His heart racing, Andrew snatched his keys and shouldered the door open. He was forced to halt his rapid exit, however, when he saw that he had almost knocked two people off of the front stoop. He glanced between the short blonde woman and the tall Asian man, both in dark-colored suits and both looking apprehensive.
"Hi," said the woman quickly, lowering her hand from the doorbell she'd obviously been about to ring. "I'm Agent Clark, this is Agent Kwan, and we really need your help." Clark flashed a badge, but Kwan didn't.
"Clark," he said quietly, "this is a big house; are we sure the person we're looking for lives alone, here?"
"Oh," said Clark, looking startled and turning slightly pink. "Right. Mr. Andrew Carlyle?"
"Yeph?" he answered, suddenly very aware of the piece of toast he was trying to speak through. He quickly stuffed it in his mouth, deciding he looked less stupid doing that than leaving it hanging there.
"Your country needs you Mr. Carlyle."
Andrew glanced down the street. He really was in a hurry to get to his meeting.
"Mr. Carlyle," said Kwan, "this really is urgent. Whatever you were running toward, we can help you make an excuse for missing it. This can't wait."
"We think he's dying," added Clark.
Andrew stared at her. "Dammit Jim, I'm a psychiatry student, not an MD." He shook his head. "Seriously, are you sure you're looking for me?"
Clark looked nervously at Kwan. "A psychiatry student?" she said. She kept her voice very low, but Andrew was too close to her to miss her words, "Not a professor? Not linguistics or something?"
Kwan cleared his throat. "You were recommended by a Dr. Padhi--"
"Priya?" said Andrew with surprise. "She's an engineer. And I've never heard of her having any connection to the government.
"Not just any engineer, the best in the world," said Clark. "We called her in because of the same emergency. We're trying to save him, but we're not hopeful."
"Dr. Padhi said you might be able to help... facilitate communication," said Kwan delicately. "We didn't really have time to ask for details.
"You obviously know her, so I think that suggests you are the person we're supposed to be finding. If facilitating communication sounds like something you might even remotely be able to help with, we really need you to come with us. We don't have any more time to talk."
"Please," said Clark, touching his hand and looking him in the eye.
"Priya said that?" Andrew frowned. Priya wouldn't have betrayed his confidence and mentioned his abilities, even in a vague hint like that, without a very good reason.
20 minutes later, Clark and Kwan had given Andrew very little information, other than that Priya was examining "him vehicle" and that none of the doctors on the scene had been able to do anything to help him. He still had no idea who "he" was.
They led him into a warehouse, filled largely with people dressed in white with goggles and masks. "We've determined that those aren't necessary, so don't worry," said Clark. "I think most of these guys haven't stopped long enough to take them off."
Andrew spotted Priya, she looked very excited but completely focused. She did not turn around when he called out to her.
Kwan directed him to a small room which had been turned into a makeshift clinic. Lying on a table, surrounded by doctors and medical equipment, was not a man at all--or at least not what Andrew would normally have thought of as a man.
The person on the table was basically humanoid, but obviously not human. His skin was a deep brownish red, he had too many limbs, and his oddly-shaped eyes had pink instead of white and the irises were violet. He had an oxygen mask over his mouth, although it didn't really cover the nostrils that were slightly higher on his face than a human nose would have been. His hair was long, and a very dark blue. He had a terrible wound on his left shoulder that was still oozing a thick dark blood, and his arms and legs were covered in smaller scratches.
He looked up at him, but seemed to have trouble focusing. He tried to speak, but even if Andrew had spoken his language he doubted that he would have understood what he was trying to say.
"It's... safe to be around himg?"
"We though he might be slowly suffocating because we don't have quite enough of whatever he needs and were prepared to try a variety of different gases through that mask," said one of the doctors quickly, "but he actually perked up slightly on the oxygen as soon as we tried it. It didn't ultimately help that much, though...
"Anyway, there's no poison and while we don't have antibodies for any diseases he's carrying... we don't seem similar enough for them to bother us. If he was I might actually be able to do something for him. He seems to have very different organs from anything I've seen on Earth, and he hasn't responded to any anesthetic we've tried. Even if he weren't totally conscious, I don't think we'd be able to figure out how his body works quickly enough to do more good than harm if we tried to operate."
"While any information you can get out of her about just about anything would be great," said Clark, "I doubt you're going to get anything that can help us save him--would you be able to explain to somebody who knew nothing about human anatomy how to treat a wound like that? We're mostly concerned about his objective here. And if you can get just one piece of information out of him, finding out if he's hostile would be it. Think you can do it?"
Andrew hesitated. "Well, let's take a look." He approached the table slowly, apprehensive. He reached out, and touched the alien's good shoulder. He stared into his eyes, and he looked back.
Then his eyes widened in shock, a flood of images entered Andrew's mind, and everything went black.