by Ruth Draves
The truth behind first contact. For the Science Fiction Short Story contest
|Go ahead and pull up a chair, son. Sit real close. My hearing ain't what it used to be.
You want to know about what? First Contact? Well, you wouldn't be the first to ask, but, at my age, you're likely to be the last.
Just laugh at it, son. I ain't gonna die on you today. But, you know what. I'm not going give you the official version. I don't care about treaties and secrets no more. it's time I told the truth.
See, that was a good long while ago. I had joined up with the Army. You heard of it? Not many have these days. No more wars or countries, not since First Contact. It was either go into the military or get my butt kicked out by my old man when I turned 18.
See, I was fresh out of Basic, which was the training we all had to do to in the Army right after we joined up. They tore us down so they could build us up, or so they said. Lots of drills and stupid orders and the food was bad most of the time, in my opinion. But it was better than dealing with the old man when he had one too many beers.
So I get stationed out of Fort Hunter Liggett, which was in California in those days. What do they call it now? Heck, son, I couldn't dream of pronouncing that even when I had my own teeth. Anyhow, so one night we get orders to scramble. We've got five minutes to get into gear, load up a bunch of weapons, and pile into transports. Nobody tells us nothing. It's dark, it's cold, and most of us want nothing more than to go back to our barracks and sleep.
We get bounced around in the back of this transport for what seems like hours. Finally, we stop. We're ordered to get out and regroup. Our Sarge, a big old Texas by the name of Murphy, tells us we're doing a search and rescue. Thing is, we ain't no search team. We're a bunch of infantry and artillery boys.
Artillery? You ain't never heard of that? It means guns, son. We dealt with weapons. Some big, most small. You only see those in museums now.
So someone asks what we're searching for. Murphy looks around like he's nervous, which was really unusual. Even when he was dead wrong, Murphy always knew he was right, you know? He says we're looking for a plane. Someone asks how big and Murphy just shrugged. He shrugged. You got half an Army base out in the middle of nowhere looking for a plane and you don't know how big it is? He then says just radio it in when you see something like a plane with our GPS coordinates, and then stay put and quiet. It was said in a way that did not encourage questions, if you get my drift.
I was paired up with this dude who called hisself Chuy, even though his real name was about fifteen words long. Chuy missed his family in San Diego so much, it was all he could talk about. I had never been to San Diego and hadn't met any of his many relatives, but after fifteen minutes of walking with this guy, I was sick of San Diego and his family. Chuy could talk a buzzard off a garbage truck.
Garbage? You didn't learn about that? Don't they teach nothing of history? Garbage was part of humanity since God was a child, son. Ask that teacher of yours later.
So we're heading up this steep hill in the dark. We got night vision goggles on, but I'm nervous I'm going to break my leg by stepping in a gopher hole. Chuy's babbling on about his mama's cooking and the weather in San Diego, not paying a lick of attention to anything. So, of course, he steps between two rocks and down he goes. Turns out, he broke a bunch of bones and was medically discharged shortly after. I splint up his ankle, call for a medic, and then get ordered to continue up the rise.
You been to the site, right? They put in an easy path to walk up years ago, but it was just a straight walk up that hill to this level area. Scientists later said it was probably a popular landing place for years before I stumbled across it. The trees still there? The scrub oaks were all a tangle that night. They thinned them out a bit when they put in the monument and visitor center, but it was slow going through the branches that night. I got a rip in my uniform and a good scratch on my cheek from that, even with the night vision goggles on. That should have been more of a warning that something was going on. See, they had a dampening field on, and it partially blocked my goggles. Lucky for me I was able to see enough I didn't get hurt like Chuy by walking blindly off the edge or stepping in a hole.
Because of the dampening field, I heard it before I saw anything. There was the hum of the power supply, but then there was like a rocking sound. The scratch on my cheek was burning, so I took off my goggles to swipe it, see if there was any blood, you know?
That's when I saw the ship.
Now you've seen the actual ship, right? Small thing, designed for just a couple of passengers and not a lot more. Now, you got to remember, nobody here had ever seen such a thing before. I certainly hadn't seen nothing like it. Fluid metal tech that glowed and rippled, bio-engineered shielding that reacted with the environment. No human had ever even thought of it, let alone seen it. I didn't know what it was, but I just knew it weren't no airplane.
