A short story
Mission X: Earth-Year 10
N*yxl took a look at the multiscreen, magazine in hand, then spat out his Zorgian smoothie.
He scrambled half out of his seat, feet sliding dangerously across the dash, Earth magazines scattering – research, of course – and screeched, “R*llon! They’re escaping!”
R*llon half-fell into the room. “What do you mean, esc—”
He grabbed N*yxl’s shoulder. N*yxl jumped. The Zorgian smoothie went flying across the dash, oozing purple down the blinking lights.
The two aliens stared in horror as a little capsule drifted across the screen, heading out into empty space.
They looked at each other.
“Sector report was YOUR duty, you Mox-headed fool!” R*llon shouted.
N*yxl scrambled to his feet, slamming down the red button. “Alert—”
It was stuck.
He slammed it again.
R*llon gaped at it, then at him.
The capsule drifted out of sight.
R*llon gasped. “FIND IT,” he shouted.
N*yxl grabbed the joystick and twisted the camera.
“No, you fool, the other way.”
“Shut up, R*llon, I know how to do my—”
The Zorgian smoothie continued to ooze its way down the control panel. Something flickered.
“Give me the—”
“Get out of my chair, Mox-brains, I’m the one in ch—”
They froze and turned. Smoothie oozed purple onto the floor.
Something hissed and began to smoke.
“At ease,” the commander said, eyeing them. “Now. What’s going on?”
“Sir,” N*yxl gulped. “The humans. They’re—”
“They’ve escaped, sir, I saw a—” R*llon gasped. “Sir, they’re—”
With a whoosh, the panel behind them ignited. R*llon shrieked.
N*yxl squawked and began fanning the flames with his magazine. This did not help.
The commander put his face in one webbed hand.
On Earth, millions watched, rapt, as the first satellite launched. Sputnik, it was called.
On Base 4, N*yxl and R*llon stood before a tribunal.
“We have…reassigned you. Clandestine duty.” The tribunal head smirked.
N*yxl looked hopeful. R*llon looked miserable.
“You are to report to Delta. Your new names are Gamma and Phi. Your area of assignment: Area 51.”
N*yxl, now Gamma, looked horrified. “We…we have to interact with the FBI people? But sir, please, you don’t understand—”
R*llon/Phi elbowed him. Gamma/N*yxl shot his friend a look.
Delta did not look pleased either. “Sir, these two—”
The tribunal judge sighed. “Look. I’m giving you the BARE MINIMUM assignment. Keep the humans in the dark about us. Make sure the FBI keep on making their fake crop circles. Make us look bad, incompetent, harmless.” He smiled coolly. “You seem well suited to the role.”
“Apparently,” Delta grumbled. Phi glared daggers at Gamma.
“Now,” said the judge. “How to disguise you for your mission.”
* * *
Mission X: Present Day
One of the group got back into the car and pulled the door shut as quietly as possible, looking shaken. Outside, the cornfield was near pitch-black, except for the moonlight casting shadows on the ground. Overhead, the Milky Way spread across the sky, glimmering clouds of stars floating in the darkness.
“I think – they spotted me.”
His companions eyed the nightscope, breathless.
Off in the distance, barely within earshot, the occasional car streaked past on the highway down to Roswell, New Mexico. Up here, the high country was mostly desert and the occasional irrigated field. They’d left Roswell proper an hour or so ago and had driven on the dirt farm roads after dusk, waiting for the perfect spot.
And they’d found it.
On the small screen, two figures glowed red against the corn. They were somewhat short and slim, with what appeared to be bulbous oversized heads. They looked just like the figures on the neon sign for Hal’s Space Diner not twenty minutes down the highway.
They moved awkwardly through the plants, each with a hand up, as if greeting those in the car, though that seemed impossible – the lights were out and the car was parked far back. The figures appeared to make no noise; no trampling of cornstalks or voices seemed to float through the blackness, but maybe that was because all that those in the car could hear was the sound of their own breath as they stared at the screen.
The shapes on the screen paused, seemed to confer, hands still in the air.
