Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to describe a First Contact encounter with an alien species in 3000 words or less.
It was the kind of mission we’d trained for, planned for, anticipated and yet feared just a little: first contact. Satellite had the scientists convinced there was alien life here, but boots on the ground had never been able to confirm that.
Pete and I had been assigned grunt-work doing routine sweeps. It was the worst duty they could find for us, I suppose; we always got the worst end of it from our commanders. Now we were out under the harsh afternoon sun mapping sector by sector, cataloging plant life and water sources and bringing samples back to the lab for the white-coats to fuss over, but this time we saw something beyond vegetation. We quickly ducked out of sight and I radioed it in.
“This is scout unit four-seven-niner reporting to base, we have a target. I repeat: target is acquired and in sight. Beginning reconnaissance.”
The radio static crackled in my ear as the reply came. “Roger, four-seven-niner, logging your coordinates for a full team deployment. Stand-by.”
We lay low, watching the creature as it moved about the area, appearing to eat from some low-growing plants. It was brown, tall, and with shaggy hair over its entire body – not like the little green men from Mars we’d always read about – with four legs and a very long neck with what seemed a mis-sized head at the end of it. I gave Pete a nudge and nodded toward the thing, hoping that our radios would allow us to speak without being noticed.
“Do you suppose it’s intelligent?”
His head tipped sideways as he often did when thinking, then he gave a shrug. “Depends on what you mean by ‘intelligent’. Even dogs can learn to do stuff.”
“So what are you saying, you wannna toss it a stick?”
“No, don’t be silly. Let’s just watch it and see what it does.”
The tangle of alien plants gave us ample cover, we thought, to hide us from the creature’s eyes, provided we didn’t make any sudden movements. Of course, that assumed the creature ‘saw’ in the same way we did.
“I think it’s some kind of animal,” Pete said as we continued to watch it move slowly from one bit of plant life to the next. “Not a person, I mean, not like us.”
“It doesn’t appear to be using any kind of tools,” I agreed. “Not even a form of clothing.”
Trying not to draw its attention, I slid my hand into my pocket and produced a small camera. I knew our helmet cams would be getting all this on video anyway, but I couldn’t resist getting a few shots of my own.
“They’re just going to confiscate those, you know,” Pete said.
“Yeah, but only for thirty years or so,” I said. “After that I can get them back and have the oldest pictures of an alien ever!”
I snapped a few shots, thankful there was ample light for the task so I wouldn’t have to risk using any kind of flash. I thought I had managed to get away with it as I eased the camera back into my pocket, but then the alien raised its head and gave the most horrifying sound either of us had ever heard. Even though I could not see any eyes through the thick brown hair, it seemed to stare right at us.
I froze. Please don’t let it see us, I thought, mind running wild with imagined possibilities. For a moment it dipped its head again and I thought we had escaped notice; then it started for us. Pete grabbed my arm.
“I see it,” I said, trying to back up, but the vegetation had hooked me somewhere. I struggled but I couldn’t get unstuck, and I worried trying to force it would put a hole in my suit, and then I’d have a whole mess of trouble to deal with.
Pete let out a cry as it barreled down on our position, larger than either of us had realized from a distance. It was almost on top of us when I felt a hand grab onto the back of my suit and yank me out of the bushes. There I was, staring into the face of Aunt Jolene. She had a hand on Pete as well and was scowling at us like hellfire.
“Peter Joseph Riley, what are you doing rolling in the dirt? I told you to stay clean in your good suit!”
“Yes, Mamma!” Pete squeaked.
“John Frasier, you are here for your cousin Anna’s wedding, now stop rustling in the bushes and pestering the llamas and get on back before I tell your pa!”
“Yes, Aunt Jolene!”
She gave us both a firm whack on the backside and sent us running back to the tents where the reception was going on. I had managed to keep hold of the little disposable camera, though, and wondered what cousin Anna would think of the pictures we had got for her of our first encounter with alien life.
“So what do you think?” I whispered as we stood over the punch bowl. “Is there intelligent life out there?”
Pete looked around the reception and shrugged, then gave a devilish grin. “Well, there has to be intelligent life somewhere!”