCLA. The receiver buzzed twice and a nasal voice answered. “Hello?”

“Sam, is that you?”

“Who else at this time of night? What do you want, Al?”

“You monitor the air quality, right?”


“So have you noticed any changes in radiation levels?”

“I’ll look.”

The line crackled at me. “Sam?”

The line crackled more. “Sam? You there?”

He shouted, “Radiation levels have jumped to fifty times above normal!”

“Fifty times?”

“Yeah, I checked with the A.E.C. This is top-secret stuff, Al. I shouldn’t be talking to you.”

“Do they know what’s causing it?”

“Not a clue.”

“I do.”


“Sam, would an explosion at the Rocket Dyne reactor do it?”

Sam’s voice, now more of a bassoon than an oboe, honked, “That would do it nicely. Are you saying that’s what happened?”

“According to a guy I just talked to. Maybe you’d better ring the A.E.C. back up.”

“Right.” He paused. “And Al?”


“Call me back if you hear anything else.”

“I’ll do that.”

I called Brewster. “Dr. Brewster?”


“We need to meet.”


“I’ll write a news bulletin for the morning papers and the news shows, but I’ll need follow-up details, advice on what to do.”

“My name won’t come into this?’


He hesitated. “Where shall we meet? And when?”

“It’s after eleven now. There’s an all night café at 25th and Pico in Santa Monica. Meet me at two. I’ll buy you breakfast.”

“25th and Pico?”


Brewster sighed.  “I’ll be there.”


I was putting on my jacket at a quarter after one when Sam Wiseman, my boss, walked up holding a piece of yellow paper. “You got this story wrong.”

It’s almost always informative to play dumb. “What story?”

“This nuke story.”

I nodded. “Oh, the nuke story.”

“It’s a crock.”

Time to quit being stupid. “It’s no crock. Radiation levels above the city are off the charts from a major explosion at Rocket-Dyne.  I’m on my way to meet one of the scientists who works out there now.”

Wiseman shrugged. “A guy named Brewster?”  He looked at the slip of paper.  “Dr. Padgett Brewster?”

“Yeah, why?”

“He’s dead.”


“Had a car accident on Mulholland Drive about an hour ago. Dead.”


“One more thing, Al.”

I looked up.

“You’re fired.”


Fired? When somebody doesn’t want you around, there’s a big story ready to blow up in your face. I decided it was time to take the gloves off. I called Betty.

“For God’s sake, Al, it’s the middle of the night!”

“This is important, baby.”

“I thought my mother had died!”

“She might if we don’t get onto this fast.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“I need names and addresses of all the people Dr. Padgett Brewster called in the past two weeks, fast.”

“The phone company office won’t open until eight.”

“But you work there!”

“I’m an operator, Al, not a vice president.”

“Do the best you can.”

“This will cost you.”

“Dinner out?”

“Something better than Clifton’s this time, a lot better.”

“What’s the matter with cafeterias?”


Venice Beach – I inhaled the salt scent of the Pacific Ocean somewhat tainted by a tipped over garbage can. I looked at the white stucco house in front of me. Brewster had called a woman in this house a dozen times over the past week. Had to be a girlfriend. It for sure wasn’t his wife.

I approached the front door and saw blood drops on the grass next to the steps. Maybe blood. It was not quite the right color, a bit orange. The front door was ajar.

“Yoo-hoo? Anybody home?” I pushed the door open with my elbow and went in.

A young woman lay on the front hall rug in a small puddle of blood.  I knelt beside her. She was breathing. She was also a lovely, pale shade of green, like new willow leaves. Her eyes fluttered open.  “Help me.”


I drive a blue 1952 Plymouth coupe, a good car up to fifty miles per hour. After that?  There is no after that. If the cops came after me, there would be no outrunning them. I turned right onto the Pacific Coast Highway.