The huddled group in the car nearly stopped breathing as they tried to make out the image. One member scribbled notes in the faint light from the moon: height, shape of the head, suspected total numbers of the group.
Then the strange beings turned slightly, hands still up by their shoulders, revealing what they were carrying.
One of the watchers snorted. “Is that…a board?”
“No. No, this is not acceptable. A board? My people do not make crop circles using…using…farming implements.”
“Shhh. Shut up, Gamma. We’re trying to figure out what to do here.”
“It’s very clear what’s going on here, Delta. Some kids are out there in the field insulting my people with their terrible impression of a design appreciated and beloved across the cosmos.”
Phi snorted. “Yeah, uh, circles are real hard to do, Gamma.”
Gamma reached over and tried to smack him. Phi grinned and darted out of reach.
Delta stared ahead. “The two of you need to close your air holes before we get cau–”
The figures on the screen began to move again. He held up a hand. “Quiet. Look.”
Phi snorted at Gamma’s horrified expression as the beings began to mash crops into the approximation of a circle.
Delta was taking notes, ignoring his team members. “They’re – how interesting, they’re going for the compass-and-pencil method that the humans learn early in school. Stand at one spot and let the other spin around you. Crude, but effective.”
“Perhaps Gamma’s right and they are pranksters, not FBI. Maybe we’ve got the wrong guys, Delta. This seems like a waste of time.” Phi had sat back in his chair and was sketching fractal designs on his night-mode notepad. “Check this out. I wonder if we got Rho’s laser cannon and a couple of those little, uh, sparklers from the surplus bins – “
Gamma leaned over, made a tut-tut noise. “You have no appreciation for high art.”
“Yeah, well, it looks cool. Better than Boardy out there.”
Delta shushed them, again, and turned up the contrast on the nightscope. “This is exactly what we were hoping for, Phi. A simple design, something to imply alien existence without implying alien sophistication.” He grinned. “Perfect. FBI’s cooperating with directives. Should be an easy report to HQ.”
Then his face changed and he looked closer. “What is that on the shoulder there?”
Gamma squinted. “A radio, maybe? A phone of some sort?”
“Oh, come on, Gamma.” Phi snorted. “Even the FBI doesn’t use satellite phones anymore.”
“Well, why don’t you take a gue- ”
There was a low rumbling sound in the distance. Phi stopped glaring at Gamma and looked around warily. “What’s that – the highway?”
Delta didn’t even bother to reply. He went back to the nightscope.
The rumbling escalated, sounding too close to be the highway.
“What’s that smell,” Gamma complained. “Like rotten fumes from a -”
Phi rolled the window down and stuck his head out, letting the smell drift into the car. Gamma gagged.
“I can’t see anything,” Phi whispered too loudly.
Delta was still glued to the nightscope. “Phi, it’s probably one of those large transports; if you don’t shut up and get ba – ”
There was a sudden roar and they all jumped as headlights sliced through the cornfield a short distance away, beams fracturing among the stalks.
The group in the car dove down behind the dashboard. “I told you,” muttered Phi.
On the screen, the two bright figures froze among the corn.
Phi did not look pleased to be squashed under the dash next to Gamma. “These humans seriously need to work on their technology,” Gamma hissed. “Still burning petroleum products. That was, what, two ages ago? Remind me again why we had to take this hunk of metal out here? It’s not even comfortable. And it smells like rotting chicken eggs.”
Phi leaned over, tapped Delta. “Can I leave now?”
Delta pushed his teammates out of the way and inched his head above the dash.
The truck pulled to a stop and he heard voices; a group of human teenagers piled out of the vehicle. He watched them, eyes narrowed. The whole operation could be in jeopardy if those kids found out who was really making that circle.
Usually groups like these came in two types: drunk, or extremely-intense alien-searchers. This looked like the latter. Sure enough, they had a full spectrum of camera equipment and seemed…well, more organized than his team, Delta thought sourly.
Time to adjust the mission.
He ignored Gamma and Phi’s muffled bickering and turned up the soundscope.
“Rob, over here.” One of the younger looking guys had set up some kind of primitive scope on top of their car. Delta realized they were putting together what looked like a radar apparatus.
