Kahlen sat in his father's lab running tests on a troublesome communications console for a cruiser. His father had rewired it to adapt to newer technology. He was on the final automation pass, watching the packet verification data collate on the screen before him when his uncle entered.
"Kahlen, we need you in the hangar.”
“Yes... but why?”
“The consoles have a few bugs and we need an extra pair of hands.”
Kahlen raised his eyebrow. He was well aware his uncle was lying; any pure-blood Sairen would have keen enough hearing to notice strange, so why bother with a lie?
'Another surprise?' he thought as the gill slits on his neck flared irritably. But he decided to play along. It was also a possibility his uncle just wanted him out of the lab. He was used to that since his uncle worked on other top secret projects. He always did wonder though, the Yasha project was the most revolutionary invention for the past few hundred years, how could something be more top secret than that? When he followed him Kahlen knew it had to be a surprise.
He came down to the hangar and into the Yasha.
“Uncle said you needed me.” Kahlen addressed his father.
“We do,” his father nodded to his brother in law.
Kahlen’s uncle closed the door.
“What is going on?” Kahlen asked suspiciously.
“You’ll see.” was all father said.
He sat down in the control chair and opened a call.
“Zhadu Rhora here, we are ready for maiden flight.”
“Understood, Zhadu, Ura, and Kahlen Rhora, you’re authorised for flight number twelve.” the launch administrator said over the speakers.
The hangar doors opened before them into a long upward sloping tunnel which was engulfed in darkness. Kahlen bit his lower lip, trying to contain his excitement.
His father beckoned him to take the seat next to him at the front controls and his uncle sat at the control console in the centre of the bridge. Kahlen beamed, he had worked so hard for this and now he was being allowed on the test flight!
“Don’t start crying now.” His father said.
Kahlen blushed; he had not noticed his wet eyes until then and felt embarrassed.
“You are clear for take off Yasha.” The voice of the flight director came in on the Yasha’s communication system clear and perfect as if he was sitting next to them.
“Affirmative,” father responded, “starting engines.”
Yasha’s engines sent out a wave of heat as they became ready to propel the vessel forward. Zhadu moved his hands up along a touch pad and the Yasha rushed into the tunnel. Despite the speed the inside of the vessel was unaffected by the inertia. A crack of light appeared at the end as the doors opened. The Yasha continued to pick up speed and for a split second Kahlen was sure they would ram the doors.
They opened with time to spare and the Yasha found freedom in the grey cloudy sky. Cheers erupted on base. The penultimate success had come. His father and uncle were jubilant but Kahlen sat silently, staring through the windows with an unreadable expression.
His uncle walked forward to his nephew wondering why he sat silent. “Is something the matter?”
“No.” Kahlen replied half-heartedly.
“Then why the down face?”
Kahlen sighed, “Everything is going to change.” Kahlen said distantly.
“How is that?” his uncle Ura asked.
"Just a sudden hollowness, like when mother died..."
They heard a bird like sound from in front of them. Kahlen’s uncle pressed a button on his consol and a voice came through. “Congratulations Rhora and Ura,
“Thank you general,” Ura said acting as spokes man, “we are glad to see it as a success.”
“Please report back at base. We are going to start preparations for the maiden voyage.”
“Yes general,” Kahlen’s father and uncle replied.
Arizona, present day.
The camper stumbled away from the site of the impact from which smoke still rose in the distance. He was trying to get to the nearest gas station before sunrise. He had lost all of his supplies in the explosion, including his water so he needed to get out of the wilderness before the heat of day arrived.
He came out from behind wild grove of cacti and finally he saw the tall glowing sign of the gas station. He felt as if he had never seen a more beautiful sight.
He walked though the door and nodded a greeting to the clerk. The clerk and the other customers gave a few inquisitive glances at his dirt covered clothing and mangled appearance. The man found one of the few pay phones remaining in this day and age and made a phone call.
The next day trucks and hummers were parked in an orderly manner surrounding the site of the impact. Temporary shelters were erected and filled with computers and other mechanical equipment. Officers and technicians were buzzing everywhere like a hive.
A black sedan drove up the recently made dirt road and parked behind the largest tent. A tall man in Air Force Service Dress uniform stepped out. He walked around to the tent entrance removing his hat. His hair appeared to have been light brown in the past but grey was now mixed into his hair and moustache so that he appeared almost blond. He scanned the tent for a while letting is bespectacled grey-blue eyes adjust to the comparative dimness of the tent. He spotted who he was looking for, another officer, a young lieutenant, who was considerably shorter, not quite five and a half feet tall and sporting golden blond hair. He walked to the other side of the room where the lieutenant was conversing with an airman. “Are you sure it’s that big?” The lieutenant was asking.
