“You won’t burn my wedding pictures.” I extended my hand, demanding the memory stick back.
“Naiomi, you plugged this into your work computer?” Carter ground his teeth while taking a deep breath, following it with a sigh. “I’ll have to run a full scan to see what kind of virus you’ve given it. You know the security policies. Your memory stick is now company property. You signed the same NDA we all signed. I’m throwing this memory stick into the incinerator.”
“They’re the only copy of my wedding pictures, and I need to get them off that stick.” I tossed my single, long, blond braid over my shoulder for effect. I doubted tossing my braid looked terrifying. Perhaps if I swung my head around and whipped him across the face with it.
“Wow. Well, never say you can’t trust a copper salt merchant,” Connor said.
Ayumi gave him an inquiring glance.
“Is that a common saying?”
“But what did they put it way out here for?” he continued, gesturing the screen where their ship’s camera focused in on the alien structure. “Two jumps in dead space, not so much as an asteroid within a parsec of it.”
“That might be a bit of an exaggeration,” Ayumi said, smiling, as she watched the telemetry unfold. “But, yes. You’re right. We never would’ve found it without the trail of rumors that began with a wine-sodden copper salt merchant.”
“Was he? I didn’t know there was a market for wine-sodden copper salts.”
“Druy, where did you find that pitiful looking piece of space junk?” Capitan Saga asked as he slid off the ramp onto the lower deck of his ship.
“In the emptiness,” Druy said and continued circling the disk shaped object.
“And why wasn’t I informed?” he asked.
SETI Report March 23rd, 2049
Broadband transmission received at 09h38
Estimated distance of origin: 58,416 Light Years
Host: …does your solar system have a pest problem? Are your lush, verdant planets overrun by a bipedal scourge? Not to worry, because HumaneX is guaranteed to get rid of your Homo sapien infestation.
The emissary of destruction awoke as his ship decelerated upon entry into the Grinaldi system. Though the calendar would say a dozen generations had passed since the Grinaldi had methodically, torturously, wiped out his homeworld those memories were fresh in his mind. For him, it had happened only days before.
His consciousness, the only part of him which had been able to make the journey, went immediately to work. He confirmed the computer’s accounting of the ship’s location and checked to ensure that the transmissions originating from the system’s large fourth planet were indeed Grinaldi.
His makers had argued whether a conscious mind was necessary for this mission. There had been some who felt computerized systems were all that the ship required, but others said such a device would be irresponsible, capable of accidentally wiping out other inhabitants if they had overrun Grinald in the centuries between the launch of this ship and its arrival.
“They all claim to have been abducted by aliens?” Carl turned and stared at the crowd. Everywhere he looked, people sat cross-legged on blankets chanting, meditating, and shaking tiny bells on green strings.
“Not claim, and not abducted.” Jim brushed a lock of black hair away from his face. “These experiences are real. And we use the term visited. After all, these ‘aliens’ as you call them, have enlightened us, not kidnapped us.”
“Right.” Carl nodded. As a reporter for the weekly tabloid The Investigator, he had no choice but to cover the latest, most bizarre “newsworthy event” if he liked his job.
Over the last three years, he’d been to every Bigfoot sighting, UFO abduction site, and haunted house in the country. He was used to keeping a straight face and “getting the facts” when dealing with crackpots, but something about this story didn’t sit right in his gut.
Sarah languidly woke up to what she thought was the smell of chocolate. Bill rolled over in bed and looked at her. “Could we have hot chocolate for breakfast?” he asked. She took a moment to scrutinize the situation. No one was making hot chocolate. Why did they wake up wanting chocolate?
“They’re doing it again!” said Sarah.
“What?” said Bill.
“They’ve changed the ether,” exclaimed Sarah.
The corridor mimicked the Martian landscape; linoleum flecked with rusty reds and dusky pinks, and the color on the walls a dull yellow like the alien sky. Mikhail’s boots, gray like the studded metal doors flanking him on either side, sent echoes ahead of him as he marched.
Tiny green lights blinked at him from the security cameras in the ceiling, and his breathing shuddered loud in his ears. Beneath a wool jacket and nylon shirt, his back prickled with sweat. Not because of the ever-watchful green-eyed guardians; he was used to those. It was the uncertainty of whether or not they’d believe his performance.
It was a Saturday afternoon in the autumn of the year. The sky was cloudy. A cold wind had just started to blow. A figure, male by appearance, possibly between age thirty and forty, walked along a lonely sidewalk. He had black hair, frizzled, reaching down to the collar of his green windbreaker. He sported blue jeans and decrepit running shoes. The zipper of his jacket was broken, requiring him to hold the two halves shut with his left hand in an attempt to guard against the wind. He had a twitch, his right eye lid opening and closing; making it appear that he was constantly winking. He ground his jaw from side to side, a habit of decades that was slowly wearing down his teeth. He mumbled to himself, low and inconspicuous sounds that could have been words, easily lost in the noise of the neighborhood. The locals pegged him quickly as peculiar. People who saw him ignored him or made distance, establishing a comfort zone that could be as far as a city block.