“Gotta be illegal,” Phi whispered, eyes wide. “They’ve gotten more advanced.”
“Let me see.” Gamma elbowed his way past his teammate.
On the screen, the figures with the funny heads seemed to have gone back to what they were doing, but with great haste.
The younger teenager and Rob were impressively efficient, thought Delta. In another minute they should be done setting up their radar equipment.
“Delta, we should move,” hissed Phi.
Delta looked grimly at the instrument panel before tossing a cover over the glowing screen. “Code blue. Let’s get into position.”
Rob, the younger guy whose name turned out to be Danny, and the three other teenagers turned on their…apparatus, Delta was calling it.
They immediately picked up Delta’s team. “Hey, over there!” Rob called to Danny. “Some kind of – some kind of animal.”
“I dunno. Those look like deer to you?”
Danny jogged over, took a look at his scope. “Yup, three deer. Leave it. I heard rustling that way when we first got here.”
Phi grinned from where they were hiding in the corn. “Gamma, not terrible. Nice work.” Gamma gave him a crooked half-smile.
The teenagers brought out what looked like a tiny flying camera. Delta watched it, impressed. It rose into the air, a brilliant light at the base, then headed out over them and across the cornfield. Delta and his team followed it from the ground, careful not to shift the stalks too much.
Suddenly there was a burst of light and a loud click, and the three shielded their eyes even through their cloaking devices.
Blinking, they heard the hum of the drone retreating, and the babble of voices filtering through the corn. Delta gestured silently for his teammates to follow him.
“WHOA DUDE.” Danny’s voice floated through the stalks. “THE DRONE FOUND A CIRCLE. CHECK IT OUT. SUPER CLOSE.“
“Even the intense ones are loud,” muttered Phi.
Delta and his team edged back toward the voices. The moon was higher in the sky now, and the shadows of the cornstalks traced crazed paths across the ground. They couldn’t tell which way it was back to their car, let alone how far into the cornfield they were. Phi held up a mobile nightscope, but, as Gamma snarkily pointed out, they could already tell where the teenagers were from their volume.
Delta’s team followed the sound for a few more steps, then stumbled out of the corn and found themselves standing on the edge of a very poorly executed circle, some fifteen feet in radius. Gamma stared morosely at it.
The voices had changed. They were now chattering excitedly, and one or two of them seemed to be floating closer through the small forest of stalks and leaves. At least one of the teenagers seemed to know exactly where the circle was.
Delta gestured silently for his teammates to hide.
Phi dragged Gamma into the corn just as two girls and Danny burst through the other side of the circle.
Delta stepped out into the moonlight, halogen lamp trained directly on the teens’ faces.
“FBI!” he shouted.
Two of them stumbled backward, the third mis-stepping and plowing into them, throwing their arms up, blinded by the light. Danny – tall, dark hair, lanky – squinted at the figure before him, his mouth hanging open as if unable to believe what he was seeing. The tall girl screeched, “Don’t shoot!”
“Is this – a trap?” Danny yelled. “You made a crop circle? The FBI?”
Delta opened his mouth to respond.
The girl lowered her arm just a bit. “This is one poor quality crop circle. Like seriously. What did you use? Rope?” She snorted. “Don’t ask us to believe this is legit.”
Delta could practically hear Phi sniggering in the corn behind him. He lowered the beam half an inch. “This is official business. You kids had better get home.”
“No. I want to know. Is this – wait, is this confirmation that the FBI has been faking all this? Since Roswell? Why would you do that?” The girl’s eyes were too bright. She lowered her arm, squinted at him. He knew that look. These Roswell people just never seemed to give up. “If they aren’t real, then what else are you covering up? Huh?”
Delta put on his best bored voice. “Miss, this is an investigation site. You’re trespassing on private property.”