Did I call it in? Not at first. I was standing in the trees, jaw down to the ground, trying not to soil my uniform in shock. My first reaction was to run away, to be honest. But then, I got curious. It was just sitting there, in the clearing, humming and swaying a bit. I decided to take a closer look.
As you know, Quixiks have a lot of the same biometrics as us humans, so the shielding must have thought I was one of them. When I reached out to touch the hull, one of them hatches whirled open for me. Now, I was green and armed and ready to be a big, macho soldier, so of course I walked through it. Never mind I completely disobeyed orders.
Nothing prepared me for Ranjak and Sreejix. Yeah, Quixiks seem normal now, but imagine never seeing nothing but humans and Earth animals before and then, boom! Blue tentacles everywhere! And the patches of both wet and dry skin, plus all those eyes.
Now, neither of them noticed me. At first, which was good, 'cause I was in shock.
Uh, what was that? Why did they not see me?
Well now, you're how old again? Twelve? You got yourself a girlfriend yet? Girls are icky? Oh, Lord. You had that talk with your daddy yet? You know, The Talk? You had a class in school? They teach that nowadays?
What is this world coming to?
Anyhow, just put down that Ranjak and Sreejix were dating. Yes, like boyfriends and girlfriends. In fact, they were doing what we used to call "parking." It's when you would borrow your dad's car and take your girlfriend out to a quiet spot and spend time with her in the car.
What kinds of things do you do with a girlfriend? Goodness, boy, ask your daddy. Or that teacher of yours.
So when Sreejix sees me, she kind of squealed in panic. See, she and Ranjak were not supposed to be together, not supposed to be on Earth, and definitely did not want to be found out. And here's a human soldier in the cab of Ranjak's daddy's ship, watching her and her boyfriend have at it.
Again, just ask your daddy.
So Ranjak pulls up to his full height and pops out all of his eyes at me. I fumble for my weapon, but I was not going to shoot nobody. They're both squealing, I'm shouting nonsense 'cause I'm scared. Sreejix hits a button or something on a panel and boom! We're all understanding each other.
Ranjak asks me how I got in. I ask him what he is. Sreejix tells us both to shut up so she can think. We all simmer down, do some more polite introductions, and I tell them the Army's looking for them. Both of them kinda panic, see, because Sreejix's daddy would blow his top if he knew that Sreejix was not only sneaking out to spend some quality time with Ranjak, but that they were on Earth, which was a no-no. See, it was off-limits 'cept for scientists and the like. Sreejix then says she's been studying Earth for a project at her school and knows we could really use the help. The Quixiks had been watching us for a long time, wondering when we'd ever get smart enough to save our own butts. So Sreeljix comes up with this idea that she and Ranjak decided to make contact to help us, even though the rest of the Quixiks aren't ready for that. Kinda like asking forgiveness is easier than asking for permission. I agree because I don't want to get in trouble for not following orders. We iron out a few details, then they get cleaned up and I go out to radio in the news.
Lucky for me, the Army and everybody bought the story. Ranjak, Sreejix and I get our pictures taken, the government takes me all over the world to tell the official story, and Sreejix dumps Ranjak for being an idiot not too long afterwards.
Well, he wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed. We hung out for a while, but he went back to Quixilikor and worked for his daddy's business after all the hubbub died down.
Sreejix went on to be one of the best friends I ever had in this life. She and I traveled all over the world and the galaxy. We were at each other's weddings. She was a natural diplomat and did a great job as Quixilikor's first Ambassador to Earth. I miss her. Quixiks don't live as long as we do, you know.
If Chuy had paid a little more attention to where he put his big feet, if I hadn't taken off my goggles, if Ranjak had calibrated the shielding so radar hadn't picked them up in the first place, we'd be drowning in our own waste, son. It took meeting the Quixiks to teach us not to destroy our own planet.
So forget all the stories about the signals from the Quixiks and the crash site and the diplomatic teams. It was just me stumbling across two teenagers parking and us all realizing it was time to make friends.