My passenger’s eyes were closed, but she was breathing evenly. I’d fetched a couple of gizmos she’d requested out of her bathroom. She’d used one to inject something into her arm and the other to spray something over the wound in her abdomen. I noticed when she pulled up her shirt that she had a round hole right next to where her cute, green belly button would have been, if she’d had a cute green belly button.

She moaned.

“You need a hospital.”

She murmured. “Take me to my ship.”

Her ship? “You own a boat?”

“To my ship, please.”


“Farther up this road.”

Farther up PCH. Malibu? Ventura?  Cop lights flashed ahead. Roadblock. How was I going to explain a green girl with a bullet in her guts? I sighed. “Sorry, sister, there’s a roadblock ahead.”

“Keep driving.”

“Can’t – but they’ll get you to a hospital.”

“They won’t see me.”

“I can see you. If I can, they can.”

Her eyelids lifted like rusty garage doors. “Trust me.”

Gravel crunched as my Plymouth stopped at the barrier. A big cop strolled up to the driver’s side, squinted and said, “Murphy.”

I squinted back.  “Sergeant Bernard.”

If rocks lined up to get brains, the first ten would be smarter than Bernard, but none would be harder.

“What gutter you got your nose in this time, Murphy?”

“Just chasing a deadline, Sergeant.”

“Open up the trunk.”

I got out, put the key in the lock and popped it open.  “Like the spare, Sergeant?  It’s even balder than you are.”

“Shut up, Murphy.”

I resisted the urge to hold out my hands for cuffs.

“Get back in the car.”

I did.

Murphy scowled at me, the only thing he was truly good at doing. “Get moving.”

I put the car in gear, looking around as I did so. No green girl. I accelerated gently away from the roadblock. Fifty yards down the road something flickered beside me. The green girl was back.

“How did you do that?”

“I can bend light to conceal myself.”

Bent light? Sure. “Where to now?”

“Malibu Pier.”

Malibu Pier?  Boats? It figured. Ten minutes later, I pulled into the pier’s parking lot and stopped.

The girl whispered, “Can’t walk. Carry me.”

I’m 5’6” tall and nobody ever mistook me for Charles Atlas. “I’ll try.”

“Not far.”

I slid out of my seat, walked around to her side of the car and opened the door.  I slid my right arm behind her back and my left under her hips. I lifted her and almost fell over with surprise. She was lighter than a small child.

“Where to?”

“Under pier.”

I carried her onto the sand and beneath dark pilings. Three steps from the first piling, a flying saucer appeared.

“You see? Light bends.”

I took a deep breath. “Yeah. I got it.”

“Take me in.”

A door opened and a ramp unfolded onto the sand at my feet.  I carried her up the ramp and through the door.

“Put me on the bench.”

I laid her on a padded, green bench and stepped back. Beams of light – emerald, scarlet, gold – sprouted from above. The beams wove around each other into a dancing, sparkling web.

I don’t recall when I passed out. I came to staring up at the green girl.

She smiled. “You shouldn’t look at the lights.”

“Thanks for telling me.”

“Sorry, I wasn’t feeling well.”

“Are you okay now?”

“I’m better.”

“That’s some doc you’ve got.”

She shrugged. “It is good for stabilization of injuries. The bullet is still in me. I’ll need further treatment.”

“What’s all this about?”

“Dr. Brewster, the other scientists at Rocket Dyne – we work on a project together.”

“Yeah, a nuclear reactor.”

She shook her head.  “Much more than that. The reactor was camouflage.”

“Well, it blew up.”

“No, we were attacked.”


“A group of visitors pulled out weapons and shot our scientists. Dr. Brewster and I were somewhat behind. They fired at us, but only hit me. He helped me to the far side of a blast door and locked them in.”

“He got you away?”

“Yes. Later, when he saw we were being followed, he let me out of the car at my house and led them away. I made it inside.”

“Who were these visitors?”

“Scientists from a petroleum company. It was a surprise visit, but their credentials were valid.”