“Come on. You can’t ask us to believe that this is a real crop circle.” Rebecca folded her arms. “What are you trying to pull? Or is this just a way to make us think it’s fake, think all the stuff people have been talking about all this time is ‘just pranks’? Which means you do have alien technology, which means I was right, which means -”
Delta spoke over her, raising his voice. She was right, of course, but no need for her to come to any unfortunate conclusions about alien capabilities, especially when the mission had started out so well. “As I said, miss, this is an investigation site, now if you would please – ”
The third, a shorter girl wearing a yellow beanie, suddenly shrieked. She pointed past Delta, into the darkness.
“Rebecca! It’s a real one! They’re real! Danny! Danny!!”
Delta whipped around.
Behind him was one of the small bulbous-headed creatures from the nightscope.
It looked startled, and jumped, hesitated, peering at them. It was gray and somewhat shiny and its head seemed too big for its body and slightly tilted to the side. It had what looked like an extra eye in the center of its forehead. A camera, thought Delta.
It turned and fled into the corn. The girl in the beanie was shrieking and jumping up and down as she tried to pull out her smartphone to record it. Rebecca was staring openmouthed. Danny was eyeing Delta, noting his lack of a gun.
“Sorry, man,” he shrugged, and took off after the creature.
Phi and Gamma watched from the shadows, glancing at each other, as Delta sprinted after Danny. The girls followed, yelling for Danny to wait. The “alien” showing up was an unexpected bonus – maybe the teenagers would believe the ruse after all – but only as long as it didn’t get caught. If the teenagers found out the truth…
“First one there gets an extra Zorgian Smoothie at Hal’s,” Phi said, grinning.
Gamma shook his head and crashed through the corn after his teammate.
Phi’s nightscope finally proved useful – they spotted the second “alien” crouching in the corn, and changed direction, making their way around the other side of the crop circle.
The bulbous-headed creature made a half-squeak when they tapped it on the shoulder, turning so quickly it nearly fell over, a man’s muffled voice sputtering, “Williams, what on eart-”.
Then the creature looked up and froze.
Phi stood there casually, hands on hips, holding the nightscope, grinning. Gamma hovered behind him. Phi tipped up his baseball cap to reveal a second set of eyes. He winked both right ones. “FBI.”
Delta didn’t really want to do this the hard way, but that looked like his only option.
He upped his speed, within normal human range of course so the kids wouldn’t notice, then shot off to the left. He could hear the creature crashing through the cornstalks much better than they could, and reached it within seconds.
He tackled it, only half-force. It went down, hard, rolled a little and lay there, stunned. It mumbled something about the FBI and how he should put his hands up and Delta sighed, shaking his head, before smacking it just hard enough to knock it out.
Danny, Rebecca, and the beanie girl came crashing through the stalks not moments later. Danny’s eyes were wild. “Where is it?”
“Where’s what?” Delta made sure this time to pull out his very real weapon.
“The alien! You saw it! What did you do with it?” the beanie girl shrieked, hysterical. “I saw it!”
“Miss, whatever you think you saw tonight is government business. You are not authorized to be in this field. This is a special extended jurisdiction zone of – “
“- of Area 51,” Danny interrupted. “We know. That’s why we’re – “
Rebecca not-so-subtly elbowed him. He clamped his mouth shut.
Beanie girl kept talking. “So – wait, that was an alien? And the crop circle?”
“Pretty sad crop circle if you ask me,” Rebecca muttered.
“Maybe it made it by itself?” Danny’s face lit up. “Individual crop circles! That could explain the ones in -”
“Sir, I have to ask you to leave before I arrest you,” Delta said firmly.
“Man, man, it’s all good.” Danny held up his hands. “Dudes. We saw an alien. And now we know how those crop circles in Spain happened. Yo.” He turned and pointed at Delta. “I know you’re hiding something, man. You all know what happened at Roswell, and now we’ve seen it. You can’t hide it now.” He turned again. “Rob! Jordan!”
The large “rock” behind Delta groaned, and he nudged it not-so-gently with his foot.
As the teenagers retreated, beanie girl looked back and whispered, not quietly enough, to Danny, “I got a picture!”
Good, thought Delta. He tried to keep his face impassive.
Rob and the last teenager came crashing through the stalks, demanding to know what had happened. Delta stood there, flashlight on them too, making sure his weapon was quite visible. Rob and the other young man looked more ready to fight than run, until Danny whispered something to them.
