A speck on the horizon.
It wasn’t the UFO he was expecting. It wasn’t the UFO he was hoping for. It was just the moon, taking its first breath on a cool autumn night full of broken thunderclouds.
Lieutenant Barney Trent gazed up at it from his Porsche, wondering when he was going to see the UFO. He had been out here for hours, waiting for the right moment for it to arrive, waiting for something fantastic to occur. He didn’t have much longer to wait. He glanced at his commander. His name was Matthew Plunkett, and he was forty-seven years old, had a baby girl and a wife. They were struggling, he heard. It was sad. He was glad the man was here. It was a good idea to have someone else with you to witness a UFO sighting. One person wasn’t enough.
“Do you think they’ll come?” he grunted, glancing at the man and raising an eyebrow at him.
Matthew shrugged. “They’re aliens. Aliens are supposed to be unpredictable.” He snorted. “I’d say yes or no.” He chuckled. He was having a ball. He didn’t believe in aliens one way or the other. He thought they were imaginary. His mother told him so. He still thought they were imaginary. Nothing was going to change his mind. “Let’s wait.”
They waited. Waited. Their commanding officer, Wolf Morrison, said he didn’t know when the UFO would come. Or even if it would. Matthew didn’t want to pass up the chance of seeing something he would never get to see again. The sun went up. It went down again, down, down over the horizon, until it was just a speck. That wasn’t a UFO. He told it to himself, silently, quietly. The sun and moon were not UFOs. He wished they were. Finally, silently, near the dawn that was coming up out of the darkness, he saw it. A green speck of light on the horizon. A green speck. It came closer and closer until it was nearly standing on top of them. Barney’s breath caught in his throat. He didn’t know what to say. It was the most wonderful sight he had ever seen in his entire life. He didn’t need a video camera. He was going to remember it forever. “Is it real?” he whispered to Matthew.
He shrugged. “Don’t know, don’t care,” he answered, shaking his head. “Let’s just watch.”
They watched for what seemed like forever. The UFO turned on its side and dipped out of sight. They never saw it disappear. One minute it was there. The next minute it was gone. Just like that.
Barney shook his head and chuckled. It was better than Christmas.
* * *
Benjamin Hades didn’t realize what he was signing up for when he joined
the United States military. He was twenty-three, going on twenty-four, and had just graduated from Princeton University with a degree in sociology. He had a whole wide world to explore. That was when he got the call. They needed him at Area 51. It was such a simple request, they said. A simple request that could potentially persuade his entire career. He thought about it for two weeks before agreeing to leave his crummy, part-time job at McDonald’s, and delve into the career of a soldier. He hated war. Hated the possibilities. He needed the money. They said they’d pay for his schooling. He signed up immediately. He flew a plane to Roswell International Airport, got off, and three security guards lead him to another bus with blacked out seat windows. He got on and was driven three miles to the Area 51 site, near Groom Lake, a dry riverbed that was going to be turned into a dam by the end of the year. His boss’s name was Matthew Plunkett. He knew he wasn’t going to like him. He was tall, hard, and cold, his eyes like brown saucers in his head, his mind sharp and quick, like lightning. He ushered the man into his tight little office, an office that was a span of about twenty feet wide and long. A diploma adorned the wall opposite his desk, from MIT. He rubbed his hands together gleefully. “You’re working at Area 51,” he said. He paused, studying him. Benjamin didn’t like being profiled like that. It made him nervous.
Benjamin nodded, confused as to why the man was being so secretive. It wasn’t a big deal. He’d had plenty of jobs before this, five, as matter of fact. This was the most interesting job he’s ever had. More interesting than working at a grocery store. “What do you want me to do?” he asked quickly. He hoped he hadn’t offended the man in some way. That was the last thing he wanted to do. Offend the government. Yeah, that was rich. He scowled.
“Your job is to monitor Bunkers one through seven,” he replied. “We have everything already set up for you in the security room. All you have to do is watch.” He rose to his feet like a giant monster rising from the ground. Watching Bunker One through Six was like watching golf. Nothing happened. Several men came in and out of the building. He had a toll booth. They signed when they came in, and when they came out, usually around dawn. Barney was up with the sun, and went to sleep when it went down. The days became tedious, dull, real. There was nothing special about Area 51.
The next morning, he went to downtown Roswell, and bought a cup of coffee from McDonald’s. McDonald’s was the fast-food chain of choice for these parts, either that, or Denny’s, and Denny’s wasn’t open yet. They didn’t open until 11am.
“What am I doing here?” he demanded of his steering wheel.
He drove all morning and went back to his apartment and fell into a deep sleep. Night came, and his shift, second shift, just began. He hurried into his clothes and drove down I-55, and stopped in front of a large building marked with the words “Employee” on the sign. The garage door opened, and he inched the car into the garage. He stepped out.
A man wearing a black suit and tie wandered over to him, carrying a clipboard. “Hades, Benjamin?” he asked in a cheerful voice. It was hard, being happy in a place like this. Harder than a person could imagine.
Benjamin thought the building was haunted.
Benjamin nodded, wondering what he had gotten himself into.
It wasn’t like he couldn’t find work. It wasn’t like he didn’t have enough money to eat and rent an apartment and put gas in his car. He could find work. He could do all those things. It was the feeling of excitement, of doing something he wasn’t supposed to, that he liked. It was like, I don’t know, finding God again, as corny as that sounded. It was like being friends with your inner demons. Officer Cooper Smithson kept Benjamin company, spouting stories of World War II and Vietnam. Tall, lanky, with brown hair and eyes, he had been stationed in Vietnam, he said. Had shot and killed a man, a German soldier who was working with the Chinese. “Have you ever heard of such a thing?” he said laughingly, slapping Benjamin on the back. Benjamin thought shooting a man must have made him go mad. His behavior was sporadic, chaotic. Benjamin smiled encouragingly. He wished the man would just shut up. He wanted to eat his soup. It grew cold. He took a sip. That was better. Soup was good on a night like this.