“I’m positive sir, its density is also unusually low, I can’t tell you why. We can rule out this being a meteorite.”
“Our friends at NASA had already figured that.” the lieutenant replied, "Any theories?"
The officer interrupted the conversation between them and addressed the young lieutenant, “Lieu. Bates, I believe you are meant to debrief me.”
The younger officer turned and his demeanour changed from being a formal officer to more of a respectful friend, though he kept formality in his words. “Major O’Dell, I was unaware they call you in. You were on vacation last time I checked.”
The major replied in a disgruntled tone, “I think all of us know how much the guys upstairs relish calling their officers. Besides, I wouldn't want Smith to miss his daughter's wedding, so it's me.” He began walking outdoors and continued when he knew Bates was following, “So have you figured out what it is?”
Bates winced, “I’m afraid we haven’t, we have for the most part been checking the perimeter and climbing on that mound with metal detectors and other instruments to find out what is buried there. We don’t have permission to dig yet.”
“So you were all sent out here and now are not allowed to do anything?” By the tone of the major’s voice, it was not a question needing an answer.
Bates shrugged and continued, “It was found by a hiker named George Martin who was quite nearly killed. He got out with minimal injuries but he would like it if we kept an eye out for a little beagle named Zak. We have learned little more than what he was able to assume just by looking at it. We found that the object had impacted in a very unusual style. It came in at a low angle and skidded along the ground producing the quarter mile canyon you see there.” He gestured towards it, “NASA confirmed that it came out of orbit. Since it came at such a gradual angle it should have had a lot of time to burn out in the atmosphere. Obviously, whatever it is, it's made out of something durable since it lost negligible mass during its entire decent. If I didn’t know better I would think it was a controlled flight but if it was a vessel it isn’t one any more.”
“So is that all?” the major asked with open incredulity.
“Well…” he paused “…yeah. For now the official story is that it's a small meteorite.”
Bates’ radio buzzed. “Bates here,” he answered.
“Lieutenant, I think, I think I found something.”
“Roger, coming right there, Bates out.”
“Affirmative, Cassidy out.”
Turning to his companion Kevin said in a sudden cheerful voice, “Well, perhaps I might have something to show you.”
They both cantered to the miniature hill at the end of the canyon. All over the mound there were men in hazmat suits, looking very much like a tinfoil convention, waving various instruments over it.
"Is it radioactive?" O'Dell asked.
"Not that we can tell, but better safe than sorry." Bates reassured.
They arrived at the foot of the mound and Bates called out, “Cassidy, I’m here!”
One of the men in a hazmat suit appeared over the crest of the mound. “This is fascinating, you should see these measurement,” he began to advance down the mound unable to contain his excitement; “This is spectacular I think the object-” the dirt shifted under him and he disappeared into a landslide with a yell.
Bates called out a warning but had to leap back and run to get out of the slide zone. However the major‘s reflexes were not fast enough. Before he could turn around and get out of the way a blast of sand hit his legs and knocked him down, the debris flowing over him like a river. The whole scene was enveloped in dust for several minutes. After it cleared the major stood up and created a minor cascade of his own by dust falling from his back and shoulders.
“Sir, are you alright?” Bates inquired with concern.
“I’m fine.” He coughed and wiped the dust from his face and uniform.
They both paused for a moment as if trying to remember something. “Sgt. Cassidy!” they exclaimed simultaneously in realisation.
They hastened over the loose debris to where they thought he would be. Than they noticed a slight shine, the slide had pushed him along till he was rather far away from the source. The two of them came by him and lifted him up, and the five or so inches of sand on top of him.
“Are you hurt?” Bates asked while wiping him off.
“For guy who just had half a mountain land on him, yeah I feel ok.” He removed the helmet of his hazmat suit and turned his head to find Kevin was not listening but advancing on the mound. His eyes were riveted on it. Everyone had gone completely quiet and looked strangely at the slope. The slide had uncovered a smooth surface with obvious symmetry. Kevin put out his hand and wiped off the thin layer of dust that remained. It revealed a smooth pure white surface. Kevin turned around to the awed crowd.
“Call headquarters immediately and get clearance to uncover this thing!” He pointed at Cassidy, “Get a team together to rescan for explosives and radiation. We are going to take every precaution.” Kevin turned back to the white surface, “A real live UFO.” he muttered excitedly.