“What were you really doing at Rocket Dyne?”

“I’m not from around here.”

“I noticed.”

“I was teaching Dr. Brewster and his colleagues a process which would provide unlimited power.”

“Unlimited power?”

“You would call it helium fusion. Electricity would be virtually free. Imagine what that would do for your world!”

I imagined. “Do you understand money?”

“Yes, it is a means of exchange.”

“Some people make a lot of money from power production – gas, oil, coal. They like things the way they are. They attacked you.”


“Money – free power would be disastrous for them. They won’t let you succeed.”

“We have succeeded. We may be able to save your world after all. Our first device is complete.”

I shook my head. “Not any more. That explosion finished Rocket Dyne.”

She rose. “I must contact Dr. Brewster!”

“He’s dead.” She sat down. “The others are too, I suspect.

Tears leaked silently down her cheeks.

“What did you mean about saving our world?”

“All that burning – the power plants, the cars, the airplanes – releases gasses that trap heat in your atmosphere. Your climate will change. It will become hotter and hotter until you all cook like shrimp in a pot.”

“The end of the world?”

She shook her head. “No. When you all die, the burning will stop and your world will cool – eventually.”

“So we’ll check out like the dinosaurs.”

She leaned forward, took my hand. “It doesn’t have to happen! Humans have so much to give the galaxy! We wanted to save you!”

“Thanks for the thought.”

She winced. “My wound needs further treatment. I must return home now.”

“That would be a good idea.”

“The journey will be long – months for me and years for you.”

That made no sense to me, but I said nothing.

“Thank-you for helping me!”

“I did little enough. And don’t worry about your project, the fusion thing. We’ll get along okay without it.”

She squeezed my hand. “No, you won’t.”

I didn’t answer.

She smiled suddenly. “But I’ll be back. I’ll bring help.” She patted my hand.

I released her silky smooth, emerald fingers, rose and walked down the exit ramp.  The saucer door closed and the ramp retracted.  The machine emitted a gentle hum and floated out over breaking waves. Light suddenly flashed bright enough to make me close my eyes. When I opened them, the saucer was gone.


Fifty-one years later, I walked out of my Venice apartment wearing my favorite hat and carrying my laptop. I made my best octogenarian speed toward my banged up Honda Civic. A big kid on a skateboard rolled in front of me before I reached it.

The kid wore ragbag clothes, expensive sneakers and a gray hoodie, though it was close to eighty in the shade. He was north of six feet tall and lean as a snake.  Long, dark hair framed his pimply face. He showed yellow teeth in a humorless smile and said, “Nice laptop, man.”

“Yeah, but not as nice as this.”  I pulled my new taser from the side pocket of my jacket and pointed it at his nose.

The kid stepped back. “Easy, man!”

“Yeah, it’s easy. Want to see it work?”

He shook his head. “I don’t want no trouble.”

“Then get out of my way. I’m in a hurry.”

“What are you in a hurry for?”

“I got a date.”

He looked shocked and then he smirked. “You got a date, old dude?  With a chick?”

“Yeah, I got a date with a chick.”  I motioned with the taser. The kid stepped aside. I smiled at him. “She’s over at the Malibu pier, but you wouldn’t like her.”

He smirked again, “Too old?”

I smirked back, “Too green.”


This story previously appeared in The Writer’s Drawer, 2014.
Edited by Marie Ginga


Robert Walton is an experienced writer with published works including fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, and poetry. His fantasy novels include Joel in Tananar, The Dragon and the Lemon Tree, and Chaos Gate. His Civil War novel Dawn Drums won the 2014 New Mexico Book Awards Tony Hillerman Prize for best fiction. His SF novella Vienna Station won the 2011 Galaxy Prize and was subsequently published by Rosetta Books. Most recently, Joaquin’s Gold, an anthology of Joaquin Murrieta stories, is available on Amazon. Learn more on his website Chaos Gate. Find his other books on Amazon.