“You ever seen a UFO here?” he asked Cooper curiously.
Cooper’s face suddenly turned serious. His eyes lost focus. “Once,” he said stiffly. His shoulders drooped. His face went white.
Benjamin looked at him. “And?” he prodded. He looked at his hands. They were large hands, large ones that had seen much labor. He remembered the little ones that fit into his father’s hand. He remembered other things, too. He kept it to himself.
“Once is enough.”
“Was it on the ground?” he asked quietly.
“Yes.” He nodded. “It was on the ground.” He paused. “I was just a solider back then, had just started working at Area 51, thinking of all the possibilities it had to offer.” He shook his head. “That was so stupid of me! Really stupid. Anyway,” he continued, “I found out what Area 51 was really working on. A futuristic version of the Stealth-fighter pilot, it was a small, sleek-looking model, gray, about seventeen feet wide and across.” He stopped. A single tear squeezed down his eyelids. He didn’t bother to wipe it away. Benjamin studied him curiously, wondering what the fuss was about. It was just a UFO.
“I’ll never forget the experience,” he began. “It was stupid. I don’t know why I was there in the first place. I guess I had a weird feeling in the back of my mind…maybe I picked up on it? Sometimes I do that. Like, I can tell what’s going to happen next, or I can guess what’s in a room without actually going in it. It’s stupid, I know.” He sniffed.
“What happened to the fighter pilot?”
He shrugged. “We sold it to the Japanese,” he replied. “They like fighter pilots, especially ones like that.” He paused. “I don’t think anyone actually gets these ideas from real aliens, just geniuses with nothing better to do with their time.” Cooper wrung his hands nervously. “You must think I’m really stupid.”
“No,” Benjamin told him. “I don’t. I want to see a UFO.”
“Maybe you will, sonny,” he replied, patting Benjamin on the back. “Maybe you will.”
All Benjamin could do was scowl.
The next morning was dreary and cold. It was spring. The weatherman said a big storm was coming, part of a hurricane that had come from Mexico. The hurricane was called Hurricane Fran. Benjamin wondered who named them. He slept until noon. He staggered to the shower, got dressed, washed his face, and brushed his teeth. He didn’t have anything to do until six-oh-clock, when he signed in for work. He glanced up and saw Cooper watching him, with a glazed expression in his eyes. Idiot. He’d been here for years. The man said so himself. Benjamin hoped he wouldn’t turn into Cooper. He was just a little too weird for him to handle. He shook his head and went to the security office, put his card in the door, and it swung open with a creak. The sound was deafening in such a quiet little room. He didn’t like it. It made him nervous. He checked the sign in sheet on the desk. Everyone who was here had already signed in. No one unexpected was supposed to come in today. It was second shift. They usually didn’t have any extra people come in on the second shift. He wandered into the hall. A light bulb swung from the ceiling overhead and cast a pale, orange glow on the walls. It was eerily quiet. No noise anywhere, except the wind moaning outside. Hurricane Fran was headed this way. He went to the vending machine and bought a cup of coffee and went outside to look at the stars. His break began in five minutes anyway. He had time to look. They had a small black and white TV in the break room. Light bent in the dark.
Footsteps whispered on the floor. His mind reeled. His mind thought about different things. What he was doing, where he was going. He never expected to work here, of all places. He’d heard about Area 51 before this, from colleagues at Princeton who were writing papers about the strange things that happened here. His grandfather was in the army. He’d fought in World War II. That was when he saw it. A black Sedan pulled into the driveway and three men hopped out. His eyes squinted in the dark. They weren’t supposed to be here. There weren’t any other names on the sign-in sheet. Everything was supposed to be on schedule. Those were the rules. He swallowed hard. He didn’t have time to radio the FBI or the police. He was going to have to follow them. Benjamin took his flashlight out of his pocket and followed them. He was the shadow stalking them. The first man had white hair and a white beard. The second man was younger, and had black hair and brown eyes. His mouth was drawn downward. He looked pissed. “What are you saying, it’s not running right?” he demanded into his walkie-talkie. “I checked it this morning. It should be working.” He scowled. His scowl deepened. “Jenkins, check on the sub, now.”
Benjamin frowned in puzzlement. The sub? Were they talking about lunch? Benjamin followed them into the side door marked “PRIVATE.” The door slammed shut behind them. Darkness swallowed them whole.
“Which way?” Jenkins whispered in a tinny voice. “Which way, Harry?”
Harry pointed. “That way. You know which way it is,” he said. “Don’t act like you haven’t been here before.”
“I keep thinking I’m with Wolf. Sorry.”
Harry snorted. “You know he’s a Shadow, an insurgent.”
A chill rolled down Benjamin’s spine. He didn’t like the emphasis Jenkins put on the word, “them.”
Harry scowled. “Don’t say it like that. It gives me the creeps.”
“Okay.” Jenkins snickered. “They.”
Harry glared at him. “Shut up, Patrick.”
“Hey, what about the new guy? You think they’re gonna tell him?” Jenkins asked.
“Of course not. He’s a Level One Access. They don’t tell rookies anything. It’s the law.” He snorted. “Dumbass. Should have known that already.”
“Oh.” He nodded. “Right.”
They rounded a corner and entered a large room.
The room was round and white. In the middle of it rested a large pool filled with water. In the water, was the strangest submarine Benjamin had ever seen. It was sleek and white and looked like a large whale with windows. The windows were new and looked like they had just been washed. Benjamin stared at it. That’s what they were hiding! He was so excited he almost bumped into a wall.