“Return to your vehicle,” repeated Delta, slowly.
“All right, chill.” Rob suddenly seemed more even-tempered, even happy. He glanced at beanie girl’s phone that she surreptitiously tried to show him, and smiled broadly.
He fished around in his pocket. “Guess what I found while chasing y’all.” He pulled out something that glinted in the light, held it up. “Your badge, FBI guy.”
Delta held out his hand. Rob tossed it across to him. Danny opened his mouth to protest, and Rob gave him a look.
Delta half-smiled. “Thank you,” he said. “Now head home before this incident becomes a trespassing charge.”
Delta turned the badge over as the teenagers wandered off, some grumbling, into the cornfield. It read “Agent Williams.” He snorted.
Phi and Gamma had retrieved the board and the two semi-conscious FBI agents in alien masks and deposited them in the bed of a beat-up pickup they’d located on the edge of the field. Delta gave them an approving look as he emerged from the corn.
The group heard groaning from the pickup and hurried over.
The FBI agent with a missing badge groggily took off his mask and stared up at the three of them, blinking. “What -”
“Your circle skills are atrocious,” Gamma informed him.
Phi leaned on Gamma’s shoulder and smiled widely. “Maybe try something more…interesting next time.” He ignored his teammate’s glare and peeled off a glowing sheet from his night-mode notebook, which he had stashed in his pocket, then tossed it to the FBI man. “Like this. Might need more than a board though. May I suggest” – he grinned – “laser cannons.”
“Why – what – “ The agent stared up at the figures that each had four eyes and looked like he was about to have a stroke.
Delta leaned over, efficiently crushed the mask’s camera between thumb and forefinger. The agent’s face paled. Delta looked calmly at him. “I’m not here to hurt you, Agent…Williams, I believe. And it would appear from your reaction that your superiors haven’t introduced you to any of us.”
Williams shook his head weakly, looking sick.
“Our mission is to keep tabs on what you, the FBI, are doing to keep Earth’s populace in the dark about us,” Delta said. “We monitor this as a matter of security; so do you, obviously, otherwise you wouldn’t be out here trying to make a bunch of alien hunters believe that it’s still all ‘flying saucers’ and ‘gravitationally improbable body types’ and, I’m sorry, pathetic crop circles.”
Williams winced. Gamma looked gratified.
Delta went on. “We, and your FBI, share a mission to make Earth’s people believe aliens are both real and technologically harmless: that nothing is being covered up because there is nothing worth covering up. You get your tech, and we…benefit.” He smiled thinly. “Even if we have to rescue your organization in the process.”
He gestured to the nightmode paper-film, which was still glowing with red neon-ink on a transparent dark background. “I know your Area 51 already has technology like what my colleague here has just given you, so I don’t mind letting you hold on to that.” He smiled. “You do, after all, have real Zorgian Smoothies down at Hal’s, whether or not you know it.”
He pulled the badge out of his pocket and handed it to Agent Williams.
“Get a move on before they decide to come back. Oh, and maybe don’t take your name tags on your secret alien missions. Don’t want to ruin the illusion.”
As they left, Williams gaping after them, Phi sighed and switched to their language. “Gotta keep us looking harmless, I guess. Keep the legend alive and all that. But really? Taking their badges with them? That’s worse than boards. Delta, are you sure they aren’t a security risk?”
Delta shrugged. “They’re following protocol. Barely, I admit.”
As they trudged onward through the corn, Gamma shook his head. “I really hope they never get off this planet. The incompetenc-”
Phi shrugged. “I dunno, that one kid figured out the trick pretty fast – “
“But they use fossil fuels. Compressed muck. It ruins the atmosphere. And don’t get me started on their crop circle lack of origi-”
“You’ve already started. Again. Again with the circles and the ‘nobility of the ancestral designs’ and blah blah blah.” Phi groaned. “Can we leave him here, Delta? Please? Please?”
Delta activated his cloaking device in reverse so he couldn’t hear either of them, and smiled.
Copyright © 2019-2021 S.Z. Attwell