Within two hours they had the go ahead to uncover it. More and more smooth white surface was revealed till, after an hour or so the whole object was visible. It was an aircraft of some sort. It was about 14 meters long and 10 meters wide. At the back half of the vessel there were two thick, down sweeping wings that projected out three meters. They appeared not to be true wings but more like a type of engine casing. The back of the craft curved down smoothly and tapered. There where no hard angles whatsoever on the vessel, the whole surface curved fluidly in all dimensions like a raindrop.
“The eggheads on base will drool over this.” Kevin stated humorously.
“Watch who you call eggheads.” Cassidy elbowed him playfully.
A distance away the major was by his car talking on his phone. When he hung up he called over to Kevin. “Lieutenant, they want us to report back to base pronto, and they want the object to prepare for transport.”
“Yes sir!” Kevin shouted back.
After relaying the order by radio Kevin hurried to the car. As he was about to get in he paused, “Did you hear something sir?”
Kevin looked around, listening closely, then he got down on his knees and looked under the car.
The major, curious, asked what he was doing.
Kevin popped up again, “I think I found Zak.” In his arms was a small, dirty, and very hungry beagle who had taken shelter in the cool shade of the vehicle. He called a sergeant over and told him to get the dog some food and call his owner. Then at last he got in the car. "Well, I got something done today." he said pleased owner and dog would be reunited. After they had been on the road for awhile Kevin smacked his head, “I should have brought my paperwork, this is going to be a six hour drive.”
“Actually closer to half an hour,” The major corrected.
Kevin looked puzzled.
The major explained, “Command sent a chopper for us at the local airport.”
“Sweet, they must be really impatient.”
The major replied in a patronizing voice, “That they probably are.”
“You know, this is the most important job I’ve had yet since I made lieutenant. First assignment that I have any real command and we find a UFO!” Kevin said excitedly.
“Yes.” The major responded plainly.
“You think it could turn out to be something top secret? You know, revolutionary and conspiratorial.”
“They are already thinking that, I assure you.”
The younger officer suddenly dismissed the former subject and asked his friend, “So where were you for vacation?”
“Fishing,” the major stated.
“I knew that you would be fishing, but where?” Kevin pressed.
“Well, I was going to go fishing up at the Columbia in the gorge. However, as I was packing I received the phone call.” The major could not keep the annoyance out of his voice.
“Hmm…” Kevin pondered for a moment then as if he had a great revelation said, “I have some news to cheer you up.”
“And what would that be?” he asked expecting some sad joke.
“Happy forty-seventh birthday!”
The major groaned, “Kevin, do you always have to remind me?”
“Of course I do Mac, and with a birthday comes a present!” He stopped to grab something from his pocket. Finding it he handed a little box to the major. “Here you go.”
“I’m driving Kevin.”
“K, just be sure to open it later.” Kevin conceded, setting it between them.
“Alright, I will.” the major replied in a nearly exasperated voice as if he was dealing with a small annoying child.
For the rest of the time the two chatted, catching up with one another since the last time they had talked. As they pulled into the airport parking lot the major asked, “So how are your folks? Well, I should hope.”
Kevin sighed, “They’re doing fine, I guess.” he said, a hint of sadness in his voice, “They miss me a lot since I graduated. They can’t visit me as often as they could at the academy. I think they are feeling empty nested, with me in a job two thousand miles away, and all my sisters married. I don’t think they want to cut the apron strings on me yet, being their youngest an’ all. The main problem I have is that they are always calling, asking what I am doing, which of course I can’t tell them. And outside of work I, what, work out and sleep? Not that interesting.” The major nodded understandingly. “I feel guilty cause I've got a full voice mail that I have not listened to yet.”
“You should feel guilty.” The major spoke seriously but his smile betrayed him.
They both got out of the car and headed to the chopper which was just starting to spin its blades. Not twenty minutes later they were cruising over the desert.
Sitting in the passenger hold, Kevin handed the small box to the major, “Are you going to open the present now?” Kevin pleaded.
“Alright, I’ll open it.” The major replied exasperated.
He took the lid off the suspiciously small box and revealed a diver’s watch with the Boy Scout emblem on the face and the scout motto etched in the frame ‘Be prepared’. The major smiled.
“I figured you would like that, you being my Scoutmaster and all and I thought it would be a good memento.”
“Thank you Kevin.” He said with almost a choke while